Friday, January 31, 2020

In the World of Edges by Harrison Kim

Leon is stuck in a flat and empty echo of reality, trying to remember his life before; by Harrison Kim.

Every morning, I hear my smart phone ring. I pick it up, and as usual, it's a voice calling my name three times, "Leon, Leon, Leon." It's a female voice, and at first it sounds faint, though it's been growing stronger the past two weeks. I say, "Hello, yes, this is Leon." The line goes dead. My message box is full of "Leon" sounds. The voice becomes a familiar echo.

Every morning I step down the stairs from my room to the hotel lobby. Izzy, the desk clerk, looks up, smiling. He's always tapping a silver pen on his round, copper summoning bell. It's what wakes me up. Like everyone else here, Izzy's a complete person when encountered face to face. Yet when he turns to the side, he becomes an outline, a shimmering edge. I adjust my own position to stand directly in front of him, so I can view his face without confusion.

"Have I got any mail?" I ask. He looks up with those frosted glass horn rims. I can't see his eyes.

"No, sir," he says, as usual. "Mr. Downe is waiting for you."

That's my old friend Stephen R. Downe. I knew him best thirty years ago, in my University days. We talked for hours then, at cafes and nightclubs, complex discussions and conversations on philosophical and personal matters. I'd say he was my last true friend. We lost touch years ago. I've never been able to find him until now. He shows up at the cafe every morning. He wants to talk on deep and weighty matters, like we used to do. I'm ok with that. Sometimes the conversations awake a memory, a feeling that this world I'm in is not complete, or not completely real.

I've ventured out, spent hours on the buses, following certain hunches. "Maybe there's a truth I'm missing," I say to myself. "If I think hard enough, maybe I can put together the parts."

One hunch is that I own a house somewhere in this city. I know I can't stay in this hotel forever, it's temporary accommodation, and everyone needs a purpose to their day. I want to find that house. I talk about my idea with Stephen. He's a very thin, shag haircut headed young man of about twenty-five. Two buttons are always undone on his shirt, and there's no hair on his chest.

"You could try climbing a very high building," he says "Then scout around from the top, and discover it. But would you know it if you saw it?"

"Yes, I'd know," I say. "I'd just need a clue, like the shape of a window, or the slant of a roof. That would bring all the memory back."

We sip coffee. I don't taste anything but it goes down well.

"Are you still receiving those phone calls from the mystery woman?" he asks.

I tell him, "Indeed, hers is the only voice that seems genuine these days."

Stephen laughs. "Sincerity can be very subjective," he says.

That thought piques my interest. What is the truth of my existence here? If Stephen turns to the side, would he become an outline, like the clerk and everyone else I've been able to observe? I'm used to it now, yet I know there was a time when everyone had three dimensions, everyone was filled in and complete.

"Where do you go after we leave every day?" I ask him.

He looks up. "I go out the door," he says.

I notice the reflection of my own face in the window pane just to Stephen's left. It shows a man of about fifty-two, with short cut hair bald on top, a sharp nose and big heavy lidded eyes. The cafe waiter rushes by, beaming, then turns to the right, and becomes an edge.

"You should be my age, Stephen," I tell him. "You shouldn't still look like a young man. It's been a long time since University." Stephen shifts in his seat, he pulls a cigarette out of his front pocket, puts it to his mouth and tries to light it.

"I don't think we're allowed to smoke in cafes any more," I say. I try to look under his shoulder, to see if he's got an edge too. He shifts away.

"Tell me, Stephen, where did you come from?"

As I say this, I hear the phone again. I pick it up "Hello?" and there's the voice. "Leon?" It says. "Leon?" I say "Yes, it's me, Leon." A few moments pass. "It's Leon here," I repeat several times. I look over at Stephen, he smiles and nods his head. "Nobody's there again," I say, and turn the phone off.

Stephen smiles. "I'm still with you."

I sigh, and gaze outside, past the window where people shimmer by under the morning sun. Why can't I place that voice? Stephen looks at me. "There's a voice from nowhere, and now you wonder where I came from? " He laughs and shifts in his seat. "Maybe you thought me up."

I look at Stephen for a moment. "What do you mean?"

He leans forward and talks intensely, exactly how he used to back in University. "Well, like everyone else my persona changes from moment to moment. Maybe when we talk, I become more like you want me to be than who I really am. All I know for sure is I'm Stephen P. Downe, your old student friend."

I reach out and touch his chest front. It's solid. I try and reach behind his back, but can't find a grip. He takes my wrist and gently pushes it towards me. "I don't want you to become upset," he says.

"Where did you come from?" I ask him. "Tell me Stephen, if you are my friend."

