The weather changes, the rain has stopped. Blinking you wake. Wait. No. You don’t wake. You weren’t sleeping. You were walking. Left, then left, then left, but you couldn’t make it home. How on earth did you get lost, you’d been walking for what? Twenty minutes? Half an hour? It’s funny that your hair isn’t wet. Close your eyes. Think back. The house had been so hot, so humid. There was sweat dripping down from the ceiling, pooling into puddles which soaked into the carpet. The walls were aching, creaking, screaming. Static crackled through the rooms, louder and louder. You felt like your teeth were breaking. The outside called, its cooling rain would soothe you. You remember that you didn’t lock the door.
There had been a plan. Left, then left, then left and home. But that’s not what had happened. Clearly. This street. What is this street? There is a peculiar silence and a gloomy fog which seems to be descending. Falling. Slowly, slowly. It is maddening. Close your eyes. You feel as if the walls are screaming again. Blinking you wake. No, that’s not right. But you can’t adjust, can’t correct yourself. You are drowning in a lake; you can’t swim. Why is your chest broken? An arm grabs you and drags you out against your will. You realise this is no lake, but merely the fog, it is eternal. No one else is here. Your chest has healed. The vast grey mass hangs in the air innocently. You are not fooled; there is menace in its eyes. You are about to open your mouth, turn, run, cry out, when it is as if a knife slices through the centre of the fog, through the centre of the street. The two halves are swept away to either side, billowing over the houses. The air is still. No wind or sound. A silent sneer from an invisible antagonist. Somehow the moon is high. Where has it come from? It gives a cold light which hardens everything it touches. A gentle face now bears a scowl; a soft curve becomes a jagged edge. Of course you are still alone. Of course.
With the fog lifted, the street is revealed. The houses are all identical. Normal enough at first glance, to a casual viewer. But you see more. See clearer. (You haven’t always though, have you?) They don’t seem to fit, out of place, out of context. It’s an American suburb, white fences and trimmed lawns. Polished mailboxes. But more than that it’s symmetrical. Yes, that’s it. Each row is a mirror of the other. And even more each house is the same as the adjacent. It’s almost wholesome, but not quite. Not quite. Those windows, too small, too far apart. That fence, just too high. And again, all the same. All wrong in just the same way. A flash on the left side of the street. Turning quickly you can see a light in one of the windows. Instinctively you turn to the right, to its mirrored window. It’s not lit. You feel sick. But why? Of course it isn’t lit. Why would it be? Why indeed.
In the middle of the road you can see a single balloon. Had that always been there? It must have. But then that light, the fog. You remember when you closed your eyes and your chest tightens again. Let go. The balloon floats just over a metre from the ground and its string is attached to a twist of metal. You are fixed upon it, your spine is a pillar of ice, ready to shatter.
A foot is dragged forward (those aren’t your shoes are they?). One step, unbidden, to the centre of the street. And again, the other. Forward, purposeful. But not yours, not your purpose, out of your control. Again. Again. To the balloon you march.
‘Where is the sun?’ you wonder.
Your legs are lead pipes. Thud. Thud. Thud. Closer and closer. Somebody’s hand grips your gut as you see. The twisted metal is a brand new silver bicycle. But you already knew that didn’t you? Still, the reveal is enough to make you gasp, swallowing a mouth of water in the process. Wait no. There was no lake, just a fog I think. Breathe. A tight chest and heavy legs won’t be any help here will they? And where is the sun?
How did this happen? You stand before the balloon. It’s smaller now, seems deflated. Pitiful. But it just makes everything worse. This damned darkness doesn’t help at all. It’s all shadow and cloud and gaping jaw. Careful now, don’t fall. Those teeth are blunt cudgels, they’ll crush you, grind you. Slowly. Or something. Something like that. But it’s not quite right is it. Because you won’t be crushed. No, not you. Close your eyes. Swallow. Or breathe. Where is the sun?
Oh. There it is.
Rising up, bright, frightening beams cutting and piercing. And isn’t it incredible how the sun always rises in the west (what?) and sets in the east. Or is it that? No. It’s cold. When you were little you had a way of learning the compass. Why is it so cold? The sun should burn. It’s so close it should be burning your eyes or melting your skin. Well that swirling clump of gas and fire, it’s so close it could hit you. It could hit you. It’s no sun, you realise. Another hand grips your stomach. It’s a car. A wild car. Driven by a wild woman, and who could blame her? Well with what she’s gone through certainly not you. Especially not you. You can see her wide eyes staring straight. Forward through the middle of the street, through you.
In the light you can see the balloon clearly now. No tricks of the shadows. A huge bloated creature looks back. The string is a snake, it coils around your arm. It digs and digs, biting into your shoulder. It moves. It inflates further. Impossibly. You know what it wants. It pulls you up, away from the street, away from the car.
‘No!’ you cry, you struggle, you tear at the snake. Nothing. There is nothing you can do as the car drives below you. You look up. The balloon is a grotesque smile. The grin a mockery of mercy. Close your eyes. In another life you’re already dead.