THE WATERMELON MOUNTAINS
How do you know when you’ve crossed the border into insanity? Is there a conscious awareness of that moment? If there were, Kurt couldn’t recall it. But the fact remained that, to him, reality didn’t seem real anymore. There was a definite disassociation with not just ‘society’ but reality altogether. As far as he was concerned, existence was fake. A sham. A badly written plot to an epic science fiction novel replete with corporate dystopia and inexplicable quantum phenomena. He had become a detached observer from the whole of it. Bemusedly watching his fleshly persona scurry about on a quest with no foreseeable positive outcome. Like Percival on his search for the Holy Grail. Utterly and irrevocably absurd. He was sure there were mental disorders to describe his condition—But hell. Anymore, there were mental disorders to describe every aspect of human nature. Most of them justifications to write people prescriptions for pills they didn’t need. Normal had come to mean a placid complacency in life characterized by a dull stare and inability to see past the latest distraction. What this fake reality was a distraction from, he didn’t have time to consider because Albuquerque was coming into view.
The fading sun painted the Sandia Mountains a pinkish red to the east, giving them their name among the locals of The Watermelon Mountains. To the west he could make out the tips of three dormant volcanoes that characterized the West Mesa. Before him sprawled the town of Albuquerque in all of its chaotic glory. It had a charm to it—a definite enchantment. But Kurt could feel the undercurrent of violence and destruction that ran hot just beneath the surface. He’d seen enough news to know that hot undercurrent bubbled to the surface more frequently than most cared to admit.
He had to get a room and fast. Somewhere out of the way. Not flashy. A place where his comings and goings wouldn’t be monitored. That place was the Borderlands Motel, a seedy joint hovering on the border of civilized Albuquerque and the place where civilization went to die. He spent a fitful night amidst the screaming, yelling and fucking of the motel’s other patrons leaking through his walls. The next morning, he drove to the nearest Mal-Mart and picked up a new burner phone. His first call was to Esme.
“Kurt! Oh my god! Where are you? I’ve been trying to call you for a week!”
“I left my phone at home. Smart phones aren’t safe to carry. I’m in Albuquerque.”
“When are you getting here? Bella keeps asking for you. I’ve been worried sick. My mom’s driving me up the wall. You know how she gets.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. Look. It’s almost over. I’m gonna get the answers I need here and then I’ll be in Arizona. Two or three days tops. I promise.”
“So what’s going on? Is the government really after you? My mom thinks you’ve gone crazy.”
“Look. I’ll explain everything when I get there.” Hearing her voice was painful. He didn’t want to have to deal with this shit right now too. There was enough crazy going around already. All this did was complicate things for him. For some reason their first meeting played through his mind. She looked so alone sitting at the coffee bar. He didn’t know if he should approach her. Didn’t know if he could even muster the courage. But there she sat, hand cupping her shapely chin. Honey brown locks tumbling over delicate shoulders. Her face a mixture of intensity and boredom as she struggled to maintain focus on the book in front of her. He loved her instantly. He loved her still. And the last thing he wanted was to bring this weirdness into his family’s life. “I miss you guys so much.”
“Yeah. We miss you too,” she said, concern leaking into her tone. She had been scared since he busted into the house that day and started shoving clothes into a duffel bag. Sure, he was an eclectic guy. Always had been. That was part of his appeal. But this…this was different. The panic and paranoia had reached critical levels. He very well could be having a psychotic break. She kicked herself for not seeing this earlier. If Kurt was going through that, then the last thing he needed to be doing right now was running across the country off the grid and afraid of every shadow to cross his path. Sure things were difficult between them lately. He was an asshole more often than not and she’d entertained plenty of thoughts of leaving, but it’s not like she didn’t love him. And if he needed her, she would be there for him. “Are you O.K? If you want, I can come meet you out there. We can finish whatever you have to do together.”
“No need to worry. It’ll just be a little while longer. I promise. Tell Bella I love her and will see her soon.”
“Kurt…I really don’t think you should be alone right now.”
“That’s why I love you. I really have to go.” He hung up the phone and immediately called GRL_BLU. “In town. What now?”
“Meet me at the tram. 3 p.m.”
Albuquerque is home to the world’s longest tramway. A cable car system running from the bottom of the Sandias to the peak where a restaurant greets weary travelers.
Kurt found his way to the tram and waited for GRL_BLU to show. He watched as people came in, purchased tickets and boarded the tram, unsure of who he was looking for until a short Hispanic girl in her 20’s sauntered in. She had hair dyed a sapphire blue and enough piercings to make her look like a walking tackle box.
He approached her awkwardly. “Umm…excuse me. Are you—“
“Not here. Just get on the tram. We’ll talk more later.”
The tram was basically a tiny, metal box suspended by nothing but a wire cable. It swayed and lurched on its journey to the top and Kurt was sure that at any moment he would be plunged to his death on the rocks below. He kept trying to make eye contact with GRL_BLU, but she was ignoring him, gazing out the window, lost in her own thoughts.
What is going on here? What am I doing? Kurt wondered as he studied the woman who was supposed to help him. This isn’t safe. GRL_BLU was cool online but he didn’t know a damn thing about her in real life. Knowing someone online and knowing them in real life are two different things. Everybody is playing a persona online whether they realize it or not. They pretend to be the best versions of themselves in some form or fashion. For all he knew, this strange woman was a shill for the Mind’s agents luring him to his death. He stopped short after that thought and his eyes widened.
GRL_BLU turned to him then and smiled knowingly. “Man, your head must be about to explode from all this shit. Am I right?”
He nodded and leaned in close, hoping no one in the crowded tram would overhear, and whispered, “Are you working for Them?”
She giggled. “Them? No. I’m with They.”
“That’s not funny.”
She laughed anyway. It was always the same with these Swifting types. She would never understand what made them the special ones. What it was that triggered the mutation in them. All of them were basically the same. Timid cowards who were incapable of making any real decisions. They floated through life when their abilities were triggered, adrift in a sea of uncertainty and dread. Never knowing whether they were going to wake up in the world they fell asleep in or another altogether. Maybe it was for the best that she and those like her stepped in. All the Mind’s cells were suffering from a corrosive insanity. Existence was sick—diseased—and it was up to her and her cohorts to end the suffering once and for all.
“You met Jim in Durango, right?”
“I did. You guys know each other?”
“Yeah. As much as two people can. He’s supposed to meet us at the restaurant and go over some things.”
Kurt mentally kicked himself. He’d managed to himself caught no matter where he turned. Neither GRL_Blue’s mysterious friends nor the Mind’s agents really cared about him. They were only interested in what Kurt, and namely his Swifting, could do for them. He had a feeling this had all been played out before by his online Swifting comrades, like Kid_Kode. And he was fairly certain Kode was dead.
“Relax,” the blue-haired gutter punk assured him as if prying into his thoughts once again, “It’s all going to be O.K.”
The restaurant at the top was an old log cabin style building with a large, wooden deck around it. Jim was nowhere to be found. Nor had anyone matching his description been through there.
“Don’t worry,” GRL_BLU said, “I’m sure he’ll show soon. Let’s go grab a drink.”
They took seats at the bar on the back deck, each trying to ignore the uneasiness building.
GRL_BLU was the first to break the uncomfortable silence. “So I take it Jim filled you in on what’s going on here.”
“Yeah. Are you validating what he said?”
He looked at her quizzically. “Are you sure? It’s pretty insane shit.”
“Jim always says sanity is nothing more than being well-adjusted to your situation. But Truth, well, Truth just is. What you consider sane or insane doesn’t really matter in the face of Truth.”