He looks at me straight on. He lights the cigarette and puffs. "All I know is," he says, "is that I'm from a different hotel than you. I receive a phone message from this hotel each morning. It says you're here, and ready for conversation. So I came down to visit."

"Do I look normal to you?" I ask. "Like, three dimensional?"

Stephen laughs. "You're all angles and edges," he says. "Like everything else around here."

I stare round the room, at the dark antique furniture, the blotchy red carpet below us. The last time I saw Stephen, he came to visit me at a place like this. That was when we both turned 26, and I could only afford a rooming house.

"When I first arrived here, I was thinking about my friends from long ago," I say. "I couldn't remember exactly who they were. I just knew I had them. Then one day, there you were, in the cafe."

"The question of origin is a complex one," he says. I nod, try to peer around him again. He moves his chair. "I know you've been feeling lonely."

I hear the voice again, in my head this time. "Leon," it says. "Leon. Leon. Leon." I rub my hand over my ears.

"What the hell is wrong with me?" I yell.

I jump up and dart over quickly, at an angle. l see a shimmer line where Stephen's side should be.

"You're just an outline too," I cry out.

Stephen stands up to face me. "I should go," he says. "I'm making you sad." He pauses for a moment, then puts his hand over his heart. "Don't worry," he says. "I'll be back tomorrow. The usual time."



I see his edge turn away, and run after him, but he's already merged into the street ambiance. Vehicles flow by silently, like in movie when the sound is off. When I become aware of the lack of noise, the traffic starts to roar. Beeping horns, revving engines, the screech of brakes. I dodge through the cacophony to catch a bus. "I'd like to ride to the centre of the city," I tell the driver. He's little more than a shimmer, He turns and faces me, so I can see his features. He hands over a transfer. He's got a big nose and huge eyelashes.

"You'll need this." He grins. "Get on the monorail, and ride it to the end."

"How do you perceive me?" I ask him all of a sudden. "Am I a whole person to you?"

The driver laughs and turns the wheel. "You're as real as anyone else," he says. "Some are more filled in than others. Some have a purpose, some search for meaning." He turns a corner, passes another hotel. "Which type are you?"

I look for a seat. People turn to let me go by, and become nothing but edges. I sit beside a lady with a cat miaowing in a cage beside her. "Which direction are we headed?" I ask the woman.

"Towards the future," she replies.

I watch billboards go by outside the window. "Calmness," says one. "Peace," says another. Then there's pictures of mountain scenes where I used to hike. Those were places I found both calmness and peace.

"You're going in the right direction," the woman tells me.

"I hope so," I say, and when I utter the word "Hope", I know that's the key.

If I follow hope, it'll lead to the house. It's a place I abandoned. A place I called home. I left everything precious behind there. My thoughts drift. I let them trickle in from all angles. Perhaps the phone number the voice leaves behind comes from my old house. If I find the building, I will discover who's behind the calling. The woman's cat looks at me. "I had pets before," I remember.

I picture the house, an older two storey wooden heritage structure with gables and a pillared veranda. I recall sitting on the veranda for hours, watching the traffic and neighbours go by. I was not alone. I sat with a cat, similar to the one in the cage, and someone else, still an outline in my memory.

I take my phone out of my pocket, and try to use the GPS. "Out of range," says the screen. The internet's always down in this city. This place doesn't appear particularly advanced that way.

I arrive at the city centre, a hive of clustered high rises. The monorail ride goes by in a whirr of activity, yet I don't bump into any of the bustling commuters. I am living for my destination. Home. Its picture becomes clearer in my mind as i ruminate and dodge through the crowds. I hustle across the busy street, walk to a skyscraper doorway, and ride up a brand new glass elevator. The city unfolds beneath me as I rise, many houses under tree lined streets that stretch to the horizon.

I disembark out at the top, step right onto the skyscraper roof. I see gardens, whole trees planted in giant pots, flowers growing from raised beds. I view all around. Far below, on one side near a park, there appear to be heritage houses. The street pattern jogs my brain. I know my house is among the buildings there. It has a red roof. I see it, over near a small park. Time to hike down. I follow some stairs leading over one side of the skyscraper. I keep moving, go with intuition. It's a long twisting way down. My house becomes larger as I descend.

I reach the bottom of the stairs. A door opens out into the neighbourhood, all large lots growing thick with raspberries, sunflowers, poppies. Hummingbirds dart round orange flowers. I jog quickly up the street to my house. Prominent gables, huge verandas front and back. It's all painted a rusty red brown. "This is my home!" I yell out loud.

