JAYDEN MARTIN - KILNER'S FILE
Jayden Martin is a twenty-one-year-old Canadian writer who deals mostly in horror, suspense, surrealism, and drama. Working in literature, photography, and music, his artistic endeavors play off one another, lending themes to each of his works. He is currently working on a novel at his residence in New Liskeard, Ontario.
He sat inside the narrow stall, the walls closing in on him. The door hung on a slant and tended to sway at the bottom regardless of whether it was shut and locked. He loathed the desk to which he would inevitably return. Gerald had become immobile in his life – he was stuck in a rut. He stood carefully and straightened out his suit before lurching out of the washroom in a half daze. He returned to his cubicle through the sea of heads and maze-like walls, enduring the constant clacking of keys, indistinct whispers, heavy breathers, and the like. He melted in his seat and rolled over to his computer. The cubicle was bland and undecorated. Gerald had nothing: no family to speak of, no car, no pets…
Gerald powered on his monitor. The bleak, generic corporate logo filled the screen. The cubicle walls grew upward, imprisoning him, then began closing in. All outer noise – be it the clacking of keys, indistinct whisperings, or the constant low rumble beneath it all – progressed, growing in intensity, vibrance. The cubicle came in, incinerating all but two feet of his desk, fitting perfectly his slouched, depleted body, his chair, and his computer. Gerald scrolled through the files, searching for “the right one” when something caught his eye.
Although his mind was plagued with utter despair, the realization that this was it – life would always be a dull, stagnant routine, he couldn’t help but hesitate at the file of Deborah Kilner. Something about this name seemed so familiar. In a distant section of his mind, he knew Deborah Kilner.
He grabbed the machine by the sides and allowed his iris to leak into the keyboard. His eyes throbbed and reached out towards the screen, flowing through the air. His teeth, tongue and lips followed suit, and it wasn’t long before the tip of his nose and the skin of his cheeks and forehead sucked their way to the screen. As his elongated skull settled into place, his entire body died, falling limp to the desk.
Kilner's file was erratic, disorganized — it was like nothing Gerald had ever seen. Straggling bits of data floated freely in wide, abysmal depths of digital green. In far corners stood towers of peculiarly stacked, assorted sub-folders. Something was not right about this file. Gerald could feel it in the pit of his stomach. Something more than just the chaos of what should have been neatly alphabetized, linear stacks of folders, files, documents, and the like. Gerald, in his disembodied form, could feel a pulsating energy; something familiar, but almost alien to him. Obstacles, corrupted files, bits and bytes floating aimlessly through the Netscape.
Somewhere in the distance, another familiar peculiarity rang out in soft, off-pitch harmony. A nerve, estranged to him, began vibrating negative and he followed the sweet, sorrowful tune. Racing through the bleak green at a fiberoptic pace, Gerald felt his mind beginning to unravel. He began falling out of synchronization with The Motherboard, his head vibrating the cathode ray tube interface. Blood vessels burst in his serpentine eyes, his mouth, agape, collected the blood trickling down from his nostrils. Gerald realized, finally, that the melancholy music was that of a piano. He was ripped from the interface, thrown back in his chair as his box expanded back into its natural form, now a mundane cubicle in the run-down office building of the Welles Corporation. He slumped forward in his chair, blood running onto his desk and the floor, heaving, coughing, spitting. He grabbed a handful of tissues to wipe his face and hands, wondering who Deborah Kilner was, why he was so drawn to this file. He wiped the tears from his eyes and averted his foggy gaze to his watch — 4:52. Almost time to punch out and go home. One more trip to the washroom would end the day.
The walk home was excruciatingly long. No one seemed to mind his bloodstained shirt and tie, nor his swollen, sunken eyes. No one paid any mind to the broken man in business attire. Gerald trudged on through the barren streets, each step pulling him deeper into the ground, churning up bits of sidewalk. His mind was racing, head swimming. body aching. Blisters formed and erupted on the soles of his feet.
Gerald arrived at his apartment block and knew his vicious journey wasn't over — why not get a car? use public transit? get a new job? a new home? Those thoughts were destructive, and he knew to avoid them — he just didn't know how. The elevator was out of service, it had been for going on three months now. The eight flights of stairs were unforgiving. A man alone with his thoughts in the echo-chamber of dismay that was this run-down, disturbed stairwell was dangerous. The sorrowful, off-pitch piano tune filled his head, reverberating throughout the enormity of the stairwell, digging into his brain. The eight flights would drag on for eons.
