Friday, June 25, 2010

week eleven: god and the noose*

“You look into my eyes and you see a man. You see a man with bags under his eyes because he can't sleep anymore. You see a man who doesn't shave unless he feels like it. You see a man covered in tattoos and scars from God-knows-where. You see a man locked away and dressed in orange. You see a prisoner trapped in a damp and lonely cell and you feel no sympathy for him. He must not have a soul because of what he did and he deserves what he's getting. That's what you see when you look into my eyes. You see my tears and you assume things about them. You assume they're tears of fear for my fate yet to come.

“But you are so wrong.

“I look into my eyes and I don't see a man. I see a boy. This boy misses the days when he could be outside to play free and do what he wants. He never got the chance to really grow up. A long time ago, he made a mistake, a terrible mistake and now he has to pay for it with his life. He's there right now, looking in the mirror into his own eyes. He sees something that may be worth saving. But why don't they see it? Why can't they see that I'm a human being? I'm sorry for what I did! I'm not a monster, just a man who screwed up.”

Father Heller straightened his glasses and drew in a deep breath before he replied, “I don't see you as a monster; I see you as someone who needs help from God. Take His hand, Arthur, and offer repentance, and he will stay his judgment. You have a chance now.”

“There is no god, father.”

“But of course there is. He made me and He made you.”

“He made me? Ha, I don't think a pure god like the one you talk about would make a psychopath like me.”

“God knows you made a mistake, child, but He is willing to forgive you. I have made mistakes, too I-”

“What, you and the alter boys, then?”

Father Heller rolled his eyes, “No, not like that, my child. I think you know what I mean.”

“Look, I'm not doing it, I'm not saying any prayer or nothing. It's a lost cause, so don't bother.”

Father Heller looked at his watch and realized how much time he had, “Would you prefer to talk about something else?”

“Like what, how the food sucks here?”

“If you would rather, we could discuss the weather.”

“Pfft, is that all you priests talk about? God and the weather?”

“Sometimes we talk about sports.”

“Oh yeah?”

“You don't seem frightened at all.”

“And why should I be afraid? I've been afraid my whole life. That's why I think I did it; because I was afraid. After I did, that's when my life was over. It's not ending today, it's just... I don't know.”

“I think you are afraid, Arthur, you're just too afraid to admit it.”

“In a place like this, it takes a lot more than rope to scare me.”

“But it's so much more than rope, Arth-”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's eternal damnation and hellfire and-”

“That's not really what I meant,” Father Heller chuckled. “I meant that there will be witnesses, including myself. I'll be there to pray for you.”

“Save your breath.”

“Since it is your belief not to pray, then don't. It is, however, my belief to pray and I will. I would hope that you have sense to respect that.”


“You're a difficult one.”

“Yeah? You think you know me? What else do you know about me?”

“I know that you're intelligent. I know that you're stubborn. And I know that you need guidance.”

“And you're going to give it to me?”

“I also know that you're afraid.”

“Ugh, you and that 'afraid' thing. For the last time, I'm not afraid of dying.”

“Maybe not; maybe you're afraid of something else. If you weren't afraid, then why are you shaking?”

“You would be too if you were headed straight to the gallows.”

“If it's not fear, then what is it?”

“God, I don't know. I don't know anything at all.”

Father Heller stands up and places his hand on the inmate, “If you won't seek comfort from God, then might I offer my own comfort?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I wish it wasn't the case, but your death is near. It will be quick and it will be over soon. If you're right about your beliefs, then misery will be over soon for you.”

The guards open the cell and pick up the inmate by the arms, “Come on, it's time,” they say.

“Oh, God, oh God, oh God! No, no, no! I don't want it!”

Father Heller follows them and says, “There is still time, Arthur, God loves you!”

“If God loved me, he would save my life now!”

“And he will! He waits for you in His Kingdom.”

“His Kingdom is as much of a lie as this life!”

“If this life is a lie, then why do you fear for it?”

“I don't know! Oh, God! Oh! No, no!” They cover his head and put his neck in the noose. “No!”

Father Heller closes his eyes and recites the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is My shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen”

When he finishes, the warden asks of the damned, “Are there any last words from the accused?”

There is a silence. Nothing happens. Everyone shares an uneasy glance. But suddenly, it's shattered by the inmate's muffled cries, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned! Hallowed be Thy name! Let Thy Kingdom come and take my soul into Your hands!” The executioner pulls the lever and down the condemned goes. His neck snaps as he throbs and kicks furiously. It stops and his body hangs, but his soul is departed.

Father Heller feels remorse, but also a glimmer of joy, for he believes that the inmate rests forever in heaven. The prison warden asks of Father Heller, “Looks like you really got to that one, eh, Father?”

