I blink, and the world is broken. Sickly misshapen trees, lamp posts toppled into the road, the tarmac split and oozing a foul black substance.
I blink again, and I’m driving along the dual carriageway. The first crocuses brighten amongst the trees on the central reservation. The sun shines, the birds sing.
This is how it is. This is my life.
With increasing frequency I see both worlds – the world I’ve always known, and the one that’s connecting. I’ve been seeing both worlds since the night when the lights went out and all the car alarms sounded. Two weeks ago. An age ago. That night, I was more irritated than disturbed. The murderer was just about to be revealed, and pop! off went the TV, along with everything else. Power failures aren’t uncommon. I inhabit an early 20th century house in an antique area of town. Usually, only a few homes (always including mine) are affected. On this night, when opening the curtains to assess the situation, I found the entire street to be out; darkness punctuated by the flashing orange lights of the protesting cars. (The alarms started as the light went, and stopped after a minute or so.)
Keen to investigate, I retrieved my greatcoat from the Pashley (acting as coat rack; I’m a fair weather cyclist) and ventured outside, accompanied by Carter, my German Shepherd. Whorls of mist twisted in the bracing air; filtered moonlight providing eerie illumination. Across the street, a group of figures stood hunched and murmuring. Although I could make out no detail beyond hooded heads, still it felt as though we were under scrutiny. Carter rumbled his unease. Ignoring the prickles at the nape of my neck, I turned my back to the watchers and headed uphill.
My street is on a grid; rows of back-to-back terraced houses. From the top of the road I could see no light in either direction, save for flickering candles in occasional windows and a bobbing torch in the distance. The streets were serene – as though whatever killed the light also dampened sound – as we continued our walk. Although the situation was slightly odd, I had no reason to suspect anything sinister. In fact I found it pleasing; to be swathed in fog and darkness – imagining how others saw us: a tall figure striding in a long coat, collar raised, boots clicking on the pavement, accompanied by a large hound, padding silently, its breath crystallising in the air.
After a too short while, blood red light bathed us as the street lamps flickered to life – warming to sodium yellow. Brightness burst from houses as inhabitants celebrated the return of power. A shame, I thought, when candlelight was so romantic. With the light came the sound; TVs, music, excited voices. It seemed an imposition, after the period of calm. The world was business-as-usual once more, and I reverted from mysterious stranger to woman walking dog – not accompanied by a foul feist of the night after all, but by a mutt snuffling at garbage and cocking his leg.
At 3am that night I was startled awake by a persistent alarm – my mobile phone, emitting a sound I’d never heard before. Stumbling out of bed, and retrieving the offending device from my coat pocket, I fumbled with the touch screen to stop the racket. The screen should display a photo of Carter in the park. Instead, it displayed a black and white photo of three men – two middle aged, one withered with extreme old age – all clothed in archaic garb, all looking directly at me; expressions menacing. After several frantic stabs, the screen responded to my touch; the screeching alarm ceased and the men disappeared. Bewildered, still not fully awake, I searched the phone’s photo gallery but could find no sign of the fierce men. I was too tired to consider connections between the night’s strange occurrences, but it occurs to me now that it could be significant that electrical and mechanical devices (the power, the cars, the phones) were the first to be attacked.
My head was pounding the next morning as I made my way into the office. On arrival at the government institution – where I’m obliged to show my face on occasion – I shared my bizarre story with colleagues. Several people had experienced power problems – even those living several miles away:
‘our lights flashed off and on several times’
‘the TV switched over to some old black and white programme’
‘ foreign voices came out of the speakers’
‘it all went dark, but only for five minutes’
It’s interesting what people will accept; or perhaps, more accurately, what they will dismiss. Abnormal activity was described, yet all was forgotten come lunch time. The local paper recorded nothing of the power cut and there was little discussion on social media channels. Something unexplained occurred, and then people got on with their lives. As did I, for the briefest time. Life continued with nothing amiss for the next couple of days.
On the third day…
…driving home, I slammed on the brakes and slammed into the child that ran in front of my car. He ricocheted from the bonnet into the windscreen, which shattered under the impact, bright blood flowering across the glass.
After a year, I moved. Unclipping the seat belt with shaking hands, I staggered out, heart pounding, mouth full of bile, not wanting to see what I feared I would see.
Not expecting to see what I did see.
The ‘child’ was hideously disfigured – but not by the accident. The face was without eyes or nose, the mouth a lipless slash. What I’d taken – in that split second of horror – for clothes appeared more akin to a snake’s partially shed skin; an organic papery substance. Purple, and hanging like torn rags.
Memory fails me further.
They found me in the road leaning against the car’s bumper; hugging my knees and muttering to myself. Of course the car was fully intact, with no sign of the creature I believed I had killed. My first psychotic episode, they said. Not uncommon, they said, for a mature woman with a history of depression. Perhaps I was working too hard, they said. I should take a break, take some time off.
After an overnight stay with a brief assessment, to ensure I posed no risk to myself or others, I was discharged with a low dose of anti-psychotic medication and a referral to a therapist. I reported into work to advise them I’d been signed off for a while; that I needed to rest. I took the tablets and relaxed at home. I walked the dog along the deserted beach during the day – where the wind whipped tears from my eyes and Carter chased gulls over the estuarine mud. I perused easy-watching programmes on the TV, read happy tales about people with happy lives, practiced yoga to the DVD my sister bought me last Christmas. And I tried to dismiss the things I saw that made my mind rebel – things that grated against all instinct. We walked the beach because I found it difficult to cope with the park; where trees twisted and transformed in my peripheral vision as I passed.
I’m recalibrating myself to survive in this changing realm. I’m learning not to turn away; learning not to avoid a new version of reality. I have reason to believe I’m not the only one that senses those that are breaking through. I’m seeking to find others (others of us, not of them!) who are not blinking away what more limited minds cannot comprehend. For that’s what I believe to be happening. We expect our world to behave a certain way, to appear a certain way, and we construct our lives and our thoughts to protect a sense of stability. People refuse to see what shouldn’t exist; just as the busy commuter refuses to see the homeless man.
We will investigate this phenomenon, Carter and I, and the others that I find – who are mentally prepared and open of mind. I am not insane. I will not blink. I will look into the abyss and will do what I must to protect my world.