Episode 68: Friday – Jacques

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Episode 68

The rumbling emptiness in Jacques’ stomach almost hurt.

I need to eat.

He leaned over to the table by his bed, opened a drawer and took out a granola bar.

Why have I been waking up so hungry lately? Active dreams? New persona needs more food?

As he chewed, he remembered feeling a female presence in his sleep but he shrugged it off to his new persona manifesting herself in his writing psyche. Sunlight beat against the curtains covering his bedroom window. What sunlight penetrated the blue material of the curtains spread a bluish hue throughout the room that relaxed him. After finishing his granola bar, he lay in bed for a while, past the time he normally rose to slip into his female persona and write. He didn’t feel like writing. At least, not just yet. He just wanted to lie in bed and think about nothing in particular.

He was happy with The Insufferable Bitch’s first novel. It was kinky, light-hearted, kinky, speculative fiction at its finest, kinky, and the entire story had simply jumped out of his head as though it were a memory.

A thought suddenly jumped into his head.

I think I’ll publish Jasmine’s last book today. And to go along with the publication, I think I’ll announce that Jasmine Jackson, illustrious creator of the laundromance and author of numerous books set in laundromats, has passed away.

Because she fucked up an email.

Oh well…change.

***

He sat at his writing desk with fingers over the keyboard, smiling, satisfied; in fact, happy. Jasmine’s last novel was published and available in both print and ebook versions. He loved the ease and speed of online publishing. He had tools that automated every step of the publication process from converting the manuscript to both print and ebook formats to distribution to the online bookstores and distributors. Some went directly to readers who subscribed to his books, straight into their digital libraries. They didn’t even have to order them.

He had an automated marketing system for his books. He filled in a few fields with information about his latest novel and the software drew from previous marketing campaigns to build a whole new campaign. It sent copies to reviewers, announcements to readers’ groups, media releases to news and social media sites and a variety of other marketing devices that would insure blanket coverage of the book by the end of the day.

Now, it was time to release the announcement of Jasmine Jackson’s unfortunate passing. This would also fly out into the world through templated programs that would have word of Jasmine’s death reaching around the world within an hour. Jacques let his right index finger fall onto the Enter key and press.

And that was the end of Jasmine Jackson.

Time to eat. Again.

***

Jacques loved Chinese dumplings. There was a dim sum restaurant on the far side of the park. He’d just barely scratched the pantry today. He’d slept in, published a book, killed off the author and now he was walking through the park on his way for dim sum. Busy day.

He smoked a cigar as he walked. It was unusually warm for this time of year, some kind of freak thing with wind currents according to the weather network. Even with a light jacket he could feel a buildup of sweat under his arms. But his mind was elsewhere. He wondered how Judy Armstrong was going to take Jasmine’s death. Given that she felt that all of Jasmine’s novels were coming from her imagination, would she have to start writing her own books? Or would she blame some other writer for stealing her stories? Would she experience some kind of psychic death? Or would she just have another glass of wine and order a copy of Jasmine’s last novel?

He wondered how many news sites would run his media release? How many of them would contact his automated agency for more details? How much of an impact would Jasmine Jackson’s passing have on the civilized world?

A group of three joggers heading his way stared at him with what looked like distain. One of them shook his head as he passed Jacques.

What’s their problem?

It crossed his mind as strange that they were the only people he’d seen so far and he was almost halfway through the park.

Must be an off night for the runners. Maybe they all switched to Pilates.

He felt a little sad about Jasmine’s passing. She’d been a part of him for years.

Or had I been a part of her?

He didn’t think it mattered. She’d written some wonderful laundromances.

A couple holding hands walking toward him looked at him with the same seemingly distaste as the joggers. They looked him up and down, frowning, as they passed him.

What’s wrong with everybody tonight?

He shrugged it off.

Their problem.

He wondered how his first novel as The Insufferable Bitch would sell. He’d have to come up with a whole new marketing approach to feed into the templates but he already had a website and a blog. Now it was just a matter of filling them with content and building some hoopla before the debut novel from the world’s next big erotica sensation.

He wondered what a laundromance written by The Insufferable Bitch would be like.

All those machines. All that soap.

He was nearing the far end of the park. He could almost taste chicken-filled dim sum. Another couple passed by him, frowning. Looking him up and down.

What? What?

He looked down. Black nylons. Straps. Black see-through bodice.

Oh shit.

For the first time in his life, he was thankful that he didn’t have an erection.

 

(Don’t miss the final episode of The Weekly Man, coming next Tuesday.)

 

 

 

Episode 67: Thursday – Jacky

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Episode 67

Jacky had no idea how long he’d been sitting on the bench. He didn’t remember waking up, getting dressed or if he’d had breakfast. He wasn’t hungry. Dark blustery clouds thickened the sky over the park. The park people wore sweaters and coats, and runners and joggers were bulked up with thermal clothing. Even with just a t-shirt and thin jacket, Jack didn’t feel the cold. He felt nothing. Several people who recognized him from the mall said hello. He looked at them and nodded, half smiling, not meeting their eyes.

He couldn’t get his mind to focus on anything. Krista was gone. It didn’t make any sense. He replayed the thought. Krista was gone. It didn’t make any sense. He stared into the space occupied by the leafless bush across the sidewalk from him. He didn’t see the bush. He didn’t see the barren branches with just a few dried leaves dangling precariously in the chilled breeze. Though he ran his tongue across his lower lip, he wasn’t consciously aware of the lump. He was unaware of his arms and legs. He was barely conscious of being in the park.

She’s gone.

Why?

***

His body shook as he stared from the window, out past the park, past the buildings in the distance and the underside of clouds illuminated by the city lights. He was vaguely aware that he might have sat in the park too long, unknowingly freezing on the bench, staring into nothing.

She was so alive. So beautiful. So…

She’s gone.

Why?

His thoughts swirled like leaves caught in a whirlwind, spinning around and not touching anything. There was no solidity in his surroundings. Images of Krista flashed in this mind. Krista’s hair tumbling over her shoulders. Krista laughing as the talked about nothing in particular. Krista’s moans when they made love. Krista’s questions about his pictures. The picture she’d bought and had framed.

Which one was that? The dandelion? She’d had it framed.

