Do you not remember it? The way the spray would hit you on deck in the morning? Better than any cup of coffee. You'd always say that, and I'd tell you to stow it. That chill I so hated; you seemed to revel in it, always standing at the bow on first watch hoping for a big wave to crash against the hull. Then, when I was on watch you'd turn us windward to hit me with the damn spray too. How you'd laugh and laugh while I'd spew out my curses.
Remember our months at sea? The winds were our shepherds, the stars the only things that let us know there was a way to the end of the vast blue that encompassed us. Remember how we would sit at the helm at night, with the whiskey keeping us warm, and we talked about ships one day sailing those black seas above us.
Christ, man, Marcus used to have us drop anchor anytime there was a beach. It's like he thought anytime we saw a golden stretch of sand it would be some kind of tropical paradise with fruit and native girls. Remember how more often than not we'd come across a couple of coconuts and a bunch of damn gulls. He was so happy though, just to go on land; meanwhile you and me would wait it out, wobbling around and wondering when we'd get back to the ship where things made sense.
And then, I guess, there was that time that Marcus had just walked off without saying a damn word. We followed him into the darkness of that island jungle. After about ten minutes of slapping at mosquitoes biting me I told you we should live without him. You chuckled that maybe we should, assuming I was joking. Sure, I didn't think you would know any different, but I was half-serious. We found him sitting at the mouth of a cave, surrounded by carved stones. You remember them, those ancient things with the strange markings all over them? Then he up and gets to his feet and goes inside.
Then - then you go in after him. We waited for so long, and then, then you come out, remember? All alone? Your eyes were so wide, and you looked straight past us; stared out at nothingness. It took five of us to drag you back to the ship, and you screamed in the night until we made dock, like you were terrified of the ocean. You kept mumbling in your bed by day about a submerged city and a dreaming god.
What did you see? Why are you so scared of the water?
Ah, we, the innocent.We, the ignorant.We the selfish, sullen slobs that know no further than the edge of our own stubby noses.What god protects those who are forsaken by all others?
The city of Merrimac had ever known of the existence of Thomas Taylor, but chose to forget him.Thomas was a slow man.His words stumbled and fell out of his mouth and his clothes always fit too big or too small.He carried a walkman and listened to the only tape he had over and over again as he aimlessly walked the streets of the town.People would stop and stare, but he seemed to pay them no mind.There was no self-conscience about Thomas Taylor.To say that he felt at ease would be wrong as there is a balance to a mind at ease.This mind considers its opposite, the darker discontent, and Thomas Taylor had no concept of either of these.He only walked and listened.All week long, in fact, until Sunday when he would wander to the door of the church and pull his thinning hair down to one side before pushing open the great wooden doors and making his way to the very back pew.Thomas sat and listened to the man upon the wooden pulpit talk about love and kindness of neighbors and every beautiful thing that Thomas could imagine and he believed it as hard as anyone has ever done.It was his one pleasant hour before the wandering began again.And the listening.Always the listening.
It was this wandering that led him to the Merrimac mall one afternoon, passing by the glassy store fronts towards the fountain at the center of the mall.A great crowd gathered around the fountain as a young man in a bright white suit pointed and yelled and jumped up and down from the edge of the fountain.Thomas drew closer to the scene, drawn by familiar faces and the fantastic antics of the peculiar man.He stopped at the edge of the crowd and watched as the man pointed angrily at the crowd and slapped a black book he held vigorously.Suddenly, the white-suit man pointed at him.
“You,” yelled the man, “you are another one.What kind of devil sounds are you letting infest your ears?What kind of pollution are you allowing to seep into your brain?”
The white-suit veered into the crowd and it parted towards Thomas who quivered under the gaze of his predator.He lunged towards Thomas and ripped the ear phones away from his head.
“This is the problem,” said the man, “This is the godlessness that has squatted squarely in the minds of his people.This filth, this incoherent mess of babble is SIN.”
