Three hundred and thirty-nine. A number at once horrific, terrifying, and with a dizzying, enrapturing secret within. I never knew a number could do this to a person. When I came to after the operation, there was only one thought in my head, a number: three hundred and thirty-nine. But no, I should start . . . from the beginning.
My name is Zwattelitz, double t, starts and ends with z. Yes, the neurosurgeon - the famous one. If you’re reading this, you’ll have heard of me. I am, of course, absolutely certain that I am he, even though the external circumstances might say otherwise at present. What I am now dictating into the device secretly appropriated from my own desk (with the long, filed points of these fingernails I can do nothing with a laptop or PC) will, I am sure, not only satisfy the curiosity of a large number of people, but also carve my name into the annals of science forever. That my triumph happens to coincide with my downfall is no more than a prurient detail.
The institute I have been affiliated with for more or less my entire life is engaged in research into the anatomical localization of the functions of the brain, that first began to make progress in the war years. A soldier suffering traumatic injury to a specific section of the brain resulting from bullet wounds, shrapnel, and the like, afforded the opportunity to study the functions that were lost as a result of such an injury. How vividly I remember, in those early post-war years, the gleam in the eyes of my older colleagues as they welcomed me with animated stories about these soldiers, brought in with half his skull blown off by a piece of shrapnel that had fortuitously struck the exact area of the cerebral cortex the function of which they were so curious about, and the enthusiasm with which they went about studying it. These soldiers doubly earned their medals of honour. But that was only the opening move: since the development of advanced computer tomography, implantation of electrodes, and cerebral angiography, brain research has grown by leaps and bounds and experiments (largely kept secret from the broader public) have taken us further than anyone outside of the field could possibly suspect in their wildest dreams. We now stand on the point of unravelling the last mysteries of our grey matter, and all research centers around the world are working feverishly to ferret them out. That the Dr. Zwattelitz Institute is one of the leaders in the field is not principally due to me. This is no false modesty, as shall become clear, but now that I have resolved to reveal everything, to my as yet completely unknown colleague, Dr. Oerlemans. Apart from his qualities, I will also be revealing a few particulars concerning him, the disclosure of which he will no doubt find regrettable, but which for my own part I relish in disclosing. Dr. Oerlemans, from the University of Ghent, works here in silence. However, it will not be him, but the prosecuting attorney of the Kingdom of Belgium, the procureur des konings, to whom I must send a note of thanks when I receive the Nobel Prize. This may require some explanation.
Oerlemans is a short, unsavory Belgian, with a red, swollen face and thick glasses that make his eyes disproportionately large. Rumor had it that he was to be put forward for his own professorship, but for reasons unclear, that never happened. Why it did not was something I could not yet have suspected when he submitted his application to this institute. What was clear was that his list of publications was impressive, and he passed the committee’s review without a hint of a problem. He performed better than expectations, and I do not now have any qualms about admitting that a great deal of work published under my name was, in fact, his. He could be found in the lab until deep in the night, huddled over his microscope or peering at his screen, and I soon began to feel somewhat guilty, despite that as a single man, he obviously had little else to occupy his evenings with. I decided to plan something social, a dinner party. This was something Loulé excelled at. I did have some trepidation. Not only did I have my concerns about whether saddling Loulé with Oerlemans for an entire evening was a good idea, but I wondered whether he, as a Belgian, might be more in touch with French cuisine, and so might turn his nose up at my wife’s bouillabaisse, the only dish Loulé could do well. Once I had finally convinced her, and was planning to ask him in passing, say old boy, do you like bouillabaisse, when a misdelivered piece of mail eliminated the need to ever plan that dinner at all. The mail at the institute is brought round by a broken-down old codger, a man who passed retirement age sometime before the dawn of recorded history, who groans and mutters as he pushes his mail cart along and walks into your office without knocking. The number of times he has delivered mail to the wrong person are legion, but there is no point in complaining to him, being that he is deaf as a post. That morning, he placed a large, rectangular envelope in the incoming mail tray on my desk. What I read when I opened it was that I had to stand trial. Although it was written in an arcane language virtually incomprehensible to me, I was able to determine that I was being accused of the most horrible things, the most depraved criminal indecencies, and immediately my mind raced to Loulé. Eva, my ex-wife, must have set me up, was my first thought. The procureur des konings was ordering me to appear before the correctional court in Ghent, I read. But why Belgium? When I took a closer look, to my great relief I discovered that the addressee was not me, but rather one Henricus Godefridus Maria Oerlemans. Well well, Oerlemans, now we know what kind of stuff you’re made of. I must confess that I did not immediately realize what a windfall this might bring me. It was only when I walked to the next office down the hall, to give him the letter, and saw the fear bulging in his eyes, that I realized he would never need to taste even one spoonful of Loulé’s bouillabaisse.
Being that the hypothesis of the human soul is old hat (certainly for we academics), the next question that naturally arises is where exactly our consciousness is found in the brain. Of course, self-awareness must also be located in the brain. What makes us experience our own body as the vessel of the self, rather than, say, that of our neighbor? We must be able to identify certain specific brain cells as responsible for the manifestation of this sense of self. If these cells could be isolated, then you could relocate your own consciousness, your self, and transplant it from, say, an old and diseased body to a young healthy one. As soon as this becomes a possibility, all other transplants of organs, such as heart or kidneys, that are so feverishly discussed today, become completely superfluous: transplanting these certain parts of the brain into another body, the “ego transplant,” if you will, turns the issue of transplantation completely upside-down. For why go through the trouble of replacing a body’s parts organ by organ, when the reverse approach is so much more obvious? I must acknowledge that this simple, and so ingenious, concept is not my own, but adopted from my venerable colleague Prof. Bazarov, the very father of modern neuroscience, who I had the privilege of meeting in the flesh on one occasion. He still had an appointment at the storied institute that bears his name, though only as a relic to be trotted out and displayed to foreign visitors. There he sat, amidst a fantastic clutter of test tubes and scientific instruments he himself had developed, but which have long since been rendered completely obsolete by modern technology, in the laboratory named for him where he no longer has any shred of authority. Insiders claimed that no serious research had been done anywhere in the institute for a long time, that in fact its sole remaining purpose was to use his famous name to shake down grant funding that then disappeared into the pockets of a few administrators. On the other hand, I cannot entirely rule out the possibility that no one has noticed that he had gone senile, and his orders, where they can be deciphered at all, were still followed to the letter. Once you have made a name for yourself, anything is possible. Just to be sure, the institute had a specially appointed assistant to write down every word of gibberish he uttered. For safety reasons, his hands were tied behind his back, otherwise he would have done too much damage; the assistant would bring his coffee cup to his lips whenever he growled coffee! although she made it quite clear that this was not in her job description. Whenever this took too long for her, she simply grabbed his famous beard (so well-known from the postage stamps and posters bearing his likeness), tipped his head back, pinched his nose closed and unceremoniously dumped the entire mug down his throat, exchanging a knowing smile with the few odd admirers shuffling past the barrier rope stretched in front of his chair. Yes, this was the man who had made the discovery that the whole scientific world had waited for so long, that we, with all our researchers in all the labs and clinics across the world had been searching for with the same obsession as the alchemists of the Middle Ages who sought to turn lead into gold: localizing ego-consciousness. Bazarov found it, within a tiny, mushroom-shaped, almost voluptuous protrusion nestled between the limbic system and the cerebral cortex, known ever after as the extumefactum Bazarovi, or the Barazov for short.
After that, all of our research was only ever focused on one thing: the transplantation of the ego. Because I feared that public opinion was not ready for this, and our donors might well get nervous if they knew what we were actually working on, I swore Oerlemans to absolute secrecy. Better to not stir up any unnecessary unrest before I was able to present the results on a silver platter. Who should be allowed to occupy whom? Could that whom be a minor? A master and his student? A legitimate form of wellness treatment? A whole new body, the ultimate in plastic surgery? Whoever could afford it could keep moving into a newer, younger body, ad infinitum. The bodies themselves would, of course, be sourced from third world countries: bodies that would otherwise rot away from hunger and disease would now be spoiled, pampered, preserved. That’s how you stake your claim to eternal life (assuming that a careless lab assistant doesn’t lose your Bazarov – so many careless mistakes made in hospitals these days). And then: the sexual revolution. Everything up to now has just been the warm-up. The real one only begins when we can start gender-hopping. And think of the debates this will unleash when the haters realize the impact on the world of crime. If a bad guy still has time to serve, but has moved on to another body, do you let him sit? Someone who’s been poured into a smooth, young body might well have lost all criminal intentions, so why lock them up in their new embodiment? On the other hand, mob kingpins have mastered the art of disappearing as soon as the police are on their tails.
But we’re not there yet. In the greatest of secrecy we worked on, and I kept a sharp eye on Oerlemans. Normally, I am not overfond of Belgians. They speak Dutch, or so they say, which makes it difficult to insist on speaking English with them. But they always mean something just slightly different than you think, or they claim that they understand something you’ve just said just a little bit differently than you meant it. Their language rubs ours the wrong way, that makes them unreliable, especially because they’ll never admit that they misunderstood you. So you’ve always got to watch your step, pay attention to every word, before you know it you’ve made some kind of commitment that they’re going to hold you to. I had expressed my preference to communicate with Oerlemans only in writing, but that would have made things at the institute very awkward. Luckily, since that ill-fated mail delivery everything had taken a turn for the better: his understanding of what I needed him to do was much improved. All I had to do was look at him with that special, loaded glance, the one I had practiced, my procureur-des-konings look, and Oerlemans would drop all protest to dedicate himself to the most impossible tasks, working through the night until, trembling, he would bring me the results the next morning. Of course, the harder he worked, the more convinced I became of his crimes. Thank you, procureur des konings. But Oerlemans had his work cut out for him staying ahead of the competition. The Chinese in particular worried me. Stubborn rumors had it that they were doing experiments denied to us in the west. Removing the frontal lobes of death row inmates, changing the chemical composition, the kind of daring experiments that we could only dream of. Through this unfair competition, they gained an advantage over us. Oerlemans had to hustle. At this point he was spending day and night in the lab next to his cages full of rats and white mice, tied to his own self-designed equipment there.
“Bazarov was right,” I heard him mumble one evening, when I was already holding my jacket and about to walk out the door and go home. An innocent enough remark, because no one would have disputed it. But there was a flicker in the lenses of his glasses that said that he had found something. If there hadn’t been someone waiting for me – dinner with Loulé at De Kersentuin - I would certainly have stayed. But right then, tomorrow was early enough. The next morning, there was a memo on my desk, from Dr. O to Dr. Z. Asking me to urgently – but I had a board meeting to get to. After that, I went home early because Loulé, who was going out, had asked me to let the workmen in for the renovations. Which is why I only got the good news the day after that: Oerlemans claimed that he had succeeded in transplanting a rat ego, the rat’s equivalent of the Bazarov, in the human being. He had removed the Barazov from a particularly aggressive specimen and transplanted it in a friendly, obedient rat. Oerlemans hoped to see her start to exhibit the greedy, aggressive behavior of her companion. I told him to get back to work and stop daydreaming. Furnish the evidence that I had always been right was not that easy. But when he left, I stayed to watch, with my full attention, how the animal came to. I lifted the cover and stuck my hand in the cage. In a flash, it leapt into the air and sank its teeth into my index finger. Blood began to spurt. Dazzling, unmistakable aggression!
“Oerlemans!” my voice rang through the lab, as I triumphantly brandished my bleeding finger. In that moment, even Oerlemans’ vacant grin was pure bliss. Just look at our Oerlemans, that crazy Belgian, dancing in delight as I poked him in the side, staining his white lab coat with blood! I was just about to hug him, stomp all the test tubes and flasks to smithereens and dance on the shards, twirling around the lab arm-in-arm with my best friend Oerlemans, until I remembered just in time that for adults, this type of behavior is only permissible when your football team has won. And you’ll never be doing that with Oerlemans, who will always be rooting for the wrong team. Besides which, this was far from the incontrovertible proof we needed. We could not entirely rule out that one of the chemicals administered during the transplant was responsible for the aggressiveness, so we couldn’t be sure that after the Bazarov transplant, the essence of the one rat now lived in the body of the other. No matter how long Oerlemans poked his fat finger at that rat, no repeat was forthcoming. Could there still have been some kind of interaction, the active combining with the passive, though we had no idea how this process worked? These questions were screaming for answers.
“You understand what this means,” I said coolly, as Oerlemans feigned care in bandaging my finger. His face was right next to mine. I could even see the individual blood vessels in his terrified eyes.
“Chimpanzees? You know very well that this is quite impossible without a permit these days. Where am I supposed to get them?”
“I don’t care how you get them!” I snarled. “Call the zoos in Berlin, London, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Honolulu! Or just call – you know who I mean.”
Oerlemans’ eyes couldn’t have bugged out any further without leaving their sockets.
“Leibschnitter,” he stammered.
“I’m leaving that to you,” I said, as I withdrew my hand and turned away from him in disgust. Didn’t he get that in the presence of a future Nobel Prize winner you don’t say a name like Leibschnitter? How indiscreet of him.
So excited was I about telling Loulé the big news that evening that I forgot she would only be coming home late. She had gone to visit her ailing mother after spending the day in the city. Loulé was a real clothes horse. With each new outfit, it was as if she had put on a whole new personality: she was friendly, even obliging, with a cool, languid quality. As was her habit, after shopping she would appear in her latest acquisitions, a completely new Loulé; I think she threw the old clothes away immediately. But it never took very long before the itch set in and she had to do it all again. I had grown used to this rhythm, and because I knew the effect that new clothes had on her, I looked forward to this every bit as much as she did. I called her mobile number. I wasn’t allowed to call her mother, who had weak nerves and would get a shock from the telephone ringing in the silent house, so late in the evening.
“Why are you so out of breath, dear?”
“I just came up the stairs. You know how many stairs there are at my mother’s. I’ve told her so many times, she just can’t live here anymore. I ran up the stairs because I thought it might be you.”
“You didn’t have it on you? That’s what a mobile phone is for, darling.”
“I left it upstairs. Why are you calling?”
I decided it was better to tell her when she came home. I parked myself on the couch and began to do what she had forbidden me to do: wait for her. I forced myself to not look at the clock. Just spoke with her, and still the unease would not go away. What was she getting up to, if she wasn’t shopping or tending to her sick mother? I leafed through her small, black leather calendar embossed with her golden monogram when she was washing her hair in the bathroom. There was very little in it; she was never one for writing things down. Only on Tuesday, a number, written in lipstick and circled: 339.
What did that mean? I couldn’t ask her without admitting I had been snooping around in her things, so I could only leave it at that. Just like the only other thing written there: THE BEAST. Something to do with the pets? Because I wasn’t going to find out anyway, it was better to put it out of my mind. I could have hired a private detective, of course, but that would have only got me a superficial report to drive myself mad with, and no real answers. Because once I started, I would need to know so much about her comings and goings that no one could have lived up to it. Not only would I have wanted to know who she spoke to when I wasn’t there, who she smiled at and whether it was the kind of smile that she smiled at me the first time, so wide you could see her teeth, so wide you could see those pink gums, but I would have wanted to follow her right into the dressing room at the Maison Aimée where she buys her clothes. My jealous eye like a hidden camera from which nothing escapes. Like the way she moves her hands to smooth out a crease in that one tight skirt, and that special glance that she checks herself out in the mirror with to see whether it’s sitting tight enough around her body, our shared obsession.
I had stopped thinking about it, but in the middle of the night it suddenly came to me again. She was lying in bed with her back to me, from her deep breathing I could hear that she was asleep. Carefully, with the nail of my index finger I outlined the number 339 between her shoulder blades, in the silken fabric of her pyjama. Perhaps I had half-expected her to turn to me and, still befuddled with sleep, unwittingly confess to me what it meant. Of course, she only went on sleeping.
Frankly I can admit that the type of burning curiosity within me might very quickly have taken on unhealthy proportions in another man. But I smiled about myself, noted my responses (here the true scientist betrays himself!) and their effect on my heart rate and blood pressure, which I plotted in imaginary graphs. In the same way that I started keeping track of how many times I looked at the clock in spite of admonishing myself not to. Loulé knew that I was waiting for her, of course, and there was every chance that she was staying away so long for that very reason. Because however faithful she was in reality, there was nothing she liked better than to project the idea that she was not (or, to be more precise: that she might be unfaithful, at any moment of the day), probably under the assumption that it increased her attractiveness – and that was something she would go to any lengths to do. When I was away in the lab, and she, taken by the unsavory individual that I had seen near our house for a few mornings now, hikes her skirt up, with a move of her arm on the white marble countertop, slid the crockery to the side so that it clatters to the floor (what movie was that in?). Or in the restaurant in the evening, when she excuses herself to “powder her nose”, the man at the table next to us who had been staring at her the whole time happens to also get up and follow her to the restroom, where they are now going at it; rearing her head back, with her red-brown hair cascading into the sink. No wonder she’s taking so long. When she comes back, she’ll make like her cheating is something like lighting a cigarette at the table, which she knows I don’t like and which she tries to compensate for with her endearing smile and brushing my knee with her hand, as if in exchange for that you’re obligated to take everything she dishes out. Of course, that unfaithfulness was only in my imagination. But once she figured this out, she used it to great advantage. It had always been like that, even when I just met her. It was in the espresso bar where she worked. I used to go there in the afternoons and watch her, from behind my newspaper, how smoothly she moved between the tables, brushing aside an imaginary lock of hair that didn’t fall across her face, placing a hand on her hip as she waited for an order, the way she pressed her left knee against the bar when she passed it on to the barista. I looked at a lot of young women, but she was the one who looked back. “Three thirty-nine.” She dropped the cup on the table with a clank, so the coffee spilled out, giving me the chance to complain about it, which meant speaking to her. (Three thirty-nine? That’s not what an espresso costs. My infected memory!) Six weeks later, I ended my marriage. It was in that same espresso bar that she introduced me to that Loger, a guy who washed the dishes there, or something. Heavyset, big bruiser, who I didn’t believe for a moment had anything going on with her. She only let him put his arm around her waist because I was watching. Once, after I was with her, and she had quit the café, we ran into him in the Leidsestraat. Because we were walking arm in arm, I could feel the way she shuddered, such was her revulsion to him. She pretended not to see him, and turned her face away.
Nothing for her because she liked nothing better than being seen. It was for her sake that I took her along to the receptions and dinners that I never went to before. At the faculty club, old Bosnak dropped his glass when I showed up with her. Normally he’d be the last one to leave, but this time his wife insisted they go soon after we arrived. Members who had never met me crowded around, suddenly terribly interested in the biochemical structure of the cerebral cortex. But really in Loulé (where did he find her? Where do I get a Loulé?). I heard her ringing laugh rising from a group that had gathered around her. But at other occasions, she was ignored, and from people who I had previously counted as friends I was met with hostility and distrust. “And I always took him for such a loser,” you could hear them thinking. “One of those musty old academics. We’re on to you, old man. We’ll be keeping an eye on you from now on.” I asked Loulé to start dressing more mature.
I would have preferred to stay home, myself, but Loulé loved going out. Why didn’t she stay at home more, now that I had erased the last traces of Eva, as she had demanded? After a dramatic home renovation, she had to finally feel comfortable here. She had to. The spotless white marble kitchen, the redecorated bedroom in soft pink complete with four-poster bed and all the windows, right down to the smallest, specially fitted with screens, because she was terrified of insect bites on her baby-smooth skin. These were the things that made her happy. But if she had come to me because she saw in me a good father for the children she so wanted, she was sorely disappointed. If it was true that I had ever promised her anything of the kind, in some unguarded moment, I could certainly not recall it. So instead, a house full of animals. Cleopatra, the Persian cat that the help had to brush every day, studied me haughtily from the dresser. When I wanted to collapse in my armchair, there was a hamster in it already. But the one I got along with the least was Barabbas, the white cockatoo, an ill-mannered, maladjusted beast with offensive beak. Whenever he saw me, his comb went up and he began to shriek. Loulé always said that was his greeting. She always wanted me to pet him.
“Just pretend it’s me,” she said, as I reluctantly scratched his head.
Thankfully, she was never interested in my work. Even better, she remained unaware of the existence of the other menagerie that I kept at the lab. Even as Loulé was at home with white mice on her lap, letting them lick milk from her finger, I was conducting what she would have called, had she known, the most abominable experiments on other mice just like them, in what was for her an inconceivable, mad, and perverted world. As I entered the one, I had to forswear the other. Most of the time I had little trouble doing this, and it was only a very few times that I ever unwittingly hoisted one of Loulé’s darlings by the tail in one hand, holding a scalpel in the other. Loulé's piercing scream brought me to my senses, and with an innocent smile I would let the poor thing go on his merry way. In the lab, it was no more than once or twice that Oerlemans caught me petting one of the rats.
A glance at the clock. I looked away again instantly, but it didn't matter - it counted. I had lost the bet with myself. Again. Almost two o’clock. What could possibly be keeping her? Decided to lie down. And despite my best intention to stay awake, I must have dozed off because suddenly there she was in front of me. The gleaming new pale blue dress she appeared in seemed to light up and hurt the eyes. And her perfume I had never smelled before (since she had come in quiet as a mouse so as not to wake me, it must have been that unfamiliar perfume in my nostrils that did it). Right away, I wanted to tell her the news. I raised a bandaged finger, produced a few unintelligible noises, and drifted off again.
“Oh no, you didn’t piss off Barabbas again?” I just heard her angry voice say. “Can I never leave the two of you alone?”
It was only at breakfast that she found out that this time, it wasn’t Barabbas who had got me.
“So, you’ll get a patent on it, right?” she asked as she stirred her gluten-free muesli.
Leibschnitter’s shadowy connections had finally come through: the chimpanzees had arrived. And it was one fateful evening, at the end of that unforgettable, sweltering summer, when the last rays of the sun danced off the wall full of test tubes and made even Oerlemans’ bald head to take on a melancholy glow. The kind of atmosphere where you can easily see something human in a chimpanzee. That miserable balding one, for example, the one who just kept staring at me through the bars, had something despondent in her eyes. Like Eva, my ex-wife, almost completely banished from my thoughts since Loulé. But Oerlemans, whose job it was to observe the animals day and night, assured me that this was a sullen, passive specimen that could not even stand up for herself when the others stole her food. A frightful racket jarred us to attention. That malevolent male, that we had dubbed Caligula, had sprung up against the cage and was shaking the iron bars. I took the cattle prod in my hand. He exploded in rage. Eva had long since retreated to the farthest corner of the cage. Eva and Caligula. Oerlemans was right: animals with characters as different as these were perfect for our experiments.
Exactly what you could imagine happened. I had seen it before my eyes so many times, that it had to go wrong sometime. It was only the timing that could have surprised me. A thousand times I had warned her to be more careful, because Loulé drove with the same reckless abandon that she did everything else in her life with. It had to happen sometime, and it did: hit by a truck as she made a sudden left turn coming out of the shopping center. Her car crushed like a tin can. No one understood how she could have possibly come out of it alive. Because they just happened to bring her to a hospital in the same complex where I worked, I could see her night and day. She was in a coma. For hours I sat with her, her hand in mine, stroking her cheek, playing with her hair. She’ll be fine, the treating doctor had assured me, none of her vital organs had been damaged. Sitting with her for so long, without being able to do anything, it was unavoidable that my thoughts began to wander to my work. Those last experiments had been successful. After we transplanted Caligula’s Bazorov into Eva’s skull, she not only exhibited Caligula’s aggressive behavior, but she could perform the fairly complicated tasks to get food that we had only taught Caligula. Meanwhile, Caligula’s mighty frame, which now housed Eva’s Bazorov, was under heavy sedation and it looked as though we would be able to perform the same ego transplant in reverse. But there was so much we still didn’t know: was Caligula’s Bazorov calling all the shots in Eva’s body now, or were any of host Eva’s characteristics still having an effect? We couldn’t even rule out the possibility that Caligula was adding certain traits to Eva, but was more like a passenger rather than the driver. As soon as we had any certainty on this, I would publish. The question was, would Loulé wake up in time to share my renown?
It seemed to me that her forehead was beading with sweat. The room was stuffy. Why do they keep hospitals so hot? She was wearing far too much. Luckily, I was there to pay attention to these things. Gently, I began to disrobe her. Who had put this sweater on her? Underwear she didn’t need either. I draped everything carefully over the back of a chair. I couldn’t help letting my eyes wander along the beautiful contours of her body, now that she was completely nude and I never saw her like this, so motionless save for the barely perceptible swell of her still shallow breathing. A perfect body… The next thought I had, I rejected immediately. Tore it out at the root before it could grow. I could hardly bear to think that I had even thought it. Doesn’t mean anything, I comforted myself. Only because your whole work is about body transplants, and you’ve been sitting alone for so long with this entrancing shell, whose inhabitant is away on vacation… I covered her, pulled the sheet up to her chin. Less distraction. I took her hand in mine. To keep my thoughts from going back to that place, I focused all my attention on just that hand. Her nail polish was peeling, I noticed. She wouldn’t like that. When she woke up, the first thing she would do would be to touch up her nails. She was very particular about that. She wouldn’t want to be lying here like this. I found the bottle in her handbag on the nightstand. Carefully, I went to work, taking her delicate fingers in my hand one by one, carefully painting her nails rose red. Occasionally I looked up at her face. It looked like she was smiling about what I was doing. It really was quite an unbelievable coincidence, wasn’t it, I thought, as the idea came back to me that I now admitted conditionally, only as a purely theoretical possibility, at this moment that we reached a decisive stage, Loulé was there, prepared, as it were. Success is taking advantage of the circumstances that come your way. If the infamous Dr. O. (as the media would refer to him as soon as news of this got out) had not unleashed his foul carnal desires, if the procureur des konings had not caught him in the act, if he had not fled to the north and applied to my department of all departments, and if that stone-deaf old dotard had not delivered me the wrong mail, the Nobel prize would have passed me by. The great statesman, the chess master, the successful stockbroker and the brilliant scientist all have one thing in common: they take advantage of the circumstances that come their way. My merit up to now was that I had seen mine. Or rather, smelled it (Oerlemans’ cold sweat). Now, once again, opportunity had arrived. Should I leave it lying here? To my esteemed colleagues on the faculty board, who will be the first to read this and judge me, I say: you didn’t see her. That opportunity, in the form of that young body, in full bloom, as it lay there stressed out in all its glory, simply screamed to me to be used. If you, esteemed gentlemen of the faculty board, had seen it with your own eyes, had been looking over my shoulder when I lifted up the sheet for a glance once again, you would understand.
“I’m going to steal you,” I whispered in her ear, “possess you like no living being before me has ever possessed another.” If opportunity makes the thief… But for right now, who is to say that what I was about to do was a crime? This is what I said to Oerlemans when I had summoned him. He watched silently as I took a foot in my lap to paint her toenails. “You have to look at it from the other side,” I continued, as I painted her little toe. From the side of the chimpanzees. How many more of them are we to sacrifice? Surely he had seen the misery in Eva’s eyes as she stared through the bars. Like there was something human in them. Or did these things escape him completely? Did he look the other way on purpose? Did he not have an ounce of feeling in his entire body?
“And if you intend to keep your job here,” I went on, as I drew her other foot into my lap, “you would do well to never say the name Leibschnitter. Not in my presence. Leibschnitter is a reprobate and a scoundrel. A person like that should be locked up” (the twitch on Oerlemans’ face betrayed his thoughts) “...or put immediately before the firing squad. No gentle remedies here. But our problem is, what are the Chinese doing? We have to make that breakthrough happen, before they beat us to it.”
I stopped. The room was silent save for the gentle rustling of the respirator. The kind of quiet that precedes historic decisions. Oerlemans and I both looked to the sheet covering Loulé. It looked like she had moved, just a little.
“And surely we can’t let this go unused?”
With a sudden movement I tore the sheet away from her. Oerlemans recoiled. Which of his crimes did the sight of this naked body reminded him of ? Once again I realized how much I had him in my power. I could count on him to carry out my plan.
Now that the decision had been made, I felt time was running out. Had I already seen her lips move, hear her murmur something? Maison Aimée, unless I was mistaken. How moving, that her first thought was her new clothes, but it did mean that she could come around at any moment. Still, this was not the only reason that we were forced to steal her away in the dead of night, bed and all, and roll her to the hastily prepared operating room, me in front to scout ahead, Oerlemans just roused from bed and stumbling along like a sleepy magician’s apprentice holding the IV, and the duty nurse pushing Loulé’s bed, whispering to us conspiratorially, a rush of excitement on her face because we luminaries had taken her into our confidence. It also had to do with the prejudices of the people and my fellow doctors who would not be able to stomach that it was I who first crossed that boundary. It was for that same reason that my body, after it had been placed under anesthesia and my Bazorov had been exchanged with Loulé’s, had to be secretly stored in the mortuary. This was the only part that the duty nurse raised an eyebrow over. I reserved the operating room for one week later, but I instructed Oerlemans to keep himself available in case I wanted to come back earlier, just in case. That grin on his face as he assisted me with the final preparations I ignored. Any malicious intent he tried to act on would be foolhardy. Which he soon would discover, when he read the letter I had given him and requested he open as soon as the operation was done: I had drafted a summary of all his various crimes. The original letter had been given to a notary with the instruction to open it if I did not return within the agreed period. So that was Oerlemans taken care of. But I must admit that when I lay there, prepped on the operating table - I must have looked quite absurd with my head half shaved, on the side where the incision had to be made - and I went over the last instructions with Oerlemans, a wave of excitement stifled my throat. And likewise, he as my only witness must have been impressed by the historic nature of the event, even though he gave no sign that he was. I would be the first to cross the threshold, the physical barrier of the self, and make the decisive step into the other. Until recently, the bridging of those last few meager centimeters had seemed more impossible than traveling to the end of the universe. The greatest journey of all time. That it was to be taken by this half-shaven figure of a man, to all appearances ridiculous, strapped down to an operating table, was difficult to accept for those of little imagination (which was why Oerlemans simply kept smirking). What oceans would I sail? On the shores of what new world would I soon be alighting? Compared to me, Columbus was barely a Boy Scout.
My new world: the first awakening. The discovery of possessing breasts, the roundings of belly and hip, pubic mound and soft labia, every part I touched and explored for a long time. An elegant leg, I lifted, and it moved. Yes, it really belonged to me. On the left thigh, I inspected the almond-shaped birthmark. Loulé’s hallmark. I took every part of me in with a mixture of admiration, confusion, rudiments of an old, familiar lust and the first sensations of the unprecedented new. Completely unexpectedly, I also experienced shame. I was ashamed of myself, that it was me placed within this body. How far can you go in the name of science? My first urge was to reach for the telephone and alert Oerlemans. What was today? Tuesday. He wasn’t usually in the main building on Tuesdays. Better to page him. What was his number? Strange. The only number that I could think of was 339. There was something about that number. Something that had to do with Tuesday. From within Loulé’s handbag, still in the same place next to the bed, I delved into her calendar. In my previous life I had already seen it: on the page for today, there it was. I hadn’t been wrong: the number was 339. But a shock went through me when I read what was written next to it. THE BEAST. I flushed, my neck, I didn’t know it was possible, but I blushed with my whole body. A strange, never-before experienced excitement came over me. Why was I shaking? What was I experiencing, what was happening to me.? Oerlemans must have miscalculated: libidinous adhesion stronger than expected. From the unexpected depth of a memory that could not have been mine, something arose that was disturbing, and at the same time so terrifyingly irresistible…
“I shouldn’t be experiencing this, Oerlemans,” I muttered. These alien desires of Loulé – was Oerlemans’ criminal mind behind this? Had he known more and kept his mouth shut? As soon as I was back, I would get it out of him. But right now I had to hurry.
Unnoticed, I slipped from the hospital and called a taxi. Where Loulé would go first, I had no doubt.
“That would look great on Loulé, Dr. Zwattelitz,” I said to my reflection in the fitting room at Maison Aimée – “yes, she would have definitely bought that.” Because I had to keep making the distinction. Under any circumstances, whatever happened, I had to keep speaking to myself to keep from losing myself. At the counter, I waited impatiently for my new clothes to be packed up. How slow some women move! Women who have no idea that other people might be in a hurry to get to an urgent appointment. Then a quick trip to Hunkemöller. Where I had to go after that was walking distance. Hotel Majestic, the trendiest in town. I knew that Loulé would settle for no less. Her natural balance preserved, I strode effortlessly on her stiletto heels.
“Dr. Zwattelitz,” I continued to think to myself, as I clacked along the sidewalk, “now you’re not just a scientist – you’re also a private eye. A private eye in the ultimate disguise. As soon as you’ve got the evidence, get out of there. Make no mistake.”
A taxi driver at a stoplight rolled his window down just to whistle at me. No time to look. Watch it, that manhole cover. It was only thanks to Loulé’s dexterity that I stayed standing. What I didn’t like was that the doorman who held the door for me greeted me as if he knew me. How often had she been here?
It was only in the elevator that the panic set in. What was I doing, what was I going to let happen? I had to get out before it was too late. “Help!” I wanted to scream to the elderly couple next to me in the elevator, “I have to get out of here, I’m in the wrong body, can’t you see that?” I wanted to press the alarm button to stop the elevator, but it had already stopped on the third floor.
“Have a nice day,” the couple said, and moved aside to let me out. Dimly lit hotel corridor. The carpet dampened every sound. Now that I had come so far, I might just as well sneak closer and then make my getaway. But I knew that every step I took brought me inescapably further towards what Loulé should never have let herself get into. Even though I now understood how little the poor child could resist this force stronger than herself. If even I…
In golden numbers, room 339. I stood in front of it, shaking in all my limbs. Don’t knock. I knew that this door had to stay closed. Run, disappear, dissolve into nothingness. But the beast had already smelled his prey through the door. He opened it.
“Is he still falling for the clothes trick?” Loger asked. He had already started tearing the clothes from my body, because I didn’t have to answer because he knew everything. So that’s it. And me? How was it possible? Did you really not see anything, how many t’s was it again, not a single thing, a z at the beginning and wasn’t there another one?
“Give me a child,” I whispered. “Give me a child!” I screamed.
I knew that it would be getting a good father.
CHILD DESIGN INC.
“Have something in mind, or are you still looking?” the child designer asked. He was a young man, in fact he looked so young that Carl figured he couldn’t possibly be as young as he looked. If he was that young there was no way he could have made it to the job he had here. His beaming . . . smile revealed dazzling white teeth. A little too white, Carl thought. Definitely implants. And his eyes? Maybe it was the contrast with his dark skin tone, but they were just too pale blue to be true. Tinted lenses. Definitely. Every bit as unnatural as his speech affectation, high society gay. “Please call me Serge,” he had said when he introduced himself, offering a limp handshake. Carl was sure that the loathing at first sight was mutual. But his wife didn’t share that sentiment. He knew Lizzie well enough to know that she was impressed, big time. By this mega-homo majordomo, and by the whole package: the bulbous reception area on the twenty-second floor, all in glass, even the walls so anywhere you looked you had a truly spectacular view of this part of Amsterdam: the shithole that used to be known as Bijlmer, until it rebranded itself as Zuidas. The gleaming white marble reception desk, which bore the name of the company in ostentatiously large and stylized letters:
CHILD DESIGN INC.
From the corner of his eye, Carl looked at her face. He knew that she wouldn’t come straight out with it – not right away. She wasn’t the type of woman to make straight for the things she really wanted. She much preferred to first explore every possible diversion, and then vacillate until he got fed up and made the decision for her, the decision she had already made in the first place.
“I think my husband wants to look around a little bit first,” Lizzie answered, throwing Carl the tender glance that he never saw at home anymore.
To all appearances a loving, successful couple. He, 40s, stuffed into a tailored Boss suit. Leaning towards overweight, thanks to too many business lunches that the hours in the gym weren’t quite making up for anymore. She, not unattractive, noticeably younger than he, you thought from a distance. But from a little closer you could see that she should really get a move on if she was going to have a shot at what she came here for. But all that aside, certainly not a marriage you would think had almost gone to pot due to one George Clooney. In hindsight, he blamed himself for not seeing the dramatic proportions her George Clooney fixation had taken until it was too late. He didn’t say anything when it was just watching Ocean’s Eleven, The American, and Three Kings, over, and over, and over. When she would sneak out of bed to watch them again when she thought he was asleep. That she called out that name when they… His name was Carl, not George. “You’ll get used to it,” Dr. Weintraub had said. Just like he always said. And, he had added, once she gets pregnant, you’ll see that this sort of thing goes away by itself. Carl hated Dr. Weintraub, but what could he do, since his insurance had assigned him to this putz. This balding former hippie who smelled like weed and wore the last little bit of hair still clinging to the back of his head in a ponytail. Who made it seem like whatever it was didn’t matter in the slightest. Whatever his patients said or did, didn’t mean a shit to him. He just kept looking at you over his reading glasses with that sleepy stare. You could tell that he was fighting to stay awake. Carl had thought of finding another shrink, of course. But then he would’ve had to pay for it himself. So he stayed. Even if that putz didn’t understand the first thing about him. Not that Carl didn’t worry about his wife. But about himself. About his losing sleep. He knew that, after she had watched that much George Clooney and finally crawled into bed with him, in the wee hours before morning, she expected something from him. Ever since he had figured this out, he could never really fall asleep while she was watching movies, because whether he wanted it or not, he was waiting for it. Lying there waiting for it. Losing sleep over George Clooney.
There was a time when it was something not that different from ordinary jealousy, except slipperier, because it played out in a digital realm and not as a tangible manifestation. But gradually it became clear that this was planting the seed of a much more dramatic, and ultimately all-encompassing delusion. All his struggles in the world, everything that gave rise to horror or disgust in him, had coalesced into that one leering mug: George Clooney’s. Grinning at him from the screen when Lizzie put a movie on for the umpteenth time and he hadn’t had time to clear the room, from an ad in a magazine that he had opened unsuspectingly, from a poster for his latest movie, The Monuments Men, from those commercials for Nespresso, which he had stopped drinking the first time he saw one, which didn’t help either. All that, he could have put up with. But the breaking point came on the morning of this past twelfth of June, in Amsterdam, near their home, as he was just about to get into his BMW where it was parked alongside the houseboats on the canal. A man was coming out of one of them. And the space between the car and the scooter parked next to it was too narrow for the man to get through before Carl had got in the car. So for one unexpected moment they had to stand eye to eye, so close that Carl could have reached out and touched him. The man coming off the gangway was dressed in white from head to toe and was wearing a captain’s cap with gold braiding. And then Carl saw who it was. He could only stare at this apparition in disbelief. Could it really be him, or was he so far gone that he was starting to hallucinate? “You’re… you can’t be…” was all he could stammer. The man tapped the brim of his cap with a sardonic smile, as Carl had seen in whatever goddamn movie it was (or was it the coffee commercial?). It was him, in the flesh: George Clooney. But even if he believed it himself right at that moment, thinking about it later of course it couldn’t possibly have been him. Which was the disturbing thing. The night before, he had hardly slept because of George Clooney. Obviously his obsession had become so strong that the next day he was imagining running into him in person. Which was one step too far and that’s how he had ended up as a patient of Dr. Weintraub.
“Have you ever considered the possibility,” the doctor asked, suppressing a yawn, “that maybe it really was him?” Americans are crazy about Old Amsterdam, he said. And there were plenty of celebrities who get off on hiding out somewhere, like a houseboat, for a couple of days. Strictly incognito. Short stay. In fact, all the people who own those houseboats have a little club for that, that arranges that kind of thing. But Carl wasn’t having it. Not then, right after that sleepless George Clooney night. Too much of a coincidence. Besides which, there was something not quite right. How old would George Clooney be now? The guy he had seen looked a lot younger. “He’s had work done,” Weintraub replied as he took off his glasses to rub his eyes. “All the stars have.”
