And so I needed to get back home to them like my life depended on it and like theirs did too and for that reason alone I was hurtling through the night in my car of dubious pedigree when I saw something strange coming in the clouds and I knew that everyone would be seeing it the same and that they all must be hearing that great booming voice of the mother that fog horn gentle and melodic as a jazz trumpet but I have found none yet who will admit to sharing the experience.
And so as I turned my eyes upward the clouds shone silvery and parted to reveal a figure that must have looked to each beholder as an image of their own mother but with white hair and blazing eyes and her voice running on as though it were a wild river but her tongue sharp as a sword cutting the air and tickling the circumference of my neck and I somehow knew that since my life was in her hands I need not fear though later I would not be so certain and she twirled golden keys around a finger and whisper-roared that they might be used to unlock hell and the underworld and other unpleasant places and not to forget it no not ever to forget it and she promised that this was the best advice I would hear even if I lived to a ripe old age and there was plenty more where that came from if I would only listen.
And so she told me how she sees everything I do and knows that I am trying really hard to be the best I can be in spite of all the evil in the world and she knows that the people I trust are liars and fools but she reminded me that I too contain the thread of evil which runs through most of us like the tarnished chain of a diamond necklace and she did not mince her words when she went on to explain that I had built a castle of distractions full of sound and vision and magnificent occurrences and had set myself up as a whore and sold myself to the highest bidder which was a bit extreme I thought but not necessarily untrue and that furthermore I had lost the ability to know the truth even when it jumped up and poked me in the eye but that if I was brave enough to let her guide me I would overcome this manufactured nonsense and find the truth of how things are which is paradise pure and simple and then she spilled great tears like buckets of water and sobbed pitifully telling me that she had given me space to grow in my own way but even so had given me a star to guide me but I had ignored it and by then she was sounding angry and I was starting to feel the need to stick up for myself and I shouted back at her what star I didn’t see a star ever what star are you talking about and she said this one here don’t you see it and I looked and beheld a bright pinprick of light high up in the sky and I said yes now I see it and she said you idiot it was there all the time and she didn’t sound angry any more just sad.
And so now she spoke to me in a stern and patronising manner as she explained that everything we’ve accumulated is nothing but a collection of brittle crumbling relics left over from an outmoded way of being and that we have messed things up so badly that we may need to be destroyed for our own good and she continued in that vein using some difficult words many of which I didn’t understand but the crux of it was that we should watch our backs because annihilation may come at any moment like a thief in the night.
And so the mother kept on talking to me as I drove my car and she said keep your eyes on the road but also watch the things I will show you through the glass and pay good attention because these will be the things that are to come and when I looked in the rear-view mirror the mother was sitting in the back seat looking as she had when I was about ten years old and I knew then that she was really with me but when I looked again I saw only a weathered skeleton and the skull rocking and a sort of chortling noise coming from the slack-jawed mouth and that surprised me so much that I nearly screamed even though there was nobody there to hear me except the old dead mother skeleton and it was so unnerving that I had to keep looking in the mirror to see if the situation had changed and that was how I discovered that I could keep looking backwards or even turn my head to the side without losing sight of the road in front of me so I kept looking in the mirror and watched the mother cycle from skeleton to baby to child to teenager to middle age to old age to dead and decomposing and back to skeleton and when I stared beyond the mother and out of the rear window a rainbow arced against the emerald sky and it felt as if I were flying across a strange new universe.
And so taking the front view again I noticed that alongside on the grass verges were figures in white seated on great wooden high-backed chairs and as I searched for the face of each figure that I passed it zoomed up into my vision so that I could take in its facial features and I recognised them as the elders who had overseen my life to date such as doctors teachers policemen and of course family members and each of them wore on their head a golden crown although I could not for the life of me remember any of them distinguishing themselves in a way which would warrant their inclusion in any kind of monarchy and all of them talking at me proffering advice from their seats of wisdom which were hung with lamps of fire that lit up the distance before me and their voices rumbled on like rolling thunder and I tried not to listen as I had done a million times before.
