Source: Why this blog?
Words by: Jonathon Davidson
I felt if it was up to somebody other than me, that the person who it was up to ought not to be able to fulfill the role.
In retrospect this was a fairly poor idea and one which would come to bring me great grief, but it didn’t seem to be so selfish at the time. When I did what I did it wasn’t about the resentment. Obviously today it’s clear that resentment drove my actions, but at the time, it was simply the most logical option I could fulfill. In talking about it though, these days, I often find myself struggling to feel confident about the order of events. Some critics – particularly Kate, my late sister-in-law – have suggested that I promulgate a version of the story which has been carefully woven to make myself the protagonist, when perhaps a majority of secondary characters would infer that I was in fact the villain. But I’ve never agreed with this. I don’t believe I am able to.
Harvey joined the company well after its inception. I had worked with the brand since day one and after so many years of euphoric highs and ego crushing lows, periods of innovation and longer periods of creative stagnation, money made, lost, acquired, fined, frozen, released, withdrawn, deposited – after all this hard work had been made the founding legacy of the business, after me and the others poured in our entire lives for years without fail – it was as if another story began where mine ended and Harvey came waltzing into the picture.
Not particularly better looking or younger than me, no more skilled or possessing no considerable abundance of character, but somehow all the more appealing and competent, Harvey burned the floor where he walked across the office even on day one, almost like a hovering angel of death scorching the ground below him.
I always hated my brother, but for him just to walk back into my life after everything, and deciding to do so via the only enterprise I ever truly felt passionate about, was practically too much to bear from the moment it happened. Of course, I never particularly looked at it that way while all of this was going on, but at the time I was still vaguely aware I think, on some base level, that he’d turned this into a personal issue. But again, everything was just business, business, business in those days. Father never approved of Harvey and Kate’s relationship. While Harvey always made out that the reason he left for the great disappearance was a spiritual crisis – no doubt brought on by a particularly low exchange rate in the nation of Cambodia where he stayed for five years, surely – I’ve always suspected that it was his inability to deal with the death of our mother. What was exceptionally hard for him I believe was the way our mother passed, went without much grief from Father, and then became quickly replaced by Carol who from then on stood at our Father’s side; cold, alien and like a cruel ironic joke of a woman, somehow obscene in her Indian heritage calling pale young men from the suburbs her ‘sons’, at least in the first few months she bothered trying to talk to any of us. Even Dad.
Anyway, for Harvey, I think the weight of her death continued to underlie, permeate and nibble at Harvey throughout the rapid fire mills and boon that was his and Kate’s wedding, corresponding honeymoon, and final escape to the exotic expat experience in Phnom Penh.
Just him, Kate, and his problems.
Plus three million of our Mother’s inheritance funds.
The fact that he went looking for spiritual enlightenment in a nation driven half mad by its dark past was something that apparently never occurred to him. I remember when Kate first moved in, though. He was taken from day one. While I was locked in my room working, Harvey dealt with the death of our mother by fondling the dark breasts of her replacement’s daughter. Kate, despite her penchant for Harvey’s alleged charms, always disapproved of the fact that he never came to feel completely at ease with her mother Carol. And if she couldn’t come to terms with the deepest reservations in her alleged soulmate, she definitely never took to my displays of complete indifference towards her Mother in the short space of time before I moved out completely. I had made it clear relatively early on to Carol that while I did not necessarily dislike her for loyalty or territorial reasons, there was too much of a time factor to ever truly learn to feel comfortable around her. I had come out of childhood well and truly by then and when Carol came into the picture I had come to be quite mature and no longer needing what had always been half hearted acts of mothering I had received when I needed them.
But this is a different story. And when I look back on it today – by now you’ve probably gathered I do a lot – I can’t help but think that things would have gone very, very differently if we didn’t put Joseph in charge of HR. I would most likely not be here talking about this today, and my brother would still be breathing normally. Perhaps my replacement. On the other hand, I would not have all this money, though I’d probably have had far more privacy in my lifetime. It’s funny how these things come out of nowhere and get treated as such, but come to mean so much to us later down the line.
I really ought to discuss the money more in depth, as it’s fairly important to the entire situation. I’ve always looked at it – the money, I mean – as being in two parts, if that makes sense. Firstly, there was the money my family acquired before my birth and continued to make as I was raised, and this was the money from which three million went to Harvey upon my mother’s death. She had already been wealthy herself before marrying my Father, the gas fracking proprietor, and so when they came together there was never a co dependency issue with finances. My parents worked a lot, and as such were never present in excess. I’ve come to understand that this pattern extended into their relationship as well, and while he never admitted it, I feel that this always had a part to play in my Father’s hasty reuptake of a wife after mother had a fit in the swimming pool and drowned.
Secondly, there’s the money I made with the company.
To be fair, I would never have been able to start the brand at all were it not for the first batch of money I was born into. For many years I would tell people I got to where I was with hard work and determination, and I acquired my early wealth alone, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Such are the ways we craft our self image in youth. Father helped a great deal. In fact, that was ultimately his only redeeming factor: he took my visions seriously from their immediate infancy, encouraged me to build the business and was the only person who had any kind of idea at all what it was I actually did.
What you need to understand is that what I was doing was a product of the times. Things were different, then. It was an age of unique opportunity. It was the same period where you could make a year’s casual salary in three days trading in quasi bootleg digital currencies, or go from zero to six figures in five years with a webcam and something to talk about.