A thought flashed through his mind: he’d never been to her place, never seen the framed picture hanging on her wall. He thought about the sparkle in her eyes when they left the mall to go back to his place or out to dinner.

She’s gone.

Her eyes wide with wonder as they reached orgasm together.

Why?

A brief flash of another woman. Someone somehow familiar. And gone.

Where did that come from?

He remembered Mrs. Gilbert at his door. She’d looked concerned, sad. He’d said something about being OK, that he was just in a funk and telling her he needed to lay down for a while, his body shaking from exposure to the cold in the park. He couldn’t remember having supper. He wasn’t hungry. It was close to the time. He went to the bedroom, opened his concealed closet, wondering why his closet was concealed, undressed and went to bed.

 

 

Episode 66: Wednesday – Jax

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Episode 66.JPG

He ran his tongue across his lip.

Not another cold swore. Have you been eating too much salt again? Could this be related to plastic? When are they going to start listening to the message? Why are we doing this to ourselves? Was I talking to a woman in my sleep?

Jax tossed his legs over the side of the bed. A second after his feet touched the floor, he was standing. And dizzy. A moment later he was sitting, waiting for the dizzy spell to pass.

I killed a man.

A cool breeze swept through the window and across the room to his bed. He enjoyed the feeling. He vaguely recalled a dream, something about a woman’s presence. It didn’t make any sense to him so he thought about something else.

I killed a man. He was an evil man but he was a man, a human being.

He ran his tongue over his lip again. It didn’t feel like a cold swore. It was something else. He switched thoughts.

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

He stood up, slowly.

Time to hear its message and send it out to the world.

***

It sounded like a faraway amusement park, the muted music and screams, distant calls to the games and clangs of winning players, the roar and rumble of rides…an incomprehensible porridge of sound. Stooped toward the speakers plugged into his laptop, Jax licked a tiny thread of drool from his lower lip. His glazed eyes stared into the noise.

“You must put the evil of Simon Pierce behind you.”

Behind me.

“The rot of him is no longer. The taint of him is gone.”

The rot. The taint. Gone.

“You must not feel regret at his passing. You must be proud that you were the one to stop him. You, and only you had the power, the grace and the presence of mind to eliminate the stench of his influence. You are a hero of the land, a hero of the water and a hero of the air.”

I’m a hero.

“Simon Pierce was the embodiment of plastic, a culmination of all that destroys the world, a bastardization of my message. Now, you must rid the world of plastic.”

I must rid the world of plastic.

“You must rid the world of plastic.”

I must rid the world of plastic.

“You must rid the world of plastic.”

He sat facing his computer, looking into the noise for most of the morning, repeating “I must rid the world of plastic” like a Buddhist monk wrapping his soul around a mantra. The desk in front of his laptop glistened with a widening pool of spittle dripping continuously from his lower lip.

His mind snapped to attention at the sound of a horn honking in the street below his windows.

“Time to spread the word to the world,” he said. “Time to undo the evil of Simon Pierce and take its message to a world enslaved by plastic.”

A long grating sound emanating from his stomach suggested that he eat first.

***

He closed his eyes and let his fingers dance.

OUR CONSCIENCE IS FREE WITH THE TAINT OF SIMON PIERCE BEHIND US AND WE ARE HERO TO THE NEW AGE OF ITS MESSAGES WHERE WE WILL ALL BE SAVED AND FREED OF THE DARKNESS OF OUR CONSUMPTION POISONING THE TERRA UPON WHICH THE TWO AND THE FOUR-LEGGED CREATURES CO-MINGLE WITH THE ONE AND MANY CELLED DENIZENS OF THE TERRA SPILLING INTO THE SHADOW AND DEEP DEPTHS OF AQUA LIFE AND EVAPORATING INTO THE WINGED CREATURES OF THE SKIES AND ITS MESSAGE IS ONE OF HOPE AND LIFE AND NEW BEGINNINGS IN THE ABSENCE OF PLASTIC THE SPOILER OF GILLS IN THE FISHES OF THE OCEAN AND THE BILLS AND BEAKS AND FEATHERS OF THE BIRDS THAT WILL SING AGAIN TO THE RHYTHM OF A JOYOUS NEW BEGINNING OF A CLEANSED WORLD WITH CLEAN WATERWAYS AND FREE OF INDUSTRIAL WASTE AND PLASTIC MICROBEADS THAT ATTACK US THROUGH OUR TOOTHPASTE AND AEROSOLS LADEN WITH POLYETHYLENE AND POLYPROPYLENE WHICH MAKES ITS WAY TO OUR DINNER PLATES THROUGH PLANKTON FEEDING SMALL FISH TO FEED LARGE FISH WHICH WE EAT WITH OIUR LIFE-SUSTAINING MEALS OF GRACE AND THANKS WITH OUR HANDS CLASPED IN MORTAL BELIEF AND HOPE THAT OUR CHILDREN ARE NON-AUTISTIC AND THAT THE MUTINIZED FALSE DESTINY OF THE GENETICALLY DISINHERITED WILL NOT BE SO AND CANNOT BE SO AND NEED NOT BE SO AND THIS CAN BE IF WE STOP USING PLASTIC.

ITS MESSAGE OF HOPE AND SALVATION COMES TO YOU FROM THE LOWEST AND THE HIGHEST IN ITS HOST OF FORMS AND MEANINGS.

END THE DAYS OF PLASTIC!!!!

He opened his eyes and read what he’d written. He never made changes or revised in any way. This was its message and he was the messenger, the conduit of hope and new beginnings and it wasn’t for him to change the messages. He nodded agreement as he read.

This will make them re-think the world. This will make them take notice. Its word is unstoppable. Its message brings hope and the death of plastic.

I killed a man.

***

The long shadows of evenings arriving earlier each day brought feelings that he hadn’t felt during past autumns. He wondered why that was. The park was the same as it had always been. Trees reduced to their infrastructure were the same as every other fall: leafless. But tonight he felt saddened by the passing of summer and fall and the nearing of winter. Or was that really what he was feeling?

I killed a man.

