2k words Short Story: Chain of events, The World Walker

World Walker

“You remember how we never even said hi to each other? ” Beccy told me. “Even when Keith threw the eight-ball at us, and we all played pool for the first time since your friends started drinking there, you didn’t say anything to me. In fact you spoke the whole time to whatshername.”

“Carmen.” I corrected her.

“Sandiago” she finished. I didn’t laugh and she didn’t notice, so I added a: “Wow that was lame.” But she only giggled like I was trying to be funny and not tell her that I found her unbearably annoying.

If she hadn’t lost her contacts on the pool room floor and I hadn’t been the one to find them by the bar, then we wouldn’t have ever started going to the gym, together, and there shouldn’t have been much of a chance the gym’s showers were under repair, that we would live so close to one another, and that I had made a move when she only had a towel on.

She squeezed my nose with her fingers, like a clothes peg. I wrenched my head away.
Said: “I moved house for you.”

She laughed even though I wasn’t making a joke. “We lived nowhere near one another. I had to segue into a parallel world where I lived in a smaller, dirtier apartment, stepped right through and away from a low paying (but money’s never a problem), satisfying job in a bookstore and you know what? Even with all the possible books that have ever been written I still haven’t got enough time to read what’s out there.

She laughed again, so to make myself clear I said: “And I did it because you are the most beautiful girl I have literally ever seen, ever, in all the places I’ve been, your body is a fucking private jet, a mansion, front row seats to every show worth watching, a blowjob from the most enthusiastic porn-star blowing like she’s about to go broke.”

Her mouth dropped open, which was coincidental, but because I was distracted I said: “That’s ironic.” She wasn’t smart enough to correct me. “I disgust you don’t I?” I said. “You know I only shower like twice a week? I can’t be bothered. It’s all deo.” Her face scrunched up. “Why are you saying all this?” She asked.
“Because I’m done, I’m leaving.” And I got up and started to put on my clothes. She went dead quiet. “It’s 4 AM.”
“I’m not leaving this house, I’m leaving this world, this universe. GG Beccy: I have always had the ability to slip into a parallel world. Or maybe it’s a new world. Or maybe I’m batshit crazy, hard to say. But anyway, I’m thinking this time, I’m going to be single. I’ve spent so much energy walking into desperate women who fall for me that I think I’m ready to do the old fashioned thing and plain old delude them till they fuck me.” I stretched. It was always a good idea to stretch first.

She threw a pillow at me. I dodged. Big smile.

She went for my phone.

“NOT THE PHONE.”

It connected with my nose. She was really good at pool.

“JESHUS.”

“IF YOU CAN LEAVE THEN WHAT HAPPENS TO ME HUH?”

It was a good question. I have no idea what happens when I walk out. Maybe I just disappear, which would be mildly traumatizing but also mind expanding- think of the implications! For a normal person at least. Maybe the whole universe ceases to exist, which if the universe was infinite would make me the biggest mass murderer of all possible times and spaces. But I can’t be the only one, so it’s not like I’m alone in this regard. Maybe a copy of me remains. If so, I feel very sorry for him, especially the me who talked shit to that guy with the knife that time in the alley. Either way, fuck it, I’ll never know.

“SO RUN THEN SAM! RUN LIKE THE WIND!” Beccy said, with this very rare, intense look in her eyes that I’ve only seen her have during a real orgasm. She picked up the other pillow. I blinked, so did reality, and she wasn’t there anymore. I blinked again, and there was my new coffin: maybe ten foot by ten foot, a sofa that was probably also my bed, a bookcase that had a series of thick books on the top shelf, plates, cutlery, wallet and phone on the shoulder height shelf, and stacks of books on the lower, taken from the middle shelf to make space for my life. A folding table glistened with chip packets turned inside out and tinfoil microwave dinners scrunched up within each other like blood covered Russian dolls.

The memories came afterwards.

I’m a fucking paralegal this time. Godammit it all to hell. Then the loneliness comes down on me and I’m reaching for the middle shelf with it’s half dead bottle, don’t even need the new memories to know that’s there. And what’s this, taped to the lip? A joint? Amazing. Upsides.

I spend my thirty first year single, in the same universe. Jacky throws a drink in my face at Sherry’s birthday party, which I only get invited to because I overhear her talking about it at work. The girl of indeterminate age at the 7/11 drives me crazy for awhile, has me borderline walking into another world where we get to be married because I’m certain the way normal people might be, that if I was with her the rest wouldn’t stink so much. It’s like a retreat, a monastery where I pretend to be a desperate prole for 365 days.

The breaking point wasn’t a woman, it wasn’t some new shiny crap I saw in a movie that I just had to try (like a G fucking Six), it was Roger Mckay, my boss. It was when he chewed me out for being late, again. He had to do it by my cube, right before lunch, so not only did everyone hear, but they felt awkward about leaving. I’m not a bad guy, I’ve never raped, murdered, hell even assaulted someone despite the fact that I could do it with zero consequences. I mean that’s some darkside shit, I don’t want to go down that path. And it was a close thing, between using the scissor, shoving him into Lee’s wall, and what I actually did: which was to stand up, slowly, adjust my tie, not answer his enquiry as to why, and then hand back, all the way like I’m flagging a blind bus driver, then turn my weight like a tennis serve, and palm open, full on, bitch slap. Goddamn did the fat man go down. I said, after the shockwave: “You incorrigible asshole.” And then it was TA!, one more for the road, and he went to his knees.

“Alright guys, I’m out. Fuck you all very much. Also, Sherry, your boyfriend cheats on you. He doesn’t even play poker. I can walk between worlds and I am leaving this one.”

And just for funsies I decided to full on run at Mckay’s glass office wall, leap sideways and leave. As I did I think I felt something solid. Then nothing. Then a bed, a freaking soft bed. It only occurred to me right afterwards that maybe I do leave something behind, and in which case, previous me just bitch slapped his boss and threw himself through his office window. If he gets medicated, do I get medicated?

What if I suddenly rubber band back to my other paralegal self in that parallel universe? Fucking awful thought. Of course it makes me wonder, almost, about the implication of time. I tried to read about physics stuff once. Thought about having a hypothetical what if conversation with a physicist once. Hell, I even tried to be a scientist, but I never really seemed to concentrate enough to shift into that kind of life. It’s like trying to remember something you just can’t, you’re certain that if you focused enough, if you found the right stimuli, then you’d have it again. I gave up eventually, figured that in the back of my mind was the fear that understanding what I can do would change my ability to do it, or maybe I wouldn’t want to anymore. Ignorance is bliss. Arbitrary is better than horrible.

Jana.

Jana ended me.

A fucking taxi driver. Never saw that coming. Never saw the accident either, literally- was stuck dozens of cars behind it. Like God had reached down and froze the traffic for two hours. I could have left. I could have said stop the meter. Instead I paid, I stayed, we talked for hours and it was completely out of my control. When I told her what I could do, she took it like it was some kind of funny story.

The line that did it for me was when she asked: “What if every time someone, or you I guess, ah, jumps- they create the world they want? So like, you make it, from nothing, like you are God.” That’s when I knew, I had to make it so we were together. That was cool, I’d never even thought of that possibility. Why didn’t I just skip to the marriage? I could have, but I didn’t? Because I guess I didn’t want to leave, it was such a perfect moment. If I jumped I could arrive in another moment, but it’s not the same, the memories would drip in, it would be artificial, even if I was God.