So while all of this with Father and my mother’s funeral and Carol and Kate and Harvey was going on, and I was a young man still at home; avoiding Father, my brother, my mother for some time and then later on, her replacement and its daughter; I designed applications for touchscreen devices.
Like I said, it was the times.
For the first two years, there was nothing. We were nobodies. Maybe twenty thousand downloads across the board – that’s for about three different games we released, if I’m being honest – and a sad sum of money to be holding after twenty four months of sitting behind a computer. But again, it’s not like I didn’t have support. Or money.
But it was always very important to me that I made my own. I still feel defensive against some invisible withholding force the moment I even think about it. Either way, the old wive’s tale about three being a lucky number came through as true because it was in our third year of business things started to change.
This is also when we hired Joseph. We went huge with Shnapple & Verbs, essentially a game of linguistic charades in which deliberately elusive prompts would serve as abstract clues for the player to select a word. Kind of like an extrapolated version of hangman. What we did differently was that we updated the servers a few times a week to keep the words directly relevant to what was happening in the world news, what the hot topics were. Everybody considered themselves a journalist, back then. We went viral.
This is when the first round of media coverage came. We were the indie software developers bringing literacy back to the disaffected illiterate. We were using innovative cloud sourcing software to run our operations and we were free with low intensity advertising – if I recall correctly we were running recruitment for the defense force – and as such we got attention from tech blogs, documentarians, the lot. Literally overnight, we were making more revenue than all of our previous two years earnings combined. And as we’re wont to do, the people wanted more. So we told Joseph to find more people, and he continued to do so without hiccup for the next five and a half years.
After those five and a half years were up, he hired Harvey who had returned from the East without any real forewarning and Joseph, unaware of the fact that I had a brother called Harvey because I hadn’t told him, never came to understand why he found himself made redundant shortly after. Although by that point I don’t think we’d hired anybody in almost a quarter so perhaps it truly was just the most logical option at the time.
But I was powerless. I was unable to do anything then, from within the human rights court where I had ended up with Chester, our CIO. It was like getting your hand stuck in machinery, trying to pull back but knowing that you are powerless to the whim and obese grace of clacking steel and torque that powders bone. My reputation was shattered. I don’t like talking about this, so I’m not going to linger on it much. You know the story. After Shnapple we went massive with a number of other games and then later general applications, breaking into the utility software market. But it was always the original innocence of Shnapple’s premise, and the work of our strong team of writers, that stuck with the public memory and our brand. Until India.
What Joseph had been good for was outsourcing development when it became apparent to us that there was a massive international market for Shnapple. We got translators at first and tried to keep it domestic, briefly, but focus group testing became too expensive and arduous so we decided to expand. There was some talk then of the type you’d expect; low-brow small business going corporate and what not, but obviously it was the kind of high-figure goal I’d been thinking of since day one. So Joseph saw to it that it all went well and it did, until India. And then everything started.
I don’t know why it became popular with students, and I still don’t know today with absolute certainty who was responsible for the coding. Shnapple was favoured, for some reason, in its Indian version, by young women aged 16-25. It went viral there, too. It’s my understanding that the decision to run with a pink hue in the interface coupled with the social media and brain teaser aspect somehow made the game incredibly appealing to the young women of India, which was the kind of thing we were extremely pleased about, until that other thing came out. Whoever did the coding failed to hide each user’s metadata on the cloud we were using to update that particular version. It only took one person who knew what they were doing.
In retrospect, there were in total only eighteen attacks. Eight – teen. Not eighty, not any other ridiculous number. Eighteen.
Of course, that didn’t put viewers on seats and eyes on advertisements. Once we got word of what was transpiring we did everything we could to handle the situation but it quickly went out of our hands and into the chaos of the public. Again, overnight, the company changed entirely. We were now the company who gave out the GPS location of young girls to predators. But I’m not talking about this anymore. We aren’t responsible for those hackers, we aren’t responsible for the fact our code could be exploited to deliver the real time location of each user to a third party. Blame lies with the development team in India, god knows where they are now, and I have said that from the start and I always will because it is the truth.
So while I became heavily embroiled with the human rights court, Harvey came back with Kate to join the company – my company – and become the handsome face of our damage control team. And what with Kate, his busty dark wife of Indian descent becoming part of that case at that moment in time, the media frenzy quickly changed tone and the company, while still bruised, came to signify something with integrity again. After a short while, anyway. We shut down Shnapple. I say ‘we,’ but the truth is nobody was particularly in charge at that point.
We ascertained early on that I couldn’t be the face of our struggles at that time. And that was largely my own decision, if I’m being honest – I was hassled by journalists for weeks. International numbers managed to find me each day along with emails and even a letter. And then, in what was clearly the most absurd precedent set by the court to date, they put me under house arrest for 12 months for negligence. Negligence. And then I was dead weight. The company rebuilt its image while I did my best to stay in charge, but it became clear that Harvey had replaced me even while I never left, even while I continued to receive paychecks, even while I still received royalties and communicated with my colleagues, I had become invisible all at the same time and vanished completely.
And it was around this time that Harvey had his accident.
