Episode 24: A Big House in the Country

Episode 24

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The upside of raising seven children occupying one body is not having to change seven diapers each day. But that was about it for the upside. There was no going to doctors, specialists or therapists: that would have made them media freaks overnight. They would spend their lives under the public microscope and never be really free to live their own individual lives, and that was Natalie’s biggest concern. She feared that finding out about the others within themselves might cause them all to collapse into one personality and she wasn’t going to let that happen. She had seven children, not one less, and she wasn’t giving any of them up. Ever.

It took planning—long grueling hours of planning—but she had Manzer, who’d become a godfather to the kids and offered to use his government contacts to create legal identities for each of them. Thanks to Manzer, they each had their own birth certificate with different last names—and birth dates one day apart. 

 She bought a sprawling country house in the center of ten acres of land far enough from any town or city to isolate them from the contradictions of the outside world but close enough for them to know it was there. 

***

While she was still in the hospital, she noticed things they had in common: they fell asleep at exactly midnight and, an hour or so into that sleep, she could see the transformation in their faces and body postures. She watched the nervous agitation of Jack give way to the quiet confidence of Jackson and then to the mystical in Jax—and finally to Jackie. She knew that Jackie would always be at odds with herself—a woman in a man’s body, aware of it every moment of her life. It was going to be tough but Natalie knew that she would find a way to bring some kind of balance into Jackie’s life. 

In the meantime, there was much to do. 

***

When they began to speak she noticed another thing they had in common: they perceived the passage of time in a different way from the rest of the world. Their one day was their week. When faced with the other six days, they weren’t puzzled, they just didn’t see them. It was as though they occupied a plane of existence where the hours of a week compressed into the hours of a day. She knew this would be a problem when they started interacting with the outside world, so she worked out survival strategies for them. 

***

She wasn’t surprised that Jackie was the first to notice something different about time. In a way, she existed outside the body of the other six and Natalie assumed that she would always be the first one to question things because she’d already be questioning things. 

It happened on a rainy Sunday morning when Jackie was five. They were homeschooling at the kitchen table Jackie pointed at a schedule fixed to the refrigerator door with magnets.

“What’s that?” she said. 

Natalie followed her finger to the schedule showing the days broken into periods of learning and play for each of the children. She immediately realized that the schedule and anything like it would have to go or be hidden. “Oh, that’s just something I use to remember things.”

“But what are Monday and Tuesday and those other names along the top?” She looked into Natalie’s eyes, not with puzzlement, but interest. “I’ve heard of them from some of my books and on the internet, but they’re all wrong.”

“And why is that, Sweetheart?”

“Because Wednesday isn’t as long as Tuesday and Thursday.” She chuckled. “Nobody takes all Wednesday to eat lunch.” She laughed loudly. “You’re going to remember things all wrong, Mommy!” 

It took Natalie a few minutes to catch on. Jackie was seeing the schedule the way she perceived her days: the row of days at the top of the schedule was the column of time periods of her day. Though the periods were different lengths of time, she’d assimilated the concept of the seven day week into her life as seven periods of her day. Natalie used this phenomenon to build a construct of the world outside the house that would allow her children to function out there. 

They made it easy for her with their stubborn refusal to see time in any way other than their own. The rest of the world had a problem, not them, and Natalie capitalized on this and took it further with a mystical approach to their education that included a dream state in which they might do things they might not remember later. This dream state, reasoned Natalie, would explain those times when their lives might overlap, like when they couldn’t remember how they’d cut a finger.

   As they grew older, they stopped thinking of this as some mystical dream state and just shrugged off things that were suddenly different. 

Oh yeah, that. Just like Mom said.

It was as though some inner mechanism operating in each of them was busily patching up the cracks of inconsistencies before they became holes, allowing them to function in a world that might have been in another dimension.

She never fooled herself, though, that things would be easy for them, or for her. There would be sacrifices. Their lives would not be the same as the lives of others. No matter how well the coping mechanisms worked, confrontations with the realities of the rest of the world were inevitable. The best Natalie could do was to prepare for those eventualities, anticipate them, think them through and plan for them.

She and Manzer made lists of scenarios—thousands of them—everything from schooling to friendships they’d make as they grew. They planned for jobs, romantic relationships, social circles where they might come into contact with people who knew one or more of the other personalities. They made lists of every possible interaction they could have with each other, like how their rooms would be arranged and the clothing they would wear that would be dictated by their personal tastes. 

