There is an imp which lives in the corner of my room, just below the ceiling.
By day, or even in the evening, it’s invisible. It is only at midnight, when I leave the bed, that it can be seen, a clot of pure liquid darkness, with rows of thousands of tiny teeth, like stars.
I do not think the imp wants to be seen. I think it is frightened of me.
Silently, then, I leave the room, ignoring it. At this hour of night, the world blazes with light, incandescent blues and greens and violets. The sky overhead is a white sheet sprinkled with black stars.
The stairs are cold and sharp, each step like a knife to my feet. I dislike the stairs; the walls are full of faces, distorted and smeared. They always look as though they want to shout out for help, but can only gibber and mouth silently. I don’t know what they are; the memories of passions, perhaps, trapped in the walls of the stairs. I pass them by, quickly, without looking at them.
The road is a river of shining silver light, in which parked cars are half-submerged dark humps, like rocks. The silver light usually submerges me up to the knees, but in recent days it has been creeping higher. Today it is nearly to my hips. Perhaps one day it will cover me.
Something long and smoke-grey, with dull red glowing eyes, follows me, swimming half-submerged in the silvery light. It follows me every night, as close as it can get, but it cannot harm me, not yet. Not as long as I’m clothed in skin and bone, blood and muscle; it is a predator, yes; I have seen it feed, more than once. But it can feed only on things not of flesh, on the creatures of the night.
Tonight I’m headed down to the river. I can feel it calling, a call just below the threshold of hearing, like a pull at my nerves. A few people, hunched shadows, walk past me up the street, hurrying home from late shifts, wading through the silver light without seeing it. They don’t look at me, and the thing that follows at my heels ignores them completely.
The river is dark and light by turns, speckled and surging with patterns that I can feel all the way from the top of the slope. There is something there, in the water, something that I have not yet seen, but which I know is there. The thing behind me knows it, too, and begins to lag behind. Finally it turns away and disappears. The thing in the river frightens even it.
The bridge across the river is a glowing golden thread, almost too bright to look upon. Grey curdled shadows punctuate both sides, imps or ghosts or something else altogether, I have never been able to tell. They never change position, never react to anything. More than once I have passed my hand through one of them. It was like trying to catch hold of smoke.
She’s almost at the far end of the bridge, standing looking down at the water. I see her from halfway along the span, and I know it’s she who’s been calling me, summoning me. Her hair is loose around her face, and the garment she wears falls down from her shoulders to disappear into the golden glow around her feet.
She doesn’t look around when I come up, but she knows I’m there. I can see her shoulders stiffen, her hands curl into fists. She’s called me, summoned me here, but she’s not happy to see me. She is terrified.
I have no idea who she is. I have never before been at night with someone who would talk to me, who knows what I am. I do not know what to do.
I stand beside her for a while, not speaking. She’s close enough to touch, and I want to touch her, to confirm that she’s real, solid and corporeal, but I know I can’t, I shouldn’t. She’s almost vibrating with the tension of knowing I’m there, and that she can’t do anything about it.
There’s nobody else on the bridge, no vehicles or people, or a patrolling policeman. If there were, we would probably have looked like lovers watching the stars on the water. But lovers do not stand like this, one not knowing why he has been called, the other terrified of what she has summoned.
Finally, she breaks the silence. “Why are you here?” Her voice is something that I hear with my ears, but at the same time feel inside my head.
“You called me here,” I reply, feeling stupid. “You don’t know why?”
“I didn’t call you, but I knew you were coming. Maybe we’ll find out why.” She still won’t look at me, and her face, shrouded by her hair, is still invisible. “I have been waiting.”
“No, not for you.” She holds out her hands, and I see the blood crawling down her wrists, drops as black as the stars prickling the glowing sky. The blood drips into the golden glow and vanishes. “That is what I am waiting for,” she says. “The blood to stop dripping. But it’s taking a long tome.”
My mouth moves. “How long?”
“Months, maybe,” she says. “I don’t know. I have been bleeding months, and months, and months.”
“What do you think I am here to do?” I look around, feeling helpless, but there’s nobody else, nobody to help. And even if there were, what could they do? Even I can tell that it isn’t blood anyone can see.
She says nothing, just holds her hands out further, past the railings and over the water, and squeezes her fists. The blood stops coming in drops and runs down her arms in two little trickles, tributaries joining the speckled water below.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
At last she replies. “Giving. Feeding. You’ll see.”
Something rises from the water of the river. I have an impression of an immensely long neck, a gaping mouth studded with needle teeth, and two vast eyes as blind and hungry as the gulfs of space. It rears into the air until it towers over the bridge, over us, and before I can even move, it darts forward like a striking snake, taking her blood out of the air before the drops can even strike the water. For a moment it looks up at us, its blind eyes filled with endless hunger. Then it is gone.
I cannot bring myself to speak.
“That was my son,” she says at last. “He drowned last year, down there. He was three years old.”
Then, at last, she turns to me, raising the hair away from her face. We look at each other.
“I know now why you came,” she says. “You came because I wanted you to see. I needed you to see. What you have done.”
“I...I didn’t drown him.”
“But he wouldn’t have been alive but for you. And I wouldn’t be feeding him...and feeding him... and it never stops. Do you understand? It never stops.”
I move, my hand rising slightly. She backs away, a flash of panic in her eyes.
“Don’t touch me,” she says. “Don’t touch me.”
Then she turns and walks away, down from the bridge and away into the glowing city across the river, and I stand there and watch her go.
The stars are black and the sky is white, and the city is full of lights, and the shadows play as the cold eats my bones.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017