The Seventh Verse

To anyone who may be following this blog, you may want to know that I’ve begun writing a fantasy/sci-fi/adventure novel, whose working title is The Seventh Verse. It’s all being posted here so, enjoy!

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Published in: on April 9, 2012 at 04:03  Leave a Comment  

Doctor’s Orders

All Tom wanted was a cup of coffee. Instead he sat in his darkened lab staring at a brightly lit monitor. He felt as if he hadn’t blinked in days. He was starting to get tunnel vision. The monitor felt further from his eyes than it really was. He felt like he could no longer perceive depth. He felt like the whole world was becoming two-dimensional. For a brief moment he felt very small; insignificant. The world was falling away, or he was falling away from the world. He couldn’t tell. His senses were numb. He felt like he no longer needed senses. He no longer needed anything. He was floating, no longer a solid object tethered to this world. The flickering monitor, once inches from his eyes, was now miles away. The world was dark. Peaceful.

The florescent lights stuttered on overhead. Tom was startled awake, as if he had suddenly landed back in his chair. It took him a few moments to adjust to the newly brightened room. The screen before him was frozen still on the last surreal frame he had left it. A brick wall filled the screen. Dark red, but solid. Only a few small bunches of dark bricks could be discerned. The rest of the wall was solid red, as if painted by watercolours. What he had been studying, before drifting off into sleep, was a Lucid Memory Recording, an LMR. It was the latest in state-of-the-art technology controversially being used in criminal law. Tom knew this form of witness testimony would soon go the way of draconian DNA sampling and other examples of flawed evidence long since contested and banned in criminal courtrooms. Tom knew how easy it was to forge an LMR testimony. Tom knew how inaccurate these memories could be. The technology they used to capture these memories was still in its infancy. And Tom wondered if they would ever be able to recreate someone’s memories accurately enough to be used in any sort of meaningful way. People’s memories — at least in the state they are captured for the LMR video archive — were no closer to “truth” than an old fashioned game of “he-said-she-said.” Tom knew this more than most people; proponents and protesters alike. For it was Tom’s job to identify the accuracy of these recorded memories, and to determine whether or not they were fit to be presented as evidence in a court of law.

“Did you forget we have security cameras, Mr. Fletcher?” a stern voice said from behind. Tom wheeled his chair around to see his boss, Mr. Weinstein standing at the doorway. “You’ve been asleep for half an hour, Tom,” he scolded.

“Oh, I’m sorry about that. It’s just that I’ve had to quit drinking coffee; doctor’s orders, you understand. And I’ve been burning the candle working on this case,” Tom stuttered in defense. “This LMR,” he informed, “there’s something about it.”

“I’ve trusted you before, Tom,” confided Mr. Weinstein, “but I’m really starting to think this job is getting to you.” He closed the door behind him and pulled up a chair across from Tom. “This is an open-and-shut case. We actually have a witness’s LMR testimony at the scene. We have video evidence of the Paper Machete Killer leaving his calling card on his latest victim. Unless you can prove this LMR is incredibly dubious, Stan Richards’ testimony is air tight. He knows who the killer is. We can put him behind bars tonight.”

The Paper Machete Killer. It was the name the press had come up with. They must have thought they were really clever with that one. He had been at large for six months. Always killing in broad daylight, on backstreets, with a machete. He would adorn each victim’s head with a brown paper bag after each murder, and then draw a horrific caricature of his victim onto the bag, like some sort of sadistic mask. The LMR file Tom had been studying, probed from the mind of passerby Stan Richards, was the first ever eye-witness account of the killer. Richards happened upon the murderer just as he was drawing his latest victim’s mask.

In the video, the killer was also wearing a brown paper bag as a mask. He was stooped over his victim when Richards had stumbled onto the scene. In a split-second, it seemed, the killer had seen Richards and the video quickly turned into a shaky mess as Richards fled the scene. Stan Richards reported the incident to police later that day, claiming he knew who the killer was, despite not being able to see his face. He claimed to know the killer personally, and could identify him by his clothing and his voice. (LMR recordings, regrettably, did not include sound. The only sense that could be successfully converted into binary video data was the sense of sight. This, among other things, was one of the reasons LMR testimony was so hotly debated. Detractors argued that sight was quite possibly the least accurately-remembered human sensory data. Tom knew this to be true, first hand.) Police quickly took his statement and then Richards was off to the LMR labs to extract his testimony.