“Jim is just stuffed to the gills with information, it seems.”
“He is,” GRL_BLU assured him. “He’s literally one of the smartest people I know.”
“Well alright then. Let’s hear it. What’s the next step?”
“That all depends on you.”
“Yes. The Machine is already falling apart. Everything is falling apart—the Mind is infested with insanity—falling headlong into chaos and then…” she shrugged her tiny shoulders, “You feel it, don’t you? Admit it.”
“Yes,” he said, a barely audible whisper that escaped his lips to expose his innermost thoughts.
“I knew it! I knew you would get this. I told Jim you’d be different.” She ordered another round and two shots of Captain Morgan. She handed one to Kurt and raised hers for a toast. “To Kurt. And the sacrifices we make for a little peace and quiet.”
“Uhh…cheers? I guess…”
“So you basically have two choices. Kill yourself and end your insanity or run and hope you can swift far enough ahead of the Mind to start making things interesting.”
“How can I run?” Kurt couldn’t help but recall his visions. “It’ll eventually catch up to me, right?”
GRL_BLU nodded. “Unless we quicken you.”
“We…kick you into overdrive. Catapult you into new dimensions altogether.”
“For what? Jim said that was dangerous.”
“Sure it’s dangerous. But think about it. Everything is crumbling into nothingness anyway. You can get a head start on all of that. Help the get the ball rolling. End the universe’s suffering. You’d be, like, a hero for sure.”
“Actually, that sounds pretty terrifying.”
Before she could retort, her phone chimed for an incoming text. She glanced down at it. “It’s Jim. Said to meet him outside. There’s a shelter up the trail a bit.”
It was much colder on the peak than it was in town and Kurt wished he’d brought a jacket. As they neared the shelter, GRL_BLU called out for Jim. Silence was her response. She sat down at the stone table and Kurt checked out the view. It was breathtaking. The whole city of Albuquerque sprawled out below him like some 3-D map.
“I’m king of the world,” he yelled.
A low chuckle from the underbrush got both of their attention. GRL_BLU waited expectantly and couldn’t contain her shock when the Bald Guy and the Brunette stepped into view holding odd looking weapons.
“Are those credit cards?” Kurt wondered.
“No,” GRL_BLU answered and took a few steps back, “They are definitely not credit cards.” She was desperately searching for a way out. This couldn’t be it. She couldn’t go out like this. Not this way. When she died, she would return to the Void. She had to make her mark on the aberration called Creation while she still could. She had to be remembered. And she wasn’t going to let her footnote in history end like this.
“Don’t even think about it,” the Bald Guy said and chuckled. “I’ve always wanted to say that. But seriously. Don’t.”
“What have you done with Jim?” demanded Kurt. He had finally had enough. Something changed inside him. He lost fear of anything anyone could ever do to him.
“Who is Jim?” asked the Brunette while cleaning out gunk from underneath her nails. She didn’t seem the least bit worried about Kurt at all. “He a friend of yours?”
Had he shifted again? To a world where Jim didn’t exist? “No. Yes. I don’t know…maybe. He was the guy I ran into in Durango. He told me about everything.”
“Oh. Him,” remarked the Brunette with obvious distaste. “Is that what he told you his name was? He’s no longer a problem. No need to worry.”
“I’m not worried about him. You’re the ones trying to kill me!”
She laughed, a beautiful and haunting sound that resonated in the depths of Kurt’s innermost soul. “Another one of ‘Jim’s’ fairytales, I take it? Make no mistake. Both Jim and his little side kick here want you dead. They just want your death to destroy worlds. We want you to save them.”
“They’re already being destroyed,” said GRL_BLU defiantly. “You assholes are losing. It doesn’t matter what you do. The Mind is coming apart at the seams. Insanity is leaking in. Creation is the abomination. I’m just helping return everything to peace.” And then she made her move.
It all happened so fast Kurt would never be sure what really happened. In one instant GRL_BLU bolted. In the next the Bald Guy zapped her with his credit card gun and she vanished. No blood, no body, not even a neat little pile of ashes, GRL_BLU was gone as if she’d never existed. Kurt snapped and rushed the Bald Guy in a blind rage. They wrestled for control of the strange weapon until the Mind’s agent mysteriously vanished too. After that, the Brunette was on top of him, her weird gun pressing threateningly on his throat.
“What is your problem? We aren’t trying to kill you, you stupid asshole, you’re already dead!”
“What? What do you mean?”
“You. Your specific version of ‘you’ is dead. You died in that train wreck back in 2005. Or you should have died. There was no close call. Something glitched and you ended up swifting. We’ve been trying to catch up to you ever since. To set it right.”
“So it was you who killed all those other versions of me? Is that what setting it right means?”
“No. Those deaths you saw were committed shortly after you’d swift. The Mind was trying to self-correct your little anomaly. You were supposed to be dead, after all. But somehow you always managed to slip through—shift away—and get swapped out for some innocent version of yourself who ended up paying for your mutation. A mutation which can very literally blink universes out of existence.”
She believed what she was saying. She really did. It made sense that this is what the Mind would tell her, that is, if the Mind had actually spoken to her or any of her fellow agents in a very long time. Honestly, she had been shooting from the hip for countless centuries and across an infinite number of universes. All the Mind’s agents had continued on their initial missions like immortal automatons whose creator had passed on and left them alone in a cold and uncertain world. They had purpose—a prime directive, so to speak. And that purpose was to perpetuate existence. To keep nonexistence from creeping in and taking over—to keep the multiverse from becoming static. She pushed on keeping this mission alive but at times she couldn’t help but wonder if she was following the Mind’s goal or following her own flawed logic. Now was one of those times. But second guessing herself would only get her killed and endanger countless lives. So she steeled herself for what she had to do.
“There is no other way. You can’t be allowed to continue this.” The credit card gun at Kurt’s throat started to glow and hum.
“Wait!” he yelled and a bright light filled his vision.
He awoke the next instant, shaking and sweating; his alarm blaring in the background.
“Daddy! Daddy! It’s morning, daddy. I want waffles,” said a small voice he instinctively knew belonged to his toddler son, Jacob.
He tried to shake off the dream, to accept this newest universe he’d stepped into. He ran his fingers through his hair and managed a smile. “Waffles it is, little man,” he promised and put on his robe. A mental image flashed through his mind—an image of him jumping off Sandia Peak to land in a broken heap on the rocks below. He felt a pang of guilt for Esme and Bella.
“Daddy needs his coffee.”
“Coffee is brewing in the kitchen. Estimated time until completion is one minute twelve seconds,” chimed the robotic female voice of Rosie, his automated housing assistant.
He maneuvered around his apartment, it was unlike any he’d Swifted into before. It had a completely different floor plan. Different furniture. He didn’t recognize the woman in the picture with him, but knew her name was Elise. A television embedded into the wall clicked on as he passed by.
“…partly cloudy and 55 degrees. Light winds and a slight chance for afternoon showers…”
He poured himself a steaming mug of coffee, fixed Jacob breakfast and stepped out onto the balcony. The mug slipped from his numb fingers and crashed to the ground. The geography, the plant life, the sky were all wrong. All unrecognizable as if he wasn’t even on Earth anymore. He was on an island, a vast ocean stretched out before him and dense jungle covered most of the land with unrecognizable plants. He was part of what looked to be a large, walled city that stood in the center of the island like a dark monolith.
“Where am I?”
