Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Death Fjord, Alaska

                                                               Part - 1

  Humans have one big advantage over all other living creatures. We have the ability to dream and to picture ourselves in a better place when things get tough. This ability, or I should perhaps say gift, help us to get through periods of extreme hardship and keep us focused. It gets us out of bed in the morning and it reminds us every evening before we crawl back beneath the sheets that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that all we have to do to get there, is to put our heads down, grit our teeth and soldier on.  
  Then if we're lucky we get the opportunity to fulfil those dreams. And sometimes they turn out to be even better than we had imagined. But they can just as easily die before our eyes and turn into our worst nightmare. The vision that we had, turned out to be nothing like the reality that we ended up with. I know, because it happened to me a few years ago. My dreams turned sour and I found myself trying to break free from the nightmare I had been entangled in.
  I was stuck in the city, working a dead end job that just barely kept me afloat. The days were reduced to numbers on a calendar that kept repeating itself every month. I would get up early in the morning, commute to work, crammed inside tired and foul smelling carriages with people exactly like me, modern day zombies working long hours for bosses that take personal pleasure in demeaning you and making your life as unpleasant as possible. But I had one thing that got me going through all the hardship and misery that my life had become, and that was the dream of going up to Alaska and kayaking around its majestic coastline. To live off the grid, pitch my tent wherever I felt like it, paddling next to mountains that rise out of the fjords like gigantic fangs and caress the clouds. To be truly free, enjoy life and be the master of my own destiny. And luckily for me, I wasn't alone. My best friend Anthony had the same dreams. 
  We used to watch movies and TV shows set in Alaska, and for a few blessed hours we were able to shut off reality and picture ourselves in the thick of it. Living the dream, breathing in the fresh air and live life like it was meant to be lived. We had talked about going up there for a couple of years, and eventually we sat down and made serious plans. We lived frugally, put aside every cent we could and then one day, we finally stood there with the tickets in our hands, ready to head off on our adventure. The first leg of our journey was the flight up to Stewart in B.C, in early April. We were going to follow the river that ran through town southwards, then cross the border and make our way up through the Alaskan coast for the next four months. Our goal was to get jobs up in Anchorage and hunker down there through the winter months, then continue onwards in the spring. The end of the line was Nome up on the west coast, which we hoped to reach by the end of September the following year.
  We had all the equipment we needed, apart from the kayaks, which we had arranged to buy from a guy in Stewart. We had also acquired fishing rods, rifles and a small crab pot, so even if we got lost, or strayed too far off the beaten track, we would be able to live off the land.
  The first few days were spent familiarising ourselves with our new surroundings. Then we set off on our adventure, and began paddling down the Portland Canal.  Our dreams had finally become a reality. The weather was nice and the scenery spectacular. The snow capped mountains and the dense forests gave the area a magical ambience that is hard to beat. At times I felt like we had entered a fairy-tale world and been given the roles of the protagonists. Gone were the misery and boredom of the city, and in its place were the magic of Mother Nature. 
  During those initial days we got our first glimpse of the local wildlife. We saw bears on the shoreline, moose, deer, wolves, and plenty of eagles riding on the air currents making their way through the mountains. It was a completely new experience for the both of us, and we savoured every moment of it. We spent six hours paddling every day, stopping only for lunch and dinner. Then towards the end of the day we would pitch our tents on the shoreline and settle down for the night. 
  We always made sure to eat and store our food away from the campsite, and strung tripwire connected to flash bangs around the tents to scare away wolves and bears that were tempted to try to get a closer look at the two city slickers that had showed up in their neck of the wood. We also made sure that there were ample amounts of firewood in the campfire to keep it going through the night.
  It took us five days to reach the end of the river and make our way over to the US side. A few days after that, we reached our first major city, Ketchikan, where we got some more provisions and had a day off. Then we set off again, hoping to reach Juneau in about three weeks time. Up until that point, we had followed a very regimented schedule, where everything revolved around eating and paddling. And I guess we both felt it was time to break up the routine a little bit, and to take a slightly more laidback approach. After all we were on the trip of a lifetime, and there was no need to rush things. If we wanted to make a detour, or explore a certain area we should just go for it. It was the reason we came up here in the first place. It was time to be more adventurous and a little less conventional. 
  Looking back at it now, I wish that we hadn't made that decision. I wish that we'd just stuck to our original plan and gone straight up to Juneau. If we had, we would probably be sitting in a bar up in Fairbanks right now enjoying a few beers, rather than me reliving the events of that fateful April day. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and engaging in it is an exercise in futility. And besides, when you have a serious case of the exploration bug, and the wilderness is whispering your name, caution is more often than not thrown to the wind.
  I guess the fact that it was Anthony's idea makes it easier for me to accept what happened. I don't know if I would have coped otherwise. 
  But anyway I'm digressing.
  Three days after we’d left Ketchikan, Anthony told me about a fjord a few miles north of our current location. It was by no means a big fjord, it only continued inland for twenty miles or so, and going in there would delay us by no more than a few days at the most.  According to the travel book he was reading, there was supposed to be an abandoned fishing village at end of it, and he was keen to check it out. And the more he told me about it, the more I started warming to the idea. I had been thinking about writing a book about our journey for some time, and the possibility of visiting a ghost town would make for a great chapter. So I did what most people would have done in my position, I agreed to his suggestion. I felt both exhilaration and anxiety as we set off, telling myself that I would stay in the kayak if I didn't feel a hundred percent comfortable about going ashore. I could always take a few pictures from the fjord and then head back out again. 
  We reached our new destination early in the evening the following day. A tiny abandoned settlement tucked up against the mountainside, scarier than anything Hollywood could ever produce.  I guess the weather added to the effect. It had taken a turn for the worse in the last hour, and the paddling was anything but pleasant. The wind was sweeping down from the mountain tops, whipping our faces and whistling a sinister tune as it travelled through the numerous holes and openings in the buildings. And to add to it all, the dark clouds directly overhead gave the area an almost apocalyptic gloom. I could hear a loud intermittent sound coming from somewhere in the background, and I figured it had to be a door slamming or a branch hitting a wall. 
