This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
To GOD for being with me.
To my family for their unconditional support.
“The soul is healed by being with children.”
- English proverb
“When a king’s palace burns down, the re-built palace is more beautiful.”
- Yoruba proverb
”Those who hunt deer, sometimes raise tigers.”
- Indian proverb
The bullet breaks through the child’s forehead & with horizontally-linear momentum rips through brain matter, penetrating the back of her skull, in its exit only to embed itself into the fortified brick wall behind her. The blindfolded, handcuffed girl smashes down to the ground. Like the sound of Windows once it shuts down, her display dims & her life is over.
He begins to fall into himself, he tries to regain control but can’t. He’s lying on his back, yet descends deeper & more frantically into an abyss within some part of his unconsciousness. He struggles. His air supply cuts off. He wrestles. Momentarily, he slips into a crippling seizure in the fight to awaken fully in control, despite being aware of his agonizing, present situation. Somehow... he grabs the power to ascend, then breaks out into full consciousness, panting heavily, as he rises, from the waist up, from sleeping mode. His chest respires with rapidity. A minute passes before he composes himself. He rests his elbows on his thighs, closes his eyes & slumps his forehead, dizzy, into his hands. ‘I’ve gotta get help!’, his thoughts go. ‘There’s no point calling my dreams weird anymore!’
At a factory in some European country near the Black Sea, 1970
The engineer leaves the canteen. He downs his Cola in one go, then dumps the bottle in a refuse bin on the way out. He’s perspired, sweating from the neck all the way down. Those drops are getting more intensive with every time. They’re getting harder to escape from. ‘The things I have to go through!’, he’s slightly staggering to the administrative building of the brake pad manufacturing complex. He makes his way into the Concept & Design Lab. Inside, he passes a life-size enlargement of the company’s premiere braking-system model, a bestseller in the region. Walking around it, gliding his left palm on the platform on which the newly revised braking-system will be modelled, he glances at his colleague, giving a subtle smirk.
‘You look like shit!’, the colleague says.
’Yeah, it’s good to see you, too.’, he replies. He reaches his colleague & stands next to him. Suddenly, he falls into an outbreak of vehement coughing - groggy, he takes several deep breaths. Slowly, he reaches into his shirt’s breast-pocket & pulls out his glasses. He puts them on, then hunches down to give the plasticine parts a closer inspection. ’Would you like any credit with that? Seeing as we’ve had to manifest your concept without your input?’, his colleagues asks, with a posh English accent. The engineer this time smiles & accordingly replies with a German accent, ‘Nein, zat vont be necessrie. I sink you hav ah-chivd ein ch-reat piece ov vork. Bravo!’
The colleague smirks, rolling his eyes & shaking his head. Now taking a stab at the French, he adds, ‘Weull, if you voutt look at ze beult pour le platform... we betteur l’expand le dimension en peu, non?’ The engineer chuckles & picks up the bolt, beside the platform. He stares at it, not believing his eyes. He switches to an American country-accent, ′Hot damn son, you call that a bolt? You can fit a whole crayon in there & won’t run outta space!′ Still complementing the French, his colleague answers, ’Hm, zat is OK. At least it will be big enaff to shav it ap bodd ov directeurs’ ass.′
Both men roar in laughter which emanates deep-seated from the heart. It feels so good that the small moment of raw happiness they share together, substantially saturates the aggravation over recent months of administrative bottlenecks in securing funding for creative improvements & countless, torturous sessions of micromanagement from the senior executives down their necks. The engineer coughs again and wipes a tear from his eye. ‘Ha-ah, I needed that.’, he says, taking off his glasses. ‘In between night/day-mares of disturbing violence followed by the usual sequences of falling into yourself...’ he swallows, ‘…and safeguarding my creativity from external hijacks, it feels good to be human again.’ The colleague drops the cloth he’s been polishing a large plasticine disc with. ‘Have you been reading that ritual garbage again? Did I not tell you to leave that junk alone? That stuff will get you killed!’
Sensing he probably said more than he should have, he clears his throat & responds in diplomacy, ‘factory-style’
‘Yes mum, won’t happen again! Wouldn’t want to stretch your loving care anymore than you already have.’ he says, looking at his colleague with a smug grin.
’Oh, fuck off!’, the colleague snaps, moving his hand correspondingly. He walks around the engineer & gets a chisel from the table corner behind the platform. He returns to his disc, picks it up, and as he’s about to smoothen the tiny, rough edges, he puts the chisel & disc back down, in front of him. He turns to the engineer and says, with a chilling tone of seriousness, ‘He who dines with the devil, should seek a long spoon. If you dance with the devil, he doesn’t change. He changes YOU!’ The engineer squints, re-adjusting his glasses, as if a penny just dropped somewhere in that big head of his. The colleague, comparatively, looks alert at the engineer, almost terrified of losing a friend who’s gone too far to the other side. ‘The devil visits who enquires about him. A word is enough for the wise.’ He picks up the disc, once again. Refraining from not blowing below the belt, he speaks under his breath, ‘Of course in your case, a whole book is barely suffice!’ He begins chiselling the few roughened parts along the interior edges.