Weintraub hadn’t. Without his glasses, the dark bags under his eyes stood out even more. He looked tired and worn out, which is a bad thing in someone whose job it is to listen to you and act interested. If he invested in a procedure like he had just accused that movie star of having, he could ratchet up his hourly fee some, the businessman in Carl couldn’t help thinking. Of course, a George Clooney would only do business with the most expensive plastic surgeons there are. But even still, it couldn’t have been him. For Carl, it was absolutely clear that he was suffering from George Clooney on the brain. And so ensued a pointless discussion in which the shrink, just too lazy to go into it any deeper, argued the position that the patient would normally take, and vice versa. He would have much rather taken some pills and been done with it. But instead it seemed he would have to keep coping with his condition with no prospect of getting better. Every corner he walked around, every elevator he stepped out of, every room he stepped into, at any moment he might come face to face again with that damn movie star, that devilish schadenfreude in that grin of his. In the old days, when he hadn’t known Lizzie that long, they used to take walks along the canals, on Sunday mornings when the tourists and the traffic aren’t so bad. Sunlight reflecting off the tall windows in the stately canalside houses. The famous “Golden Bend”, the most breathtaking part of Amsterdam’s most breathtaking canal. Hand in hand. Their golden age? Could hardly even imagine it now. They never did that anymore. Not since Lizzie had seen a dead cat floating down one of the canals with seagulls picking at it. Or was it because they weren’t in love anymore? That’s what Dr. Weintraub had asked, when Carl had gone and told him that. Well, you had to do something. You can’t just sit there for forty-five minutes staring at each other in silence, can you? Dead cat, he saw the psychiatrist put down on his notepad, the one and only thing he wrote down during that session (Carl was pretty good at reading upside-down, a handy skill in business meetings). But after that encounter, imaginary or not, he stayed away from every waterside where there might be a houseboat. The canals, the housefronts, everything in this city had stayed solid and stable since his youth and far before that. Only he, he had changed: reduced to a shadow of his former self: unstable, hiding out from a phantom George Clooney that might reappear at any time, any place.
He never spoke to Lizzie about it. Last night’s disagreement was about something else. They had decided it was time to have a child. (Dr. Weintraub’s observation that it would go away by itself at that point had played more than a minor role in this.) And as happened so often now that you could choose, it was a fight about whether it should be a son or a daughter.
“My heart’s set on a daughter,” she had said, with the look in her eyes that should have told him as clear as day. She knew damn well that he always wanted a son. He was always obliging, but this time he dug in his heels. So did she. Late at night, he proposed a compromise: since they couldn’t agree, why not just let nature take its course, like people used to? Gah! Her gorge rose at the very suggestion. She had no idea he was so old-fashioned, that he still lived in the Stone Age. What kind of monster would leave something as important as your child to random chance? Gamble at your poker games, not with your child! There she hit a nerve. A few nights back he had lost a fair amount of money playing poker. After that, he had no choice but to give in. The only thing left to agree on was what their daughter would look like. She had already made up her mind about that, too: Angelina. He was taken aback. Certainly was all the rage these days, but wasn’t it kind of pricey? For lack of anything better, he fell back on the old standby: “I’d just really like our child to have something special, something totally her own, you know what I mean?”
“I know what you mean: you mean you’re going to get stingy when it comes to your kids. Even though every study shows that beautiful people have a better life. From day care on, in school, in job interviews, who they have a shot at fucking. So why the hell wouldn’t you pick a model with a proven success rate?”
There was not a lot he could say in response. The evenings that followed were not unpleasant. She recognized that he really did have to look around before making a definitive choice. So he had license to check out websites, not only Angelina’s but a lot of the other stars baring it all online. She didn’t even bat an eye when he pulled down a long-unopened suitcase from the attic, which turned out to be full of a collection of yellowed photos of Kim, Bo and Elle, fond memories of his youth (jacked off for the first time out in the bike shed). Indeed, their impending parenthood breathed new life into their relationship.
At Lizzie’s response the child designer flipped a switch, bringing down a screen to show them the most popular models. Around the time of the medical breakthrough that had made copying DNA profiles possible, Child Design Inc. had made the very smart move of licensing the look of the world’s biggest stars. Of course, no one could guarantee that as the child grew up, he or she would have the exact same look as the examples shown here. But the service included a subscription for the plastic surgery department, so any complaints could be taken care of immediately.
“And the birth?”
“Your birth is just like any other. Or, actually, even better: you know what you’re getting.”
Lizzie shot a glance at her husband. The painful part was that he knew what was going through her head: sure, I can let nature take its course, but then I run the risk of the baby looking like him. She had been married to him long enough to detest the thought. Once, back in the Golden Bend days, they had been in love, and if they had decided to have kids right away, back then, it might have been different… but the benefit of older and wiser is that you don’t react as emotionally as you used to. Put the child’s interest first. Like with every new technology, there were the naysayers who claimed that at a certain age the child was going to hit an identity crisis. At the age when the child discovered that she wasn’t the only one, but there were ten or twelve other genetic look-alikes of Jennifer, Cameron, Pamela, and of course, Angelina, running around at school. But that’s something that you deal with by talking to your child. And showing her exactly where she came from. That’s something she can see with her own eyes, because of course as good parents, hers had not only recorded every aspect of the birth from start to finish, from the arrival at the clinic to the cutting of the umbilical cord – good parents go back even further, all the way to conception, and explain all that, too. Luckily Lizzie and Carl had been smart enough to record everything, from their first coitus on. The camera was there to make sure that when the time came, the kids knew everything and could see it with their own eyes (“...watch, now here’s where your father’s penis penetrates my vagina…”) what really brought them here. It was the same reason the recorder on the table between them was on; even the consultation with the child designer was being recorded, so when the child started asking questions she could hear for herself how her parents had made the responsible choice for her physical appearance.
Like, for example, the breathtaking design that Serge had now conjured up on the screen. Her eyes were striking, grey-green like Audrey Hepburn’s. But when you looked closely you saw that the left one was slightly different than the right: it had a little brown in it. “Different color eyes,” Serge explained as he pointed with his laser pointer. “Pretty bold choice. But it’s really becoming a trend. Maybe a little daring, not for everybody... then you’ve got something really exclusive. But you need to be daring.”
“What a beauty,” Lizzie sighed. “But those lips – aren’t they too… puffy?” “That’s really in style right now,” Serge answered, somewhat stung. He began to wonder whether these people were really in his target group. Maybe they couldn’t even afford it and were just wasting his valuable time. He reached to grab one of the magazines on the table and flipped it open. Yes, the lips on the model on the very first page he opened to were exactly like in the design. As he flipped through, you saw that every single star, every model, every celebrity in it, without exception, had those same lips. That clinched it for Lucy. Carl knew that it was high time to intervene, or else it was just going to get more expensive.
“We had actually already decided,” he said hastily. “We decided on... Angelina.”
“Good choice,” Serge said, pressing a few buttons in the blink of an eye and changing tack like a seasoned salesman. There she was on the screen already, first in full glory (if somewhat more modest glory than in the illegal copy he had watched last night), and then in baby version.
And even Carl, who until now had not been much of a baby person, had to admit it: you could just see it in those tiny little features on that tiny little baby, where she was derived from. Lizzie clapped her hands together. Those adorable ears! That precious little nose! Those pouty lips! Like a little cuddly Angelina doll! Tears welled up in her eyes. A whispered “How sweet...” was all she could manage to say. She had that same wistful look that she once, in another lifetime, had for him. He had forgotten that she could ever look like that. But now that look was going to cost him money, a whole lot of money. He was prepared for it, but when Serge told them the price he still turned white. And what was their guarantee? What if Serge here was not a master designer at all, but a master fraud? If it turned out to be all a scam, and the product came out an unsightly hag, the bosses of Child Design Inc. would be long gone, laying on a beach in Bermuda with all their cash. But it was already too late: there was no changing Lizzie’s mind now.
There was no denying that Dr. Weintraub had been right about one thing: since she had gotten pregnant, Lizzie had lost all interest in George Clooney. Not once had he caught her watching his movies in the middle of the night, or even going to his fan page – not even once. And the closer it came to the big day, the crowning moment of their revitalized relationship, he even started to think that when she lay in his arms, she wasn’t imagining being in George’s.
Everything had been made ready for that special day. Family, friends and acquaintances had been invited and the response was so tremendous that a grandstand had been set up in the operating room, which was now packed to capacity. Not leaving anything to chance, Lizzie and Carl had hired a professional video crew. And the audience wouldn’t have been complete without child designer Serge. Just a precaution - if one of those little ears or a corner of that cute little mouth was not to the customer’s satisfaction, there were procedures for that, a little adjustment, a minor makeover, all covered under warranty of course.
Because it wasn’t a high-risk birth, Dr. Weintraub as his psychologist didn’t have to be physically present, but he was following it on the monitor on his desk and had a live connection with the operating room. With the bare-bones rates the insurance paid this was only barely financially viable, and only because he could monitor multiple births at the same time on multiple connections. As father-to-be, Carl had a direct connection to Dr. Weintraub by headset. This was actually required, because the latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics indicated that strangulations of newborns had increased dramatically in the last reporting period, particularly in the higher income brackets.
When the big moment arrived, a cheer went up even before the umbilical cord was cut and the proud father could lift the newborn baby up for the whirring cameras and forest of mobile phones. And it wasn’t even Carl who saw it first, because from the grandstand there were already cries of excitement and surprise. Only then did he see it, too: it’s a boy!
“Surprise, surprise!” Lizzie called out, clapping her hands. She was already sitting straight up in bed, hair done and made up for the recording. The camera zoomed in on the bewildered face of Carl. That was the exact moment that Carl lost it. Overcome by all the joy, the tears streamed down his cheeks. Without telling him, she had made them implant the boy gene instead of the girl gene after all. And had even kept it a secret all this time! So she could make sure to make his dream come true and give him the surprise of his life. This was the ultimate, true love. How he had misjudged her!
He just couldn’t get enough of parading the baby to his family and friends, who all applauded and drummed their feet so hard that the grandstand might really have almost collapsed. Dr. Weintraub said something unintelligible in his ear, seemed to be trying to warn him about something that got lost in the tumult. If he had been there in person, Carl would have even let him into the group hug that spontaneously broke out on the grandstand. Who would have thought it! That this could ever happen to him. He could barely comprehend it. It was only when the initial surprise started wearing off that he took a real look at the baby for the first time. He started to recognize something, something in those dark brown eyes that gave him an uneasy feeling. And that mouth, that jawline, the whole face… there was no mistaking what was this was going to grow into, it was entirely clear who this was going to be, who this was…
“You’ll get used to it,” he heard Dr. Weintraub’s sleepy voice say in his ear, but it hardly registered. Everything around him began to blur, to disappear, faded into blackness. With the exception of the one, who he kept staring at in complete horror. Because there was no question about it: what he was holding, what he had rocked in his arms, was baby George Clooney.
“Now listen, Carl,” Dr. Weintraub’s voice squawked in his ear. “I get it, I really do, I know what you’re feeling. We’ve got to just talk it out in your next session. But right now, I want you to take a deep breath and keep listening to me. No, don’t do anything stupid, Carl. What’s that, what are you doing? Carl? Hands off – Carl, he’s turning blue, get your hands off of his neck! Now, right now, I’m telling you. Don’t make me call security… Are you listening to me? Can you hear me, Carl? Carl!”
Brendan first met her on a Friday evening when a cold wind swept across the East River into Brooklyn. It was a mild November until then but the time for overcoats and scarves had arrived as bitter winds sailed south on the Hudson to the boroughs.
He exited the Bedford Avenue station and prepared for a cold gust of air . . . channeling down the staircase, turning his head towards the banister. The Williamsburg streets were busy with people pouring into the bars to secure tables for the night. He walked down Driggs Avenue towards Grand Street where he was due to meet his roommate, Peter, at a bar they frequented the previous summer. The biting air clung to his shaven face while he waited at a set of traffic lights on Metropolitan Avenue to change colour. It was Peter’s friend’s birthday, a girl he studied drama with at Trinity. Peter convinced Brendan to attend after he first declined his invitation.
“I know you don’t know most of the old crowd but they’re all very nice. Besides it might be good for you to have a night out, Bren. Don’t you ever miss the old days? We’re not in our thirties yet.”
“The old days are a blur, Peter,” he said.
An evening with people he didn’t know well meant strained conversations and fighting the drink’s lure. He told himself to stick with stout, it was going to be a long night and if he allowed himself an early whiskey things could get away from him. The bar was wedged between two restaurants with blue steel bars covering the front windows, Iona engraved in gothic lettering above the door. The wooden furnishing and old photographs of Dublin gave the impression of an actual pub.
He ordered a pint, seeing Peter and the group sitting in the beer garden. The glass trembled in his hand as he approached them. Brendan tried to lock eyes with Peter who was rolling a cigarette and deep in conversation with a gangly boy with long, rakish hair hanging over his eyes. He hovered over the table for a minute before his friend, Hannah, saw him.
“Hey, Bren. God, it’s been ages,” she said, standing up and giving him a hug.
“Yes, long time no see,” he replied, holding his hand up to everyone in greeting. He ran a hand over his fringe and brushed back his dark curls.
Brendan took a seat beside Hannah and everyone continued with their conversations, their voices echoing around the beer garden. He sipped his stout, looking around the group. They were the types he never knew in university – beautiful and intellectual and wealthy.
“Can you believe it’s been over ten years since Freshers’ week? God we were so awkward,” a girl with auburn hair said. They all laughed and Brendan stared at the water dripping from the gutter onto the ground, this talk of old flings and lecturers boring him.
“That seems a long time ago,” the tall boy said. “Sure look at us now, scattered in all corners of the globe.” Brendan turned his head towards the door, as if expecting to see one of his friends but they were all far from Brooklyn.
“How’s work going, Bren? Hannah asked, taking a sip of her cocktail.
“Oh it’s fine, thanks. They’re letting me go home for Christmas so I can’t complain.”
“That’ll be great, Bren, Christmas at home is wild. Have you met my friend Sarah by the way?”
A girl with chestnut brown hair seated beside Hannah leaned forward. He hadn’t noticed her at first but she struck him there with her brown eyes, sitting on the bench in a denim jacket. Her hair was tied in a short bow with a red bobbin. She had a slim face with clusters of small freckles dotted on her cheeks.
“No, I don’t believe so. Nice to meet you.”
“You too, Peter’s told us a lot about you.”
“All good I hope.”
“Oh, it was a glowing review,” she said and smiled at him.
“Well, Peter’s always been a good liar,” he said, bowing his head.
“Who wants another drink?” Hannah asked.
“I’ll have the same,” Sarah said, holding up her empty glass. Her long fingers were wrapped around the pink straw hanging from the rim.
“What about yourself, Bren? Hannah asked.
“Sure, another pint thanks,” he replied.
He’d have to buy a round now so he didn’t look tight. She slid across the bench to face him.
“So how long have you lived here, Brendan?”
“Three years, Sarah.”
“It’s so different to Dublin, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s another world.”
She leaned her slender frame against the wall, the collar of a white blouse protruding from her black jumper.
“But I do miss Dublin at times,” he added.
“Yes, me too. Do you think you’ll stay here?”
“Hard to say. What about you?” Hannah returned with the drinks on a tray before she could answer. Brendan smelt their vodka as it crackled against the ice, tempting him to order a whiskey.
“It’s time for dancing, they’re all waiting for us at Copa. Everyone finish your drinks,” the tall boy announced. Brendan finished his pint, the cream slivering to the bottom of the glass, wiping some from his mouth. Sarah let out a short laugh.
“This is why I shouldn’t drink stout,” he said, wiping his lips with a napkin.
They stood up to leave, he waited outside for Peter while the others walked on. He was sporting a new haircut and silk shirt beneath his quilted jacket. The wind blew down the road, flanked between redbrick houses built behind low black gates and paved yards.
“Winter’s here now,” Peter said.
“Do you know that girl, Sarah?”
“We did a few plays together in Trinity.”
“She seems nice.”
“Don’t get any ideas, Bren,” he said.
“I wasn’t,” Brendan said, craving a drag of his cigarette.
The next bar was on a street corner beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. A tug boat drifted on the murky water, its city pennant flapping in the wind. People huddled underneath the streetlamps and blew into their cigarettes. There was a short queue, three girls in heavy make-up wearing short skirts stood ahead of them.
“I need a whiskey,” he said.
“I thought you were off the hard stuff,” Peter said.
The bouncer called them forward, Brendan produced his driving licence and waited for Peter inside the doorway. It was a narrow establishment with exotic music shaking the walls. Peter found the group by a set of tables, giving out hugs and pecks on the cheek. Brendan walked towards the bar, joining a crush of people crowded around the glossy countertop. Two men with slicked back hair wearing pressed shirts were whispering in each other’s ears and pointing at girls on the dancefloor. He squeezed beside them and ordered a bottle of beer with a whiskey. The music pierced his ears and he was kept waiting five minutes for a drink, handing over a twenty dollar note.
“It’s another five,” the bartender shouted, sleeved tattoos running down both his arms. He snatched a ten out of Brendan’s hand and walked over to a pair of tall blond girls flashing their credit cards.
Brendan decided to run after finishing his drinks, letting the cutting wind guide him home and delay his sorrow with a joint before bed. He drank his whiskey and then the beer in a few sips, squirming through dancing couples and back out into the night. The lights of the bridge rose and fell along the suspension cables, twinkling stars over the river. She was smoking a cigarette on the footpath.
“Are you leaving?”
“Not yet,” he said.”
“Can we share this? I can never finish a whole one.”
“Sure,” he said, walking towards her and extending his fingers beneath her grip on the filter.
“Thanks. I was just about to ask Peter for one,” he said, taking a deep drag and handing it back to her.
“You looked like a man who was making an exit.”
“I was just getting some air, it’s hard to catch your breath in there.”
“If you say so,” she said, dropping her arm and holding the cigarette by her waist. The glint in her eyes shone through the darkness.
“So you come here often?”
“First time, I haven’t been out in a while,” he said.
“Yes, Peter said you prefer staying in most nights,” she said, blowing out a wisp of smoke.
“He’s making me sound reclusive.”
“You were just leaving though?”
“I’ve exhausted all my small talk for an evening.”
“Same, my cheeks are also going red,” she said, handing him back the cigarette.
“They look fine from here,” he said, exhaling and tossing the cigarette on the ground. He clenched his jaw and darted his eyes towards the pavement.
“Come on, they might be getting worried about us.”
She tugged on the sleeve of his coat and pulled him towards the door. Brendan was flushed as she disappeared into the crowd, fearful of losing her to the night and its brazen boys. He ordered a whiskey to keep his tongue loose and thoughts sparse. She pushed off the bar, moving away from the group who were huddled together on the dancefloor, and back over to him. He stood against the wall, watching people dance and mouth the lyrics.
“You’re not in the mood for dancing?” she asked.
“I feel Peter does enough for both of us,” he said, the lampshade’s silhouette running down her cheek line.
“Yes, taller boys always look awkward dancing,” she said, looking up into his blue eyes with loose strands of silky brown hair falling over her eyelashes. He thought about reaching out and tucking them behind her ear, clasping his fingers around the glass.
“This place is so loud,” he shouted in her ear.
“You should see Berlin, the nights don’t get started until around four.”
“That sounds way too intense.”
“Yes, I much prefer just going to the pub.”
“Me too,” he said, wishing he had the nerve to take her hand in his.
The whiskey glazed Brendan’s vision and doubts as the night ran on. He felt himself falling deeper with each sip, prepared to profess something foolish to her.
“Are you going to ask me something?” She bit her bottom lip, piercing her cherry red lip gloss.
“I might,” he whispered, dropping his head and leaning in towards her when the lights came on.
“Everybody make your way to the exit,” one of the bouncers shouted while the music still played over the speakers.
She walked ahead of him, turning back and smiling. His chest felt weak watching her tread around the tables as time slipped through the shadows. Outside, she turned to face him on the top step, shifting the weight from her heels onto her toes. He wanted to grab the back of her neck and feel those lips against his until the bridge’s lights faded with the dawn. She glanced sideways, tucking her chin into a tartan scarf.
“Where to next then?”
“It’s getting late,” he said.
His throat was dry from the whiskey and tobacco. He didn’t want to just be a boy she flirted with, forgotten once the sun had risen over the flat rooftops. Peter and Hannah appeared outside and ushered them both into a taxi.
“Bring us home, we’ll drop the lads off first,” Hannah said from the front seat.
His heart sank, scrambling his thoughts to keep the night going. The car turned onto Broadway and drove under the rumbling rail tracks. There was a clamour about the night passed and all the ones soon to come.
“Do you have anything planned for you last day, Sarah?” Peter asked.
“Oh, not much. My flight’s in the evening so I won’t be delaying.”
“It’s a long journey to Berlin,” he said.
“Yes, ten hours from here.”
Brendan was silent, staring at the streets of Brooklyn through the window. The buildings melded through his drunken regard. Their knees hovered inches apart, never to touch. The taxi stopped outside their apartment complex and he stepped out, handing a ten dollar note to Hannah. He gripped the door handle, staring at her.
“Goodnight,” she said.
“See you soon.” The driver shifted gears and the car pulled away, cruising through the traffic lights.
“Bren, open the fucking door, I can’t feel my face,” Peter bellowed. He walked between two parked cars and up the stoop, turning the key.
They stumbled out of the elevator and into their apartment. Peter went straight to bed, leaving his tobacco on the dining table. Brendan rolled a cigarette and walked into his cold, dusty bedroom. He leaned his head on the window frame and struck a match, blowing into the pane. The golden towers of downtown sparkled under dark clouds. He finished half the cigarette and went to bed.
“Just let it go, Bren,” Peter said the following evening, offering scant consolation.
He blended his regret with whiskey. The rest of the weekend passed with a frost covering the pavements, spent fighting the fading of her grace from his heart.
Love is pain and comfort. Love is something easy to recognise. It pulls you into it's deathly strong grip and holds on to you forever. It hurts but it's worth it. But sometimes, the hurt is bad and just gets worse. Sometimes, love is never good. You think that you're okay, or you will be. Everyday you wake up and say . . . to yourself "Today will be a better day. I'll get better." But you won't, and you know you won't. One-sided love is a fate worse than death. It's like there's constantly a pair of large hands wrapped around your throat, preventing your breathing, blurring your vision. They don't even know how much you hurt though, and if they did, they wouldn't care. Love hurts, no matter what you do to try and fix that. It will always hurt. But love is a necessary to be classified as human. Humans have emotions, and one of the basic emotions they have is affection. Without feeling love towards something or someone, then you're no different from an animal. The feeling of love is like a constant strain on your heart and lungs. Your breath always catches when you see them and you can't breath for a few moments. It feels like someone is sitting on your chest, putting a heavy weight on your heart. Your stomach flutters and flips around, and you almost feel sick. It's constantly bad but oh so good. It's an essential part of living your life, and you can't escape that pain and comfort.
Humans are the only species in the entirety of existence, thus far, that have a concept of time. We view it as absolute, unchanging and our Master.
Yet, Time has been proven to be subject to the laws of science. Time is dependent upon speed, gravitational pull, and a myriad of other variables. Time, is one of the . . . last mysteries. We know more about the depths of the ocean than the relationship between time and matter.
The faster we move, or the lesser the gravitational pull, the 'slower' time moves. and vice versa.
This simple concept in mind, it is a logical understanding that if we can move fast enough, or slow enough, we can travel through time. This is the concept with which the portals work.
Stations in space, costing quadrillions of dollars in current day currency, they will create what we would think of as portals from one point in space to another. Ships and equipment will travel through these stations and appear at their opposing stations with a negative time change.
Assume two clocks travel at the same speed, and are affected by the same gravitational pull for the duration of their life, therefore: they will have the same reading of what we perceive as time for their entire existence.
These two clocks fins themselves at opposing stations.
A ship of uniform dimensions and cargo travels through station A at 1745:50. It's partner, station B receives this ship. Shall we call it H1 (Humanity One) at time
Now pay attention, because this is the truly important part.
I shall reiterate. Station B, station A's partner, receives ship H1 at 1745:35 regardless of the distance between the two stations. Fifteen seconds backwards in time.
I understand the reason. Allow me to attempt the explanation. If you're in it for the thrill, please close your browser, or magazine, now.
It is widely accepted that the Universe is expanding. 'accelerating' away from a 'center' as evidenced by a Doppler Affect on images of our distant galaxies. My proposal, explaining the phenomenon not yet experienced by modern science, is this: The Universe is not expanding from a central point due to a Big Bang (which I do not attempt to refute.) Rather, the Universe is accelerating around a sort of "Time Spiral." The continuous turning of the Universe around this Time Spiral would account for the viewed acceleration of matter around us.
Imagine Time as a spring. We, the universe, being a single point on this spring. Traveling around the curves of the spring, the continuing turning of our universe accounting for the acceleration we perceive. In actuality, the world, the Universe, is simply turning.
Time is not cyclical, Time is not Circular, Time is not linear.
Time is a Spiral. Coiled and ready to spring us into chaos.
At least, that's my opinion.
My morning ritual was interrupted, that morning. I always wake up, make the coffee, letting it percolate while I shower and get dressed. Once I'm dressed, I'll enjoy the first cup on the tiny balcony that overlooks the parking lot. The second will usually make it halfway to the train station while I'm on my way to . . . work before I take a pull.
As I said, this morning, my ritual was interrupted. I set the coffee maker, showered and dressed. Since it had been a mild winter, thus far, I only had on a long sleeve shirt to match my jeans. As I stepped through the sliding glass door, I was sent back inside by the bitter cold winter wind that had finally arrived.
It blew with enough ferocity to make up for its lax-month, leeching the warmth off the top layer of my first cup in the short moment I was exposed. I grabbed my warm, black pea-coat, the one with silk on the inside of the sleeves and the high collar. It had all of those pockets too. It would be nice to wear it again.
My first cup enjoyed from the comfort of my kitchen table, I poured the second into my thermos, and donned the heavy fleece. I slipped my wallet into my jeans pocket, sunglasses on the inside of my coat, keys in the opposite side, and my phone into the pocket I thought of as the 'secret' pocket, since it was between the zipper and button flap. As it fell to the bottom, I heard the clack of plastic to plastic. Now, outside, I pulled the door to my apartment shut, locked it and set my thermos down on the railing. I pulled my phone out, except, instead of my phone, the thing in my hand was a small, black bar-phone. I judged it to be one of those pay-as-you-go phones, valued at a meager twenty bucks. I was intrigued, but only slightly. I had held plenty of parties in may apartment, and attended even more last winter when I would have last worn the coat, it was likely my old girlfriend's or some other hooligans.
Then it rang. The shrill, standard ring shattering the morning's stillness. My impulse was to silence the abrasive noise.
"Hello?" I'm not sure why I answered instead of simply ignoring the call, but now the line was crossed, and I was hooked based on the necessity of convention.
"Whoever this is, don't hang up." Well now I definitely couldn't hang up. "I need you to go to the coffee shop on Main and ninth, get there as quick as you can. I will pick you up, look for the red mini-cooper."
I stood, poised on this precipice. The height, a dizzying flight of stairs to my waiting car. I could see the possibilities fall before me, I knew the coffee shop, it wasn't far, but should I? It seemed foolhardy, so why was I considering it? The woman on the other end of the phone sounded about my age, and she sounded as if she might have needed my help. I imagined myself as the knight in shinning armor. I imagined myself as the bait in a trap. I imagined myself simply going to the train station and forgetting this entire thing, the phone in some waste bin along the way.
The possibilities, the adventure, the glamour and adrenaline.
"Well, why the hell not?"
I hated the staring the most. The jobless, the homeless, the destitute, all lined my route every day. No matter how early I left the city gates, they would be there. Miles of them. All looking at me, staring. Their piercing, hungry glares accusatory.
"Why does he have a job?"
"Why not me?"
I asked myself the same . . . question every day. They would load the bike at night. Collecting the trash that lined the cities gutters and alleyways, piling it all up on my little trike. It took almost a mile of bungee cords, and I needed help to get started, but the tower of refuse would stretch up the walls. I had to ride through the gates in the middle of the street, the guards flanking me with their assault rifles to keep out the throngs of homeless.
I peddled on, intent on my task, riding past thousands of potential replacements.
"Why not me?"
No sick days, no weekends. Only the unchanging ride.
why not them? Luck, mostly. I wondered if the city would replace me, cycle in some new person. But I think I was forgotten. I worked, and so I was invisible to the unstoppable machine of civilization. Another cog in the wheel, performing its task without flaw, without complaint, without need for oversight.
Some days, they begged me. One day, they tried to attack me, their jealousy overcoming their candor. The uncaring cough of a sniper quenched the fight in their eyes.
I only peddled, yet, my soul ached.
"Why not me?" asked the mother.
"Why not me?" asked the child.
The hungry. The sick. The broken.
none of them had a place in this 'new' society, and so, they were thrown out.
I peddled still, but, why not me?
Love is like a rollercoaster, with the highs and lows; the ups and downs. Love will find you in the weirdest places -- a party, a sporting event -- and grab hold of your heart with an ungodly strength. Power. Lust. Love is all of those -- and more. For when you're in love, you feel as though you are the luckiest person . . . in the world . . . even if your love is an honest-to-God lunatic.
I've loved Ashley since I was ten. We started dating two years ago, when I asked her out to our Freshman Prom. At first, our love was everything I thought it would be . . . until Ashley became clingy, greedy, almost obsessive. I didn't like this new Ashley, yet I didn't leave her -- even when she pushed me away from my friends or followed me around wherever I went, as though she was a lost puppy dog. After all, I loved her and the idea of living without her -- while freeing -- scared me stiff.
We as humans do crazy things for love. No; love does crazy things to us. Love can drive a healthy person insane; a good girl into a rebel, a virgin into a slut. Look at what love did to Ashely. Look at what it did to me. For it was love that kept me attached to Ashley like glue . . . and has yet to loosen the bind. Sometimes, I think love is the most beautiful thing ever. Lately, however, love has been more of a chore. There are days when I wish I hadn't fallen in love in the first place, for once you've dived into a relationship, it's a whole lot harder getting out.
Funny thing about having friends is that you will rarely know if they are truly your friends. In my few years of life I have learned that sometimes your so-called friends will let you down. Sometimes you will find out that someone you would consider your friend is simply using you for his or her own benefit somehow. . . . Human beings are, for the most part, social creatures and require the mutual investment of time and effort into friendships with other people. Of course, there is an exception to every observation. To this observation, the exception is I.
I can honestly say that in my sixteen years of life I have only had one true friend. I met her when I was seventeen years old, and to this day I have only loved her more with each passing day. She has always been the only friend I've ever needed.
It's so difficult to see her this way. I'm staring at her, and she is staring back at me, but it isn't like before, it isn't like when we were in love. It really pains me to see her this way. Where the hell did things go wrong. I can't believe that I'm actually sitting here with a pistol on my lap contemplating whether I'm going to shoot her in head or just leave her here to rot. I had to do it. I had no choice. She would've killed me if I hadn't. Her hands are tied in front of her body with zip ties, and she is securely tied with a rope around the railing of the stairs leading out of the basement of our home. Blood is dripping from her eyes as she stares at me grinding her teeth as if savoring the taste of my flesh. She knows she can't get loose so she is calmly waiting for her opportunity to pounce.
I wrap my hand around the pistol grip tightly and I hold it up to the side of her head. I begin to cry uncontrollably.
"I-I love you, Jennifer." She stares up at me still grinding her teeth. All I see in her eyes now is hate and primal instinct when before I could find in her gaze the sweetest love I ever felt. Once again I say, "I will always love you, Jennifer." I squeeze back on the trigger, close my eyes. Fire and a single bullet exit the pistol, and enter her brain. Her body goes limp. Once again I am with no friends. I am all alone.
It was the night that he would never forget. How precisely it began was anyone’s guess, as the starting line was quite fuzzy. His earliest recollection involved finding himself driving along an empty road. The details were quite clear and easy to remember, as was the finish. The location was unrecognizable and the road . . . unknown, but the scenery looked a touch familiar. All was still, the trees hovering over the road lay silent with the dead of the breeze, and even the wheels and engine of the car emitted no sound, as if it were hovering over the road.
Before long he was out of the vehicle and in the company of a young girl, no older than twenty years of age. His world froze as he could not help but watch and admire the radiant gaze she casted towards him. Despite being well versed socially, this was a new experience for the young man. Her brown hair and brown eyes seemed to glow in a way that he had never witnessed from the formerly dull color, as the shine of her spirit illuminated his heart. As she approached him, he could not help as though feel like it were a fantasy, quite fitting, as he knew that he was indeed dreaming. Situations like this are restricted to the imagination and forbidden from reality. As she made her way towards him, a loud buzzing sound began to ring all around them, as the girl frantically placed a note in his hand.
Within the blink of an eye, Eric was back at home, waking up in his bed the next morning as the clock continued screeching in his eardrums...
Eric has just met the girl of his dreams, quite literally. Unbeknownst to him, this fantasy is going to become as real as the love and affection he feels towards her. However, nothing is ever easy when it comes to an attraction as strong as this one. All is fair in love and war, and as Eric is about to learn, the battle for his heart is just beginning...
Twenty-three years old and fresh out of college, Eric had enjoyed many a dream and dated many a woman; he was generally not the fantasizing daydreaming type. Nothing compared to the magnitude and unprecedented raw emotions that permeated from that dream however, as he took a few moments to collect himself as he sighed and reminisced about the night gone by.
As he walked into the bathroom to prepare himself for the day he just so happened to glance down at his hands before washing them, and he was thankful for doing so, as he saw something unusual on his hand. Eric was stunned, as something was written. A series of numbers appeared to be scribbled. The more he thought about the phenomenon, he seemed to recall a tingling sensation during the dream when she clutched his hand. Must be purely coincidental, his logic dictated towards him, despite the fact that he had not touched an ink pen in weeks and had not been in the vicinity of anything that provided a rational explanation. Was it possible that it was a message from the beautiful girl, some type of psychic or telepathic transference?
Eric’s heart skipped a beat at the notion that it might be her phone number, or some other type of communicative tool. It was not a phone number as there were only five digits, much to his chagrin. One, Four, Three, Two, was the series of numbers, at least from what he could gather as they were barely legible. The pattern failed to make any sense, and with nothing further in the way of clues or numbers, the distraught young man abandoned hope in his mystical search and had breakfast.
The despair and dismay of the day fades as Eric falls asleep that evening, replaced with the delight of the previous night as he begins to dream. Once more he finds himself with the gorgeous girl of his dreams, hair flowing like an angel as he holds her hand and opening his mouth to deliver a deep, tender kiss before he speaks. Might as well make the most of this dream after all! “What is your name?” he asks the delicate beauty in a soft voice.
“Emma Hill,” she responds with a voice as gentle as he could have imagined and as tantalizing as her rich brown eyes.
“My name is Eric London,” he mutters, his voice trembling more noticeably than at first.
She nods slowly, smiling. “Yes I know.”
“You do? How do you know me, I don’t recall ever having seen you at Coastal,” he replied, inferring the name of his alma mater. She stares blankly at him confusingly in response as if she does not understand.
“What did you give to me last night, your phone number?” he asks.
“I do not have a telephone machine. That is my address,” she replies.
It is now Eric returning the favor by delivering a look of confusion, a look that transforms into panic as the aroma of smoke fills his nostrils and an orange blaze of fire crawls along the ceiling. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he says tugging her hand.
Along the way out the door he lost his grip, finding himself outside as the fire slowly spreads along the rooftop. Emma appears in the doorway as Eric lifts himself up off the ground. He begins to feel dizzy, as he knows that he is drifting back. The dream will soon be over. “What street?” he shouts to her, acknowledging her initial message to him, and eager to learn of her location before he wakes up. “Badger Road,” she replies in what could best be described as an elegant whisper, as Eric awakens in his bed again, with her voice echoing in his mind as if she were there standing in the room beside him.
This time there was more information to aide in the search of telekinetic prowess, in the form of a name and street address. Furthermore it was Saturday, enabling Eric as much time as he needed to put on his detective hat and play the role of supernatural sleuth. Unfortunately it soon appeared as though all the time in the world would be of no help in uncovering any answers.
Inquiring into the whereabouts of 1432 Badger Road, Eric was saddened to find that there did not appear to exist any residence or address with that label anywhere, not in the United States or even nearby Canada for that matter. Although the girl said that she did not have a telephone number, Eric thought it was still worth a search in the directory, as he flipped through the yellow pages. There was no Emma Hill to be found, but he kept the page bookmarked in the hope of tracking down a relative. Things were quickly looking dire. In fact, there was no Badger Road anywhere to be found on any street map in a five hundred mile radius area. Desperate, he began phoning through each Hill in the book, casually and awkwardly asking for Emma, and receiving nothing but a response indicating a wrong number. After dialing four numbers he began to accept the fact that the dreams were based solely on a figment of his imagination. There was simply no trace of her to be found.
That is, until he found something a trifle unsettling. Given that it was 2008, he was able to conduct his search beyond the mere contours of a phone book and street map, spending twenty additional minutes scouring the Internet for proof of the existence of an Emma Hill residing at or near a Badger Road. Tucked away in the results provided by the search engine was a newspaper article from 1912 that positively matched her name and the street.
It was not a major headline adorned with any “extras,” rather it was nothing more than back page fodder, a side note. From the tiny microprint Eric could make out that the article involved some type of calamity, a fire of some sort. Three pictures were included in the article, and in the second photograph included a grainy image of the girl from his dream, Emma Hill. The terms “succumbed to fire at the age of twenty” and “Badger Road,” stole the breath from his chest as a shiver caromed down his spine and filtering throughout his extremities as if they were falling asleep.
Rising to his feet in order to shake off the unsettling feeling, the physical exertion was no match for the mental gymnastics that clamped down upon his mind and left him exhausted, uneasy, and struggling for answers. They were dreams. The experiences each night felt very artificial and surreal, with the exception of the aura of Emma and the searing heat of the fire. She was real, just as was the deadly blaze. The warmth of her presence was now replaced with a chill that clouded the air. If his worst thoughts were realized and she was a ghost, how did she know who he was? What more, what ulterior motives did her intentions entail? Eric had never met a ghost before, much less date one. He had not even believed in them, and now he was in love with one.
There was no official town historian that Eric could speak to in order to learn more about the incident, but an elderly neighbor of his did happen to work as a librarian, and was the best he could hope for. If this were a movie, the elderly man would know firsthand a wealth of information from the tragedy, and whom Emma Hill was, where she was born, died, and buried, in addition to merely knowing where she lived and the whereabouts of a Badger Road. This was real life and the elderly neighborhood had never heard of a girl with any such name or a road named after any wintry critter, although he was able to inform Eric that he might be able to find out from a source or two that knew the history of the town better than he did. When asked what his interest was, Eric lied and said that his cousin was doing a report on an off-mentioned historical remnant from the town.
Creating a fictional cousin and lying to the elderly to obtain information would generally be frowned upon, but Eric was justified in his actions given that there was no way he could tell anybody the truth. Three hours later, the phone rang and the raspy old voice of the elderly man began to speak, informing Eric that there was indeed used to be a Badger Road in town, and that it had been renamed Morrison Road after a city surveyor in the early 1930s. What more, this was not a faraway road in a mysterious area; Morrison Road intersected with a thoroughfare that Eric had recognized, given that it was distanced only a handful of miles away.
Initially wishing to wait until Sunday morning to investigate the area, his eagerness gets the better of him as he sets out to track down his gorgeous ghost, unwilling to leave his dreams up to chance that night of another encounter.
Pulling out of his driveway, his heart begins to beat as he shakes his head and lets out a nervous bout of laughter, “So it’s come to this! Can’t believe I’m actually doing this,” he says to himself. Within minutes he was rumbling down the busy thoroughfare of Range Road before making the turn onto Morrison road. Things began to feel a little bit eerie as he drove deeper into the wooded area, with not so much as another single car within the vicinity. The still of the trees made their calm presence known much as they did during his dream. A dense fog began engulfing the area as he switched on the bright headlights to make his way through the thick of it.
Then, the faint outline of a house took shape, almost appearing out of thin air just like a ghost, as he pulled in the gravel driveway as the car slid to a crawling halt. 1432 Badger Road, this was the place, and it looked just as it had in his dreams. Walking up to the sidewalk, he stopped in his tracks as the door opened slowly, so slowly as to make a nice cliffhanger for a commercial break. Swallowing the lump in the back of his throat, his eyes widened as Emma greeted him in the doorway.
“Eric!” she exclaimed, a look of excitement on her face.
“Emma,” he whispered, before repeating it so it was audibly discernible to her ears as he reached the doorstep. “Are you...this sounds ridiculous, so I’m just going to blurt it out. Do you happen to be a ghost?” he asks.
A saddened expression overtakes her face as her smile vanishes away as a frown takes its place. She looks into the ground in sorrow before eyeing something off in the distance, before returning her gaze to the love of her death, and acknowledging the truth with a slow nod.