“Home,” chimed the robotic female voice of Rosie, “This is your residence, Kurt.” Tiny robots swirled around him, cleaning up the broken glass and spilled coffee. “You have lived here with your wife, Elsie and son, Jacob, since your arrival three years ago.”
“But where am I? Am I on Earth?”
“There is no Earth. It died long ago. This is Colony Prime on the moon Arboles, orbiting planet Marduk in the Rigel system. Why are you having memory problems? Should I inform the medical ward of your troubles?”
“No. No, I’m fine. Just had a strange dream is all. I’ll be fine.” He’d done it. He’d broken free of the cell and Swifted into another dimension. “I’m gonna need another cup of coffee though. This is going to be a long day.”
And deep inside the heart of Creation, the Mind stirred.
Part two of the dimension hopping saga of Swifting! Enjoy!
OVERHEAD SPY SKA-TELLITE
He watched the plane take off and then got in his car. GRL_BLU had said she’d email him her info if he needed any help. He had to assume that if the Brunette knew so much about him already that she was privy to most, if not all, of his online sources of information. Hell, probably anything connected to a computer was fucked. But he had nowhere else to start. Besides, if They (and he hated using that proverbial term) knew his next move then he’d be better off seeing what his options were.
He logged into his other email account—the one kept hidden so he could keep his Swifting as low key as possible. His inbox lit up with one new message from GRL_BLU.
So yeah. Weird shit and things probably aren’t safe. But whatever. If they know, they know. Right? So here’s my number give me a call and let’s figure this out.
Kurt eyed his smart phone warily. He couldn’t trust the damn thing. Eyes and ears and photographic memory all rolled into one. Forget that. He went to Mal-Mart, bought a burner phone and dialed the number he was given. She answered on the fourth ring.
There was a long pause before a timid, “K?”
“Yeah. It’s K.”
She breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Oh thank Tiamat. Are you OK?”
“So far so good. Nothing weird yet.”
“Are you alone?”
“I am now.”
“You shouldn’t be. I can help you. Get to Albuquerque and call me again.”
“Yeah.” She hung up after that.
Albuquerque, New Mexico didn’t seem like the kind of place Kurt wanted to end up. He’d seen it on popular t.v. shows and if art imitated life in the least, he was pretty sure Albuquerque was a cesspool of crime, drugs and moral degeneracy. All of which were fascinating to watch on television but not so much to experience in real life. The upside was that it was on the way to Arizona where Esme and Bella awaited him. At this point, it was either Albuquerque or sit around and wait for the Brunette to come knocking. His gut told him this was a bad idea. He’d known GRL_BLU from the forum for over a year now. She always seemed like a cool enough person. So fuck it. Road trip it was.
He left later than night, heading out of town and north deciding on the northern interstates in an attempt to be less obvious. He made it to Madison, Wisconsin taking breaks to sleep at rest stops and paying for everything in cash. He was at a gas station browsing for chips and soda when a short, chubby bald man entered and flashed the clerk a disarming smile.
Kurt’s thoughts immediately went to his conversation with GRL_BLU just before he left and her story of Kid_Kode running into a bald guy right before he disappeared. But that was just being paranoid. Right? There were millions of bald guys in the United States. Every one of them couldn’t be working for whoever was after him. He took a deep breath, and turning to face the drink coolers, exhaled and tried to relax.
“Oh nice. Two energy drinks for five bucks,” the bald guy said and stood beside him. “You like these?”
“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. I think all energy drinks taste the same.”
“True enough,” the bald guy chuckled. “So you on a big trip?”
The question caught Kurt off guard. “How’d you know?”
“Just an educated guess.” He studied the energy drinks, unable to choose one. “I think orange and grape. What do you think?”
“I think you should learn how to make decisions by yourself. Asking strangers for advice gets people in trouble.”
The bald guy laughed. “That’s smart.”
“Yeah,” Kurt mumbled and hurried over to another isle. He was browsing the chips, trying not to look in the guy’s direction when he felt the barrel of a gun pressed into his back and hot, fetid breath on his neck whispering, “Do you know what fear is?”
Kurt froze for an instant, unsure of what to do. “I have a pretty good idea right now.”
“Fear is nothingness. Staring the void right in its empty, vapid soul and realizing that is the potential for everything. Does that not terrify you? That all of this—the whole of existence—could some day disappear into nothingness?” Kurt opened his mouth to answer but was cut off, “Don’t worry about answering. What you think doesn’t mean a damn thing. What matters is that you, Kurt, are a catalyst of said undoing. Which is why you’re coming with me.”
“Mister, what are you doing to that man?” said a child who appeared at the end of the isle, clutching a teddy bear. Her big, innocent eyes were wide with worry. “You look mad. Are you gonna hurt him?”
The Bald Guy smiled and backed away. “Why, of course not, little one. I was just talking to him. Wasn’t I?” He turned to Kurt for affirmation, but Kurt had already fled.
The Bald Guy watched from the window as his quarry got in his car and sped off, almost hitting 2 people in his frantic haste to escape. “Now look what you did little one. You let him get away.” The Bald Guy turned to give an admonishing smile to the little girl, but she too was gone.
He saw her at the counter with her mother, buying chocolate milk and pretzels, her eyes alight with joy and the uncomfortable situation already forgotten.
“You got played,” said a voice at his ear. “We had him dead to rights.”
He nodded at the Brunette’s statement. “They’re getting brazen. They must really want this one. C’mon. I’m hungry for some chicken fried steak. I saw a diner right off the I.”
Kurt drove frantically for hours, unsure and unconcerned with the direction. He stopped only when he had to get gas and stayed awake with caffeine pills and energy drinks. He hadn’t seen the Brunette or Bald Guy since Wisconsin and hoped that he had finally given them the slip. He couldn’t keep this up. Exhaustion was setting in and he had to stop for a while. Get his bearings. Figure out where he was going to go from there. He saw signs indicating Durango, Colorado was coming up and decided to stop. Durango was a quaint mountain town just across the border from New Mexico. It housed a thriving tourist industry, a small college and Ska Brewery. He really needed a good beer and Ska Brewery had always been a favorite.
He was well into his second beer and half a cheeseburger when he saw a man browsing the merchandise corner, shooting quick glances in his direction. He tried to ignore him—tell himself he was over reacting. The guy wasn’t bald. He wasn’t a hot brunette chick in disguise. Just some blonde dude who was way too tan and looked about 30. Nothing to worry about.
Until the guy walked over and said, “Hey. They have good cheeseburgers here?”
“I guess. Yeah.” Said Kurt, avoiding eye contact in hopes of making the creeper go away.
He didn’t. “Great. Gonna have to try it. The beer good too?”
“Yeah. Beer’s good too. Now if you don’t mind…”
“Right, right. See, I just drove in from Salt Lake City. Just asking some friendly tourist questions.”
“You a Mormon?”
“A Mormon. You’re from Utah, you said.”
“Not everyone from Utah is a Mormon. Besides, if I was a Mormon, you think I’d be in a bar?”
“I dunno what you religious types do. Look man—“
“Look, Jim. I’m done answering friendly questions. Now for the love of God, leave me alone!”
Jim raised his hands in mock surrender and took a few steps back. “No need to get all bent out of shape. I’m just trying–”
“Just trying to be friendly. Yeah. I get it. But if you knew what I’d been through lately you’d understand that I’m the last guy you wanna be friendly with. Now leave me alone.”
“Right. Sure.” He made like he was leaving and threw, “Women, huh?” over his shoulder.
Kurt bristled. This guy was seriously testing his patience. “What did you just say?”
“Women. Hell, whatever happened to you, it’s plain to see that a big part of it has to do with a woman.”
