It begins with a splintering intersection of time and reality. The world shatters, seeks to cobweb, to consume the glass coffin that encases and confines. I inhale and hold and pray, but forget what I’m praying for? The sensation stalls like a pinched vein unable to release the life-giving blood within. But it hasn’t stopped. Not really.
She is here. I grasp the handle, cold to my touch, try to release my trapped body for I am late, or we are late, I think? My exit into the lucid darkness is to become one with the night and nothing more.
My co-workers laugh as I leave the building. They do not even do me the courtesy of waiting until I’m out of earshot. Only now as I leave to go home will they talk, chatter and converse. I hate it, hate them, but do not blame them. I’m not even sure if I’m understood here at all anymore?
An old man walks past with a small dog that might be a spaniel or a poodle or a rat, I no longer remember such things? All I know is it’s getting dark and I hate the night. I loathe it with a passion that even now restarts my stalled heart.
I hear a crack as of standing on broken glass and run to my car. My co-workers are watching, but I don’t care; I never have. Whilst they frolic and joke and jape, I shall be home and safe. Nothing can touch me there not even she who seeks to draw me away.
I drive some sort of autonomous, small vehicle. I’ve never looked at the badge that neither stands out from any other nor provokes a vandal’s ire. Like me, my car is a shadow within a shadow, a dark patch within a greater whole. I seek anonymity in my little metal box. I don’t find it.
I close my eyes, she is here. I am found. The car grows cold, colder than I’d ever think possible. My fingers feel like icicles and I fear flexing them, to hold the steering wheel and drive away would be to snap them.
The voice spreads like freezing fog pooling its way across the distance between us, an undulating cloud of death. Molecule by molecule absolute cold creeps over the pond that is me trying to trap my writhing form beneath translucent coverings. I’m scared, so very scared, but more so, tired. It is these tired eyes I open to look into the rear-view mirror. I don’t want to, but what choice do I have? I am a man bereft of options. I look deep into the flowing quicksilver, deep into a world dissimilar, yet not. Sapphire eyes stare back. I drive.
No matter how fast I go the eyes remain, they are everywhere: reflected in the wing mirrors, the window glass, my heart. The splintering starts again and I clutch my chest. The pain spreads one vein at a time each pump of my heart hastening it further through my system like crystallising ice.
Somehow, I make it home in my nondescript little car that drives on nondescript highways through a nondescript city. I am forgetting the world around me. I feel it. A dusk settles on my soul and will not lift. The curtains are being drawn.
Something tinkles off my jaw to land on my lap. I am crying jingling tears as a frozen breath washes over my nape.
The gravel crunches like bones beneath my feet as I take flight up the driveway. I no longer lock my door on leaving, I daren’t, the risks are too great, and sweep inside bolting an Alcatraz of locks in my wake. I don’t know why I do it for she is already within.
The lights hiss on like provoked cobras seeking to strike, a fizzy drink with attitude, Coca-Cola gone bad. The sink beckons and I splash cold water from the spitting faucet over my goosebumps skin. The water feels warm to my touch though I know it freezing. I am colder than the cold. I am ice, or glass, or both.
“A cup of tea will make things better, son.” I hear my momma as though she stands beside me, so I boil the kettle and make some Earl Grey. The tea is lacklustre, the water tepid. All I can think is why would momma come back from the afterlife to give me bad advice. That would be a terrible waste, wouldn’t it?
She whispers my name like Fall to the leaves, a rustling symphony. She always whispers it. I would rather she yelled, announced it to the world, so that my fear could be given a name, a title, a medical description, but she doesn’t. Alicia never spoke anything but niceties of love: Alicia, the name comes and goes. Who or where she is, I do not know, but I am tied to this mysterious visitor. She haunts me.
“Evening,” says the man walking his something-or-other pet.
The old man strides across my landing as though it is a path. But it is not and I would remind him not to use my property as a byway. But my voice is silenced by the intangible hand smothering my mouth.
She has committed the sin of sins and I make a break for the door only to crash against the glass; it shatters, or is it me? Either way, I am out and running a cold North wind at my back. One might say it follows me breathing in Arctic blasts that chill my spine.
I hurtle over the small wall that separates my home from the identical others, then the next, and then I’m free. The fields and trees call to me to save them as the snow starts to fall. But I can’t. I can’t even save myself. I would though if I could. I’d cast myself upon them and bear the brunt of nature though I know it would kill me. Yes, I would this time. I promise.
The moon slips beneath raven sheets and the world plunges into darkness. Even the snowflakes descend as ash as I plunge on and on without a care other than to be free. I sprint so fast that the night blurs and all is as a dream, and I slip and I fall and I hit my head.
The first crack is like a gunshot with a million tiny echoes, the second a deeper thud. The glass fractures: a windshield shatters. I cannot stop it, not anymore. Like glass spiders building a perfect web before sunrise, the windshield is more broken tapestry than solid force.
“John,” she says from the car bonnet, glass spiders coating her body. “John, I need you. Come with me. Come with me. John, it’s time.”
And it is, I know that now. One should not resist the inevitable; it’s inevitable, after all. Blurred eyes start to close as an old man with a small dog that might be a spaniel or a poodle or a rat rushes over, collar upturned against the storm. He looks sad slip-sliding his way to my side, but not as sad as I.
The snowflakes fall in crimson relief. All is as it should be, at last.
Some become ghosts, whilst others are already there. They just don’t know it until the glass shatters and the real world splinters away.