Monday, October 8, 2012

Metempsychosis (a short story)

Posted by A Great Liar

(Metempsychosis (Definition) : the passing of the soul at death into another body either human or animal)

I hear them through the looking glass, watch them flock around. I know them well enough; they never like to be alone. Peering. Eyes like legion smiling down at you, their innocence can drive you mad.

I stand up and walk about the room, shaking my head, hear things moving within. Things that don’t look too good, don’t sound neither. They croak and squeal their way around. Bolted eyes grilled on restless heads, arched figures with talons shifting gears on the narrow strip of the concrete ledge. Like empty shells carved to look like monsters.

It’s the chorus. It’s the singing at the window. There is a language in it for you to understand; put the voices together, many chords once played in unison start to make sense. It jangles my nerves, bouts of electricity piercing through my veins. Like a pendulum against my head, making it hard for me to stay still. There is another life pushing me beyond the edge of sanity, that indiscernible line. To pulsate like a ticking bomb.

Do they know what they are doing to me?

It didn’t matter. 

Unbearable. Dreadfully unbearable are the things they speak to me. I find myself a corner in the room, down onto my heels, holding my head against the temples, fingers probing nervously the throbbing hidden nerves. Trying to keep the head together, calming it down. It protests too much these days.

I had blacked out. I realize. There is something missing. Something left incomplete in the minutes of my life. There is a sharp metallic object lying on the carpet.

There is something dreadfully wrong here. I muttered to myself. Hastily I get up and stride down the corridor to the other room, where the afternoon meal remained unfinished. The vision spits out a memory. I remember.

This isn’t my house!

The old figure of the worldly Mr. Joel flashed before me, as he munched away and talked. Mostly about things he had never understood in life. He must be in his 60s with receding hairline and round healthy face. His constantly moving jaw gives an impression of a wrinkled plastic mask worn on his face; peal it away and you will have your man. You will have metempsychosis.

He made small talk and grind away at his food. It was mildly troublesome to see him so unbothered. He had not the care of this world; he simply snorted it to feed himself.

I gazed down at the plate served to me, looking back at me, little wings with mustard and pepperoni. The sight of it could so conveniently make me feel small. Sinking.

The head was missing and no eyes stared back at me. The feathers were shaved off, neatly and the flesh looked darkish with the human habits called cooking. The sight of it churned my stomach and I excused myself, refusing to touch the food.

Outside the room, down the corridor, I heard a muffled sound, daring me to touch their kind, daring me to eat one of their own.

My jaws stiffened and I grew red in the face. Mr. Joel, noticing my discomfort, inquired if I felt all right. I told him it was stomach cramps. Sometimes it made my life hell.

Stomach cramps. Hmmm. He appeared to ponder over it for a brief moment. And resumed with his conversation. Mostly he talked about his wonderful wife, his beautiful blonde wife with a mild talent for music. Piano.
I immediately recalled encountering a blonde girl dancing on the beach on my way in. Her oval equine face quivering before my eyes. She also happened to be blind.

And what was I doing here anyway, this morning. Yes. It came to me. She was planning to write a book, something to do with music. They had recently advertised for a ghost writer, a moderately good one at that. And that’s where I came in.

I remember applying for the job, though I haven’t written anything for a while now. The last two years haven’t been easy, something in me started to rote and give away, with fearsome rapidity. My doctor keeps telling me I have to take things easy. Though I hardly ever paid much attention to him during the tedious sessions we have been through again and again for a while now. But having grown a little too fond of the tiny blue pills he prescribed to me at the end of each session; I simply couldn’t give it up.

The pills didn’t help me in getting back to shape, or start writing again. They made sleeping sound like fun; I could sleep away most of the hours. Allowing me to not to pay attention to things that were better left untouched.    

This morning, I didn’t feel too good about coming here. Things have been worse lately. Not paying attention hadn’t been so impossible to achieve. I have missed the last two sessions, and it’s been more than a week since I have run out of pills.

The doctor had gone missing. It has even been in the news. He had simply disappeared, vanished without a trace. 

Nobody has as yet been able to ascertain his whereabouts.

I heard it landing against the window pane, outside. It’s them.    

And another. And another.