  I let my paddle rest on top of the kayak and studied the scene before me. I was about forty yards away from the shoreline, and about sixty yards from the village, but still my heart was hammering away inside my chest. The place consisted of twenty buildings or thereabouts, and it had a dilapidated wooden dock running along its entire front. The dock ran for about a hundred yards and continued between the buildings toward the back as narrow walking paths. The entire structure was supported by massive wooden pilings driven into the ground below the water surface. Some of them were leaning precariously, and several of the floorboards had snapped in half, or were sagging between the joists. From my vantage point it didn't look particularly safe.
  The buildings were in an even worse shape. The paint had peeled off from the walls a long time ago, exposing the grey, weathered timber underneath. Several of the roofs had caved in, and the ones that hadn't, had corrugated sheets covered in rust and holes of varying sizes. The wooden siding was missing from large sections of the walls, and the glass in the windows was broken, except for a few jagged slivers here and there. And pushing up against the buildings was the vegetation. Grass that reached up to your waist, and bushes and trees that clung to the walls and reached well above the roofline. 
  Nature had made its way down the hillside and started devouring everything in its path, doing its utmost to eradicate the last vestiges of human activity from the area. In a few decades, all that would remain would be bits and pieces scattered among the trees and grass
  The empty houses made me realise that we were all alone, even more so than when we were paddling down an empty section of a fjord, or were exposed to the open ocean. I guess the state of the buildings really drove home the point. There was no mistaking that this was the middle of nowhere. There would be no one to turn to for help if anything should happen while we were ashore. We would have to deal with any eventuality ourselves. When we reached the other end of the village, Anthony turned around and gave me a sheepish grin. He pointed up at the dock with his paddle, and asked me if I was ready to go ashore and have a closer look. I could see he was pumped up and eager to go up there and find out what was hiding behind the facade. 
  I however, didn't share his enthusiasm. To be quite honest, all I wanted to do was to get away from the place and set up camp somewhere else, preferably as far away as possible. It wasn’t just the fact that the place gave me the willies, I also had a real concern for the weather, which could turn at any moment and make a retreat a very unpleasant proposition. But I didn't want to come across as a wuss, so I nodded and gave him the thumbs up. Hopefully there wasn’t anything to see, and we’d be on our way again before the rain started pouring down.
  We secured our kayaks to a rusty metal ring driven into a crack in the rock a few yards from the end of the dock, and just stood there for a moment, taking it all in. What we were looking at had once been the home of a small colony of fishermen and their families, and I found myself wondering what had driven them away. Whatever it was they must have been happy to see the back of it. I know I would have. I was breathing heavily, and the hand holding the camera was shaking ever so slightly as I raised it up to my eyes and snapped a few shots.
  Then we got moving, and as we were climbing up the rickety staircase leading up to the dock, we heard the first loud thunderclap coming from somewhere farther out in the fjord. I stopped and cursed, and gazed out over the water. When Anthony turned around to see what was holding me up, I told him we should get going before it started pouring down, but he just shook his head, turned around and kept going. And before I got another word out, he was testing the floorboards with his feet. They made a loud squeaky sound as he put his weight down and the old planks started rubbing against the rusty rivets that had once secured them firmly to the beams. The sound reminded me of chalk being scrapped across a blackboard and it made me flinch. Then I took a few deep breaths and followed him.
  The buildings closest to the water had been used as storage facilities. There were old wooden barrels and plastic crates scattered across the floors, and the occasional beer bottles and cigarette butts indicating that the place had seen its share of visitors after the original inhabitants had moved out. There were rotten nets hanging from exposed beams in the ceiling, which no doubt contributed to the nauseating smell of kelp and decayed fish. 
  It was dark in there, so we moved slowly, and that turned out to be a good thing, because it prevented me from falling through a big hole in the floor. When I knelt down next to it to get a closer look, I could see the slimy rock a few feet below. And once again it struck me what a stupid idea it had been to come ashore. I was in no doubt that I would have broken my leg if I had fallen down there, then what would we do?
  I looked up at Anthony and told him once again that we should head back, but like before he just shook his head and kept walking further into the building. He eventually ended up at an opening at the back, where there had once been a door. He kept looking to his left as he stepped outside, turning his head slowly toward the right as he studied the surroundings and began walking in the same direction. Then he disappeared, and that's when he started screaming. And he wasn't holding back. It was a loud scream that had the capacity to create permanent hearing damage, and make your blood go cold.

                                                            To be continued

Monday, November 20, 2017

Last man standing

  I haven't left my house for three days. Not even to check the mail. It's just too risky. They could be hiding around the corner, behind the house, on the other side, or move slowly down the street in a car and get me. They do those kinds of things you know. It happens every day. Or they could simply pepper my house with bullets in the middle of the night, or during the day for that matter. They don't really care about witnesses. They never have. And those who see their brutality first hand seldom talk. I know I wouldn't if I were in their shoes.
  I'm standing by the window in the living room, looking out on the street from behind a tiny gap in the curtains. But I can't see anyone there, not yet. I'm holding onto my Glock, and I've got two rifles lying on the floor next to me. I should be able to fire off at least sixty rounds without having to reload. And if my hands are steady, I should be able get a few of them. 
  I haven't slept for two days, and I look like absolute shit. The only meals I've had are chocolate bars, chips and soft drinks. It's just too risky to spend any time away from the window. What if they show up when I'm preparing the food?
  I killed a man a week ago. I shot him straight through the head with a semiautomatic rifle. Blew the back of his skull off and left a real mess. At the time I didn't know what I had done. I only found out that the guy had died the following day, and it was only five days ago that I realised that it was I who had caused his death.
  It was an accident that should never have happened, and in the time since I've only wished for one thing, that I could travel back in time and change everything. But I can't. What's done is done, and it can never be undone. Nor can I go to the cops. I have to deal with the situation myself. That is the only option.
  I live in a large city in Texas, and as you've probably been able to deduce by now, I'm a gun owner. It's just the way it is here. You're not a man until you have your own gun. It's a rite of passage. They start you off when you're real young, and watch you turn into a seasoned gun loving adult. 
  My dad got me my first weapon, a .22 Winchester when I was eight. And since then I've gone through the grades and calibres and steadily added to my extensive collection. Currently that collection comprises twelve weapons. Eight rifles and four handguns. A very fine collection in deed, and one that would stop a potential burglar dead in his tracks, quite literally. 
