Writing by Paul Aubé. Photograph by Mike Yukhtenko.
Glorious fucking Icarus. One merely has to spread their arms wide and float above the world. I am flying, bolting at hundreds of miles per hour while below landscapes unfold like water – a human jet defying all laws of gravity. There are no set laws. I can swoop and swerve at my will. I can glide ecstatically, or fly high and far in any direction, my body gleaming silverly in the vast brightness of the sky. I can rise and rise while under me the air flits and ripples sparsely, inevitably left behind, dismissed as excess of my glorious ascent.
A euphoric shiver lingered in her body, a feeling of pure bliss – joy to be soaring across limitless space. Invisible wings propelled her at the edge of subsonic speed, leaving behind an endless white tail of condensation which contrasted sharply with the clear, monochromatic sky, forming a perfect, phantasmal abstract; ideal and never to be exhibited. The light faded slightly as she realised that a monolithic cumulonimbus now stood in her way, having appeared out of nowhere and engulfing the totality of the sky before her. She had no choice but to fly through it. Within seconds it had swallowed her and erased everything, leaving no behind, no forward. All around had disappeared, all now concealed in cloud, like a fog that erases all sense of self, time and space.
Her body now seemed motionless, though she had absolute certainty she was still moving, wading through white milk, through density. Effortlessly, her weightless mass could spin, pivot, etc. but her trajectory now felt immutably defined and relentless. Her unstoppable advance across the sky was beyond her control, seemingly calibrated down to the minutest degree and managed by some inscrutable force or agent; a flight path meticulously planned, intended to be as optimal as possible, and where failure is out of the question. While her unrelenting advance seemed to her an absolute condition, the clouded space around her did not appear to be shifting. She felt like a piece of refuse that had been forcefully catapulted and had halted its progression mid-air, there to remain for eternity. A greatly distressing feeling of being torn apart by a paradox; the experience of movement and stillness at the same time and with the same intensity had begun to settle. Her being was splitting in two, infinitely stretching like a rubber band that won’t ever break.
In trying to escape this psychotic reverie, she realised she was now falling. At first only a slight sensation, it became gradually more noticeable. She was now indeed plummeting vertically through a featureless, indiscernible void that rewired her mind to the channels of uncertainty and paranoia. There was nothing to fall from or towards. She felt – knew – that she had always been falling this way and yet sensed that her situation had sprung from nowhere. She had merely been shot through the veil of consciousness and at some point become dimly aware of her own existence, her psyche apprehensively transcending its own embryonic limitations. Was she falling? Yes, unmistakably, though not downwards. She had been plunged through unsubstantial depth, and without any physical friction whatsoever she would surely continue to glide eternally.
Nothing around me. Dark, silent, neither cool nor stifling. My head telling me I am lying face up but there is no way to ascertain my relative position. I feel my self slipping from me, evaporating. Me? Hold on to something, anything. Memories. A face appearing in the dark, slim, angular, cryptic. What is this? Reptile-like, unrecognisable. I can’t properly reconcile its superficial physical properties and geometry with the actual concept of a human face. Am I going fucking mad? My capacity for empathy and recognition failing, short-circuited, crumbling. Eyes in their orbits are a perfect geometry, lightly gleaming spheres in their receptacles like jewellery, crystalline and beautiful. But not human. Soon I could not recognise any of these features as anatomical. They had become sheer abstractions, had completely transcended their specific functions in the complex whole that produces the idea of a human face; they floated freely in space like an undecipherable arrangement, a constellation of geometric features which nevertheless seemed to call for interpretation, though fiercely resisting any one. Then, these features I saw before me were roused from their stillness and started to move about like an agitated swarm, slowly reordering themselves, each point now taking a specific place, helping to form an outline, not of another face, but of a strange, three-dimensional matrix, a primitive stage.
The cavern wall, sombre, arching over veinyrugged and cortical, its depths and sinews carved like lithographs, frieze for prints and moulds, lighting embers slowly creeping, catching in weak dark hues, torches filing slowly shuffling mouth murmurs, pigment bowl palm of hand shaking shivers with ritualistic ecstasy, stained in hyperadrenalismic fear, cavernous shouts beating, beating drumming rhythm stomping, arms reaching for the steaming effluvial ceiling, chanting echoing in splashes screeching echoing in black dilated pupils echoing away in blackwater ripples, sweat in sacrificial craze streaming down forearms like bloodboiling fever and stomping hundreds echoing in climbing climbing waves of sound clattering wildly, increasing and bouncing off twisted inner walls, all thoughts molested, beaten, cracked and crumbling, furiously gushing spasmodic torrents now dripping and smoke pervades in the gloom flashes in blurred splats, pigmented coughings spat up convulsively on dripping, throbbing mucosa, procession of gigantic shadows bent overhead like mammoth beasts shackled and thrashing wildly in acrid ochre smoke, leaping out of the contorted wall, furious stampede of blaring skeletal aurochs and bison, deer and horses burning out, flashing yellowred shapes and deep blurry black outline absorbing fire in gaping interstices, smoke flowing between the ravine bumps, river and forest, watercurrent murmurshaping rock and earth, rock and earth, a trailing soft murmuring mucus, flowing, flowing.