Sitting in his tattered easy chair brought Gerald some peace of mind after the chaos of the day. He sat back, loosened his tie and threw it across the room. He lay his heavy, throbbing head back against the hardened headrest and let out a wincing sigh. The dark room pulsated and droned out into oblivion as he drifted off.
A sea of deep greens — exploding dull hues. An electronic hum filled the empty, digital chasm. Spinning through the Netscape, Gerald was uneasy. Something was wrong: the ominous droning buzz, the wide empty field of green, the complete and utter lack of files, documents, data of any kind. A figure appeared off in the distance, dark and unformed. This was all too real for the Netscape — the interface never provided such realism, such limitless sensation. The figure wandered rightward through the big, green nothing, twirling and bouncing, flowing like water. It swirled and settled, lowering into position behind a large, undefined apparatus.
Gerald lurched toward the figure, setting course and blowing through the Netscape like a bullet from a gun. A single note rang out at a mind-bending volume, destroying all sense of direction, deflating his being. As he spiraled out of control, the long, hard note rang out and that soft, swelling tune permeated his brain, forever to be in the back of his mind. The green began to shed away like old wallpaper, tattered remnants of green being engulfed by black.
The figure grew in both size and clarity, bobbing and swaying to the rhythm. Appendages danced along the apparatus as Gerald felt the skin of his face tear against his motion. He shot through the remnants of the Netscape, accelerating at an incomprehensible rate, knowing that time was limited. As he neared the figure, it erected itself and moved away from the apparatus — from which the sound carried on — and resumed its twisting, leaping routine.
Screaming, rolling forward at supersonic speed, Gerald broke through the Netscape and plummeted into his old easy chair, scraping back against the floor. The chair met some unknown obstacle and fell onto its back, tumbling Gerald onto the short hallway floor. Gerald worked himself to his hands and knees, tears of blood falling between the floorboards. He stood up and wiped his face, smearing bright crimson down his cheeks. He stood the chair back upright and ran his fingers along the deep grooves in the floor. If those were real, so must have been the dream.
Gerald made his way to the window and drew the curtain back. Blinding light tore through his retina through which he saw himself sitting at an old upright piano, laughing and smiling, looking back to the owner of the hand on his shoulder — the owner of the sweet, soft voice that caressed his inner ear. He had slept through the night. What time was it? He checked his watch — 9:04. He was already late.
Gerald staggered off to his bedroom and pulled a fresh shirt and pair of slacks from his closet, tossing the ones he was wearing into a small pile of dirty clothes on the floor. He dressed himself and made his way to the bathroom where he washed the dried blood from his face and hands.
Arriving at the office, Gerald was met with curious stares. He clocked in and poured himself a cup of coffee with a shaking hand. Pressing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, he gulped back half of the cup, dumping what was left in the break room sink. He went into the washroom to give himself another look over before appearing in front of his peers. His condition had not improved since the previous afternoon. His sunken, bloodshot eyes; pale, sagging cheeks — Gerald looked like a man fresh off a three-day bender. He splashed his face with cold water and straightened out his shirt — that's about as good as it gets.
The uncomfortable gazes seared into his skin, the chatter a swelling, diving cacophony fit for an insane asylum, the clatter of keyboards fell silent. He made it to his desk, tired and beaten, and rubbed his eyes once more before powering on the monitor. The buzz of the ominously toned fluorescent lights burrowed into his skull as his cubicle shot up and inward towards the heavens, closing in on him, incinerating all but that which was absolutely necessary for production. As the bleak corporate logo filled the screen, he dismantled his skull, leaving an elongated sloppy mess; his irises drained out onto the keyboard as he slithered his way into the interface. His dry, cracked lips parted and split as his chalky tongue, so unfamiliar to him, squeezed through his teeth and inched forward. The interface embraced him, awaiting his arrival.
