Augustus and the Whisper (II/?)

“A Most Particular Darkness”

Augustus shuffled away from the bar after his rousing discussion of the inefficiencies of nineteenth-century whaling came to an abrupt end.

It truly never even began.

Frankie figured that a drunk jawing on about whales and scrimshaws would drive off the few customers who were left, so he told Augustus it was closing time. 

It was no matter.

Augustus hadn’t contemplated the practicality of whaling enough to form a strong opinion.

Up until a few moments ago, he was set on putting his house up for sale and heading straight to California to dig around for gold. And then he started to think about whaling and its big ideas, and all the golden opportunities it could bring.

But he needed to compress, and slow down a bit. No need to head off to the shores of Nantucket, at least without a clear sense of direction.

So he rose from his bar stool and headed out the front door, finishing off his pint before he stumbled out into the night. 

From outside, he noticed the bar closer resembled a shack than some sort of mediocre example of brick and mortar twenty-first century architecture. It was isolated, off the beaten path, and shoddily built with aluminum siding. 

I’m aware that “off the beaten path” was one of Augustus’ favorite phrases. He didn’t say it too much.

But he liked the phrase whenever he came across it.

*

He heard a voice, not a whisper, but a loud and drunken voice, calling his name from inside the shack.

He turned around and looked back at his watering hole.

A fairly large sign that read “Frankie’s” in illuminated letters hung above his head. The “F” was out and it now read “Rankie’s”. 

“Augustus!” called the voice, again. The door swung open and out stumbled Hal, struggling to put on his jacket.

“Hal?” 

“It’s late—or early, I guess. Too early to be walking alone.”

“You live toward my place?”

“Yes, close by.”

Augustus didn’t know exactly where Hal lived, but figured it couldn’t be too far away, or else Hal would end up being the one walking home alone when he probably shouldn’t.

There’s so many things to worry about these days. It’s not like it had been back when Augustus was a kid, after all.

Now there were gangs and mass murderers and pedophiles, and they were all out there somewhere in the dark. Maybe they weren’t in this particular darkness, but they were out there somewhere. 

And that’s a fact.

Maybe I’m being presumptuous again, but many humans seemed to believe it was better when all anyone had to fear was mutual destruction by angry old white men.  

I try to understand.   

*

But off into the darkness the odd couple marched, with only the occasional automobile headlight lighting their way.

Home wasn’t all too far away and the sidewalk would lead them right to Augustus’ doorstep.  

“Frankie’s a good guy, ain’t he?” spouted Augustus.

His words abruptly broke the serene silence of their drunken trek.

“Oh, yes. I think,” responded Hal. 

“I think, too,” said Augustus. “Doesn’t seem to say much, though.”

“Seems to speak when he wants you gone,” countered Hal.

“The nerve of that guy,” said Augustus, as he shook his head and focused harder on the ground beneath his feet. 

“How much further?”

“Not much. Just around this bend.”

The road took a hard left turn ahead, and Turnabee Place was just beyond. 

*

Aside:

On the night the odd couple left Frankie’s and walked back home, Augustus was indeed correct in calling it Turnabee Place. But later, he will rename his street Whirling Place.

He renamed it because he could.

And it’s undoubtedly more fitting, and I credit Augustus in this particular matter.

But that’s all the jumping ahead I care to do right now.  

*

“Turnabee Place is my street,” said Augustus.

“Ah.” 

“What’s a Turnabee anyways?”

The odd couple continued to stumble onward, while nothing of note occurred, except for Hal’s insistent tying of Augustus’ shoes. 

That was odd even by the odd couple’s standards. 

But they were to the driveway, now, and they pushed their way through the overgrown trees and bushes. He would have to trim the jungle eventually, and his mailbox needed some fresh paint, too.

Might as well start tomorrow.

It’s funny the way things seem to go, if you’re not in on the joke.

*

Hal left Augustus, laces securely knotted, at the front door.

“I believe you can take it from here, my friend,” said Hal.

He’s done it many times before, after all. 

Hal left him almost unnoticeably, until Augustus fumbled his key as he took it from his jacket pocket, and dropped it off the porch. Hal turned to help him look for it, but Augustus waved him on. 

“I got it. I got it. I’ll see you later. Okay?” 

“Yeah—later, Augustus,” said Hal, as he walked away from the house and down the driveway, and back out into the dark.

Again, Augustus hoped he didn’t live too far away, but I’m aware Hal Holloway did not, in fact, live nearby.

