Travelling in the Dark (Part 1/3)

There was something in the dark. He hadn’t noticed it at first; he was too preoccupied with drifting off to sleep. But then, he heard the wheezing, like someone was breathing through a gas-mask or talking through one of those microphones throat cancer patients cling too. It was the sound of something dying. The boy had been lying in his bed comfortably when he had first noticed the sound and instantly the hair on the back of his neck raised. He focussed on the noise making sure it just wasn’t a common house commotion, perhaps something falling off a shelf, or the wood creaking as it settles into place. The usual stuff that while unsettling was also explainable. But the more he realised the sound was unnatural the more panic began to seize his body: he laid flat, every muscle tensing like a bowstring ready to snap, his breathing grew shorter and quieter, and he dared not open his eyes for fear of what he would see. He was just glad he was wearing clothes.

The sound wasn’t constant. It moved like a metronome past his window, as if something was pacing outside. His imagination ran wild as he imagined all kinds of killers, aliens, and monsters from every movie he had ever seen staring through the glass at his tender body, thoughts of malice and hunger invigorating their senses as much as his fear was heightening his. He could almost smell the maggoty breath of the Rancor that surely awaited him. The wall above his head creaked, the wheeze grew even louder and a bolt of panic flashed up his spine. He was almost at the point of terror and a scream was building up. As he tried to recover his composure he remembered something his Dad had told him. He had always been prone to night terrors, even as a toddler his dreams had been plagued with fears. His father had always told him the same thing, every night before he went to sleep. He had said, “Fear is like a fire. If you let it loose it will burn everything, if you can control it, it can light up the dark.” The boy always found it comforting, even though he didn’t fully understand it. But now his Father was gone.

He swallowed the big lump that sat on his throat and forced himself to focus. The boy’s eyes had tears in them, which made them harder to open and he could feel his hands shake under the sheets, the rough cotton scraping on his skin. He looked towards his window and saw… nothing. There was nothing there. But still that sound persisted. That steady wheeze of an asthma sufferer.

Reel

The musty red shag curtains that hang over the stage slowly pull back to reveal a canvas screen, the vehicle through which I will indulge myself with a two-hour long story. These rustic platforms of storytelling, to me, have always been there, like an old-friend: that one you have known since you were just a little sprout and yet throughout all the changes of adolescence still find mighty interesting. The movie screen has watched me grow old from the days as a young child watching Aladdin, entranced by talking parrots and blue genies; to the times of my first film obsessions with the Pokémon movie and Harry Potter series; to the teenage years where awkward fumbling with bygones became a staple of every visit. You have watched me grow old, and yet you are in a stasis to me, for you could never age.

As I have grown and so to have my access to funds, I have discovered a problem with attending the movies: my appetite for the big screen far outstrips that of my friends, family, and girlfriend. It is hard to justify seeing the same movie twice in one week, or to go more than four times, therefore the pool of people I can draw from diminishes quickly. Once is enough for them, both for the sake of time and money.

So in lieu of this, (and due to my girlfriend going overseas vastly reducing my pool) I have of late taken to the cinema alone with only my soul, my Smartphone, and crowds of unknowns to keep me company. To say the least it is an experience.

The whole process of ticket collection is one designed for single customers, yet it is all too revealing when you are on your own. You wait in that line, herded towards the front counter, with the sound of laughter filling the hall. You are surrounded by groups and couples who can’t help but talk loudly, which makes your silence all the more deafening. Twice I was asked in the line whether I was on my own, both of them gave me pitying looks when I revealed the answer. Most of the time I just got inconsiderate looks as people always do when they judge a loner.

When you finally wait your way to the front and are served, I sometimes discovered some suspicion on the part of the staff. Most of the time they didn’t care, and apathy as always was my friend, but other times they eyed me off and I could see it in their eyes that they thought that I was going to film this movie with the hidden camera somewhere in my winter clothes. These were only ever the types that took their job too seriously.

Everything about the portion sizes of popcorn and soft drinks were designed for either group activities or a glut, and I am sad to say that I enjoyed a large size every time. But this is probably the only thing I was sad about in my whole experience and despite what I described I was never that embarrassed, because I discovered something glorious about going to the movies alone.

The cinema has never been more alive to me when I have experienced it by myself. I can laugh louder, allow myself to cry in public, mutter furiously at a plot twist, or even hide my eyes away from the screen if the subject matter is too much for me. When I am alone in the cinema nothing bothers me, the surrounding people and seats melt away to a blur as my whole world is taken hostage by that big, beautiful screen. What once seemed a quite tribal activity to me has transformed into a meditation. For once I am alone amongst groups and it does not bother me, because I have my old friend to keep me company and he knows I am a great listener.

