One evening, I was reading absentmindedly under the lamp in my study, when a cluster of words scrambled up from the page, scurried up my arm and burrowed under my skin. I scratched frantically at my arm where they’d stolen under but they’d left no trace. Alarmed, I slapped my arm and poked at it with a pen, and pulled at it with a pair of tweezers. All my efforts were to no avail – they were well embedded under my dermis. I got up from the chair and paced the room. I couldn’t show my wife – she’d think I was crazy. I felt them under there, scratching around: ‘ovum’, ‘bleed’, ‘ur-’ and ‘forgetting’… those were the little renegades that had absconded from the page and invaded my body. Empty spaces graced the place on the page where they’d once been ensconced.
They scuttled about, up and down my forearm, soon venturing further up towards my shoulder. I took a shower; I don’t know if I thought I could scrub them out of my body, but the hot water just made them frantic. So I turned it freezing cold and they settled. I got out of the shower and dressed for bed, and almost forgot about the invasive, foreign objects in my body.
That first night, I had uneasy dreams. I woke up in a cold sweat and to the cries of my wife. She was lying next to me with a bloody nose – I had elbowed her in the face. I helped her clean up and we went back to bed, and soon she was asleep but I lay awake, a fever coming on me and the sweats kicking in. The hotter I got, the more frantic the intruders, so I went downstairs and climbed into the freezer. I fell asleep on the ice, my terror soothed.
I took to going to work with bags of ice secreted about my person. I would refresh them every hour. I was constantly in cold sweats, shivering, as if some destructive bacteria had swamped my system. If ever I failed to keep my body temperature low, I felt my attackers grow bold, pushing out into the expanse of my chest cavity, nearing my heart. I knew that would be the death of me. I was vigilant.
One day, I came home and my house had burned down, my wife inside with it. The police said a fire had started in my library. I had no choice, I left. I went north, as far north as I could walk. When I could walk no more, I got in a boat and sailed until I had reached a land of ice and snow. I disembarked there, on that white island, an island so cold it kept my viral lexia in check, kept them from roaming about my body.
I grew lonely there. I saw no one, only arctic foxes and the occasional seal. My skin turned so blue that I could see the little black words travel my veins… up, and down again, occasionally prodding my dermis as if to test for an exit point. The cold was killing them. They gathered together for warmth and I watched the snake-like train of letters travel my veins, back and forth relentlessly. Then they started to merge, until there was only one fat, black dot pumping with my blood through the blue capillaries of my arm. It started pulsing, thrashing, forcing my skin. It tried to leap out, causing bruised protuberances up and down my forearm. I took my knife and cut a hole where they’d drilled into me, and the blue blood from my veins oozed out, thick as sludge and hot, and from the midst of it, a fat stone, purple like an amethyst, popped out. I saw it glisten once in the moonlight before it fell into the snow. I scrambled around for it, the snow bloodied, but to no avail. It was lost for eternity. I swear I heard a voice as I bled out there on the white island, whispering words like, ‘All things are remembered’.
It was lost on the wind, and soon I heard no more.
‘Celestial Night Music’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.