Going Back

I wrote this first draft of a short story last night. Needs polishing.

* * *

Kyle,

I’m writing this to you as quickly as I can, while I still remember almost everything, so bear with me. And please, pay attention.

Remember that night in Rotorua? That’s how important it is that you read this. I’m not kidding.

Where do I start?

About two weeks ago, I was throwing out all of my mail. You know how I basically just let it all pile up and then sort of throw it all in the bin out of sheer exasperation. Mostly junk mail, some bills, bank statements that would have depressed the hell out of me if I ever read them, some other stuff I didn’t bother looking at. All addressed to me, but I just throw it all in the bin.

Getting sidetracked. Sorry. It’s hard to focus.

Anyway, something in the mail caught my eye. It wasn’t an envelope, just a folded piece of paper with my name on it. I unfolded it, and inside was an address, along with the words, “REMEMBER!” in big printed letters. For reasons that will become clear, I’m not going to tell you what that address was.

I threw everything else in the bin and stuck the address to my fridge door next to the magnetic poetry. And basically forgot about it. I think I went back to Facebook or something. This was… It must have been over a month ago.

Later that week, while making breakfast, I saw the address again. I had been meaning to go to the bank in Three Lamps anyway, so I took the paper off the fridge and shoved it in my back pocket. I figured I could at least take a walk past the address, since it wasn’t so far from Ponsonby.

I went to the bank and picked up the credit card that had been waiting there for me for a while. It was a very hot day, so I went across the road to that Belgian pub to have a quiet drink and wait for the sun to go down a bit before walking to the address. I struck up a conversation with some random people sitting outside, and got caught up arguing about some stupid damn thing.

I was halfway home before I remembered the address in my pocket, but it was getting late, so I just forgot about it. Chalked my forgetfulness up to the beers.

Um… What was next?

Probably another week later, I found the paper in the back pocket of my jeans. I was doing the laundry, which as you know is something of a bimonthly thing for me. It took me a second to realise that it wasn’t just a Starmart receipt or something and bin it. Seeing the address got me curious again about why on earth someone had written it, clearly to me. So I finished up the washing and went for a walk.

It was a beautiful clear day. I took a moment to appreciate it, sat for a bit in Western Park and watched some kids playing around with sticks. They were pretending the sticks were guns, and I started thinking about the bark wars we used to play at primary school. When do we get taught to pretend sticks are guns? Seems to come naturally.

Sorry. Wandering again. I kept walking down Ponsonby Road. I was getting to the turn-off when I suddenly remembered those hot-chocolate shots they do at Il Buco, and how I hadn’t had one in years. I’d passed it a little way back, so I turned around and ordered one and enjoyed the hell out of it. And then I walked home.

When I got to the door, Jared from next-door was just coming out. He asked me what I’d been up to. I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t remember why I’d gone for a walk, and told him that I’d had a sudden craving for the Il Buco hot chocolate, and he asked if it was really that good, and I told him it was even better, and I was halfway to bed that night before I suddenly realised the whole reason I’d gone out in the first place. I stuck my hand in my pocket and grabbed the paper, like the way you try to grab a glass of wine when you think it’s going to fall.

I don’t think I really suspected even then. I figured I was just absent-minded. But to remind myself, I put the paper somewhere I knew I’d look – on the computer.

And that worked. The next day, when I got home from the office and sat down to fuck around online for the evening, the first thing I saw was the paper and the address that was written on it. I had some emails and stuff to catch up on, so I wasn’t about to leave the house. I did the next best thing and brought up Google Maps.

For all my complaining about invasions of privacy and everything, I do get a bit of a perverse thrill from Google Streetview. So I found the street and zoomed in and started clicking along, house by house, vaguely hoping to see some hilarious and embarrassing act caught on camera.

And I got lost in that for a bit, and reached the end of the street. I must have gone past the house.

So I spun it around and clicked back, a bit slower, one house at a time. 86, 84, 82, 80… 68.

Those aren’t the numbers. I’m not telling you the number. Not even the number.

But I’d gone past it again. So I turned again. And I was back to 80. And I couldn’t work out what was going wrong. I found that I was incredibly agitated, the way you get when you’re trying to do something routine and failing and starting over, and it takes a while for you to realise that it’s not working and you’re angry about it. Like you’re typing badly and it takes a while to realise that one of the keys is a bit stuck and that’s why you keep making typos and backspacing without thinking.

Sorry. Hard to focus.

Anyway, I couldn’t work it out. Streetview was working fine. It wasn’t that I could see any gaps. Just something was going wrong when I tried to see the house. I couldn’t even get near it. And I was getting so angry about it, I had tears of frustration in my eyes, and I didn’t understand why.

I sat back and took a breath. I felt physically exhausted. And I realised I was shaking. Then I glanced at the clock.

It was 11pm. It was dark out. I had just walked in a few minutes earlier after work, and sat straight down at the computer. I was certain of it. How long had I been clicking? The bodily sensation of anger was still with me, and the tiredness. I remember giving up and collapsing on to the bed, drained. I still had the piece of paper in my hand. I slept immediately.

