Two hands lay palms-down on a brown briefcase.
Scars. From cleats and dirt, knives at the bottom of soapy kitchen sinks, mother’s maroon-painted fingernails. Memories. The only way of knowing one’s actually existed. If you don’t remember anything, you don’t know you’re there. Time. The flowing of time. The true nature of time is a spiral; not a line with a definite start and a definite stop.
The man moved his hands to the seat. Sweaty outlines remained on the briefcase. He looked up. Sitting in front of him was a man, dressed in orange, like prison garb but no indication he’d escaped anything. Atop his head was a cowboy hat. The man’s hands were folded on top of each other and both rested comfortably on a polished mahogany cane. His eyes were fully white, save for irises that were a light blue color. He smiled and looked directly at the other man.
“Excuse me?” the man with the briefcase asked.
“Just makin’ sure you’re alright.”
“I am, thank you.”
“That’s good. What’s your name? Mine’s Newton.”
“Why are you asking for my name?”
“Trying out politeness, I guess. Don’t worry, I already know all about you,” Newton said.
“What do you mean you already know me?”
“I know because I’m supposed to know,” Newton replied.
“Your name is Jared. Married. Successful stockbroker. Unhappy. Bored. Lost.”
“That’s pretty vague,” Jared said. “Did you see my briefcase? How about the ring on my finger?”
“I’m blind. Been that way since birth.”
“Sorry,” Jared said.
“You’re thirty-two,” Newton continued. “Wife’s name is Sylvia. You met at the University of Oregon. Married five years. One early abortion, two miscarriages. No sex in almost a year. One sibling, an older brother. Mother shot off husband’s head when you were fourteen, hung herself shortly after.”
“Christ,” Jared said with a forced exhale. “I’m listening. What do you want?”
“I want to ask you something.”
“What are you earliest childhood memories?”
“What kind of question is this?”
“Answer it. It’s important.”
“Shit, I don’t know,” Jared said. “Soccer I guess. Halftime oranges, shin bruises, angry parents, hamburgers afterward.”
Newton chuckled and looked outside the window. “Well, that’s vague too. That could be anyone’s memory.”
“Wait, what are you looking at?” Jared asked. “Your eyes, they’re focusing. You’re seeing shit.”
“I’m blind. Already told you that.”
“No, no. This is different. What can you see?”
“I see… everything… and nothing.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Answer my question first,” Newton said, turning back to Jared.
“I already told you. When I first started playing soccer, around five or six.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Newton said.
“I don’t understand then.”
“I’m talking about those memories that you recorded lucidly in the moment, even though, as a child, you didn’t understand what was happening.”
“That feeling you get when you drop in elevation quickly, in an elevator or on an amusement ride?” Newton asked. “That’s what I’m referring to. The feeling as if your heart skips a beat and your insides pole-vault up into your chest. But this occurs only with certain memories. That is what I am talking about.”
“Nope, don’t have those,” Jared replied. “Don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re not listening. Everyone has them. Most people have forgotten, especially the adults.”
“I don’t have anything like that.”
“You do,” Newton said. “I’ll show you.” He hooked his cane to the handrail above him and pulled out a small brown pouch from within the folds of his orange clothes. He untied the loose knot and flipped it upside down. Fine, black sand poured out into his cupped free hand. He placed the pouch beside him on the seat.
“What is that?” Jared asked.
“Don’t worry,” Newton said, and raised his hand to his mouth, inhaled deeply and blew the sand into Jared’s face. The windows reverberated down the car. Pamphlets of schedules and destinations scattered about violently and settled against the back wall.
“What… the… what is… what… wait… this….” Jared slumped back in his seat, unable to move but still somewhat upright and alert.
“Careful. You need to relax and breathe. And you must not give in to astonishment,” Newton said. Jared’s briefcase slid of his lap. Newton grabbed it and set it next to him.
“What is this? What did you do to me?” Jared asked.
“Stop talking. You need to just watch.”
“I’m going to pass out.”
“That’s fine. It’ll wait.”
Jared’s eyes snapped shut, and he slumped over.
