A collection of fictional extracts and short stories, written by A. Grace Johnson.
All rights reserved by the author.
The Eyes Are Like Windows
“Tell me, Josephine,” asks Linda, “what makes you think that people are laughing at you when you walk by a school bus?”
“I didn’t say I thought people were laughing at me. I said that its likewhen you were a kid and you walk by a school bus, and the kids are all laughing, and it makes you feel like all the kids are laughing at you.” Josephine replies, laughter gurgling up from the inside, racing with the words to get out.
Linda seems to stare past Josephine. Then Linda says sharply, “If you’re not going to take this seriously…”
“I am! Honestly, I am. Comedy is just the defence mechanism I use whenever everything gets a bit too serious, and you’re always trying to make me cry.”
“Josephine, haven’t we spoken about this? No one else can make you feel anything. You choose how you will respond to situations and you alone are responsible for the way that you feel. Kids on school buses cannot make you feel like they are laughing at you just like I cannot make you cry. You are the captain of your own ship.”
Josephine just can’t help but to roll her eyes. This makes Linda snap. “Okay, that’s it. You’ve had too many warnings now. Every time we begin to make any progress, you back pedal into familiar territory. If you are not willing to leave your comfort zone then I will not be able to help you further.”
“I feel like someone is watching me”, Josephine blurts out.
A full minute or two of silence passes between the two women as each returns the other’s stare. You can hear the clock ticking audibly. The sound of a couple of students talking in the hall outside comes closer and then passes.
After what seems like an eternity, Linda finally says, “I want you to write an honest account of how you came to be here, from your earliest memory through to the details of your recent struggles. I think it might help you to come to terms what has happened to you, so you can move on with your life.”
Josephine walks out into the crisp early winter, wind whipping into her face. It’s beginning to get dark earlier and earlier these days. ‘Dead leaves swirling around my feet, like memories from the past. Each leaf reminds me of a dream I had but didn’t last. A line from some old Patsy Cline song falls out of Josephine’s mouth, swirls around and settles on the ground amongst the leaves. The leaves blow up in a sudden storm, wrap around her like a cocoon that might keep her safe and warm for the winter.
“We continue to follow Josephine as she makes her way into the changing room at the yoga class she regularly attends. This is where we temporarily lose sight of her for the duration of the class, the next two hours or so.”
“I suppose I should introduce myself to you, now that I have a spare moment. My name is Salman Black. It’s my job to watch Josephine, just like I have been doing for over 12 years now. I work for a private government security agency, but I really can’t tell you more about that for now. That’s top-secret information and you would have to be security checked in order to be copied in on that. Oh, now: I can see that you’re a little upset by this. I can’t say I blame you. Let me see if I can get some sort of clearance for you, at least so I can tell you a little more about what is going on here. In the meantime, Josephine herself will be enough to keep you entertained. Just go ahead and have a seat right there, make yourself comfortable. Come on, quickly, she is almost back; you won’t want to miss a thing.”
Josephine emerges from the basement with wet hair. “I really do not like her walking around this time of year with wet hair. But I am prohibited from interfering.”
Josephine sits at her desk, to write what Linda has asked of her. She scribbles furiously in a large pad of paper; from the moment she puts pen to paper the words begin to pour out of her in torrents. Josephine is so engaged in getting the words onto the page; she doesn’t notice the stream of words pouring in to her room- a waterfall as big as Niagara Falls. Over Josephine’s shoulder, through the floods, it is possible to make out some of what she is writing. This is all that can be discerned:
Long before I can recall anything else I can remember this. I believe it to be my very earliest memory. It is as if there was nothing previous to it. Perhaps it just made the strongest impression on me.
Prior to that, there were other formative experiences I have been made aware that happened, in retrospect, by my family. Or passed down through the false memories that photographs bring. My parents have told me stories that date from as soon as I could walk about how when their back was turned for one second I would rip a hole and escape through the screen porch. I would get as far as I could, clad only in a nappy, trucking it down the road.