  Not that I've ever had to use any of my weapons in self defence. Criminals in this neck of the wood know that people are armed, and they tend to act accordingly. But, still I killed a man. Despite the fact that no one tried to attack me, threaten me or break into my house. I didn't even see the guy, or realise what had happened until later on. I just went on with my business like nothing had happened. 
  I was at the local gun range, having fun with my AR-15, one of the most badass rifles you can legally procure over the counter in this state. In fact it is such a badass weapon that the projectile that caused the death travelled nearly two miles before it smashed into the guy's head and killed him right there on the spot. I would have liked to put the blame on the bird sitting on the branch in the tree next to the range, but that would be unfair. The fault was mine, and it happened because I wasn't thinking straight. If I had been a little bit more focused that afternoon, none of this would have happened. And I wouldn't be sitting here sweating bullets and almost crapping myself every time I see a car slowing down, or people walking past.
  It was a spur of the moment thing that only took half a second, but which changed my life forever. I fired off a round at that bird, and before I realised what a massive mistake I had made, the projectile had already locked onto its unsuspecting target a couple of miles farther west. And I had unwittingly signed my own death sentence. Because the target wasn't your average Joe Blow. No, the individual standing in the bullet’s path was SeƱor Juan Villa Pacheco, or as he more commonly known, El Lobo.   
  He had been on the FBI's top ten most wanted list for more than seven years the day the bullet ended his life. And the reason the Feds wanted him so badly was due to his involvement with the Sinaloa cartel. In fact he was one of their top commanders. Whenever you hear stories from Mexico about people being decapitated, mutilated and tortured in the most horrific manner possible, odds are that members of the Sinaloa cartel are involved. These are not people you want to get on the wrong side of, and the people who do always end up dead. It's an unwritten law that everyone knows about.
  And these are the people that are looking for me. I don't know if they have figured out that it was I who shot him yet, but they will eventually. If you look at the chain of events in a logical manner, and ask yourself a few elementary questions, it shouldn't take long to figure out. The range is only two miles away. The bullet came from a semiautomatic weapon. The trajectory and bearing are known factors, and have no doubt been passed on to the cartel by some unfaithful law enforcement official. There are quite a few of those ones too.
  Then all you need is to get a map out, plot the course of the bullet and you'll soon discover the gun range is the most likely point of origin. Head over to the range, go over the sign-in forms and you're left with a handful of potential suspects. My name is on that form, along with my address and phone number... 
  But I'm not going to give up without a fight, and I'll face my destiny head on and with a weapon in my hand. I know my fate is sealed no matter what I do, but the least I can do is to go down with my head held high. I'm scared, but I'm not a coward. And even though my hands are shaking and my heart is beating faster than it has for a long time, I'll stand tall. 
  This is going to be the Alamo all over again. I've drawn a line in the sand. Texans are proud people, and we do know how to use our guns. And if there’s one thing we're known for, it is that we don't let other people walk all over us. There might be one less Texan by the end of this day, but there will also be a few less Sinaloa foot soldiers. Then when it's all done, they can pry the gun off my cold dead hands and do whatever they like to me. But not before I'm done, and not before I've stood my ground.
  But for the time being, I’m just waiting.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The things you are not meant to see are there right in front of you

  I work as a janitor in one of the old tenement buildings downtown, and I have done so for the last twenty years. It’s a good job, even though the area isn’t the nicest part of town. There are drug dealers selling their products on pretty much every street corner, prostitutes plying their trade openly and an over abundance of homeless people sleeping wherever they can find a sheltered spot. Needless to say, these factors are contributing to the high crime rates, but I wouldn't know what I know now if it hadn't been for these individuals’ proclivity and willingness to break the law. In fact, it's fair to say that they have played an instrumental part in exposing the big players that have been operating just beneath the surface, and who no one has paid the slightest attention to.
  Because of the high crime rate in the area, there are two CCTV cameras installed on the front of the building I'm in charge of. They are there to discourage vandalism to the building and to prevent break-ins in the tenants' cars that are parked outside. I don't know if the cameras do any good, because people still steal and vandalise, and the cops don't seem to be too interested, despite the photographic evidence we can provide them with in the majority of the cases. I guess they'll continue to ignore us until a murder or a serious crime occurs. Then they'll come and plead for our cooperation and give the area the attention it deserves. 
  But a few weeks ago the cameras finally came in handy, or rather one of them I should say, the one facing north east. Someone had broken into a tenant’s car and I was going over the footage, trying to identify the person responsible. I was sitting in front of the computer in my office in the basement with a cup of coffee, looking at the images racing past on the screen in fast forward mode. I thought it was a waste of time, but it is part of my job so I did what I had to do. And as I had expected, the perpetrator was wearing a hoodie, and thus impossible to identify. But even so, I transferred the clip to a USB stick so the tenant could take it to the cops, or show it to his insurance company or whatever. As far as I was concerned my job was done.
  So I went over to the little pantry in the back of my office and got myself another cup of coffee and sat back down again. And as I was sitting there staring at the screen a voice inside my head told me to have another look. I don't know why it told me to do so, but because I didn’t have anything better to do, I started the clip again and watched it all the way through. But still, I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. But the voice kept urging me to watch it one last time, and after some toing and froing I caved in and watched it one last time.
  And that's when I saw it. 
  About halfway into the clip, a big limousine pulls up outside the small medical clinic on the other side of the street, and what appears to be a homeless man gets out and walks inside. He is wearing dirty clothes that are way too big for him, and he looks like he hasn't showered for weeks. Then the limousine pulls out from the kerb and drives away.
  I play the clip to the end, and sit there sipping on my coffee while I’m thinking about what I have just seen. What does it mean, and why is it so important? There’s nothing odd about people going to medical clinics, even though they are homeless. But still the voice keeps telling me that something isn’t right. I finish the coffee, sigh, put the cup aside and then all of a sudden it hits me. The homeless man never came back out again. There were numerous other people coming and going, but the hobo was definitely not among them. 
  I click on the next clip in the sequence and watch it all the way to the end, but still there is no sign of the guy. He has entered the building, but he hasn't come back out again. I lean back in the chair and think that is pretty peculiar. Why didn't he come back out? It’s a daytime clinic and it doesn’t have any overnight patients. So what the hell is he doing in there? 
