Episode 43: Monday – Jack

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Episode 43

He chuckled as he read her email.

Arial 63

Not long ago, he would have taken the threats seriously. Maybe not at first but he would have found a way to make them real in his mind. Not anymore. He knew that in all likelihood, she might actually be in love with him. And in all likelihood, he was in love with her. And yes, she was right about the loneliness after all the times he’d broken their dates and fled and then wrote to her with stupid excuses trying to justify unjustifiable behavior with lies that no one in their right mind would believe. The only irrational part of her was putting up with him for so long.

And just what could he say about the state of his own mind, writing those things and expecting any sane human being to believe them? What was his state of mind all this time? Certainly not rational. But then, hadn’t that been the way he’d lived his life since childhood, having to give his credibility gap a huge amount of gap. All the things that he’d had to shove to the back of his mind and pretend they weren’t important or never happened. Like the bump on his head. He touched it. It was almost gone. The cut was completely healed.

How could I have missed something like that? How can I not remember being hurt enough to have a bump the size of an egg on my head and not remember a damn thing?   

Memory loss from the injury to the head? 

He thought about that for a moment and had to admit that it was feasible. If he were hit on the head hard enough, it might lead to memory loss. He couldn’t remember being unconscious.

But then, I wouldn’t remember that, would I? I’d be unconscious. 

He tried to remember back to the day when he first noticed the bump, where he’d waken up. He was sure it was in his bed and not on the floor. He was sure that he wasn’t dressed when he woke up. He had a clear memory of sorting through his clothing and making sure everything was safe and free of bugs and other spying devices. 

It felt like crashing into a cement wall. He knew something was wrong. He knew that he should remember and that it was time to stop forgetting. He’d been doing it all his life and he was going to put a stop to it.

He clicked Reply on her email and wrote for about an hour, telling her about everything and how he wanted to start remembering because the not remembering was ruining his life, making him paranoid about everyone and everything in the world around him. He wanted her to help him to remember.

He was almost in tears by the time he finished writing. As he clicked the Send button, he felt suffused with a sense of lightness that permeated every cell in his body. It was an almost dizzying feeling of release.

He’d told her that he wanted to meet her at the first place he hadn’t shown up, so long ago. 

***

Valerie tried her best not to stare at Mrs. Gilbert’s wrinkles. She’d never seen anyone as wrinkled as the woman sitting across the room from her.

“Most of the way I look was done artificially,” said Natalie.

“I beg your pardon?” said Valerie.

Natalie laughed. “The wrinkles and other physical changes. I had to do a complete makeover so that the kids wouldn’t recognize me.”

She calls them ‘the kids.’ But then, that’s what they are to her.

“I apologize if I was staring,” said Valerie, “but I’m still getting my head around all of this. It’s so…”

“I know,” said Natalie, laughing. “I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this before. Split personalities, multiple personalities, things we read about and see movies about. But his is different. Jack is actually one of seven siblings sharing one body.”

 Valerie thought about this a moment and it seemed to make sense. “When you put it that way, it makes sense. Like it’s not some kind of mental disorder. It’s actually a physical thing.”

Natalie smiled and sipped tea from an ornate cup. “It made giving birth to septuplets a lot easier but I think raising them in individual bodies would have been much easier. Except changing seven diapers every day!” Her body shook as she laughed and she spilled tea into her saucer as she replaced the cup. “And you’re right, it’s not a personality disorder at all. You might call it a physical defect, the egg developing seven separate brains, all within one brain. I’m not sure how it would all look under an X-ray or scan but it’s the way Manzer and I have always seen it.

“Then, why haven’t you told them about each other? It seems to me that it would make life a lot easier to you. And a lot easier for them.”

Natalie drew out a long sigh before answering. “I guess, because I don’t know for sure how it works, how they’re separate but one. I don’t know what effect it will have, them knowing about each other. Would they see themselves as freaks? Would all the personalities join together as one new person? I don’t think they would but I’ve never been willing to take that chance.” She looked wistfully towards the window. It was slightly open, filtering the sound of passing cars and children in the park. “And then there’s the matter of how the rest of the world would treat them. Hate to use the word again but…freaks? Or just one freak. A hoax? I can’t see the rest of the world ever accepting them as seven different people. They’ll say it’s one person with seven personalities. Sometimes, I have a hard time making the distinction myself and I love each of them individually. I’ve never doubted for a second that I had septuplets.”

Valerie sipped her coffee and nodded. “I just can’t even begin to imagine how you held all of this together for so long, even with Mr Doyle’s help.”

Natalie laughed. “It hasn’t been easy.” She sipped some more tea, thought a moment. “I won’t bore you with a lot of details. I’m sure Manzer explained all of that. But…” She looked out the window again, the wistful look giving in to something else.

She’s afraid, thought Valerie.

Natalie’s lips moved under the wrinkles as though she were going to say something but changed her mind and changed her mind again until finally her shoulders slumped and her eyes and body seemed to slouch into a deep sadness. “It’s all starting to fall apart. The outside world is coming in and they’re beginning to feel the draw of the world outside the lives I’ve built to protect them. Well…” She gestured with one hand toward Valerie. “You’re here. You found Jack. And Jack has found you. I think he’s finally gotten to the point where he can’t stop himself from meeting you. And I don’t think it was all his paranoia about THEM that stopped him from meeting you in the past. And by the way, you’ll have to admit, some of the excuses were entertaining.”

Valerie laughed. “Yes. Yes, they were. It was sometimes worth being stood up just to read the excuse for it.”

“But it wasn’t just paranoia about you being an unknown factor. He’s always been like that about everything in his life that wasn’t in his flat or childhood home. When he was a child, he checked his clothing carefully before putting it on. I think he was checking for listening or tracking devices.” 

Valerie nodded and smiled. “I’m guessing he checks his clothing even more closely now.”

They both laughed.

“I think,” said Natalie, “that something deeper was going on though. I think that his fear of meeting you was ab unconscious knowledge of his condition, that he was too different to have a relationship with a woman. I doubt that he would have been able to explain it. It was just something he was aware of at a level that he would never be able to see. And, unfortunately…” She sipped some more tea and stared out the widow for several minutes.

Valerie sipped her coffee patiently and didn’t interrupt Natalie’s train of thought, thinking it better to just let her talk about it in her own time. 

Natalie suddenly shook her head and breathed in deeply and quickly, as though she’d just been pulled from a dream. She looked into the other woman’s eyes and Valerie saw the fear back, a deep sad fear. 

“I think they’ve all responded the same way,” said Natalie. “At some level they were always aware of the others and, if not, then aware of not being around all the time. I think, as much as I tried to get them to rationalize another way of perceiving time, they knew that their experience of time would never let them be fully a part of the outside world.”

“I can see that,” said Valerie. “It would always be there.”

“And the awareness of it has been growing. And now, I have a feeling they’re all going to start asking questions that can’t be answered without them knowing the truth, and they’re going to start doing things they will soon find out are impossible and they’re going to want to know why they’re impossible. Jackson wants to go on vacation for a week. Jackie wants to get a sex change.” All her weight sunk into her chair with a heave like a slow sigh of the body.

 “So,” said Valerie, “it’s time for them to find out?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t know what that will do to them. I don’t know if they’ll be able to live with the knowledge or if it will drive them mad. It could affect each of them differently. I just don’t know.”

“Well,” said Valerie, “we’ll just have to work something out. In the meantime, I have a date with your son and I don’t want to be late.”

***

The Girl in the Blue Sweater. Weird name for a bar but it seemed to do the trick. The place was packed with an upscale crowd of mostly hipsters and hippie wannabes, as in hippies with brand new Nikes and Tommy Hilfiger jeans with an appropriate and politically correct amount of worn and torn knees. But they wore peace beads and hair band and they were doing a wonderful job of looking like they took the world seriously.

The crowd had changed but the place itself hadn’t changed a bit since the last time Jack was supposed to meet Valerie for their first date. The walls were plastered with black and white photographs of demonstrations, peace marches and outdoor rock concerts. Jack wondered if, somewhere in the building, there was a picture of a girl in a blue sweater. 

There she was. Sitting on a stool at the bar with a martini in front of her, hands cupped around it, leaning slightly forward, looking into it.

She’s so beautiful. 

She wore a low cut light yellow dress that made her blonde hair look even more blonde. The light behind her silhouetted the side of her face. She wore matching high heels, currently resting on the foot rest at the base of the bar where they highlighted her long slender legs. 

