The Writers of the Universe
2. The Long Weekend
The strangled caw of a vulture brought Jeremy back from a place between sleep and total unconsciousness. Heat from the overhead sun baked into his exposed skin, but his mind, still mostly filled with the dense sludge of sleep, did not register the predicament of his surroundings. Jeremy was only able to bring forth a few scattered thoughts, his entire brain ached, and physically his body felt limp and used as though it had been running for hours. A simple question was the only thing he was able to summon. Who are you?
Who are you? The question repeated in his thoughts. A name came forward, familiar yet not exactly correct. Jim? or James? The name stuck on the tip of his dry tongue, unwilling to announce itself to the world.
As another bird circled overhead, it’s hungry shadow passing over Jeremy’s motionless body, he rolled over on the ground finding the strength to push himself into a sitting position. He tried to open his eyes but everything was too bright and made his head hurt even worse. The whole of existence felt like it was set around Jeremy to confuse and annoy his fragile state. With a determined strength that was fueled by the desire to not be eaten by a large predator, Jeremy opened his eyes to the strange world he was in. He could see for miles in every direction, as the earth he sat upon was the flattest he had ever known. There was not a tree nor a shrub in any viewable direction, only sparse shriveled brown patches that lay flat against the scorched prairie. The land looked and felt like Earth, and yet Jeremy knew that he had never been to this place before nor could he recall how exactly he had come to find himself in such a forsaken place.
Jeremy sunk his head into his hands and shut his eyes to the disturbingly bright world, trying his best to force his mind to work. The growing feeling that he was lost and alone nagged at his gut as he chased confusing memories of gigantic six armed creatures. None of it made sense or felt real. Everything he thought about felt like a bad nightmare. Eventually he gave up trying to remember how he had arrived in this desert. Now all he wanted to do was figure out a way to get home, wherever that was.
The crunching of tire against gravel brought Jeremy to his feet and swiveling around as a truck rushed at him, narrowly stopping before colliding with him. A very old and skinny man leapt out of the truck, his face scrunched up in the most hideous scowl.
“I’ve called the police on ya. I won’t have any more damn pranksters ruining my crops,” the old man spit at Jeremy, while raising a double barrel shotgun to his face.
All Jeremy could do was remain still and perfectly silent, as he did not trust that the old man would not pull the trigger on him.
“So you’re as stupid as you are nekid. Doncha’ speak, what, you’re mouth don’ work or sumting.”
Jeremy realized that the old man was afraid of him. The way his eyes jolted all around waiting and searching for a reason to use his gun. He slowly raised his hands in an attempt to show that he was unarmed and not dangerous. “I’m sorry sir, but I’m not sure how I got here.”
The old man spat another black glob of chew at Jeremy’s feet before responding. “Pranksters and their drugs, taking over my land. I…I won’t have it. Not here.”
“I don’t want your land and I’m no prankster either,” Jeremy defended.
“Nah, I don’t believe ya. Why ya here?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember how I even got here. Where am I?” Jeremy pleaded.
The old man’s bugged eyes ran over Jeremy as if determining what he said to be true or false. The shotgun lowered an inch, now pointing directly into Jeremy’s chest. “Yer in hell son.”
“What?” He mistook the old man’s idea of a joke. It didn’t make any sense to Jeremy. Why was he in hell? How did he die?
A mostly toothless grin broke the nasty expression that had held onto the old man’s face for so long. “Hehehe…” He laughed and coughed at the same time.
“So I’m not dead?” Jeremy asked, his mind still reeling trying to understand.
“Nah, yeah, nah, if ya were dead, we both are, and I’ve still got a few decades left in these ol’ bones.” He responded.
“So where am I?”
Jeremy thought for a long time, trying to remember if he knew where that was or if it was anywhere close to where he lived.
The old man started to cough and he-hawed at Jeremy’s confusion. “Yer more lost than anyone I ever saw. You even lost yer pants.”
For the first time Jeremy took stock of himself. It was true, he was not wearing a scrap of clothing, and he also seemed to have bruises up and down his body as if he had been beaten. He unclenched his left fist and saw that he was holding onto a single quill. The quill sparkled between the deepest black and a bright red. It felt like he was holding onto a string of air, and yet it had a perfect balance. Jeremy instantly felt that the object he was holding was a thing of immense power and magic, but could not think of the reason he felt that way about the quill. Embarrassment washed over him as his cheeks turned deep red.
