Part I - The Mistake
In the shower Tom
did most, if not all, of his worthwhile thinking, like a reflection
of the day even before the day began, a mirror in the mind, and
judging by the vision he'd received that morning while tugging yet
another one out under the steamy spritz of the shower head it should
have been painfully obvious this would be one of the worst days in
Of course that's only if you decide to omit his ex-wife Britany from the hard drive of failure that had somehow replaced the entity of Tom's life.
Britany, the wild, untameable 1990s child of Nintendo and Nirvana, The Emerald City kind not the Moksha sort, the type of new woman who needed not undivided attention from a man, no, she required unflinching eyes of a world wide web and any of the newest handheld, lightspeed, visual media feedbags on the market glued to one hand.
The ex-Mrs. Tom, Britany the social media junkie who was on a simultaneous down-upload of at least an 85 gig habit a day, a slow day, she started visiting progressively more extreme websites; first it was simulated rape, then it was underground shock videos of supposedly real rapes, then it was paying for real, disturbing, hardcore shit. She needed progressively more violent sexual activity as time went by, warped by the hypersexual visual world of magazines, movies, HBO, all being jammed down her throat, the societal cock; an oxymoron reality where porno stars crossed over to a world of real actors, the real actors becoming whores, pornography somehow transformed into an empowering line of work for females roaring their feminine yawp while being double penetrated and licking a toilet seat; a world where physical beauty became the new currency, where fat and old and chunky and pale and middle-aged and pretty and cute and freckled and thirty-five gives way to plastic, barely legal dolls with preset open mouths and splayed hips, set to either open or closed formation and no in between increments, the malleable clay-like woman still stuck as a girl awaiting man to give her form and definition.
And so Tom's ex-wife, their bedroom with one t.v on either side of the room in case she needed to get a different angle on the screen and one on the ceiling for when she was lying down so her neck didn't hurt from straining to look, found the perfect online forum for her newly realized sexual urges. It was a place where you could tag your location for others to see. Once someone knew where you were, they could view your likes and dislikes in conveniently checked boxes filled in when signing up to use the site. Some of Britany's, ex-Mrs. Tom's, dislikes were bad breath and smokers; her likes included asphyxiation, bondage, rape, and a box marked Other.
She'd done it before, it never turned out badly, not once, never for ex-Mrs. Tom, she wasn't like those dumb girls who didn't know their way around the digital block, no, not her.
Not until someone cut her throat before peeling off her face.
That, of all things, may have been the ultimate worst of all the days Tom experienced up until today, and, though tough to believe, it felt to him, Tom, the one whacking himself off using Irish Spring for lubricant because all the Herbal Essences shampoo left when Britany got mutilated,murdered, today might even top that one.
Tom had a mildly entertaining shower. Even if it was only a 6-star rating, tallied from the votes of over 2,35 viewers, people seemed to enjoy his pathetic groans, the grunting, an errant finger he seemed to need jammed up his asshole near his prostate, how he cried a little, whining for ex-Mrs. Tom.
All of which was of course indicated on the instant surveys available after Tom's pre-work strokefest.
Because this is the day and age where people require everyday living to be evaluated, assessed, re-assessed, managed, micromanaged, Microsoft-ed, integrated across all platforms, the type of lives we live dictated by their accessibility, compatibility. Something small as Tom trying to ejaculate into the drain, his own drain for fucksakes, cannot be wasted, like fodder for what? For simple existence? Nobody in their (capitalist)right(wing) mind would waste camera time like that. There were sites where the contents of your fridge are automatically uploaded, and users can vote on things including food selection and variety of food groups, overall style of cooking judged on contents, and more. Nobody wastes any footage, not anymore. Not when everything can be, and bloody well is, videotaped, without Tom, or anybody else for that matter, even knowing it, of course; we can do that now.
Not when we have one CCTV camera for every two square feet of land across the whole of North American, slowly moving towards the European cities and Central America, later, hopefully, to move further and further; to infinity, and beyond. Not when every individual video itself can be packaged, marketed virally, both online and intravenous, sold, re-marketed, re-focused, re-sold to new markets in a different package, and, above all else, streamed online for millions of international eyes.
Mass consumption at the motherboard? More like mass consumption at the Mother Teat.
It was after Tom stepped out of the shower, soap still drying on his feet and around the base of his cock, trouble really grabbed hold and squeezed.
