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.

A poem: Anonymous

Anonymous

This is about anon,
Also known as 1352764621,
Who photoshopped a picture of Vladimir,
Putting it in Hillary.
It was funny and kind of hot.

This is about anon,
Who spray painted IP addresses,
Onto tenement walls,
Whilst AK-47-wielding too loyal men,
Walked lock step on his home town streets.

This is about anon,
The first person who cried out “No”,
The one who wrote the inspiring piece,
Who fight,
Unknown and unremembered by history,

This is about anon,
Who on his way back home from
The market,
Carrying a black plastic bag,
Decided to stop,
A tank,
Before disappearing,
Into eternity,
To live forever in every upraised hand.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2014/06/june-4th-1989

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Hong Kong people march. Roughly 500 000 people. July 1st, 2003.

 

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Flashfiction for Scifriday: Alone

What follows is a 100 word piece of flash/micro fiction for SCIFRIDAY! From the following blog:

http://chriswhitewrites.com/2014/03/21/scifriday-1/

I hope more people take a shot at this!

Picture below was inspiration, and then the story follows. I went over a little (112 words), alas. 

tracks_by_sandara-d6ko5hm

Alone

In ancient times it was called a railway, a sort of mass transit system. Now it was a strip of verdant beauty, a green path stretching forward. Luke took off his smart-boots, and for the first time, felt grass between his toes.

“Follow at 3 meters.”

“Okay Luke.” Came the voice, programmed to sound just like Julienne had.

It still caused Luke’s pulse to skip, her voice that followed him across such a gulf of space, and time.

Here, on Terra, alone on this graveyard of a world, Luke would spend the rest of his days. To dwell on loss, of his home in her, and all their homes that once were here.

 

Flash Fiction Medley

I was reading about black holes today, which put me in a certain kind of mood. The Japanese have a word for it “Yugen” . That and I saw this picture (warning 10 MB picture), which is a super-high-res image of a fraction of the stars in our own galaxy.

You know I’ve always thought there was something deeply wrong with me. Partially because of the two links above. I’ve had people get very red-faced, very loud and and sure about certain ideas they have, including ideas that are really quite fantastic, compelling stories, like God and the Afterlife and Retirement, when the very fact that all those stars out there exist reduces so much of all of that noise coming out of people’s mouths to be….

Something less.

Not that I know any better. I am so awfully aware of how little I know that I indulge myself in a congruently complimentary hobby/passion/desperate need: to make things up. If I had it my way I would be a professional-maker-upper. I don’t want to call them novels or fiction, I want to call them stories. That’s all they are in the end.

In that spirit I’m writing this flash fiction medley which is is comprised of ideas that have taken root somewhere inside of me, that I have been quite an abysmal parent to, always claiming tomorrow I will finally write them all out, and do them justice. However in light (or lack thereof) of super-massive black holes of infinitely large mass and infinitely small volume I will deny my perfectionism and just let the ideas flow, like so much kaleidoscopic vomit.

Starting with The Third Planet Is Sure They’re Being Watched By An Eye In The Sky (because I love Modest Mouse and because Edward Snowden). This would have/will be/should have been a story about an obscure band with some average to pretty decent instrumentalists who acquire, randomly at a party, the skills of a front-girl and lyricist of dubious reputation- she has an obsession with psychedelics and is rarely seen sober, a sort of neo-hippy that others dismiss as pretentious.

Her name is Rachel and her parents are rich and thus the band plays at her place, which is austere and owned by her single father, the too serious CEO of some impenetrably dull hedge fund.

She writes these strange lyrics and sings in an off-beat falsetto with the band wishing she sounded more like Haylee Williams but they can’t deny the poetry, the way in which her words are so enigmatic, flow so easily, and how she never ever writes them without being at the very least stoned, if not tripping all over everybody’s balls.

The band is obscure, they get some hits on Xanga- using the new-fangled internet (did I not mention this all takes place in the 80’s?), play a few concerts but never make it big. They are torn apart by the tragic suicide of their front-girl, who falls in love with the gay guitarist that found her at the party and can’t hack the impossibility of it all.

The band falls apart, the lyrics left online.

Till they are found by a certain boy decades later. He fails to find anyone to take credit for them. On 4chan him and a dedicated few begin to form a subculture over these lyrics on account of how eerily accurate they are when it comes to historical events in the 21st century.

Funny thing about these lyrics. They are strangely prophetic. Very much like an 80’s version of Nostradamus, Rachel had somehow written down these hard to understand, rolling lines, that all seemed to come true. So this subculture spawns a member, who didn’t show her tits then GTFO, who becomes, through some twist of fate (in other words a realty TV show contestant), super-famous, ga ga famous, and after singing the autotuned songs of successful song writers eventually releases her own album- remixes of Rachel’s lines, catchier now with a bit of dubstep to underline the drop.

