I firmly believe that there are certain projects, most especially in writing, that should be left to fester when overworked. Which is why there has been a definite lack of blogs on elspod as of late.
Blogging is something I greatly enjoy, but unfortunately I am a sufferer of Binge-Writing. I can write at lengths for days, get inspiration from walking down the street, and pump out blog after blog on varying topics in different forms, and I love every minute of it. I write until I have emptied myself of every thought and idea…and then I just stop.
I stop because something I love begins to feel like a chore and that terrifies me. So I follow my instinct: I simply stop writing. I stop writing to please other people and wait until writing begins to feel like something I’m doing for myself again. Right now, I feel like I am writing for me. I am writing to help offload a little bit of life into my blog and free up my mind to make space for the everyday. I merely ask that you bear with me. For what I have to offer today is not of the conventional everyday, but is instead a short story.
Follow me Into the Zoetrope…
* * *
The cold metal of the handle stung her palm as she slammed the door shut. His voice was still ringing in her ears, roaring with the gut force of a lion. She felt trapped, forced to cower in the corner of her own mind. Not that Peter understood; he was the worst of all. It was as if he could not be happy unless he was filling up space like an ever expanding balloon that she could not – would not – burst, because she thought she loved him more than she had ever loved herself. He would approach her as she gazed in the bathroom mirror and wrap his strong arms around her waist before whispering that the day she fell for him was the happiest of his life. But expectations followed this declaration, a struggle in the dark that choked her with a suffocating heat and burned the moonlight onto her retinas as she performed Act One, Scene One of a play that he called ‘Love.’
Only here in the attic could she find peace from this relentless onslaught. It was a room of history and antiques, books and boxed up toys, each one labelled and neatly stacked. A tasselled lamp slumped in a corner; she switched it on and a soft pool of amber light illuminated a sturdy table with a proud zoetrope atop it. Ever since she could remember, this proud spinning wheel of pictures had brought a smile to her face, playing out the sequence of a man dancing, holding a single rose. She knelt down so she was level with the slits in the black card. Already, she could spy the multiple motionless silhouettes of her dancer, a shadow rose clutched in his shadow hand, itching to begin…she reached out and span it.
Oh, how he danced! Such grace and ease with which he moved about his strip of paper, tripping out a story that she wished she could be a part of. It would be so much simpler in there with him, dancing the days away. She leaned closer, the breeze from the motion of the picture wheel brushing against her eager nose. In fact, the closer she got, the more she could see: soft hollow cheeks, a smudge of a moustache, shirt tails flapping around a waist, petals furling and unfurling gently, with each rotation. No, that wasn’t possible. He was just a silhouette, an inky shape on paper.
A warning growled in her head, telling her to stop and walk away. Irritated, she stifled Peter’s voice. He didn’t have a say up here. Up here, she made the rules.
She leant even closer this time. She could see the shine of the shadow man’s shoes, the wave of his hair, a crease in his trousers. The zoetrope spun faster. There a button, a fingernail, a belt buckle.
She was entranced by wilting notes of music, hypnotised by a rhythm that seemed to be coming from the shadow man himself. As she bowed in ever closer, the slits in the zoetrope got bigger and bigger until they enveloped her completely. The spinning wheel engulfed her, consumed her head, shoulders, arms, legs, until it catapulted her right into its heart.
Panicking, she looked down. She was no longer knelt on thick carpet, no longer peering into a zoetrope. Her hands had turned the same inky black colour as her shadow man, every freckle and fingerprint a dark crevice. Running those alien hands through her hair, she saw that her long locks were thin ribbons, as if drawn by the nib of a pen. Her clothes, legs, feet, were one big blot on a stark blank background. All around her were walls of white paper, spinning frantically, whirring out the eternal dance that she had watched so many times before. But the routine was changing. Her shadow man wasn’t dancing any more. Instead, he was waving his signature rose high above him, as if in greeting.
A scream ripped from her mouth and tore through the wheel. She backed up and bumped into a paper wall that scraped against her in its rotation. A hand touched her shoulder, reached for her fingers, stroked her hair, as shadow man after shadow man span past her.
She was caught in a spinning nightmare, with no stillness or tranquillity, just an endless twirling mass of chaos, and she needed to get out. She couldn’t breathe.
As if the shadow man had read her thoughts, the hands touching her began to lift her thin papery body up the wall of the zoetrope until she was high enough to latch on to one of the slits in the cardboard. It was not hard to haul herself up and swing her body up on to the lip of the picture wheel. Slowly, her breathing steadied.
There was the same attic, the room she had sought refuge in her whole life since Peter had entered it…but it looked different now. It seemed ludicrous she had felt alone only moments ago for she saw him in every dust particle; immortalised in every toy. Out there she was never alone for he was always with her, telling her what to do, what to say, how to think and feel. What had once seemed a safe haven now seemed ominous, the lair of her personal monster. If she left, he would be there, just outside that door.
‘Not if you stay here,’ said a voice from below.
She looked down. The wheel had stopped turning and the shadow man was looking up at her excitedly.
‘What’s your name?’
‘You’re not Peter.’
‘Am I not?’ The shadow man frowned as if confused. ‘I could be Peter if you want me to be,’ he said.
She stared at him, at the many versions of him, each one frozen in a fraction of movement, all looking to her with smiles on their faces. She could stay here, with her shadow men, each one holding her in an eternal dance, each one smiling at her forever. Not one of them would tell her what to do.
She looked back at the stale attic room.
‘Do it! Just let go and fall for me. It would be the happiest day of my life,’ chanted her shadow man.
She got to her feet, wavering on the brink of two worlds: one of Peter, one of shadows.
‘But how can I fall if I know you’re going to catch me?’