“Morning, Jeanne,” Mike says, not looking up from his workspace. His hands are flying over the translucent tabletop, manipulating images and text at an incomprehensible pace. He’s sat next to me for four years and I still don’t know what he does.
“Morning, Mike,” I say, sliding into my seat. “How goes it?”
He grunts. “Same shit, different day.”
I pick up the helmet from its stand and shove it onto my head. It covers my face down to my nose, blocking my vision completely. I feel the smartfoam conform to the shape of my head and choke back the momentary claustrophobia. It passes. I do up the straps and settle in for the morning shift.
The hours disappear until a buzzing in my ears makes my stomach lurch. Light flashes across my eyes and I don’t know if it’s a real light on the eyepiece or if it’s just in my head. I breathe slowly and deeply, tamping down the nausea.
My hands feel around the straps at my chin and I finally fumble off the headset. Sweat pours down my face as I put the helmet back on its stand.
“You going for a smoke?” I ask Mike.
“Yeah,” he says. [[“See you in the box.”->Take a break]]
I walk toward the break room, past the hundred or so people who work on this floor of the *Alexander Systems* building. Some are technicians like Mike, others are controllers like me and the rest are in sales. Doubtlessly, the sales people are there to remind the rest of us that there is a lower circle of hell to which we could still descend.
The break room is crammed — people eating, talking, scrounging cigarettes. I try to avoid the latter type as I push my way through to the box. Smoking isn’t allowed in the office, but they’ve built a plywood shelter on the fire escape. It takes too long to get all the way down to the ground floor then back up again, and they couldn’t get people to stop nipping out for a smoke. So the box appeared.
I light up, cupping my hand around the flame. It's cold and the plywood doesn’t do much for insulation. I scowl at a new sales rep mooching around. I am spared having to talk to her by Mike’s arrival.
“Hey,” he grunts, lighting one of his own. I nod back at him. We don’t talk much, Mike and I, but we’re what passes for friends here. He takes a couple of drags, then grabs me by the elbow. I start — Mike has never touched me before. “C’mere,” he says and steers me to a dark corner.
My heart pounds. What's going on? I’ve known Mike for years and he’s never once expressed any kind of interest in me like that… He leans in toward me, speaking so quietly I can barely hear him.
“I’ve applied for a promotion.”
“A what?” I say, all thoughts about Mike making a pass at me vanishing. There are no promotions.
“There’s a way out, Jeanne,” Mike says, the zeal of a fanatic in his voice. “I was surfing the internal HR site one night and there was this link. Opportunities. There’s maybe ten openings right now. Can you believe it? I could get out of here.” He grabs me by the shoulders and I smell tobacco on him. “We could both get out of here.”
Promotion. It couldn’t be real. Poor Mike must be delusional, or worse, the victim of some cruel practical joke. The site was fake. Everyone knows [[there’s nowhere for people like us to go.->But, what if it were true?]]
When I get home I sit on the edge of my bed and flip the screen out from the wall. I poke it a few times then finally find the HR page and stare at it. There is nothing new, nothing that looks anything like job listings. It’s only the usual explanation of how people get placed where their skills are best suited and that we should like it or lump it.
I try the search function — nothing for *job opportunities*, *promotion,* *application*. Nothing.
I let my head fall into my hands. What's wrong with Mike? He doesn’t love the job, none of us do, but does he hate it so much that he’s created an alternate reality for himself, one where there is something to look forward to? [[And is that really so bad?->Give up and go to sleep]]
There is a bluish light all around me; I make out shapes but I can’t tell what they are. People, machines, a trick of the light. It should be soothing, but I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I’m panicking. I try to sit up but I can’t move. My arms, legs, head — I can’t move any of them. Am I paralyzed? I'm hyperventilating, my heart feels like it’s going to explode…
A horrible noise pierces my panic. I open my eyes and silence the alarm. I sit up, sweat glistening on my body. I stand, trying to shake off the memory of the nightmare and light a cigarette with trembling fingers. Even after my coffee is gone, I still feel the coldness of that light around me, the [[terrible fear of paralysis.->Inteview]]
Mike got the job. At least that’s what he tells me as he packs up his desk. “It’s great, Jeanne. Almost double the salary, vacation time, responsibility.” He shakes his head and puts his hand on my shoulder. I flinch, but try to cover it up. I don’t think he notices. “I hope you see it soon. You deserve a promotion.” It's pity I hear in his voice as he picks up the half-empty box. “Catch you around, Jeanne,” he says and walks out of the office.