The Second Hand Man

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She stands there as if nothing is wrong: looking stunning in leather ballet shoes that taper up to her knees and a purple Versace dress, her black hair falling to her shoulders in an almost whimsical way, and silver jewellery glistening on her wrists. She is doing an interview together with her father, standing on a platform at Indooroopilly train station, overdressed even for death. Her father has just donated money to the Queensland Government to revitalise artworks on railway stations across Queensland, a puff piece for the media, an excuse for her to look and feel good. If only she knew how much I want her to burn.

My name is Leon and I am waiting for my girlfriend to meet me. We are going to have coffee at the shopping centre. It has been a long time coming, but I need to tell her the truth about why I can no longer look at her naked without crying. I’m sitting on a metal bench, probably designed to torture the backs of train-goers as they wait for the most menial form of transport available. Riding upon a train gives one an insight into the breadth and depth of humanity. Every train ride I see suits, punks, hipsters, people who talk to themselves, people who keep to themselves, and horny school-going teenagers. I have witnessed the lacklustre end of humanity, and it takes the form of a human sardine can on wheels.

Adele shouldn’t be long now; she sent me a text a while ago telling me she is on her way. It read, “Hey Leon, just caught the train, love you.” Those last two words destroyed me. We had met five years ago when I first attended the University of Queensland. It was ten weeks into the semester and I already knew that I didn’t want to finish my degree in Engineering; the work was easy but restricting. I had been in the book store staring at a picture on the front of a hardback novel. It was an image of a waste bin, surrounded by paper, containing a black brain. I knew exactly how that brain felt, compressed by the wire trappings of the bin, unable to move in the stifling environment. A young woman had approached me, “Do you like Orwell?” I had stared at her blankly for a few moments, not even registering her appearance before I responded with, “Gah?”

I was not one to brag about women. The constant ‘guy’ talk about the bric-a-brac of seductions made me feel embarrassed for them, playing a game that made a mockery of love, dating, and the female species. It was always the ugly ones, though, that fully prescribed to these seduction rules, turning foreplay into a careful game of chess. Heck, I was one of the ugly ones. Standing at a gangly six-foot-five with curly red hair and bony features I wasn’t much to look at. But Adele, man, she was cute as a button and as tiny as one, brown curly hair falling to her bottom, and the face of an angel. She was something.

“The book you’ve been staring at for the last hour,” she laughed. I looked back and registered the title, Down and Out in London and Paris – George Orwell. “Oh yeah,” I lied, “But I don’t have any money.” She had winked at me, a smile on her pretty, pale face, a dimple appearing on her left cheek. “I’ll sort it out.” She had bought the book for me, and wrote her number inside it. Adele had always been a bit more adventurous than I was. But I called her, we dated, and we fell in love.

I remember the first time I saw her naked, and a flash of blood pumps through me. I smile a public erection is never a good thing. Instantly, a violent image flashes into my mind: the pale white skin of Adele is replaced with tan, taut skin. I grip my wrist until I draw blood, the present pain shutting out the pain of the past. The media frenzy appears, cameras flashing and tapes clicking in time with Mr Smalls’ black Italian shoes.

It had all begun at work, flirting in the office, same old thing that that happens in every job. The only difference was she took it too far. She was the reason I am here now, to confess my infidelity, if you could ever call it that. I guess it is a matter of perspective, but then again maybe everything is.

I work at a law firm as an IT advisor. The law firm defends some of the world’s most evil people. Their cases usually involved war criminals, elites who committed fraud, and politicians looking for loopholes.

Jacqui is the daughter of the owner Jonathon Smalls, a self-made millionaire and Vietnam war vet. He had a habit of having Vietnam flashbacks during office hours that usually involved over-turned desks, broken glasses, and the rest of the day off. I like Jon. He was unique, and in a way so was Jacqui. She was spoilt and always got what she wanted. She was also vindictive and manipulative. If someone didn’t let her have her way around the office she didn’t even use her pull with her father, she just made it happen.

She was the type of woman who went to a filthy bar on a Tuesday night, just to tease whoever was there. The kind of bars people didn’t go to for thrills. They go there to die. To them, she was the shining light that no one wanted because it revealed how ugly they were to the world; she was both beautiful and deadly. A woman you trust with your stock options but not your children.

I had been at a work function, drinks with the boss. The whole awkward interaction with people above my pay-grade wondering if I was attending or working as a waiter in my cheap op shop suit, it was too much for me. Adele hadn’t attended; worried that she would keep me away from work friends— as if I had any. Jacqui was there with her father, looking gorgeous in a black satin dress, low cut back, black hair curled but hanging down. She looked like an Amazon princess.