“Uhhh sorry,” he stammered.
“Don’t be. I’ve been in nearly the same predicament you be in, myself. It was dem damn space invaders.”
“What!” Jeremy shouted as the memories of what had happened to him came flooding back. He had tried to dismiss it as a dream while he was dazed and confused. But now he felt that there was no denying the reality of his situation. He had been abducted by aliens, and now he was completely lost, standing in a barren field and frightened more than he had ever been. “What did they do to me?”
“Can’t say fer sure, but it sure looks like they tore into you, beat the living scrap out a ya.”
Very carefully and with great caution, Jeremy touched one of the bruises. The bruises ran down his whole left side like tiger stripes. It must have been from when the creature had grabbed him amidst the chaos that had sprung up when they had first noticed him. Jeremy wondered if he had been the space invader in their minds.
“Come on, I’ll take ya to town. Name’s Harold.” The man finally lowered his gun completely and walked back to the rusty truck without looking back.
Jeremy quickly followed and jumped into the truck. The drive to town was uneventfully silent and long. He wondered how the old man had found him in such a remote location. Jeremy quickly dismissed it as good luck, in a night of terrible outcomes. The longer they drove, the more Jeremy began to worry that something was not right with his predicament. He stole a glance at the old man, whose face had gone blank, his eyes never blinking as he stared into the distant sun.
A strong case of paranoia and panic grew in the bottom of Jeremy’s gut. They were headed somewhere but Jeremy had the sinking feeling that wherever they were going there would be no town when they arrived. Jeremy clenched his fists and closed his eyes trying to stop the rising tide of worry.
The truck bounced heavily as it rounded a large rock and came upon a single trailer. The trailer looked to be as rusted and beat up as Harold’s truck. The wood paneling around the bottom half of the trailer seemed to be holding on by sheer will power, as a gust of dry wind flapped the paneling against the exterior.
Harold stopped his truck inches from the unhinged door. “Come along,” he ordered.
Jeremy hesitated, he did not trust the old man at all and felt that if he were to go inside the trailer he would be in extreme danger.
The old man exited the truck, slamming his door, and stared at Jeremy with his bug like eyes daring the young man to get out of the vehicle. Jeremy sat rooted to the spot, too scared to move, as Harold shuffled around the front and wrenched open the rusty door that was his protection.
“I said come along, we’ll get ya some pants quick. Can’t go to town missin’ yer pants,” he let out, accompanied by a hollow joyless laugh.
Jeremy’s hands shook as he reluctantly pulled himself out of the truck. He stared into the old man’s eyes looking for any sign of hope. But they reflected none, vacant and lost behind a glossy fog. Taking a deep breath, Jeremy glanced at the trailer again and saw a curtain quickly being pulled shut.
“No way, screw this!” he shouted and shoved the truck door into Harold’s chest, knocking him to the ground. Jeremy leapt over the old man and ran back the way they had come. Refusing to look back, he sprinted towards the desert.
Without warning, he was struck from behind with what felt like a lightning bolt. Jeremy lost control of his body as he crashed into the harsh gravel and screamed as another wave of lightning struck his back and exploded through every bone in his body. He convulsed and rolled on the ground as every bone and muscle in his body felt like they were on fire. A gigantic black boot flashed in front of his face before it collided with his head. His vision went blank as he fell to the ground motionless. A pair of rough, scarred hands pulled him from the dust with ease and dragged his motionless body into the trailer.
If Jeremy’s head had felt heavy and confused before, he couldn’t begin to describe the amount of pain it was in now. The entire left side felt like splinters of glass being raked across his brain, thrusting deeper into the core of his brain than he had ever known was possible. Fuzzy dark shapes moved in and out of his diminished vision. He could hear voices shouting and boots clanging on metal, and what sounded like a giant door being wrenched open. Pressure in his ears built up and filled his head with more pain. Swallowing allowed him to break the bubble building up in both his ears.
