~ a short story
The wall was up again.
Gast sat at his desk, the cursor on his screen blinked with imperious immobilization. He stared at it and refused to blink. It continued to do so while he drank from his glass, patiently swirling the liquid about in his mouth. He hated the taste. Gast somehow hated it more every time. But that wasn’t the point. It was part of his ritual.
Or maybe the rank taste is the point? Gast considered.
Gast suddenly pondered the fruitfulness of the ritual in totality, reeling with an understanding that he hadn’t revisited it since he started. He did so, in new consternation, while at the same time still trying. He swallowed, putting away the thoughts and refocusing. Or Gast attempted to. Instead, he reached for the glass again on instinct.
Stalling, stalling, stalling.
The wall remained.
‘The wall’ — the one which surrounded the confines of his imagination. It once more prevented him from doing the work. The work consisted of writing. But Gast currently sat in impotence; the words were not coming.
Gast sighed and turned away, momentarily defeated.
I deserve a break, I suppose.
A part of him knew he didn’t. Gast got up to go to the bathroom. Maybe splashing some water in his face would reinvigorate him. Gotta reset and refresh.
He’d spent the last few days in a funk. The deadline for his piece loomed. He hadn’t managed to progress beyond general conception and an introduction. Truthfully, Gast believed it to be a weak introduction. It was part of the reason why he thought he couldn’t get through the remaining components of the work. The foundation laid by it was weak and thus the piece itself was not yet good enough. It could not be written until it was. Even the concept and the outline were less than what he had initially imagined. Needless to say, because of these complications, the internal benchmark he held himself to had long since passed him by. As far as timing, he was behind. The deadline loomed. More long nights lay ahead for Gast.
Of course, writer’s block was nothing new for him. But these kinds of setbacks were decidedly worse than before, for some reason.
Thus far, the wall was there being observed and not scaled.
Gast relieved himself, and then brought himself afore the sink. He stared into his own countenance, taking a deep breath, counting back from ten. The exercise allowed him some simple time to think. Another ritual. Another thing he liked to do. Another little thing which certainly wasn’t helping him now.
Gast plunged himself down into the sink again, splashing additional water onto his face.
C’mon. Get through this. Just get it over with.
He sighed and brought himself back up to the mirror. He started with a jump, letting out a muffled cry of surprise at the sight within it.
Behind him standing about two feet back in the space of his bathroom, was a figure. A black silhouette in the shape of a person minus all the defining features of one. Big, dark, ominous. Just standing there. Water dripped from Gast’s face as he stared at the seeming apparition.
Gast had to assume he was hallucinating. /Too much stress, too much pressure/. He went back down and splashed water on his face a third time. Then, he slowly raised his head to look in the mirror again. The figure was still there, in the same spot, unmoving, still ill-defined and quaintly menacing in its presence. Gast shook his head defiantly and turned around, his eyes wide with fear and arms at the ready for violence.
The silhouette was gone. There was nothing there. Nothing after all. A hallucination. Gast stared at the black and white lines of the wallpaper. His eyes shifted between them rapidly, focusing and refocusing on the separations between the two. Gast continued this until he was cross-eyed, even momentarily dizzy in the effort. He was stalling; he was sweating profusely.
Gast let out a sigh of relief and tried to let his body relax. He sunk against the sink, eyes wandering back out of the bathroom and into the hall. He ran over and pulled the curtain of his shower wide. Nothing and no one. The adrenaline still flowed throughout his body.
That was just too much, man.
Gast walked towards the door of the bathroom, ready to flick the lights off along his exit. Against his better judgment, he turned and took one last look at the reflection.
The black figure was back in the same spot with the same starkly featureless form.
Gast gawked at it, immobilized by a renewal of his previous shock. The fear and dread followed soon after. His hand stayed frozen above the light switch, not yet flipped. Unblinking, he watched it through the mirror, unbelieving its presence here just beside him. Gast could now swear it smiled, even though it clearly did not; its soundlessness unnerved him even more; its head swayed a bit, lolling about but still ultimately stationary; it did not appear to fill out into anything substantial below its shoulders; but Gast also found he couldn’t exactly extend his gaze further than the wispy region where its neck should’ve been; after staring for long enough, the edges of the beast’s form resembled the wavy air produced from extreme heat upon a surface at distance; a mirage? Gast finally mulled.
A nightmarish mirage.
Still unblinking and unbecoming of his continued rationality, he spoke — or rather he tried to. Gast barely released a simple inquiry, spitting it out unfinished, his lips trembling:
“Who — ?”
The shadow responded almost instantly.
The voice was wispy and strange and slow and damnably roiling about waywardly in both tone and volume, echoing off all the walls of the room with vigorous and changing candor:
“Let me write.”
