Gareth lay still for a minute listening to the music before reluctantly opening his eyes. He scrunched them closed again at the sight of his bedside lamp, still glaring since his insomnia of a few hours earlier. Gradually he coaxed his eyes to open again and focus on his laptop screen to check his mail. Nothing worthwhile. His eyes, at last awake enough to exercise their own free will, moved toward the small capsule resting on his bedside table. His brain, not awake enough to remember how much he wanted it, dismissed the idea of swallowing the pill. His body took him to the shower and turned on the water.
While the warm water meandered over his body, his cold mind meandered around the thoughts he didn’t want to think. Suddenly he was struck by a memory from his dream. He had lost her again.
In the dream she was blonde, and he couldn’t recall her face, but he knew that it was her, the feelings were the same. They were on a cliff overlooking their village on the black plains. He knew that it was forbidden, but there was no better place to propose to his sweetheart. He remembered how contented he felt, holding her hand and gazing down at all Creation. Until a freak wind blew her away, and left her motionless on the plains below. He remembered jumping down from the high cliff and landing unscathed, thinking nothing of the feat, and running to her. His dear Bea lay there, brunette again, her face returned, but bleeding and empty of expression.
The dream stayed with him all day. From time to time he would catch himself thinking that he really did live in that village on the black plains. It seemed like an age he had lived in that place. It seemed like only last night that he had lost her. Only last night he had gazed into those lifeless eyes, wishing he could forgive himself.
The day came and went without his paying much attention to it, and all too soon he was back in his bed, staring at the capsule, wondering whether a temporary sleep would claim him before he claimed a permanent one.
He couldn’t go back to the village after that. He couldn’t stand the thought of a hundred villagers obliged to act sympathetic while attempting to hide their ‘I told you so’s behind transparent corneas. He couldn’t stand the thought of living at all without her. He couldn’t stand the thought of the villagers aiming their phoney sympathy at his dead body. He stole a container of poison from the apothecary and stole back toward the cliff.
Sheets of bristled vegetation made the climb easy. Soon he was gazing back on the village again. This had been his favourite place in the world. The perfect place to die, were it not for the thought of villagers finding him. He turned toward the forbidden plateau. Beds of ground cover spread so far in front of him they made him tired. He began walking.
For hours he walked, as if in a dream. Distant hills appeared, and steadily grew in his field of view until it seemed he could easily reach them. How nice it would be to end his life high up, at a lookout spot like his own. He stopped to rest, and imagined he heard music.
Morning again. Gareth marvelled at the way even his favourite songs could become hated when given the task of waking him. Another day of emptiness, of working, of trying not to think. At midnight he fell reluctantly into his bed, for the nightly face-off with the pill. It had wandered from his night-table onto his mattress, as if trying to tempt him. Did it want him to swallow it? Did he want to swallow it? God knew he didn’t want to continue life like this. He held it a long time in his fingers, staring at it, mentally conversing with it, not quite gathering the courage to crush it between his teeth. Near morning, it fell from his grip as he lapsed into a troubled sleep.
When Gareth came out of his reverie, it seemed the hills were further away than before. Perhaps their nearness had just been wishful thinking. He continued on his way. As he approached the hills, he perceived a higher cliff atop them, nearly devoid of plants. The view from the hill was unimpressive, the monotonous plateau blocking the view of the plains. He started up the cliff face, grabbing the occasional stubbly brown stalk for support. Several times he fell.
Suddenly, he felt a great wind pressing him into the cliff. He turned his head sideways, his cheek pressed against the rock face, to see that the wind was followed by what resembled a giant stone hand.
He scrambled sideways to escape being crushed. The hand missed him by a whisker, but the force of it hitting the cliff caused such a quake that he fell back to the hill.
Dazed, Gareth wondered whether this was why the villagers told such tales of the plateau. Perhaps there was something to their superstitions. But he had never believed in such rubbish. The world was the way it was because of natural laws; there were no ghosts, no giants, no winds of God to punish the disobedient. It was all coincidence, it could all be explained.
Armed with this revived stubbornness and curiosity, Gareth resumed his climb. As he neared the top, he gripped one last ridge and pulled himself over it.
There was no solid ground beneath his torso. He found himself hanging headfirst from the lip of a chasm. Steam rose over his face and obscured his vision. His grip slipped on the slimy stone. He flailed blindly with his other arm, which found some thick vines further along the edge of the chasm. With all his strength he pulled himself across, and found a safe place to sit near the lip of the volcano.