“You know I’ve never dated a ghost before, and I’m not sure I have been clamoring for a long distance relationship,” he says with a chuckle in an attempt to break the sullen moment. The door opens automatically as she places her finger on his lips as he shuts his mouth. Raising his hand to her chin he looks into he deep brown eyes of his dreams and kisses her tender lips. Amazing how everything can change in an instant. Logic, as powerful as it may be is no match for the elixir of love, a raw emotion so powerful that it can transform a scientist into a fool, or turn a man from a preacher into a heretic while under its spell.
Eric was no match for its might. Analytical reasoning and logistical concerns fell by the wayside. Whatever negotiation of terms or formalities were not written or spoken between the two of them, as the two engaged in conversation simply by reading their facial expressions and eyes. Nothing needed to be said.
It was fitting that Eric was a young man of average looks, he was no star athlete and had never been popular, but she was all Emma could ever ask for. For the gorgeous girl next-door looks of Emma, she likewise was no ones idea of a supermodel—-but she was for Eric. That’s the way it goes, and as impossible as love may seem, it is between a man and a woman, there are only two sexes, and it is not as if one must find a match of blood type to find a mate. Had he glanced around Eric may have noticed that Emma was telling the truth when she explained that she did not have a telephone machine, nor was there a television or computer, just a collection of turn of the century wooden furniture and a phonograph record player. So immersed and enamored with Emma he was at that moment, that he would not have noticed a cauldron of buried treasure if it was spilling and spitting gold towards him or raining down from the ceiling upon him, much less a lapse in time. Funny how sometimes nothing else matters.
At some point Eric caught a glimpse of the bright yellow moon outside, as he lead the girl of his dreams outside. Reluctant at first to leave, she gave in and stepped outside with him. She would have gone anywhere with him after all, and the feeling was mutual. It was beautiful outside her home, as her family of farmers had a field that stretched as far as the eye could see. Under the moonlight, it was special.
“I would have thought that you would be cold, cool, icy to the touch, given your ghostly quality?” he asked as he gently caressed and held her hands. As every young man learns, sometimes the best play is to abstain from speaking.
“Being with you has warmed my heart along with my spirit, that is what you are feeling,” she explains as he looks up into his eyes. His reply would prove to be slightly more profound than the last words he had spoken.
“Emma, love does not come from the lines of a poem or from the pages of a storybook of fairy tales. It does not come from the bright glow of the moon lighting up the sky or all of the stars up there shining down into your eyes from heaven. It comes from the way I look deeply into your awe-inspiring eyes and down at your lips, and”...he exclaims as he kisses her so deeply and meaningful that he can taste her soul along with the essence of her restless spirit, one that had waited for years for Eric to come along. Eric could have died right then and there and it would hardly have mattered, for he could live another million years and this moment was never going to be toppled on his list of memories. He clutched her with his arms as he juggled his breathing with what was the more important exercise. The two continued embracing each other, each wanting it to continue forever, with neither wanting the moment to end. In a way, it never would.
At long last it subsided as the two smiled at each other, before continuing to walk in the field holding hands. Eric did not know what he was talking about; he just began to speak, as his former clumsy anxiety had been replaced with a sense of invincibility. Unable to feel a change in sensation along the palm of his hand, no more than a few paces later he looked beside himself and she was gone. Looking back towards the house, down at the ground, up in the distance, and all around, she was nowhere to be found.
“Emma!” he began calling out, baffled about the loss of his girl. Did she disappear on purpose? How could she do this, he thought? Hey you!” a voice boomed from the distance, only this was not the sweet and gentle caress of Emma, rather it was the harsh, shrill tone of a stark raving mad homeowner, none too pleased about a trespasser at this hour of the night.
“Excuse me, sir, have you seen a young lady come through here?” Eric asked in a disheartened and defeated tone.
“I ain’t seein’ nothin,’” the man responded with grammar a dictionary short of mediocrity. “You got trouble?” he asked.
Taking one more glimpse around, the realization dawned upon Eric that Emma was gone. “No, no trouble. We were just playing a flashlight tag game with friends, I apologize for disturbing you and trespassing,” he said as he left the area, holding his head down in shame, not unlike Emma had done when pressed about the current state of her existence. Glancing up at the address of the home, 1432 Badger Rd. had been replaced with 3444 Morrison Rd, and the exterior of the house was clearly remodeled and different from what it had been when he had pulled up earlier.
Eric had endured some long and perplexing drives home from dates in the past, but each of them had paled in comparison to the wrangling that was taking place in his head this time. Would she return to him? Should he return to her? Did she just seek one deep kiss before she was on her way to eternity? It would be just like a woman to pull such a stunt, even in death.
Unable to sleep upon arriving home, Sunday was long and agonizing before the love struck young man indulged in a glass or three of wine and took a nap around five o’clock that evening as the sleep deprivation finally caught up and got the better of him.
As the REM cycle of sleep began playing in his brain, the voice of Emma called out to him, repeating the same statement over and over. “Come back, I cannot leave. Come back, I cannot leave.” Over and over again, like a chorus in an awful yet agonizingly catchy pop tune. The dream began taking shape, as he saw her and embraced her yet again. “Stay with me, we can be together forever,” she whispers in his ears, beckoning him to come be with her by her side. The two share a kiss as the fire returns to the home, flames rolling around the walls and ceiling and turning the house into a cauldron.
He knew what would happen if he stayed behind, and although he was attracted to her beyond words he could not help but decline to follow her, as Emma sadly understood. This experience did feel very dreamlike as he felt as though he were walking backwards out of the house and around the falling embers, as his eyes remained affixed on the girl. Taking a glance at her one last time, he left the yard as smoke exits the specter of the burned house. Looking back, he sees that the house has disappeared into the mist, with only faint clouds of smoke remaining from the rubble. He knows that he is leaving Badger Road for the final time.
This dream was different aside from its sad ending, as it felt almost pre-ordained, fabricated and conceived as if it were a movie preview, a coming attraction for what he could expect to happen if he made the trek up to Badger Road again. A warning, perhaps from Emma, perhaps from his subconscious, it didn’t matter. Eric could not move forward on his life to follow this ghost into the afterlife, if that was indeed what she was asking for. Timing is everything, and this was hardly the time or the place to follow in such fatal footsteps. That being said, the quick dream was in no way a fitting final chapter. Eric had to return and say goodbye once and for all, and he had to do it in person. The majesty of the kiss under the moonlight and stars very well may not have been eligible for duplication, much less improvement, but he needed one last kiss, just as Emma did.
It was about seven o’clock and getting dark by the time Eric had left his apartment to make the final trek into the past and into his heart. The prior evening he ventured up Morrison road wearing shaggy clothes, not expecting to find anything. This time he had showered and was freshly shaken, dressing as well as he possibly could have for the occasion.
There was no still in the air this night, rather a cool breeze that had the trees around him dancing. Other cars made their way down Morrison as a sinking feeling came over him. What if the magic was gone, and that dream was the final goodbye? Such a notion was too painful to imagine, although he accepted the fact that he had to get used to it either for, as the goodbye was coming in the event that he was able to see her once more.
Pulling up to the Morrison Road address, his heart sank as the house of 2008 stared back at him. Lowering his head onto the steering column, Emma’s words returned to him. “Come back, I cannot leave,” they seemed to whisper in the wind, calling out to him to continue his mission. Unsure of whether those words originated in his head or from beyond, he glanced up to find the house just as he had remembered it the first time he set foot on the property. The friendly Badger Road address greeted him, as he smiled and leapt out of the car. Emma was waiting for him as he reached the door.
“You disappeared last night because we went too far outside? You can’t leave your house, is that correct?” he asked as he responded with a nod. “I could live here with you forever, would that not work?” he asked, desperately seeking clarification and resolve as she began retreating back into the home.
“Emma, Emma wait,” he cried out as he followed her inside. “That dream I had this afternoon, did it mean what I think it meant?” he asked as she nodded once more. At that moment Eric knew what was going to happen, he had lived it before, at least in his dream. The final moment was approaching, the last goodbye. He did not understand how all of this worked, nor could he ever fully understand it all. Just how she found him, why she could see him in dreams, but would not be able to do so any longer, her attachment to the house. The rules were not fully clear, and if there were any loopholes he knew not of them. What he did completely understand was that the time was nigh, and he was not going to waste what remained of it by asking any further. This was the end, the final moment that he feared.
“Emma dear, I love you more than anything I have dared love before, but I cannot leave behind my life. There are others there that I love too, family and friends, I may not know much about you aside from our time together but I am sure that you can understand this,” he explained to her as she wrapped her arms around him, looking up at him like a puppy dog, only this girl wanted a kiss.
“I want you to come with me,” she whispered in his ears just as she had in the dream. This moment proved to be the final goodbye as Eric kissed her with all of his might, all of his passion, and all of his heart, a heart that from its very bottom, had produced so much love for the girl that he would have to repay to his aching muscle massive amounts of debt given the loans of emotions it had provided to him.
Kissing her as if a hangman was standing nearby readying the noose and waiting for the end, in a sense Eric knew that such symbolism was very telling of the truth, as the fire began crackling and heating up the interior of the house. The traumatic scene that had once ignited flames of heat while extinguishing the spirit of Emma had ingrained itself on the physical location of 1432 Badger Road and was replaying itself in the fabric of time like a broken record, immersing Eric in it.
For the young and love struck this moment was not the time to conjure up images of tragedy and catastrophe, or similes and metaphors, and despite the scalding temperatures nipping at the skin of Eric, it was no match for the fire burning in his heart.
It was time to go, as Eric followed through on the promise he made to himself to leave behind Badger Road forever. Now was the final goodbye, as the heat increased in tenacity and now began physically burning both Eric and Emma. The time to safely leave the house had passed, as the fire and ceiling fell all around them as they continued to embrace. Leaving her behind forever would be far more painful than any agony a mere fire could inflict, and a life with an insatiable void was far worse than death. Funny what we realize in the heat of the moment.
It was not so bad, and would all be over soon, a formerly heartbreaking ending was receiving a heartwarming reboot, and in its wake would be a new and glorious beginning. Emma’s nightmares had crumbled away in the fire, and the dreams she shared with Eric had now become a reality, as her unfinished business was at last complete. Amazing how a kiss of affection can change even the most steadfast of plans. Timing is everything, even if the timing does not make particular sense at that particular moment under the circumstances. Everything does tend to happen for a reason in life—and sometimes in death.
Blake was dribbling his basketball when he suddenly stopped as he saw Richard going to soccer practice that day. Blake gave a smirk and continued dribbling.
Today was 13-08-2014. Exactly one year since 13-08-2013. Today's date might not have been a special day for anyone in the school. Not even 15 year old Blake . . . remember it and neither could 16 year old Richard remember anything. But today's date was a day that changed Richard's life altogether and perhaps the reason that changed Blake's future.
Richard was never the school jock he was now. He was never the popular kid. In fact he was the shy kid entering adolescence standing in a corner during lunch. Some people would even make fun of him. But all this changed on 13-08-2013. Blake was the same as Richard and lived across the community park near Richard's house.
Richard went to the drinking water fountain after his soccer practice. He drank some water, washed his face and raised up his face to see Blake standing there with a smirk. Richard went up to him, pushed him by the shoulder and said, "I've had it enough, I've seen you stare at me like a million times you freak! What do you want weirdo?". Blake replied, "I know what you did last year Richard, I remember it, and I sure am in no mood to let you forget it." Richard's face went a little pale. "What... What do you know? what are you talking about?", Richard said.
Blake shrug off his shoulders and started walking away and said in a low voice, "let's say I like to take a walk to the community park at midnights". Richard started sweating ,"dude you don't know anything about this, don't tell anyone, who have you talked to about this?", said Richard running after Blake. "Relax, your secret is safe till you keep following my instructions.", Blake said. "What do you mean?"asked Richard. "I own you now, whatever I say you do, you do my homework, make all your cool friends hang out with me, give me a place at your group's lunch table at cafeteria, basically every freaking wish of mine is your command!"
The next few weeks went like hell for Richard. He was made to do Blake's homework, assignments, projects and even mow Blake's backyard. He hardly could meet his friends and whenever he did , he was forced to take Blake along with him.
Then it was prom time. The time that all teenagers had been waiting for. Richard had made special plans for his sweetheart Ginnie. Ginnie was the most beautiful cheerleader of their school and had been dating Richard for the past 4 months. They were truly in love. Richard was planning to hire a Limo for her when he picked up his phone and Blake just called him. "I want to meet you in the community park right now!"
Richard put on a shirt and went to the park. "Well Richard, I'll cut the chase, you know that prom's near right?" said Blake. "yeah! What do you want?" Richard replied. "I don't have any date for the prom.", Blake said. "What do you expect ME to do about it?"- Richard. "So, I want Ginnie to go to the prom with me."- Blake
"Dude you're just crossing the line, She's my girlfriend!! and besides, she will never go out with you in a million years!!", Richard said. "Oh then would she go out with a murderer ?" Blake replied.
It was true, Richard had killed a guy named Johny on 13-08-2013. Johny was his 19 years old bully from the block. He would take advantage of Richard's fears and bully him to do things Richard didn't want to. That particular Johny had asked Richard for his mom's bra and when Richard refused, Johny started beating him up. Richard couldn't take no more and hit Johny on his head with a brick. Johny started crawling to the gates and when Richard saw a car coming by, he pushed Johny towards the road and the car hit Johny running over him completely to result in Johny's death. Richard ran away into the park as fast as he could and made his way home from the fence. The driver told the police that he saw someone pushing the dead guy but no one would believe him as he was drunk driving. The wound on Johny's head was lost from his face being smashed by ramming between the car and a tree.
This day had changed Richard's life forever. When he found out that he had gotten away with the crime, he became more confident, or to say, fearless. Now, he had started being more open to others, started to display his amazing soccer skills and gradually became a popular kid in his school. What he didn't know was that Blake had seen this when he came to let his dog pee at night.
Richard had no option now, he had to convince Ginnie somehow. He forced her to go to the prom with Blake. He was sitting outside the hall where the prom was going on, feeling helpless, just when Ginnie came out crying. She looked at Richard and said, "I'm breaking up with you, I don't want anything to do with you or your perverted friend " Ginnie said.
"What did he do? Richard asked."He cupped me" said Ginnie crying and ran away.
Richard was furious by now. He took Blake to the parking lot and held Blake's collar and asked, How dare you try to score second base with my girlfriend?"
To which Blake replied, " Nothing's yours now Richard. I will have your girlfirend, your friends, hell I'll even have your wife. I own you for life bitch!"
Richard couldn't take it anymore. He was could not run like this for life. He responded with what he would do on being cornered, he became violent and punched Blake on the face knocking his teeth out. Blake could only hear a buzzing sound now and his vision was extremely blurred. He started to run towards a wall and climbed up top. on the other side was a car going out the parking lot being driven by two drunk teenagers. Richard pushed Blake to the other side causing Blake to fall down and the car to crash into Blake and Blake's death.
Richard ran away from the scene and nobody even saw him as he was behind the wall. When Richard woke up the next day, he was anxious to go to school. When he reached school and found out that nobody had seen him, He smiled and went to the gym to change into his soccer clothes.
please tell me if you liked it!!
She sat with her legs spread wide and the smell of her own urine revolted her. She lifted her hand from within the toilet seat and held the white stick out and nearly shook it as if it was one of those paper things with perfume sprayed on it. Music played hard from the flat above and she thought of the . . . raves she had been to: the tablets she had taken. The first time she took E was with a friend, David, and they ended up lying in the communal garden of his flat. It was the middle of June.
‘I’m so hot, I’m roasting, are you hot?’
‘A little, yeah.’ He said.
She took off her top and lay on the grass, the blades tickling her lower back. Her bra felt tight, too tight and she took it off. He had seen it all before, it didn’t really matter and she didn’t think once of the neighbours and their windows with blinds not pulled. The music from the club still ringed in her ears and she wriggled in the grass, dancing to her own tune.
‘When my mum died I thought I’d never see her again, but I don’t know,’ she was saying, writhing in the grass, ‘I think she’s sort of everywhere.’
David didn’t answer and she wasn’t sure if she had spoken the words or simply thought them. It didn’t matter. She lay there thinking of her mother, and how she died too soon. She spoke to her in her mind and answered herself in her mother’s voice.
‘Were you afraid, knowing you would die, knowing that you had never believed in anything?’
‘Of course I was,’ the voice not quite right, too much of her own voice mingled with it, she couldn’t get the slight twang of an English accent into it, ‘but I was more afraid of what I was leaving behind, not what would happen next.’ That was better, the ‘next’ had the right upward inflection, the way her mum would always finish a sentence as if asking a question.
‘Have you ever felt like this mum? So connected in a way that doesn’t even make sense.’
‘Only once Sophie, and that was when I found out I would be a mother, when I found out about you.’ The intonation wasn’t right; she wanted to re-phrase her answer.
‘Only once Soph, when I knew I was pregnant, I felt like I was more important than any other person.’ It wasn’t right, she was thinking, her mother would never say that, but it would have to do, there were too many questions she had to have answered.
‘What should I do mum? I feel I have no purpose, no drive anymore!’
‘Don’t be silly Soph,’ that was it, that’s what she would say, ‘you’re only twenty-one, nobody is supposed to know what they want to do at twenty-one.’
‘I know mum, but I just feel so useless, you know.’
‘You could never be useless! Where’s all this coming from, this isn’t you.’
‘I know. I just can’t seem to shake it you know, I’m turning into one of those self pitying twats.’
‘You better not be, remember Aunt Jane and how we would laugh at her, kicking each other under the table. This isn’t you Soph, tomorrow everything will be better, you’ll see.’
‘I miss you so much, you know that right, and you know how much I...’
‘Sophie, stop. You don’t need to tell me and I don’t need to tell you. Now I think we should get off the grass and head inside.’
‘Soph, come on it’s getting fucking cold and your tits are on display, I’m heading in let’s go.’
‘Yes, you complete twat, who else?’
‘Don’t call me that!’ She picked up her bra and t-shirt and headed inside and not long after blinds in windows closed shut.
How long had it been? It seemed like more than two minutes had passed but nothing had appeared, she looked at the two empty spaces on the test and waited. She tried not to think of what she would do if that little blue line appeared, how a future would change through one thin line, or there would be no blue line and no change and she couldn’t think of which outcome was worse.
She looked in the mirror and tried to find her eyes in the reflection, stared at her ears, one with a sharp corner and the other as round as an o. A tiny scar above her left eyebrow always made her look like she had made a mistake plucking the hairs away. Her mouth was wide and she had soft lips and they spoke to her through the glass.
‘You whore. You liked it didn’t you,’ the reflection tied her hair in a tight pony tail, ‘running off finding sympathy when you were the one who wanted it, asked for it.’
She didn’t answer but looked beyond the image of herself and onto the shower in the background. The shower that needed cleaning, the shower that still had blood and dirt trapped at the plughole.
‘Hey sexy!’ His voice was rough and had a twang to it that made her turn around. He was tall and broad and seemed to cast a shadow over her. She was drunk and flirtatious and hadn’t been fucked in weeks.
‘Hey yourself,’ she said with a wink. Not really knowing what that meant but too drunk to really care. Tequila made her flirt.
‘Can I get you a drink?’
He sat next to her and put his hand on the inside of her leg and she let him, and he moved it slowly up and back down, each time getting higher, and she let him, and soon his fingers were inside her and she let him, she let him use three fingers and she let him make it obvious that he was finger fucking her in the middle of a crowded bar.
‘Let’s get out of here?’ he said as he pulled his fingers sharply from inside her.
She walked behind him and she stumbled in her heels and her knickers were wet with what he had done and she felt like thunder or lightning and she watched how he walked, as if each step was important. She guessed his name was Nathan, named after his grandfather who he had never met. She thought he was proud of his name and his footsteps that she followed without question. He worked when he wanted, she thought, he did what he wanted, she thought, I want him inside me, she thought.
He walked on the outskirts of the park but didn’t enter. He stopped and climbed a wall and he reached down and pulled her up and his face never changed. He helped her down from the wall, letting her drop at the last second and he jumped down and pushed her to the grass.
‘Take your underwear off.’
He unbuckled his belt and took his pants off completely and his penis curved at the top and she went to grab it but he pushed her to the grass and turned her over. She saw that he had the most piercing blue eyes she had ever seen and then she was facing the grass. He spat on his dick and then was inside her. It hurt and she tried to tell him to slow down but he pushed her face hard into the grass and she could taste it in her mouth and she could feel him in his stomach. She felt like she was bleeding and she tried not to care. He took himself out and put it in her asshole and he rammed it further and further in and she screamed into the grass and her eyes filled up with something like tears.
Nathan, she was saying, Nathan I like it when your rough! Role play was always her favourite. The kids were at home, she thought, all was well, and they were ten years together. He spread her legs and she could feel everything widening but trying to tighten.
‘I knew you were a whore the moment I saw you!’ and he bit her shoulder hard until he drew blood and he spat in her hair.
She tried to squeeze in and push out. Nathan, she thought, you won’t be getting breakfast in bed tomorrow. She didn’t know she was screaming.
‘Shut up you fucking whore or I’ll make this really hurt.’
He had his best performance on tonight. She thought of them coming there on their first date after meeting in her favourite bar. How they walked arm in arm together and he told her this was his favourite spot in the whole city. She thought of how every time she walked past it she thought of his eyes and delicate smile.
She was crying and she tried to smile at her lover but she couldn’t. His face was rough. He hadn’t shaved in days and she thought she would have to make him before work on Monday morning.
‘I love you Nathan.’ She smiled.
He slapped her across the face and thrust one last time and then pulled out sharply. He put on his pants and buckled his belt on a loose notch and began to walk away.
‘Nathan, where are you going? Nathan!’
‘You’re some crazy bitch!’ He climbed the wall and she saw his head fall behind the wall and she cried and she reached between her legs and there was shit and blood all over them.
She was crying and her reflection was smiling. A wide smile, unlike her own and her hair was tied tight, and she screamed at her.
‘You fucking whore!’
She didn’t look at the test. She didn’t want to, not yet, although it would be ready. It would be the most accurate of fortune tellers. Instead she decided to turn on the shower and let it run. She was still sore and she had a bite mark on her shoulder that she couldn’t stop touching and rubbing and smiling to herself. Bad boy Nathan, she thought. She laughed at herself and turned to the mirror while the shower washed away the mementos. It was fogging up and her face was changing through the fog. Changing into something she thought she could like one day, something others would smile at and say, what a pretty face you have, and she would blush and say thank you, thank you that’s very kind of you. A face a mother would have; a face of experience. I always knew you’d be beautiful, she said, even as a child I knew you’d be beautiful. She smiled a wide smile and the mirror fogged up completely and she slowly placed her finger on the condensation.
She left the bathroom and went to make tea.
‘Anyone want a cup of tea?’ she screamed, no answer.
They must all be out, she thought, and Nathan would surely be back soon so she decided to make two cups, just in case he fancied one when coming in from work. She let the water boil and watched it. She took two cups from the cupboard and left them on the counter. The kettle boiled but there was still a hissing sound and she walked to the bathroom and the shower was on. She tutted and said aloud, damn kids, and she laughed a little chuckle out loud. She went in and on the mirror was written ‘whore’.
He knows, she thought, Nathan knows everything. She rubbed it off quickly and sat on the toilet to think of how best to explain. She looked at the mirror again and there was nothing there. She turned off the shower. She picked up the pregnancy test and saw the blue line stretch out among the white. This will cheer him up she thought, this will make Nathan happy.
She threw it into the bin and rubbed her shoulder.
We met at a bright bar. She was wearing the kind of dress that told me she loved being beautiful. Though we’d spoken in a few text messages, we knew very little of each other. She told me she’d ‘stalked’ me - the sinister vocabulary of the social media generation. We went on to ‘rape’ each other frequently. After a . . . while, on ethical grounds, we agreed to change the term to ‘hijack’. Not a whole lot better really, in hindsight.
Not many nights later, we were entwined, embracing in spite of everything: in spite of the distance, in spite of the heat and in spite of the darkness. To spite the darkness.
There were to be lighter times, too; the weight we respectively bore became distributed between us. ‘We get to carry each other’, I painted on a square canvas splattered in colour, after we’d known each other a couple of years. She displayed it in her room, and hid it under her bed every time I dropped her. Which was often, at that time.
Though obscurity often muddied our love, the romance was rife. I made us a soundtrack, so we could construct our narrative around Chet Baker, Nina Simone… Sometimes she accused me of pretension, but I knew my coy romanticism was part of the appeal. So I kept it up.
At the beginning, I’m not sure if I was a good friend, or even a good lover. Later, as I stood to lose her, I knew I was a fantastic fuck, and an undoubtedly terrible friend. I’ve never been sure when our entwinement grew roots so deep that it could be called ‘love’. On days when I was feeling lighter and stronger, able to carry her, I told her that my entrancement in that bright bar was the beginning. On darker days, I told her that I didn’t know anything.
We began writing to each other, although we were sleeping together every night. For her birthday I wrote her a story to go with our soundtrack. She cried as I read it to her, one chapter for every song. I had written a beautiful story – a kind of medley of Romeo and Juliet and a Woody Allen film.
I can still see just enough. I see that I’m lucky she’s still here; I see that part of me resents her for not leaving. I can even still see the light, sometimes. And there’s no doubt that we had light. Light enough to flourish. The first postcard she sent me from the other side of the bed, said: ‘Let it Grow’.
Now, there’s just enough light to survive. ‘It’s not dark yet,’ Dylan assures us on the last track.
Love the driving force that binds two souls through its dark embrace.
A force that takes hold beyond known measure and when the being that created that spark passes on wheat you to do?
That perfection is missing from your soul as the second half of you has gone, you stare into an emptiness that is deep within you that . . . you do not understand and there is only one thing that can sure it.
You begin the search looking for that sensation to bring back the then link that brought you together, but it obtainable with another, so there is only one way forwards, to look to the forgotten past.
In the dark recesses of the human psyche knowledge was once found, knowledge over life and death, the transcendence of the two forms.
What fuel can power such a dark method of uniting the lost than that of love? The emotion that can transcend space and time by seeing the imagery of a person of the past can ignited the strongest longing.
Looking into ancient tomes and that may bear fruit to reunite, searching and scribing, always fuelled by the dark desire of being reunited but not within death, within life, life eternal, life returned.
Love brings people together and love's the driving force pulling them together, holding them together through the ether.
The gaping hole of loss drowns out the words of caution and a night with the desire of love lost returned to flesh, the oldest of acts is performed, and a desire created.
Imperfect was the physical result but the spiritual reunion is once more.
The lovers returned to flesh together through darkest necromancy, together forever, in festering corpses, blinded by loves power to flaws, reunited once more, joined spirits hence forth.
I am a slave to my own heartbeat as the darkness behind my eyes vibrates. The rain plays a dolled-up symphony behind my curtains. The trees scream their refusals at the lights of the city and the lights stare back, dumbstruck. Sometimes, the road across the street opens its talons and invites me to come play with its . . . painted white lines.
It was a Sunday evening she went. It would have been easier if she hadn't said goodbye – for now the memory of her walking away is forever ingrained in my memory. If only she had left without a trace – disappeared – wiped away any memory of her from my home, from my head. Taken the photographs and the empty mascara tubes with her.
When we'd finished, I could barely remember her name – now I scrawl it on bus stop walls and office desks as though it is my aphorism for life. As though somebody will see it, and refer me to her.
I have lost her, and I am forever searching for her. Searching down the back of the settee, behind the microwave, on top of the fridge in the back room. As though I will grasp a finger or a hand and be able to pull her back into my world.
I move, now, from office to office, from job to job. I'm not looking for anything – something is looking for me. Now that Longing has been let into my life, he stands in the corner of my bedroom with his hood up and his knife out, waiting to carve a letter into my gut, waiting to gouge streams of stop-lights into my arms. Longing's scent is the perfume all the girls buy. Longing's taste is every lip-gloss. Lonn-gihng.
The idea is what I miss. Not her. Not her frog-like face or her slight double chin. Not her constant reminder of my inferiority. Just her concept – her ideology.
Now exists a process of iconoclasm. Though I attempt to bring her back, attempt to reassemble what she stood for, I must destroy her. Must destroy Veritas.
She was no tarnished magnum opus; rather, the tarnish on the piece. She was the breeze shaking the curtains; the muddy footprints rather than the floor; the strap holding the cup.
Did my daughter know? Of course my daughter knew. How could she not? She was too old to be naïve and too young to be fooled by my untruths. She used to gaze at me with Nero eyes – eyes which glazed with the knowledge of thousands of years of torture and pain, pain which she caused, eyes evolved through a world of outré fantasies and daisy-chained dreamers, eyes of the blessed. Eyes, more than anything, of love.
When she was a child, she used to adore me. Adore me more than anything – more than the heart-shaped necklace her mother bought her, more than the warmth of her mother's milk. And her mother was jealous. It was obvious. The ends of her thumbs would stain yellow with envy and her teeth rotted out of her no-good head. The red marks in the creases of her arms taught me all I know about jealousy. And their subsequent absence – that teaches me all I need to know about love.
I relish the cherry-juice-stain on my trousers.
I first met Charles Goffman in the spring of 1984 when I attended a guest lecture he was giving on Neurochemistry at the University of Manchester. Even then, at 27, he exuded an intellectual maturity far outweighing his years or indeed status within the scientific community. A few years later, when the opportunity . . . arose to work on an experimental research project he was heading titled 'A biological basis for love' I abandoned my life in England and set off for America.
I was a mere boy, barely into my twenties, whereas Charles was already doing battle with heavyweight scientists, politicians and philosophers of the time. Throughout most of those early months at 'Goffman Bio-Solutions' I kept my head down and diligently turned in report after report. Interns didn’t work directly under Charles however he would occasionally sweep through our lab like a force of nature and leave me feeling somewhere between excited and nauseous.
Although it was science that catapulted us into the same sphere it was poetry that brought us together. When I discovered that Charles regularly frequented poetry evenings at Berkeley, I railed against my social anxiety and went along.
At each event there were about 30 people and I believe me and Charles were the only two with no background in the arts. The de facto president of the club was a floppy haired, cravat wearing 'wordsmith' called Sebastian. The club members, even Sebastian's colleagues, didn't come to see him reinforce negative stereotypes, they came to see Charles and listen to his meditations on everything from Shakespeare to the mind-body problem.
He was a straightforward man and both his poetry, and his favorite poets, reflected this fact. Charles read Bukowski, Hemingway and Frost. He loved masculine writers that explored man's relationship with the natural world, yet he firmly believed flowers should stay in the ground and remain out of prose. I myself was not impartial to melodrama. At the time I was a big fan of Joy Division as well as the melancholic musings of Morrissey.
However, my affection for these artists did not compare to the love I had for Edgar Allan Poe. Although Poe has been credited with creating the gothic genre, I feel a lot of his work has been misrepresented as morbid. If anything I believe it to be life-affirming.
The moment eventually came when I had to give a reading to the others. It was out of the question I would compose anything myself; I was far too shy. I knew it had to be Poe's sonnet on Science. I just prayed Charles would view the great man the same as I.
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
I cannot remember directly reading the words themselves, it was though my fragile conscious departed from my physical self. I floated above the room watching myself speak, as if in a dream.
I was lauded by Charles for picking an oft forgotten classic that was as relevant then as the day it was written. As I'd hoped, the words of Poe had forged a silent unbreakable bond that would last until this day, the day of his death.
Over the next few months we became confidants, friends and then soul mates. To say I loved Charles would be a gross understatement. His charisma so overwhelmed me it was more akin to a worshipping on my part. Can one be in love with their God?
Charles decided it was a good idea to keep our relationship a secret. The world was not as tolerant then as it is now and he thought our circumstances would be ammunition for the ever growing list of people who were trying to halt his work. I have no doubt now that Charles was ashamed of his homosexuality. A childhood spent in forties Wyoming cast shadows into an adult life that no amount of enlightenment seemed able to elucidate.
Those were the best days of my life and for a number of years, I believe his too. In the early nineties the research project made a series of breakthroughs in our understanding of the production and regulation of the hormones Dopamine and Oxytocin. It was ironic that our own love blossomed in a time when we were unravelling the chemical codes that it comprised of.
There was no cataclysmic event that precipitated the decline of our relationship. The man I knew in those early days at Berkeley began to slowly change. He grew less affectionate, not just toward me, but people in general. He was far less willing to engage in debates about philosophy, literary theory or humanism. It was as if he began viewing the brain as a computer and people as machines. His study, once littered with classic works of art, of couplets and stanzas, of words that were more than letters, gone. In their place textbook after textbook, anatomical diagrams and chemical equations, the cold dead language of Science.
I tried my best to bring him back. I called old friends, even Sebastian whom I knew he disliked, but at least thought would stir up some emotion in him. I organised excursions to the great European capitals. We went on tour after tour of the worlds finest art museums. It was all to no avail. Some part of Charles had died, in his desire to understand the biology of man, he'd negated the part of us which is divine. Poe had been right.
I had one last hope: poetry. It was our own language, a tendril to a higher power and the only thing powerful enough to stop the ossification of his mind. But it wouldn’t do this time to parrot the words of others, I would write my own poem:
Love! thou tentacles wrapped around my heart
Tangled in your web, my mind unspun
The affection I feel tearing me apart
How did I get so far from where I begun?
Deep In my mind you planted a seed
Shoots filling the cracks in my psyche
What was once a flower is now a weed
Hades hath gone and replaced Aphrodite
I know what's happening in my brain
From where the torment comes and how it begins
But there is Naught that can assuage the pain
As my neurons drown In oxytocin
Here it is, my final hypothesis
I'll never break free, your love is an octopus
I delivered the poem to Charles and took a sabbatical from work. I wanted to give him some time to consider what his life would be like without me in it. I went back to England and set about building bridges that I'd razed to the ground all those years earlier when I'd absconded to the States. Six months after my departure Charles called to say that he needed to speak to me. He had an urgency and passion in his voice I'd seldom heard in the previous decade. I arrived back on the next flight and immediately went to see him.
'You've done it, you've changed everything!' He placed his large hands on my shoulders and peered at me with his mahogany brown eyes.
I stared up at Charles and then began to weep into his broad chest. 'I knew it Charles, I knew you weren't gone. It's ok. We can go back. The music and the dancing and the poems... the poems, Charles!'
'I don’t think you understand,' I felt him flinch and then draw back out of my grasp.
He reached for the mouse on his desk and opened a presentation that he had prepared for the rest of the faculty.
'Imagine,' he said, 'Imagine if we could show that love is just a construct. A function of the body as inducible as blinking or salivation.'
'But Charles,' I walked back towards him, ' How can you say...'
'It was you, it was you', he took me in his arms again, ' The Octopus, The Octopus of Love.'
I felt a pang of dread reverberate through me.
'It has changed everything,… it will change everything... look he reached down again and started scrolling through the pages. Cephalopod research is an untapped resource... and there are no testing bans... these creatures have developed their own unique intelligence over the last one billion years. They have the same ability as mammals, to formulate both short and long term memories.'
'I don’t... I don’t.' I felt myself getting light headed.
'They are strictly asocial creatures, psychopathic cannibals,' he continued ' not like us or dogs or cats. Their behavior shows no markers of kinship... Although its early I believe we can induce in these aliens a state of love. We can show that love is merely a chemical compound.'
'But that wasn’t what I was trying to say! This, this is immoral.'
Charles shook his head. 'We have unlocked the chemical codes of affection and attraction... God is love... We Are God!'
A video appeared on the screen of a squid shooting ink into a rough approximation of a heart. Charles continued to talk but I didn’t listen, I couldn’t. My temples began to throb as though the blood inside my body was too thick for my veins. For a moment the world turned black around me and then I was back in the place I'd been 30 years earlier at the poetry reading, outside my own head, an onlooker floating above us.
The doppelganger in the office proceeded to pick up a heavy desk ornament and cave Charles' skull in. He collapsed to the floor, dead.
A lot will be written about me and Charles in the coming years. He will be eulogised as a genius and rightly so, I will be condemned a madman, and perhaps so too this is justified. My time is running out so I will not speculate any further on this.
Each man kills the thing he loves, I know that I cannot live in the world that Charles set out to create and so too I cannot live in a world without him.
My life has been a dream within a dream, a poem within a poem.
This is my confession.
It was the night he was taken away from me.
There he was, naked, lying on the bed, his bones seemed to be ripping off the skin, his pale soft skin. It was a vision of death, of sickness, or maybe regret.
Killer - they wrote on the walls.
I was sitting over our bedroom desk, having a smoke and gazing through the . . . curtains. I couldn't sleep.
The night was colored by tones of red and orange, the colors of a city that never takes a rest, that is always watching, always watching you.
I knew I was waiting, somehow.
I never liked his ways. I never loved him truly. He seemed to me like an adventure of a girl that had to much time on her hands, but in that moment, that particular hour that I could not sleep, or let myself sleep, I looked at him and I saw the man that I loved. Somehow, somewhere along the way I started loving him.
Nietzsche said that one must be careful when looking at the abyss, because the abyss can look back at you. Loving him was like this, but that night the monster was sleeping and I was guarding.
The cigarette smoke floated around, the house was quiet, the floor outside was shaking, I could hear the sound of everything getting closer, of my fate changing, of my heart breaking.
The sirens echoed in our street like a thunder, I shed a tear. He woke up and looked at me, terrified, terrified of me being so calm, so aware, so quiet.
They broke the door, flashlights. Everybody down. I kept smoking my cigarette. There it was - the abyss staring at me - those blue eyes - my baby, my vile reckless child was gone.
Love is like a paraselene. A moon dog. You can't always see it, you don't always feel its presence, but it's always there. Gravity pulls it close to the moon which represents the soul, and the minute you see it, the second you feel its presence, it shines brighter than anything ever has before.
People generalise the . . . symptoms of love to the cliche of what happens in movies. Butterflies gliding around your gut, sparks flying when a lover walks by, wishful thinking and possibly even sex. Yet are they aware of the deeper, darker expressions that are surreptitiously part of the deal of falling in love, the sad, tear droplets that beat in the heart to the sound of the soul? Being in love, truly in love, means opening up your innocent little heart and handing it over to someone who will either hold it, or drop it. It means lying in bed awake at 4:56am mentally exploring the galaxies in his eyes, or kissing her forehead hoping to free her soul, it means letting him plant flowers in your lungs and embracing on the cold floor whilst they grow. Someday, they'll blossom into roses and although they're beautiful sometimes they wilt and you forget how to breathe.
All in all, love isn't just a feeling. It isn't the reason for the purple hickey on your neck. It's not even a drug, because although addictive drugs can be combatted. No. Instead, love is oxygen. Love is billions of tiny particles in the air colliding into each other, sucked in by human life. Species crave love like they crave oxygen. Without it, we suffocate and we die.
love! Is the key to life and opens your heart to another personand if youjizz don't know if you love then you might need a booster. It is like a youtube cupid floating down for me the gates of heaven. Is staring you in the face and you don't even know it. You know i was there. You could be staring it lightens face . . . darts. Love! Is your heart and soul if you can't find it then you might need someone to guide you in the direction. Later in life you will find it and use heelys settle down and whatever. Honestly love is like a reward it is a feeling it's your whole life. You might be best friends auto electrical workers work with each other. Love is a part of your life and you can't kick it out everyone needs a bit of love. Make the right decision a couple lessons. Make the right choice.
Love is the ultimate adrenaline rush.
It is also one of humanities greatest achievements, humans live for it they would die for it. You would not die for someone if you were content or upset with them, so why if you loved them. The answer is simple, it is because love is the same as tea.
Yes, tea. When you first . . . begin to fall in love the water begins to boil. As you pour the water into your flowery tea cup and place the tea bag in it the soft color of the tea begins to seep through the cup just like the beginning of the relationship where their personality begins to show.
As you wait the soft aroma of the tea begins to waft into your nostrils and you remember them: the way the corners of their lips curve up into a crooked smile, the way their eyes light up was they look up at you, the way their arms wrap around you as their body curves to yours.
You drop in two sugar cubes because you like your tea sweet, just like you like their voice. As you stir your tea with your fancy silver spoon you watch the colours swirl around and melt the sugar. You wonder if they like you just as much and think you’re sweet for baking them cookies or cake or muffins.
You like milk in your tea, though not all people do, it settles to the bottom of the cup until you continue to stir it. It is at this point where all can go wrong, all love stories reach this point. It is a point where you are unsure whether to continue, whether you truly love this person.
You decide to continue but place your cup on a saucer in case anything goes wrong, what if they become dissatisfied with you? What if you’re not enough to make them happy? You take the cup but it spills because your hand is shaking ever so slightly, the saucer catches it and you’re pleased you thought to put it there.
