Episode 47: Friday – Jacques

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Episode 47

Jacques loved his new see-through black bodice, his sheer black nylons and straps. They’d arrived first thing that morning. He felt sexy and powerful. He felt young and rejuvenated. His entire body tingled. He felt light and carefree and daring. He had the hardest erection he’d had in years.

Jasmine Jackson was dead. Long live the Insufferable Bitch.

He’d already set up a new website, using his Photoshop skills to make composites of royalty free images to create a den of pure sexual suffering. He used the couch with the ecstatic compressed men as inspiration, creating images of erotic horror with men tied to walls and posts, metal chairs and slabs of granite…chained men hanging upside down, their faces bloated with pleasure as women wearing only nylons and straps, and carrying whips, patrolled the landscape of beatific trapped men.

He had a Home page, a Contact page, an About page and a link to the Insufferable Bitch’s blog. He also had a tab leading to the Books page.

All he had to do now was write a book, and he already had a good start on that.

She kept him in a box. And he loved that she kept him in a box.

She said, “I know you want this as much as I do.”

And he did. He wanted her to keep him in the box. He loved her. He was her art. She could do anything she wanted to him and that made him love her more. And he loved her for what she was doing to him. Escape was impossible. He loved her too much to even think of escape. His freedom was his choice to let her put him in the box day after day.

She was an artist.

He hadn’t eaten in months. He hadn’t had water or any other liquid in months. He survived on his love for her. He lived for her art. He lived for her purpose. He was never without an erection. His cock throbbed continuously. She wouldn’t let him wear clothing. She said that it amused her to see his erection, especially when she put him in the box.

And when he watched her with any of her dozens of lovers. She tied him to a chair by the side of the bed, using ribbons instead of rope, ribbons made stronger than steel by his love for her and his need to be her art.

That was all she ever let him out of the box to do, watch her with her lovers, and he loved to watch her. She was perfect and her lovers were perfect. He lived for the ecstatic convolutions of their perfect bodies and the otherworldly music of their moans and shrieks of joy. Sometimes, it went on for days of non-stop orgasms and ejaculations, and when they were done, her lover would leave and she would put him back into the box, smiling confidently at his twitching erection.

“It will be soon,” she said.

“I know,” he said.

“My art demands it,” she said.

“I know,” he said.

“You must want it as much as I do,” she said.

“I do,” he said.

“There can be no turning back,” she said.

“I will never turn back,” he said.

And knowing the fate she had in store for him, he let her gently push his head down into the box as his erection throbbed madly with his love for her.

He re-read the opening to the Insufferable Bitch’s first book and was happy.

Not bad for first draft material. Have to go into a little more detail on the sex scene and get into this guy’s head a little more, but not bad for first draft.

He wrote for another hour before packing the Insufferable Bitch into the closet and becoming Jacques Manning again. He liked this coexistence of two people of the opposite sex, and thought it was kind of cool to have what he saw as two different personalities living in one body.

Now, as Jacques, he would read his mail while figuring out a way to close down Jasmine Jackson for good. Maybe Jasmine would have a heart attack or die a protracted death that would carry on for months and possibly spur sales of her books. He had time to figure all of that out.

In the meantime, he would start building on the Bitch’s blog. He would use the same imagery as in the website and make up stories of the author’s sadistic sex life. This was going to be fun.

He heard a familiar knock at the door.

Sounds like Mrs. Gilbert is out of the hospital.

He walked to the door and opened it. There was Mrs. Gilbert, eyes sparkling in a framework of wrinkles and looking more like she’d just returned from a cruise in the Caribbean than from the hospital.

***

Looking at Jacques in his blue housecoat, Natalie couldn’t help but wonder what he looked like in his new bodice and nylons.

“Mrs. Gilbert.” He looked genuinely concerned. “It’s so good to see you again. Manzer told me about your heart attack. I didn’t expect you to be out so soon. I wanted to come and see you at the hospital but I’ve had some affairs that have kept me much too busy. But, look at you. You’re the picture of health.”

“Thank you, Jacques.” She crossed her arms over her chest and smiled. “I’ve never liked hospitals and I believe people recover faster when they’re not cooped up in a building full of sick people.”

“That’s a wonderful philosophy and it looks like it works. I would never dream that you’d just had heart problems. And if there’s anything I can do for you, please, Mrs. Gilbert, let me know.”

