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Episode 13: Friday – Jacques

Episode 13

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

The laundromance. What better place than a laundromat to inspire romance? Jacques wondered how many thousands—millions—of couples around the world had met in a laundromat. How many lifetime relationships had started over soap bubbles and clothing spinning in dryers? It was a personal place, a place where you revealed yourself on an intimate level. Others could see your taste in clothing, your bedding, your skivvies. At some level you almost knew the person using the washers next to you. Jacques had seen a few relationships start in the time he’d been frequenting laundromats. They’d start with small talk, grow into full conversations and then he would see them coming to the laundromat together, their laundry merged in shared baskets and garbage bags.

He’d written thousands of pages of notes over the years. He was ready and armed with all the details he would ever need to create a sense of setting so that his readers could actually feel like they were there listening to the rumble of industrial size washers, the sound of buttons clicking in the dryers and the chi-chang of quarters slotting into the machines. He wanted his readers to smell the detergent and the bleach. He knew every detail—the bulletin boards with their badly spelled notices, the laundry carts scattered around the building and the heat generated by the machines.

And there was the silence of the people. Jacques guessed there was something about a laundromat that invoked a hush. People talked in low tones or they didn’t talk at all. Maybe it was an uncomfortable withdrawal from so much of their personal stuff being visible—even for just a few seconds—as tattered and soiled underwear was quickly rushed into the washer. Quickly or not, it had been exposed in a public place.

Of course, this didn’t apply to the budding romances. They talked quietly, almost conspiratorially, to block out the rest of the world and make their cozy shared space something for themselves only.

He saw the laundromat as a place of regeneration. People lugged in their dirty clothing and left with baskets and bags of newness. There was a sense of relief as they walked out the doors. They were no longer under scrutiny and their laundry was done. Whew.

Not too much was going on today at the Wheeler Wash. A large woman buried herself in a copy of the National Enquirer, frowning and shaking her head, eating a chocolate bar and washing it down with no-name soda. An elderly couple folded clothing and bedding slowly and meticulously and placed it into square red hampers. They didn’t say a word to each other. They didn’t look at each other. But they were like a single machine, not getting in each other’s way, taking one article after another from the table and folding as though they’d done this so many times that talk wasn’t needed and they didn’t have to look to know the other was there and what the other was doing, where their hands were, what article of clothing they’d just taken. They just knew.

Maybe he would use them as incidental characters in one of his books, props in a story about someone else. He didn’t think there was a place for them in his current book. He already had his main characters and all the incidental ones. He had the plot, the location—laundromat, of course—the theme (things get dirty, things get clean) and the backstories. The backstories were crucial. These were the lives of his characters up to the point where they came into the book. The backstories were the landscapes and horizons, the caverns and hollows, the oceans and skies of everything each of his characters had felt, smelled, heard, tasted and seen in their lives, every thought they’d had, every tear and smile. Before Jacques wrote the first word in any of his novels, he’d thoroughly worked out the backstories of each of his characters enough that he trusted them to do and go wherever they wanted, even if it meant changing the plot.

He even knew their fantasies.

You could learn a lot about someone by getting into their fantasies and then comparing the fantasy with their real lives. Fantasies evoked victory or defeat, acceptance or rejection. The successful CEO who perpetually fantasized living alone on a desert island wasn’t smiling inside.

Jacques’ latest novel had three main characters: two men and a woman. They converged on the Washing Green laundromat on a Saturday morning. The female, Hillary, was getting over a bad relationship with a man who turned out to be an asshole but with whom she’d had her first orgasm. One of the male characters, Jeffry, had just been busted by a woman he worked with as a panty fetishist and he’s dreading Monday morning when everyone at work will be giving him that knowing look, giggling and winking to each other behind his back. The other male character, Baxter, is a jock who’d recently become impotent after finding out that he was sexually abused by his mother when he was a child.

Somehow, Jacques had to get them to help resolve each other’s problems and start a romance between two of them without any of them saying a word to each other.

For this, he had the laundromat on his side.

The laundromat was a sentient being that gets into the minds and bodies—where memories are stored at the cellular level—of its customers and tells their stories. That was one of the rules of a laundromance, it had to be narrated by the laundromat. It was never easy but he’d done it a dozen times and his current novel was coming along nicely.

He was getting bored watching the old couple and the National Enquirer woman. He packed his notebook in his backpack and decided to get a coffee before heading home to go through his email.

***

Oh shit.

It was like being run over by a bus. He couldn’t believe that he’d done this. He read the email a second time.

Arial 25

He felt his blood turning cold as he checked his Sent folder.

Arial 26

   Oh shit.

(Uh oh…what has Jacques done now? And how is he going to wiggle out of this one? Tomorrow, Jac’s life is threatened by someone he’s never even met. Again.)

 

 

Episode 12: Thursday – Jacky

Episode 12

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

He knew he would be seeing Krista Coleman as much as possible and he mused that this might be his first relationship. He’d come close with other women but nothing had ever worked out and he had no idea why that was. But Krista was beautiful, intelligent, natural…and she seemed to be as interested in him as he was in her.

“I love the picture of the tulips,” she said. “As soon as it arrived I had it framed.” She giggled. “The framing cost more than the print.”

Jacky laughed. “Framing itself is an art. In fact, I’ve seen frames on older paintings, you know, the big gold gilded ones that are sometimes bigger than the paintings. Some of those frames are more interesting than the paintings.”

It was Krista’s turn to laugh. “Honestly, though, I didn’t mind paying for the frame. It’s slate gray and suits the picture so well.” She leaned forward put two fingers lightly on Jacky’s left hand. The gesture made him catch his breath. “I have it in a special place in my living room, right over the couch.”