He awoke to find Newton sitting next to him, chin upon his folded hands around the top of his cane, staring out the window. Jared still could not move. Everything was bathed in a white-glow. The inside of the train shimmered with iridescent bands of cascading energy that pulsated rhythmically. A lightning storm raged outside.
Disconnected. Can’t feel a thing. Clarity. This is it. No thoughts but this. Right here, right now. In the moment. Everything alive. Everything with purpose. Nothing wasted. Everything on track and on schedule. Why?
“Because,” Newton said aloud. “This is all there is. Like you thought.”
—You can hear this? You can hear my thoughts?
—Because I’m supposed to, Newton replied.
—What is this? Jared asked.
—What do you think it is?
—I can’t… know. I don’t know.
—You do. You just have to remember, Newton said.
—It’s too weird.
—This is how it is.
The train slowed. Both leaned slightly forward in their seats.
—What’s going in? Jared asked.
The train came to a stop. The doors opened. No one boarded. Wind rushed in. Moments later it was gone and calm. A single streetlamp flickered on just outside the train. A figure bathed in black, shadowed, stood beneath it. Flashes of lightning behind it failed to show any details. Jared’s stomach leaped into his chest, his pulse quickened, and his breath was chaotic.
“Relax,” Newton said, placing a hand on Jared’s wrist. Jared did not feel it.
The shadow figure twitched and turned towards the door. As it stepped onto the train, the lights overhead and the bursts of lightning from outside reflected off its outline, as if it was now some intelligent, blackened quicksilver, mobile and human-like. It walked slowly towards Jared and Newton. Waves of liquid obsidian rippled throughout its body as it moved, reflections distorting to impossible angles. Newton remained calm, Jared did not. It sat directly opposite the two. It mimicked Jared’s paralyzed posture but remained emotionless. Jared looked closer. Something within its face was lighting up as if someone was backstage, slowly fading up stage lights.
—What… the… fuck… is… going… on? Jared asked.
—Wait for it.
—Look. Newton said, staring straight ahead.
A smile, impossible to tell if it was sinister or not, broke out across the obsidian figure’s face. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. Behind it a scene played out. A small boy ran up a sidewalk with a white picnic plate in his hand.
Jared’s vision was now fixated on the image. He could not move his eyes and now did not want to.
—Yes, Newton said.
—I know this. I think I remember this, Jared said.
—Be quiet and watch.
The image upon the face grew bigger until it was all that Jared’s eyes could see. The sidewalks were lined with sizzling barbeque grills. White-blue smoke from still-cooking meat drifted silently above. A cooler stood beside each grill. On top of each cooler sat individual bottles of beer and cheaply entwined wicker baskets that held condiments. Kids ran up and down the street, screaming happily, playing tag, spilling soda from red plastic cups. Packs of moms huddled around each other, gossiping, watching the kids, preparing plates. Groups of dads turned and flipped various meats upon the grills, looking up at the sky, commenting on the seagulls that contrasted sharply against the dark thunderstorm to the east. Somewhere the melodic surf sounds of The Beach Boys blared from a hidden boombox.
A kid stood alone, silent and motionless in the middle of the street, looking out at the storm blanketing the horizon. He turned his gaze to the neighborhood feast. He looked upon the faces of all the participants. Each smiled and laughed. No cars came down the street, no airplanes flew overhead. In his hand he held an empty, stained, Styrofoam plate. He looked back to the people populating the street, back to the sky, back to his plate, to his parents, to his older brother. And he smiled.
The scene faded from the obsidian figure’s face. All Jared saw now was his own, perverted in reflected quicksilver before him.
—I can’t believe I forgot that, Jared said.
—Quite understandable, Newton replied.
—How could I have forgotten?
—It’s how it usually works. One grows up, forgets.
—It’s so simple.
—That’s the problem.
The obsidian figure across from them sat motionless.
—It’s too simple, Jared continued.
—That’s why it’s so easy to forget. The trick is to not.
Jared wasn’t able to finish his question. The figure before him raised its arm and pointed its index finger directly at Jared. It turned its wrist over and beckoned to him with a bent finger. Jared saw the light was returning to its face. This time the light was a different hue, still light but darker somehow.