“Thank you, Jacques. I really appreciate that, but I think I’ll be good for now. I just wanted to drop by to let you know that I’m out of the hospital and everything’s fine.”

***

As Natalie walked back to her flat she wondered about Jacques. Of the seven of them, he was the one who gave her the least amount of problems. He was always the least demanding, the least questioning and the one who most easily accepted the disparities that came with sharing one body with six other people. But then, he was living dual lives on his own. A female romance writer in the mornings and sometimes into the afternoon and evening, depending on how much of a writer’s roll Jasmine was on, and the rest of the time, he was a man who often hung around laundromats.

***

Jacques spent most of the rest of the day sending out messages and writing blogging about Jasmine had becoming seriously ill, a likely outcome of having had her computer hacked.

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He patted himself on the back. He re-read the post and patted himself again. He would give them a wonderful drama with posts following posts right up to Jasmine’s death. It would be even more mesmerizing for Jasmine’s fans, because it would be real life drama.

Or so they would think.

And now it was time for some beer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 46: Thursday – Jacky

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Episode 46

It felt good, waking up feeling Krista’s rump pressed against his. He thought she was asleep until he felt her press closer, harder, and he realized that she had deliberately waked him up. 

Now this is how you start the day 

He turned and snuggled into her back, his erection sliding between her legs. She squeezed it with her thighs. 

“Someone woke up feeling frisky,” she said.

“Someone woke me up feeling frisky.”

She turned her head and kissed him and turned her body, laying on her back. As he rolled his body on top of hers, he saw her jeans and blue sweater on the chair by his bed. He seemed to remember her wearing a brown blouse and skirt. She pulled him down onto her and wrapped her legs around him. He forgot about the chair and everything on it.

***

They walked to a restaurant for blueberry pancakes and coffee. Jacky brought his camera and had taken half a dozen shots before reaching the restaurant.

He watched as Krista dug enthusiastically into her pancakes. 

“Hungry?” he said.

“Starved,” she said through a mouthful of pancakes, trying to smile as she chewed. “She sipped some coffee and swallowed. “You kept me awake pretty late last night, Jacky.”

He smiled and then looked confused. Krista noticed. 

“What is it? You look suddenly very thoughtful.”

“Um…nothing really.” He stirred his coffee with the spoon “It’s just that…well…it seems like I remember you wearing a brown blouse and skirt last night but you’re dressed differently today.”

Shit, thought Krista. A week’s difference for me, one night for him. Have to start being careful what I wear. Time to change the subject. 

“Oh…that’s…” she said. “Oh…look!” She pointed out the window.

Jacky looked in the direction she pointed but didn’t see anything unusual. “What are you looking at? I don’t see anything.”

“The brick building. See the green vines all on one side? Do they count as plants taking back the city?”

Jacky laughed and took a big gulp of coffee. “Never really thought about that. Guess I’ve never thought of that type of vine as a wild plant. I mean, we plant them so that they’ll grow on the building. They’re sort of ornamental.” He lifted a forkful of pancake smothered in syrup to his mouth and held it at the tip of his lips. “So…you have the whole day off?” He stuffed the pancake into his mouth.

“Yep,” said Krista. “I don’t have anything really pressing at the moment and just wanted to spend the day with you.”

Almost as soon as the words left her mouth, it hit her. She would have to be careful about the times she would see him. Being self-employed, she could make her own hours, but she would have to miss the occasional Thursday to make it convincing. 

“And how is being self-employed working for you so far?”

“I was just thinking about that. I love it. I pretty much get to set my own hours. If a client wants to meet at a certain time and I don’t want to, then I can just say that I’m already scheduled for that time. I love it.”

“So, did you have to reschedule for me?”

She reached over and put one finger on his arm. “Just dropped everything to spend the day with you.”

“Glad to hear that.” Another gulp of coffee. “Do you like your clients?”

“Haven’t worked with them long enough yet to really know them well, and I only have three clients so far but they seem nice. So, yes. So far, yes.”

God, she’s so beautiful. It’s going to work this time. It’s going to work.

He reached over the table and held both her hands in his. “Krista, have you ever done any modeling?”

She laughed and blushed. “No. Never, Jacky. I get nervous and very self-conscious in front of a camera.”

“You just need more camera time.”

