December 10, 2012

Not There

Feeling moody and restless from another long day of inactivity and repetitive motions, I sat down and strummed my guitar. Notes combined under my fingers into soft, buzzing chords from the unplugged electric SG clasped in my arms. My fingers are out of shape and hurt, trying to hold down the strings. Pieces of one sad pop song after another flow away from the instrument, a verse of one, a chorus from another. My voice hums along softly, singing the lyrics barely above a whisper. Thoughts, like the songs, fragment in my mind.

I sit on a stool next to the window in my room. The apartment feels dark and empty aside from my roommates moving around in their own room. Their presence just heightens my feelings of solitude and my wish to be alone. I try to play without disturbing them, without disturbing anyone in the universe, just wanting to be alone for a while, in solitude, lost in the fragmented guitar-song and the fragmented emotions attached to the chords.

It is darker inside than on the street, lamps shining their warm, orange light down on the cold pavement of a city. The buildings block most of the light from reaching behind them into the little back yards stretching down the alley that is the view from my window. The cement slab in the back of our apartment, beneath my window, is almost completely dark.

Whatever coherent attention I have remaining is focused inside the room, but something out of the corner of my eye makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and a numb line of feeling extend down my spine and up into my brain. Pausing mid-song I look out at the tree bordering my yard, the neighbor’s, and the alley. It is an average deciduous, probably a maple, with the leaves freshly budded and green from spring. A slash of orange light slices across the trunk from the streetlamp through the fence. The leaves shake restlessly in the wind.

Around the trunk is wrapped a dark shape, long and black, cutting through the light. It is still, though the wind gives it the slightest illusion of movement. The thing’s body is stretched out and emaciated, no larger around than one of the lower branches. Its short, stubby legs disappear into the darkness below. The spindly arms reach up and wrap around the lower branches of the tree and beyond into darkness, while the head, highlighted in the streetlight, is cocked to the side at an odd angle.

It’s looking at me.

There is nothing there, I’m sure. It’s just a part of the tree, an overgrown sucker. But something caught inside me as I watched it warily, feeling it return my gaze. All the fragments of my attention were suddenly focused out the window on the tree. The thing is reminiscent of a creature from a movie, falling out of its picture frame with murderous intent. It sits on the tree now, still, but with an impression of tense waiting, like it is something deadly, but not yet ready to strike.

My heart beats in my chest, steady but loud, the sound amplified. The world wrestled to slow motion.


Returning my attention inside the window, I strum a few more chords, attempting to refocus my thoughts and trying to dismiss the feeling boring into my shoulder blade from the window. There is nothing there, I tell myself. Whatever it is is an illusion. Look back in the morning under real light and you’ll see. But words are no solace to the hairs standing on the back of my neck. I glance out the window again to clear my head of this silliness and meet its gaze directly. Revived shaky hands set the guitar down in its stand by the window. Closing the blinds, I back away.


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