Something stuck at my throat and it strangled me. Like a stone. I didn’t want to do this. Not paying attention is the key, I kept telling myself. Pills. I wished for the pills. Pills and music are the only things I should be thinking of; and a beautiful blonde who loved jangling the piano from time to time, smiling to the darkness that never refuses to greet her day in and day out. I tried to imagine her on the beach, outside the house, frolicking about.

Her white skirt with the yellow strands chiseling, swaying with the growls of the ocean. I imagined her noticing me from a distance and stop swaying. The intuition of the blind.

Now she is close enough to smell my fears. There is a conversation down the line which makes for a bad taste in my mouth. Her clay becoming more visible, shimmering in the sun. It had a tinge of brown about it, from the luxury of bathing under the glare of ancient Baal.

I stared down at her skirt, at the yellow polka dots. They seem to be losing their focus. Bulging in and out.

She stopped walking. And said Hello.

I helloed back. Hollered it with civility and charm. Smile protruding from my sea stricken lips. Smell of sandy beach whirling down to the vocal cord, gargling it. It felt like reincarnation. 

She turned her gaze southward, towards the ocean. It responded back to her stare. I felt its outstretched hands kissing my feet, cold sensation burning against my knuckles.

My husband just loves the ocean. She said. Her hair fabulous in the wind. Full of soul.

Behind her, I have lost the count. The distant dots in the horizon are becoming more visible. The gathering. One, two, three, more and more ….

My white knuckle face with squinting eyes absorbing the fearsome flapping of the wings at the distant. Feeling the wet earth slithering beneath my feet, brushing against my nudity. Exposed skin and crackling bones made rigid by the floating shells and dead crabs.

I felt entrapped. It wasn’t working. This was paying attention; the dreadful realization dawning onto me; I wasn’t even there!    

Back to Mr. Joel again.

“Did you hear that?” I asked Mr. Joel. Cutting him short.

I didn’t have to do this. I need to keep things in order. In order. It’s a piano I should be worried about, her soft white fingers dancing on the chords, top toeing like a blind dancer. It must be like honey to the ears, moving the hearts of the listeners.    

Trying to imagine now. It’s a diversion I am looking for. A moment of intersection is my only hope. Clawing back my way to the dreamlike state, hoping it would work. It’s her again, playing the piano on the beachside. It’s beautiful to behold.

A light shone in the pitch blackness on a rearing head, thickly coated glasses and thinly fleshed features. Strands of hairs made to look like lifeless lump clouted together with a citric smelling gel, neatly combed on one side.

I closed my eyes for one brief moment and enjoyed the limelight.

Dream on.

A couple of them whizzed past her head. Leaving behind them the echoes of their song, the shrilling …

The darkness was gone and so was the light. It’s the sun blaring down my face. I jerked around to see them, becoming smaller in the distance. Swooping figures in the mid air. Singing.

I peered at her from the thickly coated glasses. Their clarity dampened with the moisture in the air. It’s a windy day. A beach kind of day.

“Did you hear that?” I asked. Feeling despair rising inside of me as I waited for her to respond.

She seemed to be taken up by my query. “It’s the birds. Mostly sea gulls. They come here all the time.”

I replied back. “But they look restless”.

“Sometimes they do”. The girl said. “Hard to tell with them”.

I didn’t respond, beyond her, they waited.

She continued. “I can feel them, mostly during the rainy season. That’s when they get really restless. As if they are trying to communicate something. That’s what my husband tells me. Occasionally they gather on the window ledge and on the roof tops, mostly old ones. They sit there for hours sometimes.”

“They just sit there?” I asked.

“Yes, just looking through the window. Watching us. According to my husband, that’s pretty much what they do. Sit there and watch”.

“That’s strange”. I muttered.

“Yes, it is in a way I suppose. But they don’t bother much. My husband likes them. He thinks they are trying to communicate on a certain level. It’s something he thinks we humans are not ready for yet.”

“And what do you think?” I asked.

“I think”. She paused. Her face taking on a grave look. “I think they are just trying to let us know that they are there”.

I turned around and looked back at the house. They were still there, at the ledge. They haven’t moved. “Yes”. I replied. My eyes taking a distant look. It may not be the complete truth, but closer to it. Paused. “And I also think that .. your husband is about to metempsychosize, he will metempsychosize anytime now, it could happen to him even while talking”. Looking back, offering her my best smile. This is crucial. This is where the shit meets the fan. Miss or hit.