“I feel honored. And slate gray seems like the perfect color for it. You have good taste.”

She giggled. “I’m an interior designer. Good taste is mandatory.”

He was drinking German Chocolate Cake coffee—his favorite. She had a Green Chai Latte.  Her fingers were still on his hand and he put his other hand on top of hers. She smiled and leaned closer to him. His stomach churned with excitement. He felt just a little dizzy. She was so beautiful and her smile…

“So, Jacky,” she said, “why just pictures of plants growing out of sidewalks and streets? Do you ever take pictures of plants growing in pots?”

“Plants in pots are domesticated plants. Plants growing through concrete streets are wild and free—like the difference between house cats and lions.”

“What a beautiful way to put it. I would never have thought of it that way. I mean, free plants and enslaved plants.” She put her free hand on top of his other hand—they were holding hands across the table. His heart raced.

“You told me that you find them within a few blocks of the mall. Really?”

“Yep. I bicycle around looking for them. I usually don’t have to go far from the mall or where I live. You’d be surprised at how much of the city has been reclaimed by nature.”

“And where do you live?”

Oh, that beautiful smile. Those seductive blue eyes.

“On Joslin Street, right across from the park.”

“I know that park. That whole neighborhood is so beautiful. All those old red brick buildings. I’ve always thought that I’d love to do some interior decorating in one of those buildings.”

“I think most of them could use it.” He was beginning to feel giddy. “The insides are ancient. At least, they are in my building. But they’re kept up well. No cracks in the walls or water streaks on the ceilings. Kept up very well.”

“I’d like see the inside of your building sometime.” That smile. “I mean, you’re the only person I know who lives in that area. Do you have a view of the park?”

“Wake up to it every day. Especially beautiful this time of year with all the trees turning color.”

“And you don’t take pictures of the trees? They’re wild and free, aren’t they?”

“I’ve thought about it.” He felt her hands press down on his and his pulse quickened. “But trees are a whole different thing from the smaller plants. There’s something about trees. They don’t break through the concrete and asphalt like dandelions and other weeds. We either cut them down or build around them. But I can take some pictures of trees, if you like.”

Oh, that big beautiful smile.

Her eyes widened. “Would you? Would you really? I mean, I could pay you for them.”

“No!” He didn’t mean to say it that loud. She pushed back slightly, surprised by the tone. “No. I won’t charge you for them. They’re for you. Let’s say, you’ll be inspiring me. So, they should really go to you.”

She leaned back in, laughing. “Why Jacky, I feel so special! Thank you.”

Krista Coleman…you are so special.

He twisted his hand to look at his watch. It was getting close to the hour. He would have to leave soon. He didn’t want to, but he had to.

“Listen, Krista.” He pressed her hand a little harder. “I have to leave shortly but I’d really like to see you again. How about coffee…” He glanced at her cup. “…and tea again?”

“Yes,” she suddenly seemed all bubbly. “I’d love that. And I guess it is getting late and I’m keeping you from your art. But I’ve really enjoyed spending time with you.”

“I’d like to see you again. Can you meet me at the gallery again?”

“You’ll make a special trip for me?”

He laughed. “I’m always there on Thursday.”

She looked puzzled. “Are you going to be out of town or something?”

“Um…no. Why would you think that? How about it? Are we on?”

“Sure,” she said, still looking confused. “We’re on.”

***

Later That Evening – Krista

Finally, a guy who’s not a creep, thought Krista. Maybe your luck is beginning to turn for the better. It’s about time.

Krista Coleman’s life was anything but a happy one. Beauty, intelligence and talent, generally associated with success and a happy life, had done nothing to give her an edge over the mountain of bad luck her life had been for the last two years with three cheating boyfriends, a car crash that had cost her a fortune in dentistry, the death of both her parents a few months apart and, to top if all off, she’d just been laid off from the job she’d had for five years. Her life was currently running on fumes.

But she was still optimistic. That was her way. She viewed her life as a glass half full and now that optimism appeared to be paying off.

She’d passed by Jacky’s virtual kiosk every time she went to the Edwards Mall but it wasn’t until last week that she’d seen him there. There was something about him that she couldn’t put her finger on, something that immediately attracted her. She didn’t think it was his looks, although he was definitely a good looking man, not handsome, but good looking in a friendly, down-to-earth way. It was something under the surface of his looks, an invisible presence, a confluence of vibrations on some plane of being that she couldn’t see, but she could sense. It was almost a mystical feeling and she was ready for a little mysticism in her life.

But why do we have to wait a whole week until our next date?

***

Later That Evening – Jacky

Jacky was sitting on top of the world…well…high on his bicycle seat, and the world was shaping up to be a big happy place. He’d never met a woman like Krista. She was down-to-earth and friendly and her smile was beautiful. He could still feel her hands pressed light on top of his. Her voice hummed in his ears like chocolate icing on cake. He could hardly wait until the next date.

He wondered about that. He wondered why she’d seemed confused at the end of their date.

Could she have been nervous?

But she’d said yes. She’d said yes and he was going to see her again. And maybe, just maybe, he’d bring her home.

 

(Some Autumn images to get you into the Fall.)

Episode 11: Wednesday – Jax

Episode 11

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

 

Ratlas was angry. This was something rare…anger…from Ratlas. The message was garbled by emotion but Jax was getting the basic drift. “I am offended to the bottom of the well of life.”

Offended.

“There will be a price to pay for this evil.”

A price. Evil.

Ratlas’ message burrowed into Jax’s mind like a cork screw.

“This evil sucks all hope out of the innocent.”

Sucks the innocent.

“This evil must be stopped. Must be contained!”

Stopped. Contained.

