I had only begun to notice it relatively recently. Signs of the City being more than just an indiscriminate amalgamation of enormous buildings. At first I considered it madness, but when I saw that jet-black tentacle entwine itself around one of our myriad multi-storey car parks, I decided otherwise.
Madness doesn’t manifest itself as things that aren’t there. That’s not how the brain works, really. I mean, I’m no expert, but how could the mind conceivably imagine something that doesn’t exist? Has no basis for existing? It’s nonsense to suggest that something could be conjured up in the human mind, with no explanation for its origins! Oh, I apologise for repeating myself. I still get a little irritated when I relate this story. Yes, it’s extremely difficult to believe, but I’m telling you it fucking happened, or I wouldn’t be here now, would I?
Excuse my profane language. Some say it is indicative of a limited vocabulary; a last bastion for the inarticulate. I disagree. Some of the best-spoken people I’ve encountered frequently utilise swearing. In a way I consider it integral to the liberation of our language, but I suppose if “fuck” and its tactless cousin (rhymes with “funt”) enter too regular a circulation, they’ll lose their impact, their power to shock and amuse. And of course, nothing is funnier than well-placed swearing.
Sorry, the tentacle, you say? Yes, I suppose that is rather more interesting than my ruminating on the necessities of effing and blinding. Well, I’ll get to it in time. There’s more I ought to fill you in on first.
For a start, my name isn’t Jack, but that’s what I tell everyone to call me; my reasons for the choice are not particularly clever, but essentially “Jack” is what I remember about my old life. Oh, shush. Yes, I’m an amnesiac, great, you’re thinking. Don’t worry; my memory isn’t going to come back in drips and drabs, eventually revealing some crucial piece of information that sheds new light on all that I’ve wittered on about before. Wouldn’t that be fucking tedious? No, doctors have reliably informed me that I shall never recover the portions of my memory that I’ve lost. So much the better. All those people are dead anyway.
Normally these sorts of stories tend to start at the impetus of all the tremendously exciting events. You know, like in the song, “Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” etc.
Quick side note: why is it that I don’t remember my mother’s name, but The Sound of fucking Music is ringing loud and clear?
When you read, you begin with ABC
For me it all began - Christ, what a generic start! Look, I’m just no good at storytelling, that’s my excuse. I keep getting bogged down with semantics.
When you sing, you begin with
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Sorry.
I was on my way to work, to type fiscal reports for a firm managed entirely by bastards on an obsolete PC. And I mean obsolete – that waste of time was packing Windows ME. Yes, ME. That’s not even considered a thing anymore, seriously, ask someone to name Microsoft’s operating systems. Tenner says they skip from Windows 98 to XP (everyone forgets 2000, too, being a 64-bit NT spin-off sort of thing). But yeah, I was using ME, Millennium Edition. So many bugs it might as well have been the underside of a moist log. Maybe that’s how She got in, heh. Ah, I’m getting sidetracked again. Do excuse me.
Walking into the office, I immediately noticed something was wrong. My co-workers… were all zombies! Nah, not really. I bet you’d love that. The shambling undead, laying very slow waste to the City. If only. Zombies are shit. Anyone can outrun them pretty much forever, and all it takes to keep them away is a solid locked door. I think some total wanker wrote a book about it once, the “Zombie Surviving Guide” or some such drivel. Ugh. You’d have to be a complete mong to consider that book a worthwhile purchase. Fucking “Zombie Guide”, honestly. That’s got about as much literary worth as a dirty limerick smeared on the inside of a toilet door. In shit.
Why the fuck do I remember that moronic zombie book, but draw a blank when I try to recall my mother’s face? Is She fucking with me?
Actually, what was wrong was a lot more trivial. My cube-mate Alan (not his actual name) was hammering on the snack machine with his fists like Dustin Hoffman at the end of The Graduate. I think it was Dustin Hoffman? Anyway, he really wanted the Mars Bars within, or was trying to convince them not to get married, I don’t know. I went over to him and asked if he was working hard. Hilarious, because he obviously wasn’t. He gave me a courtesy smile and explained that there had been a power surge at the moment he entered D-4, or whatever makes the choc come tumbling, resulting in the aforementioned treat getting partially speared on that gradually unfurling metal ring, the only non-monetary obstacle between you and your desired scran.