It was towards the end of the night when she had approached me. We had both drunk little and were barely tipsy. Her father sat at the other end of the table, onto his twelfth scotch and ice, regaling everybody about his Vietnam days.

“Hey Leon” she had said, “Do you think you can take me home?”
I was hesitant, “Where is your Limo?”
She smiled, “It is 3 o’clock, and he wasn’t waiting around any longer.”
I wasn’t sure; I felt this vibe coming from her… this sort of physical threat. I should have listened to my instincts.
“Come on,” she said, “It is on your way.”

I shudder as a cold wind sweeps straight through my shirt. Another train crumbles to a halt right before my eyes. All these trains look the same, like crushed cans stuck together with yellow electrical tape. It is exactly how I feel right now, barely keeping it together so close to her. I want to hurt her, to make her feel the pain I felt. I want her to know that what she did was wrong. I want to make her go away. Her existence is an insult to me, to Adele, and to everything we are.

After it happened, I tried so hard to keep it within me. The sense of guilt was overwhelming and the revulsion I felt made me physically ill. I knew I needed to talk to someone; people I could trust and knew they would care. Foolishly, I went to my parents. We were at having dinner together when suddenly my tongue felt like molten lava. I opened my mouth and the words began to spill.

“Mum, Dad, I have something to tell you. You see the thing is something happened at the work after-party. It is… something different and I really need to tell you.” I spoke with the speed of a homeless man ranting about the government and sounded just as desperate.
“Yeah?” My father asked, assuming his usual monkish demeanour.
“What is it, love?” My mother yelled from the other side of the table, a look of happy contemplation across her face as she turned her good ear towards me.
“Well, you see,” I stuttered, “I was raped. At least I think I was, I looked up the definition and it says something about only women can be raped, but it described what happened to me.”
My father looked over his beer towards me, a look of anger flushed his face, “Who did it son? I will put that rat bastard six-feet under.”
I paused for a moment and gathered my thoughts. “It was a woman from work, Jacqui, the boss’s daughter.”
I looked at my father and the red drained from his face. He returned to his usual monkish face; he looked relieved. “Damn right. That is no problem. Ain’t no man who has never wanted sex.”
“Dad I didn’t though, I…”
My mother interjected, “Oh my darling, don’t you worry about a thing. Are you ok? Do you want me to make tea? Murray don’t be so mean, can’t you see our poor son has been hurt?” I was not sure if she actually heard us or whether she was gauging the situation from our reactions and any words she could catch. As she went off to put the kettle on, my father pulled me in close.
“I don’t see what your problem is, I have met Jacqui,” Murray said, as if that solved my problem.

“Dad, she took me into her house, drugged me, and then fucked me. Doesn’t that even sound remotely messed up?”
“No,” he said with a stony face.
“Why not?” I asked barely keeping the contempt out of my voice.
“Because she is a girl and you are a boy,” he returned without a hint of emotion, “that is how it is.” That ended the conversation and I was forced to swallow the rest of my words.

Someone laughs and I am drawn back into reality. A crowd is starting to form on the platform, surrounding the media frenzy. It is afternoon peak hour and everybody is beginning to steal away from their jobs in preparation for the weekend. Policemen arrive; a young female officer laughs at something an older male officer says. I stare at them intensely. I feel they are laughing at me, like they know. I had tried to go to the police but they didn’t help. Hell, they didn’t even believe me.

It had been the day after I had told my parents. I was feeling vulnerable and felt I needed to do something. My violation needed to be met, not just with my anger and my frustration, but with someone else’s power. I lost a lot of things that night, and one of them was the ability to feel powerful. It was as if she sucked the soul from me. On the inside I felt like my stomach had ruptured and acid was seeping into my body.

The police were not welcoming; the administration desk had paper stacked in neat piles around the desk like the crenellations of an ancient castle. The woman behind the desk, looking very flustered and almost angry that I disturbed her, directed me to the violent crimes department of the Brisbane Central Police Station after hearing something about a rape. On the third floor I found what I was looking for: an oak door with a gold name plate stating Detective Hertz. I knocked and was ushered in by a fat, balding middle-aged man. He was Joaquin Hertz, a former police star whose rise through the police-force ranks had stopped at the Sex Crimes Division after he gained twenty kilograms of fat. I knew this because within five minutes of walking through the door it seemed he had complained about his entire life. “So,” he said, sweat glistening on his forehead,” what can I help you with? What do you have to report?”
“A rape,” I replied.
“Ahhh,” he mumbled as he reached for a pen and form, “to whom by whom? Come on laddie speak up.”
“Me and a woman named Jacqui Smalls.”
He stared at me closely, “And why did you rape this woman?”

