Mind The Shadows (Work In Progress)

© 2016 All Rights Reserved

Mind the Shadows…

1

I watched him half-waddle-half-teeter along from the kitchen to the living room where he would sit in his favorite chair.  He looked so frail.  It seemed a light breeze could knock him off his feet.  He wheezed slightly with the effort he made to keep his 87-year old body moving toward his chosen destination.

I knew at that moment that my grandfather would not be with me for much longer.  His body wouldn’t allow it.  The chill of that thought went through my chest and stomach.  I was not ready to imagine my life without him in it.

But his spirit and mind were vigorous and sharp.  One look at his eyes told anyone that he suffered no fool. Grandpa was as aware of his surroundings now as on his seventeenth birthday, seven decades ago.  His wit was quick, and often sharp.  Almost nothing got by without his notice.  He would tell you he wasn’t a very smart guy.  I knew different.  I also knew I would miss him…

Grandpa sat down with visible relief and a loud sigh.  I grabbed his afghan from the end table and draped it over his stick-like legs. He refused to wear anything but shorts… who knows why?  His gnarled hands grabbed the end of the blanket, so he could situate it to his liking.  He nodded his thanks as he worked to catch his breath.

“Grandpa, you want me to get you a drink or something?”

Grandpa appeared to give it some thought and replied, “How about some 30-year old scotch, neat; and a buxom blonde to keep me company?”

He was deadly serious…  I think… for about 2 seconds.  Then he cackled at his own joke, and the sound – while sharp and annoying to many ears – was full of warmth and humor to mine.

“I’m fine, Marek. Now get outa here and have some fun with your friends.  I’m gonna plug in for a bit.  You’ll probably hafta unplug me when ya get home, though.”  He said the last with a grin like a teenager that just found out his parents were heading out for the evening.  He chuckled to himself and winked at me as he plugged the fiber cable into his neural jack.

I couldn’t help smiling in turn.  “Alright then, I’m headed out.  Ping me if you need anything.  We’ll be at Jammer’s or at Eat ‘Em Up down the street from his place, so I won’t be far away.”

Grandpa nodded and waved nonchalantly.  Just as I reached to open the door, though, he called out to me.  I looked over my shoulder to see his good humor had disappeared as quickly as it had come.  He spoke in a very serious tone, “Mind the shadows, boy.  Always mind the shadows.”

I had no doubt that he was deadly serious and suddenly concerned for some reason.  That concern was about so much more than me walking those 5 blocks to Jammer’s, too.  I think he knew…

2

I was scared shitless.  I was watching another human being burn right in front of me.  His flesh was crackling as the flames consumed him like a ravenous animal.  His screams – much higher pitched than I thought possible – stopped in a couple of seconds as his vocal cords were cooked to a crisp.  Then only a quiet rasp could be heard… his last attempt to make his anguish heard.

To this day, I am thankful I was upwind.  The few wisps of smoke I did whiff from the turbulent air around him were sickening.  Part of my mind processed the smell as something appetizing, I think…  After all, it was flesh being cooked, right?  How disgusting…  I still shiver at the thought. Then there was the stench of the boiling fluids oozing out of him along with the various materials of his burning clothes. It was beyond sickening.  Somehow, I managed not to puke…

I can’t forget that night, either.  No matter the amount of time passed and things I have seen since, I can remember watching that mugger spontaneously catch fire and burn right in front of me as if it were last night.  The Old Man told me that I would never forget my first kill.  He was right. The details are still with me in living color.

There was more to it than that, though.  I knew I had made this guy burst into flames. I had willed it to happen.  I had to wrap my head around that fact.  I had to come to terms with the fact that something I thought was fantasy and imagination was…  well, it was reality.

3

The adrenaline was wearing off. I was feeling twitchy and nauseous.  I was scared from being attacked for sure, but it’s not every day you watch somebody spontaneously combust right in front of you.  Something inside me was also still… sparking.  There was an energy inside me that I didn’t understand.  I felt tingles in my arms and legs.  My chest felt like it was vibrating, but it wasn’t my heart. It was pounding just fine.  I could tell there was something different between what I was feeling and having some sort of coronary episode. I felt…

Then I suddenly realized I was aware of everything around me, and I mean VERY aware.  Sight, smell, and sound had become so vivid and present.  I was a block from Jammer’s – an area I had walked through hundreds of times – and it was like a completely new place to me.  It was the middle of the night.  It was an empty street just like any other night, right? Not even close…

I could hear a low gurgle, the flow of the sewage through the pipe well below the center of the street.  There was a cat hiding in the dark recesses of a storm drain entrance in the curb on the opposite corner.  I could hear it breathing. I could also see the soft glow of light reflecting off its retinas as it watched me from its hiding spot; no way I could have seen that on a normal night.  I could feel the warmth of the pavement – heat absorbed from the sun earlier that day – radiating back into the night.  The smells – probably the cause of my continued nausea – were so strong.  I had never noticed them like that before. I was picking up the faint stench of the sewage below the street.  The odors of rotting food – among other things – in the dumpsters down the alley were invading my nostrils like a freight train, along with the musky scent of the rats that rummaged through those dumpsters.  These odors were all amplified and distinct beyond any level I could believe.  There was so much more, too… the buzz of streetlights, the soft rumble of the sidewalk and street as the subway went by underground SIX BLOCKS AWAY… wow. I was so overwhelmed.

“Good morning,” exclaimed a raspy, high-pitched voice from behind me.  I should have jumped right out of my skin at that moment, but something held me in check.  I’m not sure I was even startled, and I was not any more afraid than I had been before he appeared.  The old man’s sudden presence did not add to what I was already trying to process.  Oddly enough, I was rational enough to wonder why he had wished me a good morning in the middle of the night.  Crazy, huh?

“I’ll tell you why, young man.  You just woke up.”  He grinned from ear to ear; looking like what he said should have just explained it all to me. And yet, I was still clueless.

I took advantage of the strangely rational part of my mind and responded, “Good morning to you, too, I guess.  But I’m not sure it’s even midnight yet.”  I was starting to scratch my head by that point.  Rational or not, I was still confused about what had just happened.  I was in a state of heightened awareness due to an unexplained amplification of my senses.  I was coming down from the biggest adrenaline rush I had ever felt in my life to date; being mugged and subsequently willing your assailant to burn to death is a rather traumatic experience. AND this strange old man had managed to show up right after this fiasco to wish me a good morning, in spite of the fact that it was clearly still night.  I still wonder to this day if moments like that are of uncommon clarity, complete confusion, or just stark raving insanity.