I also do not remember when I was just months old and my mother, left at home with the baby, a young mother of 21, and probably goaded by the experimental spirit of the 70s’, curiously nibbled on a peyote button. She tells me that as she breast-fed me she looked down with wide peepers straight into the soul and saucer eyes of her new daughter and exclaimed, ‘Oh my god, the baby’s tripping!’
Hours of my life were spent staring at photographs until they became part of my internal landscape. My parents frozen forever young, wild and free, all beards and flowing hair, on cliff-tops and in fields of wildflowers, with just each other and a tow-headed me as the object of their adoring gaze.
All of these things played a part in the mould that shaped me, or perhaps tell what shape I leapt from the womb, fully formed, but none so much as the first thing I can consciously remember. I was between three and four years old. We were living at the time in half of a large stone house on a farm.
My mother goes to put my baby sister down for her nap. While she is doing that I manage to open bags of flour and sugar and pour them everywhere, all over the kitchen and myself. My mother returns, exasperated, and instructs my father to clean up and to keep a watchful eye on the baby. Mother then asks me if I have some energy to burn and would I like to go out for a walk? It is a beautiful spring day with crisp air and still some snow on the hilly fields. My mom points skyward and says, “listen” and you can hear coyotes howling in the distance. I am entranced. I grasp my mother’s hand as we walk down the hill, past the lake, straight towards the barn. I do not know what surprise I am in for. As we enter I am overwhelmed by the sound and the smell, but mostly overjoyed at the sight of a multitude of yellow baby chickies all going about their business. It is an incredible sight. I love chicks and I love life! Spring’s new bud blooms eternal.
My mother watches carefully as I pick one up, resolute in my need to hold it. I can barely contain my excitement. Shaking, I take this new life and press it to my breast. I touch it, caress it, stroke it, squeeze it, I love it. I continue like this until I am disturbed from my love reverie by the sound of my mother’s gasp. I look up with surprise. What does this noise mean? All at once the realisation hits me, the blood also drains completely from me, and the three of us lock stares, one a pair of empty eyes, forever frozen in this deadlock.
My mom shakes her head and whispers sadly to me “Oh no, its gone, you’ve loved the chicken to death”
I burst into tears that will never dry.
Josephine gets up after having been writing for most of the evening. The floods in the room have subsided; the furniture looks all but completely dry. She rubs her eyes and looks to the clock. It seems as if a lot of time has passed and that the hair on her legs and the grass outside has had the chance to grow all around her as she has sat there writing. Josephine laughs out loud and mumbles to herself, “In the grand scheme of things, only the blink of an eye has passed”. She makes her way to her bed and lies down on her stomach.
“? I suppose there’s no harm in telling you a little bit more about myself. Mostly, I spend all my time with Josephine. This little cabin that we are in now is adjacent to her house, from the outside you would never know I was here, as you can see for yourself. Sure am glad to have your company, if only for a while, it does get a little lonely sometimes. Only other person who ever comes here is Mike. Sometimes Mike brings his dog Boney. But Boney doesn’t really like me much and his barking interferes with Mike being able to fix the equipment or whatever technical thing he has come to do. Mike never has much to say to me though. If he weren’t being paid so much, I doubt he would ever come to the cabin at all. Mike told me once, in the early days, that he doesn’t agree with the concept of surveillance, thinks we have too many CCTV cameras monitoring everything these days. It has taken years but we got every camera for miles around linked into our system. I thought it was strange that someone who felt this way would choose to go into a field like this. Besides, if you ain’t doing nothing wrong then you ain’t got nothing to hide. No one is interested in what Mike is doing, anyway. Myself: I love it; feel like I am doing some good in the world. But most of all, it feels reassuring to know that Josephine is safe. I mean, look at her there, sleeping like a baby. Her beauty is the moonlight is really something, ain’t it? Even comes through on these old monitor screens right here. Staring at her, I’m starting to feel a bit sleepy myself. I just usually sleep right here with my head on the desk so I can hear her when she wakes up. Do you feel tired at all? Never mind, don’t answer that, I know that’s not what you’re here for. But in case you do, just you curl up over there, or go ahead and put your head right there on the desk in front of you. Are you sleeping already?”
