by Daniel Frears
THIS WAS the first year that I’d spent Christmas alone. I hadn’t planned to, it just seemed to have happened, through certain circumstances.
My family was a long way away and besides, I didn’t feel like being in anybody’s company.
I’d woken up at a usual time, made aware that it was Christmas morning by two messages, from my mother and father, both saying much the same thing. The important part was at the end, where they said that they loved me, whilst all three of us knew that the day itself was unimportant. I responded to both of them, telling them that I loved them too and I thought about love as I made my way down the stairs for breakfast. There were so many different types of love. How was anyone meant to be able to keep up with them?
Given that everything felt normal, I thought that I’d conduct my day as normal, but once I got to the kitchen I realised that I wasn’t hungry just yet and I didn’t want to eat for the sake of it. As I looked out of the window, the melting orange of sunrise was turning into the crisp blue of a clear sky. Christmas Day was beginning. I was here, stood in this somehow unfamiliar, temperate dawn, but in colder parts of the world I imagined that this famed morning would start in earnest, with excited children jumping out of their snug beds to sprint through the house and make it known that they’d slept and woken and were ready for the festivities. Being here with the balmy night and looming hot day, it felt as though there was a laze throughout the city and the land beyond. People would eventually wake in their own time, slowly, to see that the sun had risen again and the Earth still span dutifully on its axis, with none of their worries mattering one bit.
I had no responsibilities, especially as I wasn’t going to eat, so I decided that I’d take a walk up the hill behind my house.
I don’t know much about what defines a hill, but the sides of this one are dense with dark green tree growth, the entire way from top to bottom. It is a tall, steep hill and most noticeably, for me, is its length, appearing more as an inky, ancient wall than the rolling hills of my ideals; like the broad shoulders of a resting giant.
After putting on some clothes I left the house and came onto the side of the road. There were no cars moving and no people present; this was perfect. I followed the road up a little ways, cutting down a narrow street that connected to the bottom of the hill. The few houses on either side were silent, with their curtains and blinds alike all drawn, so I was able to pretend that no one lived in any of them and in fact, that no one lived in the city at all.
The sun was sharp even at this hour, so it was a relief to join the start of the track and ascend into the tree line which offered regular shade. The dirt path I followed was dry and cracked from the heat and looking down at the reddy brown surface was like scanning over images of Mars, with small rocks of different sizes strewn across it. I played the fantasy of being on another planet as I continued upward and fancied that would be a memorable way to spend a Christmas Day. No turkey on Mars, I bet. The path steepened gradually and in areas that the trees gave way, the heat of the sun bore down with considerable weight, almost scathingly. I was about two thirds of the way up the hill now, sweating freely, my shirt sticking to me in places as if holding me in an earnest embrace. I hadn’t always enjoyed the sensation of sweating, but this was a satisfying feeling. Almost like a sign of appreciation, from my body to the wider world.
As I moved around the hillside there were views of the city and the sea below. Out beyond the hill were the tops of tall buildings shimmering brightly, their windows winking as I moved along. The sea looked like a still blanket of almost sky blue and the stillness was broken in only a few places by large cargo ships that appeared to be stationary, but may have been moving, imperceptibly.
If I had in fact been walking on the surface of another planet then the buildings would represent settlements of beings I couldn’t even imagine and the boats would be large spacecraft, looming on the horizon, there for a purpose I couldn’t know. I realised as I neared the top of the hill that I hadn’t thought about another human being this whole time, becoming that little bit closer to accepting that there weren’t any left. Just me, the hill, the sea and the buildings that were like children’s toys from this distance.
