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Reality tastes and feels like cardboard. I lay in a fetal position inside a cardboard box trying not to fall asleep. It’s been six days. Cardboard darkness is doing it’s best to shove me back into sleep mode. Cardboard dreams are waiting. Eyelids are as heavy as cardboard flakes. Each second away from “real” helps me regenerate my tired mind. Colourful circles are dancing before my eyes like stars. Cardboard God is inviting me deeper between his many layers. It’s warm and oh so cozy. Can one count the cardboard rings and asses the manufacture date of the box?
I’m coming back for a second. Eyes blinking angrily. Another reality. Nonreality. Things. Are. Real. I see small children with very thin faces. Mostly girls. Dirty, messed up hair and dresses made from old bedspreads. A dusty room full of military-like footprints. One country. Another country. War? Hunger. On the table due to the lack of real food I see chicken-blood soup with a pinch of old potato. First spoon. Second spoon. Dirty metal spiralling into the red. First spoon. Second spoon. The red darkens into black. I'm back in the comfort of compressed paper masses. I can’t sleep though. If Lon got me in my sleep it’d be the end. And the last thing I feel anymore is self preservation. Maybe I have nothing to come back to, but I seriously don’t want to die.
My mind focuses on one random memory from the past - a hard smash of my head against a brick wall. Lon let go after a couple hits and I fell to the dirty sidewalk without a sound. It was two years ago. Before I lost consciousness I realized that a crack in the pavement looked a bit like africa. First world problems. A flash and I’m gone. No light tunnel and that sort of bullshit. I just fell and disappeared under my own perceptive barrier. Simple as that. When I came to, Lon was gone.
Another flash. I see some crazy pixellated mosaics before my eyes, like old Atari games. It’s hard to focus on anything but I seriously can’t fall asleep now. I need to find a safe place and think through an escape plan. Nothing to hold me back here. Sophie... Just the memory is making me fall into spasms. I need to calm down. Need to think straight. If it was a movie, with me being the protagonist of course, I’d be plotting my revenge by now. After all Lon killed my woman and tried to kill me.
I was a realist though. I knew I don’t stand a chance against him. I couldn’t beat him even by accident. I’m no hero. Not going to avenge Sophie, even though I loved her. Who knowes, maybe we were meant together. What does it matter? I’m alive and she’s not. And right now all I really want is to run away and start over. It’s cowardly - sure - but this “situation” is pretty abstract to all of you sunday heroes.
If you’re thinking I’m an asshole right now, try to remember all the times you backed out of a scary situation instead of being a hero. Exactly...
It was Lon who told me once, that for me I am the center of the universe. Reality is like a sponge, soaking with a set of associations and images, not necessarily true. Everybody get’s his share. It’s a sale of the most obvious solutions.
We are the semi-modern generation. We were there when the technology became one with life, but we also remember shooting girls with fake guns made of sticks. The girls were playing an unreal-home game. In a real one every one out of three would have a black eye and a katatonic state of a complete resignation. At least that’s what they said on the television. An angry nation escapes into violence towards the so-called loved ones for two main reasons. The first one - they’re there. The second one - because in times of a crisis hitting your wife in the face might be one of the last free comodities there are. I should’ve tried working in advertising...
And now we’re back in the techno-reality. I can honestly say that a cozy routine of an upper-middle class life will work for most of the upper-middle-class. Some of us though - including me - wanted something else. Something more. A feeling that I’m not wasting time. That it all makes sense somehow. I wanted to escape my routines into different forms of chaos, mostly against those lying sonsofbitches who are putting this weird play out for the masses. Or maybe not, maybe I just wanted to kill time. Can't remember anymore.
I fear that it’s going to end that way. No afterlife, nothing. The end, finito, ende. The screen will fade to black and the only ones left will be the janitors cleaning it all up for the next batch.
The line to the register looked like forever-and-back. I have always tried to avoid the christmass season in the mall, but this time nature called. After a long, hardworking week the nation was buying presents, wrapping paper, tree decorations or “home made” christmass food plastic-wrapped with expiry date printed on the box. Home-made my ass. An old fart standing behind me was eyeing me down for a while now. Can’t help it that I only had two porno movies on blue-ray and a couple of wine bottles in my basket. Everyone celebrates christmass in his own way, and I really did work hard this last week. That’s why I have all the right to come back home, play a porno on a 48 hour loop and drink myself into another dimension. If I wake up on monday that was a good weekend. At least I’ll skip the empty feeling I get sometimes, or those nights out with so-called friends to drink flat beer and try to talk next to the speaker playing some recent pop-shit mixed with dubstep. My goal for the weekend is to disappear and those bottles, along with some horse tranquilizer will help me achieve just that. And during all that time, love will be around. You know. The real love - the one that’s expressed in sounds, friction and fluids.