There is that one moment, when you take the first sip, when you know you made the perfect cup of tea. It is in that moment that you know it was fate. This was meant to happen, it was inevitable, you had to be with them or else you would go mad.
Everything is utter bliss, every moment with them is like diving off a plane, swimming with a shark, catching the perfect wave, taking the perfect picture: everything is in that moment.
This cannot last forever for even the warmest of teas grows cold eventually; the true test is being able to drink the tea even when it’s cold. But you simply cannot and soon enough you forget about it and find a different cup but you cannot go of that golden flowery one because the cup was so perfect and so you find a way to destroy it. Maybe not on purpose but one day you tire of seeing it and snap, you become:
Mad as a Hatter.
The cup is clashed and clingled until it shatters spilling all the tea everywhere. You find new ones and repeat the process until all is a giant array of broken pieces and cold tea. You simply cannot stop, you need to try them all maybe then will you truly have the perfect cup. It is impossible for you live not for the end result but for the process, your hands are cut by delicate porcelain pieces and you bleed everywhere yet you cannot stop craving for it. It makes you feel alive, wanted, craved and no matter how many times your cup shatters you will continue hunting for new ones.
It makes you crazy.
I was crazily in love with a girl at school. I went to ask her for a valentines day dance but she said the John had already asked her. He was my best friend. I walked into the podigious halls which majestically curved and slanted. The fire was roaring like a fire bursting out into the blue to catch a prey. My best . . . friend was also in love with this girl. He seemed like he was winning her as they lent over to kiss each other. For me this was heart-breaking so I pulled a prank on him and puled down his trousers. Everyone looked at him and laughed at him we then got into a massive argument. "I love her more" He said, I was outraged and yelled "You stole my girl, I hate you so much". We went on like this for at least 5 minutes and then we realized that it already had 500,000 views on you tube and my crush had left.
She never talked to either of us again and me and John made up but we were still bullied so much.
By Ethan McEwen
Love..... as defined is " A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another." Love is much more than that. It can not be defined, it must be felt in a way words can not describe. It consumes you, slowly taking over you. You can fall in love, meaning you plummet in to a state where all you can think is that person. . . . And in an instant they become your world. Love is complication and destruction but also care and respect. It may break you, only to rebuild you and break you again and again. But without it you have no trust, no compassion, no other feeling. Love plays in to all the other feelings too. Anger, happiness, sadness..... because in order to feel that way you must have some sort of care for what lead you to feel that way. If you love something, it makes you happy and it's loss would devastate you, it's controversy would anger you. We need to feel, to strive, to have something to look forward to. Love may hurt because it isn't perfect but it's wonders are perfect to us.
What a horrible way to wake up, with a mind splitting headache, I stretch my arms over my head and begin to walk through the the bathroom to get some sort of drug to try and remove it. I must be really tired as it seems to take forever before my shoulder brushes the door frame and I drag my weary body across the . . . room.
It's when I open my eyes properly that things seem a little strange. I'm looking up at the sink, did I crawl through? I go to stand up but very wobbly I get up and make it only part way up the stand. What the...
"There you are kitty I wondered where you'd got to?" a voice spoke behind my, it was a young woman's voice, did I go out last night? Would explain the headache but I've never been that drunk not to remember leaving the house.
I look round, and then look up. They are huge while I am laying on the floor, they look down and smile, and my mind goes blank.
"What's the matter kitty?" she says, and its me, how am I looking at me? They, I, bend down and put there hands under my armpits. My arms lock forward and the pick me up, I kick my legs to get out of the grip but it didn't help. I, they, it, begin to rub there cheek against mine. They then turned me to the mirror and I saw..
"Don't you look better like this, a cuddly little kitty. Well I arrived here as this lost stray cat as someone can't perform a summoning properly and it's time I made my way up the food chain. But first I think it's time you understand what it's like to be a little kitty to a deranged person."
She carried me through to the bedroom, hands tucked under me to keep me from running.
"Now you're a cat, you have a fur coat, and you keep the heating up nice and high. So I know, lets put you in a cute little knitted tank top?" She pulled it down from the shelf and yanked it over my head and pulled my arms through the sleeve, I hand no strength against her.
"Is that nice, can you feel yourself heating up? Well I haven't finished, lets see, we have eating the same food everyday, morning and night. more out fit changes, oh and my personal favourite a trip to the vet. Don't worry I'll make sure they take your temperature"
The smile was inhuman on a human face and I realised that now that I was going to have to suffer the indignations I put on my cat, but how was I supposed to know there was a sentient, vengeful demon within?
I finally did it, I had collected 70 tokens from my cornflakes, eating them morning, noon and night for the past 6 months. I don't think I could eat any more flakes of corn if someone paid me a million pounds. But the prize would be worth it. 70 tokens and a hundred pounds for a night with the Prime Minister.
My . . . friends all questioned why I went to such an effort, what difference would one night make? They didn't know that in between munching bowls of flakes I had been learning hypnotherapy. I had plenty of time to read as I had saved so much time by not cooking. I had even practised on a few friends and they had no idea. Some of the antics I had made them perform were hilarious.
I walked to the postbox with a spring in my step. This time next month I would be sat opposite the most powerful man in the country. He wouldn't even know that between smalltalk I would be working my way into his weasly mind. Between now and then I had to decide what I would do with him, what was the most important thing, not just for me but for the country?
I was tempted to get him to reveal the truth about conspiracy theories, did aliens really exist? Or to give everyone an extra week's holiday. My favourite idea was to get him to sack all other politicians and hire my mum, the wisest person I know. However, there would likely be a rebellion and someone might discover what I had done.
I had to be more subtle. Mail order power, it was at my fingertips and I had the ultimate plan. I would embed a code word in his mind, maybe after cheese and biscuits and everytime I uttered that word the Prime Minister would be forced to do whatever I said. I just needed to maintain access with him. I could be very charming when I wanted to be and so I would find a way for him to keep in touch. Perhaps through my charity work, he could be our new sponsor, it would help his campaign.
The possibilities were endless, thanks to a few sticky tokens, a few golden flakes and my powerful mind.
'I have cured cancer!' The Frenchman peered at me through semi-drunken eyes.
It was commonplace to get talking to eccentric travelers in the guesthouses of Northern Thailand. Crazy people have passports too and often they're a lot more inclined to use them.
'The plants are key, mon ami,' he continued, raising his glass . . . toward a bamboo tree on the bar beside us.
He had the look of a man that may have been dashing 30 years ago before a love of his country's cuisine had taken its toll and rendered him perpetually one croissant away from a coronary.
'I don’t understand,' I turned the bar stool trying to put some distance between us.
He looked off into the distance, his train of thought jumping the tracks, ' I don’t noh who the sick bastard was that had de gall to call this liqweed wine,' he swilled the clear contents of his glass, 'wine ees made of grapes, not fucking rice.'
I smiled politely and shuffled a little further away.
'You see, mon ami, we are all but light and dark, reaction and counter reaction, yin and yang they call it in dis part of the world,' he paused, 'even time, yes time...' the alcoholic fog in his eyes seemed to lift momentarily, 'I realised when I took Ayahuasca... Time is, how you say, malleable. Our senses betray us. Showing us reality as it was. Like a satellite delay... When you swallow the Ayahuasca you are frozen in the present.
I still wasn’t fully aware of what the Frenchman was talking about but he had a certain charisma that was difficult to ignore.
'I'm really only qualified to talk about it from a biologique perspective... I know that every virus has an antidote and it is mother nature who has the answer... Oui!Oui! Oui!' He waved a stubby forefinger in the air, 'she is a devious bitch alright, hiding her answers in the deepest oceans and darkest jungles.'
Without warning he grabbed his leg and slammed a colossal foot down on the bar.
'Look!' He pointed at his bare calve.
There was a melanoma about three inches by two. One half was black and decaying, the other a dark brown.
'Two months ago they were identical. Now one piece is frozen in time,' he gestured at the less rotten half, 'it has gone forward in time to the present. Perpetual present.'
'So you're saying you know how to reverse aging?'
His red eyes lit up like rubies, 'that is the question, maybes enough medicine and It does.'
He knocked back the rest of his rice wine and seemed to sag in his chair. 'I've found the plant mon amis. The leaves brushed my leg clean.' His eyes were beginning to close and his hulking chest flopped across the bar.
I finished my drink and with great difficulty helped the Frenchman back to his room. It was a strange meeting the likes of which I didn’t think would be repeated anytime soon...
…Until the knock on the door came the next morning.
'Time to go, mon ami!'
Still to this day I don’t know why I went with him. Perhaps it was because the promise of adventure coincided with the ethos of 'travelling'. Deep down though I think I was under the Frenchman's spell. He had that indefinable quality that makes the logical seem redundant and the irrational plausible.
We took off in his jeep. He was as crazy sober as he was drunk- at least I assumed he was sober. He talked more than he had the previous night as we careered down one lane roads at twice the speed limit. Soon these roads became dirt tracks and then little more than intermittent gaps in the bush. I reasoned we weren't far from the Burmese border and my suspicions proved correct when we disembarked.
'Big trouble,' the Frenchman grinned, 'the government don’t allow people here, it don’t matter though, the government don’t think people want to come here.'
It was easy to see why, we were entombed in tropical foliage. The mosquitos were like bats, the bats were like birds, the birds looked too heavy to fly. We walked further and further into the wilderness, the Frenchman scything great swathes of jungle away with his machete.
The humidity was unbearable but still the Frenchman ploughed on seemingly unaffected and still persisting with his monologue: 'Destruction will become creation!'
After an hours trek we came upon a clearing. The Frenchman pointed to a spot on the floor and with surprising grace crept towards it as if approaching an animal he didn’t want to frighten. He leant down and brushed away some grass revealing a plant.
It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. The leaves shimmered with phosphorescent blues, greens, purples, pinks- every colour imaginable blinking and changing.
'This is fucking unbelievable' I said, bending down to pick one of the flowers.
'Noh. Don’t.' The Frenchman stopped me. 'As soon as they picked they lose their power.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of dead leaves. 'It must come straight from the source.'
He knelt down on his hands and knees and for a moment it struck me as vaguely comical. 'What are you doing?' I said.
'The cancer, mon ami, it is in my bones too...'
He reached forward with his teeth and took a bite from the plant quickly swallowing the leaves. He rolled over onto his back looking up at me. His face dropped, his eyes were all pupil.
'Mon ami, I can see the future.'
I knelt down beside him and looked closer. In the blacks of his pupils there were millions of small explosions like distantly observed supernovas.
'I have made a terrible mistake.' He said. His voice had changed, it was weaker, more gravelly, and with an undercurrent of fear.
'What are you talking about?' I grabbed his hand.
'I thought I would go back. But of course not. It is like the Ayahuasca. We go forward in time to the present. We came from the past. The opposite is the future.'
I looked down at his leg where the lighter side of the melanoma was turning a jet black. And then his whole body began to change. It was as though someone had set the pages of a flipbook into motion. In ten seconds he'd aged twenty years and then he was gone, dust drifting into the canopy of the Burmese jungle.
Sunshine poured through the open window, encapsulating everything in her surroundings with a light golden glow. She rolled over, groaning as her eyes opened to the beautiful day. In the distance, she could see the city had already awoken.
'Matt,' she poked her husband harder than she intended, 'Matt, wake up.'
She knew . . . it was his day off but it was her morning to lie in. She also knew that at any moment her train of thought would be cut -
'Mommy!' the screams echoed through the house along with the gentle thud of four feet against the hardwood floors.
Matt rolled over, his eyes aglow with trickery. As far as the girls were aware their father was fast asleep and Mommy was the only adult capable of making them their favorite breakfast.
Little did Matt know, the joke was all on him. Other than the man lying in her bed, whose clothes hung in her closet, whose toothbrush sat by hers on the sink, Olive's beautiful daughters were the only people she would happily get out of bed for.
'Come on then you terrors, breakfast time! Mommy's gotta head to work at five.' she slipped on her robe as the tiny blonde angels began to jump up and down on the bed, waking their father who was too busy watching the woman he loved look her absolute best in the glimmering morning sunlight.
Olive Conrad was a young mum. A time-line of bizarre events and chilling coincidences led to the career criminal falling in love, starting a family and giving up the day job to become a full-time mom. Of course, those events would also lead to the events of that beautiful morning and the chance that changed her world.
Five years earlier, Olive stared blankly at the mess on the brand new flooring she'd just had fitted. Her office was a disaster site. She'd have rather had The Big One crumble the place to dust, at least then she could get the clean up on the insurance. Now she had to call in Ignacio to deal with the blood staining the wood.
'I can't believe this has happened again,' she lied. She knew it was going to happy again the moment Chapo walked through her door.
With his huge figure, square jaw and pristine suit, Chapo intimidated everyone in the office. Everyone except for Olive. Now, he stood staring at her with his dead eyes.
'Why do you bother bringing them in? I know who they are Chapo. I get it, I should ask your permission before I defend the lives of my employees from your stupid brother and his stupid, addicted, smackhead henchmen, right?' She spat, the venom filling the room with a haze of rage.
Chapo stood looking at his protege, wondering why it had to be a woman that made such an imprint on him. Why did it have to be a woman that could carry out the most brutal of acts? When men did this sort of thing he would laugh, he'd give them a bonus and send them on their way. When women did it, he suddenly became afraid. If the weaker sex can do unspeakable acts to the most dangerous men in the world, he worried that this women would one day do the same to him.
'We need to go south, we cant bury another body on American soil.' Chapo avoided Olive's eyeline as he circled the heap on the floor.
'And how do you expect four Latin American men to transport the body of a politician to Mexico without alerting any of the authorities? Every move we make is being watched.' Olive spoke slowly, knowing that Chapo would develop an insanely dangerous idea that would result in Olive ruining another pair of shoes.
She was right. Chapo began to pace as he thought, twisting his wedding ring like a nervous twitch.
'We can fly it there.' He said.
Olive jumped up and down on the spot, clapping her hands together and laughing.
'What's so funny?' Chapo asked, forever finding himself surprised by the reactions of his top employee.
'I bet myself you'd take ten minutes to come up with the most ridiculous, dangerous and downright retarded idea and I won, I get to buy myself a new handbag on your creditcard.' Olive's teeth glinted under the electric lights as she laughed.
And yet, the more she listened to Chapo's plan, the more she realised she might be able to get a new coat out of this business deal. You see, Chapo had just invested in an enormous property fifty kilometer out of Cancun. Though the home had already been built and furnished, the gates and electric fences hadn't been erected quite yet and there was a five kilometer-long straight road leading to the house. If they could acquire an aircraft, the road would be more than long enough, and the surrounding countryside empty enough to land the plane, dispose of the body and be home in time for Homeland without any passports being stamped.
'You find me a pilot, I am owed a favor and can get an aircraft by midnight. If it all goes well you can have one of lion pups. We'll pay him or her, obviously. Just ask them how much.' Chapo straightened his cufflinks as he spoke, preparing himself to leave the office.
Olive nodded, she knew a bar where most of the pilots in the city hung out. If she could get one of the transatlantic guys, she might get a few free flights out of the deal. Chapo left without saying goodbye, his trademark move, leaving Olive half-alone in her office.
'A lion pup though, I mean the extravagance of that man never fails to amaze me,' Olive said to Stephen. Stephen didn't reply because Stephen was about to be buried in the Mexican desert.
Later that evening, Olive walked into the bar on Sunset where all pilots drank free. Apparently the owner had a thing for air hostesses, which hit Olive's nose the moment she walked in. A sea of primary colours, thick lipstick and impeccable hair met her like a brick wall.
The bar was dark with music playing just loudly enough to muffle private conversations. At the bar, she found a seat and ordered a gin and tonic. The bar tender smiled a confusing grin.
'You're not a steward,' she smiled, 'and you don't look old enough to be a pilot.'
Olive smiled back. She's learned the hard way that even talking to bar tenders about what she was or was not, was a bad idea. Police always retrace your steps and Olive was a pro and silencing those steps before they could speak.
Then came that first coincidence.
Olive sipped her drink, taking in the room and it's occupants. Silver-haired men and women of every race lined the booth. There was not one other person in that room that was alone.
Then the London flight arrived.
He walked in tall, his uniform lightly crumpled from the ten hours he'd spent at 36,000 feet. Olive's jaw dislodged and hit the floor. It was fate.
'Matthew Lowe?' she asked, her accent suddenly reverting and startling the bar tender.
He looked around for a moment until he clocked her.
'Oh my God, Olive?' his eyes widened for a moment before excitement overcame him.
It had been at least five years since Matt had last seen Olive, their history dating back to their late teens where they'd met at university. There had been a connection from the off. Matt had felt it but held back, sensing the danger that lay behind Olive's enchanting exterior.
'You actually became a pilot?' There was no need for a catch up, that would come later.
Olive had forgotten about work. All that mattered to her was standing right in front of her. The moment Matt's gaze met hers, she was thrown back into her childhood. She was suddenly eighteen again and the world seemed so much bigger. In the last five years she'd moved to a new continent, started a successful business, moved her way up into the world of crime quickly and all too easily. She'd managed to make millions indulging her thirst for power whilst alienating her heritage and forgetting the love she once felt flowing through her veins.
'Of course I did,' Matt grinned as he sat next to her at the bar, the rest of his staff dispersing into the club, 'Did you become the environmental activist and political nightmare you always wanted to?'
Olive's blood ran cold. This wasn't the first time she'd bumped into someone from her past but Matt was harder to lie to. He knew Olive.
'I'm... actually I sold out. Got into big business. I make way too much money and I really do very little.' Olive laughed, knowing that he'd see straight through her like he'd always done.
'So why are you here? This bar really doesn't seem like your scene. I thought you'd be living it up in some mansion in the Hills?' He never stopped smiling, it was enchanting to Olive.
'I do have the mansion, just about to get new floors put it actually... again...' on the bar, Olive's phone began to violently vibrate as a call came in from El Chapo.
She didn't answer it. Matt looked at the called ID and back to Olive.
She didn't know for sure, but Olive could see in the way that Matt looked at her that he knew what she was, what she had become. He didn't say a word, he waited for her to say it.
'You wanna make a million dollars tonight? I can't offer you Euros, that would be extortionate.' She smiled as Matt's eyes widened.
Now, the second coincidence could be argued as just bad luck. You decide.
Chapo stood by the plane with Ignacio standing on his left and Kevin to his right.
'Boss, this is Matthew. He's going to be our pilot tonight.' Olive shook Chapo's hand and nodded to Ignacio.
In reply, Ignacio raised an eyebrow. Olive knew she was in trouble leaving the body for him to clean up but she would deal with that later.
'Hello Matthew, it's nice to meet you. Are you capable of flying a G6?' Chapo spoke slowly and clearly.
'Definitely. I've not flown one commercially before, is there any way I can get a recommendation after this so I can move out of flying the Atlantic route?' Matt asked, his innocent smile fading in the company.
Chapo laughed and indicated that Olive should explain. They boarded the flight and were into the air faster than Olive had expected.
Once they were cruising, Matt flicked the seat belt sign off. Ignacio instantly started smoking a cigar and Kevin began playing games on his phone.
Olive approached the cockpit and slowly opened the door.
'Hey, can I chat to you?' she asked as Matt turned around in surprise.
'I can't tell anyone I'm doing this, can I?' Matt asked.
'No,' Olive looked down, 'I'd probably have to kill you. It's fine though, you'd want me to do it over one of the other guys.'
'This aircraft belongs to the Governor.' Matt picked up a photograph of the state Governor with another man, who Olive assumed was the usual pilot.
Olive spent the next five hours explaining what was going on and that if Matt asked too many questions he'd end up dead. She also agreed to give him an extra million of her own savings because she'd lied to him.
In the end, Matt didn't take the money. It was his own fault, he argued. He'd agreed to do the job knowing full well that Olive wasn't in big business. He'd been keeping up-to-date with her social media feeds up until a year ago, where all trace of Olive was wiped from the internet. It was around the same time she'd been made Chapo's number two. The photographs of her with Latino businessmen, corrupt American politicians and celebrities disappeared and the horrors of her job became her primary function.
The awful part was that she knew how good she was at it. She'd fooled herself into thinking that Chapo and her colleagues were her family and any threat to them was worth her getting her hands dirty.
Now, she was stood in her beautiful kitchen with her two beautiful children as her beautiful husband slept through the morning. It hadn't been long after that first trip that Matt had been recruited. The job was easy and their love had evolved. It was only when Olive fell pregnant with the girls that Matt had insisted Chapo let her go back to logistics.
So when the LAPD asked the bar tender about a blonde woman with a fake American passport and even faker accent who had hired an English pilot to fly off-radar to Mexico to bury the body of respected Republican Stephen Horn, she told them that Olive and Matt had met there that night but it seemed unplanned. Stephen Horn was five points up when he disappeared, taking a huge lead over the current Governor.
It was also strange that the Governor's plane had to be refueled the next day and was paid for by one of the anonymous donor, despite it not leaving the airstrip. Then, the Governor's wife had done something stupid and reckless, landing Chapo in a federal cell.
If the time line been just a moment out of sync then Olive wouldn't have been the one with the Colt when Stephen began verbally abusing her and threatening her employees.
Had Chapo not filled the last of the foundations for his Bel Air home then Stephen would have been four feet in solid concrete instead of ten feet under a dusty lion cage.
If there had been a strong easterly wind, or a free runway so he wasn't circling for an hour, or any number of influencing factors then Matt might not have gone to the bar that night and Olive might not have been there.
All of the chances in a long, dangerous timeline flashed before Olive's eyes as sixteen heavily armed cartel-affiliated men surrounded her and her infant children in their home on that one beautiful morning.
Had one moment gone any differently then she'd be the one holding the gun.
Geoff was like any other office worker. He did his work on time, he was rarely late, and he was never one to make waves (which is somewhat ironic to say the least considering his company’s slogan was “making waves”). He was sure that he felt an overwhelming sense of pride from his recent promotion, even though he . . . sometimes doubted this himself. It seemed that he had more friends than he thought, what with everybody slapping him on the back, (perhaps a little bit too hard), and saying half-hearted jargon of vaguely masked-pejoratives. He was seeing a much clearer, if not darker side, to his former acquaintances. He hadn’t seen his prior circle of friends for over three months.
Three months prior to the beginning of this particular episode Geoff had accepted the position of “regional district manager” which included a hefty salary, uncapped bonuses, and a company car. These things highly pleased Geoff for some time, however, he soon realised that these perks were not without cost. Recently Geoff had been having trouble sleeping. This was undoubtedly down to the ever increasing load placed upon his shoulders. This load although metaphorical was nonetheless true. The invisible, weightless entity had crumpled Geoff’s shoulders into the shape of a beaten, broken, and caged animal.
He was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the fast paced climate that he had been drafted into. His deadlines were harder to finish, and with shorter time to complete. A never ending cycle of pressure to succeed in what he had come to view as an ultimately meaningless task. He was tasked mostly with the up keep of the image of the company keeping it fresh and new, it was ceaseless. The company was expanding to an ever widening bracket. The company was aimed at both sexes for the ages of 3 through to 80 years.
In fact the company was changing so rapidly that Geoff was beginning to lose track of not only what the company was aiming to achieve, but even what the company was selling. Or even if it was selling anything at all for that matter, he couldn’t be sure. This further compounded the torment of his already scarred psyche. The unsurmountable work meant the sacrifice of his social, and love life. He simply had no time to see either his old friends, or his ex-fiancé Nicky.
This brought about the chastising of Geoff from those who once loved him; “Fucking ignorant prick.” or even “too busy to come down from his ivory tower”. Nicky took it the hardest without question. The man she once loved became an empty husk, an exoskeleton with the insides rotted out. This was also noted by his employers;
“How the hell can you expect to be a Wave Incorporated super star if you’re not even willing to play hard?” his manager Kieth ‘Keefa’ Williams would often ask him in the by weekly JC
“I mean you work hard don’t get me wrong, but that’s just not enough, god knows every guy and gal works hard, but the thing is, if you work hard you’ve got to be able to play hard.” He said this whilst making his hand look like a gun, and then pretending to cock his thumb like a hammer. He then went on to explain how some of the staff were beginning think of him as being indifferent to the team spirit of the office.
He had honestly tried hard to orchestrate his time better, but it was of no use. No matter how hard he tried he would always over exert himself in some aspect of his life and thus leaving no time for the other. When he played hard, he worked less, and vice versa. His mood soured once more when the management had put a new board in the office to ‘promote a healthy competitive attitude’. The premise of the board was a point system in which you rack up points based on either closing “sales” (the latter phrase used lightly of course), or adding to “company spirit” (ditto). The employee with the most points received an extra bonus at the end of the month, and equally the employee with the least amount would have to do a ‘forfeit’ for a week.
Geoff was quite sure that if he had to do another forfeit of swallowing half a dozen raw eggs one last time he would commit the greatest sin of all and take his own life, (however not before his manager’s life, and everyone else in the office). He would try to cry himself asleep at night however he developed an insomnia so severe he was brought to the brink of insanity.
His doctor recommended exercise, however as he was too lethargic to even keep his shoulder’s straight anything more than a slow, drudgingly pace would have him in cardiac arrest. Instead he would just lie awake at night feeling the walls close in, and the swirling void of anxiety heckle, and snipe him with callous thoughts and feelings of self-doubt.
It was after five months and two weeks into his probationary period of the new six month contract that Keefa was given an ultimatum. If his performance was not “marked by significant improvement within the next two weeks” then his contract with Wave Incorpated would be terminated. He decided that he would have to take drastic measures to combat this decline in fortune. It was the evening of that particular day when a commercial appeared on Geoff’s computer screen.
The commercial was a professional production in high definition. It had a light fresh aura which grabbed John’s attention.
“You know, sometimes in life things can feel a little bit, well, just out of reach…”
The advert flashed up with images of beautiful people crying
“Whether it’s that you just can’t seem to lose that excess weight, or even that you find it almost impossible to balance your work with your social life?
Well, there’s some good news, and there’s some bad news. The bad news is that you’ve only got yourself to blame, but, here’s the thing…”
The image flicked to an animated, but somehow scientific looking, image of the human brain. There were purple and blue arrows flowing in patterns along different hemispheres.
“It’s all down to the way that you process life, and how you manage it. You are the root of your problems, but luckily, you’re also the only one who can deal with these problems, all we do is advice, or even guide you in a way to help you deal with them.
If you want to know more, please click the link and we can explain a little better… Thanks…”
Geoff didn’t think twice before clicking on the link. The typeface, the images, the science jargon all assured him that this was something unique. It seemed to him not just a simple app on a phone, but some way of using science to achieve unbridled success. The cost of this app was over sixty pounds for a yearly subscription, however, Geoff’s doubts over paying were easily dismissed when the website indicated that it broke down to monthly payments which cost “less than the price of a cup of coffee from starbucks!”
The first day he used “The App” he was instructed to document every single ‘noteworthy action’; from the time he got up in the morning, to any time he was feeling stressed, and even to how frequently he used the toilet. Features such as stress levels were graded on a scale of 1 through to 10 (10 being severe), and other things such as urine were graded on colouration, consistency etc. At the end of the day he received a text message from his phone saying “go to sleep” and although he didn’t feel the slightest bit of fatigue when he placed his head on the pillow within moments, he had fallen into an infant sleep only experienced by infants who’ve not yet been carved by the barbs of adult life.
The next day he woke up to the sound of a text message from the app which read “wake up!” to which he was somewhat puzzled. Nonetheless, he was amazed at how refreshed he was, and a glance of himself in the mirror showed an invigorated fellow looking back. The app flashed up with a graph showing the cycles of sleep he had been going through during the night. The graph indicated that it had awoken him precisely at the time of his lightest sleep cycle.
Geoff laughed at this in amazement and then caught sight of himself in the mirror again. He noticed that his face although looking ten years younger than it had done a mere four hours earlier, his facial hair had, paradoxically, made him look ten years older. It was just then that the phone vibrated, “shaved yet?”, Geoff giggled with excitement.
He shaved his face thoroughly and then a fleeting thought glanced across his mind about perhaps maybe having a shower. This was soon forgot when the phone vibrated again. John was quick to read the instructions “now, at this point in the day Geoff your body’s metabolism is greatly boosted by physical exercise. We suggest perhaps gentle exercises like press ups. For more exercise ideas click here…” and then a digital button flashed upon the screen.
Geoff did circuits that worked every muscle in his body. He felt well exercised but not weary but if anything more empowered. He then showered, got dressed, made a hearty yet healthy breakfast, grabbed his belongings, went to work, and accomplished more in a day than he had done in a year and by the end of the two weeks he was taken on full time, and Keefa invited him to an after work/ gym/drinking outing.
It was hard to believe that the same broken man was now repaired, or even updated, to a chrome plated machine, pistons fired, mind oiled. His ambition grew, his appetite grew. He was thinner than he had been when he was a young man, yet hard, more powerful, and full of vitality. It was no hyperbole to say that Geoff had become the best employee the company had ever seen and certainly not to say he was the biggest player too. He was invited to everything from coffee with the receptionists, to golf with his boss.
However one morning this all proved to be somewhat academic. Geoff had taken things to lightly it seemed. The day had started like any other; he was awoken by the same message that he had been every day since he used The App “good morning Geoff! You know what to do”, and the phone automatically clicked to his favourite radio station. But the message of the broadcast touched a nerve:
“Well goooooood morning! Your listening to 1.05FM in the morning with Nicky…”
“Nicky?” Geoff thought horrified
“And Simon, how are you this morning Vicky?”
Geoff was momentarily relived that his ex-fiancé wasn’t communicating through the radio, but his mind was sullen and all he could do was think about all the romantic times he’d spent with her. Geoff fell to the floor and wept.
Throughout the day when Geoff was asked to update his mood chart he constantly gave negative scores. At the second his lunch break started his phone beamed another message. Like a fly drawn to the flame Geoff reached out to the phone, like a lifeline to draw him out of his misery.
The message read:
“We notice that you’re feeling particularly low today”
The background featured an unhappy cartoon dog with a bandage on its head, a thermometer in its mouth, and a cloud with rain pouring onto a woefully inadequate sized parasol.
“Perhaps there’s something the matter, would you describe yourself as:
a) Physically unwell ( e.g headache, stomach upset, even just a bloated tummy can have an impact on your mental health.)
b) Personal issues (e.g. Loss of parent or loved one, relationship problems, hurtful comments made against you.)
c) Unspecified (i.e. you feel down, but you’re not really sure why.)
Geoff clicked the b icon. Another message appeared:
(The background image featured a purple cat covering its mouth.)
“It looks like your current account can’t access this feature”
There was a small typeface under this headline which read,
“You’ve only got a basic yearly subscription, for full access to your body and MIND’s potential you’ll have to upgrade for a one off cost of £20.”
Geoff didn’t hesitate before clicking the link. Another message flashed up outlining the terms and conditions. Geoff frantically scrolled down to the bottom of the page, and clicked the box affirming his acceptance of the contract, without reading any of the contract. “But after all” Geoff thought “what good is being productive if you’re still at the mercy of your emotions?”
When Geoff was home he immediately activated the advanced setting. The App’s process of deciphering Geoff’s grievances involved a gruellingly long list of personal questions. When Geoff reached the end of the quiz, the phone’s screen suddenly turned black. Geoff stood waiting, dumbfounded- and feeling a little helpless. The screen remained black for a few minutes, but then a loading icon appeared only to immediately flicker off the screen to reveal a new message. Geoff’s body melted from relaxation.
The advanced setting allowed more access into Geoff’s being without him ever being conscious of the fact, or so The App claimed. He followed the messages much the same as he had always done. Nothing about his life really changed at all other than an extra survey to complete before bed. Geoff began to twinge with a feeling of having been taken advantage of. “Typical!” Geoff thought to himself “I’m a sucker, always have been, always will be. This app just takes advantage of your vulnerability, that’s twenty pounds gone, I’ve been hustled.”
Geoff didn’t feel any benefits from the alleged advanced setting for over a month. The feelings of loneliness and heartbreak were further compounded when the rumours of Vicky and Neil’s engagement were indeed true. Geoff found out through an e-mail sent from Vicky via the company’s email. Geoff felt crimson with indignation of such an impersonal message. The woman he loved had left him for his former best friend, and she didn’t have the courage to tell him to his face. In fact, Geoff overheard the news from a receptionist talking on the phone three days before he had even received the email from Vicky.
All the phone could do was send messages with a penguin holding a balloon that read, “things will get better soon!.” Geoff was remained sceptical right up to the point when, one day in the park, during his morning jog, he bumped into his ex-friend/fiancé, who were also out on their morning jog. Geoff was expecting to feel overwhelmed with the sickness of a broken heart, but he felt strong and somewhat confident.
He beamed a smile, and they too. They exchanged pleasantries, one thing lead to another and then it happened. Neil asked Geoff to be his best man at the wedding. Geoff was not only shocked but taken aback. Neil gushed with tears, and then Vicky too. They both babbled about how they had missed Geoff ever so much, and that the old gang would like nothing better than their old friend to become part of their close knit group once again. Geoff of course accepted without hesitation.
The next six months were a blur for Geoff. He was a key part in the marriage of the woman he once loved, and the best friend he had once lost. He was Zen like, he didn’t experience the faintest shred of emotion during the ceremony, he was vanilla. All the loose ends of his life had met at one singular point, and then he felt like the re-incarnation of his former self.
The day after the wedding Geoff received a new message:
“Congratulations you’ve done it! You’re finally ready to move on.
It might interest you to know that according to our latest analysis, one of the biggest reasons for your recent lack of self-esteem is the management of time (again )
But the answer is simple, here’s what we think; an office romance is always fraught with tension.
But at the same time it’s easy to see how an office romance starts! Modern human beings currently socialise with their work colleagues around 80% longer than any other group. That includes acquaintance and even your family!
Furthermore the recession has seen workers “look inwards” and batten down the hatches. There is a developing “us versus them” mentality between workers and their employers. This causes a “huddling together” so to speak. If you feel you have more in common than you should with a certain co-worker who's caught your eye, perhaps you should try to socialise more with friends outside of work in order to gain some perspective on the situation.
Maybe it’s time to tell us about your hobbies.”
Geoff completed another evaluation. He then followed the advice of the following message which said:
“According to our analysis it appears you are lacking in self-assertiveness, this could be impeding your ability to copulate. For your personality type we suggest a sport tailored to self-defence.
So look around for a local social event, maybe something like a kickboxing class, or if that’s too full on, you could try something a little more gentle such as, boxercise, or maybe even Judo (which is Japanese for ‘the gentle way’ I’ll have you know)
And meeting new people is a good way of, well meeting new people ”
And as luck would have it and as if by magic, on his first Judo lesson he met the newest love of his life. Her name was Megan and they were very happy together. What’s more is that Geoff became arguably better friends with Megan’s workmates than he did his own. And if that wasn’t enough, when his yearly subscription came to an end a special message appeared:
“Because you’re one of the original members, we can offer you a special offer. For the price of a yearly subscription (£79.99) we can offer you unlimited access for a lifetime!”
Of course Geoff accepted this,he would have been foolish not to. A lot of people paid over £1000 for a lifetime subscription. Geoff was one of the very first people to use the app, which made him feel like he was part of an inner circle. He was without a doubt contented, as were a lot more people soon after.
Within a few years the app became not only a cultural, but a historical phenomenon. It was truly one of the most significant things to happen in the history of mankind. It wasn’t just an expression to say that everybody used the app. No, every single person from the age of three years old used the app, or at least that is to say the parents filled in the data entry for them. The app became as commonplace a household tool as a toothbrush, or comb.
Geoff’s life was pleasurable but monotonous. He had a good social life, and he was ahead of the competition at work. However one day during the radio’s morning broadcast:
“Well goooooood morning! Your listening to 1.05FM in the morning with Simon and my good half!”
(There was the sound of laughter)
“By which I mean Vicky, how are you this morning Vicky?”
“I’m very good thanks Simon”
“That’s good to hear. Coming up on today’s programme we’re all about sharing today, what are we sharing you ask? What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?”
(More laughter, but with a slight hint of discomfort)
“I remember my worst date Simon, I was on a theme park ride, and I was sick all over my date”
(Both laugh, but Simon laughs harder)
“Oh god, I want to hear more Nicky, but I kind of don’t if you know what I mean, but stay tuned to find out what happened after the news…”
(Sound of orchestral music to bridge the news segment)
“You’re listening to the Seven o’clock morning news on 1.05FM, here’s the latest:
Geoff has just got out of bed and has now walked over to the chest of drawers in his bedroom. He’s opened up the top drawer halfway, but he’s stopped doing that to look over at his phone, which is on the left hand bedside table.
His face is an expression of confusion and distress, as he takes one slow step forward. Unfortunately however he hasn’t looked whereabouts he was going and now his left foot has trodden on a loose plug with the prongs facing upwards.
I can confirm that he has fallen to the floor and is now clutching his left foot in agony. He’s clutching his left foot in agony, but he’s not screaming at the moment. We’ll keep you posted with more updates later.”
(Orchestral music to bridge the ending segment of the news)
Geoff laid on the floor, too unnerved to move. Instead he waited for a text message to come through. An hour had passed with no contact. The old feelings of despair began creeping up on Geoff until suddenly he bolted upright.
“I’ll be ok as long as I remember my training” he said to himself. He thought back to The App’s mantras. “Eyes looking forward, but unfocused, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth…” he followed his own instructions religiously.
Feeling slightly reassured he carried on with his daily routine, but all the while a corner of his mind was still preoccupied on why there wasn’t any contact from the app. He put the morning’s bizarre episode down to the lack of contact and believed this had caused his body to fall out of sync. He realised that the hour spent on the floor had completely eaten through his allocated time for running. Now he had to decide whether to sacrifice his allocated time for either breakfast, or bathing. A fleeting thought crossed his mind as to whether it would be better to combine the two events into one, which he of course dismissed as ludicrous. “No need for any added stress” he thought.
He was sure that the app would make contact soon enough. “Just remember the training” he said to himself. He realised that breakfast was more important as he had showered after his evening run. He went downstairs and poured himself a bowl of cornflakes.
He then realised something which disturbed him, how could he be sure that he was awake? This day had been completely surreal by all accounts, was this reality? It seemed so, everything looked much as it always did, and he felt distinctly lucid. He glanced at his phone to check the internet connection, it bizarrely read as receiving full signal. From this he deduced that he must have been indeed dreaming. If he was awake he would have surely received some sort of contact.
He remembered a message from the app after he had awoke from a bad dream:
“To check you are dreaming in future, read something. This can be anything with text (e.g. a newspaper), to begin with Look at some text for three seconds, look away for another three seconds, and then back at the text again.
If you are dreaming the text will have changed, this is because there is no consistency in dreams.”
He picked up the cereal box and read aloud “cornflakes.” He looked away for three seconds and when looked back he was struck by shock and terror as he read the text for a second time, “cornflakes.” He was awake.
He snatched his phone up in his clammy hands and frantically swept his thumbs across the surface to unlock it. A bead of sweat dripped from his forehead and splashed onto the screen creating a little pool, his fingers skated, washing the whole thing in perspiration, stopping him from unlocking the phone. He took a deep breath and slapped himself hard across the face “get a grip man!” he said to himself sternly “as long as you remember your training you can make it through the day.” He used a teacloth to dry his hands and phone, and carefully swiped his fingers across the screen and opened the app.
An image flashed up of a loading screen. Nothing happened. He refreshed The App and still nothing. He turned his phone off, installed updates, but still nothing. He looked for The App contact number and dialled it. An automated message clicked in “thanks for calling the App help line you are currently… two hundred… in the…” Geoff cut it off. He was going to be late for work.
He started his car up and then gasped in horror as he realised he had left his wallet on the kitchen table. By the time he’d grabbed it, locked the doors again, and sat in his car he was jaded, and glistening with sweat. He turned the key in the ignition.
A little while along the way he began trembling when he realised that he wasn’t even sure he was going in the right direction. He had made this journey countless times before, but without a satellite navigation system the roads were scrambled and confusing. There was no doubt that he was going to be late for work, Geoff knew this. His temples began to pound from stress, and dehydration due to excessive sweating.
His driving became more erratic as he began to feel fainter, he swerved. It was all Geoff could do to stop himself from balling when he saw the flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror. He pulled up on the side of the rode and sat listlessly as he watched the approaching policeman in the wing mirror.
The policeman crouched down and looked Geoff straight in the eye, Geoff rolled down the window.
“Show me your licence” the policeman said. Geoff fished the plastic card from his wallet’s pocket.