“Why thank you, good sir,” he responded with good cheer.  He sounded a lot like my grandpa.  He looked to be about the same age as my grandpa, too.  “I guess you’re right,” he continued, “It’s not morning.  But for you it might as well be morning.  I think we should take this conversation somewhere else, though. Someone is about to report a burnt body laying on the street corner to the police.  You and I should really talk about… this… as soon as possible and being here when they show up will make that a problem.”  Just like Grandpa, he had gone from almost happy-go-lucky to deadly serious in one breath.  Still not sure just what the hell was going on; I opted to follow the Old Man down the alley with the stinking, rat-infested dumpsters.

4

I got home about 7 the next morning.  I had spent the rest of the night talking with the Old Man about what had happened to me and how I made that guy burn to death.  I knew I should’ve gone home sooner, but I had gotten some of my questions answered, and he was starting to teach me about how to deal with my “situation”.  The Old Man was more than willing to help me work through what was happening.  He even mentioned something to the effect that he was supposed to help me.  I didn’t get that, but I was glad I had somebody to talk with who appeared to have some understanding of what was going on, AND who believed me.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I got to the apartment door.  It didn’t feel right.  I thumbed the lock to release it and eased the door open hoping not to wake Grandpa.  That wasn’t an issue, though.  Grandpa was in his recliner – right where I left him – with a peaceful expression on his face.  He wasn’t breathing.  I think I sensed it before I could see him.  I knew my grandpa was gone.  I could tell he had been gone for a while.  The apartment was so quiet.  His presence was no longer there.  Even when he was out or sleeping, our place had never felt this empty.

I pinged emergency services and let the man that answered know what I had found.  I guess what I described and the questions he asked was enough to help him decide there was no real emergency. The dispatcher calmly informed me that an ambulance would be there shortly, and then he offered his routine condolences.  He asked if I needed any help dealing with my loss.  I told him that I didn’t think so.  He messaged me a number and address for a city-funded place that offered counseling.  I thanked him and disconnected so I could wait for the ambulance.

I’m not sure how long it took for the ambulance to arrive, but I suppose it was longer than normal.  I don’t remember any sirens or sense of urgency from the paramedics.  In fact, I was still standing just inside the door when they arrived.  I suppose now it was good that I had had the presence of mind to call the ambulance in the first place, because at some point right after that I went blank.

Emotional shock happens to folks in different ways for different things.  Losing my grandfather must have hit an “off” button somewhere in my head.  I didn’t feel anything.  I couldn’t think.  It was almost a trance-like state.  I guess my mind retreated from what I was facing to try and process things.  I might have stood there like that for a while if I hadn’t called for help.

The paramedics announced themselves, but I didn’t move.  The one had to touch me on the shoulder to get any acknowledgment.  He asked me to move so they could get themselves and their equipment into the apartment.  I must have had just enough mental horsepower to move a couple of steps out of the way.  They came in with their gear.  The first thing they did was pull what looked like a memory stick from their kit and install it on Grandpa’s Netbox.  I guess I made an inquisitive gesture or noise because the one paramedic turned and told me it was routine when they encountered someone who had passed while jacked into the Net.  I guess I was satisfied with the explanation because I returned to my blank gaze.

“Marek?  Is that your name, son?”

I started a bit as I came back from wherever my mind had gone to hide.  I focused on the paramedic that was now standing right in front of me with his hand on my arm and finally responded, “Yeah, I’m Marek.  I’m his grandson.”

The paramedic smiled and looked genuinely sympathetic to my situation.  He tried to be as consoling as possible and explained, “Your grandpa is gone, son.  It looks like his heart simply stopped beating about 10:30pm last night.  We checked the Netbox to see if he was connected to anything that might have frightened him or otherwise would have helped cause this, but we found nothing like that.  It’s routine for us to do that to help verify cause of death when a person is jacked in.  He was just listening to music – jazz, I think – and reading an article from a news feed about a robbery on the other side of town.  My partner scanned him, and everything indicates that his body just quit on him.  I’m sorry, Marek.”

“I should have been here.  I just got home a bit ago.” I was starting to feel something.  It wasn’t good.

“There is nothing you could have done, Marek.  He passed quickly and painlessly.  Not even on our best days could we have gotten here quick enough to try and help him, and we could not have helped him anyway.  It was just his time.”

I was starting to show signs of my distress.  I could not respond to thank the paramedic.

He patted my shoulder and asked, “Is there someone I can call to come and help you with this?  You’re not looking too good right now.”

I lifted my wrist and tapped the little screen.  I was starting to shake and couldn’t even bring up my call list.  The paramedic did it for me and scrolled through until I nodded at Jammer’s number.  He activated his own com-data unit and told it to call Jammer’s number.  He had a short conversation with Jammer to explain the situation.  Then he told me that Jammer was on his way over.

Apparently during my mental shutdown, the paramedics had done their work, packed up their gear, unplugged the N.I. cable from Grandpa and moved him onto a gurney.  The other paramedic covered him with a sheet and announced, “We’re ready to move him, boss.”

“Okay, give me a sec.”  The guy standing with me turned back toward me and said, “Let’s get you over here so you can sit.  Your friend will be here soon.   We need to take your grandpa’s body out of here.  You will get a message with instructions for claiming personal effects and making preparations for a funeral or whatever you need to do with his body.”  I could tell this was NOT the favorite part of his job.  He obviously hated trying to explain the dry details of something like this to a person that had just lost a loved one.  He tried to smile again and added, “Hey, let your friend help you.  It will make things easier for you.  And remember, this was not your fault, son. It was just his time.”

By that point, the paramedic had guided me over to the couch and had me sitting. He patted me one more time on the shoulder then turned back to his partner to help him move Grandpa’s body down to the ambulance.

Jammer showed up a short time after the paramedics took Grandpa away.  He burst through the partially open door breathing hard from running. In typical Jammer fashion, he stood just inside the doorway for a moment to take everything in.  If you gave the guy a moment to look around an area, he could take it all in and recite what he had seen in minute detail for days afterward.  He didn’t miss much.

“Wassup, Marek?”

I managed to turn my head enough to look at him.  I must have looked like I was about to melt down – an apparent reflection of how I was starting to feel on the inside.  That “off” button was no longer working.  My thoughts and feelings were flooding back.  None of it was good.

