Sleepless Kingdom, Part 2

I’ve broken up this short story, as my last in two consecutive parts just to break up the reading and not to make the post too chunky. I prefer it this way as it makes things more digestible from a formating perspective and it also gives me a nice continuity of posting. Plus as a side note, I woke up extra early this morning to write a epic on my experience with the spiritual recently and an updated list of recommended reiki and tarot channels (all that spiritualism the atheist in me is repulsed by) yet ended up distracted by two very testing dogs I’m now living with.

Anyways, I’m digressing, back to the story:

My phone’s alarm saved my life. Her shrill scream had morphed into its irritating beeping and, with my eyes still glued together, I dismissed the infernal thing. It was another bright and sunny January morning in the life of Nelly Pritchard and it required a black coffee and a cigarette. With the fluffy dressing gown equipped and provided the necessary nod of greetings to an unknown face in the hallway – a conquest of Room 2’s rugby enthusiast occupant -, I drifted into the kitchen like detritus on a beach. Clara, fresh faced from a full eight-hours of rest followed in, disturbing the preparation of black coffee, three sugars. She pounced onto the countertop with the energy totally unnecessary for whatever time it was in the morning.

‘So?’ She began, ‘Did you get any reading done last night or did you end up just falling into the Netflix trap?’

‘Erm, yeah, some,’ I groggily replied, gently stirring a stained teaspoon in the coffee. ‘No Netflix. Just scran and John Milton.’

‘Wholesome,’ she said, nodding from her perch. ‘Did Jack message you?’

‘No, I haven’t checked.’

Clara stared blankly in return, her knowing eyes demanding that I take action. She was irritatingly good at that and it had become a fair portion of our relationship. I dropping the spoon into the sink and blew gently on the coffee before taking a sip, holding steady against Clara’s silent instruction. It took less than a few seconds for the resolve to break and I put down the oversized novelty mug and slipped my hand into the fluffy pocket of the robe. As I inspected the phone’s screen, my heart sunk and familiar beads of sweat began to form at my temples. Clara raised an eyebrow at my sudden panic but remained still on her perch. The words on the screen were scrambled. Each time I found myself grasping their meaning they shuffled like a deck of cards in a game of solitaire. As I forced my groggy mind to concentrate on the increasingly meaningless symbols, the air became thick and clammy.

I was frozen. Only my eyes retained any notion of free movement and I forced them away from the screen – God they were heavy, like they were being weighed down by swaying anchors. Looking up I saw her. She had always been there, standing in slightest dark of the room. It was Gran, grinning with the same idiot grin that I gave her. Behind her emerged two slinky, shadowy compatriots; faceless mannequin figures made of pure ghostly darkness that stretched their elongated forms to the heights of the ceiling. A scream lost its way in my throat and only materialized as a light gasp. The bitch bared her shards of teeth at me as I struggled and fought and cried silent cries in the frozen moments of her trap. Existence outside of my focus on her and her new friends had ceased to exist. It had faded away like the peripheral vision of weary eyes. From Gran’s grin came her scream and a voice. Jack’s voice. ‘Clara, come here! I think Nell’s having a seizure and I can’t wake her up!’

Shadowy arms reached out and the Gran’s terrible cosmic maelstrom behind the grey gnashing teeth expanded to swallow reality in a thunderous cold crescendo.

Then there was nothingness. A deep black void like a starless night in the country or the deepest impressions of my therapist’s endless Rorschach tests. As I drifted through its depths, I wondered if this was the end of all things or just the purgatory. A blank space between my world and the next. Yet perhaps I was wrong on all counts and this deep inky ocean of infinity was the inside of Gran’s stomach. I had been swallowed like Jonah into the infernal whale.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days: none of it mattered. Nothingness was the only truth. I wondered if in my state that I’d had a heart attack in my sleep and my visions of old Gran had finally gotten the better of me. I wondered if I could even apply such logic to the situation if this was death. If Gran herself, the wicked bitch, was a sentient predator, hunting in her sleepless kingdom, feeding of the victims like a leech. Nothingness lasted for an eternity for it was eternity. It was the end of all things, I knew it was, that was the conclusion I’d reached after days or perhaps years of query, it was the true oblivion. Then I heard another voice. It was not Clara’s, Jack’s or even my own. It was alien and not of a language I had ever heard before yet for some reason, I trusted it and loved it like a child loves the idea of heaven. I understood; by Christ, I understood and from that moment on, every Sunday I’ve been kneeling and praying and singing the hymns. I have the words that it spoke tattooed across my forearm like I could ever forget them.

‘The song has been violated. Retrieve the child.’

… Fin.

