Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who fret to find our bedtime near.

It's hard to write about what happened next. I'm reminded of all those interviews we did - the ones we didn't share, the ones we sent back to Mister Boots to do whatever he wanted with - and all the people we met and all the stories we heard. I've told my story to you. And now it's time to share Frank's story.

"Just the place for the Snark," the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."

It was weird, sharing a truck with my father, the father I couldn't remember. He sometimes looked at me like he knew everything about me. I don't know what Frank thought about it; he was mostly silent as we drove day after day. During the nights, Richard tried to tell me a bit about my childhood; Frank would sit in his chair and read as I tried to fill in the blanks of my past.

On the third day, we arrived in Pasadena. The next city in the book. Richard was still a little unsure of why we were going there, but we don't him that we owed somebody something. We told him about interviewing survivors, the flotsom and jetsom of incomprehensible abominations. He still didn't quite believe, but he wasn't willing to let go of me.

On the freeway, however, there was a popping sound and suddenly the truck was losing gasoline. Richard said that the gas tank must have broke. We pulled over to the side of the road and Frank tried diligently to call AAA or a tow-truck, but the cell service was bad. So finally, he said he would just walk to the next gas station and set off, leaving Richard and me alone.

I was looking at the truck, wondering why it had suddenly decided to stop working, when I saw it. A hole right in the gas tank, where the fluid spilled out. A bullet hole.

A heard a whizzing sound and a scream and looked over to see Richard on the ground, blood staining his shirt. "Suzie," he said and then there was a piece of cloth over my mouth and I struggled, but I could smell the fumes and my vision shook and blurred and darkness descended.

I woke up in a movie theatre, in a red plush seat before a large screen. My head ached and I could still taste the chloroform in my mouth. My arms were tied to the sides of the seat and my legs were duct-taped together.

"Hello," a voice called out. It was sweet and melodious and it came from the stage under the screen. The velvet curtain parted and I saw a woman duck out from the underside of the stage. "Just straightening a few things out." She looked young, her hair a shade of unnatural red. "You're name is Susan Kingston, though you've been going by the name Carol Baker." She smiled and pulled out a straight razor from her pocket. "I've had quite a few names, too, but the one I'm using now is Number Nine. Shall we begin?" I was still drowsy from the drugging, but I felt tears in my eyes and started to plead with her. "Shhh, don't worry, don't you worry you're little button nose," she said. "I'm not here to kill you. I just want to know." She pulled out a tape recorder with her other hand, pressed the record button, and tucked it into my shirt pocket.

Nine: Hello, Carol. Do you prefer to be called Carol or is it Suzie by now? 
Carol: What-what do you want? Why are you doing this? 
Nine: Well, I received some disappointing news a while ago. I got very depressed. But luckily, I knew of a way to cure my depression. 
Carol: You're- you're cr- cra- 
Nine: Crazy? Yes, I am. Do you know what the Quiet is? No, I suppose not. Not many survivors of that to interview, are there? Well, let's just say that in your little pantheon of Lewis Carroll characters, it would be the Red King. As soon as it wakes up, then poof! we'll all go out like a candle. I thought, well, I don't like this world anyway, I might as well work for it. Wipe it away like the drawings on a chalkboard. Do you understand? 
Carol: No. 
Nine: Of course not. But I'm glad you're honest. Not many people are these days. Well, as I was saying, I thought I was working for the Quiet. "Number Nine, Agent of the Quiet, Member of the House of Nothing." That's how I introduced myself. Turns out? Not so much. The Quiet doesn't do minions. It just is. Well, that kind of sucked for me. But I had found this great source of information, this tower of knowledge. What else was I going to do but look through it? And, well, looking through it, I found your name. You and Frank, on your little quest. Not running, not chasing, but searching. I liked that. But then I realized - you didn't know, did you? 
Carol: Know wh-what? 
Nine: Know who you were working for? Your "Mister Boots"? Yes, all of that was in your little file. The information was really quite thorough, I must say. Anyway, as I was saying, you didn't know who was sending you off on your little interviews. Can you guess? Why, it was the Archive! 
Carol: The-the Arch- 
Nine: The Archive! Strange little fellows, I didn't even think they were real. They collect information for the Blind Man. Or maybe the Blind Man gives them information, I'm not sure. Anyway, sometimes they use civilians to gather information, people who don't know they are being used. You were working for the Blind Man all along and you did even know what. Isn't that funny? 
Carol: What-what do you want? 
Nine: I want you to see the humor, Carol. You were working for one of them and didn't even know it. I would have given anything to work for one of them and I was denied. 
Carol: Why- 
Nine: Why did I want to work for them? Well, let's see, do you know what happens when you die? You don't flutter happily into heaven, no, sirree, Bob. No, you become part of the Archangel. I think you killed it the Carpenter? Everything you are, everything you were becomes a part of it and you are just a puppet. But not if you work for one of them! You get blissful nonexistence then! Heck, I wanted to give everybody blissful nonexistence! But no, such a fate was not for me. But then I read about you! Irony of ironies, you didn't know anything, didn't want it, yet you were going to get nothingness. So I followed you. I saw your little reunion. And I set a trap. I want one of them to come for you. I want one of them to kill me. I want nothingness! 
Carol: I'm sorry. 
Nine: For what? 
Carol: Nobody's coming for me. You're waiting for nobody. 
Nine: Of course I am.

