“That is enough. I cannot do this any more. Its all too much.”
And perhaps I was correct. Despite everything, I still feel that I was right to speak those words when I did, and the way I did - calmly, without anger, but with confidence, for I was telling the truth. I was being more honest than I had ever been, regardless of the knowledge that I would regret it forever. And forever is such a long time.
The ghost had appeared roughly a month ago, although it seemed as though it had been present for far longer, years, perhaps decades: perhaps since the moment we had been born. Time is such a diffuse thing that I could hardly tell, and at that precise moment when all our roads collided and ended, I could hardly care. Truly, it had all become to much for me to bear - too much, I fancy, for any rational human being to bear. Of course, the ghost, the monster, the phantom, the thing, was not human, but it had certainly thrust itself into human life, and into a sphere of existence where it surely did not belong. I had attempted to tolerate its presence, to pretend that every part of it was not repugnant, but it had grown impossible to continue with such a charade, and duly I had been forced to end it all. Something of events ought to be preserved, however, simply because many years from now the phenomena may be of use to somebody, either as a scientific study or a general warning to beware of anything which seems even vaguely unsavory. Truly, if anything is to be learned from this tale, it would be that even the most inconspicuous, harmless contrivances can quite easily grow into something terrible, something venomous and fetid. The smallest spark may smolder into a Hell. Fear those things, those creatures which are dishonest, which are duplicitous and pretend to be what they are not.
I cannot quite recall the exact date when the phantom first distinguished itself from reality, I only remember its presence first as something vague, and then as something huge. I had known her for years, and, if there is such a thing as love, I am convinced that is what I felt forher - or some chemical concoction of love, some caring thing. There is little purpose in charting our various meetings and words, but all was well until the ghost appeared, the shadow, and promptly attached itself to her. At first, it was nothing more than her shadow, a thin, tiny line ather back which would trail in her wake but never speak, never do a thing offensive or otherwise, and I would look beyond her, study it with a vague, semi-interest, for it was a mildly intriguing creature. Its presence did not appear to concern her and it certainly did not concern me, for why should it? I was content, I was at peace with my present and I awaited my future, convinced that I would realize my dreams, that I had set myself upon the correct path. We continued in this fashion, the shadow at her back, for some time, and we would have continued forever, but the shadow began to transform - began to grow. As though it were feeding off something, glutting itself upon some concealed sustenance which was invisible to my eyes, it fattened, bulged, until it became a hulking monster. Even more intriguingly for, as far as I could tell, it was composed of nothing more than air, it seemed to sweat, seemed to ooze a sickening grease from its flabby, rippling form, and I could no longer even glance at it, for it sickened me, nauseated me. Such a violently unattractive thing I had never before set eyes upon. If there were ever to be devised some concrete definition of “ugliness” surely this would be it. Gross in every way, it was incorrectly proportioned, its eyes were deranged, rolling, and I wondered at how it had come into being at all.
“It is fine” she would say “Its nothing to worry about.”
And I would believe her for a time, for what else could I do? I could only believe her. However, all was not well, as the ghost had drawn closer to her, was at her heels, was more than her shadow. It would salivate and snivel, sniff and snort, its eyes riveted upon her and bulging with a greedy, lecherous hunger that truly did sicken me to the core. Still, it followed her, and it would not leave her. Whenever we were alone, it would call to her, would offer to take her here, there, anywhere - do any small favour. In short, its peculiar, slathering half life was composed only of her.
“Its nothing. Don’t worry.” she would say.