I sink back into my chair. I don’t understand any of this. I look around the office — no one is paying any attention as Mike leaves. It’s obvious he isn’t coming back; where do they think he’s going? I mash the helmet onto my head and try not to think about it.
I’ve got a cigarette glowing hotly between my lips when one of the scroungers sidles up to me; a too-pretty little woman whose name I don’t know. “Can I have the butt when you’re done?” she asks, not looking at me. Her voice has that submissive sound, like she’s taken a few knocks and expects another one. I’ve probably told her to fuck off a time or two before, but now, with Mike gone…
(set: $laura to false)
[["Sorry," I mumble, tuning away.->Later]]
[[“Here,” I say, shaking a half-smoked tailor-made out of my pack. “You can have this.” ->Have this]]
(set: $laura to true)I pass it over to her and her eyes dart up.
“Are you sure?” she whispers, a mix of awe and fear in her voice, as if she’s afraid I’ll snatch it back. I nod and tuck the smoke into her hand. I strike a match and our hands glance off each other as I light the cigarette for her.
We smoke in silence for a moment, then I say, “You see Mike leaving today?” She nods, still not looking at me. “What do you think that’s about?”
“I dunno. Fired, maybe.” Her voice is even quieter now and I strain to hear her.
Fired. That makes more sense than anything else. But he seemed so happy. “It’s too bad.” Her voice comes to me as if from a long distance and I pull myself out of my thoughts and look at her. She pinches the cigarette off with enough left for another round and tucks the end carefully in her pocket. “He seemed like a nice guy,” she says and turns to push her way [[back to the floor.->Later]]
I still can’t see anything, only that cold, blue light. I try to close my eyes, but I can’t even do that. I feel my body, barely, but I can’t make it do anything. I remember not to panic, I remember that I’ve been here before, remember that I’ve been here forever.
I hear voices, outside… outside where? I don’t know where I am, but I know that the voices are from some other place, another room, another world. I can’t tell what they are saying, but they are talking about me.
I wake up to the alarm and [[feel like being sick.]]
I walk into the box, my mind filled with images of blue light, the sound of faraway voices. I don’t even see her at first. “Hey,” she says, her hand reaching out for my arm. She stops short of touching me, but the gesture draws me back to reality.
“I owe you one,” she says and opens her hand. A beautifully hand-rolled cigarette lies in her palm. “My account finally opened,” she explains and lifts her hand toward me.
I look at her, the hopeful expectation on her face. I pick up the cigarette with two fingers and try to smile. I don’t think it works. “Thanks. What’s your name?”
“I’m Jeanne,” I say and light the cigarette. It goes down rough and I don’t mind. “You’re in sales, right?”
“Yeah, I started a couple of weeks ago on a five year contract,” she says. “You heard anything from Mike?”
I shake my head. “He’s gone.”
She nods, but I think she’s just keeping the conversation going. She doesn’t know what’s going on. I sit on the bench and smoke while she talks about a new coffee bar that’s opened near her apartment, but I’m not really listening.
“You ever get the feeling this isn’t where you’re supposed to be?” I ask.
She shrugs. “Sure. I’ve taken a few minutes longer on break once or twice. Who hasn’t?”
“No.” I lean forward, my hands gripping my knees. “I mean all of this. Your whole life. Don’t you ever feel… Don’t you think this isn’t really your life? This isn’t how it was meant to be?”
Fear crosses her face. “Uh…” She looks away and I realize that there is no one I can talk to.
“Never mind,” I say, forcing a laugh. “It’s been a rough morning.”
“Yeah,” she says, choosing to believe my excuse. “I hear that.” We don’t talk again until it’s time to go back to work. She waves at me and smiles as we separate in the hallway. [[I wonder if she’s even real.->Job opportunities]]
I almost convinced myself that I'd imagined Mike and his promotion when [[I finally see it.->Click Here to Apply Online]]
<img src="AlexanderSystems.jpg" alt="Alexander Systems">
<h3>Opportunities for Jeanne Dennis</h3>
* *Team Leader*, Technologist group 75 [[<u>Apply Now</u>->Apply Now]]
* *Assistant to the Manager*, Floor 8 [[<u>Apply Now</u>->Apply Now]]
They want to interview me. Two days later I get a cheerful note from some HR person confirming the interview. It’s online, they say; I can do it at home. I’ll get an hour’s paid leave.
