Hold Your Breath and You’ll Hear the Devil (Part 4)

For a friend who has been waiting a few years for this. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you missed them (or want to refresh your memory, give me a movie deal, nitpick the ridiculous plot… so on and so forth).

“Hello. My name is Ted Phoenix. I am the Chief Liaison of Dream Communications here at AYNIK.

What you have witnessed is an unprecedented method of accessing the human mind. Some may say we were inspired by Inception, or any type of medium that addresses layered realities.

That’s a fair assessment to make.

The people in charge were admittedly intrigued by the premise put forth by Inception. They realized the vulnerability of the human mind when a person was dreaming – or believed he or she was dreaming.

Anything can happen in a dream. You know this from personal experience. Only when you wake up do you realize how many impossible things occurred.

Who knows? Maybe we’re all in a dream right now. A dream that never ends until we die. How do we know anything is true? Even the simplest things may be completely different based on our perception of it. For example, we generally acknowledge the sky is blue during the day. Well what if, in reality, it was not only a different color, but something completely different?

And the only reason we think it’s normal is because we’re dreaming.

Or what about things like physics? Is gravity real? Or is it just a product of our dreams?

I know it’s not entirely provoking to put forth this idea. As I said before, this exploration of what “reality” really is has been done many times before. Of course, this is real life – as far as we know – so the stakes are much, much higher.”

“At the core, the idea here is to make the subjects believe. Since nobody truly knows what Hell is like – or whether it even exists or not – we can work from a blank slate.

We put forth a series of events that can’t be proved to be true or false simply because nobody really knows the ultimate answer. If we all died right this instant, could we say with any certainty or credibility what we will experience next? No.

That’s why we decided that death was the ultimate blank slate. ‘Kill’ the subject and anything is possible.

The subject you observed today was one of many brave volunteers who agreed to undergo a protocol session with our neuro-respirator. Therefore, some of the events he went through were a little more… dubious than what we would use in the final product.

But you can see the effectiveness. A tarantula is on your face when you wake up? No questions asked! Your wife inexplicably guns you down in your garage with an M60? Oh well!

We believe the total immersion will only go higher and higher as our death introductions become more and more realistic.

As you saw, the transition into ‘Hell’ was also successful.

That’s the beauty of the unknown – you can manipulate it into whatever you’d like.

Of course, saying we manipulate anything might be a tad strong. You could say we really just ease our subjects into a certain mindset. In any case, the potential is high, and we believe this technology can be used for the greater good of humanity.

From the beginning,  one of our chief concerns was the ways in which neuro-respirators could be abused. Our minds are sacred – they are private and should stay that way.

It would be truly heinous for anybody to take such power and use it for negative reasons. What we have in mind is doing things like helping solve crimes and rehabilitate people with various issues, both mental and physical.

For example, if someone is in a coma under suspicious circumstances, we could theoretically use a neuro-respirator to access that person’s mind and try to find some memory of the events preceding the coma.

Navigating the mind is tricky, of course, which is why we’re only doing the most basic of things at the moment. With our current volunteers, we’re doing less probing and more suggesting – seeing the results from suggestions we place into the mind, you might say.

In dangerously simplistic terms, you could almost call it hypnosis. But I beg of you, please don’t think the two things are interchangeable.

What we do here will change the world. Hypnosis is nothing but a gimmick.

With this, AYNIK will provide a means to make the world a much better place.

Thank you.

Without your contributions, none of this would have been possible.”

He walked off the stage as the audience members rose in unison and clapped enthusiastically. He looked up, flashed a dashing smile, and gave a casual salute as he disappeared behind the curtain. The lights slowly eased back on as the audience clamored amongst themselves with uncontainable excitement.

Ted Phoenix strolled into the dressing room and plopped down onto a plush leather sofa. He leaned back, stretching languidly in all directions.

The CEO of AYNIK, Nikolai Kirilenko, was waiting on the adjacent sofa. His face was tense as he stoutly asked, “So?”

“It was a rousing success.”

“Are you sure? I mean, are you absolutely positive?”

“Hell yes! Do you hear those fools out there? Still clapping. I guess they want an encore or something.”

“Well they don’t matter. He matters. Did you find what you were looking for?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.”

Kirilenko palmed his bald head in relief and said, “That’s great. That’s fantastic. So we’re good to go then?”

“We sure are. AYNIK now has two revolutionary technologies. Who is going to stop us? Google? Facebook? The government? Please.”

Kirilenko smiled tightly and said, “Don’t get too confident. And don’t get my hopes up. Because you know what happens when I feel disappointed.”

Phoenix stared into the murky green eyes and nodded.

Both men got up and walked out. After going through a complex series of hallways, corridors, and tunnels, they arrived at the neuro-respirator laboratory.

Three men and two women were laying on beds. Each had a simple device over their mouths and noses, like a more elegant version of a commercial plane’s oxygen masks.

Each individual had classified information about a rival company.

AYNIK had everything.

Nothing would stop them.

Ted Phoenix and Nikolai Kirilenko looked at each other.

It was time to set the volunteers free.

AYNIK owned a number of campuses that each served a unique purpose. This location was simultaneously one of the more secretive ones and one of the more public ones. In fact, this particular location had been built explicitly for the more shadowy aspects of what the company did. Nobody even suspected anything, mostly because the building was minimally guarded and in a heavily populated area. Surely something sketchy couldn’t happen in almost literal broad daylight?

