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Episode 61: Friday – Jacques

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Episode 61

Jacques was tickled with himself. He’d just written a novel in record time and revisions had steamed along faster than ever before; in fact, revisions had been mostly just reading the novel and enjoying it while correcting the occasional spelling error.

I think I’ve found my niche…where I can write from the heart and the soul without having to change my words later. Insufferable Bitch…you’re such a better writer than Jasmine Jackson.

And hotter.

But it was time to read Jasmine’s email. He lay his cigar into pristine ashtray and opened his mail.

There were over a hundred messages offering condolences, encouragement, support, suggestions for treatment, anger at the hackers “who did this to you…they should be punished,” old family recipes, requests for advice on how to write a novel, praise for her work, praise for her courage, questions about her sex life, requests for her to read somebody’s “just finished novel that’s going to be the next box office best seller of all time,” and an email from Judy. Jacques smiled as he opened her message.

Arial 84

How many glasses of wine have you had, Judy? Three, four…?

Arial 85

Hear that, Jasmine? Fuck you. Looks like it’s time for you to slip into the big sleep. Judy thinks you’re just a reflection of her life. Judy’s drunk. Judy’s a psycho. Fuck you, Judy.

Almost as soon as he thought the words, he regretted them. He didn’t harbor any bad feelings toward Judy Armstrong, the forty-three year old woman living alone after the breakup of her marriage.

And how long have you been living alone, Judy? All by yourself, wanting to write a novel but not knowing how, just writing a bunch of pages and throwing them out and writing a bunch more pages.

There were times when he felt frustrated reading Jasmine’s fan mail, especially those from the most desperate women, the housewives who dropped out of college or gave up their dreams to go to the big city and grab the world by the ass to stay home and raise a child, and then another child. And there were the lonely ones, the ones who were never even seen by men and pretty much invisible to most women. To them, the stories and characters in Jasmine Jackson’s novels were more real than their own lives, which were nothing more than something to escape; Jasmine’s novels were something to immerse themselves in and float away on a raft of dreams.

He wondered if he should reply to Judy’s message. He could be kind, try to let her know that he knew where she was, what she was going through, her pain. But he really didn’t feel that way and he wasn’t Jasmine Jackson anymore. He was the Insufferable Bitch. He needed to cut loose from Jasmine and all the Judys in the world.

Cut loose.

Good.

Time for a walk in the park.

***

If they’d seen how I was dressed just a few hours ago…

The young skate boarders littering the sidewalk in front of him eyed him closely, suspiciously. Today, Jacques wore pajama pants, a red plaid hunting shirt and a light brown, down-filled vest. He didn’t think he looked that much out of the normal to merit the scrutinizing he was getting.

Maybe I should have worn shoes instead of sandals.

As he walked through the group, he heard one of them say, “Naw, that’s not him. He wouldn’t dress that weird. Just some guy that looks like him.”

He turned and looked at a tall lanky kid with a baseball cap on backwards. The kid looked back at him and squinted his eyes as though trying to figure something out. Something about his face seemed familiar but Jacques was certain that he’d never seen him and, if he had, it would have been just in passing when he was on his way to a laundromat, or the rare time he went to a store or restaurant. Their eyes met for just an instant before both men snapped back to their own worlds.

On his way to the park an unusually high volume of traffic had stopped him from crossing the street in front of his building so he started walking along the street. For the first time ever, he allowed himself to actually see the street: the buildings, the street lamps and power poles, the shops and apartment balconies, the red and blue brick, the cafes and restaurants, the boutique art galleries, the cement planters with wilted flowers and dried headless stems. He followed a hundred scents: fresh paint drifted out of a building down the street from his flat. His nostrils hummed with the greasy aroma of sausage, pork and chicken frying on grills in the restaurants. The stench of sewage reeked from metal vents in the curbs, the bouquet of flowers seeped out the open doors of flower shops. He followed the sound of classical music emanating from somewhere in the windows on the floors above the shops and galleries. Horns honked in the distance and an engine accelerated loudly beside him as the light turned green. The sun was bright and beginning to cast the first long shadows of late afternoon.

Jacques was spellbound by the feelings the street invoked in him. He’d always thought of the streets in his neighborhood as routes to laundromats. The thought had never occurred to him that he might walk along the sidewalk just for the sheer joy of walking along the sidewalk. He hadn’t traveled much in his life. He’d been downtown a couple of times and had cabbed to laundromats miles from his neighborhood. But he’d noticed that there was a distinct difference between his neighborhood and other areas of the city. It was closer here. More relaxed. He thought it might have something to do with one side of the street having buildings and the other side, a park. Everyone had a view of the park, a perfect square forming a chlorophyll hub at the center of a few hundred lives. From the very tops of buildings, you could barely see the tops of the buildings on the other side of the park. He wondered why he’d never thought of these things before. He wondered why he’d never felt these things before.

That kid said I was dressed weird, that I wasn’t someone else. What did he mean by that?

With that thought, the mood crumbled. The street was a street. The sun was getting lower, the shadows longer. The memory was back.

Whose clothes was I wearing? Whose phone did I have?

He stopped and stared into the window of an antiques store. He focused his mind on seeing the ancient grandfather clocks, the 1950s license plates, the wide-eyed dolls with elaborate dresses.

Whose?

That was the pattern of his life. The trick to survival was to shrug off the questions and accept the reality of the situation: there were no answers.

Just shrug it off.

He walked around the entire park. Street lights buzzed with clouds of insects making one last hurrah before the frost came to erase their lives. The air was chilly and he was cold, his fingers and toes were numb. He needed a beer. He needed to stop questioning and just accept and get on with his life. When there were no answers, you lived around or through the questions.

