Substitution

[23:47] <J0hnDo3> ”We're all nothing but the sum of our own lies.”
[23:47] <J0hnDo3> That was the last thing she said to me before she died. 
[23:47] <J0hnDo3> I don't know what she meant, but none of that matters anymore. 
[23:47] <J0hnDo3> Nothing does.

Her electric eyes in the dark. Four feet dangling from the familiar bridge.
Two bottles glittering in the synthetic lights of the city below.
”I can’t do this anymore.”

[23:48] <J0hnDo3> This room is dark and silent. The darkness is not something new, but the silence is. 
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> She was the talker, the player of music and games. 
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> Now there's just me, and I was always the quiet one. The thinker, the brooder. 
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> And nothing of that has changed, although everything else has.
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> I'm not sure if I'm drinking to honor her memory or to forget.

Give me your hand.”
A knife suddenly, without a smile, without a joke.
Something real, something since long weighing heavy
on solitary shoulders.
My confused hand in hers.
”Remember how we mixed blood as children?”

[23:49] <J0hnDo3> My computer is my only window to the outside world now, the only thing that grants importance to my days. 
[23:49] <J0hnDo3> She was always the outgoing one, the force that sometimes made me leave the virtual world for the physical. 
[23:49] <J0hnDo3> That force is gone now, and I have none of my own. Even less so now than before, actually.

Pain. The neon reflections in the blade, in the crimson liquid emerging from the paleness of my hand.
”See, your blood’s still red.”
Another scar, another wound. Glittering darkness like velvet quicksilver.
Little stars twinkling from the midnight oil in her cupped hand.
”Mine is not anymore.”

[23:51] <J0hnDo3> She always told me that we were going to change the world, one circuit at a time. We were going to salvage what was worth saving and tear down that which was not. 
[23:51] <J0hnDo3> Then we were going to stand by the crater and watch it all burn. 
[23:51] <J0hnDo3> She was on a crusade to steal it all back from the world's rightless powers and to uncover all their lies. 
[23:51] <J0hnDo3> I always followed, because as far as crusades go, she was mine.

I found something, Jonathan, and I went too deep. Now it is changing me.”
Eyes usually brave, defiant, now filled with fear – and something else not readily apparent without looking dangerously closely;
twinkling, twinkling little stars draped in mercury midnight oil.

[23:53] <J0hnDo3> I don't know where she got the gun, or why I still have it. It is a sick thing to have, right, and an even sicker thing to keep. 
[23:53] <J0hnDo3> I made a half-hearted attempt to clean it, but it still has specks of her burnt, dark blood all around the muzzle. It just won't come off. 
[23:53] <J0hnDo3> Well, it doesn't matter to me. It will do it's job again just as well anyway.

I can’t explain it. I’ve tried to understand what is happening, but I can’t.
I think I’m going mad.”
Three deep breaths, barely held back tears and panic.
”I can’t feel things like I used to, and I know things I shouldn’t know.
Like it’s someone else’s knowledge that I don’t know how I have.
And I have stopped sleeping, Jonathan.
I just lie there in the darkness, like in standby mode.
And the itching… I think there is something under my skin.
Something… not organic.”

[23:54] <J0hnDo3> When she met me on the bridge that night it was the first I saw of her in several days. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> I want to remember her as she was, not for the fear and panic and absence of her last three weeks. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> After she found that shit on the Tor dark web, that is. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> She never told me what it was, if it was tools or drugs or information. Perhaps all three of them. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> But whatever it was, it drove her mad and killed her. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> And one could say that indirectly it's now killing me too.

The knife is gone, and now there’s a gun.
Chrome surface reflecting the cityscape just as well as
eyes and bottles and blood ever did.
Panic in my mind suddenly.
”What are you doing with that? Put it away!”
I grab her hand tightly, feel pulsing red and black blood
intermingling between our palms.

[23:56] <J0hnDo3> I cannot stand this silence and darkness anymore. I cannot stand being on a crusade that means nothing to me now that she is gone. 
[23:56] <J0hnDo3> The world is so empty and pointless without her, not even worth burning or tearing down. 
[23:57] <J0hnDo3> I've realized that even if I didn't understand it at the time, this is why I kept the gun. Why I picked it up and hid it when the sirens approached. Why I lied about it when the police came by. 
[23:57] <J0hnDo3> Why I'm typing this with its chrome surface reflecting the blinking prompt on my screen.

I’m sorry, Jonathan. I can’t do this anymore. There’s a voice in my head, and it’s telling me things I don’t understand.
Things about me, about the world, about… About everything.
It’s never quiet, Johanthan – it’s never quiet!”
Words from my mouth, gestures of my hands, but they do not reach her.
I do not reach her.
Panic. Pleading. Tears. All mine now.
”Amanda, don’t do this. Please.”

She looks at me, stars twinkling clearly now in mercury midnight oil.
Some kind of calm suddenly.
”It’s all a lie, Jonathan. We’re all nothing but the sum of our own lies.”

And then the world explodes.

[23:58] <J0hnDo3> I don't know what she wanted to tell me, and I don't know why those last words plagued my dreams every night after that until I stopped sleeping and feeling altogether. 
[23:58] <J0hnDo3> My hand hasn't healed well either – did she infect me with something? I keep hearing her voice inside my head and I think I'm going mad as well. 
[23:59] <J0hnDo3> But none of that matters anymore. Nothing does. I feel like a mangled hard drive that's slowly being written over, and I actually don't care.
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> I'm not even sure why I'm writing this. I guess I just wanted to leave a piece of me somewhere out there, before there are pieces of me everywhere so to speak. Perhaps someone will hear the shot and find me before things get too nasty. Or perhaps not. 
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> And perhaps nobody will ever even enter this old channel and read this crap anyway. 
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> But if you do, well, consider this my letter of resignation. To the crusade, to life, to everything. 
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> Goodbye, World.
[00:00] <Am&_A> Don't.
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> ???
[00:01] <J0hnDo3> Wtf who is this? This is not funny.
[00:02] <Am&_A> Just don't, Jonathan. You'll regret it. I know.
[00:02] <J0hnDo3> Amanda? Is that really you?
[00:02] <J0hnDo3> How? You died. I saw you die.
[00:02] <J0hnDo3> Amanda??
[00:04] <Am&_A> There's still so much that you don't understand, and it will get worse. I'm sorry.
[00:04] <J0hnDo3> What? For what? Amanda, where are you??
[00:05] <J0hnDo3> ????
[00:06] <Am&_A> Here. Or, I don't know. I'm not sure. Everywhere.
[00:06] <J0hnDo3> What the hell's that supposed to mean???
[00:07] <J0hnDo3> ???
[00:09] <Am&_A> I hear it has started for you too. It's my fault. I didn't know.
[00:09] <J0hnDo3> KNOW WHAT?? Amanda, please!
[00:10] <Am&_A> There's a place downtown called Cellar Door. 
[00:10] <Am&_A> It's a bar. Don't ask me how I know this. 
[00:10] <Am&_A> Go there. Ask for Vincent. 
[00:10] <Am&_A> He will explain everything.
[00:10] <J0hnDo3> What is this, the fucking Matrix??
[00:10] <J0hnDo3> Hello?
[00:11] <J0hnDo3> Amanda??
[00:13] <J0hnDo3> Amanda, please don't leave me again.
[00:14] <J0hnDo3> Please
[00:21] <J0hnDo3> Amanda?
[00:33] <J0hnDo3> Ok then. Fine. Fuck it. I'll go there.

[04:47] == J0hnDo3 has quit [Ping timeout: 264 seconds]

We’re all nothing but the sum of our own lies.

That was the last thing she said to me before she was gone.
Gone, not dead. Because that’s not how the world works anymore.
Perhaps it never really worked that way, but I was too blind to see it.
Well, I don’t want to be blind anymore.

And if we’re all the sum of our own lies,
I want to know what those lies are.
Because my blood’s not red anymore either, and the voices…
the voices are never quiet.

Twinkle, twinkle, more and more
let’s go down that Cellar Door.

Chris Smedbakken, 2018-02-16

This story was written in response to a title writing prompt, 

It is also highly inspired by a dark urban folklore/RPG setting created by my good friend Stellawainwright. Check out his site, will yah?

I have, by the way, previously written two other short stories set in the same universe. If you want to read them as well, they are called The Sound of Silence and The Forest.


 

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Across The Void

An audio version of this story can now be found here.


White light from the screen. A blinking prompt. The desk and the computer an island in the darkness of the room and of the world. Ice outside. On the ground, on the cars, on the dancing leaves still clinging to the sleeping trees. Darkness shining down from the saturated canvas of the sky. With it silence, emptiness, nothingness. The window a fragile shield against the cold and the loneliness radiating from the endless above. The world sleeping as island thoughts travel.

Putting thoughts to paper like a knife to a heart, making it bleed words. Easier in dark and silence and night. Burial in the headphones, all those noises and ideas. Here we are, up here at night. All that beautiful madness. Then suddenly a voice cutting through.

”What are you writing?”

Stopping, breathing, staring. Nobody on the line and still that voice in the headphones. ”Who are you?” The mic picking up words that should not be heard, but are.

”Someone who is wondering what you are writing.” Faint, distorted, almost part of the music.

”I am not writing. I am thinking.”

”Thinking about what?”

Nothing. Everything. Time. Space. Life. ”The world. I’m thinking about the world.”

A heartbeat of faint static. ”So am I. All the time.”

The music filling the gaps. Don’t be afraid to step into the unknown. The window is a shield.

”Where are you? Can you see me?”

You are not alone. ”I’m too far away to see you, but I can see your light. It’s like a star. And I can hear you through the night.”

”How?”

”Can you write about this?”

Fear stays out of this. Other rules in the night than during daylight hours. The window is a shield, the sky is a canvas. A blinking prompt. ”What should I write?”

I began to believe voices in my head. ”Write about someone lost, who went away into the unknown and can never return. Write about someone drifting through the blackness above, thoughts going mad and becoming one with the stars. Write about the loneliness between words and worlds.”

That this world that we imagine in this room might be used… ”Is that you?” …to gain access to other rooms…

”Yes, write about me.” …to other worlds… ”Write about the moment I had to tell you this.”

previously unimaginable. ”But where are you? How can we even speak?”

”I can see the world from where I am, but it is far away. I haven’t seen it in a long time and I don’t know if I ever will again. Your light is on my radar, guiding my voice to you. I’ve been calling into the night for ages and you heard me.”

”But why me? Why now?”

”I think space is thinner in the dark and the silence of the night. And you’re awake, and listening.”

Static, white noise. The night sky strewn with distant lights. ”Are you up there? What have you seen?”

”I’m outside of everything, and what I’ve seen… there are no words for it.” The music increasingly out-voicing the words. ”I’m drifting again. Write about this. Promise me. Write.”

”But who are you? At least tell me your name.”

The voice almost swallowed by the void. Almost. ”Tom. My name is Tom.”

Only the music again. All those noises and ideas. All that beautiful madness. The prompt still blinking in the silence, the light of the screen like an island, like a star. Stabbing thoughts through paper, making it bleed. Words. Words. Words.

Strange things and thoughts and times in the dark and silence and night. Reality an illusive companion to dream and imagination. Other rules, other fears. Looking through the shield, thoughts traveling across the canvas of the sky, through it. Obeying the blinking prompt, keeping a promise. Listening to Burial and writing about Tom.

By Christina Smedbakken 2015-10-30

Well, why, because of the mummies of course.

Hello, past!

Once upon a time there was a being not quite a tapir but somewhat similar to one, that invented something extraordinary: an inflatable parking lot to use during rush hour the day before Christmas. Imagine – just unpack, inflate and park. Inconceivably practical! The tapir was nominated for the annual tapir Nobel prize and lived happily ever after. Oh, and before it died from old age and cirrhosis of the liver caused by extensive drinking, it also invented the human race.

The human race turned out to be quite the bomb and quickly became very popular, especially with children and young teens. It also turned out to have inherited some of its creator’s inventiveness and caused quite a buzz when it discovered Fire, Wheel and subsequently Electricity. Tapirs love electricity. It turns them on in some perverted way, those kinky bastards.

Anyhow, electricity was a handy little thing to say the least. You could use it to cook, heat your humble living quarters, light up the night to avoid being eaten by horrible, carnivorous beasts and to power your Crazy Daisy Moving Lawn Sprinkler ™. The technology developed and evolved and what was first generators fueled by burning disgusting stuff quickly became slick, shiny, highly modernistic and super safe </sponsored ad> nuclear reactors and everything was awesome. Then there were a couple of catastrophes and some people died or were born with seven toes.

“Well, back to the drawing table”, said the human race, and went back to the drawing table (and yes, the table was from IKEA. Jeez…). It soon became clear that to make up for the closing of the nuclear power plants and avoid unnecessary WoW level-capping due to repeated blackouts, something radical had to be done. After some experimenting with alternative power sources, solar power turned out the unquestionable favourite. It didn’t disturb the neighbours with its subtle but oh-so-infuriating engine noise, and it sure as hell didn’t sabotage the river fishing. The progress was slow, but some ten years ago (OK, two years into the future since you’re in the past, loser) it was decided that solar panels were to be installed on every ineffective surface in the world. This included the Sahara desert, and this is also where things are about to get interesting. Why, you ask? Well, why, because of the mummies of course.

And now you ask about the mummies? Seriously? OK, well: “[a] mummy is a deceased human or animal whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air, so that the recovered body does not decay further if kept in cool and dry conditions” (Wikipedia, where else?). Ah, so you knew what a mummy is already and what you were really asking was “whatsupwiththosefrigginmummiesdude?” Well, I was just about to tell you. Calm down.

The mummies, of course, were sleeping in their fancy tombs beneath the desert sand, enjoying the natural, convenient and completely free warmth that seeped down through the sand and into their customised postmortem state rooms while they chilled and dreamed of past glory and other things that excite the well preserved dead. So you can imagine what a fuss arose when that same heat source was thoughtlessly blocked by thousands upon thousands of slick, shiny, highly modernistic and super safe </sponsored ad> solar panels. To put it mildly, the conserved corpses awoke, and they were quite cranky. And as all respectable retirees faced with despicable injustice, they got together and climbed out of their chambers and crypts to exact merciless vengeance upon the establishment which had robbed them of their well deserved eternal sleep in a cozy environment.

The mummies marched across the solar panel covered desert until they reached civilisation, and then they kind of ate everybody. Well, or they didn’t exactly eat everybody. They discovered quite quickly that their digestive systems, together with all their other innards, had been left behind in their perfumed jars at home, next to the glasses with their dental prostheses. So after some embarrassingly iffy first attempts to devour the Earth’s population, the mummies settled for ripping their throats out and leaving them to die in growing puddles of their own blood. Some of them collected spines, but you shouldn’t judge every mummy because of that.

Anyways, it turned out that as soon as one of the mummies managed to secure a humanless area of about one square kilometer, it simply lay down in the middle of said area and slept. Some of them dug in, but not all of them. This seems to be a matter of taste amongst mummies and has nothing to do with outside temperature or air pollution. Luckily, even way back when the mummies were being “made”, so to speak, resources were wryly allocated between the population, and thus only a select few had been able to afford the somewhat exclusive and expensive treatment. Thus there weren’t an endless number of mummies, even though that number alone was proving troublesome enough.

So at the end of the day the lion’s share of the world’s continents ended up depopulated and covered in soundly sleeping mummies, and the extensive solar cell project proved quite superfluous since mummies don’t know how to handle a microwave oven and wouldn’t care for dubious gastronomical debaucheries anyhow. So the world ended up rather quiet and restful, even though the occasional Crazy Daisy still disrupted the peace of the undead and caused them to go on a rampage amongst those poor souls who had managed to stay alive by keeping away and not provoking the mummies in any way. I am one of them, as I’m sure you had already gathered by now.

And that brings me to the reason behind me writing this text and using another piece of excellent tapiric invention to send it back in time to you: please, please, please do your best to ensure that silly garden sprinklers that run on electricity don’t become a hit! They’ll just go on and on and on and on ad infinitum and wake the mummies up long after you have all had your throats ripped or your spines stolen or whatever. Having them run on water is more than enough. It is easier to cut the water supply to any given suburb street than cutting the power. Believe me. And I’m tired of crazy dashes over picket fences and through unkempt gardens to turn off one of these stupid flower thingies before it wakes up a morning tired mummy with murderous tendencies. I’ve had just about enough of it. So I implore you, dear sir or madam, to, if nothing else, refrain from buying one of these lawn decorations if they run on electricity. That’s all I ask of you. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Thank you.

P.S. Oh, yeah, if the above didn’t convince you enough: sprinklers with electrical components are also highly hazardous for everyone, including but not limited to children, pets, mailmen, dolphins and cute old ladies with their cats in baskets. So they are just plain stupid. And you are, too, if you buy them. And people will likely sue you. And then you will go to hell – if the mummies don’t eat you first, that is. So. There. I hope you are now irrevocably convinced and stuff. Have a nice life. Bye. D.S.