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SEEING WITHOUT EYES
Sequence 1 is filmed in colour, although this fact is only apparent at the end. The camera is attached to the ceiling in a narrow hallway, facing directly towards a door. The hallway walls are painted with peeling grey paint - or so it must be assumed. The light is too dim to distinguish colours. There is a rotary telephone sitting on a small stand about half-way between the cameraís viewpoint and the door.
There is another door on the left-hand side of the hall.
The floor of the hallway is bare concrete. There are a few scuffmarks and stains of some sort. There is also a discarded cigarette packet.
This is not a clue.
The soundtrack, previously a hiss of recorded silence, records a grinding noise, tires on gravel, then footsteps. The door at the end of the hallway opens. For a moment, weak evening sun illuminates part of the corridor. Yellow light picks out every scratch and blister in the paintwork, and confirms that the slightly darker stain is rusty red blood.
Brian Novak walks through the door and closes it carefully behind him. He has two plastic grocery bags in one hand. He is well dressed, slightly overweight, nervous. He glances up at the camera, then puts the bags down on the floor. He reaches up, his hands vanishing out of the field of vision. He removes a piece of wood, and it becomes apparent for the first time that the camera is concealed in the ceiling. Novak checks the cameraís lens and film, ensuring that it is still recording. He then replaces the covering, reaches into his jacket, and removes a halloween mask.
He leaves by the door on the left. For a moment, television set, a blanket, ropes, pizza boxes can be seen but then the door is closed and there is nothing but the grey entryway.
Sequence 1 was erased 44 hours, 26 minutes after it was recorded.
* * *
My alarm wakes me before 6.
Good morning Graceland.
I reach out. My fingers brush against the off button of the alarm clock, then close around the comforting weight of my Talisman. For a moment, I feel God, far away in New Jersey. Itís that feeling that gives me the energy to get up out of bed every morning. Itís that feeling that lets me keep going despite it all.
The motel room is small and smells primarily of some air freshener halfway between citrus and agent orange. I donít trust the plumbing here, so I skip the shower. I pull on threadbare jeans and a t-shirt, grab my wallet and Talisman. I check my wallet again, although Iím not expecting a miracle. Iíve enough for breakfast, barely. I check to make sure a quarter hasnít got lodged behind the American Express Gold card, but Iím out of luck.
God, why do you test me with cheap coffee?
The bus into Graceland is nearly empty. I sit near the back, and pass the time with silent prayer. Two fat people get on. They see me praying, and scowl like theyíve just stepped in sometime. Fuck them. Iíve seen the face of God. I do His Work. Theyíre nothing to me.
One of them starts eating a breakfast roll. Ok, theyíre not quite nothing - Iím too hungry to ignore that. I try to remember the last time I ate properly, and I canít. The money situation is getting increasingly dire. I sold my laptop in Boston, my watch in New York and my car in Washington. Iíll find something, though. God provides.
And the bus stops outside Graceland.
* * *
if they find out if they find out what will I do? Heís asked me to take time off work and if I donít heíll tell them and Iíll be fired and then Iíll have nothing and I wonít be able to oh god what will I do what will I do? This is all wrong this is all so so fucked up no thatís last quarterís printout, weíll need to get this quarterís figures and go through them before 3 yeah all of them well call him do I have to do everything for you I mean seriously what are they paying you for? Oh shit donít shout at her I canít afford to rock the boat now not when everythingís gone wrong like this not when Iím in this deep not when I canít back out smile say itís all going to be fine Iíve done this before just run it through the macro on the q-report spreadsheet thatíll sort it out Now Iíve got to talk to the boss just walk in there and tell him tell him what? A family problem, which it sort of is really hi boss I need to take a week or two off to take care of the kid I kidnapped so a deranged video fetishist wonít send you the pictures of me getting high well Iíll rephrase that slightly when I talk to him
* * *
Brianís coffee is lukewarm and unpleasant, but he still takes a sip and rolls it around his mouth. He doesnít notice the taste. He doesnít notice the blue screen of death on his computer, telling him that the video editing software has crashed taking an hourís work with it. He doesnít notice the thump from the ceiling upstairs as something heavy falls in the office upstairs. Brianís near-pathological focus on the screen in front of him is one reason heís very good at what he does.
The phone rings nearly a dozen times before he hears it. He reaches out to answer it, blinking as he tries to remember how to communicate verbally. He hits pause on the editing deck with one hand as he picks up the handset with the other. The picture of a pale, tear-streaked face freezes on the monitor.