As I repeat this, the outlines and edges of the house fill in. Memories of living here flood my consciousness, and from my pocket, my cell phone rings.

I pick it up. The voice calls to me again. "Leon. Leon. Leon." Louder now. I hang up, and walk through the backyard, under the big oak, and through tall grass. No one's mowed anything for a long time. The back veranda is littered with chairs, piles of books and a couple of broken cupboards. The backyard smells like crickets and summer and ripe fruit. A Steller's jay sits in the old pear tree. I touch tall beanpoles and corn stalks. The raspberries bulge out dull red. I notice the yellow tinge of evening light. It's dusk already, I've been here longer than I thought.

The house's oval paned windows view out to the garden, like eyes, but also view inward towards whatever is inside. I walk onto the back porch, the wood creaks under my feet. I scrunch around all the old bookshelves and filing cabinets, and peer through the back door window. I see an empty kitchen, a table and a sink, and away from that room, a long corridor that appears like it goes on for a long way. I can't see the end of it. I try the door. It opens. "Hello!" I yell. "Is anyone home?"

I don't hear the phone this time but pick it up from intuition and hear, "Leon, Leon, Leon." It's not in the phone now, but coming from down that long hallway ahead of me. "Leon, where are you?" calls the voice. "I'm here, I'm here," I shout. My memory rushes as I stare down the corridor. It's as if the air from a far off place washes over me and reminds me of who I was, and how the voice relates.

Now I know the truth. I remember I have a wife. Her name is Eleanora. Her constant phoning led me to this house and the tunnel that leads inside. She needs me. I yell her name, hear her voice sound back, emanating from somewhere down that impossibly long hallway. I step into the kitchen, and move towards the opening. The doorway's framed with yellow light shining from all angles, like a sunset. The yellow glow falls on me as I angle close to one wall. Fresh air blows in. I move forward, towards the freshness, taking deep breaths, and with every breath I remember more.

I walk for fifteen seconds, half a minute, a whole minute, now two. The tunnel-like room stretches round a corner. I see a white light appearing in the distance. It glows and grows. I break into a run. I remember now, so much about Eleanora. Her long auburn hair, big oval eyes, tears falling from them. She is the one who brings meaning to my life. She's the one I've been moving towards all these days in the city, her voice calling all that time. When I find her, my purpose will be satisfied. As I break into a run, I picture those tears, and I wonder why. Why does she call me?

I burst out of the corridor, sliding into another yellow kitchen exactly like the one I left. I'm standing on ripped brown linoleum, with yellow sunlight shining in the window.

"Eleanora!" I yell. No answer. I look around, and move towards the stairs I know are just around the corner. It's quiet except for what sounds like creaking branches. The stairs are narrow and lined with red carpet patterned Indian style. I lope up the stairs to the big bedroom on the left, into where we used to sleep. There's two body shapes on the bed, one on top of the covers and one beneath. There's a piece of paper atop these shapes. I bend over the bed, and look down to see the first shape. It's Eleanora. She's white, so white, and cold looking, and her face is just how I remember it. Beside her lays the paper. I bend over, glance at the shaky handwriting that reads, "You are too late." I look down. Beside her are upturned empty pill bottles, more on the floor. Is she breathing? I put my face to her lips and there's a faint puff of air. I reach into my pocket, pull out my phone, and call 911.

"I think she's still alive," I say. "You'll have to make it fast."

"We're sending an ambulance. I'm going to remain on the line with you," says the calm voice at the other end.

"There's someone else in the bed here too," I say. "Under the covers."

I push at the person's back. No response. I lean over, try to pull back the sheets. I see the side, the edge of a head. The covers aren't moving. I can't seem to move anything. My mind imagines the covers gone, and they shift. I stare at the bare, skin creased head. It's me. Pale and stiff and grey.

"I can't believe this!" I tell the 911 operator. "I'm looking at myself!" My head pounds, I drop the phone, and pick it up again. I hold the phone up to the light. I drop it again. "Are you really there?" I ask the operator.

"Yes, I'm really here," she says. "Just stay calm."

"There's two people unconscious," I say. "One of them could be dead."

"Hang on," she says. "We're coming."

I hear the fire truck outside. I remember that in emergencies, they always send the fire trucks as well as the ambulance. I jump up, realizing the firemen probably can't get in the door. I leave the two bodies behind and bolt downstairs, holding my phone. My hands slip on the doorknob.

"I can't open this thing!" I yell at the operator.

"It's ok," she says. "They'll get in one way or another."

I hear the fire guys talking urgently. "Someone made the call," says one. "He must be inside." They don't seem to hear me yelling.

