No, it was a comma between ‘that’s what it says’ and ‘honey’. I stared at the phone stupidly for a moment and then tapped the previous text. There it was again: the same text message that I remembered but one tiny, extra comma that I was certain had not been there before. As I looked through my messages I discovered that every one of them contained extra punctuation; something small and hard to notice: commas, full stops, apostrophes.
Where had they come from, these tiny intruders? A virus? A grammatical stalker? Or perhaps I was going mad, and they had been there all the time.
I put my phone back in my pocket. I felt strangely invaded by the unexpected punctuation. I decided to put the whole business out of my mind for the afternoon. It was a bright spring morning so I took a paperback into the garden and sat on the swing seat with my knees drawn up.
As soon as I opened the book I knew that something was wrong:
She had been’ staring at the ornate,, ceiling for .the’ entire second half; tracing the lines’ of the yellow. plasterwork
Just like the text messages the punctuation had been tampered with; removed or inserted. But how was that even possible? This was not data stored on an electronic device, it was a solid, physical object. I skipped a few pages ahead and noticed something interesting: the further into the, story I got the worse the situation became. A chapter further. on contained punctuation after every word. Two chapters later all of the spacing had been removed from the text, and in the following chapter new spacing had been inserted, making strange new illegible words.
I turned to the final chapter. It had been deleted, apart from one single full stop in the very centre of each page.
I threw the book away from me. What could it me,an? I went back into the house, looking for text, and as I looked I .began to see it everywhere: the blurb on a cereal packet the label on a bo,ttle, magazines, newsp,apers. All infiltrated by strange punct.uation.
And then I began’ to see, them At first I t.hought they were flies the,y came whizzing through the air lik.e tiny b,ullets One grazed ‘my ear and I yelped, in pain. , Apost’rophes. Full stops ,and commas .on th,e floor, glidi,ng towards me ,like ‘little ska.ters on a rink.
I, b’acked awa.y, from them but my foot di,d not conn’ect with ,the floor .behi,nd me I m.anage,d to regain my bal,ance. and tu’rned ar,ound’: the back o,f the room ha,d van’ished, to be’ rep.laced by e’mpty sp.,ace.
Ano’ther,,r space, ‘appear.ed on the opp,osite’ side of’ the ,’room. I ,was’ now sandwi’ch.hed in an increa’se.ingly ‘smaller ar,ea, which w’as filling u.p’. continua’lly .w,ith tiny, bu’zzing specks,, .of pun’ctua’tion
F.ina’lly the ro’om was, gon.e e’ntirely. I’ was left sus’p.ended in wh.’ite n,othing, spe’’c.ks of. black s,urro’unding m.e until t.hey’ inevit,ably’.begantoc,onsu’mem.e’.’.,’,’’’,’,’’’’’’’’’ ‘.’ ‘’’