With a howl of surprise, Jeremy was brought forth from his near unconsciousness by way of an icy cold bucket of water splashed over his head. Spitting and sputtering, he found his arms and legs locked to a medical table in the middle of an empty square room. A mirror reflected his overly bruised body, dried bloody face, and the fact that a shadow was standing behind him watching from concealed darkness.
Whoever was in the shadow stared indirectly into Jeremy’s eyes, as if examining his soul. Jeremy tried his best to stare right back and not back down from the shadowy intimidation.
“Nothing,” a surprisingly feminine voice spoke behind him.
“Where am I? What have you done to me?” Jeremy pleaded.
The person behind the shadow stepped forward. Jeremy did a double take in the mirror as his brain tried to match up the voice he had heard with the person he now saw. The mirror reflected what he could only describe as a ghost of a person. Her skin was pearly white, as if he could see behind and through it in some strange way. Her eyes milky and far off, the only thing of significant color was the military uniform she wore. “I should ask you the same question. It’s not everyday that a person is able to sneak past our top surveillance and almost completely wander onto our base of operations without detection.”
“I. Don’t. know. Where. I am!” Jeremy stated.
“Unfortunately, I believe you. And for you that makes things much worse.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“If you could help explain who you are and why you are here, we could simply kill you and then go off and deal with whoever sent you, as we normally do. But now we have the problem of not knowing anything about you, and we don’t like when people can keep secrets from us. So now we have to delve deeper, which will hurt much worse than death.”
Jeremy mouthed the word why. He still could not figure out how he had ended up on a military base. And why he was now being regarded as if he were a terrorist or an international spy.
“Do you usually have trouble thinking?” she asked with a cruel smirk.
He negatively shook his head as much as his restraints would allow.
“Then I will have to go deeper,” she grabbed his head with her long-skinny fingers. Her fingers felt hot and like they were burning into Jeremy’s cheek and skull. Instantly, another bolt of lighting surged through her fingers and into his mind, reaching for his deepest thoughts and memories. After a minute, she released him as his head fell back, unable to hold itself up.
“I don’t understand. You must either have some serious protection around you or extreme mental damage. By the way, my name is Mai, I know you wanted to ask.”
The realization that she was trying to read his mind struck Jeremy almost harder than her mental probe had. “Wait, you’re telepathic?”
She smiled with an enlightened attitude.
“I thought things like that were made up and didn’t exist,” he blurted.
“Tell me,” she asked, “Where were you born?”
Jeremy shook in his chains, as if a cold breeze had entered the room. He didn’t know, nor had he ever known his origin. He had not ever been able to remember anything from before his first foster home, and had never been able to find any records of his parents or previous whereabouts. For some reason he felt ashamed of this fact, and shut his mouth refusing to answer.
“You can tell me,” she coaxed with a wink that Jeremy guessed only he was able to see.
“I thought you were the psychic.”
Mai did not immediately respond, only a shimmer of color arrived on her icy complexion. “Would you like to feel pain?”
He instantly understood that his retort had been the wrong avenue.
She stepped over him and laid her skeleton-like fingers on his chest, swirling them casually through his light chest hair. Her finger felt like a lighter being drawn across his skin. “You’ve felt the pain when I attempt to break into your psyche. The sudden rush of an intrusion pushing it’s way through every barrier your natural mind has built. Do you want to know how life feels for me, every second of everyday I survive.”
Jeremy attempted to rip his way out of the metal clasps holding his arms and feet, uselessly fighting and struggling as she spoke.
“There are 7 billion people on this planet, every thought and memory of theirs I can hear. The connection I make with you is not a one way street. I open myself up as I slide into your consciousness. I know every person on this planet better than their own mother and in some cases than themselves. A connection stronger than physicality, it becomes hard coded. I connect to everyone closer than two lovers could ever wish. I am telling you this so when I connect to you again you will know not only that it hurts, but why it hurts so much. People on this planet are hurting in a way that goes beyond explanation. Their souls cry out in a pain that would shock the most evil person. This pain floods the universe, poisoning humanity at its very core.”
In one fluid movement, Mai swung her leg over Jeremy and straddled him, pressing into him as she continued. “I get it all; all the pain, all the hate, all the deep repressed and recessed memories. Except yours. I don’t know why I cannot penetrate your thoughts, and I love it. Seven billion people screaming inside my head and you’re the only one that whispers. I want to share my gift with you.”