“Jacky, I…”

“I don’t feel like going to the mall today. I think it’s time to take a break. You took today off to spend with me and now I want to take the day off to spend with you. Let’s just walk around and I’ll take pictures of you…”

Krista giggled. “I told you, Jacky, I’m not good in front of a…”

“You won’t even know I’m taking your picture. All you have to do is the kind of stuff you would normally do: smell flowers, look in store windows, walk down the street. Totally unposed. You just being you. And I’ll delete any pictures you don’t like. C’mon, let’s do it. I can tell from your smile that you’re interested. C’mon…it’ll be fun.”

She looked at him sternly, closing one eye. “And you’ll delete any shots I don’t like? You really will?”

Jacky crossed his heart. “Promise.”

“OK. But I’m not posing.”

“Right. Not posing.”

***

She posed. 

And Jacky had found a new favorite model other than flowers and plants breaking through bricks and concrete. She posed with flowers growing through the cracks of asphalt and lush green leaves sprouting out of sidewalks and the whole time she posed she laughed and he fell in love with her laugh. He could see the excitement in her eyes and the reluctance in her voice as she said, “Jacky, I’ll just make the plants look bad.” She was modest about her looks and so down to earth and Jacky knew that he wanted this woman in his life forever.

But, as she lay pressed against him after an evening of love-making, there was something at the  back of his mind, something just under the surface of everything that had passed during the day that he couldn’t bring into focus. He was no stranger to this feeling. It had been there in every failed relationship in his life, as though he knew from the start that it was going no further, that something would happen to bring it to an end. It always did.

But not this time. This time, he would make it last. This time, he would find a way to keep Krista with him. They would lead a normal life together. They would get married, live together, have babies. 

But as he thought these thoughts, that deep simmering doubt nagged at the peripheries of his mind, unseen and undefined as he sank into a dreamless sleep. 

 

 

Episode 45: Wednesday – Jax

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Episode 45

Jax read and re-read the comment.

HEY CRAZY GUY,

THANKS FOR THE INSPIRATION.

SIMON PIERCE

Inspiration? We’ll see how inspired you are when I’m killing you Simon Pierce.

He stood up and looked around at the walls, the ceiling and floor. He knew that Pierce was somewhere on the other side of all that plaster and wood, somewhere in the building, writing his hateful garbage, poisoning the minds of young people, destroying the hopes of an entire generation that was becoming aware of the danger of plastic. All of its work could be undone by one man.

He must die. I must do its work and kill the monster.

But he’d searched the entire building from the attic down to the basement. Manzer had said that none of the other flats were occupied but what if Pierce were in one of them, living in one of them without anyone’s knowledge? What if he were squatting? Jax had read about squatters. They were evil and paid no rent. They drank water out of plastic bottles. That had to be it. He was living secretly in one of the flats and Jax had to change his plan—he would have to break into each of the flats, find Simon Pierce and kill him.

He heard a knock at the door, a knock he recognized. It was Mrs. Gilbert. She was out of the hospital. He hurried to the door and opened it.

“Hello, Jax,” she said. “I just wanted to check in with you and see if everything is going well.”

“Mrs. Gilbert. It’s good to see you. Uncle Manzer said that you were in the hospital. A heart attack. How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling quite well, Jax. I’m going to have to watch my diet and slow down on a few things but I’m feeling fine now. Thank you for your concern.” She cocked her head to the side and looked Jax up and down. “And how are you, Jax? You look a bit tousled.”

Jax gave an agitated shrug. “I’m fine, Mrs. Gilbert.” His eyes roamed the hall for a moment before settling on Mrs. Gilbert again. “I was wondering about something Mrs. Gilbert.”

Mrs. Gilbert smiled. “What is it, Jax?”

“Well…” His eyes lowered to the floor, then to the ceiling and back to Mrs. Gilbert. “Uncle Manzer told me that right now I’m the only tenant in the building.”

“That’s right, Jax. I’m going to be doing some renovations and I want the other flats to be vacant when I start them. It won’t affect you though. There was some water damage in the other flats but yours was lucky enough to escape.”

“But are you sure there’s no one in any of the other flats? Like maybe squatters or something.”

She laughed. “Oh, Jax…I’m sure they’re all empty. Mr. Joyce has been going into them on a regular basis making minor repairs before we start the renovations. I assure you that besides me, you’re that only one living in the building. Why do you think there might be squatters?”

