One Too Many

Straggling through a tangle of suburban streets, clarity found me swaying at the brink of some nameless back alley. It was there, teetering at the threshold of strewn refuse and raw sewage, that I caught my first glimpse. A vague shape crumpled limp in the muck, wedged between tarmac and relentless concrete. My bleary eyes blinked and strained deeper into the gloom.

Was it… a person?

A person! The excitement spat and sizzled. People! The grim laneways of my tumbling mind snapped into a technicolor carnival of infinite possibility. Thousands of people! Anticipation crackled high above our heads, raining showers of shimmering silver before our eyes. The beats strolled out warm, wealthy, and luxurious, so we wore them loose like an old pair of jeans. Everyone was here. Everyone was moving. Everyone was fucking amazing!

Though Curiosity teased with her tight swinging curves and swivelling hips, it was the wide eyed Naivete who took my hand in hers. Syrupy sweet euphoria melted over me, and staring into those wild sapphire eyes, I knew in an instant that I would follow them anywhere. Everywhere. To the end of everything and the beginning of forever. The bass kicked up like a long lost friend, and together we romped an audacious path through the tattered edges of reality. Carefree, careless, and utterly carnal, we plunged ourselves deep into the throat of that foul alleyway; as it retched, and spat, and choked, until it swallowed us whole.

I was fool to follow, but the inevitable can be a stubborn mistress.

Then she was gone. The carnival was over. Beneath the dim buzz of burning neon I was alone again. When did she leave? Abandoned to the mounds of rotten filth that lay spattered over cold tarmac, the stench was nauseating. Where did she go? Wind whipped sharp streaks of drizzling rain across my cheeks, and it streamed bitterly from the tip of my nose, rolling over cracked lips, dripping from an unshaven chin, into the rotten swill that washed about my feet. In that moment, I thought this was the end of everything; but it was just the beginning of forever.

At first, I didn’t even recognise him.

Pressed into a brutal angle against the cold concrete wall, he lay just inches from my feet. Unmoving. Was he… Air rushed from my lungs as if squeezed by thousands of invisible hands, but the final dreadful word never arrived. Rigid and awkward he made no sound. Time slowed. Cramps clenched the pit of my stomach, tightening to a suffocating, seeping dread that climbed to my throat with spindled fingers. He can’t be… Terror burst from my chest like a parasite, bringing with it a crushing stampede of primal hysteria. I had to get away. Anywhere. It didn’t matter where, I just needed to run. Run. I’m think I’m fucking losing it.

The body twitched.

My eyes adjusted to the dirty gloom and drew focus. It twitched again. A withered head balanced precariously on it’s rotted stalk, scarred and stained for years beyond what could be natural. I watched in slow motion as cracked lips peeled barely apart, unveiling a swathe of ulcerous sores and cankered gums. Rust-red smears wept slowly down one side of his sharp crooked jaw, while a single clouded eye lolled slowly inside its socket without focus, purpose or intent. Alley-worn and filthy as he was, relief washed me clean with welcome release. He was alive. I snapped from my drifting haze with the weight of reality. He was alive; he was alive, and I had to say something.

“Hey… Man, are… Are you okay?”

A sensation I could not place swept jaggedly up my spine and into conscious thought. Somehow this man was familiar, but I was convinced that I stood before him a stranger. The notion persisted, and my mind circled. How did he end up here? How long had he been here? Was this where he lived? Did he have family? Is anyone looking for him? Who was this man? No sooner had the words formed clearly in my mind’s eye, than his head turned slowly upwards to face me. Him, sprawled at any awkward angle barely alive; me, swaying beneath broken neon like some two dollar saviour.

Our eyes locked, and for a fleeting and fragile moment, time stood completely still. We connected.

An overwhelming barrage of vivid tragedy poured unrelenting from wide open floodgates, drowning my tiny island of reality under wave upon wave of everything and the emotional beyond. Hopelessness. Loss. Grief. Isolation. Failure. Regret. Betrayal. It was all there and more, yet this torrent of unwelcome memories rushed over and through me until I was saturated with sorrow. Then, at the most lucid point of irrevocable climax, came a chain of revelation that I am still unable to understand. Somehow, standing naked and alone at the centre of this collapsing bridge, with angry waves of angst crashing around and above me, it all made perfect sense.

This was the real me.

Not a parallel or alternate me, borne from tangential science-fiction fantasy. Not a Professor Jeckyl kind of me, confronting the irresistible urge to become something monstrous in the name of science. Not a clone, copy, android or simulacrum. No, it was far simpler than that. He was indeed me, and it was I who was not.

Then who was I?

Another Day At The Office

Mr Bateau rattled away at the old plastic keyboard and the world slid smoothly into the background. Familiarity etched the resignation to his brow. This day was like every other. Productivity was on annual leave, Enthusiasm had left early, and Inspiration called in sick for the third time this week. From time to time a lucid moment muttered down the hallway unnoticed whilst a giggling group of rosy-faced ideas laughed and played over by the filing cabinet. Oblivious to their irritating squeals of delight, Mr Bateau maintained grim focus on the screen before him.