He moved over and sat down next to me on the couch.  He looked me right in the eyes. I could tell he wasn’t sure what to say or do.  He decided to say something; “Silly ass question, but are you okay, man?”  Jammer was not trying to ask a stupid question.  He just didn’t know what to ask and was trying to say anything to ease the discomfort he was feeling seeing me like that and to get me talking.  We were the best of friends – and arguably pretty close, but we had never faced anything this emotionally tasking together. He was a few years older than me and had gotten past his rough upbringing as an orphan. He had learned to be on his own before we knew each other.  I had lost my mom when I was little more than a baby, and my father died before I was born. So, Grandpa was my one parent and only family.  Other than telling each other about our history and unconsciously bonding on that level, Jammer and I didn’t know how to face a situation where one of us was emotionally distraught like this.

It was starting to hit me hard, too.  “No, bro…  I don’t… I’m… not okay.”  I could feel the sobs trying to escape.  Grandpa was gone.  He was the only family I had, and he was not there anymore.  I was pretty scared as it was. Finding out I could kill somebody by thinking about it hard enough was bad enough, but now I had to come to terms with losing Grandpa on top of that.

Jammer did the best he knew how.  He tentatively put his arm around me and let me cry.  He wasn’t going to let his discomfort get in the way of trying to help his friend.

5

Grandpa’s funeral was small.  Jammer, a couple of our mutual friends and I were the only people there.  I had him cremated per the request in his documented last wishes.  I did not allow an obituary to be published – another request of his.  We finished the day at the Eat ‘Em Up down the street from Jammer’s place.  We had a meal prescribed by Grandpa in his last wishes document.  As always, Grandpa knew things that helped; even when he wasn’t there.  We were stuffed by the end of it, but all of us thanked Grandpa for some great choices and some awesome custom tweaks to the order.  V’urp’s thanks was, as usual, the loudest.

I spent the next week getting “family affairs” in order.  Jammer proved over and over that he was my best friend.  He worked by my side to make sure everything was transitioned from Grandpa to me with as little distress as possible.  He listened when I talked about Grandpa.  He stuck around while I grieved and made sure I had sustenance.  Losing my only family was not easy on me, and eating was not high on the list of things going through my head at the time.  Getting through the loss of Grandpa would have been so much more difficult without my buddy Jammer.

Grandpa’s will was straightforward.  He left everything he had to me.  He remarked that while it wasn’t much, he trusted me to make it work until I got going on my own.  The apartment was paid off and under a low-tax clause from when it was purchased.  The will contained a short list of account numbers and passwords for his savings and investments.  He had put my name on everything to make it easier for me to access the credits I was going to need until I got a better job.  He also had a safety deposit box at the local bank branch that he had encoded to open for him and me.  He mentioned I should get to that sooner than later. As I said earlier, Jammer was invaluable getting all this straight.

I went to the bank where Grandpa kept his safety deposit box.  Grandpa must have had something he thought valuable enough to keep locked in a vault.  I was a little apprehensive, but I was a little amused, too.  He never mentioned what might have been in the box.  Like I said, apprehensive.  I had no idea what I would find.  The humor part came from knowing Grandpa.  Whatever was in the box, something in it was likely to be interesting, to say the least.

After going through the identification process with a bank employee, I was escorted to the vault to get the box.  I was then shown to a private room to examine the contents of the box.  So, I took a deep breath, settled down in the desk chair and opened the box.

I was right about the amusement.  The first thing I found was a stack of 6 printed pictures of pin-up girls.  All of them were, in Grandpa’s words, “Buxom blondes.”  I got a good chuckle, especially when I saw the note on the back of the last picture that said, “Marek, keep these safe for me.  These are very valuable.  Well, they’re valuable to the right dirty old man anyway.”  Since I was planning on keeping the box for those ‘just in case’ reasons, I put them back in the box in a neat stack.

The next thing I found was a ring box.  In the ring box was a memory card and a couple of folded pieces of paper with Grandpa’s handwriting on them.  Once I unfolded them, the top piece of paper instructed me to take the memory card and the letter (the second piece of paper) with me.  I was supposed to read the letter and access the memory card – in that order- at home.  I thought that was kind of strange, but I figured Grandpa had his reasons for this.  It was also strange realizing that he had done this before he died.  He had set all this up for me knowing I would not see any of this until he was gone.  I took it as proof again of how good my Grandpa had been to me and how much I was going to miss him.

I headed back to the apartment with the ring box and its odd contents in my jacket pocket.  I was feeling down again.  Going through the safety deposit box had left me grateful for Grandpa’s foresight, though pretty sad about his absence. But a welcome distraction came just before I got home in the form of a ping from Jammer.  He informed me that he was coming over with dinner and had some software to put on my Net box.  I told him I was almost there after going to the bank and would welcome both him and the food.

After a good meal of Asian cuisine from the Chinese joint Jammer hit up about twice a week, I turned over my Net box to him and grabbed a seat in Grandpa’s chair to read the letter.  I opened the little box and took out the letter:

Marek,

If you’re reading this, then I’m no longer with you.  Scratch that… I guess I’m at the apartment with you, but in an urn… heh, heh, heh.  I’ll be easier to take care of this way <wink, wink>.  I hope that I went out with a scotch in one hand and a buxom blonde on my lap.  I know, wishful thinking <wink again>.

You need to know that I’m very proud of you and love you very much.  I wish I could have done more for you, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  We did the best we could with our situation, and it wasn’t bad.  I missed your mother every day of my life. But getting to see some of her in you as you grew up helped out a great deal.  I also know that you’ll be just fine without me.  I have no doubt about that at all.  I think I raised you right because you’ve turned out to be one hell of a good young man.

It’s okay that you might be missing me and a little scared right now.  I’m guessing that I’ll miss you, too.  But I don’t want you to stop living.  In fact, I want you to get out there and go for better than we had.  You always said that I wasn’t a burden, but we both know that you were not working hard enough on your future because you felt obligated to take care of me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate it, but that’s no longer an issue.  If you want to do right by me now, move on.  I don’t want you sitting around missing me every day.  You’ve got too much going for you to keep moving at OUR pace.  You got a lot of life ahead of you.  Make something of it.

One last thing you need from me. I hope it’ll be enough…  As you have already seen, I left you a memory card in that ring box.  It has a list of Net locations, some with logins and passwords.  You need to read the articles and then access the sites to retrieve the information I’ve stashed there.  There are things in those articles and that information you need to help get your life… in order.  I wish I could have stuck around a little longer to help you with this, but I guess that just didn’t work out.  You weren’t ready yet.  Now you have no choice but to be ready.  Like I told you when you left for Jammer’s that night, mind the shadows.  Always mind the shadows.