It’s basic human behaviour to become enraged when a meal is withheld, instilled in most of us at a young age by our mother’s furious cries of “go to bed without supper!” when we accidentally knock over and break her David Essex mug full of fluorescent highlighters. Not receiving a meal for any reason is a punishment, blamed on the nearest person and easiest target.
As a result of this, Alan was not amused by my pathetic excuse for a joke.
“Fuck off, Jack.” he droned.
Prick. How hard is it to pretend to be friendly? We all do it, literally every second of every day to every person we meet. I wouldn’t have minded if I’d sensed a little banter was taking place, but this was a fierce “Fuck off, Jack”, the kind that sincerely wishes its recipient would duly fuck off there and then, as opposed to the kind of “Fuck off, Jack” that accompanies a light punch in the arm, due to sexual remarks I may have made in jest pertaining to the supplier’s mother.
I was a little taken aback, but not particularly upset. I’m a grown man, for goodness’ sakes. If I wasn’t, again, I wouldn’t be here telling you this! I’m getting to it. Hold your horses!
Sorry about that little “pretending to be friendly” bit, earlier. Sometimes I lapse into a very silly mood wherein I demean everyone on earth in order to make myself feel superior. Of course, there are plenty of lovely people around. Are. Are. Are. Are. Are.
So I held my hands up, said “Sorry mate”, and continued to my cube. Do you know what I mean by cube? I mean cubicle. It’s like a wee office, but it basically consists of three walls, with a couple of desks inside. On those desks are our piece-of-shit 224mb RAM Windows ME computers, an in-tray, an out-tray, and some pens. That’s our lives, eight hours a day. I’m certainly not complaining. I mean, it’s awful monotony, but so is all paid employment.
I started typing up the minutes from yesterday’s meeting. I was supposed to have done it the previous night, but I was up late on TV Tropes – are you familiar with it? It’s a website that lists common plot strands and character archetypes on all sorts of television shows and films, as well as a lot of other more metaphysical ideas. It’s rather wonderful, and more addictive than crack cocaine. Lots of useful information branching off into other useful information – eventually your browser will have more tabs open than it knows what to do with. It’s not filtered on the office network, but I had it blocked on my account. It’s for the best, as my productivity would drop to zero if I had access to the site. I’d probably just end up refreshing the Beatles page repeatedly, looking for another little nugget of information. Did you know that when they mention “fish and finger pie” in “Penny Lane” they’re talking about finger-fucking?
Picture yourself on a train in a station
The office network isn’t too bad, actually. Youtube’s blocked, but Facebook isn’t. It was going to be, but then that woman put across a convincing case for its usefulness within the company. You know, for organising meetings and such. It’s a more efficient way of getting people together. Everyone’s on there and most people don’t read their email.
Oddly, it’s the stuff I used to bemoan that I miss the most. People posting status’ that fish for questions – stuff like “JOHN SMITH is so angry!!!!!!”, necessitating comments like “y r u angry babe? xxx”. I genuinely miss it – that basic interaction and socially enforced decency. Now it’s totally different. Nobody knows anyone, and all that shit is out the window. Nobody greets anyone else, nobody really smiles. It’s weird, but obvious, how you never miss these little things until they’re gone. Ha! I bet everyone said that, thinking they were hot shit. Nobody’s got an original thought in their heads.
You know the place where nothing is real
Totally lost my train of thought. Trains. Went to work, buggered vending machine, what, what, uh, got to my office and started on the minutes. That was it, right? Yeah, I was typing up the minutes, then my boss knocks on the wall, so I ask him what’s up. He called me into his office, which was a bit odd, as my evaluation wasn’t due until the next week. Obviously this was something else, and probably not something good. I didn’t worry too much – I knew I’d done nothing wrong. I’m a pretty good employee, all told, regardless of who I work for. I get my assignments done, I contribute overtime when needed, and I’m generally a helpful chap. Anyway, standing in his office, he asks me to shut the door, which I do. There’s an odd tone to his voice, almost a nervous sort of inflection, which puts me slightly on edge.
“Now first,” he says, “I don’t believe for a second you did this.”
Now I’m a little perturbed. I don’t ask what he’s talking about, because any idiot knows that he’ll be telling me in the next instant anyway. Obviously.
“I.T said that your account was used to access some websites with some pretty extreme content on them.” He said, apologetically.
I looked at him, calm.
“It’s probably a prank, by one of the others.” I offered. My boss shook his head.
“I don’t mean, like, porn. Not normal porn anyway. You follow?”
His voice was almost despairing.
