an anthology of short stories: Apparitions and Premonitions.
He’d taken her to many of his favourite places and times and she, in turn, had showed him her own favourite places and times. That day, while technically arbitrary since they both possessed the means of temporal traversal, was a milestone for Claire, prompting James to plan a series of connected temporal jumps to celebrate.
The viscous pop that preceded and followed every jump slapped the inside of his head as the thin vacuumed layer an atom thick clicked from present to past, or rather alternate present that just happened to be the former present’s past. The instantaneous jump was always disorienting and he sneezed. It was always the ionized scent of the new time that James noticed first as the single atom field dissolved around him and the native particles of the new time rushed in to to fill the void.
Claire laughed. “Every time.”
“Every time,” James smirked, rubbing his nose.
They’d just come from cursing out Cicero in English (which of course he would not understand) for writing the five books of the Tusculan Disputations which Claire had to translate from Latin into English in her graduate studies. The confusion on Cicero’s brow at this blonde robed woman barking at him in an unusual tongue would be a hard experience to top.
Still smiling from the high of going off on Cicero, Claire looked around trying to guess when James had jumped them to now. This trip was to be a surprise to her and he’d made her promise not to check the holographic read out that would project the data against the skin of her arm. She agreed not to check.
“So we’re on an island,” Her furrowed brow scanned the horizon of azure sea beyond the green capped cliffs that fell off sharply in front of her. She swung around to look behind her and smiled. “I’ve spent a lot of time here. I should recognize this place.”
Claire looked up at James and he beamed back: “Yah, but when.”
The island stretched 200 km from east to west and varied from 12 to 58 km from north to south.
“Are we standing where Heraklion should be?”
“Well, it won’t be for a very very long time, but yes,” he followed behind her and his heart hummed from the glow in her eyes as she scanned the untouched contours of a Crete.
“Is that …” she started to ask and then started to walk toward a mound of dirt James had hoped she wouldn’t notice. “That’s recently disturbed soil.”
“Oh wow, good eye,” James smirked. “You actually weren’t supposed to notice that. I came here earlier and …” he paused. “Actually … spoilers. You’ll find out later.”
“The trees!” Claire said, gape mouthed. “It’s completely deforested now … well … in the present it will be completely deforested. Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, the Aegean Islands, and the Greek mainland all commercially exploited Crete for timber. So I’m going to say we’re 2700 BCE.”
“Close,” James clicked his wrist and a holographic beam projected the time stats on the skin of his wrist. “2796 BCE.”
“So roughly three hundred years before the great Minoan civilization,” she said, eyes lapping up the reality that had before been merely ink on paper inside a textbook.
They walked together around the rim of the island before arriving back at the disturbed soil where James instructed her to close her eyes so he could sync up their time circuits to arrive at the same point in time.
“Ready?” He smiled.
“You didn’t say I could look yet,” she smirked.
“You can look,” he said.
“Oh good,” she started to check her wrist.
“You can open your eyes, not check the time circuits,” James laughed.
“Well, you should’ve been more specific.”
“I’ll remember that. Ready?”
There was a slow hum of energy and then that disorienting pop and another wave of new smells.
“Everytime,” James interrupted her. “Well, here we are.”
“And when is here?” There was a smaller settlement where the present, (future), city of Heraklion would’ve been.
“What’s your guess?” He started to move to a space of soil behind Claire and seemed to be looking for something.
Claire was busily surveying the rocky outcroppings that sunk away into the sea beyond the lip of the cliff in front of her.
When she turned she saw it.
“Oh my god,” she sighed.
“Right?” James stood up from his digging and followed Claire’s gaze to where the first palace on the low hill beside the Krairatos river jutted out from the island’s horizon.
“So we’re before 1700 BCE. Before the destruction of the palace and the other Protopalatial palaces around Crete,” she still hadn’t blinked yet. “Was it a large earthquake or foreign invaders?”
“What am I? A time traveller?” James shrugged. “It’s ready.”
“Exactly,” James was pointing down to a space of dirt at his feet and handed her a 4 inch trowel.
It wasn’t that far below the surface and Claire quickly excavated what turned out to be a small plastic tub. It contained photographs from their visit to the Chicago jazz club Apex Club in 1927 where they danced the Charleston. Another was from the time they went to the 1897 General Art and Industrial Exposition of Stockholm where they saw exposition of “new” media technologies such as the phonograph, and film. One showed Claire with gymnast Natalia Kuchinskaya performing her floor routine in the background at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico.
“These are wonderful,” she cooed. “Thank you.”