And I’ve been running away from this woman for how long?

His stomach was one very large, very tight knot. He felt as though he were walking through a cloud, as though he were detached from the reality of his life and wandering in a place that threatened to swallow him. But it felt good. He liked the tightness in his stomach, the feeling of just throwing himself off whatever cliff the cloud was leading him to. 

Fuck you Crosby. 

He was suddenly standing right behind her, a little to one side, staring at her, wondering what to do next. Without taking her eyes off her drink she said, “Have a seat, Jack. Your drink is on the way.”

He was dumbfounded. She’d just spoken to him. There was no running or turning back now. He was uncovered, in the open, caught, cornered, trapped. Finally free. He sat down on the stool beside her. She turned her head to face him. Her eyes were blue. Her lips were red. Her hair was blonde. She was smiling, looking right into his eyes.

Jack passed out. 

***    

He had no idea how long he’d been unconscious. Apparently he hadn’t fallen on the floor, just full face onto the counter top, arms dangling down both sides. It was her laughter that woke him. He felt her hands on his head and neck, massaging him as she laughed quietly and said, “I’ve never had that effect on a man before. Now I’m beginning to understand why you’ve been standing me up all this time.”

Slowly, dizzily, he straightened up. He felt the flushing in his face. His head was spinning and he couldn’t think of anything to say. 

“It’s OK, Jack.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I know you’re not exactly the social type. And I know how much courage it took you just to come here…and to just sit beside me. And I’m happy that we finally get to meet each other in person.”

She still wants to be with me? I just passed out. She still wants to be with me?

“I…uh…yeah.” He looked up into her eyes. She was an inch or two taller than him. “Yeah, I guess you’re right, not much in the way of social skills.” There was a martini glass on the bar in front of him. He picked it up and almost emptied it. He wasn’t much of a drinker so the alcohol hit him almost instantly. A sense of euphoria settled over his head and body. His thinking seemed fuzzy.

Valerie giggled and put a hand on his arm. “Feeling better now?”

He looked at her and smiled. “Yeah. Much better.” He lifted the drink to his lips and sipped, lightly this time. “I just want to apologize for all those times I didn’t show up. Guess I deserved you doing the same thing to me.”

She smiled. “Didn’t like having the tables turned on you, did you?”

“No. But at least I wouldn’t have passed out in a public place.”

They both laughed. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “Something came up at the last minute, something really important. I really did want to see you though.” She placed two hands on his forearm and squeezed with both. “But here we are now, together. I was almost beginning to think that this would never happen.” She giggled loudly. “Here we are. Would you like another martini?”

He nodded yes. Valerie signaled to the bartender, a short woman with long black hair and a slim body splashed with tattoos. Valerie turned to Jack, eyes wide with what seemed to Jack, excitement. “I love your comic strip, Jack. It’s so dark and well rendered. The characters are so real and the sense of mood and danger you create is so intense. And the way you talk about it in your emails…” She squeezed his arm with both hands. “I mean, the passion you put into your work. It’s so amazing. But, Jack, I think…well…I don’t want to talk about your work for a while.”

What?

“There’s something else I want to talk to you about.”

“Sure. Anything you want to talk about. That’s OK with me. And I’ve always loved reading your emails. I feel like I’ve known you for a long time and…well…”

She smiled widely and kissed him on the cheek again. “Well, Jack, it’s about my job. You remember the man who called to me the other night? Well, he’s my boss.”

“So…?”

***

Jack’s mind was still reeling. He’d finally kept a date with her. He hadn’t run. Sure, he’d passed out. But he hadn’t run. He didn’t Crosby on her. He was happy with himself. He’d just had the most interesting evening of his life and he couldn’t remember being so relaxed. He couldn’t remember ever being so happy.

And all this time, she’d been working for them. He’d been both right and wrong to run from her.

Well, mostly wrong.

He knew that, even though she worked for a covert agency, she was never going to harm him. 

She said that she couldn’t tell him much about her work or employer, only that her job was to check out anomalies in data to determine if an investigation might be necessary. She also told him that contacting Jack on such a personal level could land her in a “shit load of trouble.” 

She told him that she felt a strong attraction towards him but had no idea why because, she assured him, he wasn’t in any way the kind of man she would normally be attracted to. 

He told her that he appreciated her candid, in fact, brutally candid honesty and asked why the hell she wanted to meet with him then?

“A feeling,” she said. “Just a feeling.”

Jack decided that he could live with that.

He asked her about the anomaly that put him on a list. She told him it was just some little thing about his birth date not matching between organizations and left it at that. The rest of the evening they talked mostly about all the dates that had never happened and Jack’s sometimes hilarious excuses. They laughed till both their faces began to twitch. She touched his arm repeatedly and kissed him on the cheek. In the car, after driving him home, she kissed him on the lips, not deep and long with a little bit of tongue-play, but enough to give him hope that something romantic might be brewing. And they were going to meet again—next time, at the second place they were supposed to meet.

He wondered about the birthdate discrepancy. Had he felt a brief sense of fear? Angst? He wasn’t sure but something about it hit a nerve. 

He decided to just let it slide and get on with things but it was the last thing he thought of before sleep enveloped him.

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 42: Sunday – Jackie

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Episode 42

She felt fresh after her shower. She’d tried something different today, something she’d read about while she was researching sex change operations: The Cold Shower. She’d heard that people took them but could never understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to that kind of torture. But the articles she’d read had talked about how healthy it was for the skin and the circulation, how it increased alertness, stimulated weight loss, relieved depression and eased stress. She’d just spent ten minutes in a cold shower and though it was freezing hell at first, she’d started to enjoy it after the first few minutes and now she felt vibrant. Her skin tingled.

I ‘ll have to do this more often.

Ten minutes, Jackie. You’re lucky you didn’t get hypothermia. But you’re not dizzy or sleepy-eyed, you’re awake, alert, so completely in the moment. 

She stood before the mirror, eyeing her naked body.

But still in the wrong body.

She wiggled into a pair of jeans and a plain brown t-shirt.

***

So far, her research had led her to conclude that it would be done in Europe. The Europeans seemed to be more open to the concept and had much more to offer in terms of surgery, treatment and support. She bookmarked another good site, one with lots of practical information and links to other sites. She saved the Word document she used to keep notes along with a list of questions. 

 She heard a knock at the door, muted, definitely not Uncle Manzer. It was still early. 

Who in hell would that be this early in the day?

She remembered the woman who’d come to her door saying they were in love and acting crazy. She wondered as she walked toward the door if she should get a knife from the kitchen. 

Why don’t the doors here have peep holes?

She stood facing the door for a moment, listening for any kind of noise that might tell her what was on the other side. Nothing. Not a sound. No movement she could perceive. No heavy breathing. She almost wished there would be some kind of sound. The dead silence was chilling. She put her hand on the knob and turned it slowly, quietly. When it was fully turned, she pulled the door open quickly.

In the hall, Krista almost jumped back, startled.

“What are you doing here?” Jackie’s immediate thought was to slam the door and call the police, but there was something vulnerable and almost endearing in the woman’s consternation. She definitely didn’t pose a threat and Jackie was bigger than her. 

“I’m sorry,” said Krista. “I know this seems strange, especially after the last time I was here, but I mean you no harm. I just want to apologize about what happened and maybe try to explain. By the way, my name is Krista.” She thrust her hand out to shake.

Jackie stared into the woman’s eyes. There was something in them that she couldn’t explain, something almost familiar beyond the last time she’d seen her, when she was acting crazy. It was like she instinctively liked the woman and her name seemed to ring a familiar bell. She opened the door a bit wider but not enough to let her in.

“Let’s get this straight,” she said. “I don’t know you and you don’t know me. If you start acting like you did last time, I’m throwing you out and calling the police.”

“Fair enough. I promise I’ll keep myself in check. Last week was just a terribly big misunderstanding.”

Last week?

She stepped back and opened the door the rest of the way. Krista walked in and took off her jacket. She wore a green plaid skirt with thick black stockings and a black turtleneck sweater. She motioned Krista to the couch and asked if she’d like a coffee.

“Coffee would be great.”

“Milk and sugar?”

“Black, please.”

A few minutes later, Jackie retuned with two steaming cups. She put one on the coffee table in from of Krista and one in front of her. “Careful, it’s hot. Really hot.”