The engineer feels the malicious energy oozing his way. ‘The fun part is over.’ With a subtle shrug, he turns away & walks to the other side of the table, diagonally across his colleague, near the blueprints. He glances over the measurements/calculations, occasionally holding the modelled parts, & scrutinizes them from different perspectives. The colleague looks over to him; the engineer is focusing right above the blueprints, still holding a 3D model, while gently drumming it on the table surface. The colleague shakes his head & returns his concentration to the devil’s favourite playground: The detail.
3 days earlier, main factory, same location
′Aah, they’re not gonna be able to run it.’, says the engineer. The managing director is standing with the chief technical officer behind his colleague & two technicians, one of whom is male and the other, female. The execs observe the workers & designers test-run their innovation to the factory’s main brake pad smelting machine. 720 man-hours & $100,000 have been invested in it. The Board’s been getting restless & is pressuring the designers to show some results.
The senior technician climbed up the side of the machinery & opened the engine compartment. She’s been trying to hotwire the semi-automatic hydro-connector, but can’t get the newly-made product, the actual design enhancement, to kick-start the electronic dashboard. The triple-node semiconductor key just won’t ignite. ‘No offence sir, but are you sure you verified the machine? The key feels like it’s for an ice-cream truck or something. It’s definitely not working.’ she says. The intern technician yells at her, ‘IF YOU LOOK AT THE SIDE OF THE KEYBASE, YOU’LL SEE THE SERIAL NUMBER OF THIS THING!’. Only a few meters above him, she replies ‘DAMMIT! Could you not be so quiet? My ears are screeching!’
The colleague whispers, ‘Maybe we should first turn the amp down. That way, we could spike the voltage & create enough vibration to move sufficient charge particles into the lower tank & incinerate the fuel.’
‘Nah, too risky.’, the engineer responds. ‘With the condition of this beast, we could burn them to death.’
’But do you see any other way?’, his colleague asks, now getting visibly irritated.
The engineer exhales, ‘Well,... we could always put the blame on the corporates’ decision to not upgrade this pre-historic behemoth.′
‘And it would be a plausible scapegoat!’
’My, my! How did you ever get so corrupt?′
‘I learn from the best.’, the colleague smirks. The designers talk to the technicians & direct them the change of plans. ‘If you don’t jump, you will be fried. Set the trigger and go. We’ll worry about the rest!’, the colleague tells them. The senior technician nods & climbs back up the machine. The intern, a bit frightened & confused, stutters to the designers as they leave, ‘Mb, aah, aah...’ The men turn back & stare at the young man. ‘Um, won’t we be risking injury by placing ourselves so close?’ The engineer looks down chuckling, while his colleague just turns back around & walks to the bosses.
Walking up to the junior technician, the engineer puts his arm around him, ‘Listen, boy, we’re standing next to a 50-tonne, high risk, high pressure & high voltage industrial machine. It was made at the time your dad was still courting sweethearts & your mum wasn’t giving it up. The cream-of-society suits back there are bent on finding a slack in the collective workforce on site so they can sack a few, save a couple thousands, boost the annual revenue by maybe 3% and then get a bonus that will make the community lender in your neighborhood look broke. Now, you can throw the towel in & request a leave of absence with the bosses, while I fill out the appropriate paperwork to support your request. The corporate heads will see a big, fat bullseye in your files, the entire squad will laugh at you and give you all the crappy jobs for the rest of your career & on your way home tonight, you will probably be ambushed by a group of masked men in their early forties, for jeopardizing their employment here, too. You’ll be spending the rest of the month in the ICU of a hospital your health insurance won’t cover & since our factory’s union is the largest in the region, you will more than likely also, to top it all off, lose any future prospects of working in this industry, anywhere in the area, ever again.’ He squeezes the junior’s shoulder now. The intern, bleary-eyed, gulps his saliva & trembles. ‘Or you could chin up, take one for the team & ensure your health & job stay safe and sound!’
’Sh, sh, sh, sh,... SURE, captain! Wuh, wuh, whatever you say!’, the intern replies, shaken. The engineer smiles, shakes the intern’s head & ruffles his hair, patting him on the chest, ‘That a boy!’ He walks off to the execs & his colleague. ‘I’ve just briefed them on the procedure.’, his co-worker tells him. The chief technical officer enquires, ‘Is this the only solution you can come up with? Surely, there has to be another technique, less cumbersome.’ Smiling, the engineer answers, ‘In engineering boss, the simplest solution usually doesn’t last very long.’ The managing director simpers, ‘Well, you better be worth your pennies, son. Anything goes wrong & it’ll be your ass & the lab’s first on the line.’ Obeying, the engineer nods. His fellow-worker, feeling uneasy with the warning, raises his thumb to the senior technician & shouts, ‘LET IT BEGIN!’
