Online Exclusive

The Whorled

I had yet to discover the source of that star, it came and it passed but from where it sprang and then fell to fading remained a mystery. In cycling its light lent its powers to coloring my tablecloth a lighter shade, relieving pigment from its duty to darken, except for those spots where I placed my bottles and cups, shielding only parts of the piece from fading, threads left closer to their original hues hewed to others abandoned as wraiths to their fates, a darker ring the mark of those who stayed behind; and over time with the darkening of the rings I began to place them deliberately, carefully covering a previous ring with my bottle that it might darken more deeply, and when it was darkened to my liking I would continue the pattern to its side and slightly aslant, another ring wrought from glass dispersing the light around it, until my pattern started pleasing my eye in its shaping a shape not unlike the petals of a many-petalled flower, blot upon blot twirling about selves contracting concentrically around a center I chose, until a flower bloomed from darkness arose with the passing of all those suns. And although that darkening was in the perception alone for that darkness was only so relative to the lightness of what was slowly brightening beneath my sight, slowly surely for the fading takes time, whenever I sat at that table staring down at that cloth I only had eyes for the dark spots that marked it, my focus blurred to fading all that was without. And still as I envision the shape upon that tablecloth now it further distorts, as if in the envisioning ensues a revision to the lines I laid, those rings pulled toward the center they circled around as if a black hole took hold and the pieces of themselves that pointed toward that focus pulled past so that a shared center that had yet remained without was now within each of those rings, not a sharing of their own cores for those remained theirs alone, and so that center of the shape they shaped was always covered by that bottle I placed, with each shifting a new disk darkened and that point they held in common darkening the more, the light always displaced away from that place. Yes, in the recollecting it occurs to me that this was indeed the shape I shaped with those bottles so placed, that my other memory was mistaken, or perhaps that past once present was merely poorly perceived and so marred the memory, this present recollection then a correcting of what was misremembered.

       And as I sat there then with eyes tilted toward that shape upon that tablecloth I recall now I was grinning, and the grin grew for I recognized it then as now as that wry smile I only wrest when undergoing such a shifting, and as I sat as I always sat trying to make sense of the shift so shifting then my grimace grew puzzled for I recollect now that I could not recall then whether I had revised or was the revisioned, whether world reimagined self and so myself or the envisioned was of my own making, the doing only done with the remembrance, so that action was only recast in the recollecting, or not a shifting of a past perception perceived but of that received so that the recollected conception was neither caused by a supplanting of world nor memory but in the recognition only, and so what was recorded was reordered with world remaining world and my memory unmarred yet retaining the reorder.

       And I sit here now grinning again as I did then though not now as then a puzzled grin growing the more crooked, for sitting and staring at that shape upon my tablecloth I had the vague sensation that I had not been alone the prior night, that there was another there to share in the disorder. Perhaps it was they who had finished off the bottle, indulging more than myself, it would have accounted for my clarity of mind, pouring a portion into tippling cup tilting toward my own the more slowly, glancing back and that cup is already drained, somehow sneaking a sip behind my back or even in front of my uplifted face as I tilt my own head back for the tipping, or perhaps grabbing that bottle from beneath my askance glances pouring their own portions filched upon the ground or in the sink to our side as libationary tributes made. I had yet to spy them that day, or any day before or since, where might they have been hiding, the same place the sun does, perhaps, switching places when that star sneaks away and singes their skin so they are forced out and in the darkness skulks back into the world; and that was when they emptied my bottles. Yet there was no space out there for them to have outpaced that star, no place out there to race back to. I finished my reverie and the previous night’s bottle, leaving all atop table; they are still there, undisturbed, for all I know, perhaps the knowing is enough to make it so, the cloth upon table slowly lightening with rings shaped by the size of what I left placed above a darker shade beneath. Only slightly, I imagine, for the fading takes time.

       I returned to my bed, as was my custom, still would be, if it could be, sometimes to drift back to sleep, a mid-morning napping, others to simply lie atop the unmade sheets and stare toward the ceiling. The latter that time, assuming my practiced posture with head upon pillow, eyes upward, shoulders back, bottom and heels all firmly fused with mattress beneath, only my eyes wandered straining within sockets set amid a head that refused to lift itself fully from its place, yet gave some ground in allowing a rolling down with chin approaching chest and those rolls between proliferating constructing a cushion of their own so that my head then rested between those pillows of flesh and feather yet stiffly so and so still enough although pilloried to lend the vantage point for my vision to chance toward the window with its latch unlocked. 

