The Unborn Versus The Undead
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"When God leads the soul into this night of sense in order to purge the sense of its lower part and to subdue it, unite it and bring it into conformity with the spirit, by setting it in darkness and causing it to cease from meditation (as He afterwards does in order to purify the spirit to unite it with God, as we shall afterwards say), He brings it into the night of the spirit, and (although it appears not so to it) the soul gains so many benefits that it holds it to be a happy chance to have escaped from the bonds and restrictions of the senses of or its lower self, by means of this night aforesaid"
— St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night Of The Soul
Chapter 7: Counterparts
Rush remained in Sorcha’s house for two weeks after he had refused to participate in football practice and Paddy had shoved him backwards through a door in the air. He had filled him with a fear that he was being sent on an absurd journey to find Cuchulain, but when the door had closed in front of his eyes again he had found himself lying on the soft blue carpet of Sorcha’s bedroom, having fallen backwards through her full-length mirror. The whole thing had obviously been an example of Paddy’s twisted sense of humour, and Rush felt so humiliated and angry that he swore he would not play football for the old fucker if the fate of the entire world depended on it.
He stayed with Sorcha as she went about her mornings pale and unhappy, the greater part of her mind wandering among guilty phantoms and scenarios that lingered on in the house after she left, until enough of their energy dissipated and they lost their cohesion. He had had the chance to have an interesting conversation with himself on one of these occasions; Sorcha had been crying on her bed, and holding a shade of him, while he himself had been watching from his vantage point next to the window. When she left, the mind-form that she left behind sat up on the bed and they regarded each other.
“Why did you give up trying to contact her?” the mind-form said.
“I haven’t,” said Rush. “I’m just waiting until she’s better, so she’ll be ready.”
“Bullshit,” said the mind-form. “This is me you’re talking to. You’re going to haunt her. Even if you do get in contact through some miracle, you won’t leave afterwards.”
“Well, why should I? Where would I go?”
The mind-form laughed mockingly. “You’re hooked on the idea of yourself and you need people who remember you to supply you with your fix.”
“That’s not it! I love her.”
“That’s all most peoples' love is,” said the mind-form. Before Rush could voice a denial it began to crackle and fade. “Oh dear,” it said, raising its hands and staring at them. “I forgot I wasn’t real.” It cracked up laughing as it lost definition and threw up its arms, shouting “The horror! The horror!” Then it was gone. This was not an untypical encounter; Rush was finding that Sorcha’s mind was tinged with a surreal humour of which he had hitherto seen only glimpses.
She had taken his suicide exactly as he’d feared. She blamed herself, writing endless LiveJournal entries in which she cursed and railed against herself while simultaneously trying to convince herself that she could not have done anything different. Why didn’t he leave a note, she wrote one day, and then a day later, i’m so glad he didn’t leave a note, i couldn’t of taken it if he'd blamed me. Her friends comforted her and she seemed to be stable in front of them, but when she was at home alone she retreated into a shell of obsessive guilty fantasies and recriminations. Various different imaginary versions of his suicide played in different rooms of the house while she was awake, and during the night while she slept vengeful archetypes lurked in the shadows while repetitive and violent scenarios were enacted like the rituals of mass or the scenes of a Shakespearean drama: Sorcha raking her nails over the flesh of her arms, Sorcha pulling out her own hair in handfuls, Sorcha washing her body until the skin was raw. In the morning she would wake and cry, then shower, and shake it all off into the depths of her subconscious for the working day so that she could meet and talk to people and never let them suspect that anything was wrong.