“That will not be necessary. I just have to ask you a few questions. First of all, I am not obliged to disclose my true identity”, quipped the stranger. “For the purposes of this interrogation, you can just call me Jack. Also, you have none of the rights afforded to citizens of the republic, although you have been granted ex-citizen asylum in the space between. You are currently permitted to live in-between, visit the world without but are forbidden to enter within. This ‘asylum’ has been temporarily granted because of your in-depth, unprecedented knowledge of Josephine, but could be revoked at any time. Do you understand the things I have said to you?”
“Yes, but…” Salman’s tone changes instantly from cavalier to careful.
“You mentioned earlier that you have been ‘conducting surveillance’ on Josephine for 12 years. What initially prompted you to begin watching her?”
“Um, I already told you, it’s my job. I was hired to watch over her. I work for a private security agency”, Salman stutters.
“Yes, so you say. You see, the problem is, we can find no evidence of any external agency involvement. It would seem rather like over the last decade or so, you have just been cobbling this set-up together on your own and stalking this unsuspecting woman.”
“Oh, no. I think she does suspect something. Sometimes I am sure that she speaks directly to me. I am not at liberty to divulge information regarding the agency’s involvement in these activities.”
“Have you ever, either now or before your exile from the world within, attempted to make contact with Josephine?”
“I have been watching over Josephine for 12 years. Do you not consider this to be contact of sorts?”
“If you wouldn’t mind, I am asking the questions here at the moment. To the best of your knowledge, is Josephine aware of the possible effects her constant and direct link to the world without could have?”
“So far she has not seemed to notice the imaginings from her mind’s eye manifesting in the plane of material reality. It is almost as if she don’t realise there is a separation between the world without and the world within. Almost as if she don’t even realise that the realm of pure potentiality does not normally exist in their world. I am of the opinion that Josephine is not aware of the potential side effects of merging these two planes of existence.”
“Have you ever attempted to instruct Josephine in the possible development of her newfound ‘skills’?”
“Quiet!” Salman orders the intruder. “Josephine is waking up. The chances of seeing a merge now are more likely than other times as she has just returned from the world without in her dreams.”
Josephine opens her eyes. She stretches her body side to side. The mood and colour of her dreams are still settled on the bed, nestled around her like a blanket. Instead of shaking them loose and shuffling into the kitchen to wrestle with the coffee machine, Josephine lies still and allows the images in her mind to crystallise. At first there is a feeling of complete relaxation. Then the sensation of energy rushing through her body overtakes her completely until she becomes like an abandoned hermit crab house; her body is an empty shell. She pictures herself floating up, off the bed and through the roof. Josephine suddenly looks down from above the house and sees her body lying still on the bed and she panics. The panic and vertigo suck her straight back into her body.
“This is a dangerous turn of events.” Jack stares at the wall of monitor screens revealing a serious deviation in the world within and shakes his head in disbelief.
She began to move slowly in her bed as she gradually became aware of the light in the room peeking through her eyelids. The curtains must have been left open a crack and now at sunrise the first bright rays of the morning attempted to disturb her. Even before she could remember where she was, she became aware of the quality of the light. The sunshine of a million sunrises was there in one single sunray. An ocean of freshly squeezed orange juice was tasted through the eyes, before they were even open. There were children dancing while the music of the ages played on ferociously. A giant diamond was virtually being forged from the pressure of the light coming into this room as she began to stir on this glorious morning.
Eyes finally open; she attempts to remember where she is. Fragments of memories of a long flight, a short flight and a train ride flash just beyond her reach. These clips intermingle with recollections of a four-wheel drive along dirt roads on mountain tracks with the endless ocean visible over steep cliffs. There would only be one way that a closer look would have been possible; only one way down into the waiting waves. She is certain only that she had arrived to where she is now under the thick blanket of night-time. Under the cover of night the jungle seemed impenetrable and sinister, its branches cloying and confused. There were a million animalistic eyes watching her from every corner of the forest, their natural reflectors glinting through the darkness. With the light now flooding in to chase the night out of the branches, the sinister element had all but vanished amongst the trees.
