:: Article

The Excellent Thing

By Nick Norton.

Without touching the brake or indicating the car was effortlessly integrated into fast moving traffic. The rabbit swung his motor, wide and heavy, from lane to lane to lane like some cocksure champion boxer.

The excellent thing about paranoia is that its mechanisms are perfectly visible to the paranoid. “They” and “Them” are legitimate formulations to the nervous creature. At one point there is a fearful lucidity, at another nothing but suffocation, opaqueness, smog. These two points run together on the same spectra. Such ornate nervousness will happily admit that its fears are irrational and that this infernal terror is an illness. This does not preclude any threat, conspiracy, or the toxin secreted into their oats from being real.

As the car hit a steadier pace in the outside lane, I leant back into the red leather upholstery and rested my head against a window. Cool vibrations splashed across my temple, I listened to the baritone hum of motor channeled through the machine’s planes and fixtures.

This tension between the opaque and the transparent, between irrationality and logic, finds itself echoed in the contradictory vectors of the paranoiac struggle. For this trembling little fur-ball its battles are epic, Napoleonic, but the war operates asymmetrically along guerrilla lines. States of siege prevail and yet the battlefront is broken wide open, fluid in the extreme.

Ahead of us the spine of a desiccated leviathan, the freeway curved and plunged into pelvic convolutions. Pleased by this easy drive, by the hypnotism of the journey, a kaleidoscopic landscape activated by speed and made rhythmic by road signs, I nonetheless allowed a small part of my mind to wonder where our pilot, the rabbit, might be aiming. Puzzled more than concerned, I again sat up so as to scrutinize my co-passenger and our driver.

Despite the ease with which paranoia can take in a wholly generalised vista, it is still a most specialised form of fearing. The small creature has a particular niche, and in order to occupy this rarefied ecosystem its habits must be addressed to a very specific array of horror. The clamour of ecology is an unwieldy equilibrium. The small creature grows huge ears in apprehensive preparedness for that one extra noise. Its eyes become vast pools as it searches for that one eye too many, the imperturbable weight of a carnivores’ sinuous attention. And when that sound arrives or that sight is seen, there is disaster; the nest might be despoiled, young creatures will be eaten or abandoned, food stores shall be left to rot. This is evasive disaster, a positive option in face of the oncoming total disaster.

The car itself was something pulled from an antique cold war America. Again finished in red leather, with a metallic trim, the dashboard was studded by dials, gauges, and switches in alarming number. The radio alone resembled a disembodied detail from an ancient science fiction film. A wide steering column jutted out almost horizontally from the dash and protruding from this a number of rods and levers. One of these, the gear stick, was topped by a shining silver sphere. The driver lent lazily across his wheel, one paw resting lightly on this silver globe at all times. He wore an eggshell blue blazer with three gold buttons at the cuff. Over his ragged grey fur he wore a rakishly angled captain’s cap, one ear stuck up, absurdly alert in contrast to his louche demeanour. I wondered if the rabbit had ever flown as a pilot for real. Occasionally I caught a twitch of his whiskers and the flash of his black eyes in the rear view mirror. If our eyes met he would curl back his whiskers to smile with all his brilliant white rodent teeth.

The bear never smiled. Its blubby jaws had been marinated around poker games and smoked in the deep crevices of all night bars. His worn muzzle was scarred and brawl blunted. He stared straight ahead through eyes like round pebbles, engrossed either in the disappearing road or by a detail of the bonnet’s curvature. His ragged fur stuck up awkwardly around the collar of a thick, woolen overcoat. It was not cold. No one spoke.

And what reassurance in fear? In what form may fear become fated rest? A silence thankfully offered up for each moment that the doors do not come crashing in. This is the nobbled freedom of an indefinitely extended wait (for a disaster that never arrives). This quivering stillness is superior pessimism, an attempt to replicate death. It is finding reassurance in each instant of postponement whilst death is nonetheless present and supervising every moment.

This comfortable journey was not as simple as I first thought. It was not comfortable. Yes, the silence was pleasant at first but as the road quickened I became nervous. Rabbit was pushing both the car and his own responses to the cusp, to a point beyond which lay catastrophe. Bear’s sunken demeanour was wholly threatening. It seemed to be my duty to keep quiet. Roads twisted up into a tangled series of roundabouts, clover leaf, and insane T-junction. Our transport was calmly slung through a series of heaving arcs, gravity taunting corners, and then gunned into a knee clenching slalom as we moved through packs of articulated lorry who all complained of our presence with air horn and flashing lights. My panic never quite broke through to the surface. I convinced the front of my brain that the rodent’s sure touch upon his motor spoke of a biological intimacy. His indifference to the road’s obvious dangers bore a contagious air.

