Short Story: Lucem Ex Tenebras

I was sitting at my desk arranging the desktop icons into the semblance of a middle finger when the chat window popped up. 
 
“Tony, are you there?”
 
I finished giving myself the finger and began to type: “Sorry, but this isn’t Tony.” and I was about to press enter when I read:
 
“I’m drowning in a sea of shit Tony, except I’m the sea. I could really use someone to talk to.”
 
It occurred to me that Tony might not be available to talk to whoever this person was. That is precisely what had happened to me, the day before, except her name was Michelle, and she’d gotten sick of how often I needed her help.
 
Besides there appeared to be no one else at any of their desks, anywhere on this floor.
 
I wrote: “Okay. What’s wrong?”
 
They said: “IT’S fucking stupid. I’m being stupid.”
 
“Whatever IT is, If IT bothers you, then it bothers you. And that’s okay.”
 
They didn’t type anything for awhile. 
 
Then they wrote: “On the subway someone’s phone went off. The ringtone was Don’t Stop Believing by journey and I wanted to cry because of it, but I didn’t want anyone to see so I picked up this newspaper and there was this stupid picture of a soldier upside down and he looked like an idiot so I started laughing but I was crying at the same time and then I realized I was holding the newspaper upside down and that everyone would know why I’d done it.”
 
I waited.
 
Typed “lol” then deleted it. 
 
They wrote “See, it’s fucking stupid.”
 
I typed “Why did the song make you cry?”
 
They wrote it all out. How their face had been scratched by the windshield of their car whilst they listened to what used to be their favorite song. How they had lost who they were and that reminded me qof how I’d lost Danielle, and how simple things that shouldn’t be, did. Like waking up. And breakfast,
 
Except Danielle was definitely still alive and waiting for me at home with the next episode of Game Of Thrones.
 
Later they wrote “Thank you I fucking needed that” so I thought it was time to type: “My name isn’t actually Tony you know. Though I am in tech support…” which is when I woke up from the dream, into an empty bed, on top of a duvet too large for one person because Danielle was still dead and I’d forgotten again. 
 
It took me sometime to get dressed and go to my real desk, out in the real world. It was somewhere around noon when I realized that I’d left my latest prescription at home. My supervisor let me go, told me to stay home, and I knew he meant well but why couldn’t he understand that I would come back the moment I took my pills and that the last thing I needed was to be at home. That auditing the accounts of a popcorn company was bliss in comparison. 
 
The pills didn’t seem to do anything except make day time TV somewhat more bearable. The romance, between an ancient concubine and some kind of half-man, half-bird creature was particularly enthralling, especially since I do not speak cantonese and so made up the words in my head. My stomach growled so I put some instant dimsum in the microwave and pressed some buttons. At some distance from the couch the microwave started beeping. I figured that now that it was cooked, that it would keep, for several hours if necessary. Later the washing machine started making noises. I remained on the sofa, listening with half-shut eyes to the nonsensical patter of another Chinese soap. 
 
Of course my phone had to go off right next to my head. An unknown number. I prepared to be polite. If it was all I going to do today, I was going to be polite to his poor, underpaid telemarketer.
 
“Hello.” I said, in my polite voice.
 
She said: “Hi there! I’m calling from tech support! Why so glum chum?”
 
“Excuse me?”
 
“What’s on you mind man! I heard you’re kind of down.”
 
“From who? Who is this?”
 
“Well, I got this memo, said you’re kind of down. Got it from the sysadmin. He assigned me to you I think. I’m not sure. But who cares, whatever, you sound like ass, you really do and for what it’s worth you shouldn’t bottle it all up. Let’s see here…Danielle…lovely name that. Come on man, tell me about her. I’m listening. You can tell me whatever you like.
 
I tried a few Well’s, some But’s and it’s just’s- she waited for me to finish one of my sentences but I failed to. I only breathed slower, and harder, till I was gasping.
 
She said “Danielle would want you to treat yourself well, I mean, that’s love right?”
 
“That’s…what the fuck…” And it just spilled out of me. In a babbling mess. I confessed about how I’d finally found someone that made me feel everything I’d ever dreamed of, right when I’d given up all hope, right when I was at my most overweight and tired, and then out of nowhere, just like that she’s gone and all the pills in the goddamn world weren’t enough. I told her how I hadn’t really been happy to begin with. How Danielle just accepted me and that was the definition of love.
 
