Right, hello, first attempt at sci-fi here and enjoyed writing this immensely. I hope its not too long for the forum, I put it in two parts. I guess its borderline novelette according to wiki.
Synopsis: Jack fades in and out of sleep, in and out of reality. He tries to figure out where where his feet actually touch the ground while a phantasm-man guides him in an unknown direction. It is cold.
Wondering what you guys think, thanks for any comments/critiques.
‘It’s snowing again.’ He said indifferently, placing his cigarette into the ashtray on the windowsill. ‘Did you hear me?’
‘Yes, you said it’s snowing again.’
He stared at her while she pulled up fishnets and let them snap onto her thigh. She had a cigarette in her mouth and she squinted through the smoke, crow’s feet like capillaries. She pulled a leather miniskirt up to her waist and buttoned it and stood topless, smoking and staring back at the stranger she had met a dozen times over. Her eyes opened wide.
‘Yes, of course.’ He fumbled through the bedside drawer while she clasped the last hook of her bra. With a gentle lunge she reached for the money but he pulled his hand away.
‘Same time next week?’ He grinned.
‘If you got the money.’
She slid her arms into a fur jacket and buttoned it up and left with the slam of the door. Jack walked back to the window where his dying cigarette smouldered and watched her exit the building to hail a cab and disappear into the blinding white.
‘Home.’ He said to the empty room.
‘I am tired. Warm the sheets.’
‘Warming sheets, Jack.’
He slid back into bed to drift to sleep.
‘Do you realise that you aren’t where you are meant to be?’
‘I don’t get it.’
‘You aren’t really asleep, Jack.’
Jack pulled off the sheets and walked to the window. The streetlights the colour of sunrise against the snow. A patrol vehicle hovered by silently, its spotlight tracing Jack’s face. The coffee grinder stuttered then spat brown liquid against the inside of a clay mug.
‘Leading presidential candidate Harry Murtle found dead at home. Evidence pointing to foul-play.’
‘I meant today’s news.’
‘This is today’s news.’
‘Are you sure?’ Jack sipped at his coffee and sat at the foot of his bed. ‘What else?’
‘Drug Kingpin Albert Weasley detained for que-’
‘No. No, that was last week. What is up with your system recently?’
‘If you are unsatisfied with HOME COMPUTER Ver. 2.3. Please do not hesitate to contact our main offices at . . .’
Jack was not listening. A chill had crept up his spine and he swore he had just seen his breath in the air.
‘Shut up, Home. What is current room temperature?’
‘21 degrees centigrade as optimised by Jack Wells.’
Jack put his head in his hands and rubbed his face and scratched at his stubble. A wave of exhaustion enveloped him and he put the coffee down so he could safely close his eyes.
‘What? What is this?’
‘I have something to tell you. Do not freak out.’
‘Why can I not see a fucking thing? Why can I not feel a fucking thing?’
‘Jack, just relax. You are just floating. Try and touch your hands. . . see? You felt that, right?’
Jack looked down at his feet, they shifted in opacity.
‘What is this?’
‘Don’t freak out.’
‘I’m not going to fucking freak out!’
Jack’s eyes shot open and as he sat up he heard a faint whisper.
‘You freaked out.’ It said.
There was a shuffle in the bed and a messy-haired blonde woman sat up. She squinted.
‘What is it, Jack?’
He sat in silence while she lit a cigarette then he did the same.
‘Current news database is under maintenance.’
‘Jack, doll. Is everything okay?’
‘Yes. I think so.’
She grasped at the heated covers. She thought she would not press him further and extinguished her cigarette. Another client awaited her in a couple hours. Jack was certainly one of the stranger ones. He pushed himself out of bed and tried to look out the window but the glass had frozen over in a thick sheet of ice.
‘Home. Defrost windows.’
The computer did not speak.
‘Home. De-frost win-dows.’
‘Statement not accepted.’
‘Fucking hell. First thing tomorrow I’m getting you sorted.’
‘Statement not accepted.’
‘Home, go deaf.’
