Under the pale blue moon. The frigid wastelands of the arctic circle hide horrors beyond our comprehension. People bear silent witness to the harrowing realities of a distorted dimension. Where the real and the imagined, danced together on the slippery hall of time.
Paul looked at the image in the mirror. Trying to decipher the tired look in its eyes. The flaccid skin hanged from an emaciated yellowish face. He poked around the skin looking for a vitality that did not exist. On his right hand he held a glass of water, on the other hand he held three pills.
How long he had performed this absurd ritual, he could not remember as many of his memories were blurred in a haze that he couldn’t shake from his mind. Details regarding his arrival to this town were blurry and hidden beneath layers upon layers of neurochemical reactions. Could he be grateful for being a victim of innocent ignorance? Or should he perhaps talk to the doctor about the effects of his medicine? As always, this fleeting thought disappeared out of his mind like so many others. His feelings were not allowed to fluctuate beyond a set parameter, never too euphoric, never too sad. Just perfect for the mind to function, undisturbed from the malevolent workings of ghastly elder memories.
He worked at that arrogant, glass and steel building. The job had been given to him as part of his therapy, which he really did not remember starting in the first place. Since his arrival at the town, he barely could remember seeing sunshine for more than half an hour each day. Even in summer the temperatures remained below freezing. The eternal black ice and crusted snow covered every inch of the city and in those times in which the sun dared to appear through the cloud cover, it would only be with timid yellowish rays of light, that warmed naught. Even then, the feeble daylight would only last for merely minutes, before it dissolved to the never ending obscurity of the arctic sky.
This perpetual darkness gave him that sickly, yellowish tint that he saw in the mirror.
Work was fine. Whatever feeling or desire for self enlightenment he once may have had was gone along time ago, together with the memories of his former life. Paul proceeded to walk out of the cold bathroom, with a shaking hand, he timidly moved the curtain to one side. He looked out of his window and down to the street below. He contemplated the fleeting shadows in the street, he saw as the other inhabitants scrambled to their cars, ready to start with the morning drive to their places of work. He touched with skinny fingers on the icy cold surface of the window. Then he remembered The Cold.
In the land of perpetual winter, he did not remember feeling anything but cold. The water in the shower was cold. His clothes were cold, even his brain felt numb by the freezing chill that engulfed this land. Yet he did nothing. He only suffered silently. Even when at work, where it supposedly should have been very comfortable, given all the computers and installed heating, he still sat with a wool hat and scarf. It was terrible. For some reason, the cold evoked a feeling of something malignant lurking in his mind. He did not know exactly what it was, his mind did not work properly, numbed by the hours of therapy and the chemicals is in his body. Like many other thoughts, it disappeared eventually. But this specific subconscious premonition would not go under, it reappeared stubbornly, time after time.
Walking towards the office was perhaps the only pleasant part of his daily routine. To the extent that he allowed himself to feel joy, this was almost an ecstatic feeling. He enjoyed watching the cars driving with their headlights on, silently ,on roads covered with darkened snow and black ice. He enjoyed watching the anonymous people with heads covered in layers of wool, trying to avoid eye contact.
He saw the sign on his way to work. The main alley that he used to stroll on his way to work was closed for an indefinite amount of time, due to some unspecified repair work. That alley, was a main traffic artery in the frozen city. It was surrounded on both sides by small grayish and decrepit stores. It had four lanes in which small cars drove back and forth. Puzzled and sad, because Paul was a man of habits, he remembered that if he crossed the street to the other side, where the abandoned park was, if he walked across it, he would, unless something unexpected happened, be able to find an alternate route to the decadent business area where his office was.
He crossed the street, avoiding the black ice and the piles of snow in both sides of the road. He lumbered onward towards the park. Barren, snow-covered trees saluted him. Wearily he waded his way through the deep snow, until finally, he found a road that led to a peculiar neighborhood he had not seen before. Perplexed by that subtle feeling of uneasiness that engulfs the mind when confronted with things that are unfamiliar and alien, he stopped for a minute.
For some strange reason, he could not hear the normal buzzing of the morning rush anywhere. Neither did it seem like any part of that specific neighborhood was inhabited. The parts of the cars that were visible through the snow, looked rusty and weather beaten. Most of the doors and windows in the houses were either broken or boarded up. There was not even a sign of vagrants living on the streets.
The moon was still high up in the sky and illuminated this part of town with a sinister bluish light. The sun was not to make an appearance until at least noon, so he would have to make do with the pale blue moonlight in order to find an alternate route to work. The electric illumination common throughout the city, was eerily absent here.