Files flashed in front of his eyes, subliminally pulling focus. Each file name seared into his brain. After a while they all seemed to blend together until the file of Deborah Kilner appeared. He tried to ignore it and kept racing through the system, but the name appeared once more. It appeared several times in somewhat distant succession, closing into a close repetition until all files were that of Deborah Kilner. There was no escape. He flew through the files, searching fruitlessly for at least one name that was not that of Deborah Kilner, but was sucked in, regardless of how he resisted.
Gerald drifted aimlessly through the broken sea of green, that horrible tune reverberating throughout the deep, empty chasm. Free floating, a cosmonaut lost in space, he allowed a gravitational force to pull him along to some undefined destination. He spun and flipped through the endless void, hoping to seem indifferent to whatever entity was running the show. As he turned over, unsure what direction he was facing, Gerald caught a glimpse of the phantom and her large apparatus. He was being dragged back toward her. He would not resist – he could not resist. The tune plucked at every nerve, worming its way into his consciousness as he fell into the void.
The situation was much deeper, much more elaborate than Gerald knew. Had he known what was to come, he would have blown himself out of the interface, never to return. But with his innocent ignorance intact, he carried on. Still flowing down the river, he closed in breaking the directional disorientation. As he stared into the bland green-black horizon, Gerald zeroed in on the figure. Aromas, distantly familiar to him, filled the cybernetic air, drawing him in, relaxing him, nearly easing him into a deep unconsciousness. Home cooked meals — something that had nearly left his memory completely. He hadn't eaten a proper meal in what seemed like years. He had lost all recollection of recipes, skills to use in the kitchen. He had lived off bread and butter, ramen noodles, frozen pizza, and cheap Chinese takeout for as long as he could remember. He knew no other way.
"Gerald," a soft effeminate voice called off in the distance. "Gerald, where are you? Are you coming?"
The tune rose and fell, teasing a crescendo that never came. The figure rocked and swayed behind the apparatus as Gerald grew near and the music swelled. As he arrived behind the hazy figure, her hands fell on sour notes that rang out. She turned her head, tears rolling down her foggy face. "Why?" She asked, her voice raw and broken, "Why would you do this to us?"
"What—" Gerald started, hesitantly, "What do you mean?"
Her obscured face fell to the grips of decay and decomposition. Motionless and beautiful, she fell away to earth and dust. A disembodied scream echoed through the Netscape, crisp and bold. Gerald rocketed forward into her gaping mouth, wide as an overpass tunnel, as her tongue rotted and followed him down her concrete throat. His cubicle exploded out as he shot out of his chair, to the floor, writhing and screaming. Stationery flew clear across the room, an upward blast left it floating down, passing closely by his contorted, bloody head as it snapped back into form. He writhed and twisted on the floor, gasping and bleeding, as his co-workers went on about their day.
Gerald grabbed his desk and pulled himself to his feet, grimacing, and hunched over his desk coughing out the blood that found its way to his lungs. As though it were routine now, he grabbed a handful of tissues and checked the time, wiping the blood from his face. It was 3:06. The days were growing longer, becoming more difficult as he isolated himself — not that he had a large social circle to begin with. Gerald sat back in his chair and dug his thumb and forefinger into his eyes. He took a breath and stared at the mass of papers that covered the cubicle. He turned to the calendar that hung loosely on the wall, trying to remember where exactly he was in time.
"Gerald?" A stern voice called from behind. He turned to the doorway to see what whoever was there wanted. His direct superior, whose name eluded him, was in the doorway to his cubicle. "Can I see you in my office?"
"Certainly," Gerald started, his eyes dancing about the papers, "Could you give me a moment to get this all sorted out?"
"Never mind that. Just come with me, please."
They sat on their respective sides of the desk, on top of which sat a plaque bearing a gilded inscription reading "Mr. Hannigan" with a smaller inscription below it which read “Branch Manager”.
"Gerry," Hannigan started, carefully, "I know you've been going through some hard times for the past few months, and quite frankly, I'm beginning to worry about you — we all are."
"I appreciate the concern, Mr. Hannigan —"
He chuckled, humorlessly, "You know you can call me Scott."
"Well, I appreciate the concern, Scott, but, honestly, I'm fine."
"Have you taken a look at yourself, lately?" Hannigan bellowed. He leaned in towards Gerald and nearly whispered, "You may be something, but whatever it is, it's not fine." He sighed, "Your behavior has been erratic lately. Christ, Gerry, you were nearly an hour late today. You haven't been a minute late for the entire time you've been with us."