He couldn’t shake it. It was with him every minute. It was there, crawling just under the surface of every minute of the day. It had become part of the texture of his being. He hadn’t done anything illegal other than attempt to kill Pierce by stabbing him to death in his home and, through his blog, incite others to kill him. But none of his followers had killed Pierce and Jax hadn’t been able to locate the writer to stab him to death. Simon Pierce had taken his own life

But Jax MacDonald was the catalyst for Pierce’s suicide. He’d killed Simon Pierce and it was in the name of Ratlas’s’ message of hope for the future of humanity. He wondered if maybe he’d misinterpreted Ratlas’s instructions.

Could I have gotten the message wrong? Could there have been some kind of digital interference that scrambled the message and I got it wrong? No, there is no power on the internet that could interfere with its message. Ratlas wanted Simon Pierce dead. Pierce was a danger to all humanity and a danger to its message. But he changed. He changed and turned his back on his evil and destroyed it. Could he have become a good man? Could he have joined the teeming ranks of those following The Word and Its Many Meanings and helped to spread the message?

Should Simon Pierce have been allowed to stay alive? Did I bring about his death at the moment when I should have encouraged his life?

I killed a man.

He looked around. Two runners who’d passed him a moment ago, now with their backs to him, were the only people in sight. Jax stepped off the sidewalk and into a stand of evergreen bushes where he threw up.

***

He sat in front of his laptop, staring at the screen, seeing nothing. He couldn’t understand his feelings. He’d helped to rid the world of a plague. He’d followed Ratlas’s orders. He’d stopped an evil man from killing kids. Pierce was a kid killer.

I stopped him from killing again. From killing kids.

Something about the screen attracted his attention. He snapped out of his revere and looked closer. Everything looked normal. His eyes scanned the screen. There were a dozen or so icons linking him to a variety of applications and programs. There was nothing out of the usual with any of them, except…

I have mail.

He leaned in closer, unbelieving. He never had mail, not even spam.  He clicked the icon. The program opened, showing one email in the Inbox. He clicked it. The email opened.

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Forty-five seconds after he opened it, the email deleted itself.

 

 

Episode 65: Tuesday – Jackson

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Episode 65

It was the closest thing that Jackson had experienced to a dream since he was a child when he’d stopped dreaming soon after his mother’s death. He had no idea why he’d stopped, it had just happened. But it was something he took for granted. It was something that just…happened. Today though, he would write it down.

He would also write about the dream, if that’s what he could call it. It wasn’t like any of the dreams he’d had as a child, though he could barely remember those. They’d been mostly about his life around the house, times he’d spent with his mother, going into the candy store in town, the hobby store, the drive, the kitchen. As he thought about those dreams, they came back to him, but none were as strange as the one from last night.

He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what he’d dreamed. He was aware of a woman’s presence but he couldn’t define what the presence was. It was as though he was aware of himself through her eyes.

No, not her eyes. Not her eyes. Her consciousness? Her awareness?

He couldn’t picture her face but there was something about her that he knew well, almost as much as he knew himself but she was a stranger, someone he’d never met. 

Maybe it was mom? Maybe I dreamed about her?

He rushed to his laptop and started making notes, including what little he could remember of the dreams from his youth, a couple of paragraphs about a fire, the wind rushing through the trees by the house in the country, playing Snakes and Ladders with a kid he didn’t know. He did this throughout the morning, forgetting to eat or drink, absorbed in the task of remembering who he was.

***

Hunger. It was noon and he still hadn’t eaten. Angry bubbles rumbled through his intestines. His list was almost as barren as his stomach. He’d hoped that, because he wanted to remember, the memories would flood back. He’d hoped that as he remembered one thing, it would lead to another thing and then another but though that had happened a few times, for the most part, he’d had to break his life up into periods and age groups and try to remember things from those. He realized that he’d wasted most of the morning but he was OK with that.

I have a start. The rest will come in time. But now, I need to eat.

He dressed and stepped into the street where the early afternoon crowd bustled. This was the time of day when the park and surrounding area was a beehive of activity. Not long ago, it would have been the most terrifying time for him, but not now. Now, Jackson plunged into the humanity with glee. He didn’t go into the park. Instead, he turned abruptly to his left at the bottom of the steps. He had no reason to turn left. He just did it and it felt good. It felt good to not worry about the people. It felt good to not know where he was going. It felt good to be on vacation and do whatever he wanted, when he wanted, and for no particular reason.

It was cool but he wore a sweater and a thin navy blue jacket he’d found behind his couch a year earlier. He had no idea where the jacket came from or how it had gotten behind his couch. 

Another thing for the list.

The sun shone brightly and the day was crisp with the crinkle of windblown leaves. He nodded hello to people as he passed them on the sidewalk. Most of them smiled and nodded back or said hello. A few said things like “Beautiful day,” “Wonderful weather,” and “How d’ya do?” When he reached the intersection he had choices: go straight ahead, turn right and keep to the edge of the park or turn left and explore unknown territory. He turned left. Time for adventure, time to explore. 

Almost immediately, he passed a bistro with spicy aromas that flowed directly into his nostrils.

***

He loved smoked meat sandwiches. The aftertaste curled around his palate deliciously, a mixture of the meat, mustard and bread. And the pickle. He loved the pickle. 

It was beginning to warm up so he took his jacket off and slung it over his shoulder as he strolled down the street, stomach full and eager to explore. After a block or two, he was seeing fewer and fewer people and the buildings looked like they needed repairs. After three blocks, the only people he saw stood in the shadows of weathered porches and stairwells. Some of them wore hoods. Some of them stared into his eyes as he passed. He was certain he’d seen eyes peering out of curtains and between the slightly parted slats of yellowed Venetian blinds. He stopped nodding to people and decided it was time to turn around and head back toward the park. 

He turned just in time to see two hooded men step out of the shadows of a dilapidated building and stand on the sidewalk facing him, blocking his way. He could just barely make out the malevolent outlines of noses and lips, eyes boring straight into his. He stood still, feeling his stomach tighten and his pulse quicken. Color drained from his face. All the fears he’d felt throughout his life were returning to him in a tsunami of dread. He tried to say something but his voice faltered. He didn’t know what to say. He’d never been in a situation like this except in his imagination. He tried smiling, thinking that maybe they might spare him any harm if he appeared friendly.

“What the fuck are you smiling at, fuckwad?” said a deep chilling voice from one of the hoods. He wasn’t sure which. “You think we’re funny or something?”

He tried to say no, but his vocal chords and mouth were numb with fear.