So I stayed. We found a favorite bench, we prevented her bed from ever getting made, I wrote her inarticulate letters on scented paper, she dragged me by the arm to shit I’d never like till I loved it. I loved her, obviously. I’d tried marriage once, but never a wedding. It was glorious, and I didn’t care about my new family, or my new friends, just her, she was fun, the wedding was fun.

Happiness is a funny thing. It’s quiet. I think that in the end, it’s quiet. It’s the opposite of running. Time is the only thing that runs, when you’re happy.

The odds of a plane crash are incredibly low. You could fly your whole life, I mean spend it all up in the air, and it’s still against the odds you’re going to die.

And now, why can’t I find her anymore?

I keep jumping. I keep going from world to world, looking for my Jana. She’s not there. Nowhere I go. It’s like, I don’t know. I’ve wanted things before, I’ve wanted things way less badly than her. But I just can’t do it.

She once told me that the number one reason she’d never believe I could do the whole jumping thing isn’t because it was impossible. She said it was because she didn’t think I’d ever leave people behind like that. That I could be that selfish. And I believed her.

She said: “I think a lot of people would, but not you.”

So I’m still looking. And I’m still getting older.

And I’m starting to wonder if I ought to just stop, and skip all the way to the end. But I’ve never tried that either, all I know is I can’t go backwards. But I reckon I’m going to do it soon.

Advertisements

Flash fiction: Anxiety’s a bitch

Anxiety’s a bitch

Tapping me on my brain, crying ‘wake up, wake up.’ She always visits me at night, right before the morning; when dawn is a time bomb. She has wide, furtive, eyes that dance, with madness. Big glass globes that can’t focus on anything, rolling between the door, the window, the shelves, the books, settling only on my own eyes, like an eight ball into a pool table hole, she sinks right into me, hooks onto the rail of my neck, accelerating us both.

“Wake up, wake up, we have to go. We have to go, we have to go. We have to go wake up.”

One of these night’s shes going to grab my arm. Throw aside my sheets. She’s going to take me by the shins and drag me till I concuss myself on the edge of my bed frame. I’ve stopped saying “Go away.” There is no point, she won’t. Sometimes she stops shaking me. Stops cawing for me to run (Where? She never says.) Sometimes she’ll just sit on my bed. She’ll say “Okay. It’s okay. Go to sleep then.” Her skin is so pale, slightly yellow. I used to believe her. My lids would drop, guillotine the protruding nubs of her bony elbows, till, like lightning, she’d grab hold of my ribs.

Her nails bursting right through the heavy duvet, finger tips cold against my shirt, her nails scraping them upwards. Just hard enough to leave red marks, never sharp enough to break the skin but I know, one day, she’ll flay me with those nails of hers, reach inside and grab my kidneys, unfurl my intestines, she’ll reach in to massage the acid she regurgitates into my mouth when she kisses me awake, when she takes my head in her palms and tells me stories like:

“Yesterday, when you were in the lift, there was a woman. Do you remember her? Of course you remember her. I want you to remember her right now. She had lip gloss on and contacts. She had those wide eyes you really like. You stuttered. Really you did. You said “Good evenin'” and dropped your ‘G’ because you thought it sounded cool- yes you did, and she knew you did, she knew you were trying so hard to impress her. When you held the lift door open she was not grateful, your stringy arm got in the way, she was annoyed. She was thankful for her investment hedge doctor barrister sex god hard body that makes her laugh, makes her squeal, that makes her realize you’re a pervert and a creep, do you remember her now? I followed her home that night.”

Her palms are ice compresses on my ears. The warm strand of some dream slides inside my chest, so I bite out the words: “And why, old friend, did you follow her home? Where were you?”

She says she was in the frayed threads of the taxi’s leather seats, scratching her aching legs. In the fading battery of her phone, the empty inbox, the flash light reflection of the rear view mirror that accused her makeup of being too thick. She places her knee into my belly, so tenderly, leans down just enough that I want to throw up and says: “Baby, I was inside her, I saw everything. She went home and she laughed at you. Good and hard. You give her nightmares my love. I saw. I watched it play in black and white on the inside of her skull.”

I tell her to “Fuck off.”

Her eyes are filled with concern.

“You tried to cheat on me with her. Didn’t you? First that uptight bitch on the subway, the one who pretended to be so cute and cuddly, she likes to take mommy’s scalpel, the one she stole from work, she likes to take it and make small x’s on the inside of her thigh, she dreams of someone running their finger along the scabs, she’s sick like that. You wanted to cheat on me with her? I know her. I know you. Baby, we’re together till the end.”

It’s true.

I try to cheat on her all the time.

I rarely flirt, except with my eyes. My standard approach is to fill my face with a strained smile, pour desperation out of my eyes, slump and glance at the wavy haired information desk attendant, the two inches away from my arm high heeled party girl, the sad student with knotted shoulders crossed legs one shoe falling off soul mate, the photograph perfect long gone old best friend that’s engaged, I try to cheat with all of them, have rock solid dreams of lying in their arms, crying. Of shoving my face into their ears. Of watching time drip by on a clear day.

Of making up jokes together and moving away from Her.

“It’s just a matter of time.” One of us says to the other.

Till someone as desperate as me cheats on Her. So we can wake up, one of us before the other, and find her sitting by our bedside, watching us with a smirk, her index finger ticking left and right as she whispers: “I’ll be waiting for you after it ends, baby.”

“Till death do we part.”

Poem: And The Sandman Said

And the sandman said

Well you might have heard,

that

Dreams begin, scandalously, as sordid nothings.
They await, like phosphorous flowers, for the dark night,
And perhaps, I’d like to believe,
The cool touch of moonlight,
Before they burst,
Up.

And around, until, they paint the inside of your skull
The colour prism.
And so it is like coming upon a film,
That you know you like, and without trailers or ads,
And because, there is no one there,
You step up to the screen,
Tentative and alone,
And without pause,
Walk right through it.

No need to look at me like that,
I have heard that not many remember that step.

And then you arrive in a place, its colors bleary and bright,
Where darkness substitutes for lights,
And emotions, for plot devices.
Fear, falling freedom,
Reeling across the mind’s sky,

It is said that you fly,
And meet strange people,
And hear true things,
And wet yourself laughing,
And find yourself crying.

There are houses big and dark and populated
By memories and friends,
And both long gone.

There are skeletons of places, that you have been,
And here the marrow cuts,
Until you bleed,
And you see, the blood running deep.

Here you find companions,
As fragile as they are few,
That speak the same sad language,
And die with the morning too,

Here things tend to creep,
And move along sideways,
And here things tend to keep,
No promises lightly.
And here you sometimes sleep,
And wake up,
Unwisely,
And here you tend to die,
And wake up,

Noisily.

And when the light invades your eyes, this all ends,
And dream is shown to be, a bright, cobwebbed thing.
Lying on a road, slowly dying.
Dissolving like an alka-seltzer, fizzing into nothing.
And confounding you with a drink, that you then mistake for
Everything.

***

I’ve updated my About page too, with a list of stories.