Jax was suddenly confused and blushing. “Um…nothing really. I, uh…I read some stuff on the internet about squatters, how they break into places and just start living in them. Without paying rent. Just living in somebody else’s place. But if Mr. Joyce is checking on the other flats, then I guess we don’t have a squatter problem.”

Mrs. Gilbert chuckled. “I should hope not. But just to be on the safe side, maybe we should check out each of the flats right now.”

***

Every one of the flats was empty. No squatters. No signs of squatters. No furniture, backpacks, sleeping mats, cigarette butts or empty plastic water bottles. There was nowhere in the building that Simon Pierce could possibly be hiding and Jax was beginning to wonder about the source of the information. He remembered clearly that he’d been on Pierce’s desktop. He had no idea how that had happened except that it must have been the work of Ratlas leading him there through its omnipresence on the internet. But why couldn’t he get back in a second time? Too many questions.

It was time to go online and open himself to its directives. Maybe there would be insights on how to deal with Pierce, maybe how to find him. He needed something to go on.

***

He’d been waiting an hour, breathing deep into his stomach, his mind clear and receptive. But so far, nothing was happening. No juggled sounds or cyber music that flowed through his mind with meaning. No convoluted auditory reception that translated into messages of hope and direction. Nothing to report on his blog. No words of guidance.

Am I going to be saved? Are we all going to be saved? Have I disappointed it by not killing Simon Pierce? Have I failed as its messenger?

Jax couldn’t remember when he’d first made contact with Ratlas but he knew that ever since that day, the only meaning in his life was carrying its message on his blog and the way he lived his life. The only plastic in his flat was in fixtures that had been installed over the years before he came to live there and he’d replaced some of the original fixtures with metal, wood or ceramics. Ratlas’ messages had been like music flowing through his body with himself as the instrument and it as the composer and conductor. His only joy was in spreading the message through his blog…its blog. There was nothing else in his life.

Now, there was only silence.

A terrifying emptiness replaced Ratlas’ message. There was suddenly no hope. Nothing to look forward to, nothing to live or work for.

There was only Simon Pierce.

“Simon Pierce, you are the cause of this. You, with your message of hopelessness. You, with your soul-poisoning words. You, killer of children. You, murderer of everything it hopes to gift to humanity.”

It was time to blog.

He opened his blog, closed his eyes and wrote.

THERE IS A GREAT CALAMITY UPON US AND THE NAME OF THE CALAMITY IS SIMON PIERCE AND THE CALAMITY THAT IS SIMON PIERCE HAS STOPPED THE MESSAGE OF HOPE AND GOODWILL AND THE CHANCE FOR A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS FUTURE FOR ALL IN WHICH WE WILL ALL BE SAVED AND PLASTIC WILL CEASE TO EXIST AND CEASE TO POISON OUR LAND AND OUR SKIES AND OUR OCEANS WHERE PLASTIC STIFLES THE BREATHING OF THE VERY FISHES THE OCEAN WATER SUPPORTS BUT IS NO LONGER ABLE TO SUPPORT BECAUSE OF THE EVIL PLASTIC DISPLACING THE GOODNESS OF WATER AND MAKING THE OCEANS INHOSPITABLE TO ALL THAT LIVES IN THE OCEANS AND NOW THERE IS THE SENSE OF DOOM AND HOPELESSNESS THAT COMES IN THE FORM OF AN EVIL MAN WITH AN EVIL MIND AND AN EVIL PURPOSE AND HIS NAME IS SIMON PIERCE AND HE IS A DANGER THAT MUST BE STOPPED AND I THE MESSENGER AND CARRIER OF ITS WORD CHALLENGE YOU SIMON PIERCE TO MEET IN THE FIELD OF HONOR AND CONSEQUENCE TO DUEL BETWEEN HOPE AND HOPELESSNESS AND DETERMINE ONCE AND FOR ALL THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY WHICH YOU DEIGN TO DESTROY WITH YOUR MESSAGE OF CALAMITY.

IN THE MEANTIME, PLEASE REFRAIN FROM USING PLASTIC.

He wasn’t a hundred percent sure what he’d written and what he’d meant by the duel but he was happy with it and posted it, smiling to himself.

Maybe Ratlas will speak to me the next time.

He spent the rest of the evening, until it was time, staring out the window at the people in the park and hoping that he could still be the instrument in saving them.