Yours,

Grandpa

Wow.  That was all I could say or think after I read that.  I let Jammer read it to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind.  What the hell was Grandpa talking about?  What did he mean by “the shadows”?  What wasn’t I ready for?  I knew there would be some jokes and some sentiment in that note, but I never figured on that last part. Jammer read and I sat there slack-jawed.  Wow.

6

Nearly a month had gone by since Grandpa was gone.  The shock and loss had become dull throbs, and I was coming to terms with handling things on my own.  In truth, I had not realized how much I had already been taking care of daily life while Grandpa was still there.  He must have been giving me a little bit to do at a time without me catching on to that fact.  I appreciated that.

Actually, I had thrown myself into ‘daily life’.  I had a lot of thoughts and feelings I needed to sort out because of my new situation.  But when thoughts of Grandpa being gone or how I was going to deal with my new… ‘skill’, I just wanted to run and hide. So, the day-to-day stuff, like working and paying bills, was a welcome distraction from those things.  I was obviously trying to dodge dealing with it all.  Grandpa was probably seeing that, shaking his head and giving me one of his “you gotta get on with it” looks.  He was right, of course.

The worst parts of this were the questions.  I had questions I needed answered, AND I had questions that I needed to answer.  After Jammer read the letter from Grandpa that night, he’d asked me what my Grandpa was talking about.  I didn’t give him an answer partly because I wasn’t sure, myself.  I had questions about Grandpa’s strange letter, too, and questions about what had happened with me that night.

Questions…

First, I had to find out more about being able to catch people on fire.  At the least, I needed to know how NOT to do it again.  The Old Man had talked to me a little that night about what had happened to me, but after I found Grandpa when I got home, I had not given any of that much more thought.  He said I had been Awakened, and that he was there to help me learn how to deal with and use my magick.  Yep, he called it magick.  I had an answer, I guess, but it led to more freakin’ questions…

Second, what was it that Grandpa said I wasn’t ready for? He said I needed to know some stuff to get my life squared away.  I needed to look at that memory card he left me and research whatever was on there.  I was hopeful for some answers there, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath, either.

Finally, how did Grandpa manage to mention in the letter that he had told me to, “Mind the shadows,” before I went to Jammers the night he died?  It was actually Jammer that drew my attention to it; go figure.  Jammer, though, just wanted to know what Grandpa meant by “mind the shadows”.  What Jammer didn’t realize, however, was the significance of when Grandpa had said that to me.  Grandpa died that night.  While I accepted the possibility that he could have written the letter after I left that night, a little before he died, how the hell could he have gotten that hand-written letter into that safety deposit box between the time I left – about 7pm – and when I came back to find him early the next morning?  The bank had been closed.  More damned questions…

Grandpa was right.  I needed to get off my butt and start… life.  I was young, alone and legitimately afraid.  I had a lot of questions that weren’t going to answer themselves.  I also had no idea what I was going to do with myself; that was another question, I suppose.  Working part-time at Jack’s Corner c-store and getting a core Net-based education was as far as I had gone.  I guess I just figured that Grandpa would be there to help me take the next step.  You know… start a career, maybe move into a place of my own… figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  Yeah, naïve, huh?  Obviously, that is not how it went.

I knew my inheritance wasn’t going to last for very long, either.  My part-time job at Jack’s Corner along with what Grandpa left behind was not setting me up for life.  In truth, it was not going to keep the lights on and food in my belly for much longer.  I figured at the time that I probably had another few months, at best, before I was going to start having to make some choices.  You know… choices like keeping the lights on versus having more than one meal a day… stuff like that.  Grandpa had let me know our situation one time before he died.  I guess I just took it for granted that things would work out differently.  Maybe he did, too, but it didn’t make how I felt about it now any better. 

So, I decided to follow Grandpa’s last instructions and go through the information he left me on that memory card.  He did seem to say in the letter that there was stuff on that card that would help me figure out how to get on with life and make it on my own.  Grandpa always had a knack for showing me things he found on the Net or sharing something from his life that would teach me a life lesson or help me with a problem.  I guess he was going to help one last time.

I sat down on the couch and jacked into my Netbox.  It was different this time.  I was used to seeing some sign of Grandpa when I was online – his avatar when he was jacked in, his account Net-bot or some sort of message from him.  But none of that was there.  All I had now was an icon labeled, “Grandpa.” Jammer had created it when he worked on Grandpa’s Net account so I could have access to the stuff in his Net storage; one of the many things Jammer had done to help me get through Grandpa’s departure from my life.  But once again, I realized how much I missed my grandfather’s presence – both real and virtual.

I shook off the bad feelings and slotted the memory card. I scanned the list of items and files on the card as he had presented it.  A majority of the things on the list were links to news articles and other documents.  It looked like I had some reading to do.  The files on the list contained links to sites with the login information needed to access those sites.  I had never heard of some of those sites.  I guess that was not too far a reach considering the size and scope of the Net, but I was a product of the Net Age.  I guess I found it odd that Grandpa – an 87-year old man – knew about Net sites that I didn’t know about.  Hypocritical?  Probably…

It only took reading the first news article linked on the list – titled, “Woman Uses Her Mind to Lift a Car” – to blow my mind.  A few news articles and documents later, I could not believe that I was reading things that Grandpa, himself, had actually read.  I could not wrap my mind around the possibility that Grandpa might have had any interest in strange things like that.  He liked a good story now and then, but Grandpa was rather pragmatic and had little use for tabloid-style stories.

The especially crazy part of this, though, was the fact that none of the articles were actually from tabloids.  They all appeared to be from credible news network feeds.  The documents seemed legitimate, too. Some were essays from people like university professors that were investigating the possibilities of people being able to do stuff like what I did to that mugger.

He had been looking for this kind of stuff for a while, too. I mean some of those articles dated back a year before my own “condition” manifested.  Also, by looking at his access time stamps versus the publication time stamps of the articles – sometimes just minutes apart – I could tell that he had programmed his Net-bot to search for this sort of stuff and notify him when it was found.  That meant he had been actively seeking out stuff about people doing extraordinary things that could not be explained in a rational way.

Grandpa had never even hinted to me that he might have had any interest at all in that kind of stuff, much less any desire to research it.  Grandpa shared stuff with me all of the time.  Not this stuff, though.  Why?  Given what I had discovered about myself and then learning that Grandpa had been researching similar things – for quite a while, no less, I found myself trying to decide how to feel about him not “sharing”.

