The Testing Of The Collected Electrical Consciousness Calculator 220-RT.

 

 

“Insufficient data for meaningful answer.” Spoke The Computer.

It wasn’t an answer that The Scientist liked. There had been endless hours put into this machine, streams and reels of data interpolated and collated and collected. So far it had brought answers for every simulation run against it.

“Any given force in an environment accounts for a finite amount of energy. For such a force to exist, a concurrently proportionate resistance would not be possible.” It said, in a faux-soothing woman’s voice.

“But this isn’t about a realistic extrapolation wherein only one can exist. I’m asking what the case would be if both were to exist?” Said The Scientist.

“For a resisting force to be truly immovable, an unstoppable force could not exist, and vice versa.” The Computer quoted, before making a chime.

“Let’s say they both do.”

“In such a hypothetical universe, such an example of forces of inertia and momentum would predicate an unstable balance of physical properties so as to render any determination made from their outcomes inapplicable to our own universe.”

“Do it anyway.”

The Computer went to analyzing. It imagined and thought up a whole new universe inside its circuitry. It made noises and chimed and the servers whined from the sheer amount of processing power used to drum up an entire universe. A computer designed to calculate probability and find patterns in ways a human mind never could. The model number was long and full of letters and numbers, but everyone only referred to it as “The Computer”.

It took The Computer 20 minutes to come up with an answer. 19 minutes longer than any previous data input for analysis. The Computer whirred and brought up a screen of graphs, and spoke aloud.

“Three possible outcomes have been determined.”

“Go on.” Said The Scientist.

“The first, is a mutual agreement by both forces in which it is beneficial for both parties to no longer participate in exerting either of their respective forces.”

“You mean they give up?”

“Yes.”

“And what’s the second?”

“The Second Outcome is for neither force to interact with each other in previously established ways as determined by their relative exertion of force, be they momentum or inertia. A transitive state of matter would be reached, and the equilibrium would allow a shift of states so as to allow both forces to continue their existence in their previous forms.”

“They’d… move through each other?”

“Yes.“

“The Third?” The Scientist said, intrigued.

“The Third. In a universe defined by the ability to hold both an object of infinite momentum and infinite inertia, where one’s definition precludes the other, we can only deduce that together, they would transfer a limitless amount of force between each other. The two would appear as if at rest, but are actually transferring their infinite energies from one to the other. Equilibrium or a relation would never be established.”

“They’d never stop, but nobody else would be able to notice.”

“Correct.”

“Is it possible that this state of non-equilibrium is actually happening with many potential forces in our own universe?”

The Computer hummed and chirped.

“As previously stated, the data is inapplicable.”

“But it would be?”

“In a scientifically compatible universe, one could deduce that all forces are balanced in such a way.”

“And this universe?”

The Computer clicked and scanned through a few dozen screens of information.

“Is not.”

Shore Leave

The environmental readouts were nominal numbers, indicating no toxins to be found within the vicinity of Yaath, the fourth most resource-intensive restaurant within the Hades Gamma quadrant. The atrium of the spired, glistening silver purple architecture folded in a stock fourth-dimensional pattern, oscillating in between different frequencies of time, showing little hints of the space the building held, would hold, and had held, in a kaleidoscope designed by minds long forgotten to the records of The Federation Alliance. Bustling about hurriedly were many different servers, some multi-limbed, others non-humanoid, bio-mechanical, and others literally Servers, as the place was newly networked to work with any standard UniCom, making ordering a dish from the far spiral end of the galaxy as simple as thinking of it. The glittering spires, the permanent UV adjusted sun, held aloft in a permanent stasis of cold fusion, providing light but no warmth, was the proudest display of bio-diversity and hospitality in a quadrant unknown for its tolerance. The breeze, simulated; blew itself across many dining tables in the Simu-Deck, rustling the antique paper napkins on the table of an engineer, and a First Officer having dinner.

“It’s multi-dimensional. A kind of temporal-spatially electrified version of what they might call obsidian on Ancient Earth. Even though there are no igneous minerals involved. I guess it’s kind of a nebular quartz that appears only here in this quadrant! I’ve always wanted to see it.” The Engineer said, wrapping their eating utensils in the paper napkins, like they’d seen in old Terran records.

“It’s beautiful.” Said The First Officer, placing one hand on the table, the other reaching for her glass.

“I always thought about coming here, but as a reward. Not really as a before kind of thing.”