“The way I like it.”

Jackie sat in a blue arm chair across from Krista, sipped her coffee and put the cup on the table. She looked straight into Krista’s eyes. “So, you said that everything was a misunderstanding the last time you were here.”

Krista nodded. “I’ve been having some…difficulties lately. I started seeing someone who I swear is your exact double.”

Jackie smiled. “It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s seen someone else who looks like me.” She picked up her cup and sipped again. “I must have a pretty common face, or aliens cloned me when I was a baby.”

They were both laughing when Jackie had a thought and abruptly stopped laughing. She cocked her head to the side and looked right into Krista’s eyes. “One thing seems strange to me, though.”

“What’s that?”

“How did you know that I live here?”

Krista paled. She hadn’t expected that. She was brought here by Jacky, the Thursday man. How would she have known about Jackie, the Sunday man? How would she have known where he lived? Jackie, she’d been told, rarely ever went out. There was no way that Krista could have seen her outside anytime recently.

C’mon, Krista, think. How did you know that she lives here? 

She glanced briefly to her left and saw the two tall windows. She pointed at them. “I was in the park and saw you in the window. I mean, the resemblance is so striking. It’s like you’re twins. I thought you were Jacky Carson.”

“Jacky Carson? That name rings a bell.”

“He runs a virtual photography gallery at the Frederick Street Mall.”

Jackie leaned forward and reached for her cup. “Yes! That’s it. I’ve seen that gallery. I walked through it a few months ago.” She sipped her coffee. “Amazing work.”

***

What the hell are you doing here? What are you doing? Are you an idiot? 

Krista had sworn to Valerie Vine that she would never tell anyone that Jacky Carson was actually seven people living in one body. It had all sounded so insane when Valerie explained it. The man she had just fallen in love with, the man she’d finally met who was going to make her happy and give her a normal life…was actually seven different people.

She might have run from Valerie, thinking that she was some kind of psycho who might have been in love with Jacky as well, some kind of mall stalker who’d been watching Jacky for God knows how long but she seemed so centered so focused, so professional. That part was a bit unsettling but at the same time she didn’t seem threatening. And they were in the mall. 

On top of all that, there was Sunday. The person at Jacky’s place wasn’t Jacky, and the overall presence of the Sunday man was so different, the eyes the same, but different; the voice the same, but different; the gait the same, but different. Same body…different person. 

She wasn’t sure if she understood the mother’s reasoning in keeping the seven personalities intact and secret from each other, not wanting to lose any of them by having them all collapse into one personality, or possibly going into some kind of psycho overload and going crazy, or spending their lives as some kind of offbeat scientific aberration. But she was stuck with the consequences of that reasoning. The man she loved existed for just one day of the week—four days a month. 

What have I gotten into this time? 

And what was she doing here, talking to one of the other personalities? This one was apparently a female. She wondered about that. What must it feel like to know that she’s a woman but living in a man’s body? She seemed nice enough and seemed to have it all together but Krista couldn’t help wondering what was under the smiles and self-confidence.

Why am I doing this? 

All she could think of was that it might be a little like being with Jacky, knowing that he was in there somewhere, somewhere behind those eyes that were the same, but different.

It’s not him, Krista, it’s not him. It’s someone else. Now, get the hell out of here before you say or do something the messes everything up.

***

They talked for a while about Jacky’s gallery and about him, what kind of person he was and what he was doing with his art. Jackie was sure that if she ever met Jacky Carson she would like him. Krista looked at her watch after her last sip of coffee and said that she had an appointment in about an hour and that she should get going and get ready for it.

Even though Jackie felt like hugging Krista before she walked out the door, promising to drop in again sometime, she didn’t. She shook hands, wanting so much to hug. 

***

Jackie didn’t have any real friends, people she could call up and say, “Wanna hang out tonight? Go to a movie? Go to a bar? Get drunk? Get laid?” She’d never been to a movie, she’d never been to a bar and she’d never been drunk. She didn’t have much of a life and it had always been that way. She knew by the indoctrination from her mother that she was different than other people. She wasn’t always sure that she followed her mother’s reasoning when she’d talked about how other people experienced time and how it compared to the way she experienced—very much like Jackie had pointed out how the scheduler was all wrong. She’d warned her that there would be periods of confusion when it would be best to just shrug her shoulders and go along with things. 

And she’d just done that with the cut and bump on her head. She touched the remains of the bump just to assure herself that, yes, that had happened. There had been an accident that had created a cut and a bump. It had not been a minor accident. The cut had been serious and the bump had been big. It had been the kind of accident that she would remember, that anyone in their right mind would remember. 

So, is that the only logical conclusion…I’m not in my right mind?

“No,” she heard her mother say from deep inside her memory, “you’re in a different mind. The others are in a different mind. You’re in your right mind. Just let it slide away.”

How many times had she told Jackie to just let it slide away? How any times had Jackie had to let go of something she knew was real and pretend it had never happened or existed?

Well, not anymore. Not anymore.

She spent the rest of the day researching sex changes, where the best places to get them were, where they were legal, how much a sex change would cost, the ramifications of having one’s sex changed, the long-term effects and side-effects, the effects it would have on family (No family, no problem.). The amount of information was overwhelming. 

She made notes and organized them. She went into her finances, how much money she had, how much money it would cost and how she would make those payments. It looked like it was going to cost a lot. She might have to save for a bit. She might have to save for a while.

But she was going to get rid of that thing between her legs.

 

 

Episode 41: Saturday – Jac

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Episode 41.JPG

The bump on his head was almost gone and his fingers could no longer pick up the trace of a scab. He tried not to think about it but for some reason the thought persisted. This usually didn’t happen. He just acknowledged, accepted and put it back on the shelf. He wondered why he couldn’t let it go this time. He dropped his hand to his side.

What’s happening?

There was something going on and it bothered him that he didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t the crazy guy giving away his address. If the crazy guy wanted to kill him, he would have done it already, and if there was any chance that anyone on the planet had ever read the crazy guy’s blog, he’d be dead a hundred times over but he was still alive so therefore nobody was reading the blog.

And why would they?

Jac had seen some crazy stuff on the internet over the years but the crazy guy’s blog was right over the top, even the screaming font.

He stared out the window at the park as he leaned against the sill. He’d been standing there all morning, watching passersby, joggers, the old people on the benches, mothers and fathers pushing baby carriages, watching them closely, waiting to see if any of them looked up at the windows to his flat. But so far nobody looked up, nobody looked out of the ordinary, nobody posed a clear and present threat.

He was safe in the haven of the crazy guy’s obscurity.

But what about the crazy guy? Where is he? Why did he give my address away? If he wants me dead then how come I’m still alive? How come he hasn’t tried to kill me yet?

Where is he?

A cold shiver ran across Jac’s back and down his legs. Where was the crazy guy? Where was he hiding? How did he know where Jac was living? Did he know this before he started blogging for his death? Had he known Jac’s address all along? If so, why the sudden blog attacks, the calls for his extermination?

It occurred to Jac that it was possible that the crazy guy lived close by. Maybe he was one of the tenants in his building. He’d never met any of the other tenants. He wondered about that. It had never bothered him before because he wasn’t interested in knowing his neighbors. He just wanted to write and let the world know how hopeless life was. And given that, why make friends who were just going to die eventually?

They all die.

He’d never given it any thought. He was always too wrapped up in himself and his writing and the hopelessness of his fans’ emails and the helplessness of their parents’ insults and threats, but now it bothered him that he’d never met any of the other tenants. In all those years. Not even a glimpse. Not a “hello” or “nice day” on the stairs or in the hall. It didn’t seem right and it sent another chill into Jac’s legs.

And there it was again, a sense that something was going on and he didn’t know what it was. He didn’t like that feeling—the not knowing. He had a good firm grip on his life. He was hidden from the rest of the world, beyond its clutches. And he had no misunderstanding on that part—if the world ever caught up to him, it would be with a vengeance. But the world wasn’t catching up to him. A crazy man was. A guy who thought the whole world was going to be saved by some imaginary creature that crawls out of the internet and speaks to him.

Well, if you’re going to be hunted by someone, be glad it’s by someone who doesn’t appear to have a clue.

But it still bothered him—he sense of something brewing, an indefinable feeling that something was going on under the surface of things, just out of sight.

He suddenly had a thought. He figured, at first, that it might make him seem as crazy as the crazy guy but as it worked its way into his mind, it seemed like it might actually be worth a try.