 

 

 

 

Episode 60: Thursday – Jacky

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Episode 60

Light. His eyes were still closed but the light was unmistakable, right there, on the other side of his lids. Not bright, but there. Far away. On the other side of his sleep, his oblivion. Light. He tried to force his eyes to open, his lids to lift. Somehow, the light was associated with the slug feeling in his stomach, the heavy gnaw that pushed against his intestines, against his ribs and into his lungs to stop his breathing. It sucked the energy out of his arms and legs, solidified into solid pain as it wrapped itself around his heart and squeezed.

She’s dead.

He opened his eyes and the tears spilled out.

***

He couldn’t remember what was on the plate on his desk; It could have been just an empty plate he’d put there with some imaginary breakfast that he didn’t feel like eating. On his laptop screen luscious red petals wrapped around themselves in the spiraling beauty of a wild rose but he didn’t care. He couldn’t remember if he’d already processed the image or if he’d just opened it. The picture meant nothing to him. He had no idea why it was on the screen.

His arms were beginning to fatigue from holding his hands over the keyboard where they did nothing. Or had they done something? He didn’t know. He didn’t care. The slug feeling in his stomach was the slug of his entire body and his thoughts. He was a slug crawling through a pit of grief. He thought about going out on his bike to take some photos but he didn’t feel like doing that. He thought about showing up at the mall early to talk to his customers but he didn’t feel like doing that either. He looked at the empty plate and at the monitor with the rose petals all wrapped and wrapped and wrapped…

***

He had no idea what time it was. It was still daylight. He wasn’t sure if the sun was coming up or if it were going down. Was it morning or afternoon? He didn’t care. He didn’t think about it. He stared at the two high windows. The curtains were drawn. There was sunlight on the other side of them giving them luminance and highlighting the swirl pattern that he’d never really noticed before and barely noticed now.

She’s dead. Gone.

His stomach rumbled but he wasn’t hungry. The thought of food made him nauseous. Looking at the sunlit curtains made him nauseous. Sitting in the chair made him nauseous. Breathing made him nauseous. His fingers scratched the arms of the chair as he sat staring at the curtains.

***

Natalie gazed out the window at the long shadows of buildings and trees as the sun went down. Jacky had stayed in his flat all day. Natalie had read about Krista’s death in the local newsfeeds. All day, she’d been tempted to knock on his door. She wanted to hold her son in her arms and tell him how bad she felt and how cruel it was that he should lose the woman he loved. She wanted to absorb his tears with her love.

But that could come too close to giving everything away. It would be almost certain that he would see who she was, that she was his mother and had been alive all these years.

And then what would happen?

 

 

Episode 59: Wednesday – Jax

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Episode 59

Jax read Simon Pierce’s post three times before it  started to sink in. The books were gone from his website. The soul-poisoning words had disappeared—everything replaced with:

Arial 79

And he destroyed his masterpiece. The piece he said I inspired. Destroyed it.

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Me. He’s referring to me. The crazy guy. Me.  

Arial 81

He’s dead. Simon Pierce is dead. He’s dead.

Arial 82

He had a change of heart. Simon Pierce is repentant. And he’s dead. And I taught him that.

Arial 83

I killed him. I killed Simon Pierce. I did.

Jax practically ran to the washroom and barely stuck his head over the toilet bowl in time to vomit. He vomited his breakfast. He vomited streams of viscous fluid that clung to his lips and dripped slowly into the bowl. He vomited air.

I killed him. I killed him with my words, with my message. I killed a man.

With each dry heave, the enormity of what he’d done became a reality beyond his plans to kill a man, his intent to stab him to death or to cut his throat. No matter his failure to physically kill Pierce, he’d killed him.

Made him dead. Took his life.

His mind spun around the thought. He grabbed his head with both hands. Tears burst from his eyes. His chest heaved.

I killed him. I killed Simon Pierce. With my words.

He cried for an hour, hugging the toilet bowl.

***

“You have done well, Jax MacDonald. You have saved the world from the poisonous influence of Simon Pierce.”

I’ve saved the world.

“His venom flowed across the firmament like a foul wave of cigarette tar.”

Cigarette tar.

“He was a tortured demon and you put him out of his misery. You saved him.
Saved him.

“This was an act of goodness.”

I’m a good man.

“And now you are free to spread my message. You will be saved. The world will be saved.”

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

He sat back and stared at the monitor, seeing nothing.

Simon Pierce is dead. His message of hate is no more. Ratlas has accepted me again and its message will continue to flow through me and we’ll all be saved.

I killed a man.

He sat for an hour before turning his laptop off and walking slowly like a man dazed by the sheer sensation of movement. It seemed to him that he could feel every molecule in the air as he walked across the living room floor to the window where he stared down at the park.

I killed a man.

He felt a powerful urge to walk in the park.

***

I killed a man.

He didn’t see the runners swooshing past him but he sensed the wakes of deodorant and microscopic clouds of sweat. He didn’t see crinkled dead leaves tumbling over the grass but he felt the density of the wind pushing like a wall of energy on his right side. He didn’t see the people sitting on benches or walking hunched forward into the brisk wind. His presence seemed to float around them without making contact, without any person-to-person acknowledgement. He felt alone, separated from the park and its people, the people he’d been trying to save for so long.

Ratlas had commended him on getting rid of Pierce. He hadn’t stabbed him to death as he’d planned and he hadn’t incited anyone else to kill him. Somehow, he’d done it with his words, with his message. Somehow, he’d inspired Simon Pierce to write a masterpiece that, Jax assumed, was so vile that its creator could no longer live with his own evil. In a way, Jax felt that his message on The Word and All Its Meanings and Forms had caused the writer to overload on his own evil and then burn out the wiring of his life on his own excess, leaving him with no alternative but to destroy both himself and his work.

