Variations on a Theme

Cameron LaVoy


0. Prologue

Nighttime driving empty streets, synthesizers swell over deep beats and just beyond the headlights pooling weakly over the road the asphalt stretching infinite; the whispers pull me forward, voices uninterested in the reality of reality, uninterested in the indisputable fact that I exist as I am.

I can’t help but let my mind wander beyond the dark highways, following a chord or a phrase away from the asymmetrical headlight glow. Late night emptiness (and smoke billowing off the windshield with my slow exhale, because the fissure between the infinite inside my head and the infinite stretching out from my car is easier to bridge after the weightlessness spreads from my lungs to my fingertips), and unreality behind the wheel under a moon so bright I consider using the visor.

Follow the road with my eyes, follow the whispers with my mind drifting upwards, the murmured words spoken—maybe by the moon hanging impossibly in the air above the world—call me away from the highway stretching straight for miles southward. There’s nothing else to do but let it lead me past the crack in my windshield and into a world I can’t reconcile with the barely contained seething mass boiling deep in my chest, further down than the meat that makes me live.

The real world so vast, delugingly vast, I wish God had made me vaster myself–I wish I had ten personalities, one hundred golden brains, far more ports than are ports, more energy than the river, but I must struggle to live it all…

This is where it takes me.


I. Rhapsody in Grey


The snow in the wind swirling up, gusting into voices whispering frost like ancient gods pushing glaciers across the raw flesh of the land, groaning, bones creaking like the earth splitting open. I measure the depth of myself against the depth of the geometric crystals frozen in impossibly natural mathematical symmetry. I wade through the drifts crashing like waves against the trees growing deeper around me, and I wonder if it would be suffocation or drowning if I succumbed to the snow swallowing my body like quicksand bleached with frost.

World slowly fading into static and the whitenoise nonsense hiss of snow soft on the breath of winter, I wait at intersections empty after the night began to breathe. Streets dark beyond the surging snowstatic pulse with shadow and the low hum of heartbeat and void drones through the vents blasting hot air at my feet (even though I turned the heat off ages ago, the Camry insists on pumping hot air through the vents until I have to drive with the windows down for a while in January).

Isolated in overwhelming sameness, whispering secrets in puffs of breath that disappear in a moment.

The road is strangely straight here, unwinding, gentle curves barely altering the path; goldgreen mottled shadows of remembered summer drives contrast the stark dirty winter slumped under skeletal trees—vibrancy lost under the overcast pencil-sketched sky.

The whole world is different behind frosted glass, but the disorienting stark lack of color makes this drive unbearably dull, and I can’t keep my mind focused on the yellow lines and I drift.


II. Return to Bald Mountain

Even now, I feel like I’m only running from it—if I look in the rearview mirror, I’d see it just behind me in the backseat with glowing snake eyes—

(speak of the devil and he shall appear)

Wolflike snapping at my heels, howling inhuman voices echoing everywhere off the skeletal trees, dead and grey and stark against the sky and the blinding white of snow half-melted and half-refrozen piled just off the shoulder of the highway.

And I’m hiding in the dark, trying to breathe quietly as it seeps in around the fringes with insidious tendrils wrapping around me pulling me back dragging me into the snow into the empty whiteness.

Barking harsh animal laughter, it murmurs from all sides, claws gripping my shoulder tight and burning and I can feel myself crumbling into ashes underneath angelic screaming cacophonous down from the stars and I am paralyzed as it pulls the strings onebyone until I drown.

Each step away matched, days drag impossibly, reduced to waiting—finding something to do until I can sleep again. Read the same books again and again, formless doodles spreading across entire notebooks, endless miles and minutes of digitized film strips.

Each night erased in a not-sleep not-awake haze.

Running from it, sloshing through the minutes with produced celluloid unrealities or anything to make the seconds shorter than the hours.

The words that paint monsters race ruts into my mind—vivid half-formed hallucinatory tracks dripping with the rainwater leaking through the cracks in my skull while I try to sort out the bridge between real and not real on ground crumbling beneath my bare feet.