The sounds coming through his headphones grew in intensity and disparity, like melodies crashing into melodies in the streets and sewers of cyberspace. Jax put his hands over the headphones and pressed them firmly against his ears, as though this would make the message clearer. He breathed slowly, deeply, relaxing into the message pouring into his ears. Note by note, the sound of the message slowed and formed into distinguishable sounds.

“You are my prophet.”

I am your prophet.

“You will carry my message.”

I will carry your message.

“My message is one of life ending.”

Life ending.

Life ending?

Jax was confused. He spoke into the microphone attached to his headphones. “What do you mean by life ending?”

“Life ending.”

“Yes, but what do you mean by that? I am supposed to end a life or do you mean that your message warns us of life ending?”

“You must end the evil.”

End the evil.

“What evil must I end?”

“The writer.”

The writer.

“What writer is it?”

“Simon Pierce. He is evil that walks upon the firmament of the earth. He must be exterminated.”

***

Jax was in shock. The shower water was just short of scalding and the washroom was a box of thick steam. He wasn’t aware that his skin was close to burning. He wasn’t aware of the billowing clouds of steam. He was barely aware that he was in the shower.

Exterminated?

This didn’t seem like Ratlas at all, and he wondered why it would want someone killed when it could probably get to the writer just as it had gotten to him. Make him see the light and the error of his ways. But killed? There had to be another way. Maybe he could contact this errant writer and reason with him, teach him the path to saving himself.

“First thing,” he told himself, “I’ll download one of Simon Pierce’s books and see firsthand what this evil is all about.” There had to be some way other than ‘life ended.’ There was something vaguely familiar about the name that Jax couldn’t put his finger on. He downloaded a copy of Janie and Her Hamster. It wasn’t long, a leisurely twenty minute read. The book description claimed it was “a children’s book with a valuable lesson about life.” While the book was downloading, Jax browsed the reader feedback where headlines like DON’T LET YOUR CHILDREN READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!! and THIS MAN IS INSANE! blared from the page. There were dozens of them, none of them good. Jax wondered how anyone would buy Pierce’s books when so many people hated his writing. But wasn’t that the way of people, attracted to the ugly, fascinated by the perversions, in a world where reality TV sank lower and lower to find new ways to shock viewers and insult their intelligence?

Forty-five minutes later, even Jax seriously wondered if there were any hope for Simon Pierce. He did some searches on the author and his books, read about the nervous breakdowns suspected to be linked to him and read some of the reader feedback with their glaring headlines. They were mostly from parents whose children had read the book, or one of his earlier ones, and were now having serious emotional problems. There were reviews from psychologists and social workers warning people to not let their children read the book. There were warnings that adults should avoid them. Some of them contained death threats, especially from a reader called A. Fan.

This man is evil. This man is dangerous. This man must be exterminated. Once again you were right, Ratlas.

Jax had to end Simon Pierce’s life. He had to kill him. But first, he had to find him. Apparently, a lot of people were trying to find him but nobody was having any luck. It was like Pierce was a ghost or a piece of software churning out malicious garbage that was impossible to track to any sort of physical origin. But Jax had a being beyond anything the world had ever seen on his side. Somehow that being would lead him to Simon Pierce and Jax would visit him and end the evil. But first, he must read his email and do some blogging.

He read the email from Jackson Gabriel first. Other than a dozen or so spam emails, Gabriel’s message was the only real email. He read slowly and carefully and didn’t particularly like what he read. There was a definite negative tone in it. He sensed that Gabriel didn’t want to have anything to do with him. That was OK. He had more important matters to deal with and the course could wait. He responded to Gabriel’s email.

Arial 24

“And now for some blogging,” he said to his reflection in the laptop’s monitor. Maybe there would be a way to resolve what he had to do by writing about it.

As usual, the comments section of his blog was empty. He wondered about this. Didn’t his readers have questions? Shouldn’t there be a need for clarification? Shouldn’t there be offers of support? Shouldn’t there be agreement that the world was on a spiral into nightmare and the message must be spread? He thought about this for a moment and assumed that the message he blogged was clear enough that it didn’t need clarification and that the instructions in his blog clearly showed them what they had to do and that he was supported by their actions. And today he would appeal for their moral support. He would bring Ratlas’ message of the evil one to their attention and, as a mass of believers, they might do something about the insanity of Simon Pierce. That was it—let the masses determine Pierce’s fate. He firmly believed that Ratlas would approve of his approach. He closed his eyes and wrote.

THERE IS AN EVIL UPON THE FIRMAMENT IN THE FORM OF A MAN WHO WRITES WITH SOUL POISONING WORDS THAT ARE COUNTER TO THE MESSAGES I’VE BEEN BRINGING TO YOU ON THIS BLOG AND THE FLOW OF HIS VISION MUST STOP (AND I HOPE ALL OF YOU HAVE STOPPED USING PLASTIC) BEFORE HE RUINS MORE LIVES AND DESTROYS MORE SACRED FAMILIES WITH HIS MESSGE OF HOPELESSNESS AND GIVING UP ON THE INTRINSIC BEAUTY AND MARVEL OF LIFE EVEN AS THE FOUNDATIONS OF CIVILIZATION CRUMBLE UNDER OUR FEET AND YOUNG CHILDREN ARE KILLING THEIR PETS AND THIS MAN GOES UNPUNISHED AS HIS FALSE MESSAGE WORKS ITS WAY INTO THE FABRIC OF THE WORLD WITH DEVASTATIONG EFFECT EVEN MORE SO THAN PLASTIC AND GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOOD WITH CHEMICALS AND OTHER SUBSTANCES THAT WERE NEVER MEANT TO BE CONSUMED BY HUMANS BUT ARE PUT INTO THE FOODS TO COLOR AND TASTE THEM SO THAT THEY GIVE THE APPEARANCE OF BEING HEALTHY BUT ARE IN FACT THE EXACT OPPOSITE SO READ LABELS CAREFULLY AND AVOID ANYTHING PACKAGED OR WRAPPED IN PLASTIC AND SERIOUSLY CONSIDER WHAT MUST BE DONE ABOUT SIMON PIERCE AND HIS WAR ON HUMANITY WITH HIS MESSAGE OF DEFEAT AND HOW HE MUST BE DEALT WITH BY A MASS RESPONSE LIKE A WAVE OF HOPEFUL HUMANITY CRASHING OVER HIM AND CARRYING HIM OUT TO AN OCEAN OF OBLIVION FROM WHICH HIS SHAMEFUL WORDS WILL NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF A WORLD HE HAS FORSAKEN.

