The fanciful horror of supernaturalism confronted by the visceral horror of mortality.
⁓The Voice before the Void
“North Dakota, Devils Lake, 2013 October”
The Voice before the Void
I awoke unnaturally, suddenly, opening my eyes, looking straight up. At the left side of my field of vision was a disembodied face.
I had been sleeping on my back on the sofa in the front room, where I usually sleep. I swivelled my eyes to look fully at the face. It was black and white: the planes of the face shone with white light; the lines of the face were dread-black. The pupils of the eyes were black and too large, almost but not quite filling the eye-slits, so that but small triangles of white shone at either side of the pupils. The nose was large and sharp and jutting, almost like a snout. The teeth were black and pointed, and the interior of the throat shone white behind them.
As I looked at the face, it slowly floated backwards, away from me, across the room, towards the doorway to the kitchen, fading as it did so. It floated about a meter and a half above the floor. As it passed into the kitchen doorway, it dissipated entirely.
After several minutes, I got up and began working intensely. It was just before dawn.
Two days later, in the afternoon, as I was working, I heard a loud bang in the kitchen. I looked up from my computer and into the kitchen doorway, but saw nothing. I continued working for several minutes, until I had completed the section I had been working on, then went into the kitchen to investigate. Nothing was out of place.
Three days after that, I was awakened from sleep by falling onto the floor. I struck the floor on my left side and rolled forward onto my elbows. Shocked awake, I looked at the floor between my forearms, then looked up. For an instant, I saw the face above me. Its mouth was opened wide, white light shining from the throat and silhouetting sharply the pointed black teeth. As soon as I looked at it, it began to fade and move backwards, toward the kitchen. It quickly faded from view. I became aware of pain in my left arm and hip, from striking the floor. It was early morning.
I got up, got dressed, put my laptop into my bag already packed, locked the house, and walked the few blocks to the train station. I claimed my ticket from the ticket agent and, after a wait for the train to arrive, boarded the Empire Builder, the passenger line that runs between Chicago and Seattle, and rode it west into Montana, to the mountain town of Whitefish, in the Rockies. The ride took most of the day.
Arriving in Whitefish, I walked from the train station through downtown to the hotel to meet my friend. She had arrived early; I met her in the room.
We meet every October in the hotel in Whitefish, to eat apples and read each other scary stories and enjoy each other’s company.
Two days later, in the hotel room, I logged into my email account. My email account, usually clogged with new messages and spam and hundreds of old messages, was empty, except for one new message, without a subject and from an unknown sender. The text of the message read: “See you when you return.” An image file was attached to the message.
My friend saw the image over my shoulder. “Oh, that’s hideous,” she said.
That night, she wanted me to hold her, and, though the room was warm, she shivered occasionally and violently in my arms, and, though I slept, she told me in the morning that she did not sleep the entire night.
The day after arriving back in Devils Lake, my sister with her two young daughters stopped at my house in the afternoon.
As I greeted them in the vestibule to the side door, my nieces, giggling, ran around me and through the doorway to the kitchen. Almost immediately, before my sister and I had even finished saying our hellos, the girls returned, running to their mother, and stood one on each side of her, touching her legs. My sister and I stared at them in wondering startlement. Then the older one, looking up at me, asked: “Who’s in the kitchen?”
I shared a look with my sister, then turned to the kitchen doorway. I poked my head into the kitchen and saw exactly what I expected to see: my empty kitchen.
I told my sister to take the kids and head on home.
“Are you going to call a priest?” she said with sardony glinting in her eye.
“I’m going to make a trip out to the farm,” I said.
My sister and nieces stepped out of the vestibule onto the deck, I following behind. A large hollowed-out pumpkin gourd with a grotesque jack-o-lantern face carved into the side of it sat on a corner of the deck.
Again startled, my sister gazed at the pumpkin. “Was there a jack-o-lantern here when we came in… thirty seconds ago?”
“No, there was not,” I answered her. I looked across the street at the neighbors’ house with a dozen jack-o-lanterns arranged about its front door.
“I’m going to the farm right now,” I said. I pulled the side door shut and locked it. My sister was ushering her daughters down the steps of the deck towards her car. The younger one began to cry.
As she loaded the children into her car, I climbed into my pick-up. The sardony back in her eye, my sister grinned and called to me: “God bless and god damn.”