“No,” Heller says, “He got to me.”

**A second-draft remake will be posted as some point in the following weeks!

Friday, June 18, 2010

week ten: the ghost of passchendaele

(Warning: this story contains strong language.)

It's an open field. Open, dirty, and plain; at least at first glance. There's a man standing on the field with an expression of remorseful nostalgia. He's been here before and it haunts him. You can see it in his eyes. He walks around trying to get a sense of place. He extends his arms and closes his eyes. After licking his lip, he shows a look of accomplishment, but not one with triumph or a smile. It's somewhere he never wants to go back to, but he is here because he must be. This man has to tell his story.

And so he begins, “This is it. This is where my foxhole was. I remember it was here because of that tree over there. It's so much bigger now. You didn't see many trees. Most of them got hit by artillery or got shot, but this one got through it alright. I mean, it was shot and all, but it stood. And it's green now. Everything was so brown then, so colourless. Nothing grew during it all. War isn't a time for growing, it's not a time for life. It's a time for killing.”

He takes a few minutes and then hesitantly moves from his spot. Swallowing, he continues, “It was October 12th, 1917, when our commanders finally blew the whistle. The war was going slowly. Neither side made much progress because trench warfare is built on waiting. You build all this stuff and dig as deep as you can because sometime or another the other guy has to try to come get you. But there you are with your machine guns and your snipers and your barbed wire and your land mines and your- and your-” he pulls out a flask, probably containing whiskey, and drinks from it, “There's so much. It's hard to keep it all in perspective. Back then, though, we had to know it all. Because any which part of it could kill you whenever it pleased.”

The man puts his whiskey away and wipes his mouth with his hand. He coughed, “You know, there's a time when you sit down there and forget what you are. You know you're scared and you know you want out of there, but then comes the part when you stop questioning why. You stop looking for purpose and soon, even you refer to yourself as private. Sometimes the officers threw in our last names, but that was only if they knew it. When I figured this out, I remember pretty clearly, I had this notebook; very small, I don't remember exactly why I brought it. But I would start writing my name and I would do it every day. I wrote it with everything I could remember:

Private Thomas Shane Holdsworth, British Second Army, from London. Father is William Thomas Holdsworth and mother is Bridgett Shane Holdsworth. His sister is Lillian Holdsworth.

“Sometimes I'd put down more than that, like the name of my dog or my address. I held onto something, though. Everybody there had something. Some guys had some stupid good luck charm or a picture of their girlfriends. I just had my goddamned notebook,” he shrugs as he reaches into his jacket and withdraws a cigarette. Tom lights it and takes a few puffs.

His smoke break is over and so is his tangent, “Our trench is over there. I thought they were crazy when they told us to charge in the rain and mud. But we did. Nobody in my company was going to disobey orders. We were good men, all of us. But pushing on was slow and hard work. There was so much mud; so much fucking mud. The foxholes were the worst though. Because of the rain they were more like pools; brown, muddy pools. If you wanted to be in a foxhole, which you would unless you were mad, you would have to be almost waist deep in water to be fully covered. That deep and you've got to make sure your pack and matches stay dry. A lot of stuff was wasted because it got wet.

“The krauts were raining bullets at us as we tried to charge them. The further we got, the more scattered we were, and the easier it was to pick us off one by one. One by fucking one,” he pauses to think it over. “I remember, it was Dylan who I saw shot first. There's something unforgettable about seeing a friend die. Suddenly he's there then he's not. I mean, he's there, but he's empty. He's dead. Shit, I don't know. You don't know either. You don't unless you've been there and even then you still don't really know,” he realizes then that's getting worked up. So Tom stops and he smokes some more. It seems to calm him.

“You can't be in this though and not know you're going to die. You also have to know that your friends are going to die too. But there isn't any amount of mental preparation that can get you ready for this. I guess it helps making yourself ready. Even just the noise would have scared me off if I wasn't at least a little ready. A gun is a loud thing. At basic training, it scared the hell out of me when I shot my Lee-Enfield rifle for the first time. It scared me so bad that I dropped it. The instructor had it out for me after that,” Tom laughs a small laugh. “But the battlefield is different. There's our rifles and there's their rifles. And then there are the grenades and then artillery and the machine guns... oh, God, the machine guns. One of my greatest fears was to be on the front end of one of those,” he stops and sips his whiskey some more.