“There’s one more thing in there,” he pointed to the bottom of the plastic tub.
It was a voice recorder. She pressed play and the machine in her hand whirred to life.
James’ familiar voice was singing her Happy Birthday.
“That was Beethoven playing piano, ” he said afterward as she hugged him. “Happy Thirtieth Birthday, Claire.”
[a short story by Joel Nickel]
People scurried around her in the shadows of the television set. Rupert Jones was sitting at his desk in front of the backdrop, taking a sip from his On Winnipeg with Rupert Jones coffee cup. He was speaking quietly to the panel of three women sitting opposite him. Their mics weren’t on and Phoenix couldn’t make out what they were saying.
She was on right after the next segment.
A woman came by and made some last minute touch ups to her make-up job.
“I should put a little bit more here to hide the bags under your eyes.”
The make-up woman finished up and then retreated back into the chaoic set.
Rupert Jones turned to face the camera, “I wish we had more time, but we’ve got to go to a commercial break. I’d like to thank Sandra Jensen, Kate Smith, and Janet Morris for joining me tonight. You can pick up Janet’s book Being Quiverfull and Kate Smith’s God’s Mighty Warriors, which are available online and in bookstores now. And catch Sandra Jensen, Wednesday nights at 7pm on TLC for the new reality show, Quiverfull. Next my guest, soap star Phoenix Eversong, talks to me about her return to the Winnipeg filmed, daytime soap, Alls Faire, and what brought her back to reprise the role of her award winning character, after this.”
“And we’re clear,” The man by the main camera yelled, “Back in 5.”
The make-up woman came around again, “Okay, we’re gonna set you up in that chair over there just as soon as the Quiverfull ladies get un-mic’d and then we’ll plop you up there,” She swatted Phoenix’s face with a soft brush.
She saw the three ladies stand up and walk off the set to the green room.
The stage manager motioned for Phoenix to come up on stage and sit down to be wired up for a mic.
“How are you doing tonight?” Rupert asked her and she turned to see the man she’d watched so many nights on television, sitting right in front of her.
“A little jetlagged,” she said. “And I have to fly back to Winnipeg as soon as I get outta here.”
Rupert didn’t laugh.
“We’re live in 5 . . . 4 . . .”
The music bed rolled and the cameras moved in closer.
“Welcome back, I’m here with actress and soap star Phoenix Eversong, best known for her role as Elizabeth Alls on the Winnipeg filmed, daytime drama Alls Faire.”
Inside, Phoenix was rolling her eyes. Best known for . . .
“I understand you had been killed off on the show earlier last year, why did you decide to leave Alls Faire and what was it that brought you back?” Rupert looked over at her with shrugged shoulders, his arms on the table.
Lie or tell the truth? No one wanted me as Phoenix Eversong. All my offered roles were just Elizabeth Alls clones.
“I . . .”
“Actually, before we get into those questions,” she thought of something brilliant. “I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on your previous guests.”
She heard a muffled voice behind the cameras sternly call her name. It was the studio publicist, Maxime. She’d briefed her only moments before on exactly what to say. She would not happy about this diversion.
She ignored the voice.
“I have to say that listening off stage . . . it was kind of frightening.”
“Frightening, really?” Rupert gave his signature eyebrow raise again.
“Phoenix!” This time the voice was a little louder and she was sure that people watching at home would’ve heard it.
This is perfect. She thought. A scandal, maybe they’ll fire me and I can sue ’em.
“I was thinking that, as it is the Christian right has an inordinately large amount of power in politics today. And if this Quiverfull thing actually takes off we would see an even higher percentage of the population perpetuating archaic ideals which throughout the centuries have proved to be antagonistic towards free thought, to women, and to anyone else who doesn’t fit their esoteric mold.”
“You’re saying Christianity is a bad thing.”
“Not at all, Rupert. I’m saying that following biblical Christianity too literally is a bad thing,” Phoenix shifted in her chair and brought her elbows down on the table to look more relaxed. “Listen, the basic views of Jesus are ones that I wholly agree we should all adhere to or at least aspire to. But somehow in translation it gets wonky. ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you’. ‘Love your enemies’. But where are those teachings when it comes to passing legislation banning homosexuals the opportunity to live in loving, committed, legal relationships?” Phoenix asked.
Rupert just nodded, knowingly.
“I also believe that a religious mindset only escalates this ideological conflict between us and them. Listen, I’m the first to admit that I don’t really know a whole lot about the wars; but from the way it’s being presented to me in the media and through conversations with people I meet, it seems to me as though it’s being promoted as a war between Christianity and Islam rather than a war between America and Afghanistan or America and Iraq.”