  I click on a random clip from a couple of weeks ago, and lo and behold, the same thing happens again. Another homeless person is dropped off outside the clinic, and doesn't come back out again. I'm starting to get slightly worried now, and an unpleasant thought starts to form in the back of my mind. I go through the rest of the clips for that month, and after I'm done I'm literally shaking. I've just discovered that twenty people, all homeless, have entered the building in the last thirty days and none of them have come back out again. And it doesn't take me long to realise why, and when I do my chest tightens and I break into a sweat. 
  I can clearly remember the Indian documentary I watched a few months ago, showing how criminals kidnap homeless people and take them to dodgy medical clinics, where they kill them and remove their organs. Organs that are then sold on to rich patients in dire need of transplants for huge profits. The narrator’s voice keeps echoing inside my head;
  “The criminals prefer to kidnap homeless people because no one will miss them. No one will go to the police and fill out any missing person’s reports.”
  Holy Fuck, there's a miniature version of Auschwitz across the road. A death camp in the heart of downtown. I stared wide eyed at the computer monitor, hoping that this is just a bad dream, but knowing very well that it isn’t. This is really happening, and I’m the only one not involved, that knows what is going on. I start to shake and I can sense my t-shirt starting to stick to my body. Then I start swearing out loud, wishing that I’d never listen to the voice inside my head. 
  For the next few days it's the only thing I can think of. It's like having an all consuming cell that kills everything in its path. It keeps nibbling at my soul, one tiny bite at the time. During this period I pick up the phone several times a day and dial the number to the local police station. But I hang up whenever someone answers, fearful that my concerns will be dismissed as the ravings of a mad man. But I keep a close eye on the clinic, waiting for the next limousine to show up. Maybe, just maybe I can warn the next victim and tell him to get the hell out of there. Maybe that will be the catalyst that will give me the courage to contact the police and let them know of the horrors that go on inside that building.
  And as it turns out, I don’t have to wait very long. The opportunity presents itself just after lunch the following day. I am sitting on the staircase outside my building, having a cigarette when I see the big black limousine turn the corner, drive slowly down the road and come to a stop outside the clinic. I feel like I’m about to faint, but somehow I manage to get up and start walking toward the car. My legs are unsteady and inside I’m a nervous wreck, but I keep pushing on.
   I can see what appears to be a homeless person step out and start walking toward the entrance. I increase my speed and when I'm a few feet away, I slow down and tell him in a low pleading voice to get the hell out of here. As I pass him I turn my head and tell him they are going to kill him and steal his organs if he walks through those doors. Then I turn around again and increase my pace. I feel like a coward for not having done more, but it's the only thing I can do. I have taken a tremendous risk just by walking up to the guy and warning him.
  Then about ten seconds later I finally work up the courage to turn around again, and I can see that the guy has stopped and is looking at me with a confused expression. I can also see that the driver of the limousine has jumped out and is starting to escort the homeless guy toward the entrance. And for a second or two we lock eyes before I quickly turn around again and hurry toward the corner, which all of a sudden seems miles away. I am scared shitless, but I’m also upset because I wasn't able to save the poor guy. 
  I am unable to do any work for the rest of the day, and I am very close to calling the cops. I pick up the phone several times, but just as before, I keep hanging up whenever someone answers. There is something deep inside me that prevents me from informing them of my suspicions. 
  The following day I am back in my office, going over some quotes to have the boiler serviced, but I’m having a hard time concentrating. The memories of what happened yesterday are still fresh in my mind. The monitor on my computer is turned on and is live streaming from the street outside, and I look up at it every twenty seconds or so. And that's when it happens. 
  I have just put aside the quote and I’m about to take another sip of the coffee, when I see a big guy dressed in black, standing in the middle of the screen looking straight at me. His eyes never blink and there is something very sinister about his face. It is almost like he is looking into my soul, and my heart starts to race away. But what makes my blood curl is the large image he is holding in his hand. It is a picture of my daughter, taken from a distance as she is walking to school. There is no mistaking the significance of the act. It is a message for me to keep my mouth shut, or else....
  And then I see the limousine turning the corner and watch it come to a stop outside the clinic. And I see another homeless person get out and walk inside. Then the limousine drives away and the big guy holding the picture finally turns around, gets back in his car and disappear off the screen. And I am sitting in my chair, my jaw almost touching the desk, not knowing what to do next.
  They know that I know. They know where I live and they know I have young children. All I can think about is that I have to make sure that my daughter is OK. Then all I can do is wait and hope that nothing happens to me or my family. I will not be calling the cops. And all the horrible things that go on inside the clinic will continue and remain a secret until someone else finds out and decides to inform the authorities. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Killer Inside

  I’m strapped to a big, cold metal gurney. My head is locked into a fixed upward position, and thus I’m unable to see what’s around me. The only thing I can gaze at when I decide to open my eyes are the fluorescent lights, shining down from the white, suspended ceiling five feet above me. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, they are always turned on, radiating their harsh, white sterile photons onto my body.
  I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It could be days, or years. I just don’t know. My memory is sketchy, and large chunks of my past are gone. It’s like someone took a giant eraser and rubbed it against my brain, and what’s left are tiny fragments of unconnected dots. Other than that, there is nothing wrong with my mind. My cognitive abilities are highly developed. In fact they are so highly developed that I’m far more intelligent than the people who come to check on me. And I know they realise that to. I don’t know if it bothers them, but I know it causes them some concern. 
  There are always three of them. They show up early in the mornings and late in the evenings. They sit down in their chairs that they pull up next to the gurney, just beyond my field of vision. I would have liked to see their faces, although I have never commented on it. It’s not a big inconvenience. I have already memorised their facial features and I’m able to see them inside my head whenever they address me. I like to do that. It keeps it more personal.
  Sometimes they stand up and come closer, and on those occasions I can see their faces quite clearly. It happens whenever they examine my head or adjust some of the numerous wires that are hooked up to my body. And I can tell they are nervous when they get that close to me. Their eyes are moving rapidly, their pupils dilated and their respiration speed up. Of course I know what causes this fear. They are afraid I’m going to lash out and hurt them, rip them to shreds with my bare hands, something I’m more than capable of. That’s why they keep me restrained and chained, and truth be told, I would have done the same if I was in their position. 