She stood back and closed her eyes. "You can come out now," she said loudly. "I gave you that clue on purpose. Come out now or I slit your little girlfriend's throat." She approached me with the straight razor and I heard footsteps above me. I turned my head and saw Frank. He was holding his gun up and pointing it at Number Nine. She didn't seem disturbed by this, she just kept on smiling.

"Are you okay?" Frank asked and I nodded.

"Ah, well, if it isn't Mr. Nobody," Nine said. "You don't even know your real name. I do. Do you want me to tell you?"

"Untie her," Frank said. "Slowly."

Nine stepped forwarded and started to cut the knots around my arms with her straight razor. "Would it help if I told you it was a good name? A very nice, very masculine name?" She cut through the duct tape on my legs and I stood up unsteadily. Nine took that oppurtunity to raise the razor to twist me around and raise the razor to my neck. "You shoot, she's dead."

Frank didn't lower his gun. He stepped forward calmly. I don't know how he could have been so calm, but he was. "You're not going to kill her. You could have killed her at any time. It wasn't her you wanted. It was me. Let her go."

"And what, take you instead?" Nine laughed. "How cliche is that? No, how about I kill her and then I kill you and then I kill everything you ever touched? I could do that. I could travel across country, finding all those interviewees and I could kill them all."

"But you won't," Frank said stepping forward. "You said it yourself. You want to die."

"I don't want to die!" Nine screamed. "I want nothingness! I want nonexistence!"

"I can give it to you," Frank said. "You said we worked for the Blind Man. If I kill you, won't that be enough?"

Nine seemed to think about this and I felt a drop of blood from the razor nicking my throat. "Maybe," she said. "But maybe I don't want to go down without a fight. Maybe I want one last kill. How about that?"

"Let her go and you can kill me," Frank said. "You kill me, I kill you. How about that?"

Nine smiled. "I like it. On the count of three? One?"

Frank stepped forward. "Two."

Nine lowered the straight razor and pushed me away. "Three!"

Frank shouted at me to run and I ran, my legs pushing themselves forward, my body scrambling up the steps of the movie theatre, rushing outside into the bright daylight. I found Richard waiting for me, his shoulder bandaged. I heard the bang and I turned to look back, but Richard pulled me away, away from the building. And it was good that he had done that when he had, because in the next few moments, the entire building went up in a ball of flame. We were across the block as it happened and it flattened us and we felt such enormous pressure and heat.

I found the wire later on. The recording. Frank and I had used it when certain hospitals wouldn't allow tape recorders. One of us would wear a wire and the other would listen to the recording in our car outside. When he entered the movie theatre, he was wearing the wire. He was recording everything. I don't know why. Maybe he wanted me to know his last words. I listened to it every night for a week afterwards.

Nine: [grunting in pain] You got me good, Frank. A nice stomach shot. It'll take a while to bleed out. I thought you were a better shot than that. 
Frank: I guess not. You got me good, too. Femoral artery. I'll be dead soon. 
Nine: Nice knowing you, Frank. Do you want to know? Your real name? Who you are? 
Frank: I know who I am. 
Nine: I don't...I don't understand. 
Frank: Have you ever read The Hunting of the Snark
Nine: Can't [gasps] can't say that I have. 
Frank: It's about a group that goes and tries to hunt this wild creature, this Snark. But they keep running into problems. They only have a blank map. They get shipwrecked. And finally, sometimes a snark isn't a snark, but a Boojum. And if you look at a Boojum, you'll just fade away. 
Nine: Frank? Frank, I've rigged this whole place to blow. You're wound's not that bad. You should go. You could- you could take me with you. 
Frank: So they go out hunting for the Snark and one of the crewmen thinks he's found it, but...he just disappears. So they search all night, but they can't find him at all.
Nine: I'm sorry, Frank. I was wrong. I don't want to die. 
Frank: Shh. We're not going to die. Don't worry. We've see the Boojum. "In the midst of the word he was trying to say, in the midst of his laughter a glee, he had softly and suddenly vanished away." 
Nine: I'm sorry, Frank. I'm afraid. 
Frank: Shh. Don't be. We'll just vanish away. "For the Snark was a Boo-"

The recorder cuts off at that point.

A month later, I met Mister Boots again and threw the book at his face. He left without saying a word and I've never heard from him again. Richard and I traveled back to New Jersey. I'm still getting use to him, getting to know him, getting to know me before I was Carol. And I miss Frank, so much sometimes that I cry myself to sleep. Still he haunts me, phantomwise.

But then I wake up and I go to work and I talk to Richard (my dad, I have a dad) and I read and I watch movies and I know all those bad things and Boojums are out there, but it's not my job anymore. I just want to live my life as best I can.

And maybe someday I'll be able tell of my stories to someone else. Maybe I can tell them without sorrow in my heart and my eyes wet with tears, the tales of me and Frank looking for Boojums. The pleasures and pains, the forgetting and the remembering of my childhood, and those sad summer days.