So Henry was this kid, about five and a half feet tall, sixteen, on the chubby side of stocky. The kid still had baby face but he looked old because he didn’t ever sleep and smoked and drank too much. Real dumb, too. Never stopped reading the kinds of books he got when he was 9. Reader’s Digest Explorer: Space and the Stars, Curious Critters vol 4: Centipede Central!, How Does Stuff Work?, The Illustrated Guide to History and so on. He carried them around in his backpack. Never had an iPod or a phone. Just those primary school books, and his dried out child face.
He was always wearing this backpack. I don’t know what else he kept in it really, just the books he’d always bring out. I never saw too much of him. We were in the den together maybe six times total. I’d go down, pick up, hang around for a while then get back in my car and go back. Usually twice a month – sometimes more, sometimes less. I might have been down there for a night once when he was too, but I can’t remember.
No one thought anything would happen to him. The kid was too dumb to get into real trouble. He’d pass out at eight after a few drinks without fail, unless we were going up for the night. Even then, it just zoned him out.
But something bad did happen.
I only heard stories about him, really. I do remember one night though, he had a black eye and he’d gotten into trouble with some delinquents at the local servo. I knew the kids he was talking about, and they were just pubescent loiterers. You’d have to be an idiot to get jumped by them. Henry didn’t like to fight, they say. He said that himself, actually, that night I saw him. Not to me, someone else. I remember kind of looking at him and raising my eyebrows as if to say, ‘what can you do?’.
Anyway, this one night Henry starts complaining about a sore stomach.
Everyone’s sitting around the room, smoking pipes. I’d just left to deliver. Henry’s sitting there complaining, and this kid usually never complained about his stomach. If he wasn’t staring into space or mumbling or reading those damn books, he was stuffing his face. And if he wasn’t doing that he was drunk, every time I saw him.
So, what I got told, was that no one thought anything of it. “Smoke a pipe, Henry”, shit like that. And what I heard was that he did, and then he was fine – for a while. It was weird for Henry to start complaining about his stomach, and weirder still for him to start complaining at all. Henry was a quiet kid. Didn’t do much.
I think he lived with his uncle or something.
He had some little sister who I saw once in passing – she was dressed up for her age and looked underfed. Had a tattoo on her neck.
I don’t think anyone knows if his family even got notified at first.
Anyway – that night, after the first bout of pain or whatever, shortly he was saying it again. But sweating this time, too. Henry starts to get a red face, but still no one thinks anything of it. “You smoked too many pipes Henry”, shit like that. But Henry keeps saying over and over about his stomach and someone tells him to call an ambulance if it’s so bad, but he can’t because the fee is $800 and his family can’t afford it.
So they start getting him glasses of water and what I heard was that Henry started crying like a sick kid, completely helpless. Then they see he’s starting to swell up.
So someone puts a pillow behind his head, I think it was one of the girls, and somewhere in the process someone bumps his stomach. Henry screams out in pain and clutches his hand to a spot on his torso. He was being so loud that the others all started to get paranoid, worrying about the neighbours. They tell him to shut up and Henry starts whimpering, lifts up his shirt.
And this dead bee falls out.
Someone checks out his stomach and this is when everyone started to freak. In the same minute, Henry starts to go blue then purple in the face. The sting on his stomach, by his belly button, is blood red and swollen with the stinger still there, the bee’s guts hanging off it, glistening under the lamp in the hazy room. No one knows when it stung him. He was fine for a while after he first mentioned that his stomach hurt, and all of a sudden he went downhill in ten minutes.
Henry was always a little porky around the neck so the swelling around his neck went unregistered initially. When he started gasping, they caught on. But by then it was too late, obviously. Henry was dark purple and his tongue was starting to go fat and discoloured, too. Eyes go blood red, each vein popping out. It really messed everyone up, because by the time they realised what was happening he was gone.
No one remembers if he ever mentioned being allergic. That’s what Darrell told me, anyway.
Thinking of the timing, it would have been around when I started getting ready to pass out on my bed that Henry died on the den floor.
Big, swollen Henry with his blue and purple child face.
At this point, they should have just hid everything incriminating in the den and called an ambulance. They could have lied if the cops came, and said they came back to find him there like that. There was a dead bee on the floor with its innards hanging out the back of it, so they had a smoking gun. In twenty minutes they could have packed up the cookware and just let the kid get taken away. But they didn’t. They panicked.
I didn’t hear much of what went down between Henry collapsing and the moment they shoved his inflated, blanket-wrapped corpse in the boot of the land cruiser, but I remember Darrell saying they all sat in a circle around Henry’s body, just looking at him. No one said anything. Some smoked. After about twenty minutes his body pissed all the beer out, so it couldn’t have been much longer after that they moved him.
The den isn’t far from the beach.
It’s about a ten minute walk, two minute drive. It’s early hours of the morning, and they all pull up in the land cruiser in the parking lot. It’s just them and the sound of the waves at night, now. The moon and the stars. And dead Henry with the piss soaked pants and the fat tongue hanging out his mouth with the dumb, purple child face. Wrapped in floral sheets.
I don’t know why they went through with it, but they hid his body. Who knows if they originally meant to put him where they did or not. That night, on the beach, they all saw something that they never had before. I guess they were desperate just to get rid of Henry, they didn’t stand around looking. So they flee the scene after dumping him and get back to the den, according to Darrell.
The next morning, it’s a Sunday. The moment the sun breaks over the horizon, it’s scorching. It was forty degrees at 9 a.m. or something.