The pathway widened out as it levelled at the top, with the dusty track stretching in both directions. I preferred the walk to the right and turned that way, starting across the top of the hill in no hurry. The track itself ranged from about six to ten feet wide now and beyond it expanded that type of grass that has long been baking throughout the summer, sparse and the colour of ill health. I closed my eyes for a few seconds here and there as I walked, hearing slight rustlings as well as the rattle of cicadas, but little else. It’s fascinating to experience the terror of walking with your eyes closed, even if you know that there’s no one around and nothing to bump into or fall off of. I could only do it for five to ten seconds at a time before having to open my eyes and then realise with annoyance that I was almost exactly where I’d imagined I would be, and there was no danger at all in continuing in the dark. It made me wonder how long it took those that had just lost their sight to get over this sensation. Of course, I had no idea, but could only wish for their sake that it subsided quickly. Before long, the track came to an end next to a small clearing where the grass was long and lush, benefitting from some tree coverage. I’d sat here before and decided I’d do the same now.
There was a bench at the head of the grassy area, but I wanted more comfort and searched until I found a patch where the grass was slightly trampled, taking a seat and before long, lying down.
I looked up at the sky where I could, through squinted eyes, letting the oranges and sharp yellows sting me until I had to close them for fear of causing damage. With my arms laid out at my sides and the chirps and clicks of the wildlife as a soft ambience I started to grow heavy, wondering whether I should resist the sensation. I must’ve fallen asleep before long. When I awoke there was a thin white cloud moving lazily across the sun, which for a minute or so made me feel the cold fabric of my wet shirt as it pressed against my skin, reminding me that things rarely remain the same for long. I laid there for a while and almost fell back to sleep but held it off, slowly coming to as the cloud finished its voyage past the sun, letting its searing rays beat down once more. I hadn’t dreamt whilst I’d slept but my body felt different, like my heart had also taken a rest and it was now catching up with me, bouncing and skipping to cover ground. I sat up, leant forward with my elbows on my knees and allowed my head to regain its waking state. The swathes of grass were moving around me, but the sea still looked motionless.
It might have been late morning by now but I had no way of telling for sure, as I didn’t have my phone, a watch or any fancy way of telling the time based on the sun’s position, but it didn’t matter, I wasn’t on a schedule. I sat for a while, until my heart had returned to normal, then set off back the way I’d come. I felt better for the rest, and on an impulse, decided to come back down by another route. The hill was laced with separate tracks of different lengths and steepness, leading to other destinations. I picked one that wound its way down to a spot a little farther from my house, but still only a short walk from home, once I’d descended. Starting back down the hill I felt odd, as if slightly changed somehow from the time I’d been asleep.
Though the path was a new one it was very similar to the way up, the densely packed earth littered with loose pebbles and rocks whilst the surrounding foliage tightly hugged the walkway in most places. In some others though it peeled away overhead, to make me feel as though I was in a vast, high arched tunnel. I made a few sounds just for the sake of it and strangely they neither echoed nor disappeared into the bush. Instead they seemed to travel a certain distance before dropping out of the air and falling right in front of me, almost landing at my feet as I loped downward. I started to shout as well, some words and some unintelligible sounds, but the effect was the same, with the noises stopping dead, refusing to travel past a point. I couldn’t understand what was happening, wondering if I was perhaps still laid in that field and dreaming. Everything looked normal. Everything felt normal. The leaves of the trees were soft and smooth, the ground hard, with a layer of dust covering it. Admittedly, this would have been a good time to have someone around, to help me determine what was happening, but I was happy enough without. On one side of me was the tall rockface leading straight up to where I’d come from, and the other side was a steep drop, shrouded in the rich bush that obscured the view. I edged closer to the treeline and threw a rock, about the size of my fist, over the edge. It sailed through the blanket of leaves and bounced off of something solid, before carrying on its journey, soundlessly. Nothing strange about that. Eventually I dismissed the notion that anything was out of the ordinary, passing it off as some kind of mild delirium. Walking back I saw the alien landscape again, the lights glinting as they did before—every window portraying an unmoving scene that couldn’t be called human or even representative of existence; just empty screens into empty areas, with me, a distant observer trying to discern any signs of life or meaning in this foreign view. My desire for solitude had bloomed.
