It was hours before I was back in seething wells; stumbling through the corn with blood running all across me. As I walked my memories began to mingle together. At times it seemed obvious and beyond the slightest doubt the man had stolen my car. Other times I remembered exactly as vividly and with precisely the same conviction that I had tried to walk back from seething wells before being hit by a man of straw driving his own car. Sometimes the two memories were one and the world felt unreal and swirling. Walking back to seething wells was a stumbling trip down the road to madness. Occasionally a crow would fly past with a squawk and I’d flinch but it wouldn’t acknowledge me. My mind began to slosh in misapprehension of the dreamscape of corn I found myself staggering zombie-like and half dead through. I was the nightmare creature of this road; ready to be hit like I had[n’t] been earlier.
Eventually I reached the edge of town and collapsed. Someone must have found me because I woke up in the back of a car I did not recognize. An old women was driving and I realized she bore a resemblance to my sister.
“Nice to see you again.” She said. Her picking me up was a complicated gesture to decipher. It was one of those gestures where it was unclear what the overt motivation was and what was the hidden one. A bitch sister driving her douchebag brother home from an accident he could neither understand nor explain: rambling about scarecrow monsters. I was told I’d been rambling and could even remember it. However it was a disconnected intransitive sort of memory which seemed disconnected from the string of memories that bridged the gap between my gurgling primeval infancy and my current state. In a sense it didn’t seem like me who was doing the rambling in my memories; simply an unfortunate car crash victim who bared my resemblance. Because I wouldn’t be rambling. If I was talking about an unfeeling man of straw knocking me down with his car that I had false memories of being mine; I would be telling the truth and lying all at once.
She tried to talk to me a few more times but I said nothing. I’m not sure why I said nothing but I can rule out the usual reason with my sister; the usual hard feelings and acknowledgment of the ten year rift wedged between the two of us. I almost had a desire to try and reach out to her. It was a strange mix of bittersweet regret and bloody minded self-righteousness. It was then that I first felt the strong inexorably urge to die that I was so used to.
My sister started talking at me as was the way for her when I wouldn’t speak. She rambled now. I’m sure she would feel disconnected from the idea she had rambled likewise. She would remember it as very deeply important issues like mothers will and the house and other trivialities. My mind went soft and the hard edges of the world started to disappear. Eventually I fell back asleep.
What followed was a nightmare too terrible to describe. Words cannot contain the demons that floated before my eyes. No combination of syntax and punctuation, no scratches of sliced tree filled with ink or carbon dust can express the terrifying screaming void. And I do mean screaming. Terrible screaming that made my mind rebel and pray for an end that didn’t come for decades. The dream was an entire lifetime held in a two hour car ride and I spent every unbearable minute of it awake and screaming back with an infinitesimal shout at the void that I at last understood the nature of.
It was the vast empty eye of a scarecrow.
Coming home my phone started blowing up for the first time in years. It was my sister- yes I have a sister. I assume she’d been given my number by the CID or something like that: god knows it wasn’t me. All this forced friendliness and so on; it made me uncomfortable. I don’t wanna go into why I and she were so distant; it seems so stupid now. Needless to say it was awkward to see words she’d presumably typed with the same hard little line of a mouth I now had driving through the web of tight little country roads.
I glanced up from my phone to see a figure three feet in front of my bonnet. All I saw was a brown blur and then the hard thump of something bouncing over the top of the car. I screeched to a halt in a disconnected way. I was reacting quickly but my mind seemed to commanding my body with thousand mile long puppet strings. I screeched to a halt and went jogging back the way I had come. There was a body lying on the ground and my jog turned into a sprint. I imagined prison; or maybe just a lifetime of guilt. I didn’t dread it I simply considered it dispassionately. Everything seemed numb. Everything seemed hollow. The body was covered in potato sacks and turned away and hunched so I could see only its torso and its booted feet pointing out away from me along the concrete. As I came three feet away though the body shifted suddenly and I stopped in my tracks. It shifted in a jerky, faintly unhuman way that made me feel very strange. It was like the fog and chill were finally piercing my layers of clothing and I felt rough; like I was naked and shuddering on that exposed screaming concrete. Security seemed a distant dream as the whistle of wind became a roar. It was then that a vague black shape swung into my face in a flurry of squawks and was followed by dozens more. They were massive, much bigger than crows, and pecked at me with long sharp beaks. They didn’t touch my skin but slashed my clothing into ribbons and sent me crashing to the flaw in terror and shock. Suddenly the figure I had struck down was standing over me and the birds were simply perched on me; their talons like cold iron against my exposed skin. I was shaking and close to screaming at how my usual experience was reversed. The figure’s face was covered by a cowl but I could see its arm was dislocated and its leg was limp. I couldn’t figure out what mechanism allowed it to stand but I was more concerned by the figures attire; dressed in rags and sacks like a tramp. The figure spoke with a voice that was surprisingly weedy and ragged given the commanding position it was now in.