‘Looks chilly out there.’ She said.
‘You can stay until you have to go but I’m not paying for it.’
‘It isn’t going to happen if you don’t. I’ll just sit here and doze if that’s alright.’
‘Alright.’ He watched her turn over so her back faced his. They always turn away, he thought. Always.
He opened the fridge door and poured out some milk, its taste sterile and unusual. He pushed some bread into the toaster and as it crisped the smell was of something else and then he turned back to face the room, watching the woman lightly snore into the dimness, the window behind still ridden with thick ice. The toast popped and he ate it plain, its taste unreflective of its substance and Jack began to worry. The voice from before still rang in his ears. I can’t be dead, he thought. This is not what death is. I expect blackness. Just the dark. And then, tinges of light as when you press the palms of your hands into closed eyes. I want light shows, like neon microscopic pictures of bacteria. Black patterns on yellow. Something to follow knowing you won’t ever get to turn back. No. I am not dead. Not yet.
She woke in the hour and smoked again before dressing herself and leaving. He asked her to stay, but for free, and she smirked and jested and he secretly did not take kindly to that, muttering into the empty room after she left. He pulled the covers over himself but sat up with his back against the wall.
‘Home. I want to continue reading my book.’
‘Book reading. Please refrain from leaning forward while the hologram prepares.’
Blue light shot out from the wall above Jack’s head and pixel by pixel it formed a floating board in front of his vision.
‘Home. Increase font size to sixteen and flip to where I had stopped before.’
‘Increasing font size. Jack, this is where you stopped before.’
‘No. I remember reading this part where the nanites have implanted themselves in the big dude’s brain. He goes round fucking things up for everybody. Jesus, I’ve read at least fifty pages after this one.’ Jack paused, his mind racing. ‘I am screaming at a fucking computer. If anyone saw this they’d think. . .’
‘Statement too long. Not accepted.’
‘Turn to page two-hundred and fifty-five.’
‘File not found.’
Jack stared at the semi-uploaded page hovering in front of him. It was littered in jumbled symbols from a failed attempt at forming a font. Its blue light flickering ever so slightly. He sighed.
‘Home. Fuck you and set alarm for six thirty am. And why is it so fucking cold?’
‘Alarm set for six thirty am. Temperature set at twenty one degrees centigrade.’
And the voice whispered. ‘The temperature is just right.’
‘Who are you?’
Jack watched the humanoid-looking ethereal glow blue within pitch black. It was floating and its skin shifted in and out of translucency, sometimes releasing sparks that faded fast like ashes from a campfire. It smiled a full set of pearly whites, the only thing solid about him - and then it opened its eyes, of which Jake thought were already open before. He could not help but stare at the empty abyssal sockets quietly sat within the blue skin. A rise of temptation filled Jack.
‘I’m you.’ It said.
‘Yep. Well, something like that.’
‘I see. And this place?’
‘Well, Jack. It’s whatever you want it to be really. Your safe-zone. Come and go as you will.’
Jack was taken aback by the friendliness of this phantasm-man. The situation grew increasingly stranger with every second.
‘You told me I was dead.’
The phantasm swayed. ‘Just testing the waters.’
Jack did not say a word, waiting for it to speak.
‘Yeah. Like, make a thing.’
‘What in the hell are you talking about?’
‘Like this.’ The phantasm pushed his hands out in front of him and rolling grass hills stretched out beneath them and they put their feet to the ground.
‘I haven’t touched grass in years.’
Jack squatted down and ran his hands through the blades and he thought of the playground he used to frequent as a child with his mother. And then he thought only of his mother.
‘You can’t bring back people.’ The phantasm said.
‘I wasn’t going to.’
‘You were thinking it.’
Jack stared at the phantasm now knowing that they shared a brain.
‘What makes you different to me?’
‘To put it simply, I am the other side. I’m always there, you just don’t really use me much.’
Jack stood up and stretched his back and then looked into the distance, above him it was still darkness. He mimicked what the phantasm did before and pushed his hands outwards and a blue sky littered with pure white cloud erupted above them. He swished his hand around and sun beams broke through the cloud above illuminating the emerald hills. Jack felt a little silly.
