By Gemma Kent.
“You’ll die. That can’t happen. It can’t I can’t. Please.”
His gait was a wayward, deflated hop marked by a rhythm dubbed ‘shit step shit’. ‘step’ was the good foot and ‘shit’ was the bad one, and between them they stomped out a jilted four-four tempo, with occasional variance.
Step. Shit. Step. Fuck. Step. Fuck Crap Shit.
He insisted he would not blame the rabbit for it. The rabbit had risen merely to nibble at the stalk of a flower, guilty only of casting her bulbous black eyes in every direction but his. He sympathised with the rabbit, just as stomach ought to: the rabbit had been as confused as its courser, grazing in the middle of the day and out in the open with no idea how to keep herself safe. But stomach was not a sentimental thing: it had no heart, only privileged access to the sensory organs. So when the eyes caught sight of the prey and the nose envisioned the smell and the hands imagined the feel and the ears concocted the scream and the tongue foretold the taste, his brain had had no choice but to surrender control of the throne, and use its own imagined hands to shield imagined eyes from the atrocity about to unfold.
For, in the absence of his brain, everything fell apart, reduced to
run run run run
run run run
And now he limped, his pace a drunken turtle crawl. And the rabbit was furled up somewhere, picking at its toenails and laughing at the stupid stomach that sought to fool her and the (stupider, stupider) indulgent brain that couldn’t control it.
“So we all die? We agreed on this. This is why I’m here.”
On he went.
Above him, there was a sky in mourning for the day that had been: a low-hanging sun with searing light ebbing, and a flock of jaded birds unable to barrel. Lower down there were crickets clicking prelude to an orchestra, and a placid wind with a hunch of growth, whistling through the trees, plucking at his skin. Emerging from this cacophony was an evening left gasping in the present, trying to assert its claim in the face of the destiny carried in on those hefty, bullish clouds. And so everything was consumed by everything else: sun by clouds and crickets by birds and wind by lungs, and all that remained was the assurance of night, in the promise of which he shit step shitted.
Shit Step Shit Step Shit Fuck Shit Shit
His body sang a chorus of its own, trying to bridge the gap. Stomach, in punishment for selfish impulses, issued nonetheless a litany of woeful hiccups. His breath sustained the ambience, forcing out a raspy creaking hiss like the sound of a bush on fire. And his bones and his teeth sometimes grated without warning, though all without pain, like a measly cry for help. All this and he became a roaring alarm bell of existence, of stomach and breath and teeth and bones. But no effort was made to mute it. Presence was a threat only if there was someone around to find it, and there was no one out here but him and his body and the sky and the trees and the earth (and the voice, but he didn’t count the voice because the voice was fake and nothing to be afraid of because voices needed people and people needed shelter and there was no shelter out here and no food and no water and no way to live so of course there was no voice, the voice was only imagined and he knew this and he didn’t worry about it).
Shit Step Shit Fuck Fuck Fuck Step
He and the travelling chorus travelled uphill for the simple reason that they had to travel somewhere. In the beginning, there had been no chorus, only a conservation of energy. He had found a shelter and hunkered down and wriggled in and let the days roll by without his doing anything. He had had a river nearby for drinking, and a tree for eating, and a bush for shitting. He had survived for seven days, with no shrieking ankles and no whining stomachs. No voices. No nooses.
But then, a new thing. His brain, the only organ free from willed paralysis, had begun to wander into far-reaches of itself, begun rummaging in old cupboards and shaking out old dressers, leafing through things tucked away in shady corners and picking them up and shaking them at the spines. What precisely it wanted, he never knew, but then nothing was found and it no longer mattered. Because on came the breaking point and ended all thinking. Existence was things appearing out there in the darkness, other breaths shaking air, other feet turning leaves; the voice first spoke and he screamed in response and ran and cried and fell and ran, and this was when he resolved to always keep moving, in case the voice should find him again (though it couldn’t as it wasn’t real it wasn’t real it wasn’t real) and by moving he could watch the sky and hear the crickets and feel the wind instead of thinking about fissure in his brain and the big gap and the little tears and the full circle and
And not long later he had fallen on a tree root in pursuit of a rabbit and decided that food would no longer be his goal. He had looked up and seen the hill and said, body, let’s go up there, and his body had said okay, fine, alright let’s go up there and now they were shit step shitting their way up a steepening slope instead of thinking about things and oh
“Oh god I can’t do this”
Was that the top of the hill?
It was. And
Here it was again,
body dethroning in name of common good
Water water water water water
And legs propelled him forward despite the
shit step shit fuck
and he scrambled the final few feet and collapsed, knelt, before the bubbling source, with parched lips parting, and hoarse voice croaking
Water water water water
Cupped hands gasping mouthfuls, slurping up, taking breath, taking more, gasping
Water water water
This was the first time in two days.