Two men, and Tom knew they were men by how their voices boomed along with the swelling of the door as if the hinges might soon spit their screws out to a cartoon sound of tobacco ping-ing off the parlour spittoon, beat at the door, calling for him.
“Thomas James”, said one of the two men outside.
moved to the door quickly, afraid the booming and the swell of his
door might soon shake something out of place, the whole apartment
rattling like an old skeleton full of rickety bones finally coming
loose from their decomposing cartilage.
But before he could open the door, in came the two men. Tom, meanwhile, came to be squat behind the door against the wall, his freshly polished penis jammed against him and the doorknob lodged directly in his scrotum, squishing like an overripe orange being pressed relentlessly in the grocery by an old woman unaware of her obliviously ignorant strength.
“Thomas – James!”
The two big men stood there quite a time, longer than any sensible person might. There were loud, muffled retorts from other apartment building residents on either side of Tom's apartment complaining of noise, no surprise as the walls were thinner than bible paper, though the men seemed not to notice at all, totally consumed with the work at hand.
Looking for Tom.
As the doorknob slid slightly out of place, relinquishing the balls it so cruelly pinned, with no mercy, a creaking sound accompanied the door on its swing away from the wall, away from the Tom. He was too busy worrying about whether or not he'd have to consult a doctor about ruptured testicles to realize, eventually, the two large men who'd forgotten were looking for him had finally noticed where Tom was hiding; not that he was hiding, he never meant to get throttled by a door and trapped against the wall with a door's knob cutting off all circulation to his own. Unfortunately for him, they only assumed his retreat behind the door was some Buster Keaton, slapstick routine of sneaking away before the big day.
One of the men looked Tom up and down, noticing the yet-to-dry soap, some wetness in the hair, a glistening of the skin. “Washed are you?”
“C'mon then,” said the other man, grabbing Tom's arm.
“And where to, might I trouble to ask?”
The first one piped in again. “Studio. Big day, even bigger night, eh?”
“How so?” asked Tom, confused, dumbstruck, being hauled towards the door in a towel.
“Finally getting it done,” the second one tells him with a playful gesture of a thumb dragged across his throat followed by a chuckle.
“Now wait just a god damned minute!” Tom yelled.
One of the men, it mattered less and less which was which, reached back and smacked Tom across the mouth, hard, fast, how a tree branch snaps back hard against the face. At first it confused Tom, and then it was almost as if he knew what to do, as if it were pre-programmed in him to know what was about to happen.
It all fell into place once one of the men spoke again.
“We're from RAW, Realist Apex World, the network- host of the 24-hour Suicide Channel, Mr. James. And well, as you know, we came today to pick you up, escort y'over to the studio for your big day.”
“No, no, this is all wrong,” Tom kept on, “I did not sign up for any of this. I know you lot, and I did not put my name down anywhere to be on your show. Don't you people have somebody checking these things?”
One of the two network stooges looked at the other, grunting inquisitively, groaning silently but audibly, wondering how it could happen something like this. The other man only looked at Tom. “So you're telling me you don't want to die?”
“Oh my fu-- no, of course not, I don't want to die!”
“Not even on television?”
Tom picked up a picture of himself, one his wife made him take after he was on the local news for a play he'd written and directed, her favourite picture of him, a picture of him being watched on the television, and tossed it into his kitchen. The framed cracked. Glass sprinkled around the floor, little shiny bits bouncing around reflecting tiny mirror images in its crystal-like shards of the two men, of Tom, of everything. They settled quietly in the grooves of the apartment floor, waiting for a foot, some soft, weak flesh to jab into where they could continue settling, where they could slip their mirrored reflections into the bloodstream, where they could become alive.
“I tell you what, if you'd rather not die then I suggest anger management,” one man told him. “You've got the devil of a temper.”
“Get out of my apartment!”
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” the other man continued, “This is 57A Terra Nova Apartments on Battery Hill Road, correct?”
Tom only shook his head.
“Care to elaborate?”
“This is 47A Terra Nova Apartments.”
The two men shook their heads simultaneously, exchanging glances.
“Sir- we apologize.”
A loud noise suddenly came from the apartment overhead. Moments after, the creaking sound of rope against something else, back, forth, back, forth, side to side, back, forth, that almost shrill but still moist sound polished wood makes when skin screeches across, no, even softer than that.