       I hurled myself at that horror outside of self with my breath withheld, my momentum restrained waning against my greater weight, my held breath expelled as I rolled back upon the bed again in a panic I forced myself to the fore once more yet seized, my hands flailing forward seeking to tilt past my center of gravity, a wheeze gave way to overweighing self back down against downy feathered bed again a wail breaching I rolled back and forth forward my bed springs squealing finally finding my momentum carrying slightly past that fulcrum of fatty flesh screeching I tilted over fully freeing myself from the pull my bed effected with its field. 

       I sprang up at last and ran with all haste to the window, slamming down upon the frame in case it were even slightly ajar, I nearly hung my full weight off the rail as I railed against what loomed without my fumbling fingers failed to fit the locks back into place. The resistance surprised, so seldom used they were, they had swelled out of shape, how long they had been unlatched I could not fathom, for I never have recalled having done the unlocking. Furiously blinking as flakes of rust fell and dusted my lashes I looked up towards my work through stinging sight and finally frantic I pushed the locks into their shifted settings. I hung awhile there off the window, fatigued, catching my breath I wondered how these latches could have been undone without my recording of it. My recollection showed not then nor now shows any record of an unlocked and relocked latch, yet then is now as it has now become then, and so not nor now nor not then but always having been. I caught my breath and finally stood back upright, intrigued. I gave the latches a checking to; still locked, as always. They had had the tendency to toy with my peace of mind often leaving the latches undone, it must have been they that left the latches undone in their haste to escape the returning sun. Yet if not my own indiscretion who might have possibly left those latches undone. I still have no explanation other than it must have been myself, and so my own memory is not to be trusted, lapsing as it has done, and yet this account must be fully accepted, being a record of my own recalling, my story told, no other to do the retelling, my story the only story of the room, the story of the room the history of the world. 

       It was, I recall, dark outside, ever dark, not a darkness of the absence of light but a darkness of nothingness, no there out there or out without for a source of light to course. And so no days. Only night. I call only night those hours which preceded my sleep, yet then was not yet now and so a night’s dangers had no need to be heeded, for those days were yet unenlightened, and so a notion still needed I invented night; or was it just now which was not yet then and is now then again that night was gleaned from an internal light’s gleaming, having no other point of reference, having never seen a day for a night to follow. That day’s night I recall was the worst of all, when the uncanny occurrences normally normal in their threats, easily dismissed, that night collected and made good on those threats, overwhelmed my world. I have no notion of day outside what I’ve gleaned from that light making its way as a new dawn breaking, and so I call day that which follows my waking from a night’s sleep.

       The incident with the window left me winded, exhausted I returned to my bed. This time I allowed myself to get under the covers once more, although I was fully dressed, with my shoes still on, having been in the habit of fully dressing every day, including my shoes and watch, a wallet in my pocket and keys, as if to go out, although a going out has never been accomplished, or even attempted, indeed I believed then and ever before that if I ever tried to unlock and open my front door something would intervene, a subjugation of self to the will of some other; or perhaps it is that it was somehow subjoined to this world some rule that I was not to open that front door. I have never questioned the presence of the keys, in my pocket still, carefully placed upon my dresser top every evening before undressing for bed, reinserted into my right trouser pocket every morning as I dressed for what I called the day. There were three keys thus collected, one small, as to a lockbox, unremarkable other than in its size, a dull sheen to its lusterless gray, three simple teeth adorning its stem, a smaller ring at its other end kept it clasped to the larger. The second I could never recall its shape and size, color or feel, even now looking back, the only notion I have of it is that it was there and I could only grasp its significance when directly studying it. Perhaps if I could pull it out now I could give a detailed account of it, but something always stopped me from recording it before, though I had tried, and so subsuming past experience to present prediction I shall not bother trying now, rather leave the key to be seen by someone other than me. The third key was to the front door. Until that day I had only thought so presumably, that is I had only assumed so, for I had never myself opened the front door, seen the other side where the key might meet lock, my side, the only side, of the door having a simple latch, the keyhole only, again I presumed, accessible from the other side. This key I can describe only as much more imposing than the others. That is all I am able to say, not that I am somehow at a loss of recollecting, I can now and always was able to hold its shape in my mind’s eye, I merely now and always had found it ineffable. Slightly effable, as I said, and so recording as imposing, I set the scene where its glimmer might be gleaned. 

