by Tyler Ribarchik
It’s hard for you to describe. It’s a strange sensation that will arise at a moment’s notice. It isn’t something you were born with, and it’s getting stronger. It’s not an urge; this is more like an external force, and it isn’t localized to one particular place. It’s as though you and the world around you have become magnetized with the same polaric qualities, and suddenly you’re being driven forward by the force of repulsion. Pushed away but never towards. The feeling first took hold when you left your home so many years ago, and now it has followed you back. And it was this force that compelled you from your bed and through the front door in the small hours of this otherwise unremarkable Wednesday morning.
Somewhere is better than nowhere.
You vividly remember walking these streets as a child; not much has changed. It looks like some of the houses might have been repainted. A few new trees planted here and there. Roads repaved. But the important things are exactly the same. You can still recognize the cracks in the sidewalk outside your house; you would jump over them out of consideration for your mother’s back. You used to roam these streets at night all the time before you left. In some way, you felt like you owned them, at least until the sun rose. But now that you’re back, you walk because you have no other choice.
The house on the corner had always caught your interest. As a child, you would quicken your pace and avert your gaze as you passed it, but now you find yourself slowing down to get a better look. Almost every neighborhood has at least one of these: day or night, it’s perpetually darkened. Yet, you’ve never noticed a “for sale” sign in the yard, and it’s too well maintained for it to have been abandoned. You’re aware of the theories and rumors: it’s haunted, it’s a witches coven, the people who live there are in witness protection, it’s a drug den. And maybe that’s the point; maybe the people who live there expect you to project your own vision onto it, one which might be superior to the reality. Maybe they keep their houses so dark to disguise the fact that there’s actually nothing inside of them. But for now, it’s virtually indistinguishable from all the houses around it.
When you were younger, you owned several different pairs of shoes. They were all different colors, and each of them would take you to a different place. Now, you only have one pair of shoes. They’re really comfy, though.
The streets seem mostly the same, but what about inside the houses? Do the people you grew up around still live there? Why does that matter to you at all? This is the first time you’ve thought about these people in years. Most of them were essentially strangers; your interactions limited to an awkward smile or a slight nod of the head in acknowledgment. It’s kind of surreal to think about how, for most of your life, you’ve lived within a stone’s throw of all these people, and you don’t even know most of their names. You could change all that in an instant, conceivably. All you have to do is walk up to their front door and knock.
They say the human brain can only maintain about 150 relationships at a given time. They don’t say anything about the significance of these relationships.
Pick any house. Or pick every house, to make up for the lost time. Run from door to door, knocking frantically. Stand in the street and make incoherent loud noises until you’ve drawn a crowd. Then make more loud noises, but a little more coherently. Explain everything: why you’re out there, why they’re out there, the whole thing about magnets.
Perhaps some of them have also been afflicted with such a condition, one which also drags them from bed at such an unreasonable hour. Perhaps each of them at one point has wandered aimlessly through these streets, wondering about the contents of the darkened houses. Maybe they’ve briefly stood at your doorstep, hands poised to knock, ready to make you aware of their existence. Better still; maybe one of them had found a way to cure whatever this is. ‘Yes,’ one of them would say, ‘I know exactly what’s happening to you. And I know how to fix it. All you need to do is this. Simple as that.’
Or, they might just stare at you blankly, some visibly agitated that they’ve been dragged into the streets to be subjected to your vague grievances. You would suggest that they must also feel it, and they just haven’t noticed yet. Ask them to stand very still, feel for the subtle push of the… something. Don’t they feel it? A voice would rise from the crowd:
“Why are you being so selfish? You just want other people to feel the same discomfort, the discontent that you’re experiencing. Well, we’re all out here now. Do you feel better now? Misery loves company, right? Good, now you can go home. All you had to do was drag an entire community of people out into the same uncomfortable situation as you. Goodnight.”
Your pace has slowed considerably now, the repulsion has waned again. You notice that lights have started to come on in the houses around you; the sun should be rising soon.
You’re almost home, for now.