And so before me now the miles panned out pacific as an ocean of glass and my headlights pulled reflections from the eyes of animals stationed at the roadside behind the verges and the seated elders and those reflections winked at me from amongst the dark trees whose trunks were silver-skinned as they too bathed in the light from the fire lamps and then out came the demented beasts right in front of me as though comfortably ensconced in the familiarity of their own native habitats such as pouncing lions charging bulls swooping eagles and many more bedsides all appearing briefly in the beam of the headlights and then vanishing as I ploughed into them and when I checked in the rear-view there was no sign of them and so I thought they must either have dematerialised on impact or be collecting into a huge menagerie beneath the chassis of the car and I fancied that over the noise of the wheels and the engine I heard a chorus of bestial voices chanting in unison behold the truth if you shall only look and I thought to myself I can’t fail to look what with these astonishing happenings and the on-going floodlit illumination of them and they chanted listen to the mother listen to the mother and if I’d been at liberty to take my hands off the wheel I swear I would have put my fingers in my ears so confused and afraid was I getting but I did not of course and so the voices told me over and over to listen to the mother and that every inhabitant of this world had been created and that I had even created them myself for my own pleasure and could just as easily destroy them if it was my wish and if I willed it to happen if I really really really wanted it to be that way.
And so as I continued to watch through the windscreen I saw a dead sheep laid down flat as if road-killed and as the car sped towards it I was sure that it would smash into it or run over it but at the last moment the sheep stood up and then reared onto its hind legs and its face was covered with blood as if doused with red paint or ketchup by a careless hand and in its two front hooves it held out a book with the pages facing away from it so that I could see them and then in a seemingly choreographed routine all the elders that I had passed earlier re-appeared and crowded together behind the sheep and began singing loudly the praises of both the sheep and the book singing together raucously as though they were spectators at a sports match and in that vein after a number of rousing anthems they produced a perfectly synchronised Mexican wave and then prostrated themselves before the sheep in veneration.
And so now the terrible beasts that I had earlier observed appeared before me again and commanded me in thunderous voices to read the pages of the book proffered by the sheep but as I looked at it I was unable to decipher the text which appeared at first as blurred hieroglyphs of some kind but as I watched in amazement and horror they transformed into a succession of fabulous horses and riders which emerged from the pages of the book and were soon galloping alongside me so that I viewed them from the side windows and they could clearly see me and I have to say that they appeared to be totally fixated on me.
And so then out of the book came an archer astride a white stallion and following him a wild woman brandishing a two-edged golden sword and saddled on a scarlet horse and next came a black horse carrying a bespectacled spinster holding in her hands a pair of silver weighing scales and her face wore such an expression of concern that I thought she must be tasked by the mother with recording the weights and measures of human emotion and after those three came what could only be a harbinger of death and disaster what with her red peeling scab encrusted skin and putrid smoking yellow hair and a dress of flaming fire and riding on a pale horse which foamed at the mouth and trailed vile plumes of fiery slobber like putrid ribbons of flame behind it and both horse and rider screaming the time is nigh the time is nigh the time is nigh.
And so I drove on through the hellish night with those crazy horses and their riders keeping pace alongside me and the book and the sheep disappeared just as a cracking ripping sound exploded outside the speeding car and shook it as though it were a leaf in a hurricane and even in the instantaneous dark I saw great fissures spreading across the grass verges and the road itself and up in the ominous sky the moon turned slowly red like an eye filling with blood.
And so before me opened up a monstrous gash in the tarmacked surface and much as I could not bear to stop for fear of what I would discover knowing that up to now I had been somehow protected by my speed still I had to brake hard or surely plummet to my death down inside the nascent chasm so I pressed down on the footbrake with every ounce of my waning strength and the result was a wildly skidding spin so bad I closed my eyes and careening traction-less took my hands from the steering wheel and cradled my head in them as the whole world span around me until the car came to an abrupt halt and the engine stalled.
And so I opened my eyes and there was nothing before me but the great chasm upon whose lip I rested and everything was silent and dark and what I could see of the land outside bathed in the red moonlight seemed flat and without feature as though the whole of our world had been razed by the hand of the mother or some other mythical omnipotent being come visiting wrathful and didactic to show us her chops and at this point in the proceedings I began to become convinced that these were my last few seconds on earth or maybe even the last few seconds of the unfortunate planet itself.
And so what I saw next filled me with hope in that it appeared to indicate a positive future for the world including me rather than the untimely demise of everything and now raised up on clouds which rose like purple mountains in the muted dark sky were four of my favourite TV celebrities each of them looking as beautiful and innocent as ever and holding back a tremendous hurricane broiling in the sky behind them and then that sky turned from its dusky hue into a beautiful primrose yellow light which fell softly over the plains and the good people of the earth wandered onto this butter-lit land and I heard again the voice of the mother saying yes these are my people loving me as I love them and I will not let them be destroyed before their time and no more shall they be hungry and no more shall they have thirst raging and no more shall they be lost and without a home.