I haven’t met any of my neighbors since I’ve lived here. Time to change that.

***

First, he went to the alcove at the entrance to the building. He’d never noticed it before, never thought that it was odd.

There were no mail boxes. He was certain that email hadn’t killed the postal service…yet. And 3D printers hadn’t killed off parcel delivery. He did all his business and everything else in his life online but it seemed odd that everyone else in the building was doing the same thing.

No mailboxes.

And there were no mail slots on any of the tenants’ doors.

It was odd.

Time to knock on doors.

He walked down the hall past the stained glass pouring a dazzling display of color into the stairwell. The light was both relaxing and eerie. Jac rarely went out but when he did, he found a certain pleasure in the light the window cast in spite of his fatalistic view of life. Someday that window would be gone but it would be gone, likely, long past the time he would be gone.

He walked past Mrs. Gilbert’s door. No crazy guys in there. A few feet and to the right past her door was the first door. Further down the hall was another door. Only two tenant flats on the first floor. He knocked on the first door and waited. He waited about a minute before he knocked again, a little louder this time. A minute later he wondered if he should knock again. Maybe the tenant was out. Maybe the tenant was hard of hearing or still in bed. It was still early morning. Maybe the crazy guy was curled up in a corner wondering who was knocking on his door.

He walked silently to the door at the end of the hall and knocked. No answer. He knocked again.

Is everybody out today?

Time to check upstairs.

***

He stood by the window, looking out at the shuffle of movement in the park.

Not a single answer.

Except for him, the building was deserted. Or inhabited by a bunch of very unneighborly people. But then, he wasn’t the most neighborly person himself. Maybe the building was inhabited with people like him.

Maybe it was time to make a comment or two on the crazy guy’s blog.

He walked over to his laptop. He read the latest blog posting.

I’m the evil of plastic?

He’d been called a lot of things by a lot of people but he’d never been called anything like this. The evil of plastic. He thought about it for a few minutes. As he thought, he felt something tumbling around inside, not his mind or body, but somewhere else. He didn’t try to identify it or its source. He just let himself feel it. He sat at his laptop for about twenty minutes feeling whatever it was as the words passed through his mind over and over again.

I am the evil of plastic.

It came automatically, as though he were in a trance with his fingers moving over the keyboard with a mind of their own.

Hours later, he read what he’d written.

They look so confused as they die, even as it begins to make sense. This is the circus nobody wants to go to, the event that casts an indefinable pall as they sit and wait, glancing at the fire jugglers’ pots of flame with a vague sense of what’s to come, but no clear certainty. Nothing tangible enough to risk the embarrassment of walking through the stares and comments. “Where’s he going?” “What’s he doing?” “Daddy, I don’t want to do this.” “What’s wrong with him? He’s going to miss it.” So they stay, aware at some level that they know they’re needed here for the event all their lives have been leading toward and there’s nothing to be done but watch the acts, cheer performers, laugh with their children…and glance occasionally at the fire pots. Knowing but not knowing. Helpless to change the course of things that haven’t happened.

When the fire starts, they know the show is on…and the curtain calls for them.

The scenes that followed were horrific, just like in his dreams, just like the feeling that crawled under the surface of his skin every moment of every day. He finished the last paragraph of the first chapter and read it back to himself.

He watches as one-by-one the players die, as one-by-one it makes sense to them and they relax into it…and it makes sense to him as the fluids in his body stop being fluids and become gas just before he explodes into lotus bits.

Maybe a bit over the top, but not bad for the first draft.

It was almost the time but before he hit the sack, he opened his email and brought up the crazy guy’s blog to leave a comment.

 

 

Episode 39: Thursday – Jacky

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Episode 39

The park bristled with early morning joggers and baby walkers, though only one of the benches was occupied—an older man with a red hunting jackets who stared into whatever invisible screen played the panoramic, technicolor movie of his life. The others would drift in later in the morning, the late risers who kept retirement hours as something they’d worked a lifetime to earn. The email from Krista didn’t make any sense. He’d read it half a dozen times but each time he read it, the less sense it made.

Arial 60

Who are you? 

The words resonated through his mind. 

Who are you? 

It was something he was beginning to wonder about more and more. He loved his life, taking pictures of city plants, processing them to bring out all the beauty his camera lens hadn’t seen with his actual eyes, spending afternoons at the mall talking to the people who bought his art. And Krista—she was the woman he’d always wanted, the woman he could laugh with, talk to, make love to and walk in the park arm in arm with her head on his shoulder.

Who are you? 

It was like an indictment, an accusation with no response he could think of. 

Who am I? Jacky Carson, photographer. 

He couldn’t think of anything else. Just, Jacky Carson, photographer. He felt there should be more, like this was just the surface of a life, the forward for a story that went much deeper than this-is-what-I-do-for-a-living. He’d had this feeling before—that something was missing, something essential, something he was aware of in others but couldn’t see in himself. Whenever he’d had these feelings, he’d turned to his mother’s advice, her long explanations about his special condition, how it placed a filter over his view of his life, how his life would always be different than the lives of others around him, how he would perceive things differently than others, how it would sometimes isolate him from the rest of the world. 

Isolate me from the rest of the world? More like I’m not even a part of the rest of the world. More like I’m some kind of freak pounding away at the doors to the world and every time someone opens the door a crack, they slam it shut as soon as I step forward. 

And then there was that woman who mistook me for someone else. She was so sure that I was the other person. The look in her eyes as she turned away. No way was she convinced that I wasn’t him.

What was that all about? 

***

The mall was busier than usual and his holo gallery had a constant flow of people. It occurred to him that most of them went through it just to experience a holographic gallery, to see the walls covered with colorful images suddenly spring up around them. Often, though, they would see something they liked and used the holographic cashier to buy a picture. 

Busy as it was today, not many people were talking to Jacky, but that was OK with him. His thoughts were still bogged in the confusing email from Krista. None of it made sense. He didn’t have pink pajamas. Krista had only been to his place once, and he would never slam a door in her face.

He’d sent her an email practically begging her to meet him at the gallery. His eyes had been darting around the mall all afternoon looking for her, longing to see her long blonde hair heading toward him. He never noticed the woman watching him through the window of a coffee shop close to the exit. 

***

Even after a week, Valerie Vine still had a hard time getting her head around it.   

Jack Morrison is one of seven people living in the same body. He exists just one day each week: Monday. And the man I’m looking at right now, the Thursday one, is another one of them. 

She was tempted to leave the shop, walk over to the gallery and talk to him but she didn’t want to push things until she understood the situation more completely. 

And that’s why we could only meet on Mondays.

At first, she’d had a hard time believing Manzer Doyle—the enormity of seven distinct individuals living in the same body. She’d heard about multiple personalities and seen the movies for the most infamous of them but this was so methodical. It wasn’t something caused by trauma or an accident. This was how they were born. And each of them existed for just that one day. She’d encountered some strange situations and people in her work but Jack Morrison was the strangest.

She wondered also at the seemingly impossible job their mother had in keeping their identities secret from the world and from each other. Doyle had explained briefly how she’d done it, giving them a laptop with seven partitions and allowing them to sign into each of their partitions with their own passwords, steering them towards online businesses, guiding them in reconciling their concept of the passage of time with the rest of the world.

And she’d been doing it for over thirty years.

She watched the one called Jacky as the same tall blonde woman from last week walked up behind him.

***

Krista hadn’t slept in days. She’d missed appointments with her new clients and wasn’t even sure if she still had any clients. She couldn’t remember if she’d eaten that day or the day before. She’d stayed inside for days ignoring her phone, not answering her emails. She was sure that Jacky loved her and she knew that she loved him. But why did he want to see her just one day a week? Why did he pretend not to recognize her on Sunday? He slammed the door in her face. Why would he do that? What kind of game was he playing with her?

 She was about ten feet away from Jacky, who was looking the other way as he talked with one of his customers, when she heard a voice from her side:

“Krista. I need to talk to you.”

It was a woman almost as tall as her and with blonde hair like hers. She’d never seen the woman before. “What? Who are you?”

“Hurry,” said the woman. “Into the coffee shop over there before he sees you. My name is Valerie and I have some interesting things to tell you about Jacky Carson.”

