the thing

"When you say 'billowing,' do you mean like a triangle?"

(David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest, page 649.) '--just a boy with a violin and a dream and special roundabout routes to school to avoid the boys who took my violin case and played keep-away over my head with it, one summer afternoon I was upstairs in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, alone, practicing my violin. It was very hot, and there was an electric fan in the window, blowing out, acting as an exhaust fan.'

'I know from exhaust fans, believe you me.'

'The direction of the flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this one afternoon, the fan's vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.'

'A thing.'

'As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.'

'But it was inside you, though.'

'Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey, I dropped my violin and ran from the room.'

'Was it triangular? The shape? When you say billowing, do you mean like a triangle?'

'Shapeless. Shapelessness was one of the horrible thing about it. I can say and mean only shape, dark, and either billowing or flapping. But because the horror receded the moment I left the room, within minutes it had become unreal. The shape and the horror. It seemed to have been my imagination, some random bit of psychic flatulence, an anomaly.'