“I said, you think we’re funny?” The voice louder now.

Jackson managed a weak, “No.”

“Then why you laughing at us.”

“No.” Weak, distant. He wondered if he’d acually said it.

The man on his right stepped toward him. “No what, fuckwad?” The man’s hand flashed out and slapped Jackson in the face, hard. His head snapped to the right and he saw tiny flashes of light. 

So that’s what they mean by seeing stars.

This thought fascinated him so much he didn’t feel the pain from the slap. The man’s other hand swung at his face, this time a punch that landed square on his jaw. For a second, he couldn’t see anything because the points of light exploded into a curtain of white light that bleached out the world. He felt a sensation of downward motion and pain from his knees at they struck the sidewalk. He sensed motion around him as his attacker grabbed him and the other put his hand into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. When his vision returned to normal, he was alone. He saw his wallet on the sidewalk to his right. He picked it up. The money was gone but it appeared that his cards and ID were still in it. He looked around. Other than eyes peering from dark windows, he was alone. He stood up slowly, legs wobbly, and made his way home.

*** 

His jaw was sore. He looked closely in the mirror. There was a bit of reddening but no bruises or swelling. No loose teeth.  A bit of a cut on his lower lip.

Not much of a puncher for a mugger.

But he’d still seen stars and was half unconscious after the blow. He looked down at his knees. Both were bruised and swollen.

Sidewalk was less forgiving than the mugger.

He wondered if he should call the police but decided against it. All they took was cash, which would be impossible to trace and his description of them would match thousands of suspects. He was certain that the people peeking through blinds and curtains would swear that they hadn’t seen a thing. All he would get out of it would be wasted time filling out reports and answering questions that would lead nowhere. 

He wasn’t going to waste a moment of his vacation time. And he wasn’t going to let this incident force him back into being a social recluse. He’d lost thirty dollars and some pride; small price to pay for being free of the prison his life had become. 

Like getting back on the horse.

He decided it was time to celebrate his first, and hopefully last, mugging by going out for dinner. 

***

It felt strange, but good, to be writing on paper with a pencil, something he hadn’t done in years. He’d forgotten the feel of control and the overall sensual experience of adjusting the slant of the paper, resting his palm in a comfortable spot, wrapping his fingers and thumb around the pencil and watching the graphite flow magically off the tip of the pencil and onto the paper to the rhythm of his thoughts. He remembered reading somewhere that Hemingway wrote his first drafts in pencil and then typed them up the next day as a way to add one more layer to the revision process.

He’d just recorded the navy blue jacket that he’d found behind his couch, something he hadn’t questioned at the time because, at the time, he wasn’t questioning anything. The rest of the list was mostly random things that he barely remembered and in most cases, guessed at. The quarters under his pillow and the missing teeth. Had he just erased the memories of losing those teeth because of the painful experience? But given the pain involved, how could he have forgotten?

He wrote a few paragraphs about the dream he’d had with himself in guises that seemed so strange, even as the stuff of dreams, especially the part where he was Jacky Carson talking to his customers. It had seemed so natural, as though it was something he’d done a thousand times. And yet, he’d just seen the place once. He made note of the woman mistaking him for the owner of the gallery. That seemed to ring some faraway alarm, but as much as he forced himself to focus in on what that was, nothing came. He documented anyway and decided that he would include his doubts and any other thoughts he couldn’t explain on his list. He asked himself why he was making the list. After several moments of thought, it came to him: I need to define myself. 

He wasn’t sure why this was the reason, but he knew it was. 

***

It was a cool evening but not cold. In spite of being mugged earlier, he felt safe in the park. He wondered why, with such a sketchy neighborhood only a few blocks away, there were never any muggings in the park, especially with the number of people who frequented the place at night. Maybe that was it…the number of people. He couldn’t remember ever having seen police patrols in the daytime or nighttime. He’d seen patrol cars drive by but their presence was scarce and non-threatening. They just drove by and never had to stop for anything except to get food or coffee from one of the bistros or restaurants. It was like the neighborhood around the park was separated from the rest of the world. 

Like me.

I’ve been a part of the world but not part of the world all my life. I’ve been the moth in the cocoon. But not anymore. I’m out and I’m part of the world. I’ve been mugged. I have a story to tell. But who do I tell it to? And do I really want to tell that story? And do I really want to create courses out of the experiences of old people? Is there something else I can be doing? Is there anything else I want to do? 

He felt a sudden sense of excitement. His mind reeled with new possibilities. He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten into the online learning business. He was just in it, like he’d fallen from someplace into something he was good at.

But am I really happy with it?

He wondered if he’d ever felt any deep sense of joy with his work, if he’d ever been excited rather than just satisfied at having finished something to the satisfaction of his clients. 

Maybe I needed a punch in the head to rattle things up enough to honestly look at what I’m doing. The money’s good. The work is always in demand. I have a reliable client base. But I make my living off other people’s experience.

 The excitement grew. His mind seemed to spin faster with each thought. He felt a sense of urgency at the pit of his stomach as his thoughts opened to the potential of starting all over with a new life and a new career. 

OK, Jackson, what skills do you have that you can transfer to something else? You’re a great communicator. Your writing skills are above average. No, they’re exceptional. You’re a good listener. You can take large bodies of complex information and pare them down to the essential information and simplify it so that just about anyone can understand it. And learn from it. You’re a brilliant educator. You’re a hard worker. You know how to negotiate. You’re an excellent judge of character. People like you. People enjoy working with you. You’re intelligent. 

His mouth curled into a smile just as an elderly man in jogging gear walked past him and, seeing the smile, smiled back as though the smile were meant for him. He smiled wider and said hello.

“Beautiful evening,” said the man. 

“Yes,” said Jackson, “a beautiful evening and a beautiful day.”

He looked at his watch. It was getting close to the time. He turned toward home, his mind swimming with possibilities. 

 

 

Episode 64: Monday – Jack

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Episode 64

The pencil wouldn’t move. Images of people he didn’t know and yet seemed familiar bulged out of the peripheries of his awareness. His hand was stuck over the panel. He pushed the images out of his mind until it was blank.

Where do go now? He couldn’t visualize their faces: The Unseen. He chuckled to himself.

Guess they are unseen. Panther? Bobcat? All of you. Where are you? What are you thinking? What’s the Tyranny up to now? 