***

It took Valerie about five minutes to explain the situation to Krista and almost an hour answering questions and repeating key points before she began to accept the truth. Sometimes she was in tears and sometimes she laughed. Overall she was stunned. The man she loved existed just one day of the week and was replaced by others the remainder of the week. How about that?

So, I’m not crazy. He’s crazy. No…not crazy…just…

Just what is he? How can he exist for just one day a week? Where is he the rest of the week?  

But she knew where. He was in some form of hibernation while the personalities of the others emerged for each of their days. At first she’d thought Three Faces of Eve, but this wasn’t like that. These personalities didn’t surface because of stress or some random occurrence—they had a schedule: one day a week. Every week. Week after week. Year after year. For decades.

And none of them know about the others.

She wondered about this, about how it was even possible as she approached Jacky. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say to him, how she was going to handle this. She just knew that she loved him and that she wanted to be with him, even for just one day a week.

Krista had her knife. She still wondered why the hell she’d brought a knife. 

***

Jacky heard his name called quietly and immediately recognized the voice. He turned to see her just inches away and didn’t have a chance to say a word before she put her arms around his neck and practically rammed her lips into his. He wasn’t sure how long they kissed but he was aware of people starting to gather around them. Krista finished the kiss with a loud wet smack and buried her head in his chest. The people who’d stopped to stare began to move on, smiling for the most part.

“I won’t leave you again,” she said. “I understand now.”

Jacky thought for a moment. It was good to feel her head on his chest and her arms around him but he wasn’t sure that he knew what she meant by understand now.

“You understand?”

She looked up into his eyes, realizing that she had to be careful about the words she used, at least for as long as he didn’t know about the others.

“I understand that you need to have time to work on your art and I shouldn’t be gobbling it all up on you. I understand that you love me and I love you and we’re going to be together.” She smiled and kissed him again.

***

They’d practically torn their clothes off as soon as they walked through the door to Jacky’s flat. The revelation that Jacky was actually seven people living in one body slipped away as quickly as their clothes. It wasn’t until later when they lay together with her head on his chest that she started to think about what a relationship with Jacky would mean. She would be lying with him like this only once a week. They would have dinner together once a week. They could never go on a week long vacation together. They would never spend a weekend together. He would be her weekly man. 

She’d met the Sunday one, and what a coincidence that their names sounded alike. But the one on Sunday was definitely another person. And those pink pajamas. Where did the Sunday one keep them so that Jacky would never find them? And how…?

Once again, the questions flooded her mind. It was all so complicated and weird. She couldn’t imagine how their mother had managed to keep it all secret for so many years.

And then there was the matter of Valerie Vine. She was interested in one of the personalities, the Monday one, apparently a paranoid comic strip artist who’d been standing her up on dates for ages. Would she have to share Jacky with her as Jack? It was too complicated to think about now while she could feel his chest against her face and her legs wrapped into his. 

Yes, just focus on this moment for now. There will be lots of time to figure things out later and, after tonight, you won’t be seeing him for another week. Maybe I can sneak in next week after the Wednesday one falls asleep and actually wake up with Jacky. 

***

Jacky didn’t know what to say or where to begin saying it. He had so many questions but he was afraid to ask, afraid that this moment with her head on his chest and her body pressed against his would suddenly dissolve in the light of answers that neither one of them wanted think about. 

He just wanted to feel her breath on his chest and the warmth of her body forever. 

***

So, this is how it happens. And it happens every night. 

Krista sat on the side of the bed staring at Jacky’s face. She’d lay with him for almost an hour after he’d fallen asleep and then she got up slowly, silently and dressed. It was around one o’clock that the change began. It was so slight at first. A faint twitch around the mouth, movement under the eye lids. Then the body changed, the shift in posture followed by the shifts in his face, almost like its structure was changing. It was all so subtle at first and then it all came together in just a few seconds and the man in the bed, the man she loved, was gone, replaced by a man who would rise in a few hours, put on a red dress, pretend to smoke a cigar and write romance novels under a woman’s persona. 

At least he’s not the one wearing the pink pajamas. 

She went into the living room and opened the front door, picked up the box that Manzer had put there and went to the refrigerator before she left.

 

 

 

 

Episode 38: Wednesday – Jax

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Episode 38

“You must not fail my directive.”

I must not fail.

“I have given you the key.”

I have the key.

“You must kill the vermin that poisons the masses.”

Kill the vermin.

“It must be done tonight.”

Tonight.

“And there will be celebration.”

Celebration.

“And there will be celebration.”

Celebration.

“And there will be…”

Celebration.

’m going to be saved. We’re all going to be saved.

He heard a knock at the door. He wondered who would be knocking at his door this early in the morning. He wasn’t expecting anyone. It could be Mrs. Gilbert, but she always called in the afternoon if she needed to see him about something and there were no repairs that would require a visit from Mr. Joyce. He stood up and walked to the door. As he stood before it, he wondered why there was no peep hole so that he could see who was standing in the hall waiting for him to open the door. Could it be Simon Pierce? Was Pierce on to him? He was somewhere in this building, knowing that Jax knew where he was and was coming for him. Was he, in turn, coming for Jax? Was he at the door now? Another knock. And then a voice: “Jax? Are you home? It’s Uncle Manzer.”

He opened the door.

***

Shortly after Manzer left, Jax was back at his computer. He felt bad for Mrs. Gilbert and he thought that maybe he should go to the hospital to visit her but Manzer had said that Mrs. Gilbert really didn’t want to see anyone while she was in the hospital.

Then he had asked Manzer about the other tenants in the building. Manzer had looked a little confused at first, possibly even flustered but Jax had persisted, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of them, which seems strange for the length of time I’ve lived here. I don’t even hear them walking in the hallways or see them leaving or entering the building.”

Manzer suddenly smiled, as if something had just occurred to him. “Well, Jax, the number of tenants has been dwindling. Mrs. Gilbert has been planning for some time now to do some extensive renovations so, when a tenant leaves, she hasn’t re-rented their flat. It’s something she’s been talking about for years now, and I sometimes wonder if she’ll ever actually do it. And as far as I know, and I’m not sure of this, you may be the only tenant currently in the building.”

The only tenant?

It didn’t make any sense. Simon Pierce had to be in the building somewhere, whether Mrs. Gilbert knew about it or not. And Manzer wasn’t entirely sure that he was the only tenant left. Whatever the case, it was his calling to find Pierce and kill him…and somehow, he would do it.

He’d tried several times to get back into Pierce’s computer but he couldn’t remember the password. In fact, he couldn’t actually remember having known the password. It had been something he’d just keyed in without being consciously aware what he was keying in. He touched he bump on his head and noticed that the cut was almost completely healed.

But aren’t they always?

If not for the bump, he might have started doubting that he’d been on Pierce’s computer and had searched the attic to find and kill him. He thought about this. Find and kill him. He had a knife. He was going to find Simon Pierce and stab him until he was dead. There would be blood. Gurgling noises. Maybe screams of horror. Begging for mercy. The feeling of the blade tearing through flesh. What would that feel like? Would he look into Pierce’s eyes as the life drifted out of them and dissipated into the air? Would his eyes be wide with terror or would they close peacefully, grateful that the agony of his life was finally over?

He rushed to the washroom and vomited for nearly an hour, most of it dry heaves.

Back at his computer, he wondered why Ratlas had given him the job of killing Pierce. He wasn’t a killer. He wasn’t an assassin. He was the carrier of the word, the message. He was like a carrier pigeon. Why would Ratlas choose him to do something he was so unequipped to do? His head was still spinning from the hour in the washroom. His whole body felt puffy and unnatural. His mind was a blank when he thought about killing Pierce. He just couldn’t see it.

It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t checked his email. There would almost certainly be a comment from Pierce.

***

Just how crazy is this?

Manzer chuckled.

He doesn’t realize that he wants to kill himself. Good thing they’ll never meet. And a good thing that he’s decided to do it himself and not hire someone else to do it.

He wondered about Jax getting access to Jac’s partition on the computer though. It shouldn’t have happened. Unless, somehow, the there was some kind of crossover between the characters. Manzer figured that, if all seven personalities occupied the same body and brain, it might be possible for one to occasionally slip into the other. In this case, Jax might be stopping himself from hiring an outside killer, knowing that he would never be able to do it himself: and thus, they both stay alive.

Unless Jax accidentally kills himself while trying to kill Jac.

Manzer smiled and chuckled at the irony.

