by Greg Block
I first saw Hazie right at the onset of High School. Within the first few days, likely day one. She was everything I hoped she would be, and better. That porcelain babe giving me the thunderbolt shock and knowing she felt it too, toward me. We were going to get together, that was a certainty beyond doubt. And yet the prospect filled me with an excitement bordering upon dread that would take the highest degree of courage I could muster to overcome. To approach her, say hello, ask her name.
Such pre-determined cosmic trajectory did not necessitate any rush. It was ideal, as the social situation could thicken, and our encounters unfold naturally, though by no easy route like a shared class would our paths be granted to cross.
I took then pretty quickly with Ariel from Junior High. We were in the same gym class and I had a lingering crush on her from the year before. Snuggling on the couch and she was nervous about her feet, and I calmed her and rubbed them despite her initial protests. After that we would make-out passionately and expertly, and quickly with foreplay activities. I would finger-bang her hard and work up to all my fingers spreading her as widely as I could and it wasn’t long before she was reciprocating after kissing down my body, though she, despite her pleasure at doing so, never liked the taste and I’m guessing would spit it out in the bathroom. But I felt like a boss and High School was off to an excellent start.
My heart would skip and quicken at every sight of Hazie. She didn’t have a boyfriend, she wasn’t going to mess this up. I knew I was going to approach her soon. This just couldn’t wait. My heart felt all aglow for her and I thought about her unceasingly. And it was mutual.
New Years came and went and I had gone down on Ariel repeatedly as alternately she sucked me off a few times and really the only thing left to do was have sex, with which she was emotionally involved in a major way, so one day shortly afterward casually after school I broke it off citing her more serious intentions than mine. She was devasted and couldn’t believe it and despite her making a few scenes I still thought of her as a very nice person.
In that new semester Lora walked past me first English class and I switched back to the open seat at the back of the class so I could sit behind her. She was elfin and had green eyes. Hazie dominated my thoughts daily but I was smitten with Lora and found her wonderful. I figured I would date her. I made a fool out of my some in my preparations, laughing one time at her joke and slapping the desktop, but hitting my open fruit cup and dousing myself with the sticky fluid.
She suggested we go to some teahouse downtown and I had tea for the first time, and we sat by the river but I didn’t kiss her. A couple weekends later we were back by the river and she took my hand so we were holding them and then we sat down and made out. It was jarring after the sensual ease and intertwined mastery with Ariel, but I didn’t mind and adored her. Sexual experience distances and discrepancies meant a lot in those days and I only realized afterward how far past her comfort zone I had guided Lora in our first session; what I had considered a matter of course was likely her first time.
Summer hit and Lora and I commenced to neck passionately throughout the summer and there was some foreplay for sure, but that track had slowed down massively. I didn’t mind, and the next school year was approaching.
Lora and I shared another class. Hazie, of course, was more elusive and I liked that. She was still waiting for me, and I was coming.
It was our third Chemistry class that Lora walked out of class talking and laughing with some cool guy Patrick from her Jr. High school and without looking my way cruised out with him into the hallway. I was stunned. I packed and proceeded to the door. Lora was nowhere to be seen either left or right. My feelings were hurt deeply. I perceived that we had a connection after the wonderful summer.
I confronted her about it later that day.
“What the hell was that, Lora?”
She stood by her locker, confused.
“I didn’t like how you just left class and left me behind, without even looking at me.”
“Jake, class was over, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
How clear could a signal be, right.
“OK look Lora, I don’t think this is going to work out. I’m obviously more emotionally invested here than I realized, like we had a lot of fun and it was great, but…”
Lora understood. She was happy.
“Jake it’s OK, I think we both understand. We have the whole of High School ahead of us, we can always get back together.”
Fat chance Lora. She just didn’t delight in the sexual dance like Ariel and I had, was into different things. But she showed me a lot of music and I never really sweated it with Lora and would laugh with her amicably afterwards at parties, whereas Ariel and my saga had ended.
It was after such a party, at Ariel’s house actually–her birthday party–that Hazie was also there. Man this was it.
Who makes the music? Is it the one making the sounds inspired, or the one inspiring the sounds?
It was a clear starry night. Our waltz under stars. Me and Hazie, when we’re together all the universe get’s lazy, and takes a minute to relax. The party had spilled out of the house and we were both tipsy and soon we were talking, or at least smiling at each other feeling embarrassed but were right where we both wanted to be. Inevitability near panic-inducing with its unpredictable uncertainty.
She led me across the street and into the adject field under the stars. She gathered them around her as she lay in the grass and I was there with her and our bodies entwined.
I think I remember Ariel storming around the house in a drunken mission and she could not have missed us but she must not have minded, for Hazie and my starlit paradise was undisturbed. My head was swimming having drenched my courage with inebriation to handle the moment at hand. The plan was executed to great success. I remember sucking and kissing on her exposed breasts and her wetness waiting for my fingers and our tongues dancing.
We went deeper into the field and had sex and I had never done that before. She hadn’t either.
You’d find Hazie and me making out in the hallway doorways during class, sneaking out. Everyone knew immediately and were the incumbent king and queen, the boundary between water and starlit night opened wide. And everybody rejoiced. It was good days, and everything would work out for everyone.
I remember seeing Rachel again. She was a year older. Rachel had assumed my courtship in Junior High but I wasn’t ready and had seriously dropped the ball on that. That would have been a pretty incredible thing,
Rachel was on a crotch-rocket with what must have been a gang or at least something close. They were pulling out and soon peeling off from the parking lot in the central park area of one of our communities. I could hardly even believe it. The crew and I were walking up with 40oz’s and smoking weed. But I felt like a loser seeing Rachel like that.