I will add all my short stories soon.

And of course I love Morpheus, especially when his hair was black.

Flash Fiction: After he yells HI!

After he yells HI!

Over the nightclub music He will yell “HI!”

She’ll laugh at his awkwardness and then they’ll talk, dance, exchange numbers. He’ll see her for dinner, where they’ll make in-jokes; finishing off each other off in his apartment. She’ll teach him how to cook and he’ll show her his sketches, and together they’ll rescue a kitten. Till sick of sharing it, all three move in together, watching cartoons till the mornings.

They’ll get married with sand between their bare toes, somewhere far away from this club.

As none of that happened except in his head, so he finished his drink and left.

Another Poem: Sonder

Sonder

Sometimes when my mind feels filled to the brim,
With unhappy thoughts, heavy enough to pull me down,
I close my eyes, let my mind wander around.

And see myself on my bed, eyes dead I zoom out,
Through the white painted walls that shield me from other muffled shouts,
These walls of concrete in which live dozens of other lives that now weep, laugh, scream, crowd around screens,
Till I zoom out.

See the buildings rise like rectangular hives and around them the trees that grow so low,
The green scabbed over with gray platelets; watch the hawks that nest near antennas,
Converting corners into homes.

See the brown feathered sparrows selected naturally by the smog.
The insects that roam under every nook and cranny,
The way patches of flowers bloom,
Drinking of the slice of sky between our two towering homes.
This urban ecology, this habitat crammed with so much complexity,
And still farther out I see the city,

7 million lives and a billion lights blinking,
Beetles thread through roads on water ships lines tracing,
And yet the green exceeds the artificial wonders we’ve seeded,
The creatures, the minds, the myriad eyes, I cannot conceive,
Out further till I’m looking at what we call a country.

From up here the greens, tans, the tones of life are all I need,
Scars of mountains, wisps of clouds, our gray marks made,
Our noises not loud enough to reach me.
And farther till the sky glows with the blue scattering nitrogen,
The life permitting oxygen that quickens in all our floundering cells:
Watch the curve of our home meet the black that shows through all the gaps we look up to.

Out and out from this pale blue dot, this azure god we all inhabit,
7 billion other lives and the countless stories all begun, the ones that died,
On that tiny receding light.
Till Sol beams plasma into the night,
Our star crushes, compresses, expels heat, heavy elements to breathe,
chains of carbon to plot out our farthest dreams.

And out till the solar system, with it’s gravitation, engraved upon the fabric invisible,
Causes planets to circle in the paths they etch, orbit, and maintain,
Out till we spy from the side- the milky way
How many more roving rocks encased with air might there remain?
How many more lives, so many tiny blinking eyes, so many flickering lives- might this beautiful mess contain?
300 billion more stars, spheres that shrink ours to motes, embers compared to roaring flames.
And out so far, so far, across the void where other stars, gather: 100 billion more galaxies rain,
Light across a gulf of space so vast we measure distance with time.
How many other beds hold souls, that dream, and love and hope so hard?
Thoughts that reach my standing frame, faster than light,
Brightens my mind,
Like candles kindled in the night.

Short Story: Original Sin (Part 3 of 3)

(Part 1 here)

A loud noise wakes me up, two people hovering over me in the morning light. It’s daytime. The woman says: “Honey?” I growl and grab the knife, leap out of bed in my pajamas. It’s Sarah and some guy, a small runty fuck with glasses and an ugly nose. He’s just staring at me. Sarah starts yelling at me, telling me to put down the knife, please. She says please like that’s some magic word, like we taught Jimmy once except I can’t fucking remember teaching him that which doesn’t make sense, “UNLESS THIS IS ALL NOT REAL.”

Sarah says “Please, calm down, calm yourself. You’re not well honey.”

“What’s his name?” I jab the blade’s point towards the skinny guy. “Let me see your wallet you little shit, you fucking demon. WALLET. ID. LETS SEE IT.” The guy stares at me, his hands up, slowly pushing away, he’s saying “Sorry, look, sorry…look…”

I snarl and throw the knife at him. The handle smacks him in the mouth and he grabs at his bloodied teeth. Sarah screams. The guy’s running out of my room and Sarah’s too slow, I grab her by the arm. She tries to get away, pointless- she’s some kind of child in my hands. I can’t see the knife, heard it clatter across the floor. “YOU FUCKING BITCH.” I yell. Fuck the knife, my hands come up in a familiar way, I take her head with both my hands, and I smack it against the wall. Sarah is whining, “PLEASE. No. PLEASE….”

“LET ME OUT.” Smack. Something white and red falls out of her face.

“FUCKING LET…” SMACK I feel something give and a crimson stain appears behind her.

“…OUT.” SMACK. SMACK. SMACK. I let go. Billy is still there. I turn to him. He has the knife. I say to him: “I want to see Jimmy again. Now.” Sarah’s ruined head turns to me, looks up from the floor- impossible, she shouldn’t be able to move anymore, and her hand it touches my bloody leg and I look down at this woman, wondering how the hell I ever loved her, and I can’t see Billy, but something happens behind me where I can’t reach, something cold around my head, like a halo made of ice and the whole world goes dark.

And then white.

I’m lying down. There is a perforated Styrofoam ceiling, very high, maybe twenty feet above me, and the bed is comfortable, warm and made of leather. My body is aching, my head hurts so much and there is an iron taste in my mouth, like I’ve swallowed a battery, and then a face floats into view, a young man’s face speckled with acne that I’ve never seen before, and I can hear weeping in the background, Sarah weeping.

The young man looks down on me, and he has red eyes and the rivulet shadows of recently shed tears, and he says: “You sick fuck, you traumatized Anne.” And then another voice, with a musical accent- Indian says “His memories, it will take a while to restore them. This hasn’t happened before.” The man looking down on me brings up a rock then, like he’s going to smash my face in- no, it’s not a rock, it’s a VR headset, big, glossy, and he’s examining it. “Fuck the warden.” He says.

“Begin restoration.” the Indian man says, somewhere to my left.

Then the young man leaves, and comes back to inject something into the IV bag hooked up my arm and I sleep and have the most terrible nightmare. The fear begins, first, when I’m watching myself walk across the fifth floor corridor, my stomping feet muffled by the abrasive gray carpet. Past classrooms already in progress, students sat obediently, I walk towards the hum of chaotic children emanating to my shame, from the corner room where I teach. From the opposite side of the corridor through a lined pane Ruben gives me a dirty look whilst gesturing to his final year sociology class of six. I shove open the corner door with my foot, notices flapping on the door, hands clenched into fists, and now I feel my own anger, the stifling rage I can’t control, I want to hit something, smack something. The clumps of conversation mostly evaporate, the children stiffening in satisfying fear. In the front, Isaac, oblivious, continues to talk and balance a ruler on his nose, and I yell at him, from the board: “SHUT IT ISAAC.” and he doesn’t quickly, so I stare at him, beaming the hate I feel at this twelve-year-old I despise, always talking, always fucking around, always making my job so much harder.

I want to wake up now. I don’t know how to.