Within a few hours, I had, at least, skimmed over every article and document he had linked in that list.  They all had something to do with strange occurrences or people having abilities that could not be explained.  Words like “supernatural” and “paranormal” were used in some of these articles.  Many were about people in very high-stress situations, including getting mugged like me.  These folks were suddenly capable of great feats of strength or could move people and objects without touching them.  Apparently, the large amount of stress and emotion these people were experiencing triggered something akin to psychic abilities… or magick.  Yep, a few of the articles and documents actually used the words “magick-like” and “magickal”; and they were serious.

One news article, in particular, caught my eye.  It was about spontaneous human combustion occurring during a convenience store robbery.  The surveillance video clip attached to the article showed a very frightened clerk behind a checkout counter. His hands were in the air, and a masked man on the other side of the counter was pointing a gun at his face. A few seconds into the video the robber got very agitated and started trying to intimidate the clerk even more. As the clerk obviously got more scared, the air between the robber and the clerk started to blur slightly.  A moment later, the robber burst into flames.  The clip cut off shortly after that. I guess showing the end result would have been too much for viewers.  I wish my ‘video camera’ had cut off…

I jacked out and just sat there staring at nothing.  I was completely blown away.  My heart was starting to race.  Things the Old Man had mentioned when he started telling me about what had happened to me were similar to things Grandpa had been reading about… behind my back.  I was getting the shakes and feeling a little nauseous.  The connection I was forming in my head between what happened to me and what Grandpa knew before then was not good.

Was it possible that Grandpa might have actually known what I could do before I found out myself?  It seemed like it given the list of links on that memory card.  And it was very odd that his research had started long before I had been – as the Old Man put it – Awakened.

If Grandpa knew, how did he know?  And why the hell didn’t he tell me before the night I killed somebody?  What would have motivated him to secretly research this kind of thing?  He made sure that I would have access to it after he died, but never mentioned anything like that when we spoke of growing up, etc.  I have to admit that shock was changing over to a little bit of hurt and anger.  My grandfather… my only family… might have known I could do things, like what I did to that guy, way before it had happened. Yet he never once brought up the subject.  I don’t know if telling me – before it happened – would have scared me any less when it actually happened, but I have to wonder.  I honestly felt betrayed by Grandpa.  Not telling me kind of felt like he had lied to me.  We didn’t lie to each other.  We didn’t keep secrets from each other.  Or I thought we didn’t, anyway.

I spent another couple days going between working at the c-store and coming home to look over, in great detail, the news articles and papers Grandpa had linked for me.  I was trying to absorb whatever insight I could from that information.  I was very interested in trying to learn about what I did and how I did it.

I was, also, still feeling pretty hurt over discovering that Grandpa might have known about this thing and not told me.  I had never felt betrayal like that before.  What was worse was how guilty I was feeling about feeling that way.  I had trusted Grandpa implicitly for my whole life, so I felt horrible for thinking that maybe he had broken that trust.

But I was his grandson and I had been raised and taught by him…

In spite of feeling horribly betrayed – and the large amount of guilt I was experiencing for feeling that way, I somehow had my head screwed on straight enough to realize something.  Grandpa had left me this stuff to help me.  Grandpa may have kept this stuff from me for what he thought was a good reason.  Hell, he actually gave that reason in the letter.  He told me I wasn’t ready.  At least I finally understood what he meant by that.

Then it kind of clicked.  I let out a sigh of relief as I went from feeling betrayed to almost giddy.  I was still acutely aware of the fact that Grandpa apparently had some kind of prior knowledge about me and magick, and that was something I still needed to figure out.  But then I let myself realize he was still trying to help me.  I also realized how right he was once again.  I wasn’t ready.  I wasn’t ready for any of it.

Sorry, Grandpa.  I didn’t mean to doubt you.

7

Grandpa left each piece of information on that memory card for reasons he thought would help me deal with having magick, and ready or not, I was going to learn something from that information so I could be ready to deal with it.

I spent some more time poring over the news articles, essays, and research papers he had linked.  By studying all of that, I discovered that Awakening – as the Old Man had called it – was pretty rare, but definitely not unique to me.  I learned that once these people did magick, some of them seemed to be able to do it again on purpose.  Obviously, I wondered if I could do it again.  The Old Man said that I could and tried to explain a little about using magick.  I was so stressed that night, though, that I could not remember much about our talk.  And I wasn’t even sure I wanted to try magick again, not until I knew a little more, at least.

The picture being painted for me as I absorbed the information from the links was that something was definitely happening to some people in the world.  These people were definitely Awakening like the Old Man had tried to explain to me. 

Once I felt like I had all the info I could get from the links, I started accessing the accounts Grandpa had listed on the memory card.  The first account login was to a secure online discussion forum where the subject matter involved the paranormal, the supernatural and things of a magickal nature.  I studied the saved logs on the first site and discovered that Grandpa had been involved in discussions with other folks that either studied, had personally experienced or had done things that fell into those categories.  He had been asking questions about when and how people Awakened.

The big difference I found with this forum versus public forums, was the fact that the people in it seemed credible.  The folks posting were telling the truth, at least as they understood it, and trying to provide credible information to help study and understand the strange phenomena and experiences they had been part of.  It also looked like that all the people and information involved in these forums had been vetted to some degree. These weren’t just crazy people telling wild stories and looking for attention.

I went to the next link down the list – Emerging Magick – and entered the login credentials.  As soon as I connected to the site, my Netbox emitted a chime in my head.  The notification pop-up said that someone had made an external connection to my Netbox.  As fast as I could think it, I activated the FREEZ program Jammer had installed for me.  The box stopped in its tracks, and I got a little disoriented from the sudden halt in data that had been flowing through my neural link.

Jammer’s custom program – he called it FREEZ – was simple in function.  It locked up a Netbox, not allowing one more clock cycle to process anything running on it, until the “proper” signals were given to continue.  So, whatever connection from the outside had been made when I logged into Emerging Magick, it was halted with everything else on my Netbox.

I had gotten intrusion detection messages before for going to less reputable sites for stuff like pirated games, porn (don’t judge) and such.  Those were the sites hackers and other such ilk that haunted the Net, testing their skills on “unsuspecting” Net geeks like me.  But that kind of thing was “standard” stuff.  That was what commercial firewall and antivirus programs like I had installed on my Netbox could typically beat. So, those intrusion messages usually included content about the intrusion detection and being defeated by those programs.

The message I got when I logged on to that site, though, had come straight from the operating system.  It wasn’t an intrusion detection message.  It was a simple matter-of-fact message that a connection had been made to my Netbox from the outside.  That had never happened to me before.

I’m not a techie but being a Net geek and having friends like Jammer made me aware of a few things that helped me stay relatively secure against hacks, identity theft and stolen data.  This message, though, made it look like my firewall program hadn’t even been there.  I had paid good money for that program, too, because it was one of the better security programs on the market.  It should have caught the intrusion.