By 12 p.m., of course there was a crowd gathered round the beach. Word of mouth spreads quickly throughout the town down there – not many people – apparently before it all went down, most of the others had already put forty kilometres of distance between themselves and the den. If they caught word in the morning about the beach and then fled, or just fled anyway, I don’t know.
Either way, at lunchtime half the town have rocked up at the beach, and half the town are now fanning themselves under the heat on the dry land, looking at the scene before them – dozens of children are making all kinds of gestures and exclamations to get away from bad odour. TV cameras were there and everything.
At some point the night before, a humpback whale beached itself on the shore. A day later, it’s still laying there under the forty degree sun.
Darrell was really fucked up when I saw him in jail. The guard who questioned me before I was allowed into visitor’s hall told me Darrell was the one who really got messy and lodged Henry’s corpse inside the whale. I asked a lot of questions, I know that, but I don’t remember any of it.
I think it was around one in the afternoon when the massive humpback blew open.
Baking under the sun like that, gases built up inside its stomach and the dead whale exploded.
And this whale really explodes, right.
Everybody at the beach that day, so like – half the town – received anti bacterial shots and hazmat cleandown afterwards. It went everywhere. Some nimble sections of its insides were flung up to sixty metres away. I don’t know what happened after that, but I figure it didn’t take long for someone to spot the off-pink faded floral sheets amongst the gore strewn across the sand and townspeople.
Darrell, who shoved Henry inside the whale, is ripped because he takes steroids. Although he looked like shit in prison. I don’t know how he did it or what else they did, but Darrell applied so much force when he stuffed Henry down the whale’s oesophagus, that its muscles contracted and Henry’s body was sucked into the whale’s tract as if it swallowed him.
So Henry stewed in the whale’s digestive acids for a good eight hours at least, most of that under the intense sun. It was enough to dissolve the tightest bonds of skin keeping Henry together, because when the whale exploded that day, they found his body in three different pieces. One inside the whale, one on the sand dunes, and one bobbing in the water.
Dumb Henry, with the child’s face and books, buried inside the whale and reincarnated, shot forth back into the world.
Like a phoenix from the ashes.
His joy and goodwill spread amongst the people. Flecks of his self spattered across dozens of beach towels. What didn’t dissolve: the fucking red backpack. More specifically, the glassware they all shoved in there. The rest of the story isn’t that interesting – group stupidity took over and they decided to dump the cookware in case someone came looking for Henry and called the police. I couldn’t figure that line of reasoning out either.
Because the backpack didn’t fly too far and landed in sand, the police found the red backpack a few metres away, stuffed full of half intact items all used in the manufacture of illicit drugs. Detectives pulled finger prints off a beaker or something, and once they nabbed one, they got the rest. That didn’t stop Henry’s face getting shown all over the news for a night with headlines like Clandestine Whale, Meth Pinocchio Busted, Young Man Found Dead Inside Whale Body.
Darrell tried to get into a psych ward, but they just sent him to jail.
He’s having a whale of a time.
Dear Honourable Judge Martens.
This is my version of events.
A BET IS MADE ON A MISSING PERSONS REPORT. THREE VARIABLES CAN OCCUR.
- THEY ARE NOT FOUND. There is a 9 day period for results. If someone is not found, the bet is cancelled, and money returned to owner.
- THEY ARE FOUND ALIVE. This is referred to as ‘Finders’.
- THEY ARE FOUND DEAD. This is referred to as ‘Keepers’.
Tom Locke, 26, was last seen on Saturday night at approximately 1am. He is described as a fair haired Caucasian of average build, between the height of 160 and 170cm. Anybody with any information is advised to ring…
“Finders or keepers. Twenty bucks.”
I look at my roommate, Hugh. He’s looking at me with his big doped up eyes, the bloodshot veins lit up by the reflection of the television screen.
“Come on man, you pick. Twenty bucks,” he says.
I check my wallet. I have 35 dollars.
“Yeah I’m in. I bet -” I pause, weighing up the report. Advertisements start.
Right now you can get a chicken roll combo with a coke and large gravy for just eight ninety five…
“I bet keepers.”
* * * *
That was six months ago, and three weeks since Hugh went missing. It’s been five hours since Hugh’s friend Esco kidnapped me. I don’t know why for sure. I’m pretty afraid – more than I’d like to admit – but I can’t bring myself to feel that my life is being legitimately threatened. There’s this feeling of acceptance I can’t fight. I’m guessing it’s got something to do with 300 milligrams of horse sedative.
Clearly, the game has gone too far. Typical.
I’m sick from all the tranquilizers that Esco force fed me. My head is light, it reels back and forth like a fishing lure in the wind. My neck hurts from the strain of looking forward, but to put my chin on my chest makes me feel as if I am about to vomit. The feeling of a colour rises up inside of me, a murky green and yellow like the bile of a sick cat, and it floods my mental canvas. While I try to keep the murk at bay I take in deep breaths of air which are laced with nauseous vapours of diesel exhaust.
He’s wearing ridiculous, archaic black robes in the middle of the Australian summer. He kneels down on the speaker’s stage before the pews, tinkering with crude protrusions and extensions coming from some dangerous looking device he’s made himself, which putters loudly on the church stage, burping out black smoke. It looks like somebody covered a lawnmower engine in glue then rolled it through a field of wires and weird little LED lights.