“Phoenix.” The voice was louder.
“So if it were up to you, would let religion continue?” Rupert asked.
“Of course, Rupert,” she smirked. “I’m not saying that we should abolish religion. Religion has a huge place in history and in art and in personal development. But I think that when we start drafting legislation based on religious views, it can be very harmful to the general population. Think about the witch trials!”
“You’re equating the Quiverfull movement with witch burnings?”
“Well, of course not directly. But I don’t think you can argue against the fact that it was Christians that went seeking out freethinking, outspoken women and executing them as witches. When any group of people is allowed to exercise extreme prejudice on another group of people, unchallenged, it’s never good. That’s all I’m saying.”
“That’s a little alarmist don’t you think. You’re making it sound like having a majority of Christians in power will somehow bring about an apocalypse.”
“Well, of course Christians wouldn’t think that because they’d be the ones in power; but what about people of other religions, and for that matter what about homosexuals? What about women?”
“I really don’t think that Christians are against women,” Rupert said.
“The woman in your last segment said it herself that it’s a Patriarchal system. And maybe right now there’s the illusion of equality, but if you’re saying that it’s a Patriarchal system there’s the idea that the male is somehow superior to the woman and they must be subservient towards the male gender. When more and more people subscribe to that ideology, that illusion will wear away and we’ll be left reverting back to the 50s.”
“I think that might be a little over exaggerated, but I’ve got to go for a break. Ms. Eversong, it was interesting to say the least, to have you on the show. Not at all what I thought we’d talk about,” he smiled. “You can catch Ms. Phoenix Eversong on the daytime drama Alls’ Faire, everyday at 2pm.”
* * *
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Maxime, the publicist, exploded into Phoenix’s changing room.
“What?” The woman’s voice grew shrill. “What?”
“Calm down,” Phoenix tried to hide a smile, “It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad?” She shouted. “Not that bad? Do you even know who your fucking target audience is?”
Phoenix rolled her eyes.
“Christian, stay-at-home wives,” Maxime shook her head, disbelievingly, “Fuck, I’m going to be fired.”
“You’re not going to be fired,” Phoenix said, reapplying her lipstick in front of the mirror.
“Yes I am. You were supposed to talk about your return to the show. About how happy you were to rejoin the cast and . . . Jesus, we’re fucked.”
“Calm down. We’re not fucked. Do you realize how much media attention this is going to win us?”
“What? Are you crazy? No one cares about some stupid fucking soap actress except for the stupid fucking Christian, stay-at-home wives who watch her everyday at 2pm.”
“Hey,” Phoenix shot him an angry glare.
“Am I fucking lying?” she scoffed and began pacing, angrily, back and forth, “This is bad! This is really bad. I have to call the network.”
The woman took out her phone and began dialing. She realized that there was no reception in the room and abruptly left.
I hope I am fired from that shitty soap. Maxime was right. No one cares about me as an actress except for stay-at-home wives. But hopefully now I might find a larger appreciation for Phoenix Eversong the person and not, Phoenix Eversong the actress who plays Elizabeth Alls.
“Einstein proved that time is relative and that there’s no reason why time should always be moving forward. There’s the time’s arrow thing; that something happened before and it caused this. But, what if they’re not sequential moments in time but are momentary snapshots that we, because we have memory, phase into and out of in a linear way,” Alex said excitedly.
“Okay, maybe I’m just high, but I didn’t understand any of that, Alex,” Greg giggled. After the service, those of the Mokeyists who indulged in hallucinogens stayed behind for a kind of second service. Usually, it was only Alex, his girlfriend Faith, and Greg. Nathan and Laura usually attended the second service but he hadn’t heard from Laura since the breakup and Nathan would only just be arriving in Korea.
“Okay,” Alex paused. “What if every moment in time exists simultaneously however we can only experience one snapshot at any one time and after we phase through that one snapshot it goes back to the whole where every snapshot in time exists simultaneously.”
“Sweet!” Greg’s unfocused eyes were almost completely dilated. Alex knew Greg had grey eyes. But the three of them had just taken mushrooms so now the colour was swallowed by pupil. Part of Alex wanted to check the mirror to see if his eyes looked like Greg’s but he knew that mirrors were often unfriendly on psychedelics. While all that was going on inside his head, he’d forgotten that he had a body outside of his thoughts and just sat there with a slack spine, staring into Greg’s eyes.
