void / horror / cheese

Posted on February 26, 2013

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This topic/set of random words was my choice, informed, I will admit, by an idea that had already half formed in my head. After a particularly pungent stilton provided by an old flatmate’s visiting dad (think “It’s got a burn on it” in a broad Devonshire accent), I wondered whether there were blue cheeses so strong that druids might use them as an alternative to hallucinogenic mushrooms.

This was my first attempt at a cautious sort of cut-up technique. I should probably thank Lovecraft for the pessimistic cosmology. That guy has seriously messed me up.

Lactose Alucinor

The stuff was alive on his tongue, burning ecstasy and agony. It gripped his palette with pungent talons. A sound escaped him, but whether it was sigh or groan would have been impossible for an observer to tell; not even its maker could have said at the point one way or the other. Experience narrowed to a place of scent and smell, those both overloaded by the sliver in his mouth. Vision was hazy and grey and touch was nothing at all – the limits of his body, his clothes, the ground beneath him; all were lost in the tumult.

In his ears a droning sounding, like drums or wordless chanting or the buzzing of flies caught within his skull that grew louder and louder, drowning out the terrestrial hubbub of the crowds without. The notes clattered and fell together, and it seemed that he heard a deep voice say THIS IS CHEESE LIKE NO OTHER. THIS IS MATTER LIKE NO OTHER.

He fled the tent, staggering drunkenly, hounded by the stinging of his lips.

The New Age Fayre near his local village was a largely drab event. Women with too many bangles and shawls scuttled past, barely able to keep their heavily laden bodies off the ground. Men young and old sported long beards like cartoon wizards. He wondered with a certain dread at what sort of detritus might lurk, caught within the thick ropes of coarse hair. Tarot cards that failed to see either past or future. Dull, foggy crystals. Wind chimes that clattered discordantly, scraping away at the fraying edges of sanity. He could read every aura himself and they were all the colour of wet mud. Everything was made of hemp.

He attended every year to revel in his contempt, his superiority. He took pleasure in looking down on the hopelessly optimistic, empty-eyed deadbeats. The flavour of his distaste was sour but irresistible. He comforted himself with the firm assumption that no one could be kind all the time, could they? Not even the bearded and beshawled masses, no matter how hard they might try.

He would never know exactly what it was that attracted his attention to the tent. It was unobtrusive; no garlands or chimes demanded the attention of the fayre-goers. Trudging closer, he paused to avoid being mowed down by a family of wiccans, the mother almost as bearded as the father, the children with flowers in their hair. Having survived that encounter, he passed between two gaudy constructions and neared the object of his attentions.

A small sign hanging at its entrance read simply: “Cheese.” He smiled. Cheese was his favourite. He would have given a thousand talismans and grimoires for a good Camembert. All the wands and pentacles in the world for a block of fine cheddar. His aura was the colour of Wensleydale  and apricots.

Maybe he had subconsciously noticed the smell from afar. He pushed aside the canvas door flap and stepped inside.

Waking. Damp ground beneath. Sky overhead an uninterrupted plain of perfect blue but for the sun set like the halo of ancient gods in the east. Mouth sticky-dry, the tang of iron and sour milk on his tongue.

A momentary sense of relief, supping desperately at the teat of normality. Mother nature taking him into her comforting arms.

The bitch proved faithless. As he looked on he noticed the faintest ripple across the image – playing out partially within his imagination, but no less real for all that. In that moment he knew it all for a facade, a curtain waiting to be drawn back onto the darkness beyond. Behind the familiar cobalt, lurked the void and all the things attendant within.

He gasped, wanting to scream. Turning instead, he retched violently, hoping to bring up the miniscule sliver that was the root of this vision. But the heaves were dry, the poison now a part of him, no longer a thing that he could rid himself of like a hat or coat.

He fell back weakly, all energy and fight gone, and though the sky above was still so very blue, all he saw was the blackness beyond.

The cheese merchant was a wizened thing, dressed as a druid in robes of rough grey, leaves of ivy in his hair. His beard was as long as any at the gathering, but purest white and well groomed at least. His face was a mass of lines, and bright, black spheres of glass were his eyes.