The policeman looked at the licence for some time without saying a word. Geoff watched his face intently to gauge the officer’s reaction. The policeman spoke again:
“I’m looking at this licence, but in a moment I’m going to alternate my gaze from the licence to your eye line. I’m going to do this three times.”
Then the policeman did as he said.
“I’m handing the licence back to you now. When I give it back to you, you will look at me, with your mouth open, completely unable to speak.
Ok so now that’s happened, and I’m talking in a tonal voice that suggests a stern warning. This is also the moment that I can tell you that you were driving too fast, but I didn’t see you swerve.
I’m going to make an open palmed gesture with my hand and walk back to my car. I’ll drive off first, and then after you stall the car, you can drive off too.”
The police car drove away as he said it would, and then after Geoff stalled the car he followed and Somehow made it to the office, but along the way he had narrowly missed running over a pedestrian, and drove the car in a circle three times. When he arrived he didn’t dare check how late he was.
Opposite his office was a building site. The noise of the diggers, pneumatic drills, sledge hammers, and other such things was deafening, but he could just about make out the faint din of the foreman stood in the middle of the site. He was stood with a megaphone which he used to bark orders:
“Ok, can we have the digger roll down the hill a little bit by accident please, now the magpie can swoop across and grab the shiny metal that’s fallen out of the excavator. Mike it’s ok to drop your hammer off the side of the scaffold now, and Dave remember to look up just before it drops in front of you. After that point your finger at Mike and shout intensely, Mike do not say anything back I repeat not, just stare back vacantly instead…”
Geoff ran inside the office building and made for the toilets. He threw up in the toilet bowl so violently that it hurt. Wiping the sweat from his brow he then flushed the toilet and felt the strange sense of relief one experiences after a purge. When the water drained he could hear the sound of somebody walking into the men’s room. He stood on the toilet rim to glance a peek over the top of the cubicle. It was Leon who worked on the side of the office facing the brick wall. He gingerly stepped back down and pricked his ears for the sound of a running tap, but it never came. Instead he could hear sound of a door slamming.
He bolted out of the cubicle and stood in the corridor and looked left to right frantically in search of Leon. He caught a brief glimpse of him turning a corner down the right hand side corridor. Geoff sprinted after him, narrowly avoiding the oncoming traffic of people. He followed him all the way to the office. He sat down at his ergonomically designed office desk chair.
He composed himself for a brief moment and then shook the computer mouse which sparked the screen into life. The computer screen displayed the Wave company logo and the words “Log in.” Geoff typed his password into the computerised box. A pop up box sprang onto the screen shortly after “log in error”, and so his re-entered his password but to no avail, the same happened again- “log in error.”
It was only then Geoff realised that he didn’t actually know what his password was and that he had been blindly hammering the keyboard automatically without thinking. He caught the eye of Jamie, a work colleague who sat in a cubicle next to his, and then beckoned to him with his hand. Jamie walked over and smiled at Geoff to which Geoff smiled back and asked politely,
“Hi Jamie, I seem to be having trouble logging in. I can’t remember what my password is, could you help me?”
Jamie’s smile dropped and his face contorted into an expression of sheer horror.
“What’s wrong?” Geoff asked earnestly “what did I say?”
Jamie then slowly walked backwards to his cubicle and sat down at his desk. He did this whilst maintaining a focused stare into Geoff’s eyes. Geoff blushed crimson with frustration and fury,
“Why are you staring at me?” He scowled in a hushed voice “what are you staring at?” with that Jamie’s head swivelled 180 degrees directly forward towards his computer screen, he then sat unmoving.
It’s impossible to describe a feeling as terrible as the one that Geoff experienced in that exact moment. Overwhelming nausea was compounded by an overwhelming clouding of mind. His thoughts were confused and disjointed. His internal monologue kept snaking between different avenues of thought:
“What’s going on?”
“Why did Jamie ignore me?”
“I’ll fucking kill him!”
“I’d like to kill Megan”
“I hate Megan”
“What’s the worse date you went on with Megan?”
“All of them!”
“Why are you sat down?”
“What’s my password”
“Same as your email”
“what is your email?”
“You don’t even know where you live Geoff”
“Get out of the office and try and get home now…”
Geoff walked out of his cubicle and towards the exit, rubbing his temples vigorously in an attempt to blot out the terrible thoughts. Before he could take a step out of the office Keefa stepped out from behind the doorway and blocked his escape. Keefa then extended his right hand in an open palmed gesture, and then without changing either his tonality or facial expression he said
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah… er…” began Geoff “I mean no, I’m not very well. I need to go home.” Geoff waited for Keefa to move but he remained still, looking into Geoff’s eyes with a glazed expression.
“Can you please move?” asked Geoff, barely containing his violent impulses, “Move now!” He said in a more assertive tone.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” said Keefa.
“Are you insane?” said Geoff on the brink of madness.
“Well carry on then” said Keefa “I guess if you’re ill it doesn’t really matter if you were late this morning, so just turn around, go back to your desk, and do your work” he said this whilst making his hand look like a gun, and then pretending to cock his thumb like a hammer. He kept his hand in the position and continued to stare, although this time it seemed as though he was looking through Geoff, towards the empty cubicle.
Geoff tried walk past Keefa, but Keefa kept stepping sideways from left to right to prevent him from leaving. Geoff then lost his nerve and squared up directly to his boss’ face and hissed “get out of my way now.” Suddenly Keefa’s hand moulded from a pistol into a clenched fist gripped tightly around the scruff of Geoff’s neck. He dragged Geoff towards the desk.
Geoff was choked from Keefa’s binding grip. He tried to scream for help but could only manage a strained, guttural sound from his throat. Even if he could manage to scream for help it was unlikely this would have helped. When Geoff looked to his colleagues for salvation he saw that everybody was carrying on with their daily tasks as usual, seemingly unaware of the struggle taking place.
Geoff then lashed out. It happened in a flash. Some part of his limbic response caused him to inflict serious harm. He came out of the daze with his arms around his boss’s neck in a shimewaza choke hold. He let go of his grip and Keefa slowly slumped to the floor. Geoff trembled at the sight of Keefa’s bloated, blue tongue that lolled out of his mouth.
In shock and awe he looked up at the entire office, who were in turn looking directly at him, silent, unmoving. They looked at Geoff like oil paintings, their eyes were steady and yet they met and followed his gaze wherever he walked in the room, he slowly walked on his toes to the exit.
Just as he grazed an inch out of the office door he received a message. He stopped momentarily to remove the phone from his pocket. The message was from The App:
“Stay where you are and wait for the police.”
Screaming, he threw his phone to the ground and smashed it. With that the entire office took a step forward in unison.
Geoff didn’t sprint at first, he jogged only little more than a walking pace at first but then built up steam and momentum, much like a deer being stalked by a pack of wolves in the wild does… It was the brief glimpse of something coming from Geoff’s left peripheral vision that caused him to run for his life… in a split second he saw the janitor raise his mop, and then strike out at him… there was a clatter from the broom striking the floor, and then of the janitor throwing it against the wall… and there was the thunderous sound of cheap, fake leather office work shoes stampeding…
The roar followed him for six flights of stairs and then began to dim- however, as it dimmed there was another rumbling of a seperate set of mock leather, clad shoes advancing. He was in a vice like trap. He saw an exit from the stairway which led to floor eight. In ran inside of a dark office space lit only by the rays of light flitering through the half closed blinds.
As he ran in he looked for another corridor but saw that he was in a box room. He saw a green light “fire exit”, he pushed on the bar of the doorway, but it was stiff and rusty. He heard the sound of footsteps padding down the stairs… but the bar still didn’t open… he could hear the padding from downstairs… still it wouldn’t open… he barged his shoulder against the door forcefully, but the footsteps still came. A little harder still, and then more so, and then it opened by a crack, but the footsteps were now pounding… Geoff screamed in terror kicking the door so hard it tore off a wedge of the frame in a burst of splinters, swinging the bottom half of the door open.
Geoff ran out of the door on all fours like a fleeing animal, only without the dexterity or balance. The staircase was steep, so steep that he tumbled over and cartwheeled down the stairs. Lying on his back he looked up to see people punching, and kicking to break down the rest of the. He shrieked in desperate terror.
He moved with quickness and urgency. It was an automatic response generated in a fight or flight reflex. He bounded the steep stairway like a surefooted goat, but it was complete instinct that fuelled his movements. He could have almost fallen to his death, but, those same instincts told him stop and look down.
The steps were no more, but he could see three skips lined in a row, two floors beneath him. He calculated his move. If he missed the direct centre of any skip he could catch a metal edge and snap his leg… or miss entirely and hit the concrete… or fall in a skip full of broken glass. He lept and landed in waste paper… He scrambled out and ran with weary legs down a tarmacked road.
A little further he came to a row of parked cars on either side of him. Further along still the lane diverged rightwards until he was running concave. A car reversed outwards from the left hand side of him knocking him tumbling over a speed bump and onto the ground. The car kept reversing until it ploughed into the row of cars parked behind it. Geoff scrambled to his feet to run, his left leg carrying a limp. The car then switched into forward gear with a clunk and the car lept towards Geoff once again, this time forward.
The car narrowly missed, and Geoff saw that the driver of the car had injured himself. He lay with his head slumped on the steering wheel, the air bag had failed to deploy and so his shattered nose sunk into the horn. All around was the sound of carnage, the horn blared, and the crowd advanced in choreographed unity.
He opened the car door, unbuckled the driver, and threw his body like a rag doll across the ground. He jumped into the driver’s seat, buckled up, and slammed the car into reverse. He stalled. He choked the engine into life and tried again, the car shot backwards into a car. He sped forward and crashed it on the right side, then threw it reverse again, knocking down a few of the advancing crowd, forward, over the body of the driver, and down the lane.
He sped down the lane as fast as he could push the car’s limit. All down the road the speed bumps hindered the car’s full potential, and occasionally the bumper or suspention would take a critical hit. A grave realisation came upon Geoff as he realised the struggling engine sounds meant that this car was on the brink of collapse. He could barely see das the plume of smoke from the engine blew from the bonnet of the car.
He wound down the driver’s side window and leant out to see. Before him were the entrance gates, a wire mesh netting held by steel bolsters. He noticed that the gate was beginning to close and so he sped him as fast the car could tolerate, the gate clamped onto the car’s rear bumper causing it to crumple up. He escaped down the road into the built up residential area.
When he got to the residential area he noticed quite peculiarly that the pursuit seemed to be over. Indeed he realised that a sneaking glance in the rear view mirror showed that the crowd had stood still at the gate. There were no cars on the road either, and no people walking the streets. The radio was on:
“You’re listening to 1.05FM in the afternoon, the lunchtime news, here’s the latest:
Geoff has run amok at his workplace and is now speeding down a residential area. He’s turned a sharp right and is now swerving as he leans over to…”
Geoff punched the radio dead on the dial. He drove aimlessly for a while. Then came a realisation that 1.05FM was his favourite station, the same station that sparked the beginning of this whole escapade in the same bizarre manner. The leather interior was familiar too. In fact he was sure that this was his car.
He grinded on the breaks until the car came to a halt. He exited the vehicle, and ran towards a house. It must have been his since the key fit into the latch and unlocked the front door. It seemed uncannily familiar from the place he’d left that morning. Perhaps though, Geoff thought, maybe every house looked the same. It struck Geoff in that moment that running past earlier he noticed that all the parked cars were uncannily similar. The car was undoubtedly a dead ringer for what he had been driving for as long he could remember. Tuned to his favourite station no less… Maybe all radio stations were the same too, he thought…
As he stumbled through the doorway both the TV and the radio sparked to life. Geoff double bolted the front and back doors, and proceeded to check that every window was closed and locked too. He peered out the window to look upon desolate streets. It was eerily quiet, other than the sound of the TV and radio screaming full volume:
“Hello! Good afternoon, and today on Countrylife we’re discussing the best tips for Geoff’s garden…”
“Well goooooood morning! Your listening to 1.05FM…”
Geoff screamed a blood thirsty cry, and ripped the TV from the wall. He then ran to the kitchen and threw the radio against the wall. Picking up a rolling pin he smashed the foul beasts into assorted pieces of circuit board and warped platic.
He sat in the arm chair in the lounge, and remained motionless. He sat for at least thirty minutes, and then it was shattered by the clattering of the letter box, then the shrill cry of a mobile phone ring tone echoed from the hallway.
Geoff remained still, he refused to answer the phone. At this moment he wasn’t even sure if there even was a phone ringing. Or even that he’d left his house all morning. This could be all a dream, a hallucination, a schizophrenic fantasy. His instincts commanded him to remain still.
But the phone kept ringing, and ringing. For an over an hour Geoff remained still, but his ears were now burned with by piercing frequencies the phone was emitting. Another two hours passed and still no change. Geoff rose from his seat. He walked to the front door and picked up the package.
He looked at the label to see that the address and name seemed strangely familiar. He opened the parcel, and rummaged through layers of bubble wrap to reveal a brand new mobile phone. Again, uncannily similar looking to the phone he destroyed previously.
He tried to refuse the call, but the phone only stopped momentarily, seconds later it would again emit the same torturous sound. Geoff eventually accepted the call.
“Hello?” he said
“Geoff?” said a kind voice
“Yes” whispered Geoff
“My name is Andy and I’m calling from the app” said the voice
“The app?” said Geoff
“Yes. Just to let you know, we’re sorry for today, sometimes, although not very often, these things happen.”
“What do you mean?” said Geoff
“Well obviously an error with The App today has meant you’ve been temporarily out of sync. But! The good news is that you picked up the phone! So well done…”
“I don’t understand what’s happening” Geoff stammered “I think I’ve lost my marbles…” he trailed off as he said this.
“Well you almost did!” Said the voice, laughing, “but luckily we caught this in the nick of time. You see, a message telling you to update your phone was lost. This has caused a train reaction throughout your entire day. Luckily it seems that only a few people were affected by it. That is the people you have interacted with…”
“Hold on!” Geoff interrupted “What has updating my phone got to do with anything!?” He roared. “What the fuck is going on? Who are you?” There was silence on the other end of the line. But then the voice spoke once again.
“Geoff, you agreed to the terms and conditions…”
“What?” Geoff cried, stupefied
“Well Geoff, every three months the app needs update with the new script, but, obviously since you failed to install the update, we were unable to properly process you… Now obviously, according to your terms and conditions, you have agreed to let us control your conscious mind, but, without the update we didn’t have full control. This has led to a melt down in your functioning and has almost ruined an entire days programming. But! Like I said I’m talking to you now so everything should have corrected itself…”
“Control of my mind?” said Geoff in a broken voice
“Well… yes” said the voice, evermore soothing, “you wanted us to help you manage your time better yes? Well it only makes sense that we could seize control of the prefrontal cortex of your brain.
The prefrontal cortex is the newer and weaker part of the human brain. It’s what truly separates us from the animals who are just controlled by stimulus. Therefore if we could control you by our own stimulus in your conscious mind we could direct you in the right direction …Kind of like a sheep dog…”
“What are you saying to me!?” Screamed Geoff
“Geoff…” Said the voice still softly “you wanted to organise your time better, we’ve just created conditions to accentuate this for you. We’ve both conditioned your mind, and created the perfect balance between worl, leisure, and your personal life.
And this was all possible because since everybody you know, as well as yourself, use the app we can basically plan every single action down to the last detail… Kind of like a movie script, L O L!”
“What do you mean?” said Geoff.
“Well since you joined the app we’ve been creating, a happier, healthier you, as well as everybody else who joined. But the thing is Geoff, sometimes real life can get in the way of the things that are important. We’ve not really created anything new Geoff, people have been communicating via impersonal interfaces for years. It was only a matter of time until the next social media, or app came along to revolutionise the way people communicate with each other.
What set’s The App apart is that it not only bridges a useful tool with communication, but also it’s a melding of body, mind, and technology. It’s changed the way people think, interact, both emotionally and…”
“You’re controlling everybody’s mind?” Geoff interrupted
“Well…” Said the voice “yeah, of course we are! Like I said you accepted the terms and conditions.”
“The terms and conditions!?” Geoff screamed
“Yes, did you read them? It grants us access to: your mobile phone data, your email, your browsing history, your bank details, your medical history, personal secrets, sexual orientation…”
“Well I quit! I quit the App, delete my file!” Geoff screamed again, louder.
“Why would you want to quit?” Said the voice softly “you’ve got a great job, a great social life, a great girlfriend…”
“I don’t think I even like Megan! Looking back now I think I just asked her out because you told me to do.” Said Geoff
“Geoff, Megan is a highly suitable candidate for a wife.” Said the voice
“A wife?” Geoff asked stunned
“Yes, she is highly fertile, and unlike Laura she hasn’t slept with any other potential mates without telling you.” Said the Voice
“What!?” Screeched Geoff “Then why did you make me forgive her then?”
“Because we can’t have everybody in synchrony if there’s any kind of division. If you resented her in any way productivity would fall sharply.”
“So I have no free will?” Asked Geoff
“You have no choice Geoff. You’re following our script as we speak.”
“Oh yeah?” said Geoff “How many fingers am I holding up” Geoff kept his hand clenched, the voice was silent. A moment passed and then Geoff laughed
“Ha, you see? You don’t know me.” but then the voice answered:
“Well Geoff you weren’t holding up any fingers, but now you have one extended because you're using it to point at the phone.
And now you’re running over to the window in your lounge to see if anyone is looking in. Now you’re running to the front door, you’ve opened it… You still can’t see anyone… Now you’re searching your house for hidden cameras… you’ve climbed onto a table to look above a bookshelf, but you’re about to slip…”
Geoff crashed onto the ground, throwing the mobile phone across the floor. The screen was cracked, but he could hear the voice clearly.
“Geoff… come on now. This is all for your benefit you know.”
“I quit…” Gasped Geoff.
“You what?” the voice asked, a little more sternly than before.
“I quit you hear me? I said I quit!” Geoff sighed with winded breath. There was silence for a brief moment. Then there was the sound of the speaking once again.
“Very well” It finally said “We have put in a request for your account to be deactivated. It will take around 24 hours to complete, we will send you a message tomorrow in which you can choose whether or not to finalise the request, or retain your account… Thank you for using the App, it is our policy not to refund membership costs.
We’re sorry your leaving us, but, as one of our original members you qualify for a special deal. If you ever want to get back in touch in the future we will renew your membership free of charge.
We’ll also make sure that your last day with us tomorrow is especially good for you. We just feel terrible that your day today was, well, so terrible! We accept full responsibility for all inconveniences.
It might also make you feel relieved to know Keith is absolutely fine, and that you aren’t in any sort of trouble, now.
Our system failed you, but tomorrow we will do our absolute best for you. Have a nice day Geoff…”- The phone line cut off.
“Well goooooood morning! Your listening to 1.05FM in the morning with Simon and my good half!”
(There was the sound of laughter)
“By which I mean Vicky, how are you this morning Vicky?”
“I’m very good thanks Simon”
Geoff awoke the next day fresh like morning dew, carrying himself with a feeling of innocence felt only by lambs in April. He completed his daily routine with no issues, including; running, yoga, shaving, showering, further grooming, and then getting dressed.
Looking highly presentable, he made his way downstairs at around 08:00 and had a breakfast which consisted of; thirty grams of oatmeal (made with cinnamon, honey, raisins, and fresh vanilla), a fruit salad (including mango, pineapple, apple, banana, grapefruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit, lychee, watermelon, honey dew melon, can elope melon, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and both red and white seedless grapes, a stack of buttered pancakes (served with maple syrup, blueberries, strawberries, and then dusted with icing sugar), a full English breakfast (including sausage, bacon, black pudding, hash brown, baked beans, fried tomatoes, fried mushroom, fried egg, scrambled egg, and fried bread), eggs benedict (with both variations of either smoked salmon, or ham), and a continental breakfast (which included croissants, pain au chocolat, and served with blackberry, strawberry, or apricot jam.)
The breakfast was served on a platter atop a brand new stylish dining area which had suddenly appeared that morning. The breakfast was also served with freshly squeezed juices (decanted from ornamental, crystal glass bottles, and poured into delicately sculpted glassware), a fresh pot of tea and a cafetiere of freshly ground coffee (served into fine china cups), and bottles of expensive water (both fizzy and still).
Geoff sat down to eat at the beautifully laid table and noticed a tv remote lay next to his knife. It was then that he noticed the brand new TV installed (which was twice the size of his previous set). The App messaged him with the suggestion “why not play the radio through your new surround sound system on your TV? Click here to do so” and so Geoff did.
The radio announcer could be heard “and now here’s Good Vibrations by the Beach boys!” (one of Geoff’s favourites.)The sound was crisp and sharp, but not too cold. It had the warmth of vinyl, but the high definition of modern sound equipment. Geoff than sank his smiling jaws through the bountiful breakfast, and slurped through all the accompanied drinks.
He was astonished at the amount he’d eaten and drank, however, he was ever more astonished that he didn’t feel uncomfortably full at any point, he just felt satisfied throughout the meal, and after too. He left the house with a spring in his step, humming The Beach Boys.
A very brief point of mild anxiety came across him as he was driving to work. He decided that he didn’t want to listen to the Radio and so he turned it off. The lack of noise was a little unsettling, but what was even more unsettling was that he didn’t receive a message from the App. He very nearly gave himself a panic attack when he began to realise the implications. “Have I accidently broken my programming again? Is today going to be another repeat of yesterday? Am I caught in this endless cycle?”
His anxiety soon gave way when he realised that he wanted to leave The App anyway, and that the sound of the car engine humming was relaxing. It was also a glorious day outside, the colours and hues of the foliage and flowering in the early spring morning sunlight glistened intensely.
Once at work he completed his daily tasks at work with ease. The day was exceptionally productive. In fact it was so productive that he even partook in leisurely activity in an allocated work time, which was highly unusual. During his lunch break Megan, who was looking particularly nubile, paid him a surprise visit. She told Geoff that she had planned a surprise Picnic in the park.
They ate outside in the glorious weather, in a completed desserted space of nature. Megan had packed the basket with the finest ingredients including; caviar, lobster, brioche, olives, red and white wine, fois gras, pate, and freshly baked bread. They ate heartily and Geoff even felt as though he genuinely enjoyed her company. Once they’d finished eating they laid in each other’s arms and looked at the clouds. Then they engaged in passionate sex in the middle of the day, in the middle of the city.
Once Geoff returned to his office he found that there was a party being held in his honour. He entered the office in a burst of confetti, cheers, applause, and silly string. Keefa, who was wearing a neck brace, shook Geoff by the hand and escorted him to a stage erected next to his office.
“Geoff this won’t at all be a bit of a surprise to you,” Said Keefa “But you have won the outstanding achievement award in business!” The crowd roared with applause. “And, as the winner of this award you have now won a brand new company car! Anything you want and it’s yours buddy!” He said this whilst making his hand look like a gun, and then pretending to cock his thumb like a hammer, and then presented Geoff brochures, (Ferrari, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Rolls Royce), with the other.
The rest of the afternoon Geoff celebrated his achievement with his work colleagues. There was a huge celebratory cake, and several hundred bottles of champagne. Geoff was overwhelmed, almost drunk, but not drunk. He made sure that he limited the amount of alcohol he was consuming, as he had a meeting with the Sales Director of Wave Incorporated at the end of the day. No, he was intoxicated by a bizarre feeling of bliss. Almost sedated.
The District Manager Howard Childs confirmed Geoff’s suspicions. He was to be promoted with immediate effect. This promotion included a hefty salary increase, uncapped bonuses, a luxury company car of course, and a stake hold in the company’s stocks. This effectively made Geoff a millionaire. He accepted the job.
He texted back Megan that he would be in the pub for his second congratulatory party within ten minutes. He turned the corner as he walked from the Directional Manager's office and found that a group of his work mates had been waiting for him to surprise him once again. They all congratulated Geoff on the job offer and then lead him out with them- forcefully at first, but once they realised Geoff wasn’t going to struggle, they let go. Geoff slipped from the group, out of sight, and through the staircase doors. He swiftly ran up the stairs until he came to the roof.
The rooftop was littered with a forest of pylons, satellite dishes, and mangled wires from telecommunication poles. It seemed very peaceful to Geoff, the wind blew a breeze as Geoff walked through the thicket. As he walked closer to the edge the voice of the foreman on the building site became clearer:
“Ok, the red car needs to stall now… And the little girl needs to run across the road, then in about three seconds I want her friend to run across after her. Ok, red car, err, beep your horn three times at the first little girl, now I want the policeman to get out of his car, and run over to the girls. The other officer needs to park the car on the pavement.
Now the first policeman needs to tell off the little girls about how they should watch where they’re going when crossing the road. Second policeman, please can you park the car now…ok that’s great, now, look up to the sky now because Geoff’s about to stand on the ledge of the building. Second policeman I want you to radio that you have spotted a potential suicide atop of an office block, followed by your co-ordinates. The first police officer needs to hear this on his radio and run back to the squad car.
Now Geoff, as you’re jumping towards the ground I want you to give me a really bloodcurdling scream... that’s fantastic... yes, just like that! Before you die I want you to put your arms out in front of you as though you’re trying to break your fall…”
A wicked smile curled the corner of her lips as her hands worked busily. She was a little lost in thought, remembering...he had that habit of brushing the hair from his eyes with a sweeping gesture that showed off the bulge of his biceps, a way of biting his pink lips and staring at her like she was something delicious . . . and awe inspiring. Her smile sagged, became pursed lips once more. She could not hate him.
It was the media. Pretty, airbrushed, doll-eyed little girls with rosy cheeks and shining flawless skin - this was what all women were meant to look like. She had pitied older women, mocked them even. Their loss of 'beauty' was a failure on their part, a source of her own triumph over them. But time, time made fools of us all. Her hands had become frantic, folding and refolding the slippery material. He had called her all the things she believed she would never become 'hag,' 'witch' and the simplest yet worst truth ever, 'old'. But no, she did not hate him. She loved him with a longing ache that would not subside. It was not his fault or at least not his fault alone. She was culpable. All of the beauty and youth obsessed society was to blame.
None could escape time...or at least never before. A wrinkle here and a wrinkle there, a wrinkle in the fabric of time in just the right place was all she needed. He had no idea how close to the mark he had been in calling her 'witch'. It was against all the rules of the coven - and time and space for that matter - but the aching for her head rested gently on his chest listening to his beautiful heart beating alongside her own was just too desperate.
Her fingers pinched the fabric just so and she began to whisper the magic words that would change time forever and end her pain. And then she stopped, time would continue. It was relentless and she could not stop it...
There was nothing but sound. Emilio had forgotten about colour, had forgotten even to try and recall it. There was no blackness, no light, no anything. He felt the sound, around him, like a blanket. Or was it heat? He couldn't be sure. Was he blind, now? He couldn't be sure of that either.
His memory brought to him a . . . thing unbidden. A teacher, asking the class how you would explain colour to someone who was born blind. His mind, struggling for an answer, like the disciple of some Zen mystic. 'The struggle is the answer.'
Abruptly, it was over. Pain struck his eyes, in the form of a fluorescent light. It took a few minutes for him to adjust; when he did, he found he was standing on the platform. Everyone was still there, it was as if nothing had happened.
'What happened?' Doctor Cornelius asked. His face was wrinkled, and to Emilio it looked like the lines were darker than before, sharp relief. A map of a mountain at dawn.
'I... I don't know,' Emilio replied, honestly. 'It was like, nothing.'
'That first trial was only five minutes,' one of the other doctors said. Emilio couldn't recall his name. 'We should have the results momentarily. Then, we will watch this spot.'
Emilio said nothing as he was taken by the arm and ushered from the platform. Someone offered him a cup of tea. He sipped it, feeling somehow that the flavour was gone. It tasted like... warmth. The room was different, too, the instrumentation. He could almost see through it. His eyes started to ache.
'Contact in five, four, three, two...'
There were gasps, stunned silence. Emilio forced himself to look. The platform, circular, pale turquoise, and atop it... himself. He stood, hunched over, arms on his knees. he looked like he was frozen in place. The research team collected themselves, began taking pictures, checking readings. A flash went off, and the man on the platform put his arm up across his eyes.
'I remember now...' Emilio whispered. Doctor Cornelius glanced over at him. The pain in his eyes intensified, and he doubled over, hands on his head. The room disappeared. He fell, but did not seem to land.
The research team looked at him, stuck in mid fall, defying gravity. He seemed to be outside of time. The man on the platform yelled, disappeared. The instruments all fell back to zero. Emilio fell to the floor.
Doctor Cornelius bent over Emilio, looked at his eyes, but there were solid white. No colour. Emilio writhed a little, gave a cry, and lay still.
I have just finished ordering my burger, my stomach grumbles. I am so hungry. The waiter seems to walk back to the kitchen in slow motion, my bowels threaten to eat me alive if I do not feed them soon. It is one of Windsor’s busiest restaurant, I start to fear the wait…To distract my brain, I watch patrons live their . . . lives on a different timeline.
The slow contented time of the young couple who have finished their meals. Happy with their choice and each other’s company; their mellow Sunday afternoon time seem to flow slowly in contemplation of each other hands and lips.
The hectic noisy time of those family whose children shout at each other because Tom has stolen little Emma’s chocolate… Both parents willing for the time to go faster, looking at each other, looking forward for their beautiful progeny to go to bed, enjoying a glass of wine in front of the TV as a reward.
The timeless time of Mrs Jones, eating alone at the same table since 1998, still hoping for Mr Jones to one day re-appear.
“A chicken burger with chunky fries and garlic sauce, enjoy your meal!”. My brain and my stomach finally in agreement, there is nothing better than the present time to enjoy the simplest things in life.
They stood there, rusted cars, how? I've been walking through the forest for at least two days on my own, getting as far away from civilisation as I could. But cars...I swung my pack down, zipped open the first pouch and drew out the map. I knew where I was, I walked this route before many times before, but this . . . graveyard had never been here before.
The map showed only a steady slope of contour lines and nothing more, no obvious markings or trails. How had they got here?
I started to walk through them, each one the same detail struck me over and over, the keys were in the ignition. Each and every car, the keys were just there, the odd item was left strewn across the back seat, an umbrella, empty soda bottle, and the saddest thing, I felt a tear form as I looked at it. A doll sitting on the back seat strapped in as if it was ready to go on a trip.
I kept moving on through the cars, each one a wreck, no sound, no animals, complete nothing. Absence of left except for the fungal growth on the rotted mess.
I looked all around and thought one thing, this place is cursed.
I'm not a huge believer in anything but this was almost a stereotype of a cursed place, used over and over by the movie industry and now I was living it.
I spread the map out on one of the roofs, scanned it for anything, something that might show why humans had driven here or how they had driven here. Nothing. I looked forward and the vehicles stretched on. I looked back at what I had walked through, and the vehicles stretched on again, I'd only gone a few deep how had they increased?
I grabbed the map and pack and started to walked back the way I had come.
I reached the beginning, and now the cars were no longer old. They were brand new.
People were sitting in them.
Something had killed them and they were all calm and serene.
Then I saw the newest addition. Mine.
I wasn't leaving. And neither did anything else.
How does it work? First things first, you need to find someone. Some refer to the term "soulmate", some call it "the one", some add "...you spend your life with" but this is an important factor nonetheless. Now, second step is arguable as well, some get married but some don't think much of it so no obligatory . . . procedures yet. But most importantly you have to take care of a small human being for a short amount of time - could be days. Now, quantity of these children may vary but the next situation you'll find yourself in is that they're 6 feet tall waving to you in a cap and gown and life is almost over. Try it, it's fun.
Steve stretched as he got out of bed, why did he feel more tired now than he had before going to bed? He switched on the radio whilst trying to get some clothes that didn't stink from the pile on the floor. The presenter's voice broke through his consciousness as he did a double take. An explosion on the tube? Wasn't . . . that what he dreamt about? He remembered thinking what a pain it would be, the utter chaos making it not worth the effort of even trying to get to work.
How could that be? Was it just a coincidence that he had dreamt about the tube crash? The thing was this wasn't the first time Steve had dreamt the future. He had previously dreamt about plane crashes, people's deaths and his sister getting pregnant. This wasn't just a coincidence, but what was it? Was the brain a time machine? Were Steve's dreams somehow creating the future? and if so, why wasn't he dreaming of being with a super-model?
Maybe Steve should do an experiment, he might as well go back to bed now as there was no way he was getting to work this morning anyway. Should he do something for him or something more noble? Dumb question, something for him of course. He lay back down on the bed, getting snug as he thought about the most beautiful women he had ever seen. He imagined all their best features merging together, coming home with dinner on the table, his every need taken care of, hopefully this dream would come true.
2 hours later, Steve woke up covered in sweat but not for the reasons he had intended. So perhaps we don't create the future with our wishes but we receive messages from the future as warnings. This dream had been future Steve at a bar, talking to current Steve. There were no great words of wisdom, just a dire warning. In 5 years you will be taking your last drink. He had been warned to change his lifestyle, to get out of the rat race, to do all of the things he had always wanted to do, but it was just a dream right?
Somewhere, I am running. Running, running, running.
My feet pound relentlessly against the earth. Everything is sped up, life in fast forward. My heart pulses hard in my chest, my head, my throat, my fingers. My feet tread bare against the rough ground, their soles numb and bloodied. The world races past me, eyes and . . . ears. My is breathing loud and rapid in my lungs, the only sound that seems to fill the night air besides the drum of my feet, and the sickening sound of the heavy boots that pursue us. Running, running, running. I stumble, my breath caught up in a gasp, my arms stretched out in front of me in a primal attempt to shield myself from the approaching black pavestones, burying my face into the crooks of my arms. With no sound, it seems, I slide along the cobbled street, skinning my left forearm and both of my knees, grimacing as the skin peels back.
Her hand thrusts into my line of sight from nowhere, her voice is shouting but I can only make out an unintelligible blob of sound, fuzzing and meaningless. I look up at her, facing those who run behind me, and she pulls me upright. At the touch of her hand, the world begins to slow. First, and briefly, we are in real time, and then we are slow, moving through treacle, until every second lasts forever. And that is when I realise what is going to happen. In this infinite moment, she is beautiful, glorious as I look upon her face. Her hair, black as coal, is curled neatly around her neck, its velvet ribbon hangs slightly dislodged and caresses her white skin as she turns away from me. This instant hangs suspended from all others; her hand in mine is soft and small and clings to me, anchoring it there. Her wrist protrudes just slightly from the cuff of her woollen coat with its velvet trim. As she runs, its pleated back panel expands and contracts as if in breath, the buttons just above it glinting in the light of the streetlamps, a flash of brightness, twinkling, like stars caught on the small of her back.
Running, running, running. Her grip on my hand slackens as we reach a tall brick wall. To us it is a huge towering black spectre in the night. Somewhere, a clock is ticking, a phone is ringing, someone is putting their children to bed, and I am running. She faces me, and I see her lips moving but I cannot hear the words but still I understand. She crouches; her white dress with its frothy lining leaves barely an inch now comes barely an inch from the top of the creamy white sock which shortly disappears into her mud flecked boots. She makes a cup with her hands and I step onto it. I reach up. I hear her sound of protest as she stands and I’m lifted but not enough to reach, my fingers left groping uselessly just a few inches from the top of the wall. With one huge heave and a thrust of my leg I’m there and I’ve caught it and I pull myself up, the raw flesh down my arm screaming in protest against the bricks and the weight of me. I scramble and I’m up; I feel my foot just clip the top of her forehead.
Steadied now, I turn; I reach down to her, my fingers splayed. She looks up; reaching desperately for my fingers. I can hear the boots; the echo around us. She glimpses them over her shoulder but I won’t follow her gaze. She looks back to me in panic, reaching again and this time she finds my finger-tips, but my grip is slick and she can’t hold it. She screams and sound comes running back to me from some place other than her body, which still I am reaching for. The boots rattle my ribcage and I spin so I’m reaching down and my legs hang over the other side of the wall and she grabs on, her hand around my wrist. I pull, and I hear her shoes against the bricks, so I pull harder. She’s calling me, yelling my name. I try to pull harder. The world stands still. I’m back in that moment again, where she first took my hand, but I know her hand’s gone, and she’s falling. It’s all I can think, though I’m falling too, and I hit the ground a heartbeat after she does.
I call her name over and over; crying; trying to climb; falling; cutting my hands; knocking my nails back. I am clawing the wall, screaming her name because that's all I've got and that's all she’s become. She is just a name unanswered on the other side of the wall and I am just a tiny girl who can never get to her. Somewhere a baby is born, somewhere lovers meet, somewhere a grandfather clock is ticking in the hall of our quiet house without us, and somewhere I am broken on the ground.
I ducked into the bushes nearby, and crawled along the cold earth beneath them. I can still feel the cold earth on my hands, how it stung on my cuts, and how thorns snagged my shoulder, and tore my jacket, leaving me shivering on the frosty grass when I finally emerged. I was doused in cold sweat, and my limbs trembled in the icy wind. I knew I had nowhere to go, and went back to the bushes, where I hid. Time hung still around me as I lay there. I could feel those moments, where she grabbed me and she fell, all happening at once, all instances somewhere, played on loop for eternity as I lay waiting on the ground for something to happen. When a hand founds my sleeve and dragged me out into the open, I called out her name, and I didn’t fight. My pursuers looked down at me, and I didn’t feel the knives of their words in the cold. I looked around, but I couldn’t see her. I still cry for her every night.
At night when I lay packed against others, I imagined her, alone, and afraid, like I was. After I was liberated, I still clung to this idea that I would find her, somewhere, and I wouldn’t be alone any more. One morning, I woke, and I cried, and I realised that I had always known that she was dead. If I had admitted it to myself before, though, it would have killed me. I am not sure I would have minded.
Somewhere, though, I am still running, in those moments that were worlds, instants that were universes that unfolded into others. Seconds bleed into minutes bleed into days; it’s all just another place. It’s happening now. I know because when I close my eyes, I see her face, that wall, those men. I know because I still feel that those cuts on my palms, and that fear in my heart, and I always will. I know this, because that way, she will be alive always, just somewhere I can't see. She is not past tense; she exists in between seconds, in the ticking off the clock, in everywhen.
When we were young, we could only look forward. The future was not yet written by regret. And the past was something we couldn’t wait to get rid of.
When we were young, secrets were exciting. We shared them to get closer. It never occurred to us that they might someday be something of a burden.
When we were young, we . . . waited for letters. When would they come? Can you remember the ecstasy of anticipation, how we waited all summer for a sign? And when they came, we would read them over and over. The texture of the paper, the scent, the etching of the words - sometimes carved with care, sometimes scribbled in haste - the pulse of our lover’s heart. We kept them in a shoebox, along with other momentos and tokens of our affection, a time-capsule, a shrine, to our fragile youth.
When we were young, the ring of a telephone sent shivers of excitement. We could talk for hours, until someone else pleaded with us to get off the line. Your voice gave me butterflies in my stomach. I could almost feel your breath in my ear. Your laughter made my heart ache, as I longed to see you. Sometimes, I held the receiver so tightly that my hands went numb, as I tried to pull you closer. How we dreaded being the first to hang up. How gut-wrenching when the line was cut, or we heard the dull throb of the dial-tone.
When we were young, we wandered aimlessly, without purpose or care. It was enough to be together, to bask in each other’s company and the radiance of smiles. The thrill of holding hands and interlocking fingers. The excruciating punishment of separation. Excitement abounded. It was everywhere. Every day brought new adventure. And when we got back together, we couldn’t wait to entertain one another with stories of where we’d been. What we might call a "normal day", now, was anything but normal, then.
When we were young, there were no wrong decisions. Only possibilities. One by one, we stacked them in a line, until they took us somewhere farther - much further from us. And, later, when we looked back, it made the present less exciting, so we chose to ignore it. That was when the past took on another dimension. It became thicker and more dangerous. If we looked, then, to the future, it no longer looked as limitless as it once did. Things don’t shine in the future; they lurk - which is why we prefer to focus on the present.
As we grow older, we excuse our younger selves. Our follies are framed by inexperience. They are like old family photos in which people wear funny trousers and the colours have gone all wonky. A lifetime ago. We have long since thrown out those shoebox shrines. We laugh, sometimes, at our younger selves. What did we know? Precious little. Yet, we were so cocky, so sure of ourselves. So certain that our unbridled passion, our abject will, would guide us to our heart’s desire.
Now that I am older, I wonder if we should be so dismissive of our youth? As I look through the eyes of my children, I see their innocence as razor sharp. They question the absurdities of the world, because the world is so often, badly broken and absurd. It is a world made by older people who have forgotten what it was like to talk for hours on the phone and cherish precious letters. It is a world ruled by common sense - as if sense was ever common, or even sensible! When I educate them, am I not making excuses for myself?