Augustus picked the keys out of the bushes below the porch, and turned back toward the front door.

He inserted the key, turned the handle, kicked the bottom of the door twice, smacked the door thirteen inches above the knob with his left fist, making sure that his index finger’s knuckle made contact first, and proceeded to walk inside.

As Hal figured, he had indeed done this before.

*   

The Sweetbriar residence wasn’t much of anything; not now at least. It was his mother’s before she bit the dust on Christmas Eve’s eve. 

Poor thing. 

He had no job, so he had to sell most of the furniture and china in order to pay for all the pale ales, even when they seemed to always come right back up. 

I wish I could’ve given Augustus a tip or two about proper money management, because he never seemed to get his money’s worth.

But it was a three-bedroom, two-floor brick home, unlike the aluminum siding of the bar he frequented too often. Augustus didn’t deserve this much and he knew it—just liked to forget it. 

He eventually undressed and fell on to his bed, falling asleep quickly and soundly, with no voice whispering to him to tell him to go away.

He wouldn’t hear the whisper if it tried.

At times like these, Augustus was at peace, if only momentarily. 

But could he sense the significance of this humdrum peace? I’m not the one to ask, but if I had to guess I’d think he understood.

Somehow, someway.

And I’d think that was good enough for him. I’d think that he loved the way his mind was at ease when he slept, and all his troubles relieved, if only for the night.  

He likely appreciated the short break from the outside world, and all its chaos, and decisions, and responsibility, and madness.

But I could be wrong. 

The Death-Moment (Part One)

All I ever wanted was the comfort and simplicity I rightly deserved. I’d grown accustomed to my habits and personal preferences, and I wanted everything to stay the same. Perhaps my placid satisfaction was my undoing.   

Perhaps not. 

Nevertheless, I was kept out of the loop of my future endeavors. And it was quite a big loop, most would agree, even all the kids who played everyday on their Hot Wheels track. 

After I would settle down for bed, after I stopped watching re-runs of Ancient Aliens, and closed my eyes to sleep, I would dream of aging. I know, it’d be easy to label me unusual for dreaming of coming closer to death. 

But most people dream of death in their own way. 

I wanted to be an ornery man complaining about the latest generation’s gall to be a little different. I wanted to give customer service an unreasonably hard time. 

I’ve done my time, and all I wanted was a little respect. 

Yet, as I answered my front door on the morning of Christmas Eve’s eve, I was greeted by an animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer. And as I stared into the cold, empty eyes of the electronically resurrected killer, I crossed my fingers and toes, desperately hoping I would fare alright. I was a middle-aged man and middle-aged men usually weren’t killed serially. 

They often inclined on doing the serial killing themselves. 

I won’t bore you with all the numerous, minute details about the surreal encounter, because it’s actually not important how I died. At least, in regard to the gruesome details and such. I’d rather forget them myself.  

What’s more important is what happened after.

But I can give you a little more:

The animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer, who showed up on my doorstep in Louisville, Kentucky, was part of Bud’s Famous Killers. Bud Gibbly was the owner of an extravagant collection of the world’s most famous serial killers, which traveled from town to town during the summer months. Bud was actually an extremely, insignificant man, and he might’ve known it, too.  

It’s not far-fetched to say that creating a gang of robotic serial killers was the only noteworthy act Bud ever did. 

But that single, noteworthy act was a doozy.

So, the animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer escaped from Bud’s gang, and, after wandering Frankfurt Avenue and Bardstown Road for hours and possibly attaining some slight sense of consciousness and freedom, found his way to my home. 

We peered into each other’s eyes. 

And then he killed me. 

And then he ate me. 

Officially, Leland Lewis was declared deceased at 9:34 AM, dead under unusual circumstances. All the police found were a couple organs that didn’t interest the killer, a few of my ugliest fingers, and half an ear in the flowerless pot next to the front door. The killer was probably a little upset, or as upset as a robot can get, that he wasn’t able to keep two intact ears.

My ears, I’ve been told, were the best feature about me. 

But the pieces of me that remained at the scene of the crime were enough to confirm my death, since it’s pretty difficult to live without a brain—no matter if it’s right or left. 

There are some things we all tend to agree upon, after all.       

And since he was an animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer, it’s possible that my bits and pieces could still be around, jangling around inside of his metallic shell, wherever the killer robot might happen to be. 

Because no one knows. 

So, if what’s left of my family wants to have a proper burial, and honor the man they both despised and loathed, they might want to hire an investigator. Or at least watch a lot of Forensic Files and give it a go themselves.