 

 

Episode 44: Tuesday – Jackson

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Episode 44

Jackson felt better about things today. He held firm to his conclusion that there was something wrong with him and not with Roy and Jody. He might question Jody’s mental stability but Roy was solid as a rock and both of them being crazy was too far a stretch.

It was him, Jackson Gabriel. There was something wrong with him. His mother had drummed it into his head that he would have to shrug off things that he wouldn’t be able to explain. He’d done that with the bump on his head. But this time, he didn’t want to shrug it off. He wanted to know how the bump and the cut had gotten there. He wanted to know what had happened to him, when it had happened and how it had happened.

You don’t just shrug something like that off and forget about it. No matter what your mother said.

And what was going on with the meeting? How could two of his clients accuse of him of missing a meeting that hadn’t even happened and then not show up for the meeting when it was supposed to happen? Both men couldn’t have been wrong.

He’d gone through his emails. Roy was still sympathetic and Jody was suddenly apologetic and practically begging for a meeting. He sent them both the same reply.

Arial 64.JPG

It took about five minutes for Jody to get back to him.

Arial 65

It took a few minutes for the meaning underlying Jody’s email to sink it, especially the delay in working on the “new ideas.”

He thinks my medical condition might be contagious. He thinks he might catch it by doing business with me online.

For the first time in years, Jackson had a good laugh.

***

It was late morning before Roy replied to his email.

Arial 66

Jackson thought about that. Vacation. It was something he’d never thought about before. He’d never had a vacation. He just worked every day. He went right into it as soon as he finished his home schooling, as soon as he moved into the flat. Every day. For years. Day after day of work and never a break. He knew what a vacation was. He’d read about them online but he’d never actually applied the concept to himself. It was something other people did. Something that his differentness dismissed him from. A week in Varadero? A week in Macho Pico, taking in the magic of mystical mountains? A week river-boating down the Rhine, taking in the castles and bratwurst? A week at home, sleeping in every day. He wrote back to Roy:

Arial 67

He wasn’t sure if he could get his head around this idea of a week of vacation. It seemed like such a short time to take in so much. And the concept of going somewhere distant was far beyond his comprehension.

Why is that? Why can’t I do that? Other people do.

He remembered his mother’s lectures on the differences between himself and other people but that, he’d always thought, was more to do with the way he and others thought, about how they perceived the world around them and their place in it.

I should be able to take a week of vacation and go somewhere. Anywhere. For a week.

Just then, there was a knock at the door.

He walked to the door and opened without hesitation, expecting to see his Uncle Manzer but he was surprised when he saw Mrs. Gilbert standing in the hall smiling. She looked like she always did, healthy, vibrant, lively eyes and a universe of wrinkles. She didn’t look at all like she was recovering from a heart attack.

“Mrs. Gilbert, it’s good to see you. I was going to come and visit you at the hospital but I wanted to wait until you were a bit recovered from your heart attack. But here you are, home already. I mean…”

She smiled through the wrinkles and folds, arms crossed over her chest, looking robust. “I never did like hospitals, Jackson. Place for sick people and people ready to die. And I’m not ready to die. So, how have you been while I’ve been gone? Did your Uncle Manzer drop by to see you?”

“Uh…yes, he did. And everything’s been fine. No emergencies or earth-shattering events. A couple of minor work-related incidents but everything seems to be working out well now. I can’t believe you’re here already, and looking so healthy.”

“And I’m feeling just fine, Jackson. Won’t be pushing things too hard for a while. Doctors say I still need lots of rest and I’ll be making a few changes to my diet and taking some medication, but all-in-all, I’m feeling not so bad. Just wanted to stop by to let you know I’m back and see if there’s anything you need.”

“I appreciate that Mrs. Gilbert, even though I should be the one checking to see if there’s anything you need. But now that you’re here, maybe you can help me with something.”

“And what might that be Jackson?”

“Well, it’s occurred to me lately that I’ve never been on vacation. For as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve worked every day. Every single day. I’ve never gone anywhere, never traveled. I’ve been in two places all my life: the house I grew up in with my mother and this place. I’ve never been to the tropics, to Europe, South America, the Far East, anywhere. I’ve seen all these things on the internet but never even wondered about them, never really been interested. But just this morning one of my long-term clients said that he’s going to take some time off, a vacation. He’s going to relax for a while. I started to think about this and I think maybe it’s time for me to have some relaxation. And maybe travel a bit. You know, a week on a tropical island with beaches and sun and swimming pools.”

