Monday, 20 May 2013
The first thing I notice is the dog. It’s lying, immobile, on a filthy mattress, half-open eyes staring vacantly at the wall. The shallow rise and fall of its chest tells me it’s alive, but barely. A tube has been inserted into its mouth, presumably into its stomach; a funnel is attached to the end and empty cans of instant breakfast drinks are scattered about. “Jesus, guys!” I can’t help but exclaim. “What did you do?”
“Don’t worry about her,” Simon replies nonchalantly. “She’s fine. She’s just in another dimension.” I don’t know what to make of that, and suddenly I wonder if I made the right choice.
Two large 40-inch CRT televisions sit facing a chair in the middle of the adjacent room. Markings on the floor indicate their placement is deliberate, so that the angle formed between television-chair-television is about 30 degrees. Each TV is connected to it’s own VCR as well as a strange device that looks like a haphazard collection of scavenged electronics. “Amplifiers,” Tory mutters by way of explanation, as he makes delicate adjustments the two homemade devices with experienced hands.
Before I have a chance to ask, Simon begins to explain what the equipment is for. “This,” he gestures grandiosely, “is an inter-dimensional rift generator. When activated, it will open a portal to another world through which my consciousness will travel.”
Perhaps this is a good time to explain that Simon and Tory used to be scientific researchers. “I have always been fascinated with the idea of spells and magical incantations,” Simon told me once. “Ancient men believed that words had the power to reshape the world around them, and weren’t just a tool for communication. It might sound stupid to devote a life to researching the power of words, but a large number of scientific findings actually confirm the so-called ‘superstitious’ notions our ancestors had. Why couldn’t the same be true for magic?”
Simon thought that the power of magical words were a result of the waveform created when somebody speaks them. His theory is based on a known phenomenon called resonance that affects pretty much everything around us—the details are too technical to get into here, but it has to do with the way vibrations react with each other. Resonance reactions have been a proven cause of many structural disasters, the most famous of which would be the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
“My initial experiments into the use of magical words and their resultant waveforms produced some interesting distortion effects in the air, but my findings were dismissed during the peer-review process, so I couldn’t get them published.” For those who don’t know, the peer-review process is a mandatory step wherein one scientist gets others to review his/her work before having it published. This is supposed to ensure that only good data gets through, but has also been used to prevent controversial theories from spreading. “Science is equal parts good intentions and bad politics,” as Tory, who rarely speaks, would say.
Since they couldn’t publish their findings, Simon and Tory couldn’t secure funding for their efforts. Without funding, a researcher’s career is as good as dead, and it’s not a very long spiral from there to where we are now.
Apparently Simon and Tory continued their research using improvised materials, which brings us back to the ‘inter-dimensional rift generator.’ The way Simon explains it sounds about as bat-s___ crazy as you’d expect from a homeless scientist with wild theories who has lived on the street for over a decade. “The tapes in the VCRs contain audio recordings of magical spell being spoken. Those words will resonate with the radiation emitted from the cathode ray tubes in the televisions, causing a very specific waveform to be emitted from each set. When those waveforms meet, which is where the chair is, they’ll interact with each other in a way that will literally tear open a hole the fabric of the universe.” Simons believes this ‘hole’ leads to another dimension.
I have a million questions about this whole scheme—I’m sure you do too—but Simon waves them away. “Just watch,” he says. “If it fails, we’ll talk.” He sits in the chair and looks at Tory, who has been checking the equipment. Tory gives a nod and Simon raises a remote control and presses play.
The initial moments are unimpressive. The televisions display static while Tory’s voice, speaking unfamiliar words, plays through the speakers. At some point, the amplifiers light up, and the sound of bees fills the room. The walls appear to pulsate and wobble, an effect that becomes more and more pronounced as the bees get louder and louder. The air around Simon’s chair twists and distorts—I would swear I saw the air itself cracking if that didn’t sound insane—and he looks back with a grin as if to say, “See?!” Then there’s a blinding flash and I wake up with Tory standing over me, gently slapping my face in order to bring me back into consciousness.