My memories of you are a time machine. When I look into your eyes, I can only see your younger self. When I hold your hand, time evaporates. When I am next to you, colours look brighter, people seem friendlier and the future suddenly expands into something wonderfully mysterious, again. I am transported to a place where everything is exotic and electric, once more.
I will no longer be dismissive of youth. I will not belittle its impulses or emotions. For youth has a clarity that comes from an uncluttered view of the future. It is a place where the heart understands what it wants. And I realise, now, that we were much smarter then.
Human skin is not capable of wearing frost like a sleeve. It was not designed to be so, we do not have the luxuries of fur and bodies covered in hair to hold it at bay, to stop it freezing our shell. We are not insulated like the animal kingdom, we are naked and weak in the face of winter. If we could only feel at home . . . in the cold we may fear death considerably less, maybe if people knew what it truly was to be naked and alone and cold there would be nothing to fear in the sanctity of the grave, it would be welcome change to the masquerade of niceties that consist of the average human life.
'This place breeds cynicism,' David Johnson stood before the grave, not really looking at it but rather through the slab of slate and into whatever void actually held his wife. Supposedly these graveyards emitted a sense of peace, a sense that all the loved ones you had lost were close to you, so close, and that was supposed to help the mourning process. But he knows that's not true, that is simply propaganda from those who have made it through the veil of darkness that shrouds itself around you after the tragedy, those deluded lost souls bound in a perpetual state of purgatory. No, the true emotions of the graveyard are far more byzantine than that. David had been through enough trauma in his life to know that there was no such quiet relief, it is a lie. Over the decades he had gained a quiet, yet encompassing, understanding of why the emotional loss of people was so difficult. It was because of the 'comfort' that we as people are 'natural' and therefore, as a principle, death is 'natural' as well. But we are not. He had seen enough of the world in his time to know that the reason nature, with all its outstanding beauty and intricate systems of life, is so able to shrug off the encroaching reality of death, is because it operates devoid of conscience. The reason birds, fish, insects and mammals are able to carry out the atrocity of infanticide, as an example, is because they act on the basis of the survival of their line, their species, and hold no sentimental value. The fact that the 'natural' world holds no conscience makes the very death of people, psychologically speaking, unnatural. 'This is supposed to be a day for her,' he said aloud, watching the wisps of condensed air plume around the space in front of him. At 67 David had still never been able to highjack his train of thought and steer it in the direction it was supposed to be in. Dropping the flowers in the mound of snow frozen atop his wife's resting place, David turned and left, his ephemeral footprints and rapidly deceasing flowers the only sign of recognition of the life so very cherished, and so cruelly taken.
The monotonous trudge of his journey home took its toll that day; mid-January was a relentless time to go walkabouts this far north but it had been a pilgrimage, a necessity. This would be his final day here, in this place of ice and concrete, microwave meals and documentary's, so how could he not lay the flowers one last time? He, David, a creature of relentless habits could never leave any loose ends, especially with the mourning of his wives, and subsequently his, life. Funny isn't it, how reliant we are? Like a cliché we cannot live by ourselves after becoming to intricately wound around another. But that's okay, for David did not plan on being separated from her for much longer. Years of research into mechanics and experimental physics, coupled with his true belief that we are not natural, that we are higher forms of being and therefore the laws of nature no longer applied had made contact possible. Arriving home, David threw out his habitual nature, he did not go to the kettle to make Tea, grab the newspaper and sit in his chair. He did not adjust the heating setting and go over his finances, making sure his pension was all in order. The microwave would not ding tonight for the Tesco's finest shit lasagne. Today he broke the ice on the garage door and went inside, closing it behind him, surrounding himself, other that the singular swinging light bulb, in darkness. For weeks he had been working to make something to see her again, for one last moment. In all honesty, it was nothing pretty or awe-inspiring. A bric-a-brac of left over metal and odds and ends soldiered together to make a monstrosity of a device. It was not a flashy car that would captivate pop culture for years, it had no moving parts to shunt it through the space-time continuum, no it ran on diesel oil and consisted of a few seats and a lever. But it would do. Placing himself inside his monstrosity, he put his time-machine to its first human trial.
Even under fire David's thoughts never ceased to wonder. He'd heard about strange forms of defence mechanisms but his own seemed to ultimately hinder him, especially in times of war. Whilst bullets formed and dissipated from the immense darkness of the jungle and his comrades fell around him, all he could think of was the transcendent beauty where he had found himself. This place could easily be the firmament, the way the iridescent light bounces off of the water, the shadow puppets the leaves create, fill his entire body with awe. But it is not so. Like the Sirens this place tempts with beauty, to have it thwarted by the consistent nature of death that lies in abundance here. Forgetting Nixon's bombs destruction and the Guerrilla warfare dismembering their force, even the jungle holds dangers. Poisons and disease, wild animals and critters swollen to inordinate sizes all threaten death in equal amounts to the oriental whispers that form the Viennese resistance.
'David what the fuck are you doing? Shoot the squinty eyed fuckers don't hug your gun like it’s your mother!' Screamed someone, anyone, what did it even matter? Some bulldog from up the ranks no doubt, obviously he knows he can't let men die for their country if he won't even poke his head out, but like a few more bullets are going to affect anything. He is not Achilles, his scream does not send back the tides of armies. He is David. His scream is weak and his body is frail from malnutrition. But he obeys, he shoots and he kills and he cries as men, comrades, explode around him. But he will not stand for this anymore, he has never felt patriotic, he has no family to disgrace; he is a ghost drifting through the jungle better off gone, dead, never here. He shall tie himself to the ship to hear the Sirens song, but it will not devour him.
It was surprisingly easy to desert once you had your mind set on it. After ensuring that he didn't die during the day, he simply waited until they dug in for the night, and slipped away into the darkness. The most difficult part was trying to conceal his plan; it wasn't a fantastic and intricate plan, there were no maps or building work to be hidden from guards who expected you to try and get out, but his face felt like it was wearing his guilt as a mask. He couldn't look anyone in the eye, and if a captain spoke to him he would try to avoid eye contact, but he managed to conceal his intention in spite of hating himself throughout every minute of him. Finally though he could relish in the darkness, in the beauty of the jungle, in its holocenic radiance. David, the failed student, the disserted soldier was free to wander. Freedom, pure and total, was his for as long as he had the will to survive this place. And he would survive this place.
Once his mind wandered, now his mind was caged within its infinite freedom. He was a man of the bush, a nomad of the jungle, his mind was free to fixate on anything. And it fixated on everything. In the silhouette of leaves he saw creatures, hideous creatures baring the resemblance of his squadron. In the bark of tree's he saw the face of his mother, crying, at the wretch her oh-so-clever son had become in her absence. Looking at himself in the reflection of a puddle, he was met with a stranger. Wide eyes met with pierced lips and chestnut hair became a solid mass of black mud fixed into position on top of his head. A nebula of scratches covered his body and face, showing through the patchwork quilt that once was the uniform of a proud American soldier. For weeks, he imagined, he had lived off of shrubbery and roots he was shown in his basic survival training, sleeping intermittingly throughout the day as to make sure he could ward of the night, away from prying eyes. A nocturnal hermit, how funny life is! David took his eyes from the stranger, and continued forward into the jungle, slicing away the touch of branches with his knife. Walking through, alert as ever, the overwhelming feeling of eyes on him became apparent, surveying him for his next move. He had learnt the feeling of the jungle, it always felt as if you were being watched, never truly alone; yet this was different. This was not some animalistic entity or the asphyxiation of the jungle playing with his sense, this was a human gaze that was on him, perhaps several. Not changing his stride or acting any differently he continued forward, his pistol would be little use if the Guerrillas had followed. Reaching casually towards his belt, he pulled the pin of a grenade and dropped it, acting as if it was a stone he had kicked. What a nice little performance, what a paradox of vision. Instantaneously he changed the direction he was going and burst into a sprint, allowing the cloud of mud to blind his pursuers. Eyes could have been anywhere, everywhere, he could be running towards them towards death, but that mattered not; he would not die without trying to outsmart these forest folk. Hurdling over roots and through vines, he zig-zagged frequently, but no bullets followed him. Beginning to relax and slow down, he was turning his head to check for adversary's when the forest floor opened, and grasping hands pulled him below.
He found himself in a tunnel, descending seemingly infinitely either side of him, housing nothing but stalactites of roots and the grotesque feel of insects on his skin. The forest had been dark but this place was the inside of the earth, a place not meant for human eyes - the soul of the darkness had found him. Dirt rained down atop of him as hurried footsteps crossed over the hatch, frustrated voices mixed with breathlessness let him know his pursuers had passed. David refused to turn to his saviour for some time, he knew it would be an American soldier that had infiltrated their networks, their mole hills, and was bound to turn him in. But they remained silent... the person who saved him was afraid of him, they were timid. Turning he was not sure whether to be afraid or relieved, for crouched in that desolate darkness of the tunnel was a small girl. Perhaps 16? 17, these forest folk look younger, look hungrier. She was filthy and dressed and rags, her hair was matted and physically moved with the presence of lice. Like his own, she sported a criss-cross of scratches from the encroaching branches of trees, as well as bruised and calloused hands held above her head, which with the aid of a dismembered shirt revealed the glimpse of a small pink breast. He could see through the dirt caked on her face that she had sharp cheekbones and slit eyes, exotic and mysterious compared to his aquiline nose and blunt, pasty cheeks. Amidst the filth lay a gem of a girl, strong and attractive if only you peeled away the grub.
'I keep safe, you take away,' she clearly held little knowledge of the English language, and in his blustered state David held no meaning of ‘take away.’
'You want me to leave?' he gestured with his hands, its true he felt a strange attraction towards this girl so this came with a previously unknown feeling of...hurt? No, disappointment. He was not inclined to raping and violence as some of his other 'comrades' but he would not be moved from the sanctity of the jungles veins, potential beauty be damned.
'I keep safe, you take me with you. You take me away,' stammered the girl, clearly petrified - yet commanding none the less. David gave an awestruck face at the request, the cherub gave a glint of emerald iris, and he knew he was hers to command.
* * *
'Listen all due respect but move out of my fucking way. Your who? I don't care if you own this hospital my father is in there and I will see him, rules be damned.'
'Sir you don't understand, your father is in a critical condition and..'
'I understand plenty, I understand enough to know that whether I'm here or there, he will die. I would prefer to be there, if that's okay with you?' Joe had never been a big man, but the gravel in his voice was enough to command people far above his station, even if he lacked the metal to support his authoritarian voice. Using his shoulder and the momentum from the stride he had previously been keeping, he slammed through the door to a picture no better or worse than expectation. His father lay, frail and small, underneath a blanket with various tubes and pipes attached to his body, like he was being attacked by so many snakes.
'Who found him?' he asked warily,
'The neighbour, they found him with the garage door shut - he was inside his car with his foot on the pedal. I'm sorry to say this, but it looks..'
'Like suicide. I know.' In truth Joe had been waiting for this day for some time. He could not dedicate the time to his father to help him past his mother’s death, the burden of a travelling job. Even if he could have, he doubted he could have affected him. In all his life Joe had never been able to find a love as all-encompassing as his parents.
'You know he fought in nam?' Joe desperately wanted the doctor to remain, he did not have the strength to remain in this room alone. 'It’s where he met my mother. An American and a Viennese fall in love, he deserts and they hide out from the war, escaping once the troops had departed. A true romance ey?'
'They sound like incredible people,' not sincere, but it doesn't matter.
'They were, they escaped to Switzerland after that. Remained for the rest of their lives in blissful paradise. He never got over her cancer; it took my mother, but it killed my father.'
'Sir, he is not dead yet. We still have hopes that,'
'His will is gone. He will pass soon.' Joe was not a cynic, but he knew his father. Approaching the bedside he kissed his father's forehead one last time, as David Johnson slipped into his past.
Davis Johnson yearned for his own machine into the past. But time does not allow us second grace. In the darkness of some spectral jungle, two specks of light come together engulfing themselves in brightness and heat, shining bright enough to oppose the stars for a singular second, before they are smothered by the darkness once more.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of Earth. Not many people have. Its a rather small, insignificant planet orbiting a dot of a sun at perhaps the most unfashionable end of the universe. The primary inhabitants of Earth, humans, have spent a great deal of time and effort in reaching out to the stars but the . . . truth is this. We came. We saw. We thought better of it. One of our ships came near it in the middle of the 20th Century but after seeing humanity’s reliance on the exchange of little green bits of paper to keep them happy and the misery that tended to cause, we promptly left. You will no doubt have heard of the planet which we encountered next, Melior, where the entire population live out their lives permanently in that state of mind just after one has received a rather unexpected and generous raise. As a result they are in an almost permanent state of elation tinged with generosity. This makes them very good hosts which was of course what we were after in the first place.
However, the Earth and humanity are growing in importance in one particular regard. You will have bought this book because you are currently undertaking a module at university related to the development of doomed planets. The Earth is one such planet. It is being increasingly used as a prime example of missed opportunities in terms of its capacity for supporting life and creating non-iron shirts that actually did not require ironing. In its early days it showed great promise. Single celled organisms had pretty much nailed it. Free speech and movement of peoples had been established as well as debt free higher education and the implementation of a universal living wage. There was also a worldwide ban on the production of the sort of music that can most accurately be compared to that of teen boybands and an outlawing of bad poetry. But as time ploughed on, and for the sake of ‘progress’, one of these cells split. And then another did the same. And then another again. Even at this stage the human race could be likened to a group of creatures that would later be known as lemmings. The pivotal splitting of cells is almost unanimously regarded as a bad move amongst the more learned members of our society. I will outline one example of why.
There was a point in history when it looked like Humanity could redeem itself and would join the ranks of our noble species. But after the burning of the Alexandrian Library, it all went even further downhill. However, what is unanimously agreed that perhaps the worst decade in human history was the 21st Century but the origins of this catastrophic era can be found as early as the 19th Century. In the year 1849 A.D (Anno Domini), or, for those of you preferring not to use the Julian or Gregorian Earth calendar, 119 Y.B.K. (Years Before Kylie), some humans from Austria attempted to attack the Italian city of Venice with unmanned balloons loaded with explosives. This is humanity in a nutshell; invent a bit of clever technology, blow someone up with it. Fortunately for the Venetians the wind blew the balloons back to Austria. However as humanity drifted into the twentieth century and early twenty first, these drones became far more sophisticated. Although primarily used for war, humanity adapted these drones to satisfy their tied second favourite activities; shopping and simulating war.
The company Amazon (whose warehouses eventually became so big that by the year 2106 they were forced to expand on the moon and began offering “1 Launch Window Delivery” for its Prime members who were now paying more for membership than the entire sum of goods they would order over their lifetime) began using drones to deliver packages during the early 21st Century. Whilst used in moderation, this was a rather innovative idea. It was often thought that it would be the risk of head injuries or the loss of jobs for delivery men that would cause the initiative to fold. However, as the number of ‘funny cat videos’ of pets being whisked away on them whilst their owners filmed on began to rise at an alarming rate, animal rights groups took control. This was a step too far. The cat on the Roomba was funny. This was something else.They protested against the drones in the way that only animal rights protesters the universe over can. That is, with gusto. In the end Amazon withdrew the drones and paid out millions of dollars in compensation to cats and their owners who had found the drones just too tempting to resist strapping their pet onto. It occurred to no-one that it might actually be humanity’s own innate stupidity and endless pursuit of YouTube fame that caused the downfall of AmazonAir rather than the alluring design of the drone itself.
Where the Amazon drones failed, Oculus Rift flourished. Oculus Rift, the creator of virtual reality headsets, could quite accurately be described as the final nail in humanity’s coffin. What started out as a tool for gaming and simulating the very wars that this technology was born from, developed into something far more disturbing. Oculus developed a drone technology whereby you could travel the world/attend meetings/see relatives all from the comfort of your room. You would merely don the oversize black goggles, direct the drone camera and you could be anywhere you wished to be. Almost instantaneously the travel industry began to collapse. Why suffer the discomfort of being soaked by Niagara Falls when you could get up close and personal through drone technology and remain thoroughly dry? Why bother expending all that effort and energy climbing up to Machu Picchu when you could do it during the half time of the football?
As time went on, Oculus perfected their virtual realities. No longer were they just streaming reality or creating barren war zones or strange lands where small, moustachioed Italian plumbers jumped on mushrooms, they were creating worlds which people actually wanted to spend all their time in. Virtual reality became better than reality. People were getting bored. They had explored all the wonders of the world in an afternoon and were now feeling resentful of the life that they were left with. Oculus’ marketing techniques switched and their slogans targeted to a species in denial of its own impending downfall; “Don’t want to deal with bills? Put on your Oculus glasses and boom. You’re on a sandy beach on a planet that exists in a permanent state of sunset, drinking a cocktail you don’t know the name of listening to some stereotypical hula-hula music”. The same went for husbands and wives; “Fed up of your husband/wife looking like, well, whatever it is he/she looks like? Put on those glasses and Oculus will superimpose the head of your dream man/woman onto the head of your significant other!”. This particular feature had far more downloads of male celebrities’ visages than female. This either indicates that it was primarily used by women or a lot of men were lying to themselves and others about something very important.
Towards the middle of the 23rd Century, humanity was almost extinct. People spent so much time in their virtual worlds that they neglected to take care of the real one. Birth rates plummeted, food supplies dwindled and most of humanity was now actually blind. They were so used to the artificial light that Oculus provided that when faced with the real sun, they couldn’t really cope. The progress that humanity had strived after ground to a halt. Oculus had brought in a feature where you could live in any era Many chose to step back, nostalgic for a time when life was simpler and Oculus didn’t exist. Pretty ironic really. As ever, humanity was solving problems by perpetuating the problem that they had initially.
The last human died, like many thousands before him, with the Oculus Rift glasses still on. Many years later when we did eventually revisit Earth, we assumed that everyone had died in a freak snowboarding accident due to the black goggles they were all wearing. It wasn’t until a good ten years later that we discovered the truth. Its sad to think that while all humanity was doing was trying to create a kind of paradise, they should have just raised their heads from their textbooks and their computers and their account sheets and looked out the window. If they had they would have seen a whole host of other people looking out their windows and wondering if there was a better way to communicate with one another than through a pair of cross-hairs. The great variety of humanity and its passionate beliefs for progress and a better world were its downfall. It could easily have been so different.
We are time-machines.
Hidden in the moment of cconsciousness is a secret. Have you ever wondered on how we are all conscious at the same time? Why is isome of us are ahead or behind others? Or whether we can ever be lost in time as we get lost in space ?
Preconscious processes are out of reach to the . . . minds eye, and yet is accessible.
The training required to manipulate preconscious thought is arduous, but the benefits are considerable -- modifying how one travels through time.
Few humans alive know the fear of a blind man standing in a den of wolves, surrounded by the incessant growling and the salivating of their glands at the prospect of writhing meat to feast upon. Only the few know of the stifling of breathing so too hear them all the more clearly, the squinting of the eyelids in the . . . hope that vision may miraculously return to save them, the musty scent of their fur growing ever closer towards them. They say that in times of extreme stress, you see the happy aspects of your life flash before you, comforting you and allowing yourself peace, yet this sensation is not one that came to Henderson's mind. Visions of stuttering, of crumbling and stammering and dishonouring himself flooded the private viewing screen behind the eyes, but no flashback of happy childhood memories. No nostalgia flooded his system allowing him tranquillity when he needed it most. No, these emotions had happened prior to the actual event, writing a speech as important as this could not help but stir these emotions. As his vision from the first round of flashes began to return, Henderson stood up to the platform to look across the crowd's, before the wolves camera's flashed once more, filling his Iris's with black dots, blinding him from the crowds, allowing him only to see the void from which he had immerged.
The sound of the bell could only mean one thing; that it was again time for Joe's torturous lunch hour of hiding and masqueraded repulsion. Lunch was arduous for many reasons, the largest concern was that John Biggins would find him, the narcissistic would-be-if-he-had-the-balls sociopath that plagued Joe’s existence, the other was that his plastic coated girlfriend Christina would be with him to witness the embarrassment that was sure to follow. He thought about seeking asylum in the library, but this once-upon-a-time safe haven for him and his friends had become the place of those who valued Wi-Fi above food and people. The computer room was tempting, but the stick he would get for going on those 'restricted computers' that blocked all of the 'useful' sections of the internet was paramount to suicide. He externally laughed at his internal monologue for even suggesting the Astroturf as a sanctuary, so all that was left was to find a nice quiet section of the corridor and settle there for the 45 minutes of ‘banter’ and false niceties before he could return happily to his classes. Yet this presented an issue - if he wanted a quiet spot he would have to go to building A, which was across the lunch hall from where he currently was. Gathering his wits and his courage, Joe began his descent through the entrance hall of Orcus, and into the Elysium safety of the corridors beyond.
Halfway through his exponentially fast descent, Christina caught his eye. Something in her mannerisms was different today, they appeared more welcoming, more inviting - the kind of mannerisms one would exhibit at seeing a friend? That was impossible, they had always ridiculed Joe for his diffidence, for his secluded nature and inward personality. He had never possessed a phone from this century, let alone one with an internet connection and that was enough to make him 'that weirdo' let alone the reputation as a full blown societal reject that he had usurped from the Lithuanian kid with a lisp that held the throne for so long. He was not on social media, nor did he care to be, and he had no prospect of trying to build bridges with them, so this random appearance of acceptance sent alarm bells running through his mind. Trying to ignore her, he redirected his route to the fire doors, hoping to avoid whatever trick was coming his way, but she moved towards him at an increasing speed.
"Come with me." was breathed into his ear as she grabbed his wrist and led him towards the back corridors, the ones nobody was allowed in during lunch. The urge to break free, to run into the courtyard and hide, or better yet run home and avoid whatever was coming his way was strong, but the entire lunch hall was here, more than a few eyes were watching this reject get pulled away by one of the monarchy. To pull off and run would fill his days with even more remarks, even more laughing and abuse. Subordinate and asphyxiated with terror, Joe was pulled into the darkness of the off limits corridor.
Joe was thrust against the wall, secluded by lockers from the sight on onlookers. Being beaten by the notorious bully was bad enough, but being beaten by his girlfriend, unable to defend himself due to her dick brained boyfriend was the lowest of the low.
"You tell anybody about this and I'll scream you forced yourself on me,' Whispered Christina, letting the warmth of her breath linger in Joe’s eardrum, alighting his senses. A grim look of confusion flooded his face before his body became a mould for clay making hands. Kisses, warm and sumptuous rode up and down his neck whilst strong hands grappled his chest, he felt the moist heat of her tongue work its way up and into his mouth, filling his entire body with unknown and fantastical sensations. He had never found Christina particularly attractive, yet he was a 15 year old virgin who had never even felt a girls touch, the strength of his will buckled and fell under the weight of sexual curiosity. Never before had he felt the breast of a girl so close to his body, time and place and situation were lost in an explosion of heat and breath and grappling. He felt himself grab onto her breast as she slid her hand under both trouser and boxer finding his erect self beneath. The flash of the wolf, a sensation he would grow accustomed too, appeared for the first time in his life, tearing down his ephemeral firmament with the click of a button. Laughter surrounded him in his vulnerable state, most vehemently emitting from Christina as camera's caught his lowest moment, making sure it could never be forgotten. The stark juxtaposition of the moment he had been in and this one could not have dazzled him more, making everything happen as if in a blur. At some point someone yelled 'Hard-on Henderson!' which caused an even more violent roar of laughter than previously. The entire school must have been aware of the prank that was about to take place, as for the first time Joe was the centre of attention, and it scared him. At some point he was knocked to ground, the colour of his blood stark against the shine of the white floor. He later found out that was from the dick-brain for 'finding his girlfriend hot.' Plaster covered faces flooded Instagram and Snapchat and Facebook next to a clearly terrified boy, with an erection extremely visible through his trousers with the caption 'Hard-on Henderson' all of that evening. Those same selfies of the damned haunted Joe for the next 18 years.
When the sheep manages to survive a wolf attack, it leaves its scars. A resentment built within Joe that he never knew existed inside himself. The narcissistic, vanity centred culture of the 21st century left him feeling cold and isolated from everything other than his thoughts. The preying on his innocence left him with enough emotional issues and fears, but the internet truly honed the beating to make sure he was forever an outcast. For the next 18 years he endured the laughs and sniggers of peers, the decline of job opportunities for his 'explicit internet content,' and all the physical and cyber bullying that the world could throw at him. The whimsical nature of the web meant that the horror would resurface sporadically, giving him the brief illusion of peace before it resurfaced his demons and begun it anew. Joe experienced the trials of puberty and adolescence alone, with no friends to help him by yet with too much pride to allow anyone else to know what he suffered. The egomania that set across society like a plague never infected him. Casting the despondent face of depression away, he used the self-obsession of 'socialites' as fuel to propel him forward. The loathing he felt for the over-sharers, the fickle and the vain turned him into the rarity of an internal person, one whose thoughts remain a mystery to everyone except a select few. One who spent his time improving himself rather than looking at himself. One who to understand, you have to dig deeper than his live feed or his timeline. One who you have to take at far more than face value.
Joe Henderson stands before an immense crowd shrouded in darkness, the only illumination apart from his spotlight coming from tiny flashes from across the hall. The entirety wait for him to begin his Nobel speech, waiting and expecting something grand and fantastic, yet within him still remains that terrified 15 year old boy, constricted and scared. No longer does it pin him down though. His fears drip away like wax under fire, and he begins.
Do not fear the wolves. The wolves should fear the sheep that discard their disguises and stand before them, unmoving and unapologetic.
But… I’m not really photogenic.
There’s an app for that.
Well, I’m not sure what heartbreak does to your appearance, but this man was able to put a un-makeup-able smile on my face and after looking at his ridiculous text that he didn’t get around to breaking up with me… As a matter of fact …if you could put the phone . . . down when I’m telling you something like this. I’m telling you I’m fearing my own tears because once they come I don’t know what’s going to stop me. And it’s not like I can retrieve to art. Where I work… pens are chained. And I’m 25, there’s a significant chance that this is the peak of my life. This. And see? See?? I’m the shoulder I cry on. So no, I don’t feel like taking a picture.
There’s an app for that.
If only the world would stop turning. If only time played no role. I just want one good shot, the right pout, the right seductive glint in my eyes. I need this. I need this because if I can grab, capture, portray this beautiful moment in time with me, the ever illustrious me as the foreground feature I'll top the . . . Likes and Comments list for years to come. Share, share and share people! Share it until you fingers go numb!
If only this damn creature would just sit still. So cute, so furry. Perhaps I should entice it. Entice it with soothing words. Make it feel safe, calm, at one with me and my smartphone. I just need it to play ball. I'll be so the talk of school if it does. All that "you only ever post pics of you in front of the mirror crap" would be long forgotten. I wonder if I should quickly change my top. Oh perhaps I should. It doesn't really go with my lipstick.
Tanya pondered a swift wardrobe change, a spritely makeover. She contemplated starting over but the her phone was an extension of her now, the reverse camera function her portable sense of self worth. It didn't matter if the Heavens were to open. She'd stay put, wait out the storm, the drenching. If only the bear a few dozen feet away could guarantee the same devotion and commitment to the perfect Selfie. The selfie to end all selfies.
Where has he gone?
Tanya half swivelled reluctantly away from her pixelated image trying to spot her big fluffy friend. No sign, no hope. She checked herself fully again in her camera's eye. The perfect pout, that seductive glint, the greatest surprise attack. Luckily she had it set to speed burst. I hope that phone stay intact.
Tweet. Swipe. Beep.
Katrina's eyes remained transfixed on the screen. Only once in the last few months had her faithful electronic companion left her side and that had been when it was hurtling towards the face of her not so faithful ex-boyfriend.
No damage had been done however, well not to the phone anyway, and now . . . she was determined to show him she'd moved on. When her Dad left for Paris on business, Katrina had decided to spend the night at the family's luxury, secluded beach house with her new boyfriend, Kent. Her sleazy bastard of an ex would see the pictures, read the updates, realise what a fool he'd been. Who cared if Kent didn’t actually exist? That was beside the point.
The thick oak door slammed shut and she glanced down anxiously at her phone as the dormant Wi-Fi box spurred into action. A few breathless seconds passed and then success! She was connected to her higher power. Boredom, that greatest of 21st century travails, staved off momentarily.
The first thing Katrina opened was Facebook. She sighed ... only five likes on her new profile picture... she shouldn't of worn the sunglasses. People always said how nice her eyes were. This was embarrassing. She acted quickly, deleting and then reverting back to the twenty-liker Cheryl had took that night in Tiger Tiger when the nipple of her right tit was partially exposed.
It was time to implement phase one of operation 'fuck that scumbag'.
Tap Tap Tap.
‘Having a gorge weekend with [email protected] wharf, Tweedview.’
She dropped a pin of her location in the virtual map and the update pinged out into cyberspace. The news would quickly reach her ex. That little pin would be like a dagger through his heart.
The interior of the beach house could best be described as rustic lavish. When the refurb was taking place much thought had gone into preserving the natural feel of the centuries old structure. The floor, the couch, the tables and chairs were all made of a wood designed to look as though it had been salvaged from the beach and not bought from the local timber yard. Any potential guests, or indeed the National Heritage Trust, didn’t need to know that most of the original materials had been stripped out and dumped along the coastline.
It was 5 P.M. and the autumnal sun was beginning its sharp descent toward the horizon. Katrina opened her Instagram and began browsing Kim Kardashian’s page. She showed an almost religious level of adherence when it came to paying homage to this contemporary celebrity goddess. There's was a complicated relationship however and when perusing her pictures, Katrina's feelings fluctuated somewhere between love and hate, usually settling on a kind of seething, broiling jealousy.
'What a fat-arsed bitch,' she muttered silently, grinding her teeth.
If this vacuous, judgmental gaze had ever been cast upon herself she may have observed that perhaps she'd trampled upon and then crossed the line between curvy and chubby; under the ridge of wide hips stood short, bulging thighs and calves compressed into thick ovals. When upright, her stomach folded into two rolls, doubling to four when she sat. Her breasts were large and well-shaped but a cup size bigger than nature intended. Her hair was bleached blonde and supplemented with extensions procured from all corners of the Third World.
A slightly rounded face gave Katrina an almost naïve quality and people often described her as cute. In her late teens she set to remedy this by pasting herself in foundation, blusher, and wearing enough fake eyelashes to make the act of blinking a challenge.
She launched Spotify and set to work preparing some pasta. Who would Kent listen to she pondered? The Arctic Monkeys?
‘Feeling rocky with Kenty :p’ she daubed across her Facebook wall before turning the sound to mute as the music played on in the minds of her friends.
Once the food was done she found herself experiencing a strange sense of satisfaction. Usually she just ordered takeaway but here there were no restaurants for miles around. For a brief moment she contemplated a life in which cooking her own meals became commonplace...And then as quickly as the notion appeared it evaporated and was replaced with the conundrum of how best to photograph her creation. What angle would best compliment the indentation of the tortellini? She pondered.
Twenty minutes later: ‘My other half is good to me Lol.’ Katrina captioned the picture of the now lukewarm pasta.
She checked her messages again. There was one on Facebook and one on Tinder, both from the same guy. Initially she'd swiped right but then they'd met and it was obvious he used the same camera tricks as her in his 'DP'. She'd agreed to meet once more after that when he offered to pay for dinner but then he'd came on too strong.
From the comfort of the sofa she glanced up from the screen as the dying light of the day poured through the giant front windows. The sky remained cloudless save for a few sharp cirrustic cuts slicing through the yellow centre of the buttery sun. The light radiated outward from this focal point in a cacophony of colours smearing the ceiling of the world with smudges of orange, pink, blue, purple and finally black as it died in the east.
Across the gently undulating dunes, the only landmark was the silhouette of some Celtic ruins. What a view they must have had, safe from distraction, lost in the fireworks of creation.As Katrina gazed into that sunset something flickered momentarily in her soul. It was like a shockwave through time, a fleeting glimpse through the eyes of ancestors who had once witnessed that great fiery beast fall into the sea and plunge the world into darkness.
Rising up from under the layers of civility, came the wails and cries of those primitive forbearers calling out to their shamanic Gods. She felt in unison with that great unknowable force which amazes and terrifies and intrigues, which fills a person with a yearning and a belief that it may be possible to transcend the material world around us.
She unlocked her phone and trained a lens upon the sky.
An image appeared on the two by four screen. Although the colour remained, the shades of meaning had vanished, any truth or beauty washed out by that blinking eye which looks but does not see.
Type. Type. Type.
‘Such a pretty night down by Mariners wharf#beauty#love#stunning#paradise.’
She ran the picture through some filters and decided on 'vintage'. A few minutes later and the phone vibrated. Katrina quivered with excitement, opening the fresh comment.
‘Is Kent as bored with you tonight as I am?’
She looked away in disgust, mouth ajar, ready to communicate her anger to a boyfriend that wasn’t there. 'Tom Wellbeck.' She enlarged the profile picture, bringing a thumb down atop his cocky, smiling face. She didn’t recognise him. He wasn’t particularly attractive and she had almost three thousand friends. If truth be told, Katrina didn’t actually know many people in her Facebook network, not that it bothered her. She was a performer and every performer needs an audience. She was in this for fans, not 'friends.'
‘Who r u like?’ Her fingers slashed across the screen, the left side of her glossed lips turning up into a snarl. ‘U fucking stalking my wall or summit?! U shouldn’t be looking.’
She waited in anticipation until the response came.
‘That's like pressing your face against my front window and being annoyed that I glanced over.’
Katrina tried to formulate a rebuttal in her mind but the idle cogs of her brain had long since been decommissioned.
‘Fuck off creep!!’ Her thumb hovered over the unfriend button ... No, she thought, this guy might pick an argument in the future. She wanted her public to know that she had a feisty side.
So the evening wore on and night draped its opaque veil over the deserted beach. The wind outside had picked up and the sand itself seemed to have come to life. Those solitary grains formed into vast dancing clouds blasting the side of the house before resuming their migration down the coastline.
Katrina settled down for a marathon of YouTube makeup tutorials. At around nine she realised that it had been half an hour since her last new follower, match, or notification. It was time for another selfie...
She turned the phone around, holding it at arm’s length and with ceremonial precision enacted a routine long since honed to a tee. Lips pouted, eyebrows raised, head tilted, chin down, she silently repeated the mantra. Katrina looked into the lens, that window to the world, basking in the gaze of an unknowable amount of eyes.
She waited pensively as the photo hung in the ether. The court of public opinion,the purgatory of popularity.
Suddenly, the lights went out. She jumped back in shock dropping the phone. And then everything was black.It was the kind of crushing darkness that seems to settle on the skin and turn drops of sweat into leaden beads. Katrina felt her heart rate rising. For the first time it dawned on her how remote the beach house was and how lost she felt without technology.
She fumbled around blindly in the cushions of an armchair searching for the phone and was overcome with relief when her fingers brushed the smooth chrome back. As she unlocked the screen light poured out into the room. It took a few seconds for her eyes to readjust.
She looked down at the image of herself frozen in time. The selfie from minutes earlier. Even in the midst of those disquieting shadows she couldn't help being drawn to her own gaze, that hypnotic beauty. But something wasn't right. She blinked hoping to dislodge the uneasy feeling and when her eyes met the screen again she froze in horror.
There, in the background, the face of a man peering out towards her.
“What a fat face” he thought. Turning his head down towards his paper again he tried to find the sentence where he left off. He sighed, folded the paper and ran his hand through his dark hair fixing the part to the side the way he liked it.
It was nearly 3pm and it was busy in the café. He looked to his right and to . . . his left many times expecting a different picture every time but knowing that he would see the same people but just in a different frame of time. “Time” he murmured. It was a fascinating thing to think about but if you thought to deeply it was the sort of thinking that could hurt your head or make one depressed so he again focused on his watch. 3:05. Maybe she’d come, maybe she wouldn’t but he was happy with himself for being on time and he knew that whether the outdoor wicker chair across from him remained empty or not that he had done something good by being on time.
The table and chairs ran parallel to the glass window of the café and he could look inside and see the people getting there coffees at the counter and he had a weird sensation of smelling the baked goods below the counter covered by a curved glass but he knew that he could not actually smell them.
His plate was empty, only crumbs remained and he had been hungry and the pastry only filled him up so much that he thought of purchasing another but they were to expensive. He thought about why someone would pay so much for a small croissant and he thought about what he really loved and it was the texture and that was really what he paid for. It was what everyone paid for; that and the location of the café being on a busy street that was In one of those neighborhoods that was good and then bad and then fashionably good again where the poor and rich lived together until the rich kicked them all out and then they would migrate and the poor would come back.
He enjoyed watching the people. In the cars especially because when they drove they were in their own worlds and you were in yours and sometimes your eyes would meet theirs while they drove slowly or stopped and it was as if you knew the person but you did not except for the color of the eyes and when a pretty girl was driving it was very nice to look at her face and see such pretty eyes.
He thought of the times they had driven together, the way her eyes looked and how they appeared to light up especially when she smiled and the wrinkles formed on her forehead and the creases at the sides of her mouth created by the laughter that you shared and that one shares with many people but he liked to think that those were his markings from making her laugh so often as they did on late nights when they sat alone together, having dinner while getting drunk enough that the jokes were still funny and you could understand them still which is what made them funny because you were not so drunk that your attention began to wonder.
He looked at his watch again and then rested his fist against the side of his face. A boy and his mother walked by and he smiled at the boy and waved gently and the boy smiled and continued on his way and he thought how beautiful and true the emotions of a child were and he thought about the children he would have one day and that it didn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl.
He kicked the chair back and straightened himself up but did not get up because he wanted to wait at least until 3:15 because she had been late before but never more than 15 minutes and he wished that things were the way they were before because they would show up together and there was never any waiting for anyone and that was very pleasant because time was an awful thing to worry about and always made him stressed because when you think of time one always thinks of death.
He looked at his back in the reflection of the window as he sat up, and noticed the wicker had left creases in his shirt and then he noticed his appearance and thought of Icarus and then of her and how she liked to smile at her self and in every reflective window to check her appearance and then she would turn and smile at him and then at herself again. He thought about how he didn’t like people who did this but realized he liked her and that he was still staring at himself.
He was about to get up when he could smell her perfume that he loved and that always reminded him of her when he was away and he knew she was right behind him and she stood over the chair in front of him and then looked at him and he looked at her and she did not look happy.
It was at my first university party when I first noticed ‘the problem of the selfie’.
Everyone knew about Freshers’ Week. As a fresh-faced, naïve but apprehensive first year who had just turned 18 a few days prior to Freshers’ Week, I was raring to go. I had heard countless anecdotes about people having “the times of . . . [their] lives” and indulging in endless shenanigans that ranged from the weird, such as ending up in Paris after a (tremendously) wild night out, to the (relatively) ‘normal’, namely the hook-ups and the projectile vomiting, an unfailing occurrence each night. Life was just about to start, as I was reassured, so bring on the alcohol, baby. I was ready for it all.
As evening loomed, chaos began to crackle. Slightly dazed from the vodka shot I’d been challenged to down with one of my newfound friends, I tottered to the sofa where several of my female friends were sitting, chatting among themselves and tapping away at their smartphones. Despite my inebriated state and the convoluted timeline of events that followed, I vaguely remember wondering why they were sitting in the corner, antisocial and far away from the rest of the party. Dialogue consisted of,
“So whatchu all doinnnggg?”
“We’re taking selfieees!”
At that very same moment, the bleary red-eyed pictures were posted and splashed all over social media, namely Facebook and Instagram. A full five minutes had not lapsed when a voice chirped, “So how many likes did you get for that?!”
It was then that I suddenly experienced a moment of sober clarity. My mind was swimming with questions, cynical questions, that widened my previously narrow outlook on life and on people. Was the point of going to the party not to meet new people and to forge friendships? Not to have fun? Or was it really (and rather pathetically) for photo-taking purposes? To look like they are actually having a life? Were these people really so narcissistic?
I did not know these people well enough to be able to blurt out any snarky comments and hence kept my mouth shut. I went with the flow and allowed myself to be led into the club, only for the same selfie process to repeat itself over and over again. The same motions were involved each time: a stiff, outstretched arm clutching tightly to a smartphone with its screen facing its subjects—usually an iPhone sheathed with a bumper or case that was in vogue—and several girls huddled around showing only the good side of their heavily made-up faces. After the pressing the camera button multiple times, it was then that we were finally allowed to escape—party time.
