City of the Dead

 

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I don’t know what it was I had just taken only a few hours earlier but I didn’t like it. Saying that I ‘didn’t like it’ was in fact a grotesque understatement – I was in a state of utter unbelieving unmitigated horror at what was happening to me. Never in my worst nightmares had I ever imagined anything even remotely approaching this. It was the worst freak-out of my life – the ultimate bad trip…

 

I was dead inside. Unlike the Guinness ad. Within me lay the City of the Dead, the Necropolis. Graves and tombstones stretched off in grim rows in all directions as far as the eye could see. There was no end to it. All was silent, not a breath stirred the air, which was heavily laden with the rank odours of decay and mortification. All was death within me, life was not permitted here. Life was a stranger here and I was a walking graveyard, a perambulating container of untold horrors.

 

This inner world was gradually being revealed to me – in glimpses, each glimpse lasting longer than the preceding one. I was periodically being snatched out of everyday reality and taken away on ‘mini-trips’, each one of which was like being whisked off on a high-speed journey through inner realms of death and decay. When this happened to me I felt as if I was travelling in the front of some sort of futuristic high-speed mono-rail train, alone, sitting in the driver’s seat, gazing transfixed at the panorama that was being frenetically unpeeled on each side of me. The landscape that I was seeing was being unveiled at such a tremendous rate that I felt I was covering two or three miles in a single heartbeat. And all was death. Everything was death. There was nothing else but death.

 

I saw dead stunted trees, acre after acre of them, stretching on and on forever. Blighted, blasted, misshapen shrubs and bushes whipped by, all of them lifeless. Vast silent forests of skeletal trees came and went. Not even a blade of grass grew – nothing green at all anywhere. It was for all the world as if some dreadful type of inner atom bomb had been detonated, an inner hydrogen bomb, an inner cobalt bomb. It was as if some sort of unspeakable psychic super-weapon had been set of, a doomsday weapon that had instantly converted the living inner landscape into endless crumbling decaying corpse-fields.

 

What I was seeing was so desolate as to be completely beyond human comprehension. Deserts of every description passed me by. Unutterable desolation. Wastelands so vast that they seemed to go on forever. Horrors that had no end.

 

The speed at which I was travelling seemed to be aimed at showing me just how vast this inner wasteland was. This continent of decay. This cemetery world. This universe of horror. It was more than vast, it was total. And all of it lay within me. Nowhere else. It WAS me.

 

This world was unspeakably sterile – more sterile than any desert. To look at it was to die inside – the merest touch of it was like being inoculated with a terrible disease, a single breath of it carried billions of psychic spores so virulent that even one of them would be enough to wipe out an entire civilization. Convert the population to millions of crumbling mummified wrecks, eaten away instantly on the inside from every disease that ever existed, and many that hadn’t. To then be slowly wafted away by every breeze that blew, dispersed gradually over the surface of the planet like so much powdery dandruff.

 

And what is worse – if anything could be worse! – is that the place was haunted, haunted by hideously evil things that I could not see, but which I knew nevertheless to be there. This world belonged to them now. I could sense them there somewhere in the background. They were moving about lazily, torpidly, somnolently – without serious intent. Communicating casually with each other as they waited complacently in some invisible dimension – plotting their next move, perhaps. They had feasted not too long ago and were dormant, but soon enough they would be hungry again, looking for more living worlds to engulf.

 

Don’t ask me how I knew this – I just did. I felt their existence and even though I had never before even had the remotest conception that such creatures could have existed, now it was as if I had always known of them. Via some osmotic process, I had absorbed a type of dreadful familiarity: one second I knew nothing of them, the next I could have written a book…

 

The last journey had been the most terrible of all. I had been shot along like a bullet, travelling faster and faster until I thought I was going to pass out from the speed. Everything was a blur, no details at all were visible on this journey. And then as I slowed down I could see looming ahead the outline of a single massive mountain, inexorably gaining in stature, taking up more and more of the horizon as I got closer. Gradually the immense pressure of the velocity eased and I could see where I had been brought. All around the mountain huge rocks lay scattered, strewn randomly here and there as if they had been tossed carelessly about by a giant. These rocks looked like granite, they were dull grey and had lots of sharp edges. They had a shattered look to them as though they were the residue of some colossal ancient cataclysm – a cataclysm of unspeakable violence.

 

As I grew closer to the mountain my speed diminished still further. Almost half the sky was blotted out by its bulk. I need hardly say that this was no ordinary mountain – the closer I got to it the more terrible it appeared to me, until I found myself frozen in fear at what I beheld. It oppressed me. It had a type of cold electric energy that radiated out from it in a deadly chill. There was no mistaking that chill – it was the chill of death. This chill penetrated right down into my bones and then radiated back out again and froze me a second time from the inside. I might as well have been on a slab in the mortuary – death was both inside of me and outside of me and there was no escape from its dominion.