The stupid thing flashes a whole range of basic colours. A fan belt on the outside whirs around, emanating a steady whining sound.
Obviously, Esco has finally lost his mind.
All of a sudden, he notices the look I’m giving him. He stops tinkering and turns his attention to me.
“I had to kidnap you because I can’t go on Facebook anymore. I was flagged by the AFP. They were hiding outside. Men outside, in the trees. The trees, Jack! What kind of sick creeps are we dealing with? Nano-creeps, that’s what kind. Tiny little officers in the trees…”
He quietly mutters off and seems to lose focus, then goes back to tinkering on his machine. He doesn’t look back at me. There is a pause. I feel something rising in my throat.
I scream at him, imploringly, my voice catching as I struggle to hold back fear.
“Facebook! Apps. Windows, Mac. It’s all connected. Women, spiders. It’s all there. Did you know that micro exfoliating beads are government microchips? They track the sex lives of women. They keep men addicted to chicks with radio waves. Chromosome interference. Subliminal advertising. Lead in the baby food.”
Small cumulous tongues of black start to shoot high out of Esco’s strange machine, more rapidly than before. A grinding noise begins to emanate and the air inside the church is becoming more and more dense with noxious vapours. I vomit slightly my mouth, the sick acidic bile burning the back of my throat; my tongue and where my tonsils used to be. The fan belt on the side of the machine begins to go faster and faster.
“Esco!” I’m shouting now, with tears in my eyes.
Let me go for fucks sake!”
I am cut off as Esco starts to yell over the fan belt.
“SORRY JACK, CAN’T LET YOU GO! YOU KNOW THE RULES! BUT TOO BAD BUDDY, SO DO ASIO! THE TERROR LAWS GOT US, JACK! THEY GOT US! YOU AND ME. MARILYN. THE KENNEDYS – THEY GOT ALL OF US MAN! WE’RE BOXED IN. DID YOU KNOW THAT IN A HIVE, BEES START TO ACT LIKE NEURON-”
Suddenly, the fan belt breaks and smoke begins to bellow out of the machine, breaking free and surrounding Esco. He does not seem to notice, and like a demon out of Genesis he stands surrounded in dark clouds like a brimstone miner coming out of the earth, dressed like a miscreant Goth priest, screaming his strange incantations.
“MORGELLONS, JACK. YOU AND ME. R.F.I.D CHIPS IN OUR SKIN. FLUORIDE LETS THE DRONES SCAN OUR BRAINS. A FIFTY YEAR PLAN, JACK. IT WAS THE DENTISTS, WE WERE SO BLIND!”
“Turn that fucking thing off!” I scream, sickly runny saliva running down my tongue and over my lips, tears coming from my eyes as I muster up the pressure in myself to yell.
“THIS IS LAURA, JACK. MEET LAURA! SHE’S A SUPER COMPUTER. SHE IS ART!”
Ignoring both of us, Laura continues to bellow out black, devilish smoke.
Esco brings himself down to a vehement whisper.
“People say create out of love, create out of mateship and lust for life – but that’s bullshit. It’s bullshit, Jack.”
He’s looking at me with a shark’s eyes, now. A look I’ve never seen before on a person’s face.
“You have to create out of hatred. Out of paranoia and fear. Vile, backstabbing competitive spirit. This is true art. This is what it’s all about, Jack. That’s what it’s -”
These are the last words Esco says. Over everything going on I hear two distinct noises, and from the look on his face I know he can too: approaching helicopter blades and incoming sirens.
I turn my head and look through one of the church’s old smashed windows. Over across the old red sand and Spinifex in whatever shithole town he took me too, I can see blue and red lights flashing; just like the lights on Laura, flashing across the sand, getting bigger, coming towards us.
The shark in Esco’s eyes swims away and a deer in headlights comes through.
And then, Laura set his robes on fire.
* * * *
Me and Hugh had started renting our flat about nine months prior. It was right in the city, facing the highway going towards the industrial area. The stairs leading to the underground apartment below us were sturdy and wooden, while the stairs we used to up were wooden slats nailed over the original construction scaffolding. The only kind of person who’d live there is a local, and all of the locals knew not to ever consider living there.
Hugh was working at a small warehouse installing rear view cameras into the backs of four wheel drives, marketed to bleary eyed housewives who didn’t want to suffer the inconvenience of reversing over their own children. I worked at a dirty little restaurant that, despite appearances, managed to be one of the most popular in town. Under my discretion things went wrong every shift.
It was in these conditions that we forged the game. When Esco came into it later, I never thought that it would the way it did. Getting shot with a tazer, and all three of our faces plastered over the walls. The doctors had me use a wheelchair for seven days, the fucking tranquilizers paralyzed me for days. And now I’m writing this bullshit, imprisoned inside a hospital room. All three of us went to jail. Obviously. There was no proof that I didn’t consent to the kidnapping after confessing I helped invent the game.
And the bastards did us for illegal gambling. $180 dollars in winnings or something, all up. Come on.
All of this, just having a bit of fun betting on the disappearances of others. The stakes of their lives. We never knew these people. I didn’t think it was that bad, you can find porn with way less morality than that.
Hugh and I were both so constantly worn out by our perseverance to our jobs it makes sense in retrospect that we had to turn to gambling to relax. Sometimes they didn’t even die. One time it was this little ginger kid.
