The Thread

Graham Tugwell

And waking that morning, opening from a fist of cold-conscience dreams, on that dull yellow morning the villagers woke and, rising, came across the Thread.

Draped in golden cords from the crests of chimneys, hanging in frosted loops from the tops of trees, softly wafting from slanting telegraph poles, they found a length of shining Thread, glowing coldly in the milk-yellow of dawn. The diamond hair of angels fallen, straggling in hedges, tangling with rubbish in ditches, dragged in sagging lines across fields, through gardens, over blunt and sun-blushed hills.

Dew-frozen coils of Thread have lightly fallen over flocks of sleeping sheep and cattle, and the villagers find that these golden cords have blissfully sliced through necks and spines and haunches, like hot pins through candle wax, slaying livestock where they lay.

And so are discovered fields of lolling meatstrips, of soft night butchery undisturbed. Head-lopped pigeons lying at the foot of a garden wall. A slant-slashed homeless cut hip to shoulder, surgical, bloodless, under a hedge found folded.

The postman, blankly handless, falling horrified from house to house, whispering: It came down in front of me, it came down in front of me, it came down right in front me.

The first of the villagers to approach, the first to lay hold of the Thread outside the Promissory House, find their fingers frozen cleanly off, crisply snapping bloodless, without a pang of pain. Sighing, the Thread drifts through and cold blue stubs just part and tumble, leaving watchers shocked, incredulous, stunned at the cold efficient cleanness of it all…

And the sun slips in silence up the pale blue edges of the world, throwing lengths of milky light upon the streets and houses, upon the old burned church and the closed-off graveyard curled round it.

Revealing Thread, revealing lengths of golden Thread everywhere, on everything.

Weary eyes trace the looping lariats from gable to gable, across the mouths of alleyways, around aerials, between streetlights, draped upon cars. And slowly the villagers realise that it is all one piece, one single piece—mile after mile of it curling back on itself in glorious aurical tangles; all of it connected, all the same unbroken Thread.

And though they searched they find neither beginning nor end, nothing but endless circles, fruitlessly pursued across the village.

Loathe to touch the Thread lest more fingers sever or more hands are maimed, an age passes before anyone dares to reach for the Thread again.

Lots are drawn out beyond the Funeral Home.

Inevitably: the short straw.

A calloused finger extends, and slowly, hesitantly, reaches—a shallow breath—and runs along the golden lines. And there comes a minor revelation: the Thread is growing warmer; under the pale light of the climbing sun the coils of strange-stuff are gradually heating.

And then the voices, drifting up from the still-waking village: banal, sleep-weary questions: What is this Thread? Where did it come from? Why did it come down upon us? Unanswerable questions, questions with no one to answer them.

And then, when the futility comes clear to all, no voices rise above the slow soft whispers of the waking world.

Why question? The Thread has come; the Thread will be dealt with. And if it can't be dealt with, it will be endured. Endured, the way all terrible nameless things in this village are endured.

And so no voices rise, none except that of the Outsider, stumbling wet-legged as he has always stumbled through the lanes and narrow cul-de-sacs, eyes drooping with cold sleep unslept, he mumbles, he mutters: We're in allegory; we're lost in layers of allegory now.

Through sunshine the Thread is creeping slow to heat, hands now find it warm and tacky to touch. Still the autumn sun warms the strings so that those who come in contact must now pull, must struggle, to free themselves from the grip of hot elastic.

Desperately the Outsider whispers: Someone is working cold Story through us, setting awful themes upon us! I feel them. Resting meanings unwanted upon us.

And the rising sun, glowering the weak yellow of wheat, lends the Thread the same anaemic amber blush and those with palms and fingers upon the Thread's treacle cords begin to wail in alarm: painlessly their flesh is sticking fast, is becoming one with the Thread and no amount of pulling, no amount of struggling, seems fit to free them.

Slowly, but with urgency mounting, from the houses out by Holness Hill to the abandoned estates on the Cavan road, come thin and keening cries for knives, for saws, for severance, for release.

Why else would this happen? The Outsider screams at villagers unheeding. It all means something else; we signify something more OUT THERE, in the real unwritten world.