It was only because I was still clutching it that I remembered the address when I woke up the next morning. I stared at it uncomprehendingly, groggily, for several minutes, then flashes of the previous night’s frustration came back to me in broken fragments. Some instinct warned me against trying again on the computer. I kicked out the power cable from the bed and lay back, holding the piece of paper and thinking.

I’m forgetting. Even as I write this, I’m forgetting.

Something was clearly wrong with me. I’d lost several hours the night before. I had some kind of subconscious aversion to this particular address, or whatever was located there. For all I knew, I’d spent hours staring at it last night, then forgot entirely.

I needed some help.

I picked up the phone and called Michael, who I figured would be at work by now. He answered.

“Michael,” I said. “I want you to do something for me.”

“Not coming in today?” he asked. I was already late.

“No,” I replied. “But that’s not the thing. I want you to check an address for me on Google Maps.”

“Sure. What’s the address, and what am I checking?”

I read him the address. “Just check it out on Streetview,” I said. “Tell me… Tell me what colour the fence is.”

“Sweet as. Why?”

“It’s a long story. Just check it out now while I’m on the line and tell me.”

“Please hold, caller.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Hilarious.” I could hear him typing.

And typing. And typing. Chatting on MSN, I figured. I was getting frustrated again. “Michael!” I yelled into the phone. “Oi!”

I heard him pick up the phone. “Hello?” he said, tentatively.

“Have you found it yet?” I asked.

“Hey! You not coming in today?”

“Michael, did you find the address?”

“What address?”

“The one I just gave you!” I felt like screaming. “You were finding out the colour of the fence!”

He said nothing for a moment. “What fence?” he asked.

I hung up and stared at the phone.

The only thing I could think of was to call someone for advice, someone who might have some insight. So I clicked through my mobile phone’s address book and found Yvette’s number. She’d been studying hypnotherapy along with her other hippy madness back when we’d dated. We hadn’t parted on great terms, but I reckoned a few years of not talking to each other had probably mellowed any hard feelings.

So I got off the bed and rang her, pacing a bit.

She picked up. “What do you want?” I probably should have turned off caller ID.

“Yvette,” I said. “Sorry, I know you probably don’t much want to talk to me, but I really need your help with something. I think I’m fucking losing my mind.”

She said nothing, so I continued.

“You used to study a bit of hypnotherapy and stuff, right?” I asked. “As part of your course?”

“…Yes?”

“Okay, I need some advice. Did you do any, like, aversion therapy? Like, does hypnotism ever do anything like making someone have a really serious aversion to something? Like maybe to treat an addiction?”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she asked. She sounded a bit angry, but given how things ended between us, that was fair enough.

“I’m sorry to call you out of the blue. I know I should have been in touch sooner. I heard about your dad last year, and I seriously should have called or something. But I really need your help, Yvette.”

“Kyle,” she said, and I thought maybe she sounded more worried or confused than angry. “I told you last time, I can’t help you. I don’t know what’s going on with you, I don’t know what you’re on, but you need serious professional help. Like a clinic.”

I stopped, then said, “What?”

“Whatever your hooked on, I can’t get involved, and you need to find someone to help you.”

“For fuck’s sake, Yvette, I’m not addicted to anything!” The frustration was coming back. “Just something weird’s going on with me, and I just want to know about–“

“Aversion therapy,” she cut me off. “Hypnotherapy. You told me. And I told you, I don’t really know anything about that stuff.”

“You said no such goddam thing!” Same old patterns. God, no wonder we broke up. And thank God we did.

She paused, and I imagined her taking a deep breath, maybe visualising a pretty colour or something.

“I told you last time you called, Kyle,” she said.

I’d been ready to yell at her. I was angry. But this threw me. I exhaled.

“What?”

“I told you I can’t help you with that stuff,” she repeated. “Last time you called.”

A sick suspicion entered my mind.

“Yvette, when did I call you? What did I say?”

“Last time you sounded angry and drunk, no surprise, and you started ranting at me about hypnosis and aversion therapy.”

I felt faint. There was a high-pitched whine in my ears. I sat heavily on the bed.

“When, Eve.” My own voice sounded distant. “When did I call.”

But she had already hung up.

I put my head in my hands and just stared at the wall.

Clearly I had to do something. Everything centred on this address. All I could think to do was go there and force myself to see whatever it was I kept on avoiding. Without getting distracted, and without forgetting.

I grabbed a black Vivid and wrote the address in full on my left forearm. Then, to be on the safe side, I left the folded paper on the windowsill in the kitchen, above the sink. I estimated how long it would take me to walk to the address and set my mobile-phone alarm to go off when I expected to be close.

Then I left the house and locked the door behind me.

It was late morning, a little overcast, but quite warm. I realised I hadn’t changed or showered since the day before, and probably smelled like an internet helpdesk, and considered heading back home to at least put on some deodorant in case I ran into someone I knew, but I shook off the inclination and kept walking.

By the time I’d got to Ponsonby Road, I’d almost forgotten what I was doing. My mind was wandering, thinking about what I had to get done at work, thinking about how I hadn’t seen Mum in months, what movies were about to come out. Someone walked past me and stared a little at my arm, and I was surprised to find the thick black letters written across it. Then I remembered.