“It’s shore leave. We have to have shore somewhere.” The First Officer touched her UniCom, and closed her eyes.

“What are you getting, honey?”

“More wine.”

“It is shore leave!” The Engineer touched their UniCom, and thought about a delicious bowl of grated Zyxtium, a favorite edible mineral from adolescence.

In a flash their UniComs sent their thoughts through the networked airwaves reaching the chefs inside, whose concoctions crafted aromas that permeated throughout Yaath and into the simu-outdoor deck, the false sun beaming down on a bright, perfectly crafted blue-silver sky, that shined the constellations from your home solar system, based on your UniCom preferences. The Engineer recognized Cassiopeia, and Kolara, and C#11408-B, from their studies at Academy. The Engineer had no constellations from their own solar system, being wiped out in The Third Dirge.

“What are you thinking about, love?”

“The Future.”

“Mmm.” The Engineer reached for the drone delivering the food and drinks.

“It’s going to be…Even more than we previously expected. It’s looking like a lot more.”

“That’s why we plan. That’s why we know that this next system is important. Uncharted new worlds are always terrifying.”

“The problem is always difficult. How do we make our presence unknown to Class 5 civilizations anymore? Is this the right way even? I don’t know sometimes.” The First Officer looked wistfully at the projected shifting spires, the ones that reminded her of the mountains from Eden Prime. The clouds shifted into a shape not entirely unlike an elephant, then just as quickly disapparated.

“Careful. You know that Captain Kass has a plan. Why do you think we were even given shore leave? I’m sure she’s on an away mission getting some vital part needed to chart this new system safely and securely.”

“I’m not losing faith in our Captain, I just feel so restless. So emotional and distraught. I know on some level, intellectually I’m worth it, worth having this title, this uniform, and working directly alongside the Captain is like, trying to…”

“…Trying to describe magnetism to an organic infant.”

“Quaint! But sure!” The First Officer laughed.

“I know what you mean. The few times I’ve been on the bridge I’ve felt it. That powerful sense of energy, of confidence, of love and care.”

“Yes, The Captain exudes it with all her being, and it’s like nobody else notices it? Or takes it for granted that She’ll Figure It All Out At The End, and whenever I tell people that I worry for her, that I worry for the crew, for the ship itself, everyone thinks I’m doubting. That there’s some criticism or judgment I’m making.”

“When the truth is only the opposite.”

“Yes!”

The Engineer drank their wine in a single gulp, while taking bites of algae-loaf, each mouth taking care to breathe in between chews and swallows. A drone wizzed by, playing a simple midi-tune, with a screen that flashed CONTINUE PLAYING??? ONLY 2 CREDITS! The First Officer touched her UniCom and thought it away. The Engineer thought it back, and bought four extra tunes to play.

“I don’t doubt the Captain’s plan. I know that this is our best chance really. I know it’s all thought out and safe but… Whenever we enter a new system, it’s the Captain who’s the most vulnerable you know? They represent us all. They live and die on it.”

“I’ve calibrated the stealth systems religiously for the last fourteen rels. I promise you, they’re primed and absolutely our best chance at all of this going peacefully and promisingly.”

“I know.”

“I don’t work next to her, but I admire the Captain endlessly. I just need you to know that even though you worry about her, I’m sure she’s considered you in the full equation of things too, you know?”

“Yeah.” The First Officer gazed into her glass of wine.

It reflected her augmented irises, which asked her for approval to analyze the alcohol content of her beverage. She canceled the prompt with a blink.

The Spires shifted and spun. For a second, flames burst from within them, showing a day in the future when Yaath may catch fire, or a day in the past when it did. It burned now too. The sky shifted to a super-intelligent shade of neon purple. It began to sing. The midi-drones chimed in.

MENTAL CHEMICALS

 POSEIDON’S CHORUS JOINS FOR US

LOSING CONTROL INSIDE OF TIME

GUIDING FORWARD INSIDE OF MIND

DOES THIS ONE HAVE CONTROL

ABYSSAL ABYSSAL ABYSSAL

ABYSSAL ABYSSAL ABYSSAL

The Engineer looked at The First Officer, who leaned back in her seat, sipping her glass. She listened to the skysong, and closed her eyes. She looked beautiful, and around her glowed an aura only visible on a spectrum human eyes couldn’t see. The Engineer noted to paint or draw it for her one day, as there were no words to fully describe it in her language.