And so the celebrations began with a huge group of contemporary music superstars playing on a stage that rose up automatically from the ground in the middle of the legions of good people and there was jazz and house and pop and rock and grunge and blues and classical and dubstep and every other style you could think of played to perfection and sung by the most famous singers and played by the most celebrated guitarists and drummers and keyboard players and there were trumpets many many trumpets for some undisclosed reason and the whole spectacle was accompanied by a huge neon light show and firework displays so loud that the very earth began to shake and despite the comforting words of the mother it felt as though the world would soon break apart and kill us all but that did not happen.
And so the revelry continued as did the tremendous shaking of the earth and soon the sky began to shake also until the pale sun fell straight down from it trailing a tail of angry fire and landed on top of the celebrating crowds in a gargantuan explosion that filled the air with pink smoke and the smell of pork chops.
And so everyone that the mother had told me was good got burned up by the fallen sun and as the smoke dispersed the world to me looked empty and not a sound could be heard unless it be the beating of my petrified heart and the electrical signals of my terrified body sending messages to my brain saying run run run.
And so against the better judgement of my mind and body I did not run but stayed and stared at the smouldering remnants of humanity and the ground in my sightline opened up into a massive hole which sucked in the contents of the plain including dead people and lingering smoke until there was nothing visible but the bottomlessness of the hole and I wondered to what or where the hole led at the same time pondering whether by definition it was possible for a bottomless hole to lead anywhere at all.
And so eventually as if digesting what had fallen into it the hole began to issue forth thick black smoke of its own which continued ceaselessly until the hole and the world above it was filled with the smoke which now seemed to be pulsing with an uncanny intensity and as it spread across the sky it resolved into a monstrous swarm of mechanical insects and when a few of them landed on me I saw through their transparent abdomens their inner workings which were of clockwork with some invisible force powering the mechanisms of their whirring wings and chomping mouths and their twitching disproportionately large tails which carried a visible sting wet with some liquid coating that I could only guess at the effects of.
And so when the clockwork insect smoke had cleared the hole closed over like a huge self-healing wound and the land before me once again was lush and green with grass and trees and rivers and mountains and above it all the sky with a new sun blazing was swarming with the insects which set off now in the same direction and somehow I knew they went in search of other men and women and children to torment with their whirring and biting and the venom of their cruel tails and I wondered who would be left alive on this earth and whether the mother was feeling this was a job well done and wholly justifiable.
And so then the mother came to me speaking inside my head in such a way that I could not but believe the things she said terrible though they were and she told me much that literally made me feel sick to the bottom of my stomach and as I sat there retching she explained the necessity of these things and how they would be of benefit in the long run and why it was forbidden for me to ever speak the details of them to another person or to write them down and for that reason I am unable to include them in this account of my journey that long and unforgettable night.
And so I started up my poor little flabbergasted car and the road ahead was long and true and black with no sign of the chasm that had previously brought us to such an alarming halt and so I went out along it not knowing where I would end up although it remained my intention to make it to my family who would be waiting for me still although in truth I knew not whether I was dead or alive or something else and the car drove along perfectly and the day was bright and brand new feeling and along the verges as though projected onto side panel screens I saw a thousand iterations of an image of a pregnant woman running wildly from a fire-breathing dragon and I thought well here we go again and it was so realistic that I could almost smell the dragon’s scaly skin and flaming breath as it continually gained on the woman with the obvious intention of devouring her before she gave birth to whatever it was she was carrying and her lumbering ground-losing gait coupled with an incessant heart-rending scream made me want to call her to jump into the car so that I could protect her and possibly help her escape and so I called to her and every single one of the thousands of images of her looked at me as if I were more horrifying than the dragon and then a forest sprouted and grew up to full height on either side and the pregnant woman a thousand times over turned amongst the trees and fled still screaming but instead of pursuing the women as you might expect the dragons stopped and turned their angry eyes to me and it was with infinite trepidation that I guessed their plans to revenge the women’s escapes by the simultaneous acts of synchronised fire-breathing until I was crisped beyond all life and recognition.
And so the mother spoke to me kindly telling me to inhale deeply and not let my fear overcome me and as I breathed my fear abated and the dragons paled into wispy outlines and then into nothing so that I was left driving calmly along the beautiful wooded road.
