Exit via the West Window – Part Three

As December drifted into view proceedings adopted a status quo for the last time. Nathan tried to get me to see a therapist but I managed to ward him off, I re-sat the exam and got the A dad had been clamouring for, everything was going according to plan and I was utterly fucking miserable. Nobody saw it, I made sure of that, I didn’t even really see it, not like I see now, both in the figurative and literal senses. The dark curtains of night roll back as every surface and every change is framed in a focal aura, I don’t just see things anymore… I feel them. Distance no longer a concept but now an invisible tendon which extends out and touches a path, a current, a groove for me to sail through. I wish you could see like I see now. Its so beautiful.

Of course, the adjustment wasn’t instantaneous, even if the change was. In fact what happened to my eyes was kind of the first domino, the first real one anyway. It’s easy enough to rationalize the fact that your breathing has improved, inexplicable pain or a sudden increase in lightness and agility, (frankly until now I didn’t understand the connection between all these things). But the eyes, they were different. I remember the exact date. December 13th, 6 days before my exit. Kerry’s birthday. It was one of the only times the four of us all consented to having a house party, I had no great trust in Sam and Kerry’s social circle, to say nothing of Yvette’s thoughts on them. During a previous party early into our tenancy four glasses were broken, someone ended up in ER after trying to eyeball flaming Sambuca, someone else pulled down the shower curtain whilst having sex in the upstairs bathroom and a local drug dealer turned up wearing denim dungarees and literally nothing else, (admittedly I’d been the one to invite him in, perhaps out of a love of chaos). Bearing all of that in mind we decided to keep Kerry’s party as a more relaxed affair, so naturally about 60 people ended up attending. The kitchen was the first room to be overrun before the living room followed suit, Yvette had the only downstairs bedroom so she graciously surrendered it to anyone who wanted somewhere to just sit and talk without any pervasive musical background or dull drunken roaring. I was there within an hour of the party starting.

Most of my course mates were either aggressively introverted or just unflinchingly dull, but I had a small circle of tolerable individuals, all of whom I invited. I remember sitting by Yvette’s bed, scrolling through her Spotify whilst talking to one of these people, a girl named Hannah, when I first noticed something wasn’t quite right. Actually to be honest the first discrepancy I picked up on was the overwhelming need for Yvette to take over musical control of the party. Even through the heavy fire door the sound of over manufactured, mutated, bass-ridden sop was managing to leak through the crevices and slather itself over my ear cartilage. Yvette’s laptop housed a pleasant roster of Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Blondie, John Martyn and many other lovely things, (she also had a worrying abundance of late-era Pink Floyd albums earmarked, but I guess nobody’s perfect). Nathan was sat behind at the time talking to somebody else whilst deftly running one hand through my hair, which was admittedly pretty relaxing. Hannah was occupying herself by regaling me with stories of her time at Burning Man the previous summer, a subject I actually had a surprising amount of interest in. I mean yes, when you boil it down I was always effectively a spiky, complacent, misanthropic tree-hugger. But for some bizarre reason the notion of thousands of naked people running around a desert fuelled by LSD fascinated me. Just as that subject was beginning to lose its traction I started to shuffle my legs around so that I could get up and pour myself another drink… and my eyes locked.

When I say that my eyes locked, you may misunderstand what I’m saying. My eyes locked, literally. They froze in place. Unless I turned my head in the concordant direction I couldn’t look left, right, up or down. That was all the warning I got, I’d barely even had time to comprehend that before the most overpowering, debilitating bastard of a headache shot through the dead center of my skull. It was like a dull blade twisting itself into my head. I ran off before I had time to react myself, let alone give anyone else time to, I made straight for the bathroom in some vague attempt to ascertain exactly what had just happened (praying to a nameless god that nobody was using it as some sulky screwing sanctuary again). That plan didn’t go over too well. The moment my groping fingers tangled themselves in the chord for the lights such that I could yank it down, the ensuing radiation smashed into me like freight train. I recoiled away from both the light and the mirror before I ever got a chance to get any idea of what was causing all this. After that there are no visual cues to call upon, all I can recollect is the shifts in texture from cold tile to dried, chipping, imperfect drywall as I used my hand to guide myself up to my room. I remember the faint underlying notions of sweat and beer gas swelling beneath my nose, and the fluctuating urchin spines of interweaving voices shooting out and retracting back into the audible fog. Finally my left hand curled around the skirting board of my door frame as the right anchored me to the doorknob and allowed me to shut myself in, before uncoupling from it and letting my weight carry me into the protective layer of clothes coating my floor (save for a misplaced Belle and Sebastian CD which buried one of its corners into my thigh).