Z3N0

Sleepless Kingdom, Part 1

The following is another short story, this one based on my own experiences with sleep paralysis dramatized and embellished of course. For about six months or so, I suffered from sleep deprivation brought on by Pro-Plus tablets and coffee just to avoid sleeping and experiencing this myself. Something that was ultimately just as destructive as not only did it intensify the dreams in the long run but also fueled and deepened a depression and bad temperament. I look back now at this time with the lessons and luxury of hindsight but one positive that came from it, was a wealth of inspiration for writing.

Once again, this piece is inspired by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft – their works not philosophies and ideologies of their times to be clear.

She was there again; that ragged old bitch at the end of my bed. She leaned, her noxious void of an existence casting a deep shadow over the spartan duvet coverings long overdue a wash. I had taken to calling her Gran which was fine, by the way, as I never knew my own so-called gran. No, this particular term of phrase held no reverence for me nor any warm feelings of comfort and joy. Instead, this Gran, this pervasive stand-in, who lingers there in the low gloom of every waking morning, is just a vicious parody.

Gran had been visiting me for as long as I can remember giving way to a numb kind of fear. I couldn’t be sure for how long that was as the memory of having sweet dreams at all was fading away as quickly as they came. It was a companion now, satiated by Pro-Plus and Kenco at three AM. While her appearance was expected, a vision of poison from the bowels of gothic fiction, my body still froze, mind raced, and heart raced towards an impossibly distant finish line against some phantom Olympic sprinter. My only real sense of rebellion in my whole corporeal being was the smile that I forced across my trembling face. An enormous grin of wanton disregard for the impending doom of the wicked entity at the end of the divan.

Then I’d wake; bracing into the true universe, forcing away the false reality of Gran. Everything would be the same, of course. Her kingdom was the same as mine only in hers, she held the power of some neo-classical deity of the realm around her foul being. Arguably it was the same as the actual waking world but in this case, Gran was replaced by the student loan industry. In the waking world, breakfast will come and go. Black coffee and a cigarette on the porch were as reliable as the bitch at the end of the bed. Polite chit-chat with the housemates and the refreshingly stoic Clara keeps me busy enough to not feel totally maddeningly tired. Lectures and seminars go by in a blur, with Gran lingering in the peripherals as they darken, ready to return to her kingdom at any point. Dinner, drinks, Pro-Plus and the ritual of going out into town begins, Clara propping me up, keeping me from either drifting into Gran’s dark oblivion or snapping at the banal dramas of the others. I’d envy them and their genuine smiles and their faces in the morning, refreshed from a good night’s sleep – hungover (still with remnants of kebab and ketchup around their mouths) or not. That’s what really would anger me, not the bollocks of he-said-she-said and all that normal human activity. My own sunny disposition painted on, false lashes batting away close inspection.

Eventually she’d win, old Gran. The Pro-Plus would where off and even Clara would retreat from the awesome power of sleep and the perchance to dream. I would be lulled into a false sense of security, with pure, deep dark sleep. Then, as I’d wake with relief, I’d find myself unable to read the messages on my phone. The light itself would be thick and heavy, my legs responding in kind to the gravity suddenly exerting the force of Jupiter. The relief would be drowned by panic as torso would drag neck and head back to pillow; air thick and heavy as from the slightest dark of the sun-drenched box room, the eldritch form would emerge. Always the figure of some long-dead Victorian woman, with black bonnet and frills, she would come a creeping to what should be the safest of places. Yet, it was never my safe place, a place for recuperation from the normality. In truth, perhaps, it has always been her hunting ground or more accurately just a softly manifested feeding trough.

It has a name, this curse. The diagnosable term is Sleep Paralysis, which sounds so ungodly scientific. Hallucinations of such a vivid nature with no known cure or treatment is a fashionable talking point on blogs and in artsy coffee shops where turtleneck sweaters are the truest of currency – not that I’m complaining, I have six myself. They discuss through excited smiles the thrill of the unknowable terror. They say meaningless supportive buzzwords to so-called sufferers over the rims of their espresso cups, soaking up the bullshit with the nauseating aromas. The truth is in the eyes. Looking passed the smiles and the tales of horror akin to a Lovecraft short, you see the tired fright in the eyes. It lingers there like a quietly burst blood vessel just off centre. The truth is in the stories they speak. Not the words but the feeling; the feeling like you’ve just dropped your toe over the edge and into the uncanny valley itself. Then, it spreads like a virus – a biochemical abyss that doesn’t wait for you to look too long into its depths. Who’s to say that creatures like Gran are even of our own creation? Simple mind tricks invented by ourselves for ourselves because we were never satiated with the available horror that can be downloaded from the world wide web. Outside fables of the unknown heavenly powers, biology has never been so methodical, so malicious. The dark entropy incarnate.