The walls of the cave seemed to be breathing with weak, confused twitches, laboriously heaving its great mass as a dying beast with half closed eyes, its presence tangible yet ephemeral. The atmosphere was close and stale; a cape of lead, steamy and heavy to bear. The humidity had become agitated and unreliable, waving erratically, revealing the deceitful nature of an easily assumed transparency of air. Everything around became distorted into a closed, unreal desert system with infinitely intricate dunes, that hammered on the mind with both amplitude and precision, reaching down into even the deepest, coldest recesses of the neuronal labyrinth. It gleamed with languorous yellows, its more aerial highlights reverberating in dark, creeping browns, coupled with a blurred, flowing iridescence, impossible to grasp and lurking hazily. Images, figures, shapes, sounds shily crept about the vast undulating landscape, appearing here and there, disappearing like glimmers or sparse wisps of cloud, at first only subliminally acknowledged yet altering the general palette and texture, modulating its contrasted tones smoothly – hues shifting along the spectrum, pushed about and trodden by an invisible army, itself collapsing in the heat.
Green hands began to sprout softly in unseen murk, developing quickly though with controlled grace, a ballet of shapes, first arched to the ground then slowly rising, extending their limbs towards some future gigantism. At the same time, mosses foamed on the hillsides, small anthropomorphic shrubs bulged and grew, and a myriad of fungi suddenly blistered asymmetrically from the ground. Babyish dwarves emerged in turn, confused and looking in the distance while humming and plucking their lips as if they were thickly coiled strings, going: bllmm, bllmm, bllmm… They scattered crazily, toddling about on their one-toed feet, while more creatures emerged from the chaos: Leopards with English teeth, badly assembled mechanical mice scuttling, a plethora of back-faced flying beasts, some unable to take to the skies due to obesity and lack of wings; giant amoebas and tall anemones, limp lobsters in coitus, unidentifiable jellies alike – some red, some a sickly shade of verdigris. Experimental breeds of dog limping, deformed and suffering wildly, gasping for breath, some writhing in immense existential agony. Flies and larvae crawling blindly inside of festering slabs of meat still half-alive, worms wriggling in a useless waste of energy, angular insects flashing in the dazzling light like cast dice, buzzing and screeching. It was a dreadful explosion of fears and anxieties, of pallid, fiendish animated matter. Then all suddenly began to quieten, fade and rapidly vanish to a microscopic dot as if it had never been.
Her foetal body was convulsing on the floor, rocking back and forth on her side in awful post-traumatic distress, her profusely sweating face a disintegrating clay mask, her eyes fixed haggardly at the floor. A great wave had unfolded and crashed over her, first pinning her to the wall then sending her body across the room, rolling and drowning. When it retreated, she was slowly lowered onto the ground – left there exposed like a fish, washed ashore while in the distance the waters slowly recede. She was distraught, bewildered, exhausted. Her pain, it seemed, had been diluted into non-linear time; it was impossible to identify exactly when it had started and how much longer it would last for. It went beyond physical pain, seemed to be corroding her past while intensely throbbing in her nerves. It should have been weakening, retreating slowly, but it simply would not. Instead, pain kept rising in her like nausea.
A sensation of being constricted came over her, binding her legs and arms stiffly, while invisible weights began to exert their pressure in random places, though gradually growing, spreading like patches of ink, slowly taking over her entire being. The walls all around had started to close in, moving like the inside of a hand being clutched into a fist, clasped and swelling with red flushes – whitened at the joints with inner tension. They wrapped around her and compressed her limbs; her chest was assaulted with immense pressure and she lay powerless, unable to do anything but watch in bewilderment.
Her constriction had reached an unbearable level of pain. It had become an undreamt-of torment, the ideal form of medieval torture, better than the wheel, more desperate than the gibbet, more claustrophobic than the iron maiden. It was a perfected version of all crushing devices ever invented, seemed to compress everything with the same intensity, body as well as mind, while leaving no part free from atrocious pain in its absolute, omnipotent hold.
Her arms and leg bones were bent and shattered, her ribcage and clavicles burst upwards, her pelvis was broken up and flattened; her skull resisted for an instant but soon caved in, forcing the eyes out like fireworks on a bloody lead. Her flesh and organs were mangled and pulverised by her collapsing skeletal structure in a crude, intensified and inverted parody of a tetanus attack.
Suddenly, a rim appeared above her head, a white opening that gradually widened and towards which she felt absolutely attracted. Without hesitation, she decided to crawl in its direction as well as she could, bleeding and moaning like a hellish beast. She propped herself on her right arm, the only part of her body to not have been entirely destroyed and that could still be used to shift her wrecked carcass along. She slithered ahead like a wounded soldier through a tangled jungle of barbed wire. Instead of crushing her, the contractions now pushed her outwards, propelling her like a flesh canon. One final powerful push fired her compressed body out of the cavity at high speed and into a strange whiteness, like a long expected oily turd.
There she lay at last, slimy, in glorious starfish position. The placenta at the side of her head, a half-discarded pillow, still warm but no more wanted. A shallow pool of blood and amniotic fluid slowly streamed and whirled past her, its kaleidoscopic oil-patch tint and texture playing smoothly, like a broken oneiric residue fading; unwanted excess of an already distant train resorbing below consciousness after waking, like yellow gungy crust on an eyelid, unconsciously picked and flicked away by habit. It was blatant, it brightly cut across her face for all to see, a smile of sheer happiness, radiating a resplendently ambiguous aura in faintly coloured fragments. There she was at last. At last, she had been reborn.