She nods, inserts the semi-conductor key into the electronic dashboard again & switches it on. Then she shuts the engine compartment & pulls out two handles, at the monitoring-meters. The electrical, iron poles start humming, signalling the ascension in energy within the circulation. Her heart skips a beat as she pulls out the red lever & twists it anti-clockwise by three rotations. The first sparks of electricity begin to interchange between the iron poles on top & the machine ripples. She acts on all the warning signs, so runs off the metal grid she’s on, jumps diagonally downward with her arms & legs fully stretched out, then rolls off her shoulder into several somersaults upon landing, like a free runner. With evacuation-urgency she screams at the intern, ‘NOW!’ The intern pushes the grey hatch at the fuel tank open, pushes the button hard, jams it closed, then runs like a mad man for his life! The brake pad smelting machine undergoes a series of strong vibrations that everyone clearly feels underneath their shoes, then emits the first churning sounds of its engine sputtering to life, amidst some rebellion to awaken, nonetheless.
The engineer & his colleague run to the output assembly line & open the gates for the products to flow through. The work-fellow steps back & watches the electrical iron poles becoming now fully operational, generating sporadic bolts of lightening, archaically dancing in-between their opposing metallic plates. The first brake pad set tumbles out onto the assembly line, charred black. They’re smoked up in thick, dark-greyish, little dust clouds. The engineer grabs a glove from a table at the cardboard-boxing machine behind him. He grabs one of the pads up & waves the dust away with his other hand. He forgets it’s a glove used to protect from paper-cuts when packing the products up - but the temperature of the brake pad is above 100* Celsius. The scorching heat exponentially melts through the rubber of the glove in split seconds & burns a layer of his skin & flesh from the fingertips of all five fingers of his right hand.
By the time he notices it, crystallite minerals already smeared into his bloodstream through the flesh. ′OW!‘, he shouts, as he drops the pad to the floor, squeezing his fingers. ’Sunova!′
The smiling colleague grabs some tissue from the box, next to the soap dispenser at the wall sink. ‘Enough!’, he says. ‘Don’t give the techies even more reason to think us creatives aren’t thoroughbreds.’
The engineer shakes some blood to the ground then wipes the rest off his trousers. His wounds look like a cigar got burnt into them. ‘You better get that looked at.‘, the colleague says, trying to console him. ’You don’t say, Einstein.’, pissed off the engineer mumbles under his breath. He walks around the production line to the front entrance.
‘You Won’t Be Going To The Lab In That State, Pal!.’, the managing director says with his voice raised.
‘Wasn’t planning to... sir.’
‘Get into the clinic & have a medic check that thing out. And take the rest of the day off. We’ll take it from here.’
Still squeezing his hand, he walks past the gentlemen without saying anything. The chief technical officer turns back & calls the engineer. As the latter hesitantly turns around, the officer mocks, ‘You were right about your theory. Your solution worked, despite being a little... hands on!’ Both execs laugh aloud as the colleague frowns at the bosses, who don’t notice him, then discretely nods to the engineer. The engineer nods back, then leaves. ‘What I got isn’t enough. Gotta get a way to protect my creativity against these chimps.’ He trudges through the gravel lightly, as he walks down the lane leading into the complex’ clinic.
His fingers still bleed. The crystalline minerals have released micro-particles into the blood stream. The neuron cells of his brain have already dispatched white blood cells to the scene of the attack. As the white blood cell troops pass them amidst the red blood cells, the foreign invaders duck, keeping a low profile & blend in with the traffic as much possible, to avoid early detection. The particles, numbering at least several dozen, make their way to the lungs to infiltrate the pleural cavity. Once there, they will be attacked by the greatest tactical reconnaissance unit of the living legends of war known as the T-Cells, but that’s not on their mind right now. For the time being, they’ll just concentrate on surely making it to their destination.
The engineer arrives at the clinic. He walks in. ‘This day is over!’
On the other side of the world, 30,000 children under the age of 5 years died, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa & Southern Asia, from poverty and starvation, over the course of the day.
Same Location, March 2000
‘Stop laughing at me!’
‘Hahaha... I’m sorry – bwahaha!!’
‘You’re unforgivably cold. I fell into a tub of cow dung & this is the support I get?’
‘I can’t believe this...’
‘Keep it up, you’re one moment away from being hung up on.’
‘Aaahh... wooh, big talk!’
‘A-hmm, is that some East European custom you’ve picked up from over there?’
‘Ahaha... aaah, you’re so cute when you’re upset.’
