Trouble in Paradise: Mr. Ed Chronicles (22k words/80 minutes)

Mr. Ed Chronicles (22k words/80 minutes)

Mr. Ed Chronicles is additional, or depending on when you read this, preliminary fiction for the three novels that I will release on October 1, 2019, December 1, 2019 and February 1, 2020. The characters in these stories below will recur in those works. Have fun reading. JdH.


Chapter 1: Bradley


Mr. Ed had always had this credo to not look back and to have no regrets. The bullet train shot out of town and there was a split second when the doubt that he had always considered to be a weakness slipped in: maybe he had gotten carried away. 
A week ago, at the other end of town, a guy that had been beaten to an inch of his life was left at the steps of the police station. The cops had carried him inside and asked this man what had happened. 
A can’t say,” he said and he thought: I will die either way.
You can’t, or you won’t,” the cop said and he looked over at his colleague.
Just another low-life who must have had it coming,” the other cop says, “What does a guy like that do anyway?”
Pizza,” the first cop says, “You deliver pizza.”
“….”
Must have brought the wrong order.”
Something ain’t right,” the first cop says, “Whoever did this new how far to go. He also had the discipline to stop at that point, which takes skill, practice and a methodology.”
Maybe there was a second person,” the other cop says, “One to go all crazy and the other or others to restrain him.”
“….”
That takes someone rich and powerful,” the first cop says, “Or an organization.”
You’re thinking mob?”
No,” the first cop says, “They would just have killed him. And leaving him at our steps isn’t much of a message either. I think things got out of hand.”
Then why doesn’t he talk?”
What did they tell you?” the first cop asks, “They threaten to kill you? Your family? Spread some dirt?”
Every man has got something to loose….” the second cop says, “Unless he’s bad to the bone.”

*

Mr. Ed’s train was headed for Martossa: the sleepy town by the sea where Mr. Ed could lay low for a while. From what he had heard it was one of those towns where nothing ever happens. 


1

The terror that had supposedly happened to Bradley was more than just an accident: according to those who believed that there even was a darkness lurking from on deep of the ocean floor. There just wasn’t any recollection or a record of fact. Neither was there any memory of this notion that, for some twisted reason, this same darkness controlled the lives and the fate of most people in town. 
The thing about the darkness in Martossa, a small sea-side town on the larger land mass, was that all memories of the terror receded as it came and went. As it was, there were no memories at all and it was as if it had never been. There were a few people in town though who were more sensitive to it than others. Bradley was among the few who picked up on the subtleties of its return, but neither he nor anyone around him was able to identify it as such. As it was, it was all still at a subconscious level: there hadn’t even been an eerie feeling that had surfaced as yet.

*

What had happened came to pass many years ago and everyone around him had supposed that he had processed the whole history, and to be quite frank, most people in town had shoved it under the rug, or rugged it as they like to say here. After all, life always has a way of going on, even after the most horrific events. 
The only thing that Bradley remembered about that time was that he had been hospitalized and that he had suffered brain damage at the age of nine. What had preceded before that, he couldn’t remember and his parents told him not to dig in the past when he brought up the subject. 

*

We have been over this so many times,” Holly says and she sighs, “And every time it ends the same way. First, we give in. We tell you everything that has happened. Then, all your memories come back and you literally break down. Your mind shuts down.”
Why!?” Bradley yells in desperation, “What could have been so horrible?” he adds in a more timid voice.
He needs to face what happened at some point,” Ian says, “He’s sixteen now. It all happened seven years ago. Hell, it’s about time the kid gets to grow up.”

It’s then that Ian sees the look of desperation in Holly’s eyes and he realizes that she really doesn’t want to go through the same thing again. 
Maybe now is not the time,” he says, trying to calm her down, “You need to talk it through with someone who’s qualified, son.”

Later that night Ian and Holly discussed the matter for the millionth time. Bradley had been in an accident and it had left him hospitalized for some time. Accidents happen all the time and for that reason alone it makes no sense why this one would be so traumatizing. At first though.
For a few weeks now, Holly had a nagging feeling that she just couldn’t shake. It was this feeling that there was something else, something that she must have forgotten, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. 
You think he’ll be alright?” she asked Ian that same night.
Stop worrying so much,” Ian said, without looking up from his book, “He’ll get over it.”

*

Since summer Bradley had started getting those horrible nightmares that had gotten worse to such a degree that it started to effect his daily life. In these dreams he was out in a field by himself, or out in a vast forest, or out on the ocean in a small boat. He was always by himself and he was always without defense or having any means of sounding an alarm. Just before he woke up out of those dreams, there was always this wicked voice that entered his mind: It’s gonna start all over.
It told him these exact words every time, but it was just that the setting of the dream was never the same. It was as if those locations were meant to mean something to him, but in waking life they didn’t. After some time he was being chased by this prehistoric creature and this always was the most frantic part of the dream. When he was finally cornered and he felt that he would be slaughtered, those exact same words entered his mind: It’s gonna start all over.
What had also changed was the fact that he started remembering more and more of those dreams when he woke up. In the beginning he just felt like he hadn’t had a good night sleep, then it slowly progressed to this vague notion that he felt abandoned in some way. Then he remembered the locations, but it was by the time that he remembered that voice, that things really had started getting out of control, and it was also around that time that he had almost had a nervous break down in class. 
The school nurse had send him to a therapist in October. He started visiting this therapist every week, except for the two weeks before the New Year. The first visit had been awkward, but after a month things had gotten better in the sense that it was less awkward and Bradley had this feeling that it might help him get somewhere after all. The therapist was a pretty lady by the name of April West. The fact that she was pretty was part of the reason why Bradley didn’t mind coming back.


2

It’s very hard for me to say what you’re suffering from exactly,” April said, when he asked her in the beginning of December what her diagnosis of him was, “This voice that you speak of, it only occurs in your dreams, but it clearly triggers some memory in some way that you’re not aware of yet. If it entered your mind when you were awake, then it would be easier to diagnose you, but it would also be harder to treat you, because then it would mean that you would have a very serious mental illness.”
Only little kids and the elderly are allowed to talk out loud to their imaginary friends, I suppose,” he says.
“….”
Bad joke,” Bradley says, “I’m not hearing any voices when I’m awake.”
I know.”
So then what?”
Something happened in the past that your brain has decided to shut out and it’s something that I believe isn’t in the official records,” April said, “It’s hidden somewhere deep in your subconscious, and I’m of the opinion that it’s linked to some sort of post-traumatic syndrome.”
Which happened when I was nine?”
Yes,” she said, “The strange thing is that part of what has happened also seems to have been lost to those around you.”
The thing that I can’t remember.”
Yes,” she said, “Basically.”
The thing that we somehow need to uncover.”
There’s something in your medical record,” she said, “But I really believe that we need to give your mind some more time to uncover things for itself.”

Bradley looked questioning.
The human mind is highly complex,” she said, “The reason that your mind decided to suppress what has happened, must have happened for a reason. It’s like a survival mechanism: in a way it blocks things that might lead to a sensory overload.”
So how does that work?”
We talk,” she said, “That’s what therapy is: talking. I do believe that those dreams are the key to all of it,” she added, “What can you tell me about that prehistoric creature?”
You really want to know?”
The creature might be symbolic,” she said, “It might be the key to all the rest.”

Bradley thought: really?
It’s really scary,” Bradley said, figuring out how much he wanted to disclose, “Scary, like: your-worst-nightmare-scary…. Sometimes in my dreams it’s night time and I find myself deep in a jungle or someplace else. I look around and there’s nothing. Then I hear this strange clicking sound, like the sound that a bat makes to pinpoint location, except it’s audible. Then I can feel it closing in on me and I feel cold all over. And it looks at me with those scary bright green eyes.”
Scary how?” she asked, “Do those eyes look human?”
Definitely: no,” he said, “It’s like a prehistoric predator, or an alien maybe. Its pupils aren’t round, but they are like octagons and its eyelids slid from left to right.”
That does sound scary,” she said, “How big is this creature?”
Ten feet,” Bradley said, “It’s bigger than any human being I ever saw.”

*

The sessions continued until Wednesday, December 12, which was the last session of the year. They had unearthed a few more dreams, but they hadn’t learned anything more about the creature. For lack of a better description, his therapist had labeled it The Monster. 
The sessions hadn’t shed any light on what happened all of those years ago. The conclusion of that last session read: client constructed prehistoric creature in an attempt of the subconscious to guard access to the past. 

The vacation and holidays Bradley played video games, binged on movies and series, he was bored out of his skull, he overate and he got drunk on New Years. Most importantly, he met with friends for the weekends and the New Year. He acted just like any typical teen, all except for what went on under the hood. 


3

Bradley shows up on the first Wednesday of the New Year to find out that his regular therapist is still vacationing in her holiday home up in the mountains.
We have a sub,” the lady at the desk tells him, “I heard he’s pretty good.” The lady winks at Bradley. 

Five minutes before his scheduled time, the lady at the desk gets up and tells Bradley to come with her. She walks him to the same office that his regular therapist used on all of those other visits.
The lady opens the door and says, “Mr. Ed, this is Bradley. Bradley, this is Mr. Ed.”

This guy definitely looks different from his therapist. He looks rich for one thing and he looks more like a man who’s in charge of a whole lot of people. He also looks like he has his act together. For some reason Bradley gets the feeling that he has seen this guy before. 
The assistant leaves them to themselves. 
What’s going on?” Bradley asks, “Where’s my regular therapist?”
Don’t worry,” Mr. Ed says, “We’re friends, me and your therapist…. How can I explain…. Your therapist thought it would be beneficial to meet with me…. To talk man to man….”
Why?” and he thinks: this wasn’t part of the deal.

I didn’t read your file, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Mr. Ed says, “That would be what I wouldn’t like if I were in your shoes.”
Ok,” Bradley says, “Then how do you know what my problem is?”
I don’t,” Mr. Ed says, “And I don’t know all that much about therapy.”

Then why are you here?”
My way of giving back,” he says, “To talk, man to man.”

Bradley still looks questioning: who is this guy?
Sometimes it’s good to talk to different people. It will help you to find your way with the world and to find out how you can be your own man,” Mr. Ed says, “Let’s make a deal: we’ll talk for fifteen minutes. If it’s not working, then you’re free to go and I will make sure that you’re reimbursed.” 

Mr. Ed pauses for a few seconds. “Deal?”
You’re sure that you’re that good?” Bradley asks, “It’s a deal.”
At the risk of sounding very full of myself, I need to tell you a bit about myself, so you know what you’re dealing with,” Mr. Ed begins, “I’m a business man first and that’s why I like making deals. I didn’t start out like that, because when I was young, my family was as poor as dirt. I was about your age when I left school and ever since then I have worked about 80 hours a week to get where I am today. I started out working in a warehouse and a factory, separate jobs. I saved most of what I earned and I invested. At some point I bought my own warehouse, then a ship, then a few trucks and bit by bit I expanded my business. Invested in other businesses, etc etc. At some point I had gotten into frozen dinners, but the one that has become most successful has been the frozen pizza line. I’m getting sidetracked…. When you’re in business, it’s all about chasing deals, it gives you a thrill, but it also gives you a sense of control.”

Mr. Ed pauses again. 
In my opinion life is all about making deals and the most important person to make deals with besides God or your mother, is with yourself. You have to deal with yourself in the literal sense, in that you need to make the most of what you have got, but there’s also the other sense and that’s linked to that whole idea of the kind of man that you want to be – it’s a kind of deal with yourself.”
So what’s your deal?”
Hoehaa. That’s a good one,” Mr. Ed says, “A man isn’t an open book, that’s the first thing I will tell you. My deal? Making the most out of everything, which means business, but also this: reaching out.”

Mr. Ed pauses again to let Bradley think and process.
In other words: I’m just another fucked up teen that you’re gonna fix in a day?”
Every teen is fucked upin one way or other,” Mr. Ed says, “So that’s a given and I can’t fix that.”

Mr. Ed leans forward.
You got to stand your ground, kiddo,” Mr. Ed says in a much more intense way. If Bradley was younger, it would have given him the creeps.
And hang on for the ride?” Bradley responds in his smart-ass-way, but as he speaks, he realizes that his words sound hollow and almost weak. 
Now I know one thing about your generation and it’s that for some reason you all like to bottle things up,” Mr. Ed says, and he continues in this plotting tone, “When we were young, we flung it all out. I went into the ring and beat up guys twice my size. That’s another part of it, not to let other people, or situations for that matter, let you down.”
You’re loosing me, doc….”

I’m not some hard ass old fool: I read the papers and I know that your generation is crippled by anxiety and depression, but do you really think it was any different back in my day?” Mr. Ed asks, “And I know that life is more complex without life-long jobs, benefits and all that crap. What it does come down to is very simple though: you need to find a way not to let yourself get down. You have got to learn how to be your own man.”

Bradley thinks: ten minutes, doc.
Something else happened as well: Bradley feels that he’s letting his guard down, which he hadn’t anticipated. He needs to regroup, but before he gets a chance of reading Mr. Ed’s expression and coming up with another smart ass response, something else happens. 
Out of nowhere the wicked voice that had tormented Bradley all those years ago enters his mind: you better get ready, sonny-boy.

Mr. Ed reads something on Bradley’s face. 
Sometimes things have a way of getting worse before they get any better.”
No, shit.”
Actually, when things get worse, it’s more like a shit-storm,” Mr. Ed says dryly. 

What kind of therapist are you?” Bradley asks in a scared voice, and for a moment another thought crosses his mind: this guy is getting some sort of kick out of this.
You knew what was going to happen?” Bradley asks.

Mr. Ed sits back.
Whatever kicked loose in that head of yours needed to come loose for a reason,” Mr. Ed says, “You had a few clogged pipes up there, kiddo.”
“….”
In business you always need to anticipate what the other guy will do,” Mr. Ed says, “But you can’t always win: how you deal with setbacks may be even more important. Whatever kicked loose: you have to try to deal with it the best way that you can. Play ball if you can.”

*

When Bradley walked out of the office, he didn’t exactly feel better. The wicked voice had entered his waking life. There was one thought that stayed with him for the rest of the week: does this mean that I’m crazy?

Chapter 2: Jep


Mr. Ed had been in business for the better part of thirty years and with the years it had started to fit like an old leather jacket. Mr. Ed had what it took to get to the top of the frozen pizza industry. Was he a good cook? Maybe. Did he do whatever was needed to succeed? Definitely. 
Thirty years can also be a very long time, long enough for a man to get stuck in a position and for him to allow himself the kind of liberties that wouldn’t cross his mind when he started out. If it was just skimming a bit off the top, then it wouldn’t be too bad, because that was the kind of thing that happens more often than you might think. 
The kind of liberties that Mr. Ed had started to grant himself had more to do with not getting caught. It causes a man to start taking more risks, until he reached that point when he had become almost reckless. This time it had gotten him in a jam, a man had almost died and the cops had been involved. It also had to do with that split second when Mr. Ed had lost control and his number one had dragged him away, assisted by his number two. The number three and four dealt with the situation.

*

The next morning the poor sap still hadn’t talked and the cops figured that they needed to be creative. Luckily for them, the guy didn’t know that the cops didn’t have anything on him, which also meant that they couldn’t hold him in custody any longer. They escorted him to the interrogation room and they might tell him about this fact, depending on the outcome of the talk.
After processing, the guy had been send to the hospital, under police protection and they had send one of there own guys, a criminal pathologist, with him to find clues as to where and how the assault had been committed. The guy was too far gone to be asking any questions.
The next morning, the guy was still as talkative as the night before, but what helped was that the report of the criminal pathologist had come in. 
Do you know what this is?” the first cop asks.
A report?” the guys says in a smug voice.
It is,” the first cop says, “It’s written by our criminal pathologist.”
You know what it told us?” the second cop asks. 

All kinds of thoughts flash through the guy’s head: did I talk? Was there blood of someone else? Am I going to be locked up?
Tell me,” the guys says, trying to keep his cool.
We had a sample of the dirt under your shoes analyzed,” the first cop says, “And of the same dirt under your nails.”
“….”
Bauxite,” the second cop says.
There was an aluminum plant at the edge of town,” the first cop says, “Closed about thirty years ago and the area has been used for other industries since then.” 
Do we need to spell out what this means?” the second cop asks.
And you plan to ask around in that area,” the guys says, “And what exactly will you ask: did you see a beating recently?”
You’d be amazed what people see,” the first cop says, “Or what can be heard through a cracked window.”
You do what you got to do,” the guy says, “But I can already tell you: you won’t find what you’re looking for.”
Just like you didn’t expect to get into a jam,” the first cop says.
We can see how that worked out,” the second cop says. 

*

The cops let the guy go. 
They visited the sight, but no one talked. They weren’t at all surprised and it gave the cops this notion that they might have been silenced with money. 
The next day a note came in through the mail: ‘Dig and you’ll find out.’
What does this mean?” the first cop asks, “Are they trying to deter us or to get us to sink our teeth in?”


1

Going back to his life in The West had been different than Jep imagined. On the flight back he had seats next to Frankie and despite the fact that they had just spend three of the best weeks together, they couldn’t find a single thing to talk about. He had asked Frankie if the murder was on his mind as well and he had said it was. His mind must have been with his girl as well, because he kept going through pictures of the two of them together on his phone. Maybe it was just something to hold on to and to pass the time.
Jep’s thoughts went back to Phyllis, although the strange thing was that the sweet times that they had over the last three weeks had already started to mix with those when they were 17 and about to leave Rokset Island for what seemed to be forever. The thing that he couldn’t wrap his head around was the fact that he had never felt for a girl what he felt for Phyllis, but at the same time he couldn’t imagine a viable future with her, at least not at this time. He just couldn’t imagine living on the island at this point in time: on a professional level there just wasn’t enough going on. 

The math was easy enough though: coding he earned five times what he earned as a therapist, which had led him to plan to code for five years to get some cash. It did mean though that he needed to perform at least some maintenance on the whole psychology-part and this meant that he both needed to keep on reading the books, but also that he needed to stay in analysis to get that ongoing first hand experience of what it means to be on the couch. 
To stay more anonymous he applied for online counseling, which meant that he would basically have a video-conference in virtual reality with another therapist to perform this basic chore. His regular therapist wasn’t available that week, but he had been referred to a guy by the name of Mr. Ed. 