Natalie had read the email from Roy Pickering, which was why she decided to come over right away. It looked like he was serious about this vacation thing.

“Well, Jackson, I’ve never been on a vacation myself. Always thought they were overrated and heard from so many friends about stomach problems, missing luggage, stolen cameras and purses. No…I’ve always preferred to just take my vacation in the safety and comfort of my home. Put the chores aside for a while and just relax.”

Jackson wasn’t exactly encouraged by her response but the idea was taking root; he was beginning to feel excited about the idea of a week or so away from the flat if for no other reason than to just be somewhere else.

It would give him some time to think about some of the things that had been surfacing in his life lately, things that he’d put aside and ignored for his entire life.

***

Well, another fire to put out.

Natalie smiled to herself. This was something that she’d never anticipated during all the planning and all the possible scenarios that she and Manzer had envisioned and devised strategies for: vacation. The idea that any of them would take time off from the work had never crossed either of their minds, especially since Manzer had been retired for so many years and Natalie had always just existed, living on money from her parents and never having a job that would come with something as exotic as vacation. It was something that didn’t fit into their lives or into the lives of the kids but it fit into the lives of others and they should have seen it coming.

Well, Nat, don’t beat yourself up over it. You and Manzer had an impossible task and you missed a few other things that took you by surprise but you always managed to work your way through it. You always find a way.

She stretched her thick legs out as she sat in the big easy chair. She yawned. She was tired. She’d been up most of the night catching up with the emails from her kids, seeing what they were getting into, wondering how she was going to work her way through all the fires.

After driving her home from the hospital, and after him trying desperately to talk her out of leaving so early, Manzer had stayed with her a while, filling her in on what the kids were up to. He seemed sad, and there was a look in his eyes that she didn’t understand but, for some reason, it worried her. “What’s on your mind, Manzer?”

He smiled. It was a warm smile. He smiled to make her know that he would do anything for her and would always be there for her no matter what. But the eyes above the smile told her that something else was up. “You’ve been doing this for over thirty years, Nat, holding everything together, keeping track and heading off disaster after disaster. I can’t even begin to imagine how you manage to do it, the energy and dedication you’ve put into keeping their lives separate but allowing them to interact with the world around them.”

She smiled but she had a good idea what was coming and she was braced for it.

Manzer sighed and leaned forward in his chair, resting his chin on his folded hands. “It’s starting to come undone, Nat. They’re starting to want normal lives, to be able to do the same things that others do, have the same kind of lives. The outside world is starting to knock at their doors.”

Tears started to well up in Natalie’s eyes. She had no idea where they came from. She wasn’t sad or heart-broken or angry or lost or anything she could really put her finger on and say, “This…this is where the tears are coming from.” Maybe they were coming from the inevitable finally arriving, the day when all her work for so many years was coming to some sort of existential intersection where the improbable was about to become still more improbable. Natalie’s life for so many years had been guided by known factors, factors that she created and controlled to prevent the unknowns from creeping in. But now the unknowns were, as Manzer put it, knocking—and knocking hard. The outside world was coming for her kids and it was becoming obvious that there was little or nothing that she could do about it.

Manzer had told a woman about the kids’ secret. He had told her because he had no other choice. She worked for an organization that could take control of everything she and the kids had. But the woman didn’t want to harm them. She would help them keep the secret. She was in love with one of them, the most unlikely one of them. And now, another woman knew. And she was also in love with one of them. Love, something she’d never counted on. She’d isolated them from it, not let it invade their lives with all the questions and improbabilities it would bring. Love, a force stronger than all her planning and manipulating. She was no longer the only woman in their lives There were now two other women in their lives and they weren’t going away.

And Jackie was planning on getting a sex change. Natalie couldn’t blame her. She’d never been right with the world or herself. It was something that had haunted every moment of her life and Natalie had to admit to herself that she was surprised that she’d borne that anguish for so long.

And now a new thought was beginning to occur to her…just as Manzer voiced it.

“Doesn’t it seem strange to you, Natalie…that so many things are suddenly happening that seem to be bringing it all to some kind of…I don’t know…a culmination? An explosion of events that will radically change things? And it’s not just from the outside world suddenly seeping in…it seems to be coming from them…like suddenly they want to be part of the world. They’re all changing…at the same time…having thoughts and asking questions that have never crossed their minds before and, if they did, they just shoved it all to the back of their heads and continued past it. They’re not doing that now. They’re wondering about things, questioning things, not letting go and not working past the things they don’t understand.”

