Where do they go? Where should I put them?
They reach out uncontrolled at the slightest relaxation, to wreak havoc and panic. There’s no escape then. Everything is exposed. Anything can happen.
And even though nothing much ever does, it’s always disturbing.
Lately I’ve been lucky with two close-calls. All things in threes, obviously.
Still, here we are. Again and again and again. They approach. The herd. And the stragglers, the amblers, the aggressive anglers.
Why do I look up? Why don’t I keep on, head down, always?
Usually, I do. I remember and I do just that. To and from the bus, over at my part-time job, in the stores and around the complex.
I’ve been doing it, successfully, avoiding touching anyone with my eye feelers. And pretty damn well, I’d say. This is something I’m proud of, at least that’s what I’d tell that county counselor, if I was still seeing her. It’s not all shame and failure.
And when I don’t keep it in, down, and tucked away, it’s usually because I’ve decided to risk it, to take a peek, to use my eyes. Even in the city. Feelers be damned.
Like if I’m back up against a brick wall with good sight lines, light foot traffic, late afternoon.
I might, then, and I have. I probably will again.
The times I forgot, though, and stumbled past a gawking soul wound unfolding in awful recognition. Those were bad. It hurts like a kidney punch even now.
This, though, this is worse.
There are no two things. The connections are already there. The feelers, nestled amongst each other, asleep. All connected at the base. Ready for activation when things are not right.
Things are not right.
The worst is worsening. The long hall and terrible approach. No hat, hats off, they said. No sunglasses either. I scream and monkey walk up the walls. I drop to all fours and shake my head violently, no, no, no.
I stand up and resume walking.
I’ve been walking all along. The approaching person notices no unusual happenstance, their casual loping gait unbroken, except for an occasional toe-to-carpet stumble, quickly corrected, as if the person were dividing their attentions with a device cupped in their hands.
How could they not see my anguish, perceive the panic? I keep my head down despite the urge to blur my perception and reconnoiter to the near and far corners of the hall with a lightning fast jerk of the head.
My better judgment prevails. Any movement above my shoulders is limited to a slight side-to-side motion, which I attempt to match to my short, scuffled strides. My eyes are laser focused on the floor at the end of the long corridor, down and to the side of the looming figure’s head.
I should be able to get past without an entanglement, but the proximity is alarming. The slightest deviation, an unexpected variable, and there we are, looking at each other. Just moments away, possibly, from some dumbstruck interaction — though the horror of the feeler entanglement usually precludes that denouement.
I take a few more steps before I decide I can’t continue. I stop, stoop, and pretend to look at the back of my left shoe while maintaining as wide a field of vision as possible.
The loping gait changes to a controlled shuffle and the figure draws near. I squint, turn my mouth into a tight scowl, as if espying something untoward, like gum or crap, lurking on my sole. The person passes, their brown work shoes treading a careful arc around my inspection deception.
I let loose, feelers deployed. I snake them through the murky ether, brush the feathered tips towards the retreating back, taking a measure.
My hallmate turns, instantly tense, secreting a fierce pheromone cloud for camouflage and effect. I recoil to a defensive position, feelers turning against one another in a shield of concentric circles.
Theirs are already by. An anticipatory flanking movement places them right up against my head. I squint and turn.
No! I shout. Look at this crap! Gum, on my shoe! You wouldn’t think, in a place like this — Jeesh!
That’s what I meant to say. What came out was some mumbled rant.
With a loudly trumpeted exertion, I stand erect, then resume walking. I’m now favoring the left heel to keep the faux sole befoulment off the carpet.
My skin prickles. The feathered feeler tips examine me up and down for quite a while. I retreat down the hallway, slow and steady.
Finally, I perceive myself alone. Still a long ways off to the end of the hall, which seems to lead to another hall, of course.
Why? Why am I here?
I’m on the verge of remembering when a door opens inward, away, and a bright light pours into the hall not five feet ahead. Someone pops out, staring straight into my face. The door closes and the bright light is gone.
There we are. Feelers and all defenses down. Our eyes locked beneath arching brows. The first reaction at not being able to disengage, a bland perplexity. That soon passes. Our jaws contort in frustration and our cheeks rise in anguish. Eyes well. The clarity is awful and piercing.
A spiral vacuum pours all matter into your head. You are consumed, desiccated into a shriveled corpse, then dust. I look back to where I was and see I am gone, part of the dust. I try to reconstitute myself and create a hideous homunculus from the scattered debris.
I’m eating dusty bone fragments when you blink and shake out the vision.
I start coughing and bend over. You ask if I am all right.
I mumble something and start walking, hunched over, staring down, away. I focus on the metal doors as I shuffle past. Most have safety glass windows, but all seem shuttered with blinds, fabric, or makeshift blocking paper and tape.
I’ve forgotten why I am here and what this place is. I feel winded, gut punched from the encounter and the vision. After a few steps, I manage to pull myself up and walk aright in an awkward gait. When we’re perpendicular, the connection recurs with sparks and acid. We pass, painfully.
The feelers stay asleep. The worst has already occurred on the other side, so why bother, I suppose. Who can fathom?
I walk on, on. After I realize I cannot ascertain the nomenclature used to differentiate the rooms, I begin to feel disoriented, in vertigo, immersed in an infinite sameness, a platonic ideal of doors and halls, until, at last, I identify a lifeline in the descending numerals embossed atop each doorway’s frame. Soon enough, though, the false end, another hallway leading far away in both directions. I turn left, towards the imaginary sole dirt. It is all the same, I think. It is. The same.
A series of jarring sounds raise hell from behind.
KaThunk. Splurt. Thrawp.
Excuse me. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?
The medium is clouded already. My feelers dive into an amber mist, throbbing in sympathetic alarm. The contours of a suddenly shared space contract into sharp edges, amplifying the awful sense of pending violence.
Doors open fore and aft. So many feelers, angry fumes, steamers spewing light hoses, all at me. Stop. Police. I curl into a shell on the floor. I pull a plastic bus pass out of my flannel shirt and try to shoo the insistent feathers off my back.
A dollop of fire spits out behind me, four more ahead. Traveling at the speed of the medium, their trajectories shimmer through waves and currents. Feelers arise, in pursuit of the elusive wakes, trying to understand, burned by the contrails. I’m looking at a tiny part of the floor now, but the colors are the brightest I’ve ever seen.
Stop? You stop, that’s what I say.
I have a right to be here even though I don’t know why. Your missiles will miss. All things in threes.
L. Fid is a member of a pseudonymous arts collective dedicated to world domination.