The last word rolled off the man’s tongue with a sour distaste.
“You!” said the man, pointing squarely at Thomas, “You are bound for hell with this SIN in tow.”
The white-suit turned back towards the fountain and continued his ranting and jumping as Thomas fell away from the crowd.He stumbled out of the mall and through the streets as tears streamed down his face.There was no help from hell as he knew it.Thomas worried himself up and down the streets.There was no solution.And so he threw himself in front of a line of traffic to let god take his final judgment.
Ah, we, the innocent.We, the ignorant.We the selfish, sullen slobs that know no further than the edge of our own stubby noses.What god protects those who are forsaken by all others?Thus the tale of Thomas Taylor, a simple man cursed by the fear of god.
In my absence I have been partaking of a number of the world's many pleasures. I would hope that you have done the same, but I know you have no such opportunity in your barren land. I have brought you a compelling tune.
The night is still and dark. There are no sounds on the tracks for miles and that's fine by me. Pretty soon the 3:30 to Allentown will be swinging by and I can catch my ride back to Pennsylvania in the dead of the night. When I climb on I know there will be other boxcar denizens riding along. I know that these people will hurriedly move out of my way, offering me a spot against the wall, or, if I so choose, the corner. I can see their faces, half-hidden by the shadows, the gleam of their eyes peeking out through the shroud of night, pupils wide with fear and hearts racing.
The train arrives in a sort of magnanimous whine, like the death rattle of a warrior king, and brings to the present the future I imagined.
I walk past the terrified vermin, scurrying out of sight like roaches when the kitchen light gets flicked on. These people know me. They fear me. Most of them have heard rumors enough about me. One, I'm sure, has seen me once before and knows truth to some of what is spoken in the whispers passed along the rails. There is one among the wretches here, though, that knows why they fear; he knows what drives my hands and feet to move, what compels me to come to these cars, and what fuels the fire behind my eyes, which, upon seeing him, goes supernova.
The thing about train dwellers is that they're mostly sitting down on their asses or laying down or huddling together for warmth close to ground level, so when he kneels to beg for forgiveness, for his life, he's no nearer the ground than how he usually is; the act is meaningless, and anyway, he should know his pleas fall on deaf ears.
I set about to my work, while all the little reflections of moonlight on wide terrified eyes point at me, taking in the entirety of the horror I inflict on the wretch. there's about thirty ears in the car listening to every whimper, every scream, every snapping, splintering bone. Fifteen faces wince, and feel something warm and thick splash against them. They don't feel, or disregard their own tears streaming down. I never gave a shit either way. Soon, but what for them must feel like an eternity, and for him feel like something longer, the last ounce of breath flees his lungs and the eye I left him rolls back in his head. No one on the car realizes the train started moving over an hour ago. I chuck the body off the side.
The vermin here have fashioned for themselves a chair, which they offer to me; something reminiscent of a throne. I have free reign of the rails. A king sitting on a throne of blood, but where the king sits now there was once a child, spurned and abandoned, but not alone. They formed a perimeter around him to keep him to the wall. When he tried to run through them they pushed him down. Dirty, unkempt hands clawed at him, removing his clothes.
Then the pain. All he can remember is the pain.
The next night he moved to another car, and another the night after, but they always found him. The pain would return and he would wake in the morning with new bruises and blood coming from places where it shouldn't. He cried and cried, and wondered if this pain would follow the rest of his life. The days began to blur and the pain was all that remained, pain and something else, something vibrant and impossible to restrain, yet patient and lurking in the dark - something that wanted to replace the pain, to burn it all away and probably everything else in the boy's soul along with it.
Then one day, it did just that.
The men in the circle around the boy watched one of their own violate him like so many times before. The man stiffened, implying a cessation to his assault, and the promise of another of them getting their opportunity at a violent release. They soon recoiled at the site of the crimson puddle forming beneath him, and the way he lifelessly flopped to the side as the boy wiped the blood from his mouth.
