Fiction: ‘O, That Way Madness Lies’

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TO: Mr. Charles Simsion
ADDRESS: 9608 Windsor Road
London
EC40 2MN

November 22nd, 1906

Dear Charles,

Six months and seventeen days ago, I arrived at the property left to me by my mysterious donor. The house is in reasonable repair, other than a few minor injuries from enduring the elements for so long unattended. The leak in the roof has now been repaired. The broken windows have been replaced and the wood shed is freshly stocked for the coming months.

I have settled in far better than expected. It seems that solitude is a state of mind that suits me well after what I can only describe as the trauma of living in the confines of the city.

The garden seems to have a life of its own, sprouting new crops from ancient seeds planted by my predecessor. Evenings are a quiet time, filled with reading, and little else. My days are spent contentedly working on the property. I find myself with a new task or chore to occupy me each day, leaving little time for self-pity.

I also wish to relate to you a curious finding I have recently made.

It was by chance that one night when I arose to relieve myself, my foot fell straight through a single rotting floorboard not a metre from the bed. Fortunately for me, my foot landed on a solid surface below. I lit a candle and dug through the soft decomposing board, which seemed to have deteriorated over a single night, and uncovered a box of unidentifiable wood.

Well, of course, I immediately removed the lid to reveal a neatly wrapped batch of letters. There is no date and no name signed to them, but it seems they may have been written as part of a journal. I make this assumption based on the pages of writing never being addressed to a specific person.

The box itself seems to have preserved these writings much better than it should have. There is no foxing of the paper. The ink appears fresh. No indication of any moisture, despite the floorboard itself having all but caved in over this box.

If you have the time, and the same curiosity I’m afflicted with, I will relate to you a random entry from the batch. Your experience in the field of psychoanalysis may be useful in diagnosing the author of these strange writings.


In the most recent days of my solitude, I’ve found myself considering a total severance with the world at large. No, it is more accurate to say that my heart desires to be extracted from society, politic, money. Corruption. Crazed-ideologies. It is all poison to the soul of man, yet one which permeates all waters, everywhere.

Weeks have passed since my last communication with the township, and even longer since my last correspondence with the disappointed family members and fair-weather friends I have left behind. I am retreating so that I have the luxury to ask that most fundamental question which has plagued humanity like a disease. How shall I live my life so that it feels like it is not wasted when I reach my inevitable end?

I hunger for the answer as I once craved the stillness of the opium den. I consider the question each night, yet little has come from it. In my current state of mind, all that I truly wish for is a garden. I have also enjoyed honing my skills as a hunter, and have taken to waiting by the rabbit warrens for my next meal to emerge.

As spring looms over the edge of winter, my garden blooms with a vigour I have never witnessed before. I am surrounded by foliage which creeps closer and closer to my abode. Sometimes at night, I can hear the tree trunks growing and the vines reaching out towards my candle-lit room.

I disregard these sounds as a trick of the wind and occupy my mind with the few books I have brought with me, but to no avail. They grow louder with the setting of the sun. The most unusual part is when I step out into the night to investigate, candle guttering in the wind, all sound is suddenly muffled. All is still. The moment I return indoors, it returns to haunt me once more. Bark growing thicker around living wood. Climbers stretching and curling around the frame of the house, their leaves unfurling somewhere inside the walls.

Whatever the will of these sentient plants, I can feel them closing in around me. I wonder, how long would it take for me to disappear entirely into the wilderness upon my doorstep? Shall I open my door and invite it in?


Most unusual, isn’t it, Charles?

There is, of course, the admission of a self-proclaimed opium eater longing for a simpler life. A growing connection with nature and the seasons. But what of the “sentient” plant life? Is he (or she), merely observing how nature takes back what belongs to it, or are we witnessing a neurological breakdown?

I hope to hear from you again soon, my dear friend, with a diagnosis of my predecessor. Until then, live well and wish me luck for the coming winter months.

Warmest regards,
Carter


TO: Mr. Charles Simsion
ADDRESS: 9608 Windsor Road
London
EC40 2MN

January 14th, 1907

Dear Charles,

Greetings from the other side of the new year. I hope you have been well these winter months, and have had the patience to endure those most painful family gatherings over the holidays.

With winter well underway and a fresh covering of snow, I have been sheltering indoors. There is little to do other than while away the time (and the firewood).

I also believe I have found a partial explanation for the strange letters of our delusional friend. Do you remember in my last letter how my predecessor described a closing in, so to speak, of mother nature?

Well, imagine my surprise a few days ago, when I discovered a new crack across the wall separating the atrium from the dining room? I scratched at the fractured surface with a fingernail, and the plaster crumbled away. Within was a coiling tendril of ivy. The more plaster that came away, the more ivy I uncovered, its roots eating away into the structure of the house.

There was no sunlight and no water leaching into the wall. How this ivy has sustained itself is a complete mystery to me. But then, I have known entire homes in the English countryside to succumb to this ruthless plant, so perhaps it’s no mystery after all.

I wish it were possible for Mr Darwin to have studied the plant life here as meticulously as his orchids. I believe he would have been the only one with the patience and understanding to discover their motive.

As promised, I will relate to you another letter from the mysterious box. This one is stranger still, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.


