God this post has been hard to write. I’ve been building up to it for a long while, trying to get in the right mindset to recount this, but…Well.
Cognitive psychology places great reliance on schema theory when trying to understand how we perceive our world. Schemata are…I think of them as the structural framework for inferential understanding of the world around us, and a tool for categorisation and organisation of knowledge. For instance…say a small child had a pet dog…a Jack Russell, perhaps. This child develops an understanding of what a dog is according to what they know: It has four legs, quite small, so on and so forth.
Then, say, the child sees a beagle and through her previous understanding of what a dog is, assimilates this new dog into her definition and expands the framework of what a dog can be.
Then, say, the child sees a cat. The cat also fits her understanding of what a dog is, so when she is told that this is an entirely different sort of animal, she adjusts her schema for what a dog is, and creates a new mental framework to understand this concept of ‘cat’.
These are the building blocks of how we as humans, understand and interact with our reality. It is how we make assumptions, and use previous information to approach new problems: even if something has not been encountered previously, by consulting previous frameworks, one may infer a solution to this problem.
But what happens to a man when something completely incongruent with his pre-existing schemata is thrust upon him? What happens when there is no frame of reference for what he encounters in the slightest? A new schemata is created, but what if the features by which he must associate to this new anomaly are just as incongruent with his understanding of the world?
He can try to reject this new information. Repress it. Shove it away, devise alternate, contrived explanations for what occurred. He can be unable to reconcile his mind and his reality and (though this term always strikes me as so unintuitive-ly vague and useless considering our current understanding of the process by which one develops mental illness, according to the diathesis-stress model) ‘go insane’.
Or he can make some tough calls, adjust his way of thinking, and after a while…after a long, long while…he can accept the reality of his situation.
Though none of this went through my mind as I sat there with my shut-down ears, as the room got darker and darker.
The first thing I noticed was the window shaking. It wasn’t obvious at first, in fact; I’m surprised I noticed it when I did. It shook as the sky outside darkened, moody clouds swirling overhead and the faintest idea of a sunrise behind, bathing the room in scarcely burning incandescent yellow. I closed my eyes for a moment, but found that the near-total sensory deprivation was uncomfortable, so I re-opened them and watched the clouds for longer, spinning and curling hypnotically in the glow, as the window shuddered, then liquidated, droplets of glass playing with the yellow light and sparkling as they rained down to the floor, splattering onto the hardwood floor, shattering and sprinkling.
The door slammed open, and two of the masked men entered, walking in from the golden light, looking for all the world as if they were walking through honey. The snakelike ropes were ripped away from me, hissing away in protest as I was grabbed, not un-gently, by both arms and frogmarched out the door, onto a…rather anticlimactic porch area. I appeared to be in a rather cozy beach house, in one of many rooms overlooking the choppy sea, which swirled and got more violent, a mirror image of the black clouds above.
He was there, with his red, weeping eyes, though something looked somewhat different. He had rejected his hood in favour of a rather wide, straight brimmed hat, and his face looked…fuller…real-er? No, it was still a mask, white and imposing, but it seemed as if it had melded with his skin, ceramic tissue, almost, but not quite human.
Needless to say, I did not feel particularly at ease. The Crying Man continued to speak, pointing up at the clouds and tapping my head with a…playful? finger . I flinched slightly from this gesture, and he stopped speaking, tilting his head curiously. I pointed to my ears and shrugged. He took this in stride, clicking his fingers and whispering something to one of the other masked men (his face looked oddly…full of expression as well.) He left, only to return moments later with a notepad and pen, which he wrote on and showed me.
“Look, He is coming."
Their leader pointed once again to the sky, and I looked. There wasn’t much to see, just swirling, billowing clouds, preparing themselves to release rain…god, they were black, and the golden light disappeared leaving only dank, insidious grey, and one section, just a bit off the beach, seemed darker than the rest…
He kept scribbling, as I glanced back up at the sky, tendrils of deep black creeping and spiralling through the rest of the clouds, spreading and infecting like a cancer, sprouting more of that solid black in a rough approximation of a circle around the original pupil. It looked for all the world like a bloodshot eye, looking down, staring at us, as we stared back with fear and anticipation. I did not know what was to come, but my imagination was working overtime. The Crying Man tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed to his pad.