I made him a brave man, ready to give up his life to atone for his sins.

He felt good about this thought. It made him feel that he’d not only done something worthwhile for the human race, but for Pierce as well. He’d released the evil-doer from his personal hell. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the self-torment of a man who could so thoroughly poison the minds and wills of others, like the odor emanating from a rotting fish. He was the rotting fish.

I killed a man.

He couldn’t shake it. It was there. He’d killed a man, not be stabbing or any physical means, but with words and ideas that had eventually driven the man to take his own life.

Or maybe he was a coward who couldn’t face up to his actions and killed himself out of fear.

He wondered how he felt about that. Did he, through his messages, somehow instill fear in Simon Pierce, driving him to a level of self-loathing that became so intolerable that he feared life, feared what he had done to it and felt that life itself had turned on him and, out of fear and cowardice in the face of what he’d done, he’d killed himself?

It seemed to him that he walked right through the walkers and the runners, as though he were in some other place far away from them, as though he were in a different world than the one he was trying to save for them.

“Hello!”

Jax snapped out of it, like being waked up by a slap in the face. It was a young woman in running shorts and a skimpy top.

“So…who are you today?”

Jax looked at her, dumbfounded.

The woman stopped running on the spot, walked up to him, pushed her head inches away from his and stared squarely into his eyes. “Hello! Anybody home in there?”

He didn’t know what to say, what to think.

Who….?

“Don’t you remember me? I got you mixed up with someone else? The photographer at the mall.” She paused and thought for a moment. “I guess you weren’t in the park yesterday.”

Cautiously, Jax shook his head no.

“Or anytime this week?”

He shook his head.

“Well, whoever you are, I think you need to get some serious help.” And she was gone.

What?

***

He closed his eyes and let the message flow into his fingers as they gyrated over the keyboard.

I HAVE NEWS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE: I WISH I COULD SAY THAT IT’S ABOUT THE DISCONTINUED USE OF PLASTIC BUT I SUPPOSE THAT THIS IS ONE STEP TOWARD THAT END WITH THE POISONER OF MINDS NO LONGER BEING AMONG US TO SPREAD HIS VENOMOUS MESSAGE OF HOPELESSNESS WHEN THERE IS SO MUCH HOPE TO BE HAD IN BUILDING A WORLD WHERE THE AIR CAN BE BREATHED AGAIN AND THE SOIL IS HEALTHY AND YIELDING OF BUMPER CROPS OF FOOD THAT HAS NOT BEEN CONTAMINATED WITH CHEMICALS AND BIOLOGICAL MANIPULATION TURNING IT INTO SOMETHING SO UNNATURAL THAT IT COULD HAVE GENETIC CONSEQUENCES FOR GENERATIONS OF HUMANITY IN A WORLD WHERE THE OCEANS MUST BE SCOURED OF PLASTIC THAT IS GETTING INTO THE FINS OF FISHES AND BECOMINGN A PART OF THE GENOME OF OUR WATERY FRIENDS AND FOOD AND PEOPLE STILL GO ON USING PLASTIC AND OUR GOVERNMENTS ALLOW ITS CONTINUED USE AS THEY RECEIVE PAYOFFS FROM THOSE WHO WOULD DISRUPT THE NATURAL ORDER OF A PLASTIC-LESS WORLD.

SIMON PIERCE IS DEAD.

BUT PLASTIC IS STILL BEING USED.

STOP IT!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 58: Tuesday – Jackson

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Episode 58.JPG

Jackson wasn’t an emotional person. His dealings with a wide variety of personalities in his work demanded that he be patient and even-keeled when dealing with people who didn’t really understand what he did until after they’d worked with him for a while, and even then, he had to occasionally explain why a wonderful concept they had wasn’t going to work commercially. It all added up to the need to keep his feelings subdued and his mind always in charge.

He had to be good at explaining things.

But this one had him stumped. He’d started a list of things that had happened to him over the years—things like injuries and sicknesses. It still nagged at him that he couldn’t remember the circumstances surrounding the bump on his head. It didn’t make any sense. He was a smart man with a good memory, and it didn’t matter how much his mother had told him that he was different. Some things needed to be remembered. He was concerned about repeating whatever it was that had caused the bump. How could he avoid it in the future if he didn’t know what to avoid?

He stared at the monitor, at the first item on the list:

Bump/Cut

That was all he could really put his finger on and even that seemed like a long time ago. He tried to remember other things, the scratches, broken bones, bruises, black eyes, bee stings, mosquito bites, cuts, tooth aches, missing teeth, rashes, pulled muscles, burns. He couldn’t remember losing any of his baby teeth but he remembered the quarters under his pillow. He had a vague idea of these things but the whole thing seemed more like some esoteric concept than like things that were part of his everyday life.

Bump/Cut

He wondered why it was suddenly so important for him to know about the bumps, the cuts, the broken bones. He vaguely remembered wearing a cast on his arm when he was a kid.

Or was it on my hand? Left or right? 

Bump/Cut

How could you not have questioned this long before now?

He recorded as much as he could remember about the bump before saving the document. He determined that he was going to write down every stubbed toe and shaving nick in the future, write down the injury, when he first noticed it, how long it lasted—everything he could think of so that he wouldn’t forget, so that he could live with the injury, aware of it as part of his life and not a gap in is life.

***

He started to read the email from Jody.

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That was a far as he read before clicking Reply and giving Jody a list of recommendations to continue his work and informing him that he would transfer all his courses and files to the new person. It felt good to not have to read all the way through one of Jody’s stuffy emails. He wondered how he’d managed to put up with him for so many years. It wasn’t really all that much of a bother as he was a boring and negative entity in his life.