For the rest of the descent I kept quiet, allowing the nature sounds to fill the environment around me. I knew that all of these were forms of communication but hadn’t registered them as anything more than flippant noises in the past. Listening now was to understand that each little uttering meant something. Possibly something trivial like yelling into the void, but nonetheless something worthwhile for the creature creating it—for even that aimless yell was meaningful, as part of my being had deemed it necessary. Emerging onto the empty street I took in the hot stillness stretching both ways. The cars were gleaming, sat stationary like old relics, and a few small birds fluttered to and fro with their chatter.
I took a step in the direction of my house and suddenly, down the road, almost as far as I could see, there was something moving. I shielded and squinted my eyes tightly. It appeared as a black mass making its way sluggishly across the street, shifting via a protracted dragging. Finally there was something in motion and I didn’t know whether to run from it or get closer. My fantasy of life alone was crumbling as I watched this form nudge forwards and finally a face turned my way out of the black shroud. The figure halted and the white face held, staring towards me. It was impossible to make out any expression from this distance, but it felt as though there was a certain heat emanating from it. I looked away for a moment, to compose myself and decide what I wanted to do. My hopes of pure solitude were now shattered, because even if I were to turn and leave, I would still know that someone else was here, moving about the earth that I’d imagined to have alone. I turned my gaze back around to see the figure now stood up erect, ponderously moving in my direction. The decision was made. I’d have to engage with whomever it was despite my reluctance and give myself up to whatever might come of it. I started to walk toward the being, feeling a slight chill, sharing in this mutuality. My feet were moving automatically, drawn to that which I wanted to avoid, whilst the figure coming towards me glided, like it was being rolled along, and each passing moment made it loom larger.
Our approach continued until we were about five metres from each other and then our movement stopped, as if we’d simultaneously met an invisible barrier between us. I stood still, sliding my hands into my pockets and looking up at the large moon like face that was peering down at me. The features were distinctly androgynous and the skin unnaturally pale, with a pair of large, ovular eyes staring down at me, the colour of them being hard to determine in the surrounding brightness. Their lips were pressed tightly together and I was able to see the muscles of the jaw writhing under the skin as their teeth moved. What had started as apprehension now gave way to a burning curiosity, and the longer I looked at this face the further I became from any kind of understanding. The eyes held me in some kind of trance and I started to pinch my thighs through my pockets, to help me remain present and aware of what was happening.
‘Hello,’ I finally ventured, knowing that we couldn’t stand there staring at each other forever.
The eyes shifted slightly to look at my mouth and the movement of their teeth stopped. An innocent energy was pouring from this most atypical person and I stepped forward one pace, wanting to break through the barrier between us. There was no reaction, from them or the barrier. I took another step, intending my closing of the distance to be taken as an offer of friendship and at this new angle I had to lean back to look upwards at this indescribable face.
‘Hello,’ came the response. The voice was low and carried no resonance to it. The word felt like a brick being produced and dropped abruptly. It also had a lack of tone from which to infer kindness or hostility, but a response was a response.
I looked over their shoulder at the straight empty road behind them and then back over my own.
‘It looks like it’s just us,’ I said, smiling.
A lengthy, telescopic arm appeared from the loose black robe they were wrapped in and raised itself until it was pointing directly at my eye level—almost covering the few metres that were still between us.
‘Just us,’ they said, as their long, bony finger unfurled from the fist and aimed right between my eyes. The arm held as straight as a steel rod.
‘Come. Follow me,’ they said. Again, it was neither threatening nor welcoming but in this uncertainty a feeling of total calm had now enveloped me and I was willing to go wherever this strange character decided to lead me.
