Not only is John Dyer Baizley lead singer and guitarist of the very fine Baroness, he can also create art like this. Talented boy. Lots more beautiful work at his site www.aperfectmonster.com
I have no idea what Spike Lee’s remake of OLDBOY will be like, and I don’t even really know what I’m expecting from it, but I do know I have loved the promotional material so far. This set of stills, advertising Hotel Oldboy, are particularly cool. It’s not a place I’d want to stay, but it is a place I’d like to check a few people into. I can’t possibly see how this can compare with the spectacular, twisted brilliance of the Korean original - which upon first viewing was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema, and to this day would make my all-time great list - but I’m sold on seeing it.
ONLY TIME CAN TELL
A short work of fiction, inspired by a good friend…
I work from home, frequently and late into the night. My job involves numbers, charts and other processes my school days or teenage dreams never prepared me for. The house used to belong to my Grandmother, now some years past, and it’s three-story-and-a-basement charm have lost the shine, needs a lot of money spending. Dripping pipes, creaking floors, gaps in the frames that let in the chilling winter weather. I work in the attic room, next to the large half-moon window, where it’s so cold I am forced to wear fingerless gloves and a heavy coat, my breath forming patterns in the air above the patterns printed on my papers. I’ve learnt not to look up too often. That’s when I see the ghosts, and the man next to the woods who looks just like me.
There’s a thick copse next to the house, but this is not a beautiful, bluebell covered oasis that grows lush vegetation and tall oaks and invites one to walk among it. No, this is a scrubby, dense streak of thick and ugly trees that spreads south to a muddy river a half-mile away. It’s filled with dead branches, heavy brambles and weeds. When I was a child a body was found in its depths; a young girl about my age who had been the victim of terrible crimes no one would explain to me. I never had to be told not to venture among those trees; I just knew. Knew it was a bad place that kids shouldn’t go to. And in my time here I’ve never seen anyone amongst those trees, not even a stray dog. So when I saw the man, of average build and with black hair, standing at its edge, just where the brambles merge into my own garden, I was surprised. But not as surprised as when he stared up at me. I looked down and he looked up, and we were frozen, and in that brief moment I knew that I was looking at myself.
I ran, out of the attic room, across the narrow hallway, and took the steep stairs two at a time, my heart thumping. I leaped down the second staircase and into the kitchen, slamming my shin against the table but feeling nothing as I exited the back door of the house into the cool December air, heavy with mist. My feet crunched against gravel as I went around the house, past dead rosebushes and patches of yellowed turf, my breath in rasps as I went to the spot where I had seen my own self. Nothing. The trees loomed above me, casting their black shadows; diseased limbs moaning as a sharp wind moved them and a chill shook my body. There was no one else. But on the grass, pressed into the dew that still lay, were two footprints. I looked across the lawn and saw they made a trail to the far corner of the house. I rubbed my hand across the stubble of my chin and frowned, and then looked up at the attic window. And there I was. Looking straight back. The other me watched for a couple of seconds, clearly visible through the dirty glass, and then disappeared.
My throat closed, blood pounding in my ears. This wasn’t happening, wasn’t possible. As before I ran, this time following the wet footprints to the east side of the house, and in through the front door and up the stairs, my hand grasping the umbrella from the tub in the hallway, a weapon to strike whoever it was that had infiltrated my home. The family home for five generations. It wasn’t me, wasn’t my double – that had been a trick of the light or a chemical imbalance in my overworked brain – but someone was here. As I approached the attic stair I slowed, felt real fear for the first time, but adrenaline and rabid curiosity drove me on. The attic was as I’d left it. Dusty, filled with boxes and junk at one end, and my desk and papers at the other. Dull light coming through the half-moon window. No one was there. I threw the umbrella aside and crossed to the desk, my boots loud against the boards. My work was as I’d left it. Undisturbed. I looked out of the window, down to my bare, barren garden.
I looked back up at myself. As I had done no more than sixty seconds ago.
I slammed my palms over my face, pushing against my eyes, little starbursts flaring in the darkness. It couldn’t be possible. Wasn’t possible. A person couldn’t be in two places at once; it defied every possible law of physics. I opened my eyes and let light back in, and now when I looked I was no longer in the garden. There was just dirt, weeds, old lawn, and the rain that had started to fall. But I knew I wouldn’t be there, because surely I was on my way back up the stairs? Rising up through the old house to meet myself in an impossible paradox. I laughed, the sudden sound making me jump in the icy stillness, and slumped down in the chair behind the desk. I felt very tired; the last few days had been busy and were catching up with me. Hallucinations of a fatigued mind, that’s all I had experienced. I made myself laugh again, but it was a frail attempt and I sounded like a mad man. I most definitely wasn’t, despite the hours and days and months I had spent here alone. Still, despite my personal reassurance that I wasn’t insane, I still sat for a very long time watching the doorway.