Time to get rid of boring and negative.

He noticed there were no emails from Roy and assumed that he was on vacation and staying away from computers, cell phones and anything else that wasn’t directly related to relaxation and the appreciation of having nothing to do. He scanned the rest of his mail. Nothing required action on his part. Strangely, he had nothing in the hands of any of his subcontractors. There was suddenly a lull in his workload. He had nothing to do. He wondered about the timing. It was perfect. He wanted a vacation and it looked like he had the time for it. His mood lifted. It looked like this was going to be a good day.

He went into Google Maps and zeroed in on the area he lived in. The park in relation to the streets that surrounded it looked small but that was far from what he’d felt when he walked through it. Then, it had seemed like crossing the world.

But not anymore.

He decided it was time to go for lunch and then go for a walk in the park.

***

He could still taste the ham and cheese bagel, a bagel freshly boiled and baked after a night of fermentation. The park was cool but sunny. A robust breeze shook the dried husks of leaves from the nearly barren branches of trees, giving the park a skeletal feeling. Jackson liked that. He liked that he could see the structure of things, the networks of branches and bows in the trees and the intricate snaking of bushes and vines. He figured this had something to do with the work he did, determining the structure of information and aligning it to make sense. The gardens still had some late-blooming flowers. He had no idea what their names were but he loved the splashes of color in the otherwise bleak landscape.

The park was busy. All the benches were taken. He sensed a low murmur in the park, a fusion of conversations from the benches, the breathing of runners, the gurgles and cries from strollers and the breeze channeling through the park. Not long ago, he might have passed out where he stood but that was all over now. He loved the sound. He loved the busyness and the movement, the current of people, the ebb and flow of life all around him. He felt like he’d been dormant for most of his life and now he was stepping out of a mausoleum and into the world of the living.

He wondered why he’d always felt that he wasn’t part of this. But then he remembered his mother’s mantra of “differentness.”  Over the years, he’d sensed the difference, especially when it came to things like time. He wasn’t sure exactly what the difference was but it was there, like the meeting he was supposed to have with Roy and Jody.

What was that all about? Why would they complain about me missing something that hadn’t even happened yet?

Something was building to a head. He could sense it. He had no idea what it was but it was there, circling his consciousness like a buzzard waiting to streak in, claws open. Suddenly, his world shook and he fell down on one knee. His head spun for a moment before his eyes focused on a young woman in running shorts and a flimsy top that seemed a bit too light for a cool day.

“I’m so sorry!” She reached down and grabbed his arm. “I was looking at my timing…” She practically shoved the Iron Man watch on her wrist into his face. “…and didn’t see you. I’m so sorry.” He stood up straight with one of her hands still on his arm, gripping him tightly. “I didn’t mean to…” She stopped short and looked into his eyes. “Oh, it’s you.” She seemed irritated. “So, are you someone else today, or are you the photographer from the Frederick Mall?”

He stared into her eyes, confused. His knee hurt. “Photographer?” He reached a hand out to her. “My name is Jackson…and I’m definitely not a photographer.”

She laughed. “Well, whatever you say, Jackson. Maybe you should drop by the mall and see what your twin is doing.” She smiled and slapped him on the shoulder. “Sorry for knocking you down.” She turned to run and looked back. “I mean it…check out the mall.” He kept his eyes on her as she ran around a corner and out of view.

Jackson wondered about this photographer who was his exact twin. He would have to the Frederick Street Mall and check him out.

Something to do this afternoon.

***

He’d never been in the Frederick Street Mall. He’d never been in any mall. Almost all his purchases were done online and, given his previous aversion to people and crowds, he never felt a need or desire to go shopping in a mall. He stood at an intersection where four wide corridors with glass ceilings converged into a large sunny courtyard with a fountain and tropical plants in the center. Water gurgling from an artificial waterfall mingled with the quiet chatter of shoppers and subdued elevator music that seemed to spill out of the air. He knew about malls, understood the concept and had seen pictures online. He always thought that he would feel cramped and claustrophobic in a mall but he didn’t. It was almost like being outdoors, except there was no wind and none of the trees were shedding leaves.

He walked up to a bulletin board that displayed a map of the mall and located the Carson Gallery. It was at the end of the wing to his right.

He was amazed at the texture and smell of the stores and businesses lining the corridor with its palm trees and benches and kiosks. It was so different than the one-dimensional stores with their micro perspective on individual objects or groups of similar objects. Even the 3D and virtual reality store fronts that Jackson had seen didn’t come close to the rich sensory experience of walking through the mall. There was a repetitive monotony in the sale signs and the arrangement of mannequins in the shop windows, and the carefully aligned frontage created a mathematical sameness that bothered something in him but this was drowned out by the brilliant colors and rhythmic patterns in the life size photos of people and places. Some of the stores were already pushing Christmas themes. Jackson had never understood the attraction of Christmas since his mother had died.

And there it was. Jacky Carson’s holographic photo gallery. The solidity of the holographic images was powerful enough that he couldn’t see through them to the people in the gallery. All the walls were up, giving an appearance of a large square box of floor to ceiling photographs of plants and flowers sprouting out of concrete and tarmac. Some of the images towered nine feet to the tops of the holographic walls, engulfing the viewers with powerful colors and rhythms.

The gallery seemed vaguely familiar to Jackson. He shrugged the feeling off. The mall wasn’t far from where he lived and he might have seen pictures of it in flyers or other advertisements. He was tempted to go in but he resisted the urge. He had no idea why he didn’t want to go in…it was just the feeling he had.