Inter-twined soul’s, different planes. All of us together, always. Never and always the same. What is truth? In death we access the accordion of our years as a variable current state and are all times that we lived as one time, forever.
That bastard Jamie had asked me in shop class what I thought when I different kid at our school hung himself. I told him the guy was pussy for making his mother find him like that and should have blown his head off like a gentleman. That’s what Jamie proceeded to do a couple of weeks later.
We were joking and laughing using the dildo-sander and though Jamie always joined Gearhart and I after class walking down the hall, he didn’t that day. We didn’t think anything of it but 2 hours later Jamie blew his head off with some shotgun he had gotten his hands on.
Jamie was starting to hang with me and my crew more and more. I felt like he was becoming one of us. But when he took his life, that wasn’t cool. He was closest with Arnold and I thought it was super weak that he could just betray his close friend like that.
Jamie would berate us half heartedly for not making more of an effort to venture to the other social circles’ parties. I didn’t want to force it with Hazie. Besides Lora and I were starting to get along swell.
That first time by the river Lora sat there on this log with a perfect spot beside her for me to join her, kiss her, make her day. But I just threw stones into the river. I wasn’t feeling it.
A month before Jamie disgraced his legacy Gerald had died. That was the last thing Gerald wanted to do. His heart just stopped beating one day at football practice. That was serious heartbreak for everyone. Rest in peace Gerald.
I had this dream where everyone was crying in the gymnasium amongst the badminton nets and Jamie was there, but only I could see him, and he was laughing. He was laughing his face off but I couldn’t hear him, like he was on a different plane. That nerve of that kid.
I necked all summer long with Lora and forgot about it. She was a major support for me. I wore a bracelet for Gerald until it was incinerated in the blast.
I lay at the foot of Hazie’s bed listening to her sing and strum guitar as she sat in her pj’s with her back against the headboard and got so turned on that I crawled up and started kissing up her thighs and next thing the guitar was down and I was down on her with her fingers in my hair and my fingers inside her and her voice now moaning softly through a pillow. Then I was kissing her deeply and I was deep inside her with her legs against my shoulders and her shirt pulled up with her breasts bouncing and her nipples glistening with mingled juices and saliva from where I had been kissing and sucking on them. She raked her hands up and down my chest and the guitar went crashing down off the bed, the small amp alerting the whole world to our activities and then her Mom was knocking on the door asking if everything was OK as we scrambled through the mind-scrambling feedback and sonic tones to dress ourselves and stop the racket. Hazie’s Mom popped her head through the door right as I wiped my face and perhaps some endearing quality in our frantic dishevelled state warranted us sympathy because she said, “just checking!” and closed the door.
I remember wrestling with Patty in the first couple of weeks of Grade Six. She was very developed for our tender age of 11, undoubtedly wielding the attention of strangers, older men, boys. In simple terms she had beautiful, voluptuous breasts and we wrestled in a strange pre-sexual hyena vs. lion contest of dominance and school supremacy. I won. She had luminescent, determined, and rebellious green and gold flecked eyes. I never sawn Patty again after that year.
<How come we never, you know, fool around?>
I met Nancy at an early summer party the year before. She had an irresistible spark and energy and we both knew we’d get together. When we did though I wasn’t into it. Some weird Grade 8 state of mind. We marched around one day with hands clasped tight and fingers interlocked and later she asked by msg what in person she never would.
Two years into Jr. High and the girls were teasing me as frigid, and I thought to hell with them, but really thought Nancy was a nice and attractive, if slightly physically imposing, girl. She probably could have scrunched me into a handball and pegged a kid across the gym in the head with it. Nancy and I never did get to fooling around and that courtship seemed to drag on until either her or I ended it, or just unanimously drifted apart—it’s hard to say in retrospect.
At some point early the next year I was coming up the stairs and saw a fine-formed Ariel making out publicly with her boyfriend at the time in the upper foyer.
The Silver Pony was a beautiful car. I’d pop the hatch and Hazie would throw her guitar in the back after band practice before hopping in with me for a ride. I sat in with her band one time, even joined on the drums. There were two guys and three girls in the band. That’s drums, guitar, bass, keys, and trumpet. Hazie wrote and sung the songs. I was mightily impressed and always so turned on by it. As far as I was concerned I had the hottest ticket in town and nibbled on her daily.
We’d drive up to spots overlooking the city and she’d crawl over on top off me and I’d do everything I could to make her sing. I’d have music Lora had shown me on the speakers and was still wearing a toque Ariel gave me because I’m a total jerk. It was after one of these sessions, low tunes playing on the speakers that we got to talking.
She confided in me. I kind of flipped out. I hate to admit it but I even started shaking.
“What do you mean you’ve been with Trevor and Noah.”
“We hadn’t met yet, Jake.. I was kind of seeing them both, but it’s over now we’re all just friends, they really like you and–”
“You fucking slut.”
We sat there in uncomfortable silence, the windows fogging and rain started to sound on the roof of the car.
“Like you were with them both at once. What did you do with them – wait, you’d all be fucking at once?”
“What did you do! You lick their ass holes? You mean to tell me I was literally just sitting there jamming out like an idiot and everyone knew except for me. Damn, Hazie, just god damn. Those smiling..”
But I was done. I whipped Hazie home and peeled off the moment she softly closed the hatch and left her standing there in the rain. I got home and just cried. Cried and sobbed and said, “That bitch, that fucking bitch.”