But in time I could do nothing but worry. I did my upmost to ignore its presence, but it had grown so huge that much of the time, when I was with her, I was in fact staring beyond her, through her, at the ghost. It grew to steal all my attention, and I was convinced that it knew - for whenever it was able to haul its bulging eyes away from her, it would fix me with a triumphant, arrogant glance, and my disgust would dissipate, replaced instead with utter loathing, which would sometimes transform itself into rage. Distracted beyond measure, I could no longer see her, I could no longer hear anything she said, our meetings were in fact only meetings with the ghost, cut short when it chose, or prolonged when it saw fit. It was a puppet master, now, and it was drawing closer to her, consuming her, breathing in her air so that there was nothing left. Certainly, it desired nothing more than to own her, to imprison her - it wanted to possess her in a way to terrible for me to think about. It would own her like a trinket, dominate her completely, I grew convinced that this was the purpose of its existence. I wondered why it could not simply be banished, but perhaps it would not be banished, and there seemed to be no force in the world capable of repelling it. There was nothing I could do, certainly - and in time it would force its massive bulk between her and I, would interrupt whenever we spoke, would ration our time together, would ensure that we could not, would not, be alone - and there was nothing I could do. There was nothing else I could have done. There was nothing.
“That is enough. I cannot do this any more. Its all too much.”
And thus it ended. And thus we were no more.
“I’m going where the cold wind blows.” Leadbelly.
The two emerged onto a deserted platform in an all but deserted station in an all but deserted seaside town. This was not the time for seaside towns. In summer, the town thronged with people. Children played, adults laughed, and there would be such a vibrancy of bustling life that stillness seemed implausible. Today was not summer. It was some obscure turning point between seasons, which had not been named. This was not the time for seaside towns. For her, though, it was the only time which mattered, and for him it was the only time possible. Something whipped through that empty little station, a contained rasp of air which swept along beneath the lead of the sky, which swirled and cracked, threatening rain. Perhaps it would rain, but they had convinced themselves that, should the storm break, they would be able to find shelter. He wondered too, whether he were anything of feeling at all and whether, if he were to be cut open, rather than blood, he would bleed sawdust and debris and all manner of dry, emotionless materials. Still, the storm was battering, the station was empty, and they felt that they had better move, for they had done that thing which people are prone to do, and made plans, rigid plans which even the weather would not thwart.
Along the promenade there was little alteration. The rain held off, but the sky was a maelstrom above them, and there was very little life in sight. Hunched figures labored along the pavement, bent, shielding themselves so that they were faceless, but the sands were empty. The days when he had come here as a child seemed an infinity away. If there was a tide today, for the sea was in such turmoil that it was impossible to discern whether this was high or low, it had consumed the beach, and the couple dare not venture to close to the edge of the promenade, for waves were dashing themselves against the walls and spray was being hurled violently onto the concrete. Vaguely, he wondered that this was a bay, was supposed to be calm, and he saw the divided cliff faces, the two little mountains at either side - but the storm had torn through them, the sea would not be settled. No boats had dared set their sails, the boiling tide was devoid even of floating sea birds and out there, far away upon the horizon line, the edge of the world cracked purple and red with visions of innumerable other universes, flickering and crackling in and out reality in the distance of the sea. There was lightning on that horizon, mingling with those visions, but it would not draw closer, and the sight of the seaside was unrelenting grey.
They walked a little, searching for some words to say to each other, each variously hoping that the silence was nothing more than normal social interaction, that the gulf between them had been blasted wide by the storm and nothing more. He was aware, though, and offered the odd empty phrase to which she replied, but her replies were empty and, as much as he desired, he could not speak to her at all. She was beautiful, he thought, but he viewed her scientifically - saw her beauty, saw her inner beauty too, saw, but did not feel. He would look at her, consider her, wish that he felt something, anything, but then the old ghost would appear, materialize in his mind and he would see her, flitting hopelessly between the two of them - the memory of her. If only that vision would vanish, if only he could love anyone, care for anyone - care for her as he wished. It was all to no avail, but he resolved to make some effort, to visit the arcades, the desolate, empty rides, and they plunged on through the gale.
“It is only a matter of mathematics.”