The room is dark and silent again; everything is shut down. I sit up and watch Tory walk over to Simon, who is also lying on the floor. He feels for a pulse, looks at me and nods, but Simon doesn’t react. He just stares at the ceiling with the same half-eyed vacant stare as the dog.
The doctors say Simon is, physically, fine. His brain and body are perfectly functional; all his autonomic systems—breathing, heartbeat, et cetera—are normal, there’s just no cognitive response in his brain. If he can be fed and hydrated, he will remain alive until his body naturally expires, but—and it’s a big but—he’s a homeless person with no money and no insurance. They don’t outright say it, but the implication is clear: the hospital isn’t going to provide one of their precious beds or any of their even more precious medical care to keep him alive. Tory says that’s okay, he’ll keep Simon safe. He knows what to do, because they’ve been practicing with the dog (which, by the way, has since been put down by Animal Services).
Tory says that Simon’s mind travelled through the inter-dimensional portal, but not his body, because our matter can only exist in our dimension. “Physical things in our universe conform to our rules of physics, which is unique to where we live. Matter cannot travel and is simply repulsed from the rift. Our consciousnesses can move between dimensions, though, because consciousness is made of different stuff, which is infinitely flexible.”
I have a hard time believing any of it. How can Tory be so sure that a dimensional rift occurred? How can he be sure Simon’s consciousness went through? Certainly something happened, but we can’t know what that something was. Simon could be in another dimension, yes, but he could also simply be brain dead.
“This is true,” Tory replies. “But that’s the way science is: we conduct an experiment based on a hypothesis and only when it’s done will we know whether that hypothesis is true or false. This experiment isn’t over yet. If Simon is in another dimension, he’ll find a way to come back, or otherwise get in touch and let me know.”
And if he’s not?
“Then you won’t be hearing from either of us again.”
Monday, 13 May 2013
“They weren’t obsessed with stripping!” She clarifies when I give her a quizzical look. “East Indian dancing, belly dancing, that kind of ‘exotic’!
“Anyway, they made me take dance classes when I was a little girl, and they’d make me perform for the family whenever there was a gathering. You know: weddings, birthdays, basically if there was a function that took place in a hall, I’d be dancing while my creepy uncles and cousins looked on.
”It made me very aware of my sensuality at a young age. But I liked the attention, and I liked the feeling of confidence that comes from being able to move your body with speed and precision. It’s a thrill unlike any other, which is why I made a career out of it.
“The stripping started at the end of high school. It was in the last month of my senior year and I skipped a class. But, the teacher assigned a major project that day, and we had to work on it in pairs. Since I wasn’t there when the groups were formed, I was forced to partner with the only person who was available: this nerd named Ray.
“Ray was a fat, weird, socially inept kid who smelled really bad. He had no friends, not even the other nerds wanted to be around him, that’s how bad he was. I didn’t want to work with him, at all, but the teacher said I had no choice, that’s what I get for cutting class.
“So, I went over to his house to work on this project, and I was wearing a low-cut top and I kept noticing him taking peeks at my cleavage. You know, he’d quickly glance and look away, that sort of thing. Now, Ray’s parents were pretty well off, and they indulged him a lot because he was an only child and had no friends, so he got anything he wanted—money, gadgets, games, anything—and I saw an opportunity in the situation.
“I asked him if he liked my tits, and he just froze, completely embarrassed, right? Then I told him I’d show them to him if he gave me a hundred dollars. The look on his face was priceless; it was like a kid who found out Santa Claus was real and in his house and was going to give him all the toys he ever asked for. So I took of my shirt and he loved it because I have great tits and a great body to go with them. Then I said I’d take off more if he paid me more, and that kept snowballing until I offered him a happy ending if he doubled what he’d given me so far. It was the greatest day of his life, he was smiling for days afterward. I bet it was a dream come true.
”And that made me feel good. Not only did I make a s___load of money, but I also brought joy into some loser’s life.”
I cut in: “Weren’t you afraid of what people would say if they found out?”
“No. He had no friends to tell. And even if he did, no one would believe him. That’s why I made the offer in the first place. It was win-win for both of us, although I clearly won more.”