I got the distinct feeling that this hacker was definitely a better grade than the usual punks.  He had managed to go right around my security program.  With that thought, I also wondered how badly my Netbox had been hacked before I ran FREEZ.  The connection could not have been there for more than a second, but that might have been all the time needed.

I decided right then that it was time to get Jammer into this.  First, I needed his help with my Netbox.  I was not a hardcore techie.  That was Jammer’s area. I needed him to get my Netbox back in order and find out who had tried to get into it.

Second, Jammer had already noticed my distraction about this whole magick thing.  He had asked me a couple of times over those few weeks about what was on my mind.  He had easily picked up that something besides Grandpa dying was wracking my brain.  Of course, he was right.  I just had no idea how to explain it, so I just told him I’d let him know when I could give him a good answer.  How do you tell your best friend that you can make people burn to death by using magick?

I had to tell him, of course.  He was fine with, “I’ll tell you later,” but then it was suddenly later.  Plus, Jammer was going to see what Grandpa had me researching when he got into my Netbox.  With that, Granpa’s letter AND my distracted behavior, I was going to be asked again.  I was going to have to give him some kind of real answer, and I was not about to lie to my best friend.

So, I pinged Jammer.  As usual, he responded right away.

“Wassup?”

“Jammer, I need your help, bud. Bring your good Netbox and gear with you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, man.  This one is serious.”  I hesitated for a second then blurted out, “And there’s more you need to know.”

There was a moment of silence as Jammer considered what I had just said.  Then he responded, “Got it, boss.  I’ll be over with my gear in a bit.  Sit tight.”

“Thanks, man.”

I cut the comm and sat down at the table to wait.  I glanced at my Netbox.  It really was completely frozen.  The display was locked in a state that reflected the moment I had run Jammer’s FREEZ program.  In fact, I could see that the clock in the corner of the status display had actually frozen between seconds.  Only Jammer was going to be able to get it running for me again.

I wasn’t sure if there was a way to find out who had tried to get into my Netbox when I logged onto that site.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.  I felt oddly certain, though, that whoever it was had invaded my Net box because I had logged onto that site.  It felt… deliberate.

I was also certain I didn’t want somebody getting into my business unless I wanted them there.  Grandpa had always preached that privacy came second only to honesty.  He claimed that privacy and honesty were necessities in a world where there was going to be any kind of trust.  I had learned to agree with him.  You shouldn’t lie, but it’s perfectly okay not to tell everybody everything.

8

I figured Jammer had the gear and know-how to get in and find out how bad I had been hacked and if any information had been stolen.  He had told me at some point that he could get into a Netbox that had run his FREEZ program and find out what kind of code it was running at the moment it was frozen.  He could scan memory, connection buffers and whatnot to get an idea of what had been going on inside the Netbox right before the FREEZ program executed. He claimed to also be able to see what the Netbox was about to do by pulling the code in the memory that was going to run before FREEZ had halted everything.  All of this he could do without allowing the Netbox itself to actually run anymore until he let it.

Jammer was great at that kind of stuff.  He was a real Net-jock.  He spent a big chunk of his life working on anything that interfaced with the Net.  He made his living as a freelance Netbox tech repairing and upgrading Netboxes for people with the funds to get it done.  When he wasn’t doing his “daily” work, he was roaming the digital domains of the Net looking and learning, testing and tweaking.  He wrote his own software, of course, and built his own custom Netboxes.  I was pretty sure he even dabbled in more illicit activities now and then, but I had never asked, and he had never told.

I was startled out of my thoughts by the door chime.  I opened the door to find a heavily loaded Jammer standing there with a grin.  I couldn’t help but grin in return as I grabbed one of his packs and helped him get it all to the table.  He loved this kind of stuff.  I started feeling guilty that I had to distract him from his “fun” with my issues.  But I needed my friend’s help and he needed to know why I needed his help and how my world – our world, in fact – was changing.

Jammer started setting up to work on my Netbox.  Without missing a beat, he asked, “What’s up, boss?  What do I need to know?”

I knew he wasn’t asking about what happened with the Netbox.  He was asking about what I had to tell him.  I had a small chill run down my spine as I realized how crazy this was going to sound to him.  I was also worried what telling him was going to mean for our friendship once I convinced him I wasn’t joking and really telling the truth.

So, I took a deep breath and let myself trust in our friendship…

“You remember the night my grandpa died?”

Jammer started connecting his gear to my Netbox, but responded over his shoulder, “Not easy to forget, bud.”

“Yeah.”  I felt a pang of the shock and sadness I had experienced when I found Grandpa early the morning after my encounter with the mugger.  It had completely overridden the fear and awe I had been experiencing after setting said mugger on fire with sheer force of will. “Yeah, well, way more happened with me that night before I got home to find Grandpa.”

Jammer paused a second, eyeing me over his shoulder, and asked, “You mean you weren’t home when he died?  I wondered about that when you told me that you had found him when you got home.  Kinda wondered why you would have waited so long to call an ambulance and get a hold of me.”  He turned back to his work trying to get everything situated to his liking on my kitchen table.

That gave me a second to collect myself.  It was time to try and explain things… no backing out.

“So… I left your place about, what, 10ish?”

“Yeah, sounds about right.”

“Well I was about halfway to my place when some guy tried to mug me.”

Jammer stopped what he was doing and turned to face me.  I had his attention.

“Yep, he came at me with a knife and tried to shake me down.  Needless to say, I was scared shitless.”

Jammer gave a bit of a snort and responded, “I bet so.  Did you get robbed?”

“Uhh… no.  The guy never got that far…”  I looked down at the floor trying to figure out how to say things.

“And???  Come on, bud.  What are you so afraid to say?  It can’t be that bad. What… did you kill him or something?”  A bit of humor was creeping into Jammer’s expression.  He was looking for a joke that he wasn’t going to get.

I kept staring at the floor but tensed when Jammer mentioned killing the mugger.  Jammer saw it.

“Really?  No shit?”

I looked up and saw that Jammer’s face reflected the shock in his voice.  I hadn’t even gotten to the “good” part yet.  But I kept myself in check and responded with a nod.

Jammer let out a long breath and went, “Wow!”  He took a moment to absorb what he had just learned then asked, “You okay, bud?  That’s pretty serious shit, whacking somebody.  You dealing with the cops?  Any trouble from them?”

I almost chuckled.  Obviously, I wasn’t amused about killing somebody, but the truth was that I had almost completely skipped past dealing with the ramifications of killing someone in favor of the ramifications of how I killed him.  Is that what they call irony?