I didn’t talk to Hazie for the next week, ignored her calls and her in the hall, and played it really cool when I would see those guys. They knew the deal, and didn’t feign friendliness. If one of them had had the sense of protocol to mention it to me beforehand, or even now I might have retained some interest and respect in them as people. But they were team Hazie and though I respected that to some degree, I determined they were my resolute enemies who considered Hazie their right.
I couldn’t get the image of them and Hazie out of my mind. It felt seared onto my soul. I’d get turned on from some babe in an ad and instead just think about those guys. I felt crazy, invaded, molested. I turned inward, removed myself from my crew. They sensed and backed my hostility toward the scenester segment of the school population dressed up like greasers and rock stars, and never asked.
It was unfortunate that Battle of the Bands was coming up that month. Hazie was a wreck, but I didn’t care, I wanted her to hurt. I wanted her voice to crack on stage, the illustrious band to fall. Our schism was widely noticed, rippling through the social ranks, and the school became divided.
I was wasted at the party at Raj’s dad’s house and these girls were sitting on either of my knees. They were from a different school, maybe invited or provided by one of the girls in the crew. I wasn’t incredibly attracted to them but they were ready to go and it seemed to be lining up and the last thing I would allow was any girl calling me frigid again.
We got to the guest bedroom first and they were giggling and nervous so I cuddled them up on either side of me with their shirts and bra’s pulled up and reaching down with either hand started fingering them from behind at the same time. They were alternating kissing on my neck and making out with me and each other and all I could think about was those two guys with Hazie even when they undid my pants and started stroking and handling me. They shared a knowing look and both started kissing down my body and thus proceeded one of the strangest epiphany moments of my life. Well almost, or possibly the start of one.
With this tag-team duo, seemingly well rehearsed, bobbing and flitting tongues and gagging and gazing up with my hands in their hair, I felt somehow detached and ponderously reflected on my jealousy toward those guys and how for some reason I was allowing them to crowd in on and obscure my attraction and fantasizing for Hazie herself. Those clowns were dead meat but I could truly care less about them and felt incredibly ashamed of the weakness I displayed to Hazie in the Silver Pony that night. What was giving those guys this absurd weight advantage and leverage over me? Hazie obviously held the dominant role with they her lackeys.
I wasn’t particularly jealous about Hazie having threesomes before I ever did.
My reverie was broken as one of the girls, Elise, started pleasuring me with her breasts and her friend pivoted toward my face to initiate a 69 position. I didn’t take the bait but did take the opportunity to hold Elise’s head down and cut our activities short in the best way I could figure to not offend anyone.
The crew and Jamie were on Arnold’s roof outside his window. Jamie was hilarious, his star had risen to full zenith in our eyes. That would be myself, Raj, Manny, Arnold, Denmark, Farly, and Bob. We all enrolled afterward together. Well not Jamie obviously.
The rooftop was a fun place to kick it and relax. It was a beautiful spring evening, one of the first of the season entirely freed of any touch of winter.
Schedule-wise, it was simple. One night on the weekend for the crew, one for time with the respective ladies. A party could fall on either night, or some ruckus, but just then it was a crew night and we were posted up not doing much but not much minding at all.
There was a small gap of six feet or so to the neighbouring roof and Jamie suddenly took it with speed and jumped across to the other side. It was no modest feat in our eyes. The crew collectively approved but only Arnold rose to the challenge and he too gapped the distance. Those guys. This synergy always existed between them. A spontaneous hilarity.
Jamie and Arnold jumped back over and the crew celebrated their courage and parkour prowess.
Raj confronted me after school one day. It was Grade 8, the pit.
“How come we’re cool after school but here you don’t even talk to me.”
Raj and I went way back, to age five to be exact. This guy and I were boys out the gate. Inspired by a book I read in Grade 1 about a crew of kids in a war with aliens I brought Raj up to my room one time and told him I loved him. He just sat there. But it was cool though, he wasn’t weirded out.
I always respected Raj incredibly for calling me out like that. I can’t remember what I said to him, if anything. In something like that you can simply rectify your action, or simply disappear, clear out. Especially with a brilliant intellectual like Raj.
Naturally Raj and I were landed on the same squad in boot.
I didn’t talk to or call Hazie in the days leading up to the Grade 11 Battle of the Bands. We avoided each other at school, which was easy as we didn’t share classes and her friends all hung outside on creature corner smoking like chimneys. All in all it had already been two weeks without remotest correspondence.
I’d think about her taking it from both ends from those guys and masturbate furiously while weeping internally at this hellish predicament I found myself in.
Manny was getting openly hostile with Noah and pushed him into a garbage can one day. Tensions in the school were palpable and to Lora’s credit she sided with my crew. She was dating Denmark now, who had drunkenly declared his desire for her in the park one weekend and I personally couldn’t think of a better fit for that sweet girl.
I assured him she remained intact, probably would for years despite his best efforts.
Manny meanwhile would take his girl Maria to the park by the school on the regular and bang her on his jacket in the grass, snow, leaves—Manny was a role of model of mine when it came to taking care of his needs without hesitation or any self doubt. Him and I were the only guys still wearing our bracelets for Gerald.
His family came from overseas in the 8th Grade, and I remember seeing him run amok in the community with Arnold, Farly and Bob, but we didn’t really get a feel for each other until the following year when we shared the same bus. Contention arose over the back seats early on and he had our first rumble where I slammed him up against the roof and his inner warrior was pleased at my not backing down. We both ended up in the back.