He hardly paid the cheesemonger a moment’s notice. It was his wares that commanded attention within the shabby construction. A marble slab on rickety wooden legs held a king’s ransom in dairy delicacies. Bree oozed luxuriously across the polished surface. A spectrum of dried fruit gazed from white, crumbly fluff. Thick dark veins webbed generous slabs, greens and blues and some so dark they were near black. Yellow cheeses that looked as though they would bounce any but the sharpest knife back at its wielder.

The smell was overpowering and glorious. It threatened to drive him from the tent even as it held him trapped in its embrace. His mouth watered and nose wrinkled. He moved nearer, steps heavy and significant.

He was distracted from the burning in his nostrils by the sense that something was moving behind him. A blurring at the edges of vision, a metallic vibration in his rear molars.

He spun about, barely registering the surprised faces of the people about him. There was a shadow at his shoulder, but he could not turn quickly enough to face it. An echo of laughter from behind, a scraping chuckle that he knew came from none of the concerned and annoyed fayre-goers.

He staggered away from them, towards the open fields beyond the tents. His eyes were dry, staring lance-sharp and would not be closed. His spine was taut, sending silver shivers of pain up into the back of his skull.

The shadow of an oak stretched across his path, and as he looked down into it he realised he could see through it. It was a hole in the world, a pit dropping into a deeper blackness, a shadow lying behind existence. He teetered before it, the blackness that went down forever, that was more solid and real than the thin veneer of light and colour that outlined it.

Twisting awkwardly, fearing the endless drop into that final night, he stumbled sideways, his numb feet catching each other and sending him sprawling. Vision blurred in a swirl of sickening greys. Sparks burned invisible holes in his lips. He fell into the other, comforting and silent darkness that was unconsciousness.

One cheese stood out amongst the multitude. A modest wedge compared to its siblings, it was a stilton veined in blue – but not a blue that had ever before graced a cracker. The veins were electric, the colour of a summer sky, or the eyes of a madman. The blue webbed the cheese, lines as sharp and jagged as lightning. He did not need to be told to know that this was a cheese like no other.

Not daring to speak, he gestured at the wedge.

The old man behind the counter smiled, his white whiskers twitching aside to reveal perfectly straight and sharp ivory teeth.

Life went on, or at least the seeming of it. Those who knew him little might never have known the difference, never catching the glint of weary terror in his tired eyes. He continued to take the same old steps, but his understanding of the meaning behind the dance has changed. He had gazed into the abyss, and it has most assuredly gazed back. It may lurk behind the curtain, but he knew what was waiting in the wings every moment of his waking life, could hear the darkness whispering his name.

Sleep brought no relief. When he closed his eyes, it was to peal back the veil and plunge headfirst into the void. The things waiting for him there clutched at his dreaming self, swirls and slashes of darkness against the abiding, absolute black. They revelled in his attentions, promising things that he did not want. He knew they are waiting for us all, but for his final arrival he thought they were particularly expectant.

As time went on he became reckless, his respect for cause, effect and consequence eroded by his understanding of their thinness and impermanence. The people around him began to notice changes then. They thought him suddenly bold and fearless, maybe even a hero. They misunderstood him, not seeing that his fears had simply been transferred from the sensible world.

At times he would wonder if he had really changed at all. He could no longer remember his former concerns, nor a point where he did not feel the darkness looming. On his better days he would consider, perhaps, that the shadow was not endless, but itself another veneer. And behind that, what? At those times he would find himself restless, impatient, eager for answers that only a voyage into the night could bring him.

“An excellent choice,” said the old man. “A cheese like no other, indeed.”

He nodded, impatient for a sample.

“I make this myself. The bounty of heaven and earth. I warn you – one taste will change your life.”

“Hurry up with it then.”

The cheesemonger took a silver knife, wickedly hooked at the end, its handle the cream-and-brown of old bone. The old man cut a slender sliver and passed it to his customer. It seemed to tingle against his fingers, slightly damp and sticky to the touch.

He raised the stilton to his lips.

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