I shook my head and answered, “I’m dealing with it okay, I guess.  I’m definitely not happy about it.  No, I’m not in any kind of trouble with the cops… they don’t know it was me… if they know at all”

Jammer’s expression went completely blank.  He just stared at me for a couple seconds and asked, “What’s the deal?”

I went cold inside.  I thought for sure I was about to lose my best friend.  The only other time I could remember seeing Jammer with that look and asking that question was when a long-time customer – and… friend – of his tried to screw him over.  The customer had done some illegal hacking with one of Jammer’s custom Netboxes and got caught.  The bitch tried to get out of it by making it look like Jammer had done that hacking remotely through her Netbox.  I was there when he confronted her about it.  He had that same stone-cold look and asked that same question.  When she tried to worm her way out of dealing with him, he proceeded to ruin her by hacking her Netbox – right in front of her – and forcing it to upload all her data – illegal stuff included – to the local police crime reporting site.  She was arrested within hours, and Jammer never spoke of her again.

So, I sat down at the table next to him, leaned back in the chair a little and ran my fingers through my hair.  I was trying to work up the… courage?  And I was trying to figure out how to say things.  So, I started, “Yeah, I killed the guy.  No, I don’t think the cops know.  I’ve never been contacted about it, anyway.  I’m guessing the Old Man took care of things somehow.  I don’t know.  All I know is he got me out of there pretty quick…”

The silence when I stopped talking was heavy with Jammer’s surprise and my stress.  I was stressed about the possible results of this conversation, and I was stressed over having to recall that night once again.

Jammer’s blank stare shifted to that ‘I’m thinking’ face he had when he was working through a problem.  He was eyeballing me, which told me that he was working through my problem based on what he had just been told… and information he thought he might already know.

“So, let’s get this spelled out.”

“Okay.”

“A guy tried to mug you with a knife.”

“Yep.”

“He was not successful, to say the least.”

“Uh… yeah.”

“Some old man got you away from there and might have taken care of things.”

“Something like that.”

Jammer’s face lit up and he declared, “Ah!  It’s something like that.  I need details, boss.  You’re taking me down this rabbit hole, so I need it all.  I need all the details.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.  I was feeling a bit defensive and retorted, “I’m not taking you down a rabbit hole.  You wanted to know what’s been bugging me.” I was starting to forget my concern over what telling him could do to our friendship in favor of… well, I don’t know what.  But I continued with a little irritation, “You want details?  Well, here’s one:  I killed the guy without even touching him.  You ever heard of spontaneous human combustion?  I doubt he had until he met me!”

There it was.  I had put it out there for him.  It’s not how I imagined explaining it, but I was caught up in the moment.  I was feeling defensive and scared, and now a little bit exasperated over Jammer’s implication that I was dragging him into this.  That’s how it felt anyway.  It was true – more or less, but he had asked.

Jammer raised his hands in supplication and pleaded, “Hold up, boss.  I’m just caught up in the moment.  This is a hell of a story, and not one I would expect to hear from you.”  I must have stiffened even more at that and he hastily continued, “No, no, no, man!  I’m not making fun.  I’m not cracking.  I’m just not following here.  You went from killing a guy to talking about spontaneous human combustion.  How are these two connected?”

I stared at him for a moment then looked away and took a deep, steadying breath… faith in our friendship… Jammer was not making fun of me.  I knew that.  Jammer wasn’t sure what I was trying to tell him.  He hadn’t experienced what I had.  He didn’t know that magick was real.  I decided that I had to calm down and try to explain this like I was giving some sort of formal report.

“Jammer?”

“Yeah?”

I sighed and let the words come out as calmly and slowly as possible.  “I need you to listen to what I’m about to say as best you can.  You have to suspend disbelief for a second.  Pretend what I’m going to say is as real as everyday life. Okay?”

Jammer cocked his head a little.  He was trying to understand what I was asking of him.  It had nothing to do with a lack of intelligence, either.  Jammer was one of the smartest people I knew.  The problem was that he had no frame of reference to process that I used magick that night in as real a manner as he wrote code.  I needed him to grasp that.  I needed him to understand AND be okay with it.

He nodded and responded, “Okay, boss, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at, so shoot.”

I took a deep breath and tried to arrange my thoughts one more time.  Then I explained, “Okay… This guy came out of an alley as I walked by it.  He had a knife in his hand and stuck it in my face to stop me in my tracks.  I froze.  He had taken me completely by surprise.  He wanted everything I had in my pockets and my Netbox.  I tried to run, but he pushed me against the building wall and held the knife to my neck and threatened to kill me.”

I paused for a couple seconds as I let the memory of what happened next wash over me.

I took another deep breath and continued, “I was terrified when I felt that knife press against my neck like that.  The look that guy had in his eye left me no doubt that he would use that knife if he felt like he had to, so that scared me even more.  Jammer, I was beyond being rational.  I couldn’t even remember what he wanted until now.  But that’s when something strange happened inside me.”

I had been looking at the table as I spoke, so I looked up to see that I had Jammer’s undivided attention.  His eyes were wide.  He just nodded for me to continue.  So, I did.

“I’m not sure how to explain what I felt.  The fear and adrenaline inside me either changed or… became secondary to what I started to feel next.  It was energy… or a vibration that started inside. I’m not sure, but I am sure that my fear of dying is what triggered it.  I looked at the mugger and saw his… energy?  I saw whatever it is that makes up matter.  You know… the particles that form the parts of an atom.  I saw the vibration… I don’t…  That’s the best I can explain it, but he wasn’t just a mugger standing there anymore.  Well… he was, but…”  I looked at the table and shook my head.  I was looking for a clear explanation for him and me both.  I think that was the first time I had actually tried to understand – and articulate – the details of what happened that night.

“Marek, don’t stop now.  Keep going.”  Jammer was completely enthralled with what I was trying to tell him.  I could see in his expression that he was not amused, either.  He was listening to what I was telling him and trying to accept it all as truthful fact like I had asked.

“No, no.  I’m just trying to figure out how to explain what happened.  Heh.  This is the first time I’ve tried to tell anybody, much less tell myself.”  I grinned.  The tension was easing a bit.  I was realizing that Jammer’s friendship wasn’t going anywhere.  He was trying to understand.

Jammer just nodded and replied, “I get it.  That must have been some scary shit.”  His eyes were still wide.  He believed what I had said so far, and he was trying to figure it out.  “Go on, boss, go on.”

