Joyce

(Originally posted to the Necrid Forums August 19, 2003)

The adage goes that if you look for anything, you will find it. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, the moment you make your mind up to discover it it’ll make itself clear for you. This is true for most things- though the world is vast its contents are finite, and if something has been conceived it will make itself clear in time, go from being an undefined concept to a well-defined and understood reality. And if you want it, you’ll get it. Only a matter of time.

I comb the racks regularly, with an astute and well-versed eye, looking for old things, things which are not coated in spiderwebs but are just old enough to elicit an uncanny quality- few decades back, maybe. Just enough time to alienate the viewer. Any earlier than that and the viewer has nothing to relate to. Napoleon’s Ghost is about as real to the participant as Grimace, but give the viewer something to care about, and they’ll sit up and take notice. Show the viewer a celebrity they’re familiar with doing something they’d never in a million years imagine the celebrity doing, but they’ll believe it because it was a while back, and who knows who did what then. Remind the viewer of what they were doing right before 9/11. Get a little deeper. Remind them that odds are there was a time that they existed when they had no idea 9/11 was going to happen. Temporally speaking, a version of them is out there who doesn’t know the significance of that date.

I run a parlor of ephemera, a bijou of obscurity. I will not name names, but let me say that if you’re the curious type you will run across my establishment. I’m in your town and I operate there, whether you want me to or not. I stock a full legal team who clear all the tapes I screen and on a good night I can compete with all the big-budget movie houses, despite our location on the seamy side of town we often see people pass through our double-swing doors who you probably know. Many of them arrive here thinking they’re in for a blue movie. We have some, don’t get me wrong, but we have so, so much more. Content that is shocking not because it offends or is connected to any rational human fear but rather because it is hard-wired by some mad programmer in a forgotten studio to unsettle.

If you look for Joyce, you will find her.

I found her in a bulk lot of ten old programs- all treasures, each one ensuring hours of perverse delight for our clientele. She stood out on the case, had this sort of look in her eyes. She wasn’t looking at the camera, but she wasn’t looking past it, either. She had her eyes right on the edge of the lens where the outside world and the celluloid world meet. I knew right away that she had the ability. Nobody would intentionally look there, not unless they were trying. I bought the whole kit and caboodle but especially looked forward to seeing her. She could elevate my establishment in the ratings.

My lawyer sits back in his room, wondering how he wound up in such an enclosed and claustrophobic space. The building is set back in a row of other shops in such a way that the window directly behind my dear counsel gives way only to two inches of fresh air before it meets a featureless brick wall. The sky is up there somewhere, but he can’t see it because he can’t stick his head out the window. This disturbs him, he feels that either the wall behind him should be solid brick or there should be no window, as the window serves no functional purpose. I, of course, know the truth. It does serve a functional purpose, that purpose being to unnerve. It’s doing pretty well. He’s sweating bullets and he’s on his 5th screwdriver of the day.

“New lot,” I announce, setting them on the desk in an unorthodox fashion. “Ten of these, want you to look at them, check them out. Get back to me on this one. This one, too. Both of them look good.” I point to Joyce and to one which promised untold wonders, courtesy of the Illuminati. Neither look as if the Feds could bust us for them. Of course, here ratings are nonexistent. How do you rate men walking in treadmills eternally against a blank background that never changes?

“You want to get ruined, keep it up,” he says. “Can’t wait to pop more of these in, subject myself to this neverending torment. Looks like a cool group this week. Where do you find these things?”

“Trade secret,” I smile, cross over to the wall and slide the tapes in one by one. “For me to know and you to learn, gradually.” The machine takes them, duplicates them, slides the material over the drum and gets to work. In five minutes I’ll have master copies of all ten. Those will go in my vault, for future generations to uncover. Before then, though, I can watch them and get some kicks out of them while he can suffer just as much if not more, given his persistent aversion to tapes of this nature. While he knows none of them are illegal, he always feels they should be, through some loophole or catch. In the 8 years he’s been working with me so far, though, he’s never found one, and he hasn’t been acclimated to his environment, either.

I look him over as the machine hums silently. He’s diminutive, 5’5”, might be attractive for his age if he didn’t drink so much. His hair is combed back and his tie is nearly choking his neck, his suit is thoroughly starched and on the wall behind him he displays his degree, as if anyone besides myself would ever visit his office. Next to him he keeps a personal fan. It can get hot in here sometimes, there’s very little ventilation. Just the way I like it, closed and no way out. I’ve only undergone one fire inspection since opening, and the sergeant told me that the building was fire-safe, but if it weren’t for a few key details it would bust into a spontaneous inferno. Life on the edge can be hard to master.

As I take the tapes out and hand my counsel the originals, I reflect on how every aspect of my life and work has been precariously arranged to unsettle outsiders. The hallways outside are long and claustrophobic, they contain subtle optical illusions that make the occupant feel nauseous and displaced. The seats are barely too small, some of them are barely too big, the projectors have been tampered with to make a grotesque noise as they spin that somebody could miss if they weren’t paying attention. All part of the experience. The entire building is set into the row so that there are no glimpses at the exterior. If someone has the guts to explore past the initial chain of auditoriums, they are led into a simple yet clever labyrinth that ends at the same brick wall my legal team is currently sitting in front of. They will come to the end and then walk back, and all the while they will be disturbed.

I step into the waning day as storm clouds gather overhead. The street is empty and it’s getting windy, though the summer heat continues. Soon night will fall and the lamps will come on, but in the meantime they remain dark. The world is a place of shadows and secrets. Down the block a few couples leave a mediocre diner. They say goodbye and get into their respective cars, then drive away from the city center, out toward the suburbs.

I am reminded of how the center is much older than the outer rim, gentrified and sterile, how the city has its own peculiar charm and how my establishment is yet another example of a dwindling class of locales designed to give one an experience. In this, the modern age, atmosphere is so often neglected. I will keep it. It will not die under my watch.

A bus pulls up like a forgotten phantom in the grainy twilit mist. Twin spotlights flood my field of vision, a ghost vessel in the fog. As I embark on the excursion, the clouds give way and the windshield is pelted by drops of all shapes and sizes, coming faster than the Earth can account for. The street is now nearly invisible, washed out in a blur of pastel hues. I hand the driver my money and take a seat.

On the way home I can hear a drunken man singing a song I have forgotten the lyrics to. Outside the atmosphere is bombarded with a stew of negative ions, battling and fighting. The scent is contagious.

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It is the next day. I have eaten a rigorous breakfast and come to work early, before anyone can arrive. I check my watch and dash into the closest auditorium. Room C, this one has entertained countless guests, in fact according to popular opinion and what I hear every so often in casual whispers and murmurs it’s nearly the favorite. Something unique in each, each offering a separate and irreplicable experience.

I slip the tape in and the projector lights up. Make sure all the switches are arranged just so, all the dials turned optimally. Yes, there it goes. I exit the booth and walk back down the narrow staircase that nobody besides myself can access. I sit down, make myself comfortable, and breathe in and out deeply. The air in here is stifling, the fans overhead move too slow to circulate anything. The lights installed in the walls never completely dim, they’re always visible in the corner of one’s eye. I should know, I installed them. The room is large. I’m infinitesimally tiny by comparison.

The screen blinks to life in a surge of photonic activity, my face is lit and I am greeted by Joyce. She sits larger than life, 30 feet above me in unparalleled quality. She is as morose and alone as I had expected given the picture on the case, but there is a spark of life about her, too. She sits in a modest dress on a nondescript piece of furniture. Can’t make out if it’s a bed or a couch, background is hazy. Lots of noise.

