by Micah S. Vernon
‘I saw her again this time,’ he said.
‘Mhm, I know. I saw,’ she said. A calm affirmation.
The clinic cloaked itself in soft light and sound, and ambient noise seeped its way gently into every corner—a hum, click, hiss, and crackle, like the degradation of old magnetic tape—from speakers unseen. The light wrapped around their voices, rounded them; safe from sharp inflections.
‘Do you think it’s your wife?’ she said.
‘I don’t know. Maybe.’
‘Does she have a name?’
‘Everyone has a name,’ he said, and paused for a time. ‘Do you think I’ll remember it?’
‘It’s on here?’ he held up the sleek black ansible.
‘Just sent it,’ she said, smiling.
‘Thank you.’ He turned to leave, then stopped. ‘Sometimes I regret living this long, you know.’
‘How is it I live so long I can’t even remember her name? remember her face? or the sound of her voice…’
‘Rewatch the footage,’ she said. ‘Same time next week?’
‘Yes, yes.’ He looked at his feet, voice full of uncertainty. ‘The sleep is all I look forward to now. I still have some of her things, I think. Boxes full of clothes I know aren’t mine. And they’re so brittle to touch—fading.’
She stayed silent.
‘What if there’s something I don’t want to remember?’
‘I’ll see you next week,’ she said.
‘What if there was something I was meant to forget?’
You wake to the sound of knocking and the wet blinking of eyes unseen.
Horripilation; the trickling across your skin—itching in patterns dry, circular; inflamed.
Beyond the limits of your physical perception: A.T.—They speak to you in shifting voices:
Fear not the comport of your outer flesh. It may be painful but I
assure you it is working as intended.
You dreamt you sat eating spoonsful of dirt under the watch of possums in the night: a hissing, immortal and alien under the eye of the moon. You feel that dirt coming up, now—beheld by wet blinking, the knocking of your chest afire, thuddingclappingcrashing.
You ask A.T. to play you a song, and They do. An extrapolation of a hundred million years of music, condensed into a single composition.
You stop – – – and listen . . . s l o w, to the hum humm hummm, that gentle strum of playback in your head; the vast and echoed past singing sensually in bed—and you believe that you could live within the shadow of its whis
. . . . . . . . . if you can live within the jumblemumblerumble of slurred words and broken sounds. That hum, click, hiss, and crackle, like all of history is the degradation of magnetic tape.
I spent a lot of time on the transatlantic trains in years undocumented—the slow trains, the ones that took anywhere from two weeks to two years two hundred million miles under the sea. That deep below the surface, your eyes learn to adjust in low light. In the carriages with no light at all, the darkness is almost complete, if not for the dull glow that emanates from the carriages ahead. And if all is quiet, you don’t even know if someone else is in there with you. You lose track of time, touch. Spending so much time in there, looking out the large windows into the crushing blackness, the depths of the ocean. You’d swear you could see shapes shifting in that darkness. Vast, drifting creatures; small, slimy beasts. Or perhaps just vitreous residue rolling over your eyes like a film lens, watching the underworld through a weathered camera.
‘I wonder what would happen if we were to derail’, he had said from the other side of the carriage, a tenebrous void.
I didn’t know how long he’d been in there with me. Didn’t know how long I’d been in there. And I couldn’t attest to whether it was just two of us, or if there were other shadows—quiet, listening.
‘Pardon?’ I replied.
‘Do you think anyone would come and find us, or would we be lost forever?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘What’s your name?’ he asked.
‘Saoirse. And you?’
‘I’m Cillian. Tell me, Saoirse, how old are you?’
‘But a child.’
‘What about you?’ I asked.
‘I can’t remember’, he said, though his voice sounded young, much younger than frail Jakob—a man born too early for frequent and reliable work to be done; born too late to die young.
‘I imagine you must need a lot of sleep’, I said, unsure of where to take the conversation.
‘I’d rather not’, he said. ‘I went once to a Dealer in Sicily. He put me down for twelve hours and gave me nightmares. I struggle to close my eyes now. And my mind is a tattered patchwork of glitching memories and horrors made flesh.’
I turned quiet. The darksome atmosphere of the carriage felt like the warm velvet sleep I’d lost to age.
‘I wonder what would happen if we were to derail’, he said again. ‘Would we be lost forever?’
‘Perhaps it would be the only way to truly die’, I said. ‘To become unformed figures in the darkness.’
‘I think I’d like that.’
The pictures often come in blurred silhouettes, fold into one another as extrapolations of distant, buried memory—the data flow struggles to correlate the patterns of brain waves to imagery in a steady, identifiable stream. Some turn those streams of dreams into art installations that we witness in our quietude, wondering of the Others (corporations, governments, the bored and the violent) out on conquest in their galleons, long centuries gone by. What are we but the mythos of a forgotten world?
There were times in which we worried about the oversaturation of data online, or in physical mass. Great libraries and museums built into the sky or virtual space, filled with uncatalogued data and information, impossible to sort or parse or organise in any way. With age we didn’t foresee the same thing happening inside ourselves. With prolonged life, we become muddled and forget as our memories oversaturate with experience. And the older we age, the less we sleep. And the less we sleep, the less we dream. And we all become amalgamations of everything else, where art is art atop art, and dreams are founded in the rarity of sleep curated by its Dealers. We work in pills and potions and heavydense machinery, brainwaves and wires extrapolated from our vagrant Sleepers. I am a conductor. And if a dream is like a river carved into the earth, I am the earth trying to redirect the path of its flood, against its will, against the runnels of the data that it has traced, against the grooves that it has carved from the marrow of oversaturated memory. When we lose ourselves we lose everything, and our homes become a bloated swell that overwhelms. Pictures and videos lost in the detritus of digitised space; names and faces dead in the droughted deserts of our memory.
And we are as desertshadows
where art is art atop art and art is art atop art and art is art atop art and art is art atop art andartisartatopartandartisartatopartandartis
and everything is one
and the same.
Micah S. Vernon works and lives in Melbourne, Australia. They have published work with The Deadlands and 3:AM Magazine.