Story and Illustration by: Chris Thompson
Henry went from darkness into complete and total light. It was harsh and saturating, penetrating him deeply at 186,000 miles per second. His consciousness screamed out in agony, resonating waves of suffering to every fiber of his being. Henry reached out his mind in an effort to control his muscles but was met by failure as those ancient connections misfired. He began to realize that even though his eyes were wide open he couldn’t see. I’m blind Henry screamed, but no sound escaped his paralyzed lips.
Suddenly without warning all Henry’s sensations came crashing back. As if being reborn he was experiencing a myriad of vibrations for the first time and the totality of the information overwhelmed him. Waves of perception washed over his being with the force of a tsunami, drowning the nothingness in a deluge of fresh awareness. A cacophony of sound like the roar of an approaching airliner assaulted his delicate hearing and Henry’s mind recoiled from the intrusion. The roar however quickly subsided, dissolving into streams of conversation and then further branching into rivulets of individual voices. A single voice above the din planted a seed of recognition deep in Henry’s fragile mind. It took root and grew quickly, branching and dividing, filling his consciousness until it smothered his sense of confusion in a bloom of understanding. Like a movie reel slowly powering up, Henry’s eyes began projecting this new reality on his consciousness. What he heard and saw caused him to suck in his breath and snap his eyes shut.
He recognized the voice of the person sitting before him but was baffled as to why he heard it. His eyes told him the person speaking was his friend Joaquin and that he was dining with him at Red Moon Panda, a cozy pan-Asian restaurant in The New Mission district of San Francisco. But what he just didn’t know-and what was so troubling that it made him momentarily forget the pain he was feeling-was what Henry was doing here with his friend. Joaquin was dead several years now and this conversation had most certainly happened in the past.
Henry opened his eyes slightly, his gaze falling to a hand, rigid and white-knuckled, griping the table before him. He recognized it as his own from the childhood scar that ran across the first and second knuckle of the index finger. A harsh odor of sweat suddenly stung Henry’s nostrils as his sense of smell rushed back in. He watched as the hand instinctively reached into his pocket, pulling out a handkerchief. It clutched the cloth to his mouth and Henry felt his eyes close as a wave of nausea struck. Did I make my hand do that? Henry thought. He wasn’t sure. It felt like he was an observer in his own body, looking out through someone else’s eyes on a reality that he did not understand.
“Henry. Henry. Are you ok?” Joaquin asked, his concern-laden voice startling Henry from a haze of confusion.
“I’m fine.” Henry managed to mumble. His mouth felt like it was full of sand and his lips were still numb. The words tumbled from his mouth like a row of books pitched from a shelf during an earthquake. “Just give me a moment Joaquin.”
Joaquin. Henry hadn’t said that name in a long time. Focusing his mind Henry concentrated intently on accepting his new reality. The sound of Joaquin’s voice stirred up feelings in Henry long since dormant and it took all his strength to finally lift his eyes to meet Joaquin anxious gaze.
Joaquin Emilio Tesagrande had been Henry’s best friend since childhood. He had an infectious energy that had powered Henry’s life and his intelligent and knowing eyes-which were more appropriately suited for a wizened old man-could sway Henry to believe anything he said. Henry had called him Jet growing up because of his initials but he secretly called him Flash. Henry’s fascination with Joaquin wasn’t unhealthy or creepy. It was more like the allure an older brother has for a younger one. Actually if you could have witnessed their interactions you would have said they were more truly like brothers than friends. Joaquin was lightning that Henry had bottled in a jar, dangerous to behold yet exciting to be around. Their closeness was all the more reason why Joaquin’s passing had affected Henry so strongly. His death punched a hole in Henrys life large enough to drive a truck through and from that moment forward he felt incomplete, like Peter Pan searching for his lost shadow. After his death Henry found himself looking for Joaquin in every passing car. In every face he met on the street. At every show he saw until eventually the wounds closed and Henry contracted inward. When Henry’s eyes finally locked with Joaquin’s he almost lost it all over again. Lost it like back when he had watched him quietly slip away on that hospital gurney, his friend’s pale, boney hand weakly embracing his own.