Paid leave. If Mike had mentioned anything like that I’d have known he was crazy. But it’s right there on the screen for anyone to see. An hour’s paid leave.
I can barely concentrate on the day of the interview. (if: $laura is true)[Laura catches my eye on her way to the box, waves at me. I shake my head. I can’t even smoke I'm so nervous. And what would I tell her? She’d never believe me, not in a million years. ]I watch the clock and try to stop myself from being sick.
The interview goes by in a blur. Two faces, blandly corporate, stare at me from the console screen. All I can think is that my apartment must look like hell. They smile at every answer — there’s no way of knowing what they are thinking.
When it’s over, the smiling faces nod and the one on the left says, ”Thank you for your time, Jeanne. You’ll hear from us by the end of the week.” They disconnect and I breathe for what feels like the first time all day. I did everything I could.
The only questions I can remember don’t have anything to do with the job — “If you saw someone hit another person on the train, what would you do?” “If your desk mate started to cry, would you ask what’s wrong or keep working?” “Imagine a typical day in the life of your next-door neighbour. Can you describe what it’s like?”
I’m so tired that I crawl into bed without eating anything and close my eyes. (if: $laura is true)[[[If I dream, I don’t remember.->Catch her eye]]](else:)[[[If I dream, I don't remember.->Surrounded]]]
I catch her eye on the way to the box. I smile, trying to contain myself. I want it to be a surprise, my good news. I want to share my happiness with her. Maybe some of it will rub off. She waits for me in the crowd and I push my way through. “Hi,” I say, passing her an almost full pack of cigarettes. “Take one.”
There is confusion in her eyes but she pulls out a cigarette anyway then hands me back the pack. I look at it, look at her. I don’t even want the cigarette, but I light one without thinking. “Guess what?” I say, unable to stop grinning.
“I got a new job,” I say, the words tumbling out, “a promotion. Team Leader for group 75. I start on Monday.” I look at her and see my own face reflected in her eyes. I look like a raving lunatic and I try to rein it in.
“There’s this secret job listings page,” I explain, “I don’t know if it only shows up after you’ve been here a while or what. Anyway, remember Mike? Well, he saw it and got a better job. That’s where he went. I didn’t believe it at first either, but then I saw it and now it's happened to me.” I know I’m rambling, but I can’t stop. I need her to believe me. I need her to know there is a way out.
“That’s great,” she says mechanically, the way you’d talk to a slow child. “I’m really happy for you, Jeanne.” I can tell I’m not getting through.
I force myself to calm down. “I understand,” I say. I finish my cigarette and throw the butt on the ground. Someone will pick it up, salvage the remaining grains of tobacco. I reach out and lightly touch Laura’s arm. At least, she doesn’t wince. “I know you think I’m nuts. You just got here; it'll probably take a while before you see it. But it’s real, it is.” I stop myself again. “Watch the HR site. Promise me.” I take her face between my palms and stare into her frightened eyes. “Promise me you’ll watch the site.”
“Ok,” she says, her voice trembling. My hands drop from her face and look at my fingers. I can’t remember the last time I touched someone’s skin.
“I have to go,” I say. I reach out toward her and she extends her own arm, tentatively at first. I press the pack of cigarettes into her hand. “Thanks,” I say, then turn and [[walk out of the box for the last time.->Surrounded]]
I am surrounded by the blue light. It feels like I have been here my whole life — paralyzed, suspended, smothered by the light. I hear the voices, closer now, clearer. “She’s coming around, sir.”
“Careful now. This is a difficult adjustment. Everyone handles it differently.”
“I have the tranq ready.”
My eyes are open. They have always been open, but for the first time I blink. It is a colossal effort, a victory. How long has it been since I closed my eyes? Before I can finish the thought, I feel like I am falling into a pool of cold water. I fight not to panic; I try to breathe but I still can’t move any part of my body other than my eyes.
“Heart rate’s up,” one of the voices says.
“Not a problem yet, but keep an eye on it.”
I gasp. Air! Slightly plastic, but clean and pure and filling my lungs. I can move my shoulders now and I raise my head slightly. It’s harder than closing my eyes but I can see machines and two people at the foot of this bed I’m lying on. “Jeanne,” one of them says. “Everything is going to be fine. No one is going to hurt you. Relax and we’ll have you out of there in no time.”