Suddenly a raspy voice pulls me back to the ugly mall-reality:
“Throo-Hoondreeeeed Theeertttyyy Thrroo”. I’m looking at the source of that crime against language just to see a fat, girl with braids and smeared on, cheap makeup. On her nametag it say’s “Barbara” in crooked, child-like letters. Even that she did with the least effort. In her eyes I can only see a reflection of the store-shelves across the hall. Nothing else. Dog food, deodorants and swim-suits on sale. I pay as fast as I can and pack my things into a canvas bag covered with some hipster quotes I never bothered to read. Thirty-year-old people now have that eco-trend going on, so I’m a part of it too. Barbara is processing another customer. I look at her, trying to imagine she’s some sort of a japanese robot, programmed to read and add bar-codes. And if she really was Japanese, she could probably do well with seafood too. I almost imagine her with a squid tapping her arm with one of it’s tentacles, almost as if she was already late for her second shift in hentaii depratment. I wondered if they upgrade her software every now and then. And who does the rebooting?
I took my eco-bag and headed to the parking lot. Felt the angry stare of that old dude on my back the whole way. He didn’t buy alcohol this fine season. He bought some pancakes, and “Mom’s natural christmas chicken breasts” in a jar. He also bought a plastic Christmass tree, with the decorations already on it. Asshole…
9 pm. I glide through the empty town in the cheapest sports car money can buy. I’m trying not to think during the drive. I mean literally. Usually the first thought is - “Hey, look how long I kept from thinking already”. I reach my home before my mind process goes into an unbreakable loop.
I stumble into my apartment and drop my clothes on the floor. There’s only a couch, a TV, a microwave and a kettle. On one of the walls I have a painting of Jesus high-fiving Peter. It was probably painted by some blind artist, because I’m pretty sure Jesus never had red hair and green skin. He probably also didn’t look like a younger Gary Busey. The painting was already in the apartment along with the couch.
I lock my doors, drop to the couch and turn my cellphone off. I always open the most expensive wine first, because at that point it does still make a difference. I drink straight from the bottle - it’s too easy to break those cheap, IKEA wine glasses anyway.
Press play to begin your erotic adventure.
I do and I float away. See you in two days.
“Hello?” - I hear and snap back to life. I’m at work and there’s a young couple at my desk. Smiles on their faces, hopes and dreams in their hearts. Too bad for them. I’m a financial advisor at a bank. Actually a senior financial advisor, because I got a healthy promotion a few months back, because I sure am an expert liar. Got a couple of neat tricks to fool the lemmings (customers) into paying us more each month. My favorite way to start a customer relation is magic. Well sort of. I take a look at the couple - he’s a little chubby, mid-thirties and balding a little. She’s surprisingly pretty, a petite blonde with blue eyes. You know the type. I take a look at their clothes and immidiately recognize the brands. Good clothing is important. It defines how much I can push them into thinking they’re choosing the best offer on the market. I smile and then the magic starts.
“What is that?” I say while reaching behind the ear of the guy. He didn’t even flinch. I move my hand back to reveal a shiny coin. Before they can even open their mouths I start - “Well, you just came here and we’re making money already”, after which I carefully place the coin on the table between us. Fun fact - most people are so enchanted that they took a mortgage and a few bonus payments from me, they forget to take the coin. Even if they do however, I can always put that towards “expenses” at the end of the month. They’re smiling like idiots, my new friends. That means that I have an 87% chance of doing the deal. We have it all figured out. Banks don’t fuck you blindly, it’s a calculated fuck. We’re here to take your money.
“So you want a mortgage for a house? Great! Here at **** bank family we love to help prospective young Americans reach their dreams”. Sure. I know. It sounds like a TV-ad bullshit but they’re buying it. They always have. We did tests. After less than 8 minutes they already like me. If it’s above 10 then the whole strategy changes. But that’s another story. My new friends are still smiling. Good, because for the next 25 years they’ll be providing a small part of my sallary. They’re already reading the papers and my job right now is to tell them that yes, the ad said the percentage is lower, but it didn’t include all the special insurances and extra investment opportunities. Did they hear about the new internet business ventures? Investing in those is sure to pay off quickly.
I can still remember the first time I saw Little Andy. That was the moment that started all this madness. But back then I was actually pretty amused. On a dreary march evening I was walking back home from a forced dinner with my co-workers. I was thinking about getting home fast and drinking myself into the skipping state. You know - the one in which you skip a couple of days and resume afterwards.
I passed by a group of gang members robbing a little, dorky-type guy in an alley. "Not my problem" I thought. Three against one it’s … capitalism right? I caught in the corner of my eye the exact moment when they took his phone, watch and wallet. I picked up my pace - don’t want to be involved in anything. I have a full fridge of really expensive wine waiting for me. Those gang guys ran past me with their loot and then resumed walking like nothing happened. I turned back to look at the kid to see him standing there with a big grin. What the fuck? He pulled out something from his pocket. Something small, with a little antenna and a big, arcade style button. He pushed it and then there were screams.
