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Torfaen Tales


“The purpose of life is to give life a purpose take hold of your life” - Vincent Kuo

The Haiku spewed from my cold lips. I was drowning in a familiar wave, as if I’d lived that exact moment before. Mesmerised by the reflection in the mirror that was no longer my own. I placed the cold barrel of the revolver to my temple and gently pulled the trigger, again!

Lester struggled to open his eyes, he reached aimlessly for the alarm clock, frozen at 12:01am. He dragged the charcoal grey blanket back over his head and drifted back to sleep. Oblivious to the breathless shadow in the farthest corner of the room. Amidst the unknown, watching, whistling. He awoke again, this time to the agonising shrill of his alarm, eight o‘clock. He ran his hands through his rust red hair, donned his Snoopy watch and devoured last night’s left over pizza. His passion for knowledge consumed him, books, comics, music, films, anything that fed his hungry soul. His mother would often taunt “it’s not normal for a twenty eight year old man to read comics!” to which he’d mutter under his breath “normal is overrated!”

He threw on the first pile of clothes he found and headed off to work at the library, he found his thirst for knowledge was rarely quenched by others. Entranced and enthralled by the silence of books, enchanted by their knowledge. Strange, how life’s tapestry was woven.

Lester always read several books at once, he was juggling Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King and was about to begin a short story called ‘Chimera‘. Each piece of knowledge he absorbed made him feel satisfied, yet never complete. He was captivated by the sweet rapture of poetic verse, it seemed to transcend words, strumming the strings of his soul. He relished the thought of a quiet evening after work in the solitude of his one bedroom retreat, he could read until his eyes felt like burning holes in his thirsty skull.

‘Green bin day’: Awoken by three loud knocks at the door, I wasn’t really asleep, I hadn’t slept properly in days and yearned for sweet song of slumber. Every time I closed my eyes I heard the same twisted melody ’Teddy bear’s picnic’, it sounded different, distorted, taunting. Whistling in the depths of my mind. The doorstep was empty, except for ‘It’ gazing up at me, watching me with its dead eyes. The sky was deep red and veiled by a thick mist, it appeared somehow unreal, the vision was almost dreamlike. I placed the bizarre doll in the centre of the dining table facing away from me, which only made it more curious. I poured myself a strong black coffee, lit the solitary cigarette wallowing inside the gold Benson & Hedges packet of death. Then applied my lipstick no. 23 ’Pillar Box Red’. As a child I enjoyed solitude, as a woman in my thirties this hadn’t changed, I’d yet to meet anyone that was on the same book as me, let alone page. Yet I knew something was missing from my life, I’d probably never know what that something was.

I loathed my mind numbing office job, running around the hamster wheel on auto pilot. Day in, day out, year after year, yearning to be free from the monotony. The mundane nine to five fortress of life! Every morning I replaced my soul with my expensive black suit and identity card and that morning was no different, achingly routine. I barely noticed the seasons waltzing along to life’s symphony, each merged into the next. Days were no longer days, simply words that epitomised and symbolised ’The System’ I was drowning within:

‘Green bin day’- Monday

‘Black bin day’ - Tuesday

‘Grocery day‘ - Wednesday

‘Recycling day‘ - Thursday

‘Pay day ‘ - Friday

‘Rent day’ - Saturday

‘Gives thanks for ’The System’ day‘! - Sunday

It wasn’t something I’d remembered opting into, but I existed within it, none the less!

The most precious thing I owned was a gift from my grandmother, a necklace, a gold Egyptian ankh. I wore it every day since she’d taken her own life. She was the only person that truly understood me, since she’d gone my soul was like a sea of emptiness. Life would never be the same, I felt broken. My sunglasses guarded the windows to my soul as I began yet another empty day, the doll skipping through my thoughts.

I felt numb, yet relieved to end another uneventful ‘Green bin day’ at the office, each day seemed like the next, and the next, a perpetual loop. I applied my no. 23 lipstick and made my way home. It was a crisp autumn evening in Dawlish Warren, the warm vibrant colour of the leaves skipped across the amber sky, it looked stunning yet somehow incomplete. I paused for a moment, lost in the perfect clouds, I couldn’t explain it but the sky was wrong.