“Posture!” Faith reminded him sweetly, stroking his shoulder lovingly. Continue reading
A.R.C.H. – Applied Research and Controlled Habitat
He couldn’t figure out how it could’ve happened, and how it could’ve happened to the ARCH’s armory and a select few cryo-pods. The ship’s Security Officer, Greg Scott, figured it was sabotage. There was no one on board except those on the ship’s manifest and EVE1 would’ve told them if there had been any stowaways though that idea in itself was ludicrous. They were in cryo-suspension for the last twenty years and only a skeleton crew had been removed from the cryo-pods to manually land the ARCH. They’d only just started waking the others.
Brenin Klihp was the Chief Engineer in charge of the Hyperspace Tunnel and with Arty North, the Systems Analyst for EVE1, occupying one of those cryo-pods destroyed, Brenin found himself in charge of far more than he’d agreed to. The landing was dicey but EVE1 helped a lot. When they woke SO Scott, Brenin wished they hadn’t. He could still hear Scott’s acerbic voice ringing behind his temples.
“Am I expected to have sexual intercourse with all the men on this ship?”
A flat, expressionless voice inquired from behind him. The content of the words and the fact that his fourteen year old daughter was saying them made him whip his whole body around to face her.
“I’ve menstruated and am capable of becoming pregnant. Am I supposed to repopulate this planet if the humans from Earth . . . “ his daughter paused, tapped her fingers three times on the nearest flat surface and clacked her teeth down in one decisive jolt. Brenin always worried that she would damage her teeth doing that. He thought she’d stopped doing that but it was a tense time, and her nervous ticks would present themselves whenever she was, “. . . for some reason can’t make it here?”
“Oh Jesus.” In all the frantic rushing around he’d forgotten how anxious this whole situation must be for Kitty.
Kit Klihp just stared at her father, waiting for the rest of his response.
“Where’d you get an idea like that, Kitty?”
“I’m 14,” she said, somberly. “I know about human sexual reproduction.”
“Well, no! God, no! Kitty. Don’t. And you don’t have to! And if anyone tries to,” he paused in disbelief that he was about to utter the words to his fourteen-year-old daughter, “engage in sexual relations with any of the men on this ship. And if they do try anything, please tell me. You’re 14!”
“But biologically, I’m capable of-“
“But Jesus! You’re 14!”
“I never thought you were so religious, Father,” she stared at him. In the silence she sniffled, and then immediately touched her nose three times; another one of her ticks. “Because you keep mentioning God and Jesus.”
“No, I . . . I just . . . Kitty, this is making me really uncomfortable.”
“Just, just got back to reading, sweetie. And no sex talk until you’re . . . 25,” he started to swivel back in his chair but his daughter’s voice stopped him.
“Why 11 years?” She furrowed her brow and looked off to a space beyond her father, through the flight deck and into the wilderness of Gliese 581g. “That seems arbitrary. Is there something about human anatomy that I missed in my research that presents itself at 25?”
“Go read, honey,” Brenin said softly. “Or go see Victoria and ask her.”
“Does she know something more about sexual intercourse that you don’t, Father?”
“Well . . . she’s a woman,” Brenin said, hoping that’d be the end.
“Good point,” she said flatly and turned on her heels to exit the room.
“See you at supper,” he called after her.
She stopped at the door, “I’m glad I don’t have to be sexually intimate with any of the men. I find the whole idea disagreeable.”
“Remember, it’s always your choice,” he looked at her to make sure she was focused on his voice. “Kitty, don’t ever do something you don’t want to do. Always do what you think is right!”
She nodded silently and stepped into the hallway. The automatic door hissed closed behind her.