"Hi, Brian here."
Itís Nan. He holds the phone away from his ear while Nan jabbers at him. He rolls his eyes as he mentally edits her diatribe, picking out the important things.
"So youíve got the time off? There werenít any problems?"
"No, not really. I mean, theyíre fairly pissed at me, but Iíve done it, I can stay at the house" she says.
"Good. Get over there now. Pick up food on the way."
"Who, whoís watching...it at the moment?Ē
"You donít need to know that. There wonít be anybody at the house except the kid by the time you get there."
"I need some, Brian."
"Not until this is over."
He puts the phone down. He puts fresh coffee on. He restarts the video.
There is a problem.
* * *
Sequence 2 begins with a kitchen.
It is uncertain why the room is a kitchen. The appliances have long since been removed, and the cabinets and cupboards are broken, empty, or both. The coffee table obviously does not belong in this room either. From the perspective of the camera, this room is no more suited to food preparation than any other room in the house. Still, itís a kitchen.
Nan enters the kitchen carrying two grocery bags. She is dressed in a long hooded rain-jacket, even though itís a dry evening. She is also wearing sunglasses.
This ensemble attracted some attention while she was driving to this house, as she looks exactly like someone nervously trying to hide their identity.
Nan unpacks the groceries, and realises thereís no place to coke the food she bought. She takes out a cellphone and stares at it for a moment, wondering if kidnappers can order pizza to their hideout. Eventually, she compromises with bags of chips and cans of soda.
She leaves the field of vision bearing a junk-food bounty, a cheery smile on her face, terrible sorrow and guilt in her eyes.
The soundtrack is not sensitive enough to pick up the sound of crying.
Nan reenters the field of vision. She puts the unopened chips and soda back into the grocery bags, then sits on the table next to them holding her head in her hands.
Sequence 2 was erased 27 hours 10 minutes after it was recorded.
* * *
Itís easy to beat the queues at Graceland. The number of insomniac Elvis fans is surprisingly small. I wait outside for the doors to open at 8. Normally, visitors are only allowed into the mansion as part of a tour, but Iíve been here so often they make an exception. The staff are getting used to me being here every morning. Most of them just ignore me as they walk in. A few of them nod or smile.
They know not what they do. A servant of God waits for them; a servant of God stands outside their door; a servant of God sips terrible coffee from the only refreshment stand open at this hour.
Itís almost time. I carefully dispose of the coffee cup in one of the many waste receptacles thoughtfully provided by the management of Graceland to ensure you have a clean and pleasant visit. The Talisman is a hunk of burning metal against my skin as I step over the threshold. Elvis omnipresent. Every picture is an icon, every song a hosanna. Invisible crackling threads of power leap between display cases and framed golden discs.
God explained this to me, back in New Jersey. People have made false gods all across America. The worship that is His due is divided among a thousand thousand idols and empty altars. The media tears the Body of God asunder. Here, at the Church of the Fatted Rhinestone Calf, I will steal that worship back for God.
Did I mention, though, that I really hate Elvis?
I hurry through Graceland. With every step, the Talisman grows hotter and heavier, but I need to go deeper.
I pass the wall of televisions.
I refuse to take a tour of Elvisí childhood.
The Elvis & Col. Parker story cannot stay my path.
After 40 years in the plush wilderness, I enter the Holiest of Holies. The door is locked, but I have the key. I place the Talisman of God upon the Throne of the King after wiping the seat down with double-ply kind'n'soft toilet paper. There is a sound like thunderous rushing water as the Eye of God opens in the Talisman and accepts my small offering.
Graceland is a little dimmer now, a little smaller.
Same time tomorrow, O Lord?
* * *
Iíve never liked cameras I mean certainly not since - but even before that, theyíve always scared me a little camera time isnít like normal time itís always in the past you never see now on a camera not even when they say itís live on the camera always seems to know whatís coming it knows what to focus on where to point where to look when they made...that movie I didnít know what was going on but the camera did the camera did the camera did god if Iíd known what it knew I felt so so so hurt and scared and shamed and exposed and everything oh it was awful and just thinking about it makes me angry furious murderous and scared and oh hell I need some Novak better come through on this donít think about that think about the kid you donít even know his name and look at what youíve done to him poor child if only heíd understand but hell no-one does you fucked up screwed up moron look at him in the corner staring at you scared out of his wits poor thing look at what youíve done to him oh god
Do something for once in your life.