Isaac with his early stubble and his double chins is grinning at me, despite my stare, and I turn away, reluctantly, pen in hand I’m supposed to write something on the board, I can’t remember what it is, so I draw a red underline that curves downwards, it isn’t FUCKING STRAIGHT and with my hand shaking I toss the pen backwards by accident, right in front of Isaac. I turn to him, and the whole classroom is vibrating, I’m so angry, so angry because of what- the fact that I think Isaac is doing it on purpose, not picking up MY PEN, that HE MADE ME DROP, and a long list of trespasses by Isaac fill my head as I bend down towards that abrasive gray carpet in front of the little shit, and his shoe, somehow it touches my nose, his filthy dog shit ridden shoe, and I bark URGHH and fling an arm up, and I connect with something small and round- my open hand on something and I trip, sort of, it happens so quick, I don’t know why it happened- I slam Isaac’s head into the corner of the table, and fall backwards- I was just trying to not fall right? I was just trying to break my fall right? And all the children start screaming, even Jimmy in the corner.

My eyes shoot open, and I want to wipe away the tears but something binds my arms, keeps them from raising off the leather bed. The streams tickle my cheeks, I try to shake them off.

I turn my head right, and hear “Upload finished. He’s come to now.” says a bald brown man with a white beard, black spots dotting his face. He wears a wide open white coat, a crumpled polo shirt underneath. The ceiling is the same perforated Styrofoam. Something heavy on my head.

Sarah’s voice now, says: “Please don’t move, we’re removing the headset.” and two shaky hands grab something solid behind me, attached to my head, and there’s this strange suction sound as something big detaches from around my scalp- I feel it come off across my whole head, like I’m bald- I am bald, my head shaved of even stubble. That momentary sensation of a cold halo, then the beginnings of a throbbing head ache. A moan escapes me. Someone says: “Should I give him the pain-killer?”

Sarah’s voice: “NO. Because, it will dull him, he won’t uh, be able to talk…”

“Riiiiight.” Sarcastic voice, young, the one who said real smooth before. Sarah starts to say something, then the white beard he starts talking, he’s addressing me, asking if I can hear him, if I can respond.

I say “Of coz I cin reshponn ahhhhhhh.” My throat feels too solid, like wood, and my head, I close my eyes as spots appear to jab at my brain. There is a snapping sound by my ear: “Wake up, open your eyes.” I try. “Drink.” Someone holds a plastic cup to my lips, something sweet and warm trickles into my throat. “Can ye reshpon now?”

Sarah says “Stop it. Give it a few minutes, hell, give it a few hours. What difference does it make anymore? The whole thing’s botched.”

I relax my neck. Open my eyes again. Blink repeatedly to dispel the spots. They fade reluctantly. Young man says: “I think he’s fully conscious. Let me read it out.”

White beard says: “No forget that, damn thing is horribly written.”

A pale, veined hand waves in front of my face: “Hello there.”

“Ahhhh.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Uhh. N-n-nuh. Ahhh.” My mouth isn’t working properly

Sarah says: “For christsakes.”

The Indian man says: “He remembers. The upload was successful.”

The sarcastic one has gotten all serious, it doesn’t suit him: “Hey I think maybe we should read out the thing. Even if it isn’t that well written. It’s the protocol right?”

Memories appear, small clouds of information. “Fuck protocol.” says the white bearded man whose name is actually Dr. Vishnu Chopra. He continues: “There’s no damn point. You think just because the literature says that we do this, and that, then the other, that is what we actually practice? This is almost as much art as science. And besides the treatment did not work. We’ll have to restart.”

Sarah whose name is actually Anne-Marie says “Seriously? I have to do that all again? This is bullshit, I had a contract for one only. I am not going through that again, you can talk to my lawyer. I am not going through that a second time. This man is psycho, you know what it’s like to have your skull caved in? I couldn’t feel it but Jesus Christ, I still died. And the hours? This guy, he keeps looking for me, I can’t catch a break. The whole thing was bent, and I’m done with it.”

Dr. Chopra sounds angry, he speaks in bursts: “Fine, fine, we’ll talk to your lawyer. You can have a new contract. The courts will provide for a bigger fee. Think about it, you could leverage this situation, get paid a lot more. It would make my life easier you know, I won’t have to scan another person in- they will understand that. I’ll argue you for you, you could get four times your fee. Four times, for sure, this is unprecedented.”

“Four times? Seriously? Has this happened before? I don’t know, this guy, he’s…and the son pattern he came up with- it’s fucked, it’s a too much.”

I say: “H-h-ello-I c..c…an’t”

They ignore me. Dr. Chopra says: “No this has never happened before. Ever. Which is why the justice department will pay you to avoid any trouble. Can you imagine if this got out? I mean truly. The whole thing could come down- and you know, and I know that this is a good program, it’s better than incarceration in a multitude of ways.”

Anne says: “Okay, fine, but first we sort out my contract. I’m not going in till that happens.”

“Yes, yes, yes I understand Anne.”

I find my voice “H-H-Ello?”

Dr. Chopra turns to me says: “You’re going to sleep now, for a while, and then we will wipe your memories and restart the treatment.”

The kid, Michael Lee, says: “Woah, are we allowed to do that?”

Dr. Chopra rounds on him. His cheeks puff out as he gives the kid a withering stare: “YES. We CAN. Did you not READ the contract, the agreement made by Dav…the patient? Yes, we have full rights to edit his memory…”

Lee continues: “…but that was for the eye for an eye not…”

“BUTTON IT BOY. If you READ the agreement you would see we have full rights. This has not happened before and we are doing this man a favor, so he can avoid a sentence in jail, and being raped and beaten. Do you know what happens to people like him?”

“..sorry doctor…”

“GO AND GET the DAMN FILES, so we can start all over.”

There is a sound of someone walking away, then shutting the door.

I say “Dr..Chopra? What are you going to do.”

He seems to take notice of me for the first time. He says: “We’re going to start again, delete your experience. The whole thing went to pot and I think I know why. Anne you said, what the kid was into VR games?”

“Yeah. Racing games. The patient here tried on a set.”

I say with as much mumbling rage as I can manage: “His name…was…Jimmy.” Not the kid. The doctor regards me like some kind of object then looks away to Anne. “That was the problem, a VR experience inside a VR simulation- it’s too much, the mind would revolt, turning on the very idea of simulation. Next time the kid will be into other things that focus on sensory experiences. The mind would summon up the feeling of a simulation then try to wake from it. In the next round the child shall like sports. Now help me prep the mem-wipe.

They are going to delete Jimmy. “W-wipe? WHAT DO YOU MEAN? NO. NO.”

Dr. Chopra tchh’s, and then looks at me with the same denigrating expression he unleashed on the kid. “We’re not going to hurt you know. You’re safe here. We’re simply going to edit your memory a bit. We’ve done it before, we did it before- you are in very safe hands, do not worry.”

I try to struggle, the Doctor steps back. “Calm yourself.” He says. “Let me explain fully…”

“I GET IT. I DON’T WANT YOU TO. THIS IS SICK. YOU’RE ALL FUCKING SICK, YOU’RE GOING TO TAKE AWAY JIMMY.”

“HE ISN’T REAL.”

“YES HE IS.” The leather straps are strong, real strong but I shake the bed, left and right, forwards, backwards.

The doctor shouts: “ANNE hold him down.” and Anne does nothing, just stands there in shock.

