The church clock struck eight of the villagers as they lined up to shake hands with the vicar after a worthy, but dull service. Crows started from the trees in alarm. Bodies lay strewn across the doorstep of the church and a line of ants began to form as they marched across the ruins of the fallen clock-tower, towards an early lunch. There was a serene, momentary quiet after the echoes ceased. A figure glided past the church wall, before the silence was cracked by a baby screaming as it crawled jerkily away from the wreckage.
My wife has been dosing me with peyote for several months now. I don’t really know why she started, or even how she obtains the substance. But I can gauge when it started by the freshly vivid, hallucinatory quality of my day-to-day existence. Everyday occurrences, such as birds flitting through the trees became occasions for celebrating the existence of angels. Cars passing on the street outside our house evoked a vast ocean just beyond the window, lapping on the shores of our garden, pulling the trees hither and thither with the ceaseless movements of the tide. I would wake in the morning to the scent of the universe washing over my recumbent form, not knowing whether I was still in a dream or if the magnolia shapes in the wallpaper really were waving in the breeze visibly flowing through the vent at the top of the window. Breakfast was such a repast as I have never before experienced. Toast took on a trans-dimensional quality, and cornflakes consorted with the creamy milk in ways that that would have made Caligula blush.
These petty matters, however, were the least of my worries. The most pressing problem was that I was increasingly unable to separate illusion from reality. An innocent clash of trolleys in the supermarket last week occasioned in me the belief that zombies were roaming the aisles and that my only recourse was to either run screaming from the place, or pick up a sharp edged implement and decapitate every single person in the building. Fortunately, both for me and the rest of the shoppers, I was unable to wrest the fire axe from the mounting near the exit and so had to resort to running and screaming. I was half way to the edge of the woods before they caught me, and I swear that I can still feel the sensation of their teeth on my arms – even now.
As I sat on the graveyard bench surveying the partially crushed remains of Mrs Crimbleshaw from number 46 and hearkening to the sound of sirens approaching, it occurred to me that this might not actually be an illusion. I didn’t give that thought much credence, though – I was far too busy laughing. The corpses were bright, vivid things suggesting nothing so much as cartoon characters. I fully expected the rotund Mr Cropulse to spring back to his accustomed shape within the next second, instead of the rather deflated blimp he currently resembled.
My wife was rather hampered by an immense section of masonry, which seemed to have replaced much of her torso, and from the perspective of my waking delirium looked rather comical. Her head turned suddenly towards me and I must confess that I broke off from my laughter for a moment at the look in her eyes. Part pleading, part disgust and wholly discomfited by my safe harbour under the eaves of the church.
The irony of the situation briefly crossed my mind. I had only sat down here because I had felt a distinct sense of foreboding a moment before, but such complex thoughts were washed from my mind by a fresh bout of laughter as I noticed an ant emerging from my wife’s handbag and then proceeding to lead a conga line across the smooth dance floor of the clock face. I was tempted to join to the hindmost member, but the police arrived at that moment and, unfortunately, I was otherwise detained.
As they led me away towards the waiting car, the figure appeared again between the trees, behind the wall and I swear, just for a moment, I saw the contorted features of my wife. She was laughing fit to burst. Unable to stop myself – I stuck out my tongue in her direction and winked.