Richards’ written statement, along with an accurate LMR testimony, would be enough to seal this case, once and for all. Unfortunately for Tom, he was the one tasked with auditing the LMR for errors. This was a tedious process which included, among other things, taking detailed photos of the crime scene and comparing key details to the LMR video. LMR videos were, as a rule, very sparse with details. A brick wall, for instance, would appear as a large solid surface with only a few visible bricks. Only those bricks that broke with the regular pattern — usually patches of bricks that were of a different colour or size than the rest — would be included in the LMR recording. A field of grass would appear as a large sea of solid green with only a few patches of longer grass or dead weeds to add detail. The result was a video that looked much more like a children’s cartoon than a real live video. Someone with a particularly photographic memory could produce a vastly more detailed LMR, but Tom had never seen one that resembled anything more than a particularly artistic pastel painting.

“Well, here’s the problem,” said Tom, motioning his boss to look at the video screen. The video was paused on the first frame of the recording; a large brick wall filled the entire screen. Only an experienced LMR auditor would know it was a brick wall, however, as the screen appeared to be solid red with only a few patches of dark bricks here and there. Tom clicked a button on his keyboard and the video began to play. The view slowly panned down from the solid red wall to see that he was on a side street, between a row of large buildings. Tom clicked another button and the video paused.

The screen was filled with a most bizarre sight. Between rows of crudely drawn, solid red buildings, and on a street that looked like a child had etched it without access to a ruler, was the Paper Machete Killer, rendered almost photo-realistically, looking straight at the camera through holes punched in his paper mask, kneeling over his victim, a very crudely rendered man that almost looked like a stick-figure.

Tom and his boss stared at the screen in silence. After a long while, Tom spoke up. “So you can see why I’m so puzzled by this.”

“Yes,” started Mr. Weinstein. “Well, each person’s LMR has to be treated differently. Emotions govern so much of our memories. Would you fault Mr. Richards for focusing only on the killer in this instance? If you saw such a thing, what would you remember most vividly? The bricks on the building across the street or the masked killer staring back at you?”

“I have never seen an LMR image this vivid,” said Tom. “Look! You can even see a freckle there on the killer’s left hand!” Tom zoomed in the image until the killer’s left hand filled the screen. The resolution of the image was magnificent: a near photo-realistic image of a hand holding a felt pen. They could even make out the brand of the pen being used. It was unbelievable. And that’s why Tom didn’t like it. It was too good to be true. And if it wasn’t true, it couldn’t be used as evidence. If Stan Richards’ LMR was found to be faulty, their entire case fell apart.

“Whether or not you, personally, have ever seen an LMR of this quality is irrelevant. It would appear Stan Richards has a very good memory. This LMR is proof enough of that. It sounds like this case is closed,” said Mr. Weinstein.

“But then why is the victim so crudely rendered?” posited Tom. “It just doesn’t add up.”

“Did you do an overlay?” asked Mr. Weinstein.

Tom sighed. “Yes.” He clicked away at his keyboard for a few moments and the screen went blank. After a moment, two images appeared on the screen, side by side. One image was the the very frame they had just been viewing from Stan’s LMR video. The other image was a photograph taken at the crime seen, meticulously plotted to be at the same exact angle and height as the LMR frame. Tom clicked another button and the images slowly blended into each other until one image filled the screen. The real photograph was now sitting directly over the LMR frame. Clicking a button, Tom could switch between the two images instantaneously. By doing this, they could compare differences between the two images.

In a routine LMR audit, Tom would take key features from the LMR image and compare them to the real photo. In this instance, he had focused on a patch of dark bricks on the left-most building. Clicking between the images, the bricks appeared identical. After identifying a certain number of key features to be identical to the real life photo, an LMR could be deemed accurate.