Jeremy scrunched his face trying his hardest to move back as she closed the distance between them and planted her translucent lips on his. A tsunami forced its way into Jeremy, entering from their intimate connection and spreading to every nerve in his body. The inside of his head felt like a pent up volcano, shaking with fury ready to burst. And then like a bullet exploding against a light bulb, there was only darkness.
Mai tore herself away from him and looked down in serene adoration. “Thank you for whispering.”
Waking through his own volition, Jeremy realized for the first time in what felt like months, but really only days, that his head did not ache. It had become numb. Instead of the shooting pains that he had experienced when he first woke up in the desert and throughout the whole ordeal with the telepathic woman, he now felt almost nothing, just a background buzz that reminded him of the noise he had heard in the hive with all those strange six-armed giants writing in their books. The buzz comforted and healed him, keeping him from giving up entirely.
He tried to recall what had happened when Mai had kissed him. His memory returned the immense shock wave that had exploded throughout his entire being. He shuddered, remembering the overwhelming pain, but it had not been his pain that he had felt. It had been everyone’s pain. Mai had been right, the pain was from within their soul, crying out so often that no one even noticed it anymore. It reminded Jeremy of how he had felt the first time he realized that he was homeless. Disgust and guilt, mixed with bone deep sadness.
A yellow light above him clicked on, illuminating Mai. She was again standing behind Jeremy’s field of vision. Appearing to study him as if he were a wild animal.
Silence hung between them as they watched each other through the mirror. Jeremy had the odd feeling that there were more eyes than just hers on him at the moment.
A squeal of a microphone came first, and then a much steadier and cleaner version of Harold’s voice came through, “We need to dump him.”
Mai remained silent, hovering behind Jeremy in her ghostly way.
“Jeremy, we have one final question for you,” the speaker above Jeremy’s head blared.
“I’ll ask,” Mai stepped forward, glancing from the mirror to Jeremy. She wore an almost frightened expression. “What is the significance of the feather you carried in here?”
Jeremy didn’t truly know nor did he want to give them any indication either way. He remained willfully silent.
“We know everything: your name, where you live, how long you’ve lived in apartment 3 on 27 West First street, the name of your girlfriend and more importantly your very troubled past. There is no point in trying to hide anything from us. Even if you don’t tell us, we will find a way to extract the information we want. So tell us about the feather.”
“I don’t know; it’s special to me,” Jeremy attempted.
“Don’t waste our time,” the disembodied speaker hailed.
“We can tell when you are lying,” Mai said flatly.
“I…” Jeremy started.
The box squealed a few jumbled curse words before finishing off with, “That’s not an answer!”
“Tell us. Quickly, you are running out of time,” Mai cooed in Jeremy’s ear.
“It’s you who are running out of time!” Jeremy bellowed, looking straight through the mirror at whomever was on the other side.
“Do you wish to die this day?” Harold asked from behind the glass.
Mai placed a protective hand over Jeremy’s shoulder. “I’ve been thinking about this since you arrived. There is another way.”
“More pain?” Jeremy asked already bracing himself for impact.
She grinned malevolently, “Sadly, although I did enjoy sharing with you, it is not wise for you are weak and any more might do permanent damage.”
Looking back and forth between Jeremy and the mirror before continuing, Mai nodded as if steadying herself. “Oh yes, there is another way. We will simply let you go on your merry way. You will be able to enjoy the freedoms as any other person in this country. But we will always be watching. You will never truly be alone. We will be like ghosts in the shadows. We will wait until you show us the answers.”
Reluctantly, Jeremy nodded his approval. He knew that he would have no other chance to escape. All he could hope for was a chance to get away and figure out where to run. If they would never stop tracking him, then he would never stop running. But in order to even start running, he had to first get out of his current imprisonment.
Placing one of her long skeleton-like fingers on Jeremy’s forehead, Mai whispered into his ear. “Until next time, sweet nothings.”
Jeremy slammed back into the cold metal table as another bolt of lightning surged into his brain, switching it off.
Next Chapter: The Writers of the Universe : Chapter 3 – Downturn
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2014 © Stew Stunes