       I fell asleep quickly given the excitement of the morning, only slightly uncomfortable for my pockets full and shoes dragging against the sheets as I slid into slumber. Although I often slept soundly just as often my attempts foundered just shy of those shores of the unconscious, tossing and turning as if pulled from my proper place to flop about until death, and so it seems I had indulged in such depth seeking dreams for when I awoke I was strangled by shifted sheets wrapped fully about my body, unable to move freely my struggling first sent those sheets down toward my legs binding more tightly, until unwinding I disentangled myself, swung my legs over the side of the bed, slipped my feet back into my shoes, still tied, I never untied my shoes when removing them, merely slipped them off and on again, the heels I imagine slowly worn over time, folded in and back out, a crease upon them signifying their misuse, never worse, never wearing, always worn. I stood and walked to my dresser to refill my pockets, my keys and my wallet, my coins and my watch, giving a nice heft to my trousers, as if adding balance to my being or centering my center of gravity. I removed my watch from my well stuffed trouser pocket and attached it to my wrist, casually glancing about the room while I did, and was struck with the odd sensation that something was amiss, something misplaced in my space. I took stock of the room, my bed and its bedding, its brown posts slightly chipped from use, my use, presumably, the rug beneath it was worn and nearly threadbare on the side I swung to and from, large enough that the legs of the bed all sat atop it, indenting their shape upon it, if I were ever to move the bed I am sure I would see the holes they were wearing, a side table, also of worn wood, slightly scratched, one drawer rarely pulled out, inside one would find four things, a pencil, a notebook heavily scribbled, a handkerchief for cleaning my glasses, and said glasses, also scratched, rotating my head slightly to the east, or what I always imagined the east to be, having nothing but a dark nothingness outside my window, to that imagined east I turned my head and passed lightly over two framed pictures, the images long ago blurred, the oils run down, faded by the light of the lamp, which was next, a floor lamp, as high as my head, that shone its light both up against the wall, an inverted pyramid, and down, a cone illuminating the wooden planks of the floor, slightly scratched, and partially lighting the rug to the west which my bed and side table sat upon, back to the east an illumined chair, where I sat and read and sometimes simply sat and stared, not a staring as I had done in my bed, toward the ceiling, but a staring off into what little space I had in my place, my eyes unfocused, my mind drifting, but then my eyes were focused upon the chair, frayed fabric tautly rounded about an overstuffed frame, four legs of wooden pegs, slightly scratched, sitting upon yet another rug, slightly frayed, much smaller than the one my bed sat upon, with a more pronounced wearing where my feet hung there, over the overstuffed seat, gently resting upon the rug, always gently, but so often did I shift my stance that the slight abrasions accrued over time, crossing and recrossing my legs, at once extended and crossed right heel over left ankle, then pulled in with right knee at right angle lift left leg over right knee with left knee acutely angled left foot tucked behind yet my shin somehow writhes again forward as a worm finds itself surfaced only to force an ankle straight angled such that left toe slightly scrapes the rug below as I jostled it in my reverie, undo the tangle and repeat the steps not in reverse only mirrored, my hands always clamped upon the arm rests, slight indentations along where my claws clenched, back slightly hunched but tightly taut tensed, my jaw often too tightly taut clenched and if one were to look carefully along my molars I am certain one would find there not insignificant abrasions to match, another side table there only smaller than the one abreast my bed and sans drawer, wooden, slightly scratched, a small disk upon a stem that branches out below to four feet, resting upon the small rug imprinting indentations not unlike those my bed posts surely made, east again and my gaze fell upon my dining table, already recounted, the sink and its counter, small pantry for food of no interest here, other than a quick mention of the wood and its quality, it was slightly scratched, turning in a circle almost fully complete, the front door of wood, slightly scratched, further to the right then seen as west, at least right to where my eyes then came to rest, a right hand still lingered to what that sight showed as left, my toes still snug on the same spot of that rug, the window aforementioned, glass behind the tautly pulled curtains slightly scratched framed in wood slightly scratched locked, I checked, still locked, locks slightly rusted, right again then nearly north, another runny picture along the wall, finally faced north and my bed again, my bed in my head the stand in for north. Something still felt amiss so I quickly rescanned the room, in reverse first to the west this time, turning left, eager eyes dancing about as if getting ahead of my head, seeking to show me what they had seen but I had not processed, had not allowed myself to accept; the picture framed against the wall bare otherwise, but not blank for the peelings of the paint made a pattern of their own, the window curtains drawn concealing the dark absence without, no time to linger, left again searching eyes led my head turning upon a neck past straining until finally they rested upon the front door, the lock unlocked. 

