I’m currently reading Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead, which is a very minimalist sci fi novel describing a caver’s descent into a deep underground system with the use of a fancy suit and the voice of her “handler” in her ear. Psychological games and claustrophobic shenanigans ensue. Only 25% into it. Currently the main character is experiencing a communications cutoff with the handler who seems suddenly occupied with something else after a big falling out due to misinformation and shitty motives. Actually had to leave off in the middle of an attempt to talk herself down from her paranoia because I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.
Even though my own senses were prickling uncomfortably.
One of the partially-repaired holes in the bedroom ceiling, hastily plugged and covered in cellophane and masking tape until the workers return Monday. Exposed dusty turquoise from a paint job who knows how long ago. The revelation of the color inevitably calls up ghosts of a past I wouldn’t know about, but a past I (romantically) want to infuse with portent. Not even sure how long our Altbau apartment has existed, or the original history of the unit above. When we moved in 5 years ago, there was talk of eventually renovating the attic apartment, but in the meantime it would stand unused, probably filled with all kinds of junk. I never got around to climbing up there to see. And now it’s too late, the stairs leading up to it sealed off by wooden barricade. They’ve been working up there since October, so 6.5 months. Our ceilings started suffering holes mid-February and even more hastily patched with “really strong tape” and plastic tarps to catch further debris (and likely to conceal the disturbing spread of cracks). Don’t worry! The Malemeister called last month to set the dates to come repaint all the discoloration from the water damage suffered in Jan/Feb. At the time I agreed, but pointed out that there was still physical damage to be corrected (and probably assessed), that our ceilings were largely hidden under plastic, so the team that came to take measurements couldn’t even see the extent of the damage. Not to mention I suspected further damage was occurring under cover of plastic, or so things sounded some days, a thunder or a crack, a rain of rubble sending me to quickly check all the rooms to make sure nothing major had come down.
A man came a week ago to work on our shower, the valve to change flow between bath and shower was no longer functioning properly. First off he went to check the little cabinet access box in the wall, and discovered a big ass rock, a huge brick evidently fallen from above. Problem with the shower ended up being kalk buildup and easily fixed with installation of a new faucet, but the rock certainly wasn’t helping things.
Anyway, much digression. The hole in the bedroom ceiling: earlier in the day (during B’s nap) I noticed a noise emanating from the gap. A subtle, periodic fluttering or scuttling, or like a fine showering of dust or shifting of plastic. I kept looking up, straining my vision. We were lying on the floor mattress, and the gap in the ceiling was all the way back where the wall met, at the very edge of my vision. Kept looking for movement, but detecting none. Tried using my phone’s camera to magnify, but I’d drawn the curtains for naptime. The subdued light played with the autofocus, producing artifacts and noise at higher magnifications. While under my gaze, the patch-work seemed static, inert. But when I looked away, the sounds, like movements, tickled my senses, which prickled and suggested a presence, an intellect, a waiting, a contemplating, something which regarded me back, but only as I turned my attention away.
After B’s nap, I climbed up to inspect but came away with no explanation for the sounds except that maybe there was still some kind of airflow between the space here and the one above, some kind of airpressure providing an odd and invisible push/pull. There’s a similar spot encased in plastic in the middle of the livingroom, and I was able to visually confirm a periodic suction on the plastic there. A similar mechanism was surely at work in the bedroom, if more subtle.
The sound/movement continued into the night, where it seemed amplified in the dark with the remove of other sensory stimuli. I tried to ignore it, but the animal part of my brain didn’t like these subtle noises coming out of the darkness above and behind my head. The illusion of primal vulnerability. Nevermind B slumbered untroubled to my right, his little body prone, confirmed on the video monitor app on my phone so that I needn’t roll over to observe myself (and risk waking him).
In the book, the main character is exploring the depths, having reached the latest camp but now experiencing anxiety-induced hallucinations (perhaps) that someone else is down there with her. And despite my shared anxiety, and the unnerving crinkle of plastic behind me, my eyes kept losing focus, lids closing unnoticed for intervals, sealing me within my own caverns and hallucinations/dreams.
I dream about cave systems, walking through poorly lit chambers encased in rock and filled with humidity and echoes of movements, mostly mine, but some not.
Zombies down here. Just a few.
Prior to The Luminous Dead, I was reading World War Z, about the “oral history” of the zombie war, detailing the outbreak and global crisis, followed by the attempt to restore order. I left off at about 65%, distracted by other reads. But perhaps zombie anxiety remains on the back burner of my psyche. And anyway, for whatever reason, my psyche often chooses to express its anxiety through zombie dreams. Usually I’m with other people collectively trying to evade zombie pursuit, but foiled by the carelessness and ineptitude of certain individuals who neglect to enact basic safeguards like closing/locking doors or building barricades. I always try to seek higher ground, to climb up furniture or trees or structures. Sometimes flying. Always vertical escape.
But in this dream I’m deep within the earth when I encounter zombies. Not sure how they might have gotten in or infiltrated this depth and remove. Or maybe they’re the remainder of a caving team turned undead, but the logistics of that transformation seem suspect. Their tattered clothing can’t reveal much either. Ah dream logic.
And more illogical, I’m watching from a slight remove this handful of zombies meandering about, seemingly unaware of my presence. They are lit from behind by the soft orange glow of subterranean crystals, evoking a feeling of sunset.
Someone else is suddenly there with me, standing to my left and slightly behind so that their presence is felt but not seen direclty. Also observing, alarmed at what they see. What are we going to do? But I’m kind of calm, fatalistic, telling them why bother worrying, if anything maybe embrace our fate sooner than later, surely the unpleasantness will only last a moment or two. Referencing memories of dreams where I was mauled by bears or wolves. Unpleasant, yes, but never painful. Or at least not painful in the waking sensory sense. Life will be less complicated once we shed our humanness and let transformation embrace us, becoming like them.
At the same time I’m explaining this to my unseen-but-sensed companion, I know that I have no intention myself of descending to the zombie plateau to have them gnaw on me.