I didn’t immediately start the journal documenting the nightly visits; but it wouldn’t have done any good anyway. At first, I was confident that the visitor was a character in a dream. Though, after an entire week of nightly visits, I had to accept that I was either completely insane or the visitor really was materializing at the foot of my bed to converse with me. Eventually I did start the journal, but despite my meticulous written accounts of our nightly discourse (I’m a journalist by trade) the evidence would always be expunged the next morning before I could show anyone. I know, I mean, I know that I’d documented my interactions with the visitor. Of this I am completely and unfalteringly confident. Why? Because I, and my editors, know how pedantic my first drafts can be and how frustratingly (for them) meticulous I am at finding the most apt and efficiently articulate words to express the brutish barking of raw thought that screams about the inside of my head. I read somewhere that they’re working on a machine that will decode and download the electrical sparks of pure thought to an external interface. It would be like if you found a song online that you really loved but then, before others could listen, you had to notate the piece onto sheet music by hand and then suddenly having the ability to bypass all of that effort and just plug in your mp3 player and directly downloading the song for playback instead. But anyway, we don’t yet have that tech for brains but it would be very helpful if I did. The way it is now, I have to personally write down my experiences with my nightly visitor. And like I said earlier, I KNOW that I’ve been writing them down but every morning I found the minutes, if you will, of the previous night are erased from the pages of my journal. Even the pen marks on latter pages from the frenzied pressure of my writing are mysteriously smoothed away as though I’d just bought the journal that day. I tried sneakily writing other non-visitor related journal entries into the journal alongside but those stay. They are still intact and unaltered save for the new spacing between entries. And this I find extremely uncomfortable, there are no spaces between entries where the redacted portions should lie. I did start writing them on note pads at work and then hiding them around the apartment, but when I would go back to check, they too were blank. It wasn’t like they were torn or burnt or stolen, they were still there, but all my writing had been dissolved from existence. I started dictating into my voice recorder a few nights ago but when I uploaded them to my laptop the files consisted of lengthy swells of the hiss and crackle of angry static. The visitor doesn’t appear when my girlfriend spends the night. For awhile, she stayed regularly but after three consecutive nights of silence, well relative silence, it made me anxious that I was possibly squandering an incredible opportunity. Even if it was only to discover that I am in fact completely fucking bat shit, off my rocker, straight jacket donned, mouth guard drooling, padded room destined, tinfoil headed insane! I really hope that’s not the case. He, well, I think it’s a he. He looks like a he but I don’t know, maybe he’s a shape shifter and this form is least traumatic for me like that being from Carl Sagan’s book Contact. But yah, he had never told me his name before last night and I’d written it down but this morning, of course, it no longer existed. I think it was something like Ananna or Naner or something. I remember picturing a Banana when he said it but he did say that the name he gave me was his true name but that others have called him many different things over the years. And from what he’s been telling me in his visits it been a pretty significant span of years over which he’s been visiting. < that sounded wrong. I would go back and reword that but fuck it, it’s going to be erased by tomorrow morning anyways, right? Why should I believe that tonight would be any different? So yah, fuck editing. About a week ago he told me that “the Gods are Returning” but that I shouldn’t be afraid. Most of the first visits were spent in terrified silence just staring at the figure in my dark bedroom and listening to him speak to me in an accent unlike anything I could ever articulately describe. Gradually and with timid apprehension, I began to shift the visitors monologue to dialogue. But some of the stuff he told me, Jesus. I mean, I totally understand, if it’s true, why he would erase all the pages. It was this Gods returning business that kinda freaked me out. Tonight I asked him about it again and he kept asking me questions instead. We watched another episode of Full House together. He shares my fascination (arguably a fixation) with the 90s. We actually watched most of the series together already. Has he been visiting me that long? Anyway, last night he actually brought two others and I wasn’t at all prepared for that. The one friend was also male, I guess, and looked like he could’ve been the visitor’s brother. But the other friend was breathtakingly gorgeous. I mean, how can I express this without sounding incredibly clichéd or superficial or whatever. People have been trying to describe the traits of the most “beautiful woman in the world” since there have been women in the world, but this . . . she can’t even be described in words. The three of them told me that this was the last night before the “Return of the Gods”. The beautiful woman expressed to me through a silent exchange that I could feel inside my head that I shouldn’t be afraid. They’re not coming for us. No citizens would be harmed. Their kind had been the former rulers of Earth after they’d colonized the planet, a sort of Planetary Mining operation, looking for mono-nucleic gold that their civilization used partly as a power source and as an ingredient for their secret to longevity. They were the builders of all the Pyramids and the other great Ancient Wonders attributed to early humans. Actually, and the deadpan way the other male visitor explained this to me still chills me even as I’m writing, he said that human beings were actually genetically created cheap labour by mixing their DNA with the an earlier hominid primate. The humans though vastly outnumbered their visiting rulers and an opportunistic ruler betrayed his fellow . . . oh fuck, they never told me what they were just that they were who created us I guess. Maybe I should’ve asked. But I was still reeling from the second male’s nonchalant reaction to having utterly destroyed my entire framework of reality. So yah, this opportunistic . . . one of them . . . decided to incite a human revolt against the visitors and offered them assistance under the condition that he and those visitors of his choosing would stay around the rule in their stead. The betrayer destroyed the hyperspace tunnel connecting Earth to their Home World and so his race was marooned on Earth after the Evil . . . FUCK I should’ve asked what they were called, anyway they were stranded here after the revolt. Outnumbered they hid themselves and their knowledge of the true history of Earth, for centuries popping up here and there when they’re needed and then promptly murdered by those in power. Who according to the three strangers were actually still the betrayer and those of his kind that had aligned themselves with him. All the leaders and the influential people are human beings, yes, but they are all in those positions because they have sworn an allegiance to the Betrayer. That part made a lot of sense in the moment but I don’t know. That’s a lot of people to keep quiet if you’ve conscripted people to appear like they’re controlling things but are actually the middle men. I feel like someone would’ve talked at some point . . . unless they don’t know any of this information and are just “following orders”. I don’t know. But there was more. They said that the Gods are almost here and that they are benevolent and will treat us with kindness and respect. I brought up that slave labour thing and they said it wasn’t slave labour, it was cheap labour. And apparently not the cheap labour we’re used to when the mental image pops into our heads. Apparently the continent of Africa is very different then we’re being led to believe and that if we looked more closely there we’d find more answers but we’re constantly being fed terrifying reasons why we should steer clear of a lot of Africa. But anyway, just before they left they explained the reason it took so long for the Gods to return. Since the hyperspace tunnel was destroyed they had to once again make the journey to Earth the conventional way before they could construct a new hyperspace tunnel to once again reconnect Earth with their home world. Kinda Star Gate-y and at the time I was accepting that as a confirmation that I was actually insane and in a Mental Institution day room somewhere watching an edited for TV version of Star Gate while the other patients around me drooled into straight jackets.