Our next brother-hood bonding incident was amidst the throng on the steps in front of the school. The crew was already forming up and Manny was standing a few steps above me. I was drinking a juice box and couldn’t help but notice his immaculate white shoes. Not anymore; I squirted my juice box on them.
Manny was too shocked to be enraged. For a moment. Then he squeezed his pop can into my face. We’d been ascending the stairs to the top throughout this and I got him back in the face with the rest of my juice when Manny’s fist hit my face with a warning jab, but next moment Carl was guiding down the stairs and into the alley with his arm around my shoulders.
We got some slurpies from the convenience store, and on the way back Manny was making his way down the alley, alone, with his hands in his pockets, obviously disarmed, apologetic in his body language. He apologized and we hugged it out and were fast brothers that day on.
Carl moved in with my family that summer, but then moved out of town. I’d see him around afterwards but it was never the same.
Hazie’s band was set to play at lunch hour, which was a primo spot as it guaranteed the largest audience and biggest possible reach. The school management usually didn’t let slouches play in the lunch spot.
I was posted up where I was always posted up surrounded by my crew and the various layers and ranks flanking.
Hazie and them took the stage. She didn’t look my way. It still gave me a jolt to see her, I’d been trying not to. She seemed… darker.
The bass kicked in and the tune caught hold of the lunch. Then Hazie started singing, a song about some boy. She sung with punk stylings and Trevor and Noah jammed along on either side of her.
Dark Hazie’s eyes flicked to mine and away again.
My heart stopped. Manny nudged me in the ribs, that guy. Calling me out.
His Gerald bracelet caught my eye and I looked down at mine. Talk about heartache. Gerald had grown up with Mineko, the chiefess of the ladies in our inner circle. We were always kind of waiting on the two of them getting together but they never got the chance.
Manny met Gerald at football tryouts, really admired his nimble speed. Gerald had a natural style that made running look cool. We all thought Denmark ought to have tried out with that arm of his but kind of like me Denmark just didn’t really care.
The band played a three song set and soon as Hazie stepped off the stage I catlike was suddenly catapulted toward her through the gathered roaring crowd by some inertia or perhaps Gerald’s spirit had just kicked me into motion. Noah started to step forward leather jacket and all but I just cruised past him and stood before Hazie just a moment registering a genuine surprise and insecurity where I had never before caught, before grabbing her face and kissing her in front of those clowns, the entire school. Manny cheered. A shadowed probably flitted across Farley’s face. Arnold was probably looking at the reflection from some kid’s watch. The watch was probably Bob’s gold one he bought himself.
With our foreheads together for a moment I just quickly said to her, “Hazie I’m so sorry—”
“Jake—” Hazie started say and for a moment I had a sinking feeling.
And then Trevor pushed my shoulder, and next thing I registered was Manny slugging Noah in the face, taking the opportunity on whatever slight pretense though the guy was just standing there. Trevor’s fist caught me in the ear and I staggered but charged and dump-tackled him into the edge of the stage right on his ribs. That took care of Trevor, though I caught it on my cheek a bit. I pushed off him and spun around to see some guys from the team had Manny away from Noah and Noah’s nose and lip were bleeding.
It was a disaster. I looked for Hazie but she and the other girls in her band were gone and the next instant the staff descended on us. Manny and I didn’t see the school for two weeks.
I heard it from Denmark that Hazie’s band not just made it to the final but won Battle of the Bands. I could just envision that dirty gang celebrating.
But then suddenly I just didn’t care. I knew it was done with Hazie.
In my dejected state what I really wanted, like really wanted more than anything, was to go back and say to Jamie, “Look that guy hung himself and I can’t speak to his issues but I’m worried about you bringing it up like this and want you to know how much we all appreciate you man. If someone close to me were to do that it would devastate me, there’s so much to live for and the people in my life mean the world to me.”
I felt something shift in me as I allowed myself to weep for Jamie in the shower that night. As for Gerald all one could do is shake their fist at the sky.
Hazie msg’d me if I was allowed out and wanted to meet up to talk. It had been over a month since any correspondence between us. My old man was with that whore he thought none of us knew about and my Mom was spaced on the meds for some issue brought on by the previous meds. The Silver Pony had been siding idle more often than not these days and it felt great to cruise those roads glorious in another era so recently past.
Hazie was sitting on the curb where I had torched her in the rain. I pulled up and she hopped in.
I drove us up to our favourite look out and we sat there in silence for a moment.
I started to say something, anything, probably apologize, say how dumb I was, but the moment I turned to Hazie she was kissing me. It was crazy how much I felt like I needed her, how much I loved necking with her. I think I realized I love her.
But when I started pressing her tighter she backed off.
Immediately I broke it off and looked to the window.
“Man congrats winning that thing. You guys were great. Like I only saw the one, but, yeah definitely, you’re just so beautiful up there.”
Hazie smiled sympathetically.
“Look Jake, there’s so much you don’t know about me. Things I’ve been through. You don’t even know the story with Trev and No.”
I started to interject but was silenced by a flash of her eyes.
“Jake if you’re going to flip out the moment you actually learn anything about me outside of us having sex, how can you expect us to be in a relationship? Like all we do is hook up. You ghosted me for a whole month. Like do you know how that makes a girl feel?”
I didn’t take this as a que to answer and didn’t venture one forth.