She eyed me with interest. The dull overbearing gaze of the blind.

“Metempsychosis”. I said. “It’s a greek word”.

She found me strange. Fumbling, short heighted and nonsensical.

“It’s a transmigration of body and soul”. I continued to indulge in the conversation. “It’s like to live in different forms. Like you die out and live in”.

“Like rebirth?” She asked.

“Yes, I have seen it happening. I have been here before as they say. If you don’t realize what they are doing to you, you end up like them.”

I see a shadow crossing her face. It’s called curiosity. Not mild, but curiosity born of darkness she couldn’t penetrate. She would like to know who she was dealing with; for once I became more interesting than the chatter that took place.

“Do you believe in incarnation?” I asked.

“Oh, you mean on that metempsychosis thing?”


“I don’t know”. She shook her head. “It’s probably a lot of myth and nothing else”.

She asked. “Do you?”

“I don’t want to.” I replied. “But your husband will very soon, and so will you. Wait, I will show you. Here, hold my hand”. I reached out and offered her my hand. In anticipation.  


“Your hands.” She said, feeling for them. “They have a soft touch about them.”

“Like feathers?” I asked.

“Feathers!” She laughed. “You are still thinking about them, aren’t you?”

“Well, it’s more the case of who gives up first.” I told her.

She asked me what I meant.

“It’s them, the birds. They are to be blamed. I think they are following me. I believe they have been following me for a while now. They are everywhere.”

She looked confused. “What do you mean? You mean those sea gulls follow you.”

I continued. “I don’t think they like me much. They always seem to be making that noise. You know … that sound they make”.

She looked flustered. “Oh, is it, is it that communication thing again? You think they are trying to tell you something.”

“Y….Yes”. I replied. “But it’s not like that. It’s different”.

“Different how”.

“It’s more … more like things they say. There are things they like to say to me. And they know I don’t like it.”

“What kind of things?”

“Bad things” I whispered. “Mean things.”

She turned white, or is it gray, dissolving with the heavy wind and the glaring sun at the background, in thousand minute fragments. Uncatchable. Impossible to assemble again with the same poise. That is the problem with imaginations, they are too good and never the same twice. She was gone. I was being too careless. I understood. Dreams aren’t meant to be touched, aren’t meant to be scared away.



Mr. Joel frowned. “Hear what?”

“Someone is here I believe”. Staying calm. Pressing my back against the rims of the chair.

“At the door? No, I don’t think so. I didn’t hear the doorbell ringing. That would be hard to miss I am sure. It’s loud enough to wake the dead.”

Mr. Joel gazing back at me, studying me, I saw his frown growing deeper.

I had to tell him. I didn’t want him to think I was mad, loose in the head or something. That wouldn’t be fair. My voice sinking, dying out as it left my lips. “It’s not the door.”

His deep blue eyes staying on me, slightly widened, deepening. Looking for a crack, an opening, a shaft in my interior wide enough for him to peer inside and call me insane.

I stayed intact. Feeling triumphant. I decided not to give in.

“Is everything all right?” He asked. “You don’t look too good. What do you mean not at the door? “

A godlike presence, of wings and talons, swooped down from the horizon. Tunneling its way through the invisible, like in the ancient magic tales, gliding past its peers, downward in a spiral and landing on the ledge. Outside the window. It’s a big one. It’s one with an ancient song.

Mr. Joel ate like a bird. It whispered to my ears.

“I am fine.” I answered back.

I looked down at the table. At Mr. Joel’s fingers resting on the napkin, the index finger twitching.

“Why can’t you hear them?” I snapped.

“Them?” The twitching stopped. A wall of blankness greets me.

“Yes.” I whispered. “Something’s at the window.“

Puzzled. He said. “Is someone tapping at ….”

“No!” I cut him short. “It aint knocking.”

Mr.Joel’s countenance wavered with alarm. “Listen, I don’t think you are making any sense.“

“Outside.” I told him, more firmly this time. “At the window ledge. Something just landed over there.”

