The Blunt End of It


We had been receiving phone calls in the small hours of the morning, my caregivers reporting each time an inability to discern any presence on the line. Waking before the sun to the ringing languished over the better course of a month before ending abruptly. Rather than silence, on this occasion, my caregivers reported back that the mother of my only friend had died a few hours earlier. It was the first and last time my family would address the matter, though in noting the absence of my friend later that day I had felt it all make a peculiar sense.

As we gathered around the television for dinner, a re-run of an old programme had been playing. Shifting my attention back and forth from the tray to the screen, nausea gave way to revelation. It became clear as day to me that the people on-screen inhabited an undeath insofar as their life and death were secondary to the primacy of the picture. There was no reason to worry, for the dead inhabited a higher order of reality than our own — a clarity which seemed to render the word “dead” uncouth. I could not wait to tell my friend. It was only after damaging our friendship to an irreparable degree that I was given pause to reconsider my conception, though the fundamental conviction was unwavering. I had seen the way of things. Any fault was attributable to the means by which I had attempted to convey this idea. This secret had been revealed in the form of an image, and that was how it should be communicated to others.

Having been a steelworker, the man who raised me was keen to stress the importance of people like us being able to read and write good, though what he meant by people like us was unclear. My passion for these things had led me to the margins of the little society forming around me, comprised of little mockeries of police officers, doctors, or parents with their own ideas of perfect little people. I hadn’t known anyone who shared my inclination, other than my former friend, who was learning quickly to become someone else.

“Write about a time you did something amazing” said the chalkboard. I couldn’t remember anything of the sort, but I had learned of something better. I’d hoped for some indicator of understanding in return, but I was scolded over the irrelevance of my submission. I’m aware it sounds ridiculous, but having found myself haunting the corners of the schoolyard, this insistence on categorisation looked to me arbitrary, like rationale for the exclusion of the undeserving. It appeared to happen by itself, organising the little people in the promise of distributing resources in the most optimal manner possible. I had kicked up a fuss when our teacher had insisted we all carry two buckets of water each, so you can see how life is for children over there. I wasn’t sure how life looked elsewhere, but it didn’t look particularly well here. We were to pour the buckets down a drain afterwards, and my opposition to that absurdity resulted in my ban from the little library van, which would visit once each week from the town over with a selection of titles. I had suspected they had been waiting for a reason, having warned me that my time spent there would detract from my learning.


I’d borrowed my first adult horror book the week before, hiding it inside my bag and knowing it could be confiscated at any moment. It was about a friendless girl who accidentally destroys her community with supernatural powers. I cherished it dearly now that it could never be returned. I presumed my caregivers had dismissed those concerns raised by my teachers, since nothing of substance ever came of their complaints. I noticed that an encouragement of my education turned to reservation, and that while the person who called himself my father had once been an avid reader and writer, lately he had been much of neither. The person who called herself my mother had never been either to my knowledge, as I had only known her to be either working or watching television. 

After she had retired for the evening from watching television in the living room to go and watch television in her bedroom, my father, who would have once retired to the kitchen to write, would now fall asleep on the couch to the tune of whatever happened to be playing last. My mother tired of the questions I’d ask her while she watched her programmes: are they alive or are they dead? I mean the actor. When did they die? She would point the remote control at my head and pretend as if she were pressing the off button or the mute button, or the volume down button.

My caregivers would point to the belongings or interests of my peers and say don’t you want to do that? I couldn’t discern which bothered them more: my own interests, or my lack of interest in mimicking the desires of others. You’re such a morbid child they would remark when I would tell them about my stories, and although they knew I enjoyed spending time outdoors on my own, they often intoned why can’t you go and play outside like everybody else? I had tried to point out that I spent plenty of time outside given that it was the only place to be free from the sound of the television, and eventually wondered often if all the nonsense boiled down to my dislike of the thing, which grew to such an extent that I had objected to one being installed in my own bedroom.