“You don’t know those guys. You guys bully them, Manny picks on No every day. We grew up together, been through a lot together. So what we got drunk one time and all agreed to lose our virginity together. Those guys are so chill and gentle. I love them. You don’t know anything about me or them. You don’t even know that Noah’s gay.”
It’s true, I was dumbfounded. I really had to talk to Manny.
“It’s been really fun with you Jake but we really have to slow down and just get to know each other little bit. Right now I’m not sure you’re the kind of person I want to be with.” Wince. “I mean I just need us to try being friends. So I know you won’t just flip out the moment you learn I’m not this made up mental conception but who I actually am.”
I felt like Ariel or something.
“I understand. I’ll take you home.”
Turned on the radio to that oldies station Lora showed me, but apparently the laughing-stock of the universe as immediately the song ‘It’s Too Late, She’s Gone’ started up. I hit the button turning it off. This was getting out of hand.
“Ok whatever I’ll take you home. I’m sorry I flipped out. You’re amazing and really brave getting on stage like that. You guys have serious talent. You guys can make it, get out of this thing. I’m cool with those guys and I’ll talk to Manny. I’ve just had this knot inside me from everyone I know dying and I’ve been trying to ignore it but it makes everything else seem crazy. It doesn’t make it right, doesn’t excuse my actions. I’m sorry I’ll take you home. I love you Hazie.”
Hazie didn’t say anything but gave me this look that’s still with me, and I drove her home in silence.
“See you around Jake.”
Visting my cousin Eric a few days before he died of brain cancer was the last thing I needed to see five days after Jamie left the building. His head was all swolled up, like a Martian, and his eyes were all glassed over with some ponderous childlike expression on his face. But as I was staring into them it’s like some recognition would flicker in and out, and what I saw there was concern for my well being watching him, and I realized he was seeing me the whole time. In hindsight it was the most angelic sight I ever beheld. Rest in peace in Eric.
Everyone’s thrashing in the waves but every so often someone stands up on that surfboard and starts riding as a great cheer rises. In calmer conditions a spectacular wipeout is similarly appreciated but when it’s truly choppy and frothy, that’s when you wish and pray and hope for that rider to get and up and stay up and ride that wave into eternal glory. Either way in the end we all drown.
I remember listening to little bro jamming or at least banging away on his electric guitar in the basement on my Grade 9 birthday. Peter and Joey with Mineko, maybe some others (she’s excused) call me up but the total point is that I’m alone and their all together and the phone call is not about changing that.
I think it’s why I took the opportunity to blow the powdered cheese and hot pepper off my pizza direct into Peter’s eyes in Grade 10.
Those guys formed up into a sort of antithesis sub-crew to ours in High School but they were good for a laugh and we’d party with them all the same. I likely dismissed them due to their penchant for vandalism and though I accepted it despite the heartache is caused, Carl ended up rolling with that crew.
The pandemonium and calamity broke out shortly after we entered the cosmic branch where Hazie and I were split. None of us came to school that morning with slightest suspicions of what the day had in store.
In this it was totally unlike the morning the year before after Jamie broadcasted he didn’t think life was worth living. My Gran was looking after me and little bro at the time.
“My dear boy…”
We had carpooled in, me, Raj, Denmark, and Arnold. I’ve never felt so nervous in my life. Arnold just sat there, numb. A suspended dread held us with it, and punched us in the guts, and in silence we watched the school approach, saw the students milling out front. To arrive was to have the news confirmed, and like little mice we poked our heads out of the car and sniffed the wind blindly for danger, but the cat was there waiting and torture was our lot.
The Staff made a big fuss over Manny, and I thought going to shop class and dicing up some wood would be cathartic but the class was being held in classroom in an unendurable silence so I bailed out of there and spent the day posted up in the cafeteria sitting with Lora. She asked me if I liked tea, I said I’d never had tea, so she informed me we’d be going to her favourite tea house by the river.
In the subsequent weeks I’d finish the bench Jamie had been working on and gather signatures for it from the student body. Langdon the shop Staff regarded me less as an unambitious skid after this. I approached the smoking kids on creature corner and played it cool even asking Hazie if she wanted to sign, our first ever interaction.
It was only when I brought the bench to Jamie’s family that I realized that when standing upright all the signatures would be upside down, but it’s more than that kid deserved and his broken father accepted it with sincere thanks at the door.
The day of the announcement was entirely different. I arrived solo in the Silver Pony and glanced over to Hazie on my way in standing there with her band and friends.
Before class even started they called the entire grade into the gymnasium and the Head of Staff made it known to us that due to great need in the war with Epsilon 12 the voluntary enrolment age was now 17, and cut short, we were to consider ourselves for the remainder of the term, which would be our final, in our senior year of High School.
A joint prom and graduation would be held with the current senior class and we should enjoy our remaining time with the greatest enthusiasm and our studies with the utmost attentiveness.
We were to cherish these times with each other and look bravely forward to our voluntary enrolment and great service to be rendered for the Earth Nation.
There was no uproar, no one fainted. A deep hush fell on everyone present, a collective breath held. Manny stood in a thoughtful reverie. Bob and I locked eyes and nodded. Denmark was smoothing Lora’s hair like a bunny rabbit and Farly was jutting his jaw. Back in Grade 3 my Mom didn’t want me going to trade hockey cards with Farley.
I gave a frowning Mineko a reassuring smile and looked for Hazie but she was deep in her gang and out of my line of sight.
There was nothing voluntary, of course, about voluntary enrolment. Any more than coming into life is voluntary. Or living with chip in your head. At least it is voluntary to disable the auto-thought and block calls. I wonder if Ariel still tries.
