Neil Robertson – The Strange Pressure

by Horror Sleaze Trash on August 26, 2013


I’m not even sure what a writer is. I sit here at this desk and decide what seems real and what appears to be unreal. The here is Manchester, England. The here is a suburban house surrounded on four sides and in the presence of former lives and memories.

In an attempt to make some semblance of sense of everything I construct snapshots of reality that, in a way, go some way to prove that two and two does equal five, that the smallest of gestures, the tiniest of inflections can mean something or everything or equally, nothing. I want to show that insanity can be embraced, that no thought is too mad, that staring at a brick wall should be celebrated, that smashing your arms against hammers could be an Olympic event.

Nothing is disregarded.

(I recently released a book ‘ A Strange Pressure ‘ a collection of short stories)


The Strange Pressure


The Impossibly empty space

As he sat in his car on his way home from work he stared bleakly at the dashboard, ‘the same scratches in the same places… .’ he thought and he moved the car forward an inch. He looked around him at the grey architecture of a forgotten town, at a city split in half by a length of road, fractions of buildings and run-down empty warehouses lined the roads, pale factories belching invisible poisons and mausoleums of spinal injury. Signs hung painfully from doorways, oddly placed blocks of flats wedged in beside abandoned garage forecourts. He took all of this in a glance, he knew it with such familiarity he could recite its damaged imagery.

Beyond the traffic lights ahead of him stood the tower blocks, nine of them packed in tightly like  coffins and arranged in triangles, they all had names as he recalled-Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery-  a mad town planners final joke. He looked at them in detail and their transience always frightened him, they were there and at the same time elusive, water into vapour, their darkened windows looked sunken, like puncture wounds in a thigh. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the wheel and massaged the back of his head, each time he drove past the blocks he felt a curious pressure on his neck and head, as If a hand were pushing him down under water. He always drove faster at this point. From a clear sky the rain started to fall, an unsettled downpour which washed the dust and oil into the pitted gutters, his car juddered forward two feet. He resented the tower blocks for some undefined reason, there was something in their linear beauty that always made him uncomfortable, sometimes he started to cry or become luminous with anger as he passed them.

Suddenly through the haze of the rain he had a strange idea, he wanted the tower blocks gone, and in a purely childish way he screwed his eyes up tightly and wished all of them away. He continued until his eyes hurt and the muscles around them began to contract like asinine claws and his mind raced at the thought of them disappearing even the ghostliest of smiles drifted across his mouth, he opened his eyes quickly. In the brightness which dazzled him, he slowly realised as he stared straight ahead, that the tower blocks had indeed vanished for real.

He stared vacantly into the space that the tower-blocks had occupied. His body had become limp and he sat there, lost momentarily, a line in a Diebenkorn Californian abstraction, the road swelled and throbbed around him, gaining his composure somewhat he quietly exclaimed, ’ they’ve gone !, they’ve gone.. ’ he traced the outlines of the vanished blocks on his windscreen. The beeping of the cars behind him roused him suddenly and with an involuntary twitch he drove on through the lights, his head craned forward searching for them and so instead of going home he pulled over a hundred yards or so from the sight of the now vanished blocks and switched off the engine, pocketing the keys in a subsided manner.

He sat there for a few minutes looking in to the now vast, improbably impossible empty space. Had his mind actually wished them away? he thought redundantly, and if he had surely others would have noticed, this was absurd though, he told himself, buildings don’t just vanish, it’s not possible,’.. I can’t make things disappear..’, he got out of the car and walked over to the entrance of the vanished apartments, the grounds outside them, the gardens, the paths and the bins all still remained.  An old woman approached him slowly, wearing an all in one plastic coat it seemed and he decided to ask her a question, ‘ ..excuse me love, er, the tower blocks..’ and he pointed vaguely upwards in a sweeping motion,’ ..I’m looking for the..Gluttony tower block, do you know it?..’ he felt very odd saying the words, the old lady looked at him hazily as if through weak fog, she seemed to recognize his question and turned sideways to show him, her arm stretched momentarily, but then as if remembering or forgetting something said ‘. which tower blocks are you talking about dear?..’ she turned again slightly puzzled, looking at the nine vast empty spaces, she spoke again ‘.. although I’m sure ther….’ she stopped and shrugged her shoulders, ‘ no love it’s all houses around here, there were blocks once I’m sure but… ‘ her voice trailed off now vaguer than ever and she shuffled off slowly and bemused.

