This is the final draft of a major writing project I did for uni. It is a pastiche between Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Wells’ The Time Machine. It is a long story, and would be best read on a handheld device.
The force of relentless rain woke me. It fell on my face, tearing me away from dreamless sleep. The rain beat on the stone pavement that I was lying upon. I rose and made a fitful attempt with one arm to ward off the downpour. That near-instant realisation of being never came; the sensation one feels moments after sleep, where all memories and knowledge return. There was none of that, only an engulfing blackness and after the initial fear passed, I welcomed this new oblivion and it provided me with the strangest sense of well-being.
Even standing senselessly in the biting rain, nothing came to mind of my life prior to that moment. Not even my name. Perhaps I was dead, and this was God’s retribution against a sinful life lived.
Or instead, this was the Devil’s domain but both ideas disintegrated into implausibility the instant I thought them. I was alone here, completely and an instinct took hold that nothing would come to either aid or hinder me. Nothing. Implicitly, I understood that I was in a forsaken world, forgotten and shunned by forces benevolent and otherwise.
The rain chilled me through and I was forced by necessity to take account of my surroundings. About me was a grey expanse of tightly clustered and leafless trees, and I was standing in a small circular plaza amidst it all, with one path leading away through the cold forest directly across from me. From this, it was plain there was but one way to go, for the forest appeared as impenetrable as it did lifeless.
I followed the cobbled path as it twisted and bent through the dead woods, my legs kicking tendrils of fog aside as I pressed on. Although I was wet through these odd old clothes of grey, I did not sense the cold any longer. I felt nothing at all and my mind was an empty receptacle, recalling no memories. But another thought occurred to me. What if I had no memories to regain? There may have been nothing before for me, no life, no existence beyond the one I now had. And I felt the great hole in my mind that went beyond any mere amnesia. It could be that I truly had no life anywhere else before now, but there remained a barely tangible element of doubt to this theory. Try as I may, I could not grasp what this doubt was, or even what it meant. Was I even supposed to? Was this new existence I found myself in a riddle to be solved? No answers came and I could gain no new insight. Perhaps it would come to me as I went on.
Now there was only one purpose to why I was walking, and that was the simple act of motion itself, a compulsion to keep moving. I strode through the fog and rain, one booted foot in front of the other, while a vacant world quietly passed by. Then I came to something different, something so unexpected for I stopped, my breath steaming into the crisp, still air.
The forest debouched into a great square glade of high grass, and in the centre of this was a rectangular building of immense proportions, standing tall and mighty above the eddying fog. There was the slightest hint of unease as I looked at this monstrous structure of stone and slate. Four round and tapered parapets thrust even higher at each corner, challenging the unceasing rain striking them.
Although this monster seemed but mere yards away, it was several minutes of trudging through the thick and wiry grass until I reached it. Curious and unsettled, I walked about its broad periphery but every door and window had been boarded over with great planks of thick black wood. The weak actions of my poor fingers were no use against them and I debated whether to find stronger tools, maybe a stout fallen limb, and set to work prying off a board but it would be futile. Whatever mysteries this building held, it was going to keep them and there was naught I could do.
Then I had this unusual fancy that perhaps I was physically outside of my mind; that this darkling world was some nebulous space beyond my consciousness and I was wandering, disembodied and lost. The house represented the workaday world and I was lacking in the means to return to what life I had before. I imagined that there was laughter and light inside those impermeable doors and windows; a whole microcosm of vivid and ever-changing existence that I was cast out of. At that my mood darkened momentarily. Touching the cold timbers, I felt the most wretched sense of bitter regret, but it passed as rapidly as it had come and I was left with a soulless ache.
Now I became aware of something in the air, a scent that tugged at the fringes of being and roused me from my slow musing. It was smoke and its reek drifted through the rain and fog like a signal. Interest urged me forward, and I waded once more through the tall grass. There was a dark line on the horizon, clear through the rain and mist. It was a stone wall of immense proportions, at least thirty feet high and it stretched from the limits of vision from one direction to the other.
There was a fire burning beyond the wall as I heard the crackling and snapping of burning trees. A brief glance told me there was no way over the wall, nor could I pass around it and there were no footholds or cracks where my feet and hands could go. There was nothing in sight I could use as a ladder to step over. The wall was high and cruelly smooth with the algal detritus of countless years, slick and diseased green against ancient grey.
