"Miasmic Woolgathering" -A Short Story By Ma Turner

I wake up to my little one either playing or crying in his crib. My wife is always awake before me. She asks me to go into his room and bring him into our bed. I enter his room, pick him up out of his crib then bring him back into our room where I put him in our bed. I try to go back to sleep. I’m rarely in a good mood in the morning. I don’t know why. It’s been that way for a long time. My wife and son play and laugh. He runs around the room getting into whatever he can put his hands on. It’s hilarious how much damage he can do for such a young boy. Not even two yet. I like it when he finds a pen or marker and draws on the furniture or the sheets. Sometimes it snaps me out of my mood but for the most part I’m in a funk. I usually need some alone time early in my day to adjust to the world around me. I get out of bed and take my son back to his room to change him into his clothes. His mother goes to the kitchen to make his breakfast, feeds the cat and prepares our sons lunch for nursery. My son usually wants to be close to his mother in the morning so he resists at first but I eventually get him changed. I bring him downstairs and put him in his high chair. I watch him eat for a few minutes, check the happenings on my phone and try not to be too grumpy. This works for the most part. Realizing the time, I freshen up and change into my clothes for the day. The water wakes me up a bit. I say good bye to my family and leave the house. 

I’m not sure how long I’d been asleep. Or where I was exactly. I was outside. It was chilly. In tall grass. It seemed to be approaching the early hours of the morning. I was covered in mist. My head was slightly aching. Dehydrated and weak. I tried to pull my body up but I felt weighed to the ground. I laid awhile longer in the grass trying to put the pieces together. Nothing made any sense. There was no emotion. I wasn’t worried. Just puzzled. Wiped. Numb and confused. It occurred to me that I might have amnesia. Then I remembered details such as my name, date of birth, names of family and friends as well as my current residence.

My commute from home to work is on foot. I wake as I move. Picking out what to listen to for the walk is usually difficult. I’m tired and nothing seems good. But I find something. Last week it was Plastikman. This morning it is Phew. It helps pep me up a bit. 

I wondered if I might have blacked out from drinking. I hadn’t had a drop in years. Something in my mind was telling me this was different. I had long ago lost the urge to partake. Had I been drugged? But where? It’s hard to know considering I had no timeline to follow. Or understanding of my geographical whereabouts. I still felt stuck to the ground. Like invisible hands were holding my legs and shoulders down. But again, I wasn’t afraid. Just existing in this spot. Alone. I remained in the grass, waiting for something to register. 

My hand turns the doorknob at the group home and I enter. I’m finally awake. I start with tea or coffee, maybe toast. I exchange words with coworkers then get down to business. It’s best to get moving. We get the guys fed, showered, shaved and dressed. A lot of the day is spent indoors but we do get them out of the house depending on the weather. Since we hired more people, it’s easier to have coverage to take the guys to do things. I don’t complain about my job. I help people and that helps keep me sane. The hours pass fluidly depending on how much work load there is. Sometimes there’s nothing to do and the clock stops. Today goes quickly and it’s now time to go. 

The sun started to rise. I was able to see a bit of my whereabouts. My head turned right, left and to my front. All tall grass. The moisture from the ground soaked my clothes and started to feel uncomfortable. It was fortunately starting to warm up. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed since I had woken up. In that moment I deemed it necessary to make an effort to pull myself off the ground. I started to shake and contort my body as much as I could. Little by little, I could feel the stranglehold easing up. 

I clock out, pick out some music (this afternoon was Burning Witch), walk for ten minutes to the bus stop and enjoy passing strangers along the way. Watching. Staring at feet and looking them in the eye. Something in me feels like I’m escaping prison but as I said, I enjoy my job. I suppose I just like going from point A to point B. I move so fast that I don’t take much in. I sit and wait for the bus. This is one of my favorite parts of the day. London Road isn’t my favorite place in the world but I grew up wishing I could rely on public transportation. Riding the bus seems to get me where I want to go quicker. I spent a large portion of my childhood sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. Anyhow, here it is. I get on the bus and go upstairs. The music is drilling in my head and I watch the businesses and houses pass by. Ten minutes later I hit the button and exit. I stop by the off license and pick up a drink. The house is right around the corner. 

After several minutes of writhing around in that position, I felt my body break free.  I then made it to my feet. Stumbled a few steps forward. Wiped my eyes and mouth with my sleeve. Brushed off my clothes. I looked ahead. Miles of tall grass. This looked nothing like the town I lived in. “Where am I?”. I then began to think about my family. I wondered if they were worried about me. I then wondered if I should be worried. The numbness started to wear off. I was starting to feel. 

I take the few steps, unlock the door and hang my bag on the hook in the hallway. I say hello to my wife who is finishing up her work for the day. I sit down and drink my beverage. I get out my sketch book and pen bag then pick some music to draw along to (Grouper). I have an hour until I pick my son up from nursery. I draw up a little something in that time and feel satisfied. More lines, grids, orbs, skulls, flowers and dots that no one else cares about. I take a photo of the picture and post it on my social media. The “dump” I call it. 

For a second I found myself laughing. This was insane. I stepped around in a circle, gazing at the ground. It was time to look for some kind of clue. I looked, listened and smelled. I touched the blades of grass and ground with my fingers, hands. Nothing out of the ordinary. It occurred to me that I should walk in circles, but stretching out further each time I complete a circle. Cover more ground. I thought it might be ridiculous but I had nothing else to go on. 