Again he wondered about the work that Natalie had done for so many years, keeping their identities from each other, the continual balancing acts to allow each of them to function in the world outside their separate identities, knowing when things were getting out of control and devising ways to bring things back into balance. He pictured her as a juggler of lives in an act that never stopped and continuously switched the stage out from under her feet with all the pins still in the air. And the only fuel she’d ever had was her love for each of them. He’d asked her once why she was so afraid to let them just be one individual.

“That would be murder.” She’d left it at that.

But over the years, they’d discussed the dark side of the world her children were born into. None of them would ever be married. What woman would marry one man who was really six men and a woman? How would she cope with the barrage of seven personalities going through all the changes in life, the mood swings, the separate needs, the daily wants and desires of seven separate people.

And now one of them was planning on getting a sex change at a time when the outside world was beginning to barge in with a fury that Manzer couldn’t imagine any amount of juggling bringing it back in tune. The pins were about to fly in whatever direction they would fly.

And Natalie was in the hospital.

***

Jax’s hands were shaking as he opened his blog and saw the comment.

Of all the people to leave comments, it has to be the greatest of evils that must be purged from the firmament to stop its flow of vitriol into the veins and arteries of the world.

His skin crawled as he read the comment.

Fuck you.

Blood boiled into his face. He felt a tingle across the top of his head. A deep shake ignited through his entire body.

Once again, he desecrates The Word and Its Forms and Meanings. And from the very structure where it originates. Simon Pierce must die.

He closed his eyes, opened himself to it, and let his fingers flow into the letters and words, carrying their message.

IT COMES FOR YOU ON JOSLIN STREET SIMON PIERCE. YOUR PUTREFACTION OF OUR SPECIES WILL SOON END. YOUR TORCH OF DARKNESS WILL BE EXTINGUISHED. YOU WILL JOIN THE LEGIONS OF EARTH-WALKING DEMONS TO BE EXORCISED FROM WORLDLY EXISTENCE IN THE LARGE PASSAGE OF TIME THAT IS WHAT IT SEEKS TO SAVE.

YOU ARE THE EVIL OF PLASTIC.

THE USE OF WHICH SHOULD BE DISCONTINUED IMMEDIATELY.

There Simon Pierce. Shudder in the knowledge.

***

Tonight is the night. If all the other flats are vacant, then there is only one other place he can be hiding—the basement. This time I’ll be ready.

He knew what he had to do this time. He needed to put together a kit:

Flashlight.

Granola bar.

Knife.

He laid the kit on the kitchen table, pondering it, thinking about what else he might need. He thought about mace but he had no idea where to buy it. But he did have the knife. He had no idea about the lighting arrangements in the basement so the flashlight might come in handy. He had no idea why he included the granola bar but it just seemed right. He thought about rope but he decided that he didn’t want to take Pierce prisoner, he just wanted to kill him. He stuffed the objects in to a leather pouch.

Before he left his flat to kill Simon Pierce, he went to the washroom and threw up.

***

It had taken him about fifteen minutes to find the door to the basement. He’d never realized how big the building was and it seemed more than a little strange that he was currently the only tenant besides Mrs. Gilbert.

The stairs leading into the basement were steep and led into a musky darkness. He found the light switch and flicked it. Nothing happened. He wondered how Mr. Joyce could have missed something like this but he countered this thought by assuming that, if someone were living in the basement, then Mr. Joyce wouldn’t be going there and he wouldn’t have known about the light. He felt a thrill. It was beginning to appear more likely that Simon Pierce was using the basement as his headquarters. He reached into the leather pouch and pulled out the flashlight. He thought a moment and pulled out the knife. It felt solid in his hand. He felt safer, assured. Soon the plague of Pierce would be gone. The world would be free of the one who would undo the good that Ratlas was trying to accomplish, the one who would diminish The Word and Its Forms and Meanings. He left the pouch and the granola bar on the top step. There would be time for feasting when Simon Pierce was dead.

He felt a need to throw up again. He breathed in deeply three times and the feeling passed. It was time to kill Simon Pierce. He turned the flashlight on and stepped down slowly. He felt a cobweb on his right cheek.

Just the kind of place a demented soul would hide to conduct his war on everything good in the world.

He bounced the flashlight beam onto the walls, ceiling and floor as he descended. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he shone the light quickly into the darkness to the left and right. With the exception of a huge ancient-looking furnace, the basement was empty.

No. He has to be here. He has to be here. Somewhere in here.

He saw a wooden, crate-like door at the far end of the basement.

There you are.

He shone the light on the floor and started to walk slowly, carefully, to the door. He tightened his grip on the knife. He thought about trying a few practice thrusts in the air but decided that was a little too dramatic. As he approached the door, he shone the light a little to his rear, giving just enough light to see the door and its latch but not enough to alert Pierce. When he reached the door, he faced a dilemma: How to open it? He had the flashlight in one hand and the knife in the other. He decided that he needed the knife more. He couldn’t imagine himself beating Pierce to death with the flashlight. That would take too much time, and he wasn’t sure how big or strong Pierce might be. The knife was the equalizer.

He bent down and lay the flashlight on the floor, stood up and reached for the door latch. At exactly that moment, an uncommonly large black spider dropped on a thread of web directly in front of his eyes.

He screamed.

It was a long, loud, fearful scream. It penetrated the walls and the beams in the ceiling. When it finally tapered to a whimper, the spider was gone. He couldn’t see the thread of webbing and wondered if the spider, frightened by his scream had climbed back up into the ceiling or if it was on the floor…or on his clothing. With his free hand, he frantically brushed the front of his shirt. When he finally calmed down and was able to think rationally again, his first thought was that he might have lost the element of surprise. He reached out to the door latch, pressed down and flung the door open.

He faced a pitch dark room. He picked up the flashlight and aimed it into the darkness. The room was empty except for a single uncovered light in the ceiling. He flicked a switch to his right and the light came on, illuminating an empty room.

This can’t be. He has to be here. He has to be here somewhere.

He checked the floor for trapdoors. No trapdoors. He checked the ceiling for pull-down staircases. No pull-down staircases. No windows to crawl through if he’d heard Jax’s scream. Simon Pierce wasn’t in the basement. The other flats were unoccupied. Mrs. Gilbert was planning on renovations so she hadn’t let them out to new tenants.

But I found his address. I found it on his computer.

He started to wonder about that, about how something like that could happen, right out of the blue, for no reason. How would he know the password? His mind flew off in a dozen directions. He felt weak and exhausted. Simon Pierce would have to wait for another time to die. Jax had to figure out what was going on, why he was so sure he’d gotten into his personal computer and why he thought the demon was living in the same building as himself.

Besides, it was almost the time and he was sure he had to throw up once more.

 

 

 

Episode 37: Tuesday – Jackson

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Episode 37

Jackson didn’t spend much time wondering about the bump on his head. He didn’t even look at it in the mirror. This kind of thing had happened before and he’d long since learned that it was best to just let it pass. Everything healed. 

Besides, his stomach and chest were tight with stress. He was actually going to go outside and meet two of his clients, in a coffee shop, with other people sitting at tables, eyeing him as he walked in. And what if an argument broke out between Jody and Roy? What if they started yelling? What if there were a fight? They might all end up in jail. And they would certainly be noticed. His stomach felt like a piece of petrified stone. Nothing seemed real. The room wasn’t spinning but he had a sense of movement that didn’t feel right. He felt like he was going to be sick but he hadn’t eaten yet so there was nothing to vomit. Why had he agreed to this meeting? Why hadn’t he just stood up to the two of them and told them to stick to the normal routine? But it was too late now. He’d already made the commitment. He had to go through with this. He had to go to the meeting, to the coffee shop, outside. But how would he get there? He thought for a moment.

Taxi. I’ll call for a taxi.

Outside the window, light rain cast a grey pallor over the park. It didn’t stop a few of the seniors who’d brought umbrellas and towels to wipe the water off the benches. The runners looked exactly the same. Just another day on the running route. Two mothers with umbrellas pushed their baby carriages. He walked across the floor to his work station and turned on his laptop. There would be plenty of taxi companies online.

In a few minutes, he had one and wrote down the number. He didn’t expect any mail from Jody and Roy since he sent his confirmation but he checked his email anyway. 

What the hell? 

There were about a dozen emails from them, mostly from Jody.

What is this?

He opened the first of the emails. It was from Roy.

Arial 56

What? What’s he talking about? 