WE MUST RID THE WORLD OF SIMON PIERCE.

AND PLASTIC!!!!!

He sat back and reread his post and was happy with it. “No need for any revisions here,” he assured himself.

Maybe my readers will take care of his problem and kill this Simon Pierce.

One can hope.

 

(Will Jax become a murderer? I hope not. He’s already messed up enough. Tomorrow, things start to heat up between Jacky and Krista…but what are these other feelings they both have?)

 

Episode 10: Tuesday – Jackson

Episode 10

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

Breakfast was simple: buttered toast, boiled egg, coffee with cream and a kiwi fruit. He saved the kiwi for last and ate it much like he would eat an apple, skin and all. He’d had a hard time with that at first but he’d read somewhere that most of the vitamins were in the skin and now he couldn’t imagine eating one without it, and it saved time having to cut the kiwi up with a knife. He chewed as he gazed out the window at the park across the street.
It looked to be a good start on the day. No distractions. An aromatic breeze of autumn air flowing lightly through the windows. A sunny day. Not that he would be walking around outside but it was nice to feel the heat on his skin and the breeze on his face when he stood by the window staring out at the people in the park doing their daily things. For a moment, the thought of being out there in the busyness of all those people tightened his stomach muscles and gave him a sinking feeling. He turned away from the window and walked over to his workspace. His laptop was already on and ready for his workday. It looked like he’d be starting with lots of email. Roy and Jody were in the list along with a couple of other clients and a few of the people he contracted for website development, graphics and research.
There was an email from Jax MacDonald: Need course to save the world.
Well, will I be helping Jax MacDonald save the world or is this guy just plain crazy? Let’s just see.
He opened the email.

Arial 15

   Well, this guy is just plain crazy.
He clicked Reply.

Arial 16

   That should get him off my back for a while, maybe forever.
He scanned his emails and decided to open one of the feuders: Jody. He wondered if there would be a response to Roy’s attack on BetterThanCollege.

Arial 17

   Yep.

Arial 18

   If credibility attacks are the problem, he’s been going too far for years, Jody.

Arial 19

      I swear these guys are going to drive me nuts. But they pay the bills. Well, here goes.
      He clicked Reply. 

Arial 20

   That should do it. I hope.
He opened the email from Roy.

Arial 21

   He spent an hour reading through emails from clients and contractors. With the exception of the crazy guy and Jody, everything was going smoothly. Clients were getting their feedback in on time and contractors were meeting their deadlines with remarkable graphics and brilliant programming. All was good and he had time to do some web browsing.
An email notification popped up. It was from Jody.

Arial 22

   Yes, you bastard, you’ve spent thousands of dollars each year…and gotten it back in spades.
   Jackson didn’t like the implied threat but it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened; he’d dropped a few clients who’d became more of a problem to deal with than worth the revenue stream. His response was short and terse.

Arial 23

   He started to think that life might be a lot easier if he didn’t have both Roy and Jody as clients and Jody was looking like the more likely candidate to eliminate. In any event, he wasn’t going to mar his reputation by taking sides against one of his clients no matter how much either was right or wrong.
   Wait till the face-to-face, Jackson. See what happens.

(The Weekly Man’s first fake interview.)

Episode 9: Monday – Jack

Episode 9

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

Jack’s face wrinkled as he lifted the sock to his nose to detect anything that didn’t smell like sock or foot sweat but it was definitely foot sweat and nothing else—no electronic insects, nanobots, remote controlled motes or other spy devices, although he had to admit the technology was probably so advanced by now that anything they put in his apartment would likely be too small to be seen and wouldn’t smell like anything, especially anything as strong as his foot sweat. It would be light years more advanced than the cameras and infrared of Crosby’s days, the listening devices and satellite images. He wondered about the dead fly on the top shelf in the bedroom closet. How had it gotten in there? The closet was concealed in the wall so tight that it was impossible to see any telltale cracks to give away its location. But every once in a while he found a piece of clothing that he was sure wasn’t his and he wondered why they would leave strange clothing in his closet. 

Insidious bastards. 

He lifted the other sock to his nose. 

Nothing un-sockish.

It took fifteen minutes to sniff, feel and inspect his way to be fully and safely clothed in a grey sweatshirt with no markings to provide a target, torn blue jeans and ripped Nike running shoes. Maybe the strange clothing had been left by a previous tenant but he’d been here several years now. He would have come across everything they might have left behind. And also, his memory had been playing tricks on him lately; in fact, his memory had always been a tricky thing. Why hadn’t he looked into this clothing thing before now? But then, why? And why the hell was he worrying about clothing in his closet? It was time for the next installment of The Unseen. His weekly online comic. 

Monday. 