No one would ever touch him again. It wasn't enough.
Five faces burned into the boy's memory while he grew tall and muscular. Five faces would never be forgotten, even as the boy became a king of sorts. Three lie in ditches by the rails, tortured beyond comprehension. Two remain among the living, and so he continues, all the while wearing his crown upon a troubled brow.
Locked up. That’s it. They just put you in and throw away the key. I was committed two years ago and it’s been nothing but madness since then. I admit that I feel a bit crazy now, but I’m in it up to my elbows every day. You don’t expect a plumber to smell of roses, right? Case in point. Crazy is fine, really. Everybody’s washed in it in some way. Skipping the cracks on the sidewalk, counting steps to the bathroom, and adding up the numbers on license plates; it’s mental exercise. The difference between people who are in here and out there is that we don’t keep these things to ourselves. If you skip cracks in the sidewalk, fine. If you stop and tell one person, or five people, or everybody that passes that you’re skipping cracks you get thrown in the bin. It’s honesty. Personal truth and that’s what’s crazy. So now when I go in to talk to the baby doctors and they ask me to ‘open up’ I don’t say a word. Straight to hell with them.
But like I said, crazy is fine. People in here are just louder versions of people out there. Like Brewster who yells at people to stop staring or Mother Mary who blesses everything down to the last dead cockroach in her room. Even the sad ones are louder. The depressed. They shuffle in like lemmings and sit at the circle tables and slouch. They’re tricky because they hold it in, but it always comes pouring out. We’re more real, more in touch. The soul is loud and we are pure souls.
Last week Catherine came to stay. She was loud. She moved from table to table talking up every person in the room. She used her sex to get everybody all upset. She would rub her pale hand on the depressed’s arms and stare longingly into Brewster’s eyes. She even hugged Mother Mary. Right in front of everybody she grabbed that big, black woman with the cross and hugged her until her eyes almost popped out. Mary didn’t say much the rest of that day and she didn’t bless Catherine either.
Catherine didn’t get around to me until later. She spotted me at my table one day and I could tell that it was my turn. She sauntered over and sat down right across from me. “What are you reading,” she asked and I waved my hand at her. Why do people ask when the title is stamped on the cover? She leaned in closer and whispered, “Is it a secret?” I put the book down on the table and stared her in the face. She was quite lovely, truth be told, but it was her smirk that uglied-up her face. “I heard you don’t say much,” cooed Catherine, “not a word since you been here.” She turned her eyes to Brewster and Mother Mary a few tables over. “I bet Bubba and Huggy over there twenty down that I could get you to talk. I’ll split it with you if you croak.” I shook my head at her and reached for my book, but Catherine slammed her white hand down on it. “Come on. Just one word. Right in my ear.” I wrenched my book from underneath her hand and opened up to my last page. Not worth it, that girl. She leaned back in her chair and clicked her tongue at me. “You like stories, huh? I got stories. Pictures too.” She pulled down her collar over her left breast exposing a bright red heart just to the left of center. “I used to live in Tijuana working as a bartender. The locals would come in everyday and tell me I was beautiful, that I was their sweetheart. They called me that so often I got the nickname. Sweetheart. I thought it was cute. I even got this tattoo to remind me. Then one day some of my sweetheart buddies pulled me into the backroom of the bar and raped me until my pussy bled. That’s what I was worth to them. Their sweetheart.” Catherine kicked up out of her chair and walked away. Her story made me sad. “Sorry,” I said as the dust rattled off my tired voice.
So you're reading this, so I guess that's a good start. Someone is reading this right now; you're going through the words that I have put down in this note and are able to understand them. I suppose that's the best I can hope for, but I do hope against hope that on reading this you will come to believe 2 things about this account:
1) This is not a work of fiction. 2) I am completely sane.