“You shine when you talk about The Captain you know.”

“I know, you’ve told me before.”

“It’s just very bright!”

“It is?”

“It is.”

“Do you remember the first time we met?”

“It was at Academy wasn’t it?”

“No, I mean, when we met met.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. That was a dark time, I know.”

“No it’s okay, I don’t mind talking about it with you. You’re the only one who I can really even talk about it with.”

“I think about it all the time.”

“What? Why!?”

“Because even though The Agamemnon was a nightmare, it was when we made it out, and when we got into that escape pod together, and that we even made it out of that place, before that madness began to take everyone.”

“I don’t know. I never want to think about the things I saw that day. The things Primrose did to the crew. To himself. To you…”

The Engineer held their biomechanical hand up to The First Officer’s cheek. They wiped away a tear from her eye, taking her temperature, feeling her heartbeat, her mineral and nutritional readouts, the compositions of all the chemicals inside of her, they could feel the raised levels of cortisol, adrenaline and salinity dilution, probably from excess rehydrating.

“I can raise your serotonin levels, babe, if you want?”

“No, thanks though. I’d rather do it the old fashioned way.” With that, The First Officer finished her wine, and leaned across the dining table, pulling The Engineer close.

They kissed.

“I’ll never forget it, my love. When I saw you in that hallway, those radiation vents cooking you. The way you moved. The way you helped Augustine until the very last moment. Before they were cooked in that thing. Before you were cooked in that thing! And how I wondered and doubted and had so many doubts and mixed feelings about being a Second Officer, and every single time I think about it I think about how you deserved that credit. That is was you and your strength, and your capacity to withstand things mere humans cannot. That there’s no way I would’ve been able to to do the same for you. I felt so small and weak and scared. I remember feeling so trapped and knowing Primrose was coming specifically for me, and the whole Artifact was just a goose chase for him to get us locked into that course into the gas giant. I want to forget about it all but I just can’t, and even though I’m so afraid and embarrassed I’m still happy that I survived! That I made it out and with my sanity intact. That we both did together. No matter how many recommendations I put forward, no matter how much I suggested you get this promotion, because I  outrank you, they gave me the credit. It’s nonsense! It’s an injustice and it isn’t right! I can’t even think about how much you gave to be here, to have me be here, and I think about how you’re still an engineer, and how you deserve to be on the bridge with me, by the Captain’s side!”

“Oh, sweetheart. You know I’d love nothing more than that, but I’m an engineer. They need me down in the depths of the ship. They need my solutions. My expertise.”

“I know. You’re so amazingly smart. I can’t even imagine.”

“I can show you if you like?”

“You’re always full of surprises. Of course!” The First Officer chuckled through tears.

The Engineer reached their hand, interweaving their seven organic digits with the fingers of The First Officer. Their hands clasped together, The Engineer closed their eyes, and touched their UniCom, activating a homemade program they had been working on in between missions, just for this occasion, on one of the few planned allotments of shore leave before venturing into the uncharted Darkspace. The program began to run, and the bio-mechanical parts of The Engineer began to whirr and flicker as the information was channeled into bio-electric energy, synced up to their UniComs, united their minds in a singular vision.

They stood alone, surrounded in off grey to white. They faced each other.

Before them was a great blue sea, a vast archipelago, each floating with all manner of glorious things, some with foods from all over the universe, others with media handpicked from thousands of FedAlliance cultures, others with activities in abundance, and all within a thought’s distance away. The Engineer showed how it worked, and reached down into the island, picking it up with their hand and expanding it into full scale. They were now on a beach. The sand crunched under their feet.

“I don’t think sand is supposed to crunch like that!” The First Officer joked, cracking a mischevious smile. The tears fading from her face, indistinguishable from the work of the program or not.

“I’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

“I know you will. I can’t believe you made all this yourself! This is incredible!”

“What’s really incredible? Is how much time it took to get the time flux equations right. I dunno how they do it here in Hades Gamma, fourth-dimensional thinking is tough even for me.”

“Time Flux? Like a dilation?”

“Yeah, but mentally induced through my biomechanics.”

The Engineer reached down and expanded a small island onto the top of a table that was thought into existence.

“Here, try this.”

The Engineer handed The First Officer a square that had a picture of a laser sword on it. She placed it into her mouth and saw a saga told in nine parts immediately as if she had lived it herself. Every struggle, every hope and dying wish of an ancient republic from an impossibly long time ago, and the battles made in its last dying days, and the violent but inevitable reclamation of that republic from the empire that conquered it. She watched them all grow, and die, and begin again. It was lifetimes.