In the end, they would be lonely, cut off from the rest of the world in many ways and always feeling that something at the essential level of their being was not quite right. She was glad now for the way she’d named them; the similarity in names would help later when they came into contact with people known by the others. They would have to spend their early childhood in the house, homeschooled, limited in their contact with the outside world until they were ready to fit into it on their own terms. If they wanted to attend college, it would have to be online. 

But, no matter how much they planned and prepared, there would always be the matter of their independence. They had to be free to be themselves as much as possible. Natalie could not always be there to holds their hands but she also needed to be close by to put out the fires caused by unforeseen events. At some point and at some level, she would have to leave them.

So they planned her death. And they planned her resurrection.

Episode 23 – All My Children

Episode 23

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Her screams splattered against the corridor walls and rolled through the halls like slow thunder for twelve hours. She screamed and she blamed the absent father, “You did this to me, fucker!  Fucker!” She blamed the world and she screamed, “You did this to me! Fucker!” She blamed herself and she screamed, “What have I done! Fucker!” She blamed God and she screamed. “Why? Fucker!” She screamed for forgiveness and she screamed for it all to end, but no amount of screaming could stop the life struggling out of her womb.

So she laughed. 

It felt good. She laughed some more. 

Then she screamed some more and wished that she had hung herself when she had the chance.

***

“Push! Push!” 

The nurse was getting on her nerves. 

What the hell does she think I’m doing, trying to hold the baby in? 

Natalie glared into the nurse’s eyes above the blue mask. She wanted to tear them out of her head. She screamed and laughed into the nurse’s face as she glared into those two sympathetic blue eyes. She pushed and clenched her fists, splitting the corners of her mouth as she wailed while, inside her body, a tiny life began to feel something akin to alarm as Natalie’s pushes and its own struggling changed the nature of things

***

Jack 

The screams and laughter had dissipated into the walls and ceilings; the wards and halls seemed to breathe easier. The sound of loud sucking emanated from Natalie’s room. Life flowing into life, she thought as she looked into the wide, startled eyes. She sensed fear in the small life. His breathing seemed forced and panicky. His body shook, even though he was wrapped tightly in blankets. His eyes darted around the room as though looking for something that might pounce at him. Something terrible was unfolding in this baby’s mind on his first day of life but she would protect him and make whatever threatened him go away.

She’d had no idea what she was going to name him but the name Jack suddenly bubbled up from her subconscious and that was his name. “My little savior,” she said tenderly. Feeling the exchange of life. “Some day, you’ll do great things. I know you will. You’ve already done them for me.”

An old man from down the hall, Manzer Doyle, had walked in and remarked how beautiful her baby was, and how beautiful Natalie was, and how beautiful they looked together. He’d promised to drop by and check in on her the next morning, maybe even bring her some chocolate. 

She had a friend and for the first time in her life, she was beginning to feel things.

More surprise.

Jackson   

There was just one thing wrong. This wasn’t the baby she’d given birth to the day before. This was another baby. This baby was quiet, almost introspective, and exuded confidence and grace. Even the lips suckled differently.

***

Manzer Doyle had an eye for the exceptional, a trait had driven him into one of the most powerful offices in the public service, a position obtained by surrounding himself with people who went beyond the norm—not an easy thing in the public service where thinking rarely deviated from the policies and procedures that guided the career-bound through the minefield of the current party in power. He cultivated relationships with exceptional people and maneuvered his career so that he worked only for the brightest managers until he’d retired as one of the most prominent of those extraordinary people, a man with real power and influence and the ability to make things happen. Manzer Doyle was exceptional and he recognized it in others. Like in Natalie’s baby. 

This was no ordinary baby. This baby had something about it, a glow or vibration. This baby was different in a way that separated it from others. And Natalie was right. This was not the same baby whose eyes Manzer had looked into the day before. This was a completely different personality, unmistakably.

He shifted in his chair, his weight raising a storm of creaks as the chair’s metal frame shifted with his weight. His pale blue pajamas looked pressed and ready for a formal pajama party with dignitaries. He’d wandered in to say hello the previous evening and she’d told him that she’d be in the hospital for another week or so while the doctors kept an eye on certain “complications” that Natalie didn’t want to get into. He liked this woman and her baby fascinated him. “You’re right.” His voice was deep, resonating. “This isn’t the same baby. Even the body seems just a little different, if that’s possible.”

Natalie let out a long sigh. Relieved. If Manzer agreed then maybe she wasn’t crazy. “But how?”