OH HOLY FUCK! Today’s early morning entry was not erased when I came to check! But, I also awoke to fins every piece of electronic equipment in the entire apartment inert and silent. I wonder … if the last journal entry is still here then that means that maybe this one won’t disappear either. I remember something else! I remember the names they gave me before they left. The visitor finally told me his name. He said most people called him Thoth but that his real name was Nannar. Kinda like Banana I guess. Not quite. The guy he came with was named Utu and the [I’m not even going to try and describe how beautiful she was] woman was named Inanna. Holy Fuck!! It didn’t get erased. Now I just have to remember all the other crazy shit he told me during our visits.
research source for my Short Story idea:
Edward felt the wind rip past his face. As it scraped along his stubble he could feel the division of space where Walter ended and everything else took over. Edward was always trying to convince Walter that any and all things beyond his thin barrier of skin cells were not at all separate but was actually one big gelatin like substance.
<<You’re only wading through it on your journey, past to future, through your momentary flashes of segmented awareness>> Walter accepted that most of what Edward said was meant to fuck with his mind; a mind that was already overloaded with disjointed and frayed connections, distorted further still by the constant hum of static.
Am I mad because of the static? Or is the static a manifestation of my insanity? He didn’t bother asking Edward. Walter knew what his answer would be.
<<We’re all mad. Some are just better at hiding it than others>>
Edward was waiting for Jake, though usually it was Walter that went to meetings. Edward was unpredictable. Walter liked meetings to be lucid and then the job itself would be passed on to Edward. Walter didn’t want to be around when Edward worked. That’s why he did so much acid. Acid made the division between Walter and Edward that much thicker and dulled the uncomfortable intricacies of the profession Edward loved so much. Walter had tried before to just accept it but he wasn’t like Edward. Something he never let Walter forget.
Usually Walter would leave Edward to his work while he escaped into the churning heaviness of an acid trip. Sometimes he took ketamine, but Edward said he couldn’t work while Walter was thrashing around in a k-hole. Edward insisted Walter only use LSD when the auto club needed him to work. Edward was silent and Walter was anxiously trying to repel paranoid thoughts that came charging out at him from the darkness.
I should’ve left the phone in the car, Walter felt an itch in his nose and their body made a move to scratch it. As the finger slid up their nose to pursue the itch, another feeling poked at his unfocused awareness. The phlegmy residue of the ketamine slid out from his sinuses. It crept along the skin at the back of his throat, dropping excess globs of the viscous solution on his tongue as it did.
Since the first line of Special K the night was charged with a dark malevolence that crackled around Walter’s fractured mind. Edward had no jobs planned and that’s why Walter had gone to see the man in the purple suit to stock up. LSD. Ketamine. DMT. Mushrooms. Walter trusted the man in the purple suit, as much as Walter was able to trust another person, so he didn’t hesitate dosing Edward with three hits of acid when he asked. On the second shared peak, the man in the purple suit started stomping about the room aggressively. The dark energy pulsed and ballooned up in intensity, pressing outward larger and larger until Walter could feel the seething malevolence stabbing at his skin.
“Hey man, did, uh, did I accidentally give you the white ones?”
Walter stared at the man in the purple suit silently.