In the years since Joaquin’s death Henry had hardened his emotions, sealing off the pieces that allowed him to feel anything for people behind thick protective walls. Sheila had borne witness to the fortress he had built around these emotions and so strongly were they protected that even a seemingly reincarnated Joaquin couldn’t release them.
“Here Henry, drink some water.” Joaquin implored. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.” You have no idea Henry thought.
“I’m sorry Joaquin. I don’t know what’s come over me.” Henry replied automatically, some default portion of his personality trying to inject a sense of normalcy into an otherwise insane situation. What’s going on? Is this real? How can this be? Henry’s deeper consciousness raced through a thousand questions simultaneously. Each one demanded an answer and they orbited about his head like a halo of uncertainty, threatening to consume him.
“I gotta’ take a leak.” Henry blurted out suddenly, desperate for a moment of privacy. He rose jerkily from the table and would’ve knocked over his forgotten glass of water if it weren’t for Joaquin’s quick reflexes. His legs felt heavy and stiff like they were weighted down with stones and the initial act of standing up made Henry dizzy. Henry had to concentrate fully on moving each leg up and forward, backward and down. To the outside observer he had all the grace of a marionette controlled by a blind man as he made his way on unsteady legs to the toilet. Several times along the way he almost fell, his feet conspiring with his legs to topple him and he couldn’t help but notice more than one diner looking at him with concern.
He made it down the narrow hallway and came to a stop before a frosted glass door. The Japanese kanji for restroom had been beautifully scripted across its surface and Henry mouthed the word aloud. [o]tearai. Saying a silent prayer for help Henry knocked on the glass. A wave of relief washed over him as he found the room to be unoccupied. After several fumbles with the handle, he gained entrance to the sanctity of the small dark enclosure. He closed the door behind him and hastily slid the lock closed.
Locking the restroom door activated the rooms’ interior lighting. The restaurant manager had installed a GloWall and in an effort to control energy costs for his business had made it activated by engaging the lock. GloWalls were made from a paint-able phosphorescent material that glowed when it encountered a current. It came in every color imaginable and the manager had chosen bamboo green for the restroom. The illumination from the GloWall-which had been applied to the wall directly opposite the door-gave the tiny restroom a subtle verdant radiance, casting pleasing shadows about the space. Thankful for the privacy, Henry leaned his back against the door and let out a long shuddering sigh.
Henry let the muscles of his neck go slack. Lessening their control caused his head to roll lazily to its left, bringing a large framed picture of a moss covered Buddha statue into view. It was hung on the wall opposite the wash sink and it brought Henry great comfort to gaze upon it. After a few moments of quiet contemplation Henry turned his attention to his reflection in the mirror above the sink. He had just wiped some perspiration from his brow when he was startled by what he saw. There seemed to some kind of delay in his reflection as if his mirror image was a second behind him. Henry waved his hand back and forth and was shocked as the delay happened again. What the fuck? Henry mouthed. He immediately began to perspire as he felt his heart rate quicken. An uneasy fearful sensation spread warmly throughout Henry’s body as his hormone system flooded his bloodstream with adrenaline. Out at the limits of his perception he noticed that the framed Buddha print was beginning to shimmer as if slightly iridescent.
What the fuck? Henry whispered again to no one. He closed his eyes tightly, breaking his link to this reality as another wave of nausea overtook him. Grabbing either sides of the ceramic wash sink he held off a desire to pass-out. Bending down, he turned the faucet on full blast and splashed handfuls of cold water onto his weary face. After several cycles of this he slowly rose, the water running down his face in tiny rivulets, further moistening his already sweat soaked shirt. He opened his eyes and again stared himself down in the mirror. To his relief he found every thing to be back to normal-what ever that meant. His reflection was in sync and the Buddha print was solid and unchanged. What the hell was that? Henry thought to himself. He toweled himself off as best he could and ran his long fingers through his disheveled hair, pushing the sweat-soaked strands up and out of his eyes. “You look like shit Henry” he said aloud and pulling himself together as best he could, turned and made his way back to Joaquin.
Henry was starting to regain more control over his body and the walk back to the table was outwardly less erratic. Sitting himself down heavily he took a deep breath and grabbed the arm of a passing waiter, placing an order for a scotch on the rocks. Single malt. Any Glen would do.