So let's get to it then: I am writing this from a park bench near Haight-Ashbury. I am watching myself. I have been watching myself for the last week. This is where those 2 big hopes come in, because I'm not watching myself in a figurative sort of way like minding my actions, and I'm not looking in a mirror or anything so mundane. No, dear reader, I am watching myself walk across the park. I know where I'm going. I am watching the events from April 24th of my 26th year. I have a dozen white roses in-hand, and I am going to the other end of the park to meet my girlfriend. Well, she's not my girlfriend I guess; it's his girlfriend, but he's me. Like I said, I'm completely sane, but you have to understand how complicated this is for me.
I'm not going to edit this. What you are reading is an account as it happens about my encounter having somehow wound up 18 years into my past.
I honestly don't even know what I was doing in SF, anyhow. I suppose it seemed like a worthwhile change of pace at the time, and she was here, so that probably accounted for 80% of the decision. Folly of youth. Would that I could warn myself about this. I know, I know; the past me is right there, and he's about to make a huge mistake, and I can fix it. You'd like to think that, but no, no I can't. Sure any misplaced blade of grass could affect the timestream in ways I couldn't possibly understand, and I'm still here and haven't done much of anything to upset whatever balance might exist, but I am paralyzed by an unshakable fear of what would happen if I were to intervene in my past, so I'm stuck watching as I walk to meet Kristen with those damn roses on her damn birthday with a damn ring in my pocket.
In approximately 10 minutes she says no, leaves me, and I spend the next 4 years in and out of depression/treatment/alcoholism. I would do a lot to erase those 4 years, or replace them with something else, but hey, aside from inexplicably winding up in the past I rather enjoyed the rest of my life after that. Today is a bad example, though.
I'm watching arguably the saddest moment in my entire life, and I feel completely powerless to stop it, as If I'm being strung up like a marionette on the strings of fate. I'm stuck here watching myself sit on the bench waiting for her, and I can see her walking past the me writing this and towards the young me. He... I don't see her yet. She is going to plop down on the bench next to me and sit right on the roses. She's going to yell at me and I'm going to calm her down and then the ring is going to pop out and then...
I just stood up. The younger me is standing up. I'm walking away. I can't fucking believe I'm walking away. She's just standing there staring at my back as I'm walking away. This is great! I bet she can't even fathom how I could have left before she got there. She actually looks really upset. I am so goddamn proud of myself right now, and hey, I'm still here!
Ok. Look, I'm going to stop here. I may be stuck in the past, but my future just became, possibly, a little brighter, and I think I need to go. I need to experience this first... well, second-hand.
I’ve either been here for several days or just a few minutes. Time has just stopped flowing like the smooth stream it was when I was growing up. It seems like now I can be yanked right out of the way of things and held up from the rest of the world. At first I couldn’t tell what was happening, the transition was quick and subtle. Now it’s blazingly apparent. Like right now, I’m standing in this phone booth. I came in to make a call to Gwendolyn when the stars started whizzing by. Whoosh. Whoosh. Then it was like they all went by at once. It looked like every star-tail strung through every moment it could experience in both directions. I was tempted to go ahead and make the phone call anyway, but I’ve tried to do that before. I called myself and left a forty-eight hour message once. When I came home later the machine had exploded.
There’s no accounting for the time. I’ll just get dropped back in right where I left off, but the time out in the cold keeps getting longer. I’ve talked to a few people about this and often it’s a mixture of confirmed disbelief with a skeptical line of questioning. The truth is I often don’t go anywhere when my record goes off the track. I’m never sure when I’m going to be dropped back in and there’s no telling what maniac on a bicycle or texting driver I’ll appear in front of. I prefer to stay in the general area where things started or, I suppose, where things stopped. Like this phone booth. It’s not great, but there are ads to read. One for some women who calls herself “Treat” and another for a business I can run out of my home. They both have the same hook. “Have you got some extra time on your hands?” It’s exactly like it sounds. My hands are grimy with time. I can also read the phone book, but I usually don’t get past—
Mr. X: Hello, Howard.