Raj clapped his hand on my shoulder.
“Well buddy we’re fucked.”
Arnold stretched back with his arms behind his head and biceps flexed and flashed a savage ironic grin.
We were small children running, racing down the lane as fast as we could. All was this thickening green gold, airy with soft lights, and the old trees were not chopped down. Running ahead faster than all of us Arnold lifted, and arms before him remained soaring, and coming down kept his pace, and joined our laughter as about him we all lifted and dove, and floating down would sprint forward before rising again, laughing.
They were cavemen, or something like that, spears in hand, and the enormous mammoth became exhausted and made its stand. The hunters circled it. There were five of them-and commenced to a great battle, all of them were thrown far with a sweeping blow from the trunk at least once, and two of them were gored and slain, but the survivors finally slew the monster weak from blood loss with their spears thrust into its heart.
Darren and Steven immediately respawned upon the completion of the hunt, but were made to wait as the beast was butchered and stripped of its meat, having failed to earn participation in this most desired reward of the hunt program.
Instead they gathered wood for the fire, and the timber was dry and ready, and a roaring bon-fire sprung from it easily, and the meat was succulent, and the cavemen feasted, devouring the animal in whole.
Of course their bodies, elsewhere, were being fed in a very different manner, and the balloon in their stomachs prevent the failure of this illusion afterwards, but here the blood ran down their maws, and they tore at the meat, and the hunt program rewarded them well for their speedy success. Their bodies would burst long before they could consume a fraction of what they greedily stuffed into their mouths, but here was not there, and there no meat would delight the taste buds and send such orgiastic excitement throughout their brain and bodies like here.
The mammoth hunt was Ellen’s idea, and they warmly congratulated her when finally they tired of this game as they knew enough time had passed for the bodies to receive adequate sustenance. They said Ellen’s conception was much better than Jordan’s yesterday, when they were all caterpillars eating an enormous apple. The conception was great and highly detailed but they thought that the mandibles were gross.
Aaron had quit early, returning to his construct with the plain shimmer Exit purchased from the Shop that everyone had. But Jordan had fun in the hunt too, and laughed with them, and invited them to his construct as his new Exit, self-designed of course, was finished. They told him like they always do that he ought to send his portfolio to the Shop, though he knew he didn’t have to.
Only Darren accepted his invitation, and the two of them allowed themselves to fall backwards to the grass of that prehistoric grassland kill-site, but when landing were absorbed as dirt themselves, and they felt the sun energy and grew toward it, stretching and grasping for more of that sweet energy, and their leaves expanded and great flowers began to form, and as it opened….so opened their eyes, and they were arrived in Jordan’s Construct.
Jordan’s home base was currently a forested platform suspended in deep space surrounded not by stars but cartoonishly with galaxies. Darren stayed a while, and they swam in the rock-spring, and then Jordan was alone in his construct, his Home.
Darren had guessed that he used the space template form the shop as the base of his design, but he was wrong. Jordan had only used the latest Thought-Interface, the very fabric of this simulated Universe, detailed to a level few minutes could penetrate and compete with in their own Designs, as the template for his own interface, and it was here he conjured, rather programmed, ever greater rooms and corridors to the Universe of his Construct.
Raj’s older bro bullied him from the cradle onward, classic unthrottled middle child angst combined with a genius surpassing even that of the baby of the family.
We were in the second Grade when Jordan and his sidekick Darren sought to accost at the fringe of the field at recess. Raj socked him in the stomach and dropped him in about half a second, which was as surprising to me as it was to Darren but then with those guys forgotten we were out on the field laughing and resuming our play. I picked up a rubber ball and lobbed it as hard as I could into the crowd on the pavement. To our great delight it bounced to great height off a direct hit on the top of some kid’s head.
It didn’t surprise me when Jordan went fully virtual after graduating, but Raj was pretty bothered by it. He didn’t like the idea of his brother living on the shelf, locked up in storage, disagreed with the notion that he’d been in fact freed of physical constraint, the usual advertisement from those junkies.
Their Mom had removed Jordan to the Academy mid elementary, the school trajectory for the brainy bunch, destined for Earth Command. But I always thought she did this to give Raj a chance for a life of his own, a protected haven from his jerk brother.
Jordan would key Raj in for visits and sometimes I’d come along, but we’d never join the games and just watch, disembodied, faintly interested. I’d always been more into Epsilon 12 growing up. Jordan would forget we were there sometimes, and in these instances Raj and I would be held in rapt morbid fascination.
Something about virtual sex, despite the sparkles, fireworks and animal tails, glowing all neon in the darkness, have six bots crawling on you or solicit a partner, or just fuck as rhinos or snakes, seemed to me about as cowardly and rewarding as masturbating into a wad of toilet paper despite the supposed added dopamine hit.
To think it was bastards like Jordan from whom our orders in the Corps originated. Some creep imagining he’s a candy getting slurped on by some nerd masquerading as a pre-school kid sending us in to die in the flesh, because our sniper-dogs, nano clouds, guided missiles of any size—all Earth Nation’s electronic tech was useless against Epsilon 12.
Thank God for the bullet and firing pin, moreso the meat holding it.
Headquarters was Bob’s basement telling jokes around the hookah, smoking a blend of shisha and weed we called magic shisha. There was regularly a new very fancy and expensive seeming hookah and there were racks of samurai three-sword sets decorating the walls that likewise had a quick rate of turnover.