They turned and began their seamless glide once again, moving in the direction they’d come. I had to lengthen my stride to try to keep up and found myself almost jogging to remain alongside them, as they gracefully swept along the ground. As we navigated the streets I made a point of trying to take in as many of the houses as possible and incredibly there really was no one else around. The majority were still closed off to the world, with drapes covering the windows, even though the day was in full swing and the few that did have their interiors exposed were deathly still. No noise or movement came from the insides or outsides of these buildings, which must have shown signs of life until recently. In fact they definitely had, as I’d passed by these same streets within the last few days and there had been the usual buzz of cars passing by, people tending to their gardens, tradesmen loading and unloading vans on the kerbside; all of the usual signs of everyday life had been taking place in this exact area. It’s certainly normal for people to go away over Christmas time and those that stayed would mostly be inside their houses with family and friends, but for there to be not even a sniff of another person was highly bizarre. I was seriously starting to wonder whether I was awake or trapped in some other state.
I looked up to my guide and the face wore no expression. The eyes were set facing the road ahead and an air of vacancy hung about them—like they were on autopilot.
‘Have you seen anyone else today?’ I asked semi breathlessly as I moved at that awkward pace
There was no response for a good ten seconds and I looked back up at them to see whether they’d even registered the question.
‘No one else,’ they said bluntly. The mouth, moving mechanically almost, as if it wanted to operate with maximum efficiency to not waste energy, or maybe not to waste words.
We had been going for about fifteen minutes now and I could see that I was being led towards the water, or so I presumed. The path we were taking was the most direct for this purpose and I wondered what I was being led to, though I didn’t feel any urge to ask. If this was in fact happening for real and this person or being were leading me somewhere specific then they must have a purpose and there must be a reason that there was not one other soul present. They could be leading me somewhere dangerous but even with that being the case I didn’t know what else I would do, other than follow them. I could go back home, wait for a while, walk to another part of the city and see whether the situation was the same, but if I were to do that then I would have to abandon what was happening right now and I had no desire to do so.
We rounded the corner of a tall office building and got our first look at the waterfront. The sight was astonishing. The view we had of the seaboard was completely filled with a row of huge, towering ships. They were lined up in a perfect uniform order and were all identical, as far as I could tell. They looked like no type of ship I’d ever seen before and didn’t have the conventional characteristics you’d expect of a seafaring vessel. Instead of the usual elongated hull with smaller structures built atop the deck, these things were in the shape of a giant two hundred. They must’ve been close to two hundred metres in diameter, with the length hard to determine as they were stationed so close to one another. As we neared the water’s edge I could also see that they were sitting on top of the water. There was no part of the structure submerged at all and the fact that these gargantuan things were neither rolling or sinking was baffling. It seemed we’d arrived. My guide had stopped and faced the first of these great constructions. Suddenly I was hit by a strange metallic smell in the air. There seemed to be some kind of energy emanating from the ships but there was nothing visible to confirm this and there was almost no noise at all to speak of. Again, there were no people in the area; no other movement save that of a few birds coming and going. I breathed in deeply and let the leaden air permeate my airwaves, filling my lungs, with the sensation tingling as it sat there.
‘So, this is what you wanted to show me?’ I asked them, after taking a few moments of awe to acquaint myself with the completely foreign sights and smells.
They pointed again, this time towards the base of the second ship along and I could see that there was a small open doorway.
I looked up to the figure, once more trying to get some understanding of what they wanted, or specifically why they’d wanted me, but the eyes were set at the door, unblinking and stony.
‘You want me to go to the door?’ I asked
‘Go’ is all that came in response. Spoken with a flat voice exhibiting only instruction, nothing more or less.
For the first time I paused for thought and tried to establish what I should do in this totally unfamiliar situation. As before, my sense of self-preservation was barely existent and the only motivation I could identify was wanting to know what could be next. Why this series of events was happening at all and why they were happening to me. I looked back at the day before this and the days before that, to see whether there were any signs to suggest that this was going to happen but all that came to mind were utter norms; regular routines, familiar sights, standard interactions. In other words, nothing that could have foretold this oddity. If I were to end up somewhere that I couldn’t come back from, then I felt ready to accept and even embrace it.