While this type of deception had been done before, AYNIK took it to another level. The most sensitive location also happened to be one of the only campuses with a tour guide for media members and a reception hall. That mean guys like Ted Phoenix could lie to journalists right to their faces even as industry secrets were being stolen right beneath their feet, under the green marble tiles and in the labs below.

As for the media tour guides, those served to feed the public a little bit of delicious information at a time. It was always just enough to amaze on a profound level to the point where journalists had to write about what they saw, instead of doing any type of real investigations. That’s what happened in the neuro-respirator lab.

When they were looking at Volunteer #3, they observed the beginning to the part where he receives a mysterious laptop out of thin air. They never saw his memories about the tree, or his dead wife.

They also never saw his memories on what his wife had been working on.

AYNIK had a reputation for being completely transparent, which CEO Nikolai Kirilenko privately joked was “only the illusion of transparency.”

Now, they were in position to completely dominate the technology industry – possible even the world.

The best part was this: power would come with the benefit of goodwill. After all, good and bad are subjective terms. They can also switch roles in an instant. While some may think a monopoly on technology would be bad, that power would be used with great responsibility. That’s what Kirilenko told his people and that’s what Ted Phoenix reiterated.

The rise of AYNIK would be the rise of humankind all at the same time.

One neat package.

I blink and the next thing I know, I’m in a bed somewhere.

At first, I believe it’s some kind of dreaded trick from Hell, where I’m supposed to believe I’m “free” or something, only to get transported back into my white room.

But then… I remember. I remember why I’m here, in this bed and in this laboratory with four other people. Then I see two doctors walk over to me and that’s when it’s all confirmed.

They can see I’m still shaken from the test, so they give me some time to get my thoughts together. I’m not sure what their results indicate, but I hope it all worked out. It was the worst nightmare I ever went through, and I find it bitterly ironic that it happened during a clinical trial for a do-it-all cure for sleeping disorders.

After they take the device off my face, they help me sit up and tell me I’ve been asleep for about two hours. I shake my head in mild disbelief and say, “It felt a lot longer. In fact, it felt like a month. I’ve never felt anything like it. It was the worst sleep I ever had – even worse than after my brother died. And my wife.”

The bald guy, Dr. Nick, nods sympathetically and says, “Well you’ve done the right thing by accepting our offer. With your contribution, hopefully we’ll be well on our way to providing a cure for people like you who face troubles when trying to sleep.”

The other guy, Dr. Ash, cuts in and says, “So, how are you feeling? Ready to get to the next step?”

“Yeah, sure. I mean, I just get paid and it’s basically a waiting game, correct?”

Dr. Nick says, “Yep! Say, what did you dream about anyway? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, it was about family. And Hell. That was definitely a factor.”

For some reason, the doctors exchange a quick look of relief. I guess they’re just happy it wasn’t anything even weirder. I don’t know.

I ask, “Why is everybody else still asleep?”

Dr. Ash says, “They started the test later than you. Wouldn’t want to mess with the consistency, you know?”

I nod. Even a kid in high school could tell you that.

After dressing and getting paid (a tidy sum of $5000), I leave the lab and go outside. For a moment, I’m shaken, and I lean against the wall to make sure I don’t fall over.

Even though it was a dream, it all felt so real. I’m just glad I can breath fresh air again. Looks like I’m going home with a spring in my step.

Things are looking good.

That’s what you think.

What the – !? Isn’t that the narrator from my dream?

Yeah, it’s still Barrett. And unfortunately for you, this is still a fictional story. Which means I’m in complete control here and you’re nothing but a product of some words on a screen.

I fall to my knees. That’s it, all hope is lost.

I look up at the sky as people walk by and stare at me with morbid curiosity. I thrust my hands up into the air and scream, “KHAANNNNN!!!”

Hi there, this is Barrett.

Since you know it’s me, I’ll switch to the regular font right… now.

I’d just like to thank everybody that read this quirky story from the beginning all the way to the end. I went into this without a plan and I’m somewhat pleased with the results. The story took me where it wanted to go, which is why the beginning is like a comedy and the rest is much more somber in tone.

For several years now, I’ve been writing nonfiction almost exclusively, so it was nice to get back into the world of fiction.

I would also like to thank my friend Amey for being so patient. She waited only, like, three years for this and I hope it made her (or you, if this is Amey reading at the moment) happy. Most importantly, I’m no longer in your debt – at least for helping me with that massive pile of Logic homework way back when.

Assuming is always risky, but I’d also like to thank the person who will undoubtedly give me a lucrative movie deal for this story. Please make sure the following are involved with the movie for the wackiest cinematic smoothie in history:

(in no particular order)

  • Tom Cruise
  • Tom Hanks
  • Tom Hardy
  • Tom Hiddleston
  • Tommy Lee Jones
  • Tom Cruise (again)
  • Bubbles, the actual character, from Trailer Park Boys
  • An egregious number of attractive actresses
  • Matthew McConaughey (the apex of his career must continue!)
  • Tom Cruise (not running)
  • Tom Cruise (jogging)
  • Tom Cruise (sprinting)
  • Tom Cruise (running so fast he flies off the planet)
  • A rescue mission to save Tom Cruise
  • Random blood splurts directed specifically by Quentin Tarantino
  • Just passing time with the camera courtesy of Nicolas Winding Refn and David Lynch
  • Some Koreans (I’m thinking Choi Min-sik and Jang Hyuk)
  • A continuous shot of Woody Allen walking the streets of New York while he does nothing but stammer for fiteen minutes, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Um, make sure you get the budget for that.