* * *
The angles of the walls and ceiling suggest that the camera is mounted in a corner. From this lofty vantage point, the field of vision encompasses a dark room. There are a number of blankets and the broken corpse of a sofa in the far corner. Closer to the foreground, we see an empty packet of chips and a pizza box.
The camera is focussed on the face of a young child. He sits, a blanket wrapped tightly around him. His face is expressionless. His pale face is like that of a statue or a discarded toy. Zenlike, betraying no emotion, empty.
Nan sits against the wall, near the child. Sheís speaking, but once again the microphone cannot pick up her words.
The boy doesn't respond to Nan's words. She perseveres.
Sequence 3 was erased 22 hours 31 minutes after it was recorded.
* * *
Nan's lips blur, then she stands, walks backwards to a bag on the floor, takes out an apple core and vomits flesh onto it. The apple is whole and undamaged as Brian hits pause. He taps, moves back frame by frame, looks into the childís blank face.
A bizarre anger wells up inside him. How dare the child fail at the simplest possible thing? When youíre kidnapped and thrown into an abandoned house by strangers, is it that hard to be bloody good and miserable? Doesnít he realise heís ruining everything?
Never work with children or animals, thinks Brian.
Something has to be done.
* * *
Sequence 4 is very short.
It was shot from the same camera that recorded Sequence 3.
Nan's mobile phone rings.
In a manner characteristic to humans of the modern day, she excuses herself and turns her back on the sobbing, frightened child behind her to answer the phone.
An expression of horror crosses her face. After a few moments, she hangs up. Her hand falls to her side. The phone slips from nerveless fingers to the floor.
Sequence 4 was erased 21 hours 40 minutes after it was recorded.
* * *
Iím being followed. Iím not sure how I know, but I can feel their eyes on me. Itís a warm, sticky evening, but thereís this cold spot on the small of my back that wonít go away. I hurry through the streets, the crowds clotting as I try to escape. I remember being mugged in New York, years ago, but it was nothing like this. This is broad daylight, this is the legions of hell against the servant of God.
I catch a glimpse of the demonís face in the wing mirror. I am so James Bond.
Big Latino guy, tattooed. Earring. Ugly as sin. God warned me about skinmen, demons who can change shape and warp flesh. The Talisman around my neck is suddenly much heavier.
Country music blares from a record shop door. I dart inside into the air-conditioned darkness. Thereís an escalator to the next floor. I push past fat people by sitting on the rubber banister. I glance behind me, and heís coming in the main door. I nearly fall off the escalator when I reach the top, Iím stumbling forward into the contemporary section. I duck down behind Eminem and desperately think of a way out of here.
Heís a flesh demon. He can tear me apart if he touches me. He can flay the flesh from my bones likeÖlikeÖsome flesh-flaying deboning machine. All I need to do is stay one step ahead of him, to put my trust in God, and somehow take him down from a distance. I begin to regret not buying a gun. Inspiration strikes. Underneath the display of CDs are shelves containing old stock or something, and the metal handle on one of them is loose. I wrench it off, and one end is nice and sharp. Someoneís moving on the far side of this cd rack. I crawl down the aisle, the metal taste of the handle in my mouth.
A flashback to ĎNam would happen around now if Iíd been there.
Instead, Britney Spears begins to squeal.
A shadow looms over me. Iím about to whip the metal handle out of my mouth, roll onto my back and stab up at the stomach when she says
ďSir, please get up off the floor. Youíre upsetting the other customers. If you donít, Iíll have to call security.Ē
I stand up and look around. Thereís no sign of the demon. I mumble an apology to the store clerk. Everyoneís looking at me. I hurry back to the escalator and step on. Going down the stairs is hard, itís like walking against the wind, but my faith in God keeps me going and a minute later Iím back in the light.
Where I bump right into the demon.
Hot Memphis sun flares above me. I hear shouting. I shoulder someone out of the way, leap onto a car hood and jump out into the road. Horns scream at me. The devilís children all around. I run legs burning lungs burning get away get out of here. Another person gets in my way and we crash into each other, she falls against the wall and I keep running and running and oh god out of here.
Behind me, the Latino man stops to help the woman I knocked over back to her feet.
ďAre you all right, lady?Ē
ďJust got the wind knocked out of me,Ē says Lenora Washington.