A welcome board secured in the ground with concrete read  ‘Welcome to Lust apartments’, and his vague fear that the blocks had never existed at all dissipated somewhat, he looked around him and in eight other locations similar boards stood alone welcoming their occupants, all in a zig-zagging formation. He walked around the complex arrangement of paths, around each of the now vanished apartments looking at the space each one occupied, there was no physical trace of them, just a huge square mass of emptiness.

He took out his mobile phone and called his wife Jane, he felt very vulnerable here, the phone rang and rang and finally she answered, ‘Jane, hi, what..? never mind that, I’m in town, near the, listen, I’m on the estate, Dante’s Villas..’ all of this tumbled out of him in one massed sentence but even so he could almost hear her sighing ‘.. where? Where are you really David..?’ she replied sternly, he closed his eyes in frustration ‘.. Jane, I’m going to ask you a question, please listen, from our dining room window what do you see? The tower blocks Jane, can you see the tower blocks?!’ there was a pause and he sensed she was walking to the window, he could almost feel the sluggish impatience of her through the phone; with an audible sigh she replied ‘David, I’m looking now, what tower blocks? All I can see is the roofs of houses and the mobile masts, although…didn’t there used to be something, no, no I’m wrong….now David what is all this?..’ he looked at the phone in disbelief, and disliking her mocking tone pressed the cancel button. Nevertheless he thought, Jane didn’t remember the blocks, something that had existed only an hour ago, they had stood here, manifest, huge and real, aloof like an estranged father.

He sat down on one of the many concrete benches strewn about these vast tarmac gardens, all of them a depressing tribute to someone’s death it seemed. He needed to go home. It was cold and he was hungry and the light was fading quickly into darkness. He stood up and walked back to his car, all around him the lights of this forgotten northern town were twinkling like rat’s eyes and the vultures were already to enter the fray and vomit their way through the evening.



My Curious Behaviour

He arrived home parking the car at a strange angle, the lights in the living room were visible in the gaps of the blinds, getting out of the car he automatically checked the way he had come, to look at the tower blocks, an automatic reaction after years of habit, this time though all that dominated his vision was the darkness of absence. He fumbled his keys, dropping them on the path and with an exaggerated sigh he picked them up and inserted them into the lock, in the hallway he stood quietly in the dark listening, he could hear Jane in the kitchen noisily moving about. He entered the dining room mumbling, ‘… hello, hello Jane, I’m home….’  she didn’t reply, clearly still upset over the his abrupt ending to the phone call, she emerged from the kitchen and looked at him, studying him,  ‘hello David…… your late..’, he turned away and sat down in the living room, there was no point in arguing with her, her belligerence always wore him out. She followed him and sat opposite in the armchair, she sat on the edge as if awaiting some terrible news, he looked at her, at her rigidity and poise, the things that had first attracted him to her, but his resentment for her was now deeply rooted and he found it hard to hide it,‘ Jane, I’m sorry I’m late but something extraordinary happened on the way home, I was in the car and…’ a look in her eye as she glanced at him warned him to stop, he suddenly stretched out his hand in front of him and traced her outline, even in profile she seemed like a relic, he spoke slowly, almost trying to rile her, ‘ Jane, tonight on the way home, I witnessed nine tower blocks disappear !..’ he let this hang, floating in the air like a weightless body, and waited for a reaction, something, ‘ Nine whole tower blocks!, I closed my eyes and…I…I…’