“Mind your fuckin’ business,” he growled while tossing some cash at the bartender and marching out the door.
Jim walked slowly and deliberately toward him as he fumbled for his keys, unable to fit them into the lock.
“Kurt. I’m one of the good guys. I’m here to help.”
Kurt dropped his keys with a curse. “Yeah right. You’re a liar like the rest.”
“The rest? You mean the Brunette and the Bald Guy? I don’t work for them. I work against them.”
Kurt paused for a second and glanced at Jim.
“I’m telling you the truth. Just calm down and come back inside. We can talk and if you don’t like what I have to say you can leave. No questions. No following you. Just…let’s talk, alright?”
Kurt stood there for a brief moment obviously struggling with the decision. “Alright. One beer. I need some answers.”
“Me and the people I work with are a conglomerate of sorts. You are aware of the existence of other universes? Parallel dimensions?”
“Of course. Bubbles within bubbles within bubbles.”
“Or cells within cells, yes? Now imagine each and every possible universe within your own is part of an even larger cell, or your prime universe, so to speak.”
“And that prime cell is only one of a countless number of cells within the whole Mind.”
“Like the mind of God?”
“If you want to call It that. Though most of us consider that kinda tacky.”
“Oh wow,” Kurt stammered as his mind was blown. “So each of these cells—these universes—exist as its own separate dimension?”
“Now you’re getting it!”
“I’ve been at it for a while. Swifting and all…”
“Ah yes. And that’s where the crux of your problem lies. You see, Swifting between universes within the same dimension is seen as normal and within the confines of the Mind’s goal. Most of the time people Swift without ever realizing it. Little shifts here and there to help their progress. It’s when violent shifts happen and people become aware that worries those that seek to harm you.”
“Why?” He didn’t ask for this. Never set out trying to Swift into different places. He didn’t understand why anyone would want to harm him.
“These anomalies like you break free of the cell. They can eventually Swift to different dimensions altogether. Places where they aren’t meant to exist. Places where their unnatural presence can irrevocably alter the Mind’s goal for that particular cell. You get it?”
“Yeah. Shit can get really messed up if we end up where we aren’t supposed to.”
“Right.” He leaned in closely. “So when did you first notice your Swifting?”
“You mean when it dawned on me? Simple. It was after I got back from a road trip to California in 2005. On the way home, we almost got hit by a train.”
“Yeah. And when we got home we found out that Billy Graham wasn’t, in fact, dead.”
“The preacher? And you remember him being dead?”
“Yeah. He died in the 90’s. President Clinton played the sax at his funeral. It was on television. I watched it with my mom. She kept saying what a great man he was. My friend that was with me remembered him dying at the same time too.”
“Interesting. Where’s your friend now?”
“Haven’t seen or heard from him in years.”
Jim nodded sagely. “He’s probably dead by now.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Look, the Mind has a way of…dealing with problems like you and your friend. You’ve already met them.”
“You mean Brunette and the Bald Guy?”
Jim nodded. “Yup. Agents of the Mind, we call them. They are specially privileged individuals who get to hop universes and dimensions enforcing the Mind’s goal.”
“Wait, are you saying the Mind is trying to kill me?”
Jim smirked and sipped his beer in reply.
“Weird how things turn out sometimes. Now as fun as our little chat was, we’ve gone over our time. You need to get back on the road. The Brunette and the Bald Guy are probably close behind if they’re not already here. You need to keep moving. Get to where you’re going.”
“What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ve been playing this cat and mouse game with these idiots for longer than I care to remember…or admit. Safe travels.” Jim walked to the bar, paid the tab and left.
Swifting is a short story I wrote about hopping between parallel universes. Always remember: Nothing is impossible in the Realm of Possibility! Enjoy!
“How do I tell her? How can I tell her? There’s no way she’d believe me. Hell, sometimes I don’t even believe me. How can this be real? It can’t be real. Can it?” His knuckles whitened under his grip on the bathroom sink. But he was completely immersed in his thoughts and didn’t notice. Nor did he notice the intense half-insane face staring back at him in the mirror. To be honest, he didn’t know who he was anymore. Every time he looked in the mirror lately, he felt like he was staring at someone else—a different version of himself who was always something of a stranger.
“Forget it. I can’t do it. I can’t tell her,” he announced to his reflection. Then thought better of it. “What am I saying? You don’t fuckin’ care. You’re somewhere else right now. Every version of yourself is simultaneously shifting into a different place. You’re probably shitting yourself right along with me. Well it’s good to know that I’m not going crazy alone.” He laughed softly at his own joke and brushed his teeth. He couldn’t tell her, but he had to tell someone. He was going out.
“You can’t tell her shit man. You got that? You can’t utter a fucking word of this crazy shit to her. She’ll see you for the nutjob you are. Don’t. Say. A goddam word. You hear me?”
He had to hand it to Darren. He had a way of being himself no matter where he was. He admired that about him and it was largely the reason he was his best friend. He was a constant. When a person can’t keep their consciousness stable, constants help them cope. Constants offer grounding in a world that changes more than it stays the same. Darren was who he was. Short. Bristly. Built like a tank. Cursed like a sailor. He made no qualms about who he was or what he thought. He could always be trusted to speak truth, no matter what that truth may be. And most importantly, that never changed about him.
“Dude, you don’t understand,” he told Darren, “Shit is getting bad between us. Bad. All our fights end now with her telling me to go find someone else. I’m dying over here. And don’t get me started on our Bella…Fuck, man. I don’t even know which version of her I’m gonna get. Is this a place where we’re together? Or are we at each other’s throats again? It wears on a guy, ya know?”
Sometimes Darren regretted buying into Kurt’s story when he sold him drugs the first time. Time travel or universe hopping or other shit he was sure came straight from science fiction novels was what the guy talked about. Darren didn’t know for sure, he just thought the guy was kooky and amusing. He was pretty convinced that the drugs were only making whatever the fuck was wrong with Kurt worse. He almost felt bad for the guy. He really did. But his money was good. And the story was good at least. Better than most of the junkie insanity he listened to on a daily basis. But really, he put up with Kurt because he bought the drinks. And a person that did that was a friend, as far as Darren was concerned.
“Then fucking leave her already, man. Shit. It’s always coming back to that woman poppin’ off or doing some stupid shit. Man, that’s prolly why you’re going crazy. She’s driving you straight off a cliff. I read an article that talked about how women nagging their men all the time actually kills them quicker. It’s true. Science and shit. But not you, man. You’re over here all, ‘but I think I might possibly love her sometimes when I don’t hate her fucking guts’. It’s bullshit man. Fucking bullshit. And you need to man up and opt out before you end up in a damn nuthouse or worse.”
“Yeah I hear that,” he said morosely. But he wasn’t really paying attention. He’d heard all this before. He knew this narrative by heart because it was whata he should be doing. But he couldn’t. He could never bring himself to ‘opt out’ as Darren put it. So he changed the subject. “Lately, I’ve been getting this visions. These mental flashes of these other versions of me offing themselves one by one. In all these different and weird ways. It’s like it’s moving down the line and I’m trying to keep ahead of it.”
“Oh man. You’re back to that freaky multiple universes shit? So tell me this: what happens when one of these other you’s puts one in his skull? Why don’t all of you die then?”
“It’s not how it works. We are connected to our other selves, but they are each an independent clone born of the choices we didn’t make. I think that movie ‘What the Bleep Do We Know’ explains it best.”
“What the Bleep Do We Know.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Huh. Probably not a movie here, then,” Kurt said to himself.