* * *
It's not right not right at all i have to do something i cant go on like this its not right but oh im scared no have to be strong have to stand up to him but but but what should i do hes all alone i should have done it at all oh but but but Brian said he'd show that video and said he'd get me oh i need it ive got to do something it's not right right at all
* * *
Sequence five was recorded from the same camera as sequence 2. The kitchen is empty. The grimy window reveals that it is night outside.
The digital clock on the camera display reveals that it's 03:33.
Trust your electronic equipment.
Nan enters the field of vision. She looks up at the camera, then steps closer. After twelve seconds, the picture shakes, and then shifts wildly. Glimpses of kitchen floor, lightbulb, Nan's elbow are caught, then a black circle covers the field of vision.
The camera continues recording the blackness of the inside of the lens cap.
There are gradiations of darkness, between the perfect black of no signal to the shadow-on-shadow of a dark empty room. No light can possibly penetrate into this void between lens and barrier, but still the eye searches for shapes, for movement, for meaning. Do we detect an impossible tinge of panic?
The camera continues recording sound. Footsteps. A car door.
"Look...I've got this camera. I...what can you give me for it?"
"Let me take a look at it...this hot?"
"Not really. It's, uh, not mine, but the guy who owned it won't be reporting it stolen any time soon."
"Sure. 'course, if you're wrong, I'll call round and break your legs. Just business."
"Fuck you. What can you give me for it? I need it really badly?"
"I'll sort you out. Leave that here and come in the back."
Silence. The digital clock ticks on to 04.20.
"Yeah. Fucked-up bitch."
"That shit you sold her looked a bit funny."
"Funny haha or funny peculiar?"
"Fuck it. Nice camera though."
"Hey it's still on."
And it all goes dark.
Sequence 5 has not been erased.
* * *
Running from the demon made me miss my bus. I fumble for my keys in the darkness. The hallway outside my room looks like it should smell like piss and rotting garbage, but actually still smells of citrus. The security camera in the hall watches me. Once, God watched over us all. Now He's diminished, and they watch us now. As flies to wanton machines are we, they watch us for their sport.
Before I lay me down to sleep, I kneel at the end of my bed little a little child and pray.
God hears me. He calls (collect), and we talk for a few minutes. I tell Him all about the demons and the record store, and He counsels me. Move on, He says. Go west. I say, God, what about the demons, and He says to be strong in my faith.
And in my fist.
Iíve still got the metal handle from the record store.
Be strong, He says, and hangs up.
I will be strong.
I will overcome.
I will walk in the Shadow of Death and I will fear no evil.
I will hunt down and slay the flesh demon, for God has commanded me to do this thing, and all the forces of hell cannot stop an anointed servant of the Almighty. Tremble before me, ye SERVANTS OF SATAN, for AN ANGEL COMES FOR THEE!
The people in the room next door stop having sex long enough to bang on the wall and tell me to keep it down.
I fall asleep. I wake up. Knock knock.
I answer the door. Itís a little old black woman, dressed in a raincoat.
ďSo youíre the one whoís been harvesting off GracelandĒ she says.
ďYouíre the one whoís invaded my turf,Ē she says.
ďIt has to stop,Ē she says, but I donít say anything. It all clicks in my head, right then - sheís the demon in disguise. The metal spikeís in my jacket pocket, and thatís hanging up neatly in the closet, out of reach. I flex my hands, then reach out to strangle her.
She looks me in the eye. My past comes tumbling down, replaced by tawdry rancid truth.
An hour later, Iím sitting on my bed choking on my own hot tears. It all comes out in a salty painful rush. That fucker in Jersey hexed me, he took my life away and made me his occult bitch. Iíve lost everything - the job, the apartment, the car (oh God, the car), the money, Iím sitting here on this fetid motel bed in the middle of nowhere with some freaky old hag and Iíve spent the last I donít know how long wandering the backroads of America sucking magick juice through that bloody heavy chunk of metal. (She's sitting on a chair toying with my talisman and murmuring that she knows someone who might be interested in the guy who made this.) Heís ruined my life. Thereís nothing left. Heís taken everything away from me, even my faith in him, and now Iím left with a sucking emotional chest wound where my heart used to be. Nothing left. At all.
Iíll kill myself.
Iíll stab myself through the eye with that metal handle.
Iíll tear out my diseased brain with my own hands.
I lunge for the spike, get my feet tangled in the bedclothes, and fall flat on my face. Fresh tears well up in my eyes.
Lenora tries to take this opportunity to exit gracefully.
