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Thursday 10 November 2016

NZ Writing: The Strange

Posted in: NZ Writing
By Jern Ng - 29th September 2013

The Strange
by Jern Ng

The night was still and dark. Silence hung like leaden drapes upon the little village, where even the smallest ant had given in to the welcome embrace of deep slumber. Occasionally, it is broken by a snore or a grunt of a tired villager, whose dreams suddenly got more exciting than they were before. Other than that, everything was quiet; so quiet that when it happened, he was immediately jolted from his sleep.

“What the hell was that?” David shouted to no one in particular. His wife merely turned over in bed and fell fast asleep again.

Looking around in confusion, he saw the familiar outlines of his bedroom and the furniture they had slowly accumulated over the years. The large oak cupboard, tall and foreboding, stood in one corner. It contained all the clothes they owned, but that might be an overstatement. It would be more accurate to say it was empty save for the few items of clothing they owned, for David and his wife were not rich. Far from it. They toiled hard in the fields during the day to scrape enough to survive and save a little, maybe even the occasional treat, but that was it.

In another corner stood a small table roughly made from wood. David could still recalled how he had painstakingly thrown it together from the random bits of wood he found around the house. His wife, Elena, had once voiced her longing for a table in their bedroom. Or rather, she complained about the lack of a table every day until he finally couldn’t stand it anymore and made her one. On it were the two books she borrowed from the library, one of which was open to the page she had stopped at the previous night. It was an erotic romance, the kind she absolutely loved, and sometimes he wondered if she escaped into the fantasy world of handsome princes and passionate lovemaking only to forget the dreariness of life with him.

He had to admit that he wasn’t the best husband in the world. He provided for them, that was true, but what she sought was the fiery love and unbridled passion other couples bring to live in their bedrooms. And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t do it. Their marriage was one of convenience; his parents knew her parents and decided that their kids should get married to each other one day. In such a small village, choices of partners were few and far between, and tradition decreed that arranged marriages were part of the norm. There were a few of the younger ones who had run off to the city to avoid the future their parents have carefully arranged for them, but they were rarely spoken off. The villagers kept mum as if these people were the devil incarnate, for daring to break tradition.

Their first time was marred with awkwardness and failures. He knew what he was supposed to do; he had enough older male friends who had described the flaming desires and immense pleasure in painstaking detail. However, for some reason, he couldn’t get hard. Elena tried her best, and she had a few tricks up her sleeves that she learned from the other girls in preparation for her wedding night, but none of it worked. In the end, he had to do it himself while she lay and waited, finally aroused enough to join their bodies together. She cried out in pain when he entered and he hesitated, immediately losing his arousal again. She tried to assure him that it was fine, and they tried again several times before both simply gave up on it and went to sleep.

Over the next few weeks they would try again and again. She would attempt to seduce him the best she could, and went over her best tricks over and over again, but nothing worked. In the end she got so annoyed she went to the village herbalist and required their strongest aphrodisiac. That night, they made proper love for the first time, but he couldn’t enjoy it. The act itself felt good enough, but it just didn’t feel right. She, on the other hand, was writhing beneath him, lost in the pleasures of the moment. When she finally reached her peak, she lay still, panting, and he slowly withdrew, still hard but unaroused. It was a strange sensation indeed. He finished himself off with his hands while she drifted off to sleep. And that was what they did every time she was in the mood. It became almost a ritual for them, albeit a strange one.

Sooner or later, Elena began to realise that her husband enjoyed very little of these couplings, if at all. At first she thought he simply had a problem down south which could be solved with the right herbs, but it didn’t seem to work. He had a blank look on his face while she was rolling in the throes of ecstasy, and none of the other wives reported a bored and distracted husband during their lovemaking sessions. Perhaps I’m just not attractive enough for him, she silently thought. He loved her in his own way, she knew, but something was definitely missing. This thought ate away at her until one day, she gave up on their ritual altogether, and she could see the relief in his eyes when several weeks passed and she still did not try to get him into bed.