A little way along the promenade, they encountered one figure who did raise his head and distinguish himself. The man recognized him at once as a teacher from his past - a maths teacher who had, in those days of school, taught him sums and equations. They made some small conversation, introductions were made, but the teacher of mathematics was staring out to sea, far out to sea - to that horizon line where the endless universes shimmered and flickered, that place which is the end of the world, that place where all monsters and ghosts are born.
“It is only a matter of mathematics” he said again, glancing out and away “Equations, logic, numbers - I will have it fixed in no time at all. I will have it resolved.”
With this he was gone, ambling away into the gale, pondering, thinking, disappearing. The man felt a little relief at having introduced her, made a play at them being a true couple, a play at him caring for her deeply. Truly, he wished to care for her deeply, but then there was the phantom of her, which would crowd into his thoughts. She sometimes seemed entirely free from his thoughts, as though she actually walked about that seaside promenade, but this could not be the case, and they continued their journey. Amongst the grey were hotels - all of them shut up, all of their doors closed, their curtains drawn. They stood imperiously amongst the gloom, surely empty, entirely vacant but demanding no visitors. The couple passed them along the sea front, those rows of empty hotels, and both were silently aware that there would be nowhere to stay the night, that they could never remain.
The storm was intensifying, now, the sky swirled and the gale howled, summoning up increasing violence and hurling spray into their path so that nowhere on the promenade could be quite free of the sea, which would not remain quite separate from the land. Surely, the rain would fall soon and the entire town would be consumed by the torrent, but there seemed to be time, time yet - and the wind screamed beneath the roof of the sky, and the couple made for the indoors, for the arcades along the pier. These too, were empty. Many of the buildings had been closed entirely, for this was not the season. Metal chains hung over doors, windows were boarded up and there was no hope of entry. The couple walked about those relics of the seaside, the wind rebounding off them, and peered through the boards, through the chains. Inside, the machines were all covered by sheets so that they appeared spectral, were a dusty, deathly white amongst the shadows of the vacant arcades. There was such stillness in there, though - those rooms were removed from the world, removed from the storm, and the man wished they could enter, for if there was peace, perhaps he could, perhaps he would. She wondered, too, that if only the noise would die, if only they could find some peace, all would be well. All must be well, all was well, she thought. Those arcades were closed firmly though, and there was no hope of entry.
One ride had remained open amongst the universal desolation of the end of the season, however, and they saw it in unison and felt, too, in unison, the relief of a diversion. They would laugh and smile and be cheerful now, she thought. A large, shabby man with a hat pulled low over his face supervised, but his eyes were not on the ride, they were on that turbulent and troublesome horizon line.
“Bad day for it” he muttered as they paid and climbed into the little cart.
The ride was the waltzers, and as soon as they stepped aboard, an anemic seaside tune began to play but, so feeble was it, and so distorted by the gale, that it hardly resembled music at all and was nothing more than a discordant, faintly horrifying, mingling of notes. None of the lights which should perhaps have given the ride a gaudy splendour, seemed to be functioning either, and the red and yellow paint had grown worn, was very nearly colourless - was just as grey as the rest of the world. Inside the pavilion of the ride, they were partially sheltered, but the storm was battering the little enclosure to such a degree that it roared and bellowed with the sound, and the entire structure seemed to quake. She huddled closer to him, for the air was still in here, and in that stillness there was a chill. Outside, the owner cranked a lever, the gears growled, everything shifted and they began to move. At that moment, however, something of the storm altered and, as the carts began to revolve, the gale found its way into the enclosed space of the ride. It stuck the couple full in the face, that rasping blast, and for a brief moment the man closed his eyes. Upon reopening them, he found the ride to be transformed, for the music had grown loud, had grown cheerful, happy - and with it the lights had been turned on and duly, as the waltzers revolved, they flashed and shone with all manner of colours.