“We ended up going to college in the same city upstate. I was at the dance academy, of course, and he was on the other side of town, and we’d get together from time to time. Same deal: a show and a happy ending for a wad of cash. Somehow, he managed to make a few friends—three fat, smelly outcasts just like himself—and I extended my performances to the group. It worked out nicely for all of us, especially me since I was making four times the money for only a few minutes more work.
“But all good things come to an end, right? They smartened up and discovered there were other young, hot college girls eager to make money with their bodies, girls who were willing to do a lot more for a lot less. The boys asked me for the same services but I said no. I’m a dancer not a whore, and I wasn’t going to lower my rates either. So they stopped calling me and I was fine with that. I didn’t really want to spend my life as a stripper; it was just something I did for them because they were willing and easy.
“But the story doesn’t end there. Somewhere along the line Ray and his friends decided that I owed them. They believed I had been ripping them off—which was true—and they wanted what they could never get from me. Since I wasn’t going to give it to them willingly, they figured they’d take it. That’s why the four of them showed up at my campus one night, grabbed me, and....”
At this point, I should reiterate that Quinn is ridiculously fit. Even now, even though she’s wearing a loose flannel shirt that hides all her muscles, her body radiates a raw strength and power that comes from years of working out. What’s more, she’s an ardent practitioner of the martial arts because, in her words, they’re all about sharp movements coupled with elegance and grace, just like dance. As such, she was more than capable of fighting off a bunch chubby, smelly nerds.
“I beat them, badly, and would have given them worse, but campus security showed up. After I explained the situation, they called the police, and then our parents. You could imagine the reaction: everyone was shocked and disappointed. Everyone except for my dad. He saw an opportunity in the situation, and told Ray’s parents, told all their parents, that he was going to press charges.
“They were stunned. They said he was crazy, that if he sued the whole world would know his daughter was a whore, to which he replied: ‘My daughter isn’t a whore. She’s a stripper, which is a perfectly legal and valid occupational choice in this country. But your kids are attempted rapists. How’s that going to look in the papers? How’s that going to look in four years when they’re trying to get their first jobs?’
“And that was that. We walked away with a ton of money, they walked away knowing their secret would be safe, and it was win-win for everyone involved. Although I clearly won more.”
Monday, 6 May 2013
“Okay,” he continues after a moment of thought. “I wouldn’t call it a ‘mistake’, per se, because it got me where I wanted to be, but I guess I took the concept of ‘writing what you know’ a bit more literally than I should have. The one thing I knew better than anything else was my family, so I used that as a basis for my work, which in turn led to the situation I find myself in today.”
That situation is starkly apparent when looking around Oliver’s home. There are no pictures of family or friends on the wall. No incongruous knickknacks, things that are obviously gifts from mom. No dining room table, nor extra places for visitors to sit and be entertained. It’s a living situation clearly geared to the needs of a single person, one who doesn’t have company over, ever.
Is this why Oliver introduced himself as “Ollie to my friends, if I had any” when I first met him?
Oliver used to be an author, most famous for the Paragon Family series of novels. Before that, however, he struggled with the same issue every writer does: writing something worth reading; finding a niche that satisfies oneself, both creatively and financially. It’s a challenging period in any writer’s career, made doubly so for Oliver because none of his family supported him. They wanted him to get a “real” job, get married, get a life; do anything other than sit at his computer all day long. “They all assumed that I surfed the Internet for sixteen hours, stopping only to eat and sleep. They had no idea I was writing, re-writing, deleting, searching for inspiration... you’re a writer, you know the drill. I tried to explain what I was doing, but no one ever believed me, because no one really cared.”
It was a frustrating situation, which Oliver tried to take in stride, but one day he broke. While at a family picnic, he overheard his father calling him lazy and his cousins snickering about what a loser he was. That was when the Paragons were born. “It was a moment of passion. I got home from the park, sat down and just wrote. I had intended to produce a throw-away tale about my real life—a diary entry that would be deleted once I worked through the anger and sadness I felt—but the story took on a life of its own, and grew into something I had never intended it to be, but loved nonetheless.”
