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The Free Version of The Weekly Man Will Remain Free

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Still Time.GIF

It’s been a while since I posted the last episode of The Weekly Man…seventy-two all together over a period of two and a half months. It was tough. It was sometimes a royal pain in the ass, especially when one or more of the technologies ran amok and I tried to tear hairs out of my bald scalp. But it’s done and every episode was posted before the midnight deadline to be ready for the next day’s coffee break.

: )

I’m going to leave both the blog and smartphone versions. That might be a problem: opening 72 PDFs for the phone version and scrolling up and down the blog version and reading in such an unnatural manner as to cause irreversible brain damage.

On the other hand, you might want to wait until early to mid-2020 for the print version. It won’t be free, but it’ll be easier on your head. And it will include a massive re-write. Check back here for details as they unfold.

However, it’s my intent to leave the free version up even after the print version is published…just for those who actually want to read the novel the way it was intended…one episode a day during your coffee break…for 72 days.

And finally, I’ve started the story dump for the sequel to The Weekly Man. This one’s going to be really weird.

I promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weekly Man: The Final Episode

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Final

Because the final episode is in email format (which doesn’t work well with this WordPress template) this episode is in PDF format ready to be viewed when you click here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading The Weekly Man over the last 72 days. It’s been a blast running the serialization and now it’s time to move on to a print version of the novel, but more on that later.

In the meantime, you can check out some informative writer’s resources and free short stories here.

 

 

Episode 71: Jackson

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Episode 71

Jackson eased back in the beach chair as the sound of surf crashed over the beach and up to his table where he lay in the shade of a wooden beach umbrella. He admired the intricate pattern of thatched wood and wondered when they’d started using metal nails along with the thatching. He wondered what kind of wood they used for the umbrellas. He imagined it would be something needing minimal upkeep in terms of drying out and warping. A dozen feet from where he lay, seven wooden umbrellas were under construction. He thought about walking over and taking a closer look but decided his rum punch was closer and he really didn’t feel like getting up so he sipped some rum, keeping in mind that he would have to go easy today. Not like the first night. But then, it was the first time he’d had rum, his first night in a tropical paradise, his first time getting drunk.

But…

Someone else had paid the price for his drunken stupor. He’d made Jax first day in paradise hell-on-earth with a brain splitting hangover. Jax had asked Jack if he would please pass the favour on to Jackson. But mercifully, Jack just left a message for him to take better care of his brother’s head next time.

He watched as a trio of pelican’s buzzed around a couple with a pail of fish. They were letting people take the fish from the pail and feed the pelicans. A middle-aged bald man and his strawberry blond twenty-something daughter, who was almost the spitting image of her father, passed by the pelicans and the daughter held up a small fish as a pelican flapped its wings in front of her and snapped its beak forward, grabbing the fish and giving the girl a nasty bite. She swore at the bird as her father laughed. She swore at her father but he kept laughing. The couple with the pail emptied the rest of the fish on the beach and the pelicans landed and strutted toward the fish as though they owned the beach.

The father said something about pina coladas and the girl stopped swearing as the two made off toward the hotel laughing.

Vacation. He still had a hard time getting his head around it but that was the way lately. Everything made sense now: the cuts and bruises, the bumps and missing teeth, the million and one things he’d had to shrug off since childhood. It all made sense. 

And what a wonder everything had become. He had five brothers and a sister. All these years, he had five brothers and a sister and he’d shared his body with them. It took a while to get his head around that one but it all made sense. Ad he’d had a chance to visit his mother before she died.

He remembered looking into her eyes. His brother, Jack’s, friend, Valerie had been there. She’d explained everything before they went to the hospital. Manzer had been there. It had been like a dream. So many truths. So many questions finally answered. As he’d looked into his mother’s eyes he was amazed that he’d never guessed the truth hidden between all those folds of skin, that sparkle in her eyes, his mother’s sparkle, so obviously full of love. 

How could I never have seen that? How could I never have known?

The folds of her mouth and lips had kept working as she tried to get the words out. It seemed to take forever with his head bent over her, his ear close to her mouth. And then the barely perceptible words:

I’m…so sorry.

And that last long breath with all the years of her secret rushing out as her body relaxed. 

For the first time in his life, he’d cried. He’d felt like a sack of water punctured in the eyes so badly that his entire life spilled out through his tears. He wasn’t sure how long he’d cried. He remembered Manzer’s hand on his shoulder and him saying it was a time to go home and talk.

They’d talked, he and Manzer and Valerie, right up till the time.

Manzer said they would come back in the morning and talk to Jax.

(Tomorrow is the final episode of The Weekly Man. How do you think they’ll put all this together and still function as people?)