The last song in the album contains lines that suggest that this was what was always going to happen anyway, and whilst scholars spend a goodly amount of time debunking and arguing against the prophetic nature of all the other songs (not unlike a an 80’s remixed Nostradamus)  it is very difficult to argue against the rather explicit nature of these final lines that talk about another girl from another time when information is far more free taking her words and making them widely known.

See why I don’t finish these stories? That one could go one for awhile.

There is also Sonder, a story I really keep telling myself I’ll write, which is meant to be about a single day in the life of this person, and how it ends suddenly, and how although there is all this pain in his life- a divorce in process, a job that does not treat him so well- he values the time he has waiting, at the bus, or at lunch, the in between times, where he listens to these fantastic pod casts that teach him all about natural selection, or the general theory of relativity; space and time and history.

And at the end of this day, through random chance he is struck by a car, on his to the operating theater- with his broken family and wife united by the tragedy, all around him wishing him well with superstitious but well-meaning platitudes and the invocation of a plethora of conflicting Gods; then, in that gurney with the tube in his mouth he starts to imagine.

He imagines zooming out, of that hospital, and appreciating the hundreds of lives in the same building- like disparate atoms in a gas cloud all heading towards their own destinies, all of equal importance, all comprising a whole. From their he zooms out to the city block and wonders at the various animals, the sparrows and cockroaches that have evolved to fill their various nooks in the shadows where tigers once stalked- the strange ways in which life has continues to reproduce itself and that trajectories through time those species have taken…he zooms out again to the whole island, considers the geological movements, the plate tectonics of the island breaking off, reforming, the volcanic violence that led to it’s original creation- and he zooms out even more to consider the earth, wrapped in it’s atmosphere against the void, this pale blue dot with all the variety, all the life, all the water and wealth of chaos- and zooms out again, to the solar system and the strange series of collisions that led to the planets, the life cycle of Sol, and again to the galaxy with it’s billions upon billions of sisters to Sol and all that potential, the potential for all those hospital tragedies, and again to all the billions of other galaxies and the sheer amount of other things, the shadow of infinity- and without God, and without answers, with one single tear rolling down his face, the man is content in the face of death. Without words, without actions, with his imagination alone he traversed all of space and time.

The definition of Sonder.

The anesthesia dulls him to sleep and he dies on the table and his imagination is lost to an invisible past only the reader might have appreciated.

Let’s go for the hat trick, one time, with my final story-yet-unwritten: Get Krunk

Which is quite simply about a man who does not drink much, or dream much, whose life is turned somewhat inside out by the collapse of his company, a sudden thing that discards him, and all the things he thought were important, and leads him to a bar his fellow workers always frequent and he never did, where they regale each other with happy memories he missed in his endearing naivete, and how he drinks quite heavily that night.

He stumbles out of the cab home too early near a football field where the lights of the stadium hypnotize him- shadows, young, dance underneath those sharp lights, and he stumbles towards them driven by a mysterious line “get Krunk, get Krunk”…and he finds himself in a party for high-schooler’s, and he joins.

This man he looks so young and his askew tie and stained suit mark him as cool among all these teens. The story would have been about the lie he lives for one insane, magical night, where he tries to relive his past, and would have turned on a girl, the kind of girl he wishes he would have had, and how he realizes at the end how late it is, when, she brandishes her fake ID with pride.

I’m not certain what he would have done during that party but I think it would have had something to do with making a heartfelt speech about the future for these young ones, and something about how he befriends a supposed younger version of himself, who really is not like him at all- and that realization that he can’t even guide himself, because of course there is no one like him- not truly- that truth hurts.

I probably would have ended with the girl and whether he has sex with her or not because that shit sells.

Three’s a crowd apparently so I’ll cut the medley short. It’s kind of freeing to let these stories out so I might do this again soon. It’s also a form of cheating which appeals to me.

The End.

Flash Fiction: The path a song takes.

She only screamed as a little girl, never sang, till they made her once in music class. Everyone went silent in a way she could never provoke with mere tantrums. The way they looked at her was a memory that followed her into puberty, into adulthood, across the ocean to another country- the memory shifted slowly, her constant companion, sometimes a mocking, jeering thing, sometimes the sweetest lover, and on the worst days- hope, the last thing that kept the balcony door of her tiny apartment shut.