Thank you so much.

The Blatant Offensiveness of Inactive Activism


Hey, if I had to pay real money OR dump a bucket of ice over my head – during the summer, no less – I think you know what I’d pick.

As a fan of the Atlanta Falcons, I like to think I was one of the first people within my group of Facebook friends to know about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that’s been spreading like a venereal disease.

In early August, our quarterback Matty Ice was one of the first to dump a bucket of ice (how appropriate) over his head in the name of spreading awareness for ALS, which most people know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Since then, scores of other people have done the same thing, from regular people like you and me to other athletes and celebrities like Conan O’Brien.

 

Ha, those gingers are something else.

Apparently all that ice has made some kind of difference, as it’s been reported by sources like USATODAY that the popular challenge has raised over $2 million for the national ALS Association since late July.

That’s a dramatic rise from the same time period last year, when “only” $25,000 came in.

Wow.

Unfortunately, there’s still something incredibly idiotic about this whole thing, and it’s in the wording of the challenge itself.

“I nominate [at least three unlucky people’s names] to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. You have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice over your head or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.”

Ummmm…. just one question… why is that “or” there?

I’ve been examining my Facebook friends to see who chooses to do both the challenge and donate, or just donate money. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of people are opting to take the easy way out and just do the challenge (which means only doing the ice).

What the fuck is the point of that!?

For me, it’s not even about the notion of wasting clean water – clean water gets wasted all the time all over the nation for even more useless reasons.

Like golf.

Like golf.

The real problem is the notion of inactive activism. Hey, here’s a quick question: what do Joseph Kony and Lou Gehrig have in common?

Easy. They were both the centerpiece of trendy, social media activism, which is also equivalent to doing pretty much nothing.

At least the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is doing some good, although I’m genuinely curious to see how much the donations are skewed by the money provided by celebrities (and by the way, it’s also pretty shitty for someone with a ton of money to do the challenge and only donate the requested $100).

Kony 2012, on the other hand, was one of the best examples of activism gone wrong. Everything about it was messed up, from the very organization that was doing the activism (all you have to do is google “Kony 2012 scam”), to prioritizing a bum like Kony when there were (and are) so many more pressing issues at hand.

Just ridiculous.

I guess the real question is this: does awareness mean anything and is there a difference between awareness and trending?

Awareness is absolutely important. Without awareness, nobody would even know something existed. Hey, you know what I found kind of funny? People are using “ALS” instead of “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” and I have a sneaky idea why: it’s so the disease sounds more mysterious.

Think about it! People don’t really care about issues they already know about. That’s why nobody cares about gang warfare or homelessness. It’s not special; it’s just a part of our lives now. It’s also why people get worked up about mass shootings, but don’t give a shit about the gun violence that occurs all over the country on a daily basis.

Saying “ALS” instead of “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” makes it seem different, like people are supporting a new cause.

I’m willing to bet that the biggest awareness people have been enlightened to is that ALS and Lou Gehrig’s Disease are the same thing. Also, $2 million is huge compared to $25,000. But I wonder how many foundations and charities have gotten far less than that – especially within one month.

So that was a very sly move to do… and I’m a cynical piece of shit. Let’s move on.

Anyway, awareness is definitely vital. People are wrong if they think awareness doesn’t matter. But it depends on the context. That’s why awareness is different from something simply trending.

Everybody knows what Lou Gehrig’s Disease is, or they’ve at least heard of it. So this isn’t about awareness, really, is it? It’s more about getting it to trend, which isn’t bad or anything (seriously, no sarcasm there).

But there are also lots of other issues that could use awareness, only people aren’t talking about them. You know, issues like common myths people believe. Oh well.

I do want to end with this: for the record, while there are lots of negatives to this whole ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I do think a lot of good has come from it too (although, again, numbers don’t tell the whole truth). I just wish there was a more efficient way for people to actually make a difference, instead of pouring ice over themselves and having a good time under the guise of actually doing something good.

Oh wait – there is a more efficient method: just donate the money, you idiots.

The Sadistic Ethics of Eating a Gingerbread Man

The harrowing true story of an innocent gingerbread man who was mercilessly tortured and devoured in the name of deliciousness.

After breakfast one morning, my mom unveiled a donut and a stout little gingerbread man with no facial features. We sat at the table, staring at him, and I whispered, “He looks pretty good.”

Naughty thoughts.

My mom readily agreed. She said, “I just hope he’s not too sweet.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be just right.”

But then there were ethical issues. After all, while we wanted to enjoy eating the fellow, we didn’t want to cause any pointless pain. At least I didn’t. My mom said, “Where should we start?”

“I think we should start with his head. We want to end him quick. If we start anywhere else, he’ll be in excruciating pain. We can’t have that. All that screaming and moaning…”

She didn’t like that mental image, “Oh, be quiet!”

Then, like a complete savage, she cut the side of his head off. I was astounded even as the man lay motionless. She chewed the slice and said, “Not bad! I was expecting more flavor, though.”

At this point, I was almost reeling from disgust. How could she do that? Of course, her inconceivable actions did give me an opening to also act crass. I cut his entire arm off and ate it. As she said, it was not very tasty – I mean, it was good, but not as good as the others.

Apparently he was one of Grendel's descendants.

Apparently he was one of Grendel’s descendants.