The tech support lady said: “Self-acceptance counts too.”
 
And after that I poured the rest out. And after that I tried to thank her. “That was so much better than these pink pills I take.”
 
It turns out we took the same pills.
 
She had been swearing a lot. I asked: “Have you…ever been in a car accident?”
 
She said Yes.
 
“And do you have a friend, a good friend named Tony?”
 
She said What the fuck.
 
The line began to crackle. I remembered then, being transferred to tech support, the empty office, and a middle finger made out of desktop icons and: “LOOK, IF YOU’RE AT THE OFFICE TONIGHT, MEET ME AT THE PHOTOCOPY MACHINE!”
 
She managed to ask: “The pink one?”
 
“YES THE BRIGHT PINK ONE!!!!!” and the line went dead and I woke up opposite the TV and I made a mental, then a written note to bring all this up with my psychiatrist. Then I did my washing, ate the dimsum, and went back to work.
 
I was so excited that getting to sleep took ages.
 
It felt like I was about to go somewhere new. Meet someone new. It felt like my first date with Danielle and the debate I had about what flowers to buy. So I still thought I was awake even when I found myself at the bottom of a lift shaft, with only a ladder and the distant sounds whirring office machinery. I climbed and counted the floors, perpetually afraid I had lost track, that I was going to miss mine. It made me want to start all over again but my arms were tired and what if I wouldn’t be able to go back up? 
 
The silhouette of a head peeked out, far above me. “About time! I couldn’t find a single freakin’ photocopy machine anywhere. Its like the end of the world up in here.” 
 
At that point it became easier to climb, until I stood on the other side of the shaft from her, the gap in between too large to jump. “Jump it!” she said. 
 
“I’ll fall.” I replied.
 
She extended her hands and it occurred to me that if I ran really, really fast, then maybe I’d outrun gravity. So I did, and I was only a foot away from her when gravity caught up to grab me by my ankles, “OH HELL NO!” She yelled, then her hands clasping mine, pulling me up till we stood, face to scarred face. She kissed me and I didn’t ask why, or feel guilty at all despite the fact that she looked nothing like Danielle.
 
“I checked out the company directory, none of it makes any fucking sense, but I’ll tell you what- the sysadmin’s office is on the top floor. Come on, we’ll take the stairs.”
 
So we ran hand in hand up an interminable fire escape. Eventually we emerged into a white marbled lobby. At the end of it, large and imposing, were a set of double doors. One black, the other white, with a drop of the other color in each. Holding hands we shouldered both open together.
 
Inside the sysadmin dropped the dimsum he’d been eating. Then he tripped over a bundle of wires covered with what looked like unwashed clothes. He stuttered: “Who the…what the…you guys aren’t supposed to BE here! At the same time! Oh jeez, you’re even holdin’ hands.”
 
I gently disconnected from her.
 
The sysadmin sighed and circled us, humming and hawwing to himself. I said: “Excuse me, we would very much like to know how…”
 
“Shhhh.” He gently pressed one finger to his lips. “Shhhhhhhitttttt I see it now. Wow. You guys. The pills you both take. They messed with the system! Fucking PEOPLE!” His hands flew up, beseeching a red neon sign above him, composed of Chinese characters I did not understand. “Always messing around with the mind, like idiot children. Damn pills got side effects. Ought to put that on the label.”
 
“Look sir, is she real?”
 
She turned on me: “SAY WHAT? Fuck you, are YOU real?”
 
“YOU’RE BOTH FRICKIN REAL!” he said. “Look. Here’s the thing. There has been a teensy little screw up. You aren’t ever suppsoed to be together in the same place and time. The same place-time. That isn’t how it works,”
 
“How what works?” One of us said.
 
“The…buddy program. For broken people- not unlike yourselves. What happens is when one person is really low, like, down in the sewers low, then another person, quite like them, but- and this is crucial- not feeling the same way at that exact moment in time, contacts you, and you have a bit of a talk, to alleviate the symptoms of existence. Now you are both, if I may say so, HIGHLY QUALIFIED buddys in your own right. Seriously top notch traumas you’ve both sustained. But the algorithm’s screwed up, there shouldn’t be a recurring relationship. Not like this. There shouldn’t be anything tying you to together. Except for the goddamn pills your quack of a psychiatrist gave both of you. Same pills, same connection, and now you’re freakin HOLDING HANDS!”
 
