Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he stared straight, unblinking, at the obnoxiously white wall. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, as he stared, he began to notice figures forming from the tiny ridges and divots that made up the texture of the wall. He saw a boy with no face and a girl with hair that flowed behind her.
What if there are actually people trapped in the walls, screaming, clawing, trying to get you to notice them?
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he looked up at the fluorescent lights blaring down onto him. He could feel the buzz of the room—the air—and sometimes he would sit there and taste the fluorescence and exist inside of the fluorescence.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he thought about how he was broken, and how the city was broken, and how at certain moments this fact was so beautiful that he felt himself being crushed, paralyzed under its weight.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; sitting at his desk, he carried the gray building where he worked. He carried the dullness of the rooms. He carried the white halls, white walls, and white ceilings. He carried the atmosphere, the languor, the tenderness that hung thick in the air. He carried all of it. And yet, if he were only able to carry the weight of his own body, he imagined that he would run out into the streets and let the monstrous immensity of life melt him down into nothing. But the fluorescence was endless.
* * *
At the end of the day, he and fifteen other people crowded into an elevator. Sometimes he liked to imagine that all the people would freeze, and he alone would look up and see a crack forming in the ceiling of the elevator. He would stand there and quietly watch it grow and multiply, spreading its legs down the sides of the elevator. He would imagine the lights flickering and the elevator dropping. He would imagine himself becoming unstuck from time.
* * *
When they reached the lobby of the grey building, he pushed his way out of the elevator and through the glass doors. Outside, the cold felt wonderful on his skin and his breath made little puffs of smoke in the air in front of him. The sidewalk was littered with people and he had to fight to make it down into the subway station.
Standing in the subway tunnel, waiting for the car to come, he took a step back inside of himself and watched the people around him. He watched beautiful, quiet desperation linger unspoken on their lips, and he watched their numbness leak out and surround each other. The doors of the subway car opened invitingly, and he shuffled on. As he scanned the faces surrounding him, his eyes remained stuck onto the old man sitting across from him. The man had a long white beard, dirty clothes, and a knapsack resting at his feet, but the blue eyes that peeked out beneath the overgrown hair seemed intelligent and perceptive. He stared numbly into those eyes that were sunken into the weathered and defeated face of a life already lived. They were screaming at him— worlds were cracking at their intensity. The wrinkles around the man’s eyes moved up and the man’s white mustache shifted, but he was trapped in those eyes, trying to hear them, trying to become the movement of the subway.
Then the words, “What are you looking at, boy?” came flying through the air toward him and hit him in the chest, shattering the illusion. He quickly lowered his gaze and stared at the dirty floor.
When he reached his apartment complex, he trudged up the flights of stairs to the grey door of his one-room apartment. He turned the handle, shoved open the door, and immediately collapsed on his bed.
* * *
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he couldn’t think of exactly how long he had been awake or what had woken him up. He was only aware of the incessant ticking. The world had narrowed to the red, slow march of the second hand on the clock. Laying in his bed, looking up at the darkness of his ceiling, he felt something inside of him rupture and leak out onto the frozen world. He lunged out of his bed, grabbed the little old-fashioned alarm clock that had stood faithfully by his bedside, and punched it. He saw his knuckles make contact with the glass and he watched a small crack form. He punched it again, and again, and again until the glass lay shattered at his feet and he started to notice a thin trail of blood slithering down his hand and lovingly curling around his wrist. Sometimes he wanted to bleed out and make the world crimson.
* * *
From outside his window, he could feel the night’s long skinny fingers curl and beckon to him. It must have been past one in the morning and he had begun to feel that familiar itch that started in his bones—that had started when he was born. Throughout a life made up of empty hours, he clung to the moment of ecstasy when—at the end of the day—he would be able to pull open the door, walk out, and become a part of the night’s circus.
He quickly walked over to his bathroom and washed his arm in the sink. Then, he opened his grey apartment door and bolted down the stairs into the night.
Outside, the air greeted him with the familiar cool darkness of a world not yet trodden. The air was better. It was richer and he could feel it stinging as it entered his lungs creeping downward, seizing his heart. He stood on the sidewalk amongst the lights and the electricity and tried to revel in the feeling of living inside the bleeding organism that was the city.
He called a cab, and, in a few minutes, he was sitting inside, looking out through the window at the spot where he had been standing.