Mr. Joel didn’t respond. I sensed he is getting ready to get up and ask me to leave.

“It’s singing now.” I said. Strange calm took over me and shelled the dark boiling inside of me.

He made an attempt to listen. Something swept through his face. It looked like comic relief.

“Oh that .. that’s a sea bird. It’s squealing. It’s not a song”.

I looked back at him and blinked.

“Is it … bothering you?” He asked. His face looked concerned.

“They are irksome”. I agreed. “These birds often are”.

“Yes”. He nodded sympathetically. “They can be at times. If they get restless about something. Gladly, they don’t damage the windows or anything, which would surely be a nuisance.” He chuckled. Looking more reassured. He used to be a stock exchange broker, a big timer in his days. He thought he could chuckle his way into anything in life. “I think they might just do that eventually. They sure are getting restless. I can see the signs.”

I heard tremor creeping in my voice. “Can’t they stop doing this? This is irksome.”

“Can’t stop doing what?”

“The sound. The sound they make.” I pleaded.

Mr. Joel looked on. Gosh, I know that look. It’s spiteful to look at someone like that.

I pretended to ignore it. “It’s just that … that they make me nervous.”

“Gosh, it’s you who is making me nervous now. That’s what you are doing sir.” Mr Joel was crossed, more so with himself for not been able to see it before. “It’s nothing. Apparently you have some kind of a condition. The bird sound makes you nervous. That’s just what it is. I have heard of many phobias in my life before. But this is the first. Huh, the bird sound, who would have thought of that.”

“It’s not a phobia”. I was firm, holding my ground.

“It’s not?” Mr. Joel didn’t sound like he actually cared to believe me. He seemed to have made up his mind. This is the part of the conversation I hate the most. He probably thinks I am crazy.

“Not, it’s not. It’s because you are not paying enough attention”.

“Attention to what?” Mr. Joel was visibly irritated now.

“To what they are saying”. I felt I was close to tears now. “Not possible … this … this can’t be happening to me. I hear them all right, because they can’t be missed. They … they exists.

“What do you mean? Would you mind being more clearer”.

“Don’t you hear this sound. This … yes.. this one! You got it, surely you can’t miss it this time.”

“But I told you, it’s … the birds. The sea birds. It’s that squealing sound they make. It’s a perfectly natural thing for them to do.”

This couldn’t wait anymore. I had to tell him. It’s too late now. My secret is out once again.

I told him. “Yes …. And they drive all things crazy. Can’t you tell? Why can’t you tell? How can people be so stupid. Can’t you see what they are doing to us? They are destroying everything. EVERYHING!”

It apparently stunned him. As truth so often does to people like him. I heard him mumbling. “I don’t know what to say.” Was it sympathy in his voice that I heard? Indeed it was. I couldn’t mistake it for anything else. I have been here before.

“Yes, you don’t, because you know what your problem is. You don’t care enough. And you are just as guilty as they are. You can’t see the damage they have done already. Look closely, … look. How the entire world loses its balance. Look out for your wife on the beach, I mean, JUST LOOK AT HER!!! Is this how she was supposed to be? It’s as if she would explode any second. It’s the singing, the squealing, … when they do that, the whole world pulsates like a ticking bomb.” 

I watched him get up from his chair, holding his lunch in suspension. He needed that. He was afraid and needed to move his limbs to feel alive again. His face guarded.

I continued on. “You need to face up to them; it’s easier than you think. Come and have a look.”

I grabbed him by the arm, leading towards the window. Wrong move.

Walking down the corridor, holding his hand. Old frigid hand with ugliness of age stamped upon it. Shrunken skin scrawled off rigorously with use over and over again, thickly bloated and soft.

Feathers. White, gray and colorless. I see them in black and white outside the window. It’s a large window, with silver rims squarely holding its expensive glass together. Through the looking glass, the eyes became acutely aware of my presence, approaching them. They didn’t like it; they didn’t see it coming…

Voices snarled at me. The things they said ….

I find myself shrinking, phasing out from the memory of present tense. Now I am and now I am not. Like a noiselessly recurring static on a TV broadcast. It’s the window, staring back at my face, too close to it. It’s not easy, facing up to your own fears at madness’s length away, the thin illusive thread.