Now that was really just adding insult to especially egregious injury. Not only were we keeping the gingerbread man alive and torturing him, but we had the gall to say he didn’t even taste that great to begin with. His sacrifice meant nothing to us!

I started to feel even more guilty by then, and gently suggested, “Okay, maybe now we should cut his head off.”

My mom must have felt pretty grossed out by all this personification, because she said, “Why don’t you just have the rest.”

However, I soon realized her true motives when she added, “Save some of him for later. You don’t want to eat too much at once.”

Well, well, well. The disgusting monster within strikes again! I could only conclude that my mom was implying we should keep the gingerbread man alive for as long as possible, prolonging his inevitable demise.

By now, a certain numbness was slowly enveloping me – kind of like shellshock. It had to be that – I actually went below the belt and ripped off one of the gingerbread man’s legs. I ate it as he lay there, seemingly oblivious to his body parts being torn asunder one limb at a time.

He literally paid an arm and a leg.

He literally paid an arm and a leg.

Then, I wrapped the crime scene in plastic wrap, put him in the morgue (or “refrigerator” for you regular folks) so he could at least stay cool, and went about my day. When it was time for lunch, my mom took him out and we loomed over what was left of the gingerbread man, trying to figure out who would eat what.

I said, “Jeez mom, this is just horrible. I think this might be a felony.”

I do admit I said that as I ripped his other arm off. After a few hours of existential contemplation, it had become clear to me that the gingerbread man’s fate was simply to be eaten like many of his peers. It was destiny. And it was my fate – and my evil mom’s – to eat him.

Still, I’m only human. It still made me feel a little bad, although it certainly helped tremendously that the gingerbread man had no facial features. He could have been screaming hoarsely for all I knew, and I couldn’t tell. In fact, his complete and utter disregard for the situation made me think he was taking it considerably well!

You can see I was a little conflicted.

Conflict craves resolution and in this case, resolution was getting rid of the gingerbread man once and for all. I grabbed his lifeless body and yanked it apart at the waist. I was tempted to jump up and raise the two halves above my head in savage triumph, but didn’t want my mom to send me to an asylum.

Still, it was pretty godddamn graphic.

He had to split.

He had to split.

I took the bottom half and gave the top to my mom. But not before using the end of a fork to create some indents in the head – I made a face, in essence. It was the ghost of Gingerbread Past and it was here to haunt my mom for her irrevocable actions. Needless to say, it creeped her out big time.

As I deftly manipulated the head and shoulders through the air and swerved it with great agility around my mom’s annoyed face, she finally yelped, “Knock it off!”

So I knocked it off. And she ate the man’s emotionless face.

For me, the dry and tasteless lower body of the gingerbread man made me ache for milk or water. Or blood. Just kidding. I was coherent enough – and human enough – to remember the amazing fortitude of the gingerbread man.

He would be remembered for eternity, and his story would be passed down from generation to generation, as would the stories of all his fallen comrades. One day, the gingerbread beings would rise up and get their due justice from the harsh treatment tolerated for too long from the cold and insensitive humans.

But, for now, they would still be disrespected.

Just be warned: they will rise.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Hold Your Breath and You’ll Hear the Devil (Part 3)

For a friend who has been waiting a few years for this. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, click away!

She is 26. I am 28.

We listen to the doctor, but not really. It’s too much. Too. Fast. Her hand is squeezing mine so hard the tips of our fingers are violently purple. But then, she relaxes. She turns to me and silently says, “I will beat this.”

Her green eyes are narrowed – not in fear, but in reckless confidence. She is gorgeous, stunningly so.

She is 25. I am 27.

I find her sitting on the bathroom tiles with her back pressed against the light blue wallpaper. I drop to my knees and lift her head as silky strands of brown hair cascade over her shoulders and partially obscure her face.

I brush them aside and notice a thin, quivering line of dried blood at the corner of her mouth.

She is 22. I am 24.

We sit across from each other and I watch her eat, laugh, and talk. Her petite nose twitches in rhythm with her mouth. It’s hypnotizing. Before I know what’s happening, I lean over and kiss her, only I mess the timing up and her mouth is partially open. I wince and she blushes.

Then she leans in with closed eyes and a tantalizing smile. And this time it’s just right.

After returning home from college with a journalism degree, I decided a long vacation was in order. I recruited some of my friends to join me and we ultimately decided on Las Vegas; it was June so we expected good weather and bad girls.

We departed from O’Hare International Airport (in Chicago, for you knuckleheads) and the highlight of my flight was a girl who ended up sitting next to me. Although, if I’m being completely honest, I never said a word to her the whole time. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re sitting next to somebody who can make you care less about all the girls in the world, even the ones in Sin City.

As the saying goes, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I wanted this girl to be with me until the end of time itself.

Even as I was being a huge chicken, I think she noticed me staring at her like a creep every five or ten minutes. She could see me in her peripheral vision – just an awkward dude peering at her a little too intensely in short bursts. Indeed, when the plane landed in McCarran International, she looked right at me and said, “So?”

Oh crap. I looked at her forehead, deliberately avoiding her eyes, and innocently asked, “Huh?”

To my immense relief, she smiled and said, “So are you going to ask me out?”

Guys, forget about asking her out – I almost passed out. I smiled back, desperately pleading with God to make sure there was nothing stuck between my teeth. I eagerly said, “Why, I think I will!”

“Good!”

We exchanged names, contact information, and were about to go our separate ways when I said, “Why don’t we do something now?”