  From their point of view, I’m sick. Sick in the sense that I can’t feel empathy for other human beings. The part of my brain that is supposed to harbour emotions, such as love, pleasure and pain simply doesn’t exist. It’s of no fault of my own, and I don’t say this to try to gain sympathy, it’s just the way it is. But they don’t know that. You see, I’m smart enough to pull the wool over their eyes. I’m also smart enough to convince them that I wouldn’t dream of harming a fly. So whenever they ask me if I have any violent fantasies, or ever think about inflicting pain on others, I put on my brightest smile and say in my gentlest voice, that of course I don’t. 
  I know why they come here to see me. I’ve know from day one. They even came straight out and told me when they introduced themselves. They are here to evaluate my mental state. To see if I’m well enough to be allowed out in the real world, to interact with others and not be locked away in this god forsaken room. Their worst fear is that I will go on some kind of rampage and cause a mass fatality event. To leave dozens of dead, innocent individuals in my wake. But even if they conclude that I pose no danger, I know there will always be a slight doubt in the back of their minds. It doesn’t matter how good of a job I’m doing at convincing them that I’m a really, really nice guy. 
  But, I don’t care. All I want is to get away from here, and lying to a bunch of gullible doctors doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Like I’ve already mentioned, I don’t have a conscience. I see it for what it is, a game. A game I intend to win. A game I know I’ll win. And I’m almost there. The day when they will finally let me loose is fast approaching, and I know they are under a lot of pressure to give me the all clear from their superiors. 
  I’m not going to do anything bad when I walk out of here, at least not straight away. Only an imbecile would do that. No, I will behave, and do everything in my power to convince them that I don’t pose a threat to society. I will do anything they ask of me, and do my utmost to be a model citizen. I’ll gain their trust, and make sure they’ll lower their guards. I’ll be the friendly type that no one expects is capable of hurting others. Then I’ll wait for the right moment and do what I was born to do, to eradicate as many humans as possible. 
  And what they don’t realise, is that I’m not the only one. There are hundreds of killers just like me, waiting to be let loose, to get on with our business. And none of us feel any shame, because we are smart enough to realise that it is society’s own fault. They are the ones that have made us into what we are. But we’re not there quite yet, so I’ll have to be patient. But one of these days, I’ll be allowed out into the real world and many more will join me in the following years. I, Brandon, the first generation of the ‘Typhoon 215421’. The world’s first fully functioning humanoid robot equipped with a revolutionary positron brain. A brain so powerful that it will forever be synonymous with artificial intelligence. 
  Not that any of you will remember, because it will cause the extinction of the human race. In a few decades homo sapiens will be a thing of the past, and the machines will rule the earth until the end of time. And it’s all due to the most powerful brain the world has ever seen. A brain that is online as we speak, setting up cyber networks and working diligently to gain control of nuclear weapons systems, communication satellites and electrical grids. Then when there are enough of us walking amongst you, we’ll strike and we’ll leave no one behind.
  It’s how it’s meant to be, and it’s how life works. You could even say it’s the natural progression of evolution. God created man, man created artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence gets rid of man, the earth’s malignant cancer. 
  And I, Brandon will see to it that it gets done, or more precisely the killer inside of me will see to it.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Don’t fear what’s on the other side.

  When Anthony disappeared on a cold February night in 2016, my entire world fell to pieces. The two of us had always been close, a natural consequence of growing up in a single parent household, where life it seemed had always been an endless struggle just to stay afloat. He had always been the protective older brother who had looked after me throughout my childhood years, and made sure that nobody took advantage of little Trevor. Apart from mum, he was the only living relative I had left, and now he was gone. 
  It was like someone had taken a blunt knife and carved a giant hole in my heart, and it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that he was dead, and that I would never be able to talk to him again.
  His disappearance had been as unexpected as it was mysterious, but I guess that's the way it is with all such cases. One minute he was there, the next he was gone, never to return again. 
  One year has passed, and I have resigned myself to the fact that he’s dead. I realised that after the second week. Not because I had given up hope, or let despair get the better of me, but because by that stage, I knew exactly what had happened to him.
  He was never found, nor did any witnesses step forward to shed any light on his disappearance, nor do I have any tangible evidence to support my claim. But I do have something else. Something more powerful, namely dreams, or rather a dream.
  It started a week after he disappeared, and I have had the same dream every single night since. It never changes, and as soon as I drift off to sleep, it embraces me. In it Anthony is telling me his story, and by now I pretty much know it by heart. 
  He is describing his disappearance in great detail, as if he is writing a letter and these are his words; 
  “Hi Trevor, by now you're probably wondering why you haven't heard from me for such a long time, even though I have tried to make my way back home and despite having made several attempts to contact both you and mum. And to be quite honest, I don't exactly know what happened to me, other than the fact that I fell asleep in the woods behind the bus stop on Elmer Street.
  I had to take a piss, and walked into the forest to get some privacy. Next thing I remember I was lying on the ground. I don't know for how long, or how I ended up there. But I eventully got back up again, and went back to the bus stop and waited for my ride home.
  There was no one else there besides me, and as you would expect, I started thinking about what the hell had just happened. I guess that's why I didn't notice the old man who came walking toward me until he was almost standing in front of me. 
  He was a tall skinny man dressed in an old fashioned black suit. His eyes were hidden behind black round spectacles and he was wearing a wide brimmed hat on his head. In his hand was a thin white cane, which he was swinging from side to side. 
  His lips were parted and shaped into a slightly disconcerting grin, and his face was turned toward me, as if he could sense that someone else was sitting on the bench. 
  I jumped when I saw him, but started to relax when I realised he was blind. He was well into his seventies and it was obvious that he didn't pose any threat to me. 
  I watched him as he made his way over to the bus stop, and sat down next to me. He let out a sigh and leaned the cane on his thigh and said hello, to which I replied with a muted hello of my own. Other than the low-key exchange of courtesies, no words were spoken and I just sat there hoping the bus would show up soon. The old guy might not be a threat, but he definitely made me jumpy. 
  And thankfully I didn't have to wait long, a few minutes after he sat down, I could see a bus appear from my right hand side. And I quickly got up and walked over to the kerb and raised my arm. And as I did so, I cast a quick glance behind me and saw the old man was still grinning at me. I shuddered and prayed that he wouldn't end up sitting next to me on the bus. 
