The Account of Kayley M.
Collected by P.I.C.
We are nothing but moths dancing around a sun indifferent to our burning.
- Imena R. Dugald
Light and dark will equally destroy us, but the light is more deceptive; we think, as visual creatures, that light equals safety, but it is not for no reason the abysmal anglerfish developed lights to lure its prey.
-W. L. Ingram
Shadows slunk away from my headlights and into the roadside scrub, closing in behind again as I passed. A classic metal station on my radio kept me company and awake. The black river of asphalt ran smoothly under my tires, mirroring the pitch black of the void between the bright pinpoint pricks of the stars. I was sure that if I stopped I would have a travelogue-worthy view of the Milky Way and whatever constellations I could dredge up from memories of an astronomy class. However, the only constellations I cared about were on my dashboard, specifically the little red gas pump light. It had been on for a while and the needle was well below the line. I clicked my phone on; still no service. The only thing I could do was hope and keep going as far as the gas fumes would take me.
As I crested a small rise I saw a dim corona resting ahead; I let the car coast and prayed it would buy me those extra couple hundred yards to whatever it was. To my luck it was a small mom and pop gas station, a sloping one storey building, white paint peeling off gray wood like sunburnt skin. A red neon open sign blinked slowly in the window.
My car conked out about fifteen feet from one of the two pumps (one for gas, one for diesel) set up in front of the store. I was so relieved I didn't even curse, just jumped out of my car and pushed the light vehicle the rest of the way.
The pump was submerged in a small pool of light created by an old construction spotlight haloed by a metal dish and rigged to the top of a tall wooden pole. Moths flickered in and out of the light, tapping against the metal and crackling when they hit the bulb, their soft, pale fuzz singeing. Duct taped to the pump in nearly illegible marker was a small sign that read "pay then pump; cash only." I ducked back inside my car and shuffled through my purse; finding my wallet I flipped through my bills. I had enough, I thought, at least get me somewhere with cell service before I ran out of gas again. I tucked the wallet into the pouch of my hoodie and rifled through my purse again for two other items - I knew where these two things were better than my wallet, which is telling, my mom would say. I moved well away from the gas pump before I lit my cigarette. It's the first cigarette I've had in hours and I rush through it, crushing it under my heel in a matter of a few short minutes. I take the last one from the pack, determined to enjoy it and flick my lighter on; as I brought the lighter up to my mouth, a pale shape darted into the flame and the metallic stench of burning insect sears my lungs along with the smoke from my cig. I cough as the burning creature spirals to the ground where it lay indistinguishable but for a few last flutters. I don't enjoy this cigarette as much as I had intended.
When I am finished I make my way carefully across the patchwork of gravel and blacktop and up the cracked concrete steps to the store door. The glass was covered in old flyers, one layer pasted on top of the other, backlit into a weird babel of advertisements: math tutor split and dried; professional baby refrigerator for sale; chainsaw available nights; missing child infestation exterminators; old parts now accepted for church bake sale. I pushed into the store through the door, my entrance announced by a metallic buzzer that reminded my teeth of my last trip to the dentist.
I blinked, trying to adjust my eyes to the harsh lighting. The inside was crowded with high metal shelves lit by humming fluorescent tubes placed at odd angles across the ceiling in deference to some Feng Shui long since ignored by the congested huddle of shelving.
A violent clearing of the throat from my right made start, a squeak escaping my lips but stifled upon my meeting the bright eyes of the person across the grimy glass counter. She was short, lumpy woman with dyed platinum blond hair that was rusting back to its natural gray. Her eyes, though, seemed to belong to a different person entirely; they were sharp, cutting, and though they were dark in color there was only one adjective that could truly describe them: bright. I looked down, away from the piercing eyes and saw she wore a rough name tag pinned to her equally lumpy blouse, the name "Eloise" (or "Heloise") written in the same nearly unintelligible writing as had been on the sign at the pump.
I recovered myself and pulled out my wallet, placing cash on the counter, "This much in gas, please, and a carton of those," I pointed behind her to the only brand of cigarettes I recognized; they weren't my favorite, but I wasn't in the mood to try something new. She took the money, counted it twice and grabbed me the carton.