“Or you coulda just dreamed it up in that nutty head of yours.”
Darren checked the time on his smart phone. “Well as much as I love our little chat, I’ve got other business.”
Kurt had another beer, musing about his next move when he noticed the woman sitting at the bar. He hadn’t seen her before, he’d been too engrossed in venting to his friend. But damn if she wasn’t staring at him without staring at him; trying to act nonchalant and failing miserably. He normally wasn’t a brazen man—never could find the courage to talk to an attractive woman—and this stranger was definitely attractive. Brunette hair failing over her shoulders and halfway down her shapely back with a face of a movie star and body to match. But this wasn’t a pick up. She was watching him. Had been watching him and he wanted to know why.
He got up and made his way to the restroom where he splashed cold water on his face while trying to muster some grit. Whenever he emerged from the bathroom, she was still there stirring ice in an empty glass. He wasted no time in approaching her lest his grit fizzle out, and said in his best imitation of a macho voice, “Hey there.”
She looked him up and down, making no effort to hide the fact she was studying him before replying, “I need another drink.”
“I don’t work here. You better tell the bartender.”
“I know that,” she snapped smoothly. “I’m asking you to buy me a drink.”
“O.K…Wow. That was really forward.”
“You gonna buy the drink or what?”
“Yeah. Sure. Why not?” Kurt signaled for another round and sat down next to the intriguing brunette. “So what’s your name?”
“No? Your name is No? Man your parents were mean.”
She laughed and it sounded like a thousand crystals tinkling together. “I meant, no you can’t get in my pants. You’re with someone.”
“How d’you know that?”
“You’ve got a total dad bod going on. Vain enough to know you should look good but too lazy to give a shit.”
“Oh that’s hilarious,” the sour tone in Kurt’s voice was unmistakable.
The Brunette smiled disarmingly. “Look I get it. Depression can do that to people.”
“So now I’m depressed?”
“Definitely. You failed as a photographer. You failed as a—what was it you called it?—Oh yeah. Free lance journalist. You’ve failed as a partner to your wife. You’ve failed as a father. And most importantly, you’ve failed to remain rooted in one place for years now. Ever since your ‘accident’ with the train.”
The color fled Kurt’s face and he stumbled out of his chair. The barstool clattered to the floor as he backed away. “Who…who are you?”
“I’m a friend.” Her disarming smile seemed infinitely less so, taking on the qualities of a sinister leer instead.
He backed quickly toward the door. “Who the fuck ARE you? How do you know about me? About my Swifting?” The first few weeks after he realized his universe hopping, Kurt did an internet search and found an online forum dedicated to this very phenomenon, which they called “Swifting”. The forum was a safe, anonymous place full of people like him where stories were shared, theories discussed, lost loves and lives lamented, but most importantly, it offered camaraderie. It didn’t take very long before the forum became a constant and those on it like real friends. Lately though, it had been quiet and Kurt couldn’t help but wonder why.
“Kurt! Don’t you dare split without paying,” growled the bartender. A burly vet Kurt had no intention of pissing off.
“Hey yeah. About that, I’m gonna leave it right here.” He threw a wad of cash on the table nearest him and bolted out the door.
“What the hell was that about?” the bartender asked the Brunette.
“I don’t know. Threatened by beauty, perhaps?”
The bartender grunted and shuffled over to collect the money from the table, “Damn nut jobs. City’s full of em.”
SWIFT_K: Any1 on right now?
GRL_BLU: Hey. What’s up K?
SWIFT_K: Just had some crazy shit go down.
SWIFT_K: This girl at the bar started talking to me like she knew about me. About my Swifting.
INCOMING PM FROM GRL_BLU
GRL_BLU: I think you should run.
SWIFT_K: WTF?? Y???
GRL_BLU: Look. I don’t know NEthing for sure. OK?
GRL_BLU: I was chatting with Kid_Kode the other day. Said he met some1 at Mal Mart. Some bald guy, I think. Said dude knew a lot about him.
SWIFT_K: WTF??? Where is Kode? He on?
GRL_BLU: No. Hasn’t been on in 3 days.
SWIFT_K: Shit. Shit. Shit! We should def not be logging on here anymore.
GRL_BLU: I know. But this place is a constant.
SWIFT_K: Not anymore.
GRL_BLU: I guess… Good luck, K. I’ll email you my info if you ever need to get in touch.
GRL_BLU: Be careful OK?
SWIFT_K: You know me. 😀
Kurt shut down the computer and immediately started stuffing clothes into a duffel bag.
“Kurt, what are you doing?” Esme, his wife, stood in the doorway holding their daughter.
“Baby, we gotta go. Get you and Bella packed. Quickly!”
“Where are we going?” she had known Kurt for what seemed like lifetimes. She knew every quirk, every trigger for mood swings. At least she thought she did. Lately, he hadn’t been the same. Almost as if he were a new person every few days. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Baby, we don’t have a lot of time. We aren’t safe…I don’t think…”
“Stop it, Kurt. You’re scaring me.” The baby agreed and started crying, sensing the tense and uncertain energy around her parents.
He briefly explained his encounter at the bar, leaving out the Swifting details.
“So you think this woman is after you to kill you? Why?”
Kurt searched his imagination for a plausible lie to go along with his fantastic truth. “I, uh, have been on these online forums. Umm…grassroots activist type stuff. And people started disappearing off the forums lately. Word is, they got approached by someone with a lot of information about them before they disappear.”
“We gotta call the police!”
“No!” Kurt exploded and then wrangled his control back. “That’s not—I don’t think they can—or will—help us. Please just pack your shit and go to your mother’s.”
“My mother lives in Arizona. You know that.”
“Yeah. Perfect. Get there. Fast. I’ll drop you guys off at the airport. Catch the next flight you can.”
“What’re you gonna do?”
“I’ve got to figure this out. I’ll catch up to you when things have calmed down.”
She stared at him, boring into his soul, trying to decide if he was serious or lying to get her out of town so he could fuck around with whatever little bitch he’d been screwing. Kurt had been acting weird lately, and she automatically attributed his odd behavior to cheating. She was convinced that was the reason for the deterioration of their relationship. It had to be. Nothing else made sense.
He shifted uncomfortably beneath her gaze. “Esme, please. I’m serious about this. It’s not safe. Please. If not for me then for Bella. Go to your mother’s!”
“O.K.” she finally conceded. “For Bella. I have two weeks I can take. Will you have your government-wants-to-kill-me shit figured out by then?”
“For sure. I’ll see you there in a week. Tops. Now please, pack and let’s go already!”
Hello blogoverse! I’ve been away for a while working on my new collection of short stories, Twisted Yarns! I am pleased and more than a little excited to announce that it is now available for sale on the publisher’s site! That’s right. Now is your opportunity to delve into the warped and whimsical worlds that bounce around my imagination. And while you’re there, check out some of my other titles. Amazon and other retailer availability is coming soon. Cover design credit goes to the ever-talented Chris Deichman.
So what are you waiting for? Open a door to your imagination and get lost in Twisted Yarns!
Today’s daily Dick-ism continues PKD’s exploration of reality as unreal and also how we (being fleshy machines caught in this unreal reality) perceive time and space within our hologram. I’ve added a few useful links to help clear up some of the background. Enjoy!
