Tabula Rasa

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    1. The trees shook violently in the wind.
    2. I tried again.
    3. Hundreds of them appeared at once.
    4. The door closed with ease.
    5. The smell of lemons drifted through the house.
    6. Sun poured in through the thick leaves.
    7. It had been dark when we left.
    8. Seven cats sat along the back wall.
    9. She had seen the man before.
    10. “Welcome back.”

    The trees shook violently in the wind.

    tom

    The trees shook violently in the wind.

    Their limbs groaning; straining. Steadfast, he stood between them, unyielding to the storm.

    I watched his silhouette against the fast darkening sky, the rain hammering against the glass. Each day he would wait, a promise fulfilled.

    A man is as good as his word.


    josh

    The trees shook violently in the wind.

    Ominous
    Something on the verge of terrible
    They woke me from my fragile sleep
    Did you hear them too?
    Did they rip you from slumber?

    Calm
    Something focusing on my weakened periphery
    They crystallised and sang softly to me
    Did your voice break through?
    Did it drown out the trees?


    I tried again.

    josh

    I tried again.

    I picked it up by the handle and repositioned my grip. The perspiration that covered my palms made the damn thing so slippery - constant splashes of mud didn’t help.

    I drove the metal end into the ground and finally heard the dull thud I was hoping for.

    My breath stopped.


    tom

    I tried again.

    The sound of the dial tone load and tiny in my ear. 7 rings. Nothing.

    Panic washed up over me like a treacherous sea but I hung to my life raft and breathed, knuckles white around the receiver.

    He smiled across the forecourt, his eyes wary.

    This was a mistake.


    Hundreds of them appeared at once.

    josh

    Hundreds of them appeared at once.

    Tiny, illuminative things that lit up above me in the blink of an eye. Stars. I blinked once more and they were gone, replaced with heavy clouds.

    Blink. Stars.

    Blink. Clouds.

    Years passed every time I closed my eyes.

    I blinked one final time. My eyes opened, everything was dark.


    tom

    Hundreds of them appeared at once.

    Interdimensional beings having travelled thousands of lightyears to deliver an important message to humanity.

    However, due to a slight miscalculation of the effects of quantum tunnelling, they winked into existence at a minuscule fraction of their size and were accidentally hoovered up by Mrs Hurstbridge from number 42.


    The door closed with ease.

    josh

    The door closed with ease.

    It sang a sweet whisper as it sank into its home. A gentle but forceful exhalation of air from the lips, pursed, pulsing.

    What does an exhale sound like?

    What does wood bring to mind?

    It is louder than you might think. It breathes.

    Are doors always made from wood?


    tom

    The door closed with ease.

    Ah, she thought, this is not my house. A simulacrum.

    She had suspected that something was amiss, a ruse to let her guard down. A simulation. They let her go, she goes home, leads them to the hidden cache.

    But her house is old, and the front door sticks.


    The smell of lemons drifted through the house.

    josh

    The smell of lemons drifted through the house.

    It must be Thursday, he thought to himself, as the sharp sweetness hit his nose. Every Thursday since the day they met she had made lemon drizzle cake. He’d never been able to tell her that he despised baked goods, she loved the tradition of it too much.

    He opened the window and got back to work. An hour or so later he went downstairs but couldn’t see her anywhere. The cake sat delicately on the counter next to a note. She was leaving, for good. Apparently she could no longer bear his rigid, weekly demand for baked goods. Ironic.


    tom

    The smell of lemons drifted through the house.

    Real lemon. Not the sickly acrid taste of "lemon flavouring" but the fresh, sweet, acidic tang of actual lemons.

    I dropped my bags in the hall and ran into the kitchen. My wife stood there with a wry smile and a small glass of fresh lemonade.

    My mouth flapped uselessly as I tried to process the scene. "H-how?"

    Her eyes sparkled, revelling in my astonishment. "I saved up and managed to pull a few strings at work. Here." She pressed the glass and kissed my cheek. "Happy birthday."

    I smiled, raised the glass and brightness exploded on my tongue.


    Sun poured in through the thick leaves.

    tom

    Sun poured in through the thick leaves.

    It cascaded across the wooden floor, drenching the room in it's golden light and splashing haphazardly across the white linen sheets of the bed in the center of the room.

    The occupant stirred, the only movement amongst the fleshy vegetation, and fumbled for their glasses balanced on a pile of dusty books by the bed.

    The fecund scene dissolved into focus and they looked around in alarm.

    The room was dense with vegetation. Branches forced their way through the broken windows with thick vines were strung between them. Orchids blossomed in one corner.

    How long had they been asleep?


    josh

    Sun poured in through the thick leaves.

    They were either ficus, or magnolia, but I couldn’t quite work them out. The veins on the underside of each leaf were so distinct, so illustrated, the sun illuminating every flowing river of life.

    I pulled one from its branch, allowing more sunlight to break through, blinding me momentarily before my eyes adjusted. The leaf felt rough in my fingers.

    “Magnolia.” I confirmed to the tree, who agreed with me in a stoic silence. I let the leaf fall to the ground and I watched it effortlessly, weightlessly saunter downwards.

    As it descended, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply.


    It had been dark when we left.

    josh

    It had been dark when we left.

    We knew we wanted to head north this time, to find somewhere we’d never even heard of. One more fresh start. We only had enough to fill one suitcase between the two of us - our entire lives in one bag. It was quite pathetic if you really dwelled on it.

    We couldn’t afford a train ticket, so we followed the tracks upward. Soon, we noticed a wet, trickling light edging its way along the metal. It turned black to orange to white, and then it took over our vision entirely.