He thought about the gallery owner, Jacky Carson, someone who apparently looked like him. A sign outside the gallery said that the artists/owner would make appearances at the mall on Thursday afternoons.

And what’s that all about?

He decided that he really didn’t want to meet the owner. He had enough strange brewings in his life to deal with and he had a neighborhood to explore. He was on vacation, his first vacation ever, and he wanted to be outside in the streets and sidewalks, discovering the place he’d lived in for more than a decade but knew so little about.

He wanted to meet people.

***

Bump/Cut

Natalie stared at the words. She felt a sickening knot in her stomach as she read Jackson’s notes questioning things like quarters under the pillow for teeth he didn’t remember losing and injuries he didn’t remember receiving. She had no idea what had happened while she was in the hospital to cause the bump on their head but she knew that it must be something serious for Jackson to even remember it.

And he was starting to write those things down. Natalie could feel all her training and planning beginning to unravel.

She needed to talk to Manzer. And she would get in touch with Valerie Vine as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 57: Monday – Jack

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Episode 57

He spent most of the morning doodling with charcoal pencils, filling sheet after sheet with half-finished drawings of the Unseen, the treehouse, the Tyranny and possible story locations such as dumps, marshes, dark city streets, waterfronts and city outskirts with towering power lines. Once he started an Unseen episode, the characters and storyline took off by themselves and Jack was never certain how each chapter would unfold when he started drawing. But he needed a basic idea for the storyline, some grand view of where the story would be set or what the Tyranny might be up to this time. Doodling and free form drawing was how he formed that big idea. 

But it wasn’t working today. His doodles kept coming back to the same thing: Tyranny thugs, blank-eyed, confused, their memories erased. There was something about their fate in the last episode that struck deep into Jack’s psyche. He found himself touching his head where the bump had and he felt a connection between the bump and the fate of the Tyranny. It was almost like he’d been a target of some kind of Fourth Prerogative himself. The memory lapses. The feeling that he was never alone, that there was someone or something always present in the shadows and crevasses of his life.

I’m not Crosby. I’ve never been Crosby. Why would I want him to be proud of me? Why was I always asking myself what he would do? What the hell were you thinking? 

He stood up and walked to the window. It was warm enough that he had both windows open a few inches. The leaves that still clung to branches in the park flickered in the wind like matchstick sparks under the noon sun while the heavy bed of fallen leaves on the ground reminded Jack of a bed of glowing coals. 

What the hell.

He walked to the door, put on his shoes and fall jacket and walked out to the park. 

***

It suddenly occurred to him that his was the first time he’d been in the park in the daytime. In the past, he’d been hunched over and peering into the shadows of bushes and benches, trees and statues, looking for the glow of sinister eyes or the dark movement of an overcoat or sneakers worn my some elite force sent to spirit him away. He’d crept, slunk or stole through the park. He’d never just walked and enjoyed the view, the freshness of the air and the sense of motion from runners and strollers. It amazed him that so many people used the park at all hours of the day and night. There were no high rises in the neighborhood or in the surrounding areas but the population from the buildings around the park was enough to fill it around the clock.

He didn’t feel threatened. He didn’t check potential hiding places or look suspiciously at the people around him. Just a short time ago, he would have steered clear of the woman with the baby carriage heading toward him. He felt a deeply satisfying sense of freedom.

He was relaxed. This was something he rarely, if ever, felt. There had always been that sense of threat from waking till the time. Always second guessing, suspecting, examining, waiting for the sky to fall or the floor to open and swallow him. An unfamiliar calmness settled over his mind and body as he walked through the park. He felt taller than normal. His thoughts wandered away from concerns about his memory and the sense of some phantom presence and he let himself be distracted by the color of the park’s bed of leaves and the fall flowers blooming against the profusion of small green leaves in the bushes. He wondered why those leaves hadn’t turned and fallen as they did in the trees. He saw tiny blue flowers in grassy areas and it occurred to him that all the Fall flowers he’d ever seen were small blossoms and he wondered why that was.

“Hello!”

He was standing still, staring at a wall of bushes with a swatch of green grass in front of it. He turned his head toward the voice and saw a young woman with brown hair in a ponytail. She came up beside him, lightly running on the spot “Maybe you don’t remember me. We talked about your photos at the mall a few months ago.” She laughed. 

Jack looked at her, mildly confused, but still feeling relaxed. “I beg your pardon?”

She laughed again. “It was a few months ago. I guess you don’t remember.”

Jack was confused. “I have no idea what you’re talking about and I’m pretty sure I’ve never met you before. You’re mistaking me for someone else.” 

The woman’s eyes widened and she shrugged. “OK. Whatever you say.” And she continued running without looking back.

What the hell?

***

“It seemed so weird. I mean, she was so certain I was some photographer from a mall.” Jack sipped from a big yellow coffee cup with a fake crack painted from the top to its base. Valerie cocked her head to the side and narrowed her eyes.

Uh oh.

The Broken Cup Café was the third place that he’d run out on a date with her. He told her that he’d been spooked by her having taken her cell phone from her purse, looking at it and putting it back in her purse. He just turned and left. She remembered that as one of the first times he’d missed a date with her because of a death in the family. The smell of paint and plastic suggested that the place had recently been renovated but it looked exactly the same as the first time she’d been there: red and white walls and booths with huge square photographs of broken coffee cups, their cracks cemented with gold.

“What…?” he said, tentatively, staring intently into her eyes. “You seem to know something about that?”

Careful, Valerie. Careful. 

She smiled and leaned forward. “No, but it does seem strange. Maybe she’s some kind of nutcase?”

 “Or maybe something’s going on.”

“And what would that be?”