 

 

 

Episode 70: Sunday – Jackie

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Episode 70

So many questions. Her whole life had been questions. Questions without answers. Questions to be shrugged off and ignored. Questions to be shoved to the back of her mind and forgotten. 

Never question the questions. 

Acceptance of things for what they are: events with no beginnings, reactions with no actions. Someone else’s clothing. Waking up in the park without going into the park. A bump on the head with no accident. 

And what does Mrs. Gilbert know that made her react that way? And why would she know anything? What could she possibly know? Why that look of shock? 

She’d been out in the dark. Past the time. She’d never done that before. 

And those faces? What were those faces? Me…but not me.

A chill crept up her legs and into her spine. She walked to the closet and pressed the code to open the secret door. 

Why do I have a secret door? Why did I always have a secret door? What was it Mom said? It was so long ago. About protecting me from those who would treat me like a freak? 

But I am a freak. 

It was something she’d always known. She’d grown up suspecting it. She’d never been into the things that men were into and she’d never felt comfortable with her body.

But the acceptance of things over the years. Accepting and ignoring things.

She was suddenly awed by the power of her mother’s suggestion and the continued power after her death. She felt that she’d been in a hypnotic spell all her life, conditioned to accept without question.

But I can’t do that anymore. I need to know what’s going on in my life. I need to find out who I am—or what—I am.

She grabbed her fall coat, closed the closet and went to the door.

***

Natalie

No…not now!

It felt like someone with an iron grip squeezing her heart as the numbness coursed up and down her arm. She gripped the shelves and knocked over a large planter with green leaves spilling over the sides. The planter hit the floor and cracked, spewing dark soil and green leaves as Mrs. Gilbert’s eyes rolled. She watched in horror at the room spinning around her as she fell, knocking over the entire shelf with six more planters. She hit the floor hard. 

***

Jackie and Natalie

Jackie heard the crashing from Mrs. Gilbert’s flat as she opened the door leading to the front steps. 

My god…what?

She rushed to Mrs. Gilbert’s door and knocked. 

“Mrs. Gilbert. Mrs. Gilbert. It’s Jackie. Are you all right?”

She tried the door knob. It was locked. She knocked harder.

“Mrs. Gilbert! Mrs. Gilbert! Are you all right!”

She put her ear up against the door and listened. She thought she heard moaning. 

“Mrs. Gilbert!”

She tried the knob again, turning it hard, but it wouldn’t budge.

She yelled as loud as she could, “Mrs. Gilbert!” She put her ear up against the door again. She was certain that she heard moaning.

My god…she’s had another heart attack. This fucking door. Well, Jackie…what about this fucking door? 

Man’s body or not, she wasn’t big. She was slim but solid. She’d never been sure why that was because she never did much in the way of physical activity and certainly didn’t follow an exercise routine. But she was solid and she kicked at the door with all the force she could muster. To her surprise, the door swung open. She rushed in and saw Mrs. Gilbert lying on her side surrounded by dirt and broken flower pots. She was convulsing. Jackie ran over to her and hoisted the woman’s head onto her lap.

“Mrs. Gilbert!”

The older woman’s breathing started to return to normal. She opened her eyes and looked into Jackie’s eyes. The helplessness in those eyes frightened Jackie…this woman who was always so robust, so brimming with energy and positivity. 

Her eyes. So helpless.

She reached into her back pocket for her phone. “Mrs. Gilbert, I’m going to call an ambulance for you. Hold on now. Help will be here soon.” She couldn’t help but think that there was something else besides helplessness in the old woman’s eyes as she punched in the numbers and talked to a calm voice that requested information slowly and methodically.

What is that in her eyes? Like she’s saying she’s sorry. Why would she be sorry? What for?

She returned the phone to her pocket. “They’re on their way now, Mrs. Gilbert. Just hold on. Everything’s going to be OK.” She sat on the floor with Mrs. Gilbert’s head in her lap, looking into her eyes. The older woman’s lips moved as though she were trying to say something but she couldn’t get the words to come. “It’s OK, Mrs. Gilbert. It’s OK. They’ll be here soon. Just hang in there. You’re going to be OK.”

She looked around to see if there was a pillow nearby. There was something about the furniture in the room that seemed strange. The sandy brown recliner. It looked familiar. The dark brown chesterfield with the light brown tasseled throws. She couldn’t put her finger on why it seemed so familiar. The paisley wing chair and ottoman. To her right, there was a fireplace that looked like it hadn’t been used in years. On the mantle above the fireplace there were pictures. There was something about the pictures. She squinted her eyes.

No. This can’t be. How can this be?

They were pictures of Jackie when she was a child. Seven pictures of her when her mother was still alive.

