Lost in the maddening crowd

Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889. Detail: Crowd with masks.

Lying on the pavement. Helpless. A leg stuck under the weight of an overturned cart. Desperate. “Eddie! Eddie!” the shout reverberated through the crowd.


We had crossed the river in search for a terrace and must have veered off the established route into a side street at some point. We were so engrossed in conversation that the change of direction and scenery were lost to us at first, until we reached a busier part of the road, surrounded by an eclectic group of people. Their appearance and clothing were so strangely out of place that one could easily have believed themselves to have inadvertently stepped into the middle of a carnival or… through some deficiency of the time fabric, into 16th century Britain.

At first we could not distinguish between the disparate elements of that mobile picture to know what it was. A mound of bodies, half covered in dirty cotton, lines of rosy flesh interrupted by triangles of torsos, the  number of which appeared to be greater than it was possible to belong to the number of women and men entangled in wretched proximity.

The day was quickly turning into dusk. Streetlights flared up here and there struggling to disperse the gloom. We were making slow progress up the road, as the crowd inexplicably thickened. We could not walk a pace without having to turn and twist through the anonymous living bodies littering the street, wandering in lowered whispers what all of these people could be doing out in fancy dress.

Cries erupted somewhere in our vicinity. We tried to isolate distinct parts of the picture, differences of size and shape, length of limbs and skin colour before we could only view it all as an endless mass of grey. Turning towards the direction of the noise just in time to avoid the advance of a cart and horse, we were suddenly struck by the slithering movement of bodies and limbs all around us, their faces turned inward, as if ashamed to be noticed. 

Eddie had promised to lead us to the bank of the river so we followed him in silence, taunt faces in an line that threatened to be pulled apart at any moment. The increasing number of people, or perhaps one should rather say men, wearing clothes cut plainly from a brownish sackcloth ought to have worried us, but we were too busy trying to keep our leader in sight to think of much else. However slowly we were advancing towards our destination, we were advancing nonetheless. The crowds were only a background blur.

A woman of nondescript age approached us and asked whether she can make herself of any use. She was so tall that we thought she must be walking on stilts, although her maid’s outfit made her look rather matronly: a washed out blue dress set against a chalk tinted apron, the edge of which she kept twisting slightly with her thumb as she spoke. She asked whether we were lost. We were quick to decline her services. There was something otherworldly about her looks. It did not bode well.

Daily Prompt: If You Leave

26 thoughts on “Lost in the maddening crowd

    • Thank you for your feedback. I really appreciate it. This is an exercise piece. I’ve never written from a “we” POV before and thought it would be an interesting technique to explore. It has certain limitations, but I think these prompted me to compensate with scenery detail that I may have left unexplored otherwise.

    • It certainly did not feel comfortable, so I doubt that I would be able to write anything of greater length in that POV, but perhaps a short story… Will see. Thank you for the encouragement, Ned.

      • “The writing that pushes your boundaries also expand your horizons.” Love that. Will have to print it out and pin it above my writing desk. Thank you.

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  3. Victoria, this maddening crowd also has me feeling altogether disoriented–good job on this disconcerting story. I’m going to have to read it a few times, I think, to orient myself.

    • Thank you, Leigh. I hoped to capture the atmosphere in a way that would allow for a reader to immerse themselves in the situation. I’m very glad that it worked its way through.

  4. There is, methinks, a real sense of Gothic fantasy about this. It is a hugely entertaining and interesting piece, and, although the language is current, one can detect stytlistic elements employed by some of the ‘Greats’ such as Kafka, Poe and even Dostoyevsky. A wonderful write, Vic.

    • Thank you, Chris. I am humbled by your praise. The inspiration for this piece came to me in a dream. I used the feeling of disorientation and foreboding as a basis for this piece. You have named three of my favourite writers and only recently I finished reading a Will Self essay on Kafka. Perhaps that seeped through as I wrote.

      • It’s genuinely meant. The trouble I find with dreams (on the rare occasion that I remember them) is that when trying to recount them the details never seem quite right – it’s like trying to describe a feeling in the instant that you are experiencing it, so well done! I guess we can’t help but have our influences touch what we write, the sub-conscious is far too strong.
        I’ll have to see if I can find that Will Self essay – his opinions can be quite, er, stimulating!

      • A really interesting read. I think that, whatever we create,our work is influenced by our own personal associations, be they experiences, relationships or the work of others whom we admire. I do believe that, when writing, even if we are writing out of our own time frame, these influences pervade our work. I also think that one can tell when an artist is producing work for profit or zeitgeist in the same way that, for example, some abstract art ‘speaks’ to you. The true greats in any form of art are, I believe, those who can harness their influences to produce work which touches on the Universal.
        I have to agree with Self when he talks about translations too. I clearly remember reading ‘Notes From Underground’, which I love, and then sometime later reading a different translation in which the opening paragraph took on a completely different meaning!
        Bizarre as this may seem I do think that countries or areas of the world have their own psyche or mentality, and that this is difficult to translate across cultures.
        Thanks for the link and the heads up – much appreciated.

      • I have been returning to this essay again and again. There is always something new for me to discover. I find this is the case often with pieces that are as dense as this one. I will reach a sentence and my thoughts will run away down a path so that it may take some time to return to the text. It would appear that I can’t help making associations even when reading an essay that reflects on the phenomenon – or perhaps I can’t help it precisely for that reason.
        You make some very interesting points, and I will bye certain to return to your comment again. Regarding translations, I fully agree. To learn a language is to learn a new culture, and yes… perhaps even inhabit a different psyche. I am very lucky to have read many of the greats in original and experienced first hand the difference that knowing a language can make.
        Thank you for taking the time to share. Very much appreciated.

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