“I don’t know, Valerie.” He set his cup down. “All my life, I’ve felt threatened, as though there’s someone or something out to get me. I could sense their presence but never really focus on them enough to figure out what it was I was feeling.” He rested his elbows on the table, hands clenched tightly into a white-knuckled ball. “It’s like I told you about the last episode of the Unseen and the bump on my head. It must have been painful. It must have been pretty damn traumatic.” He turned back to face her. “But I don’t remember a thing about it. Not a thing.”

They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. Valerie thought back to her meeting with Natalie, who was beginning to worry as well. She felt the possibility, the threat, of losing all seven of her children. They’d talked for a while but all they could really do at this point was watch and hope for the best. The kids, now adults, were finding their way into things that had always been a puzzle they’d worked around. But not now.

“Well, I have some good news.” She smiled and reached her hand over the table to cover Jack’s hands. “It seems the anomaly with your birthday was exactly what I thought it was…the hospital had a date that was one day out and public records showed you born the next day. It’s that kind of mistake they make all the time. And it drives the agency crazy because it raises flags that we have to check out. In fact, I’d say that ninety percent of our work leads nowhere but into bureaucratic errors. And a lot of the rest crashes right into brick walls.”

What she’d really found, though, were seven different dates, starting on Monday and ending on Sunday, for the same mother. She wondered about Manzer Doyle’s influence and power, even in retirement, to call in the favors to get that done.

And why is he looking so stressed?

“What’s wrong, Jack? You look…stressed.”

“OK, I realize that it’s possible to make mistakes in records, especially as you say, when they’re passed around government departments. But, doesn’t that seem to add just one more thing to the weirdness?” He shook his head and sighed. “Or maybe I’m just going crazy or something. Maybe I need to get out more, like for walks in the park. Take a break from the comic strip. Spend more time with you.” He opened his hands and circled them around Valerie’s hands and smiled. “I like spending time with you.”

Valerie smiled. “And I like spending time with you. So much better than saying everything in emails.” She leaned over the table and kissed him on the cheek. His smiled widened and he blushed.

***

Seven different birth dates, day after day, from one mother. Valerie had unflagged Jack. The investigation was closed. Just another bureaucratic error. Nothing to see here. She’d confirmed just the one birthdate and buried the others.

But none of this was over. In fact, she was sure that things were going to get very interesting over the next few weeks. 

 

 

 

Episode 56: Sunday – Jackie

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Episode 56

She would be out of the country for weeks, possibly months, in a hospital in Europe. She’d never been away from home before. She’d never travelled. She’d never gone to sleepovers when she was a kid. She’d led an isolated life, and so much of it was inexplicable. She lived on another plane of existence than others. 

Bullshit.

The bump was real It wasn’t just some figment from another plane of existence. 

She lifted her arm and ran a finger over the spot where the bump had been.

Bullshit, mom. Forgetting something like this is not a survival mechanism. It’s a dangerous condition that could get me killed because I don’t remember what happened…and I might do it again. And get more than just a bump on the head.

She walked to the window and looked out over the park. It was late afternoon and the traffic on the streets and in the park was beginning to pick up. It had always seemed strange that, even when the traffic was at its peak around the park, it was never noisy to the point of being annoying or distracting. 

She decided to go for a walk.

***

C’mon, Jackie, get off your ass and cross the street. The park beckons you.  

She sat on the top step of the stairway staring at the entrance to the park. It was only a matter of a few dozen feet but it might as well have been a thousand miles across desert and ocean.

It’s right there. Just get up and walk across the street.

She couldn’t understand it. She’d been out of her flat before. She’d gone places. She’d been to theaters and had dinner with theater people in some of the best restaurants in the city. But she’d never crossed the street for a walk in the park. It had never occurred to her to do it. She’d stared down at the park countless times and drawn characters for her plays from regulars she’d seen in the park, using their physical appearances and guessing from what little interaction she saw them have with other people, their personalities. She’d manipulated the lives of so many of those people in the park, even killed some of them off.

But she’d never been in the park. She’d never sat on any of the benches or strolled past the gardens. She’d always just watched. An outsider. An observer. These were the people of her neighborhood but she might as well as been a foreigner from some distant land. 

Get off your ass and cross the street.

It was like she was cemented to the step, paralyzed by some psychic force that weighed down on her, splaying her will to the stone. She tried to move her legs but they wouldn’t budge. She tried shifting her weight but it stayed in place. She was suddenly pissed off at herself. 

What the fuck is wrong with you? Get up for crying out loud. What is wrong with you?

Across the street, an old man dressed in oversized corduroy pants and a thick white turtleneck sweater with a vest over it looked lost. He walked erratically bending over, inspecting the sidewalk, muttering something to himself. Something was obviously wrong. Jackie had seen this man many times. He walked with a bit of a hunch and was never in a hurry. He must have been somewhere in his late seventies or dipping into his eighties. There was something different about him today besides the fact that he looked confused and distressed. 

What is it? And what’s wrong with him?

It was as though he were having difficulty seeing. 

His glasses. He doesn’t have his glasses. That’s what he’s looking for.

She watched as he walked dangerously close to the curb as a car was approaching. She wasn’t sure what she yelled but she yelled something out to him that stopped him dead just a step or two from the curb. She didn’t notice that, as she yelled, she stood up and walked quickly to the curb, glanced both ways and crossed the street to where he stood facing her but jutting his head forward as though he were trying to make her out.

“Hello,” she said. “Sorry to yell at you like that, but it looked like you were just about to step in front of a car.” He was a couple of inches taller than her and heavily built. He looked like he kept himself in shape. He had a healthy reddish complexion and the lines around his mouth suggested someone who liked a good laugh. She immediately liked him and hoped that she had never killed him off in one of her plays. “Have you lost your glasses?”

