Clouds scatter the green and brown, obscure the below of the rolling farmland. I see black lines resolve to roads, their hard boundaries converging to my hometown and I recall now that I’m falling fast, just like in a dream. My memory twists and so does the sky and I wonder, how is it that I always return to this place?
I remember it like yesterday.
An ordinary street, an overcast day in June, bleak and grey, typical Ballarat at least for me. And the house, it’s brick veneer. It’s still standing and so am I, looking up at the empty carport, over at the lawn of brown, to the flimsy stuffed mailbox. Yep, I’ve returned and this time things will be different. Of course, that’s what every dead person says.
I cross the gutter, drift up the drive, come to the steps, look back and wonder… If I’d lived I would’ve done something with myself, fixed up the house, been a better man.
Yeah, “Coulda Shoulda Woulda” maybe.
I ascend to the porch and confront the cracked door. It’s ajar so I slip in, enter my old haunt, drift along. Off the hallway, to the left, there’s a room with a plasma, a sofa and my treasured wall poster of Hendricks. The room’s empty of course, she’s long gone now, moved on. And I can move on too and I do, I keep drifting through the shadows of the passage, drifting ever deeper, ever darker.
I come to a doorway, on the right. Inside’s an unmade bed, drawers undone, chaos spread out like a summertime sheet. Everything’s devoid now, love and home gone and yet I still linger like I always do, wondering, pondering at what could’ve been while the plasterboard fist holes stare back, open mouthed and aghast.
It’s hard to look at and so I don’t, I turn away and drift to light at the end of the passage, approach silently, cautiously, like a Kung Fu cat, approach to the edge of the kitchen at the end of the universe. It’s cold but maybe that’s just me.
‘Take heart, take hold’ I tell myself, bracing to peer within.
He’s sitting there as always, strapped to the chair, struggling, whimpering fat tears down thin cheeks. He’s frightened and by that I mean he’s really fuckin’ frightened.
I should know.
That kid is me.
I look at him and I know he’s staring death in the eye as she stands before him truly beautiful, alluring like a moment everywhere and all at once that resonates deep truths. Death as a life changing moment, a moment without doubt, an absolutely unwavering force without doubt.
Death looks down at him.
I remember that moment like it was my last, remember those pupils dilating to the apocalypse of the universe, my mind searing open before the sublime wonder of What Comes Next.
He’s sitting there, strapped in, not going anywhere and about to go everywhere and I realize that he never knew a damn thing about shit. And that makes me sad, and emotions well up and I shove them back down because I can’t deal with that, not today, no way motherf-.
See, I want to save him, I’ve returned to save him and yet he’s still there and so am I. This moment always unfurls the same and I don’t know why.
…there are more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy…
…and suddenly I’m back, sitting in English, daydreaming of a date with Elena Corleone who’s sitting in front of me, her long dark hair cascading down her back, its abundance held loosely by a dark red ribbon. She was my first crush and I never even smiled at her…
I return to the doorway, frozen and waiting, wanting both to slink and to strike, a bad wolf caught between worlds, like Schrodinger’s un-famous dog. But then, out comes that blade and I know what comes next, my instinct kicks in as my breath sucks deep. I swallow fear and I step out and the interruption is always the same.
Death takes a pause, slowly turns sideways to wonder and smile and I falter every time I falter at this point and Death returns unperturbed to the dead kid waiting. The cold blade glints light and then burns and I clamp my eyes, hear screams inside my brain that drown into dark seas of a very bad dream.
I’ve always woken up at this point.
Woken up in my teenage bed, years before the end, sweating, feeling shit awful – alone - staring at the ceiling as dawn shards cut the room. And I’ve lain there wondering as my nightmare drifts by just how I can escape this. I’ve wondered it a thousand times, told myself I don’t want to live it a thousand times more. I’ve got to break free, take one step beyond, escape from this endless falling.
I’ve always woken up at this point but now I don’t want to. So I force myself to see, to know, what comes next.
I open my eyes and suddenly like that, I’m on other side. And just in time to see them drag out my bloodied body and dump it down a hole as two cement mixers swirl with vacant eye madness beside three cubic metres of topsoil. They laugh as they throw the first one down the hole – better keep an eye on ‘im eh! – then chuck the second in the wheelie bin.
Seeing is for knowing and knowing gets you killed.
I look up.
Clouds broil under the sky. Forces gather and the story begins.