Two days later the kid was on the news. He was found in a construction site about three blocks away from where he lived. He ran away and slept in a park overnight, or something. A jogger bought him breakfast and took him to the police safe and sound.
Hugh handed me the total of ten dollars.
The next night father of two, Robert Bundy, went missing on a solo fishing trip. Hugh betted again that the guy would wind up dead, twenty bucks. We’d both recently been paid and I was feeling cocky so I agreed. Four days later coast guards pulled him from the digestive acids of a Great White shark.
I handed Hugh twenty bucks.
But after seeing Esco’s burns, your honour, an d our fates, I’ve changed. I know now that human life has so much more value than that. But I still would like to appeal your honour, because I didn’t ask for this. I was only lost. I haven’t had a job in months now, it’s tough out there. It’s tough trying to keep to your studies when there’s so much emptiness to be distracted by. There just isn’t enough content out there for the underprivileged to make hobbies. There’s no way for us to be constructive without sacrificing ourselves.
In this game, you gotta think of something.
Thankyou your honour.
With utmost sincerity,
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. HARVEST BEGINS AT SUNDOWN.
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. HARVEST BEGINS AT SUNDOWN.
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE . . .
The microspeakers continue whispering their incantation throughout the city. The Harvest alerts play every day at routine intervals: six in the morning, twelve in the afternoon, three in the afternoon and then once more a half hour before sundown, whenever that is during the season. The message is repeated all across the steel continent; in every room, in every building. It is illegal to reside in a property not linked to VoiceComm.
You don’t need to be surface-side too long to catch the gist of Harvest. Every night is the same.
Lock the doors.
Bolt the windows.
Use only one light at any time.
Put in earplugs.
Draw the curtains.
Don’t look outside.
Of course, you peek out the window the first night you’re left unattended. You hear all that commotion start up outside when the sun goes down. It’s like a bustling marketplace starts humming through the walls.
But it’s true what they say – not even once.
All it takes is that first glance. You catch something unfathomable. Something that your mind simply cannot comprehend. There is no way to explain it. You might gaze out through the glass unto the strange hues of light vibrating on impossible spectrums. You may see the reflection of the red moon across a hulk of pulsating black chitin. Large mandibles covered in sores from which monstrous pupils peer out. Which peer back at you through the glass.
The first night, you’ll look away in fear and disgust. But then the next night, there you’ll be, clenching your teeth while you try not to draw the curtain again. While you try to just not even think of what’s going on out there. While you fail.
While you peek again. Night after night.
And what you see during the Harvests from your human accommodation room will start to change you. Even though they warn you back home not to play voyeur, not to give in to curiosity, you’re still going to do it. Despite the threat of a revoked PlanetVisa and deportation back to Earth for trial, you still peer through panes of glass, through cracks in the wall. Just to catch a glimpse of something else.
But then you’re doing it every night you’re on the planet. You start forgoing sleep to spy on Harvest, soon you have to watch the Harvests just to feel normal. The alien nights lose their strange lustre. You become familiar with them.
However, you will almost never realise how familiar Harvest has become with you.
Before you know it, you’re not looking away until sunrise. The images of last night’s Harvest burn in your head, keeping you awake until the sun falls once more. Then, you have no choice but to watch the next Harvest lest you go insane – clinging onto the wild hope that somehow tonight’s Harvest will be different, that tonight will be the night you figure it out. You keep your face pressed up against the glass for another whole night until the scenes outside go dim and it hits six o clock and the Harvest alert of a new dawn breaks the silence.
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. HARVEST BEGINS AT SUNDOWN . . .
And then, Harvest comes for you.
That’s when it happens. That next night, when you’re too deep now to come back up for air. You haven’t slept in days, you’ve lost an unhealthy amount of weight. You are losing your mind trying to process what happens each night. Trying to figure out what the fuck it all means. And then you see your Mother in your head, heartbroken and disappointed. Her words of caution replaying ad infinitum directly to your conscience:
“Don’t experiment with other planets. It’s not natural.”
And then they knock at the door.
You hear that wet, rustling noise they make when they talk.
Your shaky hand clasps the faux stainless-steel door handle, sweat rolls from your tear ducts, your mouth is dry. Your tongue sandpaper. You open the door and the red moonlight spills in the room. You are no longer behind glass.
Not that I would know any of this, though.
I don’t peek during Harvest.
I’ve been unemployed for two months now and as a result I feel that I have matured in unexpected ways. Now I understand two crux experiences of life so much better – guilt and boredom.
When I was young, ‘unemployment’ was one of those alien aspects of adulthood – the “outside” or “real” world. In those days there is a disconnect between the implied grave nature of unemployment rates warned about amidst prophetic broadcasts, and the actualized reality of unemployment which – during childhood at least – simply means ‘not working.’
But there is that moment – those moments – in which innocence dilutes into the cloudy tincture of morality we all procure with our individual accumulative actions. There is the moment where we learn ‘not working’ means more than that phrase alone. When do we actualize the importance of work? Paid skill, production, contribution? During my, your, our teens; unemployment does not have the same weight that it bears in your twenties.
Somewhere along that brief passage of time unemployment stops being benign and becomes volatile. Feelings of guilt simmer all the same in your teens but only somewhere deep and permissible. Rarely does it rise to the surface.
