Our theme for the month of October was selected by readers and is a format challenge: write a post completely in dialogue.
[An Edgar-Allan-Poe inspired conversation with a figment of my imagination]
I was chilled. The sort of cold that can only seize a body in early autumn. The memory of summer lingers as long as it can until the frigid gales of autumn blow it into oblivion. The night was stormy—the trees blustering as if caught in an aerial whirlpool.
Turning up my collar against the wind, I made my way gingerly from parking lot to house, my heels rolling on acorns blown down prematurely in the maelstrom. I had just clutched the even colder metal front door knob, when I heard the streetlight buzz. I turned around only to see the street plunged into darkness. My ears, sharpened by the lack of visual stimulus, detected the pinpricks of hail, which grew immediately louder into deafening strikes like the sound of the fists of a man who has been mistaken for dead and, when he comes to himself, realizes he has been nailed shut in a coffin. The hail, I tell you, pounded furiously, as if the tiny particles were likewise urgently attempting to escape an untimely doom.
Darkness, noise, and wind swelled, and somehow, out of these invisible elements materialized a form—a figure so terrible I hardly dare describe it. My words turn ashy even now as I pen this delectable horror.
The figure was made formidable by its familiarity and its utter strangeness. It was human, I could tell, and perhaps female. I felt such a kinship and disgust for the creature, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The hair was an unkempt rat’s nest the color of putrid dishwater. The rest of the figure was garbed in sweatpants held up by a bit of twine and sweat shirt that enshrouded the figure in a mass of cheap cotton. It smelled of forsaken dreams and Chinese takeout three weeks old.
I fell back—aghast—and, just when I could not fathom a greater horror, the figure’s gnarled hand pushed back a few strands of tangled hair to reveal a face.
The face was my own!
And it spoke—with my voice!
“Pull yourself together,” said the figure. “I’m the ghost of your future.”
“Ah!” I gasped, my mouth dry. “I, I, d- d-don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Good, ghosts don’t exist anyway. I just said that for dramatic effect. I’m just a figment.”
“A figment of your imagination. A manifestation, you could say, of all the revolving, blustering anxieties you are having about your future.”
I stared, dumbfounded, as the figment shut the door behind me and walked up to my room. I followed, as if drawn by magnetic force.
“All that pent up nervous energy—you were going to have to expend it somehow. And here I am.”
“I made you? Wait!” My mind, numb from shock and cold, began to race. “My mental energy constructed you, my future self?”
“Oh please. This,” the figment gestured wildly at itself “this is not your future self. You are imaginative but not actually a lunatic. I’m just a bit of anxiety come to life. Consider me as a gift from your unconscious self to the conscious. I’m only here for a little chat—it will help you.”
“Help me? Showing me what sad wreckage I will become in my future is intended to bring me comfort? Are you out of your senses?”
“Now, now, who’s calling the kettle black? Look, I get it. You are worried about the future.” The figment perched on the edge of my bed. “Everyone is, so chill out. I’m mean, worry a little bit so you get stuff done, but stop with the overboard dramatics already!”
I blinked, opened my mouth like a guppy beached on shore of the river Styx, but I shut it again, saying nothing.
“So what’s the worst that could happen? You become paralyzed by decision-making, never get haircut, start wearing sweatpants, sink into a Netflix-induced coma, and die alone? Do you see how stupid that is?”
The figment placed a bloodless hand on my shoulder, reducing me to a mass of shudders. “Come on, the only thing that your worrying has done was create me—a sermonizing Edgar-Allan-Poe-flavored fever dream. Seriously, if you don’t want me to keep haunting you, just give the worrying a break. I mean, your future you will not look like me. I am literally unbelievably ridiculous.”
“Well,” I finally responded, “I suppose you make a fair point.” At this moment, the streetlight outside flickered, casting a wavering then finally stable glow through the window.
The eternal shades of nightly gloom, which had so recently entwined my soul like a noose, loosened their chokehold and seemed to float away, ethereal bonds dissipating like specks of dust caught in a sunbeam. Now that I could fully see, I realized that the room was, once again, empty.
I looked down—normal clothes, no sweatpants. I dashed to my mirror—and there was sanity and even humor in the face underneath wind-tossed, hail-dampened hair.
Everyone experiences anxiety about the future, I reminded myself, give the worrying a break.
After a trial-by-fire year as public school substitute teacher and fly-by-night freelancer, Julia will shed the tribulations of the work-world to embark on a MA in art history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. If you are in town, she’ll gladly take you to a local museum. She enjoys walks, leopard print, and good conversation.