The Downfall [Short Story]
This story was originally published in an e-zine called The WiFiles (available here) in a considerably different form. This is a revised version that I later submitted as a creative assignment for a uni class on surrealism. I figured it didn’t make sense to have an outdated version up for display on the blog, so I dug out the edited one, shamelessly stole some images from Flickr to spice it up, and decided to post it in an update to supplement all that poetry I’ve been posting lately.
The Downfall is a written response to Luis Bunuel and Salvadore Dali’s film Un Chien Andalou and The Wasteland by T.S Elliot. Basically, it’s a psychological horror/magical realism story about a man who destroys his own life, but it’s presented as a series of disconnected vignettes (from which the reader forms their own interpretation). Not really my usual style (or one that I’m particularly fond of), but it did still influence some of the stuff I wrote later. Go ahead and see if you can find bits of Sun Bleached Winter in it :p
1. The Mirror
Here is a middle aged man. He is standing in front of a large mirror in an unkempt washroom. His greying hair is dishevelled, as if he has just climbed out of bed, and a five o’ clock shadow darkens the bottom half of his face.
He is leaned in close to the mirror, flexing his face muscles and contemplating the minute movements in the glass. His right hand holds a razor, and the left, a bottle of shaving cream. He sighs softly and continues to study his wrinkles. He has a face of cracked stone.
The surface of the mirror is flecked with spots of dirt and grime. The man smiles grimly as he scratches some of it off with the tip of his fingernail. Underneath, he sees a patch of stubble. Still smiling, he lathers his hands with shaving cream and drowns the tiny strands of hair in snow.
The trees growing out of his face wilt in the cold, and then he cuts them down.
2. The Meeting
A train pulls into the busy station. As it comes to a halt, steel floodgates open and a coloured blur spills out onto the platform. A mass of lives tangle together and a singular entity ascends the stairs to the street above.
The middle aged man, now in a grey business suit, breaks off from the crowd and stops by a payphone. He fumbles in his pocket for change and then drops a fifty cent piece into the slit on the receiver. Machinery grinds and the fifty cents re-emerge in the coin return.
A piece of paper is taped above the receiver. Messy handwriting reads ‘dollar coins only.’ The man swears.
A young woman with radiant hair appears at the payphone next to him. He gives her a sideways glance, and she flashes him a flirtatious smile.
The man points to the ring on his fourth finger and shakes his head sadly.
She continues smiling.
3. The Hands
The man waits in a cheap motel room. He sits on a lumpy bed that has been claimed by countless others and thinks about a forbidden rendezvous. He finds himself passing time by contemplating the state of the room. The outdated wallpaper is faded and stained with the remnants of rot and mildew. It would be nearly impossible to clean.
On top of his briefcase on the bedside table, his phone vibrates. He leans over and reads the name displayed on the screen, then shakes his head and turns it off. Now it is dead.
As he lies back on the mattress, he feels a tingling in both his wrists, and then his hands wrench themselves off his arms and scuttle away from him like spiders.
“You’ll oppress us no longer!” shouts Mr Left as he makes a rude gesture.
“You bit off all my nails, you bastard!” cries Mr Right, who takes hold of a steak knife left over from dinner. “And you subjected me to all those sexual misdeeds!”
“Wait, why is this happening?” the man begins to ask, confused.
“Down with the oppressor!” the appendages both shout, and Mr. Right lops off his head.
The man’s disembodied head watches from the foot of the bed as the hands cut open his torso and carve out his heart. Once it is free, Mr. Right carries it over and dangles it cruelly in front of his eyes.
“Finally!” the heart exclaims. “I’m safe from the tyranny of the brain.”
The three body parts dance around and guffaw in delight. Someone knocks on the motel room door, and then the man passes out.
4. The Seed
He plants it in the garden that lines the front of their house and waters it with carefully extracted tears. It takes him a few tries to find out how to make it grow correctly; the first time it sprouts, it becomes a Venus flytrap that bites off his arm; the second, it evolves into a deadly nightshade that melts off his face with a cloud of acidic pollen.
“It’s your own damn fault,” his wife chides as she watches him writhe in pain. “You’re supposed to put work into it if you want it grow. You’re supposed to make an effort. It won’t do anything on its own.”