How do I begin to explain a hell that only burns in the universe behind my eyes when I can’t explain it to myself, when I’m lost in the endless apocalyptic landscape?


III. Drive of the Valkyries


When it hits me when it really hits me I can’t move speak look up because I can feel the strings unraveling I can feel the strings snapping but no one can know no one can know no one can know that nothing keeps the clocks wound and nothing holds the universe together and nothing holds me together and I’m barely holding my reality slipping through my fingers like too-bright moonlight liquefied in my palms.

breathe and breathe and breathe and breathe and

I close my eyes and I beat my fists on the inside of my ribs and I claw at my skull and I tear through the membranes of my heart my arteries my lungs and I rip open my larynx from the inside with my bare hands and I scream out of the black of my pupils and the swirling blue whirlpool of my irises.

And I’m screaming and screaming in my 14-year old Camry screaming not even words over the music meant to calm me because I’m angry I’m upset I’m feeling too much and not enough and I’m pounding my fists on the steering wheel peeling and scarred and pitted and faded because there’s no reason and I’m screaming my blurred vision smearing the brakelights of other cars into a mess of light and windshield wipers and yellow dashes and blue radio glow.

Screaming and lashing out at something with a name but no life or soul or thoughts because no one hears me and I hate hiding but I’m afraid to scare people with the explosive fallout churning and I’m losing my mind I’m losing my life and I’m screaming and pounding on the steering wheel and cars pass me on either side and no one notices.

My jaw hurts from clenching and grinding my teeth and the inside of my mouth is torn and bleeding onto my tongue and the copper flavor floods my mouth and my throat and I take a breath.

The stillness after feels too calm.



IV. Bringer of War


I can feel them clawing through the base of my skull and pulling out fistfuls of words and memories like streaming film strips miles years lifetimes long, yanking me out of my head and up stratospheric, out of my life and into vast blue everything sky, ripping apart everything they find with merciless bone fingers and throwing it all away and away fluttering into pieces on the wind and I rise higher over the exploding nuclear sunset painting blood across the sky and stars burn cold eyes through the blackened void of space.

Gazes crush like the weight of the ocean, like universe measured in lost lighters and pens, the iris depth of a million years; blue eyes tell no tales.

I try to anchor my reality in cold, press my hands against windowpanes and metal and glass until the burn brings me crashing back to my tenuous grasp on the surface of an object hurtling at a hundred thousand kilometers each hour through empty space. I try to find real places as I sift through the world: rooms drenched in smoke and moments spent alone under the spreading branches of a forest with no name and the always too warm space confined within the windows of my Camry and the beige color of everything inside.

The car rumbles under my feet, and it feels reassuring. The uneven surface of the steering wheel scarred from years of hands, the blue radio glow, and the aching nearly gagging stench of overpowering air freshener scent and the more pleasant but skunky smell of pot feel reassuring. The brown blood-spatter across the fabric on the ceiling from a Coke that got a bit too hot in the summer and exploded sticky-sugar-fizz feels reassuring. The orange check engine light that’s been lit for years feels reassuring.

The moments before—billions backward, back to the start wherever it may be—the words and breaths and films and traffic lines lost under rainwater shine and windshield wiper streaks and mix cd skips that make me curse and thump the radio and the internal screams that brought me here, moments I’ve lost to matches flaring to life with a whiff of chemical reaction; I feel each gap in the reel as it flicks through projectors under my skin.

I can’t paint an image of a landscape I’ve never seen.

I dream about people and places I’m supposed to remember, personalities and maps laid out in my head as spiderweb connections and all missing the strings that link my life together. Moments that never happened played out again and again and again as I construct and reconstruct and ruin—stories that change the present, by which I mean myself. Moments I lied and moments I didn’t and moments I didn’t say anything at all and moments I pretended I never existed.

Ask if I could have been anyone other than me.