But that’s a lot of effort.

They’ll settle on cremating what they retrieved at the scene of the crime, instead of risking getting eaten alive, too. And I don’t blame them. 

Jeffrey Dahmer is, once again, at large.

*

Leland died but wasn’t gone for long. He took a moment to cool down (he got quite sweaty in his death-moment), and was carried out of the sleeping den and into the office of Dr. Wise-Man with relative ease. 

Sometimes the sacks twist and turn when you touch them for the first time. It’s always an inconvenience to the endlessly busy schedules of the Reckoners, as they’re informally called, and all too often an unruly sack is sent back indefinitely if it’s too unruly. 

But Leland didn’t have a bit of unimportance on his flesh anymore, and an ordinary Reckoner would overlook a bit of his unruliness, all because of the odd animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer incident.

The odds of another Jeffrey Dahmer attack after he had his death-moment decades before, were incalculable.  

Anomalies, like in Leland’s case, require an incident report. Usually the reports are bland and stale, but every once in a while there’s a fresh, wide-eyed Reckoner that likes to spice them up a bit—shoot for creative non-fiction and such. 

Leland’s incident report was summarized by Helen Sleep-No-More:

The deceased, Leland Lewis, came to a tragic, and unusual, end on the morning of December 23rd, 2018. Jeffrey Dahmer showed up on his doorstep. Yes, the same Jeffrey Dahmer that tested the people years and years ago. But this Jeffrey Dahmer was an even colder, calculated killer.

And I write this not in evaluation of the ethical deterioration of a twisted man’s soul! Our old Jeffrey indeed was a little warmer and had a few less 0’s and 1’s than the one that visited Leland. He was animatronic, and for some odd reason my fellow Reckoners and I are unable to find out how he found his way to Leland’s doorstep, or why he was around at all! 

Something odd is afoot. 

—Helen Sleep-No-More, Reckoner 3621 

Helen’s father was a historian and mother was a cartoonist. 

But, as Leland slouched in the cushioned chair in front of the desk of Dr. Wise-Man, he twitched and moaned, as most of the fresh sacks do after their death-moment. He opened his eyes slowly, and then suddenly, after a wad of the morning newspaper thudded against his brow in an attempt by Dr. Wise-Man to accelerate the process. 

Leland never noticed the article describing his death-moment on the front page of the wad of newspaper. The public was quite interested in an otherwise uninteresting process. 

*

“Leland,” a voice said. It was faint, as if far, far away. “Leland, I am Dr. Wise-Man. Wake up, son.”

I opened my eyes and gazed at the man sitting across from me. He was clean-shaven, and wore a black suit. Obviously he wasn’t God—or a god—he was too boring. Or maybe he wasn’t boring enough?

He wasn’t old, either. He couldn’t even have his AARP card yet. 

And everyone knows God is an old man and has a big beard, and He definitely doesn’t work in an office. Maybe from home, but never in a bland office building.  

Hmph. 

And as I was about to open my mouth to respond to this strange man claiming to be some sort of doctor, he held up his finger, and said, “Before you ask me, ‘Where am I?’, or, ‘Wasn’t I killed by an animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer?’, let me speak for a moment, please.” 

His speech bordered on the monotone, with brief interruptions of pitch fluctuations, as if purposely breaking his unstrained speech in conscience recognition of its monotony. 

“You’re sitting in an office on the 177th floor, Leland,” he said, pointing to the window. “Do you not want to hear what a man, who occupies a floor as high off the ground as this, would have to say?”

I nodded. 

“You’re obviously confused. Your last moment on Earth, your death-moment as we call it, you found yourself being stabbed and eaten—alive, at first—by a robot killer. It was quite painful, I know. We hope that the pain is at least partially forgotten. Not everyone is unlucky enough to go through that, so we’re especially sorry about it. But we, sadly, can’t take all the pain away. Memories are easy to tinker with, but exceptionally strong emotions prove more difficult. But we do our best.”

He wasn’t making much sense. I wondered who he meant by “we”, and I was getting progressively sweatier the more confused I got. 

But he went on as if he read my thoughts. 

We are the Reckoners. We take the fresh sacks, like yourself, and acclimate them to society. It’s odd and frightening for a while, but in time they get used to it. We all have to get used to it,” he said. “Go ahead, speak, ask me your question.”

“But where am I?” I asked. 

I was proud of myself for even getting those four measly words out. 