Paul walked alone on the middle of the road. The houses on both sides of the streets looked uncannily different from any other houses he had seen around the city, which characterized itself . The houses ranged from classical, dilapidated cottages to postmodernist abominations with angled ceilings and glass-paneled windows and walls. What laid beyond those windows and inside the unending darkness he did not dare to think about, amorphous shapes seemed to be forming behind the boarded up entrances and dilapidated, snow-covered front yards.
After some minutes, he turned his head and looked behind and saw the path he had trodden made a nice uniform pattern on the snow. It went up the road and swung to the right, making an elegant curve. As he turned his head towards the direction he was headed, he got a glimpse of the most peculiar shape. He looked right towards what looked like a grotesque and postmodernist two story house. Hidden behind two dead pine trees, whose branches hung heavily laden with snow.
The house’s overall appearance was highly innocuous, besides from the bad taste in design it so blatantly reflected. The front yard, like so many others in that street looked abandoned and then he saw, half buried in the snow, the shapes of what looked like children’s toys. The main door was flanked by two thin columns of colored glass. Each one crossed by wooden bars that separated the different colors from each other. But it was not the house itself that caught Paul’s attention, it was rather that vague silhouette that looked down on him from the second floor.
His feet made a crunching noise as he waded through the snow. He squinted his weary eyes and saw the silhouette clearer. There, in the second floor there was that grotesque feminine figure. Its left arm crooked up, pointing with one slender white finger upwards. A short, black wig covered its head. Sparkling black eyes looked back at him, reflecting the painfully weak light from the icy, arctic moon. Its lips were painted scarlet red, just like the blood that now froze to ice in our protagonist’s veins. In its mouth, there was a crooked red smile. The mannequins posture and uncanny appearance, terrified him for a moment. At first he thought that it must have been a joke made several years ago, by one of the same people that had lived there, before they all left in a hurry. An inter-temporal gag, placed by some twisted mind in such a place as if meant to scare intruders or unsuspecting wanderers such as Paul. He felt like a fool for feeling horror for some joke that finally had found its victim. But it was that terrible darkness and the staircase behind it, in which amorphous shadows danced grotesquely behind the mannequin, that convinced him that its presence was no buffoonery.
He looked intensely at it, he stared the mannequin’s feminine shape. He looked at the finger pointing upwards and saw that the dark staircase behind the mannequin impossibly could be leading anywhere, because the house only had two stories. The eerie silence made his chest tighter. Suddenly the cold of that frigid morning did not matter. What he felt, that horror was beyond anything he had felt in years.
Curiosity and fear filled Paul’s mind. With careful steps he made his way into the snow covered front yard. He glanced quickly with trembling eyes at the mannequin looking out of the second floor window. Its black eyes seemed to follow him as he made his way around the house. As he clumsily made his way around the yard, he saw more objects half buried in the snow. A broken television set, an old withered couch. He made a mental of note of a secondary door in the backyard, from which he could possibly enter the house. As the thought entered his mind, he quickly shove it aside. What good could it make to enter it? what horrible chamber of secrets could be hidden in a house where a grotesque parody of a human stood there, idiotically staring at the empty neighborhood? Holding watch with imbecile eyes at the never ending void, and the blackened arctic sky? A travesty of life, an insult to mankind. Paul clenched his fists and bit his teeth together, a new feeling arose that he could not remember having felt before: anger.
Confused, he waded back to the main road, and tried to forget the mannequin gazing at the stars and the snow. But as he made his way out of that forgotten neighborhood, he turned his head one last time, to take a last peek at the grotesque doll staring stupidly, out of the window and he was sure as he slowly turned his head back that he saw a little cloud of condensation coming out of the red-painted, plastic mouth.
The hours at work went by very slowly. It went by, as always, without any perceptive substance or meaning. He could not concentrate as his thoughts wandered wildly to places where reality was shapeless and without depth. Imaginary places where empty houses were filled with mannequins. Dolls imitating humans, in darkened living rooms and kitchens. A mannequin sitting on a car driving nowhere. A child mannequin sitting on a swing idly, staring at a frozen ground, swaying back and forth slowly, pushed gently by the grace of a putrid cosmic gust.
Paul longed for that feeling once more. That unnamed feeling, that unknown excitement of the senses. That fear. He had to see the mannequin on that darkened second floor and tell it that its presence was wrong. That nothing could exist that gazed with empty eyes at the void. The mannequin was malignant, and it wanted something from him. Whatever evil that caused him to feel this way, whatever eldritch being living in that damned doll, wanted to tell him something.
