Part one - Denial.
The trip took less time than I hoped it would. I kept playing various scenarios in my head, building decision-making trees, analyzing the pieces of the puzzle.
Unfortunately, no car-trip takes forever and this one was no exception. I found myself in an unknown part of the city, it was dark; only a few stars were visible in the sky. Silence was everywhere, occasionally interrupted by the roar of car engines... "What brought them here?" I wondered...
The small building gave me an eerie feeling, there was no rolling tumbleweed or screeching of rusty metal, but it felt like it. I peeked inside - I saw several boxes, some flowers, and labels.
I immediately began to think about the business-oriented nature of the modern world, even this is now optimized.
A man stepped out, explaining that "what you are about to see is very disturbing, and it is alright if you change your mind - many people do that". I wasn't thinking about "difficult" or "disturbing", for I knew that if you were in my place - you would go there without hesitation.
I must also confess that there was an easier way to make up my mind - I was thinking that this is "just an unavoidable ugly part", that I'd walk in, take a look, draw a check-mark in my list, then walk out; that would be a job well done. I then imagined how I would tell you the story of how it went, what I felt and what I thought about it, we'd get a hell of a laugh out of it, you would add a few stories of your own (like the one with the guy who walked with a piece of an arm in his bag for a few days, then threw it out, and then the police began an investigation because someone found a hand in the trash).
I tried to hide behind a few layers of abstraction and handle this as a pattern matching problem: scan an object, compare it with a template, determine the similarity, return a number between 0 and 100%.
I entered the first room, "the big waiting room", as Seinfeld would probably call it. I saw boxes of various sizes, colours; some had bells and whistles, some were just a plain wooden box. There were crowns of flowers, unlabeled ones, generic ones, as well as personalized ones...
"In the memory of %s\n\n%s-%s"...
That would be a good time to take a break and reconsider the decision, but the decision was made and I had to stick to it. After all, it was just a game.
The other parts of the building were different. The corridors reminded me of the Soviet era - familiar materials, the occasional non-working light-bulb here and there. The smell was different. There were no people around, probably because it was late. Here's a map of what I can remember.
We continued our walk, the smell was getting more intense, empty beds could be seen on either side of the corridor. Empty metallic beds, with wheels, and sometimes - white sheets on top of them. Then I spotted something new - a metallic bed with wheels and a white sheet on top of it. Underneath the sheet I could recognize a familiar shape. You know, when you have a playful cat, sometimes the cat is in "hunt mode", it chases you. You hop onto the bed, hide under the blanket as fast as you can, covering all the holes - to make sure the attacker won't get you. The cat walks around, sniffs the blanket and finds a spot you've missed - your weak spot. You notice it, and you try to cover that too...
Those people were not hiding anymore.
It gave me a better picture of what I was about to see. I remembered a story my dad shared - as a student he and his colleagues were once given the mission to explore and sort the debris on the site of a plane crash. He said it was a very difficult experience, it was a futile attempt to assemble a puzzle, the pieces of which were mangled beyond recognition. Some were adults, some were little children. This isn't your average "practical laboratory assignment", even if you're in the army... I told myself that if he did it, so could I. Plus, I also knew I was doing it for you - there was no room for changing my mind.
More steps, more beds, more white sheets on top of people who were not playing "hide and seek" anymore, a foul smell, strengthening its grip on my lungs. Something changed in my stomach, breathing got problematic.
We met another guy; he was wearing a white lab-coat, probably an intern taking care of things in the absence of the regular staff. He took us along the corridor, his face showed no discomfort, he was calm. It was clear that he knew the place well. A few more turns, and we were in front of a door which looked different from the other doors. Yes, it was just as old and rusty as the other ones, but it felt heavier.
Another "are you sure?" warning flew past my ears. He opened the heavy door. Business as usual... He did it without hesitation, his face showed no emotions, although right now - as I write these lines, I cannot get this thought out of my mind - the thought that he was enjoying the situation. He turned on the lights, in a few moments a ventilator began humming somewhere in the background. The smell in the room hinted me that noise was the only product of the ventilator.