“We charged and I got to my foxhole, already soaked and dirty, but being in that sure didn't help matters. There was a man with me, Private Smith. I didn't know Smith very well, but he got mud in his receiver and his rifle had all sorts of trouble I had to help him with. I remember how he died. He stood up to take a shot, but it misfired. When he started to try to fix it, I guess he forgot to get back in cover. His blood fell onto my face like the rain. And then the body fell straight back and went into the water. Lost. I never saw his face again. He was totally under it. It kills me now that I think about it too because what if he was still alive and the poor bastard drowned in there?”

Tom closes his eyes and sits down on a nearby rock. He starts on a second cigarette, “I shot three guys that day. I don't remember their faces, they were just men with helmets. I wish I did though. Some part of me wants to believe I had killed human beings. It's sad to me that I have to convince myself of that because that other part of me wants me to think I was killing those animals on those posters. The Huns. They aren't mindless Huns though. I think it's just the part of me, or maybe, I don't know. I guess it's just some kind of stupid honor. Don't tell me it's better to think of my enemy as Huns; I know that. I should absolutely want to kill them and never let myself overthink it. I can't just erase them though. Some poor kraut bastard probably has a stupid notebook like I do where he writes his name. This kraut has a family and a sister and they're all going to cry when they hear he's fucking dead.

“Do you see where I'm going with this? I was thinking a while back about all this shit. What if I didn't have a family back home to cry for me? Who would cry for me then? Nobody,” he sighs and then throws his arms in that air, “I can't explain this well enough. I want to cry for that poor Jerry sod over there because maybe, just maybe, nobody else will. War is no place for humanity, its a place where we take everything inhumane and leave it. We fight for humanity. I guess I just want to remember what I'm fighting for out there, you know?”

Tom sighs again, “The saddest part about all of this is that it doesn't matter. For all the times I wrote down the names in my notebook, or said prayers on my rosary for me, my company, my family, and my enemies, it still doesn't matter. I remember how it happened, but I try to forget. I had just reloaded my Lee-Enfield rifle and I popped out to take a shot. I could hear the sergeant screaming something or another and men dying and of course the guns roaring over it all. I remember seeing down my sights and taking a bit longer than I should have. I remember seeing red splatter everywhere before me and then I couldn't see anymore. I couldn't feel anything. There wasn't pain. I couldn't feel. Everything was fading away. They told me that there's a light, but it's only dark. It's only dark and it's cold; so cold. I fell back into the water with Smith.

“I died that day. October 12th, 1917, the First Battle of Passchendaele. It was a gunshot wound straight to the head; went right under my helmet and killed me near-instant.”

Remorse fills the tears he cries, “Now I'm here. I'm forever here on the plains of Passchendaele. We wound up losing that battle and I can't help but feeling like I died in vain. You know, though, when you look at it, every last man who has ever died in any war dies in vain. I'm not saying they aren't heroes or whatnot, but I am saying that their lives were wasted. Look at me. I could have lived past nineteen and led some kind of successful life, but instead I died for a war that we really still can't understand exactly what it was about. War is, obviously, an atrocity. It shouldn't happen. It shouldn't happen at all, but it does, and men like me die over it. Some of us die horrible agonizing deaths with the gas or a bleed, some of us are lucky like me and die fast. But we're dead. We're proud to be dead because we died for our countries.

“The question that keeps me up, though, did we have to? Wars happen and none of them are ever for the right reason. The good guys fight to stop the bad guys, but the bad guys always think they're the good guys. I don't know. It's irritating to think about that, but the point is that war is inevitable but in good theory, we could have prevented it and nobody would have had to die. I could be alive out there and probably have a wife and some kids by now.

“But some politicians out there decided it was time to let young people out there die. If there was any justice in the world, the politicians would take up rifles and fight with us, but there isn't justice. There are only dead men laying in flooded foxholes.”

Tom puts out his cigarette and then stands again. He looks out onto the horizon and takes a deep breath. His time is short,so he finishes, “Don't let people forget what happened here. Don't let the world forget places like Passchendaele. Maybe one day people will learn the hell that happens. I know they won't. It's like this war, 'the war to end all wars,' which is the biggest load of shit I've heard all my life; there will always be another war. It's a battle that's always going to be fought and never won. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try though, because I'd like to believe that my life is worth trying for.”

Author's note: I've made a few comments about the inclusion of cursing in my work here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

week nine: why i write

This is my first attempt at an autobiographical piece. You see autobiographies on shelves and they're usually these pretentious pieces about people in high places, you know, people who have actually accomplished something in life. I've never read a full autobiography nor have I felt the need to. For one, I never felt like I could relate to any of the people telling their stories. Second, I always felt like it was arrogant to publish a book about yourself. With that in mind, I've never written nor read any full autobiographies.