‘Not bad.’ The phantasm said.
‘You said, I don’t use you much? What would I use you for?’
‘Assorted things. Things that aren’t necessarily in your nature.’
‘Fuck, that’s specific isn’t it?’
The phantasm shrugged and started walking.
‘All this feels too real. No, no, no. This is a dream, right?’
The phantasm stopped and its head turned to face Jack, its body still facing forward. ‘Something like that.’
‘Jack, it is time to wake up.’
‘Jack, it is time to wake up.’
‘Jack, it is time to wake up.’
‘Snoozing. Time reminder: eight thirty am.’
Jack cursed and got himself to his feet, throwing the covers across his bed.
‘Home, I am late. Why are you using such a low volume for the alarm?’
‘Statement not accepted.’
‘Home, increase alarm volume.’
‘Alarm volume already set to maximum.’
Jack pushed open the bathroom door and started running the shower. After a few minutes, the water had failed to heat up but Jack in no mood to argue with his computer counterpart braved the icy water to get a quick wash. He came out, his breath steaming in front of him and he shivered as he toweled himself dry. He looked into the mirror and remembered the phantasm and shook his head. A dream like that, he thought, could only be a dream. Dressing himself smart he grabbed his briefcase and sprinted to the elevators which were out of order. He cursed again and flung open the fire exit doors and ran down fifteen flights of stairs until he hit the ground floor and sauntered out the main entrance. The road was quiet and snow drifted easy onto more snow. He looked at his watch and headed to the bus stop where he waited for half an hour until a man approached him. He was old and wore coats over coats and a flat cap that covered his whiskering ears. A scarf strangled his flustered face.
‘Bus not runnin today.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Bus not runnin.’
‘How am I meant to get to work?’
‘It’s a good couple miles.’
‘Couple miles is nothin. Couple miles was nothin before all this technology.’
‘Yes, yes.’ Jack replied quickly and started walking at a brisk pace towards the city center. He looked over his shoulder to see the old man slowly turn his head in his direction, impaling Jack with a uneasy thousand yard stare. He began to walk faster.
His journey into town was a hassle, but the roads seemed quieter than usual. Looking at his watch again, he thought that this is probably how quiet it gets when it isn’t rush hour. He’d be sat in his office by now with a hot coffee staring at facts and figures that would dictate whole markets and with a few clicks of a button and phone calls he’d rake in at least a few thousand credits in an instant. An old woman now exited her small one-floored cottage-like house and was in the process of locking up when she turned to see Jack walking at such a pace. She stared at him for awhile until he took notice of her, neither of them breaking their gaze until Jack was out of sight. Something doesn’t feel right, he thought. Not at all.
He arrived at the office two hours late and the secretary Harriet shook her head and tsked jokingly. Jack nodded and then shrugged as he walked into the elevator. The doors opened with a ding on the twelfth floor, a maze of cubicles in his vision. He knocked on all of them as he walked by, his colleagues issuing good mornings with phones between ears and shoulders. The low mumble of the office always calmed Jack and how his heavy leather shoes would sound against the carpet like comfortable thumps of a heart. This place is always alive, he thought.
A young interne's head appeared like a meerkat in the desert, her blonde hair just hovering above the top of the cubicle. Jack stared at her eyes. As green as the hills he thought, and with that she disappeared back below.
‘Who’s the new girl?’ He nudged at his buddy at the water cooler.
‘What new girl?’
‘The one in there.’
‘Jack, that’s Sandy’s cubicle.’
Jack squinted at the pale green box and shook his head when his colleague asked if he read over the report he had sent him. No not yet, Jack mumbled. Not yet.
‘You alright, Jacky-boy?’
‘Yeah, fine. Just gonna go. . . say hi to Sandy.’