Shaken, he looked back towards where he’d come. The hills, the plateau, the black plains, stretched out in front of him. And beyond… he could see that even the plain was a high plateau. He could just make out some strange figures strewn over the ground below it. He wondered if there were villages down there as well. What must they be like?
At last he remembered what he had come for. He had seen everything on Earth, but the most important piece was missing. What good was all this without her? He opened the flask of poison and brought it to his lips.
As he tipped the flask, he recalled the terror he had felt when falling into the volcano. How desperate he had been to escape. Why hadn’t he let himself fall? His survival instinct did not fail him. Somehow, deep down, he wanted to live. He wanted to explore all the lands he could see. He would never find Bea again, but perhaps he would find happiness.
Fearful of changing his mind, Gareth tipped the contents of the flask into the mouth of the volcano. For a few seconds, he was again at peace with the world, the way he had felt on his old lookout point on the cliff.
Suddenly the ground hiccoughed violently. He managed to remain in place only by gripping the vines. He had barely begun to feel safe again when the world seemed to melt, and the sky was lit with visions of Heaven, of Hell, of his parents, of Bea… nothing made sense. He became aware that as the visions faded, the sky faded as well, until all was black except for a shrinking circle of light around the Sun. An old science lesson came back to him… didn’t they say that if there were no atmosphere to diffuse the Sun’s rays, we would only see the sun surrounded by blackness, like a star?
At this thought, the air seemed to thin, and he could no longer breathe. Unconsciousness overtook him just as his dreamworld disappeared.
The surreality of flipping through a pile of deuces of spades on the bus put me in the mood to write some fantasy this week. I think eventually I’m going to have to write a story about a mysterious girl with a walletful of playing cards.
The ‘Sleeping Giant’ card caught my attention even last Sunday evening as I was sorting the cards to put them in my wallet for the next day. I wracked my brains trying to think of an interesting angle, but didn’t come up with anything until Tuesday. I filled in some details while listening to a lecture on B-physics (quite appropriate, considering this week’s writing is supposed to be inspired by the letter B) but still wasn’t sure about the reasons behind some key parts of the plot. Finally on Friday I felt like I’d sorted most of the details out. although I doubted I could write the entire story in time for Sunday. During the writing workshop in Saturday, I came up with a few stylistic ideas (once you realise what’s really going on, you’ll notice some appropriate metaphors here and there) but spent the evening getting the Apronyms site back online. That left me to begin writing on Sunday morning, expecting to publish only part of the story tonight.
Fortunately, I was able to write the story in a reasonably compact way, so you have the whole thing in front of you. I hope that I have included enough details to make it understandable, but not enough to make everything obvious from the start. Some parts are perhaps a little too basic due to my lack of time, I’d like to put a bit more emotion into it, more suspense. Maybe longer passages of Gareth’s real life, showing whatever happened to the real Bea, or how he got the pill. Maybe a news report at the end saying that Gareth was mysteriously found dead in his bed with traces of potassium cyanide in his bloodstream and a broken capsule balanced on his top lip. But writers usually find that shortening a story is the most difficult, and most necessary, part of editing, so I’m glad to begin with something short.
I like the idea that the story raises the possibility of Gareth killing himself in four different ways: Real Gareth killing Real Gareth, Dream Gareth killing Dream Gareth, Real Gareth killing Dream Gareth, and finally Dream Gareth killing Real Gareth. Suicide, homicide, deicide? You decide.
In the interests of having some semblance of accuracy in the waking part of the story, I had to watch videos about making suicide pills to write this. Not my usual Sunday evening pastime. Although I found recipes for other concoctions which could be more easily obtained or made by the average person, it seemed they would require doses too large for the diminutive dream Gareth to carry. Already a single normal-sized capsule makes him larger than I intended. So I decided that Gareth would just happen to have a military suicide pill at his disposal, for some reason. If Dr Francis Manning can mysteriously have one in his possession, then so can Gareth. For all you know, he might actually be a spy.
The idea of escaping a dangerous situation to rediscover a will to live is expertly explored in the short film, ‘Los Ojos de Alicia’ (The Eyes of Alicia) which I saw at the CinéGlobe film festival. I think I voted for a different film immediately at the end of the session, but that film is the one that really stuck in my mind. I wish I’d voted for it. I would recommend seeing it if you can. It’s certainly better than videos about homemade suicide pills.
I noticed too late that there is a lapse in continuity involving the presence of a laptop on the bedside table.