He tried walking with her in her dreams but if she saw him nearby she became so hysterically afraid that he was scared of driving her mad; he ceased his attempts to contact her and make her understand him, and took to simply living with her as if they were still together. For a while this arrangement looked as if it might work out, as she appeared to calm down for a day or two; then there was an odd incident in which he entered the bathroom while she was there and she jumped, her gaze flicking around wildly and the hair on her arms standing on end. Later that day he saw her write in her journal, I think I’m being haunted. She stopped sleeping in the bedroom and took to sleeping on the couch with the TV on, a tactic which forced Rush to spend the night in her bedroom apart from her, as the continual appearance of entities born from the television’s electromagnetic signals drove him to distraction. She walked cautiously and nervously around the house, peeking around corners, always switching the lights on with her eyes closed before she entered a room. She wrote notes and left them around the house: Johnny, if you’re there, write something on this paper. Johnny, if you’re there, give me a signal. Johnny, if it’s you, I’m so sorry. He would storm around in an agony of frustration after unsuccessful attempts to amass enough energy to effect any change at all in the house. He felt unable to leave and all his freedom of choice appeared to have vanished, as if an important component of himself was occupied somewhere else. He realized, as he sat for another night on her bed, that he might be in danger of losing his identity altogether and becoming nothing more than a true ghost, an obsessively repeating bioelectric pattern stored in the furniture and walls and floors of a beloved place that he found impossible to leave.
Memory began to flake away from his mind like paint off an old wall. He forgot about the approaching showdown between the unborn and the undead, he forgot about Tom and Paddy and the king, he forgot about the interview with Patrick Stewart and doors that opened in the air. It seemed to him that perhaps all of that, and significant portions of his own life besides, had been death-induced fantasies, and that there never had been anything to him at all except a deluded spirit that thought it was a man; a haunting that once thought it had had its own destiny. He began simply to wait mindlessly for hours on her bed for her to come home, and then to shadow her around the house for no purpose other than to be near her. If he thought at all, it was only that perhaps he would be able to do this for as long as she lived, and then he could be sure that when she died he would be there to meet her.
Sorcha deteriorated along with him. Her guess that he was there grew into a conviction, and she found that speaking of this to her friends and family caused them to attempt to intrude themselves into her life, worried that the stress of her job and the shock of Rush’s suicide were unbalancing her psyche. She could have left her house or tried to remove Rush through one of the traditional means such as exorcism, but instead she withdrew psychically and physically into the boundaries of its walls and into her own fantasies, taking leave from work on grounds of grief-induced depression. She wrote compulsively in her LiveJournal about the haunting and her own feelings, describing in detail what her online friends told her could be a descent into depression and possible psychosis. Isolated on anonymous computer terminals around the world, they could not help her except with words. At one point Rush felt that he should leave for her sake, but when he tried to pass beyond the borders of the walls or the doors or windows he found that he was unable to move any further; a force held him back, and if he pushed against it he found that his thoughts and the coherence of his undead body began to dissipate as if he were becoming like the mind-forms and TV images that roamed through the house. I’m trapped here, he thought desperately, and then, with no choice, he lapsed back into the somnolent satisfaction of sitting beside Sorcha, touching her aura with his fingers. His presence leeched her will from her.
She began to write in her journal that she was close to using heroin again; the only thing stopping her, she said, was the fact that she would have to leave the house to find a new dealer. She wrote poems about suicide, painting graphic verbal pictures of herself and Rush with their wrists slashed, throats cut, bodies crushed and hung, blood poisoned by pills or junk. She drew red lines around her face in the mirrors. She stopped eating. She wrote: I don’t know if I can ever come back from this. Rush watched it all happening and in the depth of his heart, when he recollected enough awareness of himself to know what his true feelings were, he knew that this was what he wanted. He wanted her to die and join him in the shadow world. He wanted them to be together. He was only half a being, a wraith without a soul, and he could no longer control the fantastic and despairing desires that drove him. He wanted her dead and holding his hand. She wrote: I know he wants me to come with him. Maybe it’s because the other world is better than this one. He had no humanity left. He was becoming nothing but an illusion, an avatar in the world of her mind. She wrote: I’m drowning in a dark sea.
It would have gone to its end for both of them, except that in the fullness of time Rush’s journeying soul, which really had been flung into a mad quest by Paddy, returned as the rampaging hero Cuchulain who, engorged and reddened with his own insane blood and in a frenzy to find the being known as John Rush, finally located the object of his quest and homed in on the most receptive psychic point in the entire house.
The television flickered, and horizontal bands began to move slowly down the screen. Sorcha, who was lying on the sofa neither asleep nor fully awake, reached for the remote control and changed channels, but the same bands were there.