"Am I to be reprimanded?" Gerald was becoming anxious, fidgeting and twitching.
"No." Hannigan put his head in his hand and began to fidget with a pen. "No, you won't be reprimanded. You're being given a warning, and I'd like to ask you if you would accept two weeks of paid leave."
"I can't do that, Scott," Gerald huffed, "I've got a lot of work to do." Gerald stood up,
"May I be excused, now?"
"Sure," Hannigan sighed, shaking his head, "I'll see you around." He waved his hand to the door.
Walking through the field of cubicles, Gerald realized the expressions behind the glances of his co-workers: concern, sorrow, fear, disgust. Something was happening. He was unsure of what but was determined to decipher the mystery.
Gerald sat at his desk fidgeting, fearful of the interface, not wanting to face what was inside. His eyes shifted from the monitor, to his pen, to the paper laden floor. He glanced at his watch — 3:47.
Gerald rhythmically tapped his fingertips on his desk in contemplation. After a few moments he gave in and turned to his computer terminal. He powered on the monitor and sat, staring at it blankly before accessing the database. He worked his skull into a gelatinous, serpentine mass and locked into the interface, gritting his displaced teeth. His cubicle transformed back into its two by two cell, and his body fell to the desk.
He found himself in a never-ending corridor, following the horrible sound of that soft, off-pitch tune. "Gerry?" a voice called out, "Gerald!" He snapped forward to a room at the end of the corridor and found himself — at least a version of himself — sitting at the source of the tune, fingers crawling on keys, limbs dancing and flailing about. The tune fell dead on sour notes as he watched himself stand up, rubbing his flushed face in frustration. He watched himself walk out of the room, straight through him and down the long dark corridor until he disappeared into the black.
Gerald disengaged from the interface, leaving the Netscape with more ease than he had in quite some time. The greens, blacks, flashing multi-colour lights all faded away as he pulled his skull back into its natural shape and his cubicle reformed to its usual mundane, undecorated, grey box. He turned in his seat, troubled by the experience, and looked to the papers which carpeted the floor. He decided that the collection and reorganization of this dated data could wait until a more fitting time. He walked back over to Hannigan's office and knocked at the ajar door.
"Come," Scott's voice bellowed.
Gerald opened the door, "Hey, Scott—"
"Oh, Gerry. How're you doing? Come on in."
"Actually, I was wondering if I could just head home now. I don't mean to be a hassle, I'm just—"
Scott looked up at him, the wan smile vanished from his face now wrought with concern, "By all means. Go ahead."
"Thanks," Gerald said, weakly.
"Will we be seeing you Monday?"
"Yeah. I'll be in at nine. Have a good night Scott."
"You, too, Gerry."
Gerald walked through the sea of heads in the office and likewise on the street. It was a long, hard walk. He was overcome with paranoia — a nagging thought that he was being watched – but his suit had only been lightly stained today, so it was unlikely that passers by had even taken notice. The eight flights seemed to drag on longer than ever. He got into his apartment and immediately stripped and headed to the bathroom. He hadn't showered in what seemed like a week. Maybe that would make him feel human again. He stood in his small shower stall, cool water rushing over his face, contemplating recent events — the only ones, it seemed, that he could remember. Everything leading up to this point seemed garbled, like a corrupted file floating throughout the Netscape.
The cool water did what it could to fend off the thoughts, the perceived realities in which Gerald was living, but such a feat seemed near fruitless. As it poured over his puffy flesh, stinging and soothing, he tried hard not to reflect on the events of the day. The song had lost the soothing quality it surely once had. It now hung in the air like an unsettling, pungent odor, clinging to everything it touched and trailing along behind. The keys would invade your ears like mice behind a wall, scratching and pulling at nerves. He could stave off the thoughts behind the song, but one could only guess for how long.
Gerald stepped out of the shower, pulling a towel around his bare, bruised body. The tune seemed hollow, no longer existing within his skull. Sound spilled in through the open bathroom door. He looked in the mirror and saw the poor, depleted face behind it — pallid, sagging cheeks; three-day stubble scrawled across his face; sunken, black eyes, buried deep within his skull; a line of yellow-black fangs hanging from his mouth. He knew that he was looking into the face of a sick man, a man with nothing left to lose. He looked at the decimated face that stood inches from his own and he knew that he didn't stand a chance.