He could not stop until his lips were soaked through and his throat was soft with the feel of it. Then he splashed some on his face, gave special care to the week-old burn around his neck, and scrubbed at the places behind his ears like she had always said to. Then he sheened his arms and legs with it and watched them weep in the places where they puckered. The dirt ran in rivulets. Then he drank more.
Some time passed before the trance gave way to fallout. Melt became crumble. Laxing, toppling. His body lurched and there were
Hand trembles, leg screams, stomach sobs.
All of it, back in the satiation of the agony, one traded for another, drowning, drowning, drowning
But clenched fists, gritted legs, stomach drawn.
“Like you practised. Like you practised.”
But his nerves were in hysteria and with water in his system his body did not lament the tears, and he stooped and sobbed before the gurgling baby stream and wished he had not found it, because now it would all take longer and stupid body stupid stomach stupid me I picked the hill and I was almost there but
“No no please don’t make me”
A few more days a few more days
How could he do a few more days? Rabbits ran one way but the water ran the other. He couldn’t fight it. Couldn’t couldn’t no. God, if she was here. If she was here there would be a thousand streams and rabbits. No voices. No nooses. No shit stepping. No tears.
He rocked again. Rocked for the begging. One word over over
Would she hear it? She used to. She used to answer. Said, yes of course always trust me watch this never I love you. Nowhere now. Not in the rabbit’s gut or the river’s bed or the hole in the noose. All gone. Rocking. One word over over. Rocking in the noose and yelling it. Never coming back. Scream it
Summoned by the word.
beyond the river
Another crack, steps now.
Many cracks, successive, approaching
Then the wind picks up
Who’s out there who’s out there
A shadow, a figure
Standing over him
No go away
I’m here to
Let me help you
You’re not real
I’ve got food
I got away
No go away
Sent to help
Just go away
Please come back
Just go away
Just go away
hurtling. all speed. no energy no stop
get away get away get away
I’m so sorry I’m so sorry I’m so sorry
wind picks up. face pulled awake. mouth pulled open. is that a smile? smile, body? keep smiling! won’t catch us. ankle screaming. subsumed. thousand things.
shit step fuck fading in the chorus.
now shitshitshitrunning arms belting by him legs cutting dirt around him eyes streaking tears upon him
I love you remember
down him and everything invisible and he stumbles doesn’t stop. body won’t trip me now
Just please do this for me
and ducking under branches, twigs slicing cuts in cloth and the feeling of blood washing dirt and he is running
I don’t want to do this but I have to
and being chased but the voice is fake and the voice is fake and he’s just running running and
make it easy for me
and keep running running
and make it fast
and maybe he won’t die and maybe he will live and maybe there is hope and maybe I can do this and maybe I can see her and maybe I —
Chin thrashes the ground knuckle up pain through his jaw whiplash in his brain scathed hands whacked knees make it easy make it fast make it easy make it
His breath is raspy screaming weeping
Like an electric shock it started, now it stops
And he lies there panting, deflated but alive; but a quivering in his flesh he cannot explain. There’s a hammering from the inside, beating at his brain and at the sky above him. Roll over. Knocking at the stars, rattling them from their shelves. He’s pulsation. He’s silence, overwhelmed by noiseless noise. His brain sizzles. It wonders, is this what the rabbit felt? Gulf-hearted, empty-stomached, lucky to be here, running from phantom dangers beyond its wildest dreams. Stomach leaps — reduced to prey, it understands all now. It’s all just dying to live, living for dying. Running from one thing and into the other. From the people, into noose. From the noose, to the rabbit, into river, into this. Choking and screaming yelling please until it snaps and you’ve landed, bright red burning badge around your neck to say you made it, and on to the next challenge. This is it. This is all that’s left. He’s done it. He’s done it all.
why is it all still spinning?
What’s that propulsion in his chest, still hammering? He’s done it now, so stop.
But trebling. Tripling. Pitching.
Is that screaming?
then suddenly he is convulsing, the pain of it where shit
bright lights bang and right up his spine where the feeling is
full circle full circle he’s choking with no noose now
so he doesn’t hear her approach between rain pain convulsions
Oh fuck oh fuck
But she speaks in the same rhythm as his ankle as his whole, like them she is real
Not the voice not fake
Are you alright are you alright
Everything popping everything burning body don’t yet please hold
Stay with me, okay, stay with me I’m getting help
It’s at his tongue
“I’ll find you”
See, see, body, just me just me, listen
“You’ll die. That can’t happen it can’t I can’t please”
I don’t understand
“So we all die?”
It’s just me, body, stop this
“I can’t do this”
Let me help you
“Like you practised”
“Don’t make me”
“I’m so sorry”
We’re here, it’s okay
It is. Calm down
“Do this for me”
What’s he saying
“Make it easy”
I don’t know
“Make it fast”
Hold him down
“Please I’ll find you”
Deep breath in