Tom looked up all the way to his door, where he, with reluctant politeness instilled in him by his late, sweet mother, showed the two company men out of his apartment, and off they went. He continued staring up towards the apartment above him, as if for some reason.
As if the man, or woman, living above him were about to have some direct, significant, possibly torturous, effect on his own life, the life he'd been living quite some time below the person up there, the person who could now, in one of many realities within the simulacrum, determine whether this day would turn out good, or turn out terrible after all like Tom's early rise prick toss fortune telling prophesied.
And so Tom put on a cup of tea.
It was then another knock came at the door, but this one was frantic, erratic, yet static, long, in short bursts, all over the place while centralized over next to the doorknob. Tom only knew of one person it could be, so he quickly put more water into the kettle, anticipating his visitor might also want or perhaps desperately need a cup of tea, and rushed to answer the knocking.
“Come on in, Taz.”
Taz, or Travis, Trav, Trav-E, the Tin Man, Travelling Wilbury, or a million other usernames he went by depending on which day of the week it was and what day of the month that day of the week landed on, had been friends with Tom for years. Ex-Mrs. Tom did not approve. In fact, that and that only was one of the reasons Tom still gave the poor guy time of day, because even someone who made her miserable was a way of staying connected, in some bizarre, backwards logic.
Taz became highly addicted to media since dropping out of studying communications years and years ago at Brock University, where he only got in due to a glowing letter of reference from an old German involved in Project Paperclip, now teaching, of all subjects, English at his high school who molested him senior year, who only wrote the recommendation so Taz, Travis Wilson back then before a new identity took hold, wouldn't have him arrested and brought up on charges. When he dropped out it was like a second buggery, one he'd bent over and willingly taken. Later on, he saved enough for the new implant, all the rage in many of the upper social circles, allowing a quicker injection of media directly into the cerebral cortex for maximum effectiveness and potency. However, most junkies got hold of the technology and knocked another decade off their already dwindling lives.
Now Taz had a small, barely noticeable except for the first four weeks after installation, skull-mounted port installed cosmetically, and fashionably, at a slightly higher price, as elective surgery by specially trained doctors in the field, so those hooked on the elating pulse of media could get the most bang for their buck.
Tom cared about his friend, but still felt slightly shaken by his encounter with the two men. “What's going on, buddy?”
“Jesus Christ, Tom. They're back.”
There was no telling, ever, what Taz's they were at any given moment of time. That which plagued his old junkie comrade had, never has, never will, no fixed point; it was free floating, ever-present. Some days they were outside forces, outside of our country, outside of town, out of this world, outside of our existence. Other days the Swiss. Days when it came to be Brad in that movie made from the Chuck Pahlaniuk book by the guy who directed the one about Mark Zuckerberg. Tomorrow it could be Salman Rushdie or Rush Limbaugh or Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, Neal Peart, or any of those old cunts up on Mount Rushmore. Once, Taz showed up on Tom and ex-Mrs. Tom's anniversary, of all nights, screaming, saying there ninjas on the lawn trying to fucking kill them; his nose looked like one of those powdered donuts full of cream, two nostrils like holes with raspberry or strawberry, some kind of red, filling in them just waiting, wanting, to burst.
Each time they came out of Taz's mouth they were different, somebody, something, new, different, the same. It didn't matter. Not anymore.
“Listen now,” Tom said calmly, “It's going to be fine. Sit down, all right? You need a good strong cup of coffee.”
He sat Taz down on the couch, holding him still with both hands the way a child would a spinning top on the loose.
“I'll just be a minute.”
While Tom went to the kitchen to begin making some coffee for the two of them, a funny thing happened. Well, maybe it isn't funny. Is it? Let's see..
What was I saying? Oh, right...
While Tom went in to get some coffee ready for himself and Taz, something happened.
First, Tom decided his bladder was full, heading off to the bathroom; he would eventually piss an 8.5, accumulated score based on 1,246 user ratings. Second, and without any sort of hesitation, the two men from before burst in through the door, cranking it off its hinges and blowing wood chips and dust about the place. Tom, with a steady stream going and humming Engelbert Humperdinck, could hear none of this. Taz, with a steady stream of media coursing through his veins and the mechanics of his brain, could not deal with this.