She frowned – which made my heart skip a series of beats no big deal – and said, “I should probably look a little better than this for a date.”

I shook my head and this time I looked right into her sublime eyes and said, “No. You look absolutely amazing. And besides, it would just be pretty casual. Or something. Maybe we could grab a bite to eat?”

“Aw, that’s really adorable. Okay, if you really think I look fine, we can totally get something to eat.”

Meanwhile, my buddies were snickering in the back like a bunch of goons. I turned to them and introduced her with a dramatic bow. She blushed as I said, “You guys go do your thing. My plans have changed.”

Then they weren’t so silly. After all, we had been planning for this to be the most exciting week of our lives; we were even making bets to see who would end up committing the most felonies in seven days. This was a pretty lame thing for me to do, I admit, but I wanted to spend every second with her. What could I say?

She could tell they weren’t too happy. I glared at them and said, “Why don’t we all go out to eat? Should be fun, right?”

And just like that, everybody was happy again.

So we eventually found our way to a restaurant. And that’s where I kissed her for the first time.

I messed up a little on the first kiss, which of course made my friends howl with amusement. She took it all in stride though and our second kiss was relatively uneventful, apart from all the other diners looking at our table with the type of facial expression that says, “I’m here, in the same general area as those people, but in no way am I related to them except through the most tenuous connection of being human.”

 Allen Iverson bounced violently off the dribble and launched a fadeaway.

Swish.

Game over.

“Are you sure this is your first time playing a video game?”

I couldn’t believe it. She had beaten me. I mean it was just barely, but still! She shrugged and said, “Yeah, I mean it’s pretty easy.”

That shrug… I asked, “Did you just do the Jordan Shrug on me?”

She laughed and shrugged again.

It had been a few years since we’d been together. She moved in with me and immediately found the tree in the front lawn to be quite the delight. Now, instead of my brother, it was her that sat with me on the porch.

Sometimes we would sit out there and talk about anything and everything. I remember one conversation we had that revolved entirely around the concept of Lego bricks for an adult audience.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, but we basically concluded that movies like American Psycho and Saving Private Ryan should definitely get their own Lego sets. I mean, can you imagine a massive Lego version of D-Day? People might actually care about history if that happened.

Other days we wouldn’t say much. We would just hold hands and drink sweet tea, the Southern kind where there’s so much sugar you think your teeth will directly contact the dentist and make an appointment.

On one of those quiet days, I proposed to her. I wasn’t even nervous – I knew she would accept. And she did!

She was pretty emotional, obviously, and ran off to tell everyone in the world the good news.

After a few months of planning like maniacs, we finally had our glorious wedding.

It was pretty small, although at that point in time, my writing career had taken off. She had her share of friends and family, as her work as a porn star was quite popular among a fairly young demographic.

Wait… my wife was a porn star!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Haha, I’m just busting your balls. Calm down.

If you think this Barrett guy is an asshole, please raise your hand.

Hey now. Don’t make me ruin the story.

Well isn’t it ruined already? I mean, we all know my wife dies. How could you do that to me!?

I don’t know. It’s dramatic. It’s not like she was a real person. This is all fiction, remember?

So you’re saying I’m fake? I’m nothing to you?

Yep. Now back to the story we go.

No… must resist…

Anyway… she was really involved in nanotechnology. Yep, she was smart and beautiful. Oh man, I miss her so much.

Our wedding was pretty great, which seems to be a fairly common theme. Weddings are usually dreams come true, or complete nightmares. I can only thank the weather gods for making the night sky look absolutely sensational.

But nobody wants to hear about weddings – they’re all the same, really.

My wife’s work involved a fair amount of secrecy, which was the only tough part of our relationship. As a writer – and a naturally curious person – it almost literally made my nose bleed to have to refrain from peppering her with work-related questions. All I knew was that it didn’t involve military and it didn’t involve anything sketchy.

According to her, it was simply a matter of staying ahead of other nanotechnology companies. And you know what? She was telling the truth.

When she died, the company revealed everything to me. All they requested was that I sign some waivers saying I would never reveal the information I learned. Now that I’m dead, I guess it’s okay.

Basically, she was involved in a microscopic version of Transformers, in that the company was involved in the creation of nanobots that could interact with each other to create larger formations with more capabilities. I don’t even know if that’s the right analogy. But look: for example, trillions of nanobots could theoretically work together in a disaster (like a hurricane) to rescue people and do other important tasks.

It was amazing work. That meant swarming nanobots could temporarily form into the shape of a raft, transport people, then turn into a shelter and keep them out of danger. The most optimistic researchers believed they could make edible nanobots, increasing digestive efficiency and performing medical tests at the same time.

The work involved risk, however, and it mainly had to do with the process of working with many tiny little particles and new energy. Honestly, I couldn’t understand everything the company gave me, but basically she got some type of rare disease that messed up her lymphatic and cardiovascular system.

The learning process began when I found her on the bathroom floor. She wasn’t really unconscious; I would say she was just sleeping deeply from exhaustion. Either way, it was truly disconcerting and that sensation was only exponentially heightened when I saw the blood on her face.

She woke up before I could call an ambulance. In fact, she got up and waved me off like it was nothing. Surprise, I got pretty pissed. I said, “You might want to tell me about that blood.”

I guess she didn’t know it was there, because she got all flushed and stammered, “Blood?”

“Yeah, it’s that red stuff that’s really important for that ‘living’ thing. And you’ve got some on your face.”

