Part of the ‘Stranger Stories’ series
Disclaimer: The photos used in my Stranger Stories series are taken from charity shops, yard sales etc. I don’t know the real identities of the people in the photos, and all stories are entirely fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is purely coincidental. The photos are a tool to brainstorm new characters and experiment with style.
Scroll down to the bottom for Author’s notes.
(there’s a g-hooost on thorizoooon . . .
when I . . . . hmmm feeemugg . .
I don’t want to be the oo-oone
Let in there, dur dur deeeeere . . .)
So many sounds that she couldn’t place.
But they were coming from a place. Did the place come first, or the words? She sang them so they weren’t wriggling around in her throat like a fish. Like a plaice.
She laughed and swallowed and saw colours.
2. Up and up
It was only there when she closed her eyes. Her stomach was in the right place, she knew, but she also felt a curious pull from her belly button – as if the rest of her insides were strung out on the floor and trying to get her to move. She let her head loll to the side and imagined she was seeing her lower intestine shuffle towards the door, twisting like a worm.
Her stomach, still inside her, growled and twisted. Her heart thudded – slow, at first, but something was readjusting her body’s metronome and she could feel it clicking more and more rapidly, beating through her chest. She imagined it stopping; muscles tensing, valves caught, filling with its own blood.
Colour pumped through her veins. Deep purples and turquoise spun around in the deep peach-pit of her body; swirling along with letters and syllables, climbing her ribcage and jumping from her toes to her nose and back again. It felt like some wondrous hot bath. Tightness and release all at once.
(Toes, nose, highs . . . lows. Somebody knows. Greenery grows)
She wasn’t sure whether or not the music was playing anymore, but she was aware of her tongue moving around to make the words regardless. She looked up, tasting the lyrics as they floated out of her mouth and circled above her in a mini-tornado.
They formed erratic shapes and pulsed up and down above her head. They were as real as the mattress she was lying on, the empty fridge, the pain she’d been feeling just an hour ago. The consonants were mini-monoliths, darker than the rest and made a cone of dark blue and green colours, but the word ‘I’ was her favourite; gloriously yellow and pulsing up near the ceiling like a strobe.
She thought of her old room and the television that had sat barely used in the corner, save for one daily programme. (I’ll take a consonant please, Carol. Errrrm . . . a vowel. And another – is it – um, consonant please Carol.)
If she mouthed the words without actually saying them, it seemed to produce wispier letters; no colour, but a weightlessness that allowed them to drift above and below the ceiling plaster.
The room flickered with light she knew wasn’t really there. The light turned to static as the programme in her mind dissolved into pixels, bouncing off the bare walls and across the floor. She blew a puff of air, and the static moved away like smoke.
She felt peace, reaching up towards the still glowing ‘I’, splaying her hands so that the light was broken by her fingers. There was a curious blurring around her knuckles, and even though she knew the room was dark, there was a strong warmth coming from the letter by the roof. The ‘I’ stopped ascending and instead started to stretch; pulling at itself with a buzz until it was the size of a staff and drew all the rest of the colours around it in a whirlwind. The colours condensed and suddenly she was looking at a cloud of moths attacking a naked strip light. It turned vertically in the air and plunged down towards her stomach. She didn’t flinch.
The ‘I’ disappeared before it entered her torso – becoming a shadow so quickly she could barely say whether she’d seen it at all. She understood. Light had no business being inside her.
It had only been a few hours and so she was still able to tell the difference between reality and hallucinations. She was told that it only becomes dangerous when you forget it’s not real, and so hung onto that thread of thought as securely as she could. Even so, good sense had become slippery as she had been drawn further in and she felt like there was a chance it could drip out of her ear if she rolled her head back the other way.
In a way, she didn’t care. This seemed much more enjoyable than the dank flat she knew she was really lying in, and the woman she knew was somewhere blowing up a storm. Don’t think, she assured herself, drift far enough away so you leave her behind. She had written a reminder on her left hand but now remembered licking it off shortly after her hand had turned to a delicious looking cupcake. Lucky she always licked the icing off before biting down into the sponge, and after a few seconds she was jolted back into reality by the bitter taste of her own hand cream.
“Julia . . .?”
Time moved in stunning contrast, passing quickly – hours in minutes – and then slowing to an almost unbearable rate.
At first it was an annoyance when she found herself looking at her watch again when only seconds had passed, but they then became insignificant again as she shot forward into . . . what? (something. Not time but space. Not linear, but . . . big. Bigger)
If time was moving in one direction then she had business with it.
She was on the bed and everything moved away from her. Time wasn’t her journey – it all came from her and moved outwards, forever and always, into that space. Creating space. She lay motionless, feeling the glaze of decades set over her eyes and listening to her body as it creaked and rustled; as it tried to age alongside her mind. For a few moments she lived her own life, a million before and a million in the future. She breathed deeply and tried to slow it all, marvelling at the train of thought which was at risk of running the rails and bringing down all reason on her head. (it’s not real, this thing – the steam, coal. The smell. Slow it down.) She breathed. She breathed.
4. How many?
(How can I . . . fallllll aslee . . .)
She was singing again, wanting to be up there – floating with the colours instead of down on her rough mattress. She kept meaning to buy a new one but days after days had pushed it to the back of her mind. It was as thin as a sheet of paper and had sagged between the metal springs, leaving one pressing harshly into the small of her back. She could move, but it felt oddly comforting having the pressure there. Her fuddled mind conjured an image of her spinning around and around like a bottle on a countertop, attached by the bottom of her spine to the mattress spring. Her arms and legs would pop off as she span faster, followed by her head and leaving her sleeves flapping comically in the wind. She laughed loudly with giddy delight, grabbing at the side of the bed frame to pull her body over the side, and falling with a thump on the wooden floor, turning her laugh into a cackle.
It was so much cooler, the wooden floor, as if she had dived into a pool. She swam some strokes with her outstretched arms and watched as a watery visage appeared in front of her.
(so here’s hoping I will not drown . . .
dreee daa . . . to the seal’s watershed . .)
She drifted in her head for a while until the sound of her own singing quieted, and the colours stopped jumping off the wall and into the sky. Blue.
Her shoulders started to shake as if she was having a fit.
“JULIA? How many did you take?”
Her tongue felt fat in her mouth again.
“JULIA! HOW MANY?”
Too many, she tried to say.
This was a strange one to write, but I like how it turned out in the end. She’s high as a kite but I feel like this actually represents more accurately how my own mind works (sober). Lots of distractions, a bit of singing, some weird involuntary reactions to thoughts (I have friends I swear).
Even though it’s not the style I write in a lot, I found that it actually came super quick to write (about 4 hours in all to write and edit) and the main problem was trying to wrap up a plot. Which it doesn’t have, really. But hey – time isn’t exactly linear when you’ve taken LSD and so I still feel like it worked.
It was just an experiment, but I’ll probably try something similar in the future. I got inspired firstly by the groovy 70’s garb the character in the vintage photo was wearing (also that throwback stare – her pupils are definitely dilated to fuck), and secondly by ‘Misery’ by Steven King, which I’m listening to on Audible right now. The setup of that novel is so interesting – you flit in and out with consciousness along with the protagonist as he tries to understand what has happened, so it leaves you feeling quite disoriented.
What would you have written?
Let me know in the comments what story popped into your head when you saw the photo and we can have a jolly old time discussing:
1. What you liked about this story, and what I need to work on?
2. What other kinds of stories are hidden in this photo
3. Whether flared jeans should be making a HEAVY comeback.