—Again? Jared asked. He thought he felt a tingle move down the length of his spine.
—Looks like it, Newton replied.
—I don’t know.
—Something feels different. My back, I can… feel something.
—Interesting, Newton said.
—What does it mean? Jared asked.
—Not sure. Never seen this.
The figure slapped his hands together, which sent ripples through reality and both of them snapped their attention to the scene now unfolding in the figure’s face.
The kid inserted the key into the front door’s deadbolt, twisted it, the door opened. He tossed his backpack on the bench, slid off his shoes and kicked them underneath it. He walked to the kitchen and pulled out the jug of milk from the fridge and gulped down mouthfuls. The fridge kicked on, startling him a bit. The fridge was old, and he was taller than it.
“No!” Jared screamed in his seat. Newton glanced to his left. Jared had spoken out loud, and he was shocked. This wasn’t supposed to go like this. Jared was now moving, twitching in his seat.
“What? What’s going on? What is it?” Newton asked, flustered and trying to hold Jared still.
“No! I don’t want to see this. I don’t need to see this. I know what this is!” Jared said. “I haven’t forgotten this. I don’t need to see this again. Get the fuck off me.”
“Obviously you have forgotten this or you wouldn’t be shown this right now,” Newton said, struggling with Jared.
“I don’t care. I’m not going to relive this. It’s not needed.”
The figure clapped his hands together again with such force the breath was knocked out of Jared’s lungs, and as he gasped for breath, the scene played upon the figure’s face in terrifying detail.
The kid placed the milk back in the fridge and called out if anyone was home. There was no answer. He climbed the stairs to his parents’ office where his dad was usually hacking away on the typewriter. The door was supposed to be closed, and he usually knocked but this time it wasn’t. It was cracked open, and the kid heard a faint, slow, rhythmic creaking sound and a circular shadow on the ground that spun slowly in a clockwise motion. The kid placed his hand on the door and pushed it open slowly.
“No…” Jared said, struggling through massive inhales. Though he could now move his body, his vision was still entranced on the scene. “I can’t watch this again, I can’t.”
“You must,” Newton said. His face was lowered, looking into the knob of his cane he held between his legs.
Newton’s face turned red and his jowls slightly shook. “Well, too bad,” he said.
The kid removed his hand from the door, leaving a small, greasy imprint on the wood door. He looked up. He didn’t scream, he didn’t cry, he stood there.
“I will not watch this!” Jared screamed and stood up. His balance was bad. He stumbled to the side and pushed past Newton who reached out to grab him. Jared snatched the briefcase from Newton’s side and ran forward in the car. He ran to the front, kicking up train schedules as he made his way to the driver’s cabin. There was no one driving. He kicked the door, it didn’t budge. He kicked it again, same thing. Newton was walking towards him, the black figure sat still in its seat, not moving.
“You can’t go anywhere,” Newton said down the car. “Where do you think you’re going to go?”
“I don’t have to see this shit. I know what I experienced and I know what is real,” Jared answered, pounding his shoulder into the door. “This isn’t.”
“This is more real than you can possibly know.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t know where you are, do you?” Newton asked.
“I don’t give a shit. I don’t need to be here,” Jared said.
“Will you stop for a second?”
“Look,” Newton said. He looked out the window. Jared stopped shouldering the door and looked too. He gasped. The storm had disappeared, and outside spun countless galaxies, blanketed by billions of stars, surrounded in utter silence.
“What is it?” Jared asked.
“You really don’t know where you are, do you?” Newton asked.
“I can’t help you then.”
“Tell me what I’m doing here.”
“You’re outside of the flow of time.”
Jared felt his heart rush, he began to sweat. “I don’t even know what that means. I shouldn’t be seeing this.”
“Then leave,” Newton said.
“How do I do that?”
“The answer to everything you need to know is in that briefcase you now hold,” Newton said.
Jared bent to one knee, clicked the briefcase open and held the lid up with his left hand. Inside laid a pistol, lit up from the inside somehow. Jared looked up to Newton, who stared out the window.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” he asked.