I've read a few pieces of autobiography and I find that I'm generally right on the first account; I can't relate to the author. On the second account, I'm also generally right. Just because you made it big doesn't mean there's anything for us to gain by reading about it. In fact, a lot the big-name autobiographies are pure publicity. That's a pretty prickish move, but I digress. Anyway, this isn't a publicity pull or a story of how I somehow conquered adversity. It's just a simple look at part of my life and, as the title suggests, why I write. Take it in just as you would one of the weekly short stories.

I grew up in Brazil. I lived there since I was five years old. I spent seven years in a city called Aracaju on the northeastern coast. Those seven years, at least from were I stand, can easily be described as hot, dull, and wasted. I don't say that lightly, but I was a homeschooled kid without any friends and nothing better to do than spend hours on the computer. It is, however, where I begin to foster my imagination. My parents and sister will, without hesitation, tell you how I used to play quite loudly with my action figures and talk to myself. To the outside observer, I imagine I looked something like a psychopath. An obnoxious one. I wasn't just playing though. I didn't really know it at the time, but I was writing my first stories. They never made it on paper, but I almost never played Star Wars with my Star Wars figures, no, they were the actors in tales of my own.

Eventually we moved to the more populous Sao Paulo, where I was forced into turning social. I was twelve when we moved and I went from socially isolated to fighting off the jackals that are middle-schoolers. It's safe to say that I wasn't liked. My imagination poured out in the worst of ways and people didn't exactly understand. I'd still talk to myself a little bit, I guess part of it being I had no one else to talk to. It doesn't matter though because that was when I started writing. All of it was crappy fanfiction, mostly Star Trek I think.

As high school came, I learned how to use my eccentricities to my advantage. I became known as a ballsy funnyman who knew how to act, write, and do video. My creative energies went purely to video work for a while. I was good at it too, I even made my way to being in an award-winning group. I've stopped with that for now, though, so I can focus on what I really love: writing. I didn't exactly realize it then. I had imaginings of being the next Steven Spielberg or Wes Anderson for a while. But writing was there the whole time. I was frequently asked to write things, for instance I wrote the script for the biggest completely student-run play and I edited the student paper. Not that either of those were particularly good, but it was there. It's like I didn't see it.

Then comes college. I still wanted to do film-related stuff, or maybe theater, and maybe I could write on the side. I was put in a school where there isn't an artistic film program and there is theater, but I wasn't totally sure. I considered communications for a while. All the while I was doing this, I had my first girlfriend. It was a fun relationship and I learned from the experience. Since I had a bit more free time, I started writing a lot more in my spare time. Finally, it was original stuff. My girlfriend never read any of it though or really cared about it, despite whatever enthusiasm I had. That hurt, but I was finally writing under adversity, which is essential.

I went into depression between my first and second semesters. Somehow, I think that helped me write a bit more. I was feeling more and for some reason I took a bit more pleasure from the expression. I could get all the anger or sadness onto paper. The depression was made a lot worse when my girlfriend chose to break up with me. My heart was broken and it hurt. I still think I'm recovering in some way. It was a life-changing experience, especially when she tried to explain it. She mentioned my writing as one reason it wouldn't work. I needed someone who could read and appreciate my work. I never considered that as essential, but it was.

When I entered therapy and started getting real help for the depression, I had to break myself down and re-examine just who I am. A lot of things had to be purged and I had to set my priorities straight. I was broken. I looked down at the pieces and I saw them reflecting my image. It wasn't pretty, but it was necessary. When I saw what mattered down there, I saw everything I had written and everything I planned on writing. When I put the pieces together again, the picture was so much clearer. I am a writer. It wasn't long before I started Story a Week and sent off a piece in hopes of publication. I declared an English major and all the cards are on the table.

I don't write because I like to write or because it's fun. I don't write because I have good ideas or because people think I'm good at it. Those things all make it easier. I write because I have to. I write for the same reason that I eat and breathe. I just have to and I don't question it. I've been doing it for a long time, but I never really noticed it, much the same way we breathe and don't question it. I'm writing to live. When I finally realized how essential writing is to my life, I came to the conclusion that if I'm going to live this written life, I had better do it the best I know how. You only get one life and if it sucked, that's that. I'm going to write the best stuff I know how. It doesn't matter if anyone reads it or not. I sincerely hope that they do, but readers aren't why I write. My writing is for me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Writer's Wife

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This a note intended for Facebook. I didn't write this with the intention of putting it here, but I feel like it relates.

This won't be as good as I had planned it. I accidentally hit the back button and lost all of it, so I'm afraid I can't give the quality I had ready. Sorry.

It hasn't even been half a year since I started seriously writing. Things could change. They seem to do that a lot. This information is important.