       I bolted from my bedside shying soles slipping on the rug beneath my toes struggling to gain purchase for a floor shifting underfoot but eventually I scrambled door way, faintly registering the crashes of my fallen dresser disturbed as the rug gathered and pushed against its base, ignored already as I bore the weight of way making past the foot of my bed betrayed by feet moving more quickly than they were used to stumbling past the peeling walls and picture framed past the window curtains drawn revealing a starless dawn gently pressing upon my peripheral, I pushed myself forward with eyes trained upon the lock and the handle beneath, was it my own agitation of gait disrupting my vision or was the handle rattling, I felt myself trembling too with my stride more wild did the door begin to meet my outthrust hand as I strained forward lunging with feet no longer beneath me my momentum carried me toward our meeting too abruptly, the force surprised, my right palm slapped against the wooden frame slightly scratched was there not a matching force behind it or was the door that heavy, never opened the hinges likely resisting my wrist straining against that pressure, a jolt of pain through my arm settled behind my eyes yet did they catch before I slammed the door shut some thing within that dark absence without stirring as my left knee struck upon the ground a tremor rebounded sought by way of my body a hand set to shaking to reach up and slam the lock back into place; hearing latch meeting match blood throbbing in my ears beneath the pounding of my pulse, my heart dangerously working, I sensed a rumble beyond my palm, a tumbling other than the lock’s, but even now as in the moment I remain unsure if it was my own trembling hand and my own overwrought heart that sent that signal.

       I stayed there against the door recovering for much longer than I had at the window before. I remained in that position, afraid to remove myself from my knees my body leaned to the door, one palm outstretched against its wood searching for signs of movement within the other too timid to release its grip from the lock. I may have dozed, for how long I cannot be certain, but whether I slept or merely strayed adrift when I came to alert again my posture had slightly slackened, my hands had slid down, and in a panic I reapplied with more pressure my palms upon the door with my full weight behind them my right wrist and both knees made their pain known once again.

       Still I waited, for how long I cannot be certain, but I was aware of my waiting this time and a long time it must have been for my nerves to stop shouting and my mind to stop reeling and calm myself into a collected acceptance of the door’s firmness in its frame. I was cold for my dampness but the sensation of the sweat evaporating felt foreign for a movement of air was uncommon unless caused by myself, there being nowhere out there for a breeze to come in, no window ever opened or door left ajar, to displace the space in that place. The odd sensation rather than rile my nerves simply settled in my subconscious as a subtle unsettling, and still upon my knees sweating heavily against the door with palms slick and so slightly sliding I allowed my eyes to lead my head to lead my neck in turning searching for a source for the shifting pressure in my room. Glancing to the right past the window within a frame showing my bed before it with side table toppled too my rug a rumple for the trail my trek had taken left its toll on that path, but all was still, still there was movement in my periphery and I glanced again back left with eyes leading head leading neck in straining to seek the source revealed a slight quiver in the tightly closed curtains of my window. The curtains closed as they always had been, for what reason would I have to draw them back, nothing without to spy with my eye and so shut they had ever remained. I willed myself to my feet using the door as leverage then less slippery with sweat but drying still and so stickily aided my purchase upon its wood although my skin seemed to prickle, dried enough if the air were still moving I could not sense it as easily, instead I moved through it and made my way to my window. I had often drawn the curtains before but did not recall having done so then. Perhaps it had been they there before who had done the drawing.