The doctor says: “Jimmy was a figment, a fantasy we helped you feel- do not worry, it was all a bad dream.”

“WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?” One of the leather bands seems to loosen a few inches. The doctor notices.

“STOP. Mr. PAUL STOP. YOU VOLUNTEERED FOR THIS.” That checks me.

“Why…why would I do that?”

“You’ll find out at the end.”

“I want to find out now.”

The doctor hesitates, then looks at my left wrist, nearly free. Anne/Sarah says: “Want to know? It’s not a VR recording, just a video.” There is a humming sound coming from the seat as it begins to bend, till I am finally upright. I’m in some sort of large room, looks very much like an operation theater. There is a steel table with the VR headset and disturbing tools, and many screens surrounding a chair in the corner of the room. Dr. Chopra approaches one and pulls it over. He says: “Playback committal by D. Paul.”

My last name is Paul. The video starts up, with myself facing the camera.

Afterwards the fight leaves me. I say: “Do it. Wipe it all.”

Dr. Chopra begins to ministrate to the machines. When he’s not looking Anne dabs some tears from my face with toilet roll. She looks at me the way Sarah looked as me at the beginning, before Jimmy had to go to the hospital. “Thanks Sarah.” I say, and then bite my lip, I can’t take back the words.

Her frown deepens.

She looks back to Dr. Chopra: “Doctor, I…I don’t think he needs another treatment. I think it worked.”

The doctor doesn’t turn around. “No, he realized it was all a simulation, of course it did not work. His mind created too many idiosyncracies we should have controlled more of the parameters.”

“Doctor, he still felt like he lost a son. That’s the whole point right? I am of the opinion, professionally, that we succeeded. I think he’s ready.”

The doctor sighs. He comes over to me: “What do you want? Do you want to remember…Jimmy?”

“I don’t want to remember Isaac. And I want to remember Jimmy…I do. Please.” I weep, hands bounds to the bed, unable to move, I can only feel the water trickle off my face, plop silently somewhere out of sight.

Anne says: “See?”

The doctor says: “Yes.” He addresses me directly. “Understand now? There is a leaflet. It’s not very good.”

I say “Jimmy. Who was Jimmy?”

He sighs and pulls at his lab coat. Then he says: “The VR you just experienced interacts fully with your mind, which fills in the details- not unlike a dream. Certain scenes are scripted but everything else- how things look, the sensory experiences, these are created by you. Anne, she witnessed everything- perhaps…”

I turn to face Anne. She looks exactly like Sarah did. I know what she looks like naked, and somehow, I feel comfortable, I open my mouth, before I can speak she says: “David. Your image of Jimmy was taken from a memory of a student.”

“Who?”

“David, you will never be allowed to speak to the boy.” She says it with a look in her eye, one that I used to think of as kindness. She steps forward, says: “I saw it all David. The treatment is finished, that means you are free to go…soon.” I can’t stand the kindness, it doesn’t make sense. I say: “Jimmy was real.”

They both look at me like I’m some kind of idiot, some pathetic figure worthy of pity.

It’s too much. I say: “Give me the rest of my memories. And something to sleep. No dreams.”

Dr. Chopra does so.

Everything goes black.

The eye for an eye treatment dictates that I have my previous memories restored fully, whilst leaving my VR experience intact. According to the contract I signed I have to do a set number of interviews, in which I hopefully display contrition and true empathy for the victims of my mistakes.

The whole thing is a show. I carry it out, willing to do whatever I have to do because I deserve to suffer. The media will praise my rehabilitation as the answer to overcrowded prisons, the victory of technology over our archaic, barbaric judicial practices.

The final interview, with some organization ends with me having to watch for the umpteenth time my committal video. I watch it knowing it is for the last time:

“My name is David. And I…”

Anne’s voice interrupts from off camera: “State your full name please, and then in your own words.”

I look to the side, then look back myself. I brush back my head of short hair then say: “My uh…full name is David Paul, and I have been convicted of murder. I am a murderer.” I watch myself swallow. “I killed, by…accident.” I look to the side. Anne says:

“Good. Your own words. This is for your future self.” I nod, repeatedly, look back at me.

“I killed a little boy. His name was Isaac.” My eyes stop meeting the camera lens, look somewhere downwards.

“I have chosen to undergo the uh…treatment- sorry what is it called?” Someone too quiet to hear says something off camera.

I nod and say: “Right. The treatment they call an eye for an eye. I am a volunteer. In lieu of a long prison sentence. I will be uh…made to forgot, my memory will be edited and then I will experience the…death of my child. I don’t have one. He isn’t real.”

He is real to me.

“I do this with of own free will. And I uh…is that all?”

Someone says something off-screen: “And what I…hope…is that I will understand afterwards and be fit to rejoin society. Or yeah.” I look off-screen say “Yeah, that’s it.” and then it ends.

Short Story: Original Sin (Part 2 of 3)

(Part 1 here)

I don’t even bother with the door pad this time- I’m ready for a fight as I open the front door. Words cocked and loaded, the right expression and the right motivation- self righteous anger on Jimmy’s behalf. Past the balcony door open to the night, past the yellow sofas and the bill laden coffee table into the corridor I yell: “SARAH?” I’m not going to look for her. She’s coming to me. “SARAH?” I cup my mouth: “SARAAHHH?” Silence. Fear grips me. I start running, looking in the guest room- messy but empty, my- our room- the same as the morning, the kitchen, nothing. Jimmy’s room is untouched. She’s actually not home. Where the fuck could she be? A bit of tension releases from my body- I don’t have to fight anyone right now.

Yet I’m alone, again. I fall onto an arm-chair covered in laundry. This is the opposite of what a family should feel like. I try to go backwards in my head but I can’t seem to remember the good times, it’s as if a fog persists when I try to look back. I can remember being alone though, that’s crystal clear. Not specific moments but the horrid feeling, that lingering hollow that seems to echo.

I go to bed shortly afterwards hoping for good dreams to escape to.

In the dream I’m teaching history to a class of kids.The classroom isn’t a classroom, it’s some kind of virtual environment. Someone in the class puts up his hand and asks what a plow is. With a flick of my wrist I generate a virtual farm with hovering red text for all the different implements. I tell the students to start working and we teleport to an open field. I make them work and experience the drudgery of farming and then I really wake up.

Wake into a dark room, my bedroom. No Sarah but three figures standing over me- terror takes over. I mumble something. Fuck. Now they know I’m awake. Fuck. They are my wardens and I am powerless against them. One says: “He’s coming to. Give him some more, quick.” And there is a bit of movement and then I feel so peaceful, sudden serenity; I drift away.

If I had dreamed of anything else I cannot tell, as the alarm on my wrist shivs me awake again. I let it ring, and ring, and ring, and ring. The same awful dream. Again. It felt so real. The alarm rings and I notice no urge to shut it off. It rings, and rings, and ring. Who are those people in the dream? I wished I reached up and touched one. Reached up and grabbed one of their necks. What if I had just gotten up? The alarm continues to ring.

Loud stamping sound, sudden storm approaching, it breaks when my doors flies open and Sarah shouts: “TURN IT OFF!” And then swivels and flies away. I look at the phone on my wrist, detach it, let it ring, and ring, and then I turn it off. Sarah brought the anxiety with her, left it behind.