With inexplicable certainty I knew I would be wasting my time seeking a way around or over it. It was a barrier as effective as the boarded-over windows and doors of the huge house. As I stood there contemplating this impasse, a plangent sound carried clearly over the wall. It was the cry of a woman and her limpid screams shattered the sullen calm of my new world.
Where was the Tall Man? Weena cringed in the nook of the tree roots, the heat of the fire threatening to engulf her. The Tall Man was there – right there! – fighting off those who stalked the night. She quivered and curled up, making herself smaller against the evil heat and the threat of the crazily running Morlocks. Then there was the noise. It was like continuous lightning, the cracking and tearing of destroyed wood. The Morlocks screamed and whooped as they careered haphazardly through the inferno, falling victim to both flame and smoke. She screamed and wished if death were her destiny, it would claim her painlessly and fast.
As she cowered, heart pounding, the awful sounds receded slowly, to fade into the background. After a few moments, she could no longer hear the noise of the fire. It was still there though; she could feel the pressing of the heat upon her skin. Sweating, she peeked through a crack in her fingers and found she was completely alone. The Tall Man and his strength were gone. The Tall Man with the booming voice and the strange clothes that smelled. Gone too were his long strides that took a step for every two of hers, and his solemn smile that touched her young heart.
But the love she had begun to feel for the strange man was replaced by a sensation of hollow betrayal. The Tall Man caused this weird heat, he with those peculiar small sticks that glowed when struck. How Weena loved them then, but those little sticks had made this roaring and relentless conflagration about her, burning the lovely trees and filling the cool night air with heat and reek. A new emotion crept into her heart to blend with the betrayal: hate. Weena was sure she hated the Tall Man now, and her small angry but impotent tears would not save her from this doom of fire. He had led her here, and his folly was killing her. If only she could see him one last time, and give voice to the pain and frustration she was feeling.
Through all of her thoughts and anger, she heard an odd keening, strident above every other sound around her. She uncurled herself, curiosity incited. She scrambled to her feet, ignoring the crazily running Morlocks, and searched for the origin of this new wonder. She saw something looming through the inferno and crept toward it, hope burgeoning. Despite it being the time of the new moon, she could see a blacker than black mass before her as she padded forward. She did not fear whatever it was and she approached it almost happily, gladdened that maybe she would not perish in this fiery malevolence.
It was a wall, higher and stouter than any Weena had known, and the stone of its construction was weirdly cool to the touch. She ran a hand over it, glancing back at the fire wreaking death on the Morlocks, and she slowly edged sideways, her feet finding grass and not ashes. The strange sound had stopped now and she put her back to the wall, sliding down to her haunches. No Morlocks came near, and the fire kept its distance.
Here I can sleep through the dark night and wake under a lovely blue sky, with no beasts and hot flames. And no Tall Man with his strong, dry hands, with his enigmatic glances my way, and those eyes that troubled me with what I thought was behind them.
I can sleep and there will be no betrayer who abandoned me in a dark forest and in the bright morning, I would run home across the grassy meadows and forget the Tall Man who saved me from drowning in the river. He saved me when nobody else would.
Weena gnawed on a fingernail and her mind harked back to that day she fell in the river by her home. Eloi lives were lived cheap, but she knew there was only one to be had, and perhaps the Tall Man valued life more than her kind did.
Is that what he was trying to show me? Although I never could properly discern his harsh language, I knew he thought I lived a wasteful life, playing and being happy under the sun with no concerns other than death itself. What else was there? It was the life we Eloi are fated to live, and I we wanted no other. Life had no other purpose to me or any of my kind. So I had thought in my time.
I know the Tall Man thought too much – I watched him ponder everything studiously, from me to the buildings in which we lived. He pondered other things too – strange and alarming things – and I saw confusion in his deep-set eyes when he looked my way. But what were these things, the emotions I saw there? They were feelings I had no absolute words for. Further, they were like nothing my brief life had experienced, and I trembled at the memory.
