As the old saying goes, you either die as a hero or live long enough to wish you were dead. That’s my version, anyway.
It’s the people you surround yourself that make the difference. For every award winner who stands with gong in hand (not a euphemism) saying, “I was so lucky to work with such an extraordinary group of people,” there’s the immeasurable rest of us, looking around and thinking, “How the fuck did I get lumbered with this lot?”
It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried to make the best of what I had to work with, but my best was not good enough. It wasn’t good at all. Perhaps I should have just accepted my place in the universe and done what everyone wanted of me, whatever that was.
“Shut up,” I said to Arthur and Shroom as they chortled away.
“A girlfriend,” said Arthur, sniggering like a schoolboy. “I’d like to meet her.”
“Poor girl,” said Shroom. “And I thought I was trapped in the darkest abyss of all.”
“Why are you finding it so funny?” I asked Shroom. “We hardly know each other.”
Shroom stepped forward, no longer laughing. “I don’t like you.”
As someone who advocates honesty in all situations, no matter how brutal, I felt he was being needlessly mean. I am not made of stone. Currently, some sort of plant-based fibre.
“What did I do to you?” It wasn’t that I couldn’t see any reason for his hostility towards me, I was just curious which of the many, many options he’d picked.
“I’m the one who’s been here all this time making sure everything was ready,” said the surly hippy (the worst type of hippy). “I’m the one who was all on his own with only a giant bush to talk to. You have no right to act like everything is so awful for you, with your abilities and your girlfriend. Many people would give their right arm to be in your position, you ingrate. Just because you have powers doesn’t make you special.”
It isn’t when people get on their high horse that it becomes difficult to keep up. It’s when they get on their low horse. Then, things get dirty real quick. The capacity some people have for self-pity is bottomless. Trust me, I’m a professional.
“Yes, it does,” I said. “It’s the only thing that makes me special. It’s pretty much the definition of special.”
I was perhaps overstating it. I would be much more special if I could get my act together and remain focused on one thing at a time. Fear of failure, I guess. Success only lasts until the next attempt. Fucking up lingers forever.
Sometimes you peel a boiled egg and the shell comes off in one piece. An elegant spiral that could easily be exhibited at the Tate because it is a thing of beauty, and also because they’ll show any old rubbish at Tate Modern.
Other times, no matter how hard you try, the shell comes off in chips and bits, taking chunks of egg with it so the surface of the egg ends up looking like Danny Trejo’s face, only getting a much wider range of offers from Hollywood.
“Hey, it’s not our fault a white face on the poster just sells more tickets.”
You can look up all sorts of life hacks to ensure smooth egg-peeling — add salt to the boiling water, add vinegar, put the egg in ice after you boil it — it makes no difference. Sometimes it will be fine, sometimes it won’t and you won’t know why.
Inconsistency and chaos is the nature of life. It’s what enables us to adapt and evolve. Only, you might not personally be the one to adapt or evolve. It’s a slow process that doesn’t favour the here and now. Which is awkward because that’s where I live. Well, most of the time.
Currently, I was inside a space in between here and now, the gap right in the middle. This was my own private holiday home where I could get away from it all, and where everyone was overstaying their welcome by mocking me.
“You wouldn’t be this upset if she didn’t mean a lot to you,” said Wesley, who wasn’t laughing. She was slightly amused, though.
My temper has never been very intimidating. It’s only when I go way over the top that people take notice, usually to note that I have no sense of proportion. Either I don’t care at all or I act like the world’s about to end. People think I’m bipolar. I’m not. I just snap sometimes. Which would be fine if it actually made a difference.
“I didn’t come here to talk about her. Where’s my body?”
“Isn’t it with you?” asked Wesley.
“No,” I said, doing my best to sound reasonable and easygoing, which is tricky when you are neither of those things.
“Where did you see it last,” asked Arthur, like he was helping me find my keys.
“Outside,” I said. “I left it outside. Someone brought it in here.”
“That isn’t possible,” said Arthur. “You can’t bring a body in here.”
“Well, someone did the impossible,” I said. Not like that was very rare in this world. “I know it’s in here because…” I realised the reason I thought it was in here was because of the connection to Jenny. The thread from her body to my body led in here, but once inside I’d gotten distracted by various personal issues. I should have been able to follow the thread straight to my body. Where had it gone?
I looked around me like I might spot it. It was a very thin wire, like a fishing line. It would be easy to miss.
It had definitely extended from Jenny to the entrance into this place. Was it some kind of trick? Was it like those kidnap movies where they try to trace the phone call but the kidnapper has somehow managed to bounce the signal off a satellite and make it look like the call’s coming from Buckingham Palace?
Of course, for the rest of the movie, he never displays anything close to that level of technological wizardry. Then again, the cop will be able to crack the kidnapper’s password by looking at the photos around his computer.
“He’s got a picture of Neil Armstrong next to his keyboard. Let me try moonlanding69. We’re in!”
These things balance out in the end — equal stupidity on both sides.
“If a physical body can’t enter this place,” I said, “how is she able to come and go as she pleases?” I pointed at Arthur, who was in the angelic (literally, not figuratively) body of Richina. Where Richina’s psyche had gone to, I had no idea.