“Everything checks out,” said Mr. Weinstein. “Why don’t you call it a night?” Tom looked at the clock on his desk. 11:00pm. “You can file the report first thing in the morning. This case is closed.” Tom hung his head as Mr. Weinstein got up from his chair and headed for the door.

It just doesn’t add up, Tom thought. He had an overwhelming feeling that he was going to send an innocent man to jail. Stan Richards’ testimony was wrong. He knew it. But he had no way to prove it. Tomorrow morning, an innocent man is going to be arrested, and it’s all because of one man’s faulty LMR! Tom shut his eyes tight. Time seemed to slow down. Think! Think! His mind was blank. A void. He could think of nothing. So tired. Maybe he’s right: I’ve just been working myself too hard. I need to get more sleep. Maybe I’ll take a vacation. Take the wife down to Cuba and–

Suddenly the void was filled with images. Flashing so fast he couldn’t keep up. A dizzying array of crude LMR images raced through Tom’s mind. And then it hit him. “Wait!” cried Tom.

Mr. Weinstein stood at the open doorway. “What is it?” he asked, annoyed.

Tom motioned his boss back to the LMR screen. He clicked a few times on his keyboard and the screen was again filled with the killer’s left hand. “That freckle! I’ve seen it before!” prompted Tom. He zoomed the video back out and clicked again to make it play. The familiar sight of the photo-realistic killer looking at Richards. Then the swift turn of the camera and the shakiness of Richards’ retreat. Tom paused the video. The screen was filled with nothing but a blur. He advanced the LMR a few frames. Suddenly the blur was broken by an image of Stan’s right hand, rendered as realistically as was the killer’s.

Tom zoomed in on the hand. “There!” he cried. “Look at the freckle!”

Mr. Weinstein looked confused. “So what? Lots of people have freckles,” he grumbled. “I think you’ve lost your mind, Tom.”

“There’s more to the story,” Tom retorted. He tapped on his keyboard and the screen went blank. He clicked again and the screen was filled with a list of file names. “Here are some of the files collected over the last few months by the police. Everything they know about the killer is in these files.” He typed for a few seconds and a large wall of text appeared on screen.

“What is all this?” asked Mr. Weinstein, sounding a bit more interested than he was a moment ago.

“They’ve analyzed the paper masks he leaves on his victims,” said Tom. “This file contains everything they know based on those masks. I’m willing to bet this file contains the last piece of our puzzle.” He began to scroll down the page, reading aloud various details as he spotted them. “‘Brown paper bags. Always recycled paper. Faces drawn on bags, always exaggerated and ghoulish, with large fangs. Always uses Sharp brand felt pen.’ And, aha!” cried Tom. “Look at this! ‘Analysis of mask indicates suspect is right handed.'”

Tom and Mr. Weinstein stared at the screen in silence. Seconds passed, followed by minutes. They sat for what seemed like forever before the silence was broken.

“So what does this mean?” asked Mr. Weinstein.

“I think it means Stan Richards is the Paper Machete Killer,” stated Tom, bluntly. “I think it means he killed his victim in front of a mirror he had set up on the street. He successfully faked his own LMR in order to frame someone else for his crime. That’s what I think.”

“You’d better be damn sure about this, Tom,” cautioned Mr. Weinstein.

“I am,” replied Tom. “Stan Richards is the Paper Machete Killer. We need to alert the police immediately.”

Mr. Weinstein sighed. “You really are the best in the business, Tom. You’re a real piece of work, you know that?”

“I know,” said Tom.

“You realize this means we’re both out of a job, right?” asked Mr. Weinstein.

“I do,” replied Tom.

“Well it was good while it lasted. I suppose it’s about time I retired anyway. I’m getting too old for this excitement,” Mr. Weinstein laughed. “What do you say, Tom? Want to go get a coffee?”

“Sure,” said Tom. “I’d love that.”

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 07:24  Leave a Comment  

Rain

I open my apartment door. I make sure to lock it before shutting it behind me. This is pointless. The doorknob left a hole in my drywall to prove that this lock is useless. The hallway is empty. Everyone else is asleep. Not me. I don’t sleep. The dark recessions under my eyes are proof of that. I creep down the stairs, making sure not to touch the railing. It is hanging out of the wall, ready to snap at any moment. The stairs are red, they look like fast-food restaurant tiles. This building used to be a restaurant. They sold submarine sandwiches. It went out of business.

A long trail of liquid stains the floor a darker hue. I don’t know what this stain is from. I don’t want to know. I push open the glass door at the bottom of the stairs. A long crack in the glass has been sealed with duct tape. Another crack is left exposed. I step outside. I light a cigarette. Why am I smoking? I quit for so long. I shouldn’t be smoking. I’m sick. I have trouble breathing. The addiction is too strong. It never goes away.

It’s raining outside. It doesn’t usually rain in March. I know it’s not really spring time yet. I can feel it. This is just a dirty trick. By morning the roads will be slick with ice. There’ll be wet snow slapping the lenses of my glasses. But for now, enjoy the rain. It’s refreshing. It makes me feel more alive.

I walk across the parking lot. It’s dark outside. Daylight Savings means nothing to me. I steal a glance up at the windows of the other apartments. Some of the lights are still on. I guess they aren’t all asleep after all. I don’t know any of my neighbours. I avoid them. They aren’t the type of people I want to associate with. I’m not one of them. I’m different. I inhale another long drag from my cigarette. I can almost feel my teeth becoming yellow. So much for that $5000 I spent at the dentist last year. The addiction is too strong. It never really goes away.

I turn the corner onto the street. My mailbox is number four. I always forget for a moment. The rain hits my face. It’s colder on the street than it was in the parking lot. At least it seems that way. A car speeds by on the rain slick road. I feel water kick up. A second later a cold gust of wind rushes by. It’ll definitely be cold by morning. This rain is just an illusion. It doesn’t mean anything. I fumble for my keys. Why do I have so many keys? I have keys to padlocks I no longer use. I still have keys to my parents’ house. I don’t like to throw things away. I’m sentimental. I wonder if they changed their locks after I left.

I tug on the mailbox. It takes a second to give. It’s frozen shut already. The night is colder than it seems. Finally it opens. No mail. Must be a weekday.

I turn the corner back toward my apartment building. Suddenly the rain doesn’t feel as refreshing as it did. I take one last puff of my cigarette. It’s soggy. It smells awful. I check my hand to see if the nicotine has stained it. Not yet. But it will. I’ll quit in the morning, I tell myself. I’ll brush my teeth when I get inside. I’ll wash the stink off my hands. I’ll quit again in the morning. It’s what I always tell myself.

I close my apartment door behind me. I make sure to lock it. It’s pointless, but it makes me feel safer. It’s late. I’m not tired. I can still hear the rain pelting the window. I sit down at the computer. I smell like cigarettes. I don’t know why I’m smoking again. I quit before but it was just an illusion. I only trick myself into thinking I’ve quit. The addiction never really goes away.

This rain won’t last. It’s just a false promise. There’s alot of that going around lately. There will definitely be snow by morning.

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 06:40  Leave a Comment  

Scarred

It is 2001. I am seventeen years old. I live with my parents, in a semi-detatched condominium. It’s in a suburb on the bottom of the hill. The top of the hill is a nice neighbourhood, with big houses and clean yards. The people there drive nice cars and raise polite children. At the bottom of the hill, our street is nicknamed “Jerry Springer Drive”. The houses are all carbon copies of themselves. The yards are littered with beer cans and the residents are loud and angry. Their children are depressed and maladjusted. They’re damaged. They will grow up to be like their parents. Angry and bigoted.

My neighbours across the street have a daughter around my age. She is quiet and underweight. She is always alone. I see her every day. I never talk to her. I see her from afar and she’s beautiful. I can hear her father yell at her sometimes. Her name is Sarah. It makes me sad and angry to hear their arguments. I don’t know anything about her; but I know she’s fragile and delicate. She’s damaged. I see her through the window. She’s beautiful.