I’d heard that across the sea, a larger number of channels allowed for a greater variety of perspectives, but we only had five channels here, and I was creeped out by the central, agreed upon premise that endeavoured to now occupy my place of rest itself. I had already found it hard enough to sleep at night due to the sound of those already in the house, which my parents would each fall asleep to in different rooms. My lack of sleep accrued a debt, which I owed to things who were keen to preserve their appointments in the form of daydreams, carrying my academic performance back off to the underworld with them. I had wondered if the dreams of my family were similarly disturbed, or if they had ceased to dream and it had been performed for them on a soundstage on a film set somewhere within that higher order of reality. They had enrolled me in a number of state-sponsored extracurricular activities, though I found their competitive nature lacking in decorum and eventually relented to such an extent that I was able to forego them entirely. 

I had made a few attempts at turning the televisions off in the middle of the night, though my parents would wake each time and were becoming increasingly irate at my behaviour. My mother, unable to understand this defiance, began to adorn me with all number of increasingly ludicrous fictions as to explain my behaviour. It had been trivial at first, an open curtain being closed despite never having been touched, or an inanimate ornament having moved to much the same. I was increasingly confined to my bedroom as punishment for these unexplained occurrences, my guilt evident since neither of my parents had committed the crime. I was allowed leave of absence only for school and for dinner, which we ate in front of the television. One evening we had been watching a film depicting a true story, in which a plane had crashed into a remote mountain region, and the survivors soon after resorted to eating one another to survive. The television, being rather old by now, had started to experience some issues. It would drop the image on occasion, or it would appear distorted. My family arrived at the only rational conclusion, which was my secret possession of a universal remote control. 

My parents divorced shortly afterwards, and I didn’t see my father anymore. I moved with my mother to a new town, where I would be attending secondary school. She had brought her television with her, and I brought my books with me, which I arranged in alphabetical piles on the floor of my new bedroom. One afternoon I had arrived home from school before my mother to find that my books had been displaced throughout the house. A pile of them were stacked to the ceiling from one of the oven hobs, and more were arranged inside of the refrigerator in reverse order. I later found several outside over the coming days, or in the cabinet under the bathroom sink — and many never returned. My mother had arrived home moments after my discovery, and of course, upon observing the disarray, my guilt was evident. I had attempted to discuss these problems with some of the teachers at my new school, but they would simply say your mother is just looking out for you. It was clear to me that this “you” they spoke of had not been my own self she had been looking for — this thing from a lower order reality, like all the others — but something from that greater reality, the image of an idealised and perfectly normative, rational child.

A classmate of mine had been involved in the production of a television programme, having given birth to a child shortly before our first set of examinations which would allow us to leave for the market upon reaching the age of sixteen. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, even though she had only ever treated me with hostility. There was an overwhelming unpleasantness arising from the whole mess, soon to be made real by film. I had hoped that summer to leave, if any of my applications to continue my studies at a community college were accepted, for which I could receive a state bursary to support my living costs. I’d had an argument with my mother around this time after she objected to my use of the word genre, and making every attempt to focus on my studies, would often retreat to my room. I would write and re-write, and sort my writing into ring-binders by punching holes in the pages and encasing them within. I would end up with so many of these pages that my desk would be covered in little white paper circles left over from the punch. 

My mother, now making a habit of going into my bedroom and rifling through my belongings, took it upon herself to proclaim these aforementioned circles as the most logical explanation for my strangeness: some sort of designer drug that I had been taking. I avoided watching the broadcast of the programme concerning my classmate, but my mother saw it, and soon she became convinced that a student as unsociable as myself was engaged in relations with persons of both sexes. I had decided then to inform one of the few teachers who could tolerate my presence, Mrs. Crandall, who taught English, that I would be leaving after our study break. She had disliked me for some time, but eventually would discuss fiction with me after classes. She suggested that entering a short story contest would take my mind off of the stress of the exams, and she provided me with the entry details. As I left, she told me to keep an eye on channel two. 

My entry to the contest was a story which appeared at first to be science fiction: the impending arrival of an interstellar spacecraft. We assemble our very best and brightest bureaucrats as delegates, but it transpires upon landing that the inhabitants of the vessel are not alien brothers from another world, but the dead having returned. I couldn’t think of anything to add afterwards, so I left it there and sent it off in an envelope. My prize was a gift voucher for an electrical goods outlet. The problems with our old television were increasing in their severity, and I had no use for it, so I gave my prize to my mother, which she placed as a down-payment on a newer, better television. It would be a few days before we could pick it up. It had dawned on me some weeks later while sat in front of the television for dinner that I would soon be leaving, having yet to inform my parents. I noticed Mrs Crandall on the screen. She was the first contestant to be eliminated from the game show. The next day we got in the car to go pick up the new television. I asked my mother don’t you want to hear what the story was about? To which she responded pervert.