Richina had been able to come out of the void multiple times. Had she been reproduced in a pod on demand? 3D printing for the Tolkien crowd? If so, it was a lot quicker than Maurice’s method.
“This one is made of a flexible material,” said Arthur, pinching his stomach and stretching the skin. “It’s a prototype.” He pulled his cheeks and wobbled them.
“So, my body has this special property, too?”
“No,” said Shroom, very emphatically. “Your body is like you. Inflexible.”
Grim Mushroom seemed to have taken against me, which was unfortunate but entirely understandable.
“Being able to transfer matter from here” —Shroom pointed at the ground, and then over my shoulder— “to there, is going to change everything.”
“What about the fairies?” I asked. “What about Joshaya. You don’t think they’ll have something to say about it?”
“They won’t matter,” said Shroom. “We won’t need fear them any longer.”
“I don’t fear them now,” I said. It may have sounded a little more pompous than intended, although I guess that’s true of everyone who sounds pompous.
“You will,” said Shroom, as though he was making an ominous statement.
“How did you get them in here in the first place?” As far as I was concerned, the obvious solution to the fairy problem was to put them back in their prison, lock the door and throw away the key.
“They volunteered,” said Shroom.
“Why would they do that?” I asked.
“Because Joshaya told them to,” said Wesley.
Ah, the old-fashioned definition of ‘volunteered’, where young men march off to fight a righteous war, while old men stay at home and enjoy the lack of competition.
“He used them as guinea pigs?” I asked. “They trapped themselves?” It would be much harder to get them to do that a second time.
“He wants to be able to come and go as he pleases,” said Arthur. “But he can’t, and it makes him very cross.”
“But Richina can go in and out, right?” I had seen her come out in full physical form, repeatedly.
“Only by dying,” said Arthur with a sad shake of his head. “It’s not really the best way. Can drive you a bit…” He circled a finger around his ear. “You, on the other hand, are like a fish in water. You’re perfectly suited to this environment.”
I didn’t feel perfectly suited to this place. But then, I didn’t feel perfectly suited to any place.
“Then why do you think it’s not possible for my body to be in here?” I asked.
“I’ve examined your body thoroughly,” said Arthur, which was news to me. “There’s nothing to suggest it could cross between realms. Just an average body. Very, very average.”
“Well, that may be true, but I’m still sure it’s in here. Do you have a way of detecting any other presences inside this place?” I was hoping he had one of those radar trackers that tell you there’s an alien nearby. A dot getting closer and closer. My luck, it would be out of charge and only use those AAA batteries no one ever has lying around.
Shroom looked at me from under his long shaggy hair with not a little contempt. “Why don’t you try doing it yourself?”
“Fine. How do I do that?” No response.
I had hoped I’d finally found my guru who would teach me the way. A man who had spent his time in a dark cave, cultivating his inner chi so he could pass on what he had learned to me (without me having to do any of that self-examination nonsense myself). But he was just a moody so-and-so because of all that time spent on his own. Probably having a hard time dealing with all these people crowding his personal space. I was hardly in a position to criticise him for that.
It would have been nice if he stopped staring at me like I was ruining the party, though.
I turned to Wesley. “Is he always like this?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t spent much time with him. He isn’t usually this friendly.”
Where was my body? I didn’t really mind leaving it in here, but I’d like to know where it was being kept and what it was being used for. It might not have all the flashy add-ons of your modern, state-of-the-art bodies, but it was still a nice little runner. You always remember your first.
I closed my eyes in the forlorn hope I’d make some kind of telepathic contact with it. I could still see Wesley, Arthur and Shroom.
I opened my eyes — still there. Closed my eyes — could still see them. Had someone cut off my eyelids when I wasn’t paying attention?
It was slightly different with my eyes closed. I could change the view, like I was a camera on a crane, able to pull out and go around. I could even do a dolly shot where you push in and zoom out at the same time and it feels like you’re staying still while the background moves. Not really useful, but the Hitchcock dolly zoom needs no reason. I spent the next few minutes amusing myself.
Then I went really wide and looked down at my realm. My big empty realm. I saw myself down there with Wesley. I could see slightly darker squares, which might be doors. At least I’d be able to find my way out.
And then I saw myself in the distance. I couldn’t really see clearly, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt it was me over there.
I sent my roving eye closer. It was me lying down with my head on a girl’s lap. Jenny’s lap. My real body on her real body. She was kneeling, stroking my hair, which didn’t look that comfortable. The back of my head was on her lap and my heels were on the ground, and the rest of my body was completely stiff so no other part of me was touching the floor.
How was she in here? How did she get to my body before me when she had been right next to me the whole time until I entered the adjacent world?
It would explain why the thread had disappeared if she had moved closer to my original body, taking the thread with her.
Jenny looked up like she knew I was watching and the dolly zoom into her face gave me vertigo.
I opened my eyes and my vision came rushing back, making me stumble where I stood.
“What is it?” asked Wesley.
“I found myself,” I said. Least accurate statement I’d ever made. I started walking towards where I’d seen her.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino