Looming, Between Man and Machine

I was standing in the centre of the station. Hands by my sides. Hands in my pockets.

The mass of bodies, growing and moving, made me want to hold myself. It was all I could do to stop and take a gulp, like a mountain climber peering down at their conquest; like an infantryman, peering down the length of his rifle; like a schoolboy, peering through a peephole, voyeur of the first female flesh. Gulp. Gulp. Gulp. My imagination popped with the possibilities of each of those I would rather have been.

Then, the roaring start of a train.

It was a big one, and seemed the biggest as I shambled over and placed my palm on its cold exterior. I felt the vibrations from the violent hammer of its engine. I think I smiled.


Mr Ludendorff told me that in order to overcome my fears, I would have to expose myself to them. I don’t suppose he intended to patronise me, but he presented his logic as if it could be met without criticism, as if it could be followed and understood by anyone. He used to bark instructive advice at me from behind his desk. When he was struggling to write, he would throw his pen across the room, and torture me with vivid descriptions of spiders, snakes, ants, holes and death.

I was afraid of many things, and Mr Ludendorff knew how to use them to his advantage. He would shut me in his lightless cellar, where I knew there were cobwebs and spirits of the deceased. My place was a bedded corner. I closed my eyes and shut my ears, and tried very hard to let go of a pounding headache.

Whenever Mr Ludendorff closed the piano lid on my fingers, I would dream of musical notes arranged to perfection. Whenever he pressed his knee into my chest and shouted in my face, I felt myself growing stronger. Whenever I watched him with a woman, I developed a strange sort of respect for his aggression.


The trains’ engines labour like the human heart, fired by fuel and oil. They come, they go, they grind to a screeching halt. Soldiers drop their kitbags to the platform, and hug their darlings. Others take one last look at the journey gone by.

The spider keeps its territory to a corner, gentle and small. It is a passive predator.

The snake adventures for food. Its greed represents a burning desire to survive.

The ant constructs a community with the strength of its back.

The hole is filled with water, the water becomes a well.

In 1989, the Boy stays silent, so as not to reveal his great ideas.

2nd May 1989

Jasmine and the Boy

The Boy doesn’t watch, so much as observe. I can’t tell if he’s curious. I can only guess, because he never speaks. Sometimes, I think he’s trying to scare me.

Jasmine and I have done a lot of talking. I have made it very clear to her that I have a lot to gain from reducing my responsibilities. It was only after we played cards this morning that she decided to probe.

I grabbed her wrist. I asked her, What do you think you’re doing?

“I want to know what’s going to happen to your students,” she said, repeating herself.

The students are my concern. Haven’t I made this abundantly clear, even when you haven’t even been asking for it?

“Please slow down.”

I’m calm. I’m fine.

“Then what can I do to help?”

Nothing, I said. Perhaps you might understand.

“But I don’t understand. Do you want me to leave?”

No, I said. I don’t want to be alone again.


The Boy joins me whenever I decide to go for a walk. Sometimes, we sit in the row boat, and work the Fjord.

Sometimes, we go for a drive. We go into town, park up, and watch the women descend from buses. That’s when the Boy feels miserable.

1st May 1989

Upon closer examination

I have made several trips into town, to the big, sleepy car parks, where I can unpack the bones in safety, but more often than not I just sit there and think.

I like to hold the skull in my hands. If you whisper into it, your voice is transformed, hollow. If you rap your knuckles on the crown, it becomes a sort of instrument.

The teeth are very well maintained, straight, with few cavities. Would that suppose a young person died? I don’t rightly know.

Every human skull is an enclosure, filled with darkness. It’s only because of our senses that we have access to anything else.

When I was a boy, Mr Ludendorff went to make a pot of tea. As he did so, he unwittingly left me alone with his grand piano. I went around to the side, and lifted the lid onto its prop. My height allowed me to reach in and feel the wire. It was something I had never done before, not only because it was criminal, but because Mr Ludendorff was a man with two black pearl eyes in the back of his head. It was my first opportunity to truly interact with the monstrosity I had been forced to play.

Upon his return, he set a tray down, and looked me directly in the face.

Before long he asked me, “What’s the matter?”

I said that I was struggling, that I didn’t understand the piano.

“What don’t you understand?” he said. “Think of everything you’ve accomplished.”

What about the piano? I said.

“You sit down and play. You play for the people. The people are selfish. They expect to book you into a show space, and that’s it. They expect you to say, ‘I’m done! I’m so done with the piano that I don’t even think about it.'”

When more isn’t enough, I said.

He laid his disgusting, bony hand on my own. “You can’t be brilliant all of the time.”

12th April 1989 (2/2)

Where the light goes

I was sat out on the porch.

I had been waiting so long that the tea had dried in the base of my cup. Looking at it made me feel even more thirsty, but I lacked the will to go back inside. Even on the brightest of days, the shuttered windows of this house trap light like a camera. It is something that never used to bother me, but now I notice how the darkness is shepherded by the architect.