He turned away from the man in the mirror and refocused his attention to the piano. Never had it sounded so fluid, so true. He followed the sound out the bathroom door to the short, darkened hall, but when he closed the door behind him, he found himself in a new land. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes to no effect. He was in a home that felt vaguely familiar. The tune carried on as he eased down the hall. He looked through the archway to the right and saw himself sitting at an old upright piano in a quaint dining room. Behind him stood a woman with her hands on his shoulders, swaying gently to the music. She leaned forward as his hands ran across the keys and played high, harmonizing, single notes, allowing them to ring out. They played, swaying, rocking, and his hands fell on a cacophonous combination of keys. An immaculate silence encapsulated the room.
"Okay, I've had my fill," he said with a sigh, standing upright, and continued as he worked his way around the bench, "You can give it a whirl." He smiled and kissed the woman on the forehead. She promptly sat and began working the pedals. As her fingers began to relax on the keys, the scene came back to life.
Gerald walked behind her, grabbing a tumbler from the cupboard, and made his way to the liquor cabinet. He poured himself a half glass of bourbon and sat at the table, facing the window. The cool evening breeze wafted in through the window as the psychedelic skies washed away at a slow crawl.
Gerald could tell by the look on the apparitions' faces that this tune, to them, was one of reassurance — one that stated plainly for them that they had already climbed the mountain; they were through the thick of it. As each note bore into him like bloat fly larva, it built them up, shielding them from any misfortune.
The scene was picture perfect. Gerald felt as though he were viewing his own life through a television screen. The facade ended when her hands fell on sour notes. Gerald watched his face grow weary as the woman tried fruitlessly to find the right keys, but the harder she tried, the more difficult the song seemed to become. His other self put his head in his hands and slumped over the table, the woman immediately appearing at his side. She laid her hand on his shoulder, the vaguely reminiscent comfort telepathically transferring between versions of himself.
The floor gave way beneath his feet and rocked him back and forth until he sank slowly through the vacuum, falling to reality. He stood alone in his dreary kitchenette and fell back toward the wall. He slumped to the floor, tucked his knees to his chest. And sat there in the cold, dark corner waiting for an end.
Monday morning came. The sea of talking heads, clattering keys and vacant stares seemed no different than any other day. Scott had reverted to Mr. Hannigan. It seemed the Friday debacle of bloody flailing limbs and soaring reams of paper had been long forgotten.
Gerald worked his way into his cubicle, which had remained untouched. The few remaining physical files lay strewn about amongst the bloody tissues; dried blood spatter on his keyboard and monitor. He powered on the monitor, the insidious corporate logo filling the screen and infiltrating his conciseness.
Behind a large drop of blood, Gerald noticed a stray icon. Generally, there would only be one icon on a company computer, being the corporate database, but far off in the bottom right corner of the screen stood in solitude a single shortcut named "Kilner's File".
He powered down his monitor, turned to the entrance of his cubicle and let out a deep sigh as he stared down at the bloodied files coating the floor. Gerald's mind raced incoherently as he slid off his chair and knelt to pick up and organize the files. There was no real need for these old files anymore — most of these cases had long been closed. He wondered why they hadn't been digitally archived, but he supposed it may have been a long-forgotten responsibility of his from when the company had replaced its hardcopy case organization system. He wondered if he had created the shortcut to Kilner's file when he had last trekked through the Netscape. The memory was hazy, distorted by time and circumstance.
He slouched over the mass of papers, skimming pages, organizing them on the floor by recurring codes, numbers and names. He compiled what he believed to be the entire case file of Edward Cambridge and the corresponding file folder. Turning to his desk to put the files away in the nook which sat above his computer, Gerald watched the monitor hum in and out of consciousness. He stood to place the file in its designated nook and shook the computer mouse. The monitor fully powered on as he expected, so he turned it back off.
The remaining files lay on the floor, semi-organized, in several sporadic piles. Gerald's stared down at them and rubbed his head. The day would surely drag out for what would seem an eternity. As he dropped back to his knees, the room fell away to linear deep greens based in black — floating rubble, disheveled files, fallen towers, burnt out multicolour lights. His knees hit the solid green floor and he was launched forward to his hands, suddenly faint, fatigued.
