Penumbra: Chapter 1, What to do in the afterlife if you find yourself there…

I know now. I have to go back.
Back down the telephone lines and power cables: back into the smouldering blue embers of summers where I left ghosts behind. Ghosts I need to exorcise. Back through the long-demolished derelict estates that smelt of damp plaster and deserted lives; that sheltered abandoned two-seater sofas which had seen too many nights of Coronation Street and Celebrity Squares. All those moments I tried to capture and failed because by then it probably had a hold of me and hooked me with peripheral distractions.
I must go back to find the things I lost: the things I neglected or ignored. The fragments: photographs, cigarette cards, games of Cowboys and Indians, starry nights and lost toys. All the chunks of time it has swallowed up: January 13th 1972, half the summer of 1976, September 28th 1984, a winter’s night in 1987 walking up Accrington Road – absences that haunt me still.
I need to put them to rest.
What am I referring to? The it I mentioned? You of all people should know. We discussed it often enough on any one of a hundred Fridays nights, somewhere between 1982 and 1986; when we used to walk in the twilit forest regaling Hill Street Blues and Hammer House of Horror. We talked about it; we talked around it but never really knew its name.
Imagine all the things we ever said or did; all our feelings, thoughts and behaviours, all our memories, collecting and morphing into something that would follow you around for the rest of your life. Just on the edge of your peripheral vision, in the half-shadow, in an hinterland, in…
…the Penumbra. You thought it was one of my more abstract ideas and stated, with your usual pragmatic tone, that it would be almost impossible to write a story about. I ignored you and began developing the idea.
Now it so out of control; I’ve stopped trying to convince myself that it’s not real.
There is so much I have forgotten or blanked out. So many memories I have buried; so many things that land-slipped into a chasm of shadows. There are so many things that I appear to have forgotten but actually buried.
Okay, my death was self-inflicted but perhaps it won’t let me go back and perhaps it can keep me sidetracked in here among the wreckages of other people’s lives. Surely there are enough of us to break out, but it keeps most of us sedated, drugged, and docile, tucked up in bed.
It’s curious how the past just creeps up on you and ambushes you in the present. Do you ever think about fate – about the illusion of fate? Something came back to me just now and I’m not sure why. I must have been about fourteen. I often climbed up the hill near the house we lived in after my dad remarried. A clump of oak and ash clung to the hill. I would gravitate there on autumnal nights and gaze out over the winding trails of sodium vapour and cooling twilight, the landscape in silhouette; taking it all in – soaking up the spectacle of the town throbbing with electricity and static. Then I would run down the hillside to where a pylon stood like a forgotten sentinel and stand right underneath, lining up the stanchions until I was exactly in the centre. I felt I could receive some kind of ethereal energy; as if this would protect me from against imaginary foes.
On the other side of the hill there was a landfill site I used to walk through on the way to and from school. It was full of the detritus of other people’s lives. The smell was sickly-sweet: wet paper and metallic clay. I remember carting home an old wireless, a film-projector, and a TV convinced I could cannibalise the parts to build a machine to record my dreams and breathe reality into celluloid.
I discovered a dead dog there once, crumpled in a heap at the side of the track. I don’t know why I decided to bury it. I wrenched the handle off an old vacuum cleaner and dragged it by the collar to the edge of the dump near a tree that the bulldozers hadn’t claimed. I covered the dead dog with corrugated steel and lengths of wood.
A couple of weeks later the smell was palpable. I peeked through the gaps in the steel and wood and saw the bloated corpse baking in the summer heat. I went back that night with a can of petrol and set fire to it. The reason escapes me now, but perhaps there was some seed germinating of my now defunct employment in the death trade.
Instead, every night is laden with these dreams and sleepless ideas I can never remember. Full moons, owls t-wit-t-wooing and the deafening roar of the celestial mechanics rotating: the rusty cogs of the universe screeching, grinding out, turning night into day, day into night.
If I had to nail down a moment in time when it got hold of me, it was when I went to visit Michael in Hospital…the day someone was murdered in the flats where I live… December 3rd 1990…