Originally posted on May 12, 2015 in Hypertext Magazine
The rain streaked across the windows like tiny rivers that scattered the neon lights into an explosive kaleidoscope of impressive complexity. Every component of colour was strewn at random by the water and every moment created change, a disorganisation of substance that my mind tried to make sense of. But after the change it was lost, too quick to comprehend, too fast an alteration to appreciate the instant of unique beauty that was now forever lost. Never again would that pattern be created in its exactness. Similar forms would emerge but they were only imitations of the beauty that once was and they would be a beauty all of their own, and so it would continue, a slideshow of unique tessellations, forever changing and never returning.
I felt the growl of the engine vibrate through me and my skin tingled. The streets flew by too fast to focus on anything and I had no idea where we were. We had been driving without a destination for twenty minutes now, after leaving the dark but inviting booths of the hole-in-the-wall, and from my lying, distorted viewpoint, everything looked the same. Just darkness and light and pits and something that shines too brightly to look at. Screams heard in the distance might not even be real, just background racket, like white noise fuzzing in your temporal lobe, threatening to overload your synapses and spark off a descent into unconsciousness. Or sub-consciousness.
Dynamo Jack was behind the wheel. Jack liked driving and although it was my car, I preferred to lie in the back. His foot was pressed down hard and the engine revved loudly but the road was straight and mostly empty and his reactions were good, despite, or perhaps because of, the cocktail cruising in his bloodstream. My body rocked as his feet shifted and he deftly took the corner at speed. His hand slammed the vehicle into gear as he reconnects the pedal to the floor and we rocketed off in another direction, a growling storm of terror on the wet roads. Even if we had hit something he probably would not have noticed; his ambivalence towards anything else except our enjoyment was what kept us alive. He was twitchy and focused. He would brush his dark hair out of his eyes constantly and he had this cute way of giving himself a half-smile in the rear view mirror when he narrowly missed something potentially life threatening, silently praising himself. He kept his revolver in a holster on his right leg.
The tape deck was blasting out an intense, high tempo bass beat underneath a current of equally pacy synth melody and Richard the Squid, riding shotgun, was thumping his foot hard in time with the deepest drum, threatening to put his large boot straight through the floor. It was the latest in retro-techno by a band from across the water named after the fall of a communist leader. Or a terrorist. There were no lyrics and that was how I liked it. Words only serve to ground the composition in a time and a place and in mortality and limitation and a state of gradual, pathetic dying out. But sounds alone, without any inherent meaning, except the production of feeling, could last forever. They are timeless. Languages differ and change, but love, happiness, regret and pain remain the same. They may fluctuate in intensity and blend and combine, but what you feel has been felt before and is impossible to put in any words, other than, perhaps, a single, powerful scream.
The Squid could never understand music the way I did. He could only hear the beat. It was why he would thump his limbs or nod in time. A conditioned response to a long-term stimulus. He could not revel in complete stillness and wonder like I did, or tune it out completely like Jack, focused on his own personal agenda. In short, Richard’s humanity lacked ‘awe’ and he venerated nothing but the pain he could inflict on others; it was the only outlet for the gnawing darkness that threatened to consume him. There is no book that can teach you how to be human and compassion was far lost from him. He was drumming on his knees, off-beat, and there was still blood under his nails.
I had finally given up trying to focus on the world outside the windows of the 1985 Audi Coupe and I closed my eyes. I heard sirens but they were far away and I shifted my attention to the music. I wanted to absorb the sound, to sense it flowing through me. I drew in the humid, summer air and held my breath. Deep inside, I felt my pulse throbbing as my heart danced in my chest, as if it was trying to match the tempo of the beat. In a single instant, the world changed and the song touched me directly. The blood pumping through my veins was almost unbearable in its ecstasy as it carried all my ascribed meaning of every chosen note with it, and my essence, the core of what I call me, welled over with emotions that I was not yet in a state to name.
They could be anger or despair or even happiness and joy. Perhaps, lust. But I gave myself to the music completely. On the backseat, my soul became one with the harmony and as it did so, I synchronised with the universe itself. If nothing more existed that wasn’t being supported by those four wheels and a racer’s speed, it did not matter, because we had transcended into an electrical vortex of auditory splendour where nothing, not even time and old age, could touch us. In that moment there was only that moment and nothing before or after it mattered or could even be said to exist with any form of certainty. The music was timeless and so were we; constrained by nothing but our own imagination and self-imposed limitations.
The car sped out of the tall buildings and the neon lights of the empty street were left behind for a landscape of darkness that was broken only by the headlights showing us the way forward. Unseen in the distance, the old refinery stood, empty. The clouds had left us here and the mugginess had given way to something crisp and fresh. The stars hiding from the occupants of the concrete inhabited the skies here and they looked down at us living forever. Out in the desert-beyond there was nothing but space and lost dreams. I sat up and leaned forward to watch out the front as the tiniest sliver of light outlined the curve of the planet. We were just around the corner from the light of day.
As the sun rose, it cast away all the darkness that we had taken on during the night, leaving long shadows in our wake as it clung desperately to us. In its warm beams, we were cleansed and we were free.
Until tomorrow night, anyway.
Peter Eldritch is from Brighton, England but has lived in a number of places around the UK since leaving university. He’s currently living and working in Birmingham, England. He has been writing sci fi and horror since he was very young and now wants to share his collection to whoever is willing to sit still for long enough to listen.
Image: Flickr / E.N.K