“If I were to say to you: ‘The universe which we perceive is a hologram,’ you might think I had said something original until you realized that I had only up-dated Plato’s metaphor of the images flashed on the walls of our cave, images which we take to be real. The universe as a hologram is more arresting as an insight, though, because the hologram is so strikingly like the reality which it refers to–being formed in ersatz cubic volume, for one thing–that we could take this to be more than a mere poetic statement. Also, we can more readily grasp a kind of elaborate mechanism underlying our perceptible universe; i.e. the enormously intricate forces which keep it intact.
I conceive our universe–the hologram–to consist of an infinite number of laminated layers arranged in sequence, but not truly in anything that can be called time or space. ‘Time’ is our perception of our own movement as we are driven, as in the form of a worm or screwdriver, through the successive layers of laminations; instead of the film moving, so to speak, the audience moves. The pressure exerted on us to go through the laminations is time; the sense that there is genuine sequence of encounter arranged somehow is space.”
—-Philip K. Dick Exegesis pp. 80 and 81
Today’s Daily Dick-ism explores the notions of salvation, the illusion of reality and how PKD attacks these issues in his writing.
“Salvation–from what? From the world, which is an iron prison…God did not design such a structure of suffering: he extricates us from it, and restores us as part of him. This is the acosmic view in all my writings: the empirical world is a fraud, counterfeit. I write about reality as an illusion because it is, and I see that it is. Thus my witness is tremendously powerful attack on the world–but I am just now realizing that this view (of world as illusion) is Gnostic. My corpus of writing is an assault on the created universe of matter, highly original and accurate. It (the view) discloses the deceptive nature of empirical reality–now I have had it revealed to me that this world is an impediment between us (man) and God.”
–Philip K. Dick The Exegesis pp.276 and 277
In these trying times, we get all kinds of excuses for things being the way they are. Gas prices are no exception. And every time there is an increase in gas prices, there’s an increase of bullshit to excuse it.
“More demand in developing countries”, “natural disasters”, and “political unrest” are three of the most popular reasons tossed around in a variety of ways. But here at TJI we take our journalistic integrity seriously. Which is why my editor told me to get to the bottom of the matter or die trying.
Using secret journalist ninja techniques (consuming copious amounts of grain alcohol and cavorting with dancing naked women), I coaxed the truth from a top U.S. Government Official. Here’s the rundown of our conversation.
TJI: What’s really going on with gasoline prices?
US: I like your style boy. I’m gonna give it to you straight.
TJI: I’d appreciate that.
TJI: I’m sorry, did you say ‘robots’?
US: I did. Giant robots. See, all the world leaders are huge fans of Voltron and Battle Tech. Betcha didn’t know that, did you? It’s all we talk about at UN meetings anymore.
TJI: Where are these giant robots? I surely haven’t seen any driving down the Interstate lately.
US: They’re in space. More specifically, they’re on the moon. S’why we really cancelled the NASA program. We needed the spare parts. It’s also the real reason behind the rash of satellites “crashing to earth” lately. NASA junk never could hold together.
TJI: What do you do with these giant robots on the moon?
US: What do you think we do with them? We fight with them! Jesus, boy! What part of Voltron and Battletech didn’t you get?
TJI: And these robots use gasoline?
US: More than you’d believe. Enough to make you shit yourself right here if you knew how much. I mean, in one of the Mechs is an engine equivalent to around 20 diesel engines. You can burn through enough gas to fuel a small country for a month. And that’s just in one round.
TJI: Do you think it’s a little irresponsible to be wasting our dwindling natural resources goofing around and fighting space robots?
US: Us personally? No. But our publicists thought it might not go over well with the general masses. So we had the eggheads in one of our Think Tanks drum up some legitimate sounding excuses. And there you have it.
Exactly. There you have it. Giant government space robots. So next time you’re smoldering over asinine prices at the gas pump, you can thank Anime for its part in the collapse of the global economy.
Nord Juice? Find out what started it all in Part One
What’s up with the frog named Pappy? That’s crazy! Read that in Part Two.
Never mind the indignities visited upon him at the docks when he tried to hire a ship. Never mind the humiliations and dispersions on his character he suffered at the Carriage Express when he tried to secure passage over land. Never mind that ended up walking (walking!) over the craggy Muerto Mountains and to the costal town of Fileep. Never mind that he was beset upon by bandits, wild animals, orcs and the occasional berserker unicorn on his journey. Never mind that he conquered each and every one of these obstacles (adding to his swarm of zombie minions in the process) without flinching once in the face of overwhelming odds. None of these things were half as annoying to the Mighty Morass as the situation he found himself in since his arrival in Fileep and subsequent meeting with Raphael Esperanza (sigh) who, as it turns out, had been ensorcelled.
Where once was a dashing rogue, now stood an over-muscled, stinking minotaur. Oddly, his eyes burned red and he spoke with the lisp of someone who recently grew a new set of teeth.
“Are you a vampire too?” asked the Mighty Morass, consumed in complete fascination at the magical monstrosity sitting across from him.
“Yes,” sighed Raphael, “As if this disgusting bull-man body wasn’t bad enough. I was also cursed with Vampiretus Blood Suckulus.”
“Amazing,” murmured the wizard and leaned across the table for a closer look only to be batted away by Raphael.
“Head shots are ten coins. What is it you want?”
“Well, to be honest, I wished vengeance on you for Nord Juicing an entire population of unstable lunatics. But any vengeance I could’ve wished has been outdone. So now, I’d just like my barbarian Unstuck, if you don’t mind.”
“Ribbit,” croaked Pappy in reminder.
“Oh yeah. And I’d like you to autograph a head shot.”
“Unstick your barbarian AND an autographed head shot? “ said Esperanza and snorted. “That will cost you a princely sum.”
“The Mighty Morass does not pay for favors! People do his bidding out of fear!”
“Yeah. Maybe a century ago. But now you’re just another spindly old coot who talks to frogs.”
Anger churned in Morass’s gut and he felt his magic rising. So did Raphael.
“You better squelch that right now,” warned the bullish rogue. “Or I’m taking the head shot off the table.”
Morass swallowed his rage and belched a plume of smoke.
“Now, to business. It just so happens that the answer to both our problems lies in the same place.”
“Ribbit?” croaked Pappy hopefully
“I doubt he means Tampa. Now shut up!” Morass returned his attention to the vampire minotaur. “Please, continue. You were saying?”
“I was saying, I can’t Unstick the Stuck. I was supplied with a special concoction by the Sisters of Silent Sheltons. They placed this curse on me and only they can remove it.”
“You crossed the Shelton Sisters?” Morass couldn’t help but be a bit impressed. Not that that ragtag group of glorified nuns could’ve challenged his supreme power, but for a run-of-the-mill thief like Esperanza, it was a moderate accomplishment.
“Not them, per se, but one of their daughters. I…showed her the wonders on the opposite end of the spectrum from Chastity. Needless to say, here I am.”
“You bagged one of the Daugthers of the Dirgeful Daughtries?” Now Morass was impressed.
Despite his condition, Raphael’s bullman frame beamed with pride. “I did. And I did it again…and again…and one more time to round things out. It was that last round that did me in. We were discovered and I made a dash for the window, carrying my clothes in a bundle. Somehow I lost a sock which they used to curse me.”
“That old black magic,” said Morass dryly. “It’s so passé.”
“I don’t care what it looks like. Get the Infernal Contract the Sisters signed against me and I’ll give you what you ask.”
Morass thought long and hard. He wasn’t used to “making deals”. Deals always meant he was getting a shorter end of the stick than he wanted. And Morass hated short sticks. But the necromancer smelled something other than bullshit from Raphael. The cursed man reeked of desperation. And desperation was Morass’s favorite cologne. If he did reclaim the Infernal Contract for Raphael, he could swindle much more out of the thief than an Unstuck barbarian and a blurry head shot. Something like this could catapult him back into legendary status. Uttering his name could once again send waves of awe and terror through entire countries. Yes, this could all be worth it…
“I’ll do it.”
