My little sister complains all the time about the sound of my typing. She says it echoes down the hall and into her room, bothering her, distracting her, annoying her, and driving her crazy. But she doesn’t understand. I’ve got to get the words out of my head. I’ve got to get them out as fast as I can. If I don’t, I’ll lose them.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a strange condition in which words will suddenly appear inside my mind, jumbled together into nonsense. It comes on like a fit, unpredictably, and can last anywhere from just a few minutes to several hours at a time.
The words are heavy and jagged, and if I don’t capture them by expressing them quickly enough, I’ll lose them. Then they’ll sink into my subconsciousness, cutting through my mind and causing me excruciating pain. It’s like having a headache while the inside of your head is on fire. It doesn’t feel good at all.
When I was younger, I’d rapidly speak the words aloud as soon as they appeared, whether I was in public or private. This was the only way to keep the pain at bay. However, this also unfortunately created quite a few embarrassments for myself and my parents, but there was little I could do. If I didn’t speak the words as they appeared, I’d lose them, and then agony was guaranteed.
Finally, when I was 10, I started to have a fit in the middle of my aunt’s wedding. I sat there on the church pew in my little tuxedo, trembling, trying to ignore the words as they appeared. Pressure grew inside my mind as sweat dripped down the sides of my head. The words appeared and then disappeared from my consciousness, unexpressed, and searing pain tore across the inner lining of my skull.
I started muttering the words quietly to myself under my breath, just to relieve some of the pressure. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. I kept going, speaking more and more loudly, just as the priest began the wedding mass. People around me took notice, glancing over their shoulders with frowning faces.
My mother and father sat on either side of me, both trying their best to ignore my outburst, praying not for the bride-to-be but for themselves, that I would please stop my insane gibbering so as not to embarrass them any further. When that didn’t work, they both began taking turns shushing me, glaring at me with their fingers over their mouths, and whisper-shouting for me to be quiet. But I just continued rambling, louder and louder until I was shouting. The priest stopped in the middle of a sentence, and everyone inside the church turned to look at me as I hollered utter nonsense. Finally, my parents, red-faced, stood and escorted me outside. I shrieked and yelled all the way out the door.
After that, my parents took me to a doctor, a nice lady who referred to the word attacks as “seizures” and gave me some pills. She said the medicine would make it so the words wouldn’t appear as much or as often. She also suggested that I try writing the words down to capture them that way when they came, instead of speaking them aloud.
The pills worked well to ward off the seizures and to reduce their severity, but they also made me violently ill. I avoided taking them, despite my parents’ insistence.
I also tried the doctor’s suggestion of writing the words down instead of saying them, and it worked perfectly. I was overjoyed that I now had a way of capturing the words that wouldn’t bother anyone around me.
I began carrying a little journal and a pencil with me everywhere I went, etching the words onto the thin, scratchy gray paper whenever they appeared, filling the pages with lines of pure blather. When I ran out of space with the first, I got another, then another, and another still. Soon, stacks of journals filled with gibberish lined the wall in my bedroom. I didn’t want to throw them away but I didn’t see what value they could possibly have to anyone but myself, so I kept them. Accumulated them. Collected them.
In time, and with practice, I found that I could gain a degree of control over the words when they formed, creating little narratives out of the nonsense. I focused on this, and found that after every seizure, I now had several little stories left over, jotted down maniacally into my journals. At first, they were only a few sentences long, then a few paragraphs, then whole pages. Their themes and genres varied wildly, but they were all told in my own unique voice. It became something I was proud of, and I resolved to develop my skills in crafting stories out of the chaos billowing inside my mind.
As an adolescent, I switched from writing in a journal to typing on a laptop. This worked better and felt more comfortable. I’d spend hours working on my stories every day, turning my psychosis into art like an alchemist transmuting iron into gold. My skills developed to the point where I was able to conjure whole worlds inside my mind, describing them and the people who lived within them in vivid detail. I welcomed the seizures as a way to tap into pure creativity, literally seeing my stories come to life inside my mind as I described them the way I imagined them to be.
My confidence grew until I worked up the courage to start sharing my stories with people. At first, only with close family and friends, and only if they really wanted to read them. But in time, I began sharing them with strangers as well. I found it exhilarating. Now I write as often as I can, whether I’m experiencing a seizure or not. It’s what I was born to do.
What I never tell anybody about, though, is the little girl I sometimes see in the shadows as I write. Not my little sister, who constantly pesters me about the sound of my typing, but another girl. She wears a dark dress and has dark hair that touches the tops of her shoulders. She never says or does anything, she just stands there, watching me. I feel her presence in my peripheral vision, especially when my eyes flit around the page as I read and reread what I’ve written. In the corner of my eye, her face appears as a featureless blur. If I turn my head to look, she disappears.
The girl has grown familiar to me. I feel as though I know her, though I have no idea who she is or what she wants. Like the seizures and the caustic words they create, I assume she’s a part of my condition. However, during those few times when I listen to my parents and take my medication like I should, the girl always remains in the shadows, watching me from the periphery. The medicine doesn’t seem to affect her.
It’s possible that she’s the result of something else, besides my seizures, but I don’t know. I’m hesitant to discuss her with my parents or my psychiatrist, because I know it will lead to more medication or worse. I tell myself she’s a daydream, an imaginary figment from which my brain won’t detach itself for some reason. I tell myself there’s nothing meaningful in her presence or my perception of her. I tell myself she isn’t dangerous.
I tell myself a lot of things.
I feel her walking with me as I head home from my weekly writer’s workshop a few blocks from where I live. It’s dark out, as it always is when the workshop ends. I try to stay in the salty orange light spilling down from the lampposts lining the empty streets. The concrete facades of blighted buildings stand as a gloomy backdrop behind them. I carry my laptop under my arm, like a book.
I pass a dumpster and see her peering out at me from behind it. After a short distance, I pass a dark alleyway and sense her gazing out at me from deep within it. Both times, when I look in her direction, she disappears, like always.
What does she want?
I turn the corner and the road dips down into the gloomy enclave where I live. A single sodium-vapor bulb hanging from a lamppost at the bottom of the hill produces a feeble glow barely brighter than a nightlight. The silhouettes of darkened buildings loom overhead in the starless night sky, black on black.
Dread builds within me with every step. She’s down there, somewhere, I know. The entrance to my apartment building is only a few meters away from the lamppost. If I can just make it past the light, I’ll be safe.
I hurry along, crouching down to quiet my footsteps. But then, she appears, stepping out of the shadows and into the light. This is the first time she has ever allowed me to look directly at her. I see now that her face is devoid of features, not blurred, but blank like that of a mannequin.
Something’s very wrong here. This shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be seeing this. I shouldn’t be seeing… her.
The bulb pops in a muted explosion, shrouding the area in darkness, followed by the jingling of glass shards landing on the concrete. I break into a desperate sprint toward my building, though I can’t see anything in front of me. If I can reach the side of the building, I can slide along until I find the doorway and slip inside. Then, I’ll be safe.
But after I take a few steps, I trip on the curb jutting out from the side of the street, sprawling face-first into the concrete sidewalk. I drop my laptop and hear a bang and then a scraping sound. I try to get up but my chest is tight and I’m unable to breathe. Hopefully, I only knocked the wind out of myself. I writhe around, trying to force air into my lungs, hoping I haven’t run out of time to escape.
Then, I feel the girl’s presence upon me. Looking up, I see her dark silhouette standing out against the lightless buildings, covered in shadow, black on black on black.
I squeeze out a rasping, “Stay back,” as I hold my hand up. She steps forward and extends her arm, wrapping her small fingers around my thumb. Her hand is cold.
Then, I feel nothing. I see nothing, and I hear nothing. I float through an infinite nothingness, an emptiness that’s somehow… alive. I feel it pulsate; breathing, thinking, and feeling. I gaze deep into the primordial void and know that it goes on forever, and has always existed. I don’t know how, or where, or why.
Then, there’s a brilliant flash of light, followed by a colossal eruption of sound and vibrations as the universe explodes from a single, tiny, microscopic particle. I watch as the formation of stars and planets among solar systems and galaxies tears the nothingness apart with claws of light and sound. It’s like watching an unimaginably humongous tapestry of invisible cloth burning up all at once.
A terrifying, high-pitched shriek pierces my mind. It increases in volume and intensity, and I feel as though it will pop my brain like a balloon. Then, it ceases, and the painful sensation dissipates. The nothing is utterly destroyed, replaced by matter, space, and time.
And yet, I perceive that a tiny sliver of the nothing escapes, taking refuge in a dark corner of the newly formed planet that will someday be called Earth. There, it hides in a lightless, soundless cavern deep beneath the surface and avoids being turned into part of the universe. I sense its consciousness, its suffering, and its desire for a return to the way things were, when nothing was all there was, and nothing more.
A nearby star goes supernova, and I’m blinded by the flash of light.
I hear a revving car engine, then shouting, but it sounds muffled and far away. Gradually, the light subsides and I’m able to see around me. I’m no longer lying on the ground outside my apartment building, nor am I floating in outer space. I’m now sitting in the driver’s seat of my family’s sedan in the parking garage.
I hear the engine rev again, and more shouting. This time, it sounds closer and more distinct, though I can’t understand the words. I look out the driver’s side window and see a man standing there, his face pressed up against the glass, his mouth open, yelling. “Turn it off, goddamn it! Turn… it… off!”
We make eye contact, and I see the bewilderment and concern in his eyes. It’s my father. I don’t know why I didn’t recognize him at first. The car revs again, and I look down and see that it’s my own foot pressing against the gas pedal. Thankfully, the car’s in park.
I remove my foot and turn the engine off, and then I open the car door. My father backs away a few steps, continuing to stare at me with the same expression. Wordlessly, I close the door and lock it, then I hold out the keys. He looks at them for a moment, then takes them.
We walk inside the building and up the concrete stairs to the third floor, then we walk down the hall to our apartment. As we enter, my father says, “You really need to keep taking your medication. I know it makes you feel ill, but… this can’t be normal.”
I say nothing as I make my way down the hall and into my room, closing the door behind me.
My laptop sits on top of my writing desk beside my bed, closed. A deep gash runs across its outer casing, but its green power light is on. My bed is made, as though no one slept in it. I have no recollection of what happened last night, or how I made it from outside the apartment building to sitting inside the car.
I feel another seizure start to come on as words begin bubbling up inside my brain. No time to think about the gap in my memory, I need to write the words down or else I’ll lose them.
I sit down at my desk and open up my laptop, silently relieved it’s still working though I have no idea how it got here. The word processing app is already open. There’s a sentence written at the top of the page:
“It does not want a name.”
I shake my head and scoff. “What does that mean?” I say. My answer is the echo of silence inside my empty room.
As the jumble of words begins to materialize inside my mind, I focus on forming them into cognizant narratives. I type, pounding the keys hard and loud and fast like I always do, stamping the words out onto the page. I hear my sister’s exaggeratedly frustrated groan from down the hall, but I ignore it.
Over the course of the next several weeks, my stories take on a peculiar theme. One is about a toymaker in a medieval village who, driven mad during an existential crisis, destroys his creations by tossing them into the ocean. Another is of a painter who spends years creating her masterpiece, a transcendental work of vibrant shapes and colors. But an hour before she puts in on display, she splashes octopus ink across it out of a bizarre compulsion, forever obliterating the design. Still another is of a little boy who repeatedly builds elaborate sandcastles too close to the shore, only to watch them be destroyed by the rising tide, every day. I spend many more days proofing, editing, and revising the stories until they’re crisp and clear and clean, ready for publication.
Then, without knowing why, I delete them, unread by anyone but me.
I see the little girl everywhere now. She stands beside me as I write, guiding my hands, speaking silently through my fingers. Her stories are full of emptiness, or empty of fullness. Either way, the result is still the same.
The nothing has taken hold of me. It consumes me, learns from me, sees the world through me. And every day, there’s less of me left, and more of the nothing instead. I can’t resist. All I can do is keep typing.
My parents started hiding the car keys from me. Apparently, I keep sneaking out of my room at night, stealing the keys, then getting into the car and revving the engine in the parking lot. I’ve done this three times now, though I have no memory of it. Last time, I woke one of our neighbors and they threatened to call the police.
My little sister told me she wishes I would just disappear, so that way she wouldn’t have to hear me typing all the time. I think she’s right. Something is truly wrong with me. I should just go.
I tell her, “Get me the car keys, and then I’ll leave.”
She looks at me, perplexed.
“You know where they’re hiding them, don’t you?”
She nods, grimly.
“Fine, get me the keys and I’ll be gone by tomorrow.”
Later that night, I hop into the car and drive off into the nighttime darkness. I don’t know where I’m going, or what I’ll do when the words come for me again. Either way, I wish I didn’t feel so lonely. But, I know it’s for the best.
I look at myself in the rear-view mirror for the briefest moment. At first, my face seems like a blur, but then I realize that I have no features — no nose, no mouth, and no eyes. My face is smooth, like that of a mannequin.
I focus on the road, too scared to glance into the mirror again.