DEFEAT. 020 (III) – Ugly Old Thing
[DEFEAT. is Rendar Frankenstein’s truest attempt at fiction. Presented in weekly episodes, the novella tells the tale of Daryl Millar – a hero who dies at the intersection of pop culture, science-fiction, war epic, and fantasy]
Like any noble leader, Daryl allowed a bit of entertainment only after ensuring that his friends were given their opportunities. 8-Bit returned, looking as baffled as ever. Daryl tried to reassure himself. “At the very least, it can’t be any lamer than that Ouija Board we tried to use.” 8-Bit and Riff didn’t say a word, but responded with eyes that did plenty of talking.
What you’re about to experience is the real deal.
Surprised by the reproachful staring of his two best friends, Daryl was now forced to reconsider his dismissal of the Woman in Gray Robes. Zipping his lips and nodding, steps were taken into the supernatural workplace.
Quickly accepting the possibility that he was graced by the presence unknown forces, Daryl was only marginally astonished by Rimina’s greeting. “Well hello there, Daryl, I’m quite glad to see you. Always the best for last, I suppose. I can already tell that the soothsaying I am to provide you will be of the utmost importance.
“So sit down, time is of the essence, especially in your case.” Outstretched hands, one of which held a cigarette (of course), beckoned the teen to rest in the chair. He was now directly in front of the embodiment of conflicting messages:
A woman doing the job of a wise man.
A pirate’s accessory on an astoundingly sexy face.
A healthy disposition residing in such an unhealthy environment.
Daryl was ready. So was Rimina. Sensing the beginnings of psychic fatigue, the last remaining leaf from the Jacoby tree did not ask for permission. Instead, she simply took an especially long drag from her cigarette and then snatched hold of Daryl’s hands. She waited a few seconds. When his eyes looked upward from the table Rimina blew smoke right into them. The exhalation was both blinding and eye-opening…
The smoke stings the eyes and then flows into the lungs, displacing all oxygen for the time being. At first, there is an intense struggle, a yearning to fight off the inability to bring in clean air and dispose of carbon dioxide.
In this moment, Daryl is sent twenty-three years into the future. There is a corpse.
A full-length mirror appears. In his mind’s eye Daryl walks up to it, looking into the reflection it offers. He sees himself, but not himself. He is much, much older. Although he somehow knows that he is only gazing twenty-three years away from 1986, the man before him looks decrepit. Like an old man. The back is hunched. The knees are buckling, and Daryl knows that they hurt — not just when a storm is approaching, but all the time. Daryl can tell that sleeping is now a chore, a challenge to find the least uncomfortable position for aching joints. Waking up is even worse. The fingers curl inwards, making typing on a keyboard next to impossible.
We just can’t continue to pay staff writers who can’t type their own reports says a now former-employer. Daryl sees himself packing up his cubicle, leaving the job to which he dedicated his entire professional.
This is not a retirement or a midlife career change or even an unfortunate layoff. Daryl is simply incapable of working. He is now utterly incapable. His spirit has been broken.
The unemployed,chronically-pained future-version of Daryl Millar seeks comfort from his wife. The Daryl of 1986, looking forward in time, sees Vanessa. Vanessa? Vanessa the waitress from the arcade? Yes. Clear as day, this is this beauty who has only started to be courted by Daryl the day before. But now, she is glowing with love, the partner in a sacred bond. This is a fact, it is known, as there is a wedding band on her left hand. Daryl from 1986 grins when he sees this. He zooms in on the ring. Zoom out. Daryl from 2009 screams in terror as he sees this same ring attached to a hand that is stroking another man. Last time I ever come home early cries future-Daryl. And it is. He tries to turn and run. His terrible, arthritic hip gives out and he crashes to the bedroom floor. He relies on the assistance of his cheating wife and her new lover to help him up. As best as he can, he pushes them off and walks to his car.
He drives to a cheap motel. Into the bathtub. Runs the water, hoping for hot. He gets lukewarm and laughs, seeing it as fitting. In 2009 Daryl Millar slits his wrists in a bathtub — scared, alone, inadequate and unwanted. Back to the present. It is 1986. Daryl Millar is still choking on the smoke Rimina Jacoby has summoned.
But he no longer fights it.
He understands that there are fates worse than death.
Far worse. Daryl embraces the smoke.
And that is when it dissipates.
“Heed my words — this is but one of the many, a mere sliver of a broken shard from the entire mirror of existence, whose inward reflections of itself far outnumber the outward. This fate has been neither determined nor surrendered. If it pleases you, think of it with cautious optimism. If it displeases you, change the world so that you may best fit within yourself.”
The three heroes of this tale walked away from Rimina Jacoby. Perspectives severely altered. None of them could exactly describe what was now different or what it was that they were shown. But there were feelings created by the previewing of tomorrow. And they were unshakable.
For the first time in his life, Riff was truly excited. Optimistic. He had inferred that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t doomed to live a meager existence of daily abuse and long-term despair. It now seemed possible that all of the time spent practicing guitar was not just a worthwhile escape, but a foundation for a lifetime of artistic expression.
For the first time in his life, 8-Bit did not feel as though he could only prosper within the pixilated confines of an electronic screen. While video games were enjoyable and even mind-expanding in some pretty profound ways, they could be but a tip of the iceberg. He now sensed that he could pursue something much, much more epic. And although he knew that there would be plenty of doubters and antagonists, he couldn’t dispel the idea that this quest would be the most important part of his life.
For the first time in his life, Daryl began to consider the fact that the quality of existence was not guaranteed to continue rising. In fact, he had viewed possibilities of how a fall from grace could be nothing less than disastrous. Had he heard a whisper of …there are fates worse than death. Far worse… or had it been imagined? In either case, it was at the forefront of his mind. Daryl was in love with life as it currently stood, but he now wondered what that meant for the future. Could this be the best his life would ever get? And if so, what was the right course of action? He kept on thinking about the visions of Rimina Jacoby, 8-Bit, Riff, Vanessa, Brady Moore, Gramps’ war stories, and what he wanted out of life.
Needless to say, none of them really gave the Dean Brothers’ Fun-Time Circus the attention they had originally intended to. Well, to be fair, 8-Bit still laughed and hollered and burped up beer when the lion-tamer came to the center circle.
Of course, when the man in the gray trench coat saw this, a warmth was reignited within in his heart.