The head pain had its way with me for a few minutes before I found the resolve to pick myself up and start groping around for aspirin (whilst some darker part of me entertained the thought of asking Kerry about valium again, or seeing if anyone had any heroin). Funny thing was though, just as my mind really began to wrap itself around the idea of finding a way to cope with the pain, it subsided. It didn’t entirely go, some baser sensitivity to light remained in play, but the real core pain was gone, allowing me to open my eyes again and really gauge what had happened to them. The fixed feeling was still very much present, try as I might, my eyes weren’t going to move independently of my head, but there was something else. My point of focus was erratically changing every time I looked somewhere different. Everything within a 10-foot radius was blurred and obscured, whilst objects further afield would come into such sharp definition it was as if I was less than an inch from them, they would be isolated, coated in aura. Eventually of course I would come to learn how to control this, but for the time being it was nearly impossible. Most people would be panicked or even terrified at such a drastic physical change but I found myself curiously calm, I went over to the west window, pushed it open and let a few fresh, chilled fingers of air caress my flushed cheeks. I let my groping vision permeate the darkness and home from tree to tree in the distant woodland I knew and loved so well, occasionally lowering my gaze to watch as the back door coughed out clouds of smokers at half-hour intervals, scattered out into the garden in a shabby mess of voice boxes and orange fireflies, framed in unnatural yellow light. The more I watched, the more these people changed, they hardened, reddened and piled one on top of the other, a cemented quarantine keeping me back from the one place where I actually felt like I belonged. You arent one of them. I began to feel an urge to escape so overwhelming that it threatened to reduce me to a gibbering wreck, I retreated back from the window and violently threw myself into my bed, disappearing into the duvet. That’s where I stayed for the rest of the night, shielded from familiar threats.

Eventually, drunkenly, Nathan managed to stumble his way in. Thankfully for both us he assumed that I’d gone to sleep and collapsed into a heap beside me, out in seconds. I didn’t sleep that night, I barely moved apart from to make the odd attempt to re-establish my eyesight but it was no good. I couldn’t focus on anything close, if a stray hair managed to find its way into my eye-line it was just a thin, colourless mass, hell I’d have no way of telling if I was even blonde anymore. Mostly though I just listened and waited for the party’s monotonous pulses to subside and let nature take the stage again, which didn’t happen until around 8am, shortly after someone scrambled outside to throw up one last time. Eventually I drifted into a cool, certain darkness, soothed numb by the faint quilted chirps of sunrise birds. But amidst the comfortable black, that same voice began to sound again. You arent one of them. It whispered. You dont belong here. Come out. Out of this place. Let it all go.




The next morning I had an all-too-familiar game of sleep chicken with Nathan, I actually woke up (or came to, rather) at about 11 but I pretended to still be asleep until almost 1 when he finally took the hint and left (but not after a ham-fisted attempt to wake me up to say goodbye). Opening my eyes was the only reminder I needed about the night’s proceedings. I dashed headlong into the bathroom and there it was, the moment when all the speculation, all the delusions of normality, humanity, everything melted away and gave rise to a deep, primordial fear. My eyes were no longer built of white frames, green irises and black pupils. The pupils remained intact, but the rest was nothing but solid, pastel yellow, all the way around. Black and yellow. I was so stricken when I saw it that I thrust my palm against the mirror to hold myself upright, which is when I saw something else. It took all of my willpower to direct my waving focus such that I could see my hand clearly enough, but when I did I saw dark lesions all over it, as if something was growing underneath my skin. A few seconds spent probing and prodding revealed an awful softness, like a second, brittle skeleton was growing over my old one. I could feel tiny sharp bone tips scratching their way out into the light. Then the floodgates opened. My breath sharpened into a blade, my whole body prickled and my flailing vision grasped violently around for some anchor of light to weight it down. My head span wildly back and forth and my teeth began to ache, dragging my jaw down and feeling uniformly sharp against my tongue. I don’t know how long it took me to drag myself back into my room, let alone find the presence of mind to shut the door and get back into bed, but I managed to fight through all of that without anyone else noticing.