Stricken with fear, Gerald nearly collapsed, his heart raced as perspiration began to roll down his face. Hyperventilating, he yanked at his tie to loosen it. He was becoming claustrophobic in the vast endless Netscape. He had never felt it with his physical vessel. He clenched his eyelids, taking deep, meditative breaths.
He opened his eyes as footfalls approached him. He stared at the ground, shaking, until a shadow befell him. A washed out, silhouetted figure walked to him. Bare feet planted themselves within his sightlines, and he raised his head to see long, smooth, familiar, legs clad in well kempt, side-split, red dress. He tried to catch a glimpse of the person who stood before him but was blinded by the light which wrapped around the figure.
He looked back to the ground and wiped his face
"Gerald?" Mr. Hannigan called. He stood in the entrance to the cubicle, looming over Gerald's frail, crumbling body. "Are you doing alright? Feeling any better after the weekend?"
Gerald looked up. Hannigan's face was riddled with concern, pity, disgust. He grabbed the desk and pulled himself to his feet. "Yes, sir. I feel quite fine, thank you. I'm glad to be back."
"Good. That's good," Mr. Hannigan breathed sharply, "I only ask because you seemed a little rushed on your way in — and, well, you seem rather flushed. Are you—"
"Oh, no worries, Mr. Hannigan," Gerald fixed his tie, digging for enough pep to make himself seem at least somewhat believable, "I was just replacing the files that fell last week. I, uh, got kind of hot."
Hannigan's expression turned to blank confusion, "Okay, good. Glad to have you back. Carry on."
"Thank you, sir."
Hannigan turned on his heel and walked back toward his office. Gerald slumped back into his chair, let out a sigh and rubbed his eyes.
"Gerald?" He heard, deep in the back of his skull — a surreal, faded echo. "Gerald? What happened to us?"
"Stop," Gerald said shortly, not lifting his head from his hand, "Stop this." He looked at the monitor, the standby light slowly fading in and out.
"Gerald, we could have had anything."
"I said stop it." His short breathing pleas became grunting, growling demands. Her voice echoed in and out, half phrases breaking and falling through the tumult of a dozen others, swelling into the forefront of his consciousness, filling his head and beating against his skull. It took everything in Gerald's power to keep him from screaming out in pain and frustration.
His world began to fall around him. The skies fell from the windows as the glass exploded into the office lacerating the unwitting sea of heads. The walls and ceiling cracked, bleeding a deep green sludge. Bits of paneling and insulation rained down, mingling with the shards of glass and sludge as the cubicle walls shattered, falling to the floor.
"We could have had it all, Gerald," the voice carried on, "We could have been happy."
"No," he cried, "Don't do this to me."
Rubble continued to rain from the vast, bleak nothing above once the ceiling had dissipated completely. Gerald stood in the middle of what was once his cubicle, the sludge pooling up around his ankles disappearing the carpeted floors. The walls fell in and sunk into the unknown depths of the sludge. He looked around and saw none of the strangers that he called coworkers. Their interfaces, computers, desks, filling cabinets, family photos, campy calendars, tacky motivational posters — everything —had succumbed to the sludge. Hannigan's small enclosed office was nowhere to be found.
Gerald was in a vast black void, left to wade through the green muck with nothing in sight but his interface. He was certain that if he were to run as hard as he could in any direction, all that he would find would be endless muck and screaming pleas from this Deborah Kilner.
Her cacophony faded to nothing and Gerald felt her hand caress his shoulder. This was no longer a comforting feeling. It was cold, heartless — a sure signal for the end of days. She leaned forward, parted her lips and whispered in his ear, "I need you, Gerry. I need you to come and find me – save me," and her translucent green figure whipped over his shoulder, compressing to no more than a thin stream, and shot into the interface. She pleaded, "Help me."
Gerald looked from side to side. He looked around to ensure that what he was seeing — what he was feeling — was real. Although he wasn't satisfied with the results, he knew that he had to take it for what it was to possibly put an end to his suffering. Otherwise he could endure the endless swamp in which he would undoubtedly reside for the rest of his days.