Most of you reading this probably know already that I like pouring out my heart. I want people to see me and learn from me. One of my greatest hopes is that people can read what I write and listen to what I say and take something away from it. My hopes with this article? I'm not sure yet. Read on.

Anyway, as a writer, I decided very early on that I wanted to be as self-taught as possible. I want to have my own curriculum of influences and teachers. That said, I've been reading books on writing to learn from the best. All of these books have been helpful in one way or another, but there is one stands out in particular and that is Stephen King's On Writing.

King uses this book to not only show us what he knows, but also what makes him tick. We see his life story and how it relates to his writing. It's both a memoir and a manual. Never has there been a writing book this helpful since Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. King has one element Strunk and White do not and that is humanity. I could on about King's book, but I'd wind up boring you. You don't want to hear about that.

There's one topic that really got to me. No, it isn't how to construct good dialogue, it's King's wife, Tabitha. Tabitha encouraged Stephen through the entire process and it's a fact that King's breakout novel, Carrie, would not exist if it weren't for her. It would be sitting in the trash somewhere without her encouragement.

There's one story that stood out in particular, though. I'm not going to quote it exactly, I'm going to give you my summarized version.

To start out, the King's were a poor family. They had kids and pretty much no income. Stephen worked as an English teacher, which still means low pay. Luck, however, eventually comes along. He was offered a side-job at the school, which would pay them a substantial amount (at least for the King's) more.

Being a good husband, Stephen decided to talk this over with Tabitha. He told her about it and she listened. I am completely confident that just about any woman would have almost immediately told him that he should take it. After all, groceries don't pay for themselves. And plus, who couldn't use a little extra money?

Tabitha's only question, "Will you still have time to write?"

"Yeah, but not nearly as much."

"Then you can't take it."

And that was it. She turned down hard cash so he could pursue what a lot of people see as a meaningless hobby. In fact, that's about all it was at the time. He wasn't putting out novels that sell to publishers for four-hundred grand yet. No, he just did it in his study practically for fun. Her decision was not based on money, it was based on love.

After reading as much about King as I could, I learned a lot about myself and my writing. Learning should be introspective. Through learning to write, I've learned what my goals and expectations should be in life. I have a path before me now.

But on that path, I want someone there with me. We all do. If there's one thing, though, that I'm looking for in that someone, it's that she can read what I write, like it, and encourage me to do more. I want what Stephen King described in Tabitha. I think the word used in this situation most is "supportive." But, I feel like there's more here and that "supportive" doesn't quite cover it all. Hopefully, the above story speaks for itself.

I just wanted to share this because it's been on my mind a lot lately. I've had a lot of time to think lately and the best way I know to concrete thoughts is to write them and share them. I hope I've given you more than just words.

To my future wife, maybe you're reading this right now. Maybe you're thinking "Oh, that's nice, hope he gets a good one" or maybe "I can do that!" or maybe even "Wes... you're such a loser." Just wanted to say... I love you already.

--WA Julian

Friday, June 4, 2010

week eight: comatose

As always, spending a night on the town with his girl induced unique joy in the heart of Jim Heller. The crisp, cool early Autumn air fed into their romantic frolicking. Dinner at a local Italian restaurant proved itself quite successful, as Jim even managed to avoid the marinara sauce staining his thoroughly white shirt. The food, however, lost luster in comparison to the fine companionship found in the woman he loved. Penelope McCormick: strikingly beautiful with hair like the leaves of fall, and eyes like those of spring. Everything that Jim could hope for in a woman was found in Penelope.

Throughout their schooling, Jim fascinated himself with Penelope. While he hid in the background, she drew the attention of so many others. Long did he consider it hopeless that the perfect girl, who possessed the rarely-found gift of choice, could ever love a nobody like Jim Heller. In a quizzical blend of courage and aloofness, Jim found himself telling Penelope of his feelings for her. To his surprise, she returned the interest and their relationship began. And soon, this bond of romantic friendship blossomed into love.

They held hands as they walked through the bustling activity and brightly festive downtown. The town lights brilliantly advertised products of every liking and delicacy. Times Square, 1966: a place of expanding promise, capitalist temptation, and carefree enjoyment. Jim and Penelope together found it oddly romantic and nothing short of the perfect place to enjoy their time together. They found a bench and she put herself against him as his arm went around her shoulder. Closing their eyes, the world became whole in their hearts. To put this moment in the most bromidic of manners: nothing else mattered, nothing but their love and each other.