“End program.” The Engineer said.

The First Officer shook her head and looked up at The Engineer, who was smiling.

“Did you like it? All of that only took two minutes in Terran time. I know we’ve got a long way to go after this leave, and that the next mission is vital but deeply uncertain. And I just wanted to make something so that we’d have time. That’s what the program is really. It’s time. For us. We can see and do all the things we’ve wanted to in there, and it’s only a fraction of the time out here.”

The First Officer smiled.

“Then let’s stay here.”

“I want to, but I’m scared.”

“You don’t need to be. We’re all going to be okay. You’ve convinced me of that now.”

“It’s not that I mean, I didn’t even do anything!”

“You know you don’t have to. You just do. By being here.”

“Even though I’m not actually there, there?” Said The Engineer, with heavy hearts.

“But you are. And you will be. And you always have been.”

“I love you. I cannot wait for us to be on mission together again.”

“I love you too. The bottom deck feels so far away from you, even though we’re still on the same ship, we’re thousands of miles away from each other.”

“Do you think we’ll get to see each other in atmo before shore leave ends?”

“Maybe.”

The Engineer got a red alert on their diagnostics screen, telling them a fusion coupling had come undone or corroded. It was the kind of problem that required manual maintenance.

“Oh no!” The Engineer cried, giving away the seriousness of their dismay.

“Go save it. Go do it, darling.” Said The First Officer, knowing exactly how this played out.

“I’m not! I don’t want to leave you! But if I don’t look into this well…”

“Go ahead, darling. Do what you do. Save the decks. Keep the engines burning so I can guide us on the bridge. Keep us safe. And stay alive!”

“I’ll try!” The Engineer said with a wink and a kiss.

“I love you.”

“I love you so much.”

Then The Engineer faded away in a flicker. Like a telemetry signal suddenly dropping off the spectrum. Their form leaving behind the unprojected canvas The Engineer was occupying, revealing the food, bowls, and utensils were actually unused the entire time. A side effect of Yaath’s 1-1 Hard Light projection tech.

The Engineer closed their UniCom connection to Yaath. They leaned back into their chair and began to upload their program before making their way to the fusion couplers, both mouths smiling wide.

The First Officer sat at the dining table, and a midi-drone buzzed nearby. She thought at it, making it play a song she had heard The Engineer humming one day, while fixing a manifold. It was soft and sweet, and had a few harsh notes that made the melody blend with the way the sky sang, a newer tune, one that rose and shined with lucid hope, and the suns setting behind the spires, now showing a thousand different lifetimes celebrating a moment, whether it was a birthday, or a victory, or a New Cycle, or an end to a long, hard-fought war. But they were happy, and they were smiling, and The First Officer took solace in that for them, their past times were forever here.

She leaned back, and a drone refilled her glass of wine. It asked:

“Do you feel better?” A standard Yaathian greeting. Hospitality planet and all.

“Yes.” She said. “I’m feeling much better. Much.”

She sighed, but lovingly.

 

 

 

 

 

Haunted Motel Room

Everybody knew of the old haunted motel off Gurneseigh Lane, next to the shutdown foundry back when it used to be called Garrote Lane, and everybody there who grew up nearby knew at least one story about a body hung from the ominously strong rooted trees of the area. A woods scattered with souls like so many lost pieces of paper, an ephemeral journal of suffering remembered by the worn grooves of rope against wood, and truth against myth. It is in this very motel, in Room 24A, where two young women, one named Elle, and one named Ava, have fled. Ultimately seeking any safety, any shelter together from calamity… and ultimately finding that shelter.

~~~

11:11 PM

Ava slammed the motel door shut, drowning out the cacophony from the world, soaking from the torrential rain. She held the ice bucket in her left hand, a bottle of cheap booze in the other, one scavenged from the motel itself, the other brought along dutifully, thoughtfully, as the collapse escalated, the world became hazier, and couldn’t hold together. Elle sat at the table in the motel room, her legs kicked out on top, arms folded behind her head, fiddling with blond hair and a clip that wouldn’t hold. Reaching forward, stretching her burgundy red leather jacket, she quickly pulled a bottle opener out of the side pocket of her jeans, eagerly anticipating opening the bottle and pouring it out, counting the number of shots it would take to get over the end of the world.

“How’s it going out there?” Chuckled Elle, standing up to take the bottle from Ava.

“Wet.” Laughed Ava, the freedom in her voice unmistakable.

“I can see that!” Elle said, cracking open the screw-off bottle top and putting her bottle opener back into her pocket. She got up and grabbed the stack of towels she’d laid out earlier, and handed them to Ava, helping her wipe the ashen, oily, sooty rain from her body and drying her now soot-darkened red hair. Elle then wrapped her lovingly in a blanket. Elle poured the first of two shots into two plastic motel room cups.

“So… do you want to talk about it?”

“I do. But… It’s hard.”

“I know, honey.” Elle stretched her hand across the table, holding Ava’s.

“We’ve got all the time left in the world.”