I grab my keys and head out the door. The walk to the nursery is nice. Downhill. The locals are gathering at the pubs and other parents are picking up their children from nursery and school. I arrive at my sons’ nursery and ring the bell. Exchanging smiles with the other parents, the nursery opens their door. Everyone there is friendly. I feel at ease knowing he is in good hands. There’s my son. He either smiles or looks at me blankly, tired from his day. I get a run down of his activities from the nursery and leave with my son in his pram. The walk home is uphill. I enjoy the effort, the exhaustion. We arrive home ten minutes later and enter the house. 

Walked in circles for what seemed like hours.  Wider and wider. At first I was focused on looking at the ground for a sign, an object, something that would give me an idea of where I was. Something that would tell me what happened. I gradually got lost in a host of memories spanning back to my birth. Eventually I was hypnotized by the repetition and then spiraled into a chasm of blank space. Finally, there was nothing. 

My wife is preparing dinner for our son. Half the time, we all eat different meals for dinner. He either cries or is happy when I get him out of his pram. We tend to him. He needs the support to coast into a good place for dinner time. After we eat, I do the dishes while my wife watches cartoons with my son. I finish the dishes, get his room ready, laying out some clean pajamas and a fresh diaper on the changing table plus anything else that needs to be done. With fifteen minutes to spare, I come down to the lounge and sit with my family. 

It was jet black. I was again on my back and unable to pull myself up. The table I occupied was hard. There was a slight chill. The air felt moist. I tried to speak but nothing came out of my mouth. I felt something pressing between my eyes. My palms began to itch and I tried to move them but could not. My feet seemed as if they were bending backwards. I heard whispering and then I mouthed the words “who is there?”. 

At seven o’clock, my wife prepares my sons milk while I take him upstairs to undress for his bath. My wife then runs his water and I bring him into the bathroom. I hold him while my wife brushes his teeth. He is still getting used to it. He jerks his head around and fights it but we’re getting there. After his teeth, I put my son in the tub. He plays in the water while I wash him. Sometimes he likes this, other times he cries. It’s okay, again, he is young. We then read his favorite book. Afterwards, we take turns throwing toys into a basket attached to the tiles above the tub. He loves this. Lately he has gotten into the habit of throwing a sopping wet wash cloth at my face. Once I wasn’t paying attention and he got me right between the eyes. At the end of the bath, I clear up his toys and take him out while the water drains out of the tub. He stands on the bath mat while I dry him. He doesn’t like this very much but he’s getting used to it. Once he’s dry, I pick him up and we look in the bathroom mirror and I point, saying “look, it’s us!”. He laughs.

The space suddenly filled with a brutal tempest. I felt my body rise from the table. Then came a cascade of mechanical sputters, high pitched squeals and low end rumblings. I could feel it beating against my body. My jaw began to ache. There was a metallic taste in my mouth and I felt a thick liquid leak over my lips, chin and neck. My eyeballs began to sting. My limbs felt stretched. My intestines felt tied in knots. The turbulent chaos morphed into a single voracious laugh and the gusts ceased. Tears rolled down my face. 

We go upstairs to his room. I place a dummy in his mouth and put his pajamas on. I then carry him to our bedroom and place him on our bed. My wife is lying there ready with my sons milk bottle. Lullabies are playing in the room. He drinks his milk while my wife and I chat in hushed tones. Once he is finished, I carry him to his room and put him in his crib. I say “sweet dreams” and then gently shut the door.

My body flopped down onto the table where I had previously been lying. A faint purple light appeared from four corners of what I perceived to be a large room. The walls were black with no markings, windows or doors. I looked above and saw no ceiling. I looked below the table and saw no floor. The room was still and quiet. I touched my face, arms, legs, and feet. Felt no pain. I said “Hello?” and could hear my voice. No one, nothing, answered back. 

I step back into the bedroom, grab my laptop and a book I’ve been reading. I go downstairs and sit on the couch. My wife is watching television. The two of us catch up on our day and reconnect as a unit. We cross our fingers that our son doesn’t wake up through the night. When he was really young, he woke up often. While it hadn't been happening for awhile, in the past few nights he has been having some sleep regressions. In the evening I go between reading, drawing, writing and staring at my phone. Sometimes I listen to music on headphones. The past two nights I’ve watched tv in an exhausted stupor. Around 10p I turn off the downstairs lights and brush my teeth in the bathroom. I then enter the bedroom, put on my pajamas and get in bed. The plan is always to read a bit more but most of the time I look at my phone for awhile in the dark then pass out. 

An orange vapor slowly filled the area around the table. It reeked of rotten flesh. I sat up and immediately vomited. My spew ran down the leg of the table. I vomited again. And then again. I grew dizzy at the sight of this and fell sideways. I reached out my arms, free falling into the depths, through a floor that was supposed to be there. As I was falling, I looked up and stared at where the ceiling was supposed to be. And saw more of nothing. 

A field of tulips. I skip through them. I do a cartwheel and giggle as I tumble to the ground. I leap up and begin to pick the flowers. I collect them in a pile and then make a necklace. “These are for him”, I said. With necklace in hand, I sprint towards the sun. I close my eyes and keep running. I fall asleep for days. I wake up to gentle laughter. I enter his room and pick him up out of his crib then bring him back into our room where I put him in our bed and we all laugh together. 

Ma Turner, 18/5/2022


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