Patience

§00 — Stuart Thorndike had never been a ‘morning person’. This basic trait, however, was only poor preparation for what now befell him. He woke from what hazily seemed to have been torments without limit. Memory would have been unbearable. He clawed his way out of the clammy sheets.
“My throat,” he gasped.
Cecily, his wife, looked haggard and ill-tempered. The sympathy that had still dominated the day before was wearing thin. Evidently she had been over-stretched.
“You were screaming,” she said. “It’s the same as before – perhaps worse. You were screaming as if possessed, for most of the night. It was horrible, again.”
“Bad dreams,” he ventured, unimaginatively.
“At least,” she snapped. “You should see someone. I’m serious. This can’t go on.”

§01 — Over breakfast her questions were colder, and more determined. Her patience had broken.
“Do you remember anything this time?”
“Not really.” He paused to wrestle the mental fog, but it only thickened.
“Why would you place a bomb in a tree?” she asked.
The question meant nothing to him. He stared at her blankly.
“That’s what you were mumbling about, before the screaming started,” she continued. “‘I finished making the bomb, it’s in the tree. We only have to wait now.’ You said it several times.”
“Was it my voice?” he asked. He wasn’t sure where the question came from.
“Who else would it have belonged to?”
“Did it sound like me?”
“It wasn’t raving or screaming, if that’s what you mean.”
“And you’re sure that’s what it said?”
“Completely,” she said. “You should take a look in the garage. I did. It’s disturbing.”

§02 — After putting the task off for over an hour, he went down to check the garage. Cecily’s grim judgment was hard to contradict. If someone had not been building a bomb there, it was almost as if they’d been pretending too. The scattering of nitrate chemicals, clock parts, and sawn-off metal tubing was hard to otherwise explain. Who could it have been, if not him? He tried to put a hoax narrative together, but quickly gave up on the attempt. The fabrication was too obvious. It could have been no one else. He had no memory of it at all.

§03 — Had not some philosopher once said that Consciousness is Hell? It would have to be a gloomy German, most probably, or perhaps a French existentialist. He couldn’t remember, if he had ever actually known. Maybe it was a Swede, or a Norwegian. Thorndike was not, in any case, an avid reader of such literature. In his opinion, it tended consistently to unfettered extravagance. Even now, after the gnawing horror of recent nights, the formula struck him as hyperbolic. Yet he could vaguely intuit a psychological situation in which it would not be, at all, for the first time in his life. Certainly, he had not awoken into any such situation. Perhaps, though, he had awoken dimly recalling one. This was a thought he found himself reluctant to more thoroughly explore.

§04 — Thorndike soon learnt that the ‘specialist’ Cecily had in mind for him was not a medical professional.
“She’s an old friend,” Cecily said. “There’s nobody I’ve ever trusted more.”
He could have taken that as a slight. In less disillusioned times he might have.
“She calls herself a reader,” Cecily added. “It’s a good description.”
“What the hell does it mean?”
“She reads things.”
“Things?” he asked.
“Situations, problems – people.”
“Me, you’re thinking?”
“Someone has to.”

§05 — The ‘consultancy’ struck Thorndike as a parody of itself. Every visible surface had been swallowed into a seething chaos of astrological and cartomantic symbolism. Ancient Egyptian themes predominated. Hieroglyphs jostled against algebraic formulae in the extended margins of charts, tables, and diagrams of obscurely ominous implication. There were pictures, too, whose inferior number was compensated by superior size and still more – in most cases – by teeming inner multiplicity. They were, no doubt deliberately, dizzying to contemplate. Animal-headed gods erupted from the walls in mad multitudes. The air was glutinous with mind-clogging fragrances. To casual inspection, it was generic to the point of absurdity. If not for the recommendation, he would have dismissed the place contemptuously. It epitomized flamboyant intellectual indiscipline, of a kind he had always found peculiarly repellant. Every belief is at once a disgrace. That was the Thorndike family motto, never explicitly formalized, but resiliently preserved down through the male line. To withhold credence was a matter of honor. To believe was scarcely better than to beg. Staring now at some solemn Anubis, he recalled the tradition with a grimace.