I try to sit up, try to thrash my arms and legs, but they don’t move. I can hear talking, but I no longer care what they are saying. I have to get out of here! My breath comes hard and ragged, then [[darkness encloses me again.->Free]]
I open my eyes, blink a couple of times. The blue light is dimmer and I am lying on a couch. I’m wearing a dress made of the softest fabric I’ve ever felt. It’s warm, comfortable. I feel like I should be terrified but there’s this calmness filling me.
“Hello again, Jeanne.” The man smiles warmly. “You’ve had a bit of a shock, so we’ve given you a mild sedative. It will wear off over the next few hours, but we thought it best to make you a little calmer.” He leans in toward me and I don’t even feel like flinching. “You’ll start to remember soon. I’m sure you’ll have questions once it’s all come back.” I notice for the first time that I am in a small sitting room. There are no windows but the door is open.
“If you need someone, just call. This is best done alone, but we will be monitoring you from outside.”
“Wait,” I croak. “What about the job?”
He pats my arm and I feel a wave of calm. “Just remember.” He walks out the door.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to remember. I packed up my things, left the office, took the train home…
When the first one comes it is physically painful. Images, but more than pictures. Memories, they must be, but such terrible memories. A knife, wet with blood. I can feel the stickiness on my fingers, which are clenched around the hilt. So much anger.
A person I don’t recognize is lying on the ground, screaming, blood everywhere. I can’t look away. Now I remember — her name was Sandra. They told me at the police station her name was Sandra. I said that it was her own fault, that she brought it on herself.
“She nearly died,” the officer shouted at me, slamming his hand on the table. One of the other officers pulled him from the room. I sat there, covered in Sandra’s blood, smirking.
I feel sick. I lean over the side of the couch and retch, but nothing comes out. It feels like my stomach is trying to tear itself from my body and I can’t stop heaving.
No one comes through the door.
I have no idea how long I am in the room. Eventually I stop retching, but the memories keep on coming. My arrest, the trial, Sandra sitting in the courtroom glaring at me. The prosecutor telling the judge that this was the fourth time I had been stopped by the police, but the first time I had been violent. The judge saying that since it was such a brutal attack, they had no choice. It had to be the Alexander System.
I don’t know what that means, but I remember going crazy when the sentence was pronounced. I tried to run, punched one of the officers, screaming that I wouldn’t let them change me, wouldn’t let them destroy who I am. It took three people to finally restrain me and another came with the needle. Then it all fades.
I sit on the edge of the couch, my head in my hands. Footsteps approach me, but I don’t look up.
“Your sentence is complete,” the voice says. “Your anti-social tendencies have been neurochemically corrected and you’ve completed the assigned year in the virtual retribution centre. You are free to go.”
(if: $laura is true)[“Free…” I repeat, tears falling silently down my face. “You don’t know what the [[word even means.”->Kristina]]](else:)[“Free…” I repeat, tears falling silently down my face. “You don’t know what the word even means.”]
The first week I don’t leave the apartment they’ve given me. It’s spacious, airy and light and I don’t deserve it. I remember now that everyone lives like this, I understand that my experiences at Alexander Systems were a fiction, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve been rewarded somehow. And I have, I suppose. I’ve been rewarded for serving my sentence, for taking to the drugs which adjusted my brain chemistry to that of a person who would never stab her neighbour.
But I don’t deserve it. For two days I don’t even get out of bed. At first I think I will never get over the memories of what I did. She could easily have died — and regardless of what I said in my defence, I know that was what I was trying to do. Murder.
They tell me I have to see a counsellor. Somehow I manage to navigate between my apartment and the office. The streets are clean, everyone looks so happy and… easy. No one looks like they’re late for work, no one looks like they’ve ever missed a meal. Surely everyone can tell that I don’t belong.
The office is blandly attractive, just like the counsellor. She tells me her name is Kristina, that she is trained to help people like me. She smiles and I avoid her by walking over to the large window overlooking a park. There are couples walking, holding hands. Children chasing butterflies and each other. Machines tidying, composting, making everything orderly.
“It’s different, isn’t it?” she says and I start at the sound of her voice.
“What do you know about it?” I say, then immediately feel bad for getting angry. “I’m sorry,” I mumble, but she shakes her head.