I sat for a moment, staring at the graffiti ridden park bench “YOLO” tagged along it in maroon spray paint. I reached into my bag and examined the curious Russian doll that had stood so proudly on my doorstep. A doll within another and another. Inside the smallest doll was something else, lurking, a chess piece. A black hand carved rook!

I had less than one day to live!

I was almost home, the powder blue sky had been replaced with what felt like a shroud a of darkness. As I walked past the library an overwhelming wind crept through my soul, calling me, inviting me in. I edged my way through the iron gates and up the cobbled path. The hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention like an army of sturdy soldiers, I felt sure someone was watching me. That faint whistling melody ’Teddy bear’s picnic’ in the distance, taunting me, dancing within the darkness. I approached the beautifully crafted dome, as if carved by the hands of angels themselves, the entrance was grand with an air of importance. I felt uneasy yet strangely drawn inside. My face illuminated by the glow that seeped through the cracks in the heavy oak doors, pushing them open, I stepped inside, the doors slammed closed behind me, echoing around the ancient walls like a lost voice. My heart pounded so loudly I was sure the whole library could hear it. The impressive hall was surrounded by pillars, white marble and the smell of parchment and leather there was a sense of knowledge and tranquillity. The light danced off the black and white floor squares and appeared to bounce off every book. Each person was engulfed within their own special place within the covers of whichever world they chose to visit that day.

Drawn to the farthest, coldest corner, my eyes fixed on a large black book, no title on the spine, I was transfixed, hypnotised by the obscure book. On the cover was a gold Infinity Snake ‘Ouroboros‘, the serpent devouring its own tail. My fingers traced the golden serpent which was vibrant, inviting, in comparison with the tatty, yellowish pages. I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d read it before. It was a book of ancient Japanese Haikus, intrigued, I brushed open the pages. I was immediately transported within its dusty covers.

The words danced across the yellowing pages, like echoes in my mind, caressed by the words like an old lover, I was swimming in a peculiar feeling of déjà vu.

On the day of my death, the world died along with me!

The moment I met Lester Emerson for the first time I knew I’d met him before and that I would meet him again. I felt someone collide with my shoulder, he looked up from the pile of books he’d dropped, gazing up at me from beneath his mountain of red hair.

The first time Lester was aware of his stutter was at the age of four. Children teased him so much he stopped speaking. Shortly after he met Tom. His parents took him to see a therapist whose conclusion was “Tom is a manifestation of Lester’s stutter and will only disappear when his speech improves” He learnt from a young age that books didn’t judge him for being different, neither did Tom. He never stuttered whilst reading, or speaking to Tom, never hesitated over a word. His stutter had vanished at the age of twelve, that was the last time he saw Tom.

The clock in the library had stopped at 5:31pm. Through the window, in the distance was a silhouette, as it moved closer its image began to take form, a white haired man wearing a top hat, black suit and red handkerchief. He observed the situation with great interest. He paced back and forth, whistling, inspecting his gold pocket watch. He looked almost like a shadow, a vision made purely of mist.

Lester was interested in my necklace as I approached him “Eternal Life” he blurted. “Your necklace, an ankh…eternal life!” I nodded just to hurry him along, after taking some details name, address, date of birth etc, Lester found a library account already set up in my name, maybe he pressed the wrong button, who cared. I placed the book of Haikus into my bag and left, slamming the library doors behind me.

When I arrived home after an endless day, the world looked wrong again, everything in it a cheap imitation of itself, even my no. 23 lipstick, part of my mask of life. I felt that the shadows had eyes, I sat and caressed the covers of the book I’d felt so oddly drawn to. I desperately needed to sleep but I remained frozen by the words on the yellowing pages, they felt like they belonged in my mind. The silence washed over me like a familiar wave, the words danced across the page and into my soul. After reading the entire book I almost drifted off to sleep. An echo of reality.