‘Knock it off, you’re killing me.’
‘How does it feel?’
‘Mm, my sides are about to stitch.’
‘Good, my plan is working.’
‘Hihihi, mmm do you wanna get rid of me, huh?’
‘Of course not. That would leave traces. I’ll let you do that. It’s called self-destruction.’
‘Aaw, so you can spend the summer flirting up other women...’
‘Haha, thinking about it...’
‘My boy is a big man now. I bet you’ve got a booty call. You can’t take it there without me.’
‘Ha, you have no idea!’
‘What’s her name?’
‘Hm-hm. I bet Svetlana... or Irina. You’re not the Olga-type, are you?’
‘Haha, you’re nuts!’
’Good, ‘cause she would probably squeeze the lights out of you with a bear-hug.’
‘Now that we’re on the subject though, the girls here are not bad. They have a lot of pretty faces. Like nature, untouched.’
‘By us urbanization junkies, ehy?’
‘Well you better keep your little soldier in your pants or I’m gonna come down there & introduce some fast-paced urbanization to your country-bitches: It’s called modern warfare & they won’t like what they’ll get!’
‘Aaw, you’re so cute when you’re upset.’
’What the...? Do you want...′
(interrupting) ‘Calm down, I’m just kidding, mami. My heart is taken, you know that already. Don’t be silly.’
‘I’m American, hunny. When a woman messes with our man, we smack-a-bitch!’
‘Nah, the only one who’ll be smacking when I see you is me, & the only bitch there’ll be will be you because...?’
‘I’m your bitch.’
‘Yeeaaaah baby!’ (smiling)
‘You better bring your Brazilian ass here asap so I can handle that Anaconda.’
‘Ha-hm-hm. What are you gonna do with it?’
‘I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.’
‘Come on, come on. What, whip cream? Cuffs?’
‘Me no speak ingleso!’
‘Aaaaaaah, OK, good one. Good one. You got me, mami!’
‘Of course. I’m a girl.’
‘You’re MY girl!’
‘Listen, mami, I have to go now. My break is over & everybody’s going back.’
‘Do you miss me?’
‘I miss you muita, mamai.’
‘I love you!’
‘I love you too, mami! Mwah! See? I’m blowing you kisses. Mwah! Mmwaah! Mmmm-Waaah!’
‘Take care, babe. Bye!’
‘You too, mami. Bye-bye!’
The Brazilian leaves the canteen & follows the crowd into the factory, through the side door by the parking lot. A blue car just pulls in & parks near the trash cans. The floor manager steps out, spots the Brazilian & waves at him, yelling, ‘HEY, YOU BROWN BASTARD. COME HERE!’ The Brazilian smiles embarrassedly & meets the pot-bellied supervisor. ‘Hey, boss. You forget I’m not a bastard, my father left when I was 11. But you, want me to be broken, no?’ ‘Aww, you’re just touchy cuz no one adopted ya.’ The Brazilian cracks up, ‘Papiii, you’re gonna kill me!’
‘You fucking chump. Look here, you won’t believe this.’ The supervisor opens up his briefcase & pulls out a soft-porn magazine. Holding his briefcase under his arm, he sifts through the pages & looks for a section. ‘Ayayay... I should not be seen with you. It’s gonna look like I supplied you, you know?’
‘What are you yapping about? You already supply me with Weed, you egghead.’ The Brazilian chuckles, ‘But I’m serious, papi. I need this job, you know? I’m saving for university, I’ll be holidaying in Australia, I gotta meet my girlfriend... Aaahh!’ ‘Will you calm down? You’re fucking giving me a heart-attack just listening to ya.’ The manager hands him the magazine, ‘Here, read this. Down here!’ He pulls out his wallet from his coat pocket & takes out ten, crisply-new notes of hundreds. ’The competition was fierce, a jury selection was weighed for the final five.. em, mem, mm... OLA! THAT IS YOUR NAME! YOU WON, PAPI!’, the Brazilian cheerfully yells. The superintendent holds out the notes, shaped into a semicircle around his hand. He smiles like a little boy who’s proud of his first achievement and eager to impress his parents. ‘You motherfucker! Come here, you... maaan!’, the young Brazilian gestures with open arms. They embrace & pat each other on the back. ‘You’re gonna give me a down-payment for the Marijuana, I’ll take a two-week advance!’, he points at him jokingly. ‘Fuck off! You’re already working a job & shagging the women in my country. You’ve been paid!’, the floor manager replies. ‘Haaah, I’m serious papi, if you don’t come up with the cash, the supply will dry. Hahahaha...’ The factory siren sounds over the entire complex for 30 seconds. ’Shit, I gotta go quick & put on the overall. OK papi, I’ll meet you in the pub tonight with some good shit. You’re buying the 1st round – and the 2nd.’, the Brazilian calls out, walking to the side door.