It was on this one morning, three days before my twentieth birthday, that I stood against the dark. The air was thick and brutal and Gran’s extended claws were reaching across the unwashed sheets, casting a shadow of pure oblivion over my frozen legs. Morning light was disfigured around her looming presence that grew ever closer to my face. The battle for control raged in my bones as her hag-like face drew near, her long nose inches away from touching mine. I felt her cold and clammy breath beat down upon my skin as time itself slowed to a crawl. I let out a raspy, incomprehensible mutter, pleading for an answer to her endlessness. A skeletal claw reached up and took hold of my cheeks, her fingers like icy daggers cutting deep into the flesh.

That’s when I found the voice; the absent voice never before brave enough to express more than a whimper. It began as a stirring in my gut before racing like a cheetah through my body and bursting like lava from a volcano out of my mouth. In the seconds of its great genesis, I followed its mighty journey, so readily anticipating its triumphant roar.

‘W-w-what do you want?’ I croaked; the grand imaginary charge of the voice swept away. My pounding heart sunk as the wiry eyebrows above Gran’s night sky eyes raised. Her already twisted expression contorted at the defiance, her clammy breath quickening as her icy fingers dug deeper into my cheeks. I could have died right then and there. I could have melted into the bed, already soaked with perspiration. No. She wouldn’t have let me slip from her grasp and her pure cold rage. Nothing in this moment would escape her, not at least in Room 5 of Flat E. Gran’s response was a scream. A single elongated, shrill note that shook my entire being. Her wide mouth exposed a cascading, thunderous black hole with sparks of purple lightning lashing out to dance on the churning rows of overlapping shards of deep grey teeth. My head and neck gave in to her, snapping wildly from side to side within her fixed grasp as the gravitational pull of her nightmarish infinite aperture readied itself to digest.

… End of Part 1

Z3N0

Stoic Lent

Today will be my final day as a meat eater for the foreseeable future. Maybe I’ll indulge in proteins from fish on occasion but for the rest of the time my diet will be wholly vegetarian. It’s not a massive inconvenience, the M&S veggie burgers are the best I’ve ever had, better than the beef equivalent in fact. It’s not a new experience, I was previously vegetarian for three months of last year, pushing myself to go as long as I could never attempting such a diet before. Christmas broke me of course, who can resist?

I never really thought of it as a lent as such until I was reading Seneca today on my lunch break. Beforehand, it was instead a strange need that I felt despite having no real moral stance on vegetarianism before. As someone growing up in a household with an Italian heritage, to refuse meat was seen a little like an alien request and even months into this attempt, the packs of salami in the fridge were looking very friendly.

“Still, my determination to put your moral strength of purpose to test is such that I propose to give even you the following direction found in great men’s teaching: set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough, course clothing, and will ask yourself, ‘Is this what one used to dread?’ It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with different times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” – Letters from a Stoic XVIII

It’s like this summer heat, desiring the cool weather while in the winter we crave the heat. We teach ourselves to appreciate what we have, what we don’t have and that we never needed a thing to begin with. I read somewhere that some stoics have slept on the floor of the kitchen with nothing but a single pillow to appreciate the beds. Perhaps this trial of the self is similar yet also extended and not as fleeting as a night on the tiles. While a simple task for veteran vegetarians, for me this is a task each day after day reflective of the path of philosophy itself. Who knows, if it sticks as a matter of conscience and tribunal of the self, so be it.

When I think about it, I realize that I could give up plenty and still live my life wholly. Someone said to me today that they aspire to be rich. And I replied:

“To be rich you must first be prepared to be poor.” – Z

We can all afford to be poor. Being rich is not a thing of material but of self and for that you need only the items you were born with. It’s good practice at least, this little test of mine to go meat free. Test yourself, see what you can afford to lose and still remain wealthy.

Z3N0

The Emotional Battlefield

I was told recently that I’m a black and white individual, that I have a harsh and blunt demeanour. I didn’t notice my own sharpness until today. I was in a situation where someone became upset and I froze a little, confused on what to do. I just stood there and sighed; my internal monologue saying: “well fuck, what do I do now” instead of actually helping. The situation was resolved without me with a hug and kindness as I stood there a little like a spare part, my face with the expression of someone trying to solve some impossible equation.

What does this mean for me? Is it something for me to work on or something to accept within myself? Emotions make me uncomfortable in these situations yet for some reason, in others I can absorb myself fully into them, feel each facet and dissect them, exposing the root cause to begin to heal. I find myself saying often that I’m a tad psychic for this exact reason and my strange ability to know things and be able to advise the right thing in the right moment. Yet sometimes, I’m blinded.

