(This story was originally posted on HitRecord in April, 2013)
On the night of the disappearance of an old friend of Geoffrey’s, which he didn’t realise until much later, he was lying in bed as he looked out the window and saw a strange light crossing the night sky. It moved across the planet ceiling with surprising speed and suddenly disappeared before appearing somewhere else and subsequently soaring away with a great, white flash, instantly out of sight with an interstellar boom that shook the Earth. Geoffrey didn’t know what to make of that…
He was crossing the metallic bridge in Paris, stern and solemn in demeanour, thinking how clever the French architect must have felt when he erased the concept of burning bridges when he made one out of metal. Then he thought of the fact that bridges made of stone don’t burn either, and then he dismissed his previous thought entirely.
Geoffrey was in the desert on a pilgrimage for a religion he didn’t believe in, and he felt like an idiot. He had been fooled into going by some convincing stranger in a bar, and Geoffrey imagined him crying with laughter as he trudged through the sands with all the other doubters.
Her flowery skirt was blowing in the cool cashmere breeze as she left her café table, sensually smiling as she briefly sent him a look that made him feel primal. As she walked down the street with a feminine stride, her curly caramel hair flowing back and forth, Geoffrey considered running after her and kissing her right there, holding her by her neck and lower back, caressing her softly as they would fall more and more in love by the second before finding a room somewhere and doing a beautiful thing together. Then he woke up from his daydream and realised what real life is like.
Geoffrey was hallucinating in a place with records hanging from the ceiling and strangers shining with alien and entertained expressions, the colour of their clothes reverberating relentlessly as they jumped in their seats with laughter. “God!” they declared comically. “Meaning!” they sung sarcastically, friendly faces spinning around and dancing as the choir of ecstatic drug addicts cheered them on. Geoffrey thought of joining them; they seemed to have so much fun as they were dancing and singing on the floor that changed from sand to glass to luminescent gelatine, splendid sounds and dissimilar shapes surrounding them, but before he had the chance to jump and twirl into the bouncing, bubbling display of exhilarated nihilism, his mind convulsed and vomited on the floor before he passed out with a sigh of relief.
The Atlantic, a ship of pride and principle, was charging through the waves of the Atlantic ocean, merged and detached at once as Geoffrey was standing by the railing, enjoying the roaring sounds of the ship and the sea. The journey was slow and perpetually in motion, a feeling reflected in his dreams; whimsical, watery and rich with pleasant mysteries, waiting to be uncovered and photographed and hidden for safekeeping in secret rooms with bookshelf doors.
In the morning, the rolling hallways of the ship were well suited for wobbly strides and whistling on the way to the breakfast buffet, the black Colombian coffee and jazz-like, juicy fruits a fresh reminder to start the day. The sunshine and crystal blue skies felt brighter at sea, and the open deck of light cedar wood and soothing ocean scents lent themselves well to closing one’s eyes and relishing the luxury of living. This feeling only came over Geoffrey in moments of unreal stasis, when things were too good to be true, and that was how he realised that he was still dreaming, six short seconds before a monstrous wave hit the ship and woke him up. The thunderstorm was merciless, and Geoffrey was the last person to get in the lifeboat as the ship was sinking to the depths of the sea.
The fistfight happened for no reason. The drunken summer air of Madrid got to everyone at night, and ice-cold cervezas and tequila didn’t help. Passions were high. Every man felt like proving himself, and Geoffrey was no different. One thing led to another, and after an argument about something idiotic, a bearded Spaniard punched him in the gut. Geoff replied with a determined slam to his nose, and when the other man tried to grab him, he shifted his weight and got them both on the floor. The man was struggling loudly as Geoffrey grabbed his throat and got on top of him, strangling him as he pummelled all his strength into his face again and again and again, yelling with rage as the sound of his fist hitting the stranger’s head got softer and increasingly muffled, his hand dripping with red hot blood in the moments between punches. He had no idea he had this kind of strength in him, and when his opponent had gone limp, he looked up to see a crowd of people staring at him with wide eyes filled with dread and complete, utter alienation. Geoffrey blinked for the first time since the fight had started and fled the scene, blood trailing behind him, wishing he had lost.
The plane was filled with unfamiliar faces, looks and attitudes Geoffrey hadn’t seen before, laughs and jokes he hadn’t heard until now. Some of them were stupid, others whip-fast, intellects of strangers radiating heat and humanity. He would never have a conversation with any of them, not even the middle-aged man next to him, his unassuming expression directed elsewhere, and even if it wasn’t, Geoffrey’s definitely would, staring out the window, looking for strange lights. His passive stare resembled that of so many other lonely men who had looked out that window before him, going somewhere, good or bad, hopeful or resigned, staring at the fleeting clouds outside. Hopefully, he would be in a better place at the end of the flight, when he’d stop fleeing.