She sits silently a while, studying me, watching me. I watch her. Below my arms are the armrests and on them I release profuse amounts of nerve juice, my pulse is racing and my eyes are glued to her. She is fascinating. I know that what I am seeing is nothing more than magnets and fiber optics, circuit boards glued together, chips and buttons.

Somewhere out there may be the real Joyce. She’s probably a lot older now but not by much, if I passed her on the street I could recognize her but I know I never will because she lives hundreds of miles away. She has a husband, maybe children, lives in a home, goes to work. She is a real person. What I see is not her, what I see is a moment captured in time, like a mosquito trapped in amber. One snapshot into one perspective, for further information call your travel agent.

And all the while she scrutinizes me with those endless inkwells she’s also staring right at the border, the boundary between reality and the semblance of reality. Just as the picture did.

The theater begins to fade out. This happens every so often, I’m used to it by now. Usually only happens when we’re not open. My clothes become transparent. The location of the theater lends itself to all manner of parlor tricks. Peculiar vibrations, disturbances in the ether, call them what you will but they’ve been observed. Whether Joyce is behind this event I can’t say for sure. She remains complacent and still.

The anomaly reaches its peak.

The year is 1993 and I am sitting across the room from her, outside the sun is shining and the sky is blue. It is a bed, next to her is a small bureau with lipstick and a mirror on it. Outside I can hear nothing. There is an uncanny silence to the room. No noises outside, no noises inside save the ticking of the clock on the wall. She is clad in a dull gray skirt and casual shoes, her hair flows long over her shoulders. And her eyes are empty, dark, meaningless. If they’re the window to the soul then she has none.

“How’s it been so far?”

“Fine,” I respond without thinking about it. “Granola this morning, new kind with added fiber. Also half a banana. Threw the other half away, didn’t figure I needed it. Oh, and toast, with butter. My toaster is on the fritz again but I put it into the microwave and it works roughly the same, give or take a few minutes. You?”

“Excellent as always,” she replies. “Living here is the greatest decision you’ve ever made. Life is good. People are happy. I’m happy.” Her voice is fuzzy and distant, as if she was talking to me over a cheap AM radio. She looks to the side, the first time I’ve seen her head move. Through this action she becomes human, or something at the very least resembling human. My chest falls and I lean back in my chair, at ease.

We stare at each other once more and she remains steadfast, rigid. This world cannot be interacted with, I could no more walk out those sliding doors than a man could taste the salt of ancient Persia. She is remotely aware of this, I can tell by the way her face is tilted and her expression has a note of humor to it. Sick humor, morbid and vile.

“You know what, Joyce?”

“What?”

“I know the game you’re playing,” I respond confidently though the words are only partially my own. “You believe that the world has been written away to you by law, that you own it and hold the rights to it and every day is a new opportunity to take advantage of the people around you. You play them like a fiddle. I can tell by the way you behave.” She uncrosses her legs, lies back and contemplates the ceiling with those devoid shells of hers.

“Damn, you’re good.” She opens her mouth and what comes out is not laughter but some kind of belligerent noise, a ringing that makes the ear fall apart and the mind reel. And in this moment, I am convinced that she holds a dark secret, a secret that, if revealed, would make sense of all this.

She goes back, the noise dies down, the room fades out and the static rises until I am surrounded by a sea of grey fiber- and then I am reclining once more in the theater seat. It squeaks slightly as I let go of the armrests. The screen sputters out until it is a muted, dark grey, and the smell of smoke permeates the air. Behind me the projector turns itself off.

I let out a few short gasps. Really knocked the sense out of me. My head is foggy as I retreat up the staircase and retrieve the tape from the slot. I put it back in its case, then walk out the back and into the vault where I keep our most successful releases.

I can already tell Joyce is my kind of woman.

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The days pass and the bad weather continues. Every night the lights go out spontaneously and when I walk through the hallways, carrying upcoming projects or concessions, she is there with me. As the crowds pour in, many of them simply to escape the deluge, I hear her cold voice whisper in my ear, her hands on my arm, spot the shadow of her form in the lobby where a shadow has no right to be.

There are many people here tonight. A few are gathered around the soda machine, some huddle en masse near the table, some scratch their heads as they gawk at the strange posters. I designed them on my own, made sure to incorporate nightmarish and grotesque elements, pasted in some mixed media courtesy of a local magazine I subscribe to.

The key figure tonight is a gentleman with rumpled clothes wearing a hat too small for his head. He hasn’t shaved in a week and he has bad breath, people shun him as he steps in from the outpour and crosses the rug. He drenches it. I can tell that he is a man deserving a private screening, all to himself. He takes out some crumpled money and lays it onto the counter. I smile and scoop some free popcorn for him. I then take him by the back and guide him past the lobby and into the row.

“Come here often?” I ask. He walks slowly, the sign of someone cautious who looks before they leap. He’ll be ideal for a certain tape I found last month, a Mondo film which illustrates in vivid detail the slow ritualistic process of infestation.

“Heard about it,” he says. “First time here. Ad in the classifieds, don’t think nobody looks through them anymore.” He is lying, of course. I never place ads. He came here to escape the flood and get some heat, probably hasn’t read a newspaper in his life. He coughs into his elbow, wears a tattered navy jean jacket and slacks. Ideal material.

“In here, Sir,” I recite softly as I push the door open for him. He holds the popcorn and walks down the aisle, takes his hat off and looks around in the darkness. As I stand at the door he looks distant, fading. This one is designed to amplify the sense of perspective such that someone in the back row will see the people in the front row as they might from an airplane, tiny and far away. This illusion took years to master but now that it’s been done nobody can tell me otherwise. Really hurts your head.

I head up to the booth and take out the Mondo tape. The wheels turn and he sits down there, motionless. My work here is done. I return to the lobby and escort the other guests to their rooms. Soon the process is complete, all auditoriums are packed- all save the one with the lonesome wanderer- and it looks as if business is doing better than it has in years.

The night wears on and outside the street is pelted with rain. The lobby is illuminated by a few bulbs, but every corner is filled with shadows and the cash register’s monitor glows a dark blue-green before me. The popcorn smells delicious tonight. I take a single kernel from the machine and try it.

My lawyer walks down the stairs and pauses to admire the posters. He puts his hand to his brow and lets out a deep sigh. My determination is what unnerves him, my ceaseless business acumen. In his hand he holds his suitcase, probably full of more tapes, tapes which could potentially land him in prison. He knows they won’t, though. He won’t be getting off that easy.

“Good crowd tonight.”

“Sure is,” I respond. “Doesn’t happen so often anymore, the house getting packed. We’ve gone under the radar. Only makes these nights a whole lot sweeter by contrast. Right now, 200 people back there with their eyes affixed to analog wonders. Does the heart good.” I cross to the back and get a soft drink from the fridge. Water droplets have condensed on its surface. I tilt my head back and let it run down my throat.

“Your heart, maybe,” he mumbles with a bitter tone. “You’re the one getting paid. I get the scraps. And what about them? Do they matter to you? Are your torture chambers functioning properly, is your sick mind satisfied with your designs? Have you given any consideration to them?” From behind us comes a loud scream, though whether it was artificially produced is uncertain. This is followed by a few moments of soft moaning.

“Make me sick,” he finishes. “Hey, hand me one of those.” I comply. He takes it and swallows the whole thing, then tosses the bottle in the trash can and walks out the door.

His footsteps echo down the street and make little noises in the puddles before the entrance swings shut on its pneumatic hinges and I’m left alone in the lobby with nothing but my own thoughts. The fans spin overhead creating a hypnagogic effect, and outside the rain continues, obscuring everything but three feet of sidewalk and a fire hydrant.