Mr. X: I imagine this must be quite shocking, Howard. Take your time.
Howard: No, I mean, a bit surprising, yes, but what with the rest of my life I’m used to being disoriented
Mr. X: Good man. Well, let’s get to it then. Howard, you are going crazy.
Mr. X: Quite mad, in fact. In a few years, you won’t be able to get out of your own head.
Howard: What? That isn’t—
Mr. X: —quite fair, is it. No, it isn’t. But you’re about to be introduced into an entirely new world. Tell me, have you ever considered how crazy an average crazy person considers themselves?
Howard: Well, no.
Mr. X: No! And neither had I until I went to crackers, but it’s fairly simple. A crazy person never feels crazy. A rather important symptom, I’m afraid. Take me for example. I was a leading professor of eastern philosophy when I started to make my jumps into madness. I know what it’s like to feel the earth stop around you, only mine wasn’t so gradual as yours. I was lost in this world of lights rather fast.
Howard: Wait, what are you saying? This is crazy?
Mr. X: No, Howard, you are. You’ll see it soon enough, but I have other things to attend to now. I’m not the only one here though. We all come to the same place. A meeting of the maddest minds in the land of lights. You may even meet some, in time. But for now, this will have to suffice. Welcome to the crazy.
They all assembled for practice. They were lined up like porcelain dolls, each one fairer than the last, and each one deadlier.
Their master watched them with a cold gaze that looked like he could freeze your very soul. No one knew much of anything about him other than that he was the best of his kind: merciless, calculating, and efficient. They say he came from Russia sometime in the 70's. That he killed 5 men on his way out of the iron curtain and over the wall. They are probably underestimating him. No one knows what happened to the girls he trained in the USSR, as they were never heard from again, but watching him rap one of the girls knees with his cane for imperfect posture, I think it's clear that he took care of them in a very permanent way.
Ugh, how long is this going to be?
The girls here are nonetheless up to the challenge. Tanya wears a red bow that she is said to have used strangling a general of a Middle Eastern military regime. A kick from her tiny feet could break any bone she wished, and she has the precision to choose exactly witch vertebrae she wanted to crush. Her parents were murdered by KGB spies, so now she stays at the school, training night and day to be the perfect killer.
I can't believe they're still stretching.
Though looking at her one would find it hard to believe, but Megan was born to a very rich railroad family out of Northern California. The lap of luxury and the rigors of polite behavior bothered her so much that she ran away at the age of 13 hoping for a less extravagant life. What she found were the means to be one of the top 10 weapons experts in the world. She can make a bomb from household items. She can shoot the wings of a fly at 500 yards without a scope. She can assemble and disassemble a hand gun upside down and blindfolded in under a minute. She has killed over a hundred men in the last year.
Christ this sucks.
Joanna simply showed up at the school one day alone with 2 suitcases and a murderous look. It was never known where she came from, if her parents were alive, or anything else for that matter. The master took her in immediately and began her training. She is the most graceful in the school. Her dance is a dance of blood and carnage, and she tiptoes and pirouettes through it, causing it, without getting a single drop on her. The twin blades, two curved short swords from Japan, have cleaved through countless of her enemies, and have never once chipped. She knows how to slice between neck bones, through ligament and never hitting the hard stuff.
Certainly there were others, a whole school, but these three were the deadliest, the most skilled, the cleverest, the most like the master as he modeled them in his image. The school was a decent enough front, and the rigors of ballet training certainly aided them in their assassinations, but these three showed up to learn to kill, and they have become masters in that field. Together they have ended the lives of over a thousand men without batting an eye. They are cruel, they are unforgiving...
Hello? Jesus Christ mom this is so boring! When are you going to come and get me from Janet's ballet practice? What? Another hour? Ugh. This sucks. Yeah, sorry, language, right. Listen, can we at least stop at Wendy's or something on the way back? I want a Frosty.