“You’ve got me on that.” He leaned forward and stared into the tiny calm eyes.

“That’s what I thought too. His eyes…”

“Not like any baby’s eyes I’ve ever seen.”

“But today…?”

“Yes. A whole different personality. This baby’s…” He crossed his arms over his chest and sat back in his chair with a flurry of grinding metal. “I don’t want to alarm you.”

Natalie smiled, laughed quietly. “You have no idea how far past I am from being alarmed. At anything.”

Manzer looked into her eyes and smiled. “This baby was troubled yesterday, infear of the world and today…he’s in charge of the world.”

Mona looked deep into the eyes of the baby in her arms. “I have two babies.” Manzer smiled in agreement. “Little one, I’m going to name you…Jackson.” She hugged the baby. “Let’s see which one of you is back tomorrow.”

***

Jax 

It was unmistakable. This was not the same baby that Natalie had birthed two days before, nor was it the same baby that had sucked from her breasts yesterday. This was a whole new person. Manzer nodded agreement.“Natalie,” said Manzer, as he gazed into the baby’s eyes, “You definitely have another baby here. Someone very different than the last two days. This one seems almost, mystical. Look at his composure.”

She nuzzled the baby with her chin. “He looks so meditative.” She nuzzled him again. The baby smiled and made a soft purring sound.

“Maybe another Houdini,” said Manzer. “A spiritual guide for the masses. A…”

“Manzer…” Natalie’s voice seemed hinged on regret with a trace of worry. “Where are the other two? Jackson and Jack. Where are they today?”

Manzer leaned forward and stroked the side of the baby’s head with a massive hand. The baby gurgled happily. “I’m sure they’re in there somewhere. They’ll be back. In their time.” The two sat in silence for a few moments as the baby stared into a space just beyond its nose and gurgled happily.

“So,” said Manzer, “what are you going to call him.”

Natalie ran her fingers lightly through the downy strands of hair on the baby’s head and thought for a moment. “Jax. With an x,” she said. “I’m going to call him Jax.”

“Jackson, Jack and Jax.” I’m seeing a pattern here. He chuckled. “Any reason for the names?”

“No. No particular reason. Just the names that jumped into my head.”

“Well, I’ll let you spend some time with your new son. I’ll drop by later for a visit.” He stood up and stroked the baby’s head again. “And tomorrow? Who knows? We’ll see who’s back, or see who’s new.”

***

Jacky 

“Very determined looking,” said Manzer. “And definitely another baby.”

“But where are the others?”

“They’ll be back. I’m sure they will.”

“But what if I have a different child every day…” She shrugged lightly as the baby sucked. “…for the rest of his life?”

Manzer chuckled. “I don’t think so. We’ll see. And the name?”

“Jacky.”

Manzer’s deep laugh rolled through the air. “Why am I not surprised?”

***

Jacques 

“That’s one very misty-eyed baby you have today, Natalie.” Manzer’s huge head dwarfed the baby as he stared into its eyes, seeing yet another person in the tiny body.

Natalie smiled. “I think I might know what’s going on in his little head.”

“And what would that be?”

“What could be so sublime as to make a new baby squirm and coo like this?” Natalie bounced the baby lightly on her breast. Manzer thought for a moment and it came to him. He smiled and nodded and said, “Love.”

Natalie brushed the side of the baby’s head with her palm. “This one will be a hopeless romantic.” She stared into her baby’s smitten eyes and said, “Won’t you, Jacques?”

Jacques shivered and shook his arms and legs with the madness of his feelings.

***

Jac 

Natalie wiped sweat off the baby’s forehead as he struggled and twisted from God knows what nightmare haunting the mind of someone so young that he shouldn’t have enough knowledge to have a nightmare. Again, this morning, she awakened with a new baby inhabiting the shared body of five other completely different people. “How crowded it must be in there,” she whispered as she ran a cold wet cloth over the baby’s cheeks.

The baby thrashed wildly in Natalie’s arms as though wave after wave of horror flooded through his world. 

Natalie pressed the baby close to her chest. Manzer sat on a chair by the bed and shook his head. “I think you’ll have a tough time convincing this one there’s any good in the world.”

Natalie glanced quickly at him and looked back into the baby’s eyes. “Jac. That’s your name, Jac. I promise I’ll make whatever it is that terrifies you right.”

***

Jackie 

“There’s something definitely different about this child,” said Manzer, peering deep into the baby’s eyes.