A matrix of 3x4, maybe 3x7 beds unfolded itself in front of me. The same type of metallic beds on wheels, they were not empty. There were no white sheets. I have never seen anything like that before.
Puzzles with missing pieces. Some pieces were there, but heavily distorted. The colours weren't right, some were too pale, others were too red; some looked violet to me, some were yellow. The shapes weren't right either - they were too twisted, some parts were simply torn off. It wasn't a merry picture. I looked around and figured that I would have to examine each of them closer. A sudden rush of optimism hit my brain - no one was recognizable, nothing. That was
good excellent news! I mean - it was bad news, some unlucky fellows didn't make it, but what do I care? I was looking for you, you weren't there - phew!
I cannot estimate the size of the room, but like I told you earlier - it seemed to be large enough to hold 3x7 beds, with almost no space between them. That meant that one couldn't walk around unless they moved the beds, playing a mixture of Tetris and Sokoban. I figured that they didn't reshuffle the beds simply because that's their definition of "practical joke" and they had to have some fun. I immediately ruled out the possibility that your hypothetical location would be somewhere on the opposite edge, or in the heart of the matrix.
The whole room was most likely operated as a stack - last in, first out. The new ones were close to the entrance, the old ones were far from it. The gradient of the age function would look like this:
For a few moments I felt like a kid. "Hey! I know the answer! I know the answer! Pick me! me!". I remembered my early school years, I had interesting classmates, there were always plenty of people who knew the correct answers; knowing the answer wasn't enough - you also had to be picked to get the honour to make it public.
The ones in immediate proximity were ruled out rather quickly.
An old man with long gray hair and a mustache. Certainly not.
A young fellow with a head that had didn't look very round to me. It was rather... squareish. If you took a cylinder and ran it through his head - he'd resemble Frankenstein, as depicted in cartoons. He had a very long stitch on his right leg, it didn't look good. His face was flat. The forehead was heavily bruised, there were dark patches here and there, contrasting with the overall light yellowish skin. Abnormally yellow, if you ask me. The nose appeared very small.
The eyes were small too, they were open. Brown eyes, of a small size; I wonder why. My guess is that the surrounding swollen tissue grew in volume. Just like the nails appear to grow longer after it happens, when in fact their size is constant - the skin dries and compresses, so a greater surface of the nail is revealed. This is the same principle, but having an opposite effect. It may not be the truth, but that's the best explanation I could come up with.
I took another look at the eyes, this was an opportunity to verify what the teacher told us once in a literature class - "the glare in their eyes is very intense". Maybe she was right, it definitely did not seem that I was looking at a matte surface. There was a glare, the subjective impression - more reflected light indeed.
The guy looked like a poorly designed wax figure, the work of a beginner - something that tried to appear human, but was obviously an imitation. A sloppy job, a fake. A child would pass by and say "Hahaha! Nice try! But you're not fooling me!".
His hair was short, dark brown. The face was not perfectly shaved, but I could say that he had had a shave in the recent past.
His mouth was slightly open. I could see a part of the two front teeth, they looked white.
If I recall correctly, one hand was on top of the other. It wasn't a joyful scene, but it wasn't you either; from my perspective - that was the best news of the day.
I turned back, my face displayed a light version of a smile, my eyes were saying "return False;". The guy says "no no, he's around, look better".
So I did, I did look around. I looked at the old man with long gray hair and a mustache, noted the fact that his skin was dark violet. I looked at the place where his left leg was supposed to be. I looked at the beds in the opposite corner of the room. I looked at the bed in front of me - nope. I looked at the ventilator, I looked at the flickering lights. Nope.
"No, look here", he said, with a playful voice. I double-checked. "It's not him", I said, looking at the square-headed guy with many bruises and patches of abnormal colours on his face. He approached him, and turned something on his hand, revealing a tag.