“God damn it,” she said in a voice weak with ignored hunger. She got up and walked over to the TV stand and thumped on the top twice. The bands failed to disappear.
“What the fuck?” She pressed the red button on the remote to turn the picture off, and when she saw that the bands were still processing down the screen, she began to feel extremely spooked.
“Okay...” she said. She walked over to the wall socket and pulled the plug out of the wall with her foot. The bands stayed on the screen, beginning to emit a hissing noise.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck,” she said, suddenly terrified, backing up against the wall. Rush, who had been in a trance-like state up to this point, began to take notice. He heard an overlapping bellowing noise at the edge of perception, as if two enormous bulls were fighting; the air seemed to be vibrating at a higher frequency than normal. The bellowing became slightly more distinct and he realized with a shock that it was John Rush being yelled in an impossibly deep and powerful human register. He looked at Sorcha; she could hear it too. She put her hands over her ears, the whites of her eyes showing all around the iris and her mouth gaping; when she found that covering her ears made no difference she fell to her knees and began to scream. The bellowing grew louder, as did the television’s hiss, and Rush stood up, knowing that something very big was about to burst into this place.
The hiss became an unbearable high-pitched whine that drowned out the voice shouting John Rush, and Sorcha’s screams as her mind fought to keep control of itself; this lasted for approximately five seconds, although it felt far longer, and then the pressure at the weak point became intolerable and Cuchulain broke through from the other side. The television’s screen exploded, showering the sofa with glass and metal, and Ireland’s greatest hero, the Hound of Ulster in his war-wrath, scarlet-skinned and warped and wracked with the power in him, crashed out of the innards of the device to fall sprawling on the living room carpet, the impact shaking the walls and a scorching heat radiating from his body as if his blood were lava.
There was silence for a long moment. Sorcha had fainted or retreated into her own mind, but the energy of her living presence was having the effect on Cuchulain that women had always been known to have; her feminine essence cooled his rage and drew him down from his destroying ecstasy. Meanwhile, Rush was experiencing the most peculiar split in his perspective. He was who he knew himself to be, John Rush, the sad shade of a suicide skulking around the house of the one he’d loved; at the same time he was the misshapen man who lay on the carpet, his form slowly shrinking and the boiling heat dying from his skin and the godly spasm releasing his limbs as they re-aligned themselves into a more human architecture. He felt the agony of the bones and flesh being pulled back into shape and the diameter of the veins reducing as the fluid within them cooled and released the energy back into the fairy land. He felt the madness leave his brain and the bloody mist clear from his sight and he thought O God, what have I done this time?
He looked up and met his own gaze.
“John Rush?” he said, his throat raw from the screaming and from the absolute zero cold of the void between realities.
“That’s me. Might you be Cuchulain?”
“I might. I might also be you.”
He stood up from where he lay on the floor, brushing glass from his body which disappeared before it hit the floor. The carpet was spotless once again and the television was intact and inert on its stand. They both looked over at Sorcha at the same time, seeing that she was curled in something close to a fetal position, and then back at each other.
“What do you think she saw of all that?”
“Who knows. I hope she's ok. It’s not good for her, me being here, you know.”
“I know, but I couldn’t leave. Part of me was missing.”
“Time to fix that.”
The two halves of John Rush stood before each other and stared into each other’s eyes. Their faces looked different but the awareness behind the eyes was the same – not two similar awarenesses, but one single awareness that included and comprehended both of their perspectives. This made perfect sense to Rush for as long as it lasted, although later he couldn’t remember how it had felt. Each gaze continued on past the surface of the eye and into the awareness behind the eye, until each awareness met and greeted the other in a pure dark space; then there was only the pure dark space itself, which was awareness.