~~~~

Society broke down faster than anyone could have thought, and it was when the riots began in New Gurneseigh, Ava made her escape. An escape long fought for, one endured and pined over and obsessed about for a decade and a half. Words half-remembered, but actions never forgotten. A loving hand. A hurting hand. A caring word. A hateful word. A hint of violence, and unimaginable cruelty. A love turned sour like old milk. A story told before, that will be told again. How lives change on the turn of a dime, or by happenstance a miracle can occur, where the end of one way of living begins a new one. Where one man’s control can be bested, and a woman’s will unbroken against the tortures of the long confined. Ava’s body could escape that prison, but her mind was still very much there, broken and shattered like the world before the news reports died, and broadcasts no longer aired. Before the loss of a continent, before the water turned foul and the skies blackened. Before the riots started, and spread, and spread until they finally reached the old metalworking town of New Gurneseigh. It was in the middle of the last broadcast from Tel Aviv that Ava knocked on the door of Elle, covered in the blood of her lifelong captor, sobbing quietly through a smile.

~~~~~

11:57 PM

“And that’s when I called you. It took only a moment. It wasn’t even hard.” Ava said. Her eyes fully opaque with the glaze of the memory, now baking into trauma, etching its permanence into her cerebral record. Ava took a shot.

“I’m just glad you’re here, now. If there had been any way to help you earlier, you KNOW I woul-”

Elle’s statement was intruded upon by an explosive crack, and the room lit up as if a bolt of lightning struck the middle of the floor, but sustained itself. Sustained its brightness and energy, radiating up from the floor, warping the lines of reality around it. The room began to feel like it was spinning, until looking away from the pronounced lightning bolt, hovering in mid-air. It began to pulse. With every pulse, the lightning bolt widened and the brightness died down.

“Wh…what the fuck?” Ava gasped. Elle and Ava both stood up, leaving their plastic cups on the table to face the pulsing lightning bolt.

“I don’t… Oh fuck. Oh, Fuck! I completely forgot!” Elle scrambled to the door, frantically grasping onto the latch, turning it to no avail.

“Forgot what?!” Ava said in perplexion.

“This fuckin’ motel is haunted. I’ve always heard the worst shit about this area growing up, about how some Hills Have Eyes shit goes on around here, or worse. There were always stories about a haunted motel but nobody ever really knew which one! I always thought it was bullshit!” Elle rattled off in between frustrated grunts, tugging at the door handle fruitlessly.

Ava watched Elle. She looked back at the lightning bolt, now whirling, now clearly a portal to some bright, shining world beyond human comprehension.

“Why won’t this fucking thing open! This shithouse really is haunted!” Elle said beginning to panic.

“Elle. Look.” Ava reached her hand out to Elle. Ava dropped the blanket around her, revealing the bloodied, tattered remains of her captive clothing. Elle stopped kicking the door for a moment, and turned toward Ava and the portal. The light of the portal filled up her eyes, sparkling with the reflection of the portal like so much televised snow, dancing light that winked and called and beckoned, a light that filled and intoxicated with promises, with desires and abdication of the world as once understood by reason and logic. It called out.

“Let’s go.” Said Ava, her hand extended, the portal still bathing the motel room in waves of pale blue light, the lightbulbs having all shattered with the arrival of the portal.

“Ava that’s not.. Listen I don’t what that is, but its something to do with this place, it’s never been right here! We need to get this door open and keep moving!” Elle pleaded.

“I’m not afraid of anything in this room.” Said Ava.

“Oh Ava honey please, please listen to me, we need to get this door open.”

“There’s nothing in this room to fear.”

“How can you even say that!”

“Everything that’s ever hurt me has been out there. It’s all hurting now. The moon is crying. The sun has died. The stars are disappearing. But somehow we’re still here, and rather than some unspeakable death, we get this!” Ava said, gesturing toward the portal, and the motel room.

The light cascades over and through her body, almost hanging aloft her shoulders, like a silky nightgown precariously draped over the body of a caring lover. She glowed eerily, and hauntingly. A living ghost. A Phantom of bloody beauty.

“The sky is different now. The light has changed. The air is heavy, don’t you feel it? Inside here, we’re all that’s left. The world is ending anyway right?” Ava said, her eyes, shining wildly.

“Isn’t this a miracle? Just for us?”

 