And pleading, the Outsider points to the hills, into the mists of unknown distance where no one is free to go. But the villagers ignore the Outsider, just as they have always ignored him.

Other things are pressing home.

How shining pale the Autumn sun, how frail and warmthless, light leant through a muslin gauze, painting all with albumen gloss. Ill light, unwholesome, heats the Thread, gives it its goldwax glow.

And throughout the village: the brittleness of cracking glass, the sudden snap of branches snapped, the chest-rumble of masonry crumbling. Things are moving, grinding together; the Thread is contracting.

Chimney bricks spill across the pavement; a streetlight, groaning, leans; slowly a car is spun upon its side. The Thread is tightening; pulling back upon itself. Loops close lopping, sagging lengths tauten; slowly phone poles bend and sway, eased softly from the ground and dragged in splintered pieces along the lanes.

A tangled knot is coiling, here in the heart of town.

The Outsider bawls, entreating: This is the centre of things—here is where our allegory lies!

The Thread is gorged on light, shining so hard it burns to look upon the incandescent star-links. And those who stretch to help those held amidst the Thread find themselves stuck fast as well, while others see their reaching fingers fall, sliced whispering away.

They are the lucky ones, kneeling there in streets and fields, cradling cauterised limbs. Those who remain stuck must meekly march, impelled to move by the tightening Thread, over fences, through hedges, painfully, painfully dragged up the sides of houses, along roofs.

They are parading; the villagers are mutely parading. The injuries, the terrible injuries they have begun to suffer.

Alone the Outsider wonders: Why slice through some and stick to others? Who decides what fate we suffer? But otherwise, the village is calm with cold resignation… such things as this happen, will happen again.

Now the hanging cords are neon; hissing, scalding lengths that scour flesh but leave bricks barely warmed. And the speed of the Thread is mounting; falling back upon the growing gnarl. Villagers are severed away from the Thread—knives chop fingers, cut into wrists—but the unlucky ones are moving too fast now, wrenched along relentless on tripping, bleeding feet before any saving blade can fall.

The Outsider: Something chose to make this happen! Something chose to have it here!

Still the Thread coils faster, beaded now with fingers, hands and wrists, trailing the dead and the living; men, women, children, all sobbing, screaming, dragged through the streets with the resounding scrape of sliding meat.

The mustard sun hangs high. No Thread lies shadow-cold for long. Every inch now creeping elastic heat.

From all roads, lanes, and estates it comes: the golden neon Thread, dragging its terrible plunder of meat. The knot grows, feeding on the flesh pulled in, swallowing the villagers still ensnared, melting them, moulding them, cooking them in a plastic oven of flailing limbs and pulsing mouths.

A node of golden beast flesh, a trembling kernel of charred disgrace, a body-bisque of life and death.

They watch, the villagers watch. The day slides down to evening. The sun cools, the Thread-mound cools. They watch. They listen.

The saffron knot is crying, stumping sluggishly on half-hands, thighs and hooves, a nuzzling eyeless thing. Mind—some shreds of mind are trapped within those folds of Thread and skin.

And if they listened hard, the villagers could hear tiny voices from within, pleading for an end. An end to it all.

What could they do? The villagers chased the slowly-suffering thing—leaking, quivering—out into the bog, deep into those water-logged ways of flesh-wrong and they forgot about, forced themselves to forget about it.

And so ended the Day of the Thread.

Leaving the Outsider, ditch-curled or stumbling through estates at the dead of night, crying, weeping, mumbling: it must have meant something, it must all have meant something. We should have learned some lesson.

But the villagers just look at him and look away, uncaring.

The Thread had come, the Thread had gone.

It cut through some and stuck to others.

It meant nothing, signified nothing, changed nothing.

The Thread was just something that happened.

Just another thing that happened.

Graham Tugwell is a PhD student with the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches Popular and Modernist Fiction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, he has been published by Anobium, Write From Wrong, Jersey Devil Press, Red Ochre Lit, The Quotable, Sein und Werden, Thoughtsmith, THIS Literary Magazine and L'Allure Des Mots. He has work forthcoming in Kerouac's Dog Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Plain Spoke, Pyrta, Battered Suitcase, Lost Souls, Rotten Leaves, Red Lightbulbs, and FuseLit. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place. His website is