§06 — She wanted him to talk, which he found himself strangely reluctant to do.
“There’s much I still don’t know,” she said.
“I don’t think you know anything,” he grumbled in reply. Perhaps the insolence was an attempt to abort developments in the immediate wake of their conception. If so, it didn’t work. At some level, he’d known that it wouldn’t.
“So why are you here?” she asked. Her calm was untouched by even the slightest hint of amusement.
“Curiosity,” he said.
“Not so.” It was stated softly, as a matter of obvious fact, rather than as a step in an argument.
“So, why then?” he asked, drawn in irresistibly.
“You’re here because you feel – obscurely – like a prey animal.”
The accuracy of the analysis upset him.
“What were you told?” he asked.
“What could I have been told? You haven’t shared your dreams, with anybody.” This, again, was true. “Not intentionally, at least,” she added. “Naturally, there are other tellers. My profession is based upon them.”
Naturally,” he repeated. It came out sounding childish, like a sneer. He had attempted to avoid that. “I’m sorry. My manners are not usually so badly frayed.”
She waved away the apology. They were beyond such things.

§07 — As she explained how things would proceed, he found something obscurely unsettling about her persistent mention of the cards. His personal distaste for the conventional trappings of occultism accounted only for part of it, but only a part. The word suggested an uncanny doubling. It took him a moment to close upon it. Cartomancy, too, was a ritual of sorts, and also an invitation. It was meant to open a door.
Ultraviolet photographs of flowers exhibited landing-strips for pollinators, as he had seen in books, and on TV. Cecily, who loved gardening, gathered such information assiduously, and spread it outwards. These images returned as he watched the reading blossom. The pattern was not really for him. It spoke to unseen witnesses he resented.

§08 — Tarot came first, according to occult tradition. He, however, had no doubt that reality ran the other way. Playing cards had branched into arcane functions. The idea had inane and insidious versions. The former had previously held him – he had assumed securely. Now things flipped. The derivation of cartomantic ritual from casual pastimes began to seem positively insidious. There was more, though, he realized. ‘Cards’ was a word, which itself carried charge, beyond anything it said. There was an unnatural insistence to it. Its single syllable packed irreducible plurality within itself. It was a nuclear spell.

§09 — He had been drifting.
“There’s a ritual,” she said. “One which, when completed, will provide an invitation. To perform it would be a very serious mistake. Your destiny now suspends from this.”
“The danger is that I deliberately let this whatever-it-is in?” he asked, enveloping the question in a nervous laugh. He had to be misunderstanding the idea, surely? “Why the fuck would I do that? It would be utterly insane.” The suggestion deeply annoyed him.
“You should be careful,” she said, with calm gravity. “The cards suggest great peril. You have upset something. Perhaps you know that?”
He half-did, at least. “And by ‘upset’ you mean?” he asked.
“You turned something over, stumbled into it. I have to suspect clumsiness.”
“When did this happen?”
“Three days ago.”
He thought back. Three days ago? What had he been doing then? It had been an entirely ordinary Wednesday, to superficial recollection.
“Is it possible to specify the time?”
“Late afternoon, early evening,” she said without hesitation. “Perhaps a little later than it is now. Not much.”
He would have been on the way to the club, then. This regular journey took him on a twenty-five-minute walk through some of London’s quieter streets. Last Wednesday’s stroll had not been especially memorable. No unusual encounters came to mind. Later, in the club, he’d lost himself in The Spectator, with a whisky and cigar. Nothing had reached in to meet him – as far as he had noticed.
“Nothing,” he said.
“But actually there was something,” she replied stubbornly. “There has to have been, as you know. Let’s take a closer look.”
She flipped the cards back into the pack, and shuffled it without taking her eyes from him. The procedure had been long automated into instinct, clearly.
After a few seconds of this, she placed three cards in a row, studying them in motionless silence.
“Patience,” she said.
He initially misunderstood the word as an admonition. His irritable jitters no doubt deserved it. He sought to get a better grip upon himself. Twitching was risible. Then he remembered the game.