~~~~~

Elle thought about the first time she met Ava. They were both in Mrs. Brown’s 9th grade English class. By happenstance, they were seated next to each other, and one day, Elle had forgotten her pencil sharpener. It was the moment that the lead in Elle’s pencil snapped she realized it too, and her quick panicky look around the room was met with Ava’s anticipatory hospitality, who handed over her Bulbasaur pencil sharpened immediately. Elle thanked her and asked her if that was her favorite pokemon. Ava said no to save face, not knowing the genuine interest in Elle’s voice, having rarely experienced any interest in her needs or desires. They became fast friends and spent every day after school and every weekend together. Until one day, on the third summer of their high school tenure, Ava suddenly disappeared. Her father got a new job, and they had to move.

Elle watched Ava disappear into the horizon, growing smaller and smaller until she reached the vanishing point, leaving Elle’s life for seemingly good. Until, nearly a decade and a half later, Elle received a message on her Facebook a friend request from a name she had never really forgotten about, but had tried.

~~~~

Elle held onto the door handle, pulling while putting her feet up against the door and bracing with all her might against the handle, gaining maximum possible leverage. She strained. She felt it begin to loosen, begin to turn. Then the door handle popped off entirely.

“NO! FUCK! DAMMIT!” Elle lamented, throwing the handle in frustration.

It was promptly sucked up into the portal, which was gaining a gravitational slipstream around it. The air was charged with static, and the particulates around and in it danced small circles, rhythmically.

“Do you remember that one time when we stayed up all night, listening to Lou Reed songs?”

Elle’s heart twinged. It was one of her favorite memories.

“Of course I do.”

“Do you remember how long we spent, listening to that one song? What was it called again?”

“Lady Godiva’s Operation. It was a Velvet Underground song.”

“Lady Godiva.”

“Do you remember how long I spent trying to get you into them?”

“Weeks!” They laughed.

The Portal pulsed.

“Don’t you hear it now? I can hear Lady Godiva’s Operation playing.”

Dressed in silk, latin lace and envy
Pride and joy of the latest penny fare

The words became audible when they listened in the silence. As the window brightened from another collision outside, bursting with diffuse orange light, pouring into the room, but held back by the darkness, and the portal’s blue radiance. The thunder began to shake the room. The portal began to flicker.

“I don’t know how much longer we have to choose, Elle.”

Ava walked toward Elle, and helped her up from the floor. Elle took Ava’s hand, and they stood, hand in hand in front of the glistening portal of oblivion, as the mercurial light flowed over and through them.

“You saved me Elle. You know that. If you hadn’t accepted me back into your life, I’d still be trapped there, with him, in that place.”

“You saved yourself, honey. I mean look at you!”

They laughed again. Ava wiped her face, leaving a streak of blood on her cheek.

The Portal pulsed.

“You’re my best friend and I love you so much. I can’t imagine going anywhere without you.”

The world shook.

“Of course I’m coming with you!”

The skies cried.

“I don’t know what’s beyond here, Ava.”

The oceans boiled.

“Nothing we can’t find out together.”

They held hands. They stepped toward the portal. Its flickering grew more intense, and the light inside it waned, and the particulate of the portal peppered its way around their bodies, illuminating them in the glow, and just as they stepped into the beyond, the entire city of New Gurneseigh shined, if but for a brief, illusive moment.

~~~~

It isn’t known what happened to the two young women who checked into a broken old motel on a rare rainy night in the middle of June. What is known is on that night, that at precisely 12:01 AM the world did not end, it merely began anew.

 

The Doom.