The next day, I was sitting at lunch with another friend who had not been at the party. Casually flicking through the photos that had been posted on Facebook the night before, she lamented her regret at having “missed out on all the fun” because she had been occupied elsewhere. I glanced over at the pictures, noting the smiling faces and the suspiciously non-glowing cheeks from the rush of alcohol consumed.
Had it really been that fun? I wondered. I remembered the carnival-like atmosphere with the bright neon lights and the unrestrained flailing of limbs grooving away into the night and the endless stream of colourful liquid happiness that came my way. But what really stood out most to me was the constant selfies that were being taken.
What I took issue with was the overindulgence in vanity displayed by the girls that was both exasperating and horrifying to witness. Have the standards of humankind really sunk so low? These girls were not your usual stereotypical vapid airheads—they have the world at their feet and are studying for degrees that will empower them even more so to make informed choices about their lives and be a source of change in the world. But the question was, why were they so concerned about their appearances? Why were they so superficial?
As time passed, I began to realise that the selfie craze existed due to a combination of many factors. People want to create the most positive public image of themselves; they want to be seen as having a great time whenever and wherever they are. The more ‘likes’, especially if they surpass the coveted one (maybe two or three) hundred likes, the better. It is a massive ego-boost that has the effect of creating a vicious epidemic of over-sharing and over-posting in the pursuit of popularity.
I suppose that is the way things are now. We are in an era where technology is king and instant information flow is of paramount importance. If only people could learn to let go of their virtual realities and enjoy real life before it is too late.
I met Queen Nefertiti on Thursday afternoon in H&M on 34th street. Her outfit was to die for and her skin glowed like she had been mummified for no more than a week, ok, ok.. a month maybe?
At first I was really stalkerish about it, I followed her to the the third floor "basics" section, then I watched her decide . . . between a gold knit sweater and a silver. I was rooting for silver, she went with gold. After hiding behind a rack of crop tops for 15 minutes I decided that it was time to man up, or woman up.. or whatever basically, I decided to say hello.
I smoothed out my wrinkled white top and adjusted my feet in my too tight heels to make myself look natural and comfortable. Why the heck did I decide to wear heels on a random Wednesday? Who freakin knows! At least she will think that I am like cool, and stylish and stuff.
"Hey Ms. .... um Queen Nefertiti"
She adjusted the silver top on her left arm and gracefully turned to look at me. It was a little too graceful.. like she practiced it for a week at Julliard. At closer look, I could see that the glow of her skin wasn't coming from the natural effects of skin preserving mummification, it was definitely that Mac bronzer for dark skin tones. Damn!
"Why hello" She replied.
Her breath hit me like a pile of bricks. Nobody mentioned that the most beautiful woman of all time suffered from severe halitosis.
"Are you one of my loving fans?" she asked
"Um, yea... I guess" I needed to end this conversation fast if I wanted to save my sense of smell.
" Well I'm so happy to meet you" the queen stated "Would you like a picture?
I wanted to ask her how she became known as the most beautiful woman, how she truly lived and died, how it was being a real queen. I looked her up and down and everything that I once found mystical and appealing was just ... human.
"Sure" I replied .. "lets take one for Instagram, I want my friends to see I met the most beautiful woman of all time."
"Don't go in there."
"Believe me, you don't want to know. It's a place filled with light and time. A place of organized chaos and deafening silence, of shadows and envy, of distance and adversity. A vast room of the unknown, of fortitude and fear. A place filled with humans, but no humanity. It contains . . . uncertainty and endless boundaries. It is a place of contradiction and aggression. A place of thoughtlessness in a sea full of minds. A place where doubt has settled and imitation resides.
Don't go in there.
You'll never escape."
I stood at the edge of the abandoned car lot, searching for some piece of evidence, some indication as to what happened. Walking hesitantly, I made my way between the cars, peaking into the windows, finding nothing other than dirt and broken glass, until I reached the end of the field of cars. A little further off . . . stood a rusted black truck and inside it sat a suitcase, inside which I found a letter which read: "Here we have come, here we have met. This shall be the point of life, the point before the end. This has become a world of anarchy and obsession, one where what is popular has overcome what is just and one where lives are lead with rationalism and tyranny instead of humanity.
This is the place of reincarnation. Here we have left, alone and together."
It was heavy, hot, the air embracing him and curling around him and smothering him. The ceiling fan whirred rhythmically, and he breathed and breathed and didn't think about it, not at all. His desk was cluttered with photos and trinkets and little bits and bobs from times past, lives past. His family, his wife and two . . . children, were out grocery shopping. It was Saturday when he grabbed a towel, tied it to the fan, and gently choked the life out of himself.
Carlos was not a good boy. He didn't cry at the funeral, nor mourn, nor remain stoic for the sake of his little sister. Every morning he woke up, made breakfast, and went off to school as his mother shook Mellie awake. Every afternoon he came back, did his homework, watched television, went to bed. An even rhythm, unshakeable. There was no gap, no feeling of an emptiness ripped from the center of his life. He didn't avoid his father's office.
Days, nights, they went on and on. The years went on and on, graduation, college, jobs, girlfriends, over and over and over until he didn't think about it anymore. The face in the mirror changed and did not change. He was not a good boy, and his wife came up to him and hugged him and said the kids and I are going to go grocery shopping okay, okay? Remember to open a window if you're going to work on your reports. It's too stuffy in there.
He sits in front of a computer and remembers a time where he dreamed or could have dreamed, above and beyond and here and not here. He thinks of his childhood and a rhythm and a family, unshakeable, steady. He thinks of the moon and the stars and the sun and he thinks of a time that had happened, would have happened, will happen.
It was heavy, hot, the air embracing him and curling around him and smothering him. The ceiling fan whirred rhythmically, and he breathed and breathed and didn't think about it, not at all.
The sea, the sea, we all return to the sea. It comes slowly, a tiger in the trees, swallowing the houses, the beaches, the streets. A hiccup, a gasp and they disappear into the sleek waves. The sky is gone. The sun is dead. No one screams or cries. We go together hand in hand, until our hands change and grey. We become . . . slick and calm. The sky is gone. We stare up at nothing. The legs freeze, the skin becomes cold. We float, alone, passing by others, fins and feet and voices halved to pieces. We sleep with eyes open. We cannot eat. The cold creeps to my heart, and then, and then, I fear. I jump, I shudder, I rip my arms from my sides. My legs tremble, my throat burns and clogs. The sea rises behind me, the land quavers in front. All that is left are strangers. A hiccup, a gasp, did I let go of your hand? Where are you, where did you go, ring ring, pick up your phone please please don't leave me alone. Tears rise in my chest and choke me to death and I cannot cry out for you, where are you?
I was browsing through my music library tonight and selected an album by Robin Guthrie. I hadn't listened to him in a long while, but memories came flooding back to me.
I first came across his music in college. My roommate at first appeared to be nothing like me, but had the exact same musical interests. It was an . . . uncanny pairing, especially as neither of us listened to anything remotely "popular". In fact, we tried to outdo each other in terms of who could find the most unusual, bizarre, and eclectic music we could. It was a game we played often. I think the first time he applauded my efforts was when I played Captain Beefheart's "Bat Chain Puller".
Despite our penchant for the bizarre, we both did enjoy solid musicians. He introduced me to some very profound and significant bands over the year. One group we both enjoyed unwinding to was the Cocteau Twins. Whenever we played their tracks, we put aside our competitiveness and pontificated. Undoubtedly, it was the creaminess of the music that made us contemplative. We were young. We were in college. We felt as if the world was, indeed, ours for the taking.
Those were good times.
We had another shared interest, which was our fish tank. We bought a behemoth that took up a quarter of our room and stocked it with bizarre and exotic aquatic creatures. Our neighbours thought us cruel when we bought a fish from the Congo that required a daily diet of live goldfish, but it wouldn't eat anything dead. Nevertheless, it was the perfect fish for students who disappeared for holiday breaks. We'd simply dump in a lot of feeder fish and say goodbye. Weeks later, we'd return and he'd be the only one left in the tank. He would watch us with his cold eyes. Swivel in place to keep us locked in his gaze when we moved around the room. He was a smart fish. Viscous but smart.
It did, however, torment a poor Dino Dog that we put in the tank with it. We though the Dino could take care of itself. It was too big to eat, but the Congo bully still pecked at its head and played with it for sport.
One day, the Dino Dog was gone. We figured the worst. That was the first time we felt angry at the Congo. We chastised him for it. We liked the Dino and we were angry that he'd eaten him. Gradually, our anger subsided and we stopped withholding food from him.
i was startled several days later, when I came across a strange creature covered in muck crawling across my bed. I was about to pound it with my shoe, when I realised it was the Dino Dog. Our room wasn't very clean (we were college boys, after all) and he must have picked up all sorts of refuse and residue (my roommate once found a half-eaten cheese sand which under his bed that must have been at least six months old; I thought it was the smell of his feet). Anyways, that wasn't the biggest surprise. We had no idea that Dino was amphibious! All this time, we thought he was a fish.
Well, once we realised our ignorance, we did what any respectable college, student would do. We held Dino Dog races in the hallway!
The 21st century began in a panic. Concern for their own well being gave way to irrational attempts to fix something that was never broken to start. Fear that the air around them was an assassin in disguise, a search for a remedy began. This ushered in the "Solution for Pollution" campaign which birthed hilarious . . . attempts at using mixtures of batteries and gasoline to try and reduce what they saw as pollution. How they got the idea that chemical reactions and controlled explosions were a good method of daily propulsion is beyond me. But at least they could see the sky back then. What I wouldn't give for a world where gas particles in the air was the only concern floating in the sky. Hell, Id take a brand new fleet of Spotters sanctioned to follow my every move and watching me jerk off in the bathroom over ending up on the wrong end of one of the monstrosities lurking in the sky above. Sadly, pollution to the yestermen didn't stop with simple carcinogens that were in the air, crime was included as well.
In 2016, the "Lookout for Liberty" program was set in place to allow our government use of an autonomous fleet of flying bio-mechanical watch dogs called Spotters. Each Spotter came with equipped with a synthetic brain programmed to carry out the duties of a peace keeper with out flaw. Along with a mastermind dedicated to fighting crime, they also came equipped with an assortment of non-lethal weapons used for apprehending any citizen in violation of the law. The idea was to keep an eye on crime in the major cities and take our uniformed brothers and sisters out of the line of fire. Its been a little over 45 years since the first fleet was commissioned to watch over Sector 1 in the upper east side of Manhattan. For the first 20 or so years, there was tremendous success. Advancements in science and medicine came in spades. Life became easier for everyone and the average life expectancy was more than twice as long as the yestermen. We stood united as a human race. Crime was almost non-existent, and the world was in its first true time of peace. Too bad it didn't last.
Where there are riches to be won, greedy men will rise to take them for their own. Frank "The Baron" Trigger got tired of seeing the government reap the rewards from this new peaceful society. Seeing someone else in his position of power was apparently unbearable. He put together a group of rebels to destroy as many drones as he could. Unfortunately for Frank, there was a savant by the name of Dr. Trey Grentston engineering new bio-mechanical marvels to take their place. This new breed of Spotters came with the ability to mend any ailments to themselves and any other drone around them in a matter of seconds. The defense for peace seemed impenetrable. Just as impenetrable as Franks conviction to claim victory. Tired of constantly falling short to the design of another, the decision to make it his own was made. He set out a bounty for 5 second generation Spotters to be captured along with Dr. Grenston, to be brought back to him. The prize? A chair next to him on top of the world.
It only too a mere 6 months for the Spotters to be re-purposed to do Franks bidding, giving birth to new breeds of weaponized drones known as Slugs. Like the Spotters, they had a synthetic brain but with only one objective. Follow orders given by the rebellion leaders. Frank knew the weakness in the governments army of Spotters. Lack of diversity. They became predictable over time. Dr. Grenston was forced to create 5 different breeds, each with their own unique destructive force of tremendous propotions. One of these monstrosities is known as a Bezerker Slug. The non-lethal weapons have been swapped out for twin electro-pulse plasma cannons, an atom scrambler, microwave clay-more grenades, and for a touch of old school insanity, flame throwers that spray liquid nitrogen at the same time to prolong the pain and torture.
The year is 2120 and the world now sits in a state of bio-mech pollution. It makes that global warming bullshit from the beginning of the 21st century seem like a day at the spa compared to what we have today. The paranoia of self destruction has transformed society into a giant ant farm just waiting for some kid with an over-sized magnifying glass to come along and burn it down. All hope is not lost however, the Doc was smarter thank Frank and created a key to destroying the slugs and taking down Frank. I am that key. My name is Colter Talberon and I am the the only one of my kind. From birth, I have been tasked with a noble mission that is mine alone and failure is not an option. That magnifying glass is held by Frank Trigger and I will destroy it.
Mine is just the opposite. I am 67, EYE Doctor and still working because I still love what I do.
As someone wise said,"if you love your job : you will never work a day in your life."
I was a diver in the Bond film Thunderball and still dive to this day. Planning a big bucket list trip in November to Australia, New . . . Zealand, and the South Pacific. Do some work and a lot of vacations, while you are still healthy. The age thing will eventually get us all.FOR NOW, NOT ME. I will be a 007 guy for as long as I live. If offered a dive job with EON, I would jump at it today. Maybe James needs a trusty sidekick to watch his 6 in a dangerous who is a total pro with some snow on the head.
To be completely honest, it's lonely being back on this side of the "real world". I spend a lot of time talking to myself-- doubting, reassuring, convincing myself that it's ok to do things differently. It's ok to not follow the same paths as my classmates. I think it was out of this loneliness that I applied for a . . . full time position. I wanted someone to collaborate on projects with and bounce ideas off of. I wanted a sounding board to know when my choices are in line and if I'm stepping towards the right direction.
But then I realized that I was just seeking validation from external sources. I wanted a job title and a salary that summed up "who I am" in a couple simple words, without having to put in the work of defining who I am for myself.
I thought about my friends' careers and how it seemed like everyone is working their day job until they can find the right time to quit and do their own thing. I've invested a lot into my freelance work and the momentum has picked up since I graduated in May. If I can sustain my lifestyle, then why give the next 2 to 5 years of my life working for another company? Just to be safe? Comfortable? Accepted?
I can deal with the relative discomfort of an ambiguous path as long as I can wake up doing what I love everyday of my life. When I stop loving what I do, then I will seek an alternate path. Right now I choose the present.
Dark, dark everywhere; I couldn’t see or recognise anything because of the lack of light.
I had understood that it hadn’t passed too much time since I entered that unknown place, as my eyes still hadn’t become accustomed with the dark.
I decided to remain still, in fear of getting hurt by objects I couldn’t even . . . perceive. When I was able to at least see the outline of the things around me, I realised that I was sitting in a bedroom like the one in my childhood house but without windows or doors to explain at least how I had entered it.
I started to hyperventilate: how did I come there? But therefore, judging by the lack of memories of the moments before being there, who had dragged me there? For what purpose?
All of a sudden, a storm of what seemed fireflies surrounded me, buzzing and buzzing all around me. There were at least one hundreds of that strange things…they couldn’t be the friendly insects I have seen many times, as these ones were emitting a bluish light. Definitely strange.
I looked around to find openings from where they could have entered there room, but there wasn’t anything of that sort. That place was like a container. How could I still breathe? There was nothing which could lead outside or at least make some fresh air come inside.
I was astonished, frightened, my claustrophobia was kicking in and the swarm of bugs certainly wasn’t helping. As I was struggling to swat them away, they disappeared, leaving only a faint glow which seemed to maintain its intensity.
I used this opportunity to calm down and look at my surroundings. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Have you ever imagined what a mentally disturbed child’s room looks like? Well, I had never had an idea, but that room had just made my imagination look like a preppy girl’s one.
It was a rectangular place with light walls full of scribbles, even on the wooden ceiling, in a reddish ink: they weren’t words or, at least, none that I could understand but symbols and numbers.
The most common ones were a strange fork, an eye, 2 and 3; they weren’t hieroglyphics and I was certain, looking at the place where I was in, that they weren’t a good omen.
There was a shattered bed, with the covers ripped off like by animal claws; near those rests there was a doll with a human body but a chicken’s head sewed with ragged shoe laces. It was the creepiest thing I have ever seen.
The only faintly normal things seemed to be a wooden chair with bloody scribbles, like the ones toddlers do on paper and a plain box at about one meter from where I was sitting.
What kind of material it was made of? It seemed sturdy like plastic, but it looked smooth like silk: a strange combination.
As I was approaching it, a strange blackish liquid began to ooze off and coming quickly towards me: it didn’t look too dangerous, so I wasn’t scared and I sat down calmly where I was but when I observed it intently I noticed pointy shards of metal mixed in it. I panicked. I tried to crawl away but my legs were immobilised.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t escape. I was screwed.
The liquid was getting nearer and nearer and it was a millimetre away my foot when, with my heart beating an erratic beat, I closed my eyes and prayed every God known to humankind to save me, or at least to grant me a quick and painful dead.
I felt something heavy, warm and fluffy on my foot: I reopened my eyes and saw my tabby cat sitting on me and I was in my cosy apartment. The clock on my bedpost showed that it was still 5:56 a.m.
That episode taught me a great lesson: never watch a horror movie, especially on people entrapped in strange houses before going to bed.
People usually are afraid of me, Doctor. I don't understand why.
Why don't you go first?
In the recent update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a new illness was entered, "Telephobia", more colloquially known as "Fear of Phone" - or, FOP, for short. This is a very dibillitating condition, which afflicts the techno-savvy youth of today. Despite initial skepticism, it is a . . . very serious illness that can lead to depression and, worse, a lack of connectivity.
I first developed FOP at my new job. I had been forced to take a position in a department called, "customer care" for a large retailer. It was a large room full of cubicles with people sitting in front of dumb-phones. Apparently, these used to be commonplace once upon a time, and there were still older customers of the company that preferred to speak to someone rather than use the Website.
Frankly, I thought the whole thing was a joke. I mean, why in the world would people want to waste their time talking to a person when they could do everything by machine? There's an app for that, duh! It reminded me of my mother, who was the only other person I know who used conversation. I tried to get her to text, instead of conversing, but it was a lost cause. She had a habit of making long-winded, uninvited conversation, whereas I preferred to keep my correspondence crisp and to the point. That's the beauty of texting, isn't it? No non sequiturs, observations about the weather, or unnecessary personal information. But, she just didn't get it. Eventually, I got her to settle on email, so we didn't have to spend excess time together. She still wrote ridiculously long sentences, though.
At the customer care centre, you had to sit and wait for the phone to make a sound, which seemed like a stupid thing to do. I couldn't even check the social profile of the person on the other end beforehand, so I had no idea who I was dealing with. The dumb-phone would chirp, I'd pick up, and then I'd have to go back and forth with whomever was on the other end for a few seconds, exchanging names and other innanities until we got to the crux of the matter.This happened every time without exception. Sometimes, I couldn't understand what they were saying. They might have a weird accent, or use long words, or sentences that - if written down - would be longer than 140 characters. It was really exhausting.
The days were long and the whole thing was really wearing me down. I got to the point where I dreaded the sound of the dumb-phone chirping at me. I even began hearing it in my sleep!
The worst thing, though, is that I started to become afraid of my own handheld. The first time someone called me on it, I had no idea what was going on. It was making a sound I'd never heard before and I thought someone had messed around with my alarm settings. When I figured out what was happening, it turned out to be a call from work. I asked them please not to do that again, because it really freaked me out, and to stick to texting. I mean, it was really intrusive. I was doing something at the time when it happened and it was really unnerving and inconvenient. In fact, it was never convenient. Calls like this started coming in from morning till evening and I just couldn't cope with it anymore.
I used to love my handheld. It went with me everywhere, right? But, then, it became this weird, scary thing that might make that horrible sound at any moment. I could be having a pot noodle, watching a Youtube in my jockeys, when it would just go off. Horrible. I started putting it in my bag, instead of walking with it in my palm. Sometimes, I even put it in a drawer.
Because I wasn't using my phone as much, my friends began to forget about me. I was missing out on stuff. I didn't read their status updates, I missed people's pokes, I didn't update my Timeline... it was just a nightmare. I was no longer in the Stream. It was like I was nobody.
I went into a deep spiral of depression. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. My sense of hearing became hypersensitive from the phone calls at work. I didn't shower, because the sound of the water hitting my eardrums really hurt.
I began to feel like a nobody. Mr Cellophane. I felt like I had no choice but to drop off the Grid. Even the people I used to know couldn't remember me anymore,because it had been weeks since we last connected.
Just when things got really bad, I stumbled upon a FOP helpline. They organised an intervention and immediately took me to a digital retreat. Through their care and guidance, they got me back onto my smartphone again. Luckily, it was like riding a bike. Within a few days, I could manage Twitter. By the end of the week, they had me back on Facebook.
I've found a new job that's kept me clean for about two months now. I thank God I found the FOP helpline. Without them, I don't know where I'd be. No, I do know. I'd be back at that horrible customer care centre, watching my life leeched out of me.
I was fed up with my smartphone only showing health food restaurants until I'd done my minimum number of steps for the day. But when I went into my settings I was appalled to have to respond to a pop-up disclaimer that showing fast food restaurants could void my health insurance. What was the world coming to? I knew . . . of rich people who had some lackeys walk their phones around before breakfast just so they could go to Dunkin' Donuts on the way to work.
How much money would it take for you to sell your life?
For Avery Reynolds, a life-long sufferer of sickle cell anaemia, that price was only £2 billion.
After signing a binding contract that proved to be more than profitable, Avery is left with a year of her life before she is sealed in an airtight plastic bag for the . . . foreseeable future as part of a scientific study into the process of aging and certain drugs that could affect this.
To Avery, she's getting the better end of the bargain; living is becoming less and less appealing to her when she has to worry if today will be the day when a clot reaches her brain and she has a stroke that she can't come back from. To her, this is an opportunity to go out with a bang - a very expensive and comfortable bang. She doesn't expect to survive the experiment and that's okay.
At least until she meets another member of the study, Koybayashi Sora, who already has something that the other subjects sorely lack; money. What results is a spiral of lies and deceit that Amelia isn't sure she wants to spend her last year unraveling but is unable to go into that good night without fully exposing. Why is Sora handing away his life so freely?
Why is she?
Figure Eight: Three year old Charles “Chuck” Sanders stands alongside four year old Harland David Sanders.
By the age of four, Harland had fashioned himself an entire set of child size wooden furniture, including the chair he is sat on in Figure Eight. With their small house now over-run with miniature, yet beautifully . . . crafted, furniture Mr and Mrs Sanders felt it was time that Harland direct his energy to another project.
As he had spent the majority of his time indoors creating what is now regarded as potentially one of the greatest collections of handcrafted furniture on the planet had it not been burned by his mother when she got fed up of dusting it in the Spring of 1898, Harland had virtually no social skills and was, quite frankly, inept when it came to talking to peers. Early attempts at introducing Harland to other children had ended badly when he had fashioned his neighbour Mark Boyne a child size coffin immediately after the visit. Instead the Sanders family deemed it better to start with an animal. After virtually no deliberation they decided on a chicken. The chicken was christened Charles Sanders. Charles was later known by his friends as Chuck.
Harland was given the task of tending to Chuck’s every need. Feeling that this was detracting from the time he could spend on carpentry he saw Chuck as the white angel of death to his beloved work. As a symbolic gesture Harland decided to exclusively wear black, and entered an indefinite period of mourning for his craft. So stressed at the situation which he now found himself in, just three weeks after taking charge of Chuck he took up smoking.
As Harland’s frustration at Chuck grew, Mr and Mrs Sander’s love for Chuck grew too. They began to prefer spending precious time and money with Chuck rather than the sullen, chain smoking child who was rapidly becoming more bother than he was worth. It was out of this general loathing of his life, his parents, Chuck and indeed all of chicken kind, that Harland decided to act
On a Saturday afternoon in the height of summer, Harland killed Chuck. His rival had gone. Extinguishing his cigarette Harland donned a white suit, with a black ribbon in memory of those lost months, and began preparing Chuck for the family dinner. Over dinner Harland informed his parents that Chuck had passed. However they were so enamoured with their meal and spent so long licking their fingers that they couldn’t find it in themselves to be angry with the transformed angel of a son that sat opposite them.
On remarking that this was the best chicken they had ever eaten, Harland revealed that whilst he intended to follow the old family recipe, he discovered he couldn’t read his mother’s hand written instructions. Instead he invented a special one of his own. One trip to the opticians later and the image that we all know and love of Colonel Sanders appeared in its earliest form.
Time. We perceive it to be a constant flowing, mono-directional entity that we all accept to be infallible. This is true to an extent. You see, time is relative to who and what is perceiving it. We are tiny, insignificant objects that are unknowingly going with the flow. Imagine, if you will, that the time line is a . . . river. Everything is moving at a constant, and always flowing forward. A human would be a water molecule in comparison. The world around us would seem to be uncontrollable due to our small stature. But imagine you were a fish in the same river, how would the flow affect you now? So given that example, how do you travel backwards? Simple, you create a machine that can counter act these flowing time forces. I have looked in to creating my own time vessel and I call it: The Black Hole Walker. Much like a fish swimming in a river, it is designed to counter act the magnetic and gravitational forces surrounding it to manipulate the flow of time similar to the way a black hole manipulates the same. Unlike a fish in a river, the machine and its occupants will actually be stationary while the surroundings are affected. This is the only way time travel is possible. You don't travel through time, you have to make time travel to you. The black hole walker fires in two stages. First, the anti-matter generator spits out oppositely charged particles that nullify the magnetic forces around the ship. Next the random force generator creates graviton waves much larger than the ones surrounding it creating a nice bubble, if you will, preventing time from affecting the occupants. To move forward, simply push the waves and magnetic forces away and to go backwards you would pull them. Obviously there is a limit to how far you can go back in time because you can only pull so many waves, but traveling ahead is, at this point, unlimited.
We give kisses in many ways. A kiss can be a greeting between friends, we blow a kiss to say goodbye, a mother gives a child a kiss to fix a hurt finger or hurt feelings. A kiss can be passionate or it can be platonic. Why do kisses matter so much? Because a kiss is like a relationship. It . . . is a way of connecting with others. When we think about leaving this world, I think it is more about the relationships we leave behind than the physical aspects of the world. Maybe that is why we also have a kiss of death. It makes sense really when you think of all the things a kiss can be. The kiss of death is all of them. It is the ultimate kiss encompassing a hello, a goodbye, a lifetime of relationships, and a passion for a what is to come or a platonic there is nothing more.
When I was a student, I lived in a house full of leechers.
There was this girl, who everyone thought was so pretty and petite that they couldn't imagine what a conniving moocher she really was. If I said anything against her, they'd give me sideways glances and think I was the one who had a problem.
There were too many . . . incidents to go into here, but I'll describe one of her favourites. Because we lived in a house together, some of us took turns cooking meals. I wasn't a grastonome, by any means, but I did go out of my way to get premium ingredients, because I liked to spend the time to pamper myself and anyone else who wished to partake.
Out of courtesy, I'd ask everyone in the house who wanted to dine with me. Invariably, she would say 'no'. Her excuse was that she wasn't hungry when, in fact, she was dieting. Inevitably, when the meal was laid out on the table, she would change her mind and gannet most of it down.
After awhile, this became irritating to me. She always said 'no' and she always ate most of the food. I confronted her a few times, but I didn't enjoy confrontation, so my attempts were half-hearted. She would beguile me with some apology or other and promise not to do it again. Then, like Lucy and Charlie Brown's football, I fell right into the trap.
She didn't limit her practice to mealtimes, either. She would also ransack our cupboards. We had all taken individual cupboards to delineate our stash, but she would ignore this and go on a raiding spree. Some of us began locking their cupboards down with padlocks, which pissed off the landlord, who didn't like us poking holes in his kitchen cabinetry. I didn't lock mine out of consideration, but wished I had when she hoovered my Belgian chocolates one afternoon.
I didn't understand why she was dieting, either, because she was so skinny - despite the fact that she ate anything in sight. Maybe, she had starved herself half the time?
As I said, I wasn't one for confrontation, so I had mastered the art of passive-aggressive behaviour. I decided to cook a meal that was too spicy for her. My plan backfired when she said she like spicy food. So, I upped the ante the next time and made it hotter. It proved a bit too hot for me, but she ate less of it that time. Yes! That was a win. The Cold War had begun.
With each meal, I made it progressively hotter and spicier - pushing my own boundaries. As each meal became more challenging, I found myself growing more immune, until the day that she actually spat the food out and said her mouth was on fire. She ran to the refrigerator and took some juice - not mine, mind you, but, of course, someone else's than hers - and doused her scalding palate.
"What the hell is that?" She asked.
"Firecracker Chicken," I said, making something up.
She nodded, knowingly, then retreated to the living room.
From that day on, she never ate my food again.
She did, however, taste it on occasion, so I couldn't ever let down my guard. I ate fiery foods all summer and paid for it afterwards. But it was worth it.
Caption: "I wish I was the chicken."
My childhood was better than some and worse than others. Take this picture for example. I have clothing, a chair, and a pet. The haircut and shoes, obviously, were not my favorite. I was cared for and fed but was not overly fond of my families . . . choices. I mean, come on, there is a chicken posing with me! I wasn't even allowed to stand and to top it off they gave me a stinky cigarette that kept dropping burning ashes on me as I was posing.
I appreciated most of the things during my childhood but eventually the reality that I was basically on the same level as a chicken started getting to me. You can't really take things out on your family so I picked the next best thing - fried chicken. People think my secret recipe came from my grandmother but it didn't. It came from years of "experimenting" with different cooking techniques. I don't know if my therapist ever figured out the reason why I kept sharing different recipes with him. Good thing I was through with therapy by the time I hit on the perfect recipe. Those who say vengeance is a bitter pill to swallow have never tasted my "finger lickin good" chicken!
Damn chickens. Like I said, my childhood was better than some and worse than others but at least I'm laughing all the way to the bank now.
They say there's a silver lining in every disaster. It's hard to see it at the time, but you have to believe it's true.
I can't say I'm one of the faithful in this regard. That doesn't mean I'm without hope, however. I just don't think there's a silver lining in every situation. I think it's a token that we cling onto, . . . so we can brave the hardship, expecting to cash it in down the line.
There have been times when I resurfaced from the darkness and found a new perspective that made things seem less terrible. Perhaps, that is a kind of silver lining. I don't know. Whatever it is, a fresh perspective - and a good sense of gallows humour - did the job. I end up wondering why I clung onto a fantasy so long that it actually hurt me?
Rather than believe in a silver lining, I prefer to believe that things WILL get better with time. This is part of human resilience. When we get some distance, the pain subsides. We begin to forget the particulars. There are other things worth our attention. Life goes on.
What I do know is this: whatever I think is truly bad right now is going to be trumped by something else. That I know for sure.
Each decade brings something more terrible and challenging than before. The feelings may be relative, but the actual severity of the incidents increases.
For example, when I was a teenager, I had some profound agonies. But, they were over relative trifles. As an adult, I have faced much more difficult and trying circumstances, but have learnt to be less anxious about them. For the most part, that is. There are some things you can't premeditate.
Life always throws you a few whoppers. Whether it's a breakup, death, deteriorating health from old age, taxes... you name it. Life is going to get more complicated as you grow up.
I can think back and enumerate the times that I was truly in despair. I mean, moments when I really thought my life was over, or that what I was facing was just too terrible to contemplate. Somehow, I got through it. And when the next whopper came - it was predictably more terrible than the last. This is the pattern. I guess that each trial makes you more capable to handle a bigger load the next time.
This should be making me stronger. Maybe, it already has. But, I know not to become complacent. There are going to be some serious trials ahead.
So, in the end, I don't think there's a silver lining. There's just you against the world. The only way you're going to survive is by finding a way to get beyond the pain. Once you do, your life grows richer and your understanding goes deeper. That brings a sense of satisfaction. And, this new-found perspective and resilience, makes it easier not to sweat the small stuff. Perhaps, that's the silver lining, after all!
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I watched it silently, as it lingering in and out. It is now or never. I doubt that I will beat it but I had nowhere to run. And I'd promised them. The heavy footstep draw closer. There is something fragile in my back pocket, I have to protect it even if it means my life. Crack! It seems he notice me somehow. Just . . . the hell this tree branch came from? I move back a few steps. Weapon on my right hand; a very important weapon to determine my victory, I hold it closely to my chest. As the footstep is just a few centimeters away of me, I jump in front of him and bahh! I pop the balloon right on his face as i throw him a small pack of flour that was in my back pocket a second later!
Dookoo wasn't like the other children. Dookoo thought differently than they did. The problem was, Dookoo didn't know that, her family didn't know it, her teachers didn't know it and the other kids didn't know it either. Everybody, including Dookoo, thought they were all thinking, hearing, and speaking words.
But . . . Dookoo really thought in pictures. Beautiful, amazing pictures without time and without constraints. Pictures that reached into the depth of her soul, pictures that captured everything she was feeling, pictures that absorbed every color and every detail of anything that she ever saw or did or dreamed about. Because Dookoo thought in pictures all the time, she thought everybody did.
Dookoo also thought everybody else was smarter than she was because they could do things faster and easier than she could. That made Dookoo feel stupid, especially in school. Everything was always timed - reading, math facts, spelling. Dookoo could see in her head the most amazing stories but no matter how hard she tried she couldn't make the stories get from head to her hand. And even if she did get something down, she never got a good grade because her handwriting was too sloppy and the words weren't spelled right and she could never remember the grammar rules. School started to make Dookoo sick.
Dookoo wished she could live inside her head with all of the amazing pictures. In her head, Dookoo wasn't stupid. She could think through advanced mathematical concepts, invent things, but she didn't know that because she only had the pictures, not the words.
One day, Dookoo finally met an adult who understood thinking in pictures. For the first time Dookoo realized she wasn't stupid, she just thought differently from others.
Dookoo wasn't like the other children. And they knew it.
They made fun of Dookoo for the colour of his skin and his big brown eyes.
But what Dookoo didn't know was that he was special.
His blue skin made him special. His big brown eyes made him special. You could see into his soul by looking into those eyes.
But the . . . other children didn't care to find that out. They only looked at the surface. Didn't dig any deeper. Didn't get to know his soul. Or how big his purple heart is.
And they lost out.
For they will never know the amazing strength of Dookoo. The fearlessness. The kindess. The love he has to share. Because it is the love of the world. The love of 7 billion people all wrapped up in one little sad little creature.
And no-one will ever get to know that love.
Because the world was so cruel to him, one day he found a razor blade and decided to end it all
Then he found happiness.
Then he found peace.
Then he found love.
And the world will never know just how much they missed out.
I have a recurring dream. Hard to call it a nightmare, exactly, but it panics and annoys me every time I have it.
It starts off with me arriving at the airport. I arrive with plenty of time to spare, so I amble around, running errands, having a meal, reading magazines, etc, until I realise that I have lost track of . . . time and only have 15 mins left to reach the gate.
I scramble to get myself together and - for some reason - I can't fit everything I have into my carry-on. Or, I have too many pieces. So, I spend the next few minutes trying to re-pack everything. Inevitably, I have to ditch something important in the process, which makes me sad.
When I run to the gate, I discover that I'm in the wrong terminal. Or, the gate is the furthest gate away from where I currently am. Sometimes, I rush to the gate, only to discover that the gate has been moved and I must board a bus to take me to the proper gate, which will waste precious time.
Every time I have this dream, I encounter all sorts of bizarre obstacles on my way to the gate. I might run into an old friend, or acquaintance, who thinks it's very rude of me to rush off without a proper 'hello'. Other times, I've discovered that my passport has expired, but that they might be able to make an exception. Sometimes, the security queue is unreasonably long and the couple in front of me have five kids who won't follow directions. Or, someone is having a diabetic attack.
Once, I had to remember what locker I had temporarily stowed my belongings in, before I could go to the gate. After completing that challenge, I can't find the locker key, or I don't remember my combination.
I never get to the plane on time. Usually, I wake up panicked and angry, then realise that it's only a dream.
I am not sure why it's so important to board the plane, as I never know where I am going.
There was a time, once, when I did make the plane. However, it flew in a very strange flight path, taking me to Alaska, then to a small 5-seater into Canada through stormy weather, then got me to another jumbo jet to Australia. I nearly missed each leg of the trip.
I had just finished a week of all-nighters and, thankfully, made the deadline. Now, if my damned boss would pay me on time, I could just about make the rent.
I looked around my apartment. It looked like a bomb site. Scrunched-up papers were strewn around the floor, dishes were stacked in the sink, half-eaten sandwiches . . . were stashed under the sofa. There was something powdery green going up the walls around the doorway to the kitchen. Was it mold? I didn't want to know. I couldn't let the landlord see it, either. I'd have to do something about it - and pronto!
I am very lazy by nature. Last-minute is my preferred method of completion. Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. Better still, never do any day what you can pay someone else to do. There was no way I was going to clean this up on my own. I'd have to use a bit of my precious coin for a cleaner to take this abomination off my hands.
Luckily, I remembered a flyer that someone had stuffed through my letterbox. I hunted it down. I found it under a chair. It looked as if I'd used it to blow my nose, but it was still legible.
"Tip Top Tots" was the name emblazoned on the header. That sounded nice. Very efficient, I'd imagine. The price looked reasonable, too. Almost, too reasonable. But, who am I to quibble? Cheap is cheerful, after all.
I rang the number and got an answering machine, so I left a message with my instructions. I didn't want to be home when they came. I wasn't worried about valuables - I didn't have any. I was more worried about facing condemnation when they saw the mess they'd gotten themselves into. Many years ago, I had an elderly polish lady who came once a week. She'd shake her head, suck in air and cluck with disappointment whenever she came. I felt so guilty that I'd clean up before she arrived. What was the point in that? That's buying a dog and barking yourself!
Feeling smug, I decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood and take things in. I hadn't been outside in awhile. It was a pleasant spring morning and I felt like standing still with my face radiating in the sunshine, like a sunflower. Just then, I was interrupted by someone who tried to give me change. I guess they thought I was a bum. It was then I realised I hadn't showered, or shaved, in several days.
Actually, the panhandling turned out pretty well. I wish I'd thought of it before. I collected close to twenty dollars by lurking in doorways to cafes and supermarkets, hand outstretched. Well-dressed people felt guilty when they looked at me. Giving me money assuaged their guilt and I was thankful for it.
The sun was starting to go down, so I headed home, curious to see if "Tip Top Tots" had done a good day's work. When I opened the door, I was horrified to see babies all over the place.
"What the hell?"
They were crawling all over the floors, the furniture, and touching everything they could get their hands on. There must have been thirty, or more. And they were all wearing the same uniform - a bodysuit covered in bright yellow strings. There was one not far from me, so I used my foot to roll him over. He burbled happily, enough, so I went to take a closer look.
"These aren't strings - they're mop brushes!" I said to myself.
"Ah, mister Gavanish!" Said a voice, emerging from the kitchen.
I turned to face an elderly, Greek-looking gentlmen, who held two babies in each hand, like pot-scrubbers. One of them had green all over his bodysuit, so I suspect he'd been rubbing the walls.
"What the devil is going on here?" I asked.
"These are my top tots, mister Gavanish," he said, smiling. "They make your home nice and clean."
"This is outrageous," I spluttered. "This is slave labour!"
"No, no, mister. This is playdate. They enjoy themselves. Look."
I took a moment to survey the situation. They did seem to be having a good time. Actually, they were doing a really good job at cleaning, too. I could see how easily they squirmed under furniture and scrunched into places that brooms couldn't reach. Some of them had silver polishing mittens on their hands, taped around their wrists. It made it hard for them to pick things up, so they kept trying, over and over, all the while scrubbing the objects clean. Sometimes, they drooled on stuff, but this only helped with the polishing. Frankly, I'd never seen my place sparkle like this, before.
"Where did you get them from?" I was more curious, now, than upset.
He explained to me about an arrangement he had with a local day care centre. It sounded dubious, but I couldn't think where else he could have collected so many at once. Apparently, the place was short-staffed, so the babies lay in cribs all day with nothing to do. He assured me that they found this much more exciting. Every day was like a new adventure to them, exploring people's apartments.
Nevertheless, it seemed a cheap shot that this fellow employed an army of babies, when he was the one collecting the money. "Never do yourself when someone else can," he said, smartly. He had a point.
"What if you can't get enough babies for the job?" I asked. He seemed confused. "Well, it looks like you need a lot of them. What happens if you get a job and they don't have enough at the day car centre?"