She spent blood, wrung out of her by abusive boyfriends, and tears, that dripped slowly onto sodden pages full of what she thought of as pastiche-ridden lyrics, on fighting her way to the top of her mountain- a gig at a hotel, where she spent most of her first paycheck on a dress deemed barely acceptable by the pretentious manager that couldn’t keep the disdain out of his voice.

She kept something else in her own voice. A memory of friends and enemies captivated, taken somewhere far from the now, then.

When she was given notice during budget cuts she cried in the staff bathroom and rushed to re-apply her mascara before her final performance in front of indifferent lounge goers eating overpriced food bearing a poor approximation to the salty, home-spun fish dishes of the country she left behind so long ago.

She asked the entire lounge if they could paint with all the colors of the wind. She muttered “and for once never wonder what it’s worth” into the mic, embarrassed, and too aware of the relevance of the line.

When she finished the only person that applauded was one, lone boy of ten, who stood transfixed.

Later she became a waitress and never again sang to a room of more than fifty.

Before the boy clapped he had been running between adult’s legs, straining against his ridiculous dress shirt- all ten years of him aghast at the pomp and ceremony involving the ludicrous buffet. He pestered waiters and defeated his parents attempts to restrain him as he was deeply dissatisfied with the seriousness around him.

The voice of the saddest lady he had ever met stunned him, as she sang his secret- his favorite song from his favorite movie, stolen from his sister’s bedroom and watched after midnight whilst his parents were at a party. When she finished he clapped as loudly as he could manage, slapping his hands red.

He would not stop singing the song in the car ride home till even the chauffeur began to mutter imprecations. He had to Google most of the words, as he did not know what blue corn was, or how the fenced in trees with the laminated labels could have spirits.

Maths and science and his father’s position as vice president of something held little appeal, and could not sway the boy from the path set for him by a wayward song.

So he disappointed everyone who pretended to care about him as he bucked his inheritance and moved to a third-world country after failing his expensive high school education to sing in a small bar near a resort, where he met a beautiful woman who taught him Tagalog and how to fish.

It was sometime after that that he finally thought he understood the lyrics to his favorite song.

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.

The Date (Part 4 of 5)

Part 1 can be found here.
4

Steph told me not to get too invested. “You can’t save them all.” She said, all mock heroics. Even though I laughed at the melodrama, her words pierced me. I wanted all the kids, even the ones that were obsessed with being cool, to learn. “Every teacher goes through a similar thing.” She told me. Well, at least their was Jean. She really had potential. At first she was shy, but now, her talents were finally beginning to show. She was one hell of a writer- essays and creative stuff, especially for a fifteen year old. I joked with her once, about her eventually becoming a historical fiction writer. The way her eyes lit up- yeah, that was my Robin Williams moment. 

Steph still occasionally flirted with me. I wanted to just stay friends, and I tried to tell her it was nothing against her, till she asked what it was indeed. It was after one particularly difficult class that I told her a bit about Jann. I kept it short, left out the details, till Steph put her hand on mine, and said “How about we talk about this over a drink?” She did not let up, ever. I suppose that works. We went out the next night. I kept telling myself it wasn’t a date. I didn’t want a date.

We went to a jazz bar. Inside I was all to aware of all the dark corners. Most of the light came from these blue strips along the walls, and it gave the whole place this surreal bend. Mirrors framed by dim red bulbs mixed with the strips, warped all the people inside. It reeked of secrets. In another life I never become a teacher, and drink too much in places like these. Steph seemed a bit embarrassed about it. We sat down and she confided in me after ordering. “This place has been around forever. I used to come here years ago.” 

“You grew up in the city?”

“Yes, I know I don’t seem like a local. And you? I just realised I don’t even know your background.”

“No. I moved here, started out somewhere…less crowded.” 

“That explains a lot.” she said.

“What does it explain?”

“Well, like how you’re so sensitive.” She put on her do-or-die smile.

I wilted a bit. She said “Hey, It’s a good thing. Chin up- I think it’s part of what makes you a good teacher.” 

Maybe. Our drinks arrived and we sipped them. The silence felt charged. Eventually Steph said “Your turn. I told you about me, now, tell me about her.” 

Of course she remembered. I tried to deflect the topic. Steph would not relent. I began to get upset. In one rash moment I said, my words edged, “why do you have to pry so much?” Guilt followed. I stuttered apologies at my outburst. She waved them away. “Please. I’ve heard much worse. You have a right to be a bit annoyed. Glad to see you have teeth. You seem so soft on the kids.” I glared at her. Why were we fighting?

She leaned forward, her eyes fierce, “Get angry. It’s ok to be angry. If I threw my drink in your face, for no good reason, you should get angry. Otherwise people will just piss all over you.” My heart was racing. 

“You don’t understand.” I said, uselessly, like a fucking cliché. 