Gast heard it clearly and resolutely. He swallowed uncomfortably; his heart beat with seemingly unstoppable animation. The two of them stood there for many moments following those words. Nothing changed. Gast’s next breath caught in his throat and refused to dispense itself. He couldn’t find the time to consider his response beyond an automatic continuation of the movement which brought him to this point. He finally flicked off the light switch with conscious effort to break the paralysis. Had it released me? The room darkened and Gast then forced himself into deeply considering his steady steps out of the threshold of the room. Making it over time, Gast left behind the silhouette. He saw its eyes remained in the pitch black, glowing white, two small orbs backdropped against the landscape inside of the mirror. Gast believed he saw the figure blink. Gast believed those white eyes hadn’t been there in the light at all. While he made his gradual escape from the confines of the bathroom, it continued to speak something of ‘writing.’
“Let me write. Let me write. Let me —”
Gast tried to not hear it; Gast tried to put the thing out of his mind. It did not work. It was now the only thing on his mind. It continued to repeat the phrase and Gast continued to hear it, even from distance.
Gast managed to make it to his room, and went to bed. But he did not sleep, and he did not dream.
Gast slumped, staring at the screen again. He sighed, running his hand across his face and through the tufts of his hair. The cursor atop the white plane of his doc appeared as a tiny caricature of the wall, glitching into and out of existence under his purview. His stern countenance reflected the light of the screen in stasis before him. A deep and halting breath brought him into meta-ruminations on all the work yet to be done. Gast contemplated the organization of it and the timing, without a concern for any of the necessary content, without concern for the work itself.
I’ve spent more time thinking about thinking about it, then I’ve spent thinking about writing it, and then just fucking writing it.
The glitching wall blinked at him, building out the screen of his entire experience right here and right now. At the desk, firmly within his battle station, Gast’s mind blinked alongside the cursor, in and out, in and out. The outs hit harder than the ins.
The outs were the thing preventing the work. Gast slapped his hand against the desk and groaned while leaning back in the chair.
Not getting anywhere, not anytime soon. Dammit all.
Just then, the power went out. The bright screen flicked off before him, basking him in a darkness.
Gast noticed the lamp on the desk still glowed upon his form. No outage, just the computer then.
But I had full battery… Odd.
Gast started to bend down, to see about the power strip and the plug near the wall at his feet. But something stopped him, something available in his field of vision. Only just now focusing enough to recognize its unmistakable image, Gast gasped.
A silhouette of a shadow of a person resided in the black mirror of his computer screen in newfound dormancy. Right where the unfinished sentence previously lay on white, there entered a figure to replace it in the black. The figure. Gast recognized it was the same image as before, the same silhouette which stalked him night and day.
The same one I keep seeing…everywhere.
This silhouette had recurred for Gast, since that first encounter. He’d seen it throughout the house’s many mirrors, out in the street in windows and puddles, in the rear view of his car, and even in the micro-reflection of a companion’s eye.
It still afforded no face, no features, no discernible markings outside of a stark border around a shadow outlining that of a person standing with their arms down, their neck up, face forward and their posture perfectly straight. Gast noted that nothing at all was different about the man or beast from the others times, save for his familiarity with it. His heart no longer leaped at the sight of it. Considerable stress endured in the sight, but unlike before, it wasn’t this time all just numb, mind-killing fear. Something else lingered within his recognition of the thing’s continued presence in his spaces. Gast couldn’t quite place it. But it was there. Something was there.
Gast held his breath, half-turning, half-bending down from his desk, looking to the reflection in the screen with some level of anticipation.
“Let me… WRITE.”
The ghastly voice of the shadow spoke once more, deviating its pitch to deliver the words with reserved fervor. This being the second time Gast had heard it speak, he was still no less troubled at having to listen to its particular demand again.
Gast blinked at the sight of the shade in the reflection.
This is the first time in a couple of days that I’ve tried to…
In the intervene, Gast could give it no response, unable to find the necessary energy to return with a voice of his own. He did not even sigh. Hands trembling, incoherent words caught in his throat, Gast felt a chill go up his spine.
After a few moments longer, the computer screen returned to life. It was right where he’d left it. The cursor on the doc continued to silently scream into Gast’s mindspace.
But now a shadow loomed over his shoulder and onto the blinking cursor. Onto the wall. To Gast, somehow it appeared much less daunting.
Gast quickly moved his feet back from the base of the wall near the power strip, placed his hands at the ready afore the keys, and fell into a much needed rumination. He moved his cursor up, starting from the top. He began to type out the words. Gast forgot to look back.
Gast stood at the door, staring. Not outwardly though. He held his keys in one hand and flexed his palm in the other.
Breath in, breath out… You can do this.
Gast was to ‘go out.’ Friends, colleagues, acquaintances, lights, darks, sights, sounds, smells, drinks, smokes, talking, talking, thinking, talking, breathing, talking. The very sight of Gast right now was cumbersome and he knew it: his face unshaven, his shirt partially tucked; his hair imperfect; his shoes unlaced, whack; his eyes unfocused; his breath uneven; his mind racing, scattered, scared.