The last page had a handwritten note:

“Nothing is absolutely so” - Theodore Sturgeon, 575 Aletheia House, Chimera!

‘Black bin day’: I still hadn’t found the sweet kiss of sleep and for a brief moment I forgot I had work. That weekend the clocks were due to go forward, another hour of lost slumber ’Daylight saving….Spring forward, Fall back!‘ yet another link in Life’s chain of control. I clocked in and tried to focus on the day ahead, a strong black coffee, two meetings and the end of month report to finish, the cycle of the daily grind was as uneventful as the last, perpetual boredom. My mind was hectic with thoughts about the odd events of late, I hadn’t slept in days and things were becoming stranger, something behind my sanity told me to go back to the library.

The journey was a blur, as the familiar dome got closer, I felt suffocated by it’s long, lively shadow. Greeted by an elderly woman wearing a large red hat. I smiled politely and made small talk, as I passed the her I felt a hand pull me backwards. The woman’s grip seemed to reach inside my mind, her voice was no longer her own, she spoke with the voice of a small child “You won’t like the answer you seek Scarlett Kane! “ I pushed the cold, wrinkled hand away and kept running along the endless cobbles. I glanced back, not daring to imagine what would be there, all that remained was the crimson hat dancing across the darkness. Gasping for air, I wasn’t sure what was real anymore, I needed sleep more than I needed air. I approached the entrance, desperately seeking sanity, as I reached the dome I stumbled through the Library doors, unsure of what I’d seen or imagined. The library was peaceful yet full of people, all transported into their own individual worlds, exploring the pages within the rapture of the covers. For a moment, and only a moment, I envied how oblivious they appeared to the fallacies of life.

There he was, the pale, red haired librarian, with kind eyes, Lester. I felt I’d known him forever yet we’d barely spoken. Then the words erupted from my lips, flowing like lava into his mind, I couldn’t seem to focus. My eyes brimming pools of questions he couldn’t begin to answer. I showed him the note within the curious book.

“575 Aletheia House, that’s Magnus Dean‘s address!” The stuttering words barged out of his mouth, as if they had been placed there “I’ll take you to meet Mmmagnus”

Lester owned a 1972 Yellow Triumph Stag, the smell of leather and sheen of the walnut veneer distracted me for a moment, I almost forgot the feeling of uneasiness that had been eating away at me for days. I trusted him completely but had no idea why I found this stranger so compelling. There was something within Lester Emerson’s eyes I’d never gazed upon before, he had a childlike innocence. Yet was strangely complex, intriguing, a mortal contradiction.

Magnus lived in a old manor house, he’d lived there since he was a born and always said he’d die there. He’d retired from the library some years ago, not through choice but ill health. He was a kind man, truly brilliant, a father figure to Lester, his knowledge and wisdom appeared older than time itself. The long winding path stretched into the blackness, the trees bent above our heads, hunched like arthritic fingers, creaking, grasping, taunting. Classical music seeped from behind the open door, the haunting melody of ’Vivaldi’ filled the endless whispering shadows. Lester called into the darkness, with only emptiness as a reply. I felt a presence in the hallway but tried to convince myself I was imagining it. The hallway smelled of cigars and fine port. I was sure I could hear a faint whistling, that familiar chilling tune. As he entered the study, Lester was wary of the warmth from the fireplace in the centre of the room, the ambers danced, fluttered, gave the room a eerie glow. Slowly he approached the figure sat the large leather chair in the centre of the room. He searched frantically for the light switch, Lester had to steady himself against the wall, he knew immediately that Magnus Dean was dead. His entire face was missing, removed like a mask.

The music played on, as if taunting the living. In Magnus’ frail hand, between his gold monogram ring and his thumb, he was clutching something. Lester prized it away from his warm, lifeless hand, it was a jigsaw puzzle piece. I had no idea why Lester was lunging across the room at me, the clock in the hall had stopped. “The person who mmmurdered Magnus could still be in the hhhouse!” The stutter echoed through my mind. We stumbled down the dark, endless lane, the sky was heavy, wrong, eventually we got to the car, now all sanity had ebbed away and events unfolded in slow motion.