From the corners of my eyes, I glimpsed Mr. Joel turn around, watching me dying slowly. He opened his mouth and words dropped out of him like pebbles on my head. Rolling down from great height and catching me on the apex, where it hurts. Yes, the head hurts. It fails to consume the whole world. The world throbbing, pulsating before my eyes.

I opened my mouth and found my vocal cords repressed, damaged beyond repair. I said something and it didn’t come out too good. It swooped off my throat before I could bring it back, with the will of its own. I was left gasping for air. It was a half human, half bird sound.

I knew no more the language I spoke. It sounded like a cry for help.

Mr. Joel looked scared. His voice reeked of fear as he spoke. “What did you just say?”

I turned my gaze back to the window. My eyes widening as the glass in front of me looked liquefied. What lived across it didn’t move anymore. It swam in black and white with a languid shapelessness about it. Their talons growing hungry, restlessly clawing for some terrible consolation. Their movements seemed slow, as if struggling with invisible weight, like being in deep water. Their eyes never leaving me. The golden beak slewed in half, the opening shaft…

Metempsychosis. They squealed.

I put both my hands against my ears and screamed for them to stop. Sensing Mr. Joel trying to leave the room, I turned around and grabbed him by the arm.

A great terror fell upon me, the realization. That wasn’t Mr. Joel I was holding onto anymore. That wasn’t his arm.


I had just dragged myself out of the room, having seen things I would be ill at ease to admit to myself. There is Mr. Joel right at the window ledge, still there; I saw him and something in me die instantly, without a whimper. I felt something give away. An invisible clot of hair, buried deep in the curly head, whinnied for one last time and turned white. Ashen. One more white hair on my head.

Downstairs, I heard someone entering inside the house, groping, leading her way inside. Calling a name. Calling for her husband.

I wanted to tell her about her husband, his … his transmigration; but I wondered what she would make of it. What had just happened to Mr. Joel wasn’t in the scheme in things, hers or anybody’s. 

I heard her climbing the stairs, she was there walking, tumbling around with her stick. She wants to know where her husband is.

I ignored her. Looking across the window that was now wide open. Old breeze hits me on the face with the drops of rain, leaving me wet and bewildered.

Outside the window, I could spot Mr. Joel perched delicately on the ledge, smiling, his face beaming at me from amidst the flock of black and white.

Fly with me. He said. Fly.

Behind me, I heard her tensing up, groping around helplessly. Calling out for her husband.

“Where is he?” She sounded lost.

“He is right here.” I had to tell her. “At the window. He is with them.”

“With them?”

“With them, with the birds.” I replied. “He is there, on the ledge. I think they like him there.”

“On the ledge?” She sounded alarmed. “What is he doing there?”

And I looked on, not caring anymore. Dazzled, and in a trance, I saw an opening to the world beyond imagination, with things without a name.

I see Mr. Joel, I see the change in him, the transmigration. The talons and wings rising from within the rotten flesh and bones stretching and thinning out in bird like joints. The smile is there, but it is not a smile anymore, nothing like you have ever imagined it to be, perpendicular and pointed and like a golden beak. Pointed and threatening and malicious.

The eyes turned me ashen from the inside, and the beak slewed in half to speak. It will speak a language I am ill at ease to face.

In one swift go, I pulled the windows panes down, cutting down the voice.

I fear its familiarity, the sound of the thing that was once Mr. Joel. I sense the haunting and the dreams that would come in the nights to follow. And I stand there, with tears rolling down from my eyes.

I turned around in a motion that took eternity to happen. Looking back at her blind flustered face in the dim light.

“Flying.” I said. “He thinks he can fly.”


Started: 14 August 2010.
Finished: 22 August 2010
[Do leave a comment, it matters]


  1. It was... A strange story. It was good, though. A little scary. I mean I wouldn't recommend anyone to read it in the middle of the night, especially if they're as much a scaredy cat as I am.the story has a strange aura about it.. I dunno how to explain that, but... Like it holds the brain for a while.

    Umm.. There were a lot of grammatical mistakes. The tenses aren't consistent. Thought I'd let you know:)

  2. @The Butterfly Effect: Oh thanks. I do have this Achilles' heels of being rather nonchalant when it comes to gram mistakes and tenses.