And so after countless oblivious miles the woods on my left opened up so that I saw the ocean and I watched the surf breaking like curdled cream on the green water and it was so relaxing to me that I pulled over and just sat and watched feeling my tiredness move up from my body into my head and my eyelids began to close unable to bear the weight that accumulated from the condensation of fatigue in my head but before they closed fully I witnessed rising from the water a monster that surely must have escaped from someone else’s nightmare as ugly and ferocious as it was and never having shared even my most hideous and desperate dreams and somewhere inside my head a cool calm voice that might have been my own observed that this journey was turning into something of a saga.
And so the monster rose up like some cataclysmic amalgamation of wild animals real and mythical with every serrated and razored and fire-bearing and pus-oozing body part imaginable and now my eyes were not having trouble staying open at all as I stared in disbelief and panic at the conglomerate monster which kept rising and rising until although it remained at the edge of the breaking waves down on the beach was at the same time towering over me and holding above its head a rust-bitten ten foot sword dripping black blood and looking for more of it.
And so even as I felt my tear ducts and bladder and bowels on the verge of simultaneously voiding themselves of their contents a terrifying eagle-screech lion-roar of a voice clearly articulated the totality of curse words known to me and thousands more unknown to me in such quick succession and at such volume that they hammered into my brain like head-shots and when the steam of blasphemous bile was finished the monster bellowed out most angrily the fearsome number that through history we have taken to be mysterious or malicious or both that number being six hundred and sixty six and as it issued from the mangled mouth-beak of the beast it solidified and hung in the air as a putrescence and I felt it come down upon me with the full force of an ultimate profanity and as I looked up at the monster it struck at me from above its head two-handed with that horrible and huge bleeding sword and I knew that my end had come and if truth be told at that particular moment I did not mind too much.
And so the monster’s sword smote down to cut me clean in two and as I hinted at earlier that would have been almost welcome but it stopped miraculously an inch above my head and I lived and that multitude of souls my brothers my sisters lived also without the shadow of death upon us.
And so then from the sea came the sound of a joyful hymn sung by the people of this earth and the monster grew faint and fainter still as though being diluted in substance by the singing until it had disappeared completely and all that remained was the chorus of the world which was as best I can describe it a beautiful angelic song laid over with dreamy ethereal harmonics of high mood and with chunky undertones of hip hop beats and delirious non-violent rapping.
And so as I was enjoying immensely the wonderful music and feeling pure and immortal the mood changed as violently as could be imagined to an absolute chaos of disgusting screechy wailing voices and the sea itself turned into ice whilst the air was literally boiling and the skies opened up with a voluminous old testament wrath and threw upon the earth and sea an abominable cocktail of plague fire darkness hurricane earthquake thunder lightning and hail the size of a man’s clenched fist and although I could not see them I had no doubt that the rivers would be running with blood also and I knew too that the beast I had watched rising from and returning to the sea would explode out of these rivers somewhere and I saw it in my mind’s eye so clearly that it was right there in front of me.
And so the beast newly arisen was ridden by a deranged woman with two heads each of them more beautiful than the other and fatal of course to anyone who might look into either pair of those enchanting eyes given that they were likely to be the gateway to her soul which was undoubtedly putrid with the foul artefacts of lust and bigotry and megalomania and false histories and various other examples of the general wrong-headedness that is such a common affliction in these modern times.
And so having witnessed enough of this and being in great fear of no longer being able to discriminate between reality and fantasy I started up my car and fled the scene like a guilty carjacker the road enclosing me in a wooded grip that dragged me helpless along that highway avenue straight and empty and seemingly never-ending.
And so I came eventually to my street the looping little cul-de-sac that held my house and home and those inside who loved me more than anyone could understand or wish for.
And so I saw them backlit by the warm domestic glow as they stood there in the window looking out for my arrival worried but not having lost hope yet and the vice of nostalgia gripped me and squeezed and love pulled at me stronger than gravity stronger than despair stronger than almost everything but something inside me that was still the voice of the mother said too soon too soon and made me turn around and drive away into the night tears rolling down my face and lucky not to crash as a consequence of the overwhelming sorrow and the waterworks.
And so the mother told me there was much much more to do and I really had no choice but to drive on further and further away from everything I loved and follow that bright pinprick of light high up in the sky and go thereafter through the world alone.
Simon Read lives in the UK. His work includes short fiction, poetry, lyrics, songs, and word-based artworks. Simon’s work has been published, or is forthcoming, in a variety of magazines including Arlington Literary Journal, Riggwelter, Moon Magazine, and Spontaneity. You can find out more at https://ashadowfalling.wordpress.com/. Simon recommends Caring in Bristol.