It was a few seconds before Jackie could tear her gaze away from the pictures to look at the woman who had just walked through the door and past the dark oak storage bench with scarves and coats hanging from brass hooks. She remembered the bench from her childhood when it had been beside the door leading into the backyard from the kitchen.

Long blonde hair flowed over the woman’s navy blue fall coat. She had a long hawk-like nose but she was beautiful. The motion of her steps was sure and concise. She moved quickly and was beside Jackie in a matter of seconds. She looked first at Mrs. Gilbert and then at Jackie. “Did you call an ambulance?”

Jackie nodded yes and looked back at the pictures on the mantle. She looked back into Mrs. Gilbert’s helpless apologetic eyes and it started to sink in.

All this time. All these years.

“Mom? Is that you Mom?”

The faintest of smiles curled at the edges of Natalie’s mouth.   

***

Valerie watched as Jackie’s eyes turned to the pictures on the mantle and back to the old woman, back to the pictures and back to the woman. The confusion. The realization. And even more confusion.

Well, I guess the secret is out now. 

The look in Mrs. Gilbert’s eyes didn’t show a trace of fear. Valerie would much rather have seen that than the look of infinite helplessness. The movement of her lips, but unable to speak. Knowing that her years of keeping the secret, all her strategies, the planning, the quick responses to emergencies, the mental programming, the faked death…the lies: It was all coming undone. There was no strategy for this. One of them had seen the photos.

And why did she keep the pictures here in the same building? 

One of them had looked into her eyes and seen the truth. There would be no amount of conditioning that would make Jackie just shrug off and forget that the mother she’d thought was dead since she was a child was still alive and had been living in the same building with her for years.

Some things can’t be shrugged off no matter how much conditioning. 

She looked down at Natalie and shook her head, her face showing her disappointment. Tears streamed out of Natalie’s eyes. She’d stopped trying to talk. She just lay on the floor looking up into Jackie’s eyes.

Jackie was still dumbfounded. She stared deep into Natalie’s eyes. Every few minutes, she said, “Mom? Is that you?” 

In the distance, a siren grew closer and closer. Natalie stared into Jackie’s eyes and now both were streaming tears.

   Things were about to change and Valerie hoped those changes would be for the best.

***

It was a couple of hours before the time as Jackie sat on the chesterfield with the tasseled throw staring across the room at the woman named Valerie, sitting in the brown recliner. They were in Mrs. Gilbert’s apartment, except that it wasn’t Mrs. Gilbert’s apartment because Mrs. Gilbert didn’t exist. It was her mother’s apartment. Natalie Carson. Her long dead mother, Natalie Carson, living downstairs all these years.

She’d been allowed to visit her briefly after the surgery. Until then, she’d sat with Valerie Vine in the waiting room, neither of them saying a word, Jackie still in shock. Everything in her life was beginning to fly apart like a bursting piñata. The visit had been short. Valerie had told her that it was essential that she be home before midnight. Her mother’s lips moved furiously under the folds of flesh. Jackie barely managed to hear her words, “Go now. Explain later. Listen Valerie. Please. Go now.”

Neither woman had spoken during the ride home as Jackie stared straight ahead, feeling the buildings and sidewalks, the traffic and intersections, a whole world passing by on the other side of the window. Every thought that could have bred a question dissolved before she had a chance to clearly define what she was thinking. Everything tangible was suddenly illusory. Even her presence in the car felt dreamlike, a product of her imagination. She clenched her fists tightly to assure herself that she could feel something in the physical world—that she was real. 

And now they were facing each other surrounded by things that Jackie had let go of years ago, those things that wouldn’t fit into the flat. But she wasn’t looking at the furniture. She was looking at the pictures on the mantle. They were the faces of herself that she’d seen in her dream. They were her but not her, except for one at the far end of the shelf. For some reason, she was sure that was her. She turned her head to Valerie.

“OK…so I’m pretty damn sure the one at the end is me,” she said, pointing. “But I have a feeling that the others are someone, or something, else. Can you explain?”

Valerie closed her eyes as she looked up at the ceiling and breathed deeply. She was motionless for a few minutes while Jackie stared patiently.”

Valerie opened her eyes and looked at Jackie. “Let’s go over to the mantle and I’ll introduce you to some people you’ve been sharing your body with since birth…your brothers.”

 

(Only two more episodes to go. I think I enjoyed writing the last episode more than any of the others. And I think it leads nicely into the sequel. Working on that.)

 

 

Episode 69: Saturday – Jac

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Episode 69

It was a strange but familiar feeling. The presence of a woman. He knew her but he didn’t know her. He had a sense of something of himself in her or was it something of her in him? It was blurry and surreal. Like a dream. He smiled.