He smiled. It was a natural seeming movement of his mouth and eyes, a well-coordinated placement of humor and good will. She really liked this old guy. “I’m afraid so. I went to swipe a bug off my head. Can’t understand why there would still be bugs out this time of the season but I had one on my head. Went to swipe it off and hit my glasses instead. Knocked them clean off.” He laughed loudly. “Must be getting on when my aim is so bad I knock my own glasses off. And the damn bug got away.”

Jackie laughed along with him. “How well can you see without them? 

“Can’t see worth a damn without them. If not for you, I would have walked right out in front of that car. A random sequence of events leading to me being squashed like a bug after trying to kill a bug.”

“I think it has more to do with your aim than with the bug.” She chuckled and put her arm under his. “Let’s take a look around and see if we can find your glasses.” 

“Thank you. I appreciate this very much.”

They walked about twenty feet before Jackie saw the glasses at the edge of the sidewalk beside a metal grill that had once held a sapling and was now a microcosm of wild grass and weeds. 

“I see them!”

She walked over to the glasses and picked them up. The man put them on and looked at Jackie with a big smile on his face. The smile turned to a look of surprise and he said, “Oh, you’re a man.”

***

Jackie thought about the old man’s surprise on seeing her. Without the a clear picture of her, all he had to go on was her words and some generalized sense of who she was, something about the energy she emanated, the psyche she projected. And that was a female psyche. There was no doubt about it, she was a woman trapped in a man’s body.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been walking. She was finally in the park. After all this time, she was in the park, taking in the gardens, the sun, the trees, the cool fresh air, the blue sky. She was part of the traffic of people, the joggers and walkers and strollers. The old man’s name was Bernie. She liked that name and she liked Bernie. He was a retired actuary who’d spent his life using the mathematics of probability to set insurance premiums high enough that the insurance company he worked for would always be on the winning end of those probabilities. 

His words. 

After she accompanied Bernie to the bus stop, she decided, since she was already almost in the park, that it was time to actually go inside the park and take a look around.

It was so much more than what she’d ever imagined just by looking down on it from her window.

He thought I was a woman. 

***

Natalie

How?

Natalie leaned forward, blinked, stared unbelieving at the monitor.

No. This is impossible.

But the tracking log was there on the monitor, staring right back at her. There was no denying the records. 

But how? 

A chill descended like a thick heavy stage curtain falling and unfolding through her body. It didn’t make any sense to her at first. According to the log, Jax had signed into Jac’s account. They all used the same computer but it was divided into seven different partitions, each accessed by its own unique username and passwords, and each of those so complex that an accidental breach by any of them would be astronomically impossible. She’d given them all just the one computer to make it easier for her to monitor them.

This can’t possibly have happened.

But it had. The log couldn’t lie. Suddenly, Natalie was faced with something that had never happened before. One of the personalities had spilled over into one of the others. Jac had allowed Jax to access his partition on the laptop.

But why? He was trying to find him so that he could kill him.

It unfolded step-by-step. 

But Jax would never be able to kill Jac. They never existed at the same time. He would have to kill himself in order to kill Jac. Or was something beyond the seven of them happening here?

The chill spread through her body. 

 

 

 

Episode 55: Saturday – Jac

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Episode 55

Jac couldn’t remember ever having waked up so pleasantly. He felt refreshed, exhilarated—exactly like someone should feel after they’d had a good night’s sleep and that’s what he’d had, a good night’s sleep. He knew, without knowing why, that he would never dream about the Bangalore Circus fire again. He’d written it out of his life. Whatever it was that had caused him to have that nightmare repeatedly throughout his life was gone, like an exorcism through words. He was free.

For a second, he wondered if it had been wise to have deleted the novel. It was, after all, his masterpiece, the novel he’d been working towards for his entire writing career. He’d always had a vague plan in the back of his mind that he would write his masterpiece, publish it and then kill himself. He’d never actually written that down anywhere or even given it a clear thought. It just hung around somewhere in the back of his head, But the novel was written, destroyed, and he was still alive and didn’t have the least urge to kill himself. In fact, he couldn’t remember any time in his life when he felt so alive and wanted to be alive.

He thought about the crazy guy and his need to preach some stupid message to the rest of the world and how pathetic he was with a blog that nobody was ever going to read, spreading a message that came from some kind of being that came from the internet…and he tried to get people to kill him because he didn’t like his books.

Funny, that, I don’t like those books anymore myself.

He realized that he’d been doing the same thing as the crazy guy by wrapping his message of hopelessness in children’s stories. People thought of him as a monster and they were right. He was a monster. At least the crazy guy had something good to say, a message of hope.

He might just as well have killed himself for all anyone would care. His death would likely bring a sigh of relief to otherwise loving and non-violent parents. He doubted if any of them would even say something like, “Awful man that he was, it’s too bad that he had to die to stop his writing.” It would be more like, “Finally, he’s gone.”

And maybe that’s what I deserve. 

It started off as a tiny feeling of something positive and right in the back of his head and he embraced it and it grew into something with form and meaning, an idea that seemed better and better as he defined it more clearly.

He would give them what they wanted. They wanted him dead, so he would  die for them. It was the least he could do for all the pain he’d given them, the worry, the anguish, and in some cases, the loss. He would give them the death of the monster.

He went to his book site and took down every one of the books, leaving nothing there but a message.

Arial 77

That should do it. I think I just made a lot of people happy. 

He thought about this a moment and then went into his mail account and deleted it. 

Looks like I get the last word A. Fan…not you. 