He stopped, and began to analyse his thoughts at the point of the tower blocks disappearance, he had wanted them to be gone, he had WILLED them into vapour, into the atmosphere, he had destroyed matter, he had taken matter out of a universe and not replaced it, energy in is energy out? Well with his mind he had violated physical laws!, his mind was racing now, he stood up and began pacing the room, he felt the walls of the room squeezing his arms between thumb and forefinger, picking up ornaments and dropping them, Jane cried out ‘ David! David please, what are you doing? You’re drunk! , David….’, she hesitated as he turned to her, his eyes seemed deranged, the pupils huge and violent, he calmed himself and sat down onto the floor in front of her looping her ankles with his filthy hands,  ‘Jane, Jane, please stop crying,  for fuck sake please stop CRYING!, I’m not drunk, I’m not anything, listen,’ he waited,’ let me ask you a question..’ relenting,  she tutted and sat on the edge of the sofa, softening for a moment, ‘ Jane, do you or do you not have any memory of the nine tower blocks which for as long as we have lived here have dominated us like massive birds?..’.

He looked up at her and he knew that the next few minutes were crucial in the overall course of his and her life, his agitation transmitted itself into her, he searched her eyes as she was silent momentarily, she turned and looked through the blinds into the night, searching for something she had no memory of. With her back turned she spoke wearily, ‘ David, stop this, I don’t know what you’re talking about, what tower blocks, I don’t recall them at all, although….although it does seem darker tonight ,doesn’t it? I wonder why?’, suddenly David looked at her, and in a stream of clarity remembered all the times she had held him back in some controlling way, her lack of empathy, her guileless opinions, her humourless smile, her decay and he decided to see if he could will one more thing into vapour, into dust, into gas. He walked away into the corner and closed his eyes tightly and wished her away, away, away, into the sky, away into the ground, through the earth, closing them so tightly that entopic danced golden embers before him.

Minutes passed, possibly hours before he called her name from behind closed eyes, he called out five or six times to arctic silence, ‘she’ll be sat there on the sofa staring at me when I open my eyes’ he thought, ‘arms folded and not even remotely interested by my curious behaviour’.

As he opened his eyes he noticed first that the lights were out, the dark enveloped suddenly and he crawled over to the lamp. Illuminated, the room looked the same, but no Jane; he looked around and noticed that the wedding pictures had vanished, the ornaments, her collection of insects embedded in amber etc…  Had disappeared, there was a strange electrical smell to the air, like scorched rubber or heated plastic, ‘Jane, JANE! where are you?..’ he shouted. He entered every room. He exited every room. He was alone and all trace of his wife had seemingly vanished.

(He stood up and walked to the sideboard containing the drinks. The silence of the house astounded him. Occasionally in the middle of the night he would come down stairs and just sit in the armchair, listening. To the fridge’s malevolent humming, the wind blowing gently against a disused aerial, but now the silence was different, now he heard his heart pumping the blood, now he could hear the violence inside him.)

He poured himself a large glass of vodka and gulped it down, almost vomiting, but it cleared his head, his body was tired but he realised his mind was tip-toeing over the line of madness, dancing through barbed wire, gouging teeth. What was the extent of his power he wondered?, he gulped the rest of his vodka mistakenly, a huge amount, he smiled as this time it came straight back up and he vomited all over the floor, he hauled himself up and groaning loudly he curled up on the settee and fell into a tableau of uncomfortable and brightly lit dreams.



Deracinated Voids

The morning rushed into him like a sea of milk as the light from the open curtains filled the room. His body ached from the sofa, a guilty knot lay heavily inside him, on his side he stretched his arm out and called out softly, ‘…Jane ….Jane..’ the pillow was damp underneath his cheek and he closed his eyes briefly, his dreams had been cold deracinated voids, a noiseless sigh left his mouth and he sat up and looked straight out of the window to where the tower blocks usually bombarded his vision.

He looked over to the armchair where Jane had always sat and suddenly the house seemed very colourless and cold and he decided he had to leave, the house was poisoned. He stood up and walked to the mirror, his face was drawn and pale, a waxy pallor. Her entire history had been destroyed, every trace gone, no clothes, make up, even the unmistakeable smell of her hideous perfume no longer lingered like random drunken sex, instead the smell of gently rotting food hung unevenly in the air, he wondered vacantly about her family, would they remember?, would her mother feel the separation?, he began to hum loudly to drown out these thoughts and walked over to the front door quickly pulling on his coat and absently lighting a cigarette from a crumpled pack in his trouser pocket, he turned around and faced the hallway as if entering. The anaglypta ceiling, he had always hated it. This time the silence almost overwhelmed him and he turned again, placing the keys quietly on the floor and opened the front door.