*

The virtual reality component was something that the company that he works for had created parts of. Every time it’s quite an experience, because both participants in the conference call find themselves in a modeled room that gives an experience that’s like being on a holo-deck: you will literally find yourself in a whole other world. After a few minutes you just forget that you’re in a virtual reality and that’s where this system is both powerful and powerfully deceptive.

*

It seems to Jep that this guy who calls himself Mr. Ed is a slick guy who tries to make a bit of money on the side. It’s not exactly clear to him what kind of profession this guy is actually in, because Jep somehow gets this vibe that this is the kind of guy that’s used to giving orders, instead of listening to other people’s problems.
This is a first for me in this setting,” Mr. Ed says, “Technology, huh.”
Is that so?”
When I was a kid we all watched those science-fiction shows where they had these holo-decks, which is basically the same thing, minus the headset and cameras,” Mr. Ed says, “I honestly thought that the phaser or the warp drive would have been discovered way before this.”
Not the transporter?”
Turning all the molecules in a body into energy and then reconstructing them somewhere else,” Mr. Ed recaps, “No way. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. That’s like that idea that we can make artificial copies of our brains, but then a zillion times more complex.”

Mr. Ed pauses and studies Jep for a moment.
What can I do for you, Mr. Jep?”
Maintenance,” Jep says, “I’m not practicing at the moment, but I anticipate I will at some point in time.”
I see,” Mr. Ed says.

Mr. Ed keeps studying Jep.
There’s something on my mind though:” Jep says, “Something besides the regular.”
Let’s have it,” Mr. Ed says.
At New Years I was attending a party and something bad happened,” Jep says. 
“….”

Jep’s face looks worried, “Bad as in really bad.”
An accident?” Mr. Ed asks.
I wouldn’t exactly call it an accident:” Jep says, “Someone was murdered.”

I see,” Mr. Ed says, “That’s a big one.” 
I know, right,” Jep says, “We see it in movies all the time, but when it happens right in front of you: that’s something else entirely.”
I may have read about it in the papers,” Mr. Ed says, “You were on Rokset Island.”
The one and only,” Jep says.

Mr. Ed sits back in a listening pose.
I didn’t know the girl and I didn’t even know any of the girls she was friends with,” Jep begins, “I just can’t stop thinking about her and those close to her. And in some way it’s keeping me from getting back in the groove over here.”
“….”
“….”
Seeing something like this up close is a reminder of our own mortality.”
Of course and I have thought about that,” Jep says, thinking, “It’s just…. How it can be so hard for me to shake it, even though this girl was a stranger – I can’t imagine how it must be for those that are close to her. I mean, for me it was just in and out: I was back home for three weeks and all we did was having a good time: partying, boozing, eating. For this girl and her friends it might have been the same thing and, well, you know how it ended.”
It’s a tough one,” Mr. Ed says, “For now it might completely change how you look back on the time that you spend there and it will always be part of that time spend there, but I have a feeling that it’s significance will change. If anything, it will be a reminder that the premises of life are not limited by time and space. Life and death occur in the same way as anywhere else.”
You mean that this may turn into a kind of memory that will give, what…. urgency?”
That’s what it may become for you,” Mr. Ed says, “But for those who were closer to this girl it will be pure detriment: they will try to look for meaning or a bigger picture and they will discover that there isn’t any – at least not in that situation.”

Mr. Ed leans forward and continues to study Jep. 
You might also find out that life on the island and life in The West aren’t so different after all.”
The bad stuff still happens.”

Mr. Ed leans back.
You said you aren’t practicing at the time,” Mr. Ed says.
I’m a practical guy,” Jep says, “I earn a whole lot of money doing what I do, so I just plan to wing it for as long as I can.”
Then where do you get your buzz?”
Sports and liquor,” Jep says, attempting a fake laugh.

Mr. Ed leans back again.
Therapist to therapist:” Mr. Ed says, “What do you think troubles our times?”
That’s a big one,” Jep says, thinking, “It looks like that whole equilibrium between the working life and our private life has become unbalanced, but that’s not the key,” Jep says, “But it does have to do with this whole depression-anxiety-thing that’s going on…. You can’t tell me that those two aren’t related.”
The current times are complicated,” Mr. Ed says, “I must admit to that.”
But the solution isn’t to make things more complicated,” Jep says, “I think it’s more like the opposite…. At some level I think that we should live more primitive, re-wild or something like that.”
Re-wild. You may have something there,” Mr. Ed says, and his expression turns primal, “At heart we’re still cave-men.” 

For a split second Jep can see that this hit some primal chord that in a way defines what makes him seem off. Jep thinks: just what kind of primitive are you?
We can’t just deny that part of our nature,” Jep says, trying to get Mr. Ed to show some colors.

Mr. Ed is too quick though to show any.


2

When Jep takes off the virtual reality gear he isn’t sure what to think about the whole experience: this Mr. Ed guy talked sense, but at the same time he gave this vibe that something was off. There was something that he wasn’t telling or running away from. Or maybe that was exactly what made him a good therapist: he was messed up himself.
Then there was the murder of the girl. Mr. Ed talked some sense into the whole experience and how Jep’s perception of it might change over time, but the simple fact was that he hadn’t been there. It were all platitudes that Mr. Ed relayed to him, but still it had helped him, because of the simple reason that you sometimes need to hear certain things from different people for it to feel more true. Somehow Jep made a connection between this Mr. Ed guy and what had happened on Rokset Island. He just hadn’t figured out yet what it was.
It hadn’t been something mundane, because a murder never was, but the fact that it had happened on the premises of that haunted mansion made it even more spooky. Come to think of it: what did bear traps even do on Rokset Island: bears are creatures of the arctics and below, not of the tropics. Those traps were either imported or manufactured somewhere on site, either way, it was an extreme length to go for hunting equipment that would most likely never serve its intended function, unless that function was…. Something reeks for true.

Then there was this one bizarre story that Tony had told them the other day about the End Dream. It wasn’t how we know it -- that those who are nearing the end can feel it and are somehow ready for it. The End Dream was what the Shaman had about people in their tribe. The story went that it somehow came true and the person actually died a natural death or got speared or knifed in some sort of conflict. 
In most situations this dream didn’t come true and if it took more than a few days the tribe elder would send his man after this poor person to lynch the person in the way that it had appeared to the Shaman. It obviously also happened that Shaman would use his dreams to settle personal vendettas.
The thing was though that this Shaman was usually coked out of his skull or stoned on some kind of weed that his visions were most surely a total fabrication. They were tough fellas though. Those Shamans wouldn’t smoke a pipe or something like that, but instead they build a fire inside a tent. Then they literally placed a bag of weed on top of the fire, killing the flames and instantly producing a whole lot of smoke. The elders and his friends usually joined him in this ceremony. 

Then there was the other thing that Mr. Ed had said: in death we like to look for reason and there usually is none. Jep had somehow mixed this statement with the story about the End Dream and it got Jep thinking about the killer: what if he had some sort of insane system of right and wrong that oiled his gears. What if he had some sort of coked out vision like the Shamans of back in those days or some sort of insane code. The easier explanation was that this guy was just plain crazy. The Crazy Cowboy. 

Jep decides that he needs to speak to Phyllis.


3

Phyllis answers his call in that soft airy voice that he knows so well, “Back on the other side.”
I am,” he says and he instantly realizes that he misses her more than he thought at first, “Your life is back to the same old thing?”
I guess so,” she says, “You missed me?”
I did and I do,” he says, “You can hear it in my voice?”
Yes,” she says, “And I can’t remember you ever making a phone call.”

You think we will ever end up together?” he asks, “Like when we have reached some ripe old age?”
You want to wait so long?”
I don’t know,” he says, thinking: I wish I knew.
It’s alright,” she says, “I guess I understand.”

Any news on what went down?”
The girl had only been on the island for about three months, some kind of intern,” Phyllis says, “Other than that I don’t know anything new.”
You don’t know of any other strange deaths?”
You’d have to ask Tony,” she says, “But as far as I know there hasn’t been anything like that in the news.”
It’s just that there’s something about it,” Jep says, “The fact that it happened to a young girl, on New Years, but also the fact how it happened: she was literally bled dry.”
Would she have felt that, you think?”

I don’t know,” Jep says, “I think your brain just shuts down when the blood level drops.”
But still.”

Yeah.”
When will we see each other again?” Phyllis asks, “Or maybe I shouldn’t ask that question….”
I wish I could have you here with me now,” he says and he thinks: it may be a while.
And I want the same over here,” Phyllis says, “I guess things weren’t meant to be easy.”
The pond is just a killer.”
All 5000 miles of it.”



Chapter 3: Marty


Mr. Ed had been in Martossa for three days, helping those that were in need of wisdom. There had been that young kid on Wednesday, then Thursday there was that young guy up in The West via the VR. Today there hadn’t been anything for Mr. Ed though: he had stayed locked up in the hotel room and hadn’t done too much of anything. It wasn’t much like him to stay in and do nothing, but as it was, he had come from Moac and when the train had rolled into Martossa it had hit him that he was dead tired. 
Moac was the name of the big city with the hustle and bustle. It was a metropole by any traditional standard and it literally was far away from the small fisher man’s town by the name of Martossa that he had found himself in now. 
There was a train running between Moac and Martossa. It was a high speed connection with few stops in between, but still the travel took a good four hours. There was always a transition from the city scape, to the jungle outside, then the large plains that turned into deserts and finally another jungle, a good hour before the train would arrive in Martossa. 

*

When night fell Mr. Ed went out for a stroll and he ended up in some bar in the bay. It was a rugged bar and the bar keep kept a vigilant eye on Mr. Ed the minute he stepped in. Some people just have that strong intuitive understanding of other human beings and to the barkeep it seemed that Mr. Ed might be trouble. He was probably one of those that would much later refer to Mr. Ed as that monster on two legs. 
Mr. Ed took a seat at the bar and he had ordered a plate and a beer. There were about eight or nine lone warriors like him and they all ate their meals, while the juke box was blaring and they guzzled watery tap beer. Perhaps misfits was a more proper term for the likes of them. Or maybe they were all just men without women to keep them from destroying themselves. On the low tables there were a few couples, although to Mr. Ed it didn’t look like the kind of place where he would take his lady for a night on the town. 
The food was simple, but good: a steak that covered half the plate, some fries and a cob of corn. Mr. Ed took his time with his dinner, since he was always told that eating slowly promotes good digestion. When he was younger he took that as the sole reason why he wasn’t fat, but then later on he learned that it has more to do with not being a lazy ass, and with having lean genes. Mr. Ed never could stand laziness.

After finishing his plate, Mr. Ed looked up to see if there was anyone to strike a conversation with. 
Cheers,” Mr. Ed says to the guy next to him.
Likewise,” the guy next to him says, “You had a good appetite there, chief.”
I did,” Mr. Ed says, “Must be the fresh air or something like that.”
It can make a man hungry indeed.”
It sure did,” Mr. Ed says.

Marty takes a look at Mr. Ed, to see if he knows him from someplace.
I’m not from here,” Mr. Ed says, as if reading Marty’s thoughts.
Import myself,” Marty says, “A little over ten years.”
That’s a good long time,” Mr. Ed says.
It is,” Marty says, “But it went by just like 1, 2, 3….”
When times are good, they usually do.”
They were,” Marty says, “I guess.”

You’re from the big city?” Marty asks.
Moac,” Mr. Ed says, “So it’s kind of a life-line to come out here when things get a little too hectic. But you must have heard that one before.”
Moac is one hell of a town,” Marty says, “I myself lived there for about five years. Five good years, but then at some point I was done with it: I had done enough boozing, I had picked up enough women, I had gone to enough parties.”
I get the feeling,” Mr. Ed says.
And there was nothing holding me there,” Marty says, “At least not that I can think of.”
You just got a place here and moved out?”
Sometimes it works just like that.”
I wish I could make a fresh start like that.”

Marty takes a sip from his beer.
Well, it wasn’t just thatsimple,” Marty explains, “The prices here are high, I mean, who wouldn’t want to live up here, right?”
On the coast, with beaches and more moderate climate than the big city: I can imagine.”
Little by little, you know.”

Mr. Ed isn’t too interested in those kinds of details.
Not much crime here either, I suppose.”
Break and entry, theft, that kind of thing,” Marty says, “Accidents.”
“….”
But it’s mostly rumors,” Marty says, “Every year we have some folks dying on the bends when they come up from the deep too fast, because there are no decompression tanks here. Some people drown when they go out for a swim. Some car crashes. We had an electrocution some years ago.”

In Moac those things aren’t really talked about, nor do they appear in the papers,” Mr. Ed says and he thinks it over, “In a way it’s like those kind of things never happened.”

And that’s just the thing:” Marty says, “Because these things aren’t talked about some crazy lunatic is more likely to go out on some crazy spree.”
You’re right,” Mr. Ed says, “Even though we have law and order, and they’re verythorough.”
You know, talk, stories: it tells us who we are,” Marty says, “The good and the bad, just like life itself: good and bad are a pair. And in a way stories about that inoculate us against doing those bad things ourselves.”
So that’s how it is with all the bad in the city?”
If you were to ask me….”

Mr. Ed takes a moment to think that statement of Marty over. Mr. Ed thinks: he’s oversimplifying.
You do know what they say in the city right:” Mr. Ed says, “The real big monsters live out in the country.”
Then you must know as well that we say that the monsters come from the city to buy a cabin out in the woods or up in the mountains,” Marty says, “Then they go into the city to do their bad thing and then head back out to the country when it gets too hot under their feet.”
The other way round wouldn’t work….” Mr. Ed says, conniving.

Unless you have like a whole town that conspires together to do some kind of bad thing,” Marty says, “But that’s still out in the country.”
Right.”
We need some more beers,” Marty says.

*

The small talk continues, until they have determined a common ground: the service. It turns out that they were both drafted for the Gulf war and they had both seen things that a man shouldn’t see too much of: brutality, raping, killing, death. When they were there they understood jack-shit of the conflict and they basically winged it day by day in a hot desert hell, while every few days or so one or more men from their platoon were killed.

No problems going back to civilian life when you came back?” Mr. Ed asks. 
I guess life just went on, but something inside of me was gone,” Marty says, “I worked to forget and then at night I drank to forget more.”
I hear you,” Mr. Ed says, “There were weeks when I downed a whole bottle of whiskey, a few six packs, I popped pills. I did it all.”
No pills. That’s for lab rats, we used to say,” Marty says, “Looking back I don’t understand that I wasn’t fired.”
I feel worse for the wive,” Mr. Ed says, “I was bound on self-destruction and there was nothing she could do.”

Marty thinks: he has a wife,thatguy?
Well,” Marty says, “My wife had split before I joined the service.”
Was that why you joined?” Mr. Ed asks, “You had nothing left to loose?”
I needed to drag myself through some desert hell, like a dog that has lost his mind,” Marty says, “Emotionally I was a wreck and on some level I figured that I would find some sort of balance if I would wreck myself physically. I wanted to feel pain and grind my bones.”
Booze can do that just fine,” Mr. Ed says.
It wasn’t like that: the ex had left me emotionally humiliated and I wanted the same, but on physical level.”

The bartender puts two more beers in front of them.
Jesus,” Mr. Ed says, “That’s about the worst pre-army story I ever heard. And I heard a lot of them.”
Then what’s yours?”

I needed adventure,” Mr. Ed says, “And maybe I needed a break.”
What did your girl think of that?”
She was upset, obviously,” Mr. Ed says, “I mean I could understand that: we just about made it and I had some dough stashed away.”
Then why did you go?”
Just one of those things, I guess,” Mr. Ed says, “Ever since I was a kid I wanted to hold a gun and kill some bad guys.”

Marty thinks: that explains it.
Well,” Marty says, “I myself have only been in a handful of gunpoint situations and I thank the Big Man for that.”
Ahuh,” Mr. Ed says, “Between you and me: I thrived on that, but now that you mention it: most guys weren’t like that. They just wanted to get it over with and go home.”
Most guys don’t draw just like that,” Marty says, “Many times it’s because things are tight. Nothing better to do or like I said: a man is strapped for cash.”

Mr. Ed didn’t register the last thing Marty said, but instead he thought back at those combat situations when he had held that heavy gun in his hand and it had just trumped everyone around him down. Mr. Ed still remembers the feeling: damn good.

We had one guy in our platoon who was just like what you claimed: he loved the thrill,” Marty says, “One day he had gone missing, until we had found him in the middle of a village of women and children. That bastard had killed every single one of them. The guy had such a smug look on his face. He fucking enjoyed it.”
What happened then?” Mr. Ed asks, but Marty is too stuck on his story to stray off just like that.
There’s certain things you don’t do, especially in war. We were all men with women and children. To have seen this guy do something like this: it was too much for us,” Marty says, “So we tied this guy down and debated what we should do to him, until one of the other guys found a woman that had gone into hiding. I know what we’re gonna do one of the guys said. We all understood what he meant: we tied the crazy fucker to a tree and let this lady have her way with him. At first she was so scared that she couldn’t even get to her feet and in all honesty she must have believed that we were as sick as that guy, but after some minutes she understood it. She took the knife and started butchering, but she made sure that that sick fuck didn’t die too soon, but that he suffered. All the way through what lasted maybe 30-40 minutes that sick smug grin stayed on his face. We didn’t stick around to see all of it, but as we moved on we heard the guy scream like some sort of demon was escaping him.”
Jesus.”
We weren’t proud of what we did,” Marty says, “But we just couldn’t let that fucker get away with it.”
No shit.”

We returned with five out of a platoon of 24,” Marty says.
I was the only one,” Mr. Ed says in a cold voice and it gave Marty a chill down his spine. For split second Marty thought: this fella is like that guy.

Marty didn’t want to know what happened, but he still asked: “What happened?”
There was an altercation,” Mr. Ed says, and his face looses all expression and his eyes get this blind stare, that makes the other man look right down the abyss and beyond good or evil, “I was like the stranger that came to town and who drew faster than anyone else.”
That sounds like an old Western,” Marty says, “And you know that those always have a silver lining.”
This was no such story,” Mr. Ed says, “This was real life.”
You killed them all….” Marty says.

I sure did,” Mr. Ed says.
Jesus….” Marty says and he thinks: so that’s what he did when he was all by himself in some God forsaken hell hole. That’s the measure of this man.

The barkeep announces the last round. 
Maybe we should call it a night,” Marty says.
Maybe we should,” Mr. Ed says, and for a moment it looks like he was looking for his cowboy hat, although it might just as well have been the keys to the house or the beer nuts. 