That day he went home just a couple of hours earlier, claiming a terrible stomach ache, but it was just a ruse. Paul followed the same route back from the office that he had taken that same morning. He just had to catch a glimpse of the mannequin in another setting. It was then during those hours in which the cancerous weak arctic sun was at its feeblest that he again saw the terrible doll in that darkened two story house.
But this time it was different.
Under the weak, yellow light of the sun, it did not look as disgusting and offensive as it did before under the blue moon. But Paul was sure that it was merely a farce. The mannequin was manipulating him. It did not make sense that all that it took for that distorted plastic figure to lose its grotesqueness was merely a weak yellow light. He knew it was a lie. He had to come back when the darkness ruled, at night. Confused and angered he continued home.
During that night he slept very well. Even if his dreams turned into nightmares, as the shapes that his subconscious formed turned from harmless amorphous nothingness, to crooked plastic limbs, pointing dead fingers at different directions. It was then, during the peaceful sleep, that the image that formed in his dreams showed the landscape of a well lit room, in which several plastic limbs laid about in chests and crates. He saw that in the middle of the room there sat a man in a purple robe. He sat there, bold and crooked, working, meticulously at something. Paul’s disembodied spirit, moved around in the room towards the front of the desk on which the robed man worked. He saw then that what the robed held in his hands on was nothing but a mannequin’s head. He was painting scarlet red lips on a plastic white head with a short, black wig. The small, black beady eyes on that severed mannequin head, slowly glanced up, revoltingly turning around in concave plastic eye sockets to meet Paul’s own gaze.
Our protagonist woke up startled with a loud gasp. Just in time as a new day started and the darkened arctic city woke up to life.
This day he did not take the pills. This day he would not be a slave to the tyranny of chemicals. Because what he had experienced the day before, had taught him that there was more to the world than what we can see with his limited, dulled senses.
He crammed himself anxiously into the little phone booth at the end of the hall outside his apartment. It smelled sweetly of rancid urine and sweat. He clumsily inserted a coin into the slot and heard the dialing tone. It slipped out of his sweaty, numb fingers. Finally the coin fell down the slot with a metallic hollow sound and he got a tone. After waiting for what seemed like hours of monotone music, he finally got an answer. The robotic voice in the other end told him that it was okay to take the day off. At least that is he thought he heard.
His body seemed to object the lack of that daily dose of chemicals that had kept him all these years. He sweated profusely and had to spend valuable energy emptying the contents of his stomach in front of the toilet bowl. It was then, while defeated he laid on the cold and stained bathroom floor, with the smell of bile in his nostrils that he made the decision.
A thought accompanied by sound appeared in his mind.
Far away, a woman cried.
No, Paul must not keep that thought. It has to go out.
“Let it be” he thought.
The lack of chemicals could induce such an affliction. In which the senses, starved by the numbing stimuli of the narcotics suddenly drove him from depths of utter despair, to orgasmic and euphoric states of idiotic joy.
Shivering, he dressed his emaciated body. The goal was clear, but the mind was muddled by eerie premonitions.
As he exited the grey block of concrete which his apartment was sad subdivision of. He looked at the sky and saw the aurora borealis in the sky. For the first time is mind could see the true, terrifying beauty of the shapes in the sky. Colorful clouds of primal myth, dancing around to the notes of the apathetic tunes of life’s symphony. He walked through that big alleyway that he had walked on so many times before. In the dead eyes of the shopkeepers and the crumbling facades of the shops, he could see the true, unconditional misery of existence. The cars drove aimlessly, barely making any sounds as the wheels turned on the crushed black ice beneath them, and the headlights illuminated his path. He was on his way to that abominable two story house in which a hollow doll stood there, and had stood there for all eternity, gazing at the void.
The thoughts fought their way intermittently through his mental barriers. He held his head on his hands as he walked. Our protagonist’s mental shields were being battered by a barrage of forbidden thoughts and images. Guilt. Anger. Loss. A woman crying. A funeral.
“I must not!” he muttered through yellow, clenched teeth. “I can’t”, he uttered as he walked. through the park. All the time holding his head on his hands, as if trying to hold a potential spill of black matter through his eyes and mouth onto the white snow.
Once the silence was overwhelming, he knew he was close. Once even the subtle sound of the buses and cars subdued, and even his ecstatic mind went quiet. He knew he was close.
He lowered his hands and he looked around, he saw the neighborhood.
The cars and houses stood there like they had for ever. The darkness that could be seen through the boarded up windows and doors of the empty houses was as frightening as always, inviting terrible premonitions. He could not look at them for too long.
