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.
(Based on this Story Jam)
Fruit from this Jam:
Time's Chaos. by Benjamin
The Frenchman by MichaelThompson
Americana Chance by
Modern Factory by Matt Drake
A wrinkle in Time by
Emilio by Richard
Personal time by lindalopez
Time Machine by Zita Barlai
All in the mind by Sam
When we were young by Kip Logan
Echoes of Darkness by James
we are Al ready time machines by David Pinto
song on repeat by H.L.W.
The Black Hole Walker by Kevin Cagle