“Coffee!” chimed a melodious voice from the most annoying portion of his mind.
“Now?!” Mr Bateau snapped back. Silence. His edge was sharp. Offering no reply, the melodious voice paused for a moment, then continued in silence. All that remained was the same old vacuum of unanswered questions, and the wear was beginning to show.

More silence, but this time it was significantly louder.

As if on cue a pin dropped. Then another. And another six. In an instant, fistfuls of the pointed protrusions were being flung overhead by pint-sized pin catapults. Hordes of miniature warriors streamed from both sides of the desktop stationary in an increasingly epic melee that quickly spread from telephone, to tape dispenser and beyond. Pairs of pin men duelled across the space bar, while others  wearing bright blue tunics held tight formation behind the stapler. As the pin men fought, bled and died, Mr Bateau typed deftly over, around and between them, ever determined not to be distracted from his moment of diligence.

A particularly dramatic rogue staggered in circles of ever-decreasing diameter, gruesomely impaled on a pin and wailing on a tiny war trumpet without respite. The death throes stretched on for an eternity, but after more than one faux finale, he eventually collapsed for the last time with a gurgling shriek; just as Mr Bateau’s dodging finger jabbed into the point of his protruding pin sword.

The outburst was a hot crimson haze of strobing slow-motion.

“FOR. FUCK. SAKE.”

Mr Bateau beat both closed fists on the desk to punctuate every strangled syllable, and abruptly stood up from his chair for further effect. The pin warriors bounced with each impact as they scattered anxiously back behind whatever cover they could find, dragging the wounded as they went. Silence.

The chair swivelled nonchalantly on it’s own.

Silence. Very loud silence punctuated by tiny little breaths. The clock knocked out a tock that reverberated indefinitely, and Mr Bateau sat back down with intent. He shuffled some papers, massaged his forehead, took a deep breath, then exhaled as he closed his eyes and began to type:

“Mr Bateau rattled away at the old plastic keyboard and the world slid smoothly into the background. Familiarity etched the resignation to his brow. This day was like every other.”

Yesterday

“Can you call the police? I need the police.” Fingers moved to cover the side of his face as the question left his mouth. There was at least a little fear in the youth’s dark brown eyes, though he was far from frantic. Sweat beaded heavily on his brow, as it did mine in the rotting heat of this late afternoon. He looked a little out of breath. Perhaps it was the scarlet nail scrapes across his neck, but he had an uncertainty about him I did not trust.

“I don’t have any call credit” and it was true. “What’s up?”
“He attacked me. This guy. He’s sitting over there…” I looked over to where the youth was pointing and sure enough, on the far side of the oval a distant figure in a cream shirt was seated in a seemingly relaxed position on the grass. He was looking in our direction, but was too far away for me to make out much detail. It was clear that the youth was flustered, and I had no doubt that he was slightly injured, but I remained cautious.

“So you got away right? There is a police station just around the corner…”
“But my little brothers are still in the house,” he blurted. With a near audible twang, my heart strings bounced back into place. That phrase snapped my thought process from one of vague Samaritan interest to a growing concern that knotted my gut and pounded my heart that little bit harder.

“Hang on – what house?”
“My house.”
“Where?”
“Up on the corner. He might go back there and bash my little brothers too. That guy was in my house and just went psycho. I don’t even know him. He nearly broke my fucking nose”. I looked to the youth again. By now he had pulled his hands away from his face. Sure enough his nose was an angry red and slightly swollen. Sensing that I was looking to him for proof, a controlled grimaced flashed across his face while one hand went to the bridge of his nose for effect. I don’t think he realised at the time, but I was caught off-guard by the new information far more than the clumsy ruse for sympathy. The effect however was the same.

“OK. We’ll call the police. I think I can call emergency numbers.”

As I fumbled to switch off the mobiles’ in-built MP3 player, I could hear it belting out a breaks remix of an old Yes tune from the ear buds that dangled like a noose in the afternoon breeze. Quickly unplugging and tucking them safely away in a pocket, I dialled 000. When I heard the line connect and start to ring, I passed the youth the phone while watching him carefully and keeping tight grip on the lanyard to which it was still attached. I still didn’t trust him, twanged heart-strings or not.

“Fuck! He’s heading back up to my house!”. The youth scrabbled back my phone to my hand – still ringing – and took off towards the corner of the main road to which I had been originally heading. He only stopped briefly to kick apart a small jaundiced table – left as roadside junk – and grab for himself a full arm-length piece, testing it for weight as he ran. Christ, the kid wouldn’t have been more than sixteen. I wouldn’t have thought of that. I looked across the oval, and the man dressed in cream stood up and moved quickly away from us and toward the main road behind him. In a mild panic, I hung up the call and jogged towards the corner with more urgency than I would have liked.