‘Don’t get your hopes up, you immigrant fuck!’
‘Ha-aah! You’re in love with my cute face & my culture, papi. Everybody loves a Brazilian, we are the darling of the world, you know? And you can’t get this skin color in any tanning salon, you pale, racist motherfucker!’, the grinning young adult waves at him as he opens the door & disappears through it. The supervisor chuckles & shakes his head. In a low voice he says, ‘Cocky motherfucker!’, and begins to look at the center-spread, holding the magazine normally, then vertically at interchanges, checking out the sexually provocative pose of the nude model, and starts to get a little aroused.
Within The Engineer’s body, Same Date
The crystalline particles number about a hundred. They made it through the arm & split at the central bloodstream station, the human heart. A few left & took a route via other organs, while the rest stuck to plan. They were nimble in motion, not making a scene with their presence. They’re calculated species, existing to achieve a sole agenda. A few red blood cells that passed them by, thought they were outsiders, but weren’t sure because no alarm had been raised of any invasion. Yet, they felt it in their gut.
Once the swarm of cells located & breached the integrity of the lungs, they infiltrated the cavity thinly spread in between the chest & outer lung weaving. They took up strategic positions, spanning across the entire area of the compromised space, for maximum effectiveness. Over the following months & years from the first infection, their splinter team re-grouped with them. They did not attempt any action until they were all complete & accumulated within the cavity.
One fateful day, 5 particles move in stealth to the surface of the lungs. One by one, they each compromise the organ’s security by acrobatically flinging themselves into the cavity, straight emperor-assassinating Ninja style! When the last one lands, they all take account of each other, verifying they’re complete. Afterwards, they individually attune themselves to their inner source, a powerful energy that restructures their composition from the inside out. Their close proximity to each other combines predatory bursts of negative energy together, into a single force field of incredible evil, sending tsunamis of bad vibes through their vicinity.
It is the moment: They strike the lung matter perfectly orchestrated & simultaneously, in one collective tissue-vaporizing onslaught. The impounding, ferocious attack results in multiple parts of the lung tissue being permanently scarred. The brain immediately processes the distress call from the lungs & just as fast dispatches the ultimate enemy-body-killing black-op battalion, dreaded by numerous viruses & countless bacteria, to the Mayday: The not-to-be-fucked-with, indomitable T-Cells!
The super-extra, heavily armed/armored troops speed through in their exclusive, advanced, hyper-speed, hyper-agility, all-terrain combat infantry vehicles, designed specifically for & can only be operated by them, to the conflict zone. Several hundred meters away from the destination, in internal anatomic dimensions, they already begin shooting with Lasers & high explosive, Napalm-like, cluster bullets to the hotspot, hitting every one of their targets with deadly, surgically-precise accuracy. A group jump from the units forward-backflipping, triple-jump, tornado-twisting in the air, several dozen times faster than the speed of sound. They each create semi-nuclear virus/bacteria-shredding mega-twisters that glide through the system without doing any harm to any human cells whatsoever. The Tornadoes, in lightspeed succession, reach, attack, & detonate by it in multiple series of amplified, nitro-nuclear explosions, pinpointed to the exact area of the foreign bodies. Meanwhile, their vehicles arrive to the scene & during motion, skid into strategic positions around the conflict zone, parking automatically into the parameters. The rest of the team by this time has already leaped out & re-enforced their recon-squad firepower with anti-tank-like, ultra-powered, multi-weapon machine blasters. The vehicles, once in position, concertedly radiate extremely hazardous death-rays into a synergy directly irradiated to the particles, shedding layers of the latter’s existence, corrosively in exponential order.
Next, a deadly force of close-combat, lethal T-Cells, armed with Nikita-sword-like, Uranium fire blades, mortar-like, miniature Plutonium shells & a bad attitude, run into the siege from three different directions, all converging to the eye of the storm & emit a super-high frequency scream, whose pitch violently vibrates any foreign body cell membrane to complete, thought-speed-fast, exterior destruction. They create so much chaos in the full-frontal blitz that a natural tensing of the lungs themselves occurs, which force they manipulate to terminate at the crystalline particle location. Several loud explosions & savage fighting commotions are heard in that activity. The outer-perimeter-supporting T-Cells continue firing at known pressure points of foreign particles, to cause septic-shock-epileptic sparks of fright, strong enough to induce a vehement coma. Abruptly, the vehicles break radiating the centre. The supporting T-Cells momentarily cease fire & lower their weapons. Bearing several innate senses that humans don’t consciously possess, they tense up as they lose contact with the infiltrating unit. All they hear are crackling noises, like when tuning in between stations on an old, analogue radio. The outer perimeter warriors close in, just several yards away from the giant burning smoke the last attack made.