§10 — Outside, dusk had been deepening. There was something sickly about the half-light that strayed in. It hinted at hallucination, even madness. The club was almost empty. He’d noticed Basil Heath, sitting alone at the bay window table. Heath had been playing a card game. Cyclone solitaire was the name he had given to it, when asked. It was peculiarly involving. The cards rotated between three piles, and were removed in pairs.
“How’s it going?” Thorndike had asked. It was a casual question, scarcely expecting a reply.
Heath had looked up, his expression somehow haunted, and abnormally grave. “Not well,” he said. “Not well at all.” His voice trembled at the edge of indignity. “An unprincipled man, in such straits, might even try to pass it over.”
“Pass it over?” Thorndike had not understood the remark. Its intensity – apparently so disproportionate – was disconcerting. “I don’t know the game,” he’d said. “I’d be of little use to you.”
Heath made no further acknowledgement. His forehead was slick with perspiration. A gambler perched upon the brink of ruin could have looked no worse.
Thorndike had looked down then, again, at the table, drawn to the shape of the cards strewn upon it, and – for some fleeting fraction of a second – seen through it. The content of this vision was concealed behind a black wall now. It was buried from him in the way dreams were. He might have thought it a dream, were it not lodged so firmly in the day, framed by lucidity without respite.
“I saw something,” he said.
“Yes,” she agreed. “And you heard something, too.”
She was right. During the initial recollection it had come first. It had not been quite a bark, but that was the closest approximation to the sound that had a name. He shuddered at its echo.
“Horrible,” he mumbled. “It shocked me.”
It was like sheer suddenness made audible. The shock was part of its texture. No one ever jumps out of their skin, but at that moment he had understood the expression. The unanticipated had detonated – cracked. Everyone, surely, would react to it, he had thought. The entire club would be stricken. Panic would ensue. Then he had looked around, amazed. The calm was more terrifying than anything he could remember.
“Yet no one heard it, beside you,” Cleo said. “You must then have realized that it came from elsewhere. It’s why you forgot. It didn’t fit.”
It had been an after-shock, to recognize that solitude. So this is madness, he had thought. The unexpected solidity of it chilled him. Argument was irrelevant to it. It meant only to be alone. Not swirling delusion, but simply incontestable private evidence. There was nothing to correct.
“Private evidence tends to go astray,” she continued, as if emulating telepathy. “That makes it a good place to hide.”
“Good?”
“Good for it.”
“Yet you can see.”
“It knows I pose no threat to it,” she said coldly. “It smells my neutrality.”

§11 — How difficult could it be to decline the performance of a summoning ritual? Nothing could be easier, surely? Yet an actual spine-tingle accompanied the question. Something like a cold itch had infiltrated the lumbar region, from a dimension beyond scratching. The sensation preceded understanding, but opened a path for it. Things were coming the other way. That was the ghostly precursor to the idea, registered as a visceral shadow of intuition. There are thoughts the body warns against. This was one of them.
Why would it require an invitation? It was a familiar idea, from vampire myth, perhaps also other places, he hazily remembered. In one black-and-white fragment of an old horror movie the predator waited outside a window. Its target occupied the room on the other side. They tricked you into letting them in. Predation by permission was a demonic trait, it seemed.
“What does it want?” he asked. “If it wants anything, that is.”
“It wants only to exist, and what follows from that.”
“So what does? Follow from that, I mean.”
“Roughly speaking, the trajectory it arrives on is prolonged. It continues on its path.”
“The way it gets in defines what it will be like?”
“It likes spirals, fire, and blood,” she said, as if still in conversational sequence.
“Have you got anything more definite?”
“Hard consonants – cat-stutter, catastrophe, cataclysmic, tactical, contracts – words like that could attract it. It hunts for fun.”
“You mean it searches for fun?”
“No, the other thing,” she said, smiling coldly. “It might amuse you, if that level of detachment were possible. As it is, a certain dark laughter could be a warning sign. If you start to identify with it, that’s an indication it’s getting in.”
“Perhaps you’re enjoying this too much,” he growled.
“My objectivity is what you’re paying for. If you want a shoulder to cry on, you could find one more cheaply.”
“I’d rather hoped that for almost two-hundred pounds an hour I wouldn’t have to wonder if you were on my side.”
“If I was simply against it, I wouldn’t be able to help you at all.”
He knew she was right. Pretending to argue was idiotic immaturity. He sighed. “So what’s next?”
“Seriousness,” she scolded. “You’re in a lot of trouble, even without being stupid about it.”
He might have bristled against the condescension under other circumstances.
“So it’s waiting for me to offer it a key?”
She nodded.
“Then, how long?” he continued. “I mean, if I’m going to try to out-wait it, how long will that take?”
She took a while to respond, watching him. He found her expression difficult to read. “It would be best to assume longer than you have,” she said, eventually. “Such beings don’t lose time games.”
They were done, then. She was restoring the cards to dormancy. There was nothing more to be learnt, or said.