“I don’t even know what to think,” Jared answered.
Newton looked back to Jared. Jared was pointing the gun directly at Newton’s forehead. Newton laughed. “What do you plan to do? Shoot me?”
Jared shut his eyes and pulled the trigger.
Jared careened against the driver’s door and fell to the ground. The universe outside the window vanished and was replaced by the landscape rushing past at high speed. He was losing consciousness. He held his head up and saw the obsidian figure walking slowly towards him. Splayed across the figure’s face was Jared’s, and it smiled back at him. Jared’s vision went red, then black. He heard metal tearing at the seams around him. Then all was silent.
Steady gusts of wind spiraled debris around and stoked aging street fires high into the late autumn afternoon. A large, orange and smoky sun descended slowly beyond the horizon of devastated buildings. Towering black storm clouds brewed ominously in the opposite direction. Silhouettes of large nameless birds glided above in long, lazy figure-eights. Feral dogs, small and brutal, roamed over pavements littered with destroyed furniture, broken glass and the charred skeletons of vehicles. Jared, alone, clothes wrinkled, torn, covered in grey ash, crouched in front of an overturned and ravaged train car just beneath the city’s dilapidated union station.
Neglecting to brush off the dust, he grabbed the briefcase that lay open and empty at his shoeless feet, snapped it shut, moved his free hand to block the sun’s last ocherous rays and stood to scan the environment. His breath was shallow and labored from the toxic smoke and embers. He was immediately aware of a pain that throbbed behind his forehead and at the base of his neck. His back and thighs ached, and he could taste the flakes of dust caked to his arid lips.
He stood, stretched and saw feral dogs move on his position. His pulse quickened. His eyes flicked with precision around the landscape. They advanced in teams, three or four in each. They moved unhurried and deliberately and quickly closed the distance. Jared looked for something to hide behind. He’d just escaped the train. There was no chance he was going to climb back in. He found an overturned office desk that was burnt black and crumbling but offered the only protection. He hid behind it, ripped off a wooden leg untouched by the fires and prepared himself to use it.
And then there was no sound. No sound of the dogs’ approach, no wind racing through the buildings, no snapping and popping of fires up and down the thoroughfare, no distant rumble of thunder, only silence. He rose to his knees, placed his hands on the side of the desk and peered over the edge. The dogs stood still in their tracks. Only the rhythmic expansion and contraction of their ribcages showed they were still alive. The dogs were not looking at him anymore. They stared directly through and beyond him. He turned halfway around, keeping the dogs in his peripheral.
Behind him stood a man draped in frayed and faded-orange clothes. He wore sunglasses that distorted the surrounding landscape in its reflections and a cowboy hat with a hole directly through the front. His beard was knotted and grey-black and he stunk of burnt wood, rotted fabric, and halitosis.
“Where’d you think you were gonna go?” Newton asked.
“Where the fuck am I?”
“Nowhere now. Not anymore.”
“What happened? What’s going on?”
“You don’t remember this either?” Newton asked, removing his hat. “And what happened to your shoes?” Black hair fell in impossible tangles behind his head down to his shoulders. He pulled out a filthy noserag from his shirt pocket, wiped forehead to chin, put both objects back and took another step forward. There was a rustle behind the two men: the packs of dogs had taken a step back.
“Remember what? Who are you?” Jared asked.
“This might help,” Newton said and bent at the waist, leaning closer. Jared looked into the sunglasses and saw not reflections, but the faint contrast of numerous small, black spirals that rotated counter-clockwise in a milky fluid. The spirals fused together into two large ones and stopped spinning. Jared swooned and fell onto his side and noticed the dogs running in the opposite direction. He glanced in Newton’s direction, but there was nothing; he had vanished. A few minutes later Jared propped himself on his elbows, turned his head to the side and vomited up a dark-indigo liquid from deep within his body. The liquid somehow glowed from the inside. A white sphere appeared within the liquid and grew larger. It extended out four appendages and began rotating. It soon was a galaxy and began to spin counter-clockwise. He could not divert his fixed attention from it. Seconds passed and his body went limp and his vision faded to black.