Bob was dating this girl he really liked Adelina, who happened to be a close friend with Maria, Manny’s girl. Adelina also happened to be the lifelong friend of Syl, who Bob had met at summer school between Grade 10 and 11 and brought around to meet the crew one time.
Syl was extremely gracious, and the first to infiltrate our circle from the wider student body since Jamie. We took to the guy right away.
The crew all had spots and we’d sit in a semi circle facing into the room with an audio-speaker set up on a stool cranking rap songs, the good old-fashioned way. Jamming out in our heads while outwardly sitting lamely in silence like a lot of kids did seemed lack lustre.
As usual the center of our hilarity became Raj and Arnold, a juxtaposition as Raj smoked deeply on that water pipe before passing, of course folding the hose and brushing hands, while Arnold abstained entirely. He’d get wasted occasionally, or maybe he just used to.
Syl got right in there with us and Bob had some pizza ordered in, but pranked us with having the tomato sauce swapped for hot sauce, and we all got burned after crushing a couple slices to massive amusement and unanimous approval. A mind like Raj’s proffered endless mind-shattering entertaining and with the experience novel to Syl, it was just classic times.
Afterwards at school Syl would penetrate the ranks like a VIP and hang with the crew in the lunchroom as one of the brothers.
It was the weekend after the announcement and the crew was out in the night and snow with the dames, six packs of beer, or in Bob and Manny’s case, coolers. It felt thrilling to be out in the night like it hadn’t since five years earlier when Epsilon 12 had first released the bio-engineered invasive predators in our installation.
You’d just catch the crazy staring frog eyes poking above a rise for an instant before the tongue would gob-smash you to the ground or tree with bone-shattering force, before whipping you back with it.
Or behind you, absolutely still and barely discerned on the upper side of a wall, a giant creeper silently slithered into nightmarish many-legged motion and the feed cut alarmingly fast for the distance travelled.
Such feed footage briefly circulated wildly before official Management material replaced it.
We had all been relocated to deep in a safe-zone for years and it was winter besides, but in the adrenaline rush of our world turning on it’s head, every shadowed rooftop seemed to hold some freakish centipede horror, at least for me. I can only guess what monsters haunted the imaginations of the others.
I felt brash and wasted and called up Hazie and she answered also smashed at a field party.
I wandered away from the guys. Manny had disappeared with Maria and Denmark had Lora hugged within his open jacket. Farly and his girl Natalie were laughing at the enormous evacuation being taken by Raj along with Raj’s girl Chrissy who was holding it for him.
Bob and Adelina were posted up nearby looking on, looking good, having fun.
Mineko and the girls cornered him one time to substantiate the rumour of his generous endowment, and my man Raj did not disappoint those ladies that day. Joey and Mineko were dating and his crew was there, and that made it a party. Arnold had already gone home.
It was a clear winter night with crisp stars. The soft hum of patrolling drones scanning the community was always welcome. Hunter-dogs were stored throughout on standby of course.
“Crazy news, huh?”
Her voice turned me on so much, I could barely stand it.
“I really want to see you.”
I could hear her friends in the background.
“You know I’ve started seeing Patrick—”
“Fuck Patrick I need to see you.”
“God damnit Hazie—”
“You know I heard about you and those girls—”
“I’ll come to you right now. With your whole crew, whatever. You’re at the drain-pipe right?”
“Jake, I dunno—”
“Hazie god fucking damnit—”
“I’m still mad at you Jake.”
“No you’re not we just need to bang and get back together.”
“You’re impossible Jake.”
“I’m coming there.”
“You better not come here.”
“I’m coming there right now.”
“You better not come here Jake.”
Manny materialized from the trees with Maria and I called out to him, “Manny—we’re crashing the greaser’s party.”
Manny put his hands together in anticipation.
“Ugh.” Hazie disconnected.
Manny and I made an effort to round up some soldiers but in the end it was just me, him and Denmark.
We started to cruise out of there when three patrol units pulled into the parking lot, and then right out onto the field. One even pulled right up on top of the hill and shone a spotlight down on us.
The patrol Staff broke up the party. It was unprecedented. Since the initial Epsilon 12 strike, we youth being encouraged in our merry making to help us blot out and overwrite traumatic and terrifying memories.
We couldn’t help but see the Staff soldiers and their rifles with new eyes. This was to be us in a bare handful of months. Well the less cunning of us.
The crew stumbled back to Raj’s dad’s basement but I couldn’t handle seeing the crew start getting down with their ladies so I pulled an Arnold and split.
My Mom was sleeping on the couch and the old man wasn’t home. I went to my room and picked up little bro’s guitar and sat there with it.
A whisper in my mind. It was Lora.
<Hey Lora, you still awake? I thought you were with Denmark?>
<Den’s sleeping. Haven’t gotten a chance to talk with you about the announcement. It hasn’t really sunk in. I’m scared Jake.>
I ran my thumb down the open and out-of-tune strings.
<Well you’re in good hands there with Denmark. You know better than anyone the size of that guy’s mitts.>
<Ha ha very funny Jake.>
<I’m serious, he’s crazy about you. You know I have your back too, you’re covered Lora. Just get some sleep, ok?>
She disconnected and as usual I left the door to my mind open for her.
I called up that girl Elise and masturbated while I got her to bang herself in the butt with the bottom side of a candle she had by her bed as she rubbed herself and moaned while I thought about Hazie taking it from Noah and Trevor at the same time in every arrangement possible. Manny would have been proud.
Some of the keener students expressed anxiety in class over the impending lost year education and if our curriculum was to be adjusted or expanded.