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I was shocked for a moment, “No, no, no that is not what I mean. She raped me.”
He laughed, put down the pen, and pushed himself onto the back legs of his chair. “Alright laddie, how exactly did she do that? Hmmmm?”
“You have to believe me. It happened.”
“Come on mate, we have all been with some uggos who we haven’t really wanted to sleep with, but that doesn’t justify rape.”

There it was that lava again. “No, listen, it happened. She got me to drive her home. I walked her to her door and we were chatting about work. She made a move on me, I pushed her away. I have a girlfriend you see, that I love and adore. She apologised, saying stuff like ‘I just thought that you wanted it, sorry’. Then she offered me some gum and I accepted it. As soon as I started chewing on that shit I began to feel numb. I felt woozy and then I fell. It was like I could see everything perfectly, but couldn’t do a thing. She pulled me inside and dragged me to the couch. I didn’t know what was happening but I felt scared. She pulled down my pants and she pulled off her panties. She…she started to play with me. I would get…. hard and then go flaccid. This kept happening. I was just uncontrollably scared. She was frustrated, so the next time I got hard she grabbed a rubber band from the coffee table and wrapped it around the base of my penis. She pulled it really tight. I didn’t go soft after that. Then…” I trailed off, vicious images filled my head. She had beaten me as she did it. Punching and clawing my chest. I looked up at the detective and realised that my eyes were wet. I dried my tears on my sleeve but it only made me cry harder. I began to shake. It was as if I had swallowed something rotten. My body began to convulse and my chest heaved with every breath.

The detective looked shock. He took a moment to adjust his tie then he spoke. “Laddie, you are kidding right? A guy can’t get raped.”
I looked away; I knew he wasn’t going to listen to whatever else I had to say. He continued, “Well? It is impossible. You are only joking aren’t you? Haha yes that makes sense, this is a joke. Did Martin set me up?” I did not hang around. I left without giving any details. It was as if I had not even been there.

The media fury was concluding and the crowd was starting to shift along the platform. Jacqui walks away from her father and lights a cigarette. The police officers look at her and shrugged. What was a finable offense for anyone else did not apply to her. Well I will not let her get away with everything. She is standing on the edge of the platform peering down the railway line. I imagine what it would be like to push her before a train. I don’t mean to think about it, but the thought nevertheless pops into my head. She has ruined me and I am hopeless. No one believes me, I feel misplaced and lonely. I imagine her being crushed underneath a train, her bones cracking like twigs, muscles being torn apart, blood pumping from everywhere. I sense closeness to this image and it sickened me.

As much as I hate her for everything she did, I could never wish that upon another person. A song begins to play inside my head, “I asked that girl which road she was taking. Said she was walking the road of hate. Crow Jane.” God damnit Nick Cave, I can’t walk that road. It isn’t me. I thought I could survive in my own little niche of happiness but that wasn’t the case. She had come along and shattered my world in one night. Can I let that one night ruin me? Perhaps, but then again I would rather not let what happened hold me hostage. The only woman I would ever want to have this power over me is Adele, and only she would have that honour.

I decide that I need to talk to her. I am itching to talk to someone who knew what happened, even if that meant the person who did it. She would have to believe me. I approach her in an awkward way, my limbs forgetting how to work. It is like the first time I met Adele all over again.
“Hey,” I say quickly.
She turns to me, looks me up and down, and shakes her head with a laugh. “What the hell do you want?”
“I just want to talk about what happened,” I reply with contempt.
“Yeh sorry about that. I know you have a girlfriend and all. You must feel horrible for cheating.”
I am taken aback. “What?”
“Well it is hard for one person to do it., “she winks. “Thanks for a good time.”
“But, but, you drugged me?”
“Did I?”
“You raped me”
“Oh really?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t think it was rape. I think you enjoyed it. I mean, come on.” A furious anger began to build within me.
“So that doesn’t make it rape? I did not enjoy it and even if I did physically enjoy it, it would still be rape.”
She laughed, “You are kidding right? Don’t be a little bitch, just because you don’t want to tell your girlfriend doesn’t mean you can change what happened.”
She turns to walk away, “Oh and by the way, Adele already knows. I sent her pictures from that night.”
“Why?”
“Because you are just too perfect.”