Nothing came. No images. No faces. No tree house. Nothing. He tried doodling…just letting the pencil glide across the paper. This had worked in the past, engaging the right side of his brain in some kind of relaxing activity, nothing planned, just the creation of shapes without direction or meaning. It eased his mind and put him into an open state of thought where anything and everything could happen.

He doodled for an hour. Nothing. He was empty. 

Maybe I just need a break. 

He thought about this for a moment. He’d been working on his strip every day for years. He’d been hiding from the world for years, fearing the world. For how many years? But now he had a woman in his life. 

I have a woman in my life.

He gave up on the doodling and ate a sandwich as he looked out the window at the park.

Maybe a long walk in the park to clear my head and figure out what’s going on. 

***

Scattered clouds enclosed the park in shadows and then opened into full sunlight and back to shadows. A cool breeze brushed against his face and disappeared when the clouds moved unwrapped the sun. 

He walked through the park and around the park without clearly seeing anything or anyone. Everything around him hazed behind his curtain of thought. He wasn’t sure how long he’d walked but his stomach started clamoring and it occurred to him that there would be an email from Valerie waiting for him at home. 

***

His heart raced as he read. 

Arial 88

She went on for several more pages, just like she used to before they actually started seeing each other. It wasn’t until he started reading that he realized that he missed her long rambling emails and he missed writing back to her with memories, theories, feelings, hopes and dreams and things he just made up, things that popped into his head that he wanted to say to her because he didn’t want the email to end. It was like he was connected to her through it.

He spent the next hour writing back to her before getting ready to meet her at the Constant Apple. 

***

The coffee shop was exactly as he remembered it: cozy, dim lighting, curtained windows, intimate seating for about twenty. He saw her immediately, sitting at a candlelit table near the back of the room, the same place she’d been sitting when he stood her up. He couldn’t remember what it was that had spooked him that night but he felt a slash of regret. She looked so beautiful and graceful, sitting erect, posture perfect, hair tumbling over her shoulders.

How could I have been such an idiot?

“Well,” he said as he pulled back a chair to sit down, “I didn’t chicken out.”

She looked up at him and smiled. “Good thing,” she said. “I’d hate having to hunt you down to shoot you.”

“You need a gun on your job?” He wavered slightly before sitting all the way down, as though he were about to change his mind and leave. 

She laughed. “Not really. I don’t do field work, just boring old desk stuff, checking out information and anomalies. Really boring stuff.”

He looked around the room. “I remember coming here.”

“Our fourth date. Pardon me…the fourth time you stood me up.”

He reached over the table and touched her hand. “I was an idiot. I’m going to blame it all on Crosby.”

“Who?”

He glanced around the room again. “This place hasn’t changed a bit. I mean, we could be sitting here that night. Everything’s the same.”

“Except we’re sitting here together this time.”

They laughed. They ordered coffee and cheesecake.

He looked at her wistfully. “I really liked reading your email and I like writing back. It’s almost like you’re there.” He looked, reflectively, at the table and then back to her eyes. “I’ve been having all these weird thoughts.”

“Like what, Jack?”

“I’m not really sure. I had a big bump and a cut on my head. Haven’t got a clue how they got there.” He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. “Things like this have been happening all my life and I just shrug them off.” He leaned forward. “There’s something intrinsically wrong with me and I don’t have a clue what…only that it’s kept me from being a part of the rest of the world all my life.”

The worry in Valerie’s eyes was unmistakable. She started to say something but stopped. She stared into his eyes, reached her hands across the table and held his hands. Jack had a sense that she wanted to say something but she held back. “What…what do you think?”

The waitress arrived with their coffee and cheese cake. They were quiet, smiling tensely, as she placed the contents of the tray on their table. When she left, Valerie said, “I’m not sure. I know you were into this whole conspiracy theory thing for so long and…”

“But this isn’t conspiracy stuff. It’s me. It’s things about myself that I don’t understand, things that I’ve spent an entire lifetime shrugging off, ignoring. But I can’t do it anymore.” He leaned forward. “Do you want to hear something really weird?”

He saw something in her eyes, just a brief instant and then it was gone.

Was that fear? Did I just see fear in her eyes? Why fear?

“I’ve always had this feeling that I’m not alone.” He let his words sink in before continuing. “I’ve never been able to figure out who or what the others are, only I feel their presence sometimes. So strongly. It’s as though there’s periods of time when I’m somebody else. When I’m other people. And things happen to those other people…like the bump on my head…and when I’m back to myself, I’ve forgotten what happened because the memory isn’t mine…it’s somebody else’s.” He stopped for a moment, staring intently into her eyes. “Does that make any sense?”

She was quiet for a moment. He had a sense that her eyes were searching his eyes for something. As though she were weighing the possible ways to answer his question. 

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s just that…” She shook her head slowly. “You’ve cut yourself off from the rest of the world for so long. It’s bound to have an effect on you. The characters in you strip are probably more real to you than anyone else you know and…”

“And that’s another thing. The characters in my comic…they all look alike and they all look like me. Why is that?”

Valerie smiled nervously, “Well, don’t writers write about what they know best. Maybe each of those characters represents a facet of your own personality.”

Jack thought about his a moment. “You know, Valerie…there’s something about what you just said that has a ring of truth to it. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but…”

“Maybe it’s because you have so few interactions with other people…that you interact with yourself as other people in your comic.”

After a moment, he said, “I don’t know. What you said at first, seemed…familiar, like it was close to something I knew. But I don’t think, no…interact with myself as though I’m other people? Why does that seem to make so much sense?”

“It makes the characters in your comics seem more real…like real people.”

“No. It’s more than that. It’s so much more than that.” He looked off somewhere into the room, deep in thought.

Valerie frowned.

***

She thought carefully about the things Jack had said and the things she’d said. She knew that she had to be careful. Something was happening with Jack that hadn’t happened before…if she understood what Natalie had told her correctly. 

Jack was questioning things. He was no longer accepting them and shrugging them off to some anomaly he’d always accepted. And he was starting to question the things that had nothing to do with the rest of the world, the things that were personal to him, like the bump on his head, a cut on his lip—all the things he couldn’t remember happening but had happened to him.