“Right.” I muttered.
“Don’t worry, though.” He continued. “Nothing is going to happen to you. You might be asked some uncomfortable questions, but I’ve already got a shitload of people willing to vouch for you. Everyone knows you’re not like that.”
Not like that? What bullshit. See, I get what he’s saying and I appreciate that he’s just trying to keep my spirits up, or whatever, but come on. These people don’t know me at all. Besides, I’m not stupid enough to look at anything fucked up on the office computers – the few times I’ve wanted to squint at a blocked website (message boards, if you must know – conversation and analysis, not child porn) I’ve had the sense to use a proxy.
“Jack? You’ll be fine, mate. Nobody’s talking.”
I thanked him and asked a few questions (routine, really), then head back to my desk. True to his word, nobody talked about it, and I didn’t get the impression that rumours were being spread, which was surprising. With something like this you’d assume that the subject’s life would be immediately ruined, guilty or not, but I was OK. It was weird, actually. It was apparently completely forgotten about; I never got asked any questions whatsoever, and it was never brought up again. My evaluation went well. I got a 2.5% raise, which isn’t bad. To be honest I don’t need it, I barely buy any luxuries besides a few pre-owned DVDs. I torrent most of my films and TV, though, as any sane person would. Of course it’s illegal, but so is recording onto VHS. Before torrents people were just swapping tapes, and peer-to-peer file sharing is the same thing on a global scale. On a global scale.
Wait. Did that happen?
Walking around town that weekend was interesting, feeling completely at ease with myself despite the situation I’d got into. At the time of course, I didn’t know if it would just blow over, but truthfully I wasn’t concerned. I just didn’t think about it at all, ignorance remaining the most effortless way to attain well-being. I underwent my usual routine of heading to The Baron relatively early. It was a fine place, indeed; nicely old-school furnishings, a plentiful selection of poisons, good and affordable food, a buzzing but not deafening atmosphere. I spent a lot of my free time there, making merry with my friends, didn’t I? Now just what were their names? We’d just spend the entire morning and part of the afternoon chatting, imbibing cheap lager at a pace that intoxicated us slowly, never overshooting that pleasant buzz you get from just the right amount of alcohol. We were good at that, at pacing ourselves. It was never really considered a truly valuable skill, however. Nothing, none of this was considered. We’d sit there, we’d drink, we’d chat, we’d take the piss out of whatever deplorable music video was currently showing on the big communal television.
I’ve always wondered that – why do pubs show music video channels? The volume of the general conversation and ambience is too loud to hear the music, and even if it wasn’t, the establishment pump in other, equally risible music anyway. Why would you watch a music video at all without wanting to hear the melody it’s synchronised to? I suppose it’s obvious; tits and arse. Music videos always feature a healthy quantity of the stuff. Sex sells, as they say, obviously it gets people talking. “Did you see whoever’s whatever in that new video.” You know, like that one where Britney’s wearing the see through negligée, or Holly Valance (ex-“Neighbours”) takes all her clothes off. People remember those, but they don’t remember performance videos, or even some gigs they’ve been to. Sex aside, they’ll remember anything with a semblance of spectacle; an event video. Weezer recreating “Happy Days”, or that chap getting hit by the cars in a tunnel. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the man who brought you that Guinness advertisement with the surfers. Of course, music videos are advertising anyway, but there’s a smidgen more worth to them, in my opinion.
Adverts are disgusting. Creativity stolen from vulnerable, poor students of film and media; used to hawk mobile phones, or hair gel, or something. Especially those ads with some “quirky” visual idea, like the super-malleable world, or thousands of balloons floating through a city, while in the background there’s some understated folky music. Fuck off with that shit; no matter how much you dress it up, no matter how “roots” you go, advertising will never be art. It is the anti-art.
Actually, that was one of the first things I noticed! More and more advertising. It seemed as though I couldn’t turn on the television without seeing an advertisement. I would switch off, or leave the room to make some tea, and return to find commercials still playing. I was tremendously frustrated by this; as I believe I’ve made clear, advertising is my absolute most hated of pet hates. But this was different, this was justified – those stretches of commercials just went on and on, for up to seven or eight minutes. It seemed excessive, but I timed it – it wasn’t just their dreadful quality making them seem longer, if that’s what you’re wondering. Also, the evening newspaper was giving over more and more ad space; every day without fail, a four-page “promotional supplement” surrounded the cover proper, flogging cheap sofas in lieu of reporting on some poor girl’s brutal rape and murder, or a mother’s grief at her S.I.D.S-stricken baby. Isn’t that just the ultimate disrespect? To have your genuinely tragic story rendered second fiddle to some plush cushions. And even when you break through the opening throng of bullshit, the inside pages are smothered to the point of despair. Coupons for Burger King and Pizza Hut, full page “advertorials” (possibly the foulest word ever conceived), and then just pages and pages of advertising. The way it looked then, the obituaries were coming across as adverts for funerals.