The first time I noticed it, was after a dream. I had woken up and my eyes couldn’t focus yet, the sleep in my eyes preventing me from opening them fully. I sat up and turned to the edge of the bed, planting my feet on the floor and squinted, letting the early morning sun trickle into my vision, the light too intense for me to initially bear. Looking up I could make out the shape of the door to my room, ajar a few inches. It was the first sign I might have noticed if I had been more acute with my prevention, or fastidious in my caution. A kind of safeguard against The Doom. It’s hard to describe it. More intense and deep than any panic, more frightening and ominous than a bad feeling, and more real and intense than a nightmare fading from memory, thankful to be lost.

I sat at the edge of the bed and felt a compulsion. A sickening urge to call out a word. My throat was parched and my mouth dried from snoring. A whisper fluttered from within me, breaking through the cracked edges of my lips. The vocal cords vibrated, and a noise escaped. My own name.

I cleared my throat and swallowed spit that would not come. I reached for the water bottle at my bedside, taking a swig, it’s coolness and lubrication bringing life to the words again erupting from within, The Doom making its presence manifest against my will. Do you know what it’s like to speak without speaking? To awaken and be unsure if your body is still your own? Is it that feeling you take for granted, suddenly being snatched like an infant from the breast of her mother, and that dread and terror rising from a place carnal, in between logic and expression?

Have you ever called out your own name, while alone in your own house? Have you ever felt the emptiness as a warm blanket, a safety from the intrusion of others, and the sudden and irrevocable violation of that solemnity? Is it a kind of noise you think you heard, but maybe actually felt? Was that noise your own name? A name you were so sure was only meant for you, but now seems to be for someone else? Have you ever felt like you weren’t alone when you should be? Did you make sure you shut your door last night? Every window? Every entrance locked and bolted? Could you remember in accurate detail if you knew you were the only one home, yet still could find yourself sitting on the edge of your bed, expecting someone to be there when you called your own name aloud?

Have you ever called your own name out loud, and felt you weren’t you anymore? The Doom rising and building and in your mind’s eye, you can see it? That doppelganger, the you that isn’t you but is, walking in your home, waiting for a cry, a curse, a ringing, a summoning from outside and within. IS there a you outside your door, slowly pushing it open wider and wider, until you can see the knuckles wrapping around the frame, your knuckles. It’s knuckles, and you are it. It is you. You call your name again and you see the feet shift, the shadow behind the door moves, and you can hear your breath that is not your breath. Do you then rub your eyes and hope that what you saw isn’t right, and perhaps there is a solace to be found in realizing you are still dreaming.

And you are. You think.

The Doom waits at the door. I was standing on a tall wooden structure in a field. I was looking down at myself, who was standing on the ground, only I was no longer I. I spoke out to myself and said, “Isn’t it weird to look at yourself?”

I answered: “What is the key to the human heart?”

Is it then a flash? A moment of white in between blinks? Feet on the ground, head in the air, the door ajar, The Doom at the door, and you that isn’t you. I blinked again, rubbing my eyes, desperate to awaken. The door creaks. The weight lurches. Inside of me, a voice screams, begs for my body to run, to slam the door shut, to lock it and prop a chair to keep it closed. To fight for all matter of survival, a reptilian flight response that chokes away rationality. My heart burns, a twist inside like a clenched fist, ripping through my core. And yours. Or his. A key-shaped dagger. A hand that’s yours but not yours holding a key-shaped dagger and it’s making a noise you remember from the time before memory, when you could only perceive light and shapes and sounds, but had no comprehension of these things. When sleep and dream were equal parts of reality, split between a world of intuition and reason before you ever knew the difference.

When you sleep, your body disconnects from your mind. You begin to drift and the motion is palpable. That somnambular foot jerk is your consciousness trapped between this world and their world. It knows that something has gone wrong, and one of the versions of you that exist has died. You’re shaken awake because you can feel yourself dying, even multiple realities away from your own. Somewhere, someway, I’ve just died.

I’ve died so many times.

Cold June.

 

Two old men are sitting in a fishing boat in the middle of a still lake, late in the evening. The waning light stretches over the shimmering water, silt flowing freely, obscuring the depths below as everything slowly darkens around them. The sunset burns the sky orange, and one old man turns to the other, after reeling in his fishing line.

“We’ve lived a long time, haven’t we Gerry?” Asked one old man to the other.

“Long enough, Hank.”

“Do you ever think about what you’d do different?”

“Sometimes. In the morning.” Gerry swished around some dip in his cheek, and spat into the water. It rippled and he hoped it would attract one last bite on his line before he had to pack up.