“It’s a good question,” she says. “I don’t think anyone can understand unless they’ve been there. But I have.” I stare at her, not knowing what to say. “I got six months for punching my ex-boyfriend’s new partner in the stomach. She was pregnant.”
“My god,” I say. Kristina nods.
“The baby was fine,” she goes on. “My bark was worse than my bite.” She shrugs. “But it was the culmination of a lot of bad behaviour. When I got out I was completely disoriented. I remembered my life before, but it was like… like remembering a film I’d seen.”
“Exactly,” I say. “I recognize everything, but it’s like it isn’t real, like it doesn’t belong to me.”
“That’s normal for people like us,” she says. “I know it’s hard to believe now, but you’ve served your sentence — you’re part of society again. You deserve happiness as much as anyone else. It will get better. It just takes time.”
I nod, but I don’t believe it.
Months go by; I visit Kristina once a week and we talk and I guess it helps. Somehow, the horror fades. I wonder if it’s an effect of the drugs, of whatever they did to me, that I can remember my crimes, feel truly guilty, and yet still live. Kristina says no, it’s me getting better, but [[I don’t know what to believe.]]
I can’t stop feeling like my life is scripted, like I’m part of a movie. Kristina tells me this is normal. She tells me that in time I will come to know this as the real world.
I knew Alexander Systems was the real world, but it wasn’t. My tiny apartment. Mike. Laura. They were real, but they aren’t. I don’t say any of that to Kristina. What’s the point?
So when I see him in the lobby of a theatre, part of me isn’t even surprised. My heart pounds, though, and I rush through the door. He is with a woman I don’t know and I try not to scare her but I am so happy to see him. “Mike,” I say, walking up to him, breathless. “God, it’s good to see you.”
He does a double-take when he sees me, but smiles. “Jeanne,” he says. “I’m glad to see you, too. I hoped you’d be getting out soon. How are you doing these days?”
I look around. The theatre is full of people and this woman with Mike is standing there, looking right at me. It’s not safe to talk here. “Fine,” I say, “great.” I look at Mike, hoping he knows that I’m lying. “I should let you go, but maybe we could talk sometime? Here’s my contact info.” I pull out my handheld.
“Sure,” he says and my handheld chirps with a new contact. “Good to see you, Jeanne.”
As I walk toward the door I hear the woman say, “Is that someone from… you know?”
“Yeah,” Mike says, “she was a friend.”
“Were you two…?”
“Naw,” he says, “it wasn’t like that inside.” I leave the theatre and walk back to my apartment.
He's right, it wasn’t like that inside. It never seemed strange at the time, but no one was close, not really close. There were no couples, no dates. It was just [[work, loneliness, more work.]]
I dream of the box. I am sitting on a bench, smoking a tailor-made, when she walks up to me. Laura. Cute, sweet Laura. She’s wearing a summer dress, the straps touching her shoulders so lightly they almost aren’t there. The wind blows her skirt around her legs so it looks like she’s flying. She smiles at me and she lifts her hand to wave. It’s slow, so slow, like the moment could last forever. Then she’s in front of me and I feel the warmth of her all over my body. She tilts her face up to mine and time stands still as she inches closer, closer. I know she is going to kiss me and I feel so happy I could die. [[Then I wake up.]]
“Don’t you ever think of the people still in there?” I ask Mike. I’ve finally gotten through on a voice channel when he’s alone. That woman is almost always there.
“Honestly?” he asks. “Not really. I mean, I did my time. I’m not even the same person anymore. It was my punishment, just like it’s theirs. I try not to think of it at all.”
“But…” I start to argue, but he cuts me off.
“Look, Jeanne, it was hard when I first got out, too. That’s why we have the counsellors. But it gets better, I promise you. At first I thought about it all the time. But it’s not real. It was built to punish us and thinking about it all the time is just another kind of punishment. Why spend your time dwelling on the past, when the present is so much better?”
“But what if this isn’t real either?” It’s the first time I’ve said it out loud — what I’ve believed since I left the room with the blue light. I hold my breath, waiting for his answer.
“Come on,” he says, laughing, “who cares if it’s real? Seriously, where would you rather be? In there, even if it is real or out here even if it’s not?”
I don’t answer and he sighs. “Look, Jeanne, I’ve got to go. I know it’s tough right now, but trust me, it does get better. Talk to your counsellor. Get out, have some fun. Try to remember what a normal life is.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Look,” he says, “call me again once you get a bit more… acclimatized, okay? We’ll get together then.”