At the farm, I captured a pigeon in the pigeon coop that my father keeps. These pigeons are known elsewhere as rock doves, are known elsewhere as flying rats. For decades, he has kept pigeons, to sell to dog trainers, who like to use live, inexpensive birds to train their bird-hunting dogs, and for him and his family to eat, as pigeon tastes identical to mourning dove, one of the many wild game-birds of the area that he hunts in the autumn.
Back at my house in town, I got my chopping block from under the deck and my hatchet from the vestibule.
The chopping block is a chunk from an old 8×8 wooden beam; the hatchet is heavy with a wooden handle; both the block and the hatchet are stained darkly. The pigeon was in an old plastic gallon ice cream pail with a lid.
I placed the chopping block on the kitchen counter with the pigeon and the hatchet alongside.
I took off my jacket and, after considering for a moment, took off my shirts as well, until I was bare-chested in the kitchen.
I looked around the kitchen. All was quiet, illuminated starkly by the electric bulb overhead, no sunlight coming in the window from the overcast autumn day outside.
I opened the lid of the pail slowly, reached inside with my left hand, and grabbed the pigeon around its back, clasping its wings to its sides.
I held the pigeon close to my face and murmured a customary tribute to it, paying this pigeon the respect that doomed life deserves: “Thank you for your meat. One day, I, too, will be eaten. We are one in this awful earthly life.”
Resisting the urge to look about the kitchen again, and wishing to finish quickly to not prolong the pigeon’s potential fear, I pushed the pigeon’s head with my thumb to the right side of the two nails sticking up from the chopping block, pulled the pigeon’s body to the left to stretch out its neck as its head was held by the nails, pressed the pigeon’s body to the block with my left hand, picked up the hatchet with my right hand, and, as I had done hundreds of times, in youth and since youth, severed the pigeon’s head, the hatchet blade thocking dully into the block. The blood flowed onto the block.
Rather than holding the carcass over the sink, as usual, to let it bleed out into the drain, I instead turned to the kitchen, the carcass in my hand, and looked about. The kitchen was empty. Finally, I spoke.
“Can you surpass this horror?” I said to the emptiness.
I crouched and pressed the bleeding carcass to the floor. I made my symbol upon the floor of the kitchen in blood.
I stepped to the center of my symbol.
“What is more horrific than life consuming life?” I asked.
In blood, with my fingers, I made my symbol upon my forehead.
“What is more horrific than that it is the nature of life to consume other life?”
I looked to the chopping block and the head of the pigeon lying atop it.
“Can you know this anguish? Can you know this horror?”
I held my arms out at my sides and looked slowly about the room.
“Are you going to consume me? And you going to smear my blood in this kitchen?” I shouted.
I waited for some reply. I received silence.
“If you are not a part of this earthy life, then what can you be to me? Do you need to eat life to sustain your conscious existence, as I need to eat life to sustain my conscious existence? Will you eat me, as I will eat this?” I held up the pigeon carcass and squeezed it, and blood pushed up out the neck and ran down over my fingers.
“I know not what you are, and I suspect that I cannot know what you are. Do you know what I am? I am the conscious meat. I live in a deteriorating body of meat, and I am forced to know that my meat is deteriorating. I live amidst finitude.”
My shoulders sagged, and my head drooped forward, weary with the reality of human existence.
Then I raised my head and snarled: “Flay my skin from me! Flense the flesh from my bones! Splatter my blood about my kitchen. Break apart my thoughts.”
The room was achingly quiet. The house, the town, the world, the universe was achingly quiet.
“I am the howling; I am the dying. I sniff with contempt at you supernatural, at you paranormal, at you who exist beyond what my few feeble meat-senses can perceive. For what can you be in relation to my mind?” I looked up at the glaring light bulb. “To my dying mind?” I looked down at the carcass in my hand. “To my murdering mind?”
I extended my arm and held the carcass of the pigeon out in front of me.
“This is my fate. I am to die, and I am to be devoured, by bacteria or by worms or by dogs, but I am to be devoured, just as I have devoured.”
Before taking a knife from the drawer, breasting out the pigeon carcass, and frying the breast in a pan on the stove, I spoke my final words to the emptiness:
“Nothing can terrify a mind doomed to die.”