Was there any true danger in giving myself up to the unknown?
‘Merry Christmas,’ I said, smiling upwards, and for the first time the shape of the eyes changed. It was nearly imperceptible, but it looked as if they’d widened ever so slightly to convey an understanding of what I’d said and possibly even reciprocation.
I started to walk towards the open door ahead and allowed myself to marvel at the sheer scale of the ship as I entered its shadow. Looking up at it gave me the impression of being beneath some ancient form that had been around for unfathomable time, hidden away in some far off depths to finally come to the surface and complete its voyage. I had expected to see someone else, maybe another like the one that had led me here, but the area was still devoid of life and now that the opening was a stone’s throw away, I knew that I’d have to enter on my own.
The doorway was confirmed as open by the lack of a covering, but the darkness just inside of it was absolutely opaque and I could see neither floor, nor walls, nor ceiling, just a black mass waiting for me. I held out an arm and extended it through the doorway and the moment that my fingers crossed the threshold they disappeared, followed by my hand, wrist and then forearm, until it looked as though my limb had been cropped at the elbow. I was amazed at this and rotated the arm, pulling it back and forth to see the effect of what seemed like an illusion. Inside of this door was a void that no light could penetrate. The interior of this ship was a coffin for the brightness of the sun.
Logic again rang its timely alarm and asked me whether I really wanted to go ahead, knowing that something truly peculiar awaited me. I answered by stepping forward as confidently as I could and once my left foot was planted I followed immediately with the right. The second that my whole body arrived inside I felt something that I’d never experienced before, or perhaps better explained as a lack of something. Any semblance of feeling in my body vanished. Any sound or sight or smell was ousted and disappeared so totally that I couldn’t even remember what these senses meant. As well, I was consumed by a soft pressure, like an inflatable cushion that surrounded my entire body. It would squeeze lightly and then retract, doing this over and again, rhythmically. As it squeezed, I felt as though every memory I’d ever had was being condensed into one single moment, with all of the feelings from each of these millions of instances formed into one distinct mass. Then the pressure would ease and the bundle would instantly unwind, letting everything flow outwards, spreading galaxies apart from each other and regaining their individuality. I could see all of them at the same time, living their separate existence and all of the apportioned emotions and sentiments that related to them swirled around the nucleus of the event. Physically, I felt completely still. My feet were planted on something that would be described as solid, there were no velocities or indicators to suggest that I was in motion, yet I could tell that my position was changing. Either I was being transported in a way that couldn’t physically be determined, or my surroundings were being replaced by something else, seamlessly changing the environment around me. Eventually, the gentle pulsing eased, until it stopped completely, and this abstract sense of motion also gave way. For the first time since entering I had the inclination to move, and turned around on the spot—to see whether my bodily functions still worked, as much as anything. I stepped lightly onto the invisible ground and realised that I was in fact invisible. No part of my being was observable and I considered the possibility that I could have died and might just have been going through some standard post death experience that everyone had, once their earthly bodies expired. If I had died, it wasn’t so bad. In fact it was almost pleasant. With that thought in mind I started to walk in whichever direction I had ended up facing. The dizziness and disorientation I’d expected didn’t arrive and instead I was able to move whichever way I wanted without having any concept of where I was going. My darkened self moved through the ultimate dark that surrounded. My running consciousness told me that I still existed, but whether I existed for anyone but myself, I didn’t know. I decided to try and move in as straight a line as possible, my logic being that I might end up somewhere if I kept going in a set direction. The time passed interminably. My body felt no weight or effects of movement. My mind went forward and I guessed that my body did, also.