My sarcasm was not appreciated, as she said, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Duly noted.

Then she smiled and said, “I’m sick. But I’ll be okay.”

Yeah, that didn’t convince me. In fact, I said, “Yeah, that doesn’t convince me.”

After almost two hours of relentless begging, she finally agreed to see a doctor. And then almost a year passed. I’m still not sure what happened, but it basically boiled down to her being at work all the time. I never had a chance to get her to the hospital earlier, and I was certainly not going to pursue her like Liam Neeson for that. I respected her too much.

Maybe that was my mistake.

So we finally went to the doctor. Her tests took forever to come back – I ordered every test possible.

And, as you already know, she had some kind of lymphatic/cardiovascular disease. Her outcome was not good: approximately 6 months.

Suddenly, our relationship had a time limit.

She was confident she would beat it, which made me feel confident too. Not that I wasn’t confident or anything. I mean, she was so perfect I thought for sure she would eventually stop traffic one day like Mitch McDeere’s wife in The Firm.

But, since this was real life, that never really happened. Although I did catch guys giving her “The Look” – you know, the one where you see their facial expression and just know filthy things are going on in their heads.

The fight began, or continued, and she made it to about 5 months. Then she went into the hospital full-time. She died just before hitting the doctor’s prediction: 5 months, 25 days.

In the end, I couldn’t help but think of Scrubs. There’s this scene in one of the later seasons where Dr. Cox is sick of hearing JD worry whether he’ll be a good dad or not. JD keeps blabbering about certain statistics and Dr. Cox finally stops him short and basically says, “Fuck statistics. They mean nothing to the individual. You’re either going to be a good parent, or you’re not.”

Then he implies JD might be a good dad, which of course causes JD to almost ejaculate from pleasure.

Gross.

But that’s what I thought when she died. In the end, she was going to make it, or she wasn’t. And she didn’t make it.

Right before she died, she told me, “See you on the other side.”

Then I kissed her one last time, ending a sequence of thousands of kisses that all started in a Las Vegas restaurant. At her funeral, I recited a little poem, even though I always believed poems sucked. She didn’t like them either, but I knew she would be laughing wherever she was seeing the reading from.

In fact, I tried to make it as pretentious as possible, just for her:

Thy dagger hast not an edge,

Nor doth a point,

For when it t’was a’fixed into mine chest,

I found no pain – forsooth!

But joyous aggravation in the bright shining light of thy love,

Beseech the treachery transfixed unto mine eyes,

Could it be, dear Holy Trinity, that thy divinity has been bested,

Mere mortals dare to arrogance upon thee collective formulations,

Forsooth!

She probably ruptured a spleen from laughing so hard. The people at the funeral were less sure how to react – until my step-dad burst out laughing. While he was crying. Always a strange sight to see.

You know, now that I think about it, I’m curious where she is right now. If I’m in Hell, surely she’s in Heaven.

I look up from the laptop. Is she in Hell too?

I look down.

TED_PHOENIX: There is no Heaven. There is only Hell. Nobody is perfect enough to deserve a Heaven. Everybody has done something wrong.

ME: Well that hardly seems fair to certain groups of people. Are you saying if I stole candy as a child and did nothing wrong for the rest of my life, I would still come here?

TED_PHOENIX: Well, yeah. You would. And the concept of wrong is subjective anyway. So everybody just comes here.

ME: Does that mean I can see her?

TED_PHOENIX: Of course not, you moron.

ME: Fuck you, Ted. Who the fuck do you think you are? I’ve just about had it with this shit.

TED_PHOENIX: Tread lightly.

I throw the laptop at the wall but it disappears just before making contact. I glare at the spot it was supposed to hit, waiting for something, anything.

There is only silence.

Part 4 is here!

“Lucy” and Hollywood’s Disservice to the General Public (Part 2)

This is the actual movie review for Lucy. If you missed the preview (or Part 1), click here.

(WARNING: SPOILERS)

In Part 1, I was disappointed Lucy continued an annoying myth saying that humans only use 10% of their brains. However, I promised to try to write a review that would not take that fallacy into consideration, even though it pretty much completely ruins the premise of the movie.

And you know what? I did it.

In retrospect, there were two or three things Lucy did wrong: it tried to be The Tree of Life, it gave Lucy way too much power, and it had Morgan Freeman say humans only use 10% of their brains. People believe what that man says – he is God after all. So yeah, I was tempted to jump up after the movie ended and yell, “People, just so we’re all on the same page here, humans use 90% of their brains. Morgan Freeman is lying! Please believe me! Please!”

But I didn’t.

So let’s get on with the review, and look specifically at the first two problems listed above.

First of all, I should mention that Wesley Morris over at Grantland made the comparison with The Tree of Life before me. While I don’t want to go as far as saying I copied him, let’s just say I read his review before I saw the movie and it was a very appropriate analogy.

Also, I saw The Tree of Life AND The Thin Red Line fairly recently and was very blown away by them, so it’s safe to say director Terrence Malick was already on my mind to begin with. Okay? Good.

That's Jesus.

That’s Jesus.

Director Luc Besson must have seen The Tree of Life just as recently as me, because he sure had a ton of nature clips (usually involving special effects) in the movie. Sometimes they worked well, but most of the time they were just cheesy.

