Chrysalis: A Journey Through the Dark
A girl seeks refuge from her troubled home life in a tidal anomaly that threatens her town. A man loses his mind on the path to infinite knowledge. A disturbed woman transforms into her mistreated partner’s worst nightmare. An experiment in childhood memory recollection goes terribly wrong.Harrowing, relentless and surreal, Chrysalis will take you to places darker than you thought existed, whilst granting a flicker of hope just bright enough to light the way through.
Chrysalis: A Journey Through the Dark is available from Amazon.co.uk in both paperback and e-book formats: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chrysalis-Journey-Through-Michael-Burnett/dp/1707567670/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1591189593&sr=8-1
Black Widow, shown in full below, appears in the Chrysalis anthology.
“I love you.”
Her voice is feminine, but possessed of a peculiar hissing, almost croaking quality as she speaks out in the dark. I stand still for a moment, looking into the blackness, contemplating what lies within. Then, moving outside, I push my full body weight against the door, battling the mound of sodden earth which has accumulated in the storm waters of the previous night. A swirling, foetid pool remains below the sill, minute insects skating across it like children across an icy pond. I thrust my bare hands into the mud, piling it up as high as I can against the corrugated iron in the short time that I have. She would never consider coming out, but this simple act soothes my fears, at least partially. Either way, I know she will linger in my thoughts for the remainder of the day, dread the only constant in the turmoil of my conflicting emotions.
I have a long walk ahead of me, so I start out across the featureless expanse that lies between me and the factory. The storm water extends far beyond my home, reaching out like a corrupted nervous system, with I the nexus point. Filthy channels of it permeate the landscape before me, flowing like treacle over rocks and decaying leaves, or standing putridly in pools buzzing with mosquitoes. The grey sky is devoid of clouds. Its single hue is mirrored on the surface of the water until the ripples are obscured completely.
* * *
Still only a few metres from my simple shack, I can make out faint scratchings within, and I know she has begun to move about. A sharp crash tells me she's found the food I left out for her. Note to self: she prefers to eat from the floor. She does not tolerate change.
“You idiot,” I chastise myself, knowing that she'll still be in a fury when I get home, ten hours later. I could never make her happy. I always had to make at least one mistake, one too many for her, who could never forgive nor forget. I've told myself that it's not my fault she is the way she is, but a larger, more critical part of me always dominates. I could heal her, I know I could, if only I had the energy. But I am drained. I bow my head, trudging across the sunken paths, losing all track of time as I dwell within my own tormented thoughts. The factory gets slowly closer as she gets steadily further away, trapped in her rusted prison, all alone.
Rain cascades from the night sky in torrents, the monochrome, sunless grey ripped away and replaced with an angry shroud of black and purple. Flashes of lightning explode from above as I stagger towards shelter. My limbs shake uncontrollably with cold as I grab at the earth piled up against my door, throwing handful after handful behind me. I can't hear her over the cacophony but I know she's howling, as she always does when the weather gets like this. I'm almost blinded by the time I clear the last of the dirt, casting the last few chunks aside in a swath and grabbing for the door handle with a filthy hand. I lift myself to standing, grasping the handle with both hands, then I pull with all my might. The door does not give way immediately. It relinquishes its control gradually, its resistance broken down bit by bit.
I have to clear the webs that have appeared across the door frame before I can fully enter the room. I can hear her now, even over the violent drumming of rain on the thin metal roof, and the incessant dripping of water into the meagre space. She has dug a hole in the floor, today. A hole filled with my personal belongings and hers, jumbled up in no particular order, for no particular purpose. She sits on her haunches, fishing through the random collection with her thin, spindly fingers, then scraping her nails into the dirt and drawing them up to her mouth. Through her muffled shrieks, a few barely audible half-words escape her lips.
I wander into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich and a cup of tea, trying but not quite succeeding to ignore the fact that she's crying now, and she's thrown something against the wall. Guessing from the sound of splintering plastic, it is my alarm clock. She sabotages me like this all the time. I still love her, inconsolably, though I don't know why. My shame at her is greater still.
The foul rainwater has seeped into the taps somehow, and the cup of tea I make is flecked with tiny particles of dirt which swim in the hot brew, mimicking the insects outside. My sandwich is damp. The rainwater gets in everywhere, it's not possible to keep it out. I sit down in a frayed armchair, and take my first bite of the meal I have prepared.
Through the narrow slits of her eyes, she watches me as I eat, her body still, as if frozen in time. As still as a mammal can never be, calmly motionless as a waiting spider. Under that unrelenting stare, I feel my muscles tense involuntarily, my thoughts contracting as if in defence against an unseen attacker. The reality of the situation closes around me at times like this, and I realise it is hell that I live in. A hell permeated by a sickness, generated from a single source. Disease flows from her, a wellspring of entropy, plunging everything around me into decay. The walls reek of her degeneracy, her illness eats away at everything like an acid, ceaselessly. Her sickness gnaws away at my soul, scraping away at my insides and leaving ragged scars. Though these walls keep her locked in, my thoughts of her know no such boundaries. No matter where I run to, she would follow, in a form invulnerable to harm.