After working up a considerable amount of courage, this time the wisest and truest of all courage, Jim released his lover and stood from the bench. In confusion, Penelope pondered to herself why her lover stood. The moment was one that even those most deaf to emotion knew not to break with silence and to Penelope, emotion blared, so she remained quiet. Her answer came to her in the best of ways as Jim took a knee and a heartfelt, but subtle smile. Penelope's hand reached her gaping mouth in surprise. Carefully, she listened as Jim asked of her, “Penelope, I love you so, so much. I want all of this, the love, the time together to never end. You are so beautiful and I'd be a fool to pass you up. Penelope McCormick, will you marry me?”

Words escaped her. One simple word needed to come. Penelope stood to her feet and with a tear of a joy, she exclaimed, “Yes! Yes!” Jim helped to put the diamond ring on her finger and then he stood. Their eyes shared a moment of connection and at last, they pressed their lips together. Many things are lost in the abyss of time and memory, but not this kiss; it stands forever. When they finished, celebration was in order. A wine perhaps? It mattered not. The pressing need to just go somewhere filled the air. Again, their hands joined and they were off.

They were so carefree that they went to the street caring not for whatever might oppose them. First to realize this mistake, Jim looked to his left and saw the headlights. His first, and only thought was to Penelope. He pushed her out of the way. The two lights and the blaring horn signaled the impact as the car slammed through his body. Jim flew through the air and rolled on the pavement. The world faded away as he saw Penelope over him crying, “Jim! Jim!”

Existence disappeared.

He awoke to the presence of literally everyone he knew. They stood around his bed in a darkened room, looking upon him with remorseful expressions. Jim knew not where he lay, but instantly he knew he did not like it. At the center stood Penelope and his mother. None seemed to be phased by the fact that he had survived his car crash. Something from within kept Jim from speaking. It could then only be assumed that the same thing stopped all around him from doing the same. Fear and confusion flooded his mind, which struggled to ascertain time or place.

When Jim closed his eyes, the people vanished and suddenly, no longer did he lie. The surreal grew to a point of absolution, with the only reality being the man before him. A nondescript man sat before him in an equally nondescript chair. No room provided occupancy, only an empty void. Overwhelmed, Jim fell back and landed in a chair like the plain man, who told him, “Relax.”

Jim replied with nothing but a look of confusion and to an extent, despair.

“Relax, there is nothing you can do but relax now,” the man poured him a glass of water. “Drink.”

Jim took the glass and drank. His composure stitched itself together and at last he asked, “Am I dead?”

“If you were dead, would we be talking?”

“Then where am I?”

“You're nowhere. This place isn't real.”

“Not real?”

“That's right,” the man answered. “This is the only place you can be right now. You've lost your connection with the world and now you're reconciling by making them in your mind.”

“I don't understand.”

“Give it time and you might, but you might not. Either way is fine, because neither way really matters.”

Jim shook his head and took another sip, “Who are you?”

“I am just like this place. I'm not real, therefore, I'm no one. You needn't worry about who I am.”

Taking him at his advice, Jim tried then to pick up the pieces. He saw flashes of the night before. Penelope smiled at him from across the table and then again said yes at the bench. Then the headlights blinded him before he flew through the air. Last he saw her panicking face before he knew to ask, “What about Penelope?”

“She's fine, but she's broken up about you. You mean the world to her.”

“She means the world to me.”

“I know.”

Jim drank some more, “Where is she?”

“She's with you now.”

Jim looked around, “No, she isn't.”

“Yes, she is, you just don't know it.”

“How can I not know it?”

“The car crash didn't kill you, Jim, but your mind has been severed from your body. The world, time, place, none of it matters now.”

“I don't understand.”

“It's okay.”

Jim sat back in his chair and sighed, “But who are you?”

“I'm the closest thing you have to a link to the outside world. I am, for a lack of a better word, your subconscious. I can hear everything that goes on and I keep you breathing, but I am passive.”

“So you can hear Penelope? What is she saying?”

“She's reading your favorite book to you, Catcher in the Rye, she's about halfway through.”

Jim smiled.

“She's been coming in for weeks now, talking to you.”

“But I can't say anything back?”

“No, I'm afraid you can't. Your mind has only just started letting you actually think more than just the subconscious, much less move any of your body.”

“Oh,” Jim stopped smiling. “I'll be out of this soon then.”

“No one can say when you'll awaken, for now, all you have is this.”


“We're in your mind.”

“I'm dreaming?”

“So to speak, yes, you are, but this is the only reality that you have right now. Embrace it.”

Jim found no understanding as he tried to wrap himself around all of it. He found it exerting.

“Your mind is tired, Jim. It's time for you to rest.”

Jim nodded and the closed his eyes. He had many more questions, but exhaustion overtook him.