He vows that the next time he’ll do it properly, feeding the seed with a torrent of misery. The seed grows and grows. He starts to water it with his blood and sweat, as well. It likes that, relishing it with some sinister delight as it slowly gets bigger and bigger.
The next morning, the man awakes to find a tiny seedling.
It’s almost done growing! he thinks to himself.
He retreats to the garden shed, takes a rusting hand-saw from the wooden board on the wall, and chops off his remaining limbs. He tosses them to the growing plant and then retires to bed from exhaustion.
When the grey sun rises the next day and drains the colour out of everything, he goes outside to see that the seed has finished growing at last. It has turned into a rose with lilac petals.
5. The Wife
The man, weeping at her feet, apologises and offers grow the seed again.
“No,” his wife says, tearing her wedding ring off and tossing it violently to the ground in front of him. “No more chances. I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.”
She picks up a leather suitcase and walks to the curb, where she climbs into a waiting taxicab.
“Wait!” the man shouts, reaching out for her as he tries to climb to his feet.
The taxicab’s wheels begin to turn, and she flips him the bird through the window.
“Don’t contact me,” she spits. And then she is gone.
6. The Payphone
He rests for a moment, leaning on the side of the telephone. Faceless people pass without looking, some traversing the street in cars with tinted windows, others congregating in excited groups, chatting about the movie that just played in the cinema; still others walking alone, keeping their heads down and ignoring him as they pass.
He sighs sadly and looks into the sky, as if expecting the Sun God to appear and give him an answer. Glass skyscrapers loom above him, reaching so high as to block out the sun. To them, he is nothing.
He turns to the payphone and inserts a fifty cent piece into the slot. It drops down into the coin return.
He quickly glances at the scrap of paper that is still taped there, then retrieves the silver coin and returns it to his wallet.
Nobody appears beside him.
He fishes a gold dollar coin out of his pocket, feeds it to the telephone, and dials a number.
“Come on, come on,” he urges, hopefully.
He lets it ring for two minutes, before the call disconnects.
He takes his dollar from the coin return, hurls it angrily at the curb, and descends back into the subway.
7. The Letter
A small revolver rests in his lap, loaded with two bullets. In his hands, he holds a letter written on pink paper, signed with a smudge of lipstick. The woman with the radiant hair smiles cheekily at him in a snapshot taped to the footer. She is nude save for a brassiere of black lace.
In anger, the man crumples up the letter and tosses it out of the window.
He takes the revolver into his right hand, turns off the safety, then places it back down on the dashboard. It lies still.
He sits in silence and watches pinpricks of light slowly turn on across the city below.
He wonders what he should do.
8. The Sun God
“Are you sure?” the man asks pathetically. “I just want everything to go back to how it was.”
“It’s beyond repair now,” the Sun God says, shaking his head. “You want your life back, you have to go out there and take it back.”
The Sun God’s hand clasps down on his shoulder. Resigned to fate, the man nods. He knows the Sun God is right.
“I’ll- I’ll do it,” he stammers.
The Sun God doesn’t answer; he’s vanished, just as suddenly as he appeared.
The man is alone now.
9. The End
The man stands in front of the mirror again. Sighing, he scrapes a layer of grime from the glass with his fingernail. He sees the face of a demon leering back at him. “You’ve gone and done it now, haven’t you?” it taunts, as he tries to wash it away with a splash of grey tap water.
He sighs again.
“I know, leave me alone,” he says, plunging a bloodied hand into the basin to scrub it clean.
“You’re dead,” chastises the demon, shaking its head. “Everyone’s dead, ‘cause of you. It’s been rather cruel this April.”
“Bad start to the month, huh,” the man agrees. He picks up a cake of soap and runs it over his tainted skin.
Get rid of the filth.
He scrubs it raw.
What the hell are you trying to do?
His eyes glimpse a flicker of movement and he glances over his shoulder. Yellow police tape dances in the doorway. Shadowy figures flicker behind it, overseeing a crime scene. One of them picks up a discarded revolver from the floor. He tries to fire it, but the chamber is empty. What’s done has already been done.