Friday, February 1, 2019

February's White Rabbit

During 2019, as a kind of literary experiment, I plan to publish a new piece of flash fiction during the first week of every month. These pieces are called The White Rabbit Stories. 

Here's February's White Rabbit Story:


Video Group 7.1

He has no idea how he’s become connected with the WhatsApp group. He had not asked to join it, nor had anyone contacted him about becoming a member. The group simply appeared on the chat screen in the app. It has no name, just a vague heading identifying it as “Video Group 7.1”
            The video messages are all shot in the same way: badly lit, amateurish, probably using the video app on a smartphone. There are four of them, each one seemingly more incomprehensible than the last.
            It seems that there must be a reason behind the order in which they are sent, and a message he could decipher if only he studies them hard enough.

Video clip #1:

A pale hand rests upon a wooden table top, the fingers splayed apart. There is dirt under the fingernails. Someone – presumably the owner of the hand – draws around it with a blue ballpoint pen, pressing down hard and gouging the outline into the wood. This goes on for approximately 30 seconds and then it stops. The pen remains between the pointing finger and the thumb, resting against the web of flesh there.

The video ends.

His dreams become dark. Grubby. In those dreams he finds himself alone and wandering dirty streets, looking for something he cannot identify. Searching. Just searching. Behind him and around him, buildings crumble soundlessly to the ground; ahead of him, the landscape opens like a wound, presenting an empty horizon. The sky is fluid and yellow, like a draining abscess.

Video clip #2:

Someone is using a bright yellow crayon to colour the shape of the hand on the table top. Their hand is dark, tanned, and broad. They are colouring lightly, not using much pressure. After a short time, the colouring stops. Then it starts again. There are two more pauses before the colouring is complete. Then the unseen artist presses down hard on the crayon, breaking it in two.

The video ends.

When he was a child, his mother wrapped him up in cotton wool, not letting him out of the house if it was too cold/too dark/too late in the day. At night she would enter his bedroom and stand at the bottom of the bed, take of her nightgown, and touch herself. She would remain silent during this nightly ritual; her eyes were always closed.
            He developed an acute fear of the night and the sound of doors opening, footsteps crossing the hall. He became afraid of everything.
This fear stayed with him into adult life.
None of his adult relationships lasted; he was too afraid to commit. Friendship was a concept he could never quite understand; its complex mathematics are beyond his ability to solve.
Connecting with women is even more difficult. Nobody ever explained to him the rules of engagement. His last girlfriend had called him a “baby-man” as she walked out the door.

Video clip #3:

There is a bed in a small room, which is otherwise empty. The room has no windows. Its walls are blank plaster. Unusually for the videos so far, the camera zooms in (video clips #1 and #2 had all been static), revealing a large hunting knife on the bed, near the grey pillow. Someone picks up the knife. They thumb the blade, drawing a speck of blood. The camera zooms in on the spots of blood.

The video ends.

His eating habits are terrible; all he consumes is ready-cooked meals bought from the local supermarket. He has a good job – he is an accounts manager for a sporting goods manufacturer – but all he ever does is go through the motions, counting down the minutes to the end of the working day. He rarely socialises with his workmates. He doesn’t like to be around people. He prefers to stay at home, binge-watching shows on Netflix and eating macaroni cheese out of a plastic microwaveable container with a plastic fork.

Video clip #4:

The same spartan room. The same narrow bed. This time there is someone lying on the mattress. A middle-aged woman. She is naked, but the camera is positioned that her head is out of shot so her face remains unseen. She is motionless, arms held stiffly at her sides. Someone approaches from off-camera. A naked man, wearing only a pair of black leather gloves. In his left hand, he holds the knife. In his right hand, the yellow crayon. As he steps up to the side of the bed, it becomes clear that the woman is holding the blue ballpoint pen. He leans over her, places the crayon on her pallid caesarean-scarred belly just above her navel: crossways, hip to hip. He puts the knife on her chest, between her breasts, the blade pointing downwards. The woman raises her hand and brandishes the ballpoint pen like a weapon, then freezes and holds her pose. A large shadow falls across the two people and the bed, almost obscuring them. The camera wobbles.

The video ends.

It's dark inside and out.
Despite the darkness, the sky beyond the living room window looks yellow. He has never felt so alone in his tiny house. His phone is the only source of light, and his last connection to the world.
He has been watching and rewatching the video clips for hours, trying to understand them, to get to the heart of the mystery they represent. Attempting to identify the source of the fear that grips him – a strange and formless sense of dread that has leaked like a virus from the video clips and into his life. It is as if the video clips are separate parts of a larger ritual, or an invocation. A sequence of images designed to summon.
There is a sound behind him: it could be a faint brushing of footsteps upon floorboards or it could be a breeze outside. It might be nothing at all. He gets up from his chair and turns around to face the room. There is nobody there. He is all alone.
Upon the coffee table are three items that were not there before: a blue ballpoint pen, a yellow crayon, a hunting knife. He sits down on the floor and begins to weep.
His phone vibrates in his hand, but he cannot bring himself to look away from the objects on the table and open the incoming message, the final video in the sequence.
He does not want to see what it is he will soon become.

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