My mother was thrilled to have received the television in time for an episode of a televised singing competition in which the line manager of my cousin was competing. Many of the houses on the street were tuning in, so it seemed only logical that a street-wide power-cut would occur. It didn’t stop my mother, as she sat and happily watched the entire thing on her own despite there being no broadcast that anyone else in the room could discern. She continued to do so forever afterwards, citing this individualised entertainment as evidence for her fictions. One day after having left for college, I had noticed twenty to thirty missed calls on my phone from her, the messages left all concerning having been sent lewd imagery of me on her phone, and her having informed my immediate family. When I arrived at her house demanding to be shown evidence, she proceeded to show me a series of blurred images, which in fact, appeared to be identical to one another, yet conveyed no discernible form of any kind. Look, look! she shouted!

I thought my mother prescient in a way, with her personalised entertainment preempting cutting-edge satirical television programmes regarding ensuing technological developments in efforts to offer a centralised-yet-seemingly-decentralised reflection of our worst selves. I had moved to a town lately that had been one of many potential towns we had visited and contemplated, as if we had any say in the matter. It had been the most recent move in a series of many in my life. I would keep moving around, as if I was attempting to go where reality was, only to find it foreclosed upon. All the movement meant it could be perpetuated without accumulating any residual meaning. These were things that you now had to consider in terms of being entirely predetermined, the purview of the fates who determined the ongoings of our lower order reality.


I had been walking through the centre of the town, shortly after receiving our keys, when I noticed what appeared to be a large green hand clinging to the roof of the town hall. It was tradition in the town to hold an annual festival and go all out in celebration of Halloween, and as I passed over the bridge, I saw an electric chair on which a wolf-man sat, facing repeated executions and reanimations every few minutes. My father-in-law had sent me a book, stipulating that the tradition arose from the historical persecution in the town of persons thought to be practicing witchcraft, replete with newspaper clippings and court records revealing this to have occurred following the famed Salem witch trials. Various signposts were dotted around the streets, leading visitors on a historical trail of sites marking trials, burnings, memorials, and carefully observed wards to ensure those persecuted would refrain from enacting revenge from beyond the grave.

I passed by a small haunted house attraction into the nearby shopping centre. Most of the units inside were empty, but the basement floor had been occupied for some time by a gallery showcasing art from local residents. I generally passed through this gallery on my way to the post office when sending letters to friends, in order to avoid the rain. The paintings inside displayed a variety of insights into particular realities, constellations of fictions built from popular iconography and concerns. I had been informed by the receptionist that in the winter it would be replaced by a model railroad exhibition. I left the gallery afterwards, thinking that I had found several of the paintings inside disagreeable.  I had intended to take the escalator up to the first floor, but it was out of order. 

The only other thing on this level than a greengrocer was a formerly unoccupied unit in which sat three women, who had noticed me and invited me inside. Inside the walls were lined with many of the same clippings that I had found in the book regarding the town, and they spoke of their efforts to preserve this information while I tried to ignore my ringing phone in my bag. I excused myself to answer, but really I had decided to visit a particular landmark they had mentioned. I had read about it beforehand, a witching well to commemorate those who lost their lives to moral panic, representing a doorway to the other world — the eventual dwelling place of the departed. It was in an area of the town I had been regularly told to avoid, on a small area of land behind a row of houses that had seen better days. I had expected the well to be a wooden cut-out, which would reveal itself after I had walked around it, but it was indeed made of stone in the manner of the time it marked, and sealed with a heavy iron cover. 

I looked at the houses surrounding the well, recalling the walls in my childhood bedroom and how they felt like a soundstage on a film set, the world outside the window a painted backdrop, but I had dismissed myself of such notions after viewing a popular film in which this was the central premise. My dreaming where I stood was interrupted by my phone ringing again. I was typically reluctant to answer my phone as of late, having over the better course of the month received a series of phone calls in the small hours of the morning, unable to discern any presence on the line.