He opened an email from Jody.

Arial 57

What is going on here? The meeting’s not till nine. What are these two talking about? And what does this asshole mean by my recent behavior? And he’s looking forward to my compliance? 

There were still about a dozen more emails. He decided to skip to the end and opened the last one from each of them, Roy’s first.

Arial 58

Have they both gone out of their minds? The meeting’s not for another two hours. Another two hours!   

He opened the last of Jody’s emails.

Arial 59

Jackson felt like his mind was spinning, like his whole world was spinning. None of it made any sense to him. The meeting wasn’t for another two hours, yet both men had sent emails accusing him of not showing up. It made no sense. He read through the other emails, one of them from Jody accusing him of going for days without getting back to him with an explanation. How could days have passed on something that hadn’t even happened yet? He put his hand on his head and felt the bump. 

And what’s that all about? How did I cut my head? How do these things happen? He recalled a conversation with his mother. It was in the big kitchen many years ago.

“You’re a very special person, Jackson.”

“Why is that, Mom? Why am I a special person?” He smiled sheepishly. She’d said this to him so many times. He had it all memorized word for word but he never tired hearing it. 

“It’s your mind, honey. It operates at a much different level than the minds of other people. It’s almost…”

“…like it operates in a different world.” He giggled.

“That’s right, Jackson. It’s like a gift that will allow you to do things that others can’t.” She put her hand on top of his. “But there will be things that might confuse you, things that come from people who don’t have your abilities, people who live on a different plane of being from yours. There will be misunderstandings and times when things happen that you may not be able to explain. When this happens…”

“…just shrug it off and move past it.” He giggled again. “It’s the others who aren’t making sense. Because they’re in a different world.”

They’d had that talk so many times and it had always made sense to him. It was like the bump on his head. It was there, but he had no idea what had happened or when it had happened. And this had happened many times in the past. What always bothered him, though, was that this didn’t seem to be from the outside world, from the others. This was something that had happened to him, something that he’d done. It was his head, his bump. He’d been personally injured and he should remember how it had happened and when. But, as in the past, there was no memory, no clues, nothing. Something had happened to him and he didn’t have a trace of memory of it. Just like every other time.

And now he was being accused of missing a meeting that hadn’t even happened yet. 

And now there was a knock at the door. He assumed it would be Mrs. Gilbert as he opened the door and was surprised to see Manzer Doyle facing him, his massive body cutting off most of the view through the doorway. His smile seemed so out of kilter with his body, warm and friendly, and completely unimposing.

“So,” he said, “are you going to invite your Uncle Manzer in?”

It took Jackson a few seconds to grasp the situation before he almost jumped to attention and swung the door fully open. “Yes! Yes, Uncle Manzer. Come in.” He moved aside to let the huge man into the room. “Would you like a coffee or something?”

“That would be good, but I’m afraid I have a lot of things to do this morning and right into the afternoon. I’ll be here for a few days, so maybe sometime soon.” His chest heaved as he sighed and the smile fell from his face. “But now, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“What is it, Uncle Manzer?”

“It’s Mrs. Gilbert.” He paused for a second. “She’s OK now, but she had a heart attack and she’s in the hospital. She’ll be out soon but in the meantime, I’ll be managing a few things in her place. Mr. Joyce is on a weeklong canoe trip somewhere in the middle of nowhere with no way to contact him.”

Jackson almost lost his balance.

Is the whole world coming undone?

“A heart attack? Mrs. Gilbert? But I was just talking to her. She was the picture of health. When did this happen?”

Manzer thought about this for a moment. Jackie had had a hard time believing that she would miss something as dramatic and obvious as an ambulance coming to the building and taking someone away. He decided to change the facts a little. 

“Apparently, she felt something coming on and took a taxi to the hospital. She arrived there just in time. The heart attack started in the admissions room. It seems that she was in the right place at the right time.”

“I wish she had come to see me, though, so that I could have gone to the hospital with her. Why wouldn’t she have done that? I mean, something that serious and just taking a cab by herself?”

“Well, you know Mrs. Gilbert, always looking after others and refusing to let anyone look after her. Besides, everything turned out alright. She survived the heart attack, and that’s the important thing.”

“Would have been nice if she’d mentioned something, though.”

“She most likely felt a sense of urgency and probably wasn’t thinking her clearest.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. So, she’ll be home soon?”

“That’s what the doctors say. She’s a strong woman and she hates hospitals.”

Manzer stayed for a few more minutes, assuring Jackson that if he needed anything he would be there for him. As soon as he walked out the door, Jackson was back at his computer trying to figure out what was going on with Jody and Roy. The meeting was in another hour and he had a slew of emails accusing him of missing it.

***

It was late. Jackson had been staring at his laptop screen most of the day. Since he’d returned from the coffee shop, he vaguely remembered going to the washroom, making a sandwich at some point, but most of the day was obscured by a deep funk. Too many things had happened over the years, and the things his mother had told him to explain those things weren’t as assuring as they used to be. He wanted to know how he’d received the bump on his head. Something as traumatic as an accident that would cause a bump the size of the one on his head would be something not easily forgotten. There had to have been blood and intense pain. How could he forget that?

And this thing with Jody and Roy. What was that all about? He’d gone to the Floret Coffee Shop and arrived there exactly on time but neither men were there. It didn’t make any sense that they would be angry at him for not making it to a meeting that hadn’t even happened. And when he tried to make it happen, they weren’t there. 

Just before it was time, it finally sunk in on him. There was nothing wrong with the rest of the world. 

There was something wrong with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 36: Monday – Jack

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

Episode 36

And there it was again. Another injury without explanation. Another piece of his life evaporated into…where? It hadn’t happened for a long time, at least nothing this serious. It was a big bump and strangely the cut was almost healed. How could he have gone this long without noticing it? A small cut to one of his fingers, a scraped knee or some other minor injury he could understand not noticing but this was over the cliff. 

Someone was messing with his head. Someone was somehow controlling his mind, robbing him of his memories and he was sure that he knew who was behind it.

Vine. Valerie Vine. The man had called her Valerie. And he was so obviously government or some sort of agency.

He should have known better. All the signs were there and the PDF confirmed that the covert glances and signals, the repeated attempts to meet and the patience with each failed meeting were all part of something going on under the surface of things. Why would any woman in her right mind put up with all that? 

Unless it was a trap. Unless she was luring him into the thing he’d been evading all his adult life. Crosby would have been disappointed with him. He’d played right into her hands, their hands. He’d been a fool. An idiot. 

 So why the hell did he still love her? 

***

Valerie Vine was still shaken from her crazy episode at the mall. She’d been so sure that the man at the holographic gallery was Jack. He even had a similar name. But there was nothing of Jack in those eyes. Nothing of Jack in his posture or presence. Even his voice was different. And he genuinely did not recognize her. There was no way he could have feigned that so convincingly. She’d come onto him completely unexpected. There would have been a fraction of an instant in which something in his eyes would have given him away. But there wasn’t. The man she’d seen at the mall was not Jack. He was someone else.

But the resemblance was uncanny.

And then there was that little matter of the day thing. The only contact she’d ever had with Jack was on Monday. He’d long ago said something about that being his only day to have any contact with others. The rest of the days, even weekends, he was absorbed by his comic strip and other things. She’d always passed that off as an eccentric artist thing, which didn’t seem so abnormal considering where she worked and the people she worked with. 

She’d never actually investigated Jack even though that was her job. She’d started, and then she’d come across his comic strip. There was something in the flow of it, the tight-knit group of kids. There almost seemed to be a sense of warmth in the midst of danger and threat. She’d changed the direction of her investigation into something more personal. She approached him through his email, as a fan. And it had grown over time. The things she wrote about were all real, things she actually felt and thought about, things from her real life. Her job excepted, of course. And she looked forward to his lame excuses for not showing up at each rendezvous almost as much as planning them. 

All-in-all, she’d been pretty much hands off with him. But something weird had caught her attention at the mall. According to the schedule of hours at Jacky Carson’s gallery, he was there every Thursday to meet with the public. Every Thursday. Just the one day a week.

It was time to look more closely at Jack Morrison on a more professional level. He hadn’t sent his usual apology and excuse for missing their meeting. She decided to send him an email asking why, and then begin looking very closely at this man who she thought she knew so intimately but had never met. And yes, she would see what he was up to the other six days of the week.

