I have been writing a novel with an experimental feel, the opening rough of which is here. I think some of the loneliness within it echoes things that are going on in life around many of us at the moment. Disassociation and alienation, bewilderment and hallucination are central to this short scene.
So, I thought I would try it out on a wider world. This is exactly as it was written with no corrections:
My father’s dreams come in powders and grow from the sacred mycelium each year. They offer renewal, a doorway into the otherworld that is one of the places where the gods, the Others, wait and plan and scheme.
In this dream I am walking through a woodland with paths that branch and branch outward and seem to go somewhere, but I follow them and they load only to more paths that branch. And one of those again leads to more branches. After days of walking in this way, I begin to sense there is someone nearby, just out of reach. The breathghost comes into being beside me with each step I take and every breath I take, but when I look to it, it is not there, though sometimes I catch fleeting visions of eyes disappearing into nothingness.
I become more agitated and can feel the shock of fear in my limbs, a rising anxiety that makes my limbs sting as if they somehow have honey running inside them, and not the blood which is the life of the world and is half sea, half earth and somehow, half spirit. The honey feeling rises, and it is not quite fear, and more like uncomfortable excitement.
I feel a rising sensation in my stomach that is like laughter and sickness at once, and around me in the shadows between the trees I see more eyes. Eyes everywhere. In the knots of wood, on the ends of the tiny tongues of needles in the branches, the raised eyes on stalks of snails. The stars are eyes that I catch between the gaps in the trees, and when I see the blackness above me, I wonder if there is the firmament there or infinite loneliness that stretches on far and far beyond the bounds of life into eternity.
I see a figure now in the woods, leaping and crouching, making strange twisted shapes with his body. He is wearing a mask of green leaves that covers his face, and he is green from head to foot. There are living oak leaves in his hair that flutter in an unfelt wind, and his clothing is a long green robe woven with the shapes of pine, and holly, and ivy, and the brown seeds of the trees, and the acorns. I am afraid of him as he approaches me, but his eyes watch me as afraid and confounded as I am.
I fall on to my knees, and scream, for he is a nightmarish figure, and he says in a voice I seem to know, “don’t be afraid, it is me.” I look up, aware that around us there are other eyes watching from every tree and every life and every needle and I realise this is why I am afraid. He reaches up and pulls of his mask to reveal another mask made of wood that he can’t pull from his face, though he tries. And so I watch him struggle with trying to take his face off.
I hear another voice as he pulls himself into the strangest shapes, and as I do I know new knowledge that rises in voice like a roaring wind through the trees:
“The gods also live in shadows and in the forest, in the sap of branches,” the voice says as the man in green convulses himself, in a crazed frenzy trying to pull the mask free. “And the great aerial-rooted trees that reach long fingers down into the world below from the cloudlands, from where they send the rain to fall on the neathland.” Fingers reach up from the soil, breaking the surface, the hands of men who have trodden here before, I know. And the voice goes on: “Trees, too, are the silent houses of watchful gods, for each tree is born out of spirit as much as earth, for earth is also spirit, and the soul of the heartwood is sealed in to it by the Earth herself, who shares her power in turn with the half-spirit sea (for it is spirit that continually moves the sea), and over all arches the Great Sky swarming with creatures made of the First Breath.”
And the trees sway and sway more, and begin to uproot themselves and walk in a circular dance around me. And still the voice rises, the sound now of a hurricane:
“All of this signifies the mystery of sorrow for us in the neathland. Our earthly paradise, digging in the soil, the mud and dirt is held together only by the rituals with which we implore, beg and petition the Others. The mystery of sorrow, the sorrow of pain, the pain of ending, the ending of life, the life of mystery, the mystery of sorrow. These are the gifts from the gods, for life is sorrow and life is sometimes joy – and everything in between is praise for the gods!”
And the trees clear a path and a patch of earth where corn begins to rise from the musty loam. And the voice cries out: “Childbirth, the ecstasy of the hunt, the reaching to the sky of the corn, the death of the BarleyGod, the teaching stories that are the legends of the Others. So much sorrow, but amongst it all, the glimmer of transformation. Transformation of life to new life, and an escape to something higher. What the Archimandrite himself tells us of – the chance to rise above Earthly pain. And so we serve the Others. We all serve the Others!!”
This is wonderful. Real, surreal, causing hairs to rise and shivers to form, like the shapes in the trees you describe. This is evocation of the spirits here. A drum, a thrum of the earth and the underland. Magnificent start – I love it!
Thanks very much. So glad you like it! 🙂
By the way, I don’t know if you saw the earlier opening extract I put up? https://www.mattwingett.com/a-christmas-story-experimental-opening-to-a-new-novel/
Not really my genre, but what a beautiful wordsmith you are, Matt! .
Thanks Joy. Nice of you to go out of your way to comment. It’s just a style I’m playing with atm… 🙂