They divide into half, one team crouching & the other standing, all re-prepared to open fire, now with a heightened sense of brutal extermination. The combat vehicles resume radiating, but at tripled intensity & voracity, additionally catapulting jumbo shockwave sonic booms, unknown to humankind, directly at the centre of the crystalline aerial configuration. It’s over! The veils of fume dissipate from the epicentre, enabling the battalion to affirm a status report. What becomes visible, none of them have ever seen before: An array of semi-decomposed, extensively obliterated & excessively mutilated DEAD T-Cells trickled across enemy lines! For a nano integer of time, the troops experience an event they have never felt before – fear. They recalibrate just as fast to their initial state again, since they are not developed to feel such an emotion, and return to distraughtly thinking in confusion: WTF?
They behold a gigantic, maggot-nasty monster emerging above them that exudes so much pure evil, of the quantities & kind they’re used to and usually extinguish, but in the current deteriorating situation, terrifyingly feel helpless against. The brain, having been monitoring the assault campaign via direct news feeds live, witnesses the impending doom looming from the onslaught, thus orders the entire platoon to close in on the enemy& take them down.
What ensues thereafter is the greatest, cruellest, tactical warfare ever waged by the collective infantry & vehicular forces of the T-Cells, in the 65-year history of the human body. All ranks of the immune system defence army, from the most junior cadet white blood cells to the most battle-hardened T-Cells in reserve, both active & retired, descend on what later comes to be known as ‘The Kill Zone’, with impounding wrath of ordinance-detonating, flame-destruction-blasting, fistful fury the anatomy has never experienced before. It is so ravaging that, to call the happening a devastation would be naively optimistic. No gains are made, only losses are recorded. The enemy strengthens & grows in size & in the area occupied. The body is dying and it is now, only a matter of time.
The engineer, dozing on the living room sofa with the televised championship finals football match running almost muted in the background on the sunny summer’s day, suddenly wakes up coughing violently with throat-incising, torturing pain from the basement of his diaphragm, all the way through his lungs. He coughs. He coughs profusely. He’s out of control & seems like under a cough-spell, from which he can’t get out of, yet desperately tries to unavailingly end. In his seizure, he tumbles from the sofa onto the carpet, knee first, then almost passes out. His wife rushes out the kitchen, ‘You’ll give yourself a heart attack if you...’ She freezes in the doorway & looks at him lying face-down motionless, with all the sofa cushions dotted around him. ‘GOOD LORD!’, she screams and hurries to him.
Falling to her knees she breaks out in tears, ‘Don’t take my husband! Dooon’t! Do-ooon’t!!’, grabbing & tugging onto his shirt. His son, just arriving home, bursts through the entrance & screams, ‘MOM, are you OK?’ He turns to the left into the kitchen before noticing her from the corner of his eye. He looks right, then screams again, ‘MOM, what’s wrong?’ He paces to her & crouches. He puts his arm around her while at the same time looking down. ‘What the...? DAD!’ The engineer begins to murmur, too low to be heard. His son’s pitch elevates an octave, ′What in the world did you to him, mom?′ and then cries like a baby. ‘I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING, YOU DIMWIT!’, his mother screams at him in deep-sounding rage. ‘Look at him! He fell off the sofa!’, then she slouches against the couch, weeping again. His begins to find the strength in his voice & opens his eyes, still blown away. His son, now turning hysteric, begins to squeak, almost as if speaking in tongues, ‘But I can’t... bu-buh... but, how-aah... I-I-I’ Now he seems like his mind just went *pop*, after which he monologues super-fast, ‘But I can’t drive, I don’t know how to cook. My cell phone insurance is up, oh my GOD, they’re gonna friggin’ kill my cell phone reception. I don’t have a car, I can’t pay bills...’, he temporarily goes insane.
While the engineer tries to make to himself heard, his wife interrupts her weeping, crawls over to her son, gets up on her knees, grabs him by the collar with both hands, in pure aggression, and smacks his face, front to back, repetitively for 3, to-him-sobering, times.
She holds him by the collar again. The son is still seeing white flashes & isn’t quite sure if what feels like a haemorrhaging in his head & sirens in his hearing will go or stay permanently. He gets a thought, ′This must be a delusion!’. Then, a ferociously irritated voice sounds, ’Listen, boy, if anyone is gonna lose their mind here, it’s me! This house isn’t big enough for 2 oestrogen sources, and I’M the alpha-matriarch, bitch!′ Strangely he could hear that crisply-clear. ’We’ve got to take your old man to a hospital because he’s not gonna kick the bucket with you still in the nest on my watch. Now, shove back your vagina, grow a pair & ACT LIKE A MAN!′ Incidentally, he regains his sight & vaguely recognizes a huge, bloated up, blonde senior woman’s face, a few inches away from his. He gulps in full surrender & wispy says, baritone-voiced with a lightly-dazed smile, ‘You got it, ma’am. Absolutely!’ She growls deeply, slowly letting him go, with such an intent stare, you can almost see the crackling fire blistering in her eyes.
