Posted by Jason DeGray
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.
Posted by Jason DeGray
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!