I recalled the strange stirring in my heart as he held my hand the afternoon he climbed from the Morlock’s hole, and I felt the pulse in his thumb in my hand. What was the odd look in his eyes that afternoon on the grass? Did he desire me, or was it pity I saw then? He must have known I loved him as I cried when he crawled down that ghastly hole of the Morlocks. I did not want him to go but his curiosity meant more to him than what I did. I was there when he came back out too. How he survived that dark place of death I do not know, but he did. But did he see that we Eloi are so much different from the Morlocks? Why we lived in the air, and they lived in warrens beneath the green earth? I wondered then, if he needed to see their evil to fully understand how good we were? We Eloi are the sun, and the Morlocks are the moonless nights. We have always known that only good things live under the sun.
He never told me his name, even though I asked for it, but I wonder if understood me as often, I think he believed me to be delicate and small, a simple-minded stripling and I imagine that is how children are where he was from; meek, playful things. But where was he from, this nameless man? The sky? A thundercloud? Did he come from the sun? Oh, but I hate him now no matter where he is from! He abandoned me in this horrible dark place, with the Morlocks and the tree-eating fire. I hated him! I gave him flowers and he laughed at me, as if I was a child.
I am not one, but I could not show that to the Tall Man, as there are no words to say how long I have lived in this world. We Eloi do not mark time the way the Tall Man told me he did, showing me that relic in the big blue building that had little hands to show its passing. There were so many differences between us and so much that was left unsaid. He thought my crying to be the fears and insecurities that a child would run to him with, but no, my tears were frustrated ones, for there was never true understanding between us. I could never tell him how I felt as I could think what to say, but the words never came coherently. Maybe the language of my people is limited. I do not know.
He made he laugh and cry from love, but surely I hated him now. I am left with no other choice as he gave my purposeless life meaning, and now he has gone and my life feels so worthless again. Why would I not hate his desertion of me? He made me realise how vacuous my life was and before he came to me, I had not lived, I had only existed. Like all of my kind, I rose at dawn to dance, eat and make love and I did nothing else. A life of eternal pleasure and ease, fearing only the moonless nights and the evil that came with it. Now he had gone and left me to die and the love that I had for him has withered like the leaves in the fire. I hated the Tall Man, but I hated more the awful knowledge I would not see him again.
A sudden hush caused Weena to open her eyes. There was no more fire or darkness, only a grey rain, and beyond that she saw nothing. She could smell old grass and wet soil, and something else, a scent of antiquity, as if the air itself was ancient. Her next thoughts were panicked ones; had the fire or Morlocks got her and she was now dead and this was some delirium from her dying mind?
Her people had a simple mythology in that when one died, you were reborn as a baby. Was this legend of the Eloi false, as she was no baby; she was still Weena. Her clothes were the ones she had worn all of her life, save they were stained by grass and soot. There were still sandals on her feet and it became obvious to Weena that she was still alive
Yet she was somewhere cooler and wetter, and she shivered for different reasons as she stood. There was the wall behind her, huge and ominous, its true size evident against the pallid sky, and as her senses became keener, she could hear the distant sounds of the fire beyond it. Out went a hand, and yes, the wall was real. Real and cold to the touch, smooth from the ages. That alone told her she had not died and it bespoke a strangeness, something far beyond any experience she or her Eloi kin had ever known.
There was a sound and another Tall Man was standing a dozen paces from her. Where her Tall Man had a curt if not pleasant aspect, this one’s features were obscured by deep shadows across his face. His clothes, unusual to Weena’s senses as the Tall Man’s had been, were as grey as the misty and forested world about him. He stood facing her silently and motionless, his arms by his side. There was nothing threatening about his poise and reassured, Weena pointed at the wall and asked this new Tall Man how she got over it. How indeed, did she even arrive to her present place?
A slight movement of the new Tall Man’s head was the only indication he had heard her. Was this Tall Man like the last and not able to understand her? Weena smiled and touched the wall with both hands and repeated her question. He shrugged, a distinctly human mannerism that eased the growing concern in Weena’s mind. For a space both she and this silent newcomer regarded one another, then she laughed. Through the shadows, she saw his face crease into a smile. Encouraged, she skipped forward to stand before him, catching wind of his musty scent. Her eyes widened as she beheld his face. It was ashen and drawn, the skin the colour and cast of tree bark but it was his eyes that startled her. They were two points of cold white light.