And so their lives began revolving around work and almost nothing else. True, they would chat with neighbours and occasionally go for a walk, but that fundamental component of all relationships was missing. It was like a body without a heart, a sea without creatures, and it ate away at their once loving relationship. They drifted apart, slowly but surely, no longer talking much to each other but merely the barest minimum that was necessary. Maybe it was the season that worked them harder than ever, but they never had the strength for all the things they used to do. In the mornings, they’d get out of bed and head out to the fields, working from dawn to dusk before coming home again and having a simple dinner before going to bed. This cycle went on for years, and both David and Elena became resigned to it, never thinking that anything would change.

* * *

Like all stories, something must eventually happen to disturb the peace and monotony of life, and this one is no exception. Having been awoken, David lay down and tried to return to his dreams, but sleep evaded him somehow. After having tossed and turned a few times, even earning an angry snore from his sleeping wife who didn’t want to be disturbed, he finally got up and decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. He had done this many times before, mostly after she fell asleep from their intercourse while he stayed awake with an uncomfortable erection. He had found that the cool night air helped clear his troubled mind and relax him, and he would return after an hour or two, curling up in bed next to his sleeping wife and drifting off himself.

He pulled on a pair of pants and shirt before leaving the bedroom. It was slightly chilly outside, and walking around in his underwear, while comfortable on a hot summer night, would probably give him pneumonia on a night like this. He would take a walk around the village and maybe even down to the beach, he thought. Opening the door, he discovered that the rest of the village had gone back to sleep, leaving him alone in his moment of awakening.

Oh well, I’m not looking for a chat anyway, he thought to himself, and silently closed the door behind him, so as not to disturb his wife.

As he walked along the well-worn gravel path, something about the silence unsettled him. And he had yet to figure out what it was that awoke him earlier. Was it a loud sound, or a brilliant flash of light, or maybe even an earthquake? These were the few things he knew would wake him up instantly, but his mind was blank when he tried to recall the moment of awakening. There was the fuzziness of having sleep robbed from you without any warning at all, but other than that, nothing. In the end he gave up and resigned himself to the fact that he could ask his neighbours about it tomorrow.

David realised that while lost in thought, his footsteps had brought him to the beach. Moonlight sparkled off the sea like diamonds in the light, and he stood there for a moment, admiring its haunting beauty. The sand beneath his feet was strangely warm to the touch, a stark contrast to the cool breeze blowing, but he never noticed it.

Suddenly, in the distant waters, he thought he saw a slight movement. Was there something in the water, right at the edge of the darkness? He squinted but couldn’t make up anything more. Must have been just the waves, he thought.

He started walking along the beach, listening to the calming sound of waves gently crashing against the sandy beach. It was wonderfully hypnotic, and he began to feel at peace again simply letting the sound fill his mind. Then he saw it again, at the corner of his eye. Something definitely moved in the water. Was someone out for a swim? It was impossible, this late at night. He came to a standstill and approached the water, trying to see as far as possible into the distance.


The cry shocked him from his stupor and now the sight was unmistakeable. He could see an arm flailing above the waves. Someone was out for a swim and is drowning! Immediately, he stripped down to his briefs and ran out to deeper waters before diving in, swimming as fast as he could towards where he last saw the figure. It had disappeared now, and when he got to the spot, he took a deep breath and went under.

The darkness was overwhelming. It was like being at the bottom of a very deep well at midnight; he couldn’t see anything around him. But slowly, his eyes adjusted and he saw the outline of a limp figure, unmoving in the water. He struck out in that direction and felt his arms wrap around a solid torso before pulling the both to the surface, gasping for breath. The person, whoever it is, was heavy. He caught a glimpse of a bearded face before he began striking for the shore, dragging the unconscious man behind him.

As soon as his feet treaded solid ground, he began running, dragging the man out of reach of the water. He collapsed on the sand, panting from the exertion. When he got his breath back, he performed CPR on the man he rescued, but it didn’t work. He was still out, and David began pounding on his chest, desperate not to let the man he had gone to such lengths to save die on him just then.

When he was almost ready to give up, the figure began twitching, and started coughing up copious amounts of sea water. David helped turn him over and thumped him on the back while he vomited what looked like the entire contents of his stomach. As soon as that was over, they both collapsed on the beach, exhausted.

“What the hell were you doing going for a swim in the middle of the night?” he asked, in between pants.