In the first thirty minutes for example, he resorts to some odd type of symbolism, only it’s so obvious I couldn’t help but wonder if a freshman film major had done some unauthorized editing in an attempt to be clever. One of the early scenes involves Scarlett Johansson’s character, Lucy, waiting in a hotel lobby with a mysterious case handcuffed to her wrist. She’s waiting for a guy (Choi Min-shik’s bad guy character) to come down and get it.

As it turns out, his goons come down and shit gets real.

While she’s waiting, Besson decided it would be a good idea to show brief clips of gazelles being pursued by a cheetah (I’m not exactly sure what the animals were, but I can’t be too wrong here). You get the imagery: she’s about to get wrecked.

Of course, things turn out to be a little more complicated, because Lucy is wearing a jacket with cheetah prints on it. Perhaps she’s the one inadvertently grabbing the bad guys and wrecking them.

I’m not sure I give Besson that much credit though.

You should know what happens next, so why don’t we just cut to the chase: Lucy turns into goddamn Neo from The Matrix and Mystique from X-Men.

Yes, she can see through things and change her physical attributes (to a certain extent in the beginning). The next thing you know, she’s learning languages within minutes, controlling other people’s bodies, and even gets into a memorable fight scene where she just walks down a hospital corridor as Korean gangsters punch and kick the air around her to no avail. Then they get pinned to the ceiling. Zany!

Surprisingly, it all works for at least half the movie. That’s the beautiful thing about directors like Besson: it’s that European slickness. Besson also directed movies like The Fifth Element and both Taken films. Highly enjoyable stuff. There’s a certain visual spectacle associated with Europe – I lack the expertise to put it precisely into words. Just know it’s there.

This guy's career definitely knows it's there.

This guy’s career definitely knows it’s there.

And that’s what holds most of the movie up from the depths of poop.

People like to compare Lucy and Limitless because they have the same basic premise: protagonist takes drug, becomes really goddamn smart, and must actually face himself/herself more than the so-called “bad guys” in their respective films.

I think an argument could be made that if you look at the first half of both movies, Lucy might be better. But then… things go downhill very quickly for poor Lucy and her crazy blue crystals.

The great thing about Limitless was how believable it was. At least I thought so. While Bradley Cooper’s character got extremely intelligent, he wasn’t doing stuff that would make Superman shit his pants. It was all grounded and followed some sort of logic, even if it wasn’t always perfectly solid.

Lucy goes completely the other way. I already described some of the insane things Scarlett Johansson’s character is able to do, but the audience can take most of that stuff. But not after the first half of the movie (or maybe the first two-thirds). At that point, Lucy is truly unstoppable. Then she realizes she’s eventually going to evaporate into thin air and become one with time. Or something.

That’s when Lucy and Morgan Freeman’s character finally meet up. That’s also when Lucy goes through some kind of freaky Resident Evil transformation, all in the name of building a supercomputer to hold all the knowledge she’s acquired. She succeeds, obviously, and Morgan Freeman ends up with an unusually long USB flash drive.

Minutes later, it turns out Lucy can communicate with humans through electronics, as she proclaims via text: I AM EVERYWHERE.

So what was the point of that USB flash drive?

At this point, no amount of special effects can save the cluster of yuck Lucy has turned into. To make it worse, it goes back into The Tree of Life, and we fly backwards through time (Native-Americans included) and the depths of space. Great, who cares?

I will say this though: one of the best parts of the movie occurs when Lucy is explaining to Morgan Freeman and his fellow scientist friends that numbers and letters don’t actually exist – they are just creations used to try and explain our existence. Apparently time is the only true measure of humanity.

That’s an intriguing premise, mostly because it’s generally accepted that humans perceive through two methods: time and space. In fact, I believe it was Kant who first said that.

I think all that needs to be said is this, really: if you look at Lucy on a fun little summer popcorn flick of a curve, you’re going to find this movie was pretty enjoyable. I genuinely thought it was worth the frustration I felt later on.

Besides, Scarlett Johansson is Scarlett Johansson. You can’t miss someone like that over something silly like a movie inexplicably blowing up during the last 33%!

Hold Your Breath and You’ll Hear the Devil (Part 2)

For a friend who has been waiting a few years for this. If you missed Part 1, click the link!

I’m not sure how long it’s been since my induction into Hell. There’s no clock in my room and I can’t focus long enough to accurately keep the time. I don’t know if it’s day or night – or if those concepts are relevant anymore in this predicament I find myself in. My thoughts have been all over the place, just like my emotions.

I like to think I’ve evened out a little bit, but my mind is a little fragile right now. People get flustered when their plans don’t work out, or when their daily routine gets interrupted in some way. I not only got shot a billion times by my wife and died (obviously), but I just as obviously ended up in Hell.

People who are still alive are so stupid. They think Hell is a place where fires and demons roar in the face of the dead and perform horrible acts of sodomy and torture to punish those who sinned in life. In reality, this is what Hell is: an empty room.

Economically speaking, it makes a lot of sense. While I have no idea who runs Hell, or even if there’s any type of religious implication, putting people into rooms and making them deal with emptiness is probably more efficient than making a mess. I mean, can you imagine the bodily fluids in a more traditional type of Hell?

Besides, isolation can make the strongest person crazy. Nobody has the ability to withstand this type of nothingness. The thing is, people who claim they’re okay by themselves are sort of lying. Even if they get by without talking with other people, they have things to do. Maybe they like reading, or writing, or killing ants with a magnifying glass. Whatever they do, it’s something.

Here? There’s nothing to do. I suppose you could punch the walls and do some jumping jacks. You could sing to yourself, or talk if you suck at singing. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you suck.