    In that moment, I thought that maybe we were free.


    tom

    It had been dark when we left.

    It was still dark hours later as we trudged into the endless night. We had to make the most of the coolness before the searing days began again.

    It had been the same since she was born.

    Months spent sheltered underground; the smell of damp earth; the monotonous routines.

    Months spent dragging their lives through the night over the blistered surface of this forsaken terrain; forever heading south.

    Following the needle of father's compass.

    Her compass now.


    Seven cats sat along the back wall.

    josh

    Seven cats sat along the back wall.

    Scrappy, slinky, smelly, svelte, serpentine, silent, sassy, they sat along that wall and watched every step I took.

    Six days later and they were still there, a mass of fur becoming matted and tangled. Still watching me. Sadly I began to lose my mind.

    Something inside of me snapped and I knew I had to destroy them. Shots fired into the abyss of the garden in the direction of the seven cats that sat along the back wall.

    Small bullet holes were scattered over their bodies, but still they sat.

    Seriously, how the fuck do you get rid of strays?


    tom

    Seven cats sat along the back wall.

    As an astute observer, I thought this was odd. Maybe three co-located felines would pass without comment, but seven? This seemed worth investigating.

    They had their backs to me and their tails swept lazily against the rough brickwork as they stared at something on the other side.

    I grasped the top of the wall and hauled myself up, to sit up among the cats. They shuffled along to accomodate their new neighbour.

    We watched a crow struggle to pull a fat worm from the soil. The worm wore a wedding ring.

    As an astute observer, I thought this was odd


    She had seen the man before.

    josh

    She had seen the man before.

    He was tall, graceless, though seemingly purposeful in his stride. His cap sat at an aggressively jaunty angle - this defining feature is what gave away his recognisability. People simply don’t wear caps in that way any more.

    Although repulsed she was also intrigued. Something happened in the pit of her stomach this time, so she tilted her beret and began the pursuit. She enjoyed watching his shoulders bounce with each clumsy step, losing herself in the chase. Rounding corner after corner, she realised they were just circling the same block over and over again. Something in the mind-numbing simplicity of it intrigued her further.

    Finally he stopped in his tracks, at the doorway of the cafe where she had seen him. He turned slowly and she stayed firm in her stance, preparing her body for the inevitable meet. She gasped aloud at the sight of his face, handsome and gruesome all at once. In that moment she decided that this would be her partner for the rest of her days to come; the man that would father her children, mourn her after she was taken from this earth. His husband walked out of the cafe and took his hand cautiously.


    tom

    She had seen the man before.

    He had been a fish once, and they had spent a pleasant afternoon swimming near the hull of a yacht moored at the Porto de Camerota in Italy. She was a fish too, at the time. Some of her happiest days.

    Now they were riding on a bus through the back streets of Kathmandu. As humans, of course. Two fish sitting on a bus in Kathmandu had bigger problems to worry about than a familiar face. She had stared too long and he shot a quizzical glance, though not unkindly. He did not remember her, she could tell.

    They met again, 864 years later on Proxima Centauri B. This time they were both a type of conscious cephalopod that had been bioengineered to help in the Martian water wars. He remembered this time, or at least pretended to remember - she could never quite tell. Those three years were blissful but bitterly brief. She rued that they met as creatures with such short lifespans.

    She thinks about him a lot, even now as she huddles with her mate against the bitter antarctic winds. She wonders what he is doing know and whether she will ever see him again.


    “Welcome back.”

    tom

    “Welcome back.”

    The words boom across the baking concrete, thrusting themselves into the people and the dust and the hot air. A jingoistic ditty echoes harshly off the grey walls.

    "Your sacrifice is what allows our great nation to flourish. To show his gratitude, here are some words from our noble leader." A generic, hollow speech buzzes out of the speakers like so many flies. A small collection of party officials wave flags and clap. The sea of blue overalls, recently disgorged from the trains behind them, stand numbly - this is not the return they had been promised.

    They were told they would return heroes.

    They were told children were composing songs of their sacrifice.

    They were told a proud nation awaited their return.

    An angry wail erupts from near the edge of the crowd. A scuffle ensues as a soldier goes to ensure discipline amongst the returning workers. The sea writhes, a flood of emotion breaking the walls of indoctrination. The soldier drowns in the flood, shots ring out, then more. The sea turns red. The flags stop waving as the officials view the scene with displeasure.

    The speech concludes and the national anthem plays.

    Flies feast on heroes blood.


    josh

    “Welcome back.”

    Although somewhat ominous, I felt the energy surge through my system the exact moment the words left her lips. The kinetic fizz that crackled along my surfaces with each step beyond the threshold grew and I could feel myself recharge. Admittedly, I hadn’t been back in years, but every particle was familiar, every sight and sound a nostalgic chorus. I fell back into my old rhythm immediately, dipping into former haunts and favourite spaces. At the end of the day, my soul replenished, I turned around and went home.

    -

    “Welcome back.”

    This time there was an undeniably sinister tone to the delivery. It promised something darker, something more sour than just a pleasant experience. Passing the threshold today, nothing crackled on my skin, there was barely a spark. Somebody had turned down the saturation, or the lights, and the usual amicable warmth had dipped to a marginally uncomfortable chill. I heard the echo of a footstep behind me and as I turned around, she stopped in her tracks.

    “Enjoying your visit?”

    She had never asked this before.

    “No.” Best to be honest, I figured.

    “Shame.” Bodies leapt from the shadows and I was thrust into darkness. I never came back.