V. Requiem


The way the road bumps under my tires in rhythm with the sun, the drums, the blood in my temples pounding—the way the road bumps under my tires black and slick with rain, reflecting headlights glisten, lines lost in the shine—

The way my mind wanders. The way it whispers back at me under the music, lounging snakelike in the backseat among the assorted driftwood of discarded fast food refuse, hissing monsters into the folds of my brain. The way I drive to keep them in the distance of the objects are closer than they appear mirrors.

The way the beginning is lost to me under miles of mist. I couldn’t even name the year if I tried.

The way I lose track of the days of the week and the hours passing by when I live in an endless late night.

Follow me a few phrases more.


VI. 2014 Overture

No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream, trapped in its
disappearance, sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worshipping each other, worshipping the God included in it all–longing or inevitability?–while it lasts, a Vision–anything more?

This is the moment:

Supporting myself against the open passenger-side window, the cold drawing the air from my lungs as I gasp puffs of steam dissipating rapidly over lifeless snow-crusted farmlands.

The knees of my jeans soaked through with snow melted by the warmth of surging blood that means life as I screamed into the wool of my scarf, kneeling in the snow by the side of the road where my strength, my motivation to continue moving forward, finally failed me. Rocks and ice shards bite into the thin layer of skin covering my kneecaps, but I won’t notice the marks until hours later when, exhausted from the intensity of emotion, I staggered around to the driver’s side door and fell into the seat.

Shaking—not from cold, despite my complete lack of warm clothing, all forgotten in my flight from the city; when the panic set in I had to just go and be away from the smothering blanket of civilization and life and lives lived as they were meant to be lived. Lives unspoiled by improperly balanced chemicals and the shredding effect of abuse inflicted when they didn’t know any better.

Taking short breaths of air as I hold myself up by the car door with the window open, my shoulders ache under my weight (will ache for days, parenthesizing the spike between my shoulder blades that never seems to go away). And my knees aching and my back aching and the snow sticking to my tattered jeans and the pain bringing me back down to the crust of the world.

Then, one deep breath.

This is the next moment:

The stillness carrying such little weight, the external and internal quietness that surprises me every time; the buzzing in my ears silences the passing of a car.


Could I tell what words came into my head then? The last real decision I made whispered into my car empty and running, heat seeping out the open window into the cold of Michigan in February; yet the stillness remains unbroken, the silence of the empty street around the low growl of the engine—still struggling onward after fifteen years and 188,000 miles, and I still am more impressed with those few than the twenty-two years and limitless distances I’ve survived. The last real decision that made every other choice obsolete; the decision that I was not meant to be—could not be.

I marked the roadmap of discolored lines over my pale skin only where I knew they were hidden under every baggy t-shirt and pair of jeans I own, hidden from eyes brown and blue and green and hazel and real, even when I couldn’t comprehend the idea of a reality experienced by billions of beings all at once but never in the same way and never truly understood by anyone else. Billions of confined infinities that never intersect.

The fundamental difference between me and everyone else:

The reality of the inside of my skull is a landscape pockmarked with horrors I can only describe as demons and static and confusing hallucinatory mismatched metaphors. A fallout zone of psychological defects radiating internally, diagnoses scratched onto wooden plank signs next to BEWARE and DANGER AHEAD and TURN BACK WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

The ache of dishonesty when I meet someone new and I don’t explain the chasm in my head became so unbearable I had to make sure anyone who looked would know that beneath my scrawny chest, beneath the jagged clumsily formed letters, everything inside me is rotting and swarmed with maggots and dead.

The reality of self-destruction reimagined as formless monsters?

There is no monster.

There is only the self.


Cameron LaVoy is currently completing his final year at Grand Valley State University, where he has been alternately pursuing a degree in film, psychology, creative writing, and ways to waste time. Although this is his first official publication, Cameron’s work has been printed in student journals during his college career, and he plans to graduate in the spring with a degree in Creative Writing. Cameron currently lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his cat and a small horde of psychological problems, where he enjoys both the natural beauty and craft beer selection of Michigan.


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