The Dragonslayer rode into town the day before I was to be sacrificed. He wasn’t a handsome man as men go, his head was too large and his face jagged with scars, but the way he carried himself made him attractive. He wore armor like no one had ever seen before or since: scaled mail polished like a glass mirror; pieced together with tough straps of leather and shiny bits of metal. He carried a variety of weapons, some unlike anything my imagination could muster. I could only muse as to which evil wizard he’d bargained with to gain the enchanted arsenal. He glared at the gathering crowd with cold blue eyes. “You people having a dragon problem?” he spoke with a thick Nordic accent.
The village elders broke through the throng and approached. “Are you he?” asked High Elder Wymond excitedly.
He nodded once. “Aye. I am Dragonslayer and I’m here to slay yer dragon.”
“It’s not our dragon,” Wymond spat, “It just eats our women and burns our countryside.”
Dragonslayer nodded. “Sounds about right.”
“Will you help us?”
“Of course. It’s what I do. What can you pay?”
“We have little gold or coin, but what we do have is yours if you rid us of the beast.”
Dragonslayer scoffed. “What do you have? Nary but a pittance I’d say. I’ll not risk my life without worthy compensation. Now stand aside.”
“What are you doing?” said Wymond nervously and stepped in Dragonslayer’s path.
“But-but you can’t!”
“I can and I will.” Dragonslayer maneuvered his horse through the throng of villagers.
“We’ll give you the virgin! If you save her life, she’s yours to take as a wife!” Wymond called after
Dragonslayer halted his horse and turned around. “Alright. Let’s see her.”
I was pushed from the crowd and dragged before Dragonslayer by Elder Wymond. “She’s some beauty, isn’t she? Her flowing red tresses, crystal green eyes. Why, she’d be a perfect mate for you.” The way he peddled me to this strange beast of a man made my skin crawl. But I had a duty to my village.
Dragonslayer ignored the Elder and eyed me with a predatory gaze. “So you’re the virgin,” he said with a smirk.
“That I am,” I said and curtsied.
“Tell me, virgin, how old are you?”
“My name is not virgin. It is Diot. And I’ve seen 14 summers.”
“Would you like to live to see fifteen, Diot?” said Dragonslayer.
Everyone’s eyes were on me, waiting for me to answer the direct and uncomfortable question. “I suppose, if it were possible.”
“And you’d be my wife?”
“I will do what is required for the good of my village.” I jutted my chin forward proudly.
Dragonslayer’s demeanor softened and the corners of his mouth upturned. “You’re a good lass. And just stubborn enough to survive…probably. Throw in what gold or coin you can muster and you have a deal,” he said to Wymond. He dismounted and handed his reins to the Elder. It was a nightmare of a steed, large and bred for the killing field. The beast was black as pitch and its eyes burned like the fires of hell. The stable boy swore to me later that it had fangs instead of teeth. “I’ve ridden long and my horse tires…”
“Of course,” said Wymond, ignoring the man’s insult and passing the reins to the stable boy. “I’ll have Diot show you to the empty hut.”
“What manner of armor do you wear, Dragonslayer? I’ve never seen any quite as pretty,” I teased as we made our way across the village.
“My armor is made from the very scales of the dragons I’ve slain,” he answered. “And my weapons are recovered from their treasure hordes.”
“How heroic of you. How many dragons have you slain?”
“Seven is a rather large number,” I challenged.
“The world is a rather large place,” retorted the Dragonslayer. We stopped in front of the vacant hut.
“Thank you for your help. Now, leave and give me my peace.”
I left him to his devices and crept around to the back of the hut and spy on him. He removed his weapons and armor with great ceremony. He carefully sat his armor in the corner and laid his weapons around it, save for his sword which he kept at his side. He fell to his knees then and mumbled a prayer after which he kissed a sigil of Thor strung around his neck. Then he removed the tunic and stretched out naked on the sleeping mat. The sight of his hairless bare flesh was startling. His chest and upper back were horribly scarred and appeared to be burned in many places. His skin shone golden in the candlelight and almost seemed to shimmer like his strange armor. He sighed hugely and closed his eyes before turning his head in my direction. “Get out of here, girl. Give me my peace.”
The Sacrifice happened the same way it had since the time of my great-great grandfather, when the dragon first appeared. A solemn procession of villagers wound their way from the village to a spot in the nearby mountains overlooking the sea called, “Dragon’s Rock.” The virgin girl (for it was only virgin girls the dragon ever accepted) was chained to Dragon’s Rock, where she awaited her final dawn. The virgin sang her Farewell Song and the villagers returned to the village chanting dirges and wailing. Once returned to the village, the villagers gathered in the square and waited for the bright flash of light that signaled the dragon’s acceptance of the sacrifice.
When there was no sacrifice, or the virgin was not acceptable, the dragon would wreak havoc, scorching fields, setting huts aflame and killing men and women alike with the deadly lighting that came from the beast’s eyes. The dragon had unleashed its wrath twice in my life time: once when Wymond tried offering his idiot child and last year when there were no acceptable virgins of age. That’s why my coming of age was so important.
My sacrificial procession started hours before dawn. Villagers wearing cloaks of mourning lined up and proceeded up the mountain to Dragon’s Rock. Dragonslayer followed behind, his head lowered in silent meditation.
I was chained to Dragon’s Rock and my parents kissed me one last time, tears streaming down my father’s dirty face. My mother clung to me until the last possible moment. She was a willful woman, my mother was, and resisted all urgings to depart until she was dragged away by my father. I heard the dirges echoing off the rock until the horizon cracked with light. Dragonslayer hid himself close by and clutched a funny weapon in his left hand and a sword in his right. And together we waited for the sun.
I heard the dragon’s roar long before I saw it. It appeared out of the sunrise with a tail of fire and smoke. The dragon didn’t appear to be a creature of flesh and blood. It was shaped like a large triangular shield with two triangular wings protruding from its sides. It skimmed the tree tops, igniting a few, and stopped abruptly above me. It hovered there, roaring at me the entire time. I could only scream at the sight of such a terrifying monster. Suddenly, a hole opened in the dragon’s smooth metallic underbelly and a pillar of light surrounded me. At that instant, Dragonslayer leapt from his hiding place and the light flashed brightly, sending me into a swoon.
I awoke to a scene of awful violence. Dragonslayer was swarmed by several small gray men with large heads and pitch black eyes that assailed him with weapons firing arrows of light. These arrows were deflected by Dragonslayer’s enchanted armor. He expertly returned their fire with light arrows of his own and in a few moments the skirmish ended. Dragonslayer stood encircled by dead gray men, covered in blood and gashes. “Little bastards!” He hacked the head off a gray creature that tried to rise.
“Be they elfin?” I managed to stammer.
“Imps,” Dragonslayer grunted. He kicked the headless corpse and spit on it. “Gather their weapons and put them in the magic circle you’re standing in. Quickly!”
“Did…did the dragon eat them too? Do they live in his guts?” I asked as I worked.
He laughed. “Actually, the ‘dragon’ is a flying ship with imps at the helm. Now stay here while I finish killing them.” He handed me one of the imp’s weapons. “If they come in here, point this end at them and squeeze this trigger with your finger. And most importantly, don’t leave this magic circle, you hear me?” I nodded vigorously, but stubborn and curious lass that I was, I snuck after him as soon as he disappeared.