It is 1991. I am eight years old. I have recently moved to a new school and I have no friends. My mother runs a day care out of our house. Most of the children she takes care of are much younger than me. There is one other eight year old. Her name is Becky. She goes to my school. She’s in my class. My mother usually keeps her separate from the other, younger kids, when they’re at our house. We usually play alone in my room. We’re the only eight year olds. I’m at that age where it’s taboo to be attracted to girls. But I have a crush on her. One day we are wrestling in my room and our lips accidentally brush. We stop. We’re under the covers, but I can see her eyes through the darkness. They lock onto mine. For an eternity we stare. Without saying a word, we kiss. It is the first time for either of us. The next day at school everyone makes fun of me.

One day, I look out the window to see Sarah walk by and she isn’t there. She must have come home earlier that day. I hear yelling from across the street. It is louder than usual. I hear glass break. I strain to see their house from my front window. My parents aren’t home. They’re both factory workers. They’re rarely home during the day. I walk out onto the back porch. I can see their house through the links of the wooden fence. The door is open. A man runs out the door. He’s black. I hear another smash. I don’t hear Sarah’s voice. Her father is very angry. He steps out the door and throws an empty beer bottle at the fleeing black man and misses. He calls him a nigger. He doesn’t see me watching him. He turns back into the house. He leaves the door open. I can’t hear Sarah. I only hear the sound of bottles breaking. Over and over again.

I race inside and grab the wireless phone from its cradle. I dial 9-1-1. I tell them that my neighbour is throwing beer bottles at his teenage daughter. They ask me if they are inside or outside their house. They tell me that I can’t lodge a complaint unless they are outside. I throw the phone at the wall hard enough to leave a dent in the drywall. I put on my shoes and walk back outside. Like clockwork, I hear the breaking of bottles. I hear the man’s voice. He says his daughter is a whore. He screams at her as he throws another bottle. He must have a whole closet full of empties. I hear Sarah scream. I grab a metal shovel and open the gate on my porch.

It is 1996. I am thirteen years old. I have a close knit group of three friends, with Dan being the so-called “leader” or our clique. The four of us joke that we’re like the cast of Seinfeld. We are all friends “through” Dan. He is like Jerry. I am like George. Mike is like Kramer and Michelle is like Elaine. Without Dan none of us would be friends. I have a crush on Michelle. She is just like one of the guys. She does everything with us. She’s very plain. She wears jeans and has short, blonde hair. She doesn’t wear make-up. I have a secret crush on her. She’s beautiful. I don’t say anything about it for fear of disrupting our clique’s balance. I’ve never had many friends. I’ve spent many summers alone. I’m not a very popular person. I don’t want to lose my three best friends over some ridiculous crush.

One day we are all at Dan’s house. He lives outside of town. It would be farm country if it wasn’t for the uneven landscape. The hills remind me of Hobbit Holes from books I read. Dan has a new dog. It’s just a puppy. It is very hyper. We are outside Dan’s house. Mike and Dan need to go inside for some reason. It occurs to me that they often go off alone. Later I find out that Mike is secretly a homosexual. It occurs to me, in hindsight, that Dan was also rather flamboyant. Michelle and I are playing with the puppy.

“You’re cute,” laughs Michelle. I nod my head, looking at Dan’s puppy chase its own tail. I look up and see that Michelle isn’t looking at the dog. She’s looking at me. Our eyes lock. Her eyes are beautiful. Big and blue, they envelope me. Time stands still. Everything goes silent. We stare into each others’ eyes forever. The world slowly disappears. We are moving closer. Our hands are locked. I see her eyes shut. I shut my own. I feel myself lean closer.

Dan and Mike return, snapping us back to reality. We pretend nothing happened. Dan’s puppy is tired. We go inside and play video games.

I walk across the street gripping the shovel. The sound of bottles breaking is all I hear. My body is trembling. I’m on his lawn. It is covered in empty beer bottles. He is standing in the doorway holding a case of beer. I see him throw another one into the house. I hear her crying. He doesn’t notice me standing right behind him. I raise the shovel over my head. It feels heavy. I could kill this man. I want to kill this man.