He sighed again, said: “There is only one thing left to do now. Gotta reset the system.”
 
“Reset?”
 
“Yeah, turn it on and off. Works most of the time.”
 
“And then what, we just…”
 
“Wake up, and all of this is forgotten, and later on you help someone different instead.”
 
I asked him: “But wait, you mean, we go to the same doctor? We could see each other…outside of…work?” 
 
She asked him: “Hey dickhead, what if we don’t want to forget, did you ever consider that?”
 
The sysadmin paused, hands hovering over the console he had been typing at. “Sorry. Really am. But if I don’t do this you guys might end up perfectly happy, and then so much for balancing out the others. And you’ll know all about the backoffice. And you’ll start some frickin cult and invariably in a century or two it’ll all get fucked.”
 
I held her hand again. “What does it mean?” I asked.
 
I was pointing at the neon sign, which had changed from Chinese to latin. “Lucem ex tenebras; from darkness, light.” The sysadmin massaged the top of his forehead. “Even if I reset the system it won’t be over for you guys. You’re on your way up. The darkness, without it you wouldn’t understand each other. You wouldn’t care. Not as hard. Not as much. And for what it’s worth there are a lot of you guys out there, trust me.” He gestured to the stack of servers: “You’ll find someone else. Or you won’t. I don’t know. It’ll be like a dream- you’ll forget the details but you’ll remember the point.” He squatted and reached into a space between two servers.
 
She turned to me, her smile melding with the scar that traveled from her jaw to her forehead. “I’ll remember you.” She said.
 
And then he flipped the switch.
 
I woke up late on top of a duvet too large for one person. I was pretty sure I’d dreamt of Danielle. What little I had slipped out of my grasp, leaving only a few word that made no sense.
 
So I googled Lucem Ex Tenebras and went back to work.
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Short story: Afterwards

Afterwards

The room I was in was for waiting, and the person that stood over me was saying: “Ray Gupta, Peter will see you now.”

I said “Oh.” and accompanied her through a glass door that I could have sworn was from work. On the other side was a maze of cubicles. The sounds of phones ringing, of hurried typing, so much of it was recognizable. The hundreds of cubicles were not. “What office is this? Did I make an appointment or…”

She interrupted by stabbing my shoe with the tip of her heel. I screamed and no one seemed to care. She explained: “Sorry but I have to hurt you if you ask me questions.”

I almost asked why.

She motioned me to follow, so I did to a cubicle with a man inside and a single chair.

Peter said: “Sit!”

I held my foot and again the question pulsed: Why?

Peter said: “It’s your head! You tell me! Maybe it’s a metaphor- think of it as pain guiding you here, or something. All questions lead to suffering. Etcetera. Besides you’re dead, literally, so don’t worry too much.”

He had a point.

Peter said: “Actually, you still have a little bit you have to worry about, or at least some choices that need to be made, concerning your severance package.

Before I could phrase another question he answered: “Look, just go with it. Focus on how comfortable this environment is. How familiar. Don’t ask questions, it’s too late for all that. And don’t worry about the people you recognize. It’s perfectly normal.”

Peter got down on his knees, on the computer brought up a spreadsheet. “Let’s see now.” He said. Over his shoulder I saw tiny black marks, thousands of words in a too small font. I croaked: “Peter…can I…leave…please?

Without looking back he said: “Don’t worry you’ll be gone soon. You just need to go through your review, and poof, you’ll be done.”

“What do you mean…gone?”

“You know exactly what I mean.”

So I was going to die, or I was already dead, or oblivion was next. Peter said: “Exactly! Here, we’re going to start now, so you understand why you get what’s coming to you next. Unless you prefer we skip this?”

And expedite my non-existence? Fuck that. Peter said “Typical” and brought up Youtube.

“You have internet here?”

“No it’s an illusion. We have something better.” He typed: Lowest point before 30.