The thumping of his shoes did not do much to relieve Jack of a rising wave of anxiety as he approached the cubicle. Her eyes had been the exact same colour as the hills. Down to the very pigment of it. He peeked his head around the cubicle wall to see the back of Sandy, clicking away at the keyboard with her cat nails and chewing gum as if she stood on a darkened street corner. She turned and stopped chewing and smiled at Jack, he smiled back and small-talked before entering his office and pushing his face into the palm of his hand. It was deathly cold when he sat down and started working and he asked a technician to turn up the heat. He said they couldn’t bring it up any more than it is now and Jack agreed and sent him elsewhere so he could concentrate.
But concentrate he did not. His mind was scattered, his thoughts rolling into thorny tumbleweeds and dissipating. He poured himself an amber drink and sipped at it. The burn in his throat soothed the cold he had been feeling since he sat down. The phone rang and he picked it up to hear just a dial-tone. He looked out the window, it was dark. He looked at the time. It was time to go home. I just got here, he thought.
He stood and walked to the window which looked out onto the cubicles all of which were empty except one. She appeared again, her head just peeking over the cubicle wall and she smiled. Jack grabbed his coat and exploded out of the office into a sprint until he arrived to where she stood but he met nothing but silence. He scouted across the office again and he saw the back of her blonde hair appear and disappear and he tried to chase her down once more to reveal nothing. He cursed into the silent office before leaving and trying not to look back as the elevator doors closed.
‘I’m going crazy.’ He whispered as soft piano music played in his ears.
The secretary had left already when he walked past the reception desk. But she always leaves early, he thought. He sat down in one of the leather chairs where clients would wait to be called and closed his eyes to calm himself.
When he opened them he was home.
‘I was dreaming. Dreaming the whole day.’ But he looked down at himself in his work clothes and adjusted his tie. He called his lady-friend to only get to her voicemail then noticed the window had been covered by a sheet, blocking the window pane. Further observation of his room resulted in Jack looking at the locks on his front door all being heavily latched, including the chain which he hated dearly. The sound it made if left chained up and the door opened was infuriating to his ears.
There was a knock at the door and he looked through the peep-hole, the security guard staring back. He unlatched the all the bolts and locks and the chain.
‘Mr. Wells, is it?’ The security guard looked him up and down and Jack responded with the same. A fat man, he thought. Balding apart from the sides. A moustache. Really?
‘Yes. How’s it going?’
‘We’ve had complaints of noise originating from this apartment.’
‘I don’t think so, I just got home.’
The security guard looked him up and down again his eyebrow raised and then brought his walkie-talkie up to his bristled lip.
‘Jimmy, come in.’
The radio crackled. ‘Yes, sir?’
‘Mr. Wells says he just got home.’
‘Well, sir. I don’t know about that, I saw him walk in here with his ladyfriend earlier in the day.’
The guard put down the walkie-talkie and tried to look around Jack and into the room.
‘Is there something you’re looking for? I think Jimmy has mistaken me for someone else. Who complained about the noise, anyway? Was it number three-thirty three? That old bat complains about everything. She won’t even get Noise-Away installed that cheap woman.’
‘Sir, settle down.’
‘I am pretty settled. Do I look unsettled to you?’ Jack had started to sweat, yet the cold embraced him again.
The guard looked him up and down the third time before telling Jack to keep it down anyway. Jack closed the door and re-did the locks in a panicked fashion. That Jimmy said he had seen him and the woman walk in earlier. He had no recollection of it all and looked frantically about, searching for some unknown something.
He pulled open kitchen cabinets and looked behind bowls and plates and looked under the sink, behind the assorted plastic bottles of chemicals and cleaning product. He looked in his fridge where the bread he ate before laid there untouched and cold as he. He dare not check the milk to see if it had been drunk.
Jack was lost and he knew it. He was losing his mind and he knew it. But no answer could be found for him. Not yet. The answer, he thought, will be here. It will be in this room and I will understand eventually. I need to. His mind plagued with previous thoughts, the emerald eyes of the girl in the office, the phantasm man spreading his arms as if crucified and encasing darkness in rolling hills and Sandy, turning on her chair, chewing her gum like a horse would hay.
