The Black Tail – Chalk Lines on the Floor

January 2010 found me lying in a hospital bed, the Intensive Care Unit. Drained of platelets, pierced with intravenous needles, I spent most of my time deep sleep. I drifted in and out of consciousness. My immune system was so weak, the doctor told me that I needed to have the will to live, if I was going to stand a chance in hell of fighting this. What does one say to that?

That night I went to sleep and my subconscious decided to throw a curveball at me. I dreamt I was on stage for the set of Phantom of the Opera, decked out in Christine’s pristine white ballgown. I was facing stage left, holding a mask on. Stage left was Raul – he had an ordinary face, on an ordinary man’s body… the kind of look you know would be unrecognizable if you had to describe it to a sketcher… and instinctively, I felt evil.  I felt as though Raul was the very dark angel in disguise (the devil? Azrael? Uriel?) because he was pointing at the floor and beckoning me with his hands. I looked at the floor and saw my own body outlined in chalk, the kind you see in a Humphrey Bogart black and white movie.

I panicked, and shook my head, and tried to say “No”. But couldn’t find my voice. Then Raul looked to his right and I turned just in time to see a massive room-sized chandelier swing my way….

The next day I woke up and my platelet count steadily improved. This was the closest thing I’ve had to a near death experience. Some would call it an “oceanic”, “out-of-body” state of consciousness. Acquitted from the hospital, I firmly resolved to allow myself to do the thing I have always wanted to do – to make life count —- to write. And so, the pages of the Black Tail gradually unfolded.

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The Black Tail – Enter the Doppelgänger

This is a true account of the hair-raising experience that happened around spring 2011. I was waiting for my dance class to start with a female friend, at a cafe across the street from the studio. We sat outdoors; it was hot and balmy. Mosquitoes kept biting my legs. I remembered that I had a can of bug repellant in the car, and so I told my friend that I was going to walk across the street to get it.

My car was parked underneath some hundred-year old trees in an open compound that was fenced in, part of a corner-lot bungalow house where the studio was. I crossed the street in broad daylight — it must have been 2pm in the afternoon — it was a relatively quiet street but not entirely lonely, given that the parking lot faced a shopping mall on one side and was flanked by a hotel on the other. There were people around, they just weren’t immediately close by.

As I did, I was certain that someone was walking just a few paces behind me, because I felt their warmth and heard matching footsteps. Naturally, I figured that my friend who I was having coffee with had followed me, either because she wanted some bug repellant too, or because she didn’t want to sit alone at the cafe on the chance that the studio might already be open.

The parking lot was empty except for us. There were a few other cars, but I didn’t see anyone else in the lot or at the entrance of the studio. So I opened the car door and swung into the driver’s seat, and closed my door. As I did, I saw her reflection in the rearview mirror walking in her trademark lazy way around the back of my car, the skirts of her floral red dress billowing in the wind.

I waited a few seconds, anticipating that she’d join me in the car where it was air-conditioned instead of standing outside. I paused, and was confused momentarily because I didn’t hear any of my other car doors open. I swung around, and the hairs of my neck stood up as I realized there was no one else in the parking lot. No one right behind my car. No one standing anywhere near the studio or in the street nearby. (Not that they could’ve moved that fast). It was unnaturally silent.

Heart beating fast, I made a grab for what I came for, and got the hell out of dodge as fast as I could. I ran back to the cafe and saw my friend and noticed for the first time that she wasn’t wearing a red floral dress at all. I said, “Dude. Something really weird, borderline supernatural, just happened to me.”

She said something equally strange in reply: “If this is a weird experience that will give us nightmares, can we talk about it another day? I’ve just had a weird experience too, but I don’t think we should talk about it right now.” She widened her eyes in warning.

My heart beat even faster. I didn’t know what to make of it. The only thing I remember thinking at that point was that the night before, we had just been traveling together down a pretty dark road near a forest. And she had told me that she absolutely refused to walk down it with me just the two of us at that hour of the night, because the locals said that many car crashes had happened on that stretch, and that it was haunted by malicious spirits. We had stayed close and walked down it anyway, and made it out fine.

When a few days had passed, and we talked about it — in broad daylight — my friend surmised that something(s) had followed us back, and that we’d experienced its after effects. (Whereas I had seen a doppelgänger of my friend in my car, she had apparently seen a doppelgänger of me in her apartment, in mirrors too).

Nothing else transpired once we discussed this. The whole thing just became a really weird memory. But I did start looking up doppelgängers, and what they meant, either in dreams, or as symbols in literature, and all manner of old wives tales across cultures and timezones. I read memoirs of celebrities and historical figures who claim to have seen their doppelgängers.