"Try the window," says one. I see a couple of hands lifting it. "The thing's open!" says a voice. More hands lift the window and a tall, yellow-hatted fireman clambers through. He runs right by me, or through me, as if I'm not there. Another fireman follows him, opens the door for others. I see the police arriving outside.

"Hey!" I say, "They're upstairs!"

One fireman returns from the kitchen, and runs to the second floor. "Up here!" he yells.

I follow the firemen upstairs, back into the bedroom and there are three rescuers, they've got Eleanora on the floor.

"She's alive, but barely," one says. "Give her oxygen."

The covers are off. A large, square headed fireman is shaking my body, checking for vital signs.

"Get the defibrillator!"

I stand behind myself, stare down at my open blue eyes. My body jumps under the effects of the defibrillator. "Nothing," says the fireman. "No vital signs."

"Shock him again!" says his partner.

I shrink away as the ambulance attendants rush up the stairs. They strap an oxygen mask round Eleanora's face, lift her on a stretcher and carry her down the steep stairs. "Don't drop her!" I yell. I follow them out to the ambulance, then stop. I don't seem to be able to go further than the edge of the property. The attendants put Eleanora in the back. I lean towards them, but cannot see her face. The ambulance peels away, sirens wailing.

Two firemen stand on the veranda steps.

"The guy is dead," says the square faced one. "And the woman's in serious condition. Who the hell called 911?"

"Maybe one of the neighbours?" says his partner.

"The police will interview them," the first one says. "Someone must know something."

I look down at my feet. I don't cast a shadow. I bend down and wave my hand across the moonlight coming in the oval windows. The light seems to shine right through.

Sometime later, a tall thin lady with big glasses arrives. "It's the coroner," says the square faced fireman. I watch the lady stride upstairs, place her hands on my body, prick it with the point of a knife. She pulls up my eyelids. A policewoman stands behind her, taking notes.

"We'll need to do an autopsy, but it could be they both took an overdose," she says. "Maybe a suicide pact."

Two short, stocky men arrive behind the coroner. They lay down a black tarp, and roll my body off the bed and onto it. I hear a thud. "He's getting stiff," says one man. "Lucky he's so thin. Those stairs are murder." They tie the tarp ends and middle, and haul my body down, grunting all the way. "Watch your back!" I shout, but no one hears. The only one who understood was the 911 operator.

Only my telephone connects with the things and people of this world.

Far in the background, I hear Eleanora's voice again. She's calling my name, from far away. Its not from the phone. It's a constant echo in my head. I feel a terrible loneliness and regret. Where is she? Will I ever see her again?

"What did we do?" I ask myself. "How did we end up like that, in this house?" and I repeat, over and over "What was our purpose?" The more I repeat this, the more thoughts come to mind.

It seems that I've left my body shell, and I'm experiencing a new consciousness. I awakened from a long and confusing dream. Eleanora is still alive. It was she who I sat with on the front veranda, who I laughed and lived with over the years tumbling back in time. We shared a life, and a home. I returned to be with her, at her request. We were suffering, both in the decline of illness. We wanted to end it, and if there wasn't an end, we desired to wake up together somewhere better. I'm not sure yet if this is the truth, but it seems more real the more I ponder.

I move down the stairs, through the yellow lit corridor. I walk back through the tunnel, from the death house to the real one on the other side. I sit meditating beneath the skyscraper with the gardens on its roof. I feel like I've emerged from a bad place, a place I chose not to live in any more.

I have faith. Eleanora will join me, sooner or later. I simply have to wait for her call. This time I know she'll answer when I pick up. She'll be home at our place in the city, but whole. Renewed. She'll be with me and all the others who have walked that corridor. As I leave the long tunnel, I think I already perceive these others, those with the filled in edges, the thickness of filled in memory, shimmering in the light beyond. Our deep amnesia dreams will end. Now, like me, they exist with the edges, and await the awakening of those they love.

20 comments:

  1. Excellent story. The mystery of what was going on pulled me in and kept my interest till it reached a satisfying conclusion. Great mood setting. Gotta love a story that gives you the chills. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks James, glad you enjoyed the story, and were pulled in by the mystery, it is one I frequently ponder.

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  2. I feel like the character, Leon, numb, confused, sad, looking for answers. The beauty of this story is that you don't read it. You feel it like you are in a fog and you feel your way toward the end. Sad, with a strange but twisted beauty. Very well done!

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    1. Wow thanks for the comment Monika. That's what I write for, to absorb the reader into the story.

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    2. Just realized you are looking at the same body of water as I am. At least from when I climb Christmas Hill.

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    3. Wow quite the coincidence! I have walked Swan Lake many times.