“You bring a fucking nigger into my house? You fucking whore!” he screams. I can see over his shoulder into the kitchen. Sarah is cowering in a corner. The floor is covered in broken glass. She’s no longer screaming. She’s no longer crying. She’s not trembling. She’s motionless.

It is 2000. I am sixteen years old and already an alcoholic. A friend of mine is living at a motel in town, after being kicked out of his parents’ house. He is throwing a party. My brother buys us liquor, as he is of legal drinking age. A few close friends join us at the motel. Terri is there. She’s a year younger than me and already has a bad reputation. She’s known around town as a “whore” and a “slut”. She’s also an alcoholic.

After a while, in my drunken haze, I realize I am alone in the motel room with Terri. I don’t know where everyone else went and I don’t care. Terri is looking in my direction. Our eyes lock. I see sadness in her eyes. She is crying on the inside. We stare at each other for time immeasurable. She is beautiful. I stumble over and sit on the floor next to her. Neither of us say a word. She shuffles her weight towards me and sits on my lap, her blonde hair brushing over my face. She smells wonderful. She directs my hand onto her breast. I move my other hand onto her stomach. I caress her. She feels wonderful. I slowly slide her shirt up and over her head. I lightly move my fingers over her soft skin. She is beautiful. Neither of us say a word. We are in heaven together. Just the two of us.

All of a sudden the other party-goers burst through the motel room door. Terri and I frantically put whatever clothes we lost back on our bodies. We sit next to each other on the floor. Everyone eyes us quizzically but we don’t say a word. I decide to go home. Terri asks me to stay. I look into her eyes. Her hair is still messed up and her clothes are badly wrinkled. I leave without saying a word. I feel her gaze on my back as I shut the door. I imagine her crying on the inside. I made her feel beautiful, if for only a moment. And then I was gone.

“You dirty slut!” he cries as he throws another beer bottle. The bottle explodes just inches from Sarah’s head. She moves her head slightly. Signs of life. I notice blood on the floor beneath her. It drips down from her sleeveless arms as she feebly tries to protect her face behind her hands. Blood seeps through from between her fingers. I bring the shovel down with all my strength. The impact feels surprisingly soft. The man falls forward onto the glass-littered hardwood of his front hallway. His neck and shoulders are covered in dark crimson. My knees almost give out but I stop myself from falling. I want to throw up. Without another moment of hesitation, I run. I run as fast as I can, and it doesn’t feel fast enough. Shovel still in hand, I cross the street and flee into the woods. The tears blind my eyes. I feel branches slap my face. I trip on roots. I run. I run forever.

I open my eyes. It’s dark out now. It takes me a second to adjust to the darkness. I’m lying beside a stream. I stand up and brush myself off. My mouth feels impossibly dry. I begin to stagger back in a direction I judge might lead back to my house. It takes alot less time than it should, but I’m back home. My parents are asleep. I take off my shoes and go to my room. I lay awake all night.

I found out that the man survived my attack. But I never saw him again after that day. Sarah and her mother continued to live across the street from me for a while. Yet I no longer saw Sarah walk by my window. After a while, I stopped looking for her. Years later, as I was walking down the street, I saw her, walking towards me. As we crossed paths, I looked at her face. She still had scars. She was badly disfigured from that day. Her hair was cut short and dyed. She had her head down. As we crossed paths, she looked up momentarily and our eyes locked. She was beautiful. In a moment that seemed to last forever, I saw her. And she was beautiful. I visibly gasped, but she didn’t notice. Our paths crossed and we went on our separate ways.

That was the last time I ever saw her. She never knew I was the one who used to watch her from afar as she passed my window. She never knew I was the one who died a little inside each time I heard her arguments with her dad. She never knew I was the one who saved her life on that fateful day. She never knew how beautiful she was. She was damaged. She was scarred. She was brought up in a world of anger and hate. And she was scarred by it.

She never knew I was the one who saved her life. And I never told her. I didn’t have the heart.

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 06:05  Leave a Comment