Their concerns were dismissed flippantly by the Staff. We were to be graduated on the current unrevised curriculum.
Those idiot kids. If you were sitting here and not in the Academy and you’re asking questions about the value of your education or life, you had to go home and take a long look in the mirror. Better yet, put yourself on the shelf and play some Academy simulation on repeat.
I came out the front of the school to the scene of Manny making a trembling Deighton kiss his shoes.
One time I was picking on a similar kid Alan back in the early grades of elementary. He was awkward, from a poorer family. I might have thrown him to the ground. He up and chased me with a gaping wide crying mouth stopping every few feet to pick up rocks and throw them at me hard but with a wild arm. I kept in front of him ducking the stones and nervously laughing waiting for the joke to pass over but man Alan had totally flipped and didn’t stop.
The unfortunate Deighton excused, I joined Manny crossing the street to the pizza place. He stalked a bit in front of me, seeing but not seeing with jaded eyes. Hunting. Looking for Noah.
I’d been meaning to talk to him about taking it easy on him like I promised Hazie. Manny was a wild card for sure but he had really mellowed out in the last couple years and took pride in the fact. Now it was like he felt threatened by this skinny punk guy with a mohawk.
I shrugged and chalked it down to the football season getting cancelled mid-way and Manny needing an outlet.
“Jake why’d you quit man?”
Only Gerald stopped me in the hall. Every time he saw me.
We’d been on the same team for seven seasons, since the get-go, age five. On the way to early practice one morning Gerald’s little sister Maggie fell asleep with her head on my shoulder and his dad smiled back at me in the rear view, his mom and Gerald exchanged glances and smiled too. Just the friendliest and intact family. I didn’t want to move lest it disturb her but eventually she groggily realized she’d mistaken me for Gerald and switched over to his shoulder on the other side.
I quit football after that season.
I was with the crew at a noodle spot pre-Hazie post-Lora and saw one of my old teammates and his old man walking past. I made the effort, caught them and said hey, well at least to Assistant-Coach Daryl because his son Joey kept cruising. Daryl leaned toward me with a glint in his eye.
“So…do you miss it?”
Somehow I could only think of the time he stood in the bathroom nodding approvingly watching the boys hit the showers in the nude as a team soon after that became something we were old enough to do.
<Wake up Jake.>
My eyes shot open but I couldn’t move my body. I lay in my bed and a cold shiver caught me.
<Get out of my head Jordan.>
That son of a bitch had hacked my chip.
<I want to show you something.>
There was supposedly endless labyrinths of encryption and safe-guard alarms. It was supposed to be impossible outside of Security Staff immobilizing perverts or making your uncle drop the axe.
<Jordan you got to get out of my head right now.>
His laughter echoed around my head, room, universe.
<Come. I have Raj waiting too. I need you awake. You guys have to see this.>
I suddenly felt like I was spinning and hurtling around and I realized I was getting tossed by a wave as I slammed against the sandy bottom.
The water receded and I opened my eyes to a blinding tropical sun. Raj was sputtering washed up beside me.
“Fucking Jordan!” Raj screamed.
“You’re not going to get away this Jordan!”
We staggered to our feet. Raj was hitting his head with his hands.
I looked left and right and then spun around.
A massive wave, a mega-tsunami, was frozen in motion just as it was cresting right behind us.
“Show yourself Jordan!”
<This is myself. Just giving you two a moment to get your bearings. Now come, hurry, he’s starting.>
A black circle or portal opened in the wave.
We just stood there, grimacing.
As though shocked from behind Raj and I lurched forward and wincing stepped into the blackness.
We were disembodied in blank space but felt Jordan there with us.
<Don’t worry he can’t sense us.>
<What the fuck is this Jordan.> Raj.
A window in our vision appeared. Jordan’s old tag along buddy Darren, in the flesh, laying on the shelf. The window changed to Darren’s mind-face. His expression killed me. Jordan kept the window open.
<We’re seeing as he’s seeing—wait for it. I’ll key you guys partly into the sensations too.>
I had a terrible feeling of foreboding. My instinct, intuition. I had heard of this, who hadn’t.
<Oh fuck you. No Jordan, stop this–> Muted.
A slow light began to swirl and grow in the darkness. A peaceful drifting music came with it, as did an undeniable growing euphoria.
Darrens face lit up with a desperate or hopeful expression that broke my heart. He was being hit with an exponentially greater potency than us.
The light remained soft, not piercing, and like a sentient nebula in space began to engulf us, Darren rather, while his brain and physical body were blasted with a dopamine concoction. And his body slowly injected with a lethal dose of morphine.
I clawed at my face inside myself. I silently screamed and wailed. This was beyond perverted. This was an invasion of everything sacred. This was beyond wrong. I tried to clench shut lidless eyes. Eventually I just wimpered. I could feel the emotions and Darren’s slowing heart. I shared in the rape of his last breath.
And so Darren put on a suicide program and Jordan subjected us to its live snuff theatre.
<And that is what it feels like to die.>
I didn’t see Raj at school all the next week and didn’t try calling him. I didn’t tell anyone about it and jolted irritably when Lora put her hand on my arm in concern at lunch hour.
Later in the week I realized I was just standing there staring into nothing and even Hazie herself came up and stood beside me wondering what the deal was. I just looked at her.
We were subjected to another feed announcement from the Head of Staff and I could have spoken up and reported it, but I just felt too small and exhausted.
Something about a grad camping trip out of the secure zone.
I was going to kill Jordan, and I was going to let Raj do it. Rest in peace Darren.