“I know,” said Natalie staring as well into the deep blue of the seventh baby’s eyes, the Sunday child. “I have a feeling I know what it is but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“Well,” said Manzer, rubbing his bristly chin with the joint of his thumb, “they’ve all been different, different people all in the one body.”

“But this one’s more different than the others, like night and day.” She jostled the baby lightly on her breast. “And what is your special secret, little one?” Staring into the infant’s eyes, it suddenly occurred to her. “Manzer,” she said, “I’d like you to meet Jackie. My daughter.”

Episode 22: Sunday – Jackie

Episode 22

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Cut 1 Play Ep 22

 Jackie let out a long sigh. She’d written the entire play in one sitting and she was drained. But it was a good feeling. She felt that this play was her best yet. It expressed so clearly how she felt about herself and because of those feelings about herself, how she felt about other people. She would wait another day to start the editing, a process that generally took longer than writing the first draft.

Maybe I’ll get dressed and go out for a glass of wine or two tonight. I think I’ve earned the right to treat myself. Never written a play this fast before. Maybe this is a sign that things are going to be different. Maybe I should make things different. Maybe it’s finally time that I took control of my life and made it MY life and not someone else’s, whomever that someone else is. But you know who that someone else is, don’t you? You know who it is and you still don’t do anything. All these years living like this. All those years lost because you’ve never really been yourself. You’ve never experienced life as yourself.

And who is yourself?

She slipped out of her housecoat and walked, nude, to the bathroom. Light from passing cars played across the surface of a tall frosted glass window beside a green porcelain shower with a sliding glass door. Across from it, a six foot mirror with four copper lights reflected her body.

She looked down at a flaccid penis hanging below a patch of black hair and sighed. 

“It’s time, Jackie…that has to go.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 21: Saturday – Jac

Episode 21

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Jac laughed out loud. Who are these fools? Who the fuck are these fools? AllTheNewsYouNeed ran an editorial on Jac’s books.

Arial 38

Maybe it’s time for me to start launching a few things myself, like lawsuits against these people. On the other hand, this might be a great test of my security. 

He went to his email and scanned the subject lines. 

Oh, A. Fan…what insights do you have for today? 

He opened the email with the subject line: Following You Always.

Arial 39

Sure you are. Maybe in a hundred years, and by then, I’ll be even harder to find. 

“So…let’s see if Mr. MacDonald has anything to say about me.” A few clicks and he was looking at The Word and Its Many Meanings. He smiled as he read. “So now I’m the target of a mass worldwide effort to be shut down forever. Jax, you’re fucking crazy. Let’s see what I can do to make you even crazier.” He scrolled down to the comments section.

Arial 40

Take that, you little clown. 

He closed his browser and opened the manuscript for his new novel—all one title of it. Images of clowns exploding into balls of fire and steam hissing from eyeballs bunched up in his mind. He stared at the top of the document. Circus of No Hope. For Jac it summed up the human condition so succinctly. All you had to do was turn on a television, open a news site or go into any social media group and there is was—the world was one big circus with one overwhelming theme: There is no hope. The human race was on a crazy roller coaster ride diving and flying on a oneway course into oblivion and nobody seemed to want to get off or stop the wagons. And through all this there was the pain of life, the sorrow and loss of every day, the struggle to rise above it all just to find you’ve risen to the bottom and it starts all over again. And again.

He stared at the title and he felt good about what he was doing. He was telling the truth. He was giving the world a much needed dose of itself, showing them all who and what they were and where they were going: Nowhere. At least, nowhere good. Everywhere was pain. Everywhere was loss and regret. Fireballs with the bewildered eyes of children bounced off the walls of his imagination. Horses with blazing manes trampled entire families into smoldering cinders. 

A ten year old boy cut his pet dog’s throat and then slit his wrists.

***

It was dark outside. He gazed into the emptiness of the space under the title. It was time to set the stage for nightmares, it was time to sleep. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 20: Friday – Jacques

Episode 20

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Creative thinking and a six-pack of beer. That’s what it had taken to give Jacques his escape route. He still found it hard to believe that he’d sent the first part of the email along with the one he intended. He was certain he’d just thought the comment, not written it. Or he’d known that he’d written it but forgot to delete it. Whatever happened, there it was:

Arial 36

And now Judy was on the war path with that most formidable of weapons, social media. How many of Jasmine’s fans would turn on her because of his mistake? Not that she had a lot of fans but the ones she did have were loyal and bought her books

But creative thinking and a six-pack of beer had saved the day.

