As he walked along the crowded pedestrian zone, a place that smelled and felt like the omnipresence of people, the city clanked and whirred as it always did, but with a sinister undertone, a separate sound, subtle, steady, a beating heart or thump-thump of footfalls. He gulped and set aside the paranoia. No one was following him. Why would they? Everyone had access to whereabouts and goings-on of everyone else if you had access to their frequency. The whole world watched and tracked everyone. When we are all watchers, we are all watched and hold each other accountable.
then how did it happen that he could come into possession of a secret? It shouldn’t even be possible: to know something unknown by everyone else, a terrible burden to shoulder in isolation. The thought gave him shivers and the undertone came closer, whispering to him, brushing against his shoulders, pressing into his back.
“No!” The word escaped his lips of its own volition. People turned to look at him and his face became hot. He tugged at the brim of his hat, turned up the collar of his overcoat, shoved his fists into his pockets, and stormed off. Embarrassed? The emotion confused him. Is that what a secret does? Breeds shame? The hotness spread throughout his body and he feared that he might burst into flames, a torch proclaiming his secrecy to the world, exposing him and leaving his consumed corpse for onlookers to point at, to speculate on his fate.
I’ve neglected the backyard again. Some new species of foliage moved in and set up a defensive perimeter around the gate in the privet hedge along the back row. Invasive is putting it lightly. This thing grows a couple meters a day, spines and thorns along the entire length, and it has the nasty habit of killing every other plant it touches. Nasty burn from touching it too. Not at all a nice plant. I swear it’s watching me anytime I’m out back. Now if I can just get around it to the shed where I foolishly left the trimmers.
“Are you ready? Father and I wouldn’t want you to miss Christmas. After all, the presents are ready under the tree, and we put out the cookies and milk for Santa, didn’t we? He’ll like those, I’m sure. It won’t be long now before he visits our house. You know what they say, that he’s watching and knows who’s good or not? Well, it’s true. He’s jolly when children are good. And when they’re bad, he takes them. Not all the offerings in the world would make the old elf leave behind a bad child. He’ll snatch you up and take you back to his workshop and you’ll end up making toys for other children for the rest of your life. Now don’t cry, I’m sure you’ve been a good boy, haven’t you? Well then, you have nothing to worry about. Just make sure you’re asleep before Santa arrives with his sleigh. Those reindeer might just eat you up if you’re awake and happen to sneak down to the tree to see him. Sweet dreams, pumpkin. May sugar plumbs dance in your head.”
I can’t sleep anymore. They come to me in my dreams, the creatures of shadow with bright eyes that shine on me. Always they come when sleep overtakes me, accusing me, blaming me, consuming me.
There was a day when he stopped moving, a gathering of writers no less, and assumed his normal wall flower pose. At first, he thought no one had noticed, at least those who may have seen him do it had the decency not to tip off the rest of the crowd. Arms at his side without tension, a nondescript demeanor. He sighed internally having escaped the demands of the world around him, a successful retreat into his private cocoon. Free, now, to watch the world without having to interact with it, he embraced the whitespace in his mind and drifted. The party continued for a span, and faded as the guests excused themselves and headed home. When the room had emptied, he refocused himself in preparation to leave, and found himself unable to reanimate his body, rendered as a two-dimensional etching blended into the wall paper. If he’d had any lungs, and any way to use them, he’d scream. No tears escaped his eyes, no panic capable of welling up inside him as entropy had entrapped him entirely. He could only feel regret, as regret is for the past, lives in the past, extends forward through inaction, and inaction he had in quantity.