Natalie knew he was right. “But…”

Manzer leaned forward, so huge and, Natalie thought, so beautiful and compassionate. “I could see it in each of them when I talked to them about your heart attack, the way they kept putting their hands on their heads, feeling the bump. I’ve seen their reactions to things like that in the past. They just ignored those things as though nothing had happened, as though a bandage on an arm had always been there and so what? They’d always been able to push reality out of their minds and replace it with something they could live with.”

It came to Natalie in a deluge of memories, questions and the thousands of looks in their eyes as they tried throughout their lives to fight as desperately as she did to keep them separate, to save their own lives against something they neither understood nor knew about. And this, she knew was where the tears were coming from. She looked at Manzer, “What have I done?”

***

He read the email back for the third time.

Arial 68

That should do it. Brief and to the point and no commitment yet on the date.

He decided to hold on to it for a while—he wasn’t sure yet when he would be leaving, how long he would be gone or even where he would be going.

And that was something he would have to start working on. Right away.

He opened his browser, clicked in the search field and held his fingers over the key board.

What to enter? Vacation? But that’s likely to bring up all kinds of vacation themes including blogs about people’s worst vacations and stupid definitions of vacations. Vacation destinations? Vacation destinations. That’s it.

He entered vacation destinations. Only one hundred and thirty-seven million results. The first was Expedia. Unfortunately, it looked like they wanted him to already know where he was going and when. He returned to the results page and scrolled till he saw…

Arial 69

Just what he needed. Ideas. And it looked like he had choices for the kind of trip he wanted. He wasn’t really the adventurous sort and casinos didn’t interest him at all. Family fun was out. He didn’t know how to ski and he wasn’t interested in shopping. Romance. He wouldn’t even know where to start. The only wellness he needed was, apparently, a vacation. Beaches and sun he could handle. He’d seen pictures of pristine beaches in tropical paradises and he could see himself strolling down a beach under a magnificent blue sky with waves washing around his feet. He clicked Beaches & Sun.

He wanted something close to home for some strange reason. Mexico, Central and South America looked good. They all had tropical beaches, sun and blue skies. He spent a few hours checking out the possibilities and finally decided on the Dominican Republic with its “glowing white sand and gorgeous blue water.”

He was jubilant. He’d found a place for his vacation. He studied the images of palm trees, beaches that spread into distant horizons and vast clouds soaring into infinite blue sky. But then as he went from picture to picture, a feeling of foreboding began to cloud his vacation joy. At first the pictures showed the land and the ocean. Now, they were beginning to head into the hotels and other places where he was beginning to see things that unsettled him.

People.

Smiling faces everywhere. Singles, couples and groups of people. People sitting in thatched bars. People lying on the beaches under umbrellas as they sipped pina coladas. People running half naked into the ocean surf. People smiling and talking in lobbies. People.

He felt a sudden sense of foreboding. People. His stomach tightened. His chest tightened. His heart raced. People. The Dominican was full of people. They were everywhere. And there would be no way to avoid them.

He needed to find a new destination. A place to vacation by himself. A place with no people. A place where he could be alone to experience the…

What will I experience alone? Not bars. Not beaches. Not hotels.

He tried a new search term: Places to vacation alone away from people.

He found 9 Introvert-Friendly Travel Destinations – Quiet Revolution. That didn’t last long. It looked like some kind of workshop or cult thing to him. The other results were all for getaway-from-it-all, budget and vacations for seniors. The whole vacation concept was suddenly not the great idea he thought it would be.

He walked to the windows and looked out at the park. It was late afternoon and the park was crowded with people and pigeons. He felt like all the energy in his body had been sapped out of him. He’d been so excited about vacationing just minutes ago and now the excitement had turned into some inexplicable sense of angst. Why was he so afraid of people? This was something he’d never been able to figure out.

But then, have I ever tried to figure it out? Have I ever asked why I’m so uncomfortable around people? Has there ever been any reason for me to fear people?

He couldn’t remember any traumatic events in his early life other than his mother dying that would lead him to fear interacting with other people. He’d never had friends when he was a child but he was already uncomfortable about people then. It was something he was born with, something that went back as far as his first memories. It was something he’d never tried to deal with.