“No. You instead.”
And with an excruciating strike I couldn’t see I felt my innards shatter like struck with a thousand hammers at once. I felt my arm twist and writhe painfully and against my will. A thousand inviable knives emerged from inside my leg and then I abruptly lost all feeling to it. My eyes scrunched up tightly and I screamed but, as the pain settled into a dull throb and I looked again, all the figures wounds were healed completely. He was also somehow holding my car keys despite never having bent down to retrieve them from my pocket. He didn’t say another word; getting into my car and driving away.
My car pulled up in the little Village around lunch time. My stomach was hair trigger and I didn’t trust myself to a sandwich. The Village was encased in fog and I was soon to learn that this seemed the essential fact of Seething Wells. The Village had this fog as I had green eyes- part of the Village’s essential being. I slowed down a great deal as I crawled through the streets looking for the address. Seething Wells was quiet- another fact of its existence. In the several subsequent visits over that November I had seen only a handful of people. They always had that same look about them; a vacancy that sent a chill down my spine even in those secure Religious days. I saw an old woman, perhaps the same age as my Mother had been, standing out on the pavement. Her eyes were wild and sat atop lumpy uneven blue bags. She followed my car and maintained a gaze until she was behind me. I could see her shrivelled lips were quietly mumbling something to quietly to hear even if standing next to her I imagined. I went down one street and saw a lost child poster pinned to a lamp post. It was a little boy with that same wild vacant look. A boy called Simon Coppers. House number 7. I parked and entered. Just as I shut the door I saw a shape run across the street in the distance. Maybe three foot high. As I slammed the door I heard a mother call out after it and connected the tale in my head. The staircase was in a bad way; the carpet half torn up. Nobody had been in here for months- not since mother went into the hospital for the last time. With each step the whole house sighed and creaked as I stared at each picture lining the walls. Family holidays are barely remembered and the occasional snap of my supposed father. He seemed nice; I think it was a month before he went off to war. At last I slid my eyes over the lip of the bannister and surveyed out across the- my vision was blocked by three shut flat panels of doors. I reached out a hand for the door and then retrieved it to my side with the flutter of birds outside. The second time I was quicker and threw the door open. The room was bare as it had been left. This was the guest bedroom and had therefore always been empty. It had little and I decided without really looking that it could all go. The next room was the bathroom. The next was mother’s bedroom. It was all the sort of tat you’d expect a lonely old woman to horde. There were lots of photo albums and the like. It doesn’t matter anymore. I took a few things for no real reason and then called the number I’d been given; told them auctioneers could have the rest. Then I was back outside to find the street as empty and foggy as I remembered it. I got back in my car and almost thought I could see Simon Coppers poke his head out of one of the other houses flower beds. I couldn’t face driving straight back so I made my way out to the edge of the village which a map told me had some sort of café. Maybe not a full meal but I was beginning to come round to the idea of a cup of coffee or something. The café was abandoned- clearly unused for years. I was annoyed but at least its disused garden would make an okay place to catch some fresh air away from the oppressive strangeness of the rest of the village. I sat on a bench that creaked dangerously with rot and stared out into the midst; the edge of a cornfield all that was visible to me.
That was my last sane day on Planet Earth.
I was not the sort you would expect to get wrapped up in these things. I was no detective or spiritualist or heroic figure of any kind. Before these events I had called myself lightly religious; what blissful days they were. I call them blissful not to suggest I was foolish for believing in the Truth of Our Lord Jesus Christ; but to suggest that it is better to assume an all-powerful being is looking out for you than to know the only reason you’re not already dead is because it enjoys toying with you a whole lot more. Before these events I was entirely insignificant; but unknowingly so. I worked in an office; I can barely remember what we did. I only know that it seemed to matter a lot to me back then. Those were the days of Bliss and Sanity; two luxuries I know nothing of these days. As I write these words the fervent ticks of madness burrow deeper. I write without much detail out of urgency. I apologise. I don’t know how much longer the English Language will be available to me. Eventually we all return to the overwhelming Lingua Franca of creation. But I will return to that later. Those days of Bliss and Sanity came to an end, however, with the death of my mother on the Halloween of 2003. It was a long time coming, poor woman, spitting and screaming away her last blood stained years ending in a ten day death rattle in a hospital bed. I had never been close to her which made it uncomfortable to find out the only intelligible word in her final gibbering proclamation, seconds before her lungs finally filled with blood, had been my name. They rung me right away and I was told everything in the frost of a silent mid-morning. I was hungover, a year since the divorce yesterday, and struggled to process. Eventually they were done talking and I tried to continue the day. Rather than silently and strangely grieve I had to go pick up some things from her home in the West Country. She had owned it fully for ten years and I was her only surviving relative (car accident at a wedding ten years ago). That town’s name meant nothing to me; having visited only once whilst she’d lived there and being driven by someone else. The little town of Seething Wells.
