by Stephanie Robertson
bitter black coffee
And so it has happened.
They closed the theatre today. I am now without purpose; my production temporarily on hold they said, but only a fool would believe them. I must continue to write as that shall be my only vestige of normality in these strained times. They didn’t even have the courtesy to write -they just barricaded the door with garish red tape.
I should write to the authorities to lodge my complaint.
I swear that somebody was following me as I made my way home through the snow.
I had to hunt down some firewood to keep out this wicked cold. A futile venture: everybody is freezing and hoarding supplies. Government forces have requisitioned all wood and coal. No doubt they are keeping themselves warm and fat.
On my way home I noticed that I was being followed again. That same figure- the man in the trench coat and hat. He’s grey all over.
I must get some sleep.
I’ve had little food for days, and no fuel for heating. The ice is creeping through the locks and freezing everything from the inside out. Knowing that these messages are getting through to you is keeping me alive. That, and my script, which I must finish. The race to complete my life’s work is the only thing keeping me alive.
I had to go out to get some supplies. The streets are deserted, the shops and shelves empty. The baker and butcher took pity on me and let me have precious stock from beneath their counters. I could see how shocked they were by my sudden attenuation. Their kindness shook me to tears.
And I saw him again today. Lurking. That man in a trench coat. Grey face. Grey hat. A fragment of a man. He has no eyes and yet he is always peering. How can that be?
I will need food again soon but I shan’t risk going out again, for fear of him. He is crawling inside my head and turning my stomach at every move.
Ink and paper running low. Soon I shall be forced to scrawl on tissues which I can at least conceal from the authorities more easily. Eventually they, like everything else, will run out. We shall be cut off from the mainland any day now: the harbour is on fire. It is the only thing that is – this perpetual cold will not yield for a moment. Through the casement I watch its warmth with envy, hoping to catch the slightest heat. These appalling conditions have made me covetous.
I must keep writing. Time is running out. On every corner, behind every window, there he is. My grey parasite.
One of my windows was smashed last night in a riot which saw the government forces temporarily overwhelmed. A few hours later, they regained control. Now he can climb inside and get to me and I can do nothing to protect myself. I shall have to patch up the pane as best I can. To keep him out.
They carted the neighbours off in the night. No screaming. No struggle- just resigned acceptance that it is now a matter of time before every family is denounced. Starving rats will feed off one another after all.
I can’t help wondering how my end will come. I know it will be lonely. I shall hold you in my heart but for fear of condemning you, release you before it’s all over.
I am now certain that they can see which thoughts dominate our minds. Remember that summer’s day in the park when you wore your green dress and we saw that man who kept screaming ‘Get it out!’ as he clawed at his skull. We thought he would tear himself apart. We walked past, thinking he was senseless. How that memory replays, torturing me. At the time we assumed he was just mad but now I see it quite differently. He had discovered what we were all still denying to ourselves. But what could we have done?
God how I despise what I have become. My defining qualities are now meek acceptance, cynical resignation and shameful submission. That theatre was my life blood and without it I am bereft of purpose. And I never even said a word. Now I exist, like a ghost with nothing to haunt.
In their absence, I shamefully rifled through the neighbours’ cupboards and stole their coffee so for the first time in days, the script is progressing.
Government agents are everywhere- usurpers of peace roaming like pernicious tap roots.
I can see him out of every window now. He surrounds me, engulfing me in his grey. His gaunt face and missing eyes haunt me. Endless ashen pits glaring at me from under the rim of that hat. And yet I recognise something within him that confounds me. Like staring in a mirror. But one that doesn’t look back.
I must sleep. I can’t trust my senses. Is he becoming part of me? It is as though he has extracted part of me and entwined it with his own being. His grey is infecting me, of that I am sure. I feel like I’m losing my mind.
I am suffering from nervous exhaustion. But all the doctors have been taken.
I dreamt of him again. That man in the grey trench coat. He is a portent. He was standing over me while I slept, reading my script out loud. His voice, my god, his voice, like the howling of a demon.
I woke to find the fire out, rime upon my beard and blood upon my pillow.
These walls are bearing down upon me so I can barely breathe. I daydream of summer in the country. Fresh gooseberries and saunas and balmy air. I burnt the last of the furniture.
My script is stalling. He has blackened my beloved characters with his squall and now they are tainted. My substance is lacking and I cannot give them what they need. I have to reclaim them; their love must transcend everything. But all I see is him in every word, in every line, in every image. He is always lurking.
He knocked on the door today. His audacity is growing as I become weaker. I told him I could hear him but would not let him in. How his presence petrifies me. Every hour he knocks and will not leave me alone. I must write but my hands are frozen. When will spring come? God, this bitter fate.
I am confined again to bed. I feel so weak I am sure I might die.
He keeps knocking and looking in through the windows. I have blacked them out as best I can – it took all my energy. I spent hours tearing up every piece of paper in the flat. I wept as I tore my precious books and photographs. It was like flaying my own skin.
I cannot rest, knowing that he is always there, disturbing me, bothering me. He seems to crawl under and through and between the paper barricades that I have erected. I can feel him trying to invade my script but it’s my work and I shan’t let him in. He claws at it and the effort of keeping him from worming into it is pushing me towards the unknown. I must reconcile the fate of my tragic hero before I perish.
You came to me in my dream- my beautiful sylph. Like a part of the air, you touched me with warmth. And I felt so ashamed of my condition- to bring you to such a hovel when you have the liberty to roam unconstrained in freer worlds. I thought I must be dead. And I felt so relieved to have departed from this wretchedness that I sobbed with solace.
But then the knocking started and broke my reverie and I screamed with hatred and rage at that foul creature lurking right there behind the doors.
I must keep writing, time is seeping through every last pore like tar.
Night and day have merged insidiously into one since he stole light from this crypt. I hang in the balance between life and death, but closer, I pray to the judgement of that Mighty Inquisitor. My only sin, gutlessness for which I pray I will not burn. May the devil drag these dark forces and that man in the trench coat shrieking to hell.
My tragic hero has succumbed to the hubris that would always consume him. His lover also had to die. I could see no other way for her to endure since death is all I feel.
And now I am alone. Apart from that infernal figure. Eyeless grey monster in the coat and hat. He is always knocking and peering. He is a festering carbuncle, a cancer, continually growing- his tentacles twisting themselves around my veins, choking me so that I feel like I am drowning.
No matter what I do, he is always there, watching. Knocking and peering.
I let him in.
About the author
Stephanie lives in Wimborne in Dorset and has been writing for the last couple of years. She writes short and flash fiction and poems. She is a private tutor and lives with her partner and their two beautiful boys.
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