Susan Kingston

If I or she should chance to be
Involved in this affair,
He trusts to you to set them free,
Exactly as we were.

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, and ourselves, and it.

Don’t let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We are but older children, dear,

Hello. Some of you probably thought I was dead. I'm not. At times I wished I was, but I'm not.

Some of you are probably wondering why I stopped posting. When was my last post? Three months ago? A lifetime? Time seems to flow differently in my memories. 

It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards, I know, but it's the only one I have.

Looking back at this blog, I'm struck by so many things. The nicknames I gave to everything, even to ourselves. I know it's somewhat sad, but I miss it. Traveling with Frank. (Frank, oh Frank. I didn't even know his real name.) It was...simpler. I know that's hard to understand. Chasing things, interviewing survivors, that was simple? It is compared to the life I have now.

'I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning,' said Alice a little timidly: 'but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.'

But I'm getting ahead of things. Anyone reading this will probably be confused. I want to clear up any confusion, at least about what happened between then and now. I mean, my mind is still jumbled about lots of things, but I can tell what happened. I can give a clear account of events. I think.

We drove to California, Frank and I, me and Frank. I was Carol then. Carol Baker. Frank Bellman. Looking for Boojums. We drove to California because it was the next place in the book, the book given to us by Mister Boots. (That wasn't his real name either, but I suspect his real name doesn't matter at all.) We drove to California, a place of sunshine and it was there we broke down.

I mean that both literally and figuratively. First, our car literally broke down. It was old and Frank had had it repaired numerous times before (he had, hadn't he?), but by the time we got to California, it was on its last legs. We eventually had to push it to a mechanic's, but it would quite a lot of money to repair it. Frank and I decided it was better if we just bought a used car or rented a car.

Frank and I were walking back to the motel when it happened. The truck. The white truck that had been following us. I hadn't seen it in a while, but there it was. Driving down the road. It passed us and inside I saw...the driver was a man. An old man, thinning brown hair and sunken cheeks. He looked tired. He pulled over in front of us and I became afraid. He called out to us. "You guys need a lift?"

I looked at Frank and he knew. He knew this was the truck that had been following us. "No, thanks," Frank said, "it's not that far a walk."

"No, no, I insist," the old man got out of the truck. He didn't look dangerous. He just looked tired. "I want to help."

"We don't need any help," Frank said. He had one hand inside his jacket holding onto a handgun. "Please just leave."

"I just want to help," the old man said. "Suzie, please." He rushed forward and Frank pulled the gun. "Suzie, please," he repeated. "Please, Suzie, please." The old man looked so pitiful -- Frank didn't even have to point the gun at him and he had fallen to his knees. "Please, Suzie. Remember me, please."

I broke his heart. "Who's Suzie?" I asked.

The old man gasped as if I had stabbed him in the chest and pulled out a thick, brown wallet. He flipped it open and took out a picture. He gave it to Frank. Frank looked at it with a puzzled expression and then gave it to me. It was a picture of the old man and Suzie, his daughter. They were hugging and wearing smiles, standing before a Christmas tree. It was a picture of the old man and his daughter.

His daughter just happened to look exactly like me.

He explained it later when we got back to the motel. His name was Richard Kingston. His daughter, Susan Kingston, had gone missing a year ago. He had put up signs and searched, but found nothing. Then there was hope. More specifically, there was Hope, New Jersey. It was just a coincidence that he was in the town while we were there, but he saw me. He knew me. And so he followed us. He wanted to know why I had left. He wanted to know I had been kidnapped or was running from something. He asked me so many questions. And I couldn't answer any of them.

I didn't remember him. I swore he had the wrong person. But he didn't. The more I looked the picture, the more I realized I was Suzie. I had no memories of being her, no memories of him. But that could be explained, couldn't it?

The Aged Aged Man. The Blind Man. The Stealer of Memories, the Thief of Childhoods. But why did I remember another life? Why did the Blind Man leave me with new memories?

All throughout this revelation, Frank had just sat and listened. After I was convinced, after I knew, he stepped outside. And found him looking up at the night sky, unaware of who he really was. Because if the Blind Man did this to me, He did this to Frank, too. And there was no father to tell Frank who he was, no crumpled picture of holidays past. Frank was a mystery and shall always remains so.

We decided to keep going to Pasadena, me Frank and Richard (I couldn't call him my dad yet, I didn't have that in me). We still had a job. We told Richard about this. He didn't believe us. He thought we were just kind of crazy, but he wouldn't leave. Not after he had found me. He would take us to Pasadena in his white pickup truck, the truck that had tailed us for weeks and weeks.

And so we moved on. We drove on to the end.

It's hard to put these words down. Without it written down, I could remember it however I wanted. But now it's written down, solidified, frozen into text. I can't write the rest. Not now. Not yet. Tomorrow. I'll try to tell the rest tomorrow. And then it'll be over.

Susan Kingston

"My name is Alice, but — "
"It's a stupid name enough!" Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. "What does it mean?"
"Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.
"Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: "my name means the shape I am — and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost."