The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own. Yellow teeth, stubble, wrinkled reptilian face. I looked into a pair of curious eyes, eager to know the truth, piercing through the distorted sheet of glass. Heavy drops blurred the contours, contorted the figures. There weren't many of them there.
Drip, drip, drip.
Metal exposed to constant moisture corroded. Beds, tables, trays. Closest to me. Wallpaper rolled into impossible structures ready to reveal bare concrete.
Every little thing that hung here seemed deranged. A rotten green bloomed under the sink, like damp moss in a distant desolate forest. Water pipes and toilets made a gurgling sound, digging a hole of anxiety in my traumatised belly, twisting around my guts, circling like a boomerang in my stomach. My brain beating on repeat.
Tap, tap, tap.
This was no ordinary equipment. It was Their special equipment that bled through the material tissue as through the pores of Their skin. I never identified with Them.
They booked me into a place where nothing was growing. Every living thing was stagnant, not dead, but not alive either. Neck-deep in the past like in a tub full of water. The doors seemed so heavy they needed no locks, the sounds of clogs screwing into the skull like a drill. It felt… Well, I didn't know what it felt like until they took me to this Dark Room with the nurse. Pink nails brushed my then smooth face and then all the memories flowed like a rushing river.
My face then resembled someone much younger than me, wiser, more cunning. The one that can never be caught. Someone from the past, while everyone else had the same skin as him. Someone I wouldn't have recognised had it not been my turn to confess.
Scars and bruises unreadable, pink fingernail scratches in the dark recalling events etched into the subconscious like with a stylus on a slate.
My turn. Thursday.
I remember taking lots of pictures. Portraits, architecture, landscapes. Wherever and whenever contracts took me. I had a lot of time on my hands, a lot of freedom.
When they brought me here, the wooden deck was soddened and slippery.
The last two weeks of rain…
I remember this abandoned factory where I shot once. Winter – 12 degrees Celsius. It had to be so that the breaths formed icy halos around the character.
The project was called The Souls of the East. I especially travelled to Russia to make the photos look as realistic as possible. I think it could easily be recreated in the studio, but then no one would pay me.
The models were obviously from the East. Melanie, Cassandra, Bianca, Roberta…
I still think I know those names... They dance together in a circle. They don't seem to see me, at least not right away. But I remember them well. I photographed their souls.
Those lacklustre faces stare blankly at me, lifeless, bloodless.
I once wondered about a pattern in my contract work. Cold, warm, cold, warm. Russia, Caribbean, Alaska, South Africa.
Carefully planned from start to finish. Arrival, hotel, studio, models. I never asked, they never told. I was good so they paid. Shouldn't that be the case at this level?
A woman in a pink shawl and a beige trench coat. She's there. I see her all the time next to me. In my apartment. She is… Oh no!
‘Who is on the mark?’
‘Who’s on the mark, Luke?’ She repeats, but that’s not my name. My name is…
‘Ludwig.’ I say it firmly, as if I'm doing it for the first time, but it’s not the first time.
Cold pierces my skin.
Oblique lines. Thousands of them, everywhere.
I smell blood. It tastes like sorrow.
What colour is your soul, baby?
Back in my apartment, I notice something strange, something out of the ordinary. A bottle of vodka. I've been abstinent for as long as I can remember. Did my mind, distracted by the busy schedule of the day, forget to register it? Did I really care?
I've never been there again until today.
A glass of water slid off the edge of the sink. Why does this always happen? Why is he so clumsy? Every time he visits me, I can read him like a book. Every next move in exactly the same order.
I look in the mirror, collect shadows, try to play this game of prediction as best as I can. At least he doesn't make me feel so alone.
’Who’s on the mark?’
I can hear her fingernails scratching the glass, unbearably like cat claws. Human nuisance.
‘Who is on the mark, Luke?’ She asks insistently, so I answer intently.
‘Ludwig! Ludwig!’ As if she hadn't heard me the first time. I'm sure she had.
‘What is he doing?’
‘Drinking. Drinking water.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I’m not sure. I haven’t been there for decades!’
‘Shh… I’m just asking, Ludwig. What are you drinking?’
‘I’m drinking something…’ I finally answer, but I’m not sure anymore.
‘Is there anyone with you?’
I turn my head. It's dark here, but there's light. Plenty of light. As if the Martians landed on Earth without warning and decided to blind everything that moved.
This is how I experience my severe headaches, the worst I could imagine. They landed unexpectedly, like those Martians, invading my half-cracked skull.
‘What are you doing, Ludwig?’
‘I give her a drink. We both drink.’
‘And then what? What’s next, Ludwig?’
‘I don’t know! I don’t know!’
‘Shh, just asking. That’s all.’
‘Why do you always ask me this? I don’t know!’
‘I know. It’s okay. Shh.’
I was accustomed to death. I was present at the death of two of my dogs, both from external causes. Accident and cancer. I remember feeling an overwhelming emptiness as their souls left their furry bodies.
Catholics say that animals have no soul, but they pray to Saint Francis of Assisi who loved animals. Another contradiction of this stupid society.
In my most frequent dream, I stare at a blank screen. One letter after another appears.
Y… O… U…
A… R… E…
T… H… E…
Then it stops. Suddenly. Same as it appeared. The cursor continues to flash indefinitely.
I used to have blackouts as severe as headaches. But they were of a unique kind. Sometimes I went to sleep in one city and woke up in another.
I explained it with absent-mindedness, alcoholism. I was an alcoholic who wanted to forget. Until the moment when reality became one big blur.
I used to think that the camera crew would take me from place to place when I was drunk and wanted to avoid a scene. But now I know it wasn't any of those things. At least then.
The connection link has always terrified me. How do you ensure that your secrets revealed to a friend one day don't become your enemy's best bet? It must be. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. What if you forget and someone else remembers? What will happen then? What can they do with your life if they remember and you don't?
Lucy touched me from behind in a garden of pink roses whenever she had the slightest chance. As if it was some kind of ritual. I didn't like it, but because it gave her incredible joy, I let her be, like a father who lets his child play when he sees that it is happy.
She often surprised me by stretching her dainty hands and arms around my male body.
When we were little, we used to play in the backyard of the house. Hide and seek was our favourite childhood game. And a tree house.
I taught her to climb it on a rickety and slippery rope ladder. She fell once, grazed her knee, nothing serious, but from then on, she always listened to me in everything, and I surpassed her in all the tasks we undertook together. She was a few years younger than me, not much, but enough to command respect.
For as long as I can remember, various entities have been locked up in my brain. Women, men, educated, primitive, subtle, coarse. They talked to each other, challenged each other, made contradictory statements and tried to impose them on me. I used to listen to all of them (I had to, for God's sake, they took root in my brain!), but I didn't agree with all of them. As a fairly educated person, I disagreed with the primitive, as a man I disagreed with the woman, and so on. But I noticed that from time to time they came back, tormenting me, poking around in my brain until it was ready to explode.
And then it went quiet again for a while, until the situations and my thoughts conjured up one person in the distance first, the most familiar and the gentlest. What usually happened next was just pure catch-as-catch-can. So, they finally dared to catch the wrong one?
– THE END –
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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