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zondag, mei 15

Short story by Michiel van Laarhoven: The Video Tape – part 5

The Video Tape – part 5 of 6

By Michiel van Laarhoven

Oh, the pain! The pain in my head. My ribs. Christ, everything hurt! I opened my eyes and all I could see were strange shapes as if I saw everything through the curved side of a looking glass. Perhaps my eyes were reversed. There was lots of light. Artificial light, I was sure. And I was lying in a bed. One shape by the other I pieced together where I was, but it was that old, grating voice that connected my theory to fact. 

‘Back in the bed, eyes open,’ the ancient voice of Clementine creaked.

My eyesight sharpened and I noticed now that I was lying in a hard hospital bed in a large facility that was unknown and yet strangely familiar. Covered in blankets were the shapes of some obscure technology that was now hidden under a thick layer of dust – except for one piece of equipment: an old, analogue television that was placed on a table beside the bed, next to which the video tape lay. I got upright and straightened my cracking back, and I dangled my feet beside the bed.

Something strange was happening: I looked through the room where I had never been before and had been many times simultaneously. I looked at Clementine, and something was off about her as well – her skin wrinkled in the shapes of a spider’s cobweb, her sunken, emerald eyes that shone valiantly and her dry skeletal mouth smiled blunt bone instead of teeth.

‘You saved me from them…’ I didn’t necessarily say it to her, I could have said it to the floor as well.

‘I had most of them killed; took a few bodies for the message to ring through.’ She did necessarily say it to me – her eyes gently poking my confused soul. The rest of her body, though, seemed utterly dead. It was merely months ago she gave me the assignment to retrieve the video tape, at which point she had seemed at least a little less… dead.

‘Don’t they worship you, or something?’ I said.

‘Don’t they all?’

I chuckled politely, as I felt my pockets. They were all completely empty.

‘They told you, didn’t they?’ Clementine spoke, her voice as commanding as her shredded throat would allow.

‘Told me what?’ I still didn’t look at her. My belt was taken from my trousers as well.

‘Why else are you searching your pockets when you’ve already noticed the video tape?’

I stopped and looked right at her, right into those hypnotic eyes that revealed a well without bottom.

‘It is so easy, then? The first weapon you would find in your pockets would have sufficed to settle the debt, to balance the scales, to free yourself from a compulsive revenge fueled by more hatred than a lifetime can sustain. It doesn’t matter to you who it is on the receiving end of your misguided sorrow. If the shackles that hold you are so grievous, it doesn’t matter from whose cold, dead fingers you have to take the keys – even if the keys are a lie.’

My lips were sealed. My mind was blank and felt like a plain with no grass, a lake that didn’t ripple or a forest without leaves. There was a calmness inside me that was only logical to me, because if all the thoughts and emotions are shut off except one, there is room to breathe.

‘I’ve seen you as a little boy, you know. You were quite cheerful,’ she said. ‘Surprisingly,’ she added with a chuckle. ‘Even though your mother passed away after – because of – the birth of Electra. I don’t think you ever really knew her, did you?’ I gave her nothing. ‘But it was tough on him, your father. Yes.’

Like some machine devoid of any humanity I stood up and looked at her as red spots whirled through my eyesight, as if it was snowing blood.

‘I think the guilt poisoned him. If only he would have granted her proper health care, if only he would have taken her to a hospital in the new town, she would have lived… But he was a beautiful man, wasn’t he?’ she said grimly. ‘The way he raised the three of you, with so much love and care. Oh, yes, even if he cried himself to sleep every night, at day he smiled.’ She frowned. ‘I am sorry I killed him.’

I was standing right in front of her. Clementine. The queen of the city was just a shade of her former self. For a moment I thought she was literally melting, but then I realized tears were running down her cheeks. I took her face tightly in my hand and wiped her tears away. Her skin even felt like candle grease.

‘There is no sorry. You burnt him alive.’

We kept staring at each other, waiting if there were any words left to be said. Her look was confused, then she changed the subject.

‘I understand you. We wanted the same. We wanted to improve the city.’

‘I still do,’ I said, teeth clenched.

‘And we did. Don’t you remember?’ She then slowly reached for the video tape that was lying next to her. She took it out of the casing and placed it inside the recorder. Before her trembling finger pushed it inside, I saw it was labeled with a number: 122.

The screen turned on and it was low-quality, grey security footage. I jumped. On the screen I saw Electra… And myself. Electra and I sitting on the train.

Another camera shot was of us getting out. I remembered this; it was earlier this evening – we were on our way from the station to the Apollo Theatre.

Yet, something was off. I… I don’t remember this. I saw us walking across a street on fire. Another shot… I was standing in the street, gun pointed. I fired. A man fell on his knees. It must be from another day, I thought, but I couldn’t remember doing the things I saw myself doing.

‘We stopped the revolution,’ Clementine said. ‘You stopped it.’ She leaned forward and pressed a button on the television, fast-forwarding the images. Play.

Electra and I ran inside the Apollo theatre and a new shot showed us getting out. Together. Why? I held something in my hand. A video tape? The square was full of trees. But how? I didn’t understand.

‘Look at the date of the footage,’ she croaked. I focused on the numbers in the bottom and saw that the footage Clementine was showing me was indeed from tonight, even though I couldn’t remember shooting a man in a flaming street and escaping the Apollo Theatre with Electra.

‘I don’t understand,’ I whispered. However, the moment I said that I saw an image of Electra running through the streets of the city and I noticed her face was clear. No scar.

Another shot was, according to the date in the bottom of the screen, ten years later. Ten years into the future.

‘Tricks,’ I mumbled.

Again, I saw us running into the Apollo Theatre and in a new shot we left it. Together. Me holding the video tape victoriously.