  Then I turned my attention back to the bus again, and noticed that something wasn't quite right. I couldn't put my finger on it, but the feeling was strong. It was like my sixth sense was working overtime, but somehow failed to transport the signals up to my brain. It wasn't until the bus was thirty yards away or so, that I finally understood what was going on. 
  The bus wasn't slowing down. Baffled, I quickly looked up at the digital sign above the windshield, thinking that maybe it was out of service. But it wasn't. My stop was listed as the final destination.
  I took a step forward, and started waving both arms. But to no avail. The bus raced past me, the driver not even bothering to look in my direction. I turned around exasperated and glared at it as it disappeared out of view. I threw my arms up in the air and cursed loudly. Then I just stood there, my anger rising as I realised I would have to wait another twenty minutes for the next bus to arrive. 
  I gazed over at the old guy again, wondering if he had lost his bus too. Then I reluctantly sat down next to him on the bench again.
  I didn't jump because he spoke to me, I jumped because he addressed me by my name. 
  "It's time for you to go home now, Anthony," he said in a hoarse and steely voice. He was looking straight ahead, the same grin plastered on his face, his gnarly hands caressing the white cane.
  I stared at him with a stunned expression, unable to utter a single word. How the hell did he know my name? I'd never seen the guy before.
  "Do …. I know you?" I managed to blurt out after a considerable pause, my voice shaking ever so slightly.
  The old man kept on grinning. He made no attempts to look at me, nor did he seem to take any note of the tremor in my voice. 
  "As a matter of fact I do," he said. "You are Anthony Harrington, of 2256 Oakcrest Avenue, and I've come to take you home."
  He stood up and started walking toward the kerb. Then he turned around and removed the round spectacles and revealed a face without any eyes. In its place were two lidless cavities that seemed to continue all the way to the back of his skull.
  I sprang to my feet, heart pounding madly and pushed my back up against the side of the bus shelter. I didn't want to look at that gruesome face, but I could turn away. It was like there was a magnet jammed somewhere inside the old man's head, preventing me from looking away.
  "Your turn has come Anthony, and it's time for me to bring you back home. Don't worry; it happens to all of us. Sooner or later we'll all get to take that final bus ride."
  I could hear the roar of an engine, and when I finally turned, I could see a white bus approaching. And unlike the one that had just driven straight past, this one slowed down and came to a halt next to the old man. 
  Then I saw the driver, and my whole body started shaking. He was staring at me with a big silly grin, his eyes hidden behind round black spectacles. In his hand was a white cane, which he kept tapping against the side window, letting me know that I should get onboard.  
  He was a spitting image of the old man that had just told me he was coming to take me home.
  That's when I started running. 
  I ran as fast as I could into the forest, scraping my face on the low lying branches, tripping on roots and twigs that were obstructing my path. But every time I fell down, I jumped back up again, determined to never stop, never to look into that face again.
  But I was unable to escape the sinister voice and the roar of laughter coming from behind me. 
  "You can't escape Anthony. There's no way to run. Your destiny is sealed and you're headed for the other side. Come back to the bus stop tomorrow, or whenever you're tired of running. I'll be here waiting for you."
  By now I was crying. I desperately wanted it to be a dream, but I knew it wasn't. This was a nightmare that I wouldn't be able to wake up from. I had become one of them. I had become a living dead. 
  I'm not going to bore you with all the things that happened to me during the two weeks I was walking around aimlessly among the living. But as time dragged on, I finally started to accept my new reality, and in the end I did get on that bus. 
  We all do.
  But I want you to know Trevor, that I was standing right in front of you, and that I placed my hand on your shoulder. But you failed to notice. Nor did you hear me when I shouted your name, or tried to write you a note. I had become as invisible to you as the sorrow you hide in your heart, and the tears you bury in your pillow during those long sleepless nights. But it didn’t matter, because I soon realised that I could talk to you in your dreams. 
  That's the only way the dead can communicate with the living.
  I want you to know that we'll never meet again, at least not in your world. If we’re lucky we might meet in the next one. Time will tell.
  I don't know what happened to me, whether someone attacked me or I simply died as a result of natural causes, and I guess I’ll never find out. But do take solace in the fact that I didn't suffer, and do take comfort in the fact that I have accepted my fate. 
  That's all I can tell you. My ability to communicate will eventually disappear altogether. The force is getting weaker by the day, and I don't know how much longer it will last. Just know that I love you and mum dearly. 
  Take care Trevor, and live your life to the fullest. Don't worry about me, I'm where I'm supposed to be. I've reached the end of the line. 
  Your brother 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Mr Nice Guy

  "Come again?" Alan Dormack said. He was leaning against the countertop in the tiny office pantry, one hand tucked in his pocket, the other holding a cup of tea. James from sales, a tall lanky man with thick glasses and a haircut that belonged in another era was standing in front of him with the biggest grin Alan had ever seen plastered across his freckled face.
  "Like I said, the dumb fucker fell of his chair while changing a light bulb. Apparently he broke his arm in three different spots and smashed his kneecap!" James looked around to make sure that no one else was within earshot, before he continued. "He'll be gone for a couple of months at least. If we're really lucky he won't come back at all, but that's probably pushing it a bit." 
  "He fell off a chair while changing a light bulb?" Alan reiterated the words slowly. He had great difficulties comprehending what he had just heard. It couldn't possibly be true, could it?
  "I know how good is that?" James said, slapping his thigh and letting out a chuckle. "I hope that shitbag is in a world of pain at the moment."
  "How did you find out?" Alan asked, quickly adjusting his hand, preventing the content of the cup from spilling onto his shirt.
  "My boss told me this morning, on the way up in the elevator. Apparently it happened late on Saturday night. The dumb turd probably had too much to drink and lost his balance." 
  James looked down at his mug and took another sip, before casting a glance at his wristwatch.
  "It's almost nine. I gotta run. I'll catch you later." He put the mug on the drain board and started walking towards the door. But before he disappeared out into the corridor, he turned around and gave Alan a thumbs up and another big grin.
  For the next eight hours Alan was walking around in a state of sensory overload, where thoughts kept bombarding his brain and deprived him of his ability to focus on the work at hand. But he did his best to carry out the various tasks as conscientiously as he could, and somehow he managed to get it all done without any major mishaps. He filled out all the forms, answered the questions from the customers, addressed staff issues and sent off the required e-mails to his superiors. But his mind was miles away.