After some time of moving this way I sensed that I was nearing something. There was no confirmation that had triggered any of my physical senses, but a part of me could feel that the surrounding space had changed shape and a solid object was close by. The darkness now grew somehow darker and my thoughts mirrored this as they started to turn black, with my awareness of self slowly dimming, like a small flame gradually burning out. Each step forward was bringing me closer to something and shutting me down simultaneously, but I felt no pain or fear and continued on. After a few more steps my cognitive lights went out, turned completely black and I became a single point. As this single point I had no body and no faculties to speak of, my only acknowledgement being that of a shadow casting against a bright white wall. The dark strip of the shadow dissected the broad wall, with the intense light emitting from these separated sides like that of the sun and a purer white than I’d ever encountered. I only knew of the light and the shadow now and I revelled in both. The light was piercing me but there was no discomfort in this and as it cut me into two, little by little, the shadow remained planted between these brilliant halves, drawing me closer and closer to it. My time as this point was ending and as the light finally divided me I was consumed wholly and absolutely by the shadow at the centre.
It was like waking up, except that my eyes were already open and my consciousness had somehow reawakened whilst standing. Before me were two identical translucent panels. They were about three feet across and a foot and a half high, with a dull orange glow showing through them. I couldn’t make out anything distinct on the other side of the panels, but the light that radiated through them was soft and inviting and it just about illuminated a number of abstract shapes that were swirling behind them. I watched one and then the other and it became clear that whilst they were very similar, they were not the same, though in what way I couldn’t tell. I was almost certain that there was nothing else in the room where I stood, but I turned around anyway, just for confirmation. Sure enough, the room was a sharp white throughout and there was nothing inside of its walls other than me and these two panels. I looked down and once again could see myself. My feet were planted on the white floor with my legs rising from them, either side of which were my hands, dangling just past my hips. I raised my hands and patted them against my midriff, moving upwards over my chest and then to my face, holding them against my cheeks. I could feel the warmth of my hands against my face and my heart, beating in my chest. The cadence of my heart was similar to waking up in that field, which could have been earlier this same day or a lifetime ago, but it was impossible to have any kind of grasp on how long had elapsed between now and then.
I was still alive and my body was in one whole piece, despite the overwhelming sense I’d had of being split into two. As far as I could tell I was pretty much the way I had been before all of this and for the first time felt a little relief at still being intact; at still being alive.
I stepped forward now and held out my hand to the panel on the left side, slowly pressing my fingers and then palm against it. Once my hand was in full contact with the panel a connection took place, similar to that of a puzzle piece being slid into its rightful position. A soft, fluid like sensation began coursing through my arm and gradually dispersed throughout me. This warmth spread steadily, along each of the channels inside of me—like an air balloon being pumped full of hot gas—until it had filled up my middle and eventually touched all of the extremities of my body. Whatever was taking place, it was completely new to me. My body felt as though it was radiating; with the energy from the panel circulating its way around me, returning to the source and then once again replenishing me with this divinity. At once I was able to produce explanations for things that I’d long pondered and never been able to answer. The unknowns of my life were instantly turned into absolutes that were totally lucid, like the waters of a crystal clear lake. I leant further, pushing all of my weight forward, my hand feeling as though it were moulding into it and realising that I was yearning for this symbiosis, craving everything that it had to offer me. The process continued over and over again and each time I’d feel the cycle around me complete, I would reach another level of awareness. I was able to interpret all of the conversations that had vexed me in the past, compose perfect responses to any and all problems I’d ever faced and just by thinking of someone in my life, see them in their entirety; every thought, desire or secret they’d ever conjured, every action they’d ever undertaken, good and bad. Looking upwards I could see the images before me constantly changing to somehow represent that which I was experiencing. Faces of those I brought to mind showed in minute detail and full scenes of memory unfolded before me, as though all of my years of living had been recorded and were now being played back before my eyes. The intoxication of this degree of perception and understanding pumped me so full that I could barely breathe and I realised that I was gasping for air as the multitude of discoveries pulsed inside of me, threatening to burst. Not one part of me wanted to release my grip, but I felt that to hold on might damage me in ways that I couldn’t possibly understand, so, slowly, I started to peel my hand from the wall. As I pulled back I could feel the rivers of movement inside me start to stutter and weaken, the thick, warm sensation through the passages of my body easing, bit by bit. Making sure that my feet were set, I leant backwards, finally releasing myself and gulping a huge mouthful of air to try and calm my body which was shaking manically, as if it had been exposed to extreme cold temperatures, but in reality was severely overheated. I carefully sat on the pristine white floor and then laid down, noticing that I was drenched in sweat as my back and head pressed against it, that momentary cold chill of the field returning to me.
