Blue Darkness – Nathaniel Duggan
February 24, 2020
I had moved to one of those cabins in the thick part of the woods where you were supposed to write a book or else get murdered. It was a log cabin, with walls like the barreled insides of an old ship. As for my own life, I felt it had taken on the shape of a submarine, and I only intended to retreat deeper into it.
The first night after I’d unpacked my toothbrush, my roommates, my friend and his wife who owned the place, showed me where they kept the shotgun. “Just so there’s no secrets,” the wife said. “So you feel completely safe.”
She collected dead bugs, this wife, kept butterfly wings pinned to the cabin’s walls like a thousand tiny stained glass windows, scattered hornets sleek as bullets about the dinner table. There was some science to insects, she explained to me once, the way their bodies never broke down after death, that they could not decompose because they wore their skeletons already on the outside, leaving nothing left, then, for decay to peel back…
The husband, a friend from high school, built boats the next town over for a living. He was tattered, paint-stained, chemical-fumed, yet remained, like the acetone he soaked in each shift, miscible: how many years since we had last talked before this move, and still he hadn’t given a second thought to clearing out the guest room’s dust. No matter how tired he was after work we’d sit down together and drink as hopefully as if we were still teenagers with a party to seek once we’d downed our beers. I initially took this as his kindness, although I wondered too if he wasn’t like a girder collapsed from the weight it had been sustaining: the sort of suppleness that can only come from snapping.
No, I did not have a job. I spent my days in the living room with their cat, watching the shadows slither along furniture in the quiet way blood moves beneath skin. While this was one of those summers where the world was a dagger’s white flash against your eyes, neither heat or light could penetrate the cabin, and I wore the hours like a blanket, every inch of the house wrapped in blue-black darkness, my vision softened to a bruise.
Besides, the wife warned me not to go out. There had been alerts, she said, regarding a species of moth invasive to the area. Its molting was toxic, the reports went, the body hairs it shed—scattering like so much pollen—poison to human flesh, an airborne rash that seared and blistered the skin. My friend the husband was particularly susceptible, so that in addition to the chemicals he worked with each day his body was now infected from the very air he breathed, his face on the verge of cracking from its swelling. Between the beer and his inflamed lungs, there was barely space in his throat to get out words, and our nights drinking together descended into silence.
One day the cat went out and did not return. “He does this, sometimes…” the wife sighed, more inconvenienced than worried. She set his litter box and jostled his food on the porch. The hiss of cicadas that week was so loud it seemed to swallow every other sound. I woke one dawn to footsteps. When I emerged from my room to investigate, the cabin was empty, the door to my friend and his wife firmly shut, but still I felt the presence of a stranger near me like a crack in the blue darkness. There was a mirror hanging over my bed which I had grown to disdain, for I’d started to wonder what my reflection was doing in it when I was out of sight.
Then the wife went to work and did not return. When my friend got home, I tried asking him about this development, but he was still engorged with his eczema, face cratered as an asteroid, and he replied only by wrapping his hands around his throat, as if choking, before opening the fridge and grabbing a beer.
Before I had moved here, things had happened to me. Things were always happening to everyone everywhere, of course—that was one of the big problems with the world, I’d increasingly felt. I remembered dry heaving in the fluorescence of an office building’s bathroom. I remembered ripping a tie from around my neck and casting it into the wind of a mall parking lot. There had been a woman too, probably—there was always a woman, whether it was your lover or your sister or your friend’s wife or the mother you could no longer crawl back inside.
I myself could no longer interact quite right with other people. When the gas station cashier asked if I wanted my receipt, my tongue caught and tore on the dryness of my mouth, and I had to offer the copper taste of blood that escaped my lips like change—give a penny, take a penny. The wife continued to not return. While my friend was at work I stole into his bedroom and went to the closet where he kept the shotgun. The shotgun was gone. Then the friend was gone, as he did not come back from work that night, or ever again.
Still the noises in the cabin persisted, waking me regularly from my sleep. Imps on the roof, things scurrying in the drainage of my dreams. I became convinced the insects the wife had collected were moving, constantly exchanging places, marching in phalanxed armies whenever I wasn’t watching. After all, how can you prove something is dead if it refuses to rot? The place grew dusty with moth hairs, and I itched myself raw. I covered every mirror with a bedsheet. I locked the doors at night only to find their hinges shattered and frames swaying like loosened teeth the next morning.
All this I took as an urgent sign I needed to depart. Without even bothering to pack a bag, I started down the dirt road that led to town. There had long since stopped being weather or a sun. It was as if the darkness bottled in the cabin had finally flooded outward, softening the edges of the world into twilight. There were stars above and on the horizon a dull constant orange glow like an explosion’s lingering. Every now and again I would find a dead crow on the road’s shoulder, worms squirming in the folds of its feathers like a pulse.
Town was a gas station and a general store. There were no cars or people. I could not tell what time or day it was, although inside the store the lights were working and the shelves perfectly packed, not a single tuna can or cereal box out of place. It was around then that I realized even my reflection in the windows was gone. I thought once more about the wife and her insect collection, about how a corpse was distinguished from a body by its disintegration, and in that case were you wearing your skeleton or was it wearing you, and what exactly had vanished that day leaving the cabin, the rest of the world or just me?