Rush found himself standing alone in the middle of the room. He was himself again. He remembered everything: his hunt for Cuchulain through imaginary realms, the two weeks of haunting Sorcha and, without meaning to, driving her close to the edge of her sanity. It was a neat trick Paddy had played on him, he thought, splitting him in two like that, although what the ultimate point of it all had been he could not say for sure. Had he brought the Hound back with him or not? He looked into his own mind and found that there was a door there, somewhere in the folds of his brain, between language and vision; not a great oaken castle door or a riddle-gate, but a small and gracefully ornate door such as might be found on the outer layer of a Chinese box. Perhaps the Hound slept there, healing for the moment from his long madness. Or perhaps Cuchulain was madness itself, madness yoked to a divine purpose, and there could be no healing for him as such, but simply a time in which he would lie dormant, awaiting the next eruption.
He knelt beside Sorcha and touched her aura with his fingers.
“I’m sorry, love,” he said. “I’m leaving now. I want you to be happy. None of this was your fault.”
Her breathing began to even out and she opened her eyes and took her hands away from her ears, looking around the room at first fearfully, and then with confusion. She uncurled herself and sat up against the wall as Rush stood away from her. He wanted to see what she would do and if she would be all right, but he knew now that his presence could only harm and confuse her, so he swallowed his own loneliness and went into the bedroom where there was an open window for him to climb out of.
Halfway down the drainpipe it occurred to him that there was an easier way to get around. If Tom could simply appear anywhere he wished, then surely he also could if he set his mind to it. He remembered that thinking about Sorcha had brought him to her side, so as an experiment he concentrated hard on Tom’s face and the feeling of his presence. After a moment he felt a slight difference in the air, and looked around to see a door in the air that led into a darkened space. Excited and a little nervous, he stepped through.
The wardrobe was narrow but deep, and the door that Rush had opened was at the very back behind several mothballed coats that hung from a single aluminium rail that ran along its length. As soon as Rush stepped through into the smothering darkness he knew that there was another presence in there with him, and after a few moments of stillness he identified it: Tom, crouched in front of the door at the front of the wardrobe, peeping through the keyhole. Sounds of heavy breathing came from outside, and Rush began to sense a passionate heat that was surging in waves through the air, wood and fabric no obstacle to its subtle potency. It moved like liquid and gave no more sensation on Rush’s skin that the faintest breath of wind, yet it heated him as he were in a sauna, filling the channels and vessels of his undead flesh with a delicious thrill that was both sexual and more than sexual – it was the feeling of life itself, almost like being physically embodied once more, and instinctively he clung to it and sucked it in and revelled in it as if it was heroin freshly injected into his veins.
His mind was carried beyond undead bodily awareness into a reverie of many lives. He was a seahorse-shaped human thing in a womb, bent over the refining fire of himself like a creator-god suspended and nourished by a greater universe; galaxies flowed and swirled in his hands like droplets of cream in stirred coffee. There was a river carrying him and so he must be a kind of leaf, and the season must be Autumn: streaks of sunlight in the woods in the morning as he ran for no reason. His mother used to touch him on the forehead and say my man, and the love poured out of her heart into him like food. They were an amoeba that divided itself; insane, stretched out through the nothingness, delivering itself through all time. The god-energy throbbing in his hands, his hair, his teeth, swelling in every cellular reactor in the body as he burned the years of his life into a fire for killing; Rush, the first ripple in the river, the puppy who heard whispers in his sleep that one day he would grow to swallow the sun itself. I dance in the body and it does not know why it moves – I lie down in the bed of the body and it does not know why it sleeps – I rage in the body and it does not know why reality and time bends to it like a servant. I call for the cool fingertips of the supernova, the taste of a blade of grass, the shining unborn light that explodes in the womb: love me and I am a universe in which every living thing drinks love and every thing loved is alive.
He came back to himself. The heat still washed through the air and through him but he dragged his mind back from being overwhelmed by it, and spoke out loud.
“What’s going on, Tom?”
Tom jumped and shouted in fright, and it seemed as if he would break the door open, but there was no more power in his convulsive movement than could move the coats slightly on their hangers.
When he saw that it was Rush he said angrily, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I just came to find you. Where are we?”
“Well you found me all right. A cute fucking trick that was. Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait a minute. Where are we?”
“Nowhere. It doesn’t matter.”
“I was feeling something amazing. I want to see what’s outside that door. It sounds like people having sex.”
