It can occur and does at any time in any imaginable world.
I was sitting at the train station which was rather empty. It was rather late and I was feeling rather sick. I was stamping my left foot and kicking it out to relieve the nerves gone restless in it. I was, drunk, sick, stamping, insistent on reading the book on centuries of trade in Valencia that hung a blur before me.
You must see to understand that it does not require somebody. It can come on as want of somebody. It is a fact that the space put aside for somebody may still be occupied by fearful things.
Before I heard that night the train wind, before I sensed the mild adjustment of light indicative of the train coming on through the tunnel, illumining the charcoal mice ticking under the tracks over late paper burger bags, I saw with difficult focus the fringes of the tunnel mouth and where they fluttered, and the winged flutterings brought me straight to my feet for they were the edges of the space, which does not require somebody, coming on. Looked upon by the other drunks and night shifters and couples faded into the metal benches of the awful hours, I had the strap on my bag around me and I ran, along the platform and stamping my cursed leg and bumping up at the wooden rail of the stairs that I pulled myself up, away from the flapping quiet shuffling edges of shroud.
Out of the emptied station I was out on to the city. The city streets at such time were turned out even of their late nighters and most revels. The roads now celebrated by bent traffic lights and crumbled bollards and unridden save for silent taxis on beetle cruises camouflaged into the drunk hulked dark and the long unstoppered passing breath of unlit buses with all the sound of futuristic urbanity lunging smoothly out of the centre of the city to places quieter still and darker still.
And the cafés, each of them: dimmed to shade the rudeness of upturned tabletop chairs; hotels: gold lobbied and unvisited and concierge out of view; department stores: white, lighted, still, reminiscent of airport or childhood or former fictioned in latter from the car on muffled nighttime drives.
Experiences not, at late time, now, to be stood at and consumed; for on comes that shroud. It is silent and it might be I have only, ever, seen the very edges of it. The edges intimate vastness powerful. It has had me in flight out of the pub, out of the middle current of conversation with others, shroud edges spotted suddenly by a fire exit door, furls of thin black theatre blanket blowing with impending movement and chase, I poured well past liquored junction of coherent speech or sight, but well able still to up myself, and to run. It has had me in a maelstrom up off the bus in places far from home, stomping home instead at pace for the march brings perception of escape where the bus interior brings attacks of panic and frightened palpitation and restive wondering out of which hiding place the terrible shroud will come.
I tripped trash off of curbs and scattered the nighttime foxes up over railings into private parks and stared at a clothes store elevator still for some reason sidling softly up into a higher floor out from the sparse unmoving mill of the mannequins. I would make it home and always did. I would check behind me and see round the turns of unnamed alleyways the fronds of terrible shroud.
You must see to understand, that it does not need somebody at all. It can come, and it does, on where deficiency like carcass outline chalked onto a wall above the mantelpiece has been coloured in with blackened vomit and smeary suggestion of faces left in past which had been loved and lusted over, abstracted into the pursuant form with all the glow of days declared dead at noon, jeans soaked through from the slow traipse of that purposeless heart beaten man, the sterilised taint of train carriages sucked of want but never of sickness.
It comes on where somebody might be wished and where is no one, and is all the more vacuous.
I made to the street where I lived. As I walked it I saw the shroudish sheets fluttering over hedges and low gates where it was too subtle to be caught by street lamp’s low. It was quieter than emptied bin bags. It fluttered like a string of stitched together black moths disinclined to reveal the true mass of their selves.
In the house I put on all of the lights and wished for rain which when heavy forced retreat of the teasing ghoul. There was no rain. I stared into the doorways.
It comes on in its shrouds the thick limp mess of piled unwashed linen and with its straightened anaesthetic airs of doctors’ jellies and hospital bedding, all known in place of sheets shared to warm. The shrouds are coloured in the nameless shade of baggy funeral suits and shift with the quiet that the thing leaves in a wake, quiet and reminiscent of exhaustion and collapse at the return home from baggy funerals, all in place of fitted suits and lifely wedding bells. It comes on with the certain fear of rectal bleeding known far in place of another’s touch. The fear, which causes running, which causes solipsistic truth like the coercion of tyrant deity, is guttural. It reminds of dreams spent choking on swallowed piranha and trying to read aloud numbers written on papers in unreadable hand.
I went into my bedroom for sleep. Only alcohol, and the submission to human routine, allowed it through the horror.
Yes, the stained piled bedsheets look very black and vacuous in the dark.
When I get into bed I wrap myself in them.
John Banning lives in London Town. When he is not too tired he writes things. Some of these things have recently appeared, or will soon appear, in Ligeia, The Daily Drunk, Rejection Letters, Maudlin House, the Bear Creek Gazette, and right here at Dream Journal. He has a very exciting website.