It wasn’t until the next day that anyone knocked on the door. I’d managed to move the wardrobe and desk in front of it as an additional countermeasure alongside the lock. I’d taken all my clothes off and pushed my bed as close to the west window as I could, the radiator was the only thing preventing me from getting it all the way. Once that was done that was where I stayed, duvet draped over me, peering out through a narrow shaft between the curtains. Never moving. I could feel myself changing now. I could feel something thin and wiry clawing out from beneath my skin. I could feel my eyes whirring like apertures as they adjusted to changes in light. I could feel my skeleton changing shape, my hair falling out, my cells shifting. I never dared look at myself. I didn’t want to know. Every time I shut my eyes I was in the dream again. I may have been sat by the window but whatever extension of the person I’d been that remained was plummeting to earth like an asteroid many miles away above the forest. Eventually my path would curve and the two of us would reunite, or I’d shatter, scatter into the snow and this twisted body would come apart and slide off the bed into a pile of meaningless blood, bone and bile. None of it mattered anymore. Sam knocked three times, I never responded. After that she called, five times, ten times, I never looked. The phone kept ringing for days. More and more people came to the door. They knocked, then they banged, then eventually they screamed. It was Yvette that first had the presence of mind to run outside and peer up at the open window. All she would have glimpsed was one hooded, piercing yellow eye before the curtains snapped shut.

Nathan came. As expected, he tried to bash the door down but I’d piled too much in the way. He’d been through this before, I shut myself away in my room back home for days at a time when I was younger, if I didn’t run away. He hadn’t learnt though, made all sorts of threats, the police, therapists, and my parents. The last, worst threat was the one he made good on. They arrived the next morning and the door talk resumed, my father with empty notions of course anxiety and ‘living up to standards’ and reminders of how smart I was, how proud he was. It was all I could take, so I went, I retreated into myself.


Ashley Harwell






This is everything you arent


Its a warmth that burns you


A comfort that pains you


There is nothing bitter about the cold


Let it all go


Whatever I was, all those old tired notions began to slip away one by one like rotten scales. Some forgotten cast of humanity faded away in an everlasting instant spent peering out into the real world. My real home. Branches, wing beats and footsteps in the snow stretched out in front of me like a bridge, the louder, harder and stronger it became, the more ties to an old, irrelevant life shook loose and whipped back, tensile, hooked wires whistling into some long passed distance. In those dying moments though, I felt no sense of hatred, no disdain. In fact it was a kind of love, a nostalgic, expired love that imbued me with the strength to move on. One by one they came by and said final words, mostly pleas, professions of understanding. Dad, Yvette, Kerry, Sam. Then Nathan came, out of the darkness I heard a creak as his frame came to rest against the door.


“Do you remember Rosie?”


Rosie… His family’s German shepherd.


“She was a great dog, but she was such fucking hard work Ash, you always used to say so. She ran away so many times when we brought her back from the rescue home. She was about 6 before she finally got that out of her system. Still… I remember even after that, when we’d go away to Banff on holiday and walk Rosie out in the forest with the other dogs… Sometimes she’d run out so far that I could hardly see her and I’d have to call her back. Then she would give me this, this look. She’d stand there, for just a few moments with this kind of longing look in her eyes before coming back. It was like… I dunno Ash it was almost like she was saying ‘Let me go, please let me go.’ As if she just wanted me to turn my back and let her vanish into the forest. That night in the club when I hit that other guy, then I found you out there by the lake. The look was the same. I was selfish that night. You just wanted to go and I stopped you. I’m sorry for that.”


Nathan. I never expected him to understand. You still have to go. I knew that, but he was making it harder for me. A few moments later I saw him again, looking up at me from the garden. He was like a statue caught in a fold of time, eyes fixed on me. Dark brown crew cut, square jaw, broad shoulders. His gaze caught mine and for a moment I felt it. Then the door smashed open. I could see the faintest reflection of the firemen who had managed to ram their way in as it happened but then I turned to look at them. I turned my head all the way around. But my body didn’t move. The duvet fell away as I turned and both the firemen reared back. I eyed them one after the other before they both wheeled around and ran back down the stairs, shouting down to the others.


“There’s an owl in there!” One of them yelled. “A huge grey owl!”


I turned back and the curtain blew open. Nathan, Dad, Kerry, they all saw me. Some didn’t move, others reared back, no matter. I stretched out and let the early evening breeze flow into me. A forum of hundred-year old trees, waiting to teach you all the lessons you could ever want to learn. Fly, Ashley. Fly away. The pine needles quivered. Snowflakes glinted in the thin light. The air whispered. And Ashley Harwell exited via the west window.




Know that Ill always love you all.


I’ve found my real home.

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