He ran a finger around his monitor and powered it on. There stood a lone icon in the center of the screen, boldly labeled “Kilner's File”. Gerald opened the file and the interface filled with what seemed to be a linear green-black mould of his face, so he reared his head and shot it forward with all the force he could muster.
Gerald tumbled through the apocalyptic Netscape, flying past crumpled towers of information, free-floating debris. He shot in a straight line towards an absolutely radiant figure. Second by second, the figure grew as it twirled and bounced about its small circle. He waited for the digital embrace of the woman who he had spent weeks trying to understand —trying to revive from the cold depths the Netscape. The soft piano tune played, but there was no fear or apprehension. It gave Gerald a warm nostalgic sensation. A sense of home. He knew that he was lucky to be there. He was sure, now that this was not the end of days, but the end of suffering.
Hannigan rushed out into the center of the office as soon as he heard the scene of destruction. Gerald was towering over his cubicle, red in the face, screaming frantically, throwing the hardcopy files about, smashing his interface to the floor.
"Fine!" He bellowed, "It was me! I did it! It was my fault! Just make it stop!" Tears were streaming down his face. "Just let me be! You've proved your point!"
Hannigan did all that he could to get Gerald's attention, but all attempts were fruitless. He could see nothing but the image of his wife lying mangled in a pool of glass and blood as the rain beat down on her corpse.
Still in the front of his mind he heard only that sweet piano tune.
They were at the dance hall, swaying to the sweet sounds of Andre LaCotte's third piano score. He and Deborah had decided two months — or four date nights — earlier that they would try to decipher his angelic performance and recreate it on their old beat up upright piano.
Andre had been playing at Bowerman's Lounge two nights of the week for nearly a year by now. When he had first played his newest composition, some three and a half months prior, Deborah and Gerald began to regard it as his Magnum Opus. A tune that rang out through the large dance hall and reverberated beautifully throughout the vast acoustic perfection.
"We almost have it now, don't we dear?" Gerald said softly into Deborah's ear.
"We do," she smiled. "It's about here that we need to work on." The tune swelled to a crescendo.
"Why don't we just bring in a recorder next time?" He laughed, "Maybe that'll be what it takes to get the peak."
It really was too bad that they couldn't bring a recording device as they were banned from the hall. It's difficult to recreate such a delicate piece of art by memory, but they had done it well up to now.
These regular dates had been Gerald’s idea to “rekindle the old flame” – as it were. Their marriage had taken its share of stress over the course of the past ten years or so and Deborah thought it was time for a change of pace. Gerald decided that fronting the bill on an expensive dinner on a biweekly basis might repair some of the damage they had taken – most of which was by his own fault. His idea had done better than he expected, giving their love for one another a new sense of vitality.
Gerald was well lubricated by this point. He had three drinks with dinner and two or three more since they stepped away from their table. Deborah had shared a bottle of Cabernet with him, drinking most of it herself, so by that time their cheeks were flushed, and the casual sway of their tightly pressed bodies had turned to more of a stagger.
They gave a generous applause when LaCotte finished his number and returned to their table for a quick dessert. New York cheesecake, water for Deborah and a black coffee for Gerald.
Around 9:30 the night came to a close when the waiter brought them the bill with a few mints. Gerald thanked him, checked the bill — a staggering two hundred fifty dollars, not unusual for them — and left the cash on the table with a fifty-dollar tip.
Gerald thanked the maître d’ as they walked past, for holding their standing reservation, as he did every other Friday night. He grabbed their jackets from the coat check and helped Deborah with hers. He held his own over their heads as they splashed their way across the parking lot, and opened the passenger side door, closing it when Deborah was securely seated.
Gerald got into the car and turned it on. They sat in the parking lot for a few minutes, allowing the cab to warm up, as a curtain of rain fell over the windows. It had been a long winter and the rain was a pleasant change of pace.
"I had fun tonight, Gerry," Deborah cooed, and they got underway. Gerald turned on the radio to his favorite jazz channel and it played a constant stream of classic hits.
Being so early in the year, ten o'clock looked like midnight. In the brief moments where the wipers cleared a full view, the road looked like black glass. Headlights and traffic lights shone and gleamed through the downpour, reflecting sharply. Gerald looked at the road as a dazzling laser light show like the ones he had seen as a teenager.