“You little pervert,” said Tom, but there was an odd sad desperation in his voice. Rush shoved him aside easily and put his eye to the keyhole. A man and a woman in their forties or perhaps early fifties were naked on a double bed together in the missionary position. The man had dark hair and a bald patch that was fully visible from this angle, and the woman’s face was hidden, but he could see that she had brown hair and full breasts. The man was grunting in a somewhat comical way and there was nothing particularly arousing about the sex itself, but there was a glowing, pinkish aura surrounding and pervading their bodies, pulsing and twirling and swelling and moving like a blob of viscous coloured liquid suspended in clear water and pushed this way and that by invisible currents of hot and cold. The light seemed to enter their bodies at the crowns of their heads and the bases of their spines, and to radiate out from several points, but particularly the genitals, the belly and the heart. The aura was most concentrated around their bodies, but diffuse waves carried throughout the room, penetrating and passing through all objects as if they were not there, and these dispersing waves were what had been inducing drug-like ecstasies in Rush.
“Wow,” he said. “That’s beautiful.” Tom didn’t answer. After a moment Rush turned his eye from the keyhole and looked back at him.
“Who are they?”
“No one. Just two people.”
“You’re just spying on two random people having sex?”
An intuition struck Rush with such force that he was instantly convinced of its correctness.
“You know them, don’t you? Or you know one of them. The woman, probably. Wait a minute...”
“I’m warning you now,” began Tom, but Rush bore over him.
“It’s your girlfriend,” he said. “Or your wife. From when you were alive. You’re spying on her.”
“Just shut your hole, would you? How did you find me in here, you fucker?”
Rush could hardly reply for laughing.
“You hypocritical...petty...peeping Tom!” This last sent him into such a gale of laughter that the energy of it blew from his body like a wind, rustling the coats and causing one or two of the hangers to clank together.
“Control yourself, you imbecile!” shouted Tom.
“What was that?” said the man’s voice from outside the wardrobe, and the woman’s voice, filled with fear, said “There it is again! I told you, remember, and you didn’t believe me!”
The sound of footsteps came to the door and the man wrenched it open and stood there naked with his semi-erect penis hanging down and such a flush of arousal and anger on him that he appeared to have been severely sunburned. The woman was sitting up on the bed and now Rush could see that one of her arms was handcuffed to the bedpost. At the sight he dissolved into laughter again. He heard desperate and enraged sounds from Tom who was scrambling into the back of the cupboard, and he wondered what he was worried about.
“There’s nothing in here,” said the man, who nevertheless seemed shaken. The dynamic pink light no longer ran through his body; it had been replaced by the normal silvery and shifting sheath of thought-energy, darkened slightly by anxiety.
“You just can’t see it,” she said, and there was horror in her voice. “I know what it is, I told you who it is.”
“You’re being crazy.”
“I’m not being crazy...you don’t understand...”
She started to cry hysterically, and the man closed the wardrobe door and returned to the bed to hold her. Rush stopped laughing and began to feel somewhat remorseful.
“Are you happy with yourself now?” said Tom in a bitter tone. “I won’t be able to come back here for a long time.”
“She can see you?”
“She can’t quite see me but she knows when I’m there. That’s why I stay hidden.”
“I’ve been dead for twenty-two years. She’s been married to this prick for five. He uses whores when he’s away on business trips, and he wipes his snots under the mattress.”
“But he must love her. I mean, the sex...that energy I felt...it felt like love.”
“The energy loves both of them. That doesn’t mean they love each other.”
Rush puzzled over this. Before he could ask a question, Tom interrupted him.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to go now, and I’d rather not leave you here behind me,” he said acidly. Rush knew now that his sarcasm and anger was a cover for his shame and guilt, and didn’t want to exacerbate it, so he simply agreed and followed Tom out of the door at the back of the wardrobe and (somewhat unexpectedly) into the white corridor between realities.
“What are we doing here?” asked Rush.
“Well, I notice from your eyes that against all expectations you actually brought back Cuchulain. Paddy will be wanting to see you. I imagine the news will cheer him momentarily.”
The Unborn Versus The Undead
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