Something inside me snaps. I hear a robotic voice above me say something. She starts to walk away and I chase after. Somewhere behind me I hear a rumbling. I try to catch up but the crowd is thick upon the station. I am close to her now. Then, it is as if the slightest breeze picks her up and throws her from the platform onto the tracks. The rumble gets louder and somebody screams. I think it is me.

The Open Bar Conundrum

The open bar is a curious creature, a rare finding for even the most learned of party-goers and heavy drinkers. But, if you perchance stumble upon one, there is always one bit of ‘theatre’ a drinker must go through. A ritual, if you will, that needs completion for you to enjoy your night. It is the awkward responsibility of getting your first drink.

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Guess who is sober.

Everyone who has been to an open bar knows this dance. Someone tells you that the bar is open or the beer is free and you feel celebratory. But then you doubt your source: what if this person was trying to embarrass you, what if they just got a free beer and assumed that it was an open bar, and what if their source was bad. It is a funny little trait: doubt. It brings out the flaws and never trusts what the head is telling you. It pervades every thought, needling its way somewhere behind your eyes, unless you curtail it.

You approach slowly, wearily noting the activities of other parties at the bar. You feel for your wallet and, if you do not pull it from your pocket or purses, you know exactly where it is. The bartender approaches, “What’ll you have?” he asks with a smile on his face. Smug bastard you think as your disguised panic starts to envelop your thoughts. You look over his shoulder and request the cheapest beer, “I will have the four X, thanks.” He pops the lid and hands it to you. Something about that bottle-top popping is harrowing; at this point there is no turning back. For the lucky few the bartender will walk off and serve another person straight away. Other times they will ask you if you need anything else. You are still unsure of your position. “Is this free?” you wonder to yourself.

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Not really relevant, I just like graffiti.

You gauge the answer by slowly turning your body away from the bar, keeping your eyes on the bartender as long as you can, skewing your neck at an odd angle. As soon as your body has turned one-hundred and eighty degrees you do what I call “The Olympic Relay” as you quickly power-walk away, a mixture of triumph and fear making your blood course through your veins, gripping that beer like it is the Olympic torch, making sure you will never drop it for it is a symbol of such glory.

The open bar conundrum is a stressful trial for one who is not even on their first drink. Alcohol is wasted on the drunk. The sober have much more need.

The Superhero Effect

Every man thinks of themselves a secret agent, or a master kung foo-ist , or a jedi knight or even a superhero. This isn’t lie; we have all given serious thought on how we would accomplish a spontaneous, supernatural adventure, and our creativity is only limited by the imagination of Hollywood. I have thought about how to clean up a crime scene and when I told my male friends about this I received a warm if not informative response: What I would need and how I would hide/destroy the body. I haven’t ever considered killing somebody but if I do I will probably have a solid alibi and nobody to raise suspicion.

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Living life on the edge.

In case I do get caught I have even given thought to that situation. I have thought long and hard about what would be a good defence against a strong case. Hell, I have even imagined prison and what I would have to do to avoid getting shivved or raped. It is a hard knock life in the joint.

I have strolled into bars and, despite being a very passive, placid guy, I have considered all the exits and weapons I could use in the establishment if I ever got into a fight. This isn’t imagination, this is preparation.

For instance: I now know, based on discussions with friends, where we will fortify our lives in case of a zombie apocalypse. My former high school has a four level building with brick walls and strong iron gates blocking every stair case. It located in proximity to a shopping mall which would cater to our basic human need of food, as well as providing entertainment through books, board games and other non-electrical based fun. (This scenario was based around electricity and water being cut off).  The surrounding suburbs would also provide weapons as there is both a gun club and archery store, wherein we would make selections based on the types of zombies whether they be ultra-fast or slow. With enough supplies we could hole up on the top level for quite some time.

Why do guys think like this? One reason could definitely be the affect of comic books and movies. But, it also has to do with what humans think of themselves. Humans think they are individually special. They think that their current life is just a prelude to something great. They are living a back story and this is just a set up to a wacky adventure. Sadly, this is not true. Our expectations do not meet up with reality and often all this waiting leads to dullness, a life like a filing cabinet rather than a bookshelf, as people sit back when they should be seizing the day. But does that really matter? I quite enjoy the exercise of preparing for anything and I know every other male does as well.

Do women think like this? Is this something that occupies their lives? I am sure a minority would, but usually when I bring up these types of discussions with a female friend I get scathing looks; like the ones adults give children when they have done something wrong.

The truth is everyone needs to live their lives thinking they are something more; it is false hope that clothes me and keeps me sane. I need to think that I am something more than average or normal. I need to think I have the superhero effect. Otherwise all I am is nobody and, while not a bad thing, it is a terrifying idea.