It follows me all the way to work. After the meetings, in which I said little and heard less, on my screen a line of inquiry, a thought grabs hold: why did it seem so real last night? Not the class, which I remember, but those people, the silhouettes always watching. I start to search for similar nightmares- maybe it’s one of those things, like how being trapped in a tight place is a common sort of dream, or your teeth falling out. Nothing really comes up in the search. I do some work, just to mix things up, then later, after lunch try another idea. I start reading about these syndromes, these disassociative reality disorders that come from spending too much time in VR. The problem with VR is it’s too real. Once we figured out how to use the brain to do part of the processing we no longer had to design every single level, every single detail. Like a dream, the VR utilizes our own minds to both perceive and create the reality.

I read stories about kids who play too many games they no longer can handle the real world. Paranoid articles about again, kids, who go on violent killing sprees or kill themselves, too reckless in a world where you only have one life. The question, broached in every article that doesn’t read like a piece of shit, the old question: how do we know which is really real?

I’m reading an interview with one professional gamer who “disdains the meat and all it’s needs.” when a shadow falls over me. I’m too tired to switch programs, manage to only resize the article. Mr. Lighter says: “What are you doing? What’s all this?” A final thought surfaces: If the real world isn’t, then who gives a fuck what I do?

I turn and face him. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

Mr. Lighter’s tone doesn’t soften despite my dying son. “It looks like you’re spending time reading about…VR games?” So. Fucking. What I’m going to say and it looks like you’re being a massive flaming jerk as usual Mr. Lighter. Have you really got nothing better to do than walk around pissing aloud on people? Are you such a useless dangling prehensile fucking growth that you don’t have any real way to add any real value so you get off on this sad little power trip?

Mr. Lighter’s face suddenly changes, goes from frowning to a sad, almost piteous look. His voice lowers: “Oh, it’s for Jimmy isn’t it? He likes games huh? Man, just like my daughter, she loves this VR stuff.”

I wasn’t prepared for a human moment. My fists unclench whilst something sticks in my throat.

I stutter: “Th…that’s right Mr. Lighter. Jimmy, he loves racing games you know? There is this one, Formula Own, he follows the E-sports leagues for it and all the rest.”

“No kidding? I play Formula Own! It’s heavy stuff, simulation level racing physics. Does Jimmy have a favorite team?”

“Uhh…FIRE1”

“Hah! Crowd favorite, everyone loves them. The blue flames am I right?”

“Y-yes.”

“Listen, you telling me Jimmy really loves them? ‘Cuz no joke, I have something for him then, be right back.”

Mr. Lighter jogs away. I’ve never seen him do that before. I want to fucking cry again. Of course this is real. How can this not be real? What the fuck is wrong with me. I slam my head onto the table so hard, I hear Jeff mutter and get up from his seat, he’s probably looking over the cubicle wall. No matter- he has the decency not to ask me what’s wrong. I hear him sit back down. I try to slow my breathing. I’m always getting angry so easily. It’s a bad habit.

I feel as if I owe Mr. Lighter something so I tab back to some actual work and spend roughly thirty seconds on it before Mr. Lighter reappears, puffing slightly and brandishing a cap, red with blue flames animating on the sides, holograms emblazoned FIRE1. It looks so familiar. Incredible. I get up and take it with two hands. This is it I just know it is, this is how I make Jimmy a little bit happier today.

“Mr. Lighter, thank you, thank you so much. I can’t begin to tell you what this means to me. Jimmy is always so down you know, and I find it really hard to…ah…ah…”

One big hands clamps down on my shoulder. Mr. Lighter looks me dead in the eye. He says “I’m a father too.” His cheeks wobble a bit.

He hugs me. I think the whole office is watching.

Mr. Lighter says: “Go now, don’t worry. This is more important.”

That does it. I dig my head into his jacket’s shoulder, but only for a moment, before getting my shit together, packing up and going. Eyes avert. Every negative thought I’ve ever had towards my boss has been a crime. I hold the hat like the prize it is. In an empty lift to my own, scratched reflection: “I can do this. I can do this.” Do what? Don’t answer that question. Focus on the now, the today, not what could be or might. Downstairs I head for another auto-cab, no bus, no waiting, nothing to stall my inertia. Input the location on the interface, it feels like I’m definitely in control. The auto-cab zooms off, taking advantage of the mid-day lack of traffic.

When my wrist vibrates I answer in one- it’s Sarah: “Sarah! I’m on my way to the hospital and you should come too.”

Silence.

Fucking Sarah. I find the courage to tell her the truth for the first time in weeks: “Look Sarah I know you’ve got problems but you’re his fucking mother. Get yourself together just for today- he needs you. Yesterday I called and you didn’t pick up, you didn’t even call back. I was calling because Jimmy asked for you. We might not have all the time we need. We have to value the days…

“Stop.” She’s in tears, I can hear it. Again. She’s always in tears. We can’t have a goddamn conversation without her crying.

“SARAH. STOP IT. YOU STOP IT RIGHT NOW.”

She starts to wail- I’ve not heard her do that before.

“Please…listen.” She manages.

“SARAH!” The auto-cab breaks suddenly and the hat flies out of my hand and I hesitate as I scramble on the floor to pick it up. It’s just long enough for Sarah to get her words in:

“Jimmy’s gone. Jimmy has passed away.”

“But…”

“Jimmy’s gone. He’s…” I hang up.

There is nothing left. Somehow the hat is crumpled up in my claw. I release slowly, smooth out the top. Then I put on the hat because I don’t want to just let it fly around on the seat. It fits and there is no one in the cab so I scream. I scream and I grab my shirt. I scream and punch the leather seat. I stop screaming and punch myself in the leg. There is nothing left. This is too much. The memory comes then:

A policeman shouting at me, telling me that a boy is dead and then telling me to shut it as I start to cry.

And it’s gone.

That is what this feels like, what it felt like, but this is worse, much worse. Than. What. Much worse than what? What was the other? Thought. There are no thoughts. No words. There is nothing left.

When the cab arrives I pay my fare and alight, so slowly. Nothing is real. It doesn’t feel real. There is no group outside the hospital waiting to receive me and explain everything. The entrance is the same- two automatic doors and an awful smelling lobby and then a lift. I press the floor to Jimmy’s room. I tap it after it lights up. Once. Twice. Three times. When the door opens I run out with the hat on my head trailing virtual blue flames because nano-technology has come so far but not far enough to fix the cancer and his door is open and I stop.

His room is empty. Then I realize there is a chubby nurse with a hand on my shoulder. I want to throw her off, but I don’t have the strength. She’s telling me that Jimmy’s gone, but I know that already it’s obvious. I go inside the empty room and lean over the empty bed with the smoothed out floral hospital covers and finally, now, here, so close to where he should be- now I weep like a little boy. There is nothing left to do.

Eventually I can hear someone else, eventually I care enough to listen. It’s the same nurse, talking in her strange drawl about where my wife is. I don’t care where my wife is.

“Where is Jimmy?” She seems at a loss for words. I clarify: “His…why isn’t he in the room? Where is he?”

She says “Sir. Your wife, she said we should move him, he was here for half an hour and…”

“What? What do you mean he was here for half an hour? I don’t understand.”