“’Cause those were actually my personal ones. How many did you take?”
Edward reminded Walter that they’d taken three. Walter held up three fingers.
The man in the purple suit cackled in a hysterical flick of his whole body that arced back before swinging back the opposite way. The expanding energy continued to stab at Walter’s skin.
“Holy shit, dude! There were 300 mics in each of those!”
The laughter angered Edward. Walter was about to let him take over but then his phone began to ring. Jake wanted to meet. He wasn’t sure about what or why he’d called so late.
<<It’s our night off!>> Edward reminded Walter.
He knew they should’ve said no, but Edward was about to stab the man in the purple suit and Walter didn’t want to go searching for another source with quality shit.
There was a ludicrously elongated moment where Walter was convinced that rather than recalling the night’s events with the man in the purple suit that they had actually jumped the temporal track and inserted themselves back in that time. It didn’t feel like simply recalling a memory of earlier that night but then Edward reminded them that they were still spiking hard from 900 mics of LSD.
The chemicals hummed but Edward was in mechanic mode. It was almost too much for Walter who was still trying to flee and lose himself in the nothingness of buzzing images and fragmented thoughts lacking any discernable sequence.
The air scratched past him again and he could almost feel the individual cells lifting away like shingles in a hurricane. It made Walter wonder how many skin follicles the wind had taken with it and how many cells from other beings were floating in the air around him. His spine tightened. The idea of bits of dislocated skin spiraling around in the ether made him think of those mites that live on your eyelashes, living out their whole lives beneath the towering structures that to them would look like redwoods dotting the pink surface of their world.
What do we live our lives upon?
While Walter was tossed around in the choppy waves of quantum non-locality, Edward was present and excitedly waiting for orders.
<<It isn’t like Jake to be late>> Edward tried to slow his portion of their mind and throw off the dark feeling that hovered over him. Edward tried to identify the malevolent force concealed behind the impenetrable skin of the unseen. Every muscle in his face tensed down in crazed concentration. He was disheartened by his inability to articulate the pulsing waves of terror that were throbbing through him. It was like Edward could almost see . . . it. But the resolution was so pixilated that the true picture was lost in large solid squares. <<Either I’m too close or its image is blown up far too large for me to make it out>> He realized he needed to either pull back or shrink . . . it.
Edward became aware that he was far closer to the edge than he should be. He didn’t want to lose himself inside the throbbing electricity of his splintered mind since Walter was already far off beyond him, rising and falling off in the distance carried around by the invisible waves of madness.
Edward tried to wrench his awareness back into their body. Edward was away from it long enough that when he did return, their body was wobbling uneasily back in forth like a newborn calf. He snatched control before their body collapsed completely and shot out an arm to steady their body against the bricks.
Edward had entered crazed eyes that were darting around, unfocused and purposeless. When he finally calmed them, he reached into his pocket for a joint he hoped would settle him.
Walter, seeing Edward’s hassle with operating their body, cut himself away from the aimless waves and decided to take over Edward’s aborted quest to uncover the name of the illusive malevolent force. Someone had to be inside, and someone had to be outside. Walter thought it only polite to help Edward out since he was on outside duty at the moment.
Just before the peak of Walter’s search-and his 900 microgram acid trip-his exhausted mind collapsed, sputtering clumsily and finally stalling completely. His attempt could only revealed a frustratingly partial identity for their invisible terror.
Edward blinked dopily as their brain rebooted from the critical systems crash Walter had caused. Walter eventually rejoined Edward in their unsteady body back in reality. Both were crippled by the profound, yet terrifyingly limited, awareness of End. What scared them more, was that they knew End was not its true name. End was just the name it went by; the name it gave to those it didn’t already know. End was but a codename and Edward knew that behind the invisible skin of End there existed something more.
Their whole body shivered but then he laughed. His loud, sparking laughter blasted out into the ambient noise of the Exchange District alley. The hysterical grunting of their insanity infected the charged hum of night traffic running up Main Street and along Portage Avenue to the South.
As the intensity drained, Edward’s relative lucidity returned and the strings connecting his mind with his physical senses began to reattach themselves. His eyes focused and he saw that he was standing in the back alley in the Exchange. He was cloaked in sickly, yellow light raining down from the metal fire escape above. Edward could see his shadow stretched out in front of him, long and sinister. As he stared at his own shadow, textured by the pebbles and cracked stone it flowed over, Edward wanted to name his shadow End too. He coughed as he turned his head to look at the glowing tip of the joint he held in his fingers. He saw the ribbon of smoke float upwards, displacing itself into the nothingness of air around him.