§12 — The consultation had taken more than two hours. By the time it had finished, night was thickening.
He paused for a moment outside, before setting back. Behind him, the warmth of the shop light quickly fell away into icy obscurities.
The road ahead was discouraging. He was out-matched, to an incomprehensible degree. Whatever ailed his soul outflanked it in every conceivable – and even inconceivable – direction. However he ran, he would run into it. So he told himself he would not run.
The rain had stopped. Nightlights shattered among reflections. There was no doubting the town’s charms. He was aware, to an unusual degree, that it would be sad to leave.
The moon appeared unnaturally large. For a disconcerting moment he found its scale indicative of dreaming. Clues of some deep delusion swirled into themselves, drawing abstract spirals. Would it like that?
Vision seemed to have a surface – a kind of film. He was stretching out a finger to touch it before noticing.

§13 — It would be safer – perhaps even faster – to cut diagonally across the fields. The ground was dry enough for efficient progress.
Before reaching the house, there would be the woods. He would probably spend no more than five minutes among the trees. A few hundred seconds – it would not be long. Yet he balked at the prospect. If something was waiting for him, it would be there.
There was a demand being made for discipline, he soberly realized. Childish fears were no longer affordable. Survival called for a new way. It could begin from a confrontation with the dark.
It was not just ontogeny but also – and more profoundly – phylogeny that trembled within him. Like wind and water upon eon-exposed rocks, the fangs of a billion ancient predators had carved his fears. Not millions, but tens and hundreds of millions of years whispered their dread. Those who feared less are no longer among us, they said. Ravenous things, stalking silently through the night, bore them away into a deeper darkness. It was thus, and not in the proximate world, that his nightmares had been trained. The murmurings of archaic terror drew his attention astray.
He left the open ground and the black mass of the forest swallowed him. He paused as his eyes adjusted. Gray-scale gradually returned. Shapes emerged. This was the crossing. Ancient nightmares beyond number chattered softly on the dark periphery. Yet it was only as it ever was. There was no hint of novel or exceptional encroachment. If something had happened, he had missed it.

§14 — Cecily was gone. A note – neatly-folded into a miniature tent – stood on the table by the door. The message was formally affectionate, but curt. She doubted her value to him at this time, it said. He shrugged.
Better that she not be involved in this. She couldn’t help, and might easily come to harm. There was something more – a darker component to his response, which he didn’t want to think about. The gist crept in, nevertheless. This wasn’t for her.

§15 — Standing in the hallway of the silent house, he thought, now, about what he’d been told. Spirals meant nothing much to him. They were easy enough to recognize. The rigorous definition, he supposed, was mathematical. It would likely exceed his comprehension. Where he struggled was on the possible application to his case. To have been advised of the entity’s attraction to irregular tetrahedrons would have drawn a comparable blank. Pursuit would not be cost-effective, he knew.