Eventually my breathing returned to normal and my racing heart slowed to a steady rhythm, allowing me to reflect on what had just happened.
As I pored over the seemingly endless information that I’d just acquired, I thought of my closest friends and my family; the people that were the main focus of my life and had helped me to become who I now was. Bringing to mind my sister I had a horrible realisation. I could now see into every facet of her life, with no detail spared. From her birth to the current day I was able to access any part of her character and see in vivid detail each and every experience that she’d had along the way, realising instantly that everyone has parts of them that should remain their own. There was no glory in having this all-encompassing knowledge of anyone else and to be human was to have parts of our bodies and minds that we could keep to ourselves, if we wanted to, whether it was due to embarrassment or potential misunderstanding, or even to be able to know a part of oneself that no one else could ever share; to affirm your singularity. I loved my sister and would always love her, despite anything she might think or do, but being able to see these things and know these thoughts were tarnishing my view of her, as if a bottle of ink had been knocked over and the thick dark liquid were slowly extending outwards, distorting her image, until I couldn’t recognise her at all. I repeated this process with one or two others and experienced the same dismay. There was no way that I’d be able to live like this. Having never thought about it seemed completely normal, but also, having the realisation now, it seemed utterly fundamental that flaws are and always have been an intrinsic aspect of the human condition and being able to perfectly perceive all of them was far too much for anyone to be able to swallow and carry on. After this period of reflection I peeled myself off of the smooth, hard floor and again stood, staring at the two panels. The pressure of all that I had taken on was almost unbearable and I longed to be rid of it.
I now placed my right hand onto the corresponding panel and my body attached to it, locking into place. The pathway opened and a new current began flowing through me, seeping into every corner of my being. It was a similar sensation to that of before, but also the complete opposite, if that were possible. Almost exactly the same, but ultimately opposed. As the energy began circulating, it had the effect of a cool stream running over my psyche. With each pass it seemed to be washing me clean. My ability to peer into the deepest, darkest recesses was vanishing and when I tried to recall certain details or images, they were all but disappeared, where I’d had perfect clarity just a short while ago. I was being cleansed. The intolerable burden of being exposed to such awareness began to leave me in stages, like birds migrating south for summer and with it my body was able to relax in response to this lessening of mental weight. Each revolution of this indescribable force through my body brought another wave of relief and I could sense that I was almost restored, as the cool stream ran through the corridors of my total being; body and mind. To test myself, I tried to recall memories of someone that I’d been in love with, if I ever truly had been in love. In a glimmering haze I could see her face. I couldn’t help but smile as I brought to mind how close we had been and the softness we’d shared together. Our bodies had been meant just for each other, for a short period of time, and I could see all of these experiences as if through a dusty lens, all of the intensity and luminous heat of emotion was perfectly vivid, but the details were drawn in a faint outline. This is how I wanted things to be. There was no need for precision and more than this, having a clear picture of every thought and action could only serve to spoil them. Vulnerability and uncertainty were once again restored to me, with long invigorating breaths.
This time I felt my hand detach from the panel without having to pull myself away and as I stepped calmly backwards I could tell that I was myself. In no way enhanced or diminished, just exactly the person that I was before any of this began. I’d never been so happy to be precisely who I was and it occurred to me that you can only remember things that you’d forgotten and I’d been able to forget everything, left completely empty and brand new.