It had your name on it, spelled incorrectly - with an 'i' at the end. I pictured us fooling around, discussing how people distorted our names; this wasn't the worst possible way of spelling your name.
A name on a tag - it is just a set of characters on paper, some strokes of ink, nothing more. It proved nothing, and I wasn't going to believe that. Could they be fooling around? Maybe they did rearrange the beds after all?
Then the guy pulled out a plastic bag from under the bed, which had a conveniently placed tray underneath. Contents of the bag:
- a pair of black jeans;
- a hoodie;
- a cap;
- maybe something else that I don't remember.
Those were your black jeans. It was your black cap. It was your yellow hoodie with "Champion" on it. Your style and your clothes are very familiar; in fact - I am pretty sure I could enumerate 90% of your gear, and I am pretty sure you could do the same with my outfits.
Your yellow hoodie, I liked it very much. When I looked at it in the past, it made me feel comfort and warmth and softness. The warmth probably comes from the yellow-sun association.
That day, things were different. I felt distance, I felt cold and I felt fear. It was yellow, but it had dark red stains on it. Those were not traces of tomato-juice. They were almost black. Like sunspots.
I felt uneasy, but it wasn't the right time to think about myself... I ran things through my mind again, reviewed the pieces and assembled the big picture. Strange things began to happen.. Surprisingly, my mind was absolutely lucid, despite all the noise. I don't refer to the noise of that ventilator, I refer to a general deviation in the signal/noise ratio. Picture that someone is hitting your head repeatedly with a loud sound that keeps getting louder and more insisting, like in the beginning of the short version of "Omen" [I'm sorry, I know that you don't know it, but that is the best analogy I could come up with]. Despite the chaos, my reasoning was unhindered.
I pictured myself solving a very long and very complex mathematical exercise, with a lot of operations, an army of parentheses and fractions and exponents and unknowns. As you solve such an exercise, you trim it; you simplify it, you break it down into smaller components and solve each of them on the margins, cramming digits and text in the remaining patches of free space. You repeat that multiple times, eventually you are rewarded, if you made no mistakes - the original number-soup turns into an elegant "x = something". That time, it was "x = True".
For a moment, I felt heartless and cold, realizing that "x = True" was all I could think of. Is that my definition of "friendship"? Is that my definition of "loyalty"? That is my "elevated moral standard"? That is my "I'm always there when you need me"? That's what all the years since the sixth grade boiled down to? I felt like Dexter (no, another Dexter; I'm sorry, but you don't know him either). I felt inhuman. I felt unworthy of the "friend" title. Fortunately, I did not think of squeezing "best" somewhere in there, since we once both agreed that "best friend" is a flawed concept - it means that there is only one person whom you hold dear and respect, when in fact there are more people who deserve the same level of attention. Eh... that was many years ago... But...
I felt that I was looking at a complete stranger. Someone who is in no way attached to my memories, my image of you, the person who dominated my social circle, the person who was a part of practically all of my activities. An absolute disconnect. I was looking at a pointer that used to point to everything, but now it was pointing to NULL.
I walked away, repeating "Not him, something is not right" to myself, smelling my green hood - perhaps that would bring me back to that room, giving me a chance to find an error...
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Comment from: m [Visitor]
‘The guy looked like a poorly designed wax figure, the work of a beginner - something that tried to appear human, but was obviously an imitation. A sloppy job, a fake. A child would pass by and say “Hahaha! Nice try! But you’re not fooling me!".’
i don’t mean to compare, but yes. though something caught up eventually such that now i fear the sight of bodies more than i though I had reason to.
‘Those were your black jeans. It was your black cap. It was your yellow hoodie with “Champion” on it.’
[suddenly sleeplessness gained focus and gravity]
Comment from: gr8dude [Member]
So, I guess that means that all those sloppy wax figures are actually pretty good replicas.
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