Why did he suddenly have that thought? What the hell was Monday? Were they putting thoughts in his head now, confusing him with random ideas that didn’t make sense? Fuck them. His mind was too strong for that shit no matter how much or how hard they tried to mess with it. He was a hero. A real, genuine hero. Well…a hero in his comic. He was the main character and the feats of courage of his main character were his feats of courage because they came out of this mind. They were his creation and the main character, Panther, who was the leader of The Unseen, was Jack.

He was actually a much better looking hero in the comic than he was in real life. For instance:

Come: Muscular
Real Life: Skinny
Comic: Standing tall and erect
Real Life: Stooped
Comic: Confident stride
Real Life: Short, tentative steps
Comic: Steely eyes that look into the soul
Real Life: Darting eyes that rarely made contact

There was a lot to be said for spending the greater part of your life online and so little to push you out of the sack into the coarse reality of the real world, which was how he viewed it—a cruel place full of vindictive creatures called people, a world where everyone was fighting for control and the vast majority of the world was losing at a pace that would have the entire human race enslaved by the end of the 21st Century. 

But not in The Unseen…not in the treehouse…not as long as Panther, Leopard, Jaguar, Cougar and Bobcat, Lynx and Tiger were there to fight The Tyranny through the powerful medium of example. The Unseen was likely one of the most unseen comics on the web but it paid the bills. Another thing he sometimes wondered about, but there was time to wonder about that later. He opened the secret compartment in his closet and removed the collapsible drafting desk, the pens and pencils and inks, the paper and erasers, the rulers and brushes and other equipment. Best to keep such things concealed when your art was a force against The Tyranny.

He pulled the livingroom curtains shut and assembled his drafting desk by the window, snapped on a halogen light and arranged his equipment. This was how he’d done the first Unseen comics, with ink and paper, years ago as a kid, up in the treehouse. Much later he’d tried doing it with software and publishing directly to the web but it didn’t have the same feel. There was something missing in the flow of lines that failed to recreate the blood and sinew of brushes and pens. After a few months he’d gone back to drawing the strip and scanning it. There was something more human in the process and wasn’t that what the comic was all about? Humanity—about our right to be human beings, free to speak and act and form our own destinies—everything The Tyranny was trying to take away from us. 

 Crosby would have been proud of him.

He penciled in the panels lightly: six rows, each containing four panels. It was the way he started most strips, though he would wander from the straight lines as the strip progressed, letting one panel spill into another, changing the sizes and shapes of panels, erasing borders and letting images from one panel bleed into the surrounding panels. He had no idea how the strip would look because he had no idea how the story would unfold until he started creating it. Nothing was ever planned in The Unseen.

The first panel was almost always the same. It showed the Treehouse—a rickety wooden construction lodged into the massive branches of a giant oak. A rope with knots spaced a foot apart hung from a trap door at the bottom of the house. It was the only way in and it was intended to be a test: only those strong enough to climb the ladder were allowed into the house. 

The second panel moved into the house where the seven ‘gifted ones’ sat crossed-legged in a circle. Panther was the biggest and the strongest and the deadliest, though he’d never actually done anything deadly in any episode of The Unseen.

It was their mission to save the world from The Tyranny—the combined forces of all evil in the 21st Century. There was one stipulation: victory had to be achieved through peaceful means and example. Still, it was generally assumed that Panther would be deadly if ever the need for deadliness arose. Strangely, all seven members looked alike—even the one female member, Bobcat. They had willed themselves to look this way to confuse The Tyranny. 

Bobcat’s dialogue balloon said, “I think we need to invoke the Fourth Prerogative. Motorcades of The Tyranny have been spotted on the back roads around Knitsburg. They’re getting closer.”

Bobcat’s dialogue flowed into the next panel showing a night scene dominated by a leafless apple tree framing a dirt road where the headlights of several black cars lit up the road ominously, like spotlights searching for something. Jack had no idea what the Fourth Prerogative was. It had just come into his head when he gave Bobcat something to say. This was the way he developed his comic strip. This was the way he lived his life. If you didn’t know what you were going to do next, you had the advantage over your enemies. Of course, there were some things he did by design: he rose at the same time every day, went to bed at around the same time, but he was indoors, safe in his flat when he did these things. They would always know where to find him when he was home. There was nothing he could do about that short of going into hiding, but for some reason he’d never been able to do that. Later, he would do a search on Knitsburg and find out if there was an actual place by that name. Then he’d research it for a while for details he could use in the strip.

In the next panel, a close up of Cougar’s eyes wide with a few beads of sweat beginning to appear on his face added impact to his dialogue, “The Fourth Prerogative?” Obviously, this was something the Unseen took seriously, something that could only be used as a last resort, something so awful that defeat might actually be a preferable option to using it. 

He didn’t know where he was going next with the story. Time to do something else and let my subconscious work out the details. He trusted his subconscious. He knew that all the stories he would ever tell in The Unseen were already playing out deep in the tunnels of his interior mind.

It was time to see if he could make contact with her. He needed to make contact even though they’d never actually met and she was most likely working for the Tyranny and she would probably put a bullet in his head without blinking. But that didn’t stop him from loving her. 

***

Why are you doing this? Why do you keep playing with death? 

He knew that he should stop contacting her. She was the kind of unknown that he’d been avoiding all his life. Being in love and having a relationship was suicide. It was an Achilles’ tendon that gave the Tyranny a target to aim at. 

Jesus, Jack…what’re you thinking? There is no Tyranny, except in The Unseen. Get a grip.

Sometimes his fictional life slipped into his real life and vice versa, although, in both lives dark forces were at work and danger was always just a few breaths away.