“Well, Leland,” Dr. Wise-Man responded, “you’re on Earth. Not the one you’re used to, but the real one. You’re finally out of our simulation.”

And that’s when I fainted. 

*

Perhaps Dr. Wise-Man was too blunt when he dropped the simulated bomb on Leland, but fainting was common for fresh sacks, and almost expected with those that had undergone a death-moment as unusual and startling as Leland’s. 

So, as the black curtain closed over Leland’s eyes, Dr. Wise-Man buzzed for the receptionist to come retrieve him and take him to the cooling-off zone a hundred floors down. It was all procedure, and Leland wouldn’t be of much use in explaining his death-moment anomaly, anyhow.

That was the doctor’s job. At least it was up to him to relegate the work to his underlings. 

He had read Helen Sleep-No-More’s brief report, but since his first meeting with Leland had ended so abruptly, he’d need her for a more substantial discussion. And no doubt Helen had been continuously at work, determined to discover the cause of the abnormal death-moment. 

She was top of her class, after all. Her life, before she died and woke again, was that of a workaholic, always pursuing a career that would lead her nowhere. But she always maintained an everlasting passion for her tedious work.  

Helen was an auditor, and a good one, too. 

“Dr. Wise-Man,” said Deborah. 

“Ah, Deborah, I was about to tell you to call Helen for me. I need to speak to her.”

“Actually, doctor,” Deborah said, “that’s why I called. Helen’s out here waiting for you. She said you need to come with her. She has something to show you.”

“Well, alright,” answered Dr. Wise-Man. 

He rose out of his seat to meet Helen in the lobby. Usually, his underlings came to him, and he would decide if he were to leave his office on the 177th floor or not. But he appreciated Helen’s initiative, so long as it brings about results and doesn’t waste valuable time. That’s what the first life was for. 

The second life is for getting things done. 

“Ah, Helen,” he said, shaking her hand, “have you gotten any closer to solving this little riddle?”

“Actually, I have, sir,” said Helen. 

“So what’s the problem?” 

“It might be easier if I just show you. All my work is down in the Maintenance Room.” 

Dr. Wise-Man was particularly frustrated he had to leave his office. Again, he was on the 177th floor. But he agreed to accompany Helen down to the Maintenance Room in order to see what she’d discovered about Leland’s mysterious incident. 

He turned to Deborah, and said, “Make sure Leland gets to cooling safely. He’ll likely be out for awhile.” 

Deborah smile and nodded, and Dr. Wise-Man followed Helen to the Maintenance Room, eagerly awaiting her results. 

*

I opened my eyes and saw a lot of people who looked as messed up as myself. We were all laying in chambers, and, as far as I could tell, I was the only one conscience.

The room was large, and we faced each other in the form of a circle, with some sort of elaborate console in the middle. 

I remembered the look on the doctor’s face as he said “simulation”, and I remembered the loss of blood to my head, and I remembered the darkness. 

Apparently I wasn’t in Heaven, or Hell, or a dream. Apparently I was finally in the real world. And I knew it had to be true, and couldn’t be a ridiculous dream, because all I ever dreamed about was getting older. 

Now I’m wondering if that will ever happen. 

But then I heard a door swing open, and listened quietly as the footsteps came closer. I remained still and closed my eyes, and the footsteps ceased. 

I heard someone fumbling with buttons on the elaborate console, and then I started to move.

The chamber I was restrained in lifted completely out of the ground and glided towards the middle of the room, towards the mysterious figure operating the controls. 

And then I opened my eyes to see a woman undoing the straps that restrained my arms and legs. She jumped, obviously not expecting my quick recovery. 

“You’re awake,” she said, still undoing my straps. 

“Too awake,” I said, still drowsy. 

“You’ll get used to it. But you have to come with me now.”

“Why the hurry?”

“Because they’ll be after you,” she said. “And they’ll be after me.”

“All I did was die,” I said, as she finished undoing the straps.

I tried to stand, but my legs collapsed, and she caught me before I fell. 

“You did much more than that, Leland,” she responded. 

“Who are you?”

“Helen Sleep-No-More. Reckoner 3621,” said Helen. She held out her hand and I shook it. “Now we better get out of here before the doctor wakes up.”

“Doctor Wise-Man?” I asked. 

“The same—are you coming?” 

“Yes.” 

She held out her hand, and I took it, and we ran out the door. We ran far away from the Cooling-Off Zone, and the Maintenance Room, and the 177th floor, and all the fresh sacks, and Doctor Wise-Man. 

For now.