"I order on E-Bay."
"Some people rent their baby on E-Bay," he said, shaking his head, sadly. "They say too much hassle. Hard to feed. Nuisance. I bring them here. They very happy. Have a good time. I return them later."
"How much do they rent them for?"
He grinned, "That is trade secret."
"You must make a margin, I suppose."
He laughed. He made it clear he didn't want to talk about the finances. He had a good thing going and didn't want me to muscle in on it. That is, until it came time to settle the bill. He was a very skilful negotiator.
He packed up the babies and headed off to return them. Suddenly, my place felt very lonely. It was, however, exquisitely clean. The "Top Tots" were cute. I wished - for only a moment, mind you - that they could have stuck around a little while longer.
Well, I'll probably need to give the place another going over in a couple week's time.
I pinned the "Tip Top Tots" flyer to the fridge.
Facebook is a place where nothing bad happens.
It's an alternative universe where beautiful people have great times, good food, and share inspiring quotes and like everyone and everything. I should really enjoy this place, but, instead, I'm starting to find it depressing. Perhaps, it's because I feel like an outsider. . . . My life really isn't all that. And I don't want to compete in the rat-race of "My life's bigger than yours".
I didn't always feel this way. When I first joined, I thought it was a remedy for all the terrible things that are part of real life. Here was a place full of happiness and light. People didn't criticise one another. If you did, there'd be a terrible backlash, as if you had shat in the punch bowl, and you'd be reprimanded.
After awhile, I started to resent my so-called "friends". They were always having a better time than me. They went on expensive vacations to wonderful places. They dined at fancy restaurants. Their updates were always up-beat and positive. They tried to out-do one another with proof that their lives were so much richer than everybody else's.
Now, I shouldn't have resented that, should I? We should be happy when our friends are doing well. But, there's something about Facebook that rang hollow. Could there lives really be that gorgeous? I was suspicious.
I found myself wishing that there was a "bad news" filter that would just give me something real, even if for shock-horror value. I mean, where were the damage posts, like "I'm a recovering crack-addict and I relapsed last night, what should I do?", or "My husband of twenty years dumped me for a younger model and I feel like crap", or "I just lost a limb, help me"?
Occasionally, someone would post a bummer, such as they knew some poor kid who was fighting leukaemia, but they'd dress it up in some positive action such as a fund raise to help them get to Disneyland. That way, people wouldn't dwell on the negative, but had something positive they could do to help. Also, what do you do when somebody posts something awful? If you don't feel like really engaging them, all you can do is "like" what they've written. How does it feel when people "like" something awful that's happened to you? "My friend died in a car accident and I really feel like I need some support". If I "like" that, I'll come across as a sociopath, but that's what many people do - because there's nothing else they can do... And they don't really feel like picking up the phone and talking to them about it.
It's as if Facebook has hard-coded a response that avoids actual, messy and meaningful dialogue between damaged souls. It reminds me of the reductionist language in 1984. "Like" is the new, "Double-plus Good".
I'll admit, though, that I'm a voyeur. I enjoy probing deeper into people's lives on Facebook. The older generation are mindful to be coy. You don't find juicy stuff in their profiles. But, the younger ones are far less reserved. They'll tell you everything you need to know without you having to ask. Like an armchair traveller, I'll voyage to profiles of people in far away places and get a glimpse of their lives through posted videos and streamasterbating.
Why do I do this? Is my life just that much less interesting? I think it's because I'm searching for a real connection.
If you hunt deep enough, you'll eventually find some cracks in the linoleum. For example, there's a DJ that I "friended". I've never met her, but we've corresponded. She's a hottie and I won't deny that's what prompted me to hit that request button. She has beautiful friends, too. She goes to exotic gigs in glamorous places. She selfie's herself with famous people. Her stream is a life-camera. But, there are times when even she can't keep up the facade twenty-four-seven. In a moment of un-Facebook-like behaviour, she'll post something from a hotel room, probably the ten-thousandth in a punishing tour of cookie-cutter spaces, relentless shmoozing with vacuous hipsters. In those moments, I'll see some of the depth of despair. She's lonely, like the rest of us. Her stream is window-dressing: "This is how I want the world to know me." Truth be told, I live for those moments of vulnerability, for they remind me that she's human and that we are all alone at times.
We were born alone and we'll die alone, even if we pick up a few friends along the way.
For some reason it's comforting when people actually confront this reality. It means that they're open to a real exchange of knowledge, insight and information. They want to have a connection and that makes them more interesting and alive.
And that's why I like to be a voyeur. I enjoy those moments of intimate human connection, because so much of what we come in contact with these days is just a facade. And I find a real connection - even if ethereal and fleeting - quite nourishing.
This is the chapter, "Chuck Collins", from "Endangered Species, Book 1: Diary of an Eco-Warrior"
Lucy took me back to her flat to share some of her research materials. She was planning to put me on retainer for a few weeks and see what I could turn up.
The money wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, either. But, it was better . . . than zero.
I said I needed to understand him in order to find him. She didn’t disappoint. She had been Collins’ producer for the past ten years and kept everything - showreels, programmes, clippings, interviews, transcripts - you name it. It was a one-woman fan club. She had discovered him - a diamond in the rough - when he she got his first commission with the BBC. They were inseparable ever since.
‘Sorry about the mess,’ she said, as we entered her immaculate flat. ‘I spend most of my time in LA and don’t have a cleaner.’
It was a showroom apartment. Not a crumb out of place. I tried to imagine her having Oz for a roommate. That made me laugh - until I noticed her watching me, as one might watch a vivisection.
Best keep my thoughts to myself for awhile. At least, until we got to know one another better.
She had a cat. It sidled up to me and rubbed its arching back against my leg in a friendly manner. Made me miss Francesca’s even more.
I reached down to give him a proper scratching but Lucy whisked him away.
‘Careful,’ she said. ‘My cat’s bipolar.’
She set him down before a small bowl and took out a blister pack of pills.
‘Best steer clear until he’s had his medication’.
She poked the pills down into some mystery meat from a cat food tin, until they were well-hidden.
His name was nemesis.
I don’t want to crow but I’m actually very good at tracking people down, especially the ones that don’t want to be found. It’s part of being a good investigative journalist.
True, I wasn’t much of a journalist but I had a knack for the investigative part. It suited my lazy disposition.
Rather than scouring the world, racking up fees, in endless pursuit - I liked to sit in cafes with a laptop and cellphone, conducting investigations and ‘Photoshopping’ my fees to justify my retainer.
But, tracking a tracker would prove challenging. If Collins wanted to drop off the radar, then he’d be tough to find. This meant I’d probably have to get off my butt and actually go somewhere.
This didn’t bother me, though. I needed a radical change. I wanted to get out of town and reinvent myself.
I’d go looking for clues. People can hide but they rarely change. They retain certain idiosyncrasies. They might have a penchant for porn, or a certain type of cigar - perhaps, use an inordinate amount of hand-sanitizer - that kind of thing.
And, there would be witnesses.
People leave behind “droppings”, like a bear in the woods.
Collins had a troubled childhood. He grew up in Zimbabwe but was of British origin. His parents had financial troubles, possibly political ones as well, because they left under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately, they forgot to take their son, who was out collecting beetles at the time (his zoological interests blossomed early). They also forgot to tell him where they’d gone, or send someone to collect him. He returned that fateful night to an empty house, which was promptly repossessed by the government, and exchanged for an orphanage – where he spent the next few years.
When he was asked about this incident in an interview, he said that his parents probably had a lot on their mind at the time. Hmmm. A strange form of denial. Surely, it would be hard to forget that you had a son? As far as I am aware, they never found each other ever again.
He was adopted by a local park ranger who needed help chasing poachers. He found an eager assistant in the young boy, who enjoyed taking pot shots at them with a sniper rifle. He may have enjoyed this a little too much, as he spent weeks on end tracking them in camouflage, or pretending to be the animal they were targeting - just waiting for the perfect moment - to shoot them in the ass.
That was his calling card. To this day, many of the poachers from the region cannot sit down comfortably. It is often misconstrued by their employers as a sign of pride when, in fact, it is a medical condition.
The ranger had adopted another surrogate son – a South African by the name of De Konig – who was only a couple of years older than Collins. There is very little information on him. He and Collins left the park at the same time, after their adopted father tragically perished in an elephant stampede.
Collins spoke of his time at the park as idyllic, but there is also an undercurrent of sadness. I got the impression that he was hiding something.
He began his career as a tracker in Africa, then travelled to Australia, and on to New Zealand. He was good at it, too, but often got into spats with his clients. It wasn’t unusual for someone with his skills to guide amateur hunters, but the work was distasteful to him. According to one police transcript, he actually gagged and trussed up a client as a pig and put them into one of their own wild boar hunts. Luckily, their fellow hunters realised this just before the kill. It was a close call and Collins was stripped of his credentials. But, he dealt with it in his usual way – by going somewhere else and starting over. He was amazingly resilient. Perhaps, that was on account of all his previous misfortune.
He did a stint for the BBC as a wildlife consultant and this is where he met Lucy. It was at this time that he got the bug to be in front of the camera. This proved to be short-lived, however, as his reporting style was somewhat inflammatory and politically incorrect - even by BBC standards. Some of the titles of the episodes from his children's wildlife programme are particularly revealing: “Happy Feet: The Secret Lives of Gay Penguins”, “Preying Mantis, Coitus Interruptus”, and “Hippo Poop”.
Also, there were unfavourable reports of him endangering the crew on account of being more interested in helping animals than people. Not long after, he reinvented himself again as a naturalist and hosted an amateur wildlife program on a local cable channel in America. This was eventually parlayed into a television series that very few people saw but, nonetheless, kept going. The series ran for several years, as Collins scoured the globe for animals and plants in peril. Wherever he went, Lucy was sure to go with him.
I saw pictures of her building camp fires, cooking meals, and generally mucking in wherever she could. She clearly loved the outdoors. Yet, she was incongruous to it. After months of living in the bush, she still looked like a supermodel who had been helicoptered in for a fashion shoot, while her crew looked like cadavers at the morgue.
Lucy handpicked her highlights, yet I must have watched over six hours of Collins in action. It was hard not to like the guy. In his early years, he came across as a babe lost in the woods – excited by everything he saw. There was something infectious and endearing, yet hapless, about him. He seemed genuinely shocked when the animals refused to cooperate. After all, he was there to help them.
He had a tremendous knack for getting in the soup. Each episode brought new confrontations and successive injuries. In one episode he upset a bee hive, which came to a sticky and painful end. Then, he was charged by a buffalo, accosted by a Koala, pecked by an upset Emu, decked by a panda, face-slapped by a Portugese Man-o-war, swarmed by red ants, assaulted by an angry beaver, crushed by a cow, heckled by dolphins, and body-checked by an angry moose. And, that was just the first season.
But, the guy definitely had charisma. When he spoke to camera, it felt as if he was speaking directly to you and no one else. He rallied you to his cause. Yet, as he matured, a hardness set in. He became scared - literally and figuratively. The hazards of the job were taking their toll. He became irascible. Only the most stalwart of his crew remained. In fact, a few boom operators even died on location.
In the end, there was an undercurrent of bitterness to him. I felt he was constantly seeking approval but became disillusioned by the silence at the other end. Even after skyrocketing to glory from the YouTube video, he seemed frustrated by the public. He wanted them to care as deeply as he did about what really mattered to him. But, ultimately, it was a one-way conversation.
If television was too small for Collins, then Animal Land gave him a new lease on life. It was big - really big. It was to be his capping glory. He had a renewed sense of purpose and an urgency about him, as he set to evangelising his greatest achievement. He became the beneficiary of an anonymous donor and no expenses were spared. It was to be the greatest show on earth.
Like many of his previous assignments, he took to it with a zeal that was commendable in its ardour, if not somewhat out of place with reality. Let’s face it, Animal Land was a tourist trap. You could sense the investors salivating at the merchandising opportunities. But, Collins, to his credit, seemed utterly oblivious to the crass commercialism of it all. In his mind, he was creating a utopia for both man and beast.
Children came in droves, delighted by the prancing llamas, the antelopes and the rhinoceros park. But, their squeals of delight could not mask the ill-fated premise. Wild animals are wild. Even more so when not behind bars. It was a teddy-bear picnic just waiting to happen. And the tourists weren’t there to commune with nature. They wanted to gawk at the animal circus - bask in their own superiority - and then buy corn-dogs and plush toys at the concession stand.
It was a tragedy from the start.
As I watched the last episode of his television program, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sadness. Collins didn’t deserve what had happened to him. I realised that now. Obviously, he felt the same way. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have disappeared from the limelight and abandoned the cause he held so dearly, no matter what the trials had been. The disaster at Animal Land had been so catastrophic that nobody could have expected otherwise.
I realised now that he was probably in some far-flung corner of the world licking his wounds – punishing himself for what he perceived to be his most momentous failure. And, now, Lucy raised the possibility that he wasn’t to blame.
Was this wishful thinking, or had higher powers had it in for Collins from the start? I knew what it was like to be the underdog, the guy who kept bashing his face against the wall, hoping that somebody would notice. He touched a nerve. At least I knew who it was that I was searching for.
Someone not unlike myself.
Lucy hadn’t returned from running her errand. Must have been over two hours ago. Should I be concerned?
More important, I needed to find a toilet. I had drunk five cups of coffee. My bladder was a watermelon.
I went to the hallway and saw two doors. I figured that the bathroom was the first one I came to but I saw that the other door at the end of the hall was open. Probably, her bedroom.
I couldn’t resist.
It’s not that I was perving. I was just curious, so I slipped inside.
Her room was tidy but her bed was unmade. It faced a small but tidy writing desk. All the items on it were neatly arranged: writing paper, pens, paper clips, envelopes… and a pack of Russian, gold-tipped cigarettes.
I sniffed the packet. Very heady - very exotic. There were only a couple missing. No ashtray, either. Not the sign of a compulsive smoker but one who partakes occasionally - a guilty indulgence.
My eye caught some movement. The door was opening, very, very slowly.
Crap! I froze. This wouldn’t look good. I had to fashion a good excuse -
It was the cat.
He stopped and stared at me with unblinking eyes.
Thank God for that.
Still, his saucer gaze was unsettling - and a bit hostile.
‘Hey there, Nemesis, buddy - how you doing?’
I stepped forward but he hissed. His back hairs shot up and he arched something frightful. I spoke to him in dulcet tones.
What happened next was a blur.
He launched himself at my face. I couldn’t see a damn thing but I could feel his sharp claws digging into my neck.
Then, he bit me.
I may have over-reacted a little. I grabbed his fury face and flung him across the room. He ricocheted off a lamp but landed on his feet. I hotfooted it out of there, but he leapt onto my back before I made it to the hallway.
Now, he was harder to reach.
I body-checked myself against the wall.
He squealed - not a pleasant sound - but wouldn’t let go.
I dropped to the ground and did a fireman’s roll. Every time my weight bore down on him, he squelched but wouldn’t stop clawing up a fury.
When I saw my own blood, I realised I had to take things up a notch.
I scrambled into the bathroom and plunged myself into the shower.
I blasted kitty and he didn’t like it one bit. He tried to escape but I held him there as punishment. Not very mature, I know, but I was running on adrenaline.
‘That’ll teach you to mess with me you friggin’ fur-ball from hell!’
Satisfied that he’d had enough, I pitched him out onto the bath mat.
He stood there like a drowned rat.
I could see the anger and hurt in his eyes. But, we had come to an understanding – for now.
He skulked away.
I caught my reflection in the mirror. Christ! I’d had a cheese-grater facial!
There was nothing to swab my fresh wounds with except beautiful, fluffy cream towels… or toilet paper.
I chose the latter.
I don’t put much store in fate, or bad luck for that matter. But, I hadn’t had a lucky break for months. Then, Lucy came along. I thought it was a sign of something good, but now I wasn’t so sure.
If I had trouble fighting off a house cat, how was I going to survive an expedition with Chuck Collins?
We weren’t hiking into Hyde Park. No, we’d be going places where no man had gone before.
Lucy showed up a short while later. She didn’t remark that her cat was wet - only that it had carefully eaten around its medicine, leaving the pills behind.
She saw my face, however, and put two-and-two together.
She sighed. There didn’t seem to be enough time for her to say what she really wanted.
‘We need to go to LA. How soon can you be ready?’
‘Right now,’ I said, yanking out my passport from my back pocket.
It was damp but legible.
‘I never travel anywhere without it.’
Lucy was impressed.
‘What about clothes and things?’
‘I’ll get what I need on the road. Besides, I prefer to travel light. Look - I’ve even taken a shower, so I’m good to go.’
I smiled, dislodging the torn pieces of toilet paper that I’d stuck to my facial wounds. They fluttered down to the cream carpet like petals from a red rose.
‘Fine. We’ll take Nemesis to the cat hotel and head to the airport.’
‘They have a hotel for cats?’
She was confused by my question.
‘Of course. He can’t stay here on his own.’
I looked at Nemesis, now purring sweetly in her arms. I’m sure if she left a window open, he could happily live off the pigeon population in our absence. He’d be just fine on his own.
In fact, he was probably the only one likely to be left alive at the end of it all.
But, I didn’t know that then.
Ignorance is bliss.
"Please, come in. Make yourself at home. They should be ready, soon."
I looked for somewhere to sit down, but there was no furniture. Instead, the ceiling was covered in what looked like stretchy white nylon stockings filled with different colored materials. I stood for a moment looking at all of them. It . . . was a strange feeling, like I was supposed to know something but could not remember. One of the "stockings" across the room "called" to me. I know that sounds silly but it is the only word that comes close to describing it but it is woefully inadequate. It had beautiful colors, it was like looking at another world, literally. I reached out to touch it and instantly I was flying through space and time. I jerked back in shock.
The woman laughed softly and touched my shoulder saying "It's okay. I remember how overwhelming it was for me the first time." Through her touch I still had the sensation of flying but it was more subdued. "It will get better."
"What IS this place?" I asked. She smiled and turned away and started walking further into the room. As she walked she held her hands out as if she was greeting each one of the worlds. "Not worlds, connections," came the answer., "this is a connecting place." As we kept walking I realized it wasn't really a room, there were no walls that I could see and even what I had originally thought was a ceiling really wasn't. I stopped and turned back and the door was right there in front of me as if I had not moved at all.
"It's a connection place," she repeated gently as if she was speaking to a small child. She touched me again and this time I felt a flash of light at the connection.
"Pick something you know and love" floated through and instantly I was surrounded by a whirlwind of people, animals, flowers, waterfalls, oceans... It was like seeing everything I had ever seen all at once. I wondered if this was what it was like to die as a butterfly emerged and, unperturbed by everything around it, delicately landed on my hand and looked up at me.
She stepped back and smiled "A butterfly," she said softly. "A butterfly," I repeated as I realized I was once again back in the "room."
"Not room, connection place," she reminded me as she opened the door and we stepped back outside. "Follow the butterfly."
I looked more closely at the butterfly and realized I could still feel the connection. The butterfly flapped its wings and lifted off and moved away. I turned around and everything was gone, the house, the woman, the connections but the direction "follow the butterfly" was still there and so was the butterfly. I moved toward it.
"Please, come in. Make yourself at home. They should be ready, soon."
I looked for somewhere to sit down, but there was no furniture. Instead, the ceiling was covered in what looked like giant, melted gum drops.
"Whoa! That's a very unusual ceiling you've got there!" I said, not sure what the appropriate response . . . should be. Was it intentional, or a horrendous mold? I put my bags down.
"Yes, it's a unique feature of Harikawa's design."
"Harikawa, the designer," he didn't seem impressed by my lack of culture. "It's unusual for him to do interiors, but I was very persuasive. In fact, he did everything in the house. He calls it a living museum."
"Why, living?" Mold, then, definitely mold. Great, my first Air BnB experience is in some dilapidated mansion full of infectious spores out in the middle of nowhere! Just my luck. Perhaps, it wasn't too late to cancel? I'd forfeit the first night's deposit, but it wouldn't be a total wash-out.
My host continued, oblivious to my concerns. In fact, he seemed very house-proud. "The entire structure is made from organic materials. Even the furniture."
"No kidding?" I said, but that only made things worse.
"Yes, it's self-healing." He could see I was baffled. "Here, I'll show you." He took out a pen-knife and approached a white sofa that I'd failed to notice, probably because it resembled an old man's backside more than a piece of furniture. He drew the blade across the arm of the sofa. A green substance, not unlike blood, oozed from the razor thin gap. Within seconds, it began to congeal. "In half an hour, you can pull off the scab and it will be as good as new."
I was impressed. "So, what, then, exactly..." I looked up at one of the hanging gumdrops. It dangled like a long white sock, weighed down by large red bulge at the bottom.
"Harikawa calls them fly traps".
I couldn't help prodding the bulge. It yielded, as if full of mucous.
"I wouldn't touch that if I were you," he said, curtly.
"I'm sorry, I was just curious." For a moment, I could swear that the bulge juddered slightly, as if something inside was still alive.
"How would you feel if I poked you in the stomach?" He seemed more amused than angry.
"The house has to eat," he said. "It's organic, remember? A living structure."
"What does it eat?" I'd taken care of people's pet before, but this was going to be more of a challenge.
"Anything it can. Insects, small rodents, birds."
"How does it eat birds?" I laughed. That was ridiculous.
My host didn't find it funny. "They land on the roof sometimes. Perch for a moment, then discover they can't alight. After a few days, they become absorbed."
Now, that was creepy. Okay, I'm definitely going to look into alternatives. However, it would have to wait until tomorrow, because we were literally in the boonies.
"Come, let me show you to your room," he said, "I think you'll like it."
He wasn't kidding about the room. It was enormous, full of light, and had breathtaking views out over the mountains.
He must have seen the look on my face. "Impressive, isn't it? I was at a loss for words, but managed to nod. "I don't often let strangers stay here, but needs must. Besides, I checked you out."
"You did?" That was worrying.
"You're a writer. So am I. This is a very good place to write."
"Yes. I was hoping to spend a week away from everything to work on my novel."
"Well, you've come to the right place. Nobody will disturb you here." He smiled. "Now, I'm sorry to run, but I have a plane to catch. I've written down everything you need to know in a book on the kitchen counter. The phone doesn't work, but I assume you have a mobile?"
"Yes, but I've noticed reception is a bit spotty."
"Best place is on the roof." He looked at me sincerely for a beat, then laughed. "Just kidding." His laugh had a mocking, not reassuring, ring to it.
I heard the door close behind him. I was alone in the house. Although, alone was not the feeling I got.
As beautiful as it was, I couldn't get the feeling that I was living inside somebody, rather than some-thing. Surfaces were warm to the touch, occasionally clammy. There were low rumbling sounds, sometimes, that didn't sound like a boiler on the blink. Indigestion? I didn't want to think about it.
Strange that none of the other Air BnB'ers who stayed here never left a follow up message, or review. Perhaps, they were trying to keep the place their little secret? I could understand why. The place was huge and secluded in the most amazing, natural surroundings. Still, you'd think...
Out of curiosity, I took out my phone and opened the App. Darn. No signal. I wanted to see where they had gone to since.
If only I'd had signal. I would have discovered that none of them stayed anywhere else. Ever again.
They. It is a simple word most people think nothing of using but it is a word that makes me cringe. I often hear "Why are you so sensitive?" or "Get over it already!' I guess everything is relative. Life is different when you are "they" day in and day out. When just by looking at you . . . someone defines you with "they."
I still remember the warm, slimy, disgusting feeling of spit on my face. I was "they" as a child but back then it wasn't the same word. You can't use the other word anymore because it would clearly be racist but "they" doesn't mean anything bad - or does it? Maybe if you had been spat on as a child or the other children had called you names and wouldn't let you play and their parents did nothing to stop them, maybe you would be "overly sensitive" too.
Even today I cannot do things that others can do without giving any thought to it, such as stopping by to check on a house for a friend because I am the "they" that will get stopped by the police for suspicious behavior.
I maybe college educated and compassionate but to many I am still nothing more than "they." I hope the next time you use that word carelessly you will think twice about how you are using the word and what it would be like to grow up being spit on just because of the color your skin. We are not "they." We are all human beings but as long as "they" exists, being judged by the content of our character is nothing but a dream.
My list of new gods, to get things started:
METER - The goddess of parking.
ROM - The fickle god of computer backups.
NANI - The goddess of being able to find a babysitter.
CURB - the shunned god of dog excrement on pavements.
ABC123 - The goddess of desperately trying to remember all your various computer . . . passwords.
I was around the age of 6-7. There was a boy in my school, who'll I'll dub CK in order to protect the guilty, who enjoyed tormenting me whenever he could. Because our school was well-disciplined, he didn't have the opportunity in class, so he waited until recess, or on field trips to do it.
CK had a dopey sidekick, who . . . always carried around a violin case, like a mobster. He didn't bother me, though. That one preferred to hang in the background. He was clearly in thrall of CK. Either he was afraid of him, or in awe - I don't know which. Either way, the two were inseparable.
CK's methods of torment were benign in the beginning and I've forgotten most of them by now. However, they grew more violent, until he began trying to drown me in the pool. We used to go as a class to a public pool with one teacher (looking after 20-30 of us). CK would wait for when the teacher wasn't looking, then pull me down and sit on me in such a way as I couldn't get up again. This went on for awhile. He thought it was hilarious. I was irritated at first, but he began holding me down for longer, until one day I was genuinely scared. I went to the teacher for help. Her name was Mrs Gogoty.
"Mrs Gogoty, please, CK just tried to drown me."
She looked at me sternly for a moment, then, "Don't tattle-tale on your friends. Go stand in the corner!"
I spent the next thirty minutes shivering in my wet trunks, facing the wall, until it was time to hit the showers.
I went to my father for advice. He told me that the next time this happened, I should hold onto CK tightly and swim down to the bottom of the pool, thus trying to drown him, too, in the process.
It worked. Each time CK tried to get the upper-hand, I'd pull him down sharply, until he was spluttering and crawling to get back to the surface.
CK stopped trying to drown me, but quickly found new forms of torture.
To make a long story short, we got left behind by the school bus one day on a field trip. We didn't know it at first. CK had cornered me in a room with his side-kick and had toyed with me for awhile, not knowing that the bus had left without us. When he found out, though, he was genuinely terrified. I thought he was being silly. I expected that, once they'd discovered we were missing, they'd come back for us. But, CK though otherwise.
We had actually been left behind at an army barracks and I suggested to CK that we might end up in the army, now, since our parents would forget about us. Yes, I was playing with him, now, because I could see his weakness. That really set him off in fear and he began to cry.
I'm not proud of what I said, now. I took advantage of his weakness, but I was so angry at him.
The bus did come back and we went home. CK never bothered me again, because he'd cried in front of me. He'd shown me his weakness and he could see that I wouldn't let him get the better of me again.
The funny thing is, now, as an adult, I realise that CK didn't dislike me. To the contrary, I think he wanted to hang out, but didn't know how to do it in a socially acceptable way. He only had the one friend and even he wasn't very exciting. I think he wanted to be friends with me, but couldn't help himself. He'd rather get friendship through negative means.
I have never seen CK since. I heard from a friend that he's had some hard knocks in life. I'm not surprised. I don't wish him any ill-will, but it reminds me that our characters are shaped early in life. We owe it to ourselves and our children to teach them how to stand up for themselves, but, more importantly, how to stand up for others.
My teacher failed to see how important her intervention could have been and I fault her for it. It's the community's responsibility to stand up to bullying. And we are all part of the community.
Reflections of our selves - are we looking forward or looking back? It is difficult to tell because we are not that much different. We look the same, dress the same, and even think the same. We repeat like the never ending logo in the background. We will continue down the same path, never changing, eventually . . . fading into endless mediocrity, becoming nothing but a small spec in the endless cycle of bureaucracy.
There was no Eureka moment. No smoking gun. Instead, there was a nagging sense that she was just too good to be true.
When she first came into my life, I was in a dark and sinister place. She, by contrast, was full of light. Her smiles were easy, her laugh casual. She was as happy-go-lucky person who didn't wear down . . . easily, or obsess to the nth-degree, or take things terribly seriously, as I did.
For several months, this is how it was, and I took things at face value. I didn't try to peel back the sticker, because, frankly, I didn't need to know. I wanted a distraction, attention, care. I needed to be loved. I wanted her.
She had various nicknames. This wasn't unusual. Frankly, I have been called various things myself - mainly in the heat of the moment - but hers didn't seem out of the ordinary. It seemed she had a name to reflect certain moods, or capabilities. I knew her as, "Carey". Some people called her, "Kat". Hardly unusual, I thought, although I didn't know quite what to make of, "Jacqueline". That seemed a bit random. Her hair was blond, not black. But, as I said, when you get what you want, you tend not to question the supply.
Gradually, though, she began to change. It began subtly. Perhaps, a slight irritation with the way a waiter spoke to her, the cadence in his voice, the carelessness of a colleague, or the clothes I happened to be in ("Is that what you're wearing?"... "No, I just put these on to amuse myself"). I figured it to be a phase. Everyone has their ups-and-down. Why should we be any different?
This didn't improve. No, it got worse. She became highly critical of everyone around her, especially myself. I didn't need this. I told her so, but she wasn't interested. One day, I felt more testy than usual. She'd criticised me and I told her that she wasn't all that she pretended to be. The real Carey, Kat, or whatever, was not someone to sweat the small stuff. "But, you..." I said, "You're a pariah." Was that a word too far?
"Take me as I am, or not at all!" She said.
"Who are you, really?" I wondered.
"I'm whatever you want me to be," she smiled. "Except, that will never be the real me."
I haven't seen her since.
"I didn't think the plastic would be clear," I muttered. "That just makes it creepy."
The delivery man shook his head: "Just sign here."
I was standing on the stoop in my bathrobe, the wind snapping it against my bare feet. I snapped off a signature.
"Also, they're a lot larger than I imagined." I'd thought maybe they . . . would fit over the TV nook, but now that I was looking at them, no way.
"Life size," the delivery guy nodded. "That's the only size they come in."
As he turned and headed back to his van, I poked at the figures with my toe. The plastic was cold to the touch. I leaned down to study the figures more closely. I'd asked for American, but these were clearly made in China.
And - they weren't moving. I slapped one just to make sure. Nothing, no response.
There were no air holes. They'd forgotten to make air holes.
The driver had closed the door and was starting the engine. I had to hightail it over the road to him, feet slapping on cold asphalt. I banged on his window. He scowled and lowered it.
"They're dead," I hissed, pointing back to my porch.
"You signed for 'em. They're yours." He started to wind the window up again.
"But what am I supposed to do with them?"
"Well, I want a refund."
He shook his head. "Sorry man, no return for perishable goods."
And he gunned the engine and was gone.
I stalked back to my house and looked at them, slumped over my brand-new decking. It was my fault I suppose. I really shouldn't have selected the gift wrap option.
"Love is a very tricky balance," he said. "Too much on the side of lust and it becomes self-destructive. Tipped too far the other way and it becomes martyrdom. Either way, it's self-serving."
"What's the secret to living in the middle?" I asked.
"That's just the thing - nobody wants to stay in the middle." He smiled. . . . "Grass is always greener on the other side."
Before I could reflect on my own failures, he began a story.
"I heard of this couple, once. They met in a bar. Nothing auspicious. It was just drinks after work. A friend of a friend and a couple of colleagues. As the evening wore on, it became evident that two of them were very attracted to one another. What began as playful passes became more intense to the point that the room melted away - or, so I was told." He paused to sip his chianti. "In any event, they went back to this fellow's apartment and started to have sex. After the first climax, there was a second. And a third. In fact, it became rather painful, but there was just no satiating the feelings they had for one another. It was a rage that wouldn't die."
"The fellow was your friend?"
"Yes. He telephoned me the next day. They hadn't left his apartment and were still at it. He told me that it was thrilling and frightening at the same time. She had a smell about her."
"She was smelly?"
"No. It was pheremonal. He couldn't get enough of her. He couldn't stop."
"I hope it was the same for her," I said, jokingly.
My friend didn't laugh. He was dead serious.
"It went on like that for a week."
"My God, I should be so lucky!"
"Well, don't feel envy just yet. This story has a bad ending." He collected himself before continuing. "A neighbour found them a month later, dead, in the nude. Completely dessicated. It was as if every bodily fluid had been drained from the both of them."
"You're not serious?"
"Oh, but I am. They had suffocated themselves on sex. They quite literally screwed themselves to death."
"I can think of worse ways to go," I offered.
"Can you?" He shrugged. "Well, I don't fancy it." He looked at his watch and made a face. "Got to go, I'm afraid." But, he didn't get up. He remained rooted to his seat. It was as if he was trying to piece something together. Finally, he put it into words. "Forever and a day."
"What do you mean?"
"Those were his last words to me. On the telephone. Forever and a day. I still can't figure out what the hell he meant." He stood and picked up his hat. "I suppose plain old love will just have to do."
He tipped his hat to me, before putting it on, and sauntered off.
I've always prided myself on recognising faces. As for names, well, that's another matter entirely. I'm crap with names. But I'm good with faces. At least I thought so.
Recently, I've been reintroducing myself to people. That's what they tell me. God knows how many others have kept their mouths shut and let me make a . . . fool of myself. This has made me more cautious when meeting people (seemingly, for the first time). Now, I use the phrase, "Nice to see you" - just in case.
At first, I thought this was an anomaly. But it's been happening more and more lately, and making me more self-conscious about it. Eventually, I couldn't ignore the truth. Something has happened with my facial comprehension.
As an experiment, I tried to remember people whom I've known in the past. I began with previous buddies. Girlfriends. Colleagues from work. Colleagues from different workplaces. Strangers I'd recently seen on the street.
It was no use. Everyonee melted into a collage of thoughts and feelings about them, which at times were fairly sharp - but not their faces. Their faces were a blur.
In trying to resurrect them from memory, I found that I made an amalgamation of other people's faces to fill in the blanks. I took a bit of chin from here, a nose from over there, and tried to put something together - like a forensic identikit, or a bad Mr Potato Head caricature. The truth is, a real person's face has subtle components, but we remember it in short-hand. We exaggerate the stronger accents, the harsh bits, in order to form a (hopefully) indelible memory.
The worst thing about it was my inability to remember people whom I'd really loved. People who were really close. Relatives who'd died. I could remember their smell, their touch, things that they had said to me... but their faces were gone. A watercolour in the rain. How shallow I must be that all of those years were rinsed away. Not everything, mind you, but - in some ways - the most important part of them. The part that I looked into every day of every year of every decade.
I worried that I was losing touch with aspects of myself. If I didn't look in the mirror everyday, would I even know what I looked like? I could probably pick myself out in a crowd, but could I draw my face? No, I could not.
Perhaps, I had never really looked at anything in detail. I had seen these faces hundreds, if not thousands of times, and, because of this, I thought it was no reason to memorise their every pore. But, then, when they were gone, I hankered for it. My memory was slack. It could not offer up even a momento - only a hairline, a lip, or an eyebrow.
I knew not to dwell on this too long, but the truth is I began to forget what I looked like, more and more, a little each day. I found myself trying to copy the looks of other people. I wanted to look more like something well-established in the public eye. Even looking like a celebrity would be good - because there were photographs that would act as a reference.
In the end, I don't know what I look like anymore or, indeed, what anyone looks like. I rely upon sounds, smells, and touch. My senses have shrunk.<br>I wonder how long I have, until those disappear. If so, i'll be left only with my memories. Until such day, as my brain expires.
The ghosts of our past are always with us. For some of us, they live in us but are sometimes visible to others even though we try desperately to hide them. For others, they may hide their ghosts so well, even from themselves, that they live faceless.
And then there are those who do not hide their ghosts, instead . . . choosing to show others. Some show others out of bitterness or their inability to move beyond. But others shares their ghosts out of desire to make sure that others do not suffer a similar fate.
No matter how we hide or show the ghosts of our past, they change us. They can destroy us or bring us hope or leave us searching for answers or even leave us blinded and held captive.
When I first received my Other.Selfie(TM) I was ecstatic. Finally, I could look forward to all the things I'd put off in the past, because of work and the avalanche of responsibilities I was buried under. In fact, I had been such a good corporate soldier that I had racked up enough holiday days to easily disappear for . . . six months and still get paid leave.
The orientation process went very smoothly. Other.Selfie(TM) and I saw eye-to-eye on everything. He second-guessed my every move, even finished some of my sentences! It felt like a match made in heaven and it was great having him around to take care of all the admin and nonsense that had distracted me from what I really wanted to do.
The advice had been not to get one that was identical to myself in every way, because that would creep people out (not to mention, myself, quite possibly). So, I chose a slightly younger version of myself. Okay, fair enough, to be absolutely honest it was an idealised version of my younger self. In fact, I found him pleasing to look at. Whenever friends of mine encountered him, they would ask what treatment I had done to look so young. I didn't know whether to be jealous, or take it as a compliment.
The manual also said that I should take a good few weeks to acclimate him properly to his surroundings, but I didn't follow that advice. He seemed to get the hang of things very quickly. Besides, he already had my memories up to the moment I'd gone to the Selfie shop, so I didn't really see the point. Truthfully, I couldn't wait to get out of town and have some fun. It had been so long since I'd done anything impulsive like that, perhaps ever. This is the real reason why I left.
I came to regret that decision.
I suppose in hindsight, I should have guessed that the transition would not be an easy process. When I returned from my vacation, I discovered that Other.Selfie(TM) had redecorated my flat. He said that the paint was peeling and that it was in need of a refresher. Also, he didn't like the previous colour. He found it drab and uninspiring. There were fresh flowers in every room, which I found an affectation, but he insisted that it brought life and movement into what was, otherwise, a bachelor's hovel.
Speaking of being a bachelor, I noticed that there were little female mementos around the place. I didn't recognise them as belonging to anyone I knew and he wouldn't tell me who they belonged to, either. I didn't mind him having some fun, as long as it wasn't at my expense.
He dressed better than I did, although a bit "dandy" for my taste. He had good taste, though, I'm not quibbling that. It's just that it wasn't my taste, even though it was my life he was making-over. I suspected there were boundary issues.
The worst was yet to come. As I tried to get back into the swing of things, I discovered that my flat wasn't the only thing that had been re-arranged. My friends would often call him to go out and do things. When I'd ask them about it, they'd make some lame excuse that they forgot I was back in town. When I finally confronted one of them about it, I found them more candid. Apparently, they just preferred my Other.Selfie(TM) to me. "Why?" I asked. He was just more fun, they said. He was more impulsive, had more interesting things to say, and just brought more life to the party.
This made me very angry and I sulked for awhile. I even tried to punish my Other.Selfie(TM) by taking certain privileges away. This escalated over the course of the week, until, eventually, he capitulated. He sat down next to me, put his hand around my shoulder and tried to soothe me. It was absurd. He was the child and I was the adult and, yet, he was the one who was comforting me, as if I was a baby! He told me that he understood how I felt - exactly - but that I had to come to terms that there were two of us, now. Nothing would ever be the same.
I wanted him to sleep on the sofa, but he'd end up climbing into bed next to me. At first, I protested, but ultimately gave in. There wasn't anything sexual about it, but there was something comforting about embracing yourself at night. I felt less alone. We snored in rhythm.
Gradually, I became the house-husband. I kept the place as tidy as I could, cooked the meals, and did the washing up, while he went to my job and took over my affairs. At least we got to go out together with my friends. And, truth be told, he really was the life of the party. I didn't regret him coming into my life. He made it better, richer than before.
At least, now, I had a lot more time to focus on my own, personal projects.
Grandma slept with her teeth beside the bed.
They sat in a glass of alka-seltzer (or, so I thought at the time) on a side table, accompanied by several other things discarded from her carcass: eye-glasses, wig, jewellery. Her face was extremely pale without her make-up and she smeared it in vaseline, so that she looked . . . like a molten waxwork.
"Come and give us a kiss, dear," she'd say, before turning in. Her speech was slurred, without her teeth.
I dreaded the thought. Often, I made excuses to slip away, as soon as I could to avoid this ritual. Some nights, I wasn't so lucky.
"Come closer, I won't bite!"
This was true, enough. Without her teeth, her kisses were wet and frothy. A slobbery hole, that vacuumed up my face.
"Let me have a look at you," she'd say, holding me at arm's length. Then, without warning, she'd pinch my cheeks, until they went blue, and cackled long and hard. She didn't always do this, so it came as a surprise when she did. Oftentimes, her laugh would degenerate into a hack - a smoker's cough. She'd become overcome with convulsions and let me go. That was my opportunity.
I'd run away as fast I could.