When he awoke again, Jim found himself in the same place with the same man. Nothing seemed to have changed and everything stood in timelessness. He had hoped that after this rest, he and Penelope would reunite. Instead, he returned to this strange place. Jim asked, “What's happened? Outside, I mean.”

“I can't say how long it's been, but Penelope finished Catcher in the Rye and then she read through The Things They Carried, now she's reading Heart of Darkness and she's about a fourth of the way through.”

Jim laughed, “She should put that away, she hates that book!”

“She hasn't missed a single day in visiting you.”

“It must have been months then that she's been coming. What has she talked about?”

The man's face was saddened, “She talks of how she misses you and how she'll never leave you. She loves you much. Sometimes she gets on the bed and just lays with you. I wish you could feel how she holds your hand. There is so much hope in her voice. People tell her that she should move on, but she is faithful.”

This made Jim smile and a tear came to his eye, “I want to be with her.”

“You are.”

The tear dropped, “But not like this. Not like this.”

“I know, but one day you'll be free. One can only hope.”

“I need to be out of here.”

“You are lucky to be alive, Jim, and healing takes time. Let it run its course.”

Jim nodded and then closed his eyes again. Periodically, he would open them again and the man would still be there. They talked of many things, mostly things stored in his mind. He entertained himself to pass time, which was still lost. Mostly, however, they talked of Penelope, who never stopped visiting day by day. Jim was glad at this, up until a certain point.

“She needs to move on,” Jim told the man.

“Why? She still loves you and you love her.”

“It's been years now,” Jim started to cry again. “It must have been years. She's read so many books now that I've lost count. I appreciate it, but she can't love a man who can't love her back.”

“You do love her.”

“I can't show it to her, I can't give back!”

“Perhaps just being there for her to talk to is enough.”

“It isn't! It can't be! I don't want that for her! I want her to find someone and to be happy with him because I can't make her happy any more. All I have left is false hope and sorrow,” Jim sobbed. “She needs to move on. She needs to go on without me.”

“She doesn't want to, Jim.”

“I don't want to be here, but that's just how it is. She doesn't want to move on, but that's the best thing for her. She's so beautiful, she can't waste it on a vegetable that can't appreciate it.”

The subconscious said nothing as Jim went back to into his sleep. He slept for a long time, longer than ever before.

When he awoke again, he was surrounded by utter darkness. The man no longer sat before him because there was nothing. Jim panicked and then felt that he was in his own body again. He grinned before realizing his situation. He lay straight and then when he tried to sit up, he head met a soft roof less than six inches above him. Trapped! A box? No, a coffin. Jim squirmed and fought as he knew he could not be dead! He yelled and screamed, tossed and turned, and breathed hard. As the air escaped him and thought he had found his dying breath, the coffin opened. Jim squinted for it was bright.

When he opened them again, he found himself in a strange room. It did not take him long to realize that he was lying in a hospital bed. Everything was different, it was almost as if he was aboard a spaceship. The equipment in the room seemed so different, but so advanced. How long had it been? Jim looked around him and saw that the room was empty. Sunlight crept through the window, indicating it must have been around midday, at least at Jim's estimation. For a few minutes, he said nothing and didn't try to call a nurse. Instead, he just tried to understand it all. He knew he had been in a coma, but had it really been so long?

A woman dressed in white suddenly entered the room. She saw Jim's wakened eyes and jumped in shock. He was awake! She instantly called, “Doctor! I think you better come in here!”

“Where am I?” Jim asked.

“You're in a hospital, Jim, you've been out for a long time.”

“How long?”

The nurse looked down at the floor.

“Well?” a pause. “How long?”

“It's been thirty-eight years.”

“Thirty-eight years?” Jim's eyes went wide. He just couldn't grasp it. Thirty-eight years? Last he remembered, he had proposed to Penelope at age twenty-three, so he must be fifty-one. Fifty-one. “Oh, God!”

An older man wearing a lab coat stepped through the door and asked the nurse, “What did you tell him?”

“Just how long it's been and where he is.”

He nodded to her and she left. The doctor turned to Jim and told him, “Listen, you need to stay calm. Your mind is in a state of reboot right now and-”


“Oh, I'm sorry,” the doctor realized that 'reboot' probably didn't mean anything to someone who couldn't quite grasp that he no longer lived in the 60's. He snapped his finger and traded his words, “Your mind isn't used to working very hard right now. You need to give it time to get back up to speed. Don't try to think too hard.”

“How can I not th-?” it hit him, “Penelope? Where is she?”

“She comes by once every two weeks now,” the doctor told him. “Listen, I'm afraid I can't tell you too much, I could risk knocking you right back out. I'm going to have the nurse get you some food and then we can work from there.”