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  3. This piece does a great job of setting a mood and letting the reader float along with Leon on his journey as he tries to gain some closure. A sad and surreal journey.

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    1. Thanks Ron indeed you got it, the mood is central to the story.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Mr. Kim’s Kafkaesque story is unnerving, strange, and nightmarish. The beginning of the tale is stronger than the latter half, but both parts are intriguing and well crafted. At first, I thought Kim was playing on the existentialist theme of life’s meaning and reality itself. He creates a sense of eeriness and anxiety that many can relate to, both in our daily lives and in our dream world—the sense that things aren’t what they appear to be. The opening paragraph’s description of the anonymous, “faint” voice and the line going “dead” disarms and alarms. The mood is uncomfortable and the sly repetition of “every morning” in the second paragraph both confounds and bewilders. Life is full of mundane repetitions (“every day"), but in this text, a singular uncanniness pervades. I was reminded of Freud’s essay, “The Uncanny": “From the earliest days of man there has endured the conviction that there is an order of existence which is entirely strange to him.” Author Kim’s “shimmering edges” of people echoes Freud’s ideas that existence may not be what it seems. Freud continues, “There is only our own world and it alone is alien to us.” Leon finds himself is this lonely predicament. Even the ride (search) to the vague “centre of the city” with the bus driver is vexing.

    “Maybe there’s a truth I’m missing,” Leon says, echoing the thoughts many of us feel in our agitated moments. “Maybe if I think hard enough, I can put together the parts,” he continues. To which Stephen gives the absurd suggestion that Leon climb a very high building to scout for a house. Author Kim adds to the unsettling mood through Leon’s comments on Stephen’s agelessness and his inability to see his eyes. The disquieting mood is amplified when the bus driver tells Leon, “You’re as real as anyone else . . . Some are more filled in than others. Some have a purpose, some search for meaning.” The creepy details amplify and the narrative becomes increasingly bizarre.

    The latter part of the story was not as satisfying as the beginning. I was hoping the text would move in a more novel direction than the trope of a character discovering he is dead. Even so, I was enthralled by the tale’s setup, the unfolding and ever-shifting plot, the uneasy atmosphere, and the questions about life’s meaning. This is a very well-crafted text, most gripping through its wonderfully rendered mood. I couldn’t stop reading, and I was never uninterested. Most importantly, I was absorbed by the questions raised, particularly the idea of the nature of reality. Very fine writing. Thank you.

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    1. This is a very in depth comprehensive analysis and review. Much appreciated. The story comes from actual dreams. Synchronistically, Fiction on the Web published this tale almost 5 years exactly to the day that my first wife passed away...This passing is the event that drove me to write this.

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    2. Sorry to hear about your wife's passing. I believe in the truth of synchronicity. Have you read Carl Jung's essay on the subject? How powerful to have the story come from actual dreams. After my brother passed in a tragic accident, he came to me in dreams. My novel, which ironically has "dreams" in the title was the genesis of my encounters with him in the dream world. I believe our departed loved ones are all around us. I am sorry for your loss, inspired by your strength to write this story, and moved by your experience. Synchronicity is at work in my writing this to you now. Perhaps I was so enthralled by your story because of its truth. Godspeed. Blessings to you.

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    3. Thanks James, those are intriging perspectives, today mysticism is in retreat, but I find it fascinating.

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  6. I loved this story. I couldn't stop reading it. Great atmosphere and emotions throughout this. Great writing too.

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    1. Thanks Billy F for your comment. The reader not being able to stop reading is the most satisfying thing for a writer to hear.

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  7. I agree with the opinions expresed in Mr. Mulhern's excellent and thoughtful review. For the first part, I thought we were dealing with something akin to Plato's cave or the modern theory that existence is a virtual reality. So many details seemed to allude to the conditional rendering used in VR games. So I too was a little dissatisfied, though not at all surprised, to learn that the other body was the narrator's, who'd been a ghost living some near death experience all along. His cell phone's connecting him to this reality was an interesting albeit unexplained or explored SF element. But still, an intriguing ghost story, a few minor typos perhaps (e.g., an "i" that should be an I), but very well penned and paced. A worthy read.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Chris M. Your analysis is appreciated. I hadn't thought of the virtual reality angle. Maybe dreams are a kind of brain manufactured virtual reality. Indeed, the cell phone seems to get through, luckily for Leon.

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  8. Great stuff. A rollercoaster. Felt like a dream that you half-remember at the point you wake up then lose. Virtual reality... augmented reality... perhaps.

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    1. Thanks Rosemary. Some say most of us are dreaming even when awake. Waking up is hard to do sometimes.

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