Art Pact 237 - Cellar


I had never experienced such darkness before. Living in the city I'd become used to the ever-present glow of the sodium lighting at night, brighter than the moon, that filled the sky with a bright orange fuzz. Indoors there were the standby lights of electronic equipment - bright as flashlights when one got up in the middle of the night, quite enough to wander the house by with no fear of stubbed toes. Even in my bedroom, where I had done all I could to keep light from disturbing my sleep, there was the faint hint of illumination from behind the curtains, a little line of brightness around the card that I placed in front of my alarm clock's dial so that it wouldn't glare at me. Since my eyes had started working I felt like there had not been a moment of my life where I wasn't able to see something.

Not there. In that cellar was the dark of the abyss, the dark of nothingness, the dark from before the beginning of time and space, when there had been no photons to carry light. It was an oppressive dark with no sense of distance, a dark that could have been millimetres from my eyes or light-years. It was more than a temporary darkness, it was a darkness that crept into the mind and infected past visions with shadow so that even the thought of sight became an impossibility. When I tried to picture my home the concept of home swam through my brain unseen, a fish sliding through ink. When I tried to picture my wife's face it was wreathed in darkness. Had she eyes? I could not remember. I could not imagine the shape of her nose, the curve of her jaw. Her hair was a sensation on my fingers, but I could not see the gloss of it, see it spread out on her pillow.

Paradoxically, other things came. It was so dark there that I saw - I am sure of it - cosmic rays bursting within my eyeballs. In the dark there were flashes of something. Not light, I was sure of that. There was no light there, and my brain had become so starved of it that it would not interpret anything as light, knowing it only to be a cruel deception. So those flashes were something like a touch, something like a sound. They were a colour without light. I do not know how better I can describe them, but that was how they were. If you cannot imagine it, then no fault lies either with you or in my vocabulary, because there is no need for any human language to talk about such things. I felt visions. I hallucinated sounds and smells, and touches within my head, and all of these or none of these could have been the result of flashes within my eyes. They were explosions. They were kisses. They were blows. I felt as though I were sitting outside myself, watching a bit of me - but just a bit - go rapidly insane.

It was like seeing a section of my brain reach retirement age instantly. Shorn of the responsibilities of work in the form of images coming into the visual cortex, that part of me responsible for interpreting the world around began to flail around wildly for some new pastime to grip onto, some hobby that would fill up the sudden void in purpose that had fallen upon it. My heart, ticking like a golden carriage clock, kept up a rhythm that my brain attempted to keep up with, and the strange tarantella dance that erupted from that confused partnership filled my head with bizarre fancies, visions of monsters lurking just out of reach, people I had not seen for decades, odd shapes, strange textures. I call them visions - because what else would I call them - but you should understand that there were no aspects of sight involved in these hallucinations, that I was experiencing them in a dream-like way but not in a way that involved even the fakery of light. I "saw" Necker cubes and Klein bottles, I perceived things that could not exist in reality and because I could not experience them in terms of images I could experience their paradoxical geometry in an entirely new way. If only I could have held onto that understanding later, perhaps it might have made me some sort of genius of maths or geometry. But now that I live in a world of light again all such thoughts are overpowered - my brain, it seems, embarrassed at its mad flights of fancy.

We measure the passage of time, whether we know it or not, by light. The dark and light cycle of day and night, the sight of a clock ticking, a photograph of an infant child compared with the sullen teenager that he has grown into. All of these things require vision, and although we can count time within ourselves - by heartbeats, by bars of music hummed in the head, by simple counting - these things are subjective. We do not know how fast our heart is beating if we cannot compare it with something. Music, counting - both speed up or slow down wildly when we have no outside tone or beat to match them against. So there, in the dark, I could not tell you how much time might have passed while those hallucinations overtook me. It might have been seconds. It might have been hours. I have tried to work back, in the sharp light, to calculate how much time I spent doing this or that in the cellar. But the calculations are hopeless. I do not know when I arrived, have only the vaguest idea when I left. I might as well be calculating the age of the earth by adding begats. All I can know is that at some point I heard a noise, and that noise brought another part of my brain into control, pushing the hallucinations aside.

Thud, came the sound from behind and above me. Thud, and again thud. The sound of something heavy walking across floorboards.

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