Jasmine Jackson’s email account had been hacked! Some malicious hacker had barged into her email and had sent out insults to her fans. So, Jacques sent out a dozen insulting emails to other fans, just enough to stir up his readership and get them posting to the reader sites, especially after seeing Judy’s post. Given how nice Jasmine had been in the past in her emails, her fans would wonder about the sudden avalanche of nasty messages. They would wonder if something was wrong: Has she had a nervous breakdown? Did she drink too much coffee? Was she on drugs? With that many malicious emails, they would have to assume something was wrong, that Jasmine Jackson wouldn’t deliberately insult her readership, that she wouldn’t deliberately loose her readers, her fans. It had to be drugs. Or maybe it was alcohol? Was Jasmine Jackson an alcoholic?

Beautiful, Jacques! You now have scandal, questions, innuendo, gossip…all the things that lead to celebrity in the modern world.

He knew that, even after he posted to the groups with apologies and an explanation, the wheel had started spinning and though it might slow down for a bit it would keep spinning and might even spin faster when the rumors took root. He liked to think of it as “turning a blunder into thunder,” as he wrote the apology in his blog. After posting it, he would create links on the reader’s sites, social media sites and Jasmine’s personal website.

Arial 37

Nice, Jacques. Let the rumors and innuendo explode. You might end up with a lot more fans because of this. 

Blunder to thunder.

***

It was too early to be drinking his six-park and he hadn’t worked on his next novel today but he was stressed out. He’d brought things around but he was still too distracted to write. He would just write twice as long next time. He lay back on a couch splashed with a rustic yellow and brown flower motif—a piece of furniture he’d practically grown up with—drank a third of the bottle of beer, burped and relaxed into his thoughts.

His blog posting was making the rounds. He’d planted links all over and those links would link to other links and to other links and his posting would be everywhere that mattered to him. He was counting on that predictable small group of readers who loved a good rumor and loved even more to spread it further, and maybe even embellish a bit. They were the ones who would spread his name to new readers, people who would thrive on the insults to his readers and completely overlook the fact that someone else had written them, or so he hoped they would.

He didn’t have much contact with people other than to study them and make notes for his novels. He wasn’t good at interacting with people—there was too much randomness to the whole thing. Other people didn’t always do or say what you wanted. And for some reason, other people seemed to view him as odd. He was sure no one knew that he wore a dress and chewed on cigars when he wrote. But that had never bothered him. He had his writing and in spite of the torrid sex scenes in some of his more explicit novels, he’d never had, did not want to have and never would have sex.

Instead, he wrote about it.

Half an hour later, he was acting completely out of schedule. He was into his fourth beer and his fingers were tapping madly on his keyboard. The hem of his red dress draped over his knees and a prominent erection bulged under the dress. 

 

Episode 19: Thursday – Jacky

Episode 19

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Paul Mcdermitt was an amateur photographer who’d  bought dozens of Jacky’s prints. They covered the walls throughout his apartment as “inspiration.” He was short and geeky looking, but then, he was a geek, a programmer who’d tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to explain to Jacky what exactly he did. Jacky just nodded and tried to look like he understood. 

Jacky was explaining to him how he’d captured one of his macro images. “I used a 70 to 200 lens with a two times extender full out at four hundred and focused in close to the leaf. The trick to getting that nicely faded background, which we call bokeh, is to make sure the background is a good ten feet or more behind the main subject.”

Paul nodded profusely as though Jacky were giving him guarded secrets of the inner workings of photography. “And I always thought you had to get up close.”

“That’s for doing extreme macro, when we’re isolating a part of the subject and the background is going go be featureless. And the best way to really take out any background is to use a flash. The background will be black.”

“No kidding? Black.”

“That’s right. And when we want those nice circles in the background we use a telephoto lens and keep the background far away.”

Paul looked at his watch, a complex piece of machinery with several windows that looked more like a wrist computer than a watch. “Oops. Gotta go now Jacky. Lunch time’s over. Thanks for the macro tips. I’ll try those after work. You going go be here tomorrow…no…that’s right. I’ll see you next week.”

“I’ll be looking forward to talking to you again, Paul.”

Paul shuffled off quickly, looking back and waving to Jacky. 

Jacky smiled. He liked Paul. The geek’s life seemed similar to his own, limited. But now there was something new in his life: Krista Coleman. And he would be seeing her at five to go for dinner. His stomach and chest roiled with excitement at the thought of seeing her again.

