The infestation has come back again.
It starts small, just a phantom ache in the morning, or a faint anxiety in the afternoon. It always starts small.
That’s how it gets you.
It tricks you into ignoring it. What’s the worst it can do?
It’s just a few motes of dust in a dark corner, a speck of rust at the edge.
But then you sit down and-
And there it is.
It sits right there at the mouth of your stomach.
It aches, and it spreads from there to your arms, turning them heavy and your fingers sweaty. They slip over the keyboard, or maybe the notebook, if you are like me and prefer to put down a few words the old-fashioned way, from time to time.
They make your head feel like a fog night, carriages of dull thoughts passing by, a glimpse of a cemeteries glow that barely brightens their outlines. They feel sluggish and unruly to the touch, similar to those abyssal fish with a lamp right above their knife-filled maw, waiting for you.
And that’s when the infestation knows it has won. Can you hear it?
A far-off echo of throaty laughter.
I do believe you can hear it. I surely do.
It’s always the same, and it never leaves. It breeds its cobwebs all over every tool: I find my pen covered in sticky green mud, I find my keyboard heavy and unresponsive, I find my fingers throbbing with ache and weariness.
I want nothing more than to lay down in front of the bright rectangle of the screen and sleep for a bit.
Maybe I will get better ideas next time. Maybe it will be less painful next time.
The infestation is always active, unlike me. When I sleep, it grows stronger. It sends its roots deeper, and with every doubt it feels like it’s drinking more and more of my blood.
Have you ever felt it? Maybe it strikes right at the start, when you are the most vulnerable. Maybe in the middle, and you are left dumb-struck, staring at the half-empty screen, and your mind scape had turned into a sheet of nothingness, mirror-smooth.
I had a friend who suffered from a similar condition. He died from it, the poor soul: he had an ugly condition known as brain ants.
I think it’s a similar thing to the affliction. One day he woke up from bed (must have been when he was six or seven, we never managed to pinpoint it) and he had them right inside his brain. They get in from your auditory canal, you know. Especially dangerous when close to a relative, a parent or a teacher. They are tricky little critters and they get you when you are at your most confident.
And once they are in, have fun driving them out.
Brain ant are devious like that: they skitter about and bite into your brain, turning it into a sponge, where they can live comfortably and reproduce. And they brush their tiny appendages together, be it their legs or they antennae: and what comes out?
This was the worst part, my friend explained on his deathbed. All his life he heard the brain ants whispering to him.
Why do you exist?
And if you exist at all, why in such a ugly way?
You do not belong. Why?
You should only listen to us, because only we, the brain ants, know your most intimate of thoughts. Only we love you.
You better do as we say.
And that was what got him, in the end.
Truly a sad end.
So, some have their brain ants and some have other afflictions.
You can see people going about with nets on their back – some of them extending for dozens of steps behind them. And they are heavy and worn-out and you can really feel the smell out of them.
Most have things stuck to the nets – some are books, some are letters, some trinkets, maybe a ring or a pair of car keys.
You can see these net-bearing people gathering together, even if they do not really seem to. And they pick up the stuff caught in each other’s nets and they shuffle it around, sharing and dividing the load.
Then they go each their own way, but you can swear none of them has a lighter net after these such encounters.
You could guess why they do so – I tried to stop one of them once and ask her why meet up with the others if she ended up with even more weight.
And I remember how she smiled, like certain dogs baring their teeth – she chuckled and pointed at my notes, seeping black goo onto my clothes, writhing like algae caught in the current.
“And what about you?” She asked, refusing my question. “Bold of you to go ask others about their nets when you go around like that!” And then she gave me a curtsey using her net, picked up some of the black drops that had fallen to the ground, smearing them over her net, and walked away, still shaken from time to time by a bout of feverish laughter.
One of mine is the blank page.
It stares back, and it does so like a vitreous eyeball looking through a keyhole.
It’s at times like these that I remember what I used to do and how it has never helped.
I did not look back at the infestation. I let my fingers grow stiff. I just huffed and puffed and maybe grumbled at the thing, but in the end I gave up.
I always did.
I shut down my laptop.
I threw my pen away.
I put my notebook back into my bag and tried to forget about it, even as the infestation chittered its satisfied laughter and grew a little fatter and a little more satisfied.
I could feel its tendrils wrap around my midsection, extend to lick at my heart and slither to grasp my wrists, so that I could not escape.
I used to believe it was the normal thing to do.
But for the past few months, whenever I felt the infestation rise, especially after a great success, for that’s when defenses are at their lowest, I dared to stare back.
To look at that milky eye.
To rub my thumb over the edge of my notebook and clean it up enough to see what I had written so far.
It’s even worse than usual: it’s a gross, tiring and disgusting process.
But at the end, I don’t hear that laughter anymore.
Author’s Note: I have just completed two hundred days of writing each and every day – and I do feel a tad spent. I think I have found a nice story that might keep me entertained and stimulated enough to keep this up, and we’ll see in the next few days how that can work.
But these past three days I have felt the dread of the blank page seep through, clearer than it has been for the past six months – and I thought there was no better way to shut that pernicious demon up than to write a short piece about it!
Sitting down with your heavy head and no idea on what to write is one of the worst feelings to experience. I feel it every day, even with the help of the habit I have built. It’s a nasty little critter and it’s here to stay… no matter how many times I squash it.
But my aim keeps getting better.
Thanks for reading.