We saw each other again, me and me, several times over the forthcoming weeks. At first I chased down through the house as I had on the first occasion, but soon I realised it was a futile exercise. Once I decided to look at myself for as long as possible, but after a face-off that lasted a good five minutes the pain in my temples was so intense that I thought I would pass out, and the screaming in my ears threatened to burst my eardrums. I collapsed across the desk in tears, and it was several days until I dared to even look at the window again, yet alone look out of it. I worked, made the calls I needed to make, occasionally listened to current affairs on the radio, and slept. I slept a lot, going to bed earlier at night and rising later in the morning. Everything I did seemed an effort.
It was in the sanctity of my bedroom, warm and cocooned from the cold chills and dark shadows of the house, that the first ghost came. I always slept with my door open, had ever since I was a child, and one night I awoke and something was there. I couldn’t really see anything, but I knew something was just beyond the room, in the grey gloom of the corridor. Lying on my side, face pressed against the soft pillow, I could sense in my peripheral vision chalk-white fingers creeping around the door frame, clenching so tightly that the wood started to crack and splinter, and in a very soft, almost inaudible whisper I heard my name being called in a voice so deep I thought it had come from the depths of the ocean. Or maybe, perhaps from the depths of the woods. In my mind I said the only prayer that I knew, the only prayer that most of us know, over and over again. If it helped I cannot say, but that terrible presence finally left me. The Lord is my shepherd.
I was visited again, and each time I only saw a glimpse of what it could be. A shadow disappearing into another room, a reflection in the depths of a mirror or a window. We still looked at one and other through the window, but these sightings became less frequent, and as winter hit icy depths they stopped altogether. Perhaps it was just too cold for me to be out there. Perhaps I’d return come the spring. The ghosts remained however, now an almost daily occurrence in the house. When it happened I kept on with the prayer, and went about whatever it was I was doing at the time. I absolutely did not look up, not ever.
One evening, unable to sleep and plagued with yet another crippling headache, I went to the attic and started looking through the old boxes of magazines and newspapers, many of which had belonged to my Grandparents and that I’d never had the heart to throw away. The pages were yellowed, some even crumbling with age. I passed a couple of hours reading old articles, submerged in the past, and they were peaceful. It seemed as if the spirits I was sharing my life with were letting me have some time to myself. It never occurred to me that it could have been by design. I found a pile of old local papers and I was about to toss them aside, more interested in National dealings of the period, until a story on the front page of one stopped me. I held the paper in my cold hands and read about a child who had gone missing for several days, who had been the subject of a County-wide search, and who had eventually been found, strangled to death with her own shirt, her tiny body naked except for shoes. There were several pictures across several pages; one was a school photograph of the girl, another showed a line of police walking across a field, and another showed several people gathered around a clearing in a wood, and it was of course the wood next to my house. There was a final picture that showed an ambulance, police, and what appeared to be distressed parents. The background of this sad image was my house, and there at the back and to the left, were my Grandparents. They were standing together, watching, observing. Between them was a young boy in shorts and a t-shirt, black hair swept across his forehead, a passive expression on his face.
As I held the paper I knew that the photograph wasn’t possible; the angles were all wrong, the image too neat, and then my fingers gripped and twisted the pages as I saw the final detail. The house, solid brick and neater than it was now, with hanging baskets of lush flowers, painted window frames, and cleaned glass. An attic window, almost out of shot, and a man’s face looking down at the scene below. I clenched my teeth together, locked my jaw, afraid that the scream I would let out would never end. It was not possible. The date on the page was over thirty-five years ago. I threw it across the room, where it flopped onto floorboards and kicked up a swirl of dust. I stood and crossed to the window, looked down at the police, the volunteers, the stretcher carrying the small body away. I shouted and banged on the glass, crying out for my dead Grandparents, but no one heard my call of distress. Except for a little boy who turned his head and smiled up at me with black, soulless eyes, the most frightening thing that I have ever seen. What grip I had on my mind up unto that point finally detached itself and floated away.
How long have I been here and what is it that I have done?
Only time can tell.
© Rich Wilson – 15th September 2013
This photograph, part of Shadi Ghadirian’s “Qajar” series, shows a young woman posing with an object banned under the Iranian Revolution. It’s one work out of many which will be shown at an exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that features the work of 12 women photographers from the Middle East. There’s a lot to learn here.
Image: © Shadi Ghadirian