Why is that? Why have I never asked what’s wrong with me or even tried to deal with it? I know I’m different than other people. Mom drummed that into me thoroughly enough, but why would it make me afraid of other people? No one has ever tried to hurt me. No one has ever actually threatened me.

As he stared at the people in the park, he had an idea.

Maybe it’s time to go for a walk in the park.

***

What the hell was I thinking? This is such a bad idea.

A large man wearing orange skin tight jogging pants and matching top smiled at Jackson as he approached him, panting and moving sluggishly. Jackson stared at him with wide open eyes. He was sure he heard the man chuckle as he jogged past him, puffing and wheezing.

What am I doing?

Staring at the joggers back, he backed up quickly…right into a woman pushing a triple baby carriage.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” He could barely make out her face buried under layers of synthetic fur around the border of her parka’s hood. She pushed by him, muttering something. This seemed strange to Jackson. He’d watched this woman push her carriage with the triplets every day for over a month. He watched as she stopped the carriage and picked up one crying baby after another and patted them on the back until they stopped crying. She’d seemed so patient and composed, like nothing in the world could bother her. But he had. There was nothing good about him in the things she muttered.

He stood to the side of the sidewalk, out of everyone’s way. He stared at the joggers and walkers, the carriage pushers and the hand-holding lovers. He closed his eyes and listened to them passing. He felt their presence so clearly he could have counted the number of them in a group. He stood like that for nearly an hour until he heard a voice. It was a child’s voice. He opened his eyes and saw a young girl in a plaid fall jacket looking up at him.

“Are you alright, mister?” Her eyes registered real concern.

It took him a few seconds to put her into some kind of context that he could understand enough to react to it. “Yes,” he said. “I’m fine. Thank you for asking.”

The girl smiled. “I think you were having a panic attack. My brother has them all the time and he does the same kind of thing.”

Jackson looked into the girl’s eyes and smiled. Suddenly, the fear seemed to melt away, not completely, but he didn’t feel nearly as terrified as he had.

“He takes three deep breaths and tries to think about something that makes him happy,” said the girl. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Jackson reached his hand out and put it on the girl’s head. “Thank you. That’s what I’ll do next time.”

“Next time?” said the girl. “Does that mean that you’re OK now?”

Jackson thought a moment and smiled again. “Yes, I think I’m OK this time. And I’ll remember your advice if it happens again.”

“Janie.” A woman’s voice—the girl’s mother, in a matching plaid jacket—called to her. She didn’t look upset as she walked over to where he and the girl stood. “Please don’t mind my daughter. She’s been told not to bother strangers but it’s like telling water not to flow.” She looked at her daughter and said, “Say goodbye now. We have to get to the hairdresser, maybe on time for a change.”

The girl looked up at Jackson. “I hope you don’t need to do the breathing again, mister. Nobody wants to hurt you here.”

Jackson smiled again. “I’m sure you’re right. Thank you for the advice, Janie.”

He watched as the girl and her mother walked away.  He’d never talked to strangers like that before. Even the occasions he’d met face-to-face with clients online had been carefully scripted with checklists and action items. There’d never been much time for niceties—just business.

The girl had been so open and sincere, and she’d noticed him standing there with his eyes closed, which made Jackson wonder how many others had seen him there and wondered what was wrong with him: was he some kind of weirdo? A pervert? An escapee from a mental ward? Or just someone who didn’t know how to handle people face-to-face?

And now a new feeling took hold of him: he was calm, even with all the people around him jogging and running and pushing and holding hands. He wasn’t afraid of them. The nervousness was gone. His breathing was normal. The knots in his stomach had unwound and he felt a lightness that he’d never felt before.

He looked around at the people in the park. These were people he’d watched from his window for years, people he almost knew from seeing how they acted, the times they’d run for cover when it rained, the arguments over how much space one was allowed to use for sitting and for storing parcels when there was nowhere else to sit, the meetings of strangers, the meetings of old friends, the comforting of children hurt from falls or other accidents. It occurred to Jackson that he knew these people, that he’d known them for years and that he had nothing to fear from them.

In all these years, he’d never seen one of them strike or hurt another. Argue, yes. The older ones argued over the benches. But these were good people who treated each other with respect.And now, as Jackson strolled down the sidewalk deep into the park, he was one of them.

***

That night, before it was time, he bookmarked a few travel sites. He wasn’t going to rush it, but he was going to go on vacation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.