He hurried to his car, eager to enter the safety and silence of it, his reflection fed itself back into him through the window and the house looked like a black hole and his own face seemed contorted in horror or fear, he decided not to look to closely, he felt convinced that someone was going to approach him and ask him about Jane, his sweating claws fumbled with the key and he had to hold back an increasing panic and the tears and his voice tumbled out of him in pellets of idiocy, but it was very early in the morning and none of the soulless monsters in his street had risen from their festering pits of sleep. Turning the ignition quickly, he drove away from his home of the last ten years, content that he would never return. There would no longer be any need to. He had nine journeys to take.



Some kind of ritual

Jane. Jane. Jane. Jane. Jane. Jane. Jane. Jane. He repeated her name over in his mind, it was a pleasant distraction for once to have the voices that usually repeated the words ‘ crash’ or ‘thump’ or ‘ splash’ now recalled her name, after a while he fractiously joined in and said her name as if in answer to something, ‘ Jane?, Jane, ! ‘, his fingers brushed the windscreen in curiosity, wiping dust and fragments of paper away.

He stopped the car at the entrance to the first of the vanished tower block’s, he felt a strange relief, that months of waiting, years maybe, were now over, he had known this day in dreams and half thoughts, in half remembered songs. He got out of the car and walked through the now redundant entrance, following the paths which seemed a strange thing to do he thought, but he felt that he must follow some kind of ritual.

He could almost feel the physicality of the bricks, the windows, the corridors and the doorways. He wondered over to a sign post which had a map of the block spread out. The nine blocks made up three triangles, weren’t the streets in hell triangular? he thought. He could feel the ghosts. He felt the ghosts and the aliens. He felt the ghosts. He felt the wind.

He walked the studied paths that wound their way around the foundations, making a detour straight through and over the vanished towers, through limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, treachery, only at violence did he pause. He could hear the town around the empty concrete vistas trickling to life, the glass smashing down onto metre thick skulls, the gangs chanting their strange epitaphs of the night, enormous sounds exploding limply into the air like broken rifles.

The odd pressure that would affect him as he passed the tower blocks returned and he fell to his knees, the invisible hand on his neck pushed him firmly but politely to the ground, his face landed slowly onto the gravel and his mouth filled partially with soil and stones- softly the familiar noise of an aeroplanes distant engines brought an image forward into his mind of himself in childhood;

It was summer evening and it was cooling down, he had been playing football but became separated from his friends but wasn’t panicked, instead he stood alone under the trees as they swayed in the light breeze, on his left was the grey annexe building of his dreams and frequent nightmares, faces in the windows beckoned him but he knew they weren’t real, well, sometimes he knew, on his right the playground seemed huge, a vast arena of humiliation surrounded by gothic arbiters and suddenly the emptiness of the space frightened him, but he just stood there…

He felt as though the playground of his past were back to haunt him, the waste-ground which he had created lay all around him and he pushed his face further into the white powdery earth, with some effort he rolled over onto his back to look into the sky and stretched his arm into the air. With the coldness of a blind killer he closed his eyes and wished it all away, he wanted it all gone, the town, the ground, the air, the sky, himself, he wished he could sink quietly into the ceramic centre of his past.

One by one everything vanished, the noises of the town and the traffic circling these strange waste-grounds disappeared, no buildings and no more ground beneath him sat, no air around him swirled, it was just him, he knew he was more alone than anyone had any right to be, he sat up looked at his hands, but like everything else they had disappeared, he was invisible to himself, and he became aware of how light his body felt, felt? He tried to study the concept of mass but no longer understood any material feeling, he was a body, he was a voice, a sound, a thought.


He was.

Then he wasn’t.

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