 

A revelation came upon me at that point – a tremendous understanding. The vast bulk of rock that I had taken to be a mountain wasn’t a mountain at all, it was a giant baroque skull. It was as if there was a harsh blue-white light emitting from it and this light too somehow shone upon me from the inside as well as the outside, and by shining pitilessly from within it made itself intimately known to me. This skull disdained concealment; it delighted in letting its secrets be proclaimed. It revelled in its own horror.

 

As I gazed upon that terrible baroque skull face I was inwardly crucified by the relentless bleakness of it. Bleak is an inadequate word for what I gazed upon in that moment – it was like a celebration of sterility and hollowness. I feel like saying that this skull face was laughing in the face of God, even though I do not believe in God. But then, I never believed in a giant horrifically jubilant baroque evil skull face either! I had never believed in a colossal ziggurat of terrifyingly intimate malign intent presiding obscenely over a destroyed, shattered world.

 

As I looked into that hideous face the final revelation rolled over me with tsunami force – it utterly irresistible, utterly undeniable, and yet all the same I could not take it in. The skull was me.

 

I am not even going to try to explain what that encounter did to me other than saying that it was stupendously traumatic, leaving me in the profoundly deep state of shock. I really didn’t have the capacity to take on board that much horror, but take it on I did because I simply had no choice…

 

As I say, the last journey was by far the worst. I came back to ‘normal reality’ again shortly after that. The word ‘normal’ is of course a joke – what does ‘normal’ mean? It used to mean something to me before this, before all this happened to me. But now? What I used to think of as ‘normality’ or ‘reality’ is now revealed as a very thin shell – paper-thin and infinitely precarious. “And what lies beneath it?” you might ask, in your innocent curiosity. You don’t want to know. And in any event I can’t communicate it with you. Even if I wanted too. But you don’t want to know. Only I know – I know, but I don’t want to know…

 

Shell or not, I had to make do with it because there was nothing else. I had to make the best of it. I had to reinforce it in some way. Make it more real. Make some kind of decisive move so as to solidify it. Shore it up. Bolster it. Consolidate it. Confirm it. Corroborate it.

 

I made the decision to act and ordered my limbs to move. I walked – shakily at first but with gradually increasing confidence. I walked all the way down the high street until I got to the reassuringly tacky plastic front of the neighbourhood McDonalds. I made my way in and took my place in the queue. There is always a queue in McDonalds. I cleared my throat in preparation to speak to the girl at the counter. I was far from sure that I would be able to actually speak. “Can I have a quarter-pounder with cheese, small fries and a medium Coke,” I intoned mechanically, the sound of my own voice shocking me. How dead it sounded. Like a recording. Like the rattle of a dry stick against a stone. Like the faintest whisper of the wind in a field of dead grass. Practically inaudible.

 

To my amazement what I had ordered duly appeared in front of me, item by item. As I took the tray and made my way to a table I marvelled – I had got away with it. I had got away with being just like everybody else. No one had noticed that I wasn’t really like everybody else. After all, no one else here had the City of the Dead within them. I was pretty damn sure about that. They didn’t look as if they did…

 

I slowly started to eat my burger. All around me people chatted. Kids made noise. Life went on. Even though I felt frighteningly separate from that life it occurred to me that I could at least copy it. Make a kind of a pretence at it. Go through the motions. Blend in. It occurred to me that all I had to do was to focus on the outside. Keep all my attention on the stuff on the outside, and forget about the inside. Pretend that it isn’t there – pretend that there isn’t an inside. That there’s only the outside.

 

All that routine stuff would soon come back, I realized. That was the beauty of routine and habits – they always come back. Well – almost always, I corrected myself. They could at any rate possibly be coaxed to come back. With luck. I could now see the attraction of the routine, the commonplace, the unremarkable, the down-right banal. There is huge comfort in it. I longed for the banal…

 

At that moment, sitting there eating my by now cold French fries and sipping my Coke, I was hit by a tremendous pang, a feeling of homesickness, for the banal routine world that I had so recently – and so shockingly – lost. I ached for a return to the reassuring superficiality and predictability of my previous life, along with what I now perceived as the incredible luxury of being able to be concerned wholly with empty trivialities. A luxury that was now so far away from me – so very far away that I could barely manage to comprehend it. What had always seemed boring and repetitive and limited to me now seemed like the most valuable thing in the world. The most precious of commodities. And if I tried hard enough perhaps – just perhaps – I could get it back.

 

Perhaps – just perhaps – I could forget what I had seen. Perhaps – just perhaps – I could forget the Necropolis, the sinister City of the Dead that lay within me…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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