To entertain myself I pull out my ledger and start calculating my profits and expenditures. I didn’t tell him this, because if I did he’d probably quit on the spot, but I’m very close to going under. Variations in the ether or no, the taxman comes and when he comes he comes with a vengeance. Tonight’s crowd, it seems, has delayed the inevitable.

My thoughts are interrupted by the creaking of chairs and the approaching footsteps. How time flies when you’re doing simple arithmetic. The people filter out like sheep from a gate. Their faces are wrinkled and disgusted, they groan. A few pop their backs. A group of college students with piercings and fashionable outfits express their angst by looking around like rabbits in a trap. Some feign etiquette by waving at me and thanking me for a good time. I wave back and tell them to come again soon. They exit.

The man I pushed into the premium viewing comes out. He is the most shaken of all, perhaps. His eyes are like a rabid dog’s, they twitch and buzz as he stares morosely at the red carpet.

“I know her.” He trembles and sways.

“Know who?”

“That woman. One in the room, talks to you very slowly until you give up. Don’t ask me how, but I do.”

“That’s impossible.” I scoop myself a bag of popcorn and sit down. “You weren’t watching anything about a woman in a room. It was about ant torture and the like. Gruesome stuff, yes, but nothing like what you describe.” He pulls his hat over his eyes and buttons his coat. He wants to make a hasty exit.

“Watch yourself,” he crows, pointing in my direction and looking out at the rain, backing toward it. “She’s trouble.” He makes a mad dash for the door, pushes it open and runs like a bolt. I eat my popcorn.

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Another day rolls around and as I unlock my facility I am tempted to view the tape again. It is a morbid curiosity, or as Poe put it the Imp Of The Perverse. Joyce is an imp alright, she’s the devil in disguise.

The lobby is dusty. I can’t remember the last time I vacuumed. Not worth taking care of, dust finds a way in no matter how much you try and keep it out. I wander upstairs, the calm whirr of the air conditioners surrounding me in every direction, the walls closing in. I reach my office and look inside.

It’s a modest room, nothing to write home about, but it is important to me. I cross it and head back to the vault. The vault is located in an area so close to the end of the building that the distance isn’t worth mentioning. It’s greased and locked tight, it’s equipped with a lock that even the best locksmith couldn’t break, and it’s filled with my hoard.

Joyce is staring at me. She looks chipper as I carry her over to screening room 4 and pop her in the slot. She was in the vault last night, I’m sure. I had planned on showing her but I hadn’t taken her out yet. Lawyer still hadn’t cleared her safe release. I’m not sure if I feel safe showing her, myself. She might be too dangerous even for me.

The screen flickers on and I clutch my box of candy. The apprehension is killing me, the tension is like a thread about to be snapped by the fates. In the anechoic darkness my respiration is amplified tenfold. I know she’ll come on and she’ll be the same old video vixen. That’s the most horrifying part, the certainty of it all. No surprises, no viruses. Just spool upon spool of wound reel over plastic, currently zooming over an optical drum at a few hundred rotations a second.

“Hello,” I whisper as the film starts.

This time there are no disturbances. I am still aware of the chair behind me and the general room around me, though my mind is still whisked far away and my concentration on the events presented before me is nearly absolute. The candy falls to the floor and spills. I’ll clean it later.

Joyce gets up and walks out the door, the same door I saw earlier leading out to the yard. She beckons for the camera to follow her and like an obedient pet it does. Now I catch a new perspective.

On the lawn is a white trash bag, framed ever so quaintly by a hedge of juniper bushes and a lattice fence. This suburban paradise is disrupted by Joyce’s footsteps on the lawn. She nears the trash bag, kneels and touches it, looks at her hand almost in disbelief. There’s something inside, something large. Overhead an airplane can be heard.

She leaves the scene and I am left staring at the bag and its mysterious contents. The camera operator is silent, I wouldn’t be surprised if she rigged it to look as if there was someone behind it. She’s clever. She reappears on the right of the frame a few moments later carrying a shovel and a barrel. It’s heavy, going by how she lifts it.

