About a year and a half ago, I was walking through the streets of Durham on a chilly grey evening, listening to Alt-J (∆)‘s debut album An Awesome Wave (which is one of my favourite albums ever; it’s perfect), when I decided to try something experimental and write a story from scratch through the duration of the album. There would be no planning beforehand, and I would start writing when the album began and stop writing when it finished.
49 minutes 41 seconds. It’s not the best of stories, nor does it have an engaging plot, but as one of my friends commented, it’s rather ‘atmospheric’ (though I suspect that’s because An Awesome Wave is an atmospheric record).
For those looking for a writing exercise, this is a good one: pick any album and write!
Mind Over Matter
by Justin Lau
He stared at the blank wall, tinged with a pale shade of yellow, dimly lit by a fluorescent golden glow. The house was still. He swore he could hear the silent din reverberating. Arms crossed, legs crossed, slightly slouched in an unaccommodating chair which creaked at the slightest of movements. He expected it to fall apart at any moment, the hinges used and rotting, like his state of mind. Indeed, he desperately wanted the seat under his being, the last remaining pillar, to collapse. Bruised and blackened, only then could he heal – without a fall, there would be no deliverance.
He was supposed to be thinking, to be meditating over circumstances regrettably out of his control, but what used to give pleasure, now only hindered his freedom. Could he step out again in confidence? Only time would tell, and presently, he took great satisfaction in staying dumb and forever muted.
He cupped his face in his hands, stained and shaking. The tingling sensation in his fingers refused to cease. Fear was not a viable option, neither was shame. There remained two routes; he desperately desired a third.
A knock on the door, or rather, three knocks. He wished he had never heard them. Roaming intently but with no purpose, his mind sought to no avail the rewinding of what was now impossible to untangle.
The cobblestones beneath his feat, uneven, yet offering a sense of belonging in a rugged, mismatched society; grasping her hand as he led her through the familiar chilly streets of deceptive reception. Pointing fingers. There, the bookstore on the right, an Italian restaurant on the storey above. There, the dry cleaners on the left, not to be trusted with fluffy jackets.
More knocks, four. “Open up Nick, it’s Florence.” Louder.
He grinned and whispered in her ear, that he was going to take her somewhere secret, somewhere truly exciting. She grinned back, the rising, the flourishing, the mutual approval. Tightly gripping her hand, he suddenly darted left into a narrow alley, dark and faintly illuminated with hopes. Stairs downwards, many, many steps, a long trek – but what could stop them hand-in-hand?
Knocks turned into pounding, the whole house shaking with the force, committed and delivered with perverted audacity. “Come on Nick, don’t be ridiculous. How long will you keep this up?” The neighbourhood perked its ears up at what could potentially serve as welcomed entertainment.
Descending the stairs faster and faster, a whirl of exhilaration consumed them both. Only in shadow does laughter bring an uncanny sense of composure; there was no stopping them. Laughing like never before, laughing, running almost, but cautious, no tripping, no harm must meet them in these unknown places. This was risky territory. Keep calm, stay silent and sly.
Shouts now. “Damn you Nick, OPEN THE DOOR! You can’t hide forever! You’re only making things worse!”
They reached the bottom, panting, out of breath but still laughing, and she said…
He couldn’t remember. He covered his ears naïvely, but nothing could block out the inevitable. Gritting his teeth, he clutched the chair handles, rocking back and forth.
She was laughing, smiling, her smile lit up his world.
Bang. With perfected resolution, he struck his head against the wall. He smiled and closed his eyes. “NICK, YOU CAN’T ESCAPE FROM ME! I AM YOUR ONLY NIGHTMARE! I WILL HAUNT YOU TILL THE DAY YOU DIE!”
Bang. Bang. With a steady beat, he pounded his forehead against the wall but felt no pain, only stimulation. Maybe if timed correctly, with the right rhythm, he could discover a path to peace of mind where no one else mattered.
Bang. Bang. Bang. “NICK, YOU –“
Bang. Bang. “DON’T –“
The sound of something light, like a feather falling and fluttering. A letter. He picked it up off the floor. From Samantha. He tore it open, not in a rush, yet curious.
Do me a favour and read this to the end. I have no interest in reiterating what has already been stressed over and over, and take no pleasure in responsibilities not my own. But as an interested party, an acquaintance, even to some extent, a friend, I was left with no choice but to take action in some form or manner, though understandably discouraged. Listen to what I have to say. You can rip this up, but only after you finish reading.
I dearly love Florence, I adore her. You know precisely what that means. I never opposed the turn of events. The way things eventually progressed, I wished I had. I was even hopeful and aggressive in my support. How foolish. Where is the blame to be put? I feel worthy enough to share in the burden, currently split and shared, though unequally, between you and Florence. Call me a busybody, I really don’t care. But what has occurred… I cannot simply ignore and brush it off. While I write this, I feel like I’m descending a flight of stairs in the dark, with no bloody idea where it leads. Folly or not, I deem it my duty at least to attempt something, though I have to admit it is partially to erase my own guilt.
But enough of me. Nick, you have to do something. I don’t pretend to understand, nor do I blame you for being passive, but as a concerned party I hope I can help you realise. It’s completely out of my hands, there’s nothing else I can do. I love Florence, and you do too. Can that not serve as enough reason to act? I fear the longer you wait, the further redemption will slip out of your grasp.
Very sincerely, Sam x
He read it to the end, before tearing it to shreds.
The third option was never going to show itself. It didn’t exist. He knew something had to be done, by him alone. He clenched his eyes shut; the shade of yellow had imprinted itself onto his eyes, a sad amber amidst a blackened view. It was time to make a decision. Either way would present him with inescapable consequences.
A rustling on the carpet from the first floor killed the silence. He opened his eyes slowly and stared at the ceiling. Upstairs. He stood up and clenched his fist around the knife he had bought last year at the hardware store. He stroked the cool handle, savoured the grip. A shame it failed to cut decently. But then again, some things just had to be done by hand.
Whirling around, he flung the knife at the other wall with remarkable speed and force. It stuck there, leaving a permanent scar, but one that could possibly be painted over. He picked up the box of chocolates and trudged upstairs.
© Justin Lau, 2014