By the time she arrived, the weather had changed. The domes of the trees had begun to creak.

She stepped out of a great big car, and walked down the slope with her arms outstretched, like a bird descending from flight.

I looked over her shoulder as she embraced me, and made eye contact with the Boy.

Newspaper Article — 18th October 1999

K:Katsu’s “Nightmarishly Fast” Concept Car

Tokyo, Japan.


[IMAGE:REDACTED]

Nobody better understands humanity’s innate desire for spectacle than K:Katsu Racing Team (KRT). Today, the team revealed a concept car at the 33rd Tokyo Motor Show which may at first seem familiar to fans and industry heads, but is certain to send a ripple through the motorsport world for years to come. KRT call it the Tormentor.

Developed as a spiritual successor to the 1984 KRT Torment, the Tormentor is at first glance an imprint of its older brother, favouring much of the same aggressive design language, including the iconic “Gold Yellow” paint job and scowling headlamps.

Under the hood, however, the Tormentor is an entirely different beast. It boasts an experimental F1 engine tuned to produce 1466hp, which means it can achieve speeds of up to 230mph, on a chassis that weighs approximately 180kg less than its predecessor.

KRT owner Yoji Cross was uncharacteristically enthusiastic in his announcement.

“It is the future of KRT,” said Cross. “Undoubtedly, it is also the future of racing. This is an incredible example of engineering which will inspire future generations to take risks […] The Tormentor is nightmarishly fast. If you have ever dreamed of power sliding around a corner at over 100mph, then this would be the car for you.”

We asked Mr Cross what it is like to drive the Tormentor.

“I cannot say,” he said. “But I can say what it is like to drive against it. You look in your rearview, and at first you think you are being chased by a madman with a chainsaw.”

KRT will not be able to use the Tormentor in the upcoming Lucid Lines 1999 GP in Reno, as restrictions prohibit the use of vehicles with more than 1000hp. Instead, the team are expected to use one of their flagship Incubus models for the opening race in December.

The Date (3/3)

May 4th, 2003

Ford woke the next day to a tingling sensation between his shoulder blades. He knew at once that it was Selena, tracing shapes and patterns with her fingertips.

She rose to her knees, and slapped Ford’s buttocks. “Right!” she said, “I’d love to hang around, but unlike you, I’ve got to work.”

Ford grunted. “I thought criminals get weekends off? Or aren’t they all so forgiving?”

“You’re sharp for first thing in the morning.”

“Amongst other things.”

Selena danced around the room, collecting her clothes and oddments. She looked very positive, full of life, vibrant. It was all for Ford. He had always fancied redheads, even plain ones, and it was as if Selena knew this about him, and used it to her advantage. The way she flaunted herself, leaving nothing to the imagination, it was all very endearing. He wondered if she had much of a history in the way of men. Was she always so confident?

Ford looked up at the ceiling and mused. He couldn’t lie to himself, he knew he found Selena a little bit intimidating. Probably because she had it all figured out.

Who knows? he thought. If things were to work out, maybe she’d stick around. Maybe she’d get to know me enough that she’d break me down into little pieces, and put them back together again. Like a thick, limited child, obsessively reconfiguring a diorama made of Lego.

“Before you go,” Ford said. “I need a word.”

Selena smirked. “But Daddy, I really need to get to class.”

“I’m serious.”

A comfortable silence broke the room.

Ford raised himself up. He cleared his throat, he spoke clearly. “Selena, I’ve had a wonderful time. I really like you. And as you said last night, I’m very open with you. I love that I’m able to do that. It’s incredible, really, that I’m able to do that, because I normally find it very hard to open up to women. And Jesus Christ, it’s only our second time together. Can you imagine that? I’m not sure what it’s been like for you, but for me, it’s pretty amazing.” He paused. “So, I’ve decided that this is as far as I can go.”

The comfortable silence broke, and the room itself seemed to come alive. What was this place? Just another nondescript bedroom, in a nondescript apartment in Reno. Selena had seen rooms like this many, many times over, both at work and in her day to day life. Rooms with big double beds, upended clutter on surfaces, and suntanned movie posters. Stacks of VHS. Televisions. The only different thing about this room was the man who laid before her.

This was a man with not much going on in his life.

At the same time, like a parallel highway coursing out into the Ruby Mountains, this was a man with an unexplained power. The kind of man who could take you into a hole, heavy with the scent of sweat, and show you a completely different world. The kind of man who could break your heart.

Newspaper Article — 8th February 1999

Funding Boost for K:Katsu

Reno, NV.


Katsu

It has been announced that K:Katsu Racing Team (KRT) will remain active in motorsport after receiving significant funding from an anonymous investor.

Owner Yoji Cross said he wants to protect the identity behind the funds.

“I know who decided to help us,” said Cross, “but I don’t know them personally.”

Mr Cross’ team are now expected to enter the Lucid Lines 1999 GP later this year without any additional sponsorship, although he expects the news to generate interest in the team.