The man didn’t reply, but pulled himself up into a sitting position and opened his eyes, gazing upon David on the ground. He had beautiful blue eyes, like the sky on a sunny, cloudless day. And in that moment their eyes met, something surged through David’s body, a feeling more intense than any he ever had before. It sent a shock wave through him, and suddenly, his entire body and soul wanted nothing more than to be held tight, to be caressed, and to be filled to the brim with this man before him.

And then the stranger’s lips was upon him once more, and he could no longer understand his feelings. He stopped thinking and returned the kiss with passion, wrapping his arms tightly around the burly stranger and pulling him down on top of him. Everything became a frenzy of naked limbs and passionate thrusts, wilder and more pleasurable than anything he could ever imagine. When it was over, David simply fell panting to the ground, and felt sleep overtake him with no warning at all.

* * *

He was awoken by a woman’s scream. Immediately, his eyes snapped open and he found himself lying on the beach, naked and exposed. He looked around, and spotting his briefs in the distance, immediately scrabbled for them and put them on.

What the hell happened last night?

He could still recall the vivid moments of their passionate lovemaking, the mixture of pain and pleasure that sent jolts of pure ecstasy coursing through his veins. He had never, in his entire life felt that way before, and it scared him slightly. But at the same time, it felt so right. After what had been so wrong for such a long time, the feeling of finally getting a release was indescribable. But where was the man who brought this discovery upon him? He seemed to have disappeared, with no proof that he even existed safe for the remains of their wild night stained upon his belly.

Climbing to his feet, David walked into the lapping water and washed himself clean. His wife would already be on the fields by now, and she must be wondering where he had gone. He knew deep in his heart that he could never tell her what transpired last night, and that he should never do it again. David had always hated adulterers, especially those who lied about it to their wives, dressing their wounds with sweet nothings and honeyed words when they were so obviously seeing others. But now, he had become one of them.

Why hadn’t he stopped himself last night? Maybe because part of him didn’t realise what was happening until it was too late. But he knew that wasn’t true. The moment their eyes met, he knew he wanted nothing else. The pure, unadulterated desire was unstoppable. That stranger had brought him over the very edge of ecstasy and he knew he would do it again in a heartbeat. Was this how adulterers reasoned with themselves after committing the act?

No, he must forget the previous night ever happened. Go back to his wife, his daily life, and stop these dangerous thoughts. When the last of the evidence had been washed away, he emerged from the sea and slowly trudged back up the road, heading for home.

* * *

The next few days were torture. He tried his best to stop thinking about what transpired, but of course, that made him think about it all the more. He remembered the gentle caresses, the furious thrusts, the passionate kisses they shared that night on the beach. It was enough to drive him crazy with need. He worked with a renewed frenzy, trying to chase every impure thought out of his mind. Elena noticed the change in her husband, and wondered about it. She had never seen her husband working so hard, or with such intense concentration on the job at hand. Usually he’d whistle nonchalantly while he worked, or stroll along at a leisurely pace, but today he worked quickly and silently, getting even more done than he usually did. In fact, he even helped with her duties, so she got to rest her aching back more than usual. By the time evening came, he had done the equivalent of two days’ work, and she felt decidedly impressed. Maybe this is a change for the better, she thought. She knew not the reason behind it, but she hoped it would keep up.

That night, David dreamed of the stranger on the beach, and he awoke in the middle of the night, panting hard and feeling dampness in his underpants. Now, nocturnal emissions were not uncommon to David, but he could never recall the dreams he had when they happened. This time, everything was in absolute clarity, and the very thought of it made him aroused again. Chiding himself silently, he got up and wiped himself down before changing to a new pair of underpants and falling asleep again.

For the next few days he tried hard to forget what happened, but it was impossible. Every night, the stranger would visit him in his dreams, and their passionate lovemaking felt so real that David began wondering if they actually were. It always happened on the beach, because he would remember the sand brushing against his back as the stranger made sweet love to him. Night after night David would wake up with soiled underpants, panting as if he had actually committed the act itself. Could he possibly have sleepwalked to the beach and made his way back afterwards? No, it was impossible, he convinced himself. They were just dreams, and nothing else.