As we drove away from the house, we were both silent. Neither of us dared to utter a word because if we didn‘t talk about it, maybe, somehow it wouldn‘t be real. The sound of ‘The Beatles’ playing on the radio felt dark, surreal, “The girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes” lyric rattled around my head like a familiar Pinball game. I was in a state of shock, my eyes dead, hidden beneath my raven black fringe. I placed the blood stained jigsaw piece in my pocket without even looking at it. I tried to force a sentence but no words came, something was wrong and probably always had been. Lester tried to wrestle his words, stuttering, taking deep breaths, he begged we call the Police. I screamed “I don‘t trust anyone, take me back to the library“. Behind the mask of sanity I wondered what all this meant, was I even real or just another ’Tom’? As we drew closer to the library, the clock in the car had stopped, I grabbed the book of haikus and headed for the dome. Lester called after me but I was focused, almost trance like, the library doors slammed closed behind me for the final time. He called out again, his voice trailing off into the darkness, his stutter had vanished as quickly as that haunting tune.

The library was silent, a light in the distance flickered, skewing and fragmenting the scene in which the nightmare was about to unfold. I was blinded by a bright white glow that drifted through the air, like frantic fog. The library was empty except for a young girl sat in a brown leather armchair, her feet barely touching the black and white chequered marble floor.

A large gold mirror hung to her left, the child’s reflection appeared blurred. On the arm of the dusty chair was red book, bound with a small lock, similar to a diary I’d owned as a teenager. The child sat behind a glass oblong table containing amongst other curious objects, a red chess board. Behind her was a small white door, glowing, almost floating. The child pointed to an hourglass at the farthest end of the table, “the sands of time are ebbing away Scarlett Kane! “ I was drawn towards the young girl, captivated by her eyes, one green, one blue, a kaleidoscope of sadness. Innocence didn’t dance in her youthful eyes, just sorrow. Being transfixed by her stare was like falling into an eternal abyss of despair. I placed the book of Haikus on the glass table and sat, in awe, watching, waiting for the truth. In the darkest corner of the library, stood a breathless shadow of an old man wearing a top hat, he inspected his gold pocket watch, whistling. The clocks had stopped again.

The child’s hair was shoulder length, white, she was no more than six or seven years of age, yet her eyes held the answers to life itself. She was dressed in a long white night dress edged with lace and small doves, she wore crimson velvet slippers which matched the ribbon in her pure white hair. Her name was Maya. Puzzled, I was about to speak when the child shook her head slowly. “You don’t need to ask me any questions Scarlett Kane, You’ve asked them all before!” The walls and ceilings of the library looked different, unreal, completely wrong. The words hit me like a familiar steam train, a shiver danced up my spine and I lost the ability to swallow, I felt somehow I’d always known the truth.

“Let me be enlighten you about Life, Scarlett Kane! Or should I say ‘Chimera’……. once again!

“Nothing is absolutely so “Most people will never know how true this is, blinded by a veil of deception that is ‘Life‘.

The perception you have of life is false, a chimera, an illusion guarding the ugly, ancient truth, the ultimate deception. Life is a never ending Ouroboros circle that can never be broken, the eternal return, a never ending story. Nothing you do can ever change this, you only know this because it was written. Everyone’s story is different, but the fact remains, you’re powerless to change anything. There is no ‘cause and effect’, ‘Butterfly effect’, no fate, just a writer. You’re not alive! just a creation born of ink. Each one of your lives is nothing more than a book being read by an unknown reader, written by an unknown author. The world is nothing more than an infinite library, with billions of different realities within each cover. You’re nothing more than a calculation, a golden ratio within a contrived story.