§16 — Fire was quite probably mere smoking. It was the one indefensible thing, above all, that everyone knew you should stop. His hackles rose against the scarcely contestable imperative. You’d let a monstrosity from beyond The Veil crash into your soul rather than abstain from burning some few pitiful shreds of tobacco leaf? Yet the habit would only dig itself in deeper. Certain counter-arguments had begun to mindlessly arrange themselves, like the wasp pattern of an orchid flower. He extracted a cigarillo from their silver case and stepped out onto the dark veranda. His heavy old Zippo, picked up years past from a small-town curio shop, sat in a saucer on the window sill. It smelt strongly of gasoline. Fire, it said to him, silently, as it glinted in the moonlight. It likes fire. The temptation to ignite the flame was not – quite – irresistible. Once burning, the cigarillo would be a complex sign. It would express defiance, most superficially. If that, though, it would surely also spell invitation. Fear would condense upon it, as if drawn in to a beacon. A dimension would collapse, simplifying the equation.

§17 — Fire couldn’t be stopped. She’d get it, eventually. She only had to wait. Blood-letting would be even easier. The illusion of control would be thinner. A rare steak wouldn’t be enough, of course. The critical act, in that case, had occurred in the abattoir, where the hemophile demons gathered like excited flies. A trivial shaving or kitchen accident, on the other hand, should be quite sufficient. A mere nick, a single drop of blood, and it was done. He wondered how often he shed his own blood. Could it be less than once a week? There could be no security in this direction, or on this front. To seek protection here would be to court crippling neurosis.
If a blood-offering required intentional sacrifice, he would be safe. So it couldn’t be like that. Absence of safety was the starting point – the axiom. Design had been stripped away, down to the bedrock of raw accident.
Once intention was dismissed, everything was left open. The last recognizable factor was then deducted. The route would be unmarked, and uncharted. Figuratively, he was treading a cliff path in pitch darkness. A plunge into disaster was the default outcome. The first step, then, was to stop.
To go on as he had was no good. He had no idea what he was doing, which was intolerably dangerous now.
Any habit might be a building block, the modular component for a ritual. Safety lay only in doing nothing. He laughed bitterly at his plight.

§18 — The entity visited his dreams. It was shadow become body, female and inhuman. Her avatar was a black leopard which was at the same time a wolf. The choice was not forced. Fluid ambivalence was her gait, as if she padded through the nocturnal forests of her natural realm. She was a familiar animal at first and then at once an unrecognizable predator. You would make your mind a trap? How could he not? His predicament necessitated at least that.
She was laughing at him, in a way that wasn’t simply unkind. There was nevertheless much of pitiless killing in her mirth. It amused her that all worlds were built upon darkness. Blood drew her. Predation was her play. There was an ambush underway that entirely out-witted him.
In the dreams he whirled around, dizzying himself. It would come from his flanks, or rear. In attempting to spot it, he spun. At once too slow to catch a glimpse of it, and too fast to bear, he would always stumble.
When would it be? With this question a time vortex swallowed him. He awakened, head-spinning, damp with half-remembered horrors.

§19 — Time passed. Some few days became weeks – but no more than that. Duration had thickened. It was palpable to him now.
It could not be out-waited. It would not forget, or give up. It would be coming forever, and always had been. That was the oracle. Yet he had dreams of this, too, and they were tangled beyond straightening. Ambiguous grappling mixed desperation with something adopted from a wolf spider. He was using her skills against her, which meant things he didn’t want to contemplate. He had been waiting to trap her.
There had been no other option. Running was not a solution. She was too deeply lodged in the quick of duration to out-run. Flight ran out of time. In the grim dawn it was clearer, and emptier. No alternative was left. She would have to be defeated. Why not today? In delay there was no advantage. The initiative was no more denied to him now than it would ever be. A terrible impatience seized him, close to panic. He looked around. I should get back, he thought. Even if she cared little for space, it had to be less safe out here. The trees whispered eerily, as if in agreement. He stuck closely to the old wall, minimizing angles of potential attack.