* * *
When the cab dropped him off outside of the club, he could already hear the music filling up all of the empty spaces in the world. He stepped into the building and couldn’t even see the floor, only person after sweaty person trying to pulsate along with the music. The name of the game was to get as wrecked as he possibly could: shots, powders, little pills handed off from palm to palm, whatever it would take to make himself stop thinking. He pushed himself to the center of the room and, standing there in the midst of all the colorful people, and the flashing lights, and the deafening music, reality slowly slipped between his fingers, and everyone became one big mass of swirling colors.
In the center of the room, head tilted back, eyes closed, she was just spinning, arms outstretched as if she was trying to absorb the whole world. The neon green lights flitted over her face, slowly lingering on her features where she had an agonizing little smile playing on her lips. She drank in the people around her, trying to suck enough of the room into her lungs to be able to breathe gold for all eternity. Her hair was big and long and dark, and her eyes were a mess of black eyeliner. She looked crazy and wild and beautiful, and bigger than life itself. Here she was frozen. Here she was powerful.
The clock slowed; she tilted her head back, closed her eyes, made her heart stop and for just a second she could feel the night lovingly wrapping its hand around her neck—and everyone stood around her trying to drink in her vivacity, but it was clear she stood absolutely alone.
He liked her. She was the most tragic, pathetic creature he had ever seen. He wanted to consume her. Live inside her. Break her and be crushed under the weight of gravity with her.
The lights soared and the music played. She stopped spinning. She came back to earth. She slowly opened her green eyes, looked directly at him and smiled, a sort of mischievous half smile, and then she began to move toward him.
The people around her weren’t moving. She was holding everyone in the room in her gaze, feeding off of them—off of their red, beating hearts. As she got closer, he looked straight into her green eyes and they stared back, each daring the other to look away. He wanted to. Staring into those eyes, he could feel her everywhere—for just a second, he was raw and formless, and all of the whispers of magic were seeping out of the world around him, out of its pores.
When she reached him, she put her hand on his shoulder, leaned in and whispered slowly pronouncing each word.
“They make you believe that it is going to be beautiful, but the world is not beautiful, the world is not beautiful from your eyes. Look at all of us,” she said motioning around. “A mangled heap of humanity, so desperate to feel something, anything, that we keep groping around in the darkness, bumping into each other and calling it love. Pretending, convincing ourselves that they were what we were really looking for in the darkness.”
She paused for a few seconds and then continued almost grimacing at each vowel, “It’s because we’re all so bored.” Then she stepped back from him and a slow grin spread across her face. “But you can hear it: the violins have started up; the curtain is rising.”
* * *
That night, they climbed to the top of the skyscraper and, on the roof, blended in with the night. The glorious world of breathless delusion that she had created was beginning to thaw around them, making everything seem sparkly and blurry. They sat down on the ledge, their feet touching. When he looked down, he saw all the tiny bright people moving in rhythm, but when he looked up, there was only the endless black sky staring back. She turned toward him and placed her thighs around his body, so he was holding her in the air. Then she kissed him, but it was only out of a desperation to find something in the secrets that are supposed to be held between lips. After a few blinking moments, she turned toward the night and screamed. She screamed and screamed and screamed and somewhere in the middle, he joined her until they were completely hollow inside.
* * *
In the following months by her side, he saw a world where people only talk in riddles and set fire to relics. There were so many different parties in warehouses, under bridges, in tunnels, so many different little pills, that when he closed his eyes, he would see her laughing under the haze of red smoke. Her and the city. Her and the night. Her breath on his neck and the lights whirling past them. Her mouth hovering just above his, coming closer and closer. Her bitter, beautiful, piercing laugh as she looked up at the dark. Her hands clasping his face. Spinning around and around in a whirlpool of her, lust, love and ecstasy. They would get kicked out of clubs and kiss on the muddy ground. They would get into fights and dance on tables. They would allow themselves to be at the mercy of the next wave of sweet, sweet poison—though at times the dizzying world would collapse around them and they would exist in some perfect, still place outside of consciousness.
Then she was gone.
* * *
So he went on living. Days passed at the office that he could never remember making the conscious decision to go to, and nights passed in a grey jumble of lights. The clubs got louder, the drinks stronger, and the drugs more intense, but it didn’t work the way it used to—all it did was make his frustration greater. Conniving little bitch, he thought to himself over and over. He hated her. He hated himself. He hated the sun that continued to shine cheerily in his face as summer came. He hated how transparent people laughed at transparent things. He hated how he did nothing but complain about this to himself as he became more and more transparent at each passing moment.
* * *
He met a girl whose name was Kathryn and something about her was therapeutic. She would laugh a lot and twist her hair with her fingers. And he would press his cold lips onto hers and feel her skin. Whenever he was with her, he found himself craving shadowy solitude where the walls always agreed with him. Though, whenever she was gone, he needed her flesh, her body, her warmth.