If one is placed amongst a profusion of messages, a maelstrom of connection, and if at every point within this perceived linkage the messages are pushing towards overload; is it not far more acceptable to locate the still centre, rather than be dragged hopelessly towards the incommunicable crash? Is this reassuring; this motionless state, the mock silence?

A paranoid mechanism places the paranoid subject centre stage. To find temporary harbour in immobility also makes an individual rather more obvious to “Them”. Shelter is not a hiding place. From the exposed still centre “They” too will become slightly more apparent to the paranoid. If one does see “Them”, and because one does understand “Their” tricks, then “They” are required to police this dangerously perceptive person. This is a zealous awareness and counter-awareness. The minutia of every move, on every side, becomes supersaturated with significance. Now the small creature may conclude that even from its fragile core, threatened from all angles, still it might radically alter the entire messaging system if it could only – from its own volition – introduce a new variable.

Sparks from our screeching rear fender, and against the ruddy interior my knuckles look extremely white. The old upholstery does not have seatbelts fitted. It is an open acreage of leather into which I hope to burrow.

In practice variables rarely originate from within the eye of the tornado. The small creature has assiduously consumed its own volition. It must constantly assess the full scheme of everything. An observed observing eye is too concerned with their calculation and recalculation to be in any manner creative. It eats itself in an obsessive accounting without which no truth can ever be verifiable.

The bear’s flea flecked ear listening to my quickening breath. My body was furry, a fluffy growth to smother its own pathogenic impossibility. The car surged forward beneath a rabbit’s icy calculation. Perhaps I was correct, insomuch that once he had indeed headed up a bomber squadron. I could well visualise the close weave of flying daytime formation; the exposed flight through a ruthless decor of ack-ack. Then we hit a section of tunnel with a palpable concussion: landscape suddenly stripped, rows of sodium spots, the tugtugtug of a prefabricated road surface. Fume filled air pushed down with an extra atmosphere. And ferociously we erupted. Flung before blinking, bear roared as we rolled into a long right hand curl that pushed us deep into our seats.

Paranoia of optics, maps, compasses, and the fetishised arrangements of all that is necessary for flight.

When I open my eyes I am surprised to see how we are alone on the road. Inexplicably exposed like this, it struck me that there was really nothing preventing us from falling right off the road to flounder belly up in the sky.

Every space becomes an occupied zone oscillating between threat and suspicion. There is less and less opportunity for anything to be still (and stillness here can be equated with silence).

Rabbit scratched, his upright ear twitched; Bear’s coat was wet with drool. Outside of the car solids are dissolved mists, mere probabilities vaguely sculpted by speed. Although I fought against it, a tight uncomfortable bolus was climbing up my throat. Before I was able to utter any warning, the warm muesli contents of my stomach splashed across the blood interior. My brow was suddenly fevered while the nape of my neck prickled beneath a frost. The car stank of sour wine and decomposing vegetable matter. My companions were less than pleased. Passenger Bear swore loudly, dabbing at the sleeve of his overcoat with a large yellow handkerchief. Rabbit jerked his car onto the hard shoulder and stood on the brake, bringing the car up short.

I was shivering, holding my arms tight around my chest. And I suddenly saw what I had lost. Neither the journey nor the day had any beginning. This forced flight reveals matter as insubstantial, the residue of projectile arcs. Falling out into hazy insecurity, the mist of ever present aggression, “They” may not exist and “They”, in “Their” fear, may likewise be attempting to construct an immobile and solid identity. To be persecuted by “Them” will make “Them” real. You are doing “Them” a great service. You are glad to serve. You humbly concede to “Their” reality.

Rabbit leapt out the car and yanked open my door.

‘Get out!’

The sound of his voice shocked me, the violence of his gestures doubly so. I wished to appease entirely and befriend all my companions, yet my movement was reduced to a form of dribbling, and I sort of flowed after my spitted extrusion, splashing out from the car. On all fours, like a dog, I began to heave. The driver took two steps back for fear of getting his paws splashed. He need not have worried; I could bring up nothing more than a few flecks of oat. The passenger door slammed and my second companion came into view.

‘You disgusting bastard,’ he said. ‘It may as well be here,’ he growled.

My veins solidified with black, stoic despair. I lifted my head already wearied by what I would see. Bear grabbed me by the throat and lifted me clear of the tarmac, squeezing my windpipe. From within his blazer rabbit produced a large knife.

The beauty of the elaborate mechanisms set in motion by paranoia, whoever the paranoid may be, is that there is no truth about them, none whatsoever. Nothing ever happens, disappearance is a dream.

Nick Norton’s prose can be found in Fatal Flaw, Idle Ink, SelkiePunt VolatShooterEpoque PressBird’s ThumbFictive DreamThe Happy Hypocrite, and elsewhere. He is the author of the novella, AKA: A Genealogy of the Saddle. Twitter: NMNorton2.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 18th, 2020.