One hit only. In the screenshot I saw myself lying on a bathroom floor, two plastic prescription bottles in one hand, a Gideon’s bible in the other. Peter pressed play and I beat my head bloody with the bible. I watched myself tear out random pages, terrified of Peter witnessing me committing what was probably sacrilege. I tried to explain: “I didn’t know, okay? Sorry, so sorry, I didn’t know the bible was…I mean I’m not even Christian!”

“Just watch. We’ll turn up the sound.” He did and we heard a voice speaking, though the high-definition image of my mouth remained shut. I heard my voice, the way it sounds normally, inside my own head, say: “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t get up again. No reason to. No one to see me rise. No point in doing anything.” Then the tears started. “Fucking lonely stupid loser. Fucking FAILURE of a man. Deserves nothing. Deserves to die.” There was a murmuring sound then, too quiet to make out.

Peter said: “Ah, need to turn this part up, it’s a background thought, very hard to hear.” And he fiddled with the controls till we could make out what I thought, which was: “Beccy cares. Arjun cares. Other people suffer too. Don’t give up on them.” Then blasting out, so loud I covered my ears:

“JUST TAKE THE PILLS AND SLEEP THE GOOD SLEEP REST FINALLY REST FINALLY FUCKING REST…” and Peter muted it.
With the volume down I looked like somebody lying on a bathroom floor, clearly miserable, but seemingly doing nothing for an hour or so. Then with the volume up I heard myself find hope and choose to flush the pills down the toilet. Peter showed me other scenes after, and how they all linked, one into the other. He watched me watch myself being decent to strangers, showed me how I affected then, how their lives were indirectly improved by the hope I had found on that cold floor. He showed me how my kindness had been kindled by suffering, and how with my everyday actions I saved people- for eons he showed me videos of them remembering what I’d done or said and thus finding the strength to get back up themselves.

He showed me all the ways I’d suffered and the empathy inculcated by years of torment.

Afterwards I was ready. I told Peter I could die now.

He told me to wait, that we had to go into his office. On the way I overheard someone say “Sex is good, fuck, sex is GREAT, but the money, it’s empty- so let’s try having less.”

Inside Peter’s office I wondered: Do I get heaven now? Or is this it?

He said I would be gone, one way or another. I thought I was supposed to be Hindu, and that this was not the karma I had been taught about.

“Don’t worry Ray!” Peter said. “All that’s left is this…” And he produced a blank paper pad and a pen. “Now Ray, in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, you did good. As far as this department is concerned you did good with what you had.”

“So I won then?” I asked, the tears finally pouring out in this absurd and twisted version of the afterlife.

“Yeah you did great Ray, real super. So, here’s the deal.” He put the pen next to the paper, pushed both towards me.

“Write your own cheque Ray. You decide the circumstances of your next life. Completely up to you! For example…that…ah…K-pop guy you heard outside- you want to be like him? Sex, all the sex you’d ever want, or money, security, fame. You want it, you got it. A soul mate maybe? Meet her, or him by the time you’re say…twenty-three? Done and done. You get the idea. Write it out Ray, and your next life, that’s it.”

So I stopped crying and wrote something down.

Handed Peter back the paper.

He stared at the three words I’d written:

One more time.

I explained: “I want to suffer the same way.”

“Ray? I don’t think you understand how this works…”

“No, I do.”

“You people…Okay. You’re the boss”

We left the office and I wandered the cubicles for awhile, watching others, hearing their last requests.

Questions came whilst we walked back to the front door, which Peter held open for me. Will I remember any of this? Is this real? Does it matter? I looked in front of me at the darkness, said “Goodbye Peter.”

“Only for now. But I have to ask…why are you choosing pain, again?”

“Because I think it’ll make me kind.”

It was the last thing I said to him. Never got to hear what he thought about it.

A poem and a confession (“The weight of dreams’)

I am for the most part incredibly embarrassed to admit to anyone that I write. It is a far throw from there to claim in any capacity that I am a writer. You see I am terrified like so many others of all the wrong things.

Kind reader whoever you are that has stopped here to peruse these sentences, you would not believe the amount of things I have written, that nobody has read. I mean I will not show people, have not shown people- I am so afraid of what they will think, as if could ever know that.