I saw what made the scream I had heard. It was whom I thought at first was a child, and she appeared both elfin and cherubic in her small stature and curly, golden hair. Yet her face possessed an indeterminate quality, as if she were timeless. I could also sense something knowing behind her large, clear eyes, even at the distance we stood apart. My initial belief that she was a child vanished.
The matter of how she had gotten over the wall was pushed aside by the sheer strangeness of her presence here. She was a petite liveliness in this staid place of wet eternity. What then was she? Or who? She touched the wall and said something in a soft, flowing tongue that seemed all vowels. I could not understand her and I stood quietly, wondering what the significance her presence meant.
She smiled and I returned the gesture – so I hoped. She came closer and peered into my face with the most overt curiosity, and I resisted an urge to touch her. Then she paled and her lips quavered. She took a number of frightened steps backward and my inchoate happiness faded. I spoke to her, and my voice crackled in my throat. Had I ever spoken before now? My words sounded guttural and harsh to my ears, and not the sounds of welcome I had intended.
I told her not to be afraid but my words meant nothing to her, and I thought she would run. Instead, she backed up several paces away and watched me in an overtly inquisitive manner, her small peaked face alive with what I took to be fearful curiosity.
It was obvious she was cold too, and I shed my heavy coat and proffered it. I did not feel the cold any longer and the rain meant nothing to me. Slowly, she came forward a step and those large, wondering eyes of hers flicked between my face and the gift I held out. She said a spate of words in her liquid tongue and put out a hand to touch the coat. Slowly, she drew it from my hands and put it over her head in the manner of a hood. The sleeves dangled past her feet. She sighed and a smile flashed across her face, then she said something, pointing to herself, a word I did not quite gather. I assumed she was giving me her name but I had none to give back. I did not remember my name and until this time, there was no necessity to know it. This land shunned names and identities; absorbed them into the colourless murk and rendered them neutered. No wonder I could not make out hers. The air itself tore it away from her mouth.
She moved away apace, to stand in the eaves of a giant tree, leafless and dour like the others. What was over the far side of the wall? Had she fled the fire I could still hear raging on the other side? What else had she fled from? There was so much I wanted to ask and say to her, it threatened to overwhelm me with its urgency. And yet I had no way to communicate. We did not understand one another, and I doubted we ever would. Yet maybe we could, as despite her initial mistrust and fear of me, there was confidence in her, or a lax indifference – I was not sure which. She was self-assured in an ineffable way and I wondered further: could we be friends? Could I be her companion and comfort here in this heartless place? Would she want me to be? Would I want her to be? What kind of companion would I be for her or any other?
I walked tangentially away and gestured at the wall. Her eyes eagerly tracked my arm as it pointed and I had a flash of hope, but she saw the house past me and her small mouth dropped in astonishment. She skipped through the grass to the margins of the house, my coat flapping in the cold air as she went. As I followed, I heard her utter an exclamation of delight. I saw what had enlivened her. One of the boarded-up doors opened, and with a glance my way, she went inside.
This new Tall Man alarmed me the way he stood there in the rain, still as a statue, those shining white eyes! His voice was like thunder, a beastly rumble and I wanted to get away from it. I wanted to run but he gave me something – something he was wearing. It smelled funny, like old mould I had found in the hidden corners of my home so far away. What did he want from me? Did he need to be my friend? He was welcoming me in some soundless way and he was not so frightening as I watched him some more, even with his strange eyes. To me, he was sad and friendless and further, his world was a reflection of his soulless personality. He was an empty man, a shell or a husk.
I felt the call of something, like a tugging at my consciousness. I knew as I sensed whatever it was that beckoned to me, I belonged somewhere else, perhaps back among my own people again or somewhere different, somewhere that had laughter and light. But I did not belong in the new Tall Man’s world. This was his world, his place and I do not think there was anything for me with him, or ever could be.
Weena was not cold any more. The mouldy coat, heavy and drab, kept away the chill and the rain. She felt like thanking the new Tall Man but feared the sound of his answer. There he stood, watching her intently, those beacons for eyes unblinking. Yet there was nothing threatening about him now, and he seemed almost…imploring. She was certain that he wanted to tell her things, and desired her to stay for companionship, if nothing else.