Déjà vu is the feeling you experience when your story is read over and over again. When a clock stops, the author has changed an element your story, every story begins and ends with a Haiku. You become absorbed by the silence whilst reading, because you’re in fact, reading a book within a book. You’re just a character living from chapter to chapter, at the end of the final chapter, you’re shown the story of your life. As the saying goes “Your life flashes before your eyes”. Freedom and choice are illusions, fallacies that you take for granted. The puppet master makes you dance to his symphony. You’re a rook, a pawn within a larger game, no fate only what the author creates. Each second, minute, hour is already written for you. No matter how much you believe you’re the author of your own fortune, you were never, and will never be in control..….the author is.”

The room was spinning, distorted, I fixed my eyes on large grandfather clock in the corner of the library and tried frantically to focus, the clock had stopped. Maya unlocked the crimson book with a small gold key she‘d been tightly clutching in her pale angelic hands. It felt like some kind of surreal television show “Scarlett Kane, This is Your Life!” The yearning to look inside overcome me, mesmerised by its contents, it was my life dancing across the pages, the images tattooed in my mind.

Lester was the most real person I’d ever met, how ironic that he and everyone else were nothing more than characters in the story of my life. Stockholm syndrome where life ‘The Author’ was the captor.

On the table next to Maya alongside the chess board was a small jigsaw puzzle with one single piece missing. I delved into my coat pocket and grasped for the bloody piece. It fitted, but then I knew it would.

“Why?” the lonely word trickled from my lips.

Maya smiled, “It was all written, all part of your story Scarlett Kane, betrayed by Life itself”

The hourglass had almost run dry, empty, ending, like my so called ‘life’. Every thought, every dream was someone else’s creation, even at that very moment. Every sweet tasting dessert, every flake of snow, every star in the sky, nothing but a chimera, a cruel illusion. Nothing more than a story. Even if every human being was aware of the dark truth, they’d be powerless to change it.

My mother’s favourite saying “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be!”

I had a metallic taste in my mouth, or did I? Probably just another twist in the tale that was written for me, just like every thought rushing through the mind that was never really mine. So that’s how ’Black bin day’ ended, nothing really mattered anymore because that was the final chapter, check mate, the end! I knew what I was about to do next, but I had no control over those final moments, just as I’d no control over my life. Was it better to live a lie, or die embracing the truth?

The haunting melody whistled through what had never been my soul, I reached for the revolver laying between the chess board and the jigsaw, it was as if the gun had been written into that exact moment. I was suffocating, drowning in the truth of the child’s eyes…..

“The purpose of life is to give life a purpose take hold of your fate”

The Haiku spewed from my cold lips, I was drowning in a familiar wave, as if I’d lived that exact moment before. Mesmerised at the reflection in the mirror that was no longer my own. I placed the cold barrel of the revolver to my temple and gently pulled the trigger, again!

I peered over the crisp white pages of my book, for a moment I’d lost track of where I was. I was surrounded by the silence and felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as I gazed around the crowded library, again.........

“Madness is the Déjà Vu of Death” -Michael Foucault

by Emma Wheeler May 2012, Redrafted August 2013

Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

Forthcoming Events

Generation Games Exhibition

27/04/2018 - 28/10/2018
This exhibition is a history of home computer games consoles throughout the ages

Claire Allain - Jewellery Showcase

06/10/2018 - 17/11/2018
Having recently returned to the UK after living in New Zealand for ten years, Claire has been experimenting with new techniques. She has been working with a variety of techniques and marrying metals together to create wearable sculptures or as she likes to call them wearable "Sketches", like little mini contemporary paintings

Eighteen - The Lost Generation - Exhibition

06/10/2018 - 17/11/2018
Almost half a million men enlisted in the first two months of The Great War, however recruitment soon fell dramatically and conscription was introduced in January 1916.Most single men from the ages of 18 to 41 were liable to be called up for service and by the end of war over five million British men had served.

Katharina Klug - Craft Showcase

06/10/2018 - 17/11/2018
Katharina create timeless vessels for contemporary interiors. Each piece is individually made from porcelain on the potter's wheel. Naïve, spontaneous pencil strokes, graphic simple patterns that create movement and direction.
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