Surprised by this sudden and unexpected change, which had rendered the ride a glorious, technicolor experience, the man turned to her, for she remained huddled against his side, but found instead her. Unsure whether this were memory, fantasy or vision, for they had indeed been here before, the man stared down at her and she stared back up at him and smiled and laughed. And the waltzers revolved. The lights danced, the music blared its cheerful tune and they continued to spin, and he felt more than ever that he was alive, he felt all those emotions, he lived them, they were the world, for she was here, after all. He forgot all his anxieties, ceased even to question what was real and what was not, for he no longer cared - not for reality, not for the past, not even for the future. She smiled, and for the first time in what had been an indeterminate span of time, he smiled too, and the ride continued to revolve - rising, falling upon concealed undulations and spinning all the while. They began to laugh, but before he could speak, another cart, trapped upon the circuit of the ride, spun into view, and he saw upon it her. She spun past them in the other cart, and the man shifted awkwardly, recalled their relationship, recalled who they were supposed to be, how the past was thus and the future was thus. There was no anger in her face, but the man, unable to quite look at her, or at the other cart, felt something resembling guilt, dread or worry. He wondered what she was thinking, what she could be thinking and he wondered why she would accept this.
“Don’t worry” she said, her voice soothing simply because it belonged to her “Its fine. Its nothing.”
The same old hurt echoed and he half recoiled but could not feel anything beyond the peace at her presence. Around them, the other carts spun and passed by in a blur of lights. Occasionally he would see her drift by, revolving, spinning away amongst the music, the sounds, but he was with her and he was content, happy. They continued to spin. The ride seemed to be infinite, seemed to show no end, and perhaps there was no end, perhaps the ride was the entire world, and the universe was nothing more than the waltzers. Thus he found his voice.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.”
He continued to say, growing increasingly frenzied as those long held words came tumbling forth, but she did not reply. Afraid, at once, that he should receive nothing more than silence as a response, he looked to her, but she had vanished. All was as it had been, infact, the feeble, gale disturbed music, the unrelenting grey of fading paint, the dead bulbs of the lights, and beside him she sat, unmoving, her eyes watching the ride as it spun. Briefly, he hoped that he had actually said those words, hoped that he had spoken them in something other than a dream, that he had continued to speak them after the vision had faded and that she had heard, mistaken them as being for her and believed, believed them entirely. He studied her, though, and she looked expectantly back at him, but he had said nothing, and he continued to say nothing as the ride ground towards its chugging, laboured conclusion.
They left the ride in silence, the man reeling from both the power of that vision, and the realisation that there was little hope, and that all he truly desired had been present in the brief moments of the dream. He could not quite surrender, although internally perhaps he had, and they continued to walk that desecrated coastline side by side.
Flanking the bay were two mountains, one far larger than the other, which was scarcely a mountain at all. That larger mountain was all of cliffs and crags of rocks and now, as the tide surged and the waves pounded, they blasted against that rock face with an empty roar, casting a storm of spray into the air. It had begun to rain. A cable car service connected the promenade to the top of the mountain but such was the gale and the storm that it had been closed, deemed unsafe against the buffeting, thronging air. Along the mountainside was shelter, though. It had begun to rain. It had begun to rain in a ferocious, violent manner. Torrents of water, lashed in from across the sea, came pouring finally down, for the sky had burst at last - it could contain itself no more. An icy rain, too, was that torrent - and it was no longer possible to remain exposed upon the coastline, no longer possible at all. Thus the man turned to the mountain, and saw along its slopes the pines. He could not remain, he could not be beneath that sky, enveloped by that storm, and he made for the pines - the shelter of the pines. A millions shadows, a million ghosts - all those specks of darkness which did not belong in this world or any other, hung about the trees. Those shadows whispered and spoke, their voices upon the cold wind, of what should not be, what could not be, and what was not of any world: what was of the outcast. He must go, though, and the man eyed those trees, and the man knew. Lowering his face, the storm battering his body, the man entered the pines, and the pines enveloped him at once.