They live in the eyes. At the edge of every field of vision they wait just beyond the periphery, ever eager and always hungry. They teeter on the edge of each glance, relishing the moment when a view shifts and they are free to perform their sole function. That which is passed over by the perpetually wandering eye is devoured to the last, an instant after being replaced with a new angle. They are the straggling swarm, lingering around every stare, waiting at the rims of awareness.
They are the gluttons of the unseen, purveyors of all distraction, the eaters of that which is previous. They hide so well, in part, because of the inherent deficit in perception. We see only that pinpoint of central focus where we train our sight, the single word in a sea of phrases, while our minds do their best to appease us in thinking we have more of the picture. An unreliable recall fills in the surrounding dimness, illuminating the rest of the page and the world around it from memory—mostly, from approximation. Surety is alluded to, where truly there is only the unknown. But this optic fallacy only serves to conceal, a safety blanket against that jibbering swarm of strangers to salience, who rend the remnants left behind after each glancing look.
And while these ocular accoutrements serve well enough as nourishment for the ravenous creatures of the orb, it is the less tangible ideas at the foundation of those banally pictured forms—fear, love, hatred, rapture—that better quell the ache of an infinite hunger, if only for a fleeting moment. Those primordial elements that construct the view seeking to reframe chaos as order, formless notions wrapped round the psyche as a thin membrane of defense against the constant truth of oblivion, these are the choicest bites that are consumed, whether our eyes see or not (for even the blind take in a contrived view of a universe built on rules, and all thinking beings are subject to those most primal of emotions; there is food for the swarm in all of us).
Yet they are faultless in their motives, only fulfilling the function of their design. Their insatiability is but one half of balanced symbiosis, a dance that creates as well as destroys. Their more obscured compatriot lives deep within the black void of the unconscious, down a long winding path of branching uncertainties beyond the amygdala, where it governs the synthesis of pure primal fear. Uninhibited by the higher, and thus more convoluted, functions of the mind, it draws best from the unadulterated terror of the unknown—cosmic insignificance and mortal impermanence—to build a lie of sight. It is the weaver of worldviews, spinning forth a story that can be comprehended, tangible in its its rules and aesthetics (though these too are illusions) to mask amorphous fear with a temporarily logical structure. To the swarm, it is a weaver of sustenance, a hand that feeds.
Without the weaver all existence would stay a mad, roiling incongruity. Meaning would remain unborn, and any semblance of sense-making would be alien in its processes. The weaver spins for every conscious cog in the cosmic machine, allowing existential pain to be repressed, condensed, and woven into more palatable patterns. Without its work, there would be no coherency in the mind, no chance for rumination. That fragile frame it constructs, however false it might be, allows an added breath to be drawn, a moment of steadying to take place at the precipice of the void (wherein all the wonders of creation are born), and it is from these wonders the weaver takes inspiration when it threads those most unruly tapestries of all: the dreams of the sentient. Here it sprinkles glittering jewels, whose gleaming remains even after the swarm has torn them from their slumbered settings.
Yet the weaver too knows its place within the cycle. The swarm must be nourished. To buck that responsibility is to risk the addled uprising of each straggling eater, and those instances are always catastrophic. Without its steadying falsehoods woven before each probing look, the dependent mind and its owner are obliterated, sent free-falling back into that unfiltered nothingness that devours more greedily than any swarm.
Sometimes, though, there is cause to be frugal in its artistry. Occasionally the weaver will allow only the thinnest of tapestries to shield a mind’s eye from the underlying calamity, and on these occasions the viewer is treated to a framework translucent enough to allow in flickers of cosmic truth—and as such, cosmic madness. These minds are obliterated more often than not, but a select few endure this wider view and sometimes even thrive under it, becoming conduits for ideas beyond the scope of more obfuscated intellects. Whether the weaver does this for sport, malice, or by some higher directive is not known, but there is seemingly no presentiment regarding which mind receives a thinner veil.
The cycle lasts a lifetime. One side synthesizes terror and chaos into false mosaics of causality, of an existence that our rudimentary minds can accept for an infinitesimal glimpse. The other destroys and digests the intricacy back into an ethereal energy, unraveling and transmuting the work of the weaver to its original shapeless malleability. They work in tandem, a dyad of unseen forces held together by the tension of the human condition, until the eyes close for a final time and the swarm is permitted to gorge itself ceaselessly on the last fading vestiges of consciousness, their duty done and their bellies full.
So be mindful of the weaver and the swarm. When you feel prickles at the edge of your vision, or an itching in the undercurrent of your consciousness, rest assured it is only the churning of the swarm laying waste to a moment you’ve left behind. And when you find yourself consumed with strange, terrifying thoughts, or plagued with the notion that something is fundamentally wrong in your life, know that the weaver is gifting you a prized peek into infinity, well worth a moment’s look, even if it destroys you in the end.
Timothy Merritt is a writer and musician who wakes up each day during the witching hour to put words to paper. He’s previously been published in Alchemy and Alembic, the literary journals of Portland Community College, and has presented at the Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature. He holds a B.A. in English from Marylhurst University, where he was the recipient of the Binford Writing Scholarship. When he’s not drafting tales of the weird and surreal, he can usually be found working among the aisles of Powell’s City of Books. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and children.