The blankets were drawn tight around her and the mosquito net overhead was tucked in under the thin mattress. The mouldy smell that impregnates every household in these humid climes wafted up from the bedclothes and settled, itchy and damp, in her nose. She turned on her side and buried her face under her arm. The acrid smell of the sweat of a long day’s travel, mingled with the damp mould in the bed, rose up to meet her curious inhalations. She could see into the trees from the bed out of one window, but wanted to look out of the other. Wrapped in mouldy blankets she parted the fine netting, got up and sat on the one other bit of furniture in the room. She perched on the stool and watched as the morning sun spilled up over the horizon and onto the abandoned beach.
Her journey to the alternate window had dislodged something from within the bedding. While attempting to keep the sheets wrapped around her and her balance on the stool, she manages to retrieve it from where it had fallen to the floor. It was an envelope; could it be meant for her? It had a name written on it. “Jo”, she said aloud, but her voice sounded strange and husky. She opened it and finding a letter inside, she began to read it silently to herself.
If you are reading this then I suppose you made it across. It is with bittersweet emotion that I acknowledge this; although there really isn’t an ‘I’ anymore, at least now I will always be with you. Apologies in advance if the constant reminder of me is not an ideal state of affairs. The upside is that now there is no one to stop you from becoming all that I know you can be. Please let my words stay with you, to bring you light, even on your darkest days. Keep on dreaming, keep on dreaming. I will love you far beyond the end of time.
Yours Truly, Always and Forever,
She arched her back in a stretch on the stool, squinted her eyes and tried to make sense of this letter, to remember more. Was it intended for her eyes? There were some other fuzzy impressions, but they were like a dream and when she focused her mind directly on to them, they dissipated. She closed her eyes and tried to be still, in an attempt to gather some of these impressions together. She can feel the sun, warm on her face through the screen window when it dawns on her: she has no idea who she is.
Tap, tap, tap. I am shaken from my scourge of identity by an insistent sound. Then there is a voice like I have never heard before; singsong, staccato and musical… could it be speaking to me? I crane my neck in an attempt to make out what it is saying, but can only pick up on a sort of mocking tone. The door swings open. A buxom woman with almonds for eyes steps inside and continues her verbal jam session. Without being able to pick up on what she is saying, I am able to decipher the meaning of her words. She is saying ‘Come on now, follow me’; her hands confirm this. I stand up and begin to gather myself and get dressed. I expect Almond Eyes to avert her gaze. She does not but instead stares at me curiously. As I presume them to be mine, I begin to wriggle into the clothes I find lying on a heap on the floor, whilst precariously attempting to protect my modesty. The clothes are musty and ill fitting. I decide they could not belong to me but for some reason feel compelled to continue getting ready quickly. Red-faced and disconcerted by this large lady’s unsettling greeting, I step down after her out of the cabin, letting the screen door slam behind me with a bang.
The morning light is bright on the white sand and the sensation of dew evaporating is palatable as there is a sort of steam rising in anticipation of the heat of the day. The feeling that I had experienced the night before of the eyes watching me from the trees was being repeated, only now I have the distinct impression that they are human eyes. I cannot shake the sense that I am being led into danger and yet I still plod along dutifully behind my guide. In the distance, the sound of laughter echoes through the forest. Contrary to the feeling that the eyes are human, the laughter does not ring playful or warm, or even particularly human to my ears, perhaps more simian-like. The woods begin to thin towards a clearing up ahead. I suddenly get overcome by the notion to run, but at this moment realise I have become flanked on all sides by very strong looking men and women, all possessing the same almond eyes. We are all walking in unison, in the formation of an arrow, towards the clearing.
In the centre of the clearing is a large fire, illuminating a woman in a grand, throne-like chair. She fixes her gaze on me and, without making a sound, commands me to look into the fire. Transfixed, I obey, but not without noticing something odd perched on her lap. Something from very far away in my mind attempts to make itself known. Linda. I recognise the diary that the psychologist had instructed me to write. Floods of memories rush toward me and attempt to capture me in their ebb and flow. The almond-eyed people begin to drum. A few of the men, wearing only strips of tree bark, dance around the fire. I notice the queen inspecting something being presented to her on a tray and nodding her head approvingly. It is a small goblet with some dark, frothy liquid overflowing like lava. This goblet is brought toward me and raised to my lips. There is a hand holding the back of my head, strongly encouraging me to drink up the poisonous tasting froth. It is bitter and full of lumps. I swallow hard and immediately feel like I’m going to be sick. I am held down and a hand is placed firmly over my mouth. After a few minutes the nausea subsides and I am allowed to plonk onto the grass, where I sit cross-legged. My badly fitting trousers ride up uncomfortably. I wish someone would explain what is going on.