There was fog on the cornfields that terrible November night; a fog that called to mind only the grotesque promises of the ancient pagan wilderness. As the guardian sun shrunk away below the horizon the sky reverted from its raw oblivion pink to a deep blue and then total blackness. These were the conditions in which I was forced to make my way through the cornfields. My car had broken down and naturally there was no phone signal in those days in that backwater stretch of countryside. It was all to be expected. I had to walk to meet my fate. I felt a steely resolve give way to a childish hysteria in the face of the unknowable but undeniable. Just days ago this would have seemed impossible- a ghost story with no merit. But here I was about to go to a fate so many orders of magnitude worse than death that the human mind struggles to comprehend. The corn respectfully parted to my worn cold hands and let out a swishing that set the rhythm for my silent trek through the sea of fraying yellow stalks. This was the setting in which my first encounter with He who titles this work took place. This was the setting in which I first encountered Mr Crow. But it was also, I assumed, going to be the setting for when I would meet him for the last time: my last opportunity to meet anything for that matter. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should go back to the beginning. It all started with four simple words. Words that would haunt me from their first utterance in my presence to my echoing them on my final blood stained breath.
Forever out of time.
There is nothing more terrifying than drive. Drive as in ambition I mean. Why have it? Any plausible explanation for drive seems terrifying to me. Is one driven in ignorance of the futility of human effort? Success is irrelevant- always. I think this sometimes on the rare precious occasions I am in graveyards. I look at the blunt little stones and consider that all the peeling decaying bodies in the ground once obsessed over their appearance, worried about their careers, pursued romantic interests or tried to make friends. All of that back breaking effort and brow sweltering strain ended up rotting in the ground; one day bacteria will consume all our accomplishments.
So is drive a denial then? Is our culture, our civilisation, our Terror Management apparatus, all so sophisticated it can keep us productive in the face of overwhelming existential preferences otherwise? Is it ignorance? If it is denial what causes the denial? Do you see why it’s terrifying now? But that’s just one explanation; they’re all terrifying. Maybe it’s neither denial nor ignorance but out right delusion. Maybe our Terror Management works too well- maybe there are some of us (perhaps all of us on some level) that still believe on some level that some are successful and others are failures. Maybe it’s all the television; or maybe our minds are just incapable of thinking any other way. It matters if our atoms were arranged to be ‘happy’ or ‘rich’ or ‘in love’ just cosmic moments before entropy tore them apart- is that the lie on which civilisation is built?
I don’t know. Drive causes a deep and insoluble horror in me.
The Starbucks problem is perhaps a misnomer, it has very little to do with the fast [drink] serving sugar adding heathen establishment from which it gets its name. I must also acknowledge that the framing of the phenomena as a ‘problem’ may perhaps be a vain attempt on my part to add some sense of philosophical weight or gravitas to the situation. But language is naught but the cries of beasts collated into ‘meaning’ so if a misnomer will make the concept ring true for whatever scant lost souls read these words then I will endure the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism for it.
The Starbucks problem is, succinctly, the profound horror when that which evokes depth of feeling, sharpening of the intellect, or enrichening of the lives of few is replaced or overshadowed by that which elicits the Horrifying momentary empty thrill of the many. It is the Library, last bastion of the free soul, being demolished to make an emporium of cosmetic nothingness; it is the fifth album of any much beloved but little known musician- emptiness compounded by once holding much-; and it is the woodland being flattened to make a supermarket, a car park, or a Starbucks.
This may all seem like trivial complaining or yearning for the good old days but please do not misunderstand me; the Starbucks problem is as old as civilisation, perhaps as mankind. The Starbucks problem is merely a symptom; a wider population conditioned to care naught for the intriguing or the sensitive. Quietness, oddity, profundity; these are not the preferred properties of the many but the strange and secret preferences of the few. And when the mass finds these things they are quick to destroy them; reminding themselves of their importance in the wider universe with another mini-mart or another coffee shop.
This isn’t anger; merely a statement of the world as I find it- anger is a fire the burns bright and short; melancholy is the venom which seeps deep and sleeps steep till the time comes for it to burst forth.