“The keyhole projects a ray across this nocturnal darkness. On a table whose form one can just make out, a bottle becomes evident.”- Paul Nougé, Optics Unveiled.
The first thing to draw my attention was the man’s hand, as he offered to open the door for me. His fingers were slender, somewhat feminine, tapering like those of a shop window mannequin. I had to look at his face again to confirm my previous impression, namely that this was a man and not a woman addressing me and inviting me inside.
Another detail has just come back to me: his nails were like little talons, painted red.
Inside the room were numerous objects, arranged on shelves and in cabinets. The lighting had been designed to make a dramatic impression; coloured spotlights illuminated exhibits in such a way as to create large areas of shadow. As a result, it wasn’t always easy to tell what I was looking at. The absence of explanatory labels added to the effect of deliberate mystification.
One cabinet that I found particularly compelling contained what I took to be the skeleton of a cat, held together with wire, in a posture suggestive of a leap. I think it was the arrangement of dead matter into a form associated with life and energy that made it so fascinating.
There were other things in that cabinet, but the deep shadows around the skeletal cat made it impossible to say what they were.
At times I thought there were other visitors in the room with me. I didn’t see anyone, but I heard footsteps and low voices. It’s possible that they were recorded sounds, played through speakers hidden by the general gloom and calculated to create an impression of quiet bustle, so that a solitary visitor wouldn’t feel quite so alone.
Some of the stuffed animals were kept in cages, as if they were alive. When I wasn’t looking directly at them, but was still aware of them on the periphery of my vision, they seemed to be moving slightly, in a sort of undulating movement, like a snake. As soon as I looked straight at them the illusion of movement stopped.
I’m not sure, but I think I must have fainted, in all likelihood because of the musty air and the heat from the spotlights.
The next thing I remember was a dream. I was trying to find my way out of a maze whose walls were covered in warm, damp fur. At every turn I was convinced that I was more lost than before. Something behind me was making a low snuffling sound, sometimes several yards away, sometimes much closer. I didn’t dare turn to look at it.
As I went round a corner the snuffling noise stopped and something changed, probably the light. Or perhaps I had woken up. I found myself face to face with an ape-like man who must have been seven feet tall. He didn’t react to me, but stood still, looking at the floor, as if in thought, breathing deeply. I imagine he was an employee who’d been told to put on a costume, to add to the ghoulish ambience of the place.
I was about to make some facetious remark to the ape-man, when I heard screams of laughter, coming from somewhere nearby. My instant and irrational assumption was that I was the butt of someone’s joke, and that everything I had done so far since entering the room had played into the hands of whoever it was who was now shrieking derision at me.
Flustered and not knowing what I was doing, I shoved past the ape-man, to run through a small opening and down a corridor.
I soon found myself in another room. It stank like a midden and there were flies everywhere. It was hot. I thought I was going to be sick. I could still hear the laughter, though it was slower now, less hysterical. On the wall to my right, a broken mirror segmented me.
Finally, there was a door being opened by someone on the other side. A handle turning, red light. The heat became unbearable. Pictures from somewhere else, another time, perhaps my childhood: toy soldiers, sheep, a butcher’s cleaver, flying ants, a burning tree.
After that, nothing. Nothing that I remember.
The last image, recurring whenever I close my eyes: the door opening, red light widening.
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aaaaagh! Hit the spot as usual, James.
Many thanks, Julia!