“We have made and received some calls, but no guarantees.”

Times have been difficult for KRT, after an accident last July in which lead driver Kohta Sakai lost his life in a serious accident. An independent investigation found KRT at fault, with Sakai’s vehicle declared unfit for purpose. The verdict struck a blow against Yoji Cross and KRT, with 6 major sponsors withdrawing support.

KRT are famous for their unusual car designs, developed in-house at their headquarters in Tokyo. Their most successful project, the V12-powered Torment, led the team to numerous victories in the late 1980s.

12th April 1989 (1/2)

Deliverance

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s very difficult to let things go. It doesn’t matter if it’s something real, like a person, or something unreal, like an idea, or a desire. And even those are interchangeable.

I’m not the voice of authority on letting things go, but I have experienced enough to understand when it is healthy to. That might not always be easy, because it takes time to develop the willpower to withdraw from what binds us. I repeat, and I emphasise, this could be anything—and this could happen to anyone.


I was sat out on the porch, somewhere close to freedom.

If I closed my eyes, it would have been impossibly difficult to open them again.

If I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself, trapped in a maelstrom of obsession.

I was sat out on the porch. That’s when they arrived.

The Date (2/3)

May 3rd, 2003

A few hours later, Ford had taken his seat across from Selena. They had parked up in Midtown, and after a short walk, located a new Italian bistro advertising authentic flavours and original recipes. The prices seemed fair and it wasn’t too busy, either.

“You know,” Ford said, starting on his soda, “I never really wanted to teach kids. I’ve always found them to test my patience. In class, or even at recess, you don’t really get a chance to sit down and think. Some of my colleagues actually believe they’re teaching young adults, and true, some of the things the kids say can be funny, or witty, but never insightful. And even then, the odds of one of them pulling out some smart ass remark is a certainty when they outnumber me, 24 to 1.”

Selena smiled, and her eyes surveyed the room, but her attention remained focused on Ford. “I’m glad we could do this,” she said.

“Me too, but what do you mean?”

“I mean what I say.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I feel like I’ve known you for a lot longer. It’s hard to get a decent date in this area.”

Ford inclined his head to the ceiling fan, his arms stretched out over the table. “I need to get out, just, God knows how I’m going to do it.”

“You should really loosen up.”

“I’m trying.”

He noticed then a small insect scrambling up the sleeve of his shirt. He indicated the thing to Selena, before flicking it off like a well-practiced field goal.

Selena kept on smiling.

She smiles a lot, Ford thought, for a police officer. “A woman of the law,” he mumbled. “Selena. Tell me, how did you get into all that?”

“Into police work? It was my childhood dream.”

“Just like that?”

She nodded. “Yes, and it’s exactly what I asked for. I like following rules, I don’t mind the paperwork, and in some ways, it keeps me fit.”

“What else?”

“Well sometimes you get involved in disappearances, kidnappings, gunfights.”

“I bet only half of that is true.”

“We’ll see.”

Ford realised then just how different Selena was to himself. She probably knows, he thought. She probably knows already that this isn’t going to go anywhere. So she must be in it for the sex.

“How about you?” Selena said.

Ford cleared his throat. “Jesus, where to start?”

“Did you say you went to college?”

“Right. So after college, I became a substitute. Math and whatever else schools needed. Emphasis on the need, because it wasn’t exactly hard to get into. You have some young guy enjoying his freshman year in the real world, and he can look hungry for pretty much anything. Anyway, I had to earn a living, and I thought Penn was for me, so I tried out all the different schools.”

“OK. So you graduated and subbed for a while. What then?”

“I came out here just after 2000, to be back with my mom. She was dying, then. Me and my sis took on joint care.”

Selena stirred the straw in her beer. “What does your sister do?”

“She’s always been here, living and working. A few years older than me.”

“I mean, what does she do?”

“Oh, well, nothing much. I think she was unemployed a few years ago. But now she works for one of the big cellphone companies. I can’t remember which. SBC?”

“You honestly don’t know?”

Ford shrugged. “We don’t talk about work much.”

“I see. So your mother, then?”

“Yeah, when she died, I moved up to Reno. To settle down, or move on.”

A young waitress with a birthmark on her face brought their orders over. The food looked good enough to justify the wait. Pizza, well-stacked, with tanned, fluffy crusts. Potato wedges. An assortment of condiments. None of it particularly Italian.

Selena took precise bites around her first slice of pizza, before working a potato wedge into a big jar of ketchup.

She stopped to talk after finishing her soda. “Aren’t you open?”

“There’s nothing to hide,” Ford said. “I wouldn’t say I’ve had an interesting life.”

“True. What do you think of the world?”

“The world has no mysteries.”

They continued to eat. Some of the wedges were crispy, but an unfortunate selection hadn’t been cooked through, and slipped about in the mouth like wet pellets of soap.

“The world has no mysteries?” Selena said. “Well, I’ve got some examples.”