Three days later, the first Paragon family novel was complete: a strange, surreal adventure based off that day at the picnic. After seeing how well it turned out, Oliver committed to polishing it up and trying to get it published. The rest is public record: The Paragon Family Picnic became a phenomenal success, and was followed by several sequels, as well as the requisite collection of movies and licensed products.
Most of the events in the Paragon Family series are fictional, but the characters are not. The names and physical attributes have been changed, but the personalities are all almost exact duplicates of Oliver’s family, right down to the embarrassing quirks and secrets they’d rather not have anybody know. You’d think that writing about his family in this way would land Oliver in a lot of trouble with them, but it didn’t. At least, not at first. “None of my family ever respected my decision to be a writer, nor did they show any interest in it. Even after I got published, even after I was making a healthy living off of it, no one bothered to read what I had written, so no one knew it was more or less about them.”
That changed when the movies came out. “Some of my cousins went to see the movie adaptation of the first book. I suspect they wanted to find some way to mock me rather than actually being interested in what I created. But, in any case, they recognized the personality quirks in some of the Paragon Family characters. That inspired one of them to actually check out the books, and that’s when everyone clued in on who the Paragons actually were.”
Needless to say, the reaction wasn’t pleasant. “There was a lot of yelling, some threats of lawsuits, you can imagine the chaos a revelation like that would cause. Eventually they decided the best thing to do would be to cut me off, so I haven’t seen or spoken to any of them ever since. I didn’t even attend my parents’s funeral... assuming they’re even dead.”
Oliver began to lose friends, as well. “Once it came out that I had based my writing on people I knew, cracks began to form in all my relationships. Everyone secretly wondered if the things they said or did would end up in a novel. That caused them to become cautious around me and slowly drift away.”
Two other things drifted away as well: Oliver’s inspiration and creativity. “I never really liked my family, so I didn’t mourn being cut off, but it turned out I needed them. I needed their negativity and the frustration it caused within me to fuel my motivation and my passion to write. I did manage to squeeze out a couple more novels, but my heart wasn’t into it, so I walked away.
“Without my real family, the Paragon Family couldn’t exist. Nor could I write anything else.”
So why didn’t he reconnect, make amends in order to keep the creativity flowing? “Well, say I did that, what would happen next? I would put out a new Paragon Family story and they’d get pissed and it’d be a whole new drama all over again. To keep the Paragons alive would mean embroiling myself in a poisonous cycle that I didn’t want to be a part of anymore. It’s not like I needed to make more, anyway. I had enough money as it is.”
By the time the Paragons died, Oliver had millions of dollars in the bank— more than enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life—and the series stills sells well to this day. “I have to budget a bit, but I’m more than happy with the way my life turned out. Sure, it’s meant sacrificing my family and some early friendships, but one can always find new friends, and new family.”
As if on cue, the doorbell rings. On the other side is a young, gorgeous woman. “Hey, Ollie, you ready?” she says with a seductive expression that turns to distaste the moment she sets eyes on me. “Hey yourself,” he replies, then shows me out the door.
Monday, 29 April 2013
I know her as Nancy, but you’d be more familiar with the nickname given her by the press: The Ballpoint Bayonetter. She laughs when we discuss that appellation. Someone must have scoured the thesaurus that day, she says, who uses the term ‘bayonet’ anymore? Still, it’s mostly accurate, given her predilection for murdering men by stabbing a pen through their eye and into the brain. Seven, over the course of two years.
Her first kill was an act of passion, one inspired more by fear than anything else. While walking home late at night, she heard footsteps behind her. There was something about them, something that told her she was about to get mugged. You wouldn’t think you could tell a person’s intentions by the sound their feet make when they hit the ground, but Nancy insists otherwise. Maybe it’s because she has a lot of history being assaulted, she suggests. She’s been the victim of muggings and more—she won’t go into details, but one can imagine the kinds of things a young, beautiful woman could potentially endure at the hands of unprincipled men.
My eyes unconsciously flit to her hands as she plays with the buttons on her orange jumpsuit. She catches me lingering on her ample chest and I apologize. She says it’s okay, it’s a nice rack, and smiles that coy smile once more. I don’t reply, even though I do have a thing for....
