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Authors: Peter Sargent

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BOOK: Unhaunting The Hours
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I entered a giant lecture hall with a
few other scattered students. The screen up front snapped to life
and I tucked in for a recorded lecture on genetic property law. A
few minutes into it, my mind began to wander – back to Healing,
back to Abdera, and back to the visions that were haunting me. Then
I jumped back into the present and, without thinking, hit the
replay switch. The recording stopped. The other students turned and
glared at me. I asked the lecture computer to restate the previous
section, knowing that it would charge me extra for the

The recording backed up and said, “No
country has fully closed the citizenship loophole, since black
market clones have no proof of birth or country of origin. Most
clones maintain the status of illegal aliens in whatever country
they live, and many fall into slavery. Denmark is the most
progressive country in this regard, although even there most clones
lack the financial resources to pursue their legal

The lecture continued. Then there was a
blank spot. I can’t explain it. I remember waking up, although I
don’t remember nodding off. I guess you never do. The lights were
on and a countdown had replaced the professor’s image. A soft voice
was telling me that I need to leave within the allotted time or
else the university would charge me overage minutes.

I hurried out and then I bent over in
the hall, huffing. What had happened?

His face was full of blood, a wire
wrapped around his neck. His eyes bulged as he choked, and his
mouth opened without a noise. In a mirror, there was another face.
Someone was in the doorway, half into the dark.

I pressed my hands against my ears. I
waited like that until my heart and breathing slowed.

This is a sign that you’re
getting free.” I told myself. “It is only what the Abderans put
into your brain. It’s withdrawal.”

I glanced at my watch. I was late for

* * * *

I sat on a catwalk above the theater
rafters. The university was an odd patchwork. At one end were the
shiny new gyms for the day-timers. At the other were hallways
cluttered with pipes, rambling off into nowhere. The theater sat in
that other end. It was stuffy where I sat, and the back of the
spotlight was making me sweat. A drop slipped off my face and onto
the spotlight can, and made a tiny sizzling sound as it boiled
away. Someone called to me from below.

Excuse me? Hello up

There was a girl down there dressed in
a puffy gown. I don’t remember what the play was. It might’ve been
“As You Like It” or “The Merchant of Venice” – some Shakespearian
comedy about confused identities. But I knew the girl: Molly. I had
to admit that I’d been watching her this semester. What could I
say? She was plain, someone I had a realistic chance of getting to
know. The real attraction was her poise on stage, and the times
when she instructed her half-witted class mates, and I had to
stifle a laugh.

God wonders how the twits in the
theater department got here, even to a recycle bin like State U.
They wandered about the stage like poor lost little sheep, and in
that getup I could image Molly carrying a Bo-Peep crook so she
could put them back on their marks. She nudged them into competence
with the most extraordinary patience – as though she were a nurse,
perhaps, at a mental institution, spooning soup into quivering
mouths that would only spit it out again. At first, I thought she
might be having a little fun with them, but then, to my horror and
delight, it dawned on me that she wanted to fix them up.

She pointed her face at me, using one
hand to protect her eyes from the glare.

She said, “I know it’s hot, but could
you close the windows? It’s just so noisy outside.”

Yes.” I said, but what I
meant was “Hell yes.” Whatever Molly Bo-Peep wanted.

The environment controls were broken.
So while autumn rushed by outside, the theater was sultry. I
shuffled down the catwalk until I reached an open slit near the
ceiling. We were in the basement, so these openings were level with
the ground. I heard kids in the alley; they were hopped up on
Spectrum. They shouted, in that way the drops make you think the
fate of the world hangs on all that you’ve got to say.

I grabbed the window handle, but my
hand froze there. Anger sparked a pain behind my eyes. The skin and
muscle there burned – smoldered, really – like chunks of coal
stuffed under my temples. I remember how they’d been there all
along, ever since Healing insinuated I had repressed memories of
murdering someone. Now Major Tuck, the guy with his fingers on the
thermostat in my brain, turned up the heat.

And that was it, wasn’t it? Now I knew.
I hadn’t been afraid of Healing when he drove up, and that
sensation hadn’t been the urge to get away. It was anger about all
those lost years I’d spent wandering the illusory halls of Abdera’s
electronic dungeon. I think it was something more like the urge to
rip some part of his body off him, and the sudden thought that
maybe I’d really do it. Why not? The Major begged the question. You
couldn’t follow through then. What about these kids who are
yammering and drugging up?

I crawled through the window and
staggered as a gust of wind embraced me. The kids stopped and
stared at me as if I’d just appeared in a puff of smoke. And who
knows, maybe that’s just what they saw. In the moment when they
were struck by a slack-jawed wonder at me mere presence, I composed
a big brother speech. It was something about how I knew these kids
saw this as nothing more than a back alley of a third rate commuter
school – and did I smell fresh urine? – but they should have a
little more respect. After all, were just as poor as they. All in
the same boat, right?

But the guy with his hand on the lever
said forget it. I grabbed one of the kids and bunched his shirt in
my fists and slammed him against the wall. He struggled and his
friends grabbed me, and then my hatred slipped into panic – oh
shit, what were these kids about to do to me? In my mind, I saw
myself snapping his nose off in my teeth. In the real world, his
friends tossed me to the ground. They swung their boots at my chest
and I coughed up phlegm that stung in my throat.

While still sprawled on the ground, I
reached around my back and yanked the 9 mm from its makeshift
harness. I waved it about, not really pointing at anyone and not
able to see anyway, and the kids took off.

I stuck the gun in my pocket. I rolled
over, pressed my hands against the dirt, and propped myself up on
all fours. I glanced to one side, where I saw Molly staring down at
me. She was still in her puffy dress, tight rings of hair covering
the sides of her face.