"Anything else?" Her was voice husky and slightly harsh, probably not too dissimilar to what mine would be at her age except that there was something extra to it and I couldn't stop an image of something with lights for eyes forcing sounds through vocal cords it was unaccustomed to.
"Yeah," I said, thinking I should probably chug some more Red Bull after I relieved my bladder of the can or three I'd already drank, "do you have a rest room?"
"That way," She jerked her head towards the back of the store. "No smoking back there."
I forced what I hoped was a reassuring smile and nodded, then skirted my way between the tightly packed labyrinth of shelves of can goods, chips, camping supplies, trail mix, coolers, and other things piled together in no order that I could or wanted to discern. In the back corner of the store, under a flickering fluorescent rod, were two doors. One with male and female decals (on which someone had artistically drawn genitalia with a pen) and one unmarked. I was about to push open the restroom door when a vortex of light exploded from under the other door - silvery and dazzling. The nearby white shelves took on a pearlescent hue in its nimbus, the faded floorboards took on a richer brown gleam than I'd ever seen even in the most expensive mahogany; the overhead lights seemed dimmed and sat overhead like rods of starlight, humming symphonies that pierced my eardrums, cutting and drowning them with a beauty they were never meant for. My eyes felt like they were burning, but I couldn't look away. The vortex twisted, as if it were a tendril, curling into spirals larger than the sun and smaller than a can of beans, shapes that I couldn't recognize or process. Then it faded into itself, imploding, leaving the area de-saturated and ugly, flat, deformed and revolting.
I didn't think, I didn't do anything, but my hand was now on the door the thing had come from and I was pushing inside. Something swooped against my face, and into my raggedly breathing mouth. If I'd ever wondered what a moth tasted like, now I knew; it tasted fuzzy, nothing else, just fuzzy. It seemed to cling to the walls of my mouth, flopping from one side to the other. I coughed, finally managing to spit the creature onto the floor with a wet plop, where it wriggled against the cracked linoleum. I paused, revulsion and disgust and the urge to vomit dispelling the mesmer I had fallen under, and yet I went on.
A bare bulb swung above my head, illuminating the short narrow hall, but only just to the top of crooked steps that sunk down into inky blackness. A stained and dirtied light switch peeked out from bare pink insulation; I flicked it up and went down. Or up. Or both. Or neither. What is direction to a moth in the heart of a sun? Searing. Seeing. Moths wake and die in darkness, our eyes were never meant for light. Flame in the moths. Burning eyes. Dead moths. Sizzle. Pop. Again to sizzle, to see, to peel, to crackle, to burn. Ashes flutter just like moths.
I walked back upstairs and thanked Eloise or Heloise; my pants were wet and stuck heavily to my legs - but they would be dry and warm soon. I went out to the pump. A moth flutters against my hand - it knows, it understands. I take the nozzle in my fingers (they do not shake); it is smooth and cool and soon I can smell the mesmerizing scent of gasoline fill my nose. The gasoline feels smooth and silky against my skin - it soon soaks my clothes. I put the nozzle back in its holder and take out my lighter. I look up at the moths in their frenzy around the light; dancing and dying and burning. I flick the lighter on.
They said they found me at 4:08 a.m. in front of South Glenley's general hospital (third degree burns covering most of my body), a miracle I was still alive. They found my car on a lonely stretch of road about eight miles from the town of Pine Knolls, out of gas, syphon sticking out of the gas tank.
Since they grafted skin on me, I've lived in this place with the white walls and the orderly who smiles and brings Vera flowers when she sees her husband in his place, and with my friend Amy (who is never smiling and doesn't belong here). I know the walls are white because that's the color these places always are, and I know he smiles because he is kind even when he has to restrain me when my throat is so burned I cannot scream and I run as if I can outrun the flames. I know Amy never smiles because she told me her mother pays Dr. Evans to keep her here. I do not know these things because I can see them. The doctors say my eyes are fine, but I know they're not; they're gone, burned out, nothing but holes. I'm burning from the inside. We're all burning (I can feel the heat, hear the screams). I'm just burning faster.
Eloise (or Heloise) came to visit me once, I think, in the cold hours before dawn. She talked about moths.