Dragonslayer hacked and slashed his way through a small corridor, tossing imps aside like a great bear does a harassing wolf pack until he came to a door marked with strange symbols. He checked his weapons and entered the room with me following close behind. What I saw nearly shattered my sanity. The chamber was full of shiny metal tables with women strapped to them. Imps worked on these women, inserting long objects into their womanhood. Other women were already great with child. These unfortunate women screamed and bled on the tables as they suffered through labor. One end of the room was a large cage filled with wailing women of all tribes and races.
My screams drew attention, but Dragonslayer didn’t appear to notice. The imps swarmed him as before, and this time he went down, disappearing into their writhing mass. I could see them, cutting and slashing at the Dragonslayer, trying to get between his armor. He would be dead in moments. I had to do something.
All I had was the odd weapon given to me. I took aim with a trembling hand and squeezed the trigger. A light arrow tore through the pile, causing them to turn their attention to me. “Keep firing!” Dragonslayer yelled and rallied back.
I fled to the magic circle room and fired on imps as they raced through the door. Their cold, black eyes displayed no emotion. No fear, no anger, nothing. They kept coming at me with the same blank look plastered on their faces.
Dragonslayer heaved himself to his feet. Blood marred his vision and he was weak from its loss, but he still found the strength to finish what he’d started. After he tossed the corpses aside, Dragonslayer hefted his sword and slaughtered the crowd trying to get me. The sight of that hulking warrior cutting through a throng of imps and coming to my rescue heightened my spirits and, I admit, melted my heart.
“Fine. You want to help then come on,” he said after slaying the last imp in the room. He dragged me back into the nightmarish chamber. “Free them in the cage. Push that green button to the side there.” Then he turned to the women bound to the tables, begging for release. He walked over to one that had the same golden hair has he. “I am sorry,” he said softly and stroked her hair. “May you find peace at home with the gods.” With a choked sob, he slit her throat and stabbed her in the womb. He continued this from table to table, as the women pleaded for their lives he killed them with a tearful prayer to Thor.
“Stop! You’re murdering them!” I beseeched him and threw myself on his sword arm.
He slung me roughly to the ground and held the point of his bloody sword at my neck. The women I’d freed screamed hysterically and begged him not to kill us all. “Listen to me! All of you!” he snarled. “They’ve been impregnated with impish seed. And their offspring aren’t humans, they’re Changelings. The imps switch these half-breeds with real human babies!”
“How do you know that?” I demanded.
“Because,” he grunted and hauled me to my feet. “I’m one of ‘em. Now, take these screeching banshees back to the other room and stay inside that magic circle!”
“What about you?”
“I’m going to slay the dragon and save your life. Now listen to your future husband and go!”
I herded the terrified women into the magic circle and Dragonslayer, limping, disappeared into the dragon’s head.
Only two imps guided the dragon’s actions. One held his hands above a swirling red orb and the other sat at a table with twinkling lights pushing switches and pulling levers. Dragonslayer beheaded the imp at the orb and shot the other one with his light weapon. The light arrow passed through the imp’s head and into the twinkling table, causing a small explosion and sending the Dragon careening toward a nearby mountain range.
“Thor’s hammer!” Dragonslayer rushed to the lighted table and flipped a switch. Nothing happened. “Come on you stupid machine!” He flipped the switch a few more times but the flying ship still sped toward the coast and a range of jagged snow covered peaks resembling the gaping maw of a dragon. As we passed above a wooded area, Dragonslayer pushed another switch and watched through the dragon’s eyes as the women appeared, tiny as ants, in the forest below. Satisfied, he walked over to the orb and saw me peeking from the doorway. “Odin’s eye, woman! Can’t you do what you’re told?”
I lowered my eyes and mumbled a pitiful apology.
“Sorry don’t do us a lot of good now,” grumbled Dragonslayer. “There isn’t much time before this thing crashes.”
“Can you pilot the dragon as the imps do?” I said.
“I can when I don’t shoot up the consol. The only option we got left is to wreck it so no fool yokels stumble upon the remains.” He waved his hands over the red orb and the dragon started descending. “Come on!” Dragonslayer yanked me through the door and back to the room with the magic circle.
Dragonslayer pulled me into the magic circle and pulled out a sling. “Get ready. The landing is gonna be rough,” He said as he loaded it. He twirled it three times before releasing it with a flourish. The pellet soared through the air and impacted a switch on the opposite wall. “Ha!” Dragonslayer said the instant before the great light flashed and without warning we were tumbling down the mountainside.
Dragonslayer and I watched as the dragon flew itself into the mountainous maw it resembled and exploded. A black column of smoke rose to the heavens in the aftermath. “Can’t get to it now. And the women made off with the shooters we gathered.” He shook his head in disgust.
“Now what?” I said. “Are you going to have me?” I lowered my head to hide my blushing cheeks.
Dragonslayer eyed me thoughtfully and shook his head. “Nay. I won’t spread my seed.”
I didn’t understand. “Then why would you accept me as payment?”
“Because your willingness to be sacrificed testified to your selfless love and devotion. There is too little integrity in men. And that kind of spirit is worth more than gold. Speaking of gold, we better get back to your village.”
“How? I don’t even know where we are!”
“By boat. We crossed an ocean during our adventure.” He turned around and began trudging down the mountainside. “You coming?”
“Where are we going to get a boat?” I called as I raced after him.
“What do you know of Vikings?”
I gave this movie a try because the concept was cool. Let me be more specific, the concept was cool in the preview. Time is currency. Everybody stops aging at 25 and gets one more year to live. That’s neato. But in the movie the concept is never clearly explained and actually becomes more confusing. For instance, how exactly is time taken off of people’s lives? How is it transferred into currency and a person’s life span added or subtracted to? The mysteries of their universe remain unsolved and make it harder to suspend the necessary belief.
The story unfolds through a bold display of alpha maleness that scores Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) a century’s worth of time from a rich guy who had grown tired of living. Said rich guy also informs JT of the whole conspiracy of the Rich to subjugate the poor and suck the life out of them so they could live forever. He then rushes to meet his mother whose clock is quickly running out.
By the way, JT’s relationship with his “mother” is just plain weird. Like, Stephen King’s ‘Sleepwalkers’ creepy. For one, she’s hot and they look exactly the same age. It’s skeevy. They are both “25”, though his mother is supposed to be fifty. I was literally uncomfortable in my own living room watching the interaction between the two. All I could think was, he probably banged her in his trailer between takes and then had to call her “mom”. I may have thrown up in my mouth a little.
But when JT’s Oedipal fantasy is cut short (he was seriously crying in the rain when momma ran out of time) I saw a glimmer of hope. He wins some money…er time, meets a girl and kills some people in a burst of machismo all while dodging the time cops. And throughout it all was cardboard dialogue that would’ve made Bruce Campbell proud.
The underlying themes were worthy of a dystopian sci-fi adventure. Time=Money=Life. Rich vs. Poor class war. But the good times didn’t last. The story morphed into a Robin Hood meets Bonnie and Clyde catastrophe that left nothing to the imagination. It was as predictable as an N’Sync video and twice as annoying.
This troubles me. I thought action sci-fi was ironclad. I thought nothing could ruin it no matter how cheesy it got. I thought that if this titan of genres could survive the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ashton Kutcher, Wynona Ryder and Vin Diesel that it would endure Justin Timberlake. I have been proven wrong. And I feel horrible that I was once again duped by tricky editing and clips of way-too-skinny hot chicks into wasting Microsoft Points.