Since the Black Tail storyworld is already a looking glass into the duality of human nature, good and evil, (wo)man and beast, anima – animus, reality and dreams, truth and deception… the idea of a doppelgänger got weaved into the tale very fast. I mean, it was like, once I started journalizing about possible plotlines around a mermaid story, the doppelgänger basically had me at hello.

The Black Tail – the Author’s Ichthyophobia

It may seem weird to you that the author of a mermaid fantasy action trilogy suffers from acute ichthyophobia. Whaaa..? Ichthyophobia. An extremely rare, highly irrational, deeply innate, fear of fish. How bad is it? *Garrrhh* Is it real? *Shudder* Is it manageable? How contradictory, to write a mermaid story and fear fish!!! Read on…

Picture this: Child walks into aquarium. Great white sharks and all manner of fish hover on the other side of the glass surrounding her. Child lies immobile on automated walkways, circulating the aquarium for two hours, unable to find her way out on account of paralyzing fear that the fish notice her and break the glass to eat her.

Picture this 2: Child follows uncles out into the open ocean on a longboat to watch deep sea fishing. Child has to walk across narrow free- floating wooden gangplanks nailed together, with all manner of catch swimming within fishing nets in “squares” on either side. Child falls into a square and is barely lifted out when a gigantic yellow fish (bahaba? barracuda?) shows its great big mouth and then grazes the surface with its endless, scaly belly, probably 20 ft long

Picture this 3: Jaws plays on TV. Child runs behind sofa and hides there until the movie and its trademark music is over. Holds long-term grudge against folks who had the TV on during that programming. Child goes swimming with her cousins in public swimming pool. Cousins imitate Jaws, hum music and chase her out of pool. Child still scarred for life (and not talking to cousins).

… You get the idea. *Goosebumps* Growing up didn’t make my reactions any better…

Scene 1:  Grown-up goes to beach, dips toes into incredibly shallow shore line. Little finding nemo lookalike (barely 2cm across) latches onto her toe with a gentle bite. Grown-up screams her head off and runs helter-skelter for cover. Tourists gawk. Classmate spills coconut juice trying to figure out what the hell happened. She refuses to enter the water for days.

Scene 2: Grown-up sits down in Chinese restaurant. Unbelievable number of fish hover in an aquarium a few meters away. Grown-up asks to switch places. Meal is served, fish with eyes and head entirely intact on plate. Grown-up leaves resto, meal untouched; upchuck reflux on the street.h

Scene 3: Grown-up plays with two labradors by the Pacific coast. Running all about, they get perilously close to the giant waves. Labradors jump onto grown-up’s shoulders with excitement and she falls backwards into the shorebreak. Machine-washed, she scrapes her legs against the rocks. Spots a single jellyfish floating nearby. Grown-up screams and retreats to dry land, chasing dogs away from the water. National park ranger comes running and then raises an eyebrow.

…Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with me. All my life, my crazy fears fed and were fed by recurrent nightmares of fish. My sleeping life has become a looking glass into my very own personal version of hell…

Nightmare 1: Begins in medias res. I find myself swimming in the middle of a shiver of sharks in deep, green waters. The faster I swim, the more I seem to be surrounded by sharks, and yet I’m going at breakneck speed, which is crazy. I decide to change tactics and head for the nearest shoreline to get out of the water. As I near a beach, the sandy bottom is lined by layers upon layers of freshwater crocodiles. In my panic, I step on one and feel its sharp hide.

Nightmare 2: I am trapped inside the mouth of a leviathan. A whale? Rows upon rows of gigantic teeth trap me in. Staring up, I see human skulls rotting at the gumline and in between teeth, like black cavity spots on marble white teeth. There is no way out.

Nightmare 3: I am hiding in a dark cave. Outside, the beach and the shoreline are visible, it’s intensely bright. I see and hear the scraping of a black tail across the sand. It grates. The scales are tarry black, they leave a trail like it’s bleeding. And it’s shaped like it belongs to a giant merman. Somehow, as in all dreams, I realize a few things instantly: a) this thing, it’s supernatural. b) He knows I’m here, even though I’m tucked away and he hasn’t seen me yet. c) He means to catch me, despite his injury.

One day someone said, in reaction to all my whining about my fear of fish and my nightmares… that maybe I was roleplaying a mermaid in my dreams. That turned the whole experience of my nightmares on its head.. from one of passive victim into one of active lucid dreamer… waiting to receive messages from the universe of my subconscious. That’s when my nightmare journal entries started to turn into threads of a story…