These things I will not show people fill reams of notebooks. They take up tiny kilobytes of data on old hard drives and USB’s. I do not want to waste people’s times with them- that is what my demon tells myself.

This is one of those things, the poem below.

I have for the most part listened to that demon my entire life. I’ve almost finished my novel, just about written the end, and all the time the demon says: “So what? Who cares?” The demon pokes me and jabs in the early morning with horrible, self-degrading thoughts. It uses fear to keep me in line, prevent me from saying things I feel, or writing down the words and showing them to people.

I’ve learned a few things about that demon, in the process of writing this book. Chief among those things is fact that just about everyone who has ever dared anything has had to face that demon. What seems a solitary fight is in fact a universal one, and this is not a fact the enemy would like shared.

It would much prefer we remain afraid and question nothing.

Funny thing about fear, it can be used against the enemy. All you have to do is follow it back to your foe and you’ll know where to fight, whom to confront. So in that spirit for the few dozen that may see it, here is

The weight of dreams

If I had the power to grant your dreams
I would scoop aside a piece of garden,
A waterfall with singing reeds,
And place a chair and birds for company,
For you to live for an eternity,
In solitude and unruffled peace.

If I had the power to bring you solace,
I would wisk you far away from those that promise,
Tonight it won’t hurt.
I’d build a castle with ramparts strong,
And foundations fair to hold your truths unassailed,
Knights to slay that terrible dragon.

If it were within my grasp to give you,
Love’s weight in gold and comments,
Eyes to recognize your struggles,
Applause for all those secret moments,
A family of devotees that sing,
Your name and deeds If I could bring,

That one back who understood you so,
Revive with music regret’s foe,
Take you back in time to laughter,
Your past and present forever after
One and the same till all became
That perfect day with her again,

If I could grant you some few words,
For the world to pause and your heart be heard,
The fighting to stop the blood contained,
A chance for all to stop and change,
And listen to truths that you have seen,
For all these fools to have never been,

If I could give you the bullets you need,
To drown the evil and end the seeds,
Of weakness and pathetic misery,
Allow you to judge, execute and oversee,
These silly fools born of mediocrity,
Would I grant these prayers for you,
or for me?

If I could surround you with ones dear,
Drown you in sounds instead of tears,
If I could allow you to destroy those near,
That are not who you are nor will ever fear,
The apocalypse slouching so near,

You power hungry fools that never see,

You world burning madmen whose dreams rest,
On pillars on pain for all that fail your test,
The world would collapse under all our dreams,
That war between words, behind eyes, silently,
That wake us to our need to be devotees,
To impose our wills upon all that disagree,
In spite of those that once spoke for Liberty,

‘Tis a word oft spoke rarely understood,
‘Tis a world much salted by spilling of blood,
Till it’s heard softly woken in the tears that should,
Give pause to those who swing their clubs,
Determined to sculpt us all like the mud,
They use to mold their perfect earth.
If I had the power of all your fictions,
If I was your God of violent conviction,
If this lone man was immortal too,
To rip, rend, and tear so many hearts if you,
Prayed to me and demanded solace,
If you frothed for fervourous murderous promises,
If you sacrificed all that was yours and another’s,

I would still rather die than take on the cover,
Of a white beard, a turban, many hands, some weapons,
To conceal your tiny fears and cries for eden
To obscure your eyes from the desert we live in,
To deny another’s attempt to never deaden,
Their dreams in spite of all your lessons,
I would rather stand tall than kneel before heaven,
And evaporate into nothing and embrace oblivion,
For my words to ring however short and silent,
That I am proud to be merely human.

And my brothers are those whose fears bravely glisten,
And my sisters are the ones who stand alone within,
Those sensitive enough to embrace quiet wisdom,
Sagacious and bold to display honest ignorance,
And one day we will rise, we few, hatred’s children,
To hold the line from you priests, you mad politicians,
Be you president or king, lawyer or banker,
Be you teacher or mother or soldier or manager,
You cannot stop the sane few that strive on still,
To dream despite how many you imprison, crush or kill,
We are the future, we are the best of the heathens,
Who carry your heaven inside our eyes and actions,
Though we are isolated, outnumbered, enemies of the destined,
We that walk in darkness, to serve the light,

We are legion.

And if I were your God I would weep for my children.