My shouting is almost completely incoherent, the force of the emotion laying waste to all reason within. Her limbs become a flurry of unnatural movement, all at once, and she retreats to the safety of a dark corner of the bedroom, hissing and blinking and still staring. Even through the impenetrable dark those eyes never leave mine, and I know that there is no escape. I watch through my eyes as my body betrays me, my rage targeting all about me, my mouth spewing venom as I listen, disgusted at my own wrathful words.
When I finally fall silent, she is still staring, and in that stare I see a forgotten intelligence that douses my anger and leaves only love and pity. Her limbs move again, aware of the change within me. Her body strains forward but slightly, her lips twisting into something like a shy smile. Her embrace is cold and brittle, but I still welcome it as I lie there in that same dark with her until she falls asleep, those hateful eyes finally closed. It is over for now. This is my favourite part of the repeating pattern, when I can convince myself that it's still worth it. This thought alone is enough to grant me the rest I need before daylight breaks again.
* * *
I awake early, the chill light of dawn barely visible through the shack's single window. She is not beside me. My eyes are drawn to the few dark blemishes that she has left on the walls, and the small dent in the mattress that tells me she's been there only recently. Small sounds emanating from just beyond the bedroom inform me that she is up, and moving. The soft, metallic clacks she makes as she stalks about are unmistakeable. I can hear her eating or drinking: the loud, vulgar slurps tell me she's found a bowl of water, perhaps. I groan painfully, and rise. Cautiously, I peer around the door frame, vision still blurry from sleep. She is sitting in the centre of the kitchen, and her limbs are longer and more angular than I remember. A long, moist black line shows me her several detours on the way to the water basin. She has been sitting on the sofa, and clawing at the front door. She's been crouching at our window again too, from the looks of it. Sometimes she can sit there for hours. She looks up, and sees me watching her.
“Good morning, honey. Did you sleep OK?”
Her voice is crisp and almost human.
“Yes, all things considered. You're up early”, I respond, doing my best to swallow the bile that's risen unchecked in my throat. I force the feeling away.
“I made something for you.”
Her fingers are more emaciated than ever. She has thrust a plate out in front of her, in my direction. It is toast, though its dark, moist-looking topping I cannot guess at. I take the plate and then eat the food in a few large bites, ignoring the bitter taste. She is lucid today. I look into her eyes, and see a great many things, all at once. There is an animal desperation in those dark eyes of hers that grows stronger every day. I turn away, heading for the bathtub. I sit by it as it fills up, then, scooping the scum from the top of the water, I undress and get in. She has moved from the kitchen back into the bedroom, but I can hear nothing, though I strain for any noise. It is still early. Perhaps she is asleep. I sigh, my whole body relaxing in the tepid water. I know I have plenty of time before I have to leave. Before long, I drift off.
* * *
I awaken in water now uncomfortably cold. There is still no sign of her, but the dark slime on the walls confirms my suspicions of her recent activity. I have no idea how much time has passed, how long I've been unaware of her, and this uncertainty weighs heavily upon my mind. Though it must be later in the day by now, the room seems darker, not lighter as it should be. Shadows hang in the corners of the room that weren't there before.
My breath catches in my throat as I realise why. The webs she has spun are far more numerous than they should be. Some of the thick, silk-like filaments that criss-cross their way across the small room are attached to my naked arms, the threads intertwining with each other to become as thick as ropes, filthy with the dirt that festers in every inch of the place. I cannot now put the cold I feel entirely down to the water, and the chill in the air. Mine is now the chill of one who knows he is caught in a trap. The oppressive, cloying air betrays her to me, warning me of her intent, though it makes no difference now. I am the centre of her world. The sole object of her love, hate and rage. Her only prey.
Restrained as I am, I cannot fully turn my head when I hear the faintest of noises behind me: the soft, dry creak of chitin; the subtle, ominous drip of saliva on the cracked tiles of the floor. An arachnoid shadow extends above me, denying my body what little light there was left. This trap was sprung a long time ago, though I realise it far too late. This world we share together, barricaded off from all others, has been the trap all along, for both her and me. This prison is ours to share, and through this communion, we have consumed each other. I am everything to her, as she is to me. I have fled time and time again, I have barred the doors from the outside, I have walked miles and tried to push her from my mind, but in the end I always came back. The wasteland beyond holds no sustenance. Out there in the endless wilderness I would weaken, then finally perish from malnourishment, and the last thing I would think about would be her. So each day I returned, and each day our tiny world has grown colder, filthier, more desperate. But it is all we have, and we succumb along with it.
I can feel her hot, liquid breath on my neck now, but I do not struggle as I feel her fangs caress the tender skin. Black droplets of venom fall into the water around me until my body disappears into the inky blackness.
My muscles relax as hers tense. I feel her draw back, her whole body coiled like a serpent, poised to strike. I know what will come next. I lean my head back as far as I can, straining to expose my jugular vein, eager to comply. Every drop of my blood belongs to her, and always has. She takes everything then, my motionless body offering up no resistance, my blood pulsing weaker and weaker until only one of us remains, an amalgamation of all we were before. She discards my broken husk; it is as meaningless to her as it is now to me. She crawls off to find the darkest corner in the house.
There, she waits.