ďWhy me?Ē I shout after her. ďWhy now?Ē
ďI needed to get Graceland back. I need the power. As for why youÖdamned if I know.Ē
She starts to walk out the door.
ďWhat do I do now?Ē
ďWhere do I go?Ē
What do I do?
I lie on the floor awhile, thinking.
* * *
Insight hits in a pure crystalline pulse of light. Brian reaches out for the dictaphone and records his thoughts from the edge of sleep. "The protagonist is confused and scared. The original script will no longer work - there will be no smooth transition from sadness to joy. It will take time, too much tine for the protagonist to realize he is free. For the project to succeed, a more abrupt transition must be engineered. He must move from sorrow to joy in a matter of moments. How?"
Posed in those terms, the solution was obvious. The child was taken from his mother, he must be returned to his mother. Brian smiled, then rose from his bed and took down a scrapbook of press cuttings and photographs. It's all evidence, just like the dictaphone recording, just like all the videotape, evidence that must be edited away before the final truth can be produced. The answer is in here somewhere. Vague memories... he couldn't call her directly, he couldn't call the police, but there was another option, another angle.
Face after face, victim after victim. In some photos, the child is laughing, happy, reunited with his loving family. In others, it's too late, there's a broken body and sorrow beyond recovery.
Blank newspaper between.
Sorrow. Joy. There.
In the background of one picture of a smiling child being hugged by a thin, bright-eyed woman is an older woman. Her name isn't mentioned in the article, but Brian remembers hearing it. He strains to remember it - then that pure light enfolds him again, and it's like she's standing there in the room. Lenora Washington.
He picks up his phone and dials.
"Directory Enquiries, how may we help you?"
* * *
A new room.
Possibly a bathroom. Most of the fittings are gone, but the pipes and tiles suggest the roomís former function.
Now, the room has a new function.
This is where Nan gets fucked up on coke.
The room is empty.
Through the broken window, the camera sees headlights. Footsteps. The door opens.
Good morning Nan.
This is good. This is healthy. This is stress release.
This is a batch of cocaine made by drunken Bolivian smugglers. This is not good.
See Nanís face twist. See Nanís nose bleed. Scream Nan scream.
Running footsteps. Someone else enters the room, out of the field of vision. There is no recognition in Nanís eyes, only shame and panic. She leaps at the intruder. There is a sharp
As a head strikes a bare concrete wall.
Run Nan run.
* * *
Help oh god no oh no oh no a hospital a church anywhere fuck you brian you've ruined everything what oh no oh oh oh no help help help somone
* * *
Most of the people driving out of Memphis can't see hitchhikers on the side of the road because their fucking cars are full of Elvis memorabilia or Jesus stickers. My thumb aches, and the unseasonal rain is making my "ANYWHERE" sign all runny. I've got a metal handle from a display rack of Christina Aguilera cds, and I'm going to go to New Jersey and use it to pull open God's heart.
See? I've got goals.
A car slows slightly. I catch a glimpse of a woman holding a tissue to her nose and a kid asleep on the back seat. She slows, then the car wobbles slightly and she accellerates again, as if she wasn't sure what she was thinking.
* * *
We're back in the living room. Nan's phone is still lying on the floor. It begins to ring again. And again. And again. And again.
Careful analysis of the picture shows that the number on the display is the telephone number of Clarity Video.
This same analysis shows that the blankets are now wadded up and drenched with a considerable amount of blood.
The door from the hallway opens. The porch door is also open, so for the first time, a beam of bright sunlight shoots across the wall.
Two people enter the room, Lenora Washington and Francine Kirsch.
Francine cannot contain her anticipation and delight at the prospect of being reunited with her beloved son. Her faith in Lenora's psychic powers is boundless, fuelled by fear and love. Her face is like that of a child on Christmas morning.
Her eyes adjust to the darkness in the room. The camera's lenses adjust to the sudden influx of light.
Francine smells her child, she feels him with senses keener than any magicks. She knows with a terrible certainty in her heart that he was here. She sees the ropes, the blankets, the blood.
Francine falls apart.
On cue. Dead centre of the camera. Perfectly focused, as if this had been rehearsed a thousand times. She moves from delight to misery.
Lenora just looks tired. She leans against the doorframe.
The camera sees all this. Everything becomes iconic. It knows what everything means.
The tape runs out. Black screen. Our problem is that we care too much.
Mattias | profile | Apr 27, 07 | 3:31 am
This Unknown Armies-style mindfuck has been brought to you by Gareth Hanrahan.