Pareidolia: Chapter Fifteen

I’m publishing my science fiction novel Pareidolia in slow motion. A new chapter will be published every week. The premise is available here.


BALERO

Society Hill, Philadelphia | July, 2000

I’m awake. I don’t remember where I am for a few seconds. There’s a phone in here, on the nightstand next to the bed. That’s a nice touch. I call home but get the machine. I don’t leave a message. I’m in one of Willow’s many guest rooms. It’s morning, still dark. I’m still in yesterday’s clothes. I need a shower.

My nose finally stopped bleeding last night around ten. Daryl made me eat a fuckful of food even though I wasn’t hungry. He was laughing as he pointed out how much blood I’d lost. “You’re going to feel like shit tomorrow,” he snorted. “Eat!”

I’ve gone over yesterday’s events a few times in my head, but it’s like straining to hear a frequency the human ear was never meant to perceive. I can’t quite justify the reality of it. The dream quality of the day is difficult to parse and allocate like discrete grains of reality into a mesh of time, if that makes any sense. No, wait—let me try that again. That was gibberish. You know, first I did this, then I did that. A tapestry is I guess what I mean. But I can’t make it look like anything real. I can’t find a meaning in what happened.

Van Zorn teaches us that meaning is a slippery thing. We find great difficulty in getting our hands around it, let alone forcing it onto an examining table and measuring it. This isn’t because we’re incompetent (we’re actually usually quite good at this kind of thing)—it’s because we’re misled. This is clear to me, now more than ever. It folds in perfectly with what I’ve suspected about the world since I was a kid: there’s a celestial apparatus out there, an impossibly shaped cage, the size and scope of which is beyond human comprehension. It’s like the hand of a wounded god hovering over our vision, robbing us of a kind of cosmic depth perception.

Some of us have found a way around this handicap. We break it down by primes. Why? Because primes are primordial math, and only through such technology can we penetrate the walls of our limited existence. Not that it’s going to be easy. Van Zorn warns us that the Great Liar always wants to throw us off the scent. This can be deduced in two ways: one, it’s unlikely that we’d be so confined to this level of existence by accident; two, the few times we do manage to poke our noses out, even by just a few widths of an atom, we catch the smallest glimpse of a nuclear fury powerful enough to destroy all life on the planet, even our entire solar system. No way that’s an accident.

So we believe it’s by design that physicists will never crack reality. And even if they did, we’d be done—there’d be nothing else left for us to do. This not only won’t be allowed, it won’t be possible. Anytime we get close to breaking through we’re led down a spiral of impossible truths, of fake proofs and maddening temporal inversions. We’re dropped off back at square one. “But we almost had it!” we cry. “We’ll get ‘em next time. We’ll build a bigger particle accelerator, come up with new equations, design more powerful telescopes. There must be an answer!”

Somehow I caught a piece of this answer yesterday, but I couldn’t tell you how. A dimensional fissure shook loose a piece of our cosmic prison and it fell into my pocket. A puzzle piece. It’s not clear to me how, but in some real sense it’s an artifact of our imposed delusion. Which is why I need Mandy, or even Willow at this point. But what to say, exactly?

I need water. I stumble to the bathroom and drink down a couple gulpfuls from the sink. I hold my ear against the bedroom door. I don’t hear Daryl or anyone else. It’s still crazy early, I guess. The faintest blue light of morning is visible through the window. I creep through my bedroom door and head downstairs, hoping for the makings of coffee in the kitchen. I walk under massive paintings depicting, I don’t know, life in old-timey China or some shit. (I swear, this is the most schizophrenically-decorated home I’ve ever seen. I’m sort of waiting to stumble in on a medieval basement with fiery sconces and gargoyle heads.)

I don’t find the kitchen, but I do find a closet filled with some pretty spectacularly valuable looking stuff. Boxes of jewelry, wads of certificates that look like, what, like bank notes? Jesus. Video tapes, more jewelry, more bank notes, really old books. I’m clearly not supposed to be in here. But the door was open, or anyway it was unlocked. It’s like one of those closets back home you keep all your board games in, or just like extra towels and blankets and stuff. Linen closet. That’s what they’re called. It’s like a linen closet for the painfully rich.

I pull out another drawer from the wall. The top pops off like a cigar case and the interior is lined with red felt, soft and furry. Inside are five black velvet drawstring bags. I open one and pour out a dozen or so small white stones into my hand. They have to be diamonds. I mean they just have to be diamonds. They sparkle furiously in the hot light and they’re sharp against my skin. And fucking heavy. I imagine stuffing them in my pockets and running out of the place, but of course that’s exactly what the Great Liar wants me to do. I put them back, close the drawer, and take one more look around. It smells like money in here. I mean, you know when you hold a bunch of bills up to your nose and sniff? That’s what it actually smells like. And everything’s red. The walls, the drawers, even the carpet. I stuff my empty hands in my pockets and laugh. How stupid is Willow?

“What the hell are you doing?”

I spin around. It’s Daryl. He’s on the staircase looking down at me. He’s barely awake and clearly not happy.

“Oh hey, man. Just checking out this crazy room. You know, you guys really ought to keep this place locked or something.”

He jumps down the rest of the stairs and yanks me out of the closet of the rich. He does it so fast it knocks the wind out of me. He slams the closet door shut and leans against it, panting. Behind him the door blends in almost seamlessly with the wall.

“Dude.”

He’s blinking like an idiot and I just can’t stop laughing. I’m like, What?

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