It’s almost as if the fortress within is fussier than the one needed without. I am a fortress, my walls are made of tungsten and the palisades are as sharp as diamonds. Yet, I keep the drawbridge down for visitors, I need to both professionally, spiritually and socially. When I can be detached from a situation and not slap bang in the middle of it, I can casually dish out advice and good will like it’s Christmas yet when I’m there, in the thick of it, the drawbridge comes up. Plans are made, archers are readied and the vanguard forces are prepared to march and by the time all this is done, the event is over. The problem is now out of my hands. Fate has taken the wheel in the form of another person or condition uncontrolled.

This seems to extend to my life entire yet as my faith in myself and the Universe expands and my understanding of faith expands with it, it seems less and less of an issue to resolve. There is an acceptance of my own processing and my own judgement. As if I accept my weaknesses and allow things to resolve as they can when they are outside of my control. What other option do I have? Of course, I could force myself into these situations, throw myself into the deep end of the emotions of another to save the day yet is self sacrifice helpful? Do the tears I cry for another make the problem in the moment any easier? The resolution as I see it is to accept my talents and flaws in this: I am a long range actor not spearman in the war for emotion. A strategist is not a warrior and that’s okay.

Yet, as any sage should be, it pays to be prepared for when the gates fall in and the war comes home. Fortify your mind, accept the fates and the transience of your own chemical receptors to conditions. Face it all: love, hate, despair and joy with a critical eye. You will see through to the root causes of all of these things: why you feel this way and how you can remain from being overwhelmed. Of course if you find yourself overwhelmed, there’s no shame in it. That too will be as fleeting as everything else. It fades with time like a scar.

It’s about again, finding the balance within. To be able to be okay with that balance, even. It’s not an apathetic feeling just a contented one. Like you have everything you need and you have total acceptance of that. It’s a warm feeling that even in the face of your own weakness you are accepting the ebb and flow of the universe around you. Love it – amor fati.

This war at your gates for your emotional response, for your soul: it will last for as long as you do. Every human in history has battled the emotions from without, the true test is to not fight those within. See them, feel them, accept them and let them vanish as you roll your eyes at exactly what you don’t need. What do you need? Ask yourself. What do you need to feel in this moment and what makes it worth your time? Is it contentment, admiration, love, peace? Or is it something that keeps you up at night?

Z3N0

Growing Roots

I was in a conversation today about feeling uprooted and disconnected from one’s kin and lost like driftwood. I can empathise with the feeling, finding a place to grow my roots seems to be a recurring theme. Yet is it as complex as we think it is? In the spiritual sense, it’s very easy to grow roots and ground ourselves to the Earth and the Whole.

Very simply, breathe and follow the breath until it is your only focus.

Close your eyes and close your mind to it’s own noise.

Keep your bare feet in contact with the floor beneath you and imagine roots sprouting from them and pushing down and down and down.

Reach the centre of the planet and wrap your roots around the core.

Isn’t that all we need to feel connected when the self evident truth of that we are, is not enough? We are all stardust of the same stock, after all. But it takes time to accept that and clarity to see it. Even in the genealogical sense, we can’t escape our roots as much as we try so why try? You can’t change the place of your birth after the fact so why examine the how’s and why’s of unmovable facts.

In the end, perhaps the feeling of drifting and restlessness is born from the heights to which we grow. When we scrape the sky, the earth below feels insignificant and we forget that we need it to exist. We cannot live without the dirt, that unavoidable stuff that binds us all together in nature. Can we fight our nature? No.

Roots are a part of us as they are a part of any plant on this planet. We need space to grow them out, time to do so, fertile ground and a will to do it. But that’s easier said than done isn’t it in shifting sands?

How do we find this perspective, this downward view to search for grounding? Of course, my favourite Roman emperor has the answer as usual.

“Rational beings collectively have the same relation as the various limbs of an organic unity – they were created for a single cooperative purpose. The notion of this will strike you more forcefully if you keep saying to yourself: ‘I am a limb of the composite body of rational beings.’ If though by the change of one letter from ‘l’ to ‘r’ [melos to meros], you call yourself simple a part rather than a limb, you do not yet love your fellow men from your heart: doing good does not yet delight you as an end in itself; you are still doing it as a mere duty, not yet as a kindness to yourself.” – Meditations 7.13

As limbs are a part of the body, so are trees a part of the forest; as the tendons are the roots to these limbs. What connects you to others and the world around you is not a state of mind but a constant fact for you to remind yourself of. A constant love for you to remind yourself of.

A constant fact for me to remind myself of. A constant love for me to remind myself of.