As the days merge into one another, I believe I’ve finally discovered what this place truly is, and it’s much too terrible to say out loud, too awful to even write.

I continue to lose sleep every night to the strange sounds roiling outside the windows and doors. I believe that whatever is approaching has encroached upon my home. I can hear the sliding and rustling sounds inside the walls. It moves, not as rodents do, but with the slow and purposeful slither of reptiles.

During the day I am plagued with exhaustion. It is the only time I can steal a moments rest, protected from whatever it is which draws nearer. These nocturnal habits of mine are making me even less compatible with the world beyond this mountain. The town looks less and less familiar, even at a distance.

Yet the longer I’m away from it, moving through the veil between man and nature, the more certain I am that I know myself better than I ever have before. But no, I can’t continue to record this metamorphosis. I hear the sounding of the call again. That slow deliberate movement of the natural world. It grows louder, more persistent. Forceful, like a cry of freedom. Soothing, like a sigh of relief.

Whatever it may be, it’s so close. It is here. Shall I answer the call?


So, what do you think, Charles? Solitude must breed madness, or else the mad seek solitude.

I believe I possess a similar streak in my nature to have left your company for this morbid life in the mountains.

Please, ignore that last remark. It is the winter blues talking now, not I. We will speak again soon. Send my regards to your lovely wife and child.

Regards,
Carter


TO: Mr. Charles Simsion
ADDRESS: 9608 Windsor Road
London
EC40 2MN

May 3rd, 1907

Dear Charles,

I apologise for the lapse of time since last you heard from me. It has been a strange and difficult couple of months. This cursed abode, for that is how I view it now, was the biggest mistake of my life. Whoever my predecessor really was, they have left me a burden instead of a gift.

I will relate to you what has happened since my last correspondence, and leave it for you to decide. Approximately one month ago, I awoke in the middle of the night to a low groaning sound, deep and rumbling, as though it came from within the earth.

I jumped as if someone were suddenly in the room with me. Fumbling with the matches, I lit a candle and was horrified to find that a tree root had grown from the rotting floorboard where I had found that box with its letters.

The next morning I took an axe to the root. I pulled up more floorboards and found more of these grey twining fibres. It seems the entire house is growing on a bed of roots, yet I can’t find the tree which is its source.

More ivy has split the wall in the kitchen now. I have even found seedlings sprouting from the wood of the windowsills and mushrooms eating away at the inside of the cupboards. No matter how I fight this intrusion, the battle feels lost already.

Possessions which I clearly recall leaving in one place vanish without a trace, only to reappear in another location after a week or so. I cannot seem to focus my mind on anything. My books have begun to decompose from the damp, and I have given up trying to keep a fire going, as all the firewood seems to have turned green.

Sleep begins to elude me. When the sun finally rises, I sleep away the useful hours to lie awake at night once more. But, most worryingly of all, I am beginning to hear strange sounds in the night. I do not need to describe them to you, for you’ve heard them already in the words of another writer.

Please come for a visit, I beg of you. I cannot afford a trip to the city at this time, as all my funds have long dried up, and even my meals consist of a rabbit or two which I’m lucky to shoot, and the vegetables which sprout from the garden.

I fear I’m losing a part of myself by remaining here. Yet I cannot leave, and I cannot explain why. Below I leave the final letter from the box, and plead with you to tell me it is a work of fiction, or the ramblings of a clinically ill man (or woman) with whom I bear no resemblance.


There’s a form of wilderness so pure that it resembles a higher form of civilisation. It’s something we can conjure, under special conditions. Deep within my body and soul, I can feel it quicken. It comes to life. It spreads through me like roots through a rich, fertile soil.

I awoke tonight with a strange feeling in my veins. For they didn’t feel like veins at all, but more like branches growing through flesh. The sounds burrowing through this place have stopped. I believe that’s because it, whatever it may be, no longer has a reason to travel once it has reached its destination.

Crows have come to nest in the rafters. They do not fear me as birds normally fear humans. Even the insects crawl over me as though I’m a part of the scenery, and moss begins to spread over my limbs under the damp conditions of what is no longer a house, but more like an extension of the earth.

The elements wash over us here. Slowly, day by day, I witness the house repair itself over me. The boards knit together over my head. I can hear the walls rebuild themselves, piece by piece. And all the while I’m sinking down into the soil from which we all come, reclaimed, safe in the embrace of roots and humus.

These words I leave above me to be found. And when they are, I will return to bring the finder the same peace which I have found here in the mountains.


So, my dear friend? Do you judge me for succumbing to such fancies?

I am afflicted with loneliness, yet I never feel alone. Even now, I write in the darkness with no need for a candle, and listen to a call begin to sound outside my window.

I feel I must answer it. Now.

Perhaps it is better you don’t come. No, it is decided. You shall stay where you are, and I will remain here. In the meantime, please find enclosed my last will and testament.  I leave this property to you, my friend, and hope you will find the time to enjoy it someday soon.

Sincerely,
Carter

5 thoughts on “Fiction: ‘O, That Way Madness Lies’

  1. Wow, that was great. An awesome Victorian atmosphere, and intriguing progress. Loved the way the plants were described, and how it was affecting the character’s mentally. Loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

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