He chuckled to himself. He felt good. He felt better than he could remember feeling. Maybe he’d felt like this sometime before losing his best and only friend and then his mother, but after all the years he’d spent living in a dark place and having the same nightmare every night, he felt a lightness in himself that he’d never experienced before. 

He walked to the window and looked out at the park. He’d looked at the park from this window for years but he’d never actually gone down there and joined those people. He’d never walked there, never sat on one of the benches, never even crossed the street to the park. But today, he felt like a walk in the park. 

***

Mid-morning light poured a golden glow over the park, giving the remaining leaves on the trees an otherworldly iridescence. Across the street, the top of the building he lived in shimmered in the ghostly light. Jac had made it as far as the first bench, facing the street right beside the wrought iron gateway to the park. The bench was empty and looked inviting. He’d watched so many people sitting on that bench having animated conversations with friends or just chilling out and staring at passersby. He’d often been tempted to walk down to it and sit for a while but for some reason he’d never actually done it. Generally, by the time he got back from his excursions to the laundromat, it was dark and the bench didn’t look nearly as inviting. 

Traffic was light with just the occasional car or delivery truck and one almost empty bus. The air was cool and refreshing and a light breeze created a symphony of snapping and crackling as it shifted the sea of leaves on the ground. There was more pedestrian traffic than vehicles. Mothers with baby carriages, joggers and dreamy-eyed strollers smiled and nodded to him as they passed by. This was something he’d never noticed when he looked down on the park. The people had always seemed friendly and he couldn’t remember ever seeing any arguments or fights. But it was more than that. It was warm. He felt the warmth of the people as they walked by, as though just by being there, sitting on the bench, he was one of them. He belonged. He wondered if any of them had ever looked up and seen him in the window staring down at the park. And now, there he was, down here with them and welcomed after all this time. He wondered if they would be so warm and welcoming if they knew who he was, the notorious soul poisoner, Simon Pierce.

But now, Simon Pierce was dead. He’d just announced his suicide and made the world, for some anyway, a better place. He thought about the things he’d written and the effect his twisted life view had had on his readers. His readers, kids. Gullible, vulnerable kids. It wasn’t hard for him to view himself as a monster. He’d like to think that it was the recurring dream that had poisoned his own soul and maybe even the loss of his mother and best friend that had made him feel like he had to destroy the joy others found in their lives. He had to take it away from them. He’d let his own fear of being happy be justification for taking happiness away from people he’d never met. Kids. Fortunately his books weren’t bestsellers. Most of them sold through the negative publicity and the curiosity of kids who’d heard that the books should never be read by children.

But there was something else, something deep inside himself that he’d never understood. He knew that he was different than others, that he perceived time different. It was his condition, something he’d grown up with, and something that had always kept him separated from other people. But there was something beyond that—the bump on his head. It was serious, possibly life-threatening. It was something he should have remembered, condition or no condition.

But he didn’t.

These thoughts, he knew, would lead nowhere and drive him crazy. Time for a new topic.  

Let’s see now. According to my posting, I’m dead. I can’t write under the name Simon Pierce anymore. And do I even want to write anymore? And if I do want to write, what am I going to write about? And I’ll need a new name. A pen name. But what am I going to write about?

As morning turned into noon with the sun directly overhead and the temperature rising if not to warm but to comfortably cool, traffic picked up in the street and more baby carriages populated the sidewalks for joggers to veer around but they didn’t seem to mind. He felt a general sense of positivity in the park. The morning quiet gave way to a quiet bustle with the sound of engines accelerating but no horns honking. He heard quiet conversations passing by and disappearing into the park. The smell of dying leaves meshed with the fragrance of foods drifting out of the cafes and restaurants. Jac realized that he was hungry. And he had to pee like crazy. He noticed a couple of older men wearing heavy coats in spite of the mild temperature eyeing him and the bench. He stood and walked right by them, hearing on of them saying to the other, “Finally.” He chuckled to himself as he crossed the street in search of a place to eat. And pee.

***

The pastrami on rye with lots of mustard practically melted in his mouth. 

Why have I never come to this place before? How could I have been missing this all this time? 

It occurred to him that he barely knew the neighborhood he lived in. Until this day, he’d never crossed the street to the park he watched from his window every day, day after day, year after year. 

What kind of freak am I? 

But then, that would have given him something to look forward to, something to love and enjoy and, as soon as he was completely attached to it, a meteor from space would have vaporized the whole thing and he would be living in a state of loss.

Bullshit. I’ve been living bullshit all my life. I’ve been missing life because I’ve been afraid of losing life.

He bit into the sandwich and savored the taste, chewing it slowly, appreciating the texture and drawing every iota of pleasure he could before he swallowed.

Time to start living. 

***

Sitting with his wrists propped on the laptop, fingers poised over the keyboard, mind blank and open to whatever welled up from the depths of his subconscious, he stared at the blank document. White space on the monitor. Beautiful white space with all its potential and uncharted wordscapes. A space to be populated with people and places, actions and thoughts. 

But nothing came. The well seemed to be capped and he’d been sitting over his laptop for nearly an hour wondering what the hell he was doing.

You need a theme in your life and that will be the theme of your writing. What’s the theme in your life now? Hope? Happiness? Love? What do you want out of your life now? 

He couldn’t think of anything he really wanted. He was free of the cloud of hopelessness that had hung over most of his life and it felt good. But where to go from here? There was so much. He had an entire world to explore now that he was free to explore it. He burped and tasted the pastrami and rye. It was good. He looked forward to the next burp. 

He realized that the most important thing in his life at the moment, the only theme for the moment, was this new sense of lightness. He felt like he’d lost twenty or thirty pounds of physical weight. 

It seemed, that night, that he drifted weightlessly into time, like sinking back into the womb with its warmth and mindlessness.