I kept walking. I started repeating a little mantra to myself, something like, “Not getting distracted, walking to this address.” Over and over. But that became so repetitive that it lost its meaning and almost became a bit hypnotic itself. Twice I found myself sitting down at bus stops, uncertain how I’d got there, until the writing on my arm reminded me again.

I started thinking about Mum again, and how I hadn’t seen her in months, and I realised that I could just grab a taxi to go and see her. I hadn’t forgotten what I was doing, I could still read the address on my arm, but it didn’t seem so important. Hell, I was taking the day off work today, and hadn’t technically even called in sick. I should be at work. I could put off this whole venture until the weekend. That would just be sensible. It wouldn’t even be like I’m avoiding the address, it’s just doing the smart thing. Plus, I could bring friends and we could remind each other what we’re doing as we go. Why was I even walking? I could go and get a car.

But I kept walking. If I stopped now, I couldn’t be certain I’d even remember the address by the weekend.

Suddenly I was gripped by a certainty that Mum was going to die. I hadn’t seen her in months, and now she was going to die. How could I let her die without telling her that I love her one last time? She was going to die today, and this was my last chance to go and see her. If I turned around right away and got a cab straight to her place, I could see her in time.

I’d stopped walking. I’d turned. I’d started walking back.

Then my alarm went off, and I thought someone was calling me. I pulled my phone out and tried to answer, but it didn’t work. I looked it blankly and figured out that it was the alarm. And I remembered why I had set the alarm. And I looked at my arm.

And I looked up. I was at the corner of the street. The street.

It was empty. No people, no cars. Just houses, typical Grey Lynn villas lining up on either side. I couldn’t even hear any cars in the distance.

Slowly, deliberately, I lifted my left foot and took a step. Then the right. I watched my feet and counted the steps. Left, one, left, two, left, three, left, four. I counted ten, then checked the letterbox next to me. Number 6. A while yet to go.

I half-expected the distraction to return, the forgetting, the sudden urge to run home and check the oven’s not on or something. But the distraction had stopped. That unnerved me a little. I kept walking.

Number 20. There were no birds, either, I noticed. And the sky had taken on a strange tone, like I was wearing sunglasses. I felt watched. I sensed a dull vibration in my chest, echoed by a quiet buzzing in my ears. I swallowed hard, trying to make them pop. And I kept walking.

I felt drawn onwards, now, rather than repelled. My feet kept moving, one in front of the other. It almost felt like I was just leaning back on an escalator, just riding my legs and feet slowly and inevitably down the street. It was sleepy. It was sleepy walking down that street in that deadened silence, the soft crunch of my shoes being swallowed up immediately after each step. As if walking on snow. Vaguely, I realised I should be more concerned about how sleepy I was.

A sudden image entered my mind that, having first ascended them, I was now falling down the edges of a crater on the moon, lazily sliding towards its centre.

And then I came to a halt. My feet had stopped moving. I blinked and looked up, first at the writing on my arm, then at the very same number on the letterbox in front of me.

There was nothing else to do. I opened the gate and stepped on to the path.

I knew immediately that I had made a mistake. I didn’t just know I’d made a mistake, I felt it like a blow to the stomach. This was wrong, terribly terribly wrong, and it was too late. It was too late to take it back. I should never have come here. I chose to come here, and it was too late to take it back. I felt it growing in my belly like a cancer, rising up inside me, gripping my spine, my throat from within.

I opened my mouth to gasp, and gaped as my diaphragm refused to move. The path seemed to fall away from me even as the house itself twisted and distorted, and I felt an awful gravity in front of me, beneath me, and I was falling towards it, slipping without foothold in a direction I couldn’t fully comprehend.

I heard a woman’s scream and for a terrible, wonderful moment, I thought someone else was there with me, that I was not alone. I instinctively tried to call for help, and in so doing discovered that the scream was my own.

But the noise had roused me and suddenly my frozen limbs spasmed into action. One heel miraculously gained purchase on the ground and I scrambled back up the path, making excruciatingly slow progress, certain that every inch of advance was matched and more by that strange plummet stretching behind me.

It’s only now, writing this, that I realise there was something else there, something I’ve already forgotten. There is an oddly shaped hole in my memory, and my mind recoils from its edges. I do recall a moment of triumph upon gaining the post of the gate, the first glimmer of the hope of escape. And I didn’t want to turn around. I didn’t want to look behind me, but perhaps whatever weird influences had thus far directed my actions were still at work within me. God, maybe they still are. I did not want to look behind me, but I did.

I am forgetting.

The next thing I can clearly remember is being here, in Ponsonby, with pen and paper, certain that I must warn you.

I’ve already forgotten almost everything, as if in putting it to paper it has been mercifully erased from my mind. There is nothing left to do but send you this warning.

You have to believe me. Remember that night in Rotorua? You never told anyone about that. This is important.

I’ll post it immediately. Please. The warning is this: Do not visit that address. If you discover the paper, burn it. Don’t think about it. Give it up now.

Oh, sweet Jesus, I’m forgetting. Thank God. I am forgetting.

Yours,

Kyle.

 

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