Of what? … Nothing that really mattered.
But scared nonetheless.
Gast desperately did not wish to go out.
The problem lay within what he was to say and do. He never knew what to say; he never understood what exactly to do. Gast had not yet fully comprehended the conceptual design and functionality and execution of having ‘fun.’ The experience of being out there consisted mostly of stressors layered atop one another, drawing him down further and further into situations and conversations he increasingly did not wish to be a part of and thus, could not handle effectively. It was not just anxiety, and it was not just nerves. Gast had never been comfortable in the social sphere. At best, he was serviceable; at worst, he was a drag. As a result, he absolutely hated the game of going out.
But he had to. The alternative to the convoluted, chaotic intervention of himself out there in the world was the stark loneliness of solitude. Gast spent enough time with himself during his day job. The role of writer cast him as a solo practitioner for more than enough time to satisfy his introverted cravings. The beast of solitude already employed his default state. So much of what he knew would be good for him — so much of what he wrote about concerning fictional and non-fictional others— involved change and growth and breaking ground outside of one’s comfort zone. If only it was so easy to practice what he preached.
Given all the time wrapped up in his work and his own self in this state, he needed to be out there amongst the others, amongst all of the people and experiences his current self could never provide and were required for genuine growth. Regrettably, paradoxically, definitively, going out was exactly what Gast really needed.
Gast knew all this. But knowing somehow never made it easier. Those sentiments prevailed only as words; his actions told a consistently different story.
So here Gast stood once again, at the door, unmoving.
Gast sat down. Or he almost did. A part of him knew that if he sat down, pulled out his phone, and started scrolling about, reading, watching, wasting time — that he would end up coming up with a very good reason to never cross the threshold of the door tonight. So Gast continued standing, preferring not to let himself fall into that trap so easily.
Soon enough, as Gast stared out into the night beyond through the door’s lone, circular window, there appeared a darkened outline in the reflection. Two bright, white eyes stared Gast down. Despite the glass’ transparency, Gast could no longer see past it. Its persistent, grey voice permeated the scene:
“Give me the keys.”
Why? Gast uttered this time in a return.
“Let me go.”
What will you do?
“I will go.”
Gast had nothing else for it. He only closed his eyes and sighed. A part of him knew the thing was right.
He clutched the keys with vigor, turned the doorknob, and stepped out into some kind of confidence.
Gast didn’t know what to do next. The dilemma was clear enough for him, the pathways laid out and ready to be acted upon. All that remained was the choice to be made.
So he asked.
What should I do?
The dilemma dealt with telling those Gast found himself in relationship to —more. More about himself, more about his life, more about his writing, more about his own individual truths, more about his fears and his secrets and his dreams; more about Gast — the real Gast. At this point, he would have to do so if he was to proceed.
Gast had spent so long hiding, he’d forgotten that he wasn’t all there to everyone around him; in truth, there were yet entire swaths of his person that had gone un-interacted with for years and years.
When it came to himself, he’d always had trouble with more; he was much more about less.
What should I do? Gast repeated with conviction, entreating an answer.
“You should …” the voice, the shadow, started, hesitating.
Gast stared into the mirror with righteous intention. He needed something right now. Even from it.
“You should tell them everything… absolutely everything… even and especially the things you most do not wish to tell.”
The darkness spoke with a resolve Gast had not yet heard from himself regarding this particular issue. It was exactly the thing he needed to hear, and most wished to hear, even if he did not like hearing it.
“That is the only way we will progress from here.”
Everything? … We? Gast returned slowly. The voice offered up nothing else. It was gone entirely from within the bathroom mirror.
Gast had a lot of work to do.
Gast finished writing. A deep breath and a deeper sense of achievement settled onto his person. He walked away from the screen with poise.
Where did you come from? ~
Gast started the final set. His breath was noticeably less laborious. It felt good. Better this time than any time before. He put it away with an uproarious final flex and an accomplished smile.
~ “I am from the mirror.”
Gast finished his reading. The latest was the most provocative, the most daring. He could use it. He would use it in his own work. He might contact the author and try to strike up a professional communication. If anyone could help him in his own aspirations, it was someone like them.
Yeah, but where? And why? ~
Gast started to talk to her more and more often. There was something about their conversations that made him feel as though he knew her better than he knew himself; it felt good to know someone that well. Gast couldn’t lie, it felt good to know someone else at all.
~ “I arrived without any choice of my own.”
Gast finished speaking. They all laughed. He laughed too.
You changed everything. ~
Gast started to cry; the words had made him smile, but it was their actions which reflected the truth of their collective love. He hugged them, trying his damndest to return it in full.
~ “No. I changed nothing. I simply am. You were but awaiting an evolution. Your presence relative to my own marked you for it. All you had to do was be.”
The shadow faded from the reflection. Gast stared resolutely into his own countenance there. He exhaled, finishing his count. Then, he flipped the light and walked away. ~
~ art by Mimmo Paladino