So, two years ago, walking home in the dark, expecting to be attacked at any moment. Nancy reaches into her purse, looking for something—anything—that could be used to fight back. Her hand closes around her favorite pen, an old gift from a long-lost friend.
Her pursuer is almost upon her. She steels herself, spins, strikes at random. The pen lodges partially in the stunned man’s eye. He stumbles back, she takes the opportunity to send it all the way home. The assailant falls to the ground, convulsing violently before lying still. Nancy doesn’t know what to do, so she runs, runs all the way home.
“I got in and locked the door and collapsed against it. I couldn’t believe what happened. Adrenaline was blasting through my veins. I was scared and exhilarated at the same time.” She also felt something she had never felt before: powerful. She had always been a victim, and for the first time ever she was not.
Still, a murder had been committed, it was only a matter of time before the police showed up at her door. Or so she thought. They never came. The detective in charge of the case told me that was because victim number 1 “was a scumbag with a rap sheet as thick as my arm”, so the overworked precinct staff didn’t put much effort into finding the person responsible for putting him down.
Nancy didn’t think she’d kill again. She didn’t feel the desire to—that first time was self-defense, happening in the heat of a moment not likely to reoccur. Or so she thought. But, she’s been a victim all her life, a self-described magnet for abuse. It’s not long before she starts to feel powerless again—a helpless little girl in a cold, cruel world.
She’s walking home in the dark again, four weeks later. This time she gets propositioned by a drunkard who assumes she’s a lady of the night. Normally she would just ignore such a thing, but this time she stops. The drunk stumbles close, helps himself to a feel while repeating his offer. She says yes, takes him into a nearby alley, then walks out some time later. The police find the body the next day, same as the last: staring up into space with a pen shoved through the eye and into the brain.
Now, the cops have a serial killer on their hands, and Nancy has a taste for the power that murder brings, as well as a method for luring in prey. She’s smart though, smart enough to wait until the heat dies down, until she feels powerless again, then goes in search of another lecherous drunk who’s less interested in safety than sex. It takes a while, but victim number 3 eventually gets bagged.
It’s not a satisfying kill, though. The sense of power isn't as strong as it was before, probably because number 3 didn’t deserve to die. She approached him, for one, not the other way around. It also took a lot of convincing for him to agree to walk away with her. He seemed like a nice guy and didn’t do her any wrong, but she needed to kill and there was no one else available. She attributes this to her being overly cautious; she didn’t want to get caught or worse, so she stuck to isolated places that weren’t particularly dangerous. On the plus side, she learns that she still has a conscience and can’t kill indiscriminately. It needs to be justifiable; the victim needs to be a creep.
But she has to wait. As much as she wants to find that creep, she can’t be stupid. She has to wait until the newspapers and police move onto something else. That means no murder for a few months, but eventually she feels confident enough to try again. This time she goes to a dank club where men slip chemicals into the drinks of naive college girls. It’s much easier finding a mark this time, almost immediately some scumbag makes a proposition while staring deeply into her partially exposed chest.
She takes him to a sleazy motel, the kind of place that doesn’t keep records but does have hourly rates. They get inside the room, she gets on top until he stops moving, then slips out the back door. Victim number 4 provides the final template, which is used to secure 5, 6, and 7. Obviously she makes enough changes to ensure her continued freedom—a different bar, a different motel, even a different city—but there are some things that can never be expected or controlled.
For example, sometimes the sleazy by-the-hour motel is sleazier than you expect. Sometimes every room is wired with hidden cameras so the owners can sell home-made porn on the side. And sometimes those cameras get a clear shot of your face just before you kill a man by stabbing a pen through his eye and into his brain.
That’s how Nancy ended up in prison. She confesses to me that she feels more powerless than ever before. She’d love to kill one last time to make the feeling go away.
She stands and stretches, arching her back, reaching her hands up to the sky. Her head falls back, her long hair follows, revealing an elegant neck. A husky sigh escapes her lips as the jumpsuit stretches, outlining the tantalizing shape of the body that has led seven men to their demise.
Suddenly, she’s on top of me, my pen less than an inch away from my eye. The guards burst in and drag her away. She makes eye contact and shows me that smile one last time.