       And grinning then as I do now for the state of those drapes I was met with the always unnerving yet comforting darkness without, an absence always present and so soothing in its familiarity. I lingered momentarily as I often did when allowing myself a glance through that window, although through hardly makes sense, for there was no other side outside, a glassy impasse not seen through but into, exploring only its own inside as its end, nothing beyond but an absence of things. I lingered within as was my wont always searching for some sign of a presence out there in the out without but only impressed upon by its absence, peered into a space showing only my own self glassed within. It was then that at once as never before I seemed able to push through that boundary of window pane’s plane into the out without and succumb to the exhaustion of a day spent barricading against the room’s attempts to expose itself and show me that there was something beyond, that if I allowed myself to accept the window unlocked and the door ajar and ran with the push it gave instead of pushing back I might at last glimpse an other side to my side, an outside to what deep inside I had never allowed or forced myself to forget the acceptance of; or perhaps it was not that I was seeing through finally to some out without but merely I was when at last or again or for once or for the last faced with that absence for long enough I could not but create a there out there, that some inherent limitation in myself could not fathom an end to my world and so I projected a where somewhere, but really it was just within me that I explored outside inside and within that internal world I still could find no solace for this search for something and wandering within I came to realize or at least consider that what comprised my mind was a composition of words, and so I sought for the language, to compose this surface I currently tread upon, removed from what remains under and ever unsighted; and experiencing it then I knew I would later recount those words as I was already recollecting them, as I progressed forward the memories being made anew knew then that that was simply a small version of what I would be doing for the rest of my time including but not exhaustively this time, almost foreseeing perhaps not this specific retelling but its class, its kind, and knew then as I am finding now, realizing now, confirming now that again simply words I am reforming, reshaping even then I saw these sentences’ potential, that although I was yet to deliver them I was already shaping them; and if all it was was words then then all it is is words now, words instantiating those words then which realized my world within as a formalized world without of what was really just that absence without, now as then so present within and the words before the world that was, yet those words long passed with only these words portending a future recalling of that world past, yet these words all there is of my memory and so my history and so all history and so the world, and that that world just is this world now; then is it now that was then, no, it is then as it was now for always having been again as then I sat contemplating all this there inside of my outside still inside the room by the window within.

       So deep in thought so close to that window I had managed to mar it with my breath and within the fading fog on the glass still emerged a hand print far too misshapen to be my own from that morning’s meeting. I pressed my hand upon the glass adjacent to the fading form of palm and fingers, another dispersing of myself upon that plane, a body exhumed, but too slowly for as soon as my imprint emerged that other began to disappear, too quickly to compare. I again heaved a huff upon that dissipating print, see a mere glance now for as soon as it began to reveal itself my own began to fade, back again to the other side fairly annoyed now as then I quickly expelled a hot huff on my own, back again light headed now not as then but as again the left was leaving, another exhale, a puff now no huffs left within, my lungs leeched, a slight wafting to the right, back left, not a huff a mere puff between snuffing, back and forth and more light headed now for when with vision slightly swimming the apparitions revealed enough of themselves that I could surely say then and certainly now that I have replayed this memory back to myself time and again and once more now those palms did not align, the one far more delicate more slender far slighter, and I thought that was not my own signature there on that glass but another’s. It was their hand applied there but surely only moments prior for the excretion of their secret self remained enough that the heat might reveal its shape. More frantically now to confirm the contradiction and dispel the notion of coincidence in a panicked puffing and again huffing, a deeper drawing of breath, quickly expelled from the bottom of my belly to add the warmth needed the picture grew clearer undeniable now but for my vision blurring darkened yet lucid still enough to wonder if it was my own hand I had applied on the window, the right only slightly larger its shape unmistakable I attributed the slight disproportion of the left’s to the fading of the imprint from their meeting earlier that morning, still heaving to and fro dizzier now as an imagined when where at last not dispelling, the picture firm, but my sight darkening as I spied through the prints the blackness without as the darkness outside my own vision ran inward and met the absence of light I failed to focus on throughout, a circle closing as it met a dark far more dominating, lightened then as my vision ceased and I fell to the floor in a heap.

       I came to a tumble of limbs uncomfortable my legs bent against the peeling wall where it met the wooden floor slightly scratched one arm awkwardly beneath my back elbow bent at a right angle the other splayed to my left elbow slightly bowed backwards obtusely angled outstretched my neck twisted to the right led my head and so my sight toward my bed, rug still a rumple my eyes looked past its rivulets to the darkness beneath my bed’s frame slightly scratched pushed up against the wall where above my headboard met wall less peeling still tangled under the window I spied there under the bed where my head rested during what I called night and sometimes again after breaking my fast during what I called morning staring up at the ceiling slightly peeling where beneath unknown or perhaps forgotten by me was a shaded space small although my vision diminished from my vantage point as a heap on the floor what looked to be a covered place darkened the use of which I could not fathom.


Zachary Gary is a writer from Southern Nevada. This is his first publication.