“Yeah.”  I let out some breath and continued, “So, like I said, I felt this vibration, or energy of some kind, building inside me.  I could see this guy as both a person and matter, like in physics, I guess.  I could see the energy that made up the matter that he was made of.  I’m not even sure if ‘see’ is a good word, but…”

“No, boss.  I copy… to a point.”

“Then what happened next was… well… it was amazing, man.  That vibration in me took over my fear.  I could tell that I was afraid, but some rationality had come back, and I realized I needed to defend myself.  I needed to end the threat to my life.  I guess it was my ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicking in. It was telling me to fight, but not like you would think.”

I was starting to breathe hard.  I was getting caught up in that moment again.

“I looked at this guy’s vibration and started wanting it to accelerate.  I literally had a desire to see the energy in the particles increase.  I’m not sure why I wanted this to happen, but it made perfect sense at the time.  The really crazy part is that it started happening.  I could see it happening.  Whatever it was inside of me had… connected… with the mugger.  And it was increasing the vibration in him.”

I must have been getting pretty wound up because Jammer stopped me and asked, “Marek.  You okay?”

I blinked and took a shuddering breath. My heart was pounding.  I was feeling like I felt that night right before I set that guy on fire.

I responded, “Yeah, I’m good.  Just haven’t talked about this to anyone… even me.”

“Yeah… But who the fuck could you tell this to?”  He shrugged and smiled a little. “Keep going, bud”.

I relaxed… a lot.  Jammer was listening, and I was telling someone.  That helped more than I realized at the time.  So, I continued.

“Yeah.  Okay… This guy’s molecules began vibrating faster and faster, and I was making it happen.  I’m guessing this only took a second or two, maybe less.  The guy just suddenly dropped his knife and stepped back, and before I could react, he caught on fire… he just… caught on fire.  Every part of the surface of his body ignited like someone had soaked him in gas and threw a match at him… and I watched him burn.”

Out of nowhere, I jumped up from the kitchen chair and ran for the bathroom.  I heaved everything in my stomach into the toilet and then sat back on the bathroom floor.  I was shaking like I was very cold, but I was starting to sweat.  I didn’t feel cold or hot.  I closed my eyes and had to open them again very quickly to keep the vision of the burning mugger out of my head.  So, I picked something else to try and focus on; I stared blankly at the medicine cabinet over the sink.

Jammer stepped into the bathroom doorway a moment later and looked down at me.  His eyes were still wide, but I could tell he was concerned, too.  He asked, “You okay, Marek?”

I looked down at my hands in my lap and took a shaky, but deep, breath.  I looked back up at my friend and responded, “I think I’ll be fine.  But I’m not sure what just happened.”

Jammer suddenly grinned and sat down beside me.  He put his hand on my shoulder, then chuckled a little. “It means… that despite whatever the fuck happened that night, and however the fuck you killed that mugger, you’re still a good guy, and killing someone has an effect on you.  You’re, at the very least, not a psycho killer.”

I stared at Jammer in complete surprise.  I never expected to hear him say something like that.  I’m not sure what I expected but recognizing me as not a psycho killer was not it.  Then I busted up laughing.  I laughed until my throat and gut hurt and tears were streaming freely down my face.  I was crying somewhere in there, too, I think.  I was finally letting go of whatever I had kept inside since that night.  Being able to talk to someone about what had happened, and realizing my best friend was obviously still my best friend, helped me in ways I did not realize I needed until right then.

9

Jammer stood up and stuck out his hand.  “Come on, boss.  Let’s get you off the bathroom floor and get something in your belly.  You need your energy ‘cause we gots lots to talk about.”  He spoke the last with a big grin.

I reached out and grabbed Jammer’s hand.  He pulled me off the floor and helped me stand.  My head swam a bit.  My emotions boiling over and the subsequent puking had taken a bit out of me.  Emotionally, I was starting to feel better, though.  Talking about killing that guy and using magick had been a big relief.  I think, though, it was Jammer’s acceptance of what I had confided in him that made the real difference.

***

Jammer treated me to Eat ‘Em Up.  I had gotten quite hungry by the time we got there.  I spent a little time scarfing down my food, but it was soon time to give Jammer all the info I had about magick and what part I had in this.  We sat at a booth in the corner of the place so that we could not be easily overheard.  I explained everything I could remember about magick, what happened that night and my first encounter with the Old Man.

When I had finished, my plate was empty, and Jammer had barely touched his food.  He had been listening intently to everything I told him.  He had asked a question or two, but for the most part, he sat there trying to absorb and understand how he saw reality was suddenly… not as realistic.

“Wow. I thought I had reality pretty much figured… guess not.”

“You’re telling me? Ha! I’m the one that killed a guy by thinking about it.”

Jammer winced a little. “Sorry, bud.  I…”

I shook my head and replied, “Don’t worry about it, man.  I know what you mean.  This is a bit much for both of us.  My world was probably a bit smaller than yours until this shit happened.”  I said the last with a grin.

Jammer chuckled quietly as he nodded agreement.  “Yeah, I guess so.”

Jammer thumbed the transaction pad to pay for our meal and got out of the booth.  He had a big smile on his face and announced, “I think we need to bring my world into this a bit more and figure out who was digging into your shit.  Whadda ya say?”

His smile was infectious and made the mood so much better.  I was feeling so much better anyway with Jammer accepting what I had told him, but there was still a lot of unknowns and a feeling of being lost.  There was still some fear and a lot of tension.  But his confidence and positive attitude seemed to make my – well, our, situation – a little easier to handle.

10

Jammer finished hooking up the rest of his gear to my Netbox.  He jacked into his Netbox and offered me his tagalong cable.  I accepted and plugged it into my N.I. jack without hesitation.  There was no way I was going to miss a chance to watch Jammer work his digital magic.

My world went black as my neural interface linked with Jammer’s rig.  I thought something was wrong and started to panic.  “Jammer!  Jammer!  What happened?  What the fuck is going on?  I can’t ‘see’ anything!”

Then I heard a faint, tinny bell and Jammer’s avatar appeared.  His avatar was a knight from medieval times, I suppose.  He was covered from head to foot in gleaming armor.  In his left hand he held a beautiful sword.  I think the sword was Excalibur, but I wasn’t sure. He saluted with a wave of his sword and then bowed.  All I could do was smile.

My now smiling avatar was a slightly altered version of NEO from the old Matrix movies.  He had the black coat and armless dark sunglasses.  Unlike NEO, my avatar’s hair was a 3-inch tall green dyed mohawk that went from the top of his forehead to the nape of his neck.  His face was non-descript.  He certainly didn’t look like me, anyway, to better protect my real-world identity.

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