He kept his head down and his gaze low waiting for the drink to appear in his field of view. He could feel Joaquin’s eyes boring into the top of his skull and the minutes it took for the drink to arrive seemed like days. When it finally appeared he reached out with trembling fingers and brought the cool brown liquor to his lips. It smelled of peat and smoke, two powerful aromas that sent shivers down Henry’s spine. He took a small exploratory sip and let the auburn-colored liquid linger in his mouth for a moment before swallowing it down. Instantly a familiar warmth washed over him and emboldened by it he took another large gulp. Feeling a bit more serene Henry lifted his head and met Joaquin’s confused gaze.
“You’re probably wondering what’s come over me right?” Henry asked finally.
“No shit.” Joaquin fired back. “One second we’re talking about that Jenny and the Lochness show we saw last week and how hot the lead singer is and whatnot and the next thing I know you go all limp on me. The light just goes out in your eyes like someone’s ripped out your battery. What the hell? And then you come to and you’re staring at me with this frenzied look on your face, opening and closing your mouth and blinking your eyes like a manic. What the fuck was that man? You’re not one of those automatons that Mitsubishi’s been spitting out are you? I mean that would explain a lot, but seriously what’s going on?”
How do I play this? Henry thought. Is this the real life? Has the existence I’ve been living since this moment been all a dream? He had no idea and no reference point from which to draw from but he was a gambling man and was willing to take a guess. A quick look around the restaurant left him with no further insight into the matter and shrugging his shoulders he decided to just dive in.
“Have you ever experienced déjà vu Joaquin?” Henry asked.
“Yeah. Sure Henry. Everyone has. They even have drugs now that can mimic it to some degree. However that distressed look on your face makes me think that you’re not talking about just some casual sensation of having experienced something before.” “No I’m not. I’m talking about something deeper Joaquin. Something elemental and more sinister nestled deep inside you. Have you ever felt that before? “No. Wait. Ummm, no. Definitely no.” Joaquin answered playfully. Henry was confident that he hadn’t but he still had to ask just to be sure. If Joaquin had said yes then that would mean that he knew more then he was letting on.
“How do you feel Joaquin? Henry asked taking a new tack. His voice wavered slightly as he spoke, a memory of Joaquin dying almost betraying him. “What do you mean? Like how do I feel about this conversation? Because I can tell you it’s a little unsettling.” “No. I mean how do you feel Joaquin? Like tell me about how you felt when you awoke this morning.” “Henry, I don’t understand. What does any of this…”
“Just do it Joaquin! Answer the goddam question!” Henry exclaimed, pounding his fist on the table.
The effect was powerful and several diners stopped abruptly in mid-conversation, their chopsticks frozen in space and their eyes locked on Henry as they awaited his next move. Henry watched wide-eyed as a series of concentric waves spread out from where his fist had struck the table, as if the surface were made of liquid. The undulations dispersed rapidly, giving up their implausible energy to the surrounding ether. “Jesus Henry. All right. Just calm down.” Joaquin pleaded, oblivious to the ripples. “Sorry. I’m just not in the mood for games right now.” Henry confessed feeling newly defeated. He ran his fingers through his damp brown hair. The ripples on the table had unnerved him, erasing any victories he had won in getting comfortable with this new reality. “Can you please just answer the question?” “Sure man. Well I felt a little hung-over this morning, you know, a few cobwebs in my head and such. But what of it? Carla brought over a bottle of thirty year old port last night and I might’ve had one drink too many. Nothing that popping a capsule or two of Fade-ex couldn’t fix right? “Ok. Sure. I remember Carla. Nice girl. Stunning blue eyes right? Nice legs. I liked her. Henry replied, a hint of warmness in his tone “Liked? What do you mean? We’re still together Henry. What the hell are you talking about?” “Listen Joaquin. You woke up this morning and felt a tightness in your chest right? You thought it was just indigestion from last nights take-out so you took some Tums and thought nothing of it. But then when you were brushing your teeth your left hand started shaking uncontrollably for a few minutes didn’t it?”
“Jesus Henry, you’re really weirding me out. How the hell did you know that?” “Because you told me already Joaquin.”
“What? How the fuck could I have told you that? It just happened to me this morning and this is the first time we’ve spoken all day.”
“Let’s get out of here Jet. I need some fresh air and a place where I can feel more relaxed if we’re going to really have this conversation.”