“There you go, you are starting to get it now.” I hear a voice say, almost in a whisper, somehow not in words at all, which is strange because the drumming has become so loud now that barely anything can be heard over it.
“Just let yourself go, if you want to understand, stop trying to rationalise everything and just try to see reality as it truly is.”
I look up and try to find the source of this voice. The queen is staring straight into me. Her lips are not moving but she has locked her eyes with mine.
I feel something twist up inside of me. “Please tell me what is going on! Who am I? Why am I here?” I scream out loud. Everything instantly goes quiet. The almond tribe look on like shocked children, stare unblinkingly at me and then start to laugh. “What are you laughing at?” I scream.
The queen calms me with a gentle look that makes me feel warm and slightly sleepy. She breaks our eye contact and speaks out loud in that singsong staccato to some of her minions and they scurry off obediently. She resumes her stare and again I hear that soothing whisper coming from what seems to be the back of my mind.
‘You were the one they called Josephine. There was a man who loved Josephine, he watched over and protected her; from his post of exile in the world in-between, he taught her the things that he had learnt in the world without, where he had once lived, where we are now. Josephine began to develop capabilities out of reach to most in the world within; she could envision magical things in her mind’s eye and make them become reality, entirely without realising it. In time, Josephine did become increasingly aware of what was happening around her and suspicious that she was being watched. When she sought advice she was sent for psychiatric care and advised to keep a diary. This was under the watchful eye of the secret authorities that keep tabs on these things. These abilities are considered dangerous in the world within and the powers-that-be grew increasingly concerned. They sought to eliminate Josephine. Salman Black, the man who loved Josephine and watched over her, hatched a plan to smuggle her here. Salman knew that Josephine could not make it here in her own body, as she was built for the world within. In order that her spirit survive, Salman had to sacrifice his own body for Josephine to use as a vessel for her spirit. Salman loved Josephine so much that he was willing to let himself be destroyed so that she may go on living. You have the spirit of Josephine, in the body of Salman. To be clear, the transformation has created someone new; you are neither completely Josephine or Salman, but probably possess a little residual of both, not unlike when a child is created.’
The queen makes a signal with her hand and her minions advance toward me with a mirror held to my face so that I can see my reflection. I peer into the glass, past the veneer of the hairy-faced man, straight into the saucer-eyed soul of the baby my mother had once beheld while tripping; the same soul the baby chick had witnessed with its last breath; the very soul that had locked eyes with Dr Rothschild in the psychiatric hospital- all of which now seems like several life-times ago.
‘Now, it is time to destroy any evidence of Josephine, in case the authorities come here in search of what she once was.’
With this she lifts the diary that Josephine wrote and threw it on the fire. There is a bright flash of blue flame through the daylight when the book lands and in the fire I can see Josephine’s life flicker before me. I suddenly feel elated and certain I can understand all the workings of the infinite universe. I wonder for a moment whether the bitter froth has taken some kind of hold on me. The drumming resumes and I suddenly and irresistibly want to dance. Without taking my eyes from the flashing life of Josephine in the fire, I stand up and begin to move my new body. I can tell right away that my rhythm is off in this unfamiliar carriage. My dancing does not seem to please the natives and several of them rush towards me to hold me down. I close my eyes and scream again. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
When she opens her eyes the fire is gone, florescent hospital lights have replaced it. Several attendants in white lab-coats are holding her down where she lays on her stomach on the hospital bed. There is a used syringe on the metal table beside the bed. She blinks sleepily and their grip on her slackens as they notice her visibly relaxing. The door swings open and a woman enters. The woman is tall with a striking countenance and almond-shaped eyes.
“My name is Dr Linda Rothschild”, says she, “and I am a psychologist. Josephine, we have met before. Do you remember me?”