Natalie’s grand scheme to keep the identities of her children secret from each of them was starting to unravel and Valerie was beginning to share her concerns about the consequences. What would happen to Jack when he found out that he was one of seven people sharing the same body? How would be react to his entire life being something completely different than he thought it was?

But he’s seen into it in a way. The seven characters in his strip. And he has so many questions and suspicions. Maybe the truth would give him some kind of closure on a lifetime of doubts that he’s been conditioned to ignore.

She decided to drop by to see Natalie on the weekend.

We need to come up with a plan before all hell breaks loose. And maybe it’s already too late.

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 63: Sunday – Jackie

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Episode 63

“Hello!”

The voice was close, right next to her ear.

“Hello! Are you awake?”

A woman’s voice. Close.

“Hello. You fell asleep on the bench.”

Faces. Her face. But faces plural. Her face…but different. And thoughts. Or memories? Her in a red dress chewing on a cigar. Her riding a bicycle and taking pictures. Her hiding in bushes and spying on a coffee shop. But not her. Not Jackie. Someone else. But her face.

A hand on her shoulder. A face taking shape. A young woman with black hair in a ponytail wearing a jogging outfit under a light black jacket. She sat down beside Jackie. “Are you alright?”

Jackie shook her head and looked at the woman. “Yes, I’m fine. I guess I fell asleep. Thanks for waking me.”

“No problem,” said the woman, smiling widely. “It’s generally safe here at night, but it’s getting cold and I was concerned that you might get hypothermia.” With that, she stood up, wished Jackie a good night and continued running.

Jackie’s mind reeled. 

What the hell am I doing in the park? At night? How did I get here?

She clearly remembered going to bed.

Sleepwalking? I got dressed and sleepwalked into the park and slept on a bench? 

She looked around, looked down, saw her clothing.

Who’s clothes am I wearing? These aren’t my clothes. Why am I wearing someone else’s clothes? 

What were all those faces? Those were me? 

She stood up quickly, too quickly, the blood-rush to her head made her dizzy and she sat back down.

What the fuck is going on? Who’s clothes am I wearing and what am I doing here? And what was that all about with the faces? Am I going fucking crazy?

She stood up, slower this time, and looked around, getting her bearings. She saw the orange light glowing through her two living room windows through the spindly branches of the trees to her right and walked slowly in the direction toward home.

***

She shook her head as she stood in front of the mirror.

How did I get into these clothes? Where did I get these clothes? Why am I wearing these clothes? And how did I get to the park? And why am I awake now? It’s still dark. It’s still night. I should be asleep.

Her thoughts went back to one of the conversations she’d had with her mother when she was a child, one of the many conversations they’d had on her condition.

“You’re not like other people. You’re very special. But you have to take certain precautions. These things are necessary.” 

They were in the kitchen. It was evening. Crickets chirped outside the windows.

“I know it’s hard for you to understand these things at your age. I know that you’ll have questions as you grow. But sometimes you have to accept things without fully understanding them.”

 The message had been so thoroughly drummed in night-after-night that she’d just accepted it, never questioned it. It was in the woodgrain of her life.

But this was beyond accepting. She looked at the cuffs of her plaid shirt. They were worn.

These were not new clothes that she’d bought somewhere. These were used clothes. Someone else’s clothes.

Where did these come from? And what was it with all those faces? So different. But me.

She heard a familiar knock on her door.

What does she want at this time of night? Why am I even awake at this time of night?

The concern in Mrs. Gilbert’s face was unmistakeable, even through the wrinkles.

“I heard you come in and I thought, my, that’s unusual for Jackie. I was wondering it there’s anything wrong.”

“No, Mrs. Gilbert, there’s no need to worry. I fell asleep on a park bench. But a woman out for a run woke me. I’m alright. I think.”

Mrs. Gilbert laughed. “Oh, I’m afraid I’m guilty on that count as well. Fell asleep in the park one night shortly after I bought this place. It’s so comfortable in the park.” She studied Jackie carefully for a moment. “But you seem somewhat distraught. Are you sure that you’re OK?” Jackie thought about this for a moment. “Mrs. Gilbert, I have a question.”

“Yes, dear.”

She opened the door completely. “Have you ever seen me in these clothes before?”

The look in Mrs. Gilbert’s eyes was unmistakable: shock.

Why would she react with shock? What does she know?

“Mrs. Gilbert? What is it? Have you seen me in these clothes before?”

It took several seconds before she replied, as though she were gathering her wits or trying to figure something out. “Honestly, Jackie, I wouldn’t be able to say for sure. The shirt looks nice on you though. Why do you ask such a strange question?”

And why did you have such a strange reaction?

She shook her head. “I…I don’t know. It’s just that…”

What does she know?

“Yes, dear?”

“Well, this is going to sound strange…but I seem to have forgotten that I even had these clothes. Isn’t that weird?”

Jackie imagined that she could hear gears of thought grinding away inside the older woman’s mind. The look in her eyes had been real. Shock.

Why shock?

Mrs. Gilbert’s expression changed from bemusement to mirth and she laughed. “Oh…I wish I had a wardrobe so large that I would forget some of the clothing I had.”

“But these clothes aren’t mine, Mrs. Gilbert. I don’t have a big wardrobe and I’ve never seen these clothes before.” She looked down at the shirt. “And I hate plaid. I would never wear it.”

Something was going on in Mrs. Gilbert’s eyes but Jackie couldn’t tell what it was. It looked like a mixture of things, so fleeting they left no impression before the next one flashed into hernirises. “I really don’t know what to say, dear.” She shook her head and crossed her arms over her massive chest. “Have you been getting enough sleep? I was reading that lack of sleep can sometimes lead to unexplainable things happening in your life…”

“No, Mrs. Gilbert. It’s not lack of sleep. I don’t know where these clothes came from.”

She gestured toward her body with both hands. “They’re just…on me.”

The two stood, facing each other for what seemed like hours before Mrs. Gilbert said, “Well, dear, the shirt does look good on you…even though you don’t like it. But I suppose I should stop bothering you now. Perhaps, you should try to get some…” She stopped dead and Jackie was certain that what she saw flashing in the woman’s eyes was panic. “Or, maybe you should change clothing and make some coffee.” Jackie’s eyes followed hers to the big windows where the first light of day was beginning to erase the night. “It looks like it’s almost time to rise.” She smiled, but there was something other than smiling in her eyes.

