..is a short story by Michael Marshall Smith. It has been published oodles of times, most recently in The Best of Michael Marshall Smith. It is, as the title suggests, pretty dark.
The first time I read it was shortly after I discovered the author’s Straw Men trilogy. The more I read him, the more I appreciated Smith’s writing. He exposes corners. Sometimes sharp corners. He uncovers new paths. Sometimes darker paths. He is easily in my Top 5.
I wanted to highlight “The Dark Land” in particular because it affected me in.. a way. The first time I read the story I mentioned on Twitter that it made me itchy, which, let’s face it, means uncomfortable. Yes, the story is uncomfortable, but it was deeper. A few more reads since, and I realized why.
Please keep in mind this is all me. The story is layered, full of detail and deeply disturbing. I can’t speak for what any other reader may take away, or what Michael Marshall Smith had in mind while writing it. The why is because, to me, it describes my depression in a way that I have never been able to put into words. Like, when folks ask, “how are you feeling?” I can just say, “read this story.”
Again, refer to the above, this is all me. I have a bipolar 1 disorder. It involves general anxiety of the acute variety, and an unpredictable cyclical depression. The story’s relation to that, I’ll try to keep as general as possible so as not to ruin it for any adventurous reader who may want to get their eyeballs on it.
Our Guy comes home, is a little tired and mildly bummed. He tries to do a thing to just to do it, and hope in the end a small feeling of accomplishment might be just what he needs. He fails, gets frustrated and decides to take a nap.
That is me. when that “a little tired and mildly bummed” feeling hits, I know what is coming. The anxiety, while it is an everyday thing, gets much worse. The only way out of that panic attack is a dark room, a blanket, and sleep.
Our Guy wakes up disoriented, he gets confused about familiar surroundings, recognizable things look different, a flash of his past glides by. Our Guy meets some seemingly very judgmental people.
That is me. Depression it, well, depresses. It has weight. The mind fills with fog, things look different, people are (not really) looking at me all the time, judging. I think about past events, the ones therapy has decided are the root.
Our Guy perceives his surroundings turning dirtier, more unfamiliar. He gets more confused. He doesn’t understand why those people are being that way. Also, who are they? During this worsening confusion, and growing disarray, he gets a lucky distraction. He slowly, chasing the distraction, make his way through the rough, nearly alien-to-him landscape. The distraction proves a respite from the deepest part of the shit he just went through.
That is me. Clean the house? Fuck that, I can’t even get out of bed. It’s all shit anyway, and nobody cares. On occasion I get a distraction. When I do get one, it is usually photo work, which I enjoy to the degree that I can when in the hole. It does remind that there is an end of the tunnel.
Our Guy returns from the distraction feeling better, until he does a thing that should in no way relate to how he is feeling, or not feeling. But because he did the thing, he’s going back to the previous state of worsening disaster. He remembers the distraction, and its ability to pull him along the tunnel back to his normal self. He tries with some desperation to repeat the earlier results, and does. He then, near obsession, decides he has to try to keep from doing the thing that triggers the slide into the dark land. In trying he accidentally does the thing. Cementing his place in the hole.
That is me. My cycle down can be caused by a misunderstanding with a family member. It can be because I made the coffee too weak or too strong. It could be anything. I tend to be a bit OCD as a result, especially as regards the anxiety. I knock wood. I like everything in its place. I get up at the same time, measure the ground coffee with a special scoop, use coffee mugs in a specific rotation, lock the door twice, and other things in an attempt to stay out of the orbit of the gods of depression. Inevitably, something catches their attention and I am back in the Depression Street Tunnel. I will, of course, blame something I did or said.
Our Guy’s story ends there (I think? You’ll have to read and decide for yourself). Mine repeats. I am trying to write a new ending.
You can find Michael Marshall Smith (also, Michael Marshall, also Michael Rutger) wherever great books are sold. Preferably at your local independent book store.