He turned on his laptop and opened his mail. A rush of excitement flashed through his abdomen and chest. He loved that feeling when he saw that he had mail from her in the list: olsen@yhehdllh.com. He’d tried tracking down the domain name but had never gotten anywhere. It was like olsen@yhehdllh.com didn’t exist but there it was, in the list, and it worked. It was there, even though it shouldn’t have been. One more reason to suspect her. Only They could do something like this, only They had the power and the resources. He opened it.

Arial 12

She went on for about three pages, talking about the church, about her life, about what was going on in the world, about her feelings for him. Sometimes he wondered what they would have to talk about if they ever did meet. They talked about everything under the sun and the moon in their emails. The endings were always the same:

Arial 13

Vine. Her name was Vine. Or was it really?

How do you know anything about someone until you’ve come face-to-face?

Through their emails. 

Yes, he knew her better than if he’d been face-to-face with her for a thousand years. She was so real in her words, in the things she wrote to him, the confessions she’d made, the secrets she’d shared. Yes, what a fool he’d been. He needed to meet her. He needed more than just her emails in his life. He wrote back:

Arial 14

And he went on for several pages, talking about everything in his life, even as little as that was but he had a good imagination.

***

Meanwhile – Valerie Vine

“So, Jack, we’re going to meet tonight.” Valerie Vine smiled as she read Jack’s email. She knew he had the best intentions when he wrote that he would see her tonight but she knew there was no way in the world that he would meet her in real life. He might be there but he would find every reason in the world to avoid meeting. He’d never told her that he suspected her of being with the Tryanny, that notorious world of espionage and evil just below the surface of everyday life but she knew him probably more than he knew himself and she knew that he’d been at their rendezvous points time and again but found some last minute excuse to mistrust her and believe that she was leading him into a trap. Still, she showed up over and over, never expecting him to show himself but believing that, someday, the circumstances would lead to them meeting. It might be something like accidentally bumping into each other during one of his paranoid escapes from people who weren’t really after him. 

Although that might not always be the case.

There was something less than one hundred percent about Jack. He’d appeared as a blip on the Agency’s data scans a few years ago—something to do with his birthdate being out by one day, a discrepancy between two documents in which the birthdates should have matched. It was probably nothing. Discrepancies like that were common and were usually reconciled with a call or two—some civil servant likely entered one wrong number when he or she was busy or hungover. It could have been anything and most likely nothing important.

Valerie came across it when she was assigned to clean up a batch of anomalies like Jack’s birthdate. She’d made the standard enquiries, a phone call to the hospital and calls to various government services. There were discrepancies in the birthdate, and they all swore their information was accurate. Accurate communication between government departments was always a hit and miss thing but something strange was noticed by the data scan software and it raised a code that no one had seen before. It had something to do with a pattern. Even the programmers were stumped. They’d never seen anything like it before but were quick to point out that the data scanning software was third generation AI and was capable of coming up with its own error codes on the fly when it was trying to describe an anomaly it had discovered. 

 Anomaly. Valerie loved the word. It described the unknown in a chilling way, like the Starship Enterprise heading into some anomaly in space that everyone knew was going to be anything but good. It had been over a year now since she’d come across the anomaly with Jack and she hadn’t progressed much in finding out what it was. That fact alone triggered a healthy dose of suspicion but during her investigation of Jack she’d never come up with anything to suggest that he was any kind of a threat to society or anyone else and was likely more of a threat to  himself.

He had a weekly comic and he was paranoid as hell. The strangest thing, though, was that every bit of information she had on him related to Monday. And it was the only day he would contact her. She chalked this off to a number of reasons. Maybe it was the only day of the week that he would have outside contact and spent the rest of his time on his comic strip. Or maybe he was hiding from the Tyranny the rest of the week. 

***

Back to Jack 

Darkness was his friend, his protector, but he was always aware that the darkness could betray him, that it could work just as well for his enemies. It all depended on how well you used it and Jack was a master. He understood the nuances of light. He understood the shades and shadows in the absence of light, the gradual layers where borders crossed and merged. He was confident that, tonight, he’d avoided them, that he’d penetrated their net and they would be frantic in their efforts to locate him. Good luck with that—he was the master of darkness and they would be scrambling through alleys, streets and parks looking in all the wrong places. 

At least, that was the theory. Cockiness was the road to doom. He knew they were smart and that they had a sophisticated surveillance apparatus, a network of tentacles that stalked every corner of the darkness. He had to keep going. Staying in one spot for too long was certain doom. He imagined them as a camera set for a very long exposure. Anything that walked across the field of view would be unseen in the final picture because it wouldn’t have been still long enough to have created an impression. He was that ghost of light evading their sensors with his continuous movement.

There was the blue church. There was the bar. The Last Drink. 

Stupid name for a bar.

It was in a section of the city where most of the buildings were run down, condemned or slated by their owners for ‘accidental’ fires. Maybe it wasn’t so stupid after all.

He scanned up and down the street looking for anything or anyone suspicious. The street was deserted. He wondered for a moment where all the people were but thought that, given the neighborhood, they would be safely indoors and not on the dimly lit street between the blue church and The Last Drink.

A cool autumn night breeze swept down the alley concealing Jack. It smelled good, like rotting leaves, but he didn’t have time to enjoy the fall ambience. He hunched his shoulders and hurried across the street, eyes darting in every direction for the slightest movement, the turn of a leaf, the hint of a shadow. They were looking for him but if she were one of them they would be waiting for him inside the bar. 

If she were one of them. 