“So, you have stopped running?” The dignified stranger’s face was framed by the flowing smoke of his cigar. “I’d like to think so,” Geoffrey replied. “So many strange and terrible things have happened to me this past year, and I want to put a stop to that now.” The stranger nodded with approval. “It certainly sounds like you’ve had a great many surprises recently.” Geoffrey rolled his eyes with a smile. “That’s one way of putting it, surprises…” He took a sip of his scotch. “So if surprises are not what you are searching for, then what is?” The stranger looked at him with inquisitive curiosity, and Geoffrey didn’t know the answer. The question kept him awake at night.
Geoffrey’s life was boxed in and secure for a time, like a cage inside an empty warehouse. On the whole, it seemed spacious, that is until the bars became apparent. This was when Geoffrey’s life began to unravel yet again, only this time it was of his own accord. He would have to do something drastic to escape.
The nomadic Indian long-distance train was marching speedily through the curry-coloured landscape that smelled the way it looked. Even the air-conditioned oxygen had a spicy scent to it, and this ‘normal but not really’ feeling prevailed throughout the entire country. Geoffrey had no idea what he was doing, but at least he was doing something. All the sermons and the rituals and the toothless gurus evoked some feeling, and while he definitely could appreciate that feeling, he really wasn’t sure what it was. Geoffrey’s spiritual tourism had a distinct effect on him, but he was never certain why or how. The feeling seemed airy and foreign to him, but it rarely seemed like a solution or even the means to an end in any way. It was a colourful country, but when the train was one stop from crossing the border into Nepal, Geoffrey didn’t get off. Besides, the food was giving him stomach problems.
The bald, orange-clad monk’s smile made Geoffrey feel really, really sober and sort of awkward. He didn’t know what to say to the monk, because he wouldn’t understand no matter what he would say. Geoffrey found himself spending more and more time in his room on the train, looking out the window. He didn’t know what to look for anymore, and when he reached the end of the line in China, he had nowhere in the world to go. Geoffrey considered jumping off a cliff when he was walking through the country, but he couldn’t gather the courage to do so. He thought of going to America too, but he had no clue what kind of happiness he was supposed to pursue in a place like that. He flirted with the idea of going to a deserted island and find a cave to live in so he could lose his sanity at his own pace, feasting on mangoes and drawing on the cave walls with chalk. In this moment, Geoffrey couldn’t come up with a sane way of living that didn’t involve an abundance of torture…
It was at this point that Geoffrey decided to walk from one end of the Great Wall to the other, mostly because he had nothing else to do in life, and secondly because he hoped for something cathartic near the end; a long-lost friend, a woman with a smile to marry or a surprise party proving Geoffrey’s life had just been one great prank. The walk was longer than he had expected, thus reinforcing every fraught fantasy of his, and as he wandering down the cobbled, storied ruin of a wall, he wondered if the Chinese had built the massive structure to impress extra-terrestrials or simply out of boredom.
As the days passed, walking without end, Geoffrey was starving and about to die. He wasn’t breathing normally anymore either, feeling alien in his own body, and really as if he was gradually leaving his body for good. He wanted to feel freed by this oncoming conclusion, but the pain was too great for him to ignore. This wouldn’t be a problem if he had stayed with the guru in India. When the sun set on the 29th day, Geoffrey collapsed to the ground, crawling along the cobblestones, craving catharsis. He had lost his voice two days ago, and every part of him was grinding apart as he dragged himself along the wall. Geoffrey was nowhere near the end, but close to something else.
The stars were glowing indifferently above him. The flash came from afar, near Ursa Minor. The Great Wall trembled as he turned his eyes to the sky. The whirling craft was humming ambiguously, cylinder lights lighting up the wall, and the cobblestones, and Geoffrey. His spirit had almost left his body as he was lifted from the Earth along with pebbles and soil in a cleansing beam of light, weighing nothing, thinking nothing, feeling nothing, giving in to transcendence.
The spacecraft whisked away upward, goodbye quake a-roaring, flaring freely to faraway dimensions and booming through black holes in the company of strangers and an old friend, all lavish luxury and life, all without a care in the world. Geoffrey Doubt had left it after all.
I wrote this short story after a three-hour argument about science and religion with a friend of mine. We didn’t speak for a week, but I think it was worth it. Good pal.