He had a feeling that she was going to be different than the others. She would stay. The others hadn’t and Jacky never understood why. Their reasons never made sense to him, things like him living in another world. He didn’t think that his art put him in another world. He’d always thought it rooted him more firmly in the world…in a perspective, in fact, that put him in the world more than most people. He saw things that others passed by every day of their lives and never noticed.

But none of his relationships had ever turned into actual relationships to the point where there was any kind of permanence, let alone living together, and that’s what Jacky wanted. He wanted to live with a woman. He wanted to do things that he’d read about and heard about…things like waking up in the morning with a warm body next to him or watching TV while cuddling and sharing a bowl of popcorn. Making love till the wee hours. Sharing household chores. There were so many things he knew he was missing and he didn’t know why that was. 

But that was all going to change. Krista Coleman had come into his life and he wasn’t about to lose her.   

***

The grey-haired woman with the granny glasses had Jacky cornered. He was stuck at the gallery till five. This was in the contract with the mall. No one was in the kiosk so the holographic walls were down and Jacky had nowhere to hide from her. She’d moved from a couple of questions about his work to talk about her cousin who was a wonderful photographer to stories about her life and family that she, herself, seemed bored with. Jacky just nodded while he thought about Krista arriving at any moment.

He saw her walking toward the kiosk at twenty to five and he very politely said to the woman, “Oh, excuse me, but I have a meeting scheduled with one of my clients who has just arrived. I sincerely hope that things work out with your Uncle Dan, and have a nice day.” The woman frowned and was about to say something but Jacky was already walking toward Krista.

She wore a blue dress and her blonde hair, flowing over her shoulders, created an esoteric Asian presence. She walked smoothly and confidently. And she was so beautiful. When he reached her, she put her arms around his neck and kissed him lightly on the lips. “So what do you have planned, Jacky?” she said. “I hope it involves food. I’m starved.”

“Food it is,” he said. “I made reservations at Jen Jen’s for 5:30.”

She laughed and hugged him tightly. Her musky perfume sent a thrill through his body. She pulled her head back and kissed him again. “I love Jen Jen’s! How did you know!”

“I love their food too. They make the best spring rolls and cheese stuffed mushrooms anywhere. Shall we get going?”

   “Yes!” She almost bounced back a foot and grabbed his hand and suddenly stopped looking toward the footsteps winding through the now invisible gallery. “Oh…you have lock up…or something?”

   Jacky laughed and squeezed her hand. “Nope. Everything’s automated. Works all on it’s own. All I have to do when I’m here is talk to people. The gallery does everything else.” Still holding hands, he led her to the mall’s exit.

   The old woman with the granny glasses, still frowning, stared at them from the hall across from the gallery. As soon as their backs were turned to her, she slanted her head and stuck her tongue out at the couple. 

***

Candle light and mood lanterns located strategically around the room created a dark mystical ambience at Jen Jen’s, enhanced by kaleidoscopic oriental rugs hanging on the walls. The place was close and romantic. Krista and Jacky were holding hands across the table. Jacky couldn’t remember being happier.

“I’m really excited to see you again, Jacky.”

“Me too. I mean…to see you.” 

Nice one Jacky. 

He felt a flush rushing across his face.

Krista laughed, full and hearty. She was feeling good tonight. “I didn’t mention this last time, but I was just laid off from my job.”

Jacky started to say something but Krista cut in. “It’s OK. I just landed a very…very lucrative contract. And I’m thinking about going freelance.”

Jacky smiled. “That’s the way to go. Self-employed. You never get anywhere working for someone else. They get rich, you get the work.”

“Exactly! I should have done this years ago. But I just never had the nerve.”

“So it looks like your misfortune turned out to be the best thing for you.”

“It did. From the ashes…” She laughed again.

God, what a beautiful laugh. And she’s so beautiful. 

“So you’re the phoenix. Such a beautiful phoenix.” 

Such a beautiful smile.    

She leaned in closer. 

The waitress arrived and, after she poured water into their tumblers, they ordered the same: sesame chicken with rice and a bowl of spring rolls with cherry sauce…her favorite, and now his favorite. She sipped from her tumbler and looked him in the eye. “I was looking at some of your new images. I think they’ve been there for a few weeks. The ones with just the leaves from ground plants.”

“Right. Got all of them in the morning before going to the gallery at noon. What did you think of them?”