She moves everything into place and the scene is set. She lugs the bag over her shoulder and drops it into the barrel. A violent hissing sound is produced and a cloud of steam comes from the vat’s insides. She cautiously backs away until the noise and fumes subside. She takes the lid, twists it on, making sure it’s sealed, then goes to work with the shovel.

For an indeterminate amount of time she messes up the grass, creating a hole that’s so deep she can step into it and disappear. Once she hears an abrasive clanking sound, she knows she’s hit the bedrock and gives it a rest. She climbs out, then rests as the midday sun bears down and the juniper bushes wave in the breeze.

Once she’s taken a breather she gets pack up and piles the dirt on top, inspecting the grass and making sure that nobody will disturb it. She calls the camera over again and it points down, and it looks like she’s done a pretty good job. The lawn is a lawn, nothing more, and the area where the hole was is now covered with healthy turf. She looks into the camera, holds her hair and smiles, and then it ends.

I think I know what was in the bag, but I don’t want to acknowledge it.

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The next few days don’t see the return of the crowds. They are business days, that could explain it. An elderly couple who look like they’ve done some substances in their time, a bubbly college student who asks for the jumbo size popcorn- she doesn’t know it’s the same as large- and a local rapper who’s put out 10 albums, none of which have sold. I don’t play Joyce for any of them because my lawyer has yet to clear it. Now that I consider it, he hasn’t been in the office as of late and he hasn’t returned any of my calls, either. Probably bitter about something, as usual. Around 3 I make a mental note to call him again as soon as possible.

As the evening comes and the street is shrouded in scarlet mystery I become sentimental and turn on the old stereo in the corner. Ballroom stuff, light orchestral jazz, a little big band tossed in there. I waltz around the lobby, admiring my life’s work. I opened this portal a long time ago, and in that time I’ve never regretted it. The room darkens, the ether shifts again, and I’m alone in a void where things that would otherwise be neutral are now hysterical. I begin laughing like a madman until I hear the door open and I find myself behind the desk once again, the tape has ended and it’s night.

There is nobody in the room with me. From behind me the stereo crackles and without thinking I switch it off. Deafening silence. Only the ticking of the clock. Outside the moon is covered by an encroaching fog, and the lights become signals from beyond. I am alone in a room with a ghost.

The ether movies just a little. If I blinked I would miss it. But there it is, all the same, a minor dilation in time and space, the corner of a poster is slightly offset and the wall caves in. She’s in here with me, I realize as I stand completely still and my hands stick to the counter coated in sweat, she’s in here right now and I know she’s in here, and she knows she’s in here and she probably even knows I know.

The lithe specter, as I mentioned earlier, had been making small cameos around the premises for a week or so before now. Now she is approaching me at an unprecedented rate, making her presence known. Above me the fan spins and though it spins the air does not circulate, it remains where it’s at. Outside I can see only one store window, one distant light in that dark abyss, one recourse for safety. As I stare at it it turns off and the sole occupant of the world beyond Joyce packs up shop. There will be no easy excuses tonight.

She reaches the counter and grasps one kernel of popcorn with her insubstantial fingers, it vanishes into nothing as it journeys down her invisible digestive tract. I can hear her shoes on the carpet, her dress rustling against the pane of glass, and I can smell her perfume. She is intoxicating and ever-present, and half of me wants to abandon my mind and leave this world before it crushes me, and half of me hopes to waltz with her on the street outside.

She materializes before me. It is a slow process, on her end it looks painful. First she’s only a few blips of static, then it gets fuzzy and she becomes a woman- though an ill-defined one. Her form is hard to pin down, it’s hard to say where she ends and space begins, because she is a product and not a person. She is not living as you or I would define life, rather she is a collection of memories spouted by a madman on the edge of reality.

