~ A Nightmare on the High Street ~
I woke up in my room with a hangover from hell. A storm raged in my head and my tongue felt as dry as sandpaper. I had no recollection of getting home and a quick search in my pockets gave no clues to the tragedy of the night’s story. I sat up and looked around at my lair. Beer cans lay toppled on my bedside draw, my clothes were strewn across the floor and a general sense of dread seeped into every corner of the room. A spot of tidying up was necessary, but first my stomach was screaming out for sustenance of some kind. I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed and went out in pursuit of something to alleviate the hunger and the pain.
It was normally a ten-minute walk to the city centre but I made it there in fifteen. It was a journey which soon turned into a sinister one, and not just because of the rain clouds gathering. Walking down the busy Saturday high-street, I looked at the faces of the people around me and felt like I had entered some sort of nightmare. Perhaps it was the paranoia of the hangover, but this time they looked even more abhorrent than normal. Their expressions were hideous, their laughs were hideous, their movements were hideous. A sinister aura filled the air like I was in some sort of horror movie. Humanity was a strange foreign species and sometimes when my mind was in the right place, I could see them for the terrifying creatures they were. It was the way they clutched those shopping bags; the way they stuffed McDonald’s burgers down their throats; the way the red-faced mothers pushed those prams with the screaming kids along. In their red faces you could see the strain and the pain to heave humanity relentlessly forwards to its doomed future – towards a future of greyness becoming constructed by the cranes that loomed over us.
Suddenly I felt the paranoia and alienation stronger than ever. I felt that they were going to spot that I wasn’t one of them and lynch me up for the unwelcome guest I was. They were going to burn me on a stake, stone me to death – chop me to pieces and feed me to their dogs. A panic attack was brewing and I knew I had to get out of there fast. I looked around. I spotted a run-down old bar just off of the side streets and headed there to take shelter.
After entering I looked around cautiously to observe my surroundings. It was a dark room with a musty smell in the air and a decor that was in desperate need of refurbishment. Old men were dotted around on tables alone and an awkward silence filled the air. I ordered a pint of Guinness from the bar and sat down in the corner. Across the room an old man with beer down him sat on his stool leering at me. He took a large sip of his beer and then placed it down firmly on the bar. “We got ourselves a newbie here,” he said. “What’s your name kid?” I told him my name then looked away to sip my beer, hoping he would leave me in peace. It was no luck; he kept talking at me and by this point there were three other elderly men glaring at me with frightening looks. I thought the darkness of the bar would save me from the terror of the streets, but it appeared I had stumbled into a haunted house of some sort. I could see the horror and consternation in their disturbed faces. Faces of sadness and defeat; faces ravaged by time and life; faces of tired old men drinking alone at tables while waiting to live and waiting to die. I then spotted some obese woman plastered in cheap make-up eyeing me up while trying to stir her drink with a straw seductively. There was only so much I could take before I took my leave and headed back out onto the streets.
Outside I turned and almost tripped over a homeless person sitting there in the rain. “Got any change kid?” he asked. Naturally I didn’t; no one had physical cash any more. I apologised and left him there wondering if one day I would face the same fate of the gutter. The next corner I turned around there was a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing and preaching their gospel to anyone who would listen. They claimed to be people of faith, but looking into their eyes I could only see fear. It was the way they stared and the way they spoke. It was the way they clung onto those signs and ideologies because they were as lost and frightened as we all were. And so they should have been. Looking at the scenes around me, it was clear the apocalypse was coming and that no god was coming to save them.
I continued making my way across the main square while trying to avoid the manic crowd. They now seemed to be coming in the hundreds of thousands like an angry swarm of locusts. The noise was deafening. My panic started brewing once again so I sat down for a second to try and calm down. I breathed in and out deeply to catch my breath while observing my surroundings. Looking around the square, I saw an old man feeding the pigeons a little down from me. He had a look of sadness in his eyes; it was subtle but it was there. Some little kids pointed and poked fun at him. One of their parents spotted them but said nothing, instead turning away to look at their phone. The old man noticed the kids and continued to feed the pigeons. I thought I could see a tear in his eye, but perhaps it was just the rain – I couldn’t be sure.
After a couple of minutes I carried on looking for somewhere to eat. I turned a corner and saw some flowers left outside a shop where some kid had been stabbed to death on a night out a couple of weeks before. It was a place I had walked past many times drunk and the thought hit me how easily it could have been me who bled out alone in the cold winter night. Twenty years old and slain on the sidewalk in a drunken moment of madness. The flowers lay soaked in the rain and some had already begun to wilt. One card bore the message “May you rest with the angels.” Another read “I pray that you are now in a better place.” I hoped they were right.
Suddenly the crowds on the street started getting bigger and bigger; the noise louder and louder. My head started spinning and the panic struck hard again. I needed to get out of there. I started jogging. I carried on until I reached a food joint I liked. I headed in, ordered some food and sat down alone in a corner. Five minutes of solitude passed until a family came and sat down next to me. It wasn’t long before the mother started shouting at one of the children for throwing a chip at his sister. A stern telling off resulted in the kid to start screaming and crying. The mother carried on shouting until the point she was almost screaming too. At that moment it felt as if the whole world was screaming and crying. The people, the buildings, the walls, the weather. All that noise that pierced me to the bone; all those shrieks and cries that I just couldn’t escape.
I couldn’t take anymore and headed back out onto the street. At this point the rain was coming down more heavily and a sense of total desolation washed over me. I stood frozen in time and space like some sort of statue. I could hear the sirens wailing in the distance, the chavs cursing, the drunks shouting, the cars beeping. I could see the plastered makeup faces and mindless marching crowds. Suddenly I had this feeling I was stranded in a strange world far, far away from whatever place I was supposed to be. I had crash-landed into a place where I didn’t belong. My flesh and bones knew the terror of my environment and asked me to retreat from it all. My apartment room called to me and I started running home at a quick pace. I weaved in and out the crowds. I darted across the traffic. I passed the houses, the parks, the buildings. I kept running and eventually made it to my apartment and ran inside. I slammed the door shut and walked over to collapse onto my bed.
Back in my lair, I stared around me and suddenly felt an overwhelming gratitude for my solitude. I looked at those four walls like the great guardians they were. They were the walls that kept the world at bay – the walls that sheltered me from the horrors of humanity. It was all out there: the mindless people, the empty eyes, the broken hearts, the starving homeless, the stabbing victims, the lonely souls, the screaming children, the old alcoholics waiting to die in dank bars. Maybe my fate wasn’t great, but to be alone in this room was a relief from the terror that lay waiting for me outside. I was trapped in a world to which I didn’t belong, and sometimes when my mind was in the right place, I could see the true horror of my circumstance all around. I closed my eyes and laid down on my bed, not fearing the darkness of sleep. Sometimes the greatest nightmares were right in front of you, if only you dared to open your eyes.