What is that? Helplessness?

“Well…I have some things to attend to. If you need to talk some more, just let me know.” She hurried toward the stairs.

What does she know?

***

Natalie

Natalie’s hands shook. Sitting in her armchair with her hands resting on her legs, back straight and eyes looking forward but seeing nothing, she breathed deeply, slowly. She felt her heart flutter. That was the last thing she needed.

What have I done?

It was all catching up to her, all the years of hiding the truth from her children.

But what was I supposed to do? Anything could have happened if they’d found out. And what would the rest of the world have done to them?

Manzer had told her that it might be best for them to know so that they could work together to adapt.

But they might have merged into one personality. They might have all gone crazy. They might have lived their lives being studied, under the microscope. 

I love them all. I have seven children. 

That, she knew, was the main reason for not telling them: she wanted to keep all seven of them. It was the same as if some other mother had given birth to seven babies with seven different personalities, except her babies were all in the same body.

What have I done? God, please don’t let her go to sleep now.

She had no idea what would happen if Jackie went to sleep this early. Nothing like this had happened before. She might wake up as Jackson. She might wake up as herself but with her biorhythms skewed so that she might not sleep that night. Natalie had worked hard to ensure that all seven of them adhered to a strict schedule, something that was so much a part of them that it defined who they were. For their entire lives, they’d all been in bed by midnight. For their entire lives, they’d waked up at six in the morning. For their entire lives, they’d always been home to make that deadline. None of them had ever been to a sleepover or stayed overnight in a hotel or anywhere else other than home. All the strategies and planning she’d worked out with Manzer…all of it seemed to be unraveling now.

They’re all going out on their own now. I need to talk to Manzer.

***

What could she possibly know that she would hold back from me? Jackie, you must be going crazy. It’s Mrs. Gilbert. Sweet wrinkled old Mrs. Gilbert. She has nothing to hide from you. You’re being paranoid. But why did she look that way? She seemed almost shocked. And why did she seem to panic after telling me I should get some sleep? And then change suddenly to drinking coffee? 

She went to the bedroom and opened the hidden door to her closet.

Why do I keep my clothes and other things stored in a secret closet?

She thought back to her childhood, the secret closet in the house she grew up in. This had been one of the rituals of her life. It was something she just did because she wasn’t like other people. 

And why am I not like other people?

She undressed and threw the strange clothing on the floor of the closet.

God, even the underwear isn’t mine.

She picked a pair of jeans and t-shirt and put them on.

This is crazy. Something’s seriously wrong. Either I’m going crazy or someone’s playing some kind of really bizarre joke on me. 

She went to the living room, sat down at her desk and turned on her computer. Light burst through the windows as the early morning sun broke through a thin layer of cloud. Jackie stared at dust motes in the air as her mind wandered. She thought about the hundreds, no, thousands of little things she’d forced herself to ignore through her life, so many things and so many times that it became second nature and she never questioned it. The only thing she’d ever questioned was her body. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the body she was supposed to have. She was a woman. She’d always been a woman. The man who lost his glasses knew that without even seeing her clearly. She’d always thought like a woman, felt like a woman, wanted the things that women wanted. She’d had to accept never really being herself. 

And those faces. Me.

She thought about how she’d felt when she’d seen them. Puzzlement. But familiarity beyond the faces being hers. 

And not me. 

She noticed that her computer was on. She was certain that she’d turned it off. She was always careful about that. She pressed Control Alt Delete and entered her password. Her desktop appeared. She stared at it, not knowing what to do next. The research on sex change suddenly didn’t seem so urgent. She had no idea where she was going to go with her next play. She wasn’t even certain that she wanted to write another play. 

Maybe it’s time to try something else. A novel? Short stories? 

The scripts for all seventeen of her plays were lined up across the top of her monitor. She stared at them.

Seventeen plays. Seventeen.

It occurred to her that she didn’t care about those plays. Suddenly, they were just words that she’d mostly forgotten. What she wondered about was the theme that ran through every one of them: Humans transforming from primordial beasts into so called civilized people, but deadlier and more violent than ever. 

What’s that all about? Do I really believe that? Where did that come from?

She felt all the inconsistencies and unexplained events of her life building like a wave that threatened to swamp her sanity. The more she thought about it, the more she was awed by the power of it.

But not anymore.

She decided to put everything in her life on hold while she faced whatever it was she hadn’t faced since as long as she could remember. 

I need to find out who I am before I become who I will be. 

 

 

 

Episode 62: Saturday – Jac

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Episode 62

Jac had expected this. He wasn’t disappointed.

Arial 86

Well, I seem to have made a few people happy. But, GavinTRipper, I think you might be coming off as a little on the harsh side.

There were dozens of comments on his book site, and no mercy. It seemed to Jac that the world was rejoicing. Not one person suggested that by killing himself and destroying his books, maybe there was hope for him at the end.

Not gonna happen, Simon. They hate you. They hated you alive and they hate you dead. Good thing you’re not me anymore.

There was something in the meaning of these words that disturbed him in some faraway mindset, like seeing a mosquito flying out the window and wondering if it had already bitten you.

But you were me. You were me since I was a child. You were me as you wrote every single word. I was the monster that you were and you are the monster that I was.

Jac realized that it was going to take some time before he fully accepted this new view on life. It would take time to completely accept that it was OK to value things, that it was OK to love things—including life—and want to hang on to them for however long he could.

Maybe I’ll get a dog.

***

Arial 87

Fuck you A. Fan. I’ll be closing down every Simon Pierce link that leads to me and Simon Pierce will be dead and way beyond your empty threats.

Asshole.

***

Increasingly, a disturbing image crossed his mind: that of a young boy cutting his wrists after cutting his pet dog’s throat and somehow it seemed all the more macabre that he even thought to kill his dog before killing himself.

Why haven’t I thought about that until now?

It was a puppy. The kid killed his puppy.

He couldn’t remember feeling anything like remorse in his entire life. He’d felt pain and loss when his mother died, but he’d never felt bad about anything he’d done himself. His view of life had always been inspired from his own experiences. Sharing that view with others through his writing was something he felt, at some level, was the right thing to do, to warn others. To help others to not feel the pain of loss.

But he wondered it that was that really what he’d been doing?