He must’ve had some explosives planted in his phone and watch. Maybe even in his wallet. Remote controlled - probably bluetooth. “Pretty Smart” I thought. I turned back again and saw the former gang members splattered across the pavement. Well not entirely. Two of them were still alive, one was laying in a pool of his own blood holding a bloody stump where his arm used to be, the other had his face in his hands, with blood flowing from between his fingers. Must’ve got some shrapnel in the eye. Not a common thing to see that kind of guys in a situation like this. Usually it was their
victims who were laying on the pavement covered in blood. Oh the irony.
“Ambulance” - said one of the boys - “Call an ambulance”.
“Sorry, my battery is dead” I said and went around them.
Didn’t want to get my shoes dirty. Blood is hard to get rid of once it dries. Completely ignoring their pleas for help I took a few more steps towards my house when the phone in my pocket emitted a series of loud bleeps. I got a text from my network about a new plan I should seriously consider. Yes, I Lied about my battery being dead. Didn't I mention that I do that for a living? Dismissed it as usual as the uncaring asshole that I am and continued my stroll. The screams were quieter with each step.
That situation got to me more than anything in my life before. Not because of the gory details of course. I never cared about other people. It was the excitement of doing something clever, yet extremely disturbing that got to me. I wanted to meet that little guy and maybe get a few pointers. He must’ve been more successful in life than me after all. I never blew up that 2% of customers who didn’t join our **** bank family. Maybe I should’ve?
I snapped back into reality almost instantly. It must’ve only been a few seconds. The memories flashed before my eyes in full detail, but now I was back here. Stuck in a cardboard box still trying to stay awake. Did Lon really live in a penthouse suite in the city centre? Was there even an apartment builiding like that here? I wasn’t sure. Wasn’t sure of anything anymore. My memories were a fuzzy mix of movie plots and drunken stupor. I did remember Sophie though. And I knew what happened to her was definite. A match burnt cannot be unburnt no matter how hard one tries. Or something else as cliche as this. I couldn't really think straight, much less think smart.
It was getting wet inside the box. The rain started a few hours ago and now the cardboard was slowly collapsing under it’s own weight.
Didn’t I have it all? Couldn’t appreciate it then, but now when it’s all gone I think I do. That’s as cliche as a caring tv show host talking about abuse. “Well Jenny, you’re such a brave girl. Tell the audience how that murderous thug raped you repeatedly in a subway station. Tell us how it changed your life forever. Such a brave girl you are!”.
The whole idea was not to fall asleep. After so many hours of being awake if I gave in now, I’d sleep for days. Lon would find me and end me just like that. He almost had a sixth sense when it came to sleeping matters. Why was I awake for so long? We'll get to that as this is the most important part of the story.
I felt tired, wet and cold. Must’ve collapsed when they tried to revive me. Couldn’t open my eyes though. I felt a little tingle in my right arm, so I assumed I fell on my side and stayed in that position for a few hours. Extremely tired. What was I doing here? I wasn’t really sleeping, but I also wasn’t really there at the same time. It was a weird state, when your temples throb a little bit like those high current electric wires over a corn field.
I can hear voices around me, but can’t distinguish any real words. It all sounds like gibberish. Or a Korean pop song for what I care. I tried to focus on some vague thought, but it kept escaping my head like bubbles from a Coke bottle. Something was wrong, but apparently that’s the only thing I could be sure about right now.
I felt a little breeze on my face. Opened my eyes to find that I was in a completely different place. A small tree plantation that must’ve been a starter for a forest was all I could see in every direction. To my left I saw a girl with a skipping rope. She wasn’t doing any skipping though. She was fat and her hands were covered in sugar. Sugar was flowing out from between here lips, from between her fingers. Dripping from the skipping rope. She opened her mouth to reveal she had no teeth, only sugar. I watched her in silence, as she was seamingly unaware of my existence. Suddenly I heard a shriek from somewhere far “Sugar? Dessert!” The girl dropped her sugar-coated skipping rope and spewing sugar cubes all over those little trees she screamed “Coming Mother!”. And then she was gone. What was that all about? Some sort of repressed memory representation? Was I diabetic? The thought of cheesecake only brought thouths of vomitting, so I probably wasn’t a sugar junkie. The trees around me started to fatten up from all the sugar. Their branches going downards under their own weight. All of the up and coming life turned into a sugar-coated diorama. Was it winter already? Must’ve been, because my face felt cold. I blinked once and realized I’m back on my bathrroom floor with a large amount of pills scattered all over the floor around me. There also was a small bottle containing a purple liquid of some sort. Iodine? Did I drink it and destroy my brain connections?
What’s going on?
Each time I dozed off, I was in a different place. Like a chain-dream in which I just wake up as someone else each time. My teeth hurt from all the sugar I got covered with before. I tried to asses the facts. What I did know for sure was that I’m at home. The other certain thing is that I’m not dead (at least yet) and that I must’ve taken some crazy shit-mix this weekend. Imagining things and talking to toilet seats with heads sticking out. That sort of crazy.
Wasn’t hallucinating though. It was all as real as pie. What??
I must’ve really did a shot of Iodine before. I wasn’t feeling so well. My head touched a simple pillow and I disappeared again.
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