***

About three seconds after he opened his email, her message jumped into his Inbox. He sat for a few moments with his hands on the keyboard as a horde of thoughts galloped through his mind, none of them surviving long enough to make any sense before being trampled by the next. His hand moved slowly to the mouse pad. His finger shook as he opened the email.

Arial 53

She knows where I live. 

***

Manzer smiled when he read the woman’s email. Natalie had told him about the relationship between Jack and the woman who signed her emails Vine. She’d shown him some of the excuses for not showing up. Both he and Natalie agreed that whoever this woman was, she was either infinitely patient or infinitely desperate.

Again, the thought crossed his mind: how did she keep all of this together for so long, keeping seven separate people from finding out that they shared one body, and keeping their secret from the rest of the world? He imagined that there must have been so many times when the whole balancing act came close to tumbling. He was overwhelmed by the enormity of her accomplishment but he was beginning to wonder how much longer she could keep it up. And she’d just had a heart attack. She would need rest. She wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace these seven set for her. Plus, it looked like things were getting more complicated than at any time in the past. The outside world was trying to spring into their lives and it was beginning to look like there would be no stopping it. A woman Jacky had had sex with had come knocking on Jackie’s door. A woman who’d waited patiently for over a year for Jack to finally meet with him was making an ultimatum. And what were the important things she wanted to talk about? Natalie had tried to find out more about Vine but she was untraceable, almost as though she didn’t exist online. Manzer had wondered about that at first. He’d known people in various departments and agencies like that, and none of them were good news. But as time passed and nothing extreme had happened to Jack except weekly failures to actually meet with the woman, he’d assumed that she was just another eccentric like Jack and maybe she was some kind of computer geek who knew how to hide her identity. She’d made the occasional reference in her emails to data work but she’d never been very specific about her job. 

And then there was the problem with Natalie. She was going to leave the hospital early, against the advice of her doctor. She’d always been hard-headed but this time there was a lot more at stake. Her health might never return to the pre-heart attack level—just when crises beyond anything that had happened in the past were beginning to develop with the kids.

He stood up and took his empty coffee cup to the kitchen. He wondered what the kids would think if they ever came into Mrs. Gilbert’s kitchen and saw so many of the things they grew up with in their childhood house. He put the cup in the sink and decided it was time to pay a visit to Jack. 

***

She knows where I live.

He heard a knock at the door. 

Oh no. Who’s that? Who’s knocking on my door. What would Crosby do? 

After a couple of minutes, a slightly louder knock.

Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

He heard a voice. “Jack, are you in there? It’s me, Uncle Manzer. Can you answer the door?”

Oh shit. He rushed to the door and opened it.

“Uncle Manzer! I didn’t expect to see you. Come in.” He stood aside to let Manzer in. 

As he made his way to the couch, he said, “I’m not sure if you’ve heard about Mrs. Gilbert.”

“I saw an ambulance take her away. Mr. Joyce was there but I didn’t get a chance to speak to him, and no one has been around since. 

“Mr Joyce is on vacation. And Mrs. Gilbert is doing very well. They got her there in time and now she’s making a swift recovery. She’s a very strong woman.”

“I’m glad to hear that. And you’re right, she is a very strong woman. She’s always been there for me whenever I’ve needed her for anything, her and Mr. Joyce.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Jack.” He shifted his weight to the right to lean on his elbow. “She’s going to be home soon but, in the meantime, I’ll be dropping in to take care of things. If there’s anything you need, let me know.”

***

Back in Natalie’s apartment, Manzer wondered about Jack. He’d seen Natalie being put into the ambulance but hadn’t come down, hadn’t made any inquiries, hadn’t gone to the hospital. But then, Jack was someone who had likely seen the whole incident as part of a scheme from whatever secret forces to undermine him and do whatever evil it was they did.

How does she manage to deal with all this? 

***

As soon as Manzer was out the door, Jack rushed back to his email.

She knows about me backing away from the meetings. But how could she not? How could I have been so stupid to think that she would believe all those lame excuses? 

She knows where I live. She’s coming here. At nine. She’s coming here. She knows where I live. And what are these important things she wants to talk about? Who’s she working for? Who was that man in the restaurant? And what does she mean by “you better be there”? That sounds like an “or else.” Or else what? But she followed it with a smile. Like she meant it playfully. Think, Jack. This has been going on for so long now. Nothing bad has ever happened to you because of her. All those long emails, all the stories and personal stuff. All of that had to be real. But she never mentioned anything about her work, what she did for a living with..data. She always kept that from you. And you never wondered why. You never stopped to think that this is how she feels about this and this is what she thinks about that, this is her story about the fish stand on Charlotte Street when she was a kid and this is her story about the time she broke her leg when she was a cheerleader. But what does she do? Who does she work for? How does she know where I live? 

She’s going to be here at nine.

He stared at the computer screen for about twenty minutes with his brain paralyzed with panic. It was like he’d known all along that it would come to something like this. He’d blanked many things out of his mind but he realized that was something he’d been doing all his life. There had been so many things that he couldn’t explain, so he’d just shrugged his shoulders and let them slide away into some faraway graveyard of unanswered questions.

She’s going to be here at nine.

He put his hand on his head and felt the bump. It was smaller, healing. The scab on the cut was almost gone. Healing.

How could I have missed the healing? 

He re-read her email. Twice.

She’s going to be here at nine?

He didn’t have a choice this time. It wasn’t a matter of her inviting him to meet at a coffee shop, bar or restaurant. She wasn’t inviting. She wasn’t suggesting. She was telling him that she was going to come to his place at nine that evening and there was no way out. He had to be there.  He had nowhere to run. After all his years of paranoia, he’d never actually devised an escape route. He’d never worked out the details of what to do if he were cornered. Where would he go? What would he do? Who would help him? He had no friends. There was Mrs. Gilbert and Mr. Joyce but, even after all the years he’d known them, he didn’t really know them. And Mrs. Gilbert was in the hospital. Mr. Joyce was on vacation. He’d never met any of the other tenants in the building. He was alone.

She’s coming here at nine. 

***

It was starting to get dark out. Jack looked at his computer screen, at the reply he’d sent to her. 

Arial 54

She knows where I live.

***

Just as Valerie was about to knock on the door, she felt a hand on her shoulder. It wasn’t threatening or tight, but it was firm and it was a large hand. She turned in its direction and looked up. The man was huge, and Valerie would have felt threatened except for his eyes. There was a warmth in them that drew her eyes immediately. He removed his hand from her shoulder and put a finger to his lips. He signaled her to follow him.

He led her downstairs to a flat facing the front of the building and extended right to the back. The interior was rustic, as though the place was lifted right out of a rural area at the turn of the nineteenth century. The man motioned toward the couch with his hand as he sat in a chair across from it. “Have a seat Ms Vine. I have an interesting story to tell you about Jack. And his siblings.” 

Valerie listened without saying a word.

***

Jack waited for the knock at the door. He knew it was coming. Nothing could stop it from coming. She knew where he lived. She knew everything. And she was one of them. But she meant him no harm. They were finally going to meet. 

And what then? 

Guess we’ll just have to work through that.

He felt a distant sense of relief. The charade was over. The excuses were no longer necessary. He would actually be with her, looking into her eyes as she told him the stories she’d written about. And he could tell his stories, into her eyes. He was starting to look forward to this. He looked at the time on his laptop. Nine thirty. 

Traffic. She’s probably caught in traffic, or her cab was late. Cab caught in traffic.

Another ten minutes passed. And another ten minutes. It dawned on him slowly. At first, it didn’t make sense. It was the last thing that he expected. He would never have dreamed that this could happen. He opened his email. 

***

For the first time in ages, Valerie Vine was having a glass of wine at home. It was something she’d stopped doing when she started working for the agency, thinking that she would need to keep a clear mind at all times in her current employment. Lately, she’d begun to doubt that and, after her conversation with Manzer Doyle, she needed a glass of wine and she needed to drink it alone. 

It was a far-fetched story, but it answered so many questions. And she would be checking things out, just to assure herself that it was true. She looked at the screen on her laptop. She felt like she should write something to him but she had no idea what. She sipped her wine. A notice jumped up on her email. 

“Well, I’ve got mail.”

It was from Jack. She opened it.

Arial 55

She laughed out loud, sipped some more wine and closed the laptop. She would get back to him tomorrow, even though he wouldn’t see her reply until next Monday.