“Sure,” I say and break the connection. Maybe he’s right, maybe it doesn’t matter what’s real and what isn’t. But at least I know what matters to me. [[I know what I have to do.]]
“You can’t go in there.”
The guy standing behind the console doesn’t sound entirely certain of himself. I’m not surprised — I’m sure there isn’t a long line of people trying to break *in* to this place. He moves to block me as I barrel toward the door to the room where they’d held me. I put my arm out to shove him away, but he’s more solid than I expected. He starts to grab for me and I pull the knife from my waistband.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I say and mean it. I have to fight the nausea from thinking about what could happen if he keeps getting in my way. “But I will if you try to stop me,” I finish and mean that too.
Time slows and I notice that he missed a patch on his chin when he shaved. He’s wearing an ID tag that says his name is David Baynes. He smells of fear.
I guess he can tell that I’m not lying and he backs away from me. “What do you think you’re going to do?” he asks as I open the door to the room where my body lay while my mind was trapped in that other world. “Destroying this cell won’t do anything — the Alexander System is completely decentralized. You could destroy this whole facility and it wouldn’t make a difference. You can’t accomplish anything here.”
I turn to look at him, the knife heavy in my hand. “Yes, I can,” I say. “And you’re going to help me.” I flick the knife at him and he cringes. I grab his arm and [[pull him into the room.]]
The light is that familiar cool blue but it is no longer frightening. My heart is beating slowly and evenly for the first time I can remember.
“How much longer, David?” I’m cold and my body is becoming heavier.
“A few minutes,” he says and I wonder why he hasn’t gone for help. I’m strapped into the bed now, I can’t hurt him. Maybe he decided that if I want to go back he shouldn’t stop me. Besides, if they were going to punish me, I’d end up where I want to go anyway. Maybe he figured all that out and decided to save some time. Or maybe he’s still just scared.
Why he helps me doesn’t matter. All that matters is the feeling of my body losing its attachment to my mind, the blue light fading away into darkness. Already I have the beginning of a craving for a cigarette. It won’t be long now.
Work, loneliness, more work. Here, I don’t even have the work. But now I know. It will be different now.
I’m coming, Laura. I know it will be years until they let you out and they may never let me out now. I know it probably isn’t real. But that doesn’t matter. Who cares if it isn’t real if it means I’m not alone?
Mike is head-down as usual when I get to the office, but he looks up when I approach the desk. “Jeanne!” His face splits into a manic grin. “I have an interview.”
“What are you talking about?” I hiss, slipping into my seat. “There are no job postings, Mike. I checked HR last night. There’s nothing there.”
He shakes his head. “They aren’t always there,” he says and I know he’s nuts. “The links only showed up for me last week and they’re gone now. I got in just in time. It’s tomorrow, my interview. Wish me luck, okay?”
He really believes this. I shake my head. Does it really hurt anything? Letting him hope?
[[“Sure, buddy, knock ‘em dead.”->Got the job]]
[["Yeah, whatever."->Got the job]]
I spend the workday catching up. I only get out to the box once. (if: $laura is true)[The woman I gave a cigarette to smiles at me shyly, but we don’t talk. ]The afternoon disappears.
On the train going home I get this feeling. It’s the eeriest thing I’ve ever felt as I look at the other people. They seem unreal. I seem unreal. This isn’t the way my life was supposed to be. I am as sure of it as I am sure of anything.
(if: $laura is true)[[[I don't sleep at all.->I owe you one]]](else:)[[[I don't sleep at all.->Job opportunities]]]
(if: (passage:)'s tags's length > 0)[
(print: "<script>$('html').addClass('" + (passage:)'s tags.join(' ') + "'\)</script>")
I am numb as I click the links. Nothing happens, but a minute later I hear the chime. Two acknowledgment messages have appeared in my inbox. I stare at the boilerplate text and my mind whirls. Am I delirious? Dreaming?
I copy the text into a file on my system, half-believing that the messages will have evaporated from my inbox in the morning. I light a cigarette with trembling fingers. I stare at the screen for an hour then finally go to bed.
All night long, I dream of voices and blue lights and cold. When I wake I feel like I haven’t slept at all. My hands shake as it takes three tries to light my first cigarette. I spill coffee on the threadbare carpet. I sip and smoke in front of the screen, afraid of what I won’t see.
[[But the messages are still there.->They want to interview me.]]