She looks into my head and rummages around, and all the while my face drips and my bones are locked in place. What do you like, what don’t you like, where are you now? She looks at me from a broadcast antenna on a lonely rural hill a thousand miles away with those silent dead eyes. It’s hard to read her. She could lunge at me at any second, but it never comes. She stands and waits.

I am reminded here of a futile carnival game I played once, a long time ago, in my youth. Get the ring on the bottle, but the ring is only the size of the top of the bottle. Try as much as you want, but it’ll always bounce off and you’ll never win the big prize. Here the big prize is my sanity and Joyce is the bottle, taunting me to take things one step further.

She walks around a while. Her eyes don’t focus on any one object but as she moves she wipes thread after thread of reality from my field of vision. She gets behind the desk, crawls over the counter and the popcorn machine vanishes. The cooler and the cash machine follow, buzzing out. She’s behind me now, her fingers on the back of my neck, her hot electric breath turning my skin into plasma. She smiles.

I blink and she sits across from me in an old patio armchair. The year is 1993 and the house is from 1993 and the scenery is just as constructed as ever, we are spinning around some drum operated my a mad God at a speed incomprehensible to the human mind, read by an optical laser and transmitted onto the screen for the universe to know but not fully comprehend.

She is reclined and staring up at the sun, it’s a calm day and the weather is slow, and the grass is lush and alive. Three yards from my chair there’s a large hole. On its outer rim there’s a white plastic trash bag. Two feet from that there’s a barrel filled with a steaming liquid. Joyce pauses, looks over at the bag, grins at me.

“Want to have a look?” With a flutter of her eyelashes she beckons. “I know you want to see it. Don’t lie to me, I know you. You’re a vulture, you live on the sick and macabre, you have no limits. What’s one dead body, one hole filled with dirt, one pleasant day captured forever?” She stands and sets her drink on the table, then looks down.

As much as I don’t want to, as much as every fiber of my being is telling me I shouldn’t, I succumb to the inevitable and follow suit. I join her at the edge of the hole and she grasps the strings of the bag, pulls them apart. My eyes are drawn to the opening.

Inside is the body of my lawyer, dismembered and deformed. He is screaming but no sound is coming from his lips, which have been acidically charred. His scalp is bare, his teeth are loose, his arms and legs are everywhere. Though the sight horrifies me I do not react. Perhaps it is a property of this dream world, this nether reality, perhaps to react to the sight would be to break the script. Whatever the reason, I stand next to Joyce and look into the bag and my mind is devoid of thought, my body devoid of action. She ties the bag shut and dunks it in the barrel.

A violent hissing sound escapes. The year is 1993 and I’m witness to a murder. Joyce takes her shovel and fills the hole up, taking extra care to keep the grass flat and featureless, knowing that the hole is so deep that nobody will find it, that her husband has been plucked from the future and brought to the past, that at last she is at peace.

She watches me with a quiet look. We have a mutual understanding now. The year is 1993 and Joyce fades into the background, so much static and so many particles across a cathode ray. It is the present and I am standing behind the counter.

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The fog remains but the theater burns, burns like the edifice it is to the ground. It shouldn’t burn with such ferocity, such intensity, given the condensation, but it is a portal and it is also a kind of Hell, so the method of disposal is fitting. I stand outside with a book of matches and the last drink in my hand, the only proof that the establishment ever existed. I watch as the building crumbles and I run while the fire engine comes around the corner to collect the remains.

It will be their funeral, I think as I run around the corner, take a long cold swig and dash into the night, perhaps forever. Time will move on, the last boards will be carted off on an ambulance stretcher, and memory like all things will give way to uncertainty and confusion. In time I too will become a celluloid specter. I’ll be found in a closet and I’ll be tested and printed, and if luck serves me I will be remembered in some small way.

I round the corner and she is there to greet me, taking my hand as we journey together into the unexplored night. The street ends and the world fades away and we’re left with only the memories of the world we knew and the eternal blue mist, the ether of yesterday and the ether of tomorrow.