But then when you are older – mentally or physically, ideally both – these feelings go beyond a simmer, the boredom included, and they start to boil, hiss and spit at you like hot oil. That’s definitely what they did to me.
This hot oil I feel is responsible for instigating the process of change that I’m identifying as the development of my maturity. Although to be fair, for all I know I am developing a tumour. Whatever the case, for the first time I have actually been feeling ashamed by my lack of contribution. My perception of work has turned to that of moral obligation opposed to some draconian societal contract. As time goes on, my guilt only gets worse. The hot oil more vehement.
And then there is the boredom.
The boredom comes seeping through in many ways. As frustration. As a semi-legitimate tendency towards sudden manic episodes of unprecedented energy. As rigorous introspection followed by intense periods of irritation at one’s own tendency to be so. The boredom gives impetus to seek out intoxication, distraction, vice – some occasionally adopt a routine with positive and productive outcomes, like the elusive and mythical ‘healthy person’, but us ordinary sinners, we fight with boredom and we do not negotiate with it or domesticate it. Us the sinners go forward with our schemes and goals. In unemployment, this extract of boredom connects with the hot oil of guilt to pave the way to a truly scrumptious omelette of disaffection.
But I have never liked omelette, so what then? How many unanswered e-mails, how many absent callbacks can you go through? Strong types of all natures will tell you to just keep going, to keep persevering, to ‘suck it up’ and remind yourself that it could be harder, and maybe they’ve got a point but they probably don’t, because if they did have a good point everybody would have fucking killed themselves by now, like they already have. They are living suicides, drowning in their own malcontent. But perhaps it takes one to know one, which is why I hate them all the more. When we eat these omelettes, is it true just like it is for them that we forever turn to stone?
You come to hate it so much.
No matter how many ways you find to occupy yourself, this proverbial pot of oil (I’ve moved past the omelette) always boils over and you’re left with burns on your hands, hopping up and down from foot to foot hoping that your little dance will help the pain to stop, those deep ebbing throbs of pain that come from burns. Incredibly similar are the waves of boredom that ebb, roll in, rise, crash, roll out briefly and then start to ebb back in. These little dances we perform to distract ourselves consume us, in one bite they take us underneath the surface, plunging us down below like alligators drowning antelopes.
Eventually you can’t sit still. No matter how accustoming your environment, you start to hate it. Eventually, one day, the seed will be planted. Once that seed germinates, it grows with a shocking propensity. You cannot control the vines.
You start to hate your shitty cramped room, even if it is not that shitty nor that cramped. Your car becomes your only key to freedom but simultaneously an antagonist, it’s obsolescence rapidly approaches up behind you in the rear view mirror, and you realise that nothing can be stopped. These things are always there. They always exist, lingering, we can only keep them at bay. Constantly pushing them back in a perpetual sumo wrestle of the spirit, these dark feelings. All of us, people, we are in the shade of a disembodied and forever looming malcontent.
This is probably depression.
If you need an example of what I mean – you probably do, I would – look no further than dust. In the quest to find time-consuming tasks, you inevitably at some stage pick up a routine of tidying and cleaning unless you are a truly hopeless independent. Perhaps it is daily, perhaps it is not. It does not matter, because dust is your enemy either way. For some time, this routine may sate you. Some kind of foundation. But it can only be temporary. In the face of this omnipotent and carnivorous boredom, all is temporary.
Dust, you should realise, is the world’s oldest terrorist.
There is a specific moment the narrator can recall where he could no longer maintain a daily war with the dust.
Dust can break a person.
Anyone worth their domestic salt knows that the essence of decay resides in dust. Stick with me. The essence of decay, of inescapable death is represented as dust. Dust invades our homes, our lives, our minds. It makes it’s presence known. In this sense, dust is a natural extremist. Dust is collective small particles falling away, descending, shedding. A large portion is made of up our own dead skill cells. Dust is the dual representative or time and mortality. You can never win against dust, you can only keep it at bay, holding shut a wooden door with all your strength as on the other side it bashes with ever increasing strength.
You may hold it at bay your entire life, but it will come. If you slip – the moment you miss one week, one day – the dust only builds. It congregates. Falls and settles. Amasses. Colonises. This endless war against dust, you can only take so much of it. You can only sweep out underneath your bed, behind your drawers, along the skirting boards so much before you find yourself driving around aimlessly at nights, staying away from home and that which is sickly familiar for as long as possible. I drive around, living my own weird re-enactments of Taxi Driver. Because of dust. This whole thing, this oppressive boredom and depression, this limbo of frustration to which I am, you are exiled, it resonates all of the hallmarks of a bad trip.
This freedom, you want it to all be over the way you want a bad trip to be over but like any trip or any taste of freedom, the moment you are no longer experiencing it, you will want to be thrown again back into it.
So I am stuck between the guilt and shame of wanting to work but enjoying the freedom, while suffering from the intense boredom that ensures you hate your freedom for the very fact of it’s own circumstantial being. This dual downward spiral drills into you, only deeper as time goes on. What is one able to do but drift amongst the grabs at hope, the optimistic waits for callback, the possible avenues of nepotism? What else is there to do but fill nights with driving, days with writing, to waste the hours drinking and to waste the hours smoking, smoking cigarettes, smoking weed and sometimes smoking different things? Trying to distract yourself more and more like this, only further intensifying the problem. A Chinese-finger trap. A Catch-22.