He looked at the snow and found that path he had made the day before. Driven by a compulsion that only an unhinged mind could have, he made a special point of stepping on the exact same footprints he had made the day before.
Wobbling and wading he walked, the snow and wind now hit his barren facial skin with a stupendous force. The snowflakes fell heavily now, and every one of them whipped his face like a tiny blade. But this physical pain was nothing, compared that the pained conjured by those thoughts that the chemicals no longer stopped.
A funeral, A crying woman. Loss, anger and guilt. Hot, red, vivid flashes of shapeless but violent images invaded his mind. Then, as suddenly as the thoughts had invaded his mind. He saw her.
She was standing in that accursed second floor. Black eyes under a pale blue arctic moon. A hand painted scarlet mouth, grinning with guilty idiocy.
“What do you want!?”
As he yelled. the falling snow in front of his mouth formed a cloudy whirlwind.
The feminine figure of the mannequin stood on the second floor motionless. The crooked arm pointed at some attic or third floor that could not be there. That blackened gaze that looked into the void. The staircase that led nowhere. The dark shadows behind the mannequin now danced mockingly daring Paul to cross the threshold into madness.
He was sweating profusely. The anger warmed him and for the first time his mind did not feel frozen. His mind was nimble and free. He walked and felt the hollowed idiotic black eyes of the mannequin follow him as he made his way around that house.
A will. A pure confidence of obscene and raging nature engulfed him. With steps that firmly tramped the snow, he walked to that back door on the backyard. He walked past the withered couch and the TV-set half-buried in the snow. The frozen evidence of a forgotten normalcy that perhaps never existed.
His gloved hand touched the doorknob. The hand twisted it and with his shoulder he pushed the door. The door creaked and he entered the house.
The kitchen was the first room he entered. broken plates laid on the floor. Kitchen utensils strewn everywhere. Chairs and a table stood there immobile in positions that suggested a complete normalcy, as if ghosts sat down there and stared back at him, wondering what this disheveled man was doing in their abandoned domain.
On the opposite side of the kitchen there was another entrance, but the door was open. There was a hall surrounded by doors, that led to the other rooms in the house. Past the table and the chairs he could see what looked like the living room. A grey light that seeped through creeks on the boarded windows showed a table where a TV-set had once stood, and he saw the pillows from a couch that was not there.
As he walked, his heavy boots crushed the glass and porcelain on the floor. He walked towards that entrance and hesitated, stopped himself for a moment, as he saw that at the end of that tenebrous hall, there was an crooked stairwell, illuminated by the light of the blue moon, that showed him the way to the second floor.
He walked towards the stairwell, one hand on the wall of the hall. The frozen wood of the stairwell creaked just a bit as he stepped on it. On the second floor, sky lighted against that big window, he saw the feminine figure of the mannequin. He was calm. A calmness different to that induced by the chemicals. It was a resigned calmness, a quieting of the mind and senses. Dulled by this soothing feeling. he walked towards her. She stood there with her back to him, her plastic body and feminine figure looked so grotesquely perfect in the moonlight. When he finally reached her, they stood there together. The only sound to be heard was the shallow breathing coming from Paul. They both stood there, looking out of the window at the unending void of the night sky, in which the colored clouds of the aurora borealis undulated elegantly.
They stood there together enjoying the stillness of a world in which every sound had faded to black.
Then he heard the terrible creaking sound. The creaking sound of plastic and metal turning in a way it was not supposed to. He turned his head to look at his plastic companion.
The head with the black wig and beady black eyes. The head with the scarlet smile. It was turning, the plastic around the neck was cracking. The mannequin head turned around to face him with spastic vitality and clumsy movements until it finally its gaze met his. The crooked arm made a brusque movement followed by more plastic cracking. It pointed up. He looked at the roof and saw that the stairwell indeed did not lead anywhere.
It was then that Paul remembered the thought he had repressed for so long. All the premonitions he had, had been a reminder of a past that therapy and medicine had tried to bury. A funeral, A crying woman, Anger, Loss, Guilt. And the terrible confession when she had said “I killed our little one” then the gunshot to her mouth. She was gone.
The last sane thought Paul’s brain processed, was the sight of a subtle cloud of condensation coming from the mannequin's smiling red mouth.
In that city, in a neighborhood in which the sounds of a buzzing arctic metropolis cannot be heard, where nothing lives and nothing dies, things are not quite what they seem, and nothing is more peculiar and meaningless, than the sight of a male and female mannequin staring out of a second story window in an abandoned house. Two pairs of beady black eyes. Looking at the eternal void of the night sky.