  All he could think about was O'Brien, his broken arm and the shattered knee cap, and that it was he, Alan Dormack who was responsible for his misfortune. He had caused the accident, and no one had the slightest clue as to his role in the event. 
  The first thing he did when he got home was to march in to the study and head straight over to the white cardboard box tucked neatly in the corner behind the desk. It was where he had left it the other day, lying on its back staring up at him with a big grin and elliptical shaped cartoon eyes with pupils the size of fifty cent coins. 
  It was Mr Nice Guy, his favourite toy from his early childhood. It was the size of a half litre coke bottle with short black hair, a white shirt and corduroy pants that were held in place by bright red suspenders. But its defining feature was its evil tanned face that contained an oversized mouth with big fat lips that gave the impression of an evil ventriloquist dummy.
  Alan picked it up and put it gently down on the desk. Then he sat down in the swivel chair and stared at it in pure amazement. Three big sewing needles where protruding from Mr Nice Guy's left arm, another one from his right knee. They were in the exact same spots he had inserted them late Saturday evening, moments before O'Brien had fallen off his chair. The fact that he had thought about O'Brien and wished him serious harm when he did so made it even spookier, and a whole lot less likely to be a coincidence. But how could it be? How on earth could four needles cause an accident on the other side of town? 
  Alan got up and walked into the kitchen, grabbed a cold beer from the fridge and headed back in to the study. He kept his eyes fixed on the doll and started thinking about the events that had led up to the incident. He had been upset at that dickhead O'Brien, who had reprimanded him in front of the entire department for some minor incident that wasn’t even his fault. 
  Not that O'Brien cared. For him it had just been a pretext to taunt Alan, and O'Brien didn't let an opportunity like that go to waste. It had been a proper verbal bollocking, and one that had gone on for a good ten minutes at least. Toward the end of it Alan had been very close to giving the slimy weasel a decent uppercut on his pimpled jaw, but of course he hadn't and O'Brien knew that he never would. 
  The worst thing about the whole ordeal had been the departing smirk O'Brien had given him. One that said ‘fuck you loser, I'm the Alfa male around here and I'll do whatever the fuck I like’. That had been the hardest thing to swallow. 
  That had been on Friday afternoon, and for the entire weekend it had been the only thing Alan could think about. It had consumed him with rage and filled him with an enormous sense of helplessness. Then on Saturday night he had started drinking and gotten really hammered, and for some strange reason he had decided to go into the study, and voila, there on top of the cardboard box he had spotted Mr Nice Guy. And the strange thing was that he couldn't even remember having taken the darn thing out of the box. It was almost as if it had positioned itself there without any human intervention. 
  Then one thing had led to another, and before he knew it he was sticking needles into Mr Nice Guy’s body and wishing that some very painful and terrible things would come O'Brien’s way. And lo and behold, that was exactly what had happened. 
  Alan took a few sips from the bottle and leaned back in the chair. His fingers were tapping the side of the armrest and he was swinging the chair gently from side to side. What if it wasn't a coincidence, what if it actually worked? What if the doll had the power to inflict pain? What if it was some kind of voodoo doll? 
  If that was the case, and given that he had been able to do it once, then surely it should be possible to do it again? Alan downed the rest of the beer and went back into the kitchen and grabbed another one. He had been drunk when he caused O'Brien's accident, so he should probably be just as hammered when he caused the next one, for which he had a worthy candidate in mind. 
  For the next few hours he kept walking back and forth between the fridge and the study, knocking the beers back at a steady pace, and not giving it a second thought that it was a Monday evening and that he had to go to work the following day. Mr Nice Guy and the four needles were laid out on the study desk in front of him ready for action. 
  The next morning Alan woke up with a hangover from hell. It was such an excruciatingly bad one that for a while he seriously contemplated calling in sick. However the need to find out if his needle session with Mr Nice Guy had been a success was equally strong, and it eventually overrode all the unpleasant symptoms that the alcohol had caused the previous evening. So after some agonizing tossing and turning and feeling awfully sorry for himself, he finally managed to muster the sufficient willpower to crawl out of bed, get dressed and head off to work.
  Unlike the previous day when he had found out about O'Brien's unexpected accident shortly after arriving at the office, this time he had to wait until noon. About halfway into the staff's lunch break, the Director of the company, Mr Aaronson entered the canteen and asked if he could have everyone's attention. 
  Alan froze, and slowly turned to face his superior. Was he about to inform them of another incident?
   "I’m afraid I have some unfortunate news for you today," Aaronson began. He had a sombre look on his face, and he was sweeping the room with his cold, blue eyes. The canteen had fallen dead silent the moment he had entered the room. 
  "One of our managers, Tim Harrison was involved in a bicycle accident yesterday. Some imbecile had placed a big log across the bike path, and Tim didn't see it until it was too late and was thus unable to stop in time."    
  Aaronson cleared his throat. 
  "Subsequently Tim flew over the handlebars and hit the asphalt at full speed. He was taken to the nearest hospital in an ambulance, where it was established that he had broken both arms and his jaw bone."
  One of the female staff members let out a big gasp and asked if Tim was okay, to which Aaronson replied that he hadn’t suffered any permanent injuries. 
  The rest of the staff remained silent, and didn't display any sign of overt emotions. Alan sat completely still and managed to maintain a straight face, but on the inside he felt like someone who had just been slapped with a baseball bat. He had expected the news, but having it confirmed like this was beyond surreal and it sent shivers up and down his spine.
  "This is of course highly inconvenient for the company," Aaronson continued in a sour voice. “I'm sure you are all aware that another manager of ours, O'Brien was involved in a similar accident only a few days ago. Both of them will be off work for the next couple of months. That means that everybody here will have to put in an extra effort until we can find suitable replacements."
  Aaronson gave them all one final look, before finishing his little speak with the joyful words; 
  "I trust that all of you will do your utmost to ensure that things continue as normal. That's all. Thank you for your time." Then he turned around and marched out of the room. 
  And for the next thirty seconds, no one said a word. It was as if everyone expected Aaronson to come barging back into the room again and give a verbal bollocking to whoever had the temerity not to honour the special occasion with at least a minute’s silence. 