“Sir, your wife, we called her forty-five minutes ago she came and…”

“What are you telling me that my son- I only got a call fifteen minutes ago.”

“Your wife’s number was listed. We called her…” She’s actually backing away from me. Why? I’m told I’m a big guy. Six foot seven, over two hundred and something pounds. I’m told that I intimidate people when I stand over them and twitch like I do. I try to relax the expression on my face, it resets to strained after a few seconds. They called my wife forty-five minutes ago. “Where is she?”

The nurse hands out a slip of paper, her arm trembling. I grab it and start walking. It’s directions to some other floor. I try to remain calm on my way there, I really do. When I arrive I see her, her hair’s a mess, and she’s talking to a doctor like a normal person. “SARAH.” She spins around, her hands up. The doctor is a big guy too. “WHY THE FUCK DID YOU HAVE JIMMY MOVED?” The doctor gets in the way. He puts up his arms or something and he’s big too, so I have to yell over his shoulder: “WHY DIDN’T YOU FUCKING CALL ME? I SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE AND HE SHOULD BE IN HIS ROOM. HE SHOULD BE IN HIS FUCKING ROOM.” The doctor is yelling something. Help I think. He’s got his arms around me now, like a rough hug. The hat comes loose and falls to the floor. I stop and grab it- catch it in mid-air.

I just stand there.

The doctor says I need to calm down, and he is very sorry but I need to calm down.

Sarah is crying some more.

The hat- Jimmy would have died before I even had it in hand. If I’d been told at the right time I wouldn’t have brought it with me. I sit down on the tiled floor, hands flat, absorbing the cold. The doctor is telling the people who came to help that there is no need anymore. He’s right. The hat looked familiar- now I remember it, finally. The day of the carnival Jimmy gave the hat he loved away and I didn’t know he even loved it that much. That was a good day. The memory comes, unbidden, it flows through me- summoned right in front of me, I’ve never felt this way before. It begins to play out, that perfect day, only two months ago, and a part of me somehow thinks this might be my favorite memory of Jimmy because I feel so calm all of a sudden as I see him laugh and eat cotton candy except, that…except…that…it’s not my favorite memory of Jimmy. The red hat. I put it down.

Close my eyes. I can taste cotton candy. No, that isn’t what I want to remember. I mumble: fuck off. Someone outside says something like “What?” but I ignore them.

My real actual favorite memory of Jimmy has nothing to do with a carnival at all. It was a simple conversation.

It was a terribly smoggy day, a poor weekend and I was at home with Jimmy. Sarah was out, I can’t remember where. I must have been very nosy at that moment, perhaps because I wanted to know Jimmy more, and directly approaching him had at some point become so difficult, which is why instead I stood in the doorway of his messy room watching him from behind as he did things on his screen. With his back to me, his ears covered by headphones, he would start and stop different videos, all these videos online. It looked so random at first, like how my parents would channel surf on televisions, he would load up a Youtube video and watch it for a few seconds before shaking his head and starting another.

I remember imagining for a moment that all those disparate videos with all their kaleidoscopic motions were like a projection of the inside of Jimmy’s head, his thoughts. The videos seemed so unconnected. Sometimes they looked like music videos, other times clips of stand-up comedians and once and awhile truly inexplicable things such as this one guy juggling pineapples and another one, which caused me to gasp- some woman jumping off a skyscraper in a wing suit. Most were cut short before I could appreciate them- and all the while Jimmy would intermittently shake his head in some kind of disapproval, or tchh out loud.

I wanted to know so badly what he was doing, and my solution was quite lame- I knocked on his door frame, eliciting a swivel from Jimmy in his chair as he tore off his headphones and glared at me. I said something like “Can I sit down for awhile son?” and he, puzzled, relented, and I did, I sat on his bed to his side, and stared at his profile, and his own eyes kept snapping to the side, as maybe he wondered what the hell I was doing. After a minute he asked me- “Are you okay Dad?”

Funny that being something he asked me, back then. He was already ill but it was before we had to commit him to the ward.

I really had no idea how to say it, so I acted like I was mesmerized and clueless and asked him what exactly he was doing. He told me, dismissively, that he was “Making a playlist.” A play list of videos.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

I asked “Who is it for?” He answered with a shrug. I had never heard of someone making a playlist of videos, but after considering it I supposed it was a pretty good idea. I thought, at first, that it was for a girl. Then out of nowhere he said, “Hey Dad, want to see something cool?” And I was pretty thrilled. I can’t remember the last time he said something like that to me. He showed me a video about the sizes of things, from people to the stars, and how large they were relative to each other. It started with a person and then zoomed out, until we’re dwarfed by jets or skyscrapers then mountains then countries, the moon, the earth, the planets, then the sun, and then the part that struck me most were the stars. The sun reduced to a tiny dot in relation to the largest stars, and the earth, a dot compared to the sun. It was honestly kind of awe-inspiring.

I told him so.

He told me afterwards that he was making the playlist for his nemesis. I laughed when he used that word- “nemesis” and he clammed up afterwards, I felt so bad. Patiently I got it out of him, and he told me, that he was making the playlist for someone who hated him, and was quite mean to him.

If I hadn’t felt bad for laughing I think I would have just gotten upset, for sure I would have been all protective and demanding. But I was chagrined, so I just listened- and that’s probably what I should have done other times too. Jimmy called it “A playlist of the coolest vids I’ve seen. The top twenty-five.” I wish I had that playlist now. Goddamn it, I wish I did.

I asked him why he would make something for someone who treated him so badly. I was confused, I wanted to tell him he had to stand up to this guy, or barring that, I’ll take care of it, but instead I was, I guess, humbled a bit by all those stars and maybe the laughing- who knows. I’ll never know why, but I’m so glad because he told me then:

“Dad. The bully is like, angry. And anger is caused by pain Dad, it’s caused by suffering or having some kind of grudge. I don’t know what I did, maybe I did something to offend her you know?”

Her. I remember now, he said her.

“Like I caused her pain. And Dad, I just know, well you know everyone does- suffering sucks Dad. It really sucks. I think there are always only a few possible decisions I can make. I could choose do nothing, I could choose to be mean right back, or I can choose to be kind.” He had three fingers out, and he ticked each one. His hands were shaking then- most of the muscle had already faded but he still had his hair. I didn’t know what to say, which was good, because he went on.

Jimmy said: “There are only a couple of things that could be true.” He ticked his fingers again, this time the other way around- left tapping his right hand. All the while there was some video playing in the background, something to do with ancient Rome, I remember the temple of Jupiter, the coliseum and something to do with Augustus Caesar. Barley audible music eked out of his headphones that lay listening on the table. “One, what if they are hurting you because you hurt them. Two, everyone wants people not to hurt them, and if the one causing harm could identify with your pain- like, if they could feel what you feel, then they probably would not. Three, If you hurt them they feel worse which you yourself can’t identify with unless you’ve felt a similar pain. Four, if you are suffering then you know exactly what it’s like to feel pain. So I know what it’s like Dad. Do you understand?”

And the truth is I didn’t, I found it hard to follow. I was still more concerned with the fact that someone was messing with my son.