Weena glanced about at the world, and saw nothing but the endless trees, the high grass and that dark, high wall. It was a land of hard rain and mist, infinite in breadth and likewise infinite in its capacity to negate all joy and laughter. It was his world, not hers and like him, it was a thing to be left behind and forgotten.
There was a soft call, like from a lover on a warm day, and Weena turned to see where it came from. A black house was yonder, the size and shape of which she had never seen before. First, it was like something from a nightmare, but as her eyes took in its immense bulk, she saw a welcome allure to it; a friendly greeting, or a summoning. Come to me. Happily, she ran towards it, her legs rushed unfeelingly through the harshness of the grass. A blue light filled Weena’s eyes and there was much laughter as she went inside.
The door was closed fast by the time I reached it. There were no handles or doorknobs, and no visible means to open it. I tried hammering at it with one of the cast-off boards, but it crumbled to dust in my hands as soon as I picked it up. So I stood there in defeat, a growing despair pushing through the apathetic fog in my mind. Who was she? In desperation, I gave the door one final rap and retreated back out into the rain.
I asked myself again who she was and logically there was no sensible answer. And again, I shouted for her to come back but my voice was a harsh thing, rasping and bone dry, and it was carried uselessly off into the sky. With the moments passing by, I was beginning to understand the futility of it all and my fate came to me as I walked back to the wall. I was dead and this was some kind of sombre afterlife with the wall separating my grey realm from that of the living.
But no…I breathed. And my fingers hurt from pounding on the doors and I could feel the rain coursing over me, getting inside my heavy clothes. Dead I might be, but I was left – or cursed – with the sensations of the living. As an experiment, I pricked myself with a nail. There was pain and blood, and as I squeezed my finger, a red droplet fell soundlessly to the grass. Do the dead bleed? Do the hearts of the dead beat in their chests? Mine did, but I felt no vivacity, no driving force that pushes one through the everyday world with enthusiasm and cheer. There was none of that. Even the hurt at her passing was nearly gone. The dull dispassion I had felt soon after waking had almost returned.
Through this unlively detachment, I still craved in a clinical fashion to know who she was, and why her time in my world had been so transient. I sat with my back to the wall and stared out at the grass. If I was not dead, then perhaps I was doomed to dwell in some in-between existence; caught eternally between the ticks of an inexorable clock. But I knew that no matter my bootless theorising, there would be no answers to the questions that hounded me. I would never know who she was and I could never know who I was. The implications were both plain and before me. I am an unknown; an outsider, mired forever in this dreary serenity. I could wage war against the house and the wall, but they would be worthless actions of pure fruitlessness. It would be like trying to wrestle with the heavy clouds above. It would be like wrestling with myself.
As I sat there, I began to understand, and there was a growing knowledge in my mind that this world was a projection of self, an externalisation of everything I was. It remained unknown if I was its master or not, and only time would show me the truth of that. The woman was a stranger in the world I had made, and we both had known it. Perhaps her presence was demonstrating to me that her world and mine were dichotomies. She had come from some realm where there was the light of a sun, the running of contented feet, the many voices of happiness and love, and to that kind of world she had gone to again.
I could never have her world and she could not have mine. We had glimpsed one another, and it was enough to know the differences between our existences were there, and wholly insurmountable. That is how it seemed to me, the instincts I felt, but I would remember her, and maybe, she would remember me, no matter how fugitive our meeting had been.
I theorised that the house represented some everyday world to which I could see the way in, but never be part of. Conversely, those within might find locked doors in their realm and it would never be possible for any to open them. Which maybe meant that my world was also some kind of in-between place, since the woman’s time here had been so ephemeral. But the wall at my back did not feel like anything symbolic. It was hard and unyielding.
I rose to my feet and came to a decision. I would move away from his house and what it represented. There was no longer any curiosity or fascination for it or the wall behind me. I calmly accepted them for the things I deemed them to be. Somehow, this was the world that I had made – I was certain of that now. A land beyond all others, an outside place that only I belonged to. There was no sadness or regret at this new conviction, and I faced the future with a steady confidence. I would wander my world and see what else it held, and learn if I truly was the master of it. With one last gaze for the house, I turned and left.