“Well, I noticed they all had something in common. The leaves are all deteriorated. I mean, with holes in them and cuts that look like insects have been chewing on them. I was wondering why you would take pictures of those leaves instead of healthy ones. It seems like a break from the rest of your work. Have you turned your attention to leaves at risk?” She laughed, stopped abruptly, and reached across the table to put her hand on his. “I’m not being critical or making fun of your work. The images are still brilliant but it does seem to be something different.”

“Are you ready for a long-winded boring explanation?”

“Go ahead, bore me.” She smiled. 

“Well, it’s not really a complimentary thing about the human race…”

“Go ahead.

“OK, here goes.” He leaned closer to her. “I get it from traditional Japanese art. It always has a flaw in it, as though perfection itself is only perfect when it has a flaw. The flaw, or the imperfection, is what makes it perfect because then it embraces everything. It expresses the struggle for perfection as a perfect act in which perfection will always be one step ahead of imperfection.”

“So…it’s like perfection is actually the journey toward perfection?”

“Exactly! Yes! And that’s what I’m trying to express in those images. I just feel that they make a more powerful statement on beauty than the ones that are beauty only.” He leaned back in his chair with a defiant look in his eyes. “Well, that’s my take on it and I’m stickin’ with it.” He tried to hold his serious look but broke into laughter. They both laughed.

“I think that’s a wonderful approach to beauty,” she said.

“Good. Let’s change subjects. All this heavy thinking is hurting my head.”

“OK.” She cupped her hands around her tumbler. “What would you like to talk about?”

“You said that you wanted to see the inside of one of the buildings in my neighborhood.” He felt as though his heart was about to jump up into his throat. “Would you like to see the inside of my building?”

Krista smiled.

***

“Oh…look at the banisters,” said Krista. “This is genuine teak.” She ran two fingers across the surface of the wood. “I’ve rarely seen teak banisters like these before.”

“They knew how to build back then,” said Jacky. “They were artists and buildings were art, not jigsaw puzzles.”

They climbed a wide stairway with a circular stained glass window on the second floor. “That must be gorgeous in the daylight,” she said.

“It is. Makes the stairway explode with color.”

“And the lights are chandeliers…in the stairway and halls. This place is gorgeous.”

“I like it,” said Jacky. “You’d think I’d get used to it after a while but it impresses me every day.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“About ten years. Give or take a decade.”

Krista laughed. “Smart ass.”

***

A door opened on the first floor and a figure passed through it into the shadows at the base of the stairway facing up at the couple admiring the stained glass window. 

Well, you knew this was going to happen sooner or later, she thought. 

***

Jacky lay in his bed glowing with the after energy of sex. He’d wanted her to stay but she had to get up early for the commute to her new client’s home. She’d been so giving and warm and soft. He’d admitted that he was a virgin and she didn’t seem disappointed or anything. In fact, it seemed to stir up her passion. She became aggressive and her breathing became hot and loud. She’d lay him back and sat down slowly on him, swallowing him into her wetness and heat over and over until he exploded with a cry that must have waked up every tenant in the building. 

“Do I make you happy?” she’d said later. 

The words to answer her question crashed into each other in his mind. He couldn’t think what to say to describe to her how happy he was, how much joy he felt, how much he loved her. She’d looked into his eyes and seen the tears and kissed his face over and over.

They’d talked for a while and she’d wanted to know when she was going to see him again. He’d seemed to have difficulty explaining to her that he wanted to see her every minute of his life and she’d repeatedly said, “But why just then?”

She didn’t seem mad, just confused, but they finally worked it out and she said she had to leave so that she could get up early for work.

Jacky couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy. 

***

You idiot, thought Krista. Why…why do you always pick the wrong men? What is wrong with you? He seemed so nice, so sweet. And he was a virgin. You were his first woman. His tears. He seemed for nice, so natural and down-to-earth. 

She walked fast, carelessly on the sidewalk, not seeing the street lamps with their panicky clouds of insects swarming mindlessly around the street lights. 

And he only wants to see you one night a week? One night a week!

 

 

 

Episode 18: Wednesday – Jax

Episode 18 copy

(New to The Weekly Man? Go here. Reading on your phone? Go here.)

 

“You must track him down. Find him.”

Track him down. Find him.

“He is the danger of dangers.”

 The danger of dangers. 

“He will destroy my plans. He will obscure my message.”

Destroy plans. Obscure message. 

“You are my prophet.”

Yes I am. 

“You must end this evil man’s life and spread my message so that I can save you and the rest of the world.”