A rush of panic gripped his stomach and caught his breath for a second. He knew so little about her other than the reams of information in her emails and so much of that was so detailed that she had to be on the level, but they were smart and were more than capable of providing her with a convincing script because, after all, he wasn’t there to actually see her writing the emails—they could have been written by anyone, including a team crafting every word and sentence to get into his head and…

 Stop thinking, Jack. She’s on the level and she’s been patient with you. More than patient. Don’t disappoint her again. You love her. She’s not one of them. She loves you. She’s everything she says she is. A fan of yours. She loves your comic strip. She loves you. She’s on the level. She’s not with them. 

He pushed open the big oak door of The Last Drink and went inside where the bar’s name immediately made sense. First, there was the smell of stale beer, tobacco and something heavy and offensive that he couldn’t identify. It was dark. About a dozen people sat in booths along the walls talking quietly or just brooding over their drinks. There was a stage that likely hadn’t seen live entertainment in years and was now loaded with cardboard boxes and old furniture. 

And there she was. At the back of the bar. Wearing a dark gray jacket over what looked like a red dress. Her long legs stretched under the table and her hands cupped around a glass half full of beer. She was beautiful. She was alone. He looked around the room again. Behind a mahogany bar that was likely worth more as scrap wood than a bar a tall skinny bartender with a goatee looked at him disinterestedly. Jack ignored him. He looked back at her. Was her name really Vine? If so, was it her first name or her last name? He’d read so many of her opinions on so many things and read about so many personal experiences but he had no idea where she worked. Was she a teacher? A lawyer? A store clerk? He didn’t know and he’d never asked. If she wanted him to know then she would tell him. Maybe she was involved in some conspiratorial plot to bring down the government or maybe she led a secret life writing bestselling novels under a pen name. Or maybe she was one of them. Maybe this was a trap. Maybe the bartender wasn’t as innocuous as he appeared. Maybe the customers seated in their dark booths stooped over their half empty glasses were getting ready to pounce. 

He felt a sickening clump in the pit of his stomach. Sweat shimmered on his forehead. Sweat bunched in uncomfortable patches under his shirt. He felt dizzy. Why? He was sure she was on the level. Not one of them. She was beautiful and he loved her and he was sure she loved him.

A short slender man wearing a baseball cap backwards walked by her booth and winked at her. 

He was out of there in a flash.

***

A Few Minutes Later – Valerie Vine

From the corner her eye, she’d seen him come in, stop just before the bar and look around. She knew that he’d seen her. At first he’d looked relaxed and then suddenly he looked worried, uncertain. Some guy in a baseball cap walked by her table and winked at her. She looked back where Jack had been standing but he wasn’t there. The front door was still closing on his exit. 

Well, Valerie, what excuse will he use this time? 

 

(Hope you’re enjoying your coffee break. Have a great Monday and remember, it only lasts 24 hours and then it’s Tuesday, just two days away from Friday Eve.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 8: Sunday – Jackie

Episode 8

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

The blistering hot water felt good, relaxing, but as usual it felt like something wasn’t quite right, as though the water were hitting her body at a strange angle, an angle that missed the essence of her skin. It seemed foreign, as though it were meant for someone else’s body. Her hands building lather on her chest and thighs felt out of place, like lathering a foreign object. Nevertheless, the flow felt good with the heat cranked up to null the feeling of inexactness that flowed like a river of doubt just under the surface of her days. 

She pressed the scrubber hard against her skin until it turned bright red and then she scrubbed some more. This was how she started her days: feeling out of place, misaligned, somehow out of tune with the rest of the world. She’d read a story once called The Man Who Was A Few Pixels Out. It was about a man who woke up one morning to find himself just a few pixels out of alignment with the rest of the word. He was out just enough that he dropped things, missing a firm hold by just a few pixels. He tripped over stairs and misfiled digital documents as though everything was on some other plane of being just a few pixels ahead, behind or to the side of him. She didn’t know where the feeling came from. It was like a sense of urgency that spread through her body, tightening her stomach and chest and racing her heart beat. Sometimes it dazed her enough that she had to sit or lie down until the feeling passed.

She scrubbed her skin with a vengeance, as though it were to blame, as though everything about her was somehow at fault and she should scrape the flesh off her bones as punishment for being her skin. It was an imbalance that invaded every second of her life, even her work. 

She was a playwright; not exactly famous, but not overly obscure. She’d had several of her plays produced by local theaters and she’d received mostly positive reviews, even a few raves. Balance was the theme in all of her work. Her plays started with imbalance and moved toward balance, even if the balance was more disturbing than the imbalance. In her latest play, The Bar Crowd, three men and two women crawl around on a barroom floor growling and hissing at each other, snarling and drooling. When they come into contact with each other, they roll around on the floor barking and biting, scratching and kicking viciously. Everything they say is unintelligible. They might as well be wild animals. As the play progresses, the actors begin to talk increasingly coherently—their behavior becoming less violent until, in the last minutes of the play, they’re sitting on barstools laughing and talking. Just before the play ends, one of them takes a gun from inside his jacket and shoots the woman sitting beside him in the head. A woman at the far end of the bar says, “That’s much better. So much more civilized than teeth.”

Balance for Jackie was the ideal, something to be strived for but never attained but, unlike most artists, she didn’t just accept this as a Great Truth to be accepted however begrudgingly. For  Jackie, it was an ever-present thorn in the side of her being and over the years it had given rise to a deep pit of resentment that tainted her vision of the world with a nasty side dish of cold spite. If she couldn’t be comfortable with the world then she wouldn’t let the world be comfortable with her, especially with her art. 

Not knowing how to interact with others because she didn’t know how to interact with herself had driven her into a life of seclusion. Her contact with the world outside her flat was through the internet, literature and movies. She worked at home with the only physical contact in the outside world being that part of the world outside the high windows with the curtains wide open to let in the light of a world she would never be fully a part of. How could she fit into all the space and diversity of that infinite distance on the other side of the glass when she couldn’t fit comfortably in the square footage of her own body?