I read the news today, oh boy.
The constant, relentless foisting of superfluous crap. I mentioned it to my friends, who would say that it was just normal, to endure such things, to stop worrying about it, that I’d give myself an aneurysm if I let something so small get to me. I agreed without really agreeing, just wanting to move the conversation on. But when I got home, I turned on the radio, and an advertisement was playing. You know, one of those supremely irritating audio ones, the two fellows with their annoying voices yammering back and forth.
Is that from something? What is that from?
I left the radio (in anger) and turned on the television. A commercial for insurance, with that talking dog. Why is it those people are fine with the talking dog, but incredulous when he offers cheap insurance? Off it went. I opened the paper, and there I saw nothing but ads. I turned the pages. More ads. Wall-to-wall ads. I looked at the cover, curious, not understanding. Had I been delivered the wrong publication? Was this some sort of catalogue? No. There was the masthead, “The City”. Had they lost their minds? I inspected every individual page, searching for reportage. Nothing. Only sales pitches.
“Slow news day.” I reasoned. It was at that point that the sound from the kitchen came into focus; another commercial, from the radio I had carelessly left playing. I thought it odd that a good thirteen minutes would pass without them playing a record, or even an interjection from the DJ. And that dog.
Constant affirmation of those simpering idiots’ barely meaningful queries. Wait, is that dog still on!?
Now I’ll admit it – at this point, I was a little perturbed. I turned off all the appliances and closed the newspaper, deciding upon a day’s media blackout.
She was so beautiful, so unutterably perfect, so excruciatingly immaculate, the slightest glance at Her made them want to end their lives in that instant, to feel nothing more being preferable to the conception that She may disapprove of them.
The next day was a work day. My colleagues spoke of a spate of arson attacks in the City, a “crime wave”, such as they are. I knew nothing of this, I told them. They were incredulous; all over the news, it was. Nothing else in the paper, no no. I decided against asking them what they made of the periodical’s adapted mission from news coverage to pure salesmanship – they were all sick to the back teeth of my blabbing on about adverts. Oh, yes. Out of some imagined social obligation, I kept my lips sealed, passively convincing myself that it was nothing, perhaps I wasn’t getting enough sleep, yes, that was it, not enough sleep. An early night for me tonight, for sure.
It was a late night. I couldn’t get to sleep for the life of me. There was this sound; not particularly loud, but obnoxious enough to keep me awake. You know when you’re trying to sleep and people in the next room have the television up slightly too loud, or the volume of their conversation is such that you can’t make out a word, but you can hear everything they’re saying? At least if you could hear their discussion, it would surely be so crushingly mundane as to form an effective insomnia cure. But, I digress; what I heard was not conversation. It is still difficult to describe – a low, electrical hum, perhaps similar to that of an appliance left on standby. You know how in horror movies, when the scene takes place in a hospital or abandoned warehouse or something similar? You always get that tinted green effect, and an electrical hum. This is done to provide an otherworldly feeling, as well as a claustrophobic quality. I associated that noise with fear, with a very specific fear of torture. The fear of one day waking up strapped to a chair with a complicated mechanical death-trap affixed to my face, and the key to remove it secreted behind my eyeball or something, a scalpel having been helpfully provided so I can dig it out. You know, some sort of sick game, under the guise of an ironic punishment. A punishment for what, I’m not certain.
This sound was pervasive. I was unsure if it was coming from an external source, or just some kind of quirk of biology. I assumed the latter after a thorough search of the flat turned up nothing, and tried again to get some sleep, hoping the ringing in my ears would fade as normal. It always fades in time. I dozed off at around 2:30am, the clamour still present.
Tracing my finger along the thick iron mesh, I tried in vain to recall a time when there were no fences, but She told me they had always been there. I wondered aloud why we were kept away from everyone else, but She eased my mind with Her smile. Her smile that pacified, the sweetest smile of all.