And then you start seeing them. Only when it’s you at night. Have you always seen them, but never noticed?
It doesn’t matter.
There are foxes in this town. They live amongst collections of bushes, anywhere big enough to make a series of burrows. Nocturnal and masters of stealth, they are everywhere and nowhere. Nobody believes me. Common sense tells us that foxes don’t live in heavily urbanised areas.
I feel like a trope. The old drunkard, blind in one eye, sees the legendary monster fish in the lake one night. He would have no outright reason to lie, but who could trust him? Of course I would be the only one to see it. It all just fits together so well.
The foxes play with us like this. Do with the claim what you will, but they’re there.
This is true. Sometimes driving past you can see the glints of flashing eyes in the bushes, floating in the under-shadows of low hanging trees. They blink and go black, disappearing into thin air. Sometimes I think I’ll see a snout or a tail poking out from underneath a shrub, but who could ever be sure?
One night, out there driving around with nothing to do, I looked to the road and I swear to god right there along that patch of road that runs by the river past the yacht club and the barracks, a fox the size of a farm dog stood there on the bitumen. Staring right at my car, at my windshield. I tend to be sceptical about such things, but I have never been able to shake the notion that it was staring right at me.
Nobody has ever believed this, of course. And who can blame them? That a fox the size of a small Labrador lives down on the outskirts of town by the river is a hard notion to accept. And why accept it? It defies common sense.
But that fox is there. More than one of them, I can promise you that. And while this moment came as no reconciliation to my struggle, amidst all this darkened thought and disappointment, this guilt and boredom, for one moment – just briefly – it was as if that fox appeared for me.
What this means, if it means anything at all, I don’t know.
I don’t really know why foxes came into this.
I need a job.
It has been observed countless times that the ocean has a magnetic quality to those who have no where to go. Those who are lost, wandering, seeking – all end up at the ocean, much in the same way as rivers. There’s this lighthouse an average drive’s distance away from my house. You have to drive out onto this narrow one-way road on a rocky quay surrounded by the sea on both sides, and the lighthouse stands just beyond the circular cul-de-sac at the end.
The best time to go is midnight, as all of the Night People know. The only light emanates from a ring of bright green visibility lamps which circle around the dome of the lighthouse. When you stand anywhere near it at night, everything is cast in green light. When you’re standing there bathed in the green like that, looking out at the black sky and the black sea, looking at the stars and rocks and sand under your feet, hearing the crashing of the waves all around you – it’s as close as you can get to being on another planet. As long as you don’t look behind you and see the the cars and the harbour and the freight ships and the lights of the city in the background, if you let yourself go, for just that one moment – you can be somewhere else. Going to the lighthouse is like packing it up and getting away from it all, down a narrow road a few hundred metres over water.
This is where you find failed astronauts, lingering against the stars.
I was standing on the rocks at around midnight, soaking in the green luminescence. I was on the last rock you could stand on before they start to get covered in moss. That close to the ocean, all I could hear was that crashing of the waves and I could taste the salt water mist. Facing the sea, I couldn’t make out the line of the horizon. Away from light pollution, each star is more defined, more present. In the distance, mammoth cargo ships lazily haul themselves en-route to their destinations. These giant machines light up at night and it looks like there are tiny islands out across the water, each with little towns and buildings lit up. But they slowly drift, most unlike islands.
The lighthouse is intended for the cargo ships and when they leave the harbour, they roll across the water running parallel to the road. They get pretty close to the quay, close enough that you risk getting sucked under or knocked over by the V-shape waves that crescendo with the rocks as the ship goes forwards. Close enough for you to see all the different sections of the deck and the locks and bars on shipping containers. At night, they turn their bow lights on and when they go out to sea, flocks of gulls will begin to swoop around in the air just in front of the ship, using the light to find whichever fish get pulled up by the current. The gulls are all white, and when they swoop in front of the ships like that they are illuminated against the blackness of the sea and the sky as if actors on stage, along with the moon and the stars. It looks like something out of a Studio Ghibli movie.
Night People, we haunt the lighthouse like ghosts who have forgotten how to move on. One night I went there and had a cigarette on the rocks. It took me about two minutes before I realised that I had sat down almost directly next to someone, but hadn’t seen her in the shadow. We looked at each other, lit up in the green, and sat in silence. Re-shuffling. Glancing. Catching each other glancing. Acting like we were glancing at other things. These encounters happen pretty frequently. No one ever speaks, regardless of age or gender. You don’t ask each other where you’re going or if you need help. If you’re at the lighthouse at midnight on your own you’re not there because you’re at peace with yourself. And the fact that neither of you know anything about each other is all the knowledge that you need. It is the unspoken contract of the Night People.
Another cargo ship rolled out of the bay. We looked at it and the workers on the bow, they looked back at us. I wonder what they saw. Rolling in and out of harbours all over the world, I imagine the workers on those ships see Night People all over. All of us connected by the sea. One of the workers on board took a photo of us, me and the girl. I wish I could get my hands on that photo. It would show a lighthouse at night, and if you looked really hard, you’d be able to make out two dark blurry figures. You wouldn’t know if we were there or not. We’d look like tricks of light. The photo, it would be a bad photo. Nobody would keep it. Nobody would put it in an album. But, if you squinted just right, you’d be able to see two ghosts sitting there on the rocks.