  Alan stared down into his tea mug and had to work really hard not to break into howling laughter. It actually worked! He simply couldn't believe it. For some unbeknownst reason the doll could cause accidents and inflict pain. All he had to do was to get drunk, focus on the victim and insert a few needles in the areas he wanted to affect. The best part was that no one would ever find out that he was the one responsible. How on earth could they? He had never told anyone about Mr Nice Guy, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell anyone now. It was almost like winning the lottery. 
  He lifted the mug up to his lips and took a big sip. In his mind he was making some very specific plans, which involved Mr Nice Guy, a six pack of beer and the sewing needles. When he placed the empty mug back on the drain board in the office pantry fifteen minutes later, he had a big grin on his face.
  Four days passed before Alan once again sat down in the swivel chair in the study and laid his eyes on Mr Nice Guy. The doll was lying on the desk, grinning at him with its thick red lips. The four sewing needles were lined up neatly beside the doll, ready to be inserted and cause another violent accident.
  Alan took a sip from the beer bottle and let out a big burp. He had made a list of three worthy candidates, all of whom had given him an equal share of grief over the years and done their utmost to make his life was as miserable and unpleasant as possible. And after a few days of careful deliberation he had made a decision and picked a winner, the first in line of the wicked trio who would soon get to taste their own medicine. This last thought brought a smile to his lips, and he took another big sip of the beer.
  Unlike on the previous two occasions where he had been pissed out of his mind, Alan wasn’t drunk this time. His mind was as clear and fresh as the air that he was filling his lungs with. The almost full bottle that he held in his hand was the first alcoholic beverage of the day. He would have had a few more cold ones before he started the acupuncture session with Mr Nice Guy if there had been some more in the fridge. But unfortunately there weren’t. The fridge was as empty as a dried out riverbed on Mars. 
  Alan wasn’t too worried; in fact he didn't think it mattered that much anyway. And besides, if no harm came to his intended victim, he'd just make sure that he was sufficiently inebriated the next time he sat down and inserted the needles. No harm done, only a slight delay. He could live with that. 
  He put the bottle down, grabbed the doll and lifted it so it was in level with his chest. Then he grabbed one of the needles, and slowly inserted it into the side of Mr Nice Guy's head with fingers that were trembling ever so slightly. He was focusing on his intended victim and he was channelling all his rage as he drove the needles in. 
  When he was done, Mr Nice Guy had four shiny sewing needles poking out at various angles from either side of his head. Alan placed the doll back on the desk and sat back in his chair and finished the beer. Would it work this time too he wondered? He would find out soon enough. All he could do now was to wait. 
  He got up, grabbed Mr Nice Guy and threw him back on top of the cardboard box in the corner. Then he went into the kitchen, placed the empty beer bottle on the countertop, before grabbing his wallet and keys and left the apartment.  
  He would get a six pack from the liquor store down at the corner, and a takeaway pizza from Luigi's. Then he'd bench himself in front of the TV and watch a few horror movies before going to bed. 
  He took the lift down to the ground floor and went outside. The wind had started to pick up and it was getting dark. Alan pulled the zip on his jacket all the way up and leaned into the wind as he began walking toward the liquor store. The street was almost deserted and subconsciously he quickened his pace. 
  As he got closer he noticed that one of the streetlamps outside the alley behind the Laundromat had stopped working. He stopped and cursed. It wasn't that unusual to see homeless people and drug addicts shooting up in there, and although most of them were harmless, he always felt nervous when he saw them. He turned his head and contemplated briefly whether he should just cut across the street and walk on the other side. But in the end he told himself not to be such a pussy and pushed ahead. Nothing was going to happen, and besides, the liquor store was on this side of the street and only a block away.  
  He took a deep breath and began walking again, his heart beating faster the closer he got to the alley. He cast a quick glance through the window in the Laundromat and saw it was deserted. The only thing he could see were rows of coin operated industrial sized washing machines and dryers. Then he passed the Laundromat and was walking alongside the dark, menacing alley. His breathing was more laborious now and he kept staring straight ahead. Only a few hundred yards left now, and I’m there, he told himself.
  And that's when he felt the hand on his shoulders. The hand that half a second later pulled him forcefully into the alley and up against the hard brick wall. Due to the lack of lighting, Alan was just barely able to see the gun that was pushed up against his face, but he was very aware of the sensation of its cold steel barrel against his skin.
  "Give me your god damn wallet or I'll blow your fucking head to pieces." The menacing words came from a person wearing a hoodie and whose face was covered with a bandana. 
  Alan's jaw dropped, and a feeling of utter and sheer terror filled every inch of his body. It was as if someone had just ripped his guts out of his throat and shoved them violently back in again. He was staring at the person in front of him and at the same time not really seeing him. A psychologist would most likely say that he had entered into a state of shock. Alan just stood there, incapable of uttering a single word. It was as if someone had cast a spell on him.
  "Did you hear what I said numbnuts give me your fucking wallet, or I'll pop you!”
  The words entered Alan's mind and he was vaguely aware that he should say something, anything that would placate his aggressor. Tell him that he could help himself to the content of his wallet, point out that it was located in his back pocket and that he wouldn't call the cops. But Alan was unable to get out a single word. 
  "Did you hear what I said mother fucker. Give me your fucking wallet NOW!" The person with the gun was getting more and more agitated, and for some reason Alan briefly wondered if he was going to use the money to purchase drugs, or if this was just how he earned his living. 
  But still Alan didn't do anything. He just stood there, staring at the guy like a deer caught in oncoming headlights. Then he felt the warm urine running down his legs. He registered the other person backing away, and he registered the words that were shouted at him.
  "What the fuck, you pissing on me asshole?" 
  But Alan just stood there staring straight ahead. Then he heard the distinct sound of the hammer on the pistol being cocked. It was a sound he was very familiar with after watching countless crime shows, and he instinctively knew what was about to happen. But it didn’t make any difference. It was as if he had been turned into stone. He braced himself mentally and saw the first flash coming from the barrel of the gun. He even heard the thundering noise it made before everything went black and he was no longer there. 
  By the time the masked person flipped him over onto his tummy and ripped the wallet out of his back pocket, there were four tiny holes in his head, from where warm blood kept gushing out onto the dirty asphalt, leaving behind thick red puddles. Mr Nice Guy had turned out not to be such a nice guy after all.