I’m going to be saved. We’re all going to be saved. All I have to do is kill the writer. 

Jax had checked the news sites before receiving Ratlas’ messages. There was nothing about Simon Pierce, nothing about mobs of angry parents storming his home and stringing him up. But then, it was hard to say what had happened. He could have been quietly murdered by someone smart enough not to get caught and smart enough to maybe get rid of the body so that it would never be found and Simon Pierce would just disappear from a world where no one would miss him let alone ask questions about him. He would just disappear.

Or maybe the message just hasn’t had time to get out. 

“It will though. It’s just a matter of time. Ratlas will cannot be resisted. Its message of hope will prevail.” 

He opened his email program and, amazingly, he had mail. Maybe there would be something in the comments section of his blog today. He looked at the Sender field. His eyes widened and his mouth opened enough for spittle to drip over his lower lip and onto the keyboard. It was from Simon Pierce.

What? 

He opened the email.

Arial 34

What? 

He read the email again. 

“What?” 

He read the email nine times before he stopped saying “what”. His confusion had turned to outrage.

Ratlas is right. This evil person must be stopped. Exterminated. 

He opened his blog. He wasn’t sure what it was at first but something was different. Something was suddenly strange about his blog. After a few moments of thought, it came to him. There was a comment in the comments section. 

Finally. 

He read the message.

Arial 35

“Not on The Word and Its Many Meanings! Not here! Not on Ratlas’ platform to send its message of hope to a world in danger of extinction.” Jax’s face flushed deep, deep. His hands shook over the keyboard. “No, Mr Pierce. You will not get away with this. You will not besmirch Ratlas’ message.”

He closed his eyes and started blogging.

MY FRIENDS AND FELLOW HUMANITY WHO I HOPE HAVE STOPPED USING PLASTIC AND ARE OPEN TO ITS MESSAGE THAT THE WORLD MAY BE SAVED AND RETURNED TO ITS PRE-PLASTIC DAYS OF WONDER AND BEAUTY AND NATURAL MAGIC TEEMING IN THE FORESS AND THE PLASTIC FREE OCEANS THERE HAS BEEN AN ABOMINATION OF THIS BLOG FROM AN EVIL EVEN GREATER THAN PLASTIC THAT MUST BE OBLITERATED IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT IN A WORLD FAST DARKENING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THIS SOURCE OF GREAT EVIL GOING BY THE NAME OF SIMON PIERCE WHOSE POISONOUS WRITINGS HAVE CAUSED THE DEATH OF A TEN YEAR OLD BOY TO KILL HIMSELF AND HIS NEW PET DOG IN YET ANOTHER TRAGIC INCIDENT MARKING YET ANOTHER INSTANCE OF THIS MAN’S SHAMEFUL INFLUENCE ON YOUNG MINDS USED TO SWAY THEM TO DARK THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS AND WE MUST PUT AN END TO THIS EVEIL IN A MASS WORLDWIDE EFFORT TO SHUT DOWN SIMON PIERCE FOREVER!!!

AND PLEASE AVOID THE UNNECESSARY USE OF PLASTIC. 

He sat and stared at his post, nodding his head in agreement. 

This will bring them to action. This will seal Pierce’s fate. There will be a tide of retribution for his defamation of The Word and Its Many Meanings. 

Simon Pierce, you will suffer for your trespass.”

He couldn’t remember feeling this way before now. What he felt for Pierce was genuine hatred. If the man were in his presence at this moment he would very likely kill him. He wasn’t sure how but he knew instinctively that it had to be done. There was no reasoning with pure evil, only the elimination of it so that it wouldn’t be able to taint the world around it. 

He thought back to his childhood in the days before Ratlas when he used plastic and was unaware of its dangers. He remembered his days by a stream flowing through a wooded area, watching the water flow for hours so that he could feel the inexorable movement downstream as though he were water himself flowing out to the sea. In those days he was at one with everything and felt that everything was at one with him. He talked to trees and flowers. He lay in tall grass and felt his soul sway with the grass on windy days. He sank into blue skies, sliding off clouds deeper and deeper into the sky.

He wasn’t certain exactly when those days had stopped, when he felt the threat of rampant civilization disrupting the natural balances of that giant beautiful organism called Earth. It seemed like he was a kid and then he was an adult listening to Ratlas’ messages and spreading them to a world of indifference. But it was something to do. He had no idea what he would do if he didn’t have Ratlas’ message to spread. The very thought of doing anything else made him nervous, and he sometimes wondered about that.