My head is killing me. What the hell was I up to last night?
I sit up and rub my eyes. This isn’t as easy as it ought to be — there are wires connected to my arms. Electrodes. Probes. Nor does it feel as nice as it ought to. It bloody well stings. I find my hands have been tattooed with a number. Gingerly touching around my eye, I find that there, too, I have been tattooed.
I’m on a bed or a couch of some sort. Black leather. Comfortable enough. I’d get up for a bit of a walk, to stretch my legs, to figure out what’s going on, but the room is utterly packed to the rafters with all manner of sound and music equipment. Keyboards, equalizers, spectroscopes, amplifiers, monitors, televisions. I don’t see a door in my brief visual survey of the walls, but even if there were, it would be hard as hell to get there and the door wouldn’t be openable anyway.
The TV screens are all off, so I use one to study my new ink. Just black around my left eye. A ring. I can’t tell if I’m meant to have been punched or if I’m meant to be a character in A Clockwork Orange. It hurts though.
I remember we, She and Me, were grabbed by mooks in black as I was going after her, trying to get a response from her after the encounter at the Statue on the Island. I suppose this must be where they brought us. But seriously, what the hell is this, I don’t even.
Suddenly, light from one of the walls. I guess the walls have windows in them. I see the room next to mine, it’s virtually identical. On the bed in that room sits an old woman. She is tattooed in a similar way to myself. She wears what is probably her best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress. I wave, try to attract her attention. Though she’s looking right at me, she doesn’t see. Maybe it’s one-way glass? Maybe it’s actually a video feed. I can’t really tell, to be honest.
The woman looks upset. Not hysterical but definitely wary, afraid. She slowly looks around the room. Suddenly, the head of the bed pops open, revealing a compartment with a pair of big, wooden headphones. In any other context, I’d have admired them, coveted them. Here though, not at all.
The old woman jumps at the sound of the compartment opening, then, with another furtive glance around, picks up the headphones and dons them. The look on her face only intensifies. Whatever she’s listening to is really frightening her. She’s looking around even more suspiciously now. Her eyes widen. She screams. I cannot hear it, but I know a scream when I see one. She rips the cans off her head and throws them away. She holds her head in her hands and trembles. The light goes off.
I don’t have to wait long before another wall lights up. This time, it’s a young man, no more than 22. His t-shirt and jeans and floppy hair mark him as a student, to me. He, too, bears the tattoos. Again, he’s paranoid, jumpy, and nearly leaps out of his skin when the headphones are released. He puts them on, gets a far-away look in his eyes. As I watch, he slowly devolves into a crying mess, curled up in a ball on his side on the bed. The light goes off.
Again, another wall. This time, it’s another young man, younger, probably a high school student, based on his uniform. He sits cross-legged on the bed, serene. He seems unbothered except for the way he’s rubbing the number tattooed on his hand. When the headphones are released, he turns and puts them on, as though he had been expecting them. I watch for any change in his face, but there is none for the longest time. And then, he smiles. A wide, joyous smile followed by what must be laughter. He laughs and laughs and then he starts to twitch. Soon he’s seizing at an incredible frequency. The light goes off.
I wait, but nothing happens for a very long time. I fiddle with my bed a little bit, trying to get at the headphones which I know are inside, but I can’t seem to open the compartment. Patience.
I am rewarded when the final wall of my room lights up. Again, it is a room identical to mine. But inside, on the couch, is not just anyone. Reclining there, cans on, enjoying herself, is She.
She has been tattooed like the rest of us. Her hair is long, straight, and black now, but after the encounter in the city, such physical changes don’t surprise me. She’s still wearing the dress she had been in at the statue. She has two or three rings on every finger, and she taps out a rhythm in time with whatever she’s listening to. I point at her. She cocks her head to one side and smiles, looking straight into my eyes. She, unlike the others, can see me.
There’s a pop, a pwing, and my headphones are free. I glance at her, and She nods that I should put them on. Obedient as ever, I do.
Silence. Well, a slight hiss, but silence for every intent. I look at her, raise an eyebrow. She smiles. Every television in my room turns on.
There, on the screen, is She, but not the She in the next room, no, a younger She, the She I knew in the desert, the She I jumped light cones for. Though her skin is covered in shimmering jewels of many sizes, and though her eyes are almost reptilian, it is most definitely She.
And then, Shes begin to sing.
The town is noisy, Shes sing, and people are irritating. But the birds don’t mind, as they’ve already gone to sleep.
Waking from a dream is scary, Shes sing, as we fear our hearts will be broken. We give nothing, nor do we receive anything. We are constantly searching for reason.
The canaries, Shes sing, which have had their voices crushed to death do not appear to be moved to tears. I hope they never cry.
They have, Shes sing, decided, just like that, not to cry. It seems that they will never cry.
Why won’t you notice? Hurry up and notice.
They’ve only decided not to cry, I think.
If you’d only hurry up and notice, then maybe we could…
I wait. That’s it? Shes wait. Shes stare at me. A raven alights on the arm of She in the room.
All is darkness.
I hear muffled shouts. What’s going on?
Light from the ceiling, sounds of something dropping. The room is filling with smoke. There are people here, but I can’t breathe. I cough and I heave. I feel hands on me, I feel a rope.
I sense nothing.