I’ve always had an aversion to the cracks between things.
You know– tiny, dark spaces where a hand barely fits, but often ventures—in search of something lost. It’s always something important you lose in those places, isn’t it? Car keys, a watch, a cell phone—things that will have you groping the darkness without much thought.
The worst for me was the cracks in the couch, those narrow pockets of darkness. It wasn’t a rational fear, but knowing that didn’t help. I took measures to avoid searching there, obsessively keeping track of my things so I wouldn’t lose them in the first place.
For example, my keys always hung in the same place, and my cell phone was either charging or clipped to my pants. The television remote took a little more ingenuity; even though I had a place for it, it always had a way of ending up between the cushions. I’d know exactly where it was, and go fishing in the cracks with a pair of tongs because I couldn’t bear sticking my hand down there.
I was tired of living like that, I hated myself for being afraid of something so benign. I couldn’t help it though, I had an instinct that all the logic in the world couldn’t shake.
I thought I’d found the perfect solution when I found the string.
Braided neon nylon—I bought a spool of orange, the color of construction crews and traffic cones. I tied a string around the remote, leaving six feet of length to dangle and drape over the coffee table.
It worked beautifully.
The remote was always easy to find, that string was easy to see. When the remote inevitably found its way between couch cushions, I’d reel in the string at a strategic angle. It worked well, why wouldn’t I try it with other things too?
I bought more neon nylon string, several spools in different colors: orange, yellow and green. I tied them to everything small and easily lost. My headphones, my charger, the kitchen scissors… even the salt and pepper shakers!
It worked so well, I brought the strategy out of the house too. I tied the yellow strings to things that should always be on my person; my phone, my keys, my wallet… if I ever saw yellow, I’d know I lost something. My pockets were always bulging with balls yellow string; for peace of mind, it was a small price to pay.
At work, I tied green strings to things that fall in that space between the wall and the desk; the pens, tape and stapler. It was an orderly chaos, those neon nylon strings. There was a method to my madness, but no one else understood it.
When my boss called me into the office about the complaints, I did my best to explain. He didn’t get it, but he couldn’t make me stop. I could do whatever I wanted, so long as the items were my personal property and I wasn’t tying them on company time.
With time, my house resembled an art project rather than a living space. Bright orange strings draped across every surface, in every direction—carefully laid out, strategically placed. Walking around become an exercise in balance and flexibility, but still… it was worth it.
Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect solution; the problems with this method of organization began to present themselves before long.
The strings tangled; it became hard to tell which strings attached to what. I spent a lot of time maintaining, untangling everything and monitoring the cracks between things to see if any thread lead into the dark.
I stopped inviting people over, it was too tiring to explain. No explanation I could give seemed adequate. I knew it was strange, but it made me feel safer. I was in complete control, the puppet master in this colorful world.
There were other problems too; the slightest movement would cause a chain reaction, the strings constantly quivered and rustled softly with only the slightest touch—even a breeze through an open window was enough to cause constant motion. I always saw movement in my periphery, only to realize it was the string when I turned to check.
At night, I’d wake up because several strands would swipe softly against my skin. Once I realized it was just the string, I’d relax and fall back asleep… but that initial moment, half asleep, when you feel an unexplained touch…? Terrifying.
After a while, I got used to the poking and prodding of the strings and stopped noticing… until the night I woke up on the floor.
I wasn’t sure why I’d woken up at first, reaching for the blacklight on my nightstand… only to realize I was touching carpet. Unable to see in the dark, I waited for my eyes to adjust. Before long, the furniture around me took shape… only slightly darker than the blackness around me.
Once I was better oriented, I was able to sit up to reach the nightstand; I felt resistance as I found the light, and realized with the neon illumination that I had somehow become tangled in the strings.
Thick bundles of cord were coiled around my calves and left elbow, pulled taut. The strings stretched out the door and down the hall, vibrating and twisting—braiding together, as though to form a thick rope. I tried to reach down and untangle myself, but it was too difficult.
Panic set in when my body unexpectedly moved, the knots tightened by a sharp pull—I slid across the carpet, towards the door… becoming more tangled as I struggled. I caught the door frame with my free hand before I could be yanked out, the door frame creaking in protest as the wood strained and warped.
I heard things breaking in another room, and the soft scrape of objects being dragged… all of the strings were moving in one direction— the persistent tug didn’t stop. My grip grew weaker as I held on for dear life, until my sweaty fingers slipped. Splinters of wood bit into my skin, and once again I was reeled into the deepening darkness, down the hall.
I fumbled for furniture, anything I could catch onto… and found nothing. I felt like a fish on the end of a line, the catch of some unseen monstrosity in the dark. It was not a gentle current, knocking me into walls and the various objects that joined me on this harrowing journey.
Raw terror almost sent me into a blind panic, but my survival instincts kicked in. Nature and genetics hadn’t bestowed me with sharp claws, but I still had teeth– and I used them, tearing like an animal at the strands that had twisted about my elbow. The friction tore at the corners of my mouth, but I ignored the pain and bit down as hard as I could, sawing at the threads until they frayed and snapped.
It worked, though my mouth was burning and bloody– long, limp strands of string hung from the crook of my elbow… now I had control of both arms. I started ripping off my pajama bottoms— screaming in pain when I dislocated my ankle to slip free from the massive knot. I felt like a coyote in a trap, doing what I could to free myself even if it meant an injury.
Free, I hobbled down the hall on one foot, it was easy enough to dodge the undulating strings as they began to converge into one thick mass. I turned on the hallway light, using the wall as support as I eased myself slowly towards the kitchen. I was in bad shape, covered in rug burn and blood. Adrenaline kept me moving even when I shouldn’t have been able to stand.
Not much was left of the kitchen. Everything I’d tied had already been pulled into that tangled body… fortunately; the knife block hadn’t made it far. For practical reasons, I hadn’t tied strings to any of the knives. Although the block had been knocked to the floor, the knives were still safely housed inside. I grabbed the biggest one with my least injured hand.
Armed, I limped after the strings into the living room– the source of the pull. When I turned on the lights I could see objects catching on things, getting stuck. Everything was converging on the couch, in the gap between the left armrest and the cushions.
Now that I was closer to the source, I could hear it… a sucking sound, wet and smacking, as though my couch were enjoying a plate of pasta, noodles of string being slurped into that cramped abyss.
Pushing back the disbelief, I got to work with the knife—hacking inelegantly at the writhing neon vein, freeing what possessions I could before they were all sucked down that bottomless maw.
I didn’t save much, but it was better than nothing. At sunrise, I paid the paperboy $100.00 to dump the couch on the curb for me, and another $20.00 so he wouldn’t ask questions.
Even at a distance, from the safety of my window… I could still see those neon nylon strings, a spray of orange twisted into the frayed ends of rope. It stuck out of the gap, only a few inches in length— as if to bait me to reach out, and reel the darkness in.
I could reclaim all I’d lost, with just a pull of the strings. But no, I wouldn’t take the bait. I knew something was waiting on the other side to pull me in. No… I’d let my lost things stay lost.
For all my fear, I’d somehow neglected to remember that a string can be pulled from both ends.