“And sometimes before I fall asleep. An unquiet mind wanders, you know.”

Gerry watched his line.

Hank stiffened, and began to break down his rod, untying the weights, cutting the line’s knot to the reel, disassembling the interconnecting rods. He packed away his bait and hooks into his tackle box.

“Yeah, me too. Lately though, it’s been a lot more often. Especially after this dream I keep having.” Hank reached through his tackle box, organizing the many different kinds of bait and accessories he kept. Many compartments, many little odds and ends.

“Dreams, eh? Those old clouds of the mind. Those half lives we all live, or some such I think a famous person once said.” Gerry spoke softly, looking wistfully into the horizon.

“In the dream It’s me, but I’m young again. I’m getting up in the morning and I make breakfast for Greta and little June, and I watch them laugh and talk about plans for the Summer festival.” Hank said, placing a hand on the side of the boat, to steady himself.

“That sounds like a nice dream there, Hank.”

“It is. It was.”

“Hmm.” Gerry closed his eyes and felt the sunshine on his face.

Hank reached into the bottom level of his tackle box, and retrieved the pistol he had stashed, while concealing it from Gerry still.

“The dream goes on. Greta and I take June to the festival, and we get there… but June doesn’t. She’s simply lost by the time I realize we’re there. As if the weeks from that breakfast skipped to the day she disappeared at that place.”

Gerry opened his eyes.

“Oh… Hank…Y-”

Hank pulled the gun on Gerry, aiming it at his face. Gerry’s look of horror and confusion was overwhelming to him. Hank began sobbing, his voice cracking in between bouts of semi-coherent speech.

“At the end of the dream, I see her. She’s in a dark place and crying my name, and I see her pain and suffering, but there’s nothing I can do.”

“Henry, Jesus man! Put the gun down, we can talk about this!”

“That’s what I thought too. But I kept having the dream Gerry! It kept happening and I’d see her every night the way she was, and in the darkness after. She’d change, Gerry. She’d rot and twist away. She’d beg me to free her.”

“Please, Hank, Please I am begging you to please put the gun down.”

“No.”

Hank pulled the trigger, sending a bright red flash of gore and tumbling body over the edge of the fishing boat, into the water. The boat rocked violently and Hank lost his grip on the side of the boat’s edge. He toppled over into the deep, silty waters. His lungs gasped in surprise, and Hank felt the bitter murky water rush past his esophagus and fill his lungs. A metallic taste as well, as Hank realized he was overboard, underwater, and drowning in his best friend’s blood.

Hank spasmed, and kicked his legs. The darkness of the water began to cloud itself a hue of red that blended with the fading light of the sky, and Hank became blind as to what was up and what was down. He thrashed more and felt himself sinking deeper, and watched as the red of dawn slowly faded into the dark depths of blackness at the bottom of the lake, where Hank’s last thought was a winking glimpse of June, in the darkness like before. June looked at Hank, and she smiled. Hank smiled, and cried tears that absorbed into the still of the dark water, like they never existed to begin with.

Illusive Incantations Of Mercurial Observations Predicated On Mainlined Medication.

That old woman just sits in her chair, chewing her gums and causing her chin to bobble up and down rhythmically. I look at her up and down, one of those quintessential old women types, with long wild hair of grey, and steely black eyes. It was her stare that caught me eventually. She never moved, just her jaw and lips bobbling, her shawl draped across her arms occasionally fluttering from an errant head tic. A miserable, twitching, tuttering old woman who was imprisoned in her own body and mind. Looking in her eyes revealed more depth about myself than any other form of communication. All projection and implication perhaps, but if you just looked in her damn eyes…

Sometimes I think the difference between sanity and madness is wondering who’s looking at who. And without saying a single word I know, I know for a fact, that this woman saw me.

Far From The Matted Crowd.

There’s a man in the far room of the ward who keeps introducing himself to me. “Hi, I’m John.” he says and gives me a friendly tip. He does it each time as if it’s new and I think each time about how nice he seems and for a moment I even think he works there. I ask him and he doesn’t. He’s here too, and this is his coping mechanism. He’s Introductory John! He’ll tell you about crossword puzzles and emotions.

“Find a feeling. Cross it off. Look down in here, and feel down in here.” 

He points to his heart. Introductory John. I tell him thanks. He walks away and I wait until we meet for the first time again.