Short Stories: 1616

1616 gazed out into the abyss as he did every morning. At least he assumed it was morning; time was a relic that his mind insisted on clinging onto, a fence to keep things from escaping. How do those little albino cave fish know when to wake up, he thought to himself, when they’ve no eyes to witness the rising and setting of the sun? He’d never pondered the little cave fish in his previous life, in fact he’d scarcely acknowledged their existence. Now he wondered if his own body was as shiny and white as theirs was, ground down and polished by the dark mass that clung to his every contour. He had started to doubt whether his eyes even worked anymore. Had they become translucent and decorative like the cave fish’s? Two fully-furnished flats but without heating or running water.

He had grown to embrace the void. It felt good to flee the reality of his own reflection. It’s hard to be angry here. The floating sensation he got from being robbed of his sight calmed him, lulled him into a state of quiet inertia. His mind turned to trivial things, like the little cave fish, and clouds. Big, white, fluffy clouds, drifting lazily across a warm blue sky. The fish and the clouds mingled with the dark in a sort of wallpaper pattern, covering his mind’s eye completely. He had been unable to move for as long as he could remember, but it didn’t bother him. If I move, he considered, I may fall and lose the fish and the clouds forever. So he didn’t move, and it felt good.

Today, as far as he could tell, was just like any other day. Little white fish lounging on big white clouds, dotted about on a big azure conveyor belt. No reason to be angry. The scene drifted in and out of his dark world like a slow, undulating sound wave, and he thought from time to time that he could hear the clouds singing. A rich, beautiful hymn, lilting back and forth against his dark cocoon.

This feels good, he thought to himself. With each passing cloud, the vista of his former life became more and more obscured. Nerves died and certain parts of his brain switched off altogether. Transitory blackout, he reminded himself. But where had he learned that phrase? For the life of him he did not know. Not that it bothered him much; it was hard to feel frustrated or confused these days, hard to feel anything beyond good.

He had taken to examining each cave fish that passed by in minute detail. This process took a while to perfect, but with each application he became more and more adept at it. It felt good to look at their stubby little tail fins, their pulsing little gills, their vacant eyes. Did they know he was there, watching them? In many ways he hoped that they didn’t; this act of voyeurism felt rather good.

Suddenly the fish seemed larger, as if somehow they had drifted into his proximity, wherever that happened to be. Maybe they do know that I’m watching them, he thought, maybe they can see me despite their lifeless little eyes. Instinct told him to reach out and touch the closest member of the shoal, disparate and un-shoal-like as they were, but the sheer weight and scale of the abyss prevented him from doing so, shielded him from the pitfalls of old.

The boldest of the cave fish was now so close he could see right through the milky eyes and into the inner-workings beneath. Little folds of skin and tubes of blackish blood flapping and pulsing like the insides of a pocket watch. Just like the clouds rolling languidly across the blue quilt, it was a rather hypnotic sight. This is good, he thought. This is good.

Eventually his new friend grew tired of his company and glided listlessly into the background, coming to rest above a particularly downy cloud. However it was not long before another of the cave fish ventured toward the void, apparently spurred on by the intrepidness of his cohort. This is good, he said to himself, no reason to get angry.

The now steady stream of comings and goings soon began to peel away at the once impenetrable dark. Little pockets of blue sky started to creep across the black lawn, like the distant, undiscovered edges of a globe suddenly being mapped out. The little white denizens of the clouds were quick to populate these new frontiers, swarming in what seemed like ever-increasing numbers until the piercing blue was shrouded in a writhing fog.

He was at once acutely aware that these curious creatures could in fact see. Gone were the misty bulbs that had once sat asymmetrically atop their little heads, replaced by twitching black marbles that seemed to reflect the dark light of the abyss.

His lonely enclave suddenly felt very oppressive, like being jolted awake on a busy train. He wished the horde of bodies above him would draw back a little, give him some breathing room. An uncomfortable heat had replaced the sterile, cooling breeze he had grown accustomed to, and in the dwindling dark he imagined sweat trickling from his temples.

The millions of sharp little eyes were now all trained in his direction. They were judging him. The bold fish that had been first to approach him before was now darting menacingly in his direction. The prosecution drew close; its stubby little tail fins now seemed thick and vascular, pointing at him as if to pass sentence. As he tried to look away, to find a nice fluffy cloud to focus on, he saw it.

At first he didn’t recognise it. Didn’t want to recognise it. Squinting back at him, in the little black mirrors hovering above, was his reflection. Searing pain shot through him as he traced the deep fissures carved into that tortured face. Tufts of lank, lifeless hair clung on in vain atop a knotted brow, empty graves stood where optimistic eyes once shone.

The uncomfortable heat had risen so that he felt as if he were inside a pressure cooker. He wanted the fish that had so wantonly lit the touch paper to pay for what it had done. He wanted it to suffer. Dearly.

His ravaged face writhed and seethed above him, like a wild animal making one last futile stand against its hunters. He wanted so badly to rip out his accuser’s beady little eyes, tear them from their sockets and fling them at the sneering jury beyond. But his arms were pinned, lost somewhere in the unfeeling black.

They were smirking now, those sanctimonious little pricks. Floating there in their neat little rows, peering down at him from their big fluffy pedestals. How I’d love to choke them to death with their own fucking fins, he thought, and as he did so he glimpsed a demented grin in the monochrome mirror. Shame and self-loathing rose like bile in his throat, an ugly soul to match his ugly face.

He thrashed his head from side to side, desperate to distance himself from the harsh reality staring back at him. Some of the fish were drawing back now, others darted around skittishly in the background. The bold fish stood its ground, fixing the mirror on him like a child torturing an ant with a magnifying glass.

With a muted cry, as if he were deep underwater, all feeling flooded back into his long-dead torso. The sensation of the hairs standing to attention on his chest thrilled him, forced a mutated laugh from his narrow lips. All but one of his spectators had retreated to a safe distance, all but one had lost their nerve. He raised his left arm now, as if in triumph, skin tautening over bone as he squeezed the final breath from an invisible foe. A desperate roar erupted from deep within him, as terrifying as it was pitiful, an oral death throw that seemed to spread alarm through the ranks of onlookers. The bold fish, along with two visibly shaken subordinates, now formed a wall in front of him. Six grisly doppelgängers goaded him to strike first, spit leaping forth from their rabid mouths.

A piercing wail rent the air as he made a final lunge for his tormentors, but a pale fin met with his temple and he was gone. Perpetual blackout.

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