One of the men punched Taz squarely in the middle of his face, each knuckle poking a different part of the skull, spreading out over the entire surface area of flesh, but couldn't knock him over. The other tried grabbing Taz on his way out of the door, or what used to be the door, now a gaping break in the exterior-interior boundary. No use. The screaming junkie, caught in the simulacrum, was gone, wailing down several flights of stairs and bursting out into the night, gone somewhere, anywhere, and if there is a god, help those who cross his path.
Returning from a well-needed and well-received bathroom break Tom all of a sudden noticed how quiet things were. Only for a moment. After it passed, the two men, the two big men, they were in the kitchen, standing tall over Tom, who was still in the process of getting coffee ready.
He casually glanced around the two men and noticed where he used to have a door, even a door frame, where now sat agape the yawning asshole of his apartment's opening.
“What the fuck did you two do?”
“What do you mean, what did we do?”, one of them said.
Tom, unsure of how to respond, only kept making coffee, except now with a frown of utter disappointment across his face.
“The man upstairs,” the man started again, “His name was James Thomas.”
“Really?” Tom laughed. “I had no idea. All these years. Wait now- you said was, his name was – do you mean to say he's dead?”
The two men stared silently at Tom.
“Oh, that's just awful. The noise earlier- agh. This is just terrible.”
“Yes, well it's to make it all right, I think,” one of the men told him.
“Meaning,” the other finished, “you will be coming with us. You are the star now, buddy.”
“You can't be serious!” shouted Tom.
One man grabbed an arm, the other grabbed some neck. They pulled Tom towards the apartment's hole.
“This is mad, you can't just take a person out of their home.”
“Yes,” one man explained, “You see, we can do that because we've been authorized to do whatever it takes, whenever needed, to ensure quality. Because what does quality mean?”
“Ratings,” the other responded.
“So you mean to tell me I'm to be brought down to some god dam studio and what? You're going to make me shoot myself in the fucking face? Mental!”
“You'll do it. One way or another.”
“But this is madness,” Tom began to scream, “it's not like I did anything. How can you just take me?”
One of the men slapped Tom hard across the mouth and gave him an adjoining kick directly in the shin bone, which made him crumple slightly; easier for dragging.
“See, when you and your stupid name wasted our bloody time earlier, James Thomas upstairs, he thought we'd, you know, passed over, no, ah- rejected him! Yes, yes. He thought the network reneged on his deal, so he went ahead with it anyways.”
“Ahead with what exa--”
Tom answered his own question, with a little slip of a fake noose one of the men drew in the air and dropped around his own neck, tongue hanging, eyes twitching, a really great illustration sans mots.
“Oh- oh my... no...”
Tom realized the implications, he knew what it all meant, how he'd roundabout deprived a man living above him, a man who'd lived above him so long yet nameless to him, the last wish of his miserable life, that the last joy this man might have ever gotten out of life might be to kill himself in what would come to be, no doubt, a viral video. How he was being taken in place of the man with his backwards name.
But still. Fuck James Thomas. Fuck him. Fuck him to death.
“So, any body will do, huh?” Tom yelled at the two men, the two idiots.
“The network doesn't care, Tom. They didn't care why Mr. Thomas wanted to end his life, they only cared that he wanted to do it, and wanted it to be on television.”
“So, we set them up in a studio, however they want it all, scenes, sets, no scenes, in a basement, hotel bathtub – whatever. And then they do the deed themselves, we broadcast it, stream it to subscribers, and holy shit are there ever subscribers to this channel. And so on, so on.”
“It's really quite amazing.”
Tom reeled from it all. Not only was it incredible, the inner workings of such a show, a show he was disgusted by yet knew existed and knew, for the most part, how it worked on the surface, it was incredible to see these two button men talk about the suicide of others with such zest, such chipper idealism, with a springing leap in their voices, optimistic about the profit off the misery and eventual death of mentally ill people just in need of even the smallest doses of medication unavailable to them for a variety of equally mental ideas. Truly horrifying.
The creaking rope-on-metal sound again, back, forth, back, forth, long, short, long, forth, back, short, back, forth. It faded away, as the two men dragged Tom towards the light outside his apartment building, bright, shining. The sun blinded him outside. Didn't matter. Soon he was sitting, though tipped to one side, his hands being tied behind his back, face in upholstery, in the back of some dark town car, a long one, and it sped off up the road.