It was a dream.

Something else moved across the panorama of his waking.

How did I get here?

He remembered being in the park. He remembered sitting on the bench. He didn’t remember coming home or going to bed. Again, the female presence came back to him.

What was that? Why was she so familiar?

He remembered the dog, the Beagle.

After a quick trip to the washroom, he was on the phone.

“Yes, the Beagle. It was on your site. I called about it. It was still available.”

“You mean unadopted?” The female voice on the other end was young, cold, distant.

“Yes, unadopted.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t see anything here about a Beagle. It’s…oh wait. Yes. It was finished yesterday.”

He thought for a minute. He could hear choppy breathing from the other end. “What do you mean finished?”

“Its term here was finished without an adoption.”

“So?”

“So what, sir?”

“So what happens when the dog is finished?”

The voice was suddenly arrogant, as though he were foolish or stupid for not knowing “finished”. “We had to put the dog down, sir. Its term was finished. We only have so much room here. If an animal hasn’t been adopted by the end of its term, we have to put it down. Those are the rules.”

“But I called. I told them I wanted the dog. I was going to come in.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t see a record of that. There’s no record of that. There would have been an entry, a record. There’s no record of that. The animal finished its term and was put down. It’s a very humane process. The animal didn’t feel any pain. But there’s no…”

Jac squeezed down on the End Call button.

Fucking idiots. Fucking stupid idiots.

***

Maybe it’s punishment. Or a reminder?

Jac was angry. Disappointed.

He felft down on himself and wondered if maybe he’d been wrong to change his tune on the nature of life.

The first time in ages that I let myself want something.

And I lose it before I even get it.

He noticed people he passed in the park, nodding to him, smiling, as though they knew him or recognized him. He felt a brief flash of panic as he thought that maybe his identity as Simon Pierce might have somehow been revealed but it passed quickly when he realized that, if that were the case, he wouldn’t be getting friendly nods. He sat in the same spot he’d had the last time he was in the park. He tried to remember back to then, to remember going home. It didn’t make sense to him that he couldn’t remember that. But then, there were so many things he’d forgotten about.

The cuts. The bruises.

He put that out of his mind and thought again about the dog. He wanted that dog. There had been something about its picture, something about the dog that had attracted him. He’d almost owned it through the fantasies of taking it out for walks in the park. Scooping poop like a proud dog owner. He’d already started to grow attached to it, to own it, to love it. Everything he’d been telling the world to avoid through his stories.

And the first time I let myself break my own advice…

He thought about the female presence. How real she’d been. How familiar. He thought about his mother. How much he’d loved her. The aroma of food cooking on the stove and in the oven. He thought about the roast beef. The Yorkshire pudding. The mashed potatoes and gravy. He thought about how long it had been since he’d had a meal like that.

A lifetime ago.

He was suddenly aware of himself smiling at the memory. He was physically smiling. An elderly man bunched up with scarves and a heavy coat returned his smile, thinking that Jac was smiling at him. He didn’t have his mother anymore but he still had the memories of her and the kitchen. He’d lost so many memories but they were the little things. What he’d loved and cherished most was still so very real in his mind and he was sure that he would always hold on to them.

Would like to have built some memories with that dog though.

The park was dismal. A cold wind cut to the bone under a blanket of cloud. The last of the colorful fall flowers had wilted into flakey brown husks. Boney branches scratched the sky. Jac rubbed his hands together. He tried to remember where in his closet he’d packed his winter gloves. He would need them soon.

Just bad luck, I guess. And maybe stories about me and a dog wouldn’t exactly be all that intriguing enough to sell. What kind of adventures do you go on with your dog? I’ve never been on any kind of adventure. What would I know about adventures period, let alone with a dog?

He thought about that. He’d never been on any kind of adventure. He’d spent his whole life mostly writing, venturing out for the occasional shopping or meal. But he’d never been anywhere, never traveled. He had memories of his mother’s house. He had memories of the place he lived in now.

That was it. Nothing else. It was something he never thought about. He’d never had a desire to look beyond his neighborhood. He’d never had a desire to know much about anything except that everything could be lost. Slowly, it dawned on him that he was some kind of hermit. He lived in a flat across from a park. He had no friends other than his landlady. Under his pen name, hundreds, possibly thousands, of people hated him.

No wonder I’m a hermit.

A young couple wearing matching camel hair coats nodded and smiled at him as they walked by, arm in arm.

But everyone seems to like Jac Munroe…without the books about hopelessness. Everybody in this park. The park.

He didn’t know anything about adventure. He didn’t know anything about dogs. He didn’t know anything about the world beyond the park.

So, this is what I write about.

The park.

 

 

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. 

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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.