He thought about the dead boy and his dead dog. He thought about the reports of kids with emotional problems from reading his books. In the past, he’d ignored this, let it bounce off whatever conscience he allowed himself to have. But then, he was good at ignoring things, at selecting his realities.

Don’t get into that. Not now. Just accept that you fucked up and get on with things. That’s all you can do now. Let Simon Pierce die and let Jac Munroe live.

He did a search on owning a pet dog and was surprised by the number of them that used the word “adoption” as though you were buying a family member as opposed to a pet. And the prices were through the ceiling, even at the animal shelters.

They want me to pay over two hundred bucks for a dog that nobody wants?

He looked at the bad photographs of dogs waiting to be adopted, the red-eye glare obscuring what was supposed to be big brown eyes “looking for a loving home.” They were mostly full body shots of animals that looked like their bodies had been through hell.

Portraits would be so much better. You can’t tell the character of a dog, or any living thing, through its body. You need to see the eyes, the curvature of the face.

He’d never had a dog but he knew this to be true of life; thus, it was true of dogs. He studied the images of terriers, boxers, shih tzus, Siberian huskies and breeds he imagined the people placing the ads were making wild guesses at. There seemed to be more terriers than other breeds. He wondered if terriers had bad tempers, if they bit children or if they weren’t really looking for a loving family and just wanted to be left alone.

Do I really deserve to own a dog after what I did? Do I deserve to feel comforted with the body heat of a dog pressed against me on a cold night? I made children kill their pets. Their dogs, their hamsters. Janie was a virus I created to infect the lives of innocent children who suffered because of my writing.

It occurred to him that he needed to right a wrong. He needed to do something good to balance out the bad that he’d done. At first, he wasn’t too hot about the idea and questioned his sincerity. He questioned if there was anything he could ever do to balance things.

You can’t bring a ten-year old boy and his dog back from the dead.

But the more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of turning his writing towards hope and the idea that everything in life should be cherished rather than abandoned.

But what am I going to write about? What do I know enough about that I can write stories that’ll inspire positive feelings toward life? Positive feelings.

He scrolled down the page of pathetic looking animals with severe red-eye. He scrolled past a picture of a Beagle and quickly scrolled back up. It was a skinny excuse for a dog but there was something about it that attracted Jac. It was $150 but it came with all its shots taken care of. There was something about the way its head was cocked to one side, as if it knew what the picture was for, as if it were posing for that “loving” home. He called the shelter and asked it the dog were still available. It was. The girl on the other end started asking questions about him. He said he would call back and hung up.

This is it. This is where I go next.

It was all so clear: the next step in his writing career. He would buy the Beagle and he would go on adventures with it in the park and he would write children’s stories about him and his dog. He would need a new pen name, one that would sum up his love for his dog and wouldn’t be associated with the ire of a hateful reading public. He would have to come up with a name for the dog.

What do you call a Beagle? Snoopy?

He visited sites on raising dogs, dog health, how to properly feed a dog, medical care for dogs, dog training, dog psychology, dog toys, dog clothing, dog owner support groups, dog accessories, dog vacations, dog rights…

There’s a lot more to this dog thing than initially meets the eye.

He navigated back to the picture of the Beagle and imagined himself walking down the street with the Beagle on a leash walking proudly in front of Jac, woofing hello to passersby and others walking their dogs. He imagined himself sitting on the couch looking out the window with the dog asleep on the couch beside him. He imagined throwing Frisbees in the park, the dog jumping into the air to make brilliant catches. Women passing by and seeing Jac and his Beagle would stop and ask him questions about the dog.

Anything’s possible now. Anything.

He looked out the window. Shadows of buildings stretched across the park as the sun set. It was getting dark earlier each day and from where he sat, the bare branches of trees looked like surreal plumbing in the sky framed by the windows. It suddenly occurred to him that he wanted to go for a walk in the park and think about his future.

First, though, he went online and sent a message.

***

He savored the pastrami and mustard burp. He’d eaten slowly, relishing each bite, letting the flavors roll across his tongue, the textures rub against the flesh of his mouth. The twilit shadows and highlights of trees in the park as the sun went down created a fascinating park silhouette outlined by the lamps that lined its paths. There were still joggers and walkers, people sitting on benches but the baby strollers were in for the day and the park was quiet. People still nodded as they passed him.

He found an empty bench surrounded by bushes. He sat down and stretched his legs out in front of him. It was all so strange to him. Everything he’d believed in for as long as he could remember was suddenly the stuff of memory. He didn’t believe any of it. There was value to life and value in valuing life. It was OK to want things, to love things, to hold things in your hand and tell yourself, “This is mine and I love it.” Even if you lost it, it was yours until you lost it.

He still missed his mother and he sometimes thought about Alex, wondering where he was and what kind of adult he’d grown up to be. He missed the house in the country and the kitchen where he’d spent so much time with his mother. He remembered the aromas of things baking in the oven or cooking in skillets on the stove, the delicious heaviness of food smell, making his mouth water, his stomach ache. He remembered warmth and comfort, in spite of his mother’s teachings and warnings.

All that had changed when his mother died and the dreams started. He barely remembered the years after his mother’s death, the same routine each day, but with Miss Winchester. He barely remembered what she looked like or the sound of her voice. His memory of her and every minute spent with her was a blur.

And that made him wonder about the memory lapses, the tiny anomalies over the years that he couldn’t put his finger on and say, “I remember this clearly. Here’s what happened…” A part of him knew that was never going to happen. A part of him wanted desperately for that to happen. Another part of him gaped fearfully at the possibility of that ever happening.

What is that? What is there about my life, hidden from me through all this forgetting and ignoring things that I should be afraid of it? What am I afraid of?

The night was surprisingly warm for the time of year. The park was quiet, serene and comfortable. Sitting on the bench, savoring the scent of dead leaves, he suddenly felt a wave of relaxation course through his body. The questions and doubts evaporated into a cloud of uncaring as his head slumped to one side and he fell asleep.

***

Natalie was frantic. It was long past the time for Jac and he still wasn’t home. She hadn’t seen him leave the building.

They’re all going out more often now. Out on their own. Where I can’t keep an eye on them. How long can I keep this up with them going off on their own like this?

What will happen if Jackie wakes up before the transformation is complete?

What?