The doctor walked out of the room as Jim sat up. No ease came to him as he came up, but the effort proved worthwhile. He looked around the room and saw the things around him. Jim could honestly say that he recognized very little of the medical equipment. Too much, too much to take in all at once. Thirty-eight years tried to come to him in an instant.

“I have to see her,” Jim stood to his feet but quickly fell to the ground as he lost his balance. He hadn't walked in thirty-eight years. Somehow, his legs just couldn't do it.

The nurse burst in carrying a tray of food and exclaimed, “Oh, no!” She helped him back onto his bed and then fed him without saying much at all. The food was standard hospital fare, nothing special. One would think that a man gone for thirty-eight years would have cravings, but 1966 is Jim Heller's yesterday. The real and true yesterday never existed for Jim. There were a lot of forgotten yesterdays; too many to count.

The doctor came back in later in the day. Very carefully and very slowly, he tried to recount the last near-forty years to Jim. Lifetimes passed and there could be no assurance as to who lived and who had died. The internet, the end of the Cold War, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, globalization, and so many other things eluded his understanding. He felt like a time traveler who had gone into the future to get a glimpse of where life would go, but turning back could never happen. Time and its ramifications eluded him. Despite the doctor's best efforts to keep the history as objective as possible, Jim's questions always shifted back to his dear Penelope. But the doctor refused to let her come in. He told him to take things one step at a time. Time. Time was all he needed. That isn't how Jim saw it though. He saw that he had lost enough time already. Time he didn't know was there in the first place.

Fortunately, the next day brought better tidings. The doctor informed Jim that he had gotten in touch with Penelope and that she would be on her way. Worst of all was the wait, not the eery feeling that she wouldn't be who she was when he had proposed. Jim had gotten the chance to see himself in the mirror. It was haunting. His hair had grayed, his face had wrinkled, and he had gained weight. Jim Heller wasn't there, it was someone else. He had changed but it just didn't feel that way. The same man stared back at him through the mirror, but he was a twisted version of what should be.

When Penelope walked through the door, Jim saw that he was right. He didn't recognize her. Her hair had darkened and was highlighted with silver streaks, her face had wrinkled, and her once excellent figure was elderly and sagging. She wore a beaming smile on her face as she approached the bed. Jim returned it with a tear in his eye. He was both overjoyed and disappointed, not that she was ugly, bu that he had missed the chance to grow old and ugly with her. He had every intention of doing just that.

“Jim!” She sat at the chair beside him. “Oh, God, I can't believe it! It's been so long!”

Jim shook his head, “It's not even been a day to me.”

“I know,” she sighed, “This must seem so strange to you.”

“That doesn't even begin to describe it, Penny.”

Penelope reached over and held his hand. She bore a slight smile as a tear rolled down her cheek, “Oh, Jim, I waited for you for years. I waited so long. I came by every day to see you. I read you your favorite books.”

“I know.”

“You do? You heard?”

“I don't remember much,” he sighed. “It's like a dream, or a long gone memory but I have bits and pieces.”

“Jim,” she sobbed, “I could only wait so long. I'm married now.”

Those words pierced his heart like a sword through the thinnest fabric, or a nail through bread. His world shattered into the tiniest of pieces. All that he cared for and all that he wanted belonged to someone else. The friendships that he had spent the years of life cultivating would be long gone. There was nothing left in this world for Jim Heller. At very first thought, it was a feeling of betrayal. Jim tried his hardest to understand, but it felt as if she had cheated on him and run away after a night. But there she was, old and gone. At that moment, Jim wished he were dead.

Jim Heller never found true happiness in his life. He found a dead-end nine-to-five job somewhere and tried his best to scratch a living. It was hard for him because so many concepts taken for granted were alien to Jim. Eventually, however, he found himself in a unique position in that he could remember the 1960's as if they had just passed. The comatose was an asset to the nostalgic and the historians. Purpose was granted to him, but not happiness. Sometimes Jim would visit Penelope and her family, but these visits served only to remind him of the gaping hole in his heart. That tragic night, Jim Heller survived, but the Penelope he knew had died to him.

She remained faithful to him in a way that could never be what Jim wanted. Penelope was his rehabilitation. With delicacy and care, she helped him understand the world in which they lived. There was barely a snippet of what he remembered in the world. Jim couldn't understand the world and he had no friends left. Common ground was scarcely found for Jim, yet Jim Heller lives on today somewhere, still cobbling together a meager existence. He is admirable in that despite life running from him, he tries to catch up with every nth of effort. Despair and anguish attack him; giving up seems to be the most profitable alternative at times, but Jim lives on. And that's about all that can be done: live on. Live on despite the atrocities.

Live on.