Jimmy ended it by saying “So Dad, I could do nothing. I could be mean back to her, and she could get angrier. Or, and like, this is the thing- I’m in the best spot to do this, I could be nicer. That’s the best choice right? It’s most important that someone like me, who was being hurt, is the one to be kind. I only have the choice to respond because she hurt me first.”

I thought he was looking to me for approval, but I didn’t have anything to say. I barely understood what he meant. He had conviction in his eyes, despite my silence. I thought a bit about what he was saying and that’s when I felt pride, so much pride it hurt. He was a better person than me. Jimmy had a bigger heart. I hugged him is all I did, and he let me, without tensing up, and the whole thing felt, I guess, sacred. It was the best hug he ever gave me- I can’t quite remember enough to prove it but I have faith anyway.

I stand up in the morgue, everyone else having backed away from me. “My wife will handle the rest.”

I leave.

I walk slowly and wait in line for the bus without stirring. I’m in no rush to go back to home. There just does not seem to be much of a point. Once at home I go straight to Jimmy’s room. Standing in the doorway I try to picture him with his back to me, on his screen, or with the VR set on his head. I’m imagining, constructing an image of him- it’s not the same as remembering but it’s close. I try to, I really try to summon some specific day- I stare out his window and paint it gray, or blue, or orange, to create a context, maybe something tiny, like me telling him dinner is ready; but none of it is real. I can’t remember. Just some video of Rome, and a perfect hug. Is there something wrong with my mind? Why can’t I remember? I begin to feel nauseous. This could be trauma. I’m not thinking straight. Sure. I go to my room, Sarah and I’s room, and I close the door, lie down in my clothes and begin to pass out, my last thought; maybe I’ll see him.

The black takes me. Then there in front of me is an archaic chalkboard and I’m writing on it with my finger, chalk marks appearing wherever I stroke the rough surface and then I wake up. The world is still dark, my eyes stay shut but I’m awake, I can tell, that electric surge running all over my body. I can fucking hear them.

One saying something, need to focus, he’s saying “…This is far too complex. It’s not going to hold.”

Another one says: “Oh ya think? ‘Cuz it’s going real smooth.”

A third voice, a woman’s, Sarah’s? “Stop it. Schedule says Billy shows up in three days. Then we wrap up.”

There is something vaguely familiar about these voices, something about them that starts a ringing, deep inside. A terrifying association. Try to keep my breathing steady.

The woman who may be Sarah says: “Shit, he’s coming out of it again. What the hell? Michael fix it, now.” There is a bit of movement, an arm maybe, and then nothing. Serenity.

When I wake up its morning. Two names surface as I stretch out my legs. Micheal and Billy. Another nightmare last night, I wonder what they mean. I think it’s to do with a fear of being watched whilst helpless. Being judged, yeah, like all the time I’m being spied upon, my every action tallied up. Head hurts somewhat. Rest of the body needs more stretching, so I do. When I finally work up the motivation to go outside it’s nearly noon. Sarah isn’t home. I walk past Jimmy’s room and the reality hits me someplace hard. When did we get him that bed? I can’t remember. What was it like when he was born? I can’t remember. Still it hurts, goddamnit it hurts so much. I lay down in the corridor between rooms, the cold wooden floor freezing my unclad back.

I can’t take being on my own right now. After some hesitation, an internal argument that goes back and forth, I decide to call Sarah. When she answers it sounds like she’s out somewhere, a hum of conversation backgrounding our awkward dialogue.

“Sarah. It’s me.”

“Yes. I know that.”

“I’m at home. On my own.”

“Oh.”

“Where are you?”

“With a friend you know, just eating some lunch.”

“Can you come home afterwards, so we can talk, you know?”

“I don’t know. I need to be with a friend right now.”

“What about later?”

“No. Not tonight. Tomorrow maybe.”

“A friend Sarah. Singular. One. Is his name Billy?”

She hangs up. I flex my wrist, open and close my fingers. The anger’s back. Billy. I just know she’s with some guy called fucking Billy. She’s fucking some guy called Billy. The revelation possesses my arm, makes it punch the stained cushions on the couches, her hair ridden pillow in the guest room. I call her back afterwards. It rings a long while, and I’m dedicated to at least leaving a message. Before I can she picks up, says nothing. That background hum only, I’m speaking to the restaurant she’s in. “Sarah who are you with? Are you with someone else? A guy? SARAH?”

Suddenly her voice, high-pitched, panicked: “Yes how the hell do you know that?”

My turn to hang up. It occurs to me now, with all this reckless energy that there is nowhere for me to go. I can’t go to work and face everyone. I can’t see Sarah and I haven’t got anyone else I can call. In my own apartment, I can’t enter, I can’t even look at two of the three small rooms. I’m fucking trapped. I know I’m supposed to do things now that Jimmy’s gone. I need to tell people. That suddenly doesn’t seem so important. The rage brings clarity. None of this is real. How could I know about Billy? I never knew about Billy till those people, those people who are watching me said so. This is all some kind of bad dream.

I go to the dining table and pick up the VR set, spend the rest of the day learning how to play Formula Own. I crash often but it’s exhilarating with the immersion dialed up to the highest setting. The thrill down my back when I turn a tight corner, it’s like some sort of communion with Jimmy’s spirit. Since none of this is real he isn’t really dead.

I spend all day jacked in, and when I finally come out of it I’m starving. Haven’t eaten all day and I feel so sleepy. Try to tell myself I shouldn’t feel these things, that it’s all some kind of illusion. I slap myself, trying to wake whilst the sun sets outside. It just hurts and in the bathroom mirror I see red marks. Very realistic, yes. I lie down on the couch. I’ll see those fuckers tonight, I’m sure of it, and this time I’m not going to be scared. This time I’ll ask them questions.

I wake around noon, the previous night a completely blank space, no memories of dreams, nothing. I fly off the couch and smack the wall. FUCKERS. On my wrist a plethora of messages, pleas from Sarah to handle somethings with the hospital, and a few messages of condolence. I ignore them- these people aren’t my fucking friends. Alone in the apartment I scream in my underwear:

“LET ME OUT. I KNOW THIS ISN’T REAL.”

I scream at the top of my lungs: “I FUCKING KNOW.”

No answer. I go lie down in Jimmy’s room and play Formula Own there, pausing to cry for in between races. By the afternoon I feel calm, so calm, and very sleepy. Strange, since I slept so much the night before. Why am I so listless? Is it because I didn’t eat? No. It’s those people, the ones watching, somehow they are keeping me down. I know I need to get mad. I need to feel something despite this inexplicable emptiness. I go on Jimmy’s screen and on his desktop I see a file: Formichelle. It’s the playlist. That girl, the one from the race, was the very same one that bullied him. I thought she’d be fat or something. I stand over Jimmy’s empty seat and try to picture him there with his playlist, with Rome and some woman jumping off a building. That’s what I should do. I should jump off the building. If I die I’ll wake up for sure.

I go to the balcony, stand outside in the wind. A sudden fear grips me as I begin to contemplate jumping- what if I just wake up and the whole thing starts all over again? I need an intervention. I need to see them tonight.

I spend the evening working out, eating well, preparing myself for a good night’s sleep. I pass out around midnight clutching a kitchen knife by the handle. I’m going in armed.

(Cont. tomorrow)