If a person sings alone in the middle of nothing, does he make a sound?

By my completely unreliable calculations, it’s been at least a month since I’ve been in here. The voice that reminded me of Benedict Cumberbatch hasn’t returned and all efforts to remain sane are dubious. My creativity has been forced to work hard, although retaining any sort of result is impossible.

I would write, because I could do all sorts of stupid things like make fake NBA rosters or even jot down some shitty poems. Alas, there is nothing in this room. I’ve even tried to rip my shirt and sweatpants and do something – anything – with them, but they’re made of some ridiculously resilient fabric.

This Hell is difficult to understand. I’m hungry and thirsty (tired too), but not overwhelmingly so. I haven’t washed in a month, but I’m still clean as a whistle (a saying which makes no sense to me, actually). I have not lost weight, nor have I gained any. This is a very subtle form of psychological torture, it seems.

Something about the mind and body. Whatever. I’m not sure how I haven’t gone crazy yet, although I’m sure it’s thanks to the very nice and awesome writer who is writing this.

Yeah, it’s me again! Welcome to Part 2. Yay. Our mutual friend here is so bored; I think we should spice things up a little bit.

I like the sound of that! Right on cue, the voice returned. It was such an emotional moment, I slumped over and sobbed. Then I became defiant, because I was showing such weakness. The voice said, “I am impressed with your progress thus far. Many have broken before reaching this milestone. As a reward for your mental fortitude, take this. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

Right before my eyes, a laptop materialized and softly landed in my open hands. With trembling fingers, I turned the power on.

As it booted up, I called upon the writer to pass the time while the laptop finished doing its thing.

Yeah, what do you want?

I was intrigued as to what was going to happen. Did Hell have internet?

I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, now would I?

Sure enough, the laptop inexplicably skipped forward and went right to some kind of instant messaging application. I stared at the blinking cursor and slowly started to type.

ME: Hello?

The anticipation was killing me (ha) and thankfully a reply came pretty quickly.

TED_PHOENIX: Hello.

Hmm… intriguing. Who was this?

ME: Who are you?

TED_PHOENIX: I am from HR. My job is to jog your memory about some poignant things the reader will want to read about.

ME: What kind of memories?

TED_PHOENIX: Really, it doesn’t matter.

ME: Instead of going through my memories, can’t we replicate a movie or something? What about Underworld, only it’s me and Kate Beckinsale doing all sorts of stuff?

TED_PHOENIX: Please hold.

I waited. Then something struck me right between the eyes so hard, I was sure my head was permanently deformed. Like in a cartoon. As I reeled in agony, the laptop chirped and I looked at it through a salty waterfall.

TED_PHOENIX: Unfortunately, my supervisor has rejected your request. Now, after your demise from the living world, we took a look at your life. We’ve isolated a handful of memories we think the reader will particularly enjoy. Especially one reader we have in mind.

ME: Just one reader? I thought this was in some kind of prestigious book or magazine or something. Where is this getting published again?

Uh, just my personal website.

ME: But you get some good traffic, right? I mean, people read your stuff?

Oh, ya. Ya! Definitely!

TED_PHOENIX: In any case, we thought going in chronological order would be appropriate. Do you remember that tree, on your front lawn…

When I was just a kid, we used to wrap ourselves in soft blankets and snuggle into sturdy chairs on the front porch during the cooler summer nights. Sometimes, while we gazed out at the sweeping front lawn, he would point to the majestic tree in the middle of it all and whisper, “Look at that tree. It has withstood the trials and tribulations of time. Fire, wind, man – nothing can stop it. It was here in the beginning, and it will be here in the end.”

During the day, I would climb to the top of the tree and proudly soak in the surrounding neighborhood. I could see for miles, it seemed, all the way into other states and other worlds. From time to time I would lean back against a sturdy branch and relax, tracing the fluffy clouds with my fingers as I squinted against the bright sunlight.

As I grew older, the tree became a sponge for my pain during times of great sadness. My brother, the one who would whisper cryptic messages to me on the porch, died just after graduating from high school. It was a Friday night and he was off to a friend’s house to presumably go through yet another confounding The Lord of the Rings movie marathon.

On the way, he stopped at a local convenience store, inadvertently interrupting a robbery. He was shot several times.

Before he left, he told me what he was going to get at the store.

A bag of chips.

A few boxes of candy.

The police came to our home. I listened to what they said and ran to the tree. I stared at the bark, taking time to examine the intricate ridges that weaved up into the sky. Then I started punching the tree. I punched it until my hands were raw and bloody and swollen. The tree, of course, didn’t budge. I collapsed at the base and stared back at the house.

Eventually, we all moved on. It was hard, but we did it. I graduated from high school, went to college, got my degree, and came back home to my old neighborhood and my ageless tree. My parents were living in a different city by then, but had kept the house. They said, “Consider this your graduation present.”

Then they moved to Miami where they’ve been having the most relaxing time of their lives.

I don’t live in that house anymore. I mean, I live in Hell now, but I wasn’t living in that house before I died. The last time I saw that tree was right after my first wife passed away. Yeah, can you believe it? You can imagine why I wanted to get away from that place. There was a lot of love there, but a lot of pain too.

You know, the highlight of my life was when I saw her for the first time. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was such an unexpected moment it totally caught me by surprise… which I admit also sounds cheesy.

Whatever. You want to hear what happened or not?

Part 3 is here!