* * *

Months passed and the dreams became fewer, but never lessened in intensity. Soon he was having them once a week, and he felt satisfied with that. They were manageable, at least, and he didn’t have trouble finding clean underwear anymore. His newfound vigour at work stayed with him. The passion of sex had brought him back to life again, ending the dreariness of his earlier life of monotony. He had been so tired of it all that he never had passion for anything, but now, he was filled with endless energy. He was happy, and his wife was too, because she no longer had to work so hard. They had an excellent harvest one summer and managed to earn a considerable sum from it. Deciding that a celebration was in order, they took a bus out to a nearby town and had dinner at a nice restaurant, even going as far as to order a bottle of champagne. This was the first time they had done something like this, and they were hesitant, but decided to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Halfway through dinner, David looked up from his meal and almost choked in surprise. The stranger in his dreams had just walked past the restaurant, and he caught sight of him through a window on the opposite end of the room. Without thinking, he got up and rushed out of the restaurant, running in the direction he had seen the man go, but he was nowhere to be seen. Men and women who had just finished work crowded the sidewalks, but David pushed past them all, glancing around desperately, hoping to see the man again.

Where is he? I definitely saw him come this way, he thought furiously.

And then he saw him again, on the other side of the road, heading into a darkened alley. Ignoring the rush hour traffic, David rushed across the street, miraculously avoiding being hit by several cars and a bus. He ran into the alley and saw that the man he had been pursuing had stopped at a dead end, his back to David.

“Hey!” David’s shout echoed through the alley, but the man never turned around. When he finally caught up, he grabbed the man’s shoulder and swung him around.

And there he was, the man in his dreams, the man who had brought his senses to life in a way that no one else had. He had changed slightly since the first time they met, with the beard now trimmed to a light stubble around his beautiful lips. And there, reflected in those brooding blue eyes, David saw himself, reflected as clear as day. The familiar rush of lustful passion flowed through him once more and he lost all control. He crushed his lips against the stranger’s in a burst of passion, and was surprised when the man shoved him away. Hard. He fell against a pile of empty cardboard boxes on the side of the alley.

“What the hell man! Get the fuck off me!”

The man turned and began to stride off, but David got to his feet and ran after him, grabbing him on the shoulder again.

“But I rescued you! That night on the beach! Don’t you remember what happened?” David pleaded, but the stranger’s features never changed. No gasp of surprise, no jolt of recognition, nothing. He simply stared at David as if he was seeing a crazy man.

“I think you’re mistaking me for someone else, man. I’m hydrophobic so I never go near water, let alone beaches. Sorry man, I don’t think I’m the one you’re looking for.”

With that he turned around and walked away. David simply stood there, dumbfounded. But it was the same man! He could still recall every ridge and curve of the man’s body from all the times they made love, and he was sure the man would have remembered him as well. So why didn’t he? He couldn’t comprehend what was happening. At that moment, he noticed a figure standing at the opening of the alley. His heart leaped at the thought that the man had returned, perhaps finally remembering all the times they shared. But it wasn’t him.

It was Elena.

And she had seen everything.

“No, wait!” he shouted, but she had already run off into the crowd.

Suddenly overcome by exhaustion, he sank to his knees on the ground and collapsed upon it. His mind was in turmoil. What the hell was happening here? Did he really go after the wrong man? For some reason he couldn’t be sure anymore. The face in his memory, clear as day only moments ago, had started to become fuzzy around the edges, like a television that had lost its signal. He could no longer see its features with clarity. Even the sensations he felt had become dulled down, unlike the fierce, fiery flame that burned in his veins every time they made love.

“No! Come back! You can’t leave me here! I need you!”

He felt a hand on his shoulder. Glancing upwards, he saw the man again, but this time, he looked different; more vibrant, more beautiful, and with more passion in his eyes than he could ever have imagined. Immediately, all the memories and sensations came rushing back, clear as day.

Come, the stranger beckoned.

David gazed into the endless blue eyes and felt himself forget all about Elena and everything that happened before that moment. Nothing else mattered anymore. He reached out a hand, and the man pulled him into a tight embrace before their lips met once more with a soaring, dizzying finality. He was home, at last.

Previously published on ReMag

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Jern Ng - 29th September 2013