‘What is the answer?’ He screamed into the room.
The search led him to his wardrobe, his jackets and trousers lined up in militaristic fashion oozing grey under the light bulb above that turned off when he closed the door. He ran to the window and the cold embraced him again and his eyes followed the sheet that had been hung up from its bottom to its top and then back down again. Hesitant and still, he thought about what laid behind it, what ugly secret he was trying to hide, why he hung it up in the first place. But when he took it down, all that was there was the frost, clinging heavily to the glass, its crystalline material twinkling minuscule chandeliers and he exhaled leaving a thick patch of vapour across the surface.
‘Home. De-frost windows!’
‘Voice not recognised. Please re-calibrate.’
‘What? It’s Jack.’
‘Voice not recognised. Please re-calibrate.’
He put his face in his hands then sat on the bed and stared into nothing, wondering about everything brought on by fear and with a creeping sense of apathy. I want to give up. Just let me lay down and die. I don’t want to think anymore but I have to. The phantasm said he was dead, but there was something about that he didn’t believe. The world the phantasm inhabited did not feel like a dream at all, it felt right in there. And what of the phantasm saying he is the other side? Jack ran over question after question, afraid and alone and confused. It dawned on him that he’d have to see the phantasm again. He had to have the answer no matter how out-there it seemed. He swore into the darkness, his thought process utterly destroying him question after question until he felt a shuffle beneath him, and then the chill crept up again, his spine an ever growing ridge of ice. Then, realisation. He remembered and instantly regretted. When he leaned over to look under the bed, between his feet, she was there. She was there with her wrists bound and her mouth gagged and her eyeliner streaming down her face like some poor raccoon caught in a trap and Jack fell onto his behind and pushed himself away like a dog and shut his eyes. When he opened them she was still there, still screaming through the cotton rag between her teeth and kicking and crying. He shut his eyes again to wish her away. He could hear the muffled groans and whines and how her fur-coat made a scratching noise against the carpet, and it was getting ever closer. Jack turned his head to the side as if caught in headlights, stricken in fear, wracked in the cold that never seemed to end. But the shuffling eventually stopped and he slowly opened one of his eyes to squint through. She was still there, no longer moving. Jack watched her face knowing that it would not change expression.
He got on his knees and crawled slowly towards the bed. He pushed a finger forward to touch her hand, a dead spider, its arms up and curled. She did not move when he made contact. How he wished her to.
‘What have I done?’ He whispered. ‘I do not remember.’ He began to cry and he felt a tear freeze on his cheek. He pinched at it and held it between his fingertips and stared - a jeweler to his gemstone.
‘Voice not recognised.’
‘Please. Home, what did I do?’
‘Voice not recognised.’
‘Oh god, oh god.’ He spoke into his hands, his words muffled, his palms sweaty with the spit that trickled between his lips.
‘Voice not recognised. Please re-calibrate.’
There was a knock at the door and Jack froze. Another knock soon followed along with a voice he had heard before.
‘Mr. Wells. We’ve been having complaints again.’ Jack looked at the door then back to where the woman lay but she was gone and Jack was left wide-eyed and in silent confusion.
He looked around the room, at the frosted window, the dirty lampshade on his bedside, towards the kitchen then back under the bed. He felt the carpet where she laid still before and it was damp.
‘Sir, are you alright in there?’
Jack stood and looked through the peep-hole of the shining bulbous head of the security guard. Trickles of sweat across the scalp, the few strands of hair at the side damp and greasy. He opened the door and waited for sometime for the guard to speak again.
‘Please, Mr. Wells, it is half past three in the morning. You’ve been clattering around and screaming and shouting with no concern. We’ve had calls from the landlord herself wondering what you’re up to.’
The guard received no reply but a slow shut of the door, Jack’s face like stone, his expression unreadable. He knelt down to look under the bed one more time until he saw his breath in the air and he felt a cold unknown to him. It encased his bone and he fell into the darkness, the crackle of the guard’s radio fading down the hallway.