* * *
Tick tock, tick tock; sometimes when he was sitting on the subway during his commute after work, he liked to make up stories for the faces that he saw pass him. One day, he noticed a girl sitting at the end of the car. She was resting her head on her elbow and was tapping out the music playing from her earbuds onto the railing with her index finger.
Existence, existence, existence; he found that he could slow down time. Her finger tapped the railing once. He heard her heartbeat. He felt a breeze. He saw everyone in the car, heard their voices, and felt them aching for one another. He smiled to himself at the irony of this and laughed, hitting the back of his head against the window.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; the girl’s finger tapped the railing again and everything became slanted. The colors started to bleed and run together. His vision slid in and out of focus. He glanced up at the top of the car and noticed a crack forming. He felt a low rumbling move through the earth and saw the crack grow and multiply spreading out across the circular ceiling. He looked around and noticed water flowing underneath the doors and slowly trickling in through the windows.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he sat there on the hard seat of the subway and laughed to himself in his own rosy hollowness. The water was increasing now. It was flowing in through every crevice in the insignificant subway car, threatening to drown them all. Suddenly, there was a bright light and a jolt in his reality and the ceiling split open. The car flooded with gushing water and the people became suspended in a sickly, sweet world of shadows. The girl’s finger continued to tap the story of it onto the railing.
* * *
He had murdered time, slit its throat, and taken its place.
* * *
As he walked out into the splendid city, he was a god. He existed, mangled, in the walls of the city. And he loved—as he had always loved—the glorious feeling of living inside of the bleeding, breathing masterpiece of human depravity. He could finally hear the violin notes crying out in the air—and he was ready to burn. He looked around him: the world was getting faster, his heartbeat was getting louder, everyone’s heartbeat was getting louder. He felt a swelling in his veins threatening to explode. One heartbeat, two heartbeats, three heartbeats. He grabbed the guy walking next to him on the sidewalk and punched him. The man’s head whipped back and his body hit the ground with a thud. He got on top of the man and punched him again—this was the resurrection. He punched the man again. The mist had cleared, and he was all alone: an angel rising from the ashes. He punched him again and again and again, and underneath the weight of his own body, he could feel the man’s jaw break.
The people around him were colors and he saw hungry eyes scanning him. C’mon, he thought. “C’mon,” he dared the onlookers forward. Eventually, someone pulled him off of the man and the next thing he could see were shoes surrounding him as he laid on the pavement looking up into the dark sky. The first foot that hit his gut morphed his body into fire. Looking at the faces of the people around him, he could see that the curtains in their eyes had come down and now they only felt hunger and saw through red.
He noticed that he could see his own blood on the street. How strange it is, he thought, to see what was once inside of you, now running down the landscape, turning the world crimson.
* * *
They met on the roof of the club where they had first seen each other and the silence that laid there had been waiting for him since the beginning of time. Together, they walked over to the edge of the roof and looked down.
“When I first met you, you were so filled with rage.” She savored rage on her tongue. “I could feel it.” She turned and a slow smile crept across her face. “I mean, I could really feel it. I saw you warm from across the room. Your own heart pumping red through your body. Heat dripping down from your fingertips, aching for everything you have ever loved. I wanted you to make me angry.”
She stopped and took a breath. “I know you. I see the strange madness growing in your mind. I see how you drown yourself in the flaws of the deranged just so you can breathe. She paused.”
He could see her in such painful clarity as he watched a breeze hit her face and lift her hair up. The dark eyelashes covering her green eyes shifted upwards and her lips pursed. She looked crazy and wild and beautiful.
Then she continued. “The new year comes and I feel restless. I feel myself yearning for a reality larger than life. I need the immensity of it to wash over me, strike me to the ground, melt me into nothing, make me supine, saturated to my last edges. I need to break out of this illusion.
Standing there, on the edge of the world—where they had always known they would end up—they were gods far separated from everything else, destined to reside in the clouds forever, replaying this moment until the sun consumed itself. The hand on the clock slowed, her chest rose, and the wind made her hair fly around her face. She was a silhouette at the top of a building.
The sky was purple, she was magic, and this world was going to end.
* * *
In her mind, one hundred fires. The last inhuman dance between her and time staring each other down preparing for battle. So she confronted existence; the grey world had always sensed her breathing. Her hand went up, and they circled each other, their fingers so close to touching, colliding, shattering universes—and she didn’t flinch when she fell—in her mind, she had done it a thousand times. The man followed.
Their shadows live on, playing out on the walls.