Finally, the engineer succeeds in grumbling an exclamation, ‘Mmhh, THE ASYLUM CALLED – they want you back in the ward!’ His wife looks behind herself, completely caught off-guard, as is her son who’s still in his mother’s choke-hold. They don’t say a word. The banged-out, old man growls in impatience, ‘What, Are You Gonna Let Me Go Cripple? Help Me Up, You Clowns!’ This time, both the freaked-out son AND the wife haste obediently to lift him up. Getting him onto the sofa, he slurs, ’You need to call Broadway; tell ‘em you’ll bring back the Golden Years!’ His wife smacks her palms clean & sighs with relief, ‘Well, you’re still as miserable a bastard as you were 12 years ago, so your head must be fine.’ He shakes his head, closing his eyes. ‘Too bad for you. I’m getting a treat – you’re so much warmer than you used to be.’, he replies.
‘Darling, if I wanted to...’
‘Ehy-yay-yay! Alright, ENOUGH! From the BOTH of you!’, their son interrupts, shouting. ‘THAT A BOY! Welcome back, son!’, his mother grins at him. His dad looks up and asks, ‘You gonna take that from a woman?’ She turns & looks at him. ’Da-aaad? Take it easy now. You need you some rest. Here, lean your head on the cushion & calm down. I’m gonna get you a nice cold glass of... AAAW MAN, YOU’RE BLEEDING!’, the son grabs his father by the jaws & twists his head to the side like a chiropractor. ’YOU SEE? HE’S BLEEDING! HE’S BLEEDING FROM THE LEFT NOSTRIL!’, he yells at his mother, pointing his finger in his dad’s face.
She grabs her husband by the hair & bends his already-strained head even more to herself. ’Oh, crap! His brain’s fried after all. CALL THE EMERGENCY!!’, she screams powerfully at her son, right next to her. The engineer’s face is covered in warm, bubbly saliva. He gets trouble breathing. His wife looks at both sides of his head, not realizing his face getting pale. He tries to utter some words but he’s becoming confused. His breathing becomes wheezy. ‘Shh, don’t stress yourself. You need to rest & take it easy. The ambulance is on their way.’, she softly speaks. Holding both sides of his head, she tilts it back. As she looks into the bloody nostril, his eyes roll back & he passes out. For a fraction, he hears her screaming. Then he blacks out.
30,000 children less than 5 years old, mostly Sub-Saharan African & South Asian, just died from the combined effect of poverty & starvation, by the end of the day’s 24 hours.
Bright lights. Darkness. Sparks of bright lights piercing the darkness. It’s hazed, foggy. Darkness. If this is death, he must not have felt himself dying. No thoughts. His mind is blank. He can’t feel anything – and he doesn’t know what state he’s in. It’s just... nothing. Void. But wait. Hold up! He’s got his consciousness. He’s still got something. He has his life. With the minuscule determination which that subtle realization brings, he attempts the process. Wake up! He tries to open his eyes, but the rays of white light they bring are cloaked back up by the darkness again. There’s no escaping this. Feels like a vast expanse of stadium-sized, football-pitch turf, but only of darkness. But he has to try. He lifts up his lids again. Fail. Exhale. Wait... try again. He just continues and follows through. The light trickles in & gains ground. It’s not relenting, either. Bit by bit, the darkness fades, until it’s vanished.
He opens his eyes. The light welcomes him back. He blinks. Shining light. He blinks again. Like a new-born wildebeest calf is on its feet, so too is the stability of his opened eye lids: Shaky. His wife creeps up from the corner of his sight. Her face is gleaming, almost as bright as the light above him. He blinks again. He focuses on breathing and keeping his eyes open. He looks. He blinks. He breathes. He looks some more but then blinks again. He’s still breathing. Eventually, he regains his consciousness... and feels numb. Wait, hold up. Left toes twiddling. Right toes moving. Right arm tensed up. Left one tensed up. He breathes a sigh of relief and begins to ease his facial muscles a bit. Sound! At last. He can attach some acoustics to those lip movements.