Footage that was dated twenty years into the future. Electra, with long, grey hair, strangled someone in an abandoned mall. This time her fiery scar was quite clear, despite the grainy camera footage. In the next shot – a few months later, according to the date – we were again, like a bunch of senile fools running back into the Apollo Theatre, retrieving the video tape. Like we had done this night. An older version of myself and Electra, reliving this night in alternate ways, all neatly edited together in the strangest fucking TV-show I had ever seen.

‘We made the city a better place. We aren’t poor anymore, technology is thriving. Medical care, law enforcement, work opportunity –’

‘No – the city is… it is in a worse state than it’s ever been.’

‘The city is like you want to see it. Like I…’ She didn’t finish her sentence and pressed ‘play’ again. I saw a man and a woman in their sixties walking across the square of the old town. Us – me and my little sister. There were no trees on the square this time. I saw the jazz band playing in the right corner of the screen, looking exactly like they did in my memory. Then the security footage switched to a new angle, and I got a look at the old man’s face. Me.

It suddenly stood out to me, like someone who blatantly realizes they bought a pair of pants twice, I looked rather like the old, frightened man I so often saw standing beside me in the mirror.

My head was now spinning. It was spinning so fast, the room was a blur of darkness and harsh TL lighting. My heart pounded through my ribs and sweat drained from my back.

I thought of the night I was sitting at a table with Electra and Clementine, demanding revenge for the death of my father. That memory was so clear to me and it couldn’t have been more than three months ago. According to the footage Clementine was now playing for me, however, there had been thirty years of life after that dinner that I couldn’t remember.

I looked at my hands, and all of a sudden I saw they were white, wrinkled and veined. On my right arm a metallic device was attached to my wrist, just like all those people in the Apollo Theatre who had been wasting away. I touched it with my fingertips. It felt cold and smooth, very real.

‘Normally, the device automatically erases your memories once you’ve seen the video tape.’

‘No,’ I said simply, almost expecting that a firm ‘no’ could erase this all in a blip.

‘Yes,’ Clementine said. ‘They distort reality. Which, of course, is what makes it so appealing to those nut jobs.’

‘Nut jobs? You designed those damned devices, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. For useful purposes.’

I looked at her. I looked her right in the eye and she looked back at me, her face blank.

‘Useful? YOU WASTED MY ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE YOU MOTHERFUCKING BITCH!’ I screamed at the ceiling as loud as I could and I kept screaming and screaming and screaming until my voice just stopped. Until my vocals broke and died away.

Clementine hadn’t even blinked. She waited until I was done, like a bored mother with a nagging kid.

‘I knew that as soon as you knew who really killed your father I wouldn’t live for very long. So I used your yearning for revenge to clean up the city. To make it a place where other people’s lives wouldn’t be wasted. Your father would remain on your mind’s eye if his death happened only a couple of years ago to you. It helped to make you kill some men and drain away the fear on the streets. All in exchange for handing you the person who had killed your father. Over and over again.’

‘And then I’d reset you.’

For the second time that night I barfed. It felt like I puked out every single intestine in my body, every bone and every muscle, until I was nothing but slumping skin.

Clementine stood up and walked over to me. She was bare-footed, and her toes splashed in my puddle of puke.

‘I know what you’re thinking,’ she croaked carefully. ‘This doesn’t make any sense. This was not how my life was supposed to be. This was not how it should have ended.’

She caressed my cheek, her fingers feeling like parchment. I looked into her kind, emerald eyes.

Clementine spoke: ‘Every time you returned to give me the video tape, you looked… numb. As if you already knew who’d murdered your father, until you didn’t want to know anymore. Was the will of life, or perhaps your sister’s life, stronger than the will of revenge? Each time I watched the video tape you and Electra did the exact same thing for three months. But I remained curious… is the ability to choose stronger than my technology? I don’t know. I do know that tonight you sent Electra away. You were alone this time for the first time. And isn’t that… interesting?’

She seemed to be mumbling to herself now with a glow in her eyes that scared me.

‘Where – where’s Electra?’ I uttered.

‘Safe,’ she said. ‘She’s rewinding.’

Silence. I stared at the floor.

‘Why?’ I then asked.

‘Why did I kill your father?’

‘No. Why does everyone believe in you?’

‘Because I give them eternal life,’ she deadpanned.

I looked at her dead face and I smiled, no I laughed. I laughed so hard spit was flying around the room – I laughed harder than I had ever done before in my whole life, or at least I think. Because I’ve lived 122 lives. And isn’t that goddamn funny?

Then I cried. Tears were flowing from my eyes and they hurt. My eyes itched as salty tears poured from them. I lost my entire life to revenge, but the realization that Electra lost her life too sucked my lungs empty. My little sister was now a sixty year old woman who had been doing nothing more than literally running in circles for the past thirty years.

Clementine lifted her arms and put them around me in a tender hug. Her old body around mine, and it made me feel a warmth that I hadn’t felt since so very long ago. I hugged her back. Tight. Even tighter. My arms were clammed around her fragile body. Even tighter. She was gasping for breath, but she didn’t let go. As tight as I could now. And I screamed and I cried and I felt her back break.

I lay calmly and comfortably on a white cushion.

Like a globe, the mechanism beneath me gently spins around.

I am thrust into inferno and swallowed by darkness in a curled, child-like position.

The last light escapes me and so I am drowned.

Here, I am born.

I die, until I get born again.

At least every now and then.

Until I am worn.


Je vindt hoofdstuk 1 van The Video Tape hier.

Je vindt hoofdstuk 2 van The Video Tape hier.

Je vindt hoofdstuk 3 van The Video Tape hier.

Je vindt hoofdstuk 4 van The Video Tape hier.

Je vindt hoofdstuk 6 van The Video Tape hier.

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