Are you some kind of
animal? All you had to do was close the damn window.”

And there I was, nothing more than one
of her retarded classmates. So I hoisted myself onto my wobbly feet
and slunk away without a word.

* * * *

I leaned against the window in the
men’s room, wondering if I’d done all this before. Anything was
possible, once Abdera got a hold of you. Until now I’d assumed that
the panic attacks were counterfeit memories which the colony had
forged, but maybe they were real. And maybe it’s time I explained
what the Abdera Cipher is.

The Jain religion tells the story of
the blind men and the elephant. One touches the tusk and says it is
a spear, one touches the trunk and says it is a snake, and on it
goes. They’re all wrong. In our world, electronic media bombard us
with news, ads and ten thousand other things. Our mushy brains
don’t stand a chance against it, and most enthusiasts of
cybernetics want to multitask the way a machine can. With this
delusion in hand, they think they can compete against the almighty
digital thinker. But they’re still moving from one part of the
elephant to another, only faster. When I first went to Abdera, it
was because Spectrum had filled my mind with hallucinations. The
Abderans claimed they could use the power of the machine to help me
see - not illusions - but the story inside reality itself. There
was nothing “under there”, nothing “behind there” – no fucking
magician behind a curtain. To see clearly, I had to put together
each flickering image and then let all that is extraneous drop away
until only the truth remained, the truth which each part contains
but only the whole can reveal.

Together, flames become a

Abdera was made of colonies of ten or
twenty people, and each member of a colony chose a “story name” for
himself or herself. Like a grammar school French class. I was
Osiris. With that name, I plugged into the Cipher and let it help
me search the eddies of radio, electric wire and hard scrabble
reality for my unique purpose. And yet, I discovered it was just
one more hallucination, this time dressed up for a night out in
emperor’s clothes.

My mind snapped to. Across the street,
I saw a concourse linking two office towers. Beneath it stood the
point of a slate-colored steeple. The steeple met the body of a
sullen stone chapel, cowering beneath the legs of a shimmering

You gotta go see him,
George.” I said.

I went to the chapel. It was empty.
Darkened lanterns hung from chains. The ceramic tiles at my feet
were shiny enough to produce a reflection of my face. I ducked into
an alcove by the lectern and opened a heavy door. The stairwell
below twisted and deposited me in Father Don’s office. It had a
desk and a couch shoved to one side, and tables and shelves
overflowing with papers. The man himself sat on his couch smoking a
weed pipe. He needed it to ease the pain in his legs, which he
stretched out in front of him. They seemed to extend clear across
the room. He looked up at me and gestured to a spot on the

The lights were out.” I
said. “I was afraid you were gone.”

Dead?” He said. “How long
do you think I might lay here before anyone found me?”

I laughed, “Are you trying to scare me,
you geezer?”

He jabbed the tip of his pipe at me and
said, “It’s you that scare me.” He replaced the pipe and mumbled,
“Any young person interested in my old religion scares me. Ah, but
your mother went to church, and she died when you were so young. Of
course, you just want to remember her. Forgive me. About the
lights, I’m saving money. Most Sundays, I haul my body up to that
lectern and preach to the pews.”

I was never one to show up on Sundays.
I loitered. The place was something familiar from my childhood.
Despite Major Tuck, I needed it – the echo of clicking heals and
the smell of aged wood from the pew backs. And I came to chat up
the old man. I slipped a bill from my pocket, and he stared it down
as if it were a doctor’s needle.

Keep it. What have I ever
done for you?”

You listen without asking
for anything in return.”

He slapped his legs. “I can’t run away,
you nitwit. Besides, there’s always the chance that I might get a
juicy confession. There are fewer of those these days.” He surveyed
the room and its mountains of stacked papers. “But the slowdown in
business does give me time to work on my book.”

He always called it his book, even
though there had to be enough paperwork to fill thirty or forty

I said, “I’d like to read it

No you don’t! Not until I’m
finished with the first draft.” He poked a giant bony finger at me.
“If I let you read it, you’ll talk to me about it. And that will
make me go back and revise it. I’ll get my old brain lost and never
even finish the first draft. So are you going to tell me what
you’re doing in my office?”

I almost bit a kid’s nose
off today.” I said. “Not a kid really. I mean, not a

He took a long drag on the pipe,
smacked his lips, and turned to me again.

Doesn’t surprise me. Who
were you trying to rescue this time? Another old man too near his
grave to be worth it?”


You don’t

I was struck by how little I remembered
from the time before my departure from Abdera. Like so much else,
I’d chalked it up to my long emergence from the tunnel they’d
dropped me in. It was just another symptom of the conditioning. My
first week into Abdera everything had seemed clear to me. It has
been like finding a lost key that had been hiding in front of me
the whole time. I had stumbled upon it without looking for it, and
I’d felt stupid for not seeing it before and so grateful that I had
it now. And yet, that feeling was a chimera, a mental security
fence around the colony. I got out, and today everything was
reversed. It was hard for me to think of how it had all been so
cogent to me back then, when now all my memories of what I did and
who I was were little more than lurking shadows. Now it was these
past few weeks that were clear and unburdened, as if they were the
whole of my life. But if that sensation could happen once and it
was a delusion then, why couldn’t it be one today? These are the
things that drove me nutty, despite how happy I’d been.

I said, “I’ve got something to

Very well. Do you mind if
we stay here? It’s not because I don’t want to go upstairs. It
would be struggle, but I’d do it for you. Only thing is, I’ve
started storing some of the earlier volumes of my book in the

BOOK: Unhaunting The Hours
7.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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