’Who won the game?’, he slowly slurs, shocked he’s totally knocked-out. His wife looks at him with eyes wide open, blinking more than he does. A doctor appears from the other corner. Must be a doctor; no one wears a white coat. He gently turns his head to the left, recognizing his son holding his arm. ‘It was a draw.’, says the young man. ‘We’ve been relegated.’ The engineer closes his eyes as he sighs & turns back. ‘What a day! Can’t anything go right?’, he says. A cough tries to leave his chest, but dies halfway through, so he just clears his throat. ‘Cheer up, sir! It’s vital that you maintain your optimism when you’re sick!’, the doctor interjects. He looks at him, raising his eye brows, cynically. ‘Really?’, he asks, ‘Why so?’ The doctor takes his hands out his coat pockets and speaks with quiet assertiveness, ‘When you’re down, the body releases toxic compounds which harm internal organs in the short-term & prove debilitating over longer periods. That’s why it’s crucial to abhor negative thoughts & not lose your temper. Religiously speaking, anger is influenced by the demon of Satan, which is why aggressive tantrums, more often than not, turn out so excessively destructive. Scientifically speaking, however, the toxins the brain excretes degenerate major organs like the heart, and ironically also, the brain itself. That is why anger is usually the prelude to depression. And at the centre of anger is sadness. Worry cannot solve a single problem; only pro-action. Progression hails from a positive state of mind. So – cheer up!’
The doctor smiles with an expression of lightness, the engineer doesn’t think has seen on an adult’s face, but instead associates with children. He swallows, feeling a little uneasy about his negativity. ‘Say doc... you almost made me feel like a kid there!’ The doctor grins from his smile. He answers, ’Children are known to have the purest form of happiness, sir. Because they’re unaware of the world’s corruption (and do not choose to be corrupted by it), they possess an incredible amount of purity in their hearts. Yes, it is said indeed of children that they have a stronger spirituality to God himself. Sort of a… BETTER CONNECTION.′ The doctor now glances at the wife & son, smiling. ‘How refreshing you are, doc.’, the engineer says. ‘Yes, really. We could use a good dose of you at home: Twice, first thing in the morning!’, his wife adds, sounding noticeably flustered. The doctor chuckles.
A nurse arrives outside at the door and the doctor gestures her to enter. ‘This is our head nurse.’, the doctor introduces as she walks in, ‘She analysed evaluations we carried out with you when you passed out. Now, it’s not unusual to run such a procedure when a patient with an ailment, is suspected of suffering from an underlying problem. You will not like what I have to say sir, but I urge you to heed my advice & remain steadfast in good faith.’ The engineer smirks then grabs his wife’s hand on the right & his son’s hand on the left, ’Let’s ride it out.′ He nods at the doctor. The doc continues, ‘Your nosebleed was minor, you simply had ruptured internal tissue during your tumble. Your brain is working absolutely fine. That you fell unconscious was due to a variety of factors, namely the excessive summer heat in which your body wasn’t hydrated enough and being fatigued & over-stressed. Your wife tells me you diet poorly, work about the house a lot & don’t give yourself enough sleep. I’m afraid for a man your age you’re granting yourself a death-wish, one you’re not aware of but are fulfilling anyway. Eat well, sleep a minimum of 8 hours & give yourself lots of rest. Work in moderation. Also, drink plenty of water. This summer is just shy of a heatwave, so take precautions! Wear a hat when you’re out & don’t over-expose yourself to the sun – like sleeping on the couch, in the sunlight. Blinds & curtains aren’t just for privacy, you know?’ The engineer smiles.
’OK, now to the serious part.’, the doctor sighs, ’Your cholesterol levels are fine but your blood pressure isn’t promising, either. Your chest is tense, but you don’t have angina. It leads us to suspect you’re suffering from Mesothelioma. The problem is to diagnose it, highly specialized facilities are needed, which we don’t have at the hospital. Given your employment history, I nonetheless feel confident that this really is the case. From the medical background questionnaire your wife filled out on your behalf, we believe our theory is evident. You worked in a manufacturer that produced brake pads, among other products. Brake pads of the ’50s to ‘70s were known to contain the mineral Asbestos. Asbestos fibres are very dangerous to the body. They’re odourless & can be inhaled without realizing, as in the case of poisonous gases like, for example, smog in a traffic jam. 30 years ago, you had an incident in which touching a burning hot brake pad resulted in you requiring a total of 20 stitches on 5 fingers. We believe that was the single incident that exposed you to the material. The reason it’s only surfacing now is because it’s typical of it to do so: Averagely, the whole development of such cancer takes about 25 years.’ The engineer gets tears in his eyes. He clutches the hands of his family tightly. His son emulates his action and remains strong for him. His wife gently caresses the back of his hand with her thumb. The doctor asserts, ‘It’s imperative that you undergo the tests. They are not cheap and treatment can be expensive. The condition is terminal.’
With tears rolling down his ears, the engineer asks, ‘How long do I have, doc?’ The doctor shakes his head, ‘It would be premature for me to say without any diagnostics. It’s down to personal conditions. No two cases are the same. Now, to ensure you get the best healthcare treatment, I’d recommend you go to the West. Western Europe perhaps, or Northern America. I have a contact at an excellent institution in New York. I did a research project with him in Sweden, when I studied for my second PhD. I will let him know you’re coming, should you agree to.’
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