The house the youth spoke of was a little way further down the main road and as I approached, he was standing in the centre island; make-shift wooden club by his side so as to shield it from the afternoon traffic. I noticed a younger boy, likely in his early teens clambering over the roof of the house in question and his older brother called out to him:

“Where is he?” The boy on the roof pointed to the back corner of the house and waved a glinting sliver mobile phone in the humid air so his brother could see it from his vantage point in the centre of the road. “Call the police!” he shouted across the dull drone of the passing vehicles. Nobody stopped or even slowed. It was then that a third and younger boy – of not more than eight or nine years old – walked gingerly from the front door of the house towards us. He was barefoot and still had the rosy red glow of an innocent beaming from beneath his tanned skin. I breathed an inner sigh of relief that the child seemed unharmed. By this stage I had crossed the first two lanes of traffic and was now standing next to the older youth in the median strip.

“So where did this guy come from?” I asked, keeping my gaze fixed on the driveway.
“He’s our neighbour. He just went schizo at me. He’s a schizophrenic”. Alarm bells rang. Hadn’t he told me earlier that he didn’t know the guy? Things weren’t matching up, but for a moment I doubted my own hearing which is average to say the least. After a confusing pause of indecision I took a subtle step away from the youth with the club. He didn’t notice as he was busy shouting to his brother who was two lanes of buzzing metal away.

“Go get my sword!”
“Which one?” the youngest of the three shouted back unfazed.
“The short one… And call the police!”. The child turned back into the house.

This was rapidly escalating to ridiculous. A boy with a club that was soon to be a sword? Delivered by an eight year old? To defend himself from a schizophrenic neighbour? In broad summery daylight? On a median strip with mid-week traffic pouring around us? I paused to allow Bruce Willis or Wesley Snipes enough time to combat-roll cameo into the scene, but neither showed. Instead, the youngest re-emerged from the house carrying – surely enough – a shining silver machete that sent sharp shards of light across my eyes as I squinted. I shielded my face as much to hide my astonishment as to reflect the light. The child carried it much the same way as his brother held the club – by his side, point down – suggesting he had received some instruction as to it’s proper handling. It was a sword alright and looked pretty fucking dangerous to me.

“Is he medically schizophrenic?” I asked as casually as I could manage. My guess was that man in cream wasn’t schizophrenic at all, but I wanted clarification on that teenage turn-of-phrase so I could review my options for calling help should the need arise. No answer.

“You know how to use that thing chief?” I continued, eyeing the sword steadily. “Walking into battle with a weapon you don’t know how to use will only get you killed”. The olive-skinned youth didn’t seem at all worried by the concept, and still did not answer. I tried a different tack, “Besides, I finished calling the police before and you’ll get busted if they catch you carrying that around in public.”. It was an out and out lie of course, something I am neither particularly good at nor fond of, but it was all I could think of at the time and seemed well delivered enough to elicit a response. He turned to me abruptly.

“Well what else can I do?”

As the youth sent me that fiery stare well beyond his age, a trillion appropriate answers flashed through my head quicker than I could grasp any of them. Once again, he had dumbfounded me. Despite my urge to diffuse the situation, I was in way over my head. I had as little idea of how to appropriately deal with this circumstance any more than this youth was trained to wield a machete. Besides which, the child had now crossed the road and handed the blade to him, and up close it was clearly of ludicrous proportion. Enough was enough and I began to back away slowly, ready to make a break if he should decide to use it on me instead.

“I’m going to kill that fuck. He nearly broke my fucking nose.” He touched his face again as if to make a point. I could hear the frightened fear in his voice change into one possessed with red-blooded anger and the smouldering heat of revenge. Time for me to exit. I am not a warrior.

“Call the fucking police!” was the last thing I heard him yell, though I am still not sure if it was to me or either of his brothers. I crossed the road through a welcome gap in the streaming traffic and walked away quickly; turning regularly as I moved, mainly for my own safety, but also to satisfy the niggling need to know there had been no confrontation as yet.

I cannot claim to know a great deal more, but my last view before turning the next corner of my brisk walk home was of the youth clambering over the high chain-link fence to the oval while the man in cream (wearing light coloured shorts, thongs and sporting a flowing blonde mullet-cut) negotiated the last two lanes of traffic in hot pursuit. I checked today’s paper for news of an assault, murder or divine intervention and found nothing. I also checked Stephen King’s web site to make sure I hadn’t somehow become embroiled in a gripping lead up to the climactic slaughter-fest from his latest novel. This wasn’t Derry, Maine.

So where were the parents? Was the man in cream one of them? Who was at fault? Where did that big fucking sword come from and how did the child know how to handle it? Did anyone get hurt? Should I call the police? So many questions bounced through my mind on that long walk home. I have neither the means nor the need to be responsible for everyone in this world, but still couldn’t help but feel multiple pangs of guilt over both my action and inaction alike.

Roll on the Apocalypse.