Issue #59

Summer 2016

Of the Sisyphean nature of nightmares

by Armel Dagorn

The man awakes in the forest. The earth underfoot is airy, wet like store-bought soil. There are few shrubs, anaemic ferns here and there. The trees grow tall trunks and their leaves don't appear until very high up, so that the dominant colour, as the man looks around, is brown. He follows the path he's on, and it leads him up a steep hillside. He climbs up, feeling his breath get uneven, and every few steps he puts a hand to the ground, palm down, to regain balance. Two thirds up the hill, he comes across driftwood laid flat, dirty white sticks, like freshly-poached tusks, tied together in a cross by stringy black seaweed. Their presence is a surprise, among the twigs and branches slowly rotting into the forest floor. The man bends down and picks up the cross. He feels something behind him and when he turns around, there is a stranger two steps below, standing straight on the loose earth, looking at him expressionless, a shovel in his hand. The man drops the cross, glances at the top of the hill just a few strides up, then back at the stranger who hasn't moved. He bolts uphill on all fours, spraying soil behind him as he scrambles up. Once on top he turns around, and

         the man awakes in the forest, at the bottom of the hill. He follows the path up, stamping his fist down to steady himself every few steps in the knuckle-walk of a gorilla. Halfway up he turns around, and sees a stranger walking up straight, unbothered by the sharp slant, a shovel in his hand. The man stops when he reaches sticks laid in a cross on the ground. He turns to the deadpan stranger, who holds out the shovel to him and glances down at the cross. The man takes the shovel and follows the stranger's eyes. He locks both hands on the handle, and swings the shovel. The blade lands flat on the stranger's face and the man can feel the cheek's flesh give, like damp soil compressing underfoot. The stranger falls to the side and

         the man awakes at the bottom of the hill and starts up the path, hearing behind him footsteps crushing the earth. He tries to keep his hands off the ground, and when he stumbles he drops forward on his elbow, as if his arm ended in a stump, and props himself up, his hands curled in disgust. When he reaches the driftwood cross, he turns and sees three strangers just below, staring at him, their faces expressionless. The first stranger hands him the shovel. The man takes it, and, following the guidance of the strangers' stare, he pushes the cross aside and starts digging. The soil comes loose easily, without need to step on the shovel's blade to sink it in. Like shovelling snow. After a few digs the shovel thumps against wood. There is an old wooden board under his feet. He looks up in panic, and sees the three strangers staring at him, expressionless. The man tightens his grip on the shovel and swings it at the first stranger like a sword, sideways. The stranger catches the blade between his thumb and middle finger, then slowly brings his stony face closer to the man's, and

         the man awakes and starts uphill, trying to outpace his pursuers. He gets to the cross and the stranger hands him the shovel. He starts digging, and soon the blade thuds against wood, and when he looks up at the strangers they keep staring down. The man clears the earth off the board, and when he's done he sees it's a trapdoor. He bends down, grabs the ring, and it opens to complete darkness. The strangers keep staring down the hole, so the man sits down, his legs dangling in the dark. He slowly lowers himself into the ground and

         The man awakes on a grey beach. The sand underfoot is damp but somehow light, like compacted snow. Black seaweed lies scattered over the infinite shore.

Author Bio

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Armel Dagorn is now back in his native France after living in Ireland for seven years. His writing has appeared in magazines such as Tin House online, NANO Fiction, Paper Darts, Unthology and Birkensnake. He has a little place at armeldagorn.wordpress.com.