”He comes with the wind.”
The pupil began to seep blackness, at first what looked like a mere drop, then more until it began to gush inky shadow into the ocean, as the breeze from the ocean whipped up into a gale-force storm, carrying the ocean spray. I tasted salt, and my eyes stung, as the black rift in the sky drained of its shadow. I watched, transfixed, my mind screaming, but my mouth was not responding, instead opting to hang open in dumbfounded curiosity. The sky was lighter now, with the shadowy miasma collecting on the surface of the water, yet the hole in the clouds still remained, an ugly, swirling rift, with tiny dots of piercing white staring from the mists beyond.
I didn’t have time to process it any further before the clouds closed in and consumed it, a distant memory, as if a dream.
It was deathly cold, I remember that. Like brazing a blizzard, as the wind hit us unrelentingly, carrying about half the ocean with it. And the wind only got rougher and rougher, so much so that I physically had to crouch down, trying to minimize my surface area to avoid having the warmth sapped right out of me. I was shivering, practically convulsing as the masked men followed my lead, sitting down and watching the show through their protection. I closed my eyes, not seeing, not hearing, just feeling, like I was being drowned, beaten, frozen…
After what felt like a couple of hours, or a couple of seconds (time seemed to not pass the way it generally did…well, it did pass, but it passed completely separate to the reality we were placed in. Temporal reality was a memory, a reminiscence of what should, and generally did, matter, completely trivialized in the face of that boiling blackness on the shoreline), the wind cut off, as if someone up on high had flicked a switch. I suddenly felt very warm, though as I opened my eyes, I could not figure out why. The wind had stopped, and had been replaced instead by a thick fog, sitting dense in the air, immutable as a boulder.
All I could see was the porch the four of us were standing on, and that shapeless tar, floating to shore on a perfectly still tide, right on the far edge of the mist, beyond which there was nothing. It was still almost featureless, just pure, deepest black, shimmering velvet.
And then it changed.
The inky liquid writhed and bucked, separating and congealing into a mass of flailing cilia, which wrapped and twirled around each other chaotically, into stringy, solidifying tentacles which spiralled upwards and upwards, some growing spindly and spider-like, others fattening and lapping at the sand like jet-black tongues. I looked around at my captors and saw one of the subordinates trying to keep the other restrained, who was trying to claw his way out. Their leader looked on with his arms crossed. After a struggle, he stamped heavily onto the other man’s foot and broke free, flinging himself across the balcony and landing on his knees in the sand, scrambling up and running full pelt towards the amorphous mass. The Crying Man wheeled on me. I could tell he was saying something to me, but I did not know what. He looked around for the pad of paper and wrote in short, abrupt lettering.
”I am in control.”
And his body language certainly made him seem so, standing strong and turning to watch as his worker reached the blackness, the rising tentacles welcoming him in a loving embrace. He ripped off his mask, and I saw sandy gold hair and blue eyes for a brief moment, before he was entirely concealed from view, and the tentacles ground in tighter, occasionally popping as something broke on the inside, and red began to ooze from the gaps between them and drip into the shallow water, staining the damp sand…
I feel sick now, but I felt a hell of a lot worse back then. But I couldn’t move, all I could do was watch.
The tentacles rolled in on themselves, changing, melding together, frothing the maroon tides as they twisted upwards into a vague cylinder, as the crunching sound continued, turning into a sound like nails on a chalkboard, curling up to about nine feet above the water.
My sense of hearing had faded in again, and I wanted it gone.
Flicking, tasting the air like a sea anemone, as the sludge floating on the ocean was all but assimilated. Then with a sickening slurp, from the centre of the cylinder emerged a small white, calcified bump, a single, glowing white tooth of bone, except it was no tooth, it was a head…
And then He stood before us, in all His glory, swathed in a black cloak.
And I don’t know what to do.
I ran. I did not know where I was going, but I ran down the beach, tears of fear in my eyes as I tried to get somewhere, anywhere but here.
The Crying Man watched, but did not move.
His head was stationary as a chitinous white emerged from his chest and his cloak grew more streamlined, a mimicry of that which the masked leader wore.
The kid’s mask floated into shore, covered in sand and watery blood.
Nobody touched it.
Nobody did anything.
The winds were completely calm.