He laughed loudly again and shook his head. He reminded himself once again that the man in the purple suit had dosed them with a ridiculous amount of acid before they’d gotten the call to come meet Jake. Edward pulled again on the joint. He reminded himself that weed always made him paranoid.
The intense psychedelic detour had caused their hands to sweat. He put the joint between his lips and wiped his clammy hands on his shirt.
What the fuck is taking Jake so long? Walter wondered anxiously fidgeting inside their mind.
The phone in their pocket vibrated and their whole body tensed.
It wasn’t a number Walter recognized so he stared anxiously at the phone and didn’t answer it.
Eventually, the ringing stopped.
“Edward,” a calm baritone voice filtered out from the darkness of the alley. It squirmed its way into his ear canal where the sensation was distilled into sparks of anxious electricity that sped off to his brain. They jolted him with the true meaning and identity of End.
He didn’t recognize the voice though it wasn’t as if the auto club would have sent someone they had ever met before.
Edward knew it wouldn’t do any good but Walter was already trying anyway. Edward knew the inevitability of what was coming.
<<So everyone makes that face at the end>> Inside, Edward smirked as Walter pleaded through pathetically hysterical tears. He was too terrified to be amused. The face was a grimace that marked the instant they became aware of the moments they had left between the one they were in and their last, when the nothingness would snap them away forever. Before, Edward had always found that expression humorous. No longer. Now he understood. At their own end, Walter (and therefore Edward) was making that terrifyingly unfunny face.
Edward felt End growing with sinister intensity. Walter did too. They felt it like a bright flare that scorched their skin wherever gelatin reality touched the barrier of cells separating them from End. Edward knew he had never once shown mercy. The auto club would never have paid them if he’d ever shown mercy. He’d never really thought about it from the other side before, but then that moment too-imbued with unappreciated irony-dissolved into nothingness, shoving him closer and closer to End.
Edward birthed a plan to stretch time with more weed. Although it wasn’t so much a plan as it was a craving that sizzled across his brain. It jostled around for importance against the jagged clumps of competing thoughts. Of course they couldn’t all fit inside his head. Even without drugs, Walter’s insanity ensured that his mind was never a thought or two under maximum capacity and Edward wasn’t even included in that. Their continuous drug use-and the psychosis required for them to thrive in their profession-caused a spike in immigrant population that led to a kind of cognitive urban sprawl even though Walteropolis, and sister city Edwardopolis, offered no vacant land to sprawl into. His skull crushed the immigrant thoughts together. The citizens of the twin cities screamed out but to Walter and Edward they were percieved as pulsing waves of undifferentiated static tinged with aggressive desperation. The plan, hidden inside a craving, was ignored among the gurgling and roiling mass of screams that thundered about the twin cities.
“Listen, I . . . I have a collection,” Inside their head, Edward laughed. He knew Walter was talking about the assorted trinkets spilling over the lip of the wastebasket in their basement and not the collection itself. Edward always thought Walter’s collection was fucking sick. <<Yet I’m the dark half>> Edward very much enjoyed the act of killing but Walter’s collection was more sinister and depraved than just murder. And Edward didn’t care who the victim was while Walter’s meticulously selected future additions to his collection. “I’ll share. I just . . . I don’t have it with me, okay?” Walter yelped worriedly.
There was silence.
Their throat tightened.
“But I mean, I can fucking take you to it. Just, uh, wait. Fuck, just wait. I got rings, necklaces, fuckin’ coins and shit! Jesus fuck just give me a little time to get ‘em.”
A man Edward didn’t recognize emerged from the shadows. His eyes locked on Edward purposefully. The man stepped forward into the harsh yellow light flooding down from the rusted lamp above them.
“Listen, it’s really a funny story-“
The man wordlessly pulled out a 9mm from his chest holster, concealed beneath his aged leather jacket.
“Jesus,” Walter jumped. “Holy fuck, just, just listen . . . okay! Just fuckin’ listen. I’ll just . . . I’ll just leave, okay? You’ll never hear from me ag-”
Walter’s whole body flinched as the other man’s head exploded outward, spraying bits of brain and matted hair across their face and chest. Edward blinked, amused. Walter was shaking.
The body of the man neither of them knew collapsed limply. A rush of red surged out from the space that used to be the man’s face and pooled beneath the still form, seeping into the cracks in the pavement of the Exchange District alley.
Walter couldn’t process any of it, but it only took Edward a few seconds to realize what had happened. He spun around, scanning into the darkness to see where the shot had come from. He felt the faintest bit of pain.
And then the nothingness swallowed them both.