Down the road, along the driveway, slipping softly to the stairwell comes the eddy of presence that lingers then ascends like autumn leaves falling backwards through time. On the third level, the darkness of the stairwell recedes, the concrete passage floor lit by cold fluorescence reverberates silence as the drift concludes before door 32. A red door with a bold brass doorknob.
Inside, a short passage through to an open lounge, past a man, a boy and a battle of wits, flowing onwards to a kitchen with all the mod cons, light and warmth, spruced clean with a pantry stocked with both wholesome and snacks. And all around, a perfume like springtime, lingers.
Relax, I can do the scout, get the gear. Your move.
I look at the board - Queen’s Indian Defense - then at his face, his eyes blue and cool, confident and relaxed like the sky.
What do I get for my six hundred… exactly?
The standard. Six month dump, web activity, phone records, geo-locations, times. I’ll pretty it up for an extra fifty.
I move my knight to e5, look up and smile, a white knight smile. He’s an entrepreneurial kid and I like him, he delivers on time, doesn’t bullshit, keeps it tight. Contained. Plus, I’m having relations with his mother.
256 bit of course!
And he looks at me like I’m on dumb drugs, shakes his head and moves his pawn to c6. Suddenly the board feels pregnant with tension, with the opportunity for exchange. I decide to distract.
Okay. Can you legend the rainbow so I actually know what your cherry red meta means. And I want the raw too. I like to run the ruler over the data myself, keeps me sharp.
Then I look down, take his pawn with my pawn, don’t flinch, don’t even feel guilty. He looks at me, releases a smile that maybe lingers too long, as though he’s reaching for some lost connection. He glances at the board, then back to me, crosses his arms. His eyes look worried like he’s just realized something. He says, Anywayz, what’s the latest in PI land?
Awww, just doin’ a bread n butter at the moment. Basic skip trace. Bloke’s done a bolt. Geologist. Up and left on the eve of an IPO. ‘pparently he’d discovered the golden mother lode, out the back of Daylesford. Apparently.
Interesting. Bolting before the fundraiser. Normally it’s just after escrow. Someone’s bullshitting someone! and he sounds such the wise soul that I have to remind myself he’s only sixteen.
I say, Frankly Cody, I don’t care why, I’m just paid to find him and quickly. By Monday. The company thinks he’s come down with performance anxiety on the eve of great things, think he’s got on the juice and can’t remember where he parked his brain. There’s an Investor Roadshow booked see and they need him to answer the ‘technicals’ but he’s been a no show since last Monday and now they’re shitting themselves.
Cody shakes his head, says Doesn’t make sense. Pre Escrow?
Yeah, strange. Still, nothing in life makes sense and we exchange looks and he uncrosses his arms.
You think they dropped him?
Down a shaft.
I blink, put the tip of my tongue to my lip.
Huh? Naah! Real life ain’t always a crime drama mate! Ockams explanation is he’s on the back end of a weeklong bender. I mean, why would they do that, what would they have to gain?
He takes my pawn, the pawn that’d taken his pawn. I guess it’s a fair exchange. And yet, there’s a look in his eyes that makes me uneasy. I move my bishop to f4 and say, I ran background checks on the company, the main players. It’s a small exploration outfit, Charon Resources NL. Just the Geo, the MD and a PA. The rest are contractors, they come and go as the drilling requires. The MD’s an old boy, well connected. Dyson Douglas. A mining engineer with a rolled gold MBA. The Geo’s your stereotype, goes bush for nine months, hates the big smoke. Single, late forties, probably loves Asia. Rugged. Worn. Seasoned.
You want me to hack ‘em? he says, his pupils dilating. Mates rates, concurrent while I pull your other stuff.
Mates rates! and I laugh at his little cross-sell.
Well, I just figured, he continues, I’m already doin’ the other thing and anywayz my order book has availability. He grins.
Nah, I’ll run this job old school. I don’t think the target is tech savvy enough to require your dark web ‘magics’, this’ll be a budget job. Anyway, I’ve already started my profile build, done a Google and Pipl. He’s a loner but he still leaves footprints. Their file on him is interesting.
Charon’s. Well, I suppose Douglas’ file. His pretty PA gave it to me when I signed the confidentiality clauses. She’s a brunette. I lose a little focus on the game and he shakes his head, returns to the board with a sly half smirk. I look at the clock, shake my head. It’s eight forty on a Wednesday night and Marion’s forty minutes late.