§20 — Suddenly – as if defining the word – a detonation shattered the stillness. It was extraordinarily shocking.
He stumbled, striking his head on a stone. The wound was superficial, but it bled freely. He dabbed at his torn scalp with a paper tissue, momentarily dazed.
Absurd hypotheses flooded in. Could it have been a minor meteorite impact? Had he been shot at? Nothing he could imagine made much sense.
The site of the explosion had been a nearby tree. A charred crater was apparent on its trunk, near the roots. The edges of the wound still smoldered. Scorching had emphasized the growth whorls. They were rings, surely, but a fracture-line had subtly shifted the pattern. The figure drew him in. He struggled to pull his mind back. Everything swirled. He was swept around the eddy of a swoon without quite succumbing to it. The crashing absurdity of the event still stunned him.
He sat for a moment, seeking to regroup his scattered faculties. His grasp on what had happened was – if anything – weakening. The fragments of recall continued drifting apart. The sole coherent sense was of an incomplete awakening. Only now had he begun to understand. Only now was what he had begun to understand. There was only now, even if he did not yet understand it, or ever would. Only now was happening, and he – truly – wasn’t. That’s how it went.

§21 — Even in his befuddlement he knew more than he wanted to, far more than he had thought. Alien ideas had come to him along paths he did not recognize. Their grim magnificence appalled him.
I have become a hunter, he accepted. A feverish chill-wave washed through him, then, as he glimpsed what that might suggest. There was altogether too much likeness in it. He was imitating her. Was it, in fact, that she was teaching him? Thoughts that were still worse intruded, but they were harder to grasp. I’m scared to think, he admitted to himself. This undoubtedly compounded the danger. Psychological security procedures had been disabled, as if by hysterical paralysis. Certain strategically-indispensable positions had become too terrifying to defend. He had to laugh. A garrison too frightened to man the walls offered no protection. There was no survival that way. So instead, he twisted the blade of fear into himself, grimly determined to rouse his defenses. He would befriend his final horrors. Love whatever hurts the most. Only then might it somehow work out.

§22 — There was nothing being said, because his mind had stopped guessing. It rested now amidst the uninterpretable-as-such. There was no sense, no possibility of sense. A kind of death had washed through him. Mystics had sought this place, he thought with a smile. The profanity of meaning was gone.

§23 — It surely wouldn’t be long now. The thought had already crystallized before its full wrongness struck him. Its impatience was the worst mistake. Attention was thus misdirected.

§24 — He was aware of her now, continuously. It was less a sensation than – if such a thing were possible – the opposite. Was nonsense not precisely that, if literally understood? He thought of low meteorological pressure, of withdrawing tides, recessions. A palpable emptying left nothing to grasp at. Whatever it might have been had already departed.

§25 — He lurked at the edge of the clearing. There was no need for even the slightest repositioning. It astounded him, that he was capable of such stillness. Inhuman patience was what it seemed to him then, momentarily. There was only the beyond, and nothing else. Here and now was being calmly considered, elsewhere. This was only bait. It was impossible. Bare survival had required nothing less.

§26 — All fear was forgotten. He was ready for her, and always had been. But it went much further. That which he had not so long ago thought himself to be would have shuddered at the stage it had reached. It was amusing, though not to the point of distraction. He had arrived at the place where everything stopped, or something had. It pointed nowhere else. The meaning was intrinsic, or it was nothing. This is the time went the lure. ‘This’ was what he had never before – and also always – taken himself as being. It had been crafted to hunt with.

§27 — The Great Now had already begun, of course. The moment no longer gave way to another, but extended itself without boundary. Whatever would happen was happening, though unseen. Here was the secret of patience. It was far simpler than he had ever understood. There was simply nothing to wait for. Duration was compact. Unless momentarily stranded – apparently out of reach – by the cramping, rucking, or pleating of time, there was no longer any up ahead. To look forward was pure delusion.

§28 — An absolute act of predation was consummated, then, in primordial finality. There had been a quick, quiet killing. It was still now. Arrival and departure were fused in immensity.

§29 — So, it was done.
It had always been done.
There was only this way, and no other. The hunter – alone – remained.

November 11, 2019admin 1 Comment »
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