"I had a wonderful time," Deborah repeated a few minutes into their drive.
"I did, too, darling." He reached for her hand, brought it to his face and kissed it.
Gerald switched the station when New York, New York came on — the one Sinatra song he couldn't stomach. It landed on an easy listening channel, mostly big band instrumentals.
"The wine was fantastic," Deborah smiled. "How much was it."
Gerald laughed, "You don't want to know, honey. But you can never go wrong with a Californian Cabernet."
They listened to the music in silence for a moment as they rolled down the main drag. Gerald grew weary and bore his thumb and forefinger into his eyes and tossed a mint in his mouth before taking Deborah's hand again. She took her other hand and caressed the side of Gerald's face. "I love you, darling."
"I love you, too, Deborah." They leaned into one another and kissed. Sweet hints of cheesecake and wine. He looked into her deep green eyes, smiled, and sighed in disbelief. "We ought to —"
Two bright lights closed in behind Deborah's head.
“Gerry?” He must have grimaced or widened his eyes.
Gerald slammed on the accelerator, trying to swerve.
The transport's horn blared, and its tires shrieked against the asphalt as it locked on its breaks. They were struck behind the door — metal ground against metal. The front fender whined against the pavement as the car was sent into the air, churning, twisting, spinning.
The hood crumpled as the car briefly stood on its nose, and Deborah's face was sent toward the dash. Strobing multicolor lights invaded the cab as the frame twisted and bent. Over and over, and round and round. Short glimpses of the blackened world around them. Glass flew about the cab as they tumbled across the intersection and windows continued to shatter one by one.
More screeching tires and grinding metal filled the air as vehicles collided with Gerald's Lincoln and the Mack that was still attempting to come full stop. The Lincoln spiraled, like a football, through the air, and came down hard on the front right fender, rolling onto its roof.
Deborah flew through her window, shattering it with the sheer force with which she hit it, and skidded and rolled across the pavement.
Gerald regained consciousness and swiftly scanned the cab. All the windows had exploded, and the dash and roof were coated in blood spatter. Gerald rubbed his face and the ringing in his ears fell silent to the screams around him, the rain beating on the pavement, the glass tinkling against the roof of the car and the road beneath. He had completely come to now and was swept with panic. "Deborah," he cried. He fell to the roof as he released his seatbelt and twisted until he could crawl out of a window. "Deborah!" The smell of gasoline filled the air. He worked himself to his feet and staggered a few steps looking at his surroundings then fell back to the pavement. There was a Ford Focus, the entire driver's side completely obliterated.
People were running from their cars to help the passengers of the Focus and the Mack. Two or three had pulled out their cellphones making calls, and one was stooping in the middle of the intersection, screaming for an ambulance.
Gerald got back onto his feet and a passerby grabbed him by the arm. "Are you alright?" The man shouted. "We have to get you out of here.”
"Deborah," Gerald breathed. Blood and tears trickled down his face, nearly unnoticeable through the constant stream of rain. "Where's my wife?" He began to raise his voice, "Where's my wife?" He staggered toward the man who was crouched in the middle of the intersection. The man at his side decided there was no use in fighting him and began to help him over.
Deborah's body lay twisted and mangled, staring up at the sky, blood and rain pouring down her face. Shards of glass has shredded through her arm and face. Her right eye was filling with blood – gruesomely accentuating the depths and flecks of green. Gerald crumpled down beside her body as she drew her last agonizing, gasping breaths.
Gerald wept until three police cars and four ambulances pulled up to the scene.
Gerald's trial went through with a unanimous guilty verdict for one count of driving under the influence of alcohol, one count of reckless endangerment, and three counts of vehicular manslaughter. He would have served two life sentences in a maximum-security prison, but he was found to be in a catatonic state at the scene of the accident upon medical examination. He served his sentence in a minimum-security mental facility, from where he would be transferred to a prison if and when his condition was to improve.
It never did.
Presently, Gerald sits in his wheelchair, being spoon fed nutritional supplements by his attendee in the cafeteria of Armstrong Memorial Mental Institution. He hasn't uttered a word in six months, at least. His communication has devolved to grunts and growls of displeasure. But not of his surroundings.
It seems he'll live out the rest of his life in the cyclical hell of the Netscape.
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