Josephine opens and closes her eyes. She opens her eyes again and rolls on to her back on the bed.
“Josephine is starting to wake up”, says Salman. “Her eyes open and close sleepily. She is in the first sweet moments of waking, ‘her hair upon the pillow like a sleepy, golden storm’.”
“Mhmgnmm”. An indistinguishable sound is emitted from the pillow. “Sal, its too early to be quoting Leonard Cohen songs. I’m still sleeping.”
“Were Josephine to look at Salman now, she would see him smiling teasingly at her”, Salman says. He continues: ”‘I loved her in the mornin’, our kisses deep and warm’.”
“Sal! Shut up! I’m trying to remember my dreams. You gave me your body so I could journey to the world without.”
“I’ll give you my body.” He nuzzles up and scrapes his beard on Josephine’s neck.
She pushes him away. “No, I’m serious. You were stalking me and I could make things happen with my mind. Then you gave me your body, and we became one so that I could go to the tropics.”
“Hmmm. I like the sound of giving you my body in the tropics.” He tries again to kiss her. “You and me, naked on a beach. Or that might be too sandy. Maybe in the actual ocean might be better.”
Josephine ignores him and continues. “You’re not getting it. You gave me your body as a vessel so that I could travel there and be safe. The secret authorities saw me as a threat because of my abilities. There was a letter in my bed. That was it, you wrote me a letter that I read when I woke up there. It was so romantic. You sacrificed your life to save me. You signed it ‘Yours truly, always and forever’.“
Salman rolls his eyes. “Jeesh. Even in your dreams you are a total sap.”
Josephine slaps him playfully. “Come here you and let me share my dreams with you.”
“How about you give me your body as a vessel so that I can sail somewhere hot and humid.”
Josephine’s delight is hidden as she buries her face into his hairy underarm. The slight whiff of curry greets her there.
He grabs her by the scruff, lifts her face to his and holds her gaze. “You are so unbelievably pretty, illegally beautiful.” He sighs. “The ship had better be sturdily built or there is a strong chance it will be destroyed on the waves. Lost at sea. No witnesses.”
“She is a beauty that boat, a well-built machine. Now why would you want to violate something so precious?” She lifts her leg and brings it down around. She is now sat astride him. He places his hands tightly around her waist. She leans in close, her teeth grazing his left ear as she speaks. She whispers, “shall we become one?”
Josephine reaches down between her own legs and untangles his manhood from his pants. She squeezes gently. He is already hard. She holds him at an angle and slides herself down on top of him with a thud, letting her bottom slap hard on the top of his thighs. They begin to move together as if they are riding the waves of an imaginary ocean. He grabs the hair at the nape of her neck again and controls her range of movement. She moans. He looks into her face flushed bright with pleasure, eyes lusty. “I love you so fucking much.”
“I love you so fucking much.”
She moans deeply and rolls over on to her front. He climbs onto his knees and grabs her by her hips. She crosses her arms in front of her eyes and buries her face into the pillow. “Josephine. Come with me. Josephine!”
“Josephine. Josephine!” She is moving rhythmically, frantically. She is shaking. Hands all over her, shaking her. One last thrust and then she relaxes.
I begin to notice that my face is buried, not in a pillow but in a pile of grass and leaves. The shaking continues until I look up and respond. “What? How did I end up here again?” The almond-eyed people surround me in a semi-circle and stare. Tied to a string around the waist of the tallest man is the mirror they had held up before. It flaps around with the man’s movement or with the wind, catching the light from the sun and reflecting it around the clearing. Every so often it mirrors my expression. My absolute horror at being back here is evident, apparent even when partially obscured by my hideous, cloying beard.
I try to make sense of what I am seeing now. It was easy enough to believe that I was in bed and making love after an epic dream, or possible even to suspend belief enough to accept that I had landed in a psychiatric hospital. But to believe that I have been transported to an alternate reality in the respective body and soul of two star-crossed lovers and am now a bearded man, dancing naked around a fire, eating jungle roots and having visions; well, that may perhaps be a little too far fetched to be believed. Exactly how do I get out of here?