She turned off the shower. Steam curled off the surface of her skin. She toweled forcefully, leaving bright patches of red on her arms and legs. In the bedroom, she slipped into bright pink pajamas and made her way to the kitchen where she grabbed some yogurt from the refrigerator, made her way back to the living room and sat down at her workplace: the bed and a laptop. She kept her life simple. When you don’t fit in anywhere, she reasoned, you make everywhere as simple and small as possible. 

She pressed the On button, logged in and opened the file containing her next play. It was tentatively called The Beautiful Ugly. Generally, she would change the title several times while she was writing but she liked this one. The play was about a beautiful woman who felt the overwhelming ugliness of her existence every minute of her life.

The play was about her. 

But first, she would send an email to the janitor thanking him for fixing that annoying drip from the kitchen tap. 

(And so ends the first week of The Weekly Man. You’ve now been introduced to all the characters in the novel and the strange lives they lead. And those lives are about to take a quantum leap into strange. Tomorrow, we go  back to Jack and maybe…just maybe…he’ll finally make it to a date with Valerie. Who knows? Will they ever actually meet? If you’re new here, it might help to look at the character list.)

Episode 7: Saturday – Jac

Episode 7

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

A crazy-dancing curtain of flaming burlap wraps around a woman running in circles with her child wailing in her arms. Their screams pierce my ears through the flames as the woman runs with sizzling eyes into a post, hitting it so hard the impact knocks her off her feet, sending herself and the child scattering in glowing embers and ash while children with blazing hair run around them screaming for their mothers.  

Clowns on fire perform macabre dances pounding their bodies with their fiery arms as shags of skin peel off their arms and faces and their blackened costumes smolder into their chests and legs. Jugglers toss balls of fire from hands seared to the bone. A man with wide eyes stares through the flames surrounding his head, wondering why he hadn’t just stayed home today and made a delicious curry dinner for his family. And where was his family? Where were they in all this terrible mess? A brother and sister grip each other as they lay on the ground while crazy-eyed peopletrample them to death as they run mindlessly in circles through the horror.

Jac’s eyes pop open.

Well, that really sucked. Again.

Every night…the same dream or variations on the dream.  Jac’s days trailed out of Bangalore, India in the 1981 Bangalore Fire. With less than a hundred dead, it wasn’t the most catastrophic fire of all time. It wasn’t the 1212 London fire with three thousand dead or the 1923 Tokyo fire with over a hundred and forty thousand dead, and most of the deaths were children who’d been trampled to death by the stampeding adults, and it was in a faraway place most noted in the West for its string-rolled cigarettes. But for some strange reason, it haunted Jac’s nights even before he’d heard or read about it. It wasn’t until he was in his early twenties that he came across the Bangalore incident on Wikipedia. Some of the details were different but he knew that his dream was in Bangalore.

That fire, that dream, gave him a perspective on life that was the wellspring of his writing and made him one of the most hated personalities in the world of children’s books.

***

Maybe “in the world” is a bit of an exaggeration. He wasn’t really all that well known. His books weren’t popular, he’d never been on a bestseller list and he made just enough money to scrape by along with the money from his late mother’s estate. But his needs were simple and his life was uncomplicated with the exception of the occasional death threat and the nasty emails from parents condemning him for what they claimed his books were doing to their children. He didn’t blame people for hating him; he wasn’t a particularly big fan of himself. He had something to say and he said it well, so well that his books had broken up marriages and relationships, given children bad dreams and made them problems at school, and now they’d made a little girl flush her pet hamster down the toilet. He read the email from her parents:

Arial 10

Well, this might actually be good for sales.

Jac Monroe was the hated Simon Pierce, whose books stressed a single overwhelming truth for children: life sucks. It was true for his life, so it must be truth for everyone and the best time to learn and accept this was when you were a child. He honestly believed that he saving them the false hopes of happy lives and building a healthy immunity to the certain disaster that would define their lives.

But his message was misunderstood, especially by the parents—and the dozen or so kids getting professional help after reading his books. No one could prove a clear enough link between his books and the behavior of a handful  of children to take him to court but they didn’t stop the hate mail. And besides, he believed the Wharton girl had done the right thing. He also believed that Janie and Her Hamster was brilliantly written in that it epitomized his philosophy of planned hopelessness so well.

In the book, Janie wants a hamster but her evil step father won’t allow it. One day, he mysteriously dies. Janie’s mother tells her that they’re free now of the step father’s tyranny and takes Janie to the mall where she buys her a beautiful white and brown hamster that Janie names Sunflower. She marks the day in her calendar so that she can have a birthday party for Sunflower a year later. She plays with the hamster night and day and it becomes her favorite possession. She promises Sunflower daily that she will never leave her and she knows, looking into the hamster’s eyes, that it’s promising the same thing. For the entire year, she talks about the birthday party and obsessively makes plans that change almost daily. On the day of the birthday, Janie runs excitedly to the cage but Sunflower isn’t leaning against the bars waiting for her—she’s just lying there, dead.

So Janie hangs herself.

As far as Jac was concerned, the girl got the wrong message. All Jac wanted was to teach children that owning things—even pets—is pointless because some day they will be gone and the longer the possession, the greater the pain. Jac saw no reason for anyone to kill themselves over a healthy dose of reality. He saw himself as a modern Grimm’s Brother…with email.

Oh, look another message from A. Fan

Arial 11

So why are you reading children’s books, asshole?

He had more than one A. Fan who wanted to kill him, read about his death, watch videos of him burning in hell or beat him to death with his own books. And he hadn’t even written his masterpiece yet.