“I understand that you’re too timid.” My mouth clamped shut. I should breathe. There is a roaring sound in my head. Steph’s eyes narrowed, took on airs of concern. I covered my head with my hands. The sound grew. “Sorry.” She said, all of a sudden, her voice high. I don’t want to feel like this. I gaze at the window. The roar is a passing engine, some lunatic in a sports car, careening around the city in his own private fantasy.

Eventually the noise fades. 

Steph follows my gaze. “Lunatics.” She said. 

I’m sitting at a table in a bar where people play Jazz music, across from a woman any sane man would consider beautiful. I have a great job that I like, and friends. The table is made of wood. I am no longer here. Steph is saying things, and I am nodding. Her hand touches mine. She is asking if I am ok. I am not ok. 

And all at once her touch breaks through, and the bar shatters, and tears stream down my face, pathetically. I say “Duck. We both had duck for dinner. With orange sauce. I remember now.” Steph is quiet. I continue to narrate.

“You know what we talked about? Jann asked me a question. She asked me if I had a problem with her being religious. I was disappointed, truth be told. Up till then we were perfectly compatible. The moment she asked me about religion, I began to doubt. This was the part I should lie. I should have told her, hey, no big deal, I believe in God too. Except I don’t. I think God is ridiculous. So after a bit I told her the truth. I remember the exact moment- i just wiped some sauce from my lips. I said to Jann, do you have a problem with me being an atheist? And you know what, she didn’t. That was when I knew, that I was uh…”

Steph’s nails dig into my wrist. “Go on.” She says.

“So. Yeah. So. We go outside, right, and I know it’s a cliché but the sunset is beautiful. We’re walking along the waterfront, you know that main road near the beach? I have my arm around her waist, and she leans into me, and she asks if we can go back to mine. I’m fucking happy you know. Yet, I was also, so arrogant. The atheist thing, I didn’t answer her. So anyway, we stop, and I tell her, Jann- I have a problem with religion. I couldn’t help myself, I just had to. And then her eyes, they clouded over a bit, she looked angry. Or maybe it was just my imagination- hard to tell you know. So uh. Yeah, she said, you know what she said, she said fuck I don’t remember what she said. It seemed kind of condescending. Like, If she was open-minded enough to not care that i was an atheist, that I should at least admit to the possibility that I was wrong, or didn’t know or something.”

I pause. I down my beer.

“Go on.” says Steph.

“I got mad. All self-righteous. It was quiet. I didn’t know if she still wanted to go back to my place. Then all of a sudden we’re about to cross the road, and there’s this yellow sports car, and it freaking zooms towards us. The sound right.”

I’m breathing. Heavily. A silken voice inside my head said says Finish It.

“And Jann steps out onto the road, a bit ahead of me, and….I pull her back. The car squeels, and brakes, and the guy inside curses us as he goes past, and I just lost it, you know? Fuck the whole God thing, he almost killed Jann, so I just ran after this guy, and he slowed down, and I’m yelling and cussing, and I’m just seeing red, and…”

Fucking forgive me.

“What?” Says Steph.

“Jann must have followed, to stop me. Maybe. I’ll never know. I heard a loud bang behind me. Like a door slamming. It was another car. Right into Jann.” I can’t see the table. The whole bar becomes the warped reflections inside those mirror.

I confessed, quickly, finally: “It was like an act of God.”

I breathe out. “She was…so…fucking…ruined. I was yelling, just yelling, and the ambulance came, and I went with her, and I held her bloody fucking hand, and at the hospital even then I thought she’s going to be ok, I’ll be with her no matter what, and then you know they don’t let you inside the room where they do things, so I waited.”

“The whole time I waited I kept thinking I should have said things to her, like i should have said I love you, and one more thing. I thought it up after she was inside.”

“What?” asked Steph.

“I wanted to say to her- Jann, I don’t believe in God, but maybe when this is all over, he’ll let me come and visit you.” And that’s so fucked up because I didn’t know she was dead. I mean, maybe I thought it after. I just don’t know. It’s hard to remember. So yeah. She died. She’s dead. The nurse told me. I remember the nurse cried. I don’t know if they do that all the time. But she cried. I like to think she knew, about me and Jann. One fucking date. Her dad, she came later, and he was so angry at me. He kept saying “What did you do? What did you do to her?” and now I guess it’s because you know, he was like me, grieving, but really, fuck- sometimes…never mind. So, yeah. I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t want to face everyone else in her life. And maybe, maybe I wanted to preserve what I thought we had. For one fucking day.

My face is dry. I wonder what anyone who watches us is thinking. Then I realise, with sudden clarity, that I don’t give the slightest damn.