There’s no fun in what I do when she’s not there
I feel I should describe the City a little. Typical, is what it is. Chain stores, supermarkets, a bowling alley. A recent crackdown leading to a governmental initiative partnering the rebellious, fierce cry of graffiti with the cold, clinical falseness of city council mandated “art” projects. They gave the taggers a large space to create on. Of course, their spray can technique is excellent, but what’s the point if they’re not forbidden? Besides, some brave chap is still at large, the initials “MTS” appearing scrawled in biro on toilet walls in almost every bathroom I visit, which is a lot (I have a weak bladder) Sometimes there’s a telephone number along with the signature – I saved it to my mobile phone’s list of contacts, but I’m not really sure why.
The buildings are tall here, and uniform. In a bizarre planning decision, most of the constructs here are now legally obligated to be painted completely white. Somehow the council felt this was a good idea, which it would lead to increased tourism as a result of its distinctive appearance. Indeed, from a high point the City can look eye-catchingly bizarre – though I find myself frequently wondering how they keep the place so clean. The pure white would almost certainly result in any dark stains being unnecessarily accentuated, but the cleaners seem to work so hard you never see a blemish. It’d be impressive if I gave a shit. I don’t understand it, but it doesn’t get to me.
The people here are a normal, bland sort. They all seem to be convinced of their altruism, which is useful because it means they generally act pleasantly, even if they don’t really feel any genuine love for their fellow man. Some would say that they would prefer people to be themselves, but obviously that would be dreadful. Why promote egocentricity? Nobody does anything unless it will benefit them in the long run, so the best we can do is at leasttryto maintain the façade of philanthropy that stops everyone here going insane and smashing each other’s heads in. As a result, when my colleagues went insane and started smashing each other’s heads in, I was a little taken aback.
The printer wasn’t working, I remember that much. Someone was stood there, pressing all the tiny buttons, swearing under his breath about how it was a piece of shit, and why the fuck haven’t I.T got their fingers out of their arses, and how they were all too busy wanking like chimps. Erudite fellow, he was. His cursing got gradually louder, until another co-worker, female, approached and asked what his fucking problem was. He screamed at her to “fuck off, whore”, took her by the hair and yanked as hard as he could, causing her to scream and lunge forward, twisting her ankle and falling to the ground. He let go of her and started to kick her repeatedly in the face, getting seven or eight good, hard blows in before another colleague blinded him with a Papermate, then started pressing his stapler into the assailant’s cheek. More of the employees were getting into the spirit of things, for want of a better phrase; a woman sank her teeth into her cube-mate’s index finger, chewing through with vigorous abandon, her stronger-than-normal bite reflex instinctively triggered by the pain of the QWERTY keyboard being used to bludgeon her about the head by the aforementioned. Two women restrained a man and had at his genitalia with a pair of scissors, at which point my neighbour stood up and ran into the fray, ditching his trousers en route, forcing himself upon the nearest attractive intern, beating her, tugging at her skirt.
Naturally, I was in shock; such behaviour was unexpected from these people. In some ways I admired their seizing of the day, but in more ways I was terrified for my life. I removed myself from my seat and ran for the exit, slamming the door shut behind me and barricading it with the nearby fire extinguisher (this is the real reason why extinguishers are necessary – fuck putting out fires, blocking oneself off from insane office rapists is their true purpose). Turning east I continued at full pelt down the corridor, thanking God I worked on the ground floor. Passing my boss’ office, I noticed him approaching the door with a small pistol in his hand, and his secretary’s corpse acting as a macabre draught excluder of sorts. I flung open the front doors and kept running, with no thought of fatigue threatening to keep me from getting the hell out of there with my life. It was only when I reached my flat, usually a significant bus ride, upon which I stopped running, lay down on the sofa and wept, a cluster of thoughts and emotions running through my addled mind. What do I do? Where will I work? Oh, and, er, those poor people. I called the police and reported the incident, but it wasn’t in the next evening’s paper. Just a commercial for The World at War on Blu-Ray. In the wrong aspect ratio, no less. Watch eight-tenths of The World at War in high definition, a format in which it was never intended to be presented. What the fuck’s the matter with movie studios? For that matter, what the fuck is my name?
The following day at work, an entirely new cast of colleagues presented itself, all smiles, glad to be alive instead of those others. I wasn’t sure why this came to mind, as I didn’t remember any of the previous employees. All a blur of brown hair, white shirts and big tits.