Mr. Ed slammed a twenty dollar bill on the counter and Marty doubled it.
Until next time, partner,” Marty says, “The war made a lot of good guys crazy.”
It sure did,” Mr. Ed says, while gesturing so longand he walked right out of the door. 

*

That night Marty double checked the doors and he let the dog loose in the house. He wasn’t one to get scared too easily, but this guy was plane crazy. Marty figured that he was capable of acting erratic once he realized that he might have disclosed just about too much. 
It was all easy enough though: in a way what makes a man is what he does when he thinks that no one is looking. That’s exactly what makes Mr. Ed so dangerous, because it makes sense to reason that he will act alike when someone crosses his path. This is the kind of man who will stab another in the back, or maybe more in line with this character, he will use a shotgun with a big caliber.


Chapter 4: Phyllis


Mr. Ed wasn’t worried that Marty would send someone after him: he was still in the Moac state of mind, which meant that in his mind he was still in a city of a million souls and Martossa was simply on the outskirts. Even if there was something that he could be pinned on (which there wasn’t), he would have disappeared in the crowd by the time that the other person would have figured out that something wasn’t quite right. 
Besides, it seemed to Mr. Ed that this Marty-character had some skeletons rattling in his closet as well, which would be something that would keep him from doing anything erratic. He wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with that same kind of violent temper that sometimes couldn’t be contained. Then again, stranger things had happened.
Mr. Ed had made his decision: he would stick around for a while longer. He couldn’t exactly figure out though why, but he had this nagging feeling that there was some unfinished business here. It was the other thing that a business man like him just couldn’t stand: loose ends. They always meant an angle for another man to exploit.
In a way Mr. Ed’s decision to stay was something out of character, because he would never, ever, act without at least some sort of premeditation. It started to look to him like it was a late thing to start doing things that he normally wouldn’t do. First there had been the day when he had stayed in the hotel room and he didn’t do much. Now he decided to stick around in a slow town for no apparent reason. It almost made him think whether he indeed was getting old, like he was told not too long ago, or that he had become weak, or maybe both. 


1

Phyllis had read about the VR-world and the required VR-gear in September. She was instantly fascinated by the whole prospect of total immersion that it promised. When it went on sale in October she had bought a set of VR-gear on a whim. She had brought it along with her to West End Mansion in December, because she was sure that Jep would enjoy the new toy, although she was pretty sure that he already had one for himself. 
What she had ordered was just the basic set with the headset and the motion detectors. She had also seen the cage which is like an upgrade: you wear a harness and you’re suspended with a thick elastic that attaches to the lower back. Other, more loose elastics are attached to most other joints and the whole body is in a suit that has a thousand pressure points that give a very real sensation of touch and contact. Those same points can also provide heat and moist sensations. They are also sensors that read a person’s physiological responses that the AI of the VR tries to manipulate accordingly.
This was what the ad said: The Cage promises complete immersion and it can simulate anything, ranging from flying to being on ground in a combat simulation.

*

This is the shit,” Jep says when Phyllis showed him the set that she had bought, “I was one of the four thousand engineers, scientists, programmers, writers, anthropologists, biologists that worked on this project.”
Really?”
The entertainment value is obvious,” Jep said, “But the whole project was funded by the joint space agencies: they will use the most advanced one to train astronauts for deep space missions.”
So being in a suit like this, it’s like touching those that are setting out to become the first settlers on Mars,” Phyllis said, “Pretty Cool.”
Yeah… I worked on the technical side of the suit,” Jep says, “You have like a thousand of those pressure points and they need to be wired in a smart way, because else you would end up with a thousand wires and you would end up looking like a roly-poly with that suit, not to mention that it would be like really heavy.”
We can’t have that,” Phyllis says, laughing.

Basically we just looked at the human body,” Jep says, “The nerve system doesn’t have that much wiring, but it still makes things work.”
Impressive.”
It’s all group think,” Jep says, “We worked on it for over half a year, but by the end of it I can’t tell you that I did this or that. Apart from what I just told you.”

So you think you’ll get it to work?”
No problem,” Jep says, “The only thing is that the internet connection from here to the outside world is kind of bad from time to time.”
You mean that it will start to stick?”
Not exactly,” Jep says, “The audio is designed to stay intact at all times, but it’s just that other participants in the VR will become heavily pixelated: they will be reduced to a few large square cubes that have some magic in them.”
Going old school,” she says, “Or like a blind-date….”
It is,” Jep says, “Meeting people in the VR is just a start: think of the holo-deck in science-fiction movies. Just imagine: in some years every person can just have a VR-cage in their house and basically explore a whole new world.”


2

After the reunion on Rokset Island, Phyllis hadn’t used the VR-gear much. She played a game once, but she soon lost interest. 
The VR-therapy might be a whole other story and it had been advised by Jep for her to consider when she was in need to talk things through with a third person. She had never entered therapy before and at first she had been kind of reluctant to even consider it in the first place. At the same time, she thought that it might not hurt.

*

On Phyllis’ side it took a while to load, but once it had she entered a room in a high rise in a big city. It wasn’t Moac or anywhere close. This city looked more like a place in The West. She had never really been one for life in a big city: besides a vacation she wouldn’t be able to live in a place like that, if she had any choice.
There was no one in the room yet, so she walked to the window to look out and to look down. She was higher up than she had ever been. Looking down made her feel strangely queasy.
Miss Phyllis,” she hears from the far corner of the room, “You’re a blob, I’m afraid.”
You are too,” Phyllis says when she turns around, “You look like a character from anold computer game.”
I must say I get the same impression.”

I was told it has to do with our connection on Rokset Island,” Phyllis says, “If it unravels, it turns into, well: this.”
I see.”
Or not at all….”
We can still continue,” Mr. Ed says, “But it’s just that body language gives a lot of information. It will get us to open up or to close down.”

For a moment Phyllis asks herself whether she’s talking to a real person, but there’s something about this guys’ voice that doesn’t sound artificial. There’s some sort of inhibition, like he’s keeping something back, but what exactly she can’t figure out as yet.
Well, I don’t have much experience with therapy and all that,” Phyllis starts, “But I just have some things that I need to talk through.”
Go on.”
I think it will seem to you like the basic life issues: what am I doing here, am I on the right path etc etc,” Phyllis says, “And then I had this reunion with a few old friends and, well, it didn’t end well.”
How so?”
Someone died,” she says, “Not one of my friends, but someone at the New Years party.”
Where did you attend this party?”
Right here on Rokset Island.”

Mr. Ed leans back and he thinks of the session that he had with Jep and how it would be impossible to bring that up in this session. Phyllis saw the blob move and by the sound she could hear that Mr. Ed was probably sitting back.
I read about that one,” Mr. Ed says, “But I don’t know all the details.”

Mr. Ed got Phyllis talking and he got her to reveal much more than she should have: she told the whole story about the history of West End Mansion, the story about AJ and his wive, the strange cowboy in the bar by the bay and finally what went down that New Year’s. She told all details, from the guy who yelled that they should get out of there, with almost everyone fleeing the estate, to the chase in the yard, how Jim got caught in a trap and how at one point they believed they saw the cowboy disappear into the night. 

Did any of you see that guys face?” Mr. Ed asks.
He was running from us,” Phyllis says, “But by the way that he moved we could easily make out that it was him. He moved like a guy who wasn’t too much into sports.”
How old was this guy?”
Not old old,” Phyllis says, “I would guess late 40s, but he certainly looked older than his age.”
I was just curious,” Mr. Ed says, “I mean, I read about it in the papers, but it just mentioned that there was something sinister about the whole thing.”

It looked like there was,” Phyllis says, “The girl had an incision in her neck and it looks like that’s where the killer had let her bleed dry. He must have caught the blood, because there wasn’t any on the scene.”
So there was this guy that dressed up like a cowboy, and he killed a girl and collected her blood?”
And he had set traps throughout the yard,” Phyllis says, “West End Mansion really wasn’t a good place to be: before we went there, we had all heard the spooky stories. Then my friend Tony dug up some more stories and then this whole thing happened. Can you imagine something like that?”

It’s then that the connection kicks back in and the blocks that made up Mr. Ed slowly turn into more blocks, then more blocks, until he’s sitting across from Phyllis in high definition. Her first thought is that this guy is a little creepy and that she wouldn’t have disclosed as much if she had seen him before. 
You are Mr. Ed?” she says, not really believing that a character like him can be listening to people’s personal and intimate problems.
That I am,” he says, “You sound surprised.”

It’s nothing,” she says, “I had cooked up a different kind of mental image.”
Phyllis thinks: why did I disclose all those details to this creep?

Mr. Ed sits back and he studies Phyllis. It gives her a kind of cold chill, because it feels to her that he’s doing more than just reading her.
It seems that we were getting side-lined just now,” Mr. Ed says, “What else did you want to discuss?”
Well,” she says, not sure whether she still wants to bring this up, “How long have you been a therapist?”
Why would you ask that?”
I don’t know,” she says, “Just a hunch, I guess.”

Quite a while,” Mr. Ed says, “Would it help if I turned back into a blob?”

Point taken,” she says, and she realizes that she needs to give this guy a second chance, “This one has been bugging me for quite some time…. After high school I crossed the ocean to study and I returned to Rokset Island right after.”
And how does that worry you?”
Well, I don’t know,” she says, “When I met with my old friends for a reunion it seemed that except for me and a friend, everyone that has left after high school has stayed overseas.”
And you worry about what could have been.”
Right.”
Well, let’s see….” Mr. Ed says, while still thinking, “It’s tempting to compare our lives to those of others, but I have learned over the course of my life to compare myself less to others than I used to do.”
“….”
It’s a kind of self-defeat, because you’re not them and they will never be you. But I do understand this feeling that you could have made a different choice and how can you be certain that you made the right one.”

And now you’re going to tell me that we’re less free than we like to believe that we are, etc etc.”
In a nutshell,” Mr. Ed says, “I also live in the territories and this is where I have made my fortune. Were there times in the past when I asked myself whether I was doing the right thing? Sure. But it’s also about something else: you have to see things before you. By that I mean that you have to have this feeling that you have an honest shot at something great. And I have a feeling that you didn’t have that over in The West.”
Maybe.”
And even if we live somewhere else our basic tendencies stay with us,” Mr. Ed says, “I think that a very contemporary theme is that we all want to chase boredom from our lives by planning an activity for every minute of our day. Do you believe that would be any different if you lived somewhere else? Or what about this existential abyss that we all face from time to time: how do we give meaning to our existence? All those questions are more about life than about a place where you live.”
What are you getting at?” Phyllis asks.
Bottom line: you will never be completely sure,” Mr. Ed says, “But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go out and explore things for yourself. You can always return home if it doesn’t work out.”

Mr. Ed sits back some more and Phyllis feels more relaxed.
Now let me ask you something,” Phyllis says, “You made your fortune?”

Mr. Ed smirks, “I sure did.”
How does that work?”
You want to know whether I’m the real deal?”

Phyllis nods.
What can I say?” Mr. Ed says, “I made it as a business man and let’s just say that this is my way of making amends.”

Phyllis sees something in the eyes of Mr. Ed: this guy did something bad.
Once in a while I mentor a group of people,” Mr. Ed says, “I figure I have something to give, since I have been very successful at what I do.”
You don’t think you need special training for this?”
For the extreme cases: yes, and that has to be a sort of calling, because I can imagine that’s like pouring juice down the drain, no offense,” Mr. Ed says, “I only talk to people like you and me.”

Phyllis thinks: people like you and me?
You did give me some things to think about,” she says, “I appreciate your honesty.”
You can call me Coach if you want,” Mr. Ed says, smirking, “Coach Ed.”

One question for you though,” Mr. Ed says in plotting voice, “If there was a 15 foot fence all around that property: how can you be so sure that the cowboy got away?”
Phyllis realizes that she never disclosed that information and she says in a soft voice, “I guess we will never know.”

*

Later on she convinces herself he must have read it in the papers, or that she might have told it after all. Or maybe there’s an aerial photo somewhere online that shows all the property belonging to West End Mansion.

*

That night Mr. Ed plays a violent computer game: he shoots thugs for a few hours until sleep kicks in. 
Playing these kind of computer games was something else that he had picked up recently, after he had read something about mirror neurons. Playing the game tricks our brain into believing that we’re actually there and doing what the game character is up to. 

The effect was too weak though for Mr. Ed’s taste, but it did help him to bring back certain old memories. The sound-track came first:Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba bad to the bone….



Chapter 5: Michelle


Over the years Mr. Ed had become blind-sighted by the cold methodology that he utilized in getting what he wanted. It was at that level that Mr. Ed had always been at his best and maybe because of that he had managed to get away with a lot of things. Manipulating people here and there was simply to make sure that there wasn’t any competition to speak of. If the manipulation didn’t work, or when it took too long, there was always intimidation and violence. 
The strategy worked: over the last decade Mr. Ed’s frozen pizza had positioned itself as one of the best frozen pizza’s out there ‘when too busy to cook, but still wanting a decent meal’. Mr Ed’s pizza was good, but it wasn’t exceptional, since any person with a two bit oven can bake a pizza, but what set Mr. Ed’s apart was that he was on top of the food chain. 
Mr. Ed’s exile in Martossa was an attempt to reconcile with a more peaceful past, but instead it had awoken old memories and old urges. The only thing that kept him in check was the fact that Martossa was a small town where he might get caught more easily.


1

Mr. Ed was early in the VR, which gave him some time to look around. He had selected the location based on the description ‘Luxury log estate’. First he walked over to the window, like Phyllis had done. Outside there was a forest and mountains in the distance. It all seemed very real. He went out of the study and into the large living room, through the back door and into the yard. He then realized that the VR had one very big flaw: it didn’t have the sense of smell. The house smelled just like his hotel room, as well as the forest. Other than that it was as real as ever: the sounds, there were birds in the distance and there was a definite cold draft. 
Mr. Ed walked around the house and unlike what he had expected it wasn’t at the end of some dirt road, but it was at the end of a paved road and the neighbors house was within sight. 
Are you Mr. Ed?” he hears a girl’s voice coming from behind of him.

Mr. Ed turns around and sees her coming down the stairs and she joins him on the driveway. 
I am,” Mr. Ed says, “I was early and went out to explore the place.”
Quite real, huh?”
It is,” Mr. Ed says, “I can only think of one thing that’s missing.”
The sense of smell.”

Mr. Ed looks at her like: how did you know?
It’s a well known flaw of VR,” Michelle says, “It’s hard to mix smells like pixels or ink. It just doesn’t work like that.”
How does it work?”
I couldn’t tell you,” Michelle says, “If you asked me what VR means in our current cultural context, then I could be of help.” 

Mr. Ed sizes her up. 
I study anthropology.”

She has a small wiry stature and Mr. Ed wouldn’t have expected her to study something like that: anthropology is all about what happens below the surface. At heart this takes a certain kind of cunning and an instinctive insight into the vices of human nature. The girl just doesn’t seem to be the type.

Shall we go inside?” Mr. Ed says.

*

Mr. Ed leans back and studies Michelle. There’s something about this girl that he didn’t see at first. She triggered something on an instinctive level, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it why. 
What can I do for you?”
Well,” Michelle says, “Maybe this is odd to begin with, but I have always found it difficult to just open up like that.”
It’s nod odd,” Mr. Ed says, “Not odd at all.”

Good.”
You’re a private person?”
Kind of,” Michelle says, “I usually prefer to keep to myself.”

Mr. Ed thinks: there’s more below the surface.
What’s new in anthropology?”
Not so much, to be honest,” Michelle says, “Most cultures are organized around the same social structures that have been in use for hundreds or maybe thousands of years. They are all based on some of our basic psychological needs: safety, love, food. When it comes to our psychological needs in relation to social structures, then it has to do with our willingness to obey to higher powers, to authorities and for our lives to be – at least in the social aspect – to be kind of predictable.”
Then what’s so interesting about all that?” Mr. Ed asks, “If nothing has changed?”

Michelle thinks about that one for a moment.
Our times are stranger than they ever were,” Michelle says, then she’s looking for the right words, “We have build these highly advanced societies, but there’s still a lot of bad going on around us that we can’t seem to control.”
Poverty and sickness?”
Those are two,” Michelle says, “The extent to which we see that around us is inherent to the way in which a society and a culture is organized.”

Then where democracy fails might be more interesting….” Mr. Ed says, “Like populism and how that can slide into a dictatorial regime.”
Absolutely, because if you study it, then it makes no sense why people keep falling for that,” she says, “The rhetoric is almost simplistic: blaming the other guy and kicking up a lot of dust, but that’s usually where it begins and ends. The distinction works on another level: blaming the other is short term and primal, but no populist that I know of has any long term solutions for societies’ problems besides despotism.”

It sounds kind of dystopian….”
It is and it does,” she says, “But what would be more dystopian is to just sit around and lament: the word needs to get out. People need understand how these systems work in order to recognize them.”
And to stand up to them.”
Not everyone is up to it,” Michelle says, “But if enough people are of the same mind.”
Then things will change,” Mr. Ed says, finishing her thought.

Michelle sits back and thinks things over.
There’s one thing though: it’s all in the nuance,” Michelle says, “Let me explain: studying cultures of the present and the past helps us understand our current times and predicaments. To be able to pick up on nuances in our times, you need to have an intricate and profound understanding of the subtleties of cultures in the present and the past.”
Then if I understand it correctly: it’s more about acquiring a skill set that can be used in what? Politics?”
Politics is one,” Michelle says, “Another would be academics, or writing fiction.”

Mr. Ed thinks it over.
What would be your game out of those three?”
I don’t know,” Michelle says, “I sure don’t want to spend my professional life in schools, so the academics is probably out. Which leaves politics and fiction.”
Talking about two sides of different coins….”
Exactly,” Michelle says, “I would like the raw games in politics. I wouldn’t mind being in the spotlights and taking on a good fight here and there. At the same time I wouldn’t mind the quiet and predictable life that comes with writing.”

What does your gut tell you?”
Politics can be more ideological,” Michelle says, “But so can writing.”
If you talk about reach there isn’t much of a difference,” Mr. Ed says, “Politics can influence a lot of people, but so can good fiction.”
The only real distinction is that politicians are quickly forgotten, but books that have stood the test of time…. They stick around a little longer.”
You think you would be up for the games in politics?”

Michelle looks intensely at Mr. Ed and she leans forward.
Politics is all about reading the other guy: what is he up to?” Michelle says, and then she turns her full attention on Mr. Ed, “What is your game, mister?”

Mr. Ed didn’t expect that one.
That’s a good one,” Mr. Ed says.
And I’m on to something,” Michelle says in a tone softer, “If I were to put myself in the shoes of a politician and I would be in your office: that’s what I would think.”
Why?”
Just a hunch,” Michelle says, “And then there’s your profession: you’re assisting people uncover their problems. I would say that makes you very adapt at keeping something hidden.”
You’regood, that’s good,” Mr. Ed says, laughing, “You proved your point, lady.”

Michelle thinks: I wasn’t joking.
Mr. Ed thinks: I let my guard down, the bitch probed me.
We aren’t so different, you and I,” Mr. Ed says, angling for a response, “Wouldn’t you say?”
Interesting,” she says: this fucker has something up his sleeve: I know it!….“You may just have proven my point.”

Mr. Ed is starting to feel agitated: if this was a business meeting it would be his cue to get his assistants to hold the guy down. Mr. Ed would then get in the guys’ face:“Repeat that again.”Usually that was enough to let the average guy wise up. It had happened only a few times that Mr. Ed had needed to take it even a step further. 
Talk, intimidation, violence. That was the strategy.


2

Michelle was no guy and this was no business meeting. This was all for Mr. Ed to make amends. What if Lela send this lady to torment him?
Maybe we should start over,” Mr. Ed says.
Talk about my childhood?” Michelle says, “My deepest fear?”

Let’s start with the childhood,” Mr. Ed says, “Start with your first memory.”
I can do that.”
When you’re ready….”

We’re in the park,” Michelle says, “We’re playing a game and everyone is laughing.”
What kind of game?”
With one of those large plastic balls that kids play with in pools,” she says, “I’m playing throw and catch with my dad.”
Good times,” Mr. Ed states.

Well, not really,” Michelle sighs, and for a minute she drops her guard, “My dad wasn’t around much and at some point he just left. He would come by like once a year until I was maybe 10/11. That last time I remember that my parents had a heated discussion in the kitchen and that was the last time he said ‘so long, pumpkin’.”

You never tried to find him?”
When I was like 15/16,” she says, realizing that she’s about to reveal something that had the potential of hurting her, but at the same time, she needed to get it off her chest, “The number that my mother had was disconnected. Then I called my grandparents and told them that I wanted the number of my father. They hesitated before they gave it to me and when I called I understood why: he had a new wife (she answered the phone) and there were little kids playing in the back. Judging by the reluctancy of my grandparents I figured that he hadn’t told his new wife about me, so I just asked for Al. We talked, but it was coolly and he might not have had the liberty to talk freely at that time. I told him to contact me any time and that we still had the same number. It never happened and I never reached out either.”
I can see that it still moves you,” Mr. Ed says, “You feel abandoned.”

Michelle looks up with sad eyes. 
The sad thing is that my mom never remarried,” she says, “Until this day she’s all alone.”
Looking back, do you have any idea what they argued about that last time that you saw your dad?”
I guess it was the typical grownup stuff,” she says, “Some settlement or alimony.”

There’s not much of a silver lining here, huh?” Mr. Ed says, “Sometimes that’s just it: life is just cruel sometimes.”
Like a group of hyenas or tigers jumping a prey and tearing its flesh to pieces,” she says, with a certain dark undercurrent that Mr. Ed sees in her eyes, “It makes me kind of lenient toward those who want pay it back ten fold.”

Mr. Ed saw the shift from being hurt to revengeful and it revealed a glimpse of what’s behind the mask: Michelle is a predator and the thought crosses his mind: it takes one to know one.
How is an elephant or a zebra going to pull that off?” Mr. Ed asks, attempting to get her to reveal more.
I just want to protect the ones that I love….”
How far would you go?”

The fucker is prying.
It’s all a hypothetical,” she says, and she pulls herself back together, “Like most things in my life, like my studies, and for the sake of the argument my whole history might be a hypothetical.”

“….”
Like you said,” Michelle says, lowering her voice, “It takes one….”

Mr. Ed turns his head towards her.
I didn’t say that.” I thought that. 
“….”

Next week same time?”
It’s a date,” Michelle says, although she doesn’t get why she’s eager to accept on the spot. 

*

Later on she realizes that it’s a two-sided coin: Mr. Ed had let her talk and vent, which was part of any healing process, but the other part of why she accepted was because she wanted to find out more about this guy. She just couldn’t resist: there was some darkness lurking.

*

That night Michelle had an unsettling dream: she ran into Mr. Ed butchering a defenseless guy that was being held up against a wall by two other guys. Stay backhe hissed and he beat the guy to a pulp. 
Michelle was nailed to the ground. She wanted to yell and stop what was going on, but at the same time it thrilled her. When Mr. Ed was done, he walked in her direction and she didn’t feel fear, but a deep intense kind of excitement and then she woke up. The whole episode, or more precisely: the dream, it didn’t startle her, but instead it had turned her on more than anything else had in a good long time.








Chapter 6: Bradley


The talk with Michelle had stayed on Mr. Ed’s mind: not the talk itself, but what went on below the surface. There they were, both of the same cloth and conviction, separated by more than a few years, but basically of the same mind. Mr. Ed went at great lengths securing the position of Mr. Ed’s frozen pizza, this girl might go the same length righting a wrong by carrying out revenge, possibly with similar means and a similar outcome. It takes one to know one– how did she know, or did she guess?
What Mr. Ed didn’t get was why they were at each others throat: there was the possibility of ratting on each other. The problem was that that one seemed too obvious. Mr. Ed figured that it was something else. For one, they weren’t stepping on each others turf, they weren’t in the same line of business and in all likelihood there was no necessity for their paths to ever cross again. Or was it simply a natural response to meeting a person that’s so much like us that it’s unsettling, to the point of it being almost intimidating. 
Mr. Ed wasn’t sure whether she would return any time soon. It would be a while though, Mr. Ed figured that much.


1

The wicked voice that had entered Bradley’s mind had come to stay. Luckily he had only heard it on a couple of occasions. The first was that therapy session with that strange guy Mr. Ed. The second was when he was with friends late one night around a camp-fire and they were telling each other scary stories. When Bradley was almost finished with his story, the voice had entered his mind and it had told him: don’t taunt destiny, boy.
At first he thought that it was one of his friends that was playing silly, but when they saw the scare on his face and asked him “What’s up, man?”, he realized that they hadn’t heard what he had heard just now. 

There was a girl by the name of Cassie that was into him, and she was there sitting next to him at that time. 
What happened there?” Cassie asked later on, when they were alone. 
I can’t exactly tell you,” Bradley said, thinking on his feet, “I felt a flashback of what happened all those years ago, but as soon as it came, the memory of it was gone….”
For real?”
O yes,” he said, and he thought: I’m a goner if I talk.

*

The third time was in English class when they discussed the link between historic facts, folklore and fiction. “Why do we even bother with stories?” the teacher had asked and what Bradley’s class came up with didn’t move much beyond this notion that it helps us to understand the world around us, our condition and how to deal with life at large. 
Anyone else has anything to say?” the teacher had asked, “An original thought maybe….”
Something only exists as long as stories are being told,” Bradley said, and the voice had entered: you better believe it, fucker.
Cassie had given him an admiring glance and he managed to wink at her.

The teacher said something like “Huh,” and continued with the next point on the list. The class was big, which meant that discussions were usually a bit stunted.


2

Bradley didn’t discuss any of the voice or therapy with his friends. They knew about the therapy, but it was kind of a non-topic, since it was mostly something that was considered for weak-spirited rich kids. The general notion in Martossa was more like: don’t complain, just pull through. 
They noticed that something was off though, but the guys didn’t think that much of it. In a way they had that kind of unspoken understanding that Mr. Ed had shared with Bradley: they all had their troubles. 

The only person that he sometimes talked with more freely was Cassie. One time after class when they walked down the school premises she had asked flat-out what he talked about with his therapist.
Stuff, I guess,” he had said, and it had been after that first session with Mr. Ed when the voice had first entered, and he was thinking: if you only knew.
What exactly happened to you when you were nine?” Cassie had asked, since she knew about the accident, “My mom will only tell me that it was one of the worst things that ever happened to anyone in Martossa.”
If I could remember I would tell you,” Bradley had said.
What do you mean?”
I know every little detail about my whole life,” he had said, “Except for what happened that day and the months after.”

So that’s what you talk about with your shrink?”
Kind of,” he had said, “She told me that my brain must have shut it out.”
To keep you from losing your mind,” Cassie had said, and she realized that she was still grasping at straws, “But apart from that….”
Everything is dandy,” he had said, and he had this need to open up to her, and he also realized that he needed to do this to keep her close, “The reason I started going is that I started getting nightmares.”
“….”
Not literally about what happened,” he had said, “It’s more like, indirectly about it, but the thing is it keeps me back.”
What kind of nightmares?”
You don’t want to know….” he had said, “It’s really scary stuff…. Maybe I should tell you some other time….”


3

In Martossa there usually wasn’t that much going on, so Bradley and his friends had to make their own fun. The town was small and they usually navigated it on their bikes. They had their hangouts where they would go: they had a spot for fishing (they did this once in a blue moon though), a spot to chill out in the shade in the afternoons (the old car junk yard), when the sun was about to come down they hung around the board walk, checking out girls.
On rare occasions or when competitions were running they would round up some guys to play ball. If they had enough guys they sometimes played baseball, if not they resorted to basketball and if it was four or less they played tennis. Being in the tropics, the weather was usually good and even if it was bad it was mostly a good deal of rain.
Then there was school, the third wheel. It was usually a bore and Bradley and the gang had always sailed through without too much effort. They would need the paper though to be able to move on and out of Martossa at some point in time.

*

These last few weeks Bradley spend more time than usual holed up in his room. It wasn’t so much the fear of the fear, but he wanted to find an angle to deal with his mental state. His therapist hadn’t said it in so many words, but what he had found out on his own was that a person that starts hallucinating without hallucinogens is usually diagnosed as having schizophrenia. 
Bradley had found a few videos of schizophrenics online and they were reallyout there: they were so far gone that they were either the stereotype of a crazy person, or they were so mellow that it seemed as if they were in a constant cold sweat because of smoking too much weed. 
The thing was just that this wicked voice that had entered his mind on those three occasions was so vicious and so wicked that he simply couldn’t imagine that it was produced by his own mind. Bradley was smart enough to realize that he might also be in denial, and that denial is very hard to self-diagnose. The other thing that kept him from loosing it was the fact that the onset of the voice wasn’t how it usually went for schizophrenics. 
The real schizos usually start off with some sort of meltdown that causes them to become completely dysfunctional in their daily life. They are then highly medicated, which usually leaves them a little off. With Bradley, it had come on slow, and even though the voice had been terrifying, he hadn’t had a complete meltdown and he could still function. 

Then there was one other thing that made him believe that it wasn’t just him. After the first voice a story had appeared on social media, describing a monster that’s so vicious that it can literally read a person’s fears and prey on those. For the fears to become readable, the monster enters the persons mind to juggle their emotions. In this story the voice was described as commenting on daily events, in an evil, conniving way and the sick joy that the monster felt because of that had filtered through. 

The story went viral and people wanted to know who wrote it: it sounded either like a brilliant fabrication or the work of a seriously disturbed mind. It was send from an empty account: made just to post this story anonymously on the group page. A tech savvy kid from the first form was able to identify the ip-address of the computer from which it was send: one of the 50 computers in the school library. 
With hundreds of kids circling the library daily, and the story being posted over two weeks ago, it was close to impossible to trace back to who send it out. 

There was one last resort and it would be fire proof: they had heard of special software that can create a writer’s thumbprint based on his or her writing. The thing was just that the piece was too short to establish the thumbprint with more than 70 percent accuracy. Unless another piece was published, one that was much longer, this one wasn’t much help either.


4

Bradley’s dad, Ian, knew that his son was going through some stuff, but he didn’t know much beyond the nightmares and therapy. In his opinion, holing up was one thing, since according to him a man needs his solitude from time to time, but a man may need it more than a young boy of 16. 
When I have some stuff to work through, I usually go do some sport,” Ian had said, “When I went through a rough stretch in my late twenties I can’t remember how much time I spend on the racket ball court, but I do remember that it was at that time that I perfected my back hand. I could place the ball exactly where I wanted and even give it the perfect spin.”

*

Bradley took his dad’s advise and ended up spending four days a week on the tennis court. Usually it was just him and his friend Brandon, on some days the other guys also showed up and they played doubles.
One day Cassie had showed up as well. The game had been slow, but when they were done, Brandon bumped him on the shoulder and said, “Walk her home, dude.” 
Bradley looked over at Cassie and she glanced back at him, “Yeah, I should do that.”

They kind of took it from there, but it bugged her that Bradley didn’t want to tell more about what was really going on in his mind. She wanted more, but he wasn’t giving it. 


5

Bradley didn’t go to therapy for a few weeks after that time with Mr. Ed. He didn’t much like the prospect of Mr. Ed doing more digging, but he also wasn’t sure how to talk to his regular therapist. He feared that she would put him on heavy medication if she found out what had happened and he would become one of those drooling zombies. 
After five weeks the need to talk things through became stronger than the fear and he went ahead and booked another appointment. 

You can go in,” the lady at the desk said five minutes early.
Bradley nodded and walked down the hall. The door was open, and inside wasn’t his therapist, but there he was again: Mr. Ed.
I see,” Bradley says. 
What do you see?” Mr. Ed asks. 
I expected to see Ms. West.”
Not here.”

For a moment Bradley thought about turning around, but then he didn’t for reasons that he didn’t understand himself.
Take a seat,” Mr. Ed says.

Bradley did so, reluctantly.
How were the last few weeks?” Mr. Ed asks. 
I’m not sure.”
I see,” Mr. Ed says, “And do you remember what we discussed the last time you were here?”
We made a deal.”

Always make a deal,” Mr. Ed says.
Play ball if you can.”
What else?”
You told me something about your story, how you worked two jobs and that you build something for yourself.”
Flesh and bones,” Mr. Ed says.
“….”
Everyone has a story and it makes us, us. The story that you remember and that you decide to live with needs to be something that you can feel good about. I remember that you went through something really bad – which we didn’t discuss – but the point I must have made before is this: how you look back at it is the difference between that story building you up or breaking you down. Are you with me so far?”

Bradley nods, “What if it’s something that you can’t remember?”
You mean you feel bad, but you don’t know why?”
Kind of.”
From a pure rational perspective it doesn’t make sense to fear what you don’t know,” Mr. Ed says, “But that doesn’t help you.”

For a moment Mr. Ed thinks this one over. 
You mean that it’s like an eerie feeling?” Mr. Ed asks, “And it’s not anxiety?”
My therapist told me that anxiety is aimed at the future,” Bradley says, “This feeling is about something that happened long ago, but it’s also something that’s going to happen again….”
I see,” Mr. Ed says, thinking it over, “Then it’s something that’s always there, like the hum in a plane.”

Bradley remains quiet.
Then you may need to do something to take your mind off of things,” Mr. Ed says, “In my twenties I read a book about how some prisoners kept their shit together while in concentration camps in ww 2. They focused their attention on music – playing music. By doing so they weren’t thinking about their execution, but they also pushed it away – some of them played for groups of nazis that enjoyed their music so much, that they were systematically kept from being executed. There’s a link here, I mean, you’re obviously not in one of those camps, but the most extreme that I can think of in your case is that you would loose your mind. By focusing your attention on something else you can kind of push it away until it’s no longer a threat. When the nazis were finally defeated, these prisoners were released for good, although they had been scarred for live.”
I can imagine,” Bradley says, thinking it over, “My dad advised me to spend more time on sports.”
Sport, music, literature, writing, wood work; all of those will keep you constantly challenged,” Mr. Ed says, “If I remember it correctly all those are a part of what’s called The life of the mind.”
“….”
It’s part of a triad: dignity, care and life of the mind,” Mr. Ed says, “These are like the basic needs that are required in our surroundings that will let us prosper – according to the guy that drew up that theory. Dignity is being dignified, care is being cared for and being able to care for others and the life of the mind is what I just told you about.”

Mr. Ed leans back and gives it some more thought. 
You seem like a smart kid,” Mr. Ed says, “So that’s why I told you this story: if you were as dumb as a turnip, you wouldn’t comprehend and it would only make you feel stupid. If you can utilize these kind of ideas, you can bent them a long way and become very successful in what you’re after.”
Muscle and steel,” Bradley says, joking and this time the joke cracks. 
That’s right, kiddo,” Mr. Ed says, while making a gun with his hand and winking with one eye.

That session the voice hadn’t returned.


6

Later that week Bradley took Cassie fishing. She was all girly when they caught a fish and she refused to handle it when it came out of the water. He relayed the story that Mr. Ed had told him. She thought:he’s letting me in.

Chapter 7: Jep


When Mr. Ed was 16 he had left school and ever since he had worked 80 hours per week. He is what is called a self-made man: when he started working he didn’t have a dime on his name and some years later he had build an empire: Mr. Ed’s frozen pizza. By working hard Mr. Ed had build something for himself, and he had been able to because the times were right. These days it seems that just working hard isn’t enough though. 
Sometimes Mr. Ed refers to our current times as the time before a new Dark Age where everything will be worse and more scarce for everyone involved: no more life long jobs, health care that can only be afforded by the rich, houses that have become very expensive etc etc. Privately Mr. Ed sometimes believes that the Dark Ages might have already begun, but out of a calculated notion that he might come off as a whacko he had always kept that one to himself. 
That kid Bradley reminded him of his younger self. Was he damaged in the same way? No. Was it as tough growing up where he did? Yes. The way things are dealt with these days is different though. Instead of therapy, Mr. Ed took up boxing around the same age and it had helped him to find a way to work things through. It gave him strength and confidence, or as he tended to describe it, muscle and steel. 


1

Mr. Ed wasn’t the only one that had gotten something out of boxing.

Jep never really had to defend himself in a physical fight since the age of 12. Before that, the fighting was mostly kids stuff that had the intensity, but lacked the viciousness. After that, the friends that he had made were enough of a deterrence for other kids to not want to try much of anything, but most likely fighting just became uncool.
A friend that he had made in college once took him to a boxing training and since that day he was hooked. It was addictive on levels that he had never anticipated. It was physically exhausting, both in endurance and strength. The best fighters were doing one-hand push-ups and were jumping rope in between sets. 
There was also something about practicing man to man combat, where the trainer would yell a combination and all the men on the floor carried it out like well oiled machines. At first you needed to think about how to carry out those punches, but at some point it became automatic and the strength no longer came from the arms, but from the hips.
Then there was the mental element where you might be faced with an opponent that might be bigger and stronger. The thing was not to be intimidated, but to throw a few punches that would let the opponent feel your superior strength. Then there were the semi-professional fighters and one of them was a feather-light-weight that beat Jep every time. The guy was small, but the work that he did in construction must have given him a bull’s strength. 
Outside of the gym there were the women that liked the physique and heft that came with boxing. On a personal level it also gave Jep peace of mind, because it allowed him to re-establish the equilibrium between the mental and physical state that was subtly disturbed by working in the unnatural setting of an office. 


2

On Monday night the training had been typical: the old guy that was by now in his seventies gave a training to about forty guys: “Left direct, right hook,” next combo, “Left direct, right hook, left upper corner,” and so on, and so forth. 
After half an hour the first guys started walking out, out of exhaustion, partners changed every thirty minutes. After one and a half hour the old guy called it quits, “I want you guys to be able to go to perform your duty tomorrow,” he said in his grinding voice, “And I don’t want any complaints from the missus’s either….” A few guys laughed.
Jep changed shoes and put on a training jacket and went home. There he had a glass of milk mixed with soy-protein powder and syrup. He started cooking and in thirty minutes later he had a meal of chopped zucchini, pepper, garlic in a pre-made sauce, white rice and chicken breast. He was dining on the balcony to the back of the house, while drinking red wine. The outlook was on the courtyard between apartment buildings and it was usually completely quiet, despite living in a city of a million souls. Meanwhile he had face-time with a girl named Sally: willingly, hot and good in the sack.
Sally was in a whiny mood, which usually meant that she was nice and horny. At nine he went over to her house, a few blocks away. She was still a student and lived in a small room. His premonitions were correct. 


3

At five in the am Jep sneaked out, went back to his place to get ready for work. 
That day he didn’t get much done. He could permit a day like this though, since he was considered to be a good coder: his output was generally higher than most of his colleagues. Not doing too much, he always described as meta-work: he was working on a level that couldn’t be substantiated (in other words: he just fooled around and didn’t do anything).
That night no one was available for dinner. Sally needed to attend classes at the university and most of his friends were busy doing other things. It had been a few weeks and it might be a good time for another session. 


4

The setting was different this time. Before they met in a sterile office in a high rise in a city that might be just about any metropole. This time the setting was a house in the suburbs that must have been turned into an office. It looked like a private practice.
Jep takes a few minutes to walk around. The most striking thing are the miniature boats that are all over the place. He figures that it’s either a look into Mr. Ed’s world or a standard d├ęcor. Jep peeks outside and it looks like it’s somewhere up north and just like in The West it looks to be winter. It might be a little more mild though; there’s no snow and in The West it’s usually in January and February that the temperature plummets well below zero. 

Mr. Ed enters the room some minutes after.
Winter in the mid-west,” Mr. Ed says.
Indeed,” Jep says, “A lot of snow.”
Nothing like back home, huh?”
Most definitely not,” Jep says, “I was looking at your collection of boats.”
I kind of have a lot,” Mr. Ed says.
How about a real boat?”
As a matter of fact I do have that as well,” Mr. Ed says, and he walks over to the book cabinet to pick up a model of a catamaran and hands it over to Jep. 
More modern than the other models,” Jep says, “How big is this one?”
Fifty feet,” Mr. Ed says, “Enough for recreational trips, it sleeps eight at most.”
Nice.”
It is,” Mr. Ed says, “But I take it that you didn’t come here to talk about boats.”
Not so much.”

Jep takes a seat on the couch. Mr. Ed takes a seat in the sofa chair.
I didn’t see you for a few weeks,” Mr. Ed says, “I figured that you found your groove after our last talk.”
I did,” Jep says, “I have a routine, which makes it easier.”
Then why did you come back?”
More maintenance,” Jep says, “I had a slow day today, I didn’t get much work done today and I didn’t much feel like the usual either.”
What’s the usual?”
Dinner, movie, drinks,” Jep says, “That’s the thing about the city: always something fun to do.”
Then today is a day for reflection.”

Possibly,” Jep says, thinking it over, “What was on my mind is this: I’m totally happy with my life as it is and in a way I could live like this forever, but it feels like it’s all on a high note.”
What do you mean?”
You know how you can only sing a high note for a very short time,” Jep says, “That’s how I feel about my life right now: it has been a high ever since I graduated and in a way I can’t imagine that it will stay like that forever.”
You’re what? 25?” Mr. Ed asks, “At that age you’re at your prime, physically, mentally and everyone around you digs into that. You still have that feeling of someone in his teens that the world is at your feet, but at the same time you’re one of the big boys, because you have the cash to do the things that are really fun.”
I know about that one,” Jep says, “Men peak at 25, women at 36.”
Just enjoy the ride.”

Mr. Ed takes a minute to look at his notes. 
Maintenance, fellow therapist, not practicing,” Mr. Ed says, “I told you anything about my story?”
Not so much,” Jep says, “But I can imagine that you’re a hard worker and that you haven’t been a therapist for most of your life.”
I haven’t,” Mr. Ed says, “I was in business, made a name and good money, and it’s only recently that I turned to this…. My way of giving back.”

Jep thinks: what exactly? Atonement?
We’re at different ends of the candle, beginning and end,” Mr. Ed says, “When you reach my age you tend to look both back and forward. I mean, I’m old, but I’m not that old, if you catch my drift.”
“….”
How you look back at things is what it’s all about at my age,” Mr. Ed says, “Does it make you feel good, or does it tear you up on the inside…. That kind of thing.”

Now it’s Jep’s turn to sit back and deliberate.
I once read an interview with a retiring shrink and his conclusion on the distinction between sanity and insanity at the end of his career was that between being able or unable to develop and utilize effective coping mechanisms,” Jep says.
“….”
Which comes down to the same thing,” Jep continues, “Something bad has happened, do you let it tear you apart or do you find some way to deal with it.”
It’s muscle and steel, son,” Mr. Ed says, and in a grinding voice he adds, “When you face an opponent: do you let yourself be intimidated or do you let him feel not to mess with you.”

Mr. Ed pours two drinks and it’s obvious that they have broken the ice between them. Jep still sees Mr. Ed as this shady guy, but they have established a certain understanding.
That’s exactly what is meant by that notion of the narrative identity,” Jep says, “Literally a story that enables you to live with your past.”
What was this one quote again?” Mr. Ed says, “Something about how we find ourselves at a loss in this vast, cold and unloving universe – and it’s ultimately us that invest it with a meaning and an essence and all that….”
It’s an almost-quote from some movie,” Jep says, “I don’t know the title, but for some reason it makes me think of that song I drink aloneby Thorogood.”
Even if you don’t go on a bender so much, it’s a damn good song.”


Chapter 8: Marty


Mr. Ed had done so much good that he almost couldn’t believe it: he was sure that he had affected and made a difference in the lives of those that he talked with. The talks with Bradley and Jep had been more interesting than he anticipated, but it were the talks with the women and most notably Michelle, that had moved him on a much deeper level. Throughout it all he had almost forgotten that he had exiled himself from Moac to this small sea-side town by the name of Martossa. 
The life had been slow enough though, much slower than what he was used to in Moac, being the boss of a frozen pizza plant. It might not sound like much, but staying on top of the market took more heft and leaning intothan just making a good pizza. It was a shady business with bribes, intimidations and the whole lot. 
The only business more dirty would be that of a mob or politics. There were some in Moac who believed that Mr. Ed’s was a front of one of the big mobs that pulled a lot of the strings in town. Mr. Ed had always denied this.


1

Mr. Ed had resisted the temptation to open the bottle at home. Then Friday came and Mr. Ed needed to blow off some steam. He knew from experience that if he did this at home – he would stay in and drink most of the bottle until sleep kicked in. Resisting this was a test of character, one of the things that only the strongest men were able to do. It had to do with the way Mr. Ed had always thought about life in general terms: men like Mr. Ed were the ones that did the things that normal men wouldn’t do. 

Mr. Ed walked the town that Friday night, looking for an indistinct establishment and when he passed the bar where he had hung out the previous week, he didn’t think twice. The food was simple, but filling. The liquor was endless and cheap. 


2

Mr. Ed walked straight to the bar and the stool that he had occupied was empty. On the one next to it was the guy that he chatted with the previous time he was here.
Mr. Ed taps his shoulder, and says, “Martee.”

Marty already had a few cold ones and despite his resolution to keep Mr. Ed at an arms length, he greets Mr. Ed like an old friend.
Indeed,” Marty says, “Take a seat, man.”
You want a next one?” Mr. Ed asks.
Keep them coming, I always say,” Marty says, “My girlfriend would like me to say no more often though.”

Mr. Ed sits back and sizes up the bar. 
Women keep us in check,” Mr. Ed says.
Now that is true,” Marty says, “Or at least they try.”

So what’s new?”
Same old, same old,” Marty says, “An old lady died, someones car was stolen (and returned), kids picked some fruit off a tree without permission, there was a kitchen fire someplace.”
Huh.”
Yeah.”

Mr. Ed looks at the menu.
I’m gonna order,” he says, “You want something?”
I got it right here,” Marty says, pointing at his beer.

During dinner they talk along much of the same lines as the previous time: the Gulf war and how the army makes and destroys men. Marty isn’t sure though how much Mr. Ed remembers of what he revealed that other night. He doesn’t want to pry, but then he does.
No one went completely crazy in your platoon?” Marty asks.
We went all went that direction in one way or other,” Mr. Ed says, “I still think about some of those experiences even to this day.”
We had a guy once who started butchering civilians without any immediate threat,” Marty says, “That one was pretty extreme.”
I bet,” Mr. Ed says.

Marty thinks: he doesn’t remember what he told the other night.
There’s no hunting going on around here?”
You hunt?” Marty asks.
If I hunt?” Mr. Ed asks, “I carry my own rifle.”
“….”
Once in a while I need to go out in the wild and shoot something,” Mr. Ed says, “I mean, nothing too much, but I just like the thrill.”

*

On the screen there is a live fight, somewhere far off. It’s only now though that they pay attention to it, because the barkeep just turned up the sound.
Things just got better….” Mr. Ed says, and they turn their attention to the screen.
O yes,” Marty says, “I got a kid who’s into that stuff.”
I used to fight myself,” Mr. Ed says, “Back in the days.”
The army?”
Before,” Mr. Ed says, “Way before…. I grew up in a tough neighborhood, so it was either learn how to fight or be the underdog for the rest of your days.”
Huh.”
You can’t relate, huh?”
Not really,” Marty says, “I did some boxing in the army, but it never really was my thing.”
The Dance with the fists,” Mr. Ed says, “Man, you don’t know what you have been missing….”

*

The fight is between a North-African and an Irish-man. The North-African is a good bit older and like most good fights it’s heavy weight boxing. Judging from the way they move around the ring, it must be one of the later rounds. The two men keep zoning in and out on each other with a certain fatigue and heaviness. The older fighter has the upper hand, because it seems that he’s fighting out of a necessity. The question now is who has a surprise combo in store.
Like I said,” Mr. Ed says, “I like to hunt from time to time. I like the rush, because it’s like that of killing a man in combat…. But watered down, if you catch my drift…. It’s like boxing, but then with protective gear: same movements, but less thrill.”

I got to disappoint you again, chief,” Marty says, “I have been in close combat, but I never came that close that I needed to kill another man. And I must say that I’m kind of grateful for that.”
“….”
I hear too many stories,” Marty says, “It changes a man; you’re never the same after that. Some say it’s what plunges a lot of guys into PTSD. That’s something I don’t need to experience first hand.”
Muscle and steel,” Mr. Ed says, “That’s what my unit commander used to say.”
Just like those guys,” Marty says, while keeping his eye on the screen, “AUOWWW.” 

The older fighter just knocked down the younger one to the floor.
That young kid might be fitter and stronger, but he lacks motivation,” Marty says, “You can see it: for the old guy it’s everything or nothing. Food on the table or dry bread.”
The fight is not over,” Mr. Ed says, “I say the young guy is gonna wear out the old one.”

You kidding me?” Marty says, “That guy looks as tough as nails. Even if it’s the last thing he does: he’s there to win….”
I’m telling you,” Mr. Ed says, “You can see his left hand drop the whole time. He didn’t do that at the start of the fight.”
That’s beside the point,” Marty says, “He has got the look: he’s there to do one thing and that’s to give that other guy a good beating….”
I thought you didn’t like boxing….”
Not doing,” Marty says, “But I do like to watch.”
Twenty dollars on the young guy,” Mr. Ed says.
O you’re on,” Marty says, “It’s going to be the easiest twenty dollar I ever made….”

*

The North-African throws a few punches and the Irish-man wobbles on his feet.
That’s it,” Marty says.

The other guy doesn’t come back up.
I told you,” Marty says, “Pay up, loser.”
It was a good thrill,” Mr. Ed says, while putting a twenty on the counter, “But you have to admit: it was an interesting fight.”

Marty holds up the twenty and checks whether it’s real.
Sure,” he says, “What’s next?”
It looks like that was the last one,” Mr. Ed says, “Or maybe not.”

*

After the commercials another fight starts. These are the super-heavyweights. They are both strong, but also slow and they seem bend on causing major damage to each other. The bigger looks like a hillbilly, the slightly shorter one is a Mexican. 
Those Mexicans can fight,” Mr. Ed says. 
Let’s see,” Marty says, “I assume that not all of them are cut from the same wood.”
If you fight for king and country: does it really matter?”
“….?”
A far away place, in their strangeness maybe even further than Martossa and the whole lot,” Mr. Ed says, “Coming from such a place I imagine there rests a lot on a man’s shoulders.”
Maybe,” Marty says, “But they might be of a different mentality over there.”
I believe people are much of the same all over the place,” Mr. Ed says, “Subjected to kings, despots, presidents, monarchs; it doesn’t make much of a difference.”
Good bye Charlie!” Marty says when the Mexican lands a direct hit in the face of the Hillbilly, “You see all thatin a fight.”

Boxing, sports in general, it’s all about the same thing,” Mr. Ed says, “At the surface it’s about blowing of steam.”
And underneath is the primitive?”
Naah,” Mr. Ed says, “We have come too far: underneath of it we fight for our throne…. Our piece of the pie…. Our seat at the table…. Whatever you want to call it…. It’s all much of the same thing: to fight is to conquer.”
How about this,” Marty says, “The guy that wins that fight tonight…. I bet he just wants to drink a few cold ones and then he goes back to his girl…. She’s all riled up and I guess you can imagine the rest….”

Then what you’re saying is this: there are two kinds of men; the primitive; and the conquerer.”
They might be two sides of the coin,” Marty says, “Which side were you on when you were in the army?”
Ultimately to conquer,” Mr. Ed says, “But at the time, when I was behind the gun, I must admit: I was the primitive.”
You fought for the king,” Marty says, “But ultimately…. I think we haven’t advanced that much since the age of cave-men.”

Mr. Ed orders two more beers.
Then what about this,” Mr. Ed says, “If we’re so primitive and all, how come the most primitive act of men these day is to hole up in joint like this and to liquor up.”
“….”
We have become domesticated,” Mr. Ed says, conniving and for a moment Marty can see the blood lust behind Mr. Ed’s eyes, “That’s why I have my rifle and I sometimes just need to go out and shoot something.”

*

Mr. Ed’s thoughts don’t go back to the wild, but they go back to his office building in Moac and the alley next to it. Two weeks before his departure to Martossa he had a meeting with a competitor in that alley. He had wanted to to talk with Mr. Ed and they took him to the alley when things got tough. Mr. Ed’s bodyguards had secured both ends. 
Mr. Ed had lost control that day. He had tried to intimidate the guy with words, but he just kept grinning with this smug look on his face. 
What do you plan to do, old man?” the guy said, “You gonna rough me up?”
The guy had his guard down and he didn’t see the low uppercut that Mr. Ed placed on his liver. The guy buckled and never saw the left corner land on his temple. His lights went out, and Mr. Ed had just gotten started. The guy was defenseless on the floor and there was no referee to call Mr. Ed to order. 
*

Marty saw the change in Mr. Ed’s face.
Yeah, how about that….” Marty says, and much like the previous week, his opinion about Mr. Ed was clear: this guy is a sociopath, don’t know how, and to what he does, but this is The Real Deal. 

*

The Mexican had gotten too confident and lowered his guard. The Hillbilly saw it and knocked him out then and there.
Oooowww,” Mr. Ed says, “You saw that coming?”
Marty thinks: a million miles awayand he says, “I guess that the other guy got lucky.”
Maybe,” Mr. Ed says, “He saw an opportunity and he seized it.”

Marty also thinks something else: this Mr. Ed guy might start babbling again after some more beers. What if this time he remembers the next day that he told certain things that were better kept private? To Marty it seems that this Mr. Ed guy is crazy enough to go haywire if the opportunity arose. 

*

It was the last fight of that evening and the music came back on. 
That’s it for me,” Marty said after he had finished his beer, “See you later buddy.”
Mr. Ed nodded, and said, “Yeah, sure.”

*

When Marty was around the corner he had forgotten about Mr. Ed. Martossa had always struggled with its bad elements and the simple fact was that they had struggled with things that were worse, much worse.
Marty put his earphones on and the track that he listened to continued with The Police and by coincidence Murder by numberswas on. It was almost a premonition of what would happen later that year and his role in the whole thing. Mr. Ed would be long gone by then, but something much worse would have taken its place. At this point in time it was just an eerie feeling that something bad was going to go down. Bradley had heard its voice. 
That’s what the return of a history came down to in Martossa: an eerie feeling and a crazy voice, heard and felt by some. 

Chapter 9: Phyllis


The night-crawl had come undone after one too many and it left Mr. Ed with a hangover that stuck around for most of the weekend. The next morning when Mr. Ed was at his worst, his wife, Lela, had called him out of bed. They had been married for over twenty years and they had reached that point where their dynamics had shifted to that of a second enterprise. 
It was no secret that Lela had something going on with the pool-boy, just like it was no secret that Mr. Ed had this habit of chasing secretaries. The thing was just that neither of them could see it before them that their entanglement would ever end.


1

Who the hell calls me at this unruly hour,” Mr. Ed grunted into the phone.
Who do you think?” Lela asked in an icy voice.
You,” Mr. Ed grumbled.
Yes, me.”
What can I do?” Mr. Ed sighs.
Is that an apology?”
I don’t know,” Mr. Ed says, getting up and now sitting on the side of the bed, “I did have one or two or three too many.”

You’re only hurting yourself with all that junk,” Lela says, “But at least now there’s no one to suffer because of it.”
Why did you call?”
“….”
Something tells me you didn’t call just to hear my voice,” Mr. Ed says, “We have somehow passed that station.”
Manyyears ago,” Lela says, “If only there was a way to get back.”

Mr. Ed thinks: if only you stopped fucking the pool-boy.
Who knows,” Mr. Ed says.
I need money,” Lela says.
There’s money in the bank.”
That I can’t touch,” Lela says, “And I maxed out my credit-cards.”

Mr. Ed thinks: the audacity.
I need 5000.”
I wire 3000 to your account every month. Food, bills, everything is already paid for,” Mr. Ed says, “3000 to fuck around with isn’t enough?”
It’s none of your business what I do with my money,” Lela says briskly.
You’re entitled to half of everything,” Mr. Ed says, “Too bad that our assets are tied up in stocks and bonds that neither of us can touch.”
Well, fuck you too,” Lela grunts, and she hangs up. 

There was a time when Mr. Ed would have thought: bitch. That time has gone. Over the years that kind of aggravation had transgressed into something worse. Indifference. 
Mr. Ed feels numbed about these kinds of affairs to the point that he simply can’t be moved one way or the other. The indifference that he had started to feel towards the doings (or maybe the undoings) of his wife wasn’t just something that he felt towards this situation with his wife, but it felt to be part of something larger. To Mr. Ed it seems that indifference is at the root of some of the very fundamental problems of our times, which seemed self-fulfilling: indifference towards indifference.

Mr. Ed did know one thing for sure though: it wasn’t time yet to return to Moac. It felt to Mr. Ed that his time in Martossa hadn’t fully started yet. They say that it takes at least one and half years to physically acclimatize; how long would it take to acclimatize mentally to the point that things that had happened years ago feel like a distant past that has become kind of a story that might just as likely have happened to someone else? To Mr. Ed it seems that it’s closer to ten years than five. 

Mr. Ed calls for room-service. 
He orders a full American Breakfast and a jug of coffee. 
Lela always had this way of nagging him out of bed early in the morning. At least that hadn’t changed.


2

The three weeks that they had spend back home and in the West End Mansion had done them a great deal of good, despite of the bad stuff that had happened at the end. Looking back it felt like a scary movie: a group of friend reunites in a mansion, partying and having good times, until finally something bad happens.
When they all departed to go back to their lives they had all signed a stone tablet, commemorating their reunion, but also a pledge to return thirteen years from now. It was partly an extension of a pledge they had made when they were 12: something bad had happened back then and they had all stacked their hands and pledged to return 25 years from then. The thing was just that none of them could remember what exactly had happened: it was as if their memories had transformed to nothing more than an eerie feeling over the years. 

Why 25?” Jim had asked back then in ‘95.
My dad told me that’s the difference between a friendship for life, and one that isn’t,” Toni had said.
So we have to wait 25 years?” Jim asked, “How do you like them bananas?”
No, silly,” Phyllis said, “If we’re still friends 25 years from now then we have a friendship that’s thicker than blood.”

Jim had a dumb look and Toni said: “It means that we’re like family, dip-shit.”
Are you calling me a pin-head?”
I don’t know,” Toni said in his smart-ass-way, “What is a pin-head?”
Knock if off,” Phyllis said, already growing tired of their feud.
Just promise never to speak about what has happened here,” Jep said, “Something can only terrify you as long as you keep believing its stories.”
Alright, Mr. Professor,” Toni said, “We just wave our magic wand andforget about it.”

There they were 12 years later, no longer speaking in high voices, but still wet behind the ears, when it came to many of life’s challenges. Come to think of it, they were almost half-way there: their reunion was 12 years after they had made that pledge. During the vacation no one had spoken about the horrors that had happened when they were 12. It was indeed like Jep had told them: they hadn’t forgotten what had happened, but it had turned into the kind of story that might just as well have happened to someone else. 

When they were at the airport they had stacked their hands, just like they had done when they were 12.
Repeat after me,” Toni said, “I pledge – to return – when we’re – 37.”
37….” Jim mumbled, “That’s like an eternity from now.”
We might be dead by then,” Toni said, dryly, “Choking in our own vomit after a night on the bender like my uncle Hankie.”
You maybe,” Frankie said, with a distasteful look on his face, “I intend to stick around for a longtime.”

*

That’s as far as their reminiscence went. 
That’s what we thought back then about being 24,” Jep said, “And look now.”
24 is still young,” Phyllis said, and she stroked Jep’s arm, “A man is at his prime at 25.”
Ooeehh,” Toni, Frankie and Jim went.

37,” Toni said, “Now that’s adult. No more fucking around.
Don’t worry,” Jep said, “I’m sure you will always fuck around….”
Well thank you, majesty,” Toni said, and he made a deep bow. 

Jim was the first whose flight was about to leave.
See you later, alligators,” Jim said. 
In a while, crocodile,” they all said. 

They all watched Jim disappear into the crowd.
You said that he was depressed,” Jep said, when Jim was out of sight, “I saw no sign of it.”
Maybe I was wrong,” Phyllis said, “But I still have this nagging feeling that something was going on beneath the surface.”
Well, the way he serviced that friend of yours,” Frankie said, “It’s all spick and span.”

They all laughed like they had when they were kids: full out and holding nothing back. Frankie made an impression of Jim, and Toni of Shane being intimate and doing all kinds of things.

An hour later they had all gone their separate ways. 


3

Phyllis had placed the plaque on her dresser table. From time to time, she dusts it off and runs her fingers over the writings. The plaque is a reminder of both their three weeks in West End Mansion and their youth that they had spend on Rokset Island.

That Thursday Phyllis had an appointment with Harry Brunt, the caretaker of West End Mansion. It had been almost eight weeks since their vacation had ended. He had explicitly told her that he would reach out to her when it was time for her to return the keys to West End Mansion. Phyllis had told Shane and she insisted to come with her. 

They drove up the mountain in Phyllis’ small car.
How do you feel about going back up there?” Shane asked, “Do you think back at the vacation or the murder?”
I asked myself that question,” Phyllis said, “I think maybe somewhere in the middle…. Although it leans more towards vacation…. Does that make me a bad person?”

Shane thought it over. 
I don’t know,” she said, “I guess, I kind of feel the same way.”
Maybe we’re both bad,” Phyllis said, jokingly.
Do you think it somehow happened because of all the bad things that had supposedly happened down there?” Shane asked, “I know it makes no sense, but still….”
I still can’t shake that crazy cowboy,” Phyllis said, “I’m sure that it was him…. Him, or the other guy that I told you about: the shrink I talked to the other day.”
Maybe he followed you all along,” Shane said, “Maybe…. He’s still following you….”
Funny,” Phyllis said, and she turned up the drive way of West End Mansion. 

I hope he’s on time,” Shane said, “The place still gives me the creeps.”
Aha.”

*

Harry Brunt was waiting in his car. When Phyllis pulled up, he got out. 
Ms. Phyllis, good to see you,” he said, “And you too miss.”
I guess you heard what went down at New Years,” Phyllis said. 
I did,” Harry Brunt said, “Spooky.”

Spooky wasn’t the response either of them had expected.
We found bear traps the next day,” Phyllis said, “The police found some more and removed them all the following days.”
They weren’t there when I left,” Harry Brunt said, thinking about the police, “Which can only mean that they were planted after I left.”
What are you suggesting?” Shane asked briskly.
The perpetrator must have seen an opportunity.”

Which can also mean that he was watching the property well before that,” Phyllis said, “If he waited until you left.”
“….”
You never left for an extended time before?”
Besides running errands, no,” Harry Brunt said, “Bear traps I would surely have discovered while maintaining the yard.”
“….”
Having grown up here, you must have heard the stories,” Harry Brunt said, “That this mansion was build on an ancient burial ground, how the first governor was lynched here, supposedly by his own men, and that’s just the beginning.”
You believe that it has something to do with that?” Shane asked.
The history certainly didn’t help….” Harry Brunt said, “But it fits with the story of people appearing out of thin air.”
You’re saying that it was a ghost that did all this?” Phyllis asked.

Not a ghost,” Harry Brunt said, “Just something that I can’t quite explain.”
Here are the keys,” Phyllis said, “I’m sure you had an extra set. What do you plan to do with the place now?”

Harry Brunt looks kind of stymied.
I’m just the caretaker, miss,” Harry Brunt said, “I will do just that.”
Then that was that,” Shane said.
That seems to be the case,” Harry Brunt said.
You have a good one, Mr. Brunt,” Phyllis said. 
You too, miss.”

*

Not a ghost, but something he can’t explain?” Shane repeats, when they’re back on the open road.
That place must have rubbed off on him over the years,” Phyllis said.
That, or he knows about the guy who did this,” Shane said, “The Crazy Cowboy.”


4

Against her better judgement, Phyllis booked another session with Mr. Ed. The guy was creepy, but the things he said had made sense. Mostly because of that she wanted to give him a second chance. 

Ms. Phyllis,” Mr. Ed says when Phyllis enters the room. He went over to her and gave her a hug.
Mr. Ed,” she says, a little reluctant, “Being in VR: that feels real….”
Quite something, huh?” Mr. Ed says, “How have you been?”
Good actually,” she says, “You said some things that made sense and helped me through the week.”
I did?” Mr. Ed asks, “I’m glad to hear that.”

You really did,” Phyllis says, “I told you how I was lamenting on what could have been, and then you told this whole story that we can never be fully certain about anything. Later on I realized that the only thing that makes sense is to somehow find comfort in my life as it is.”
Absolutely,” Mr. Ed says, “So, how did you do that?”
I went back in time,” she says, “I talked a lot to my friend Shane and I went through a lot of mementos that helped to bring back a lot of memories.”
Growing up on the island?”
Yes…. And the friends that I had since I was young,” she says, “Most of all was that actually, because my home situation was kind ofcomplicatedback then.”

Mr. Ed sits back and thinks that one over for a minute.
We’ll discuss that another time,” Mr. Ed says, “Let’s zoom in on your friends.”
They were the best friends ever,” she says, “We did many fun things together, but most of all we had this deep friendship. We even made a pact when we were 12 to return in 25 years.”

25 years, wow….” Mr. Ed says, “That’s a big number for a 12 year old.”
It was and it is,” Phyllis says, “It’s a long story.”

Mr. Ed tries to imagine Phyllis at 12.
Also for another time,” Mr. Ed says, thinking of what to say, “Those memories of nostalgia can be very healing: they remind us of better times and because of that they make us feel good. The mechanism is very simple: the brain releases certain endorphins and it wants more of that feeling good and that’s why you will try your best to recapture that same feeling with new experiences.”
In a nutshell.”
Yes,” Mr. Ed says, “For the same reason people tend to like wine to take off the edge, or they eat chocolate, or they cuddle up with their loved one: chemicals are involved that change how we feel.”

Phyllis processes that one and for a minute she asks herself why Jep had never told her about that one. It seems to be the kind of mechanism that would be right down his alley.
In a way it’s like we’re junkies, craving for the substance when it has been too long.”
Absolutely,” Mr. Ed says, “Even upon death there’s the same thing: the brain releases a chemical that has a very close resemblance to LSD.”

Phyllis starts laughing at that one.
That’s rich….” she says, still laughing, “You didn’t make that one up?”

Mr. looks like he isjoking, which only fuels Phyllis’ laughter.
Let me get this straight,” Phyllis finally says, “So there you have these stuck up folks who have abstained from alcohol and drugs for their whole lives and then: bam! They get a shot of home-brew LSD….”
Which already implies that it makes no sense to be stuck up to begin with,” Mr. Ed says, “You can abstain all you want, but still you will be controlled by mind-altering substances. Some you ingest, but other are synthesized by the body itself….”

*

Phyllis’ opinion of Mr. Ed has shifted for the good.
Phyllis reminds Mr. Ed of his daughter. 
Can I ask you something odd?” Phyllis asks.
Shoot.”
Do you believe in ghosts?”
“….?”
We discussed what happened at West End Mansion at New Years the other day, and this one has been on my mind for the whole week.”
For the sake of the argument, let’s say that I do,” Mr. Ed says.

Phyllis pauses for a few seconds.
I’m sure it’s nothing, but the caretaker of West End Mansion hinted that it might have been a ghost that attacked us that New Year’s.”
Interesting,” Mr. Ed says, and he doesn’t know quite how to respond to this one, “Interesting, indeed.”

Chapter 10: Michelle


Phyllis was a nice girl and all, but the one that had really captivated Mr. Ed was Michelle. It looked to Mr. Ed like she had always been this kind of girl that could light up a room with that million dollar smile – the kind that attracts all kinds of folks. Ultimately it was up to her which kind of people she would choose to reside with, but what Mr. Ed could only guess at was that for some reason she had always felt more comfortable around what people would generally describe as bad company. Maybe it had something to do with who she was at heart, and when it came to that there wasn’t that much of a choice after all. Mr. Ed had always believed that we will always be subjected to our nature. 
It was no surprise then that Mr. Ed had a hold on Michelle since that first time that they had sat down, and although it wasn’t more than a hunch on her part, she had become certain that Mr. Ed fit the profile of the kind of guy that could show her who she is at heart. She was sure that it was just a matter of time before they both lowered their guard. 


1

In a way what had kept both Mr. Ed and Michelle busy was the same kind of question about the badness of men, or to be more precise, what makes a man bad. For some reason Michelle’s thoughts started going back to this urban legend about a guy that was nick-named Cotton Charlie. She had first heard about it a good seven years ago.
It was the summer when she had turned 18 and it was the first time that she had heard about the legend of Cotton Charlie. She learned about the story in the way that we get to know about most of these kind of stories that border on an urban legend: she didn’t read it, but it was told to her. She was at a party, it was late at night, after midnight in fact, there was a good vibe going on and everyone had a good buzz going on as well. She flocked around a camp-fire with about ten others. 

The DJ lowered the volume and the kid who’s parents had gone out of town and where the party was organized in the villa and around the pool yelled in a loud voice:
Who is the creature that everyone fears….”
Charlie!”
Who was born good and died a bad man….”
Charlie!”
Who was tortured and tortured and tormented….”
Charlie!”
Charlie who?”
Cotton Charlie!!” the crowd screamed. An electric guitar came on and the first few notes sounded like Iron Maiden’s Run for the Hills and instead of Native Americans running from the Europeans, it must have been any person that came in sight of this guy named Cotton Charlie.

Who is Cotton Charlie exactly?” Michelle asked the guy she ended up with that night. She had already forgotten his name. 
You don’t know?” the guy asked, “It’s an old story, an urban legend and a good one too. Cotton Charlie became the nick-name of a guy named Charles Keller who was born just before the turn of the twentieth century. He was killed in the 10s, the 1910s.”
Aha,” Michelle said, “So how did he get his nick-name?”

Charles Keller had been from out of town and one day he just showed up in Martossa. At first people didn’t bother with him: he was a grown man, well fed, but by his demeanor you could see that he wasn’t just a bit dim, but it seemed more that he was a kind of retard. He carried a few items with him: some clothes, a hymnal and a bunny rabbit that he kept in the inside pocket of his overcoat. For a good week he hung around town, in the park, in the docks, in the train station. After that week a local bum started to look after him and he took Charles Keller to an abandoned warehouse where most bums and homeless hung out. Most of them were junkies that ate scraps here and there, besides which they crawled into bottles of strong liquor that they stole from here and there. The thing was just that Charles Keller didn’t drink and after three or four days they decided that he was no fun and they kicked him out.”
Kicked out by bums….” Michelle said, “That’s what I would call being down on your luck.”
It only got down hill from there,” the guy said, “Charles Keller was out on the streets for a few more days, until there was a madam by the name of Sandy Roberson who got the idea of making a bit of money out of what she called ‘this freak show’. Her idea was to feed him back to strength in her whorehouse and to put him in a cage where people could fight him for money. She had even thought of a nick-name: the Grumpy Giant (he wasn’t grumpy, but she was sure she could change that). The plan started to unfold slowly. The whores looked after him and they became very attached. Unlike their clientele, this was a man that was more interested in his bunny than he was in theirs. It took a few weeks for Charles Keller to get back some weight and to regain his strength.”
Then what happened?”
This madam had heard of illegal fights in an abandoned warehouse. She brought him down one night and when they saw Charles Keller enter, the crowd went wild: he looked daunting and violent, and his first opponent even took a step back, but then it happened: he didn’t fight. And not just that; he just took a beating without doing anything.”
Because he was a pacifist,” Michelle said, “So did they get him to fight?”
The madam took him down a second time, but what she didn’t know was that his bunny was in his coat’s pocket,” the guy said, “So there was this big strapping guy, and when he entered the cage, people already started woe-ing for him to go away. Next he took out his bunny and started petting it. His opponent started making fun of him and since he stayed unresponsive, he tried to grab it from his hands. That’s when the bad eye of Charles Keller turned on him: he beat the guy into a pulp within minutes.”
Wow.”
Yeah,” the guy said, “How about you get us some drinks?”

Michelle did and the guy continued when she came back.
That’s how they got him to fight and it worked every time, and it was also at that time that he had gotten that nick-name Cotton Charlie: a puppet that can be made to dance when you pull a string,” the guy said, “Until after about ten months, the bunny had gotten hurt and got killed. Charles Keller turned violent without control and when he had beaten his opponent to pulp, he continued with the next person within sight. Four or five guys stepped forward and they all awaited the same fate. It was then that the crowd turned bad. Back then men were more like the cowboys that you see in old westerns – every man carried a gun, a knife, and some even walked with pitch-forks (don’t ask me what they needed that for, going to a fight). They started going after Cotton Charlie and it soon turned into a lynching that lasted until the sun came up at six the next morning. They had gotten very vicious: he had about eighty puncture holes, he had lost a few fingers, and a toe, there was a deep cut in his skull that kept gushing, and there was another cut that had gone superficial and where there was this one character that had started to pull off his skin (it was later told that this guy was a bonafide sadist).”
Wow,” Michelle had said, “And where did all this take place?”
In the docks in a small sea-side town by the name of Martossa,” the guy had said, “Cotton Charlie succumbed to his wounds and died when the first crow was heard.”
“….”
Of the crazy mob, five died. Three of them in combat with Cotton Charlie, one of them in conflict with another man, the last one had a heart-attack.”
That’s just horrible.”
It was,” the guy had said, “But it’s not where it all ended. They say that Cotton Charlie is undead because he was tortured to death in such a horrible way and that he can be summoned in all its fury between midnight and sunrise.”
That’s what that yelling was all about?”
A little bit,” the guy said, “But it’s mostly drunken foolishness. What brings Cotton Charlie back is a little rhyme and you have to say it with the word ‘will’ instead of ‘won’t’:Cotton Charlie on a stick / it’s the candy that I dig / in the morning, in the night / it’s the thing that I won’t fight.”
You believe that?”
I know that some kids tried it a few years ago and it really went apeshit after that,” the guy said, “They weren’t beat up, but mentally, they lost it….”
“….”

The guy started laughing, “Just pulling your leg. As far as I’m concerned it’s just an urban legend. Probably just a fiction.”


2

Michelle had retold the story of Cotton Charlie to Mr. Ed during their next talk. 
Later on when I studied anthropology I started looking into its meaning in the broader cultural context,” Michelle says, “For a long time I believed that it was that any decent person can be driven to do something bad, given the right circumstances.”
But then you changed your mind….”
What if it’s just madness in any form?” Michelle asks, “A kind of personal madness that a person just is overcome with?”

Michelle looks over at Mr. Ed and she pauses.
Madness as our personal demon,” Michelle says.
“….”
What do you think Cotton Charlie is supposed to tell us?”

Be warned: bad stuff is out there,” Mr. Ed says, “Most notably Cotton Charlie.”
No subtext?” Michelle asks, “You don’t believe that this story is a metaphor for some real life monsters that are out there?”
You mean: something besides the predator that walks on two legs?” Mr. Ed asks, leaning forward, “Not necessarily dead, alive, undead, vampire, werewolf or any of that — why do you think that all those creatures look like men?”
You mean to say that we are the predators?”

Mr. Ed thinks: people Exactly Like Us.
Now the real question is: are you willing to accept that?” Mr. Ed asks.

Michelle thinks: he’s prying again. This time she doesn’t mind it so much, and it brings back that tingly feeling in her belly. She has this feeling that the reason that he’s prying mostly confirms that her dream about Mr. Ed was more than just a fiction.
It’s a proven fact that most murders are committed by men, as in not by women, so I’ll give you that,” Michelle says, “What these creatures tell us is that we either like to believe in monsters, or it simply serves to differentiate between us and them.”

It’s also human nature: we’re fascinated by that which we can’t quite comprehend,” Mr. Ed says, “And a creature that can be summoned between midnight and sunrise….” 
One that appears in all fire and fury with murder on its mind….”
And it’s complete brutality, because at that point it doesn’t matter whether it has a primitive incentive like something territorial or hunger….” Mr. Ed says, “It’s nothing more than what it is…. Which makes it even more incomprehensible.”

Mr. Ed leans back for a minute and takes a sip of ice-water.
One thing though about the story,” Mr. Ed says, “Cotton Charlie became undead?”
Basically.”
For sake of the discussion: let’s say that a person can become undead.”

Michelle starts to laugh. 
You… I mean: youare willing to believe that a person can be undead?”

Mr. Ed looks like: what’s so strange about that?
Well…. For the discussion’s sake: Cotton Charlie wasn’t atypical undead,” Michelle says, “That would be mostly about vampires that start to burn in sunlight, like being hosed down with acid.”

Mr. Ed laughs at that one, “Not a vampire then, just undead.”
In a way you could say that he’s a variation on that theme, but there’s something about it that sticks,” Michelle says in a mysterious voice.

Now it’s Michelle’s turn to lean forward.
The undead are found in many cultures and in many forms,” Michelle says, “And in some it’s believed that person’s that do bad things are in fact undead, without themselves knowing about it….”

Mr. Ed thinks: I have been implied to be many things, but this this is a first.
Or a part of them,” Michelle says, “Like a vital part of who they are has already started to rot away.”

Chapter 11: Bradley


Mr. Ed had come to believe that he had an angel on his shoulder: just a week ago it seemed that he would be implicated for murder. Then the most unlikely thing happened. The bad element that had come to torment his life turned out to be hunted down by another element that had tormented Martossa in the past. Mr. Ed had been there when it had happened and he discretely slipped away.
Since that day Mr. Ed had asked himself why he deserved this much good luck, because as Mr. Ed himself, or any other person would state, Mr. Ed wasn’t a particularly good man. There was the fact that he had created employment through his frozen pizza plant, but the way he went about his business and the things that he did in his free time didn’t exactly balance the score. 
In a way how Mr. Ed judged himself came down to that old question of good and evil: does a certain measure of good, justify an evil? These kind of deliberations usually end up in a concentration camp where an evil doctor experiments on victims for the good of science. At heart Mr. Ed knew very well that good and evil are not balances, but instead they are different realms. A person is either good or bad and it seems there’s little room for a middle ground, unless for those poor office drones that have all the passion sapped out of them. 
What Mr. Ed didn’t know was that according to those that he spoke with as a therapist, was that they considered Mr. Ed to be a good man, mostly because he had all given them good advise. The strange, or insidious thing is that all of them saw what lurked beneath the surface, but they were all willing to give Mr. Ed the benefit of the doubt.


1

The news of the death of the Debt Collector had spread quickly around town and by the time the Sheriff and coroner came down there was a large crowd. In a way the mutual murder had been the kind of cleansing that could only be reconciled with bloodshed. Victor Vaughn had been the bad news and a bad element that his death by a bullet in the skull was a good thing instead of the bad that a murder usually was. Then again, the other guy that got killed by a bullet from Victor Vaughn was also bad news and he was also sorely missed.
It was almost like a revolution had taken place the kind that overthrows dictatorships that can only end by the public lynching of its illegitimate head of state. In a revolution the tragedy is already implied, revolution, revolt, which is a turning like a wheel, which already implies that a new kind of torment will present itself in some future. 
On the other hand, that might also be considered the kind of doomsday preaching that feeds on the bad that will come. The simple fact is that the bad thing will always come for us, because there will always be a bad corner, or a bad alley where dungeons await, like a predator waiting patiently for its prey. 
It was just that, statistically speaking, bad things happened more frequently in Martossa and some Martossians had started to believe that it was somehow pre-ordained. 


2

A few weeks had passed and Bradley was brooding on what he could put his mind to. On a subconscious level he must have registered what Mr. Ed had said about the life of the mind. What Mr. Ed had only said in so many words was that the life of the mind might be something that would help us pull through rough stretches, whether they are tough or plain boring like a desert road.
After a little over two months, the three instances when the wicked voice had entered Bradley’s mind were still fresh enough to keep him on edge. The memory of those three times had very subtly warped into this notion that those three times would make him into a schizo, but at the same time he was unwilling to just give in like that. On some level whether it was fact or fiction was irrelevant, simply because for a schizo it was always subjective, an account that was relayed to professionals and documented in reports. Then there were the manifestations that could be observed: a complete melt-down and dysfunction. Those reports were facts that could’t be changed and also the foundation for the diagnosis of schizophrenia. 
No one knew of those three instances and that fact gave Bradley leeway to redefine those three instances into a fiction for all intents and purposes it had never happened and he was as normal as the next 16 year old. He was still in full control, as Mr. Ed might have put it.

*

Forgetting and processing takes time and Bradley simply needed something to put his mind to. Sometimes the solution to problems is right in front of us and we know this in the back of our heads.
Since the summer two modern classic cars had been for sale by a guy on the edge of town who claimed that he had bought the two cars a good ten years ago, but he never came around to doing the work needed to fix them up. In his yard this guy had two Mitsubishi Starion’s, one from ‘84 and the other of ‘86. These cars are older than Bradley himself, but there’s just something about the 80s design of these coupes. These cars have a very distinctive slick line, headlights that pop up, a chunked dashboard and what can only be described as an 80s swagger. 
Bradley had his eye on those two cars since the summer and until recently he hadn’t seriously considered buying one of them. Fixing up old cars is something though that almost came with the territory: his dad, Ian, had always had a ‘68 Mustang that he spend a lot of time fixing and fine-tuning. When Bradley finally asked his dad to have the car registered under his name, he didn’t need to think twice. 
Bradley’s mother, Holly, wasn’t too thrilled about buying the car at first. She worried about Bradley’s school performance, his safety in case the car broke down at high speed, but at the same time she realized that it might be something that he would really like and that would help to sustain the bond with his father.

*

After four weeks the car was running and Bradley could take it for a spin. The engine was running, but it didn’t run smoothly. It sounded like it may need to be taken apart to clean its smallest parts and replace components, such as belts and hoses that were past being worn out. At this point it also looked like an old car, because it needed a very thorough paint job to bring it back to any kind of glory. 
Bradley drove down to the lot with the junked up cars where they used to hang out and where Victor Vaughn and the other guy had murdered each other. The bikes of Brandon, Tommie-Lee and Bobby were where they usually stashed their bikes, but they weren’t around. Bradley knew that this probably meant that they had gone fishing. He had parked the car and gone down to the water.
You guys want to see my ride?” Bradley asked when he was near.
We don’t see this guys for weeks and all of a sudden he pops up….” Tommie-Lee says in a fake gangster voice, “We thought you ran off with some girl or something.”

They all start laughing at that, because they know that Bradley still harbors something for Cassie, but according to them he’s too chickenshit to pursue it.
What can I say….” Bradley says, “There was a certain golden opportunity.”
That’s good, man,” Brandon says, “It’s better to do something than to just fuck around all the time.”
Are you calling us dipshits?” Bobby asks.
Not you, us,” Brandon says, “We all ain’t exactly the smartest kids on the block, but he, this kid, he’s got a real chance.”
He’s just messing with you guys,” Bradley says, “It’s just an old car that I’m fixing up. Nothing fancy schmancy.”
Let’s check out this ride,” Tommie-Lee says and he starts tying the fishing line to a tree, “You never know when fish is gonna bite.”

*

Bradley shows them the car. Dented, scratched, faded paint and an engine that runs like it has a cold. The guys don’t look too impressed.
I know,” Bradley says, “But listen to this….” 

Bradley revs the engine to 5000 rpm and the sound of the raw power gives a glimpse of what’s under the hood and what this ride can be restored back into.
They all return back to the beach and continue fishing together. They catch a few fish, roast it on the fire and sit around and talk until midnight. 

*

You’ll remember this drive,” Ian said, when Bradley returned, “Right now it’s running, but it’s running like an old heap of junk. Just wait and see in a few months: the engine will be thoroughly cleaned, it will have a new paint job and the interior will be updated.”
Can’t wait to get started,” Bradley said, “Where should I start?”
We’ll lift the engine out tomorrow and then the hard part comes,” Ian said, “Taking it apart and arranging the pieces in such a way that you’ll be able to put it back together after.”
How long would that take?”
Depends on the time that you have,” Ian said, “But since it’s mostly the evening hours, it will take a few weeks.”
I don’t mind,” Bradley said and he could already picture the restored car before him: swift and cool and totally back to the future.


3

Mr. Ed was on the other end of town. Even though he was sure that no one saw him near the kill-site, he still had this very strong feeling that it would be better for him to stay low for a while. And that’s exactly what Mr. Ed did. 
Bradley was obsessing over his car and therapy wasn’t on his mind that week.


Chapter 12: Jep


Nothing much had happened for another week and it made Mr. Ed feel good. By now he could be sure that he wasn’t spotted on the kill-site and even if he was, Mr. Ed had his story ready. He just took a walk and he had just ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn’t have much of a reputation yet in Martossa and for that reason it made sense that that statement would be enough in itself. 
Mr. Ed was eager though to have some more work on his hands. For the time being he had relayed the operation of Mr. Ed’s frozen pizza to his number two. This guy had worked for Mr. Ed for over twenty years. He knew the ropes and he was well skilled in the same type of negotiations that Mr. Ed needed to resort to from time to time. 
The only question was why? Why did Mr. Ed feel this sudden need to chronicle his wisdom? There was more to it than the heat that was brought on by his daughter that had pressured him to change his ways.


1

As long as Jep can remember he has been writing stories. It had always been an outlet, although he had never seriously considered letting anyone read them. When he was young Jepand his friends Tony, Frankie, Jim and Phyllis were obsessed by this super-hero that they created by the name of The Shadow. At the time, they were sure that it was a superpower in human form, but later on their attention and interests drifted to booze, girls and having a good time.
The other reason why Jep hadn’t let anyone read his work was the fact that he had never considered that he really was any good. Out of their gang, Tony had always been the one with the wildest imagination, and even during the reunion in West End Mansion Tony was the one that came up with the most outlandish stories. When he was back in The West Jep realized something though: those stories were all accounts of tales and legends that had been around and it hadn’t originated from his imagination. And even though Jep thought highly of Tony, he just didn’t seem the type that would be able to pull through and write a full blown novel. 
Jep was sure that he would have the stamina and ideas to pull through.


2

Writing is hard to learn and even for those who have the inspiration and stamina to jam out a full blown novel chances are that the work doesn’t sell, either because the work isn’t that good or it just doesn’t generate the kind of traction of the next big thing.
Most contemporary writing doesn’t have the spark: it doesn’t have strong, memorable characters and the events are plain boring. Writing should always be larger than life, it should interesting, and even when it isn’t, there should at least be this anticipation of the reader that things will pick up soon.
To some degree writing starts by analyzing popular works of great writers and then to dream that one day you yourself would be able to write something of the same caliber. To wish is to hope for, to dream is to have seen the possibilityis what Jep thought to be a quote from a great science-fiction series (he later found out that it was almost a complete fabrication). 
Reading and enjoying and hoping, wishing and dreaming is the beginning. There should be the enjoyment at the level of entertainment when reading these works, but ultimately that’s where it begins and ends. Writing is one of those occupations in which you need to have some skin in the game: there’s some of the writer in it call it passion, imagination or anything, and it filters through on the page and the reader picks up on that, mostly on a subconscious level. 
The point is this: a writer needs to work hard to find his own voice, recurring themes, world view etc etc and that makes writing one of those things that’s very hard to learn, because it takes a lot of effort for many years and even after all that there’s no guarantee that the work will be any good. If you can find anything else, do it, if not: writeis one of those other famous quotes that’s more air than substance, because writing takes a lot of work, yes, talent, yes, but also luck.
Jep didn’t know about all of this, but he knew of this without knowing and that’s why he had never considered writing to be more than a hobby. 


3

In his writings Jep had always leaned towards science-fiction, not so much the hard-boiled kind that’s completely disconnected from our current times, but the kind where a few things are tweaked and then the story analyzes what exactly will happen next. It’s a way to speculate how the problems of our times will pan out on multiple levels: individual, society, technological. 
There were the things that were discussed in the sessions with Mr. Ed, although Jep realized that most of those were brought up by himself, either by stating it as a fact or by association. They also weren’t necessarily the stuff of great novels, but they might be a place to start. 
The first real issue that Jep had discussed with Mr. Ed had been the murder of the girl at West End Mansion. You can’t run from lifewas what the advise came down to, which in a way was an open door, because it could be applied to anything, but it was also exactly what he needed to hear at that time. In a way it could also be seen as one of the problems of our times: we want to stay young, we don’t want to commit etc etc. It almost links up with the borderline times: the inability to control anger, extreme black and white thinking, an existential emptiness. 
Jep coined the whole depression-anxiety-thing during another session with Mr. Ed and while talking he stipulated that more complexity (on the level of society) wasn’t the answer to the problems of our times. It may be actually be the opposite: a simpler life, or to put it another way, a re-wilding. Then there was the notion of that retired shrink who stated that the distinction between those who pull through and those who sink away in insanity has to do with how effective they are at employing coping mechanisms that work. There’s a definite link here: complexity gives stress, which requires coping mechanisms. Re-wilding means less complexity, which (in theory) means less stress and less coping mechanisms. There’s one remark here though, re-wilding requires skills to grow food and an ability to lead a more frugal life with much less entertainment (vacations, big cars, the newest gadgets etc etc). It might not be for everyone. 
Then what is? One of these is the deliberate decision no to be effected by what goes on around us. And you can take this very literally: do I let events tear me apart or will this experience make me stronger (or at least find a way to deal with things)? In somewhat different words, it was also what Nietzsche said that the struggle will end up making you stronger.
Then throughout it all there’s that whole idea of the narrative identity: literally rewriting of a personal past into such a story that it allows you to go on living with yourself. Even then there’s that statement that hovers over all of it like a dark cloud the cloud and that statement are both about thatvast, cold unloving universe and how it’s ultimately us who invest it with any meaning. 
Fuck, Jep thinks, How can I make this into a story? A science-fiction that’s interesting to read and that may stand at least an iota of the test of time.


4

At the end of that week Jep had reached out and Mr. Ed had accepted the request for another session. It was in VR, which made it more easy to accept, kind of.

This time Mr. Ed had logged in before Jep. When Jep entered Mr. Ed looked up from his notes and gestured for Jep to take a seat.
What can I do for you, Mr. Jep?” 
The usual,” Jep says, “Maintenance.
Anything in particular?”
Art,” Jep says, “Artistic endeavors.”
As in what? Painting?”
Writing,” Jep says, “I have been writing on and off for as long as I can remember. I’m thinking about a science-fiction: introduction describing a problem and a character that’s bound to solve it, a description of technological advancements. Then the middle where the problem is played out. The ending where it’s resolved.”
I see….” Mr. Ed says, “What kind of problem?”
I don’t know yet,” Jep says, “The problem might be the space travel itself, the middle where they arrive at a new place, struggle, then when it seems that everything will work out something bad happens.”
Murder?”
Danger,” Jep says.
Terror?” Mr. Ed says, “Like a crazy guy in a clown suit who starts terrorizing without any purpose or reasoning.”
Then there’s the question of the kind of people that are willing to give up their lives, possibly indefinitely,” Jep says, “Which is very interesting, because if you think about it: which kind of person would do that?”
If it was just for a short stretch, then it could be a sense of adventure,” Mr. Ed says.
That’s the whole point: it isn’t short space travel to distant planets will take years…. Then there’s the problem of time dilation: even if those space travelers somehow make it back to earth…. Everyone that they know will be dead, because for them, being on a space ship traveling near the speed of light or at high warp means that time for themwill go faster.”

Mr. Ed thinks about that one for a second.
If you look back at history there might be another element:” Mr. Ed says, “Those that were on the Mayflower didn’t just have that sense of adventure, but for many there was also a necessity, because a good number of them were struggling through poverty in Europe and the US was a fair chance at a better life.”
Then the riches of space travel can never be expressed in US Dollars, since the riches that can be brought on a space ship will be very limited. Unless you bring technology that can create other technology that will be able to extract natural resources and literally build a new society.”
Robots.”
And a whole lot of them,” Jep says, “I’m just not sure yet about the poverty, because being poor now or a hundred years ago is very different. Back then it was more likely to have meant famine and starvation, these days it’s more about having little money and having limited means to change that situation.”
You mean that back then there was still a way out and these days there isn’t?”
There’s still migration, obviously, from Africa to Europe, South to North America, but one thing is very different: there’s already scarcity in the places where they’re traveling to. Back then there was opportunity and abundance.”
Which is what space travel to a new home world might also be about.”
Opportunity and abundance.”

*

They continued talking some more and by the time the hour was up, they hadn’t discussed anything that would have been discussed in aregular therapy session. 
Still, Jep had the feeling that he had gotten something out of it. 


5

Long after Jep had logged out from the VR, his mind stayed with his unwritten story. He was still looking for its larger than life theme, but at the same time it needed to be relatable and contemporary: possibly something about what keeps us going (although that one might also be considered to be a sub-theme)…. 
The main theme is more straight forward: struggle and then to overcome. The story will take place in the future, possibly with a small group that’s trying to survive on a distant new world. 
He had already had a name for the new home-world: Antaris.

Chapter 13: Marty


Mr. Ed needs to blow off steam and he heads straight for the establishment where he hung out on a few other occasions. Decent food and drinks that are endless and cheap abound, but best of all there are no nosy people around that are in this habit of asking too many questions. 
Mr. Ed had this nagging feeling that his stay in Martossa had made him docile. It didn’t make sense though, because he had unleashed his fury on that poor unsuspecting fellow that was finished by Victor Vaughn, who in turn was killed in a double murder by that other bad character named Malcolm Thompson. 
The nagging feeling that he had was more about Mr. Ed’s Frozen Pizza: he wanted to be back on the floor with all the hustle and bustle. He had lived in the big city his whole life, and even though a small town by the sea was nice and all, it didn’t really feel like it was his town and it simply wouldn’t be enough in the long run. 


1

It was almost as if those few nights that Mr. Ed had spend liquoring up had made him a regular. There were a few guys that nodded when he came in, the bartender asked him if he wanted a beer and the stool next to Marty was still empty.

Mr. Ed taps Marty on the shoulder.
You again,” Marty says, “I wondered where you had been.”
I needed to lay low for a while,” Mr. Ed says, deciding how much he was willing to tell, “Sometimes there are circumstances that dictate that kind of action.”
Too much work, or too little money.”
A nagging wife….”
No….” they both say.

Mr. Ed sizes up the bar and he waits for his beer.
You ever got this feeling as if you have got luck on your side.”
Aaaah,” Marty says, “One in a thousand.”

Mr. Ed gives the number a thought. The bartender places the cold beer in front of him and Mr. Ed asks him to get another beer for Marty.
I have had years like that,” Mr. Ed says, “But this last year it seems like I got at least ten in one year.”
Getting a raise? Attention from a nice girl? Getting away with murder?”
It really is that kind of lucky,” Mr Ed says cryptically. 

Marty thinks: he finally did it – he finally went apeshit and started slashing away….
Explain,” Marty says, not sure how much he wanted to know exactly. 
Maybe it’s more like winning the lottery.”
“….”
Let’s just say that it has to do with business….”
As long as you keep some cold ones floating towards me, I don’t care where the dough comes from….”

*

Mr. Ed needed to talk about what had happened, but he fully well realized that it would be more prudent to keep most of it to himself. 
There’s something on my mind though,” Mr. Ed begins.
Shoot,” Marty says.
You know about this question that has been asked a million times by a million different people: can a man do the bad thing for the right reason?”
It kind of sounds like a contradiction.”
That’s what I thought,” Mr. Ed says, “But let’s say that something like this happens: you’re working late one night and you’re the last one in the office. Then an intruder comes in. This character holds a gun to your head and he says he wants all the money. Then there’s some sound outside and he let’s his attention slide for a split second. You manage to get his gun and shoot him then and there. He then dies of the injuries. Later on it’s ruled to be self-defense and you get out blame free.”
I’d say it’s self-defense.”
A guy is dead.”
In that moment you don’t know what else he had up his sleeve. Maybe a second gun? A knife?” Marty says, “We simply don’t need those kind of elements running around.”
In other words: it’s possible to do the bad thing for the right reason.”
It’s murky,” Marty says.
Ok,” Mr. Ed says, “Let’s say this happened back than in the Gulf War. You’re on sentry duty and after a few hours your mind starts to shut down. Your eyes are getting tired, you’re feeling fatigue, you’re getting thirsty, hungry all that. Now let’s say that there was this Iraqi that was watching you for let’s say the last two hours. This guy patiently waits for an opportunity to get close to knife you down.”

My fellow soldiers can’t see me….” Marty says, “I’d say that the same kind of struggle ensues and it ends with the death of that Iraqi soldier.”
Same basic situation.”
Same outcome,” Marty says.
And I must say I feel as bad for this Iraqi soldier as I do for this mugger,” Mr. Ed says, “Meaning: not at all.”

Mr. Ed takes a sip from his beer and he thinks it over. 
One more,” Mr. Ed says, “This one is from an old movie. There’s this guy. A rich guy. He has this younger secretary and she comes with him on business trips and it’s not long until they have an affair. From the beginning this guy kept telling himself that he shouldn’t let things get out of hand but then they do. Now this secretary is getting fidgety and she has come to believe that there’s more going on than there actually is: she believes that this guy will leave his wife over her.”
This is about you?”
It ain’t,” Mr. Ed says, and he reads the expression on Marty’s face, “What can I say: it’s complicated.”
“…..”
So this secretary wants to go public and she gives this guy an ultimatum: tell the wife before the end of the month, or she will,” Mr. Ed says, “So on the ride home this guy’s mind is on his predicament, because this woman has become a serious jeopardy. He can only think of one way out of it.”

So this is where it becomes the same story as the one with the mugger and the Iraqi,” Marty says, “But still this one is different.”
Because there’s a young lady that’s good in the sack?” Mr. Ed asks, “It will destroy his life: his wife will divorce him and go with half of the money and he’s convinced that she might even drag down the company with her.”

Mr. Ed gives it a thought.
Never come clean,” Mr. Ed says, “That’s about the only advise that my old man gave that was any use to me. And that’s the only thing that I can make of this strange story.”
It’s interesting,” Marty says, “I mean I would never be in a position to have a secretary, so this situation would never come up for me. But still it’s tempting to imagine that it does.”
My point exactly.”
I would like to say that I would do the right thing, because that’s what we’re programmed to do,” Marty says, “But I doubt that I will...”

*

Back to my initial predicament,” Mr. Ed says, “It isn’t like the mugger, the Iraqi and the broad, but it’s something like it. There was a situation that I had to deal with and then it resolved itself right before my eyes.”
No loose ends?”
Not one string.”


2

Marty hadn’t given Mr. Ed’s predicament much thought until the next day. After all, how much did he really tell? Then his mind started going over the way he said right before my eyes.
The glimpse that was in Mr. Ed’s eyes revealed that he still saw it before him and that’s when Marty realized that it wasn’t just a figure of speech. All of a sudden it gave him this eery feeling. A few months ago, this guy Mr. Ed comes to town. His gut tells him that this guy is bad news, but then nothing really happens. 
What if he was a witness or he had something to do with those two bad elements that murdered each other at the edge of town. That in itself was the kind of bad thing that became good. What was it that this Mr. Ed guy had to do with those two?


Chapter 14: Phyllis


Even though Mr. Ed told himself to never come clean, it seemed that he was doing just that. After discussing how his predicament with those two bad elements was magically solved, the conversation had turned to women and wives. 

*

Mr. Ed and Lela stayed together because of appearance and convenience, but ultimately out of a fear of ending up alone.
I’d rather keep paying her as my wife, than the prospect of ending up all alone,” Mr. Ed said, “I talked it through with an old buddy of mine once who tried to convince me to break it off. That night when I closed my eyes I had this dream in which I saw myself in a cheap hotel, obese, with shot veins, surrounded by empty trays of frozen dinners and empty bottles of beer and other booze. In that puddle I sat all liquored up with cheap whiskey (the one that’s better used to clean windows) and on my lap I had a loaded shotgun. Even my dog had left me.” 
Good Bye Charlie,” Marty said, “You obviously never reached that point where things turn beyond sour. My ex was such a pain that even that would have seemed the better prospect.” 
I bet you weren’t married for twenty-plus years,” Mr. Ed says, “Come to think of it…. neither was that guy who advised me to end it. The thing is this: it just isn’t black and white; it’s all so vastly grey that you can’t see shit.”


1

Shane had been asking Phyllis for weeks to hit the nightlife on the weekend. She kept throwing her off with stories of being too busy, while in fact she simply wasn’t in the mood. Finally she caved in. 
On Saturday at nine they met downtown for a late night dinner. It was busy all over town, mostly locals and some tourists here and there. They shared a bottle of wine and talked the talk. They went over their usual bucket list. Relationships; theirs, others, and when either of these will break under pressure. It’s mostly gossip obviously and most of it comes down to who likes who. 
It leaves Phyllis with this understanding of what was unique about her friendship with Jep, Tony, Frankie and Jim. Looking at the number of years the span of her friendship with Shane is almost the same as her friendship with the boys, but it just doesn’t have the intensity of a friendship that started in childhood.
Shane is a great friend, because they can be of the same mind, but it’s also Shane who is more impulsive it always makes Phyllis feel that’s how she was herself when she was part of the gang. It makes her feel as if she somehow lost that part of herself. By the time the bottle is empty they both conclude that they’re free gals. 

After dinner they hit a touristy night club.

*

A little after midnight they leave for something better: the music was becoming much of the same thing and the crowd was thinning out.
The Docks,” Shane says when they are outside.
Just us two gals?” Phyllis asks, “Why The Docks?”

I don’t know,” Shane says, “I got this itch.”

One drink,” Phyllis says, “Then we leave.”
One,” she says, and she holds up her finger in an I swear,“I promise.”

*

On some subconscious level Shane must have known what she was in for, because it wasn’t exactly a place where women tended to go on their own. The docks were a rough area, with crummy bars, bad characters and criminal activity ranging from being able to buy unregistered guns to coke and everything in between. 

It literally got more grim when they exited the last metro station. There weren’t many people around, except for the occasional dealer or pimp that hung around just outside the beam of street lights.
Remind me why we’re here again?” Phyllis says.
One drink.”

Phyllis rolls her eyes.

Shane walks them to the same bar that they visited after New Year’s. They take a seat in one of the booths and they order two sparkly’s.
I had a hunch,” Shane says, “And I think I’m not mistaken: take a look over at the bar.”
A cowboy….” Phyllis says, and it comes to her: “Thecowboy….”
Aha.”
How did you know?”
I didn’t,” Shane says, “It was after midnight when we came from that club.”
And you didn’t tell me, because you were sure that I wouldn’t have come.”
I didn’t tell you, because I wasn’t sure.”
Aha,” Phyllis says, “So now what?”

Shane is plotting their next move.
We can’t confront him,” Shane says, “He’ll just deny everything.”
If he remembers us at all….”

Shane is still thinking it over.
Believe me: if he’s dirty he remembers every detail of that night.”
So you want to talk to him….”
I do.”
And you’re sure we won’t get in trouble….”

This is a public place,” Shane says, “Kind of, at least.”
Just go get a drink and make your chit-chat….”

Shane does, but she doesn’t know what to make of it. From the cowboy’s behavior she can’t figure out whether he remembers her from that night or that she reminds him of someone else, or that he remembers her at all. 
You must be the only cowboy on Rokset Island,” Shane says, in an attempt to start a conversation.
There are more,” the guy says, and in an unsettling voice, “But we only come out at night….”
Okay then,” Shane says, and since the cowboy’s demeanor isn’t exactly welcoming, she decides that it’s better to back off.

Shane walks back to their booth and she gives Phyllis the update.
So he basically just freaked you out….”
Maybe, but I saw some of his cards….” Shane says, “If he didn’t do something bad on New Year’s, he definitely did it at a later time.”
Huh,” Phyllis says, “So what are you saying?”
We need to follow this guy….” Shane says, “And find out where he lives….”

This time Phyllis doesn’t roll her eyes, but she isn’t too eager to go on a roll like this. She always liked the impulsive strike of Shane, because it got her into a lot of fun – but this time it might turn into something else.
You’re joking, right?” Phyllis says.
Even if he does remember me he must have figured that we were just two lowly tourists,” Shane says, “If he’s guilty, I don’t believe that he even bothered to change his routine….”


2

At three a.m. sharp the cowboy gets up and gets out. Shane gets up right after, and thirty seconds after that Phyllis follows.
So how exactly is this gonna end good?” Phyllis whispers, when she joys Shane on the street, “Do you even know where this guy went?”
Look,” she says and she points in the distance, towards the end of the street. They see the guy with the cowboy hat disappear from under a street light. His shadow is the last to go. 
At least we know that he’s no vampire….”
We gotta move,” Shane says, briskly.

*

The girls have no new leads by the time they reached the spot where they saw the cowboy disappear into the dead of the night. Before they have a chance to lament on what has happened, a hand closes over both of their mouths and they are pulled into the dark.
Why are you following me?” the cowboy whispers coolly.

What do you mean?” Shane whispers in a scared voice.
The coy small-talk, but underneath I could smell the fear of both of you.”

You’re confusing us with someone else,” Phyllis says.
I’m not confused….” the cowboy says. He tries to jug his memories, but nothing comes up. 

Phyllis and Shane think: this is it.
I’d better not see you two again,” the cowboy whispers. In a split second he lets go of them and he’s gone. 

What just happened?” Phyllis whispers.

Sssshh.
I didn’t even hear in which direction he went,” Shane says, “It’s like he just slithered away into the night.”
A cowboy that slithers,” Phyllis says, “Doesn’t exactly fit the profile….”

Chapter 15: Michelle


Mr. Ed had watched the ice melt and he saw the debris that had come undone when it came floating up. It was all in the past and for that reason it was more like watching a late news report come in, rather than a drama that unfolds before a person’s eyes. There was a certain fascination though, because it was almost as if there was something there at the bottom of the sea that had a part in all of it. 
Mr. Ed had come of the opinion that Martossa wasn’t just a peculiar town, but that it was one of those towns that dragged a certain history with it. It was the kind of history that’s more subtle than the words of recorded facts and the stories that people told each other to try to make sense of what was happening all around them. But at the same time, it was more like those ancient stories, it was more of an oral history the story changed over time and a lot of it had been washed away.
The town had gotten a hold on Mr. Ed and with each passing day this idea of the day that he would return to his old life became less pressing. It was almost as if some part of Mr. Ed’s mind had made up this history of Mr. Ed’s Frozen Pizza and it was slowly catching up on itself. It was almost as if it had come floating up when the ice melted and at some point it would either decay or go back down again.
It were the two women though that Mr. Ed found most interesting, much in the same way that it’s usually women that can both drive men to the brink of madness and to definite greatness. On some level both Phyllis and Michelle could have been Mr. Ed’s daughters: Phyllis was the kind of daddy’s girl with boyish interests, while Michelle harbored the kind of spunk of the kind of person that harbors something dark deep inside, which may violently lash out at some point this made her very interesting, and also very relatable for Mr. Ed. 


1

The VR had become comfortable like an old leather jacket. At some point Mr. Ed asked himself whether it hadn’t augmented his sense of reality. He had started questioning things that had happened bigger things than he might have otherwise.
Mr. Ed had never been much for conspiracies, but there was a part of him that was willing to believe that experiences in VR were more than an escape or an enrichment of reality. VR could very well be used for mental programming, since the total immersion would – in theory – make it easier to add subliminal messages, because there’s literally no escape, no chance to look away and for that very simple reason it might be very effective for indoctrination of any kind. 
There were these stories dating from the 90s, that this was done through tv, and that certain mind altering chemicals were added to food and drinking water. These conspiracies usually ended with the government wanting full control, turning people numb in that they no longer had any will, turning them into empty vessels that could be subjected to any will and whose minds could be filled with just about anything. 
Mr. Ed had always doubted that these stories were true to that extent, but in a way there was a similarity: both altered our sense of perception and our sense of reality. But it’s only VR that’s so immersive that it makes us want to forget about our condition and our predicament. 


2

Michelle’s sense of reality was definitely augmented by VR: she is in full immersion since she learned about a dark horror web in VR. It has scary AI-creatures running wild and it has the kind of interactive movies that were classified as too violent for regular media. There’s one in particular that’s called The Butcherof which it’s rumored that whole flocks of people have gone crazy after watching that channel. Murders, suicides, lapses into schizophrenia; all those short circuits were caused by it.
The Butcher is violent and vivid to such an extent that it becomes painful to watch and you start asking yourself what sick mind had come up with the fiction and possibly worse, what kind of mind had turned it into a visual horror-fest. For the avid viewer it was hard to imagine that most of it was scripted and staged in such a way that it would result in the maximum shock, which obviously meant crossing boundaries that were spiraling inwards until things became too shocking and causing an overload. 
For some this threshold was low, even though these were also the kind of videos that were blocked in the conventional media. The first video that Michelle watched was one of those, but instead of turning her away it kept her coming back for more. This video was under two minutes and it started with a group of guys fooling around with martial arts. There was a bit of kick-boxing, Thai-boxing, k3. It started with the guys kicking each other, but then they moved on to objects, until in the final scene they moved on to a wall. 
This wall was made of 6 horizontal concrete slabs that were held in place by two vertical concrete rails. In this scene, one of the boys kicked the second slab in half. He succeeded, but what he probably didn’t expect was that the four remaining slabs came down and amputated the guys foot. You could hear the guy scream. The camera went to the guy and zoomed in on the stump, and then it ran to the other side of the wall to zoom in with all the connecting parts sticking out: bones, tendons, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, skin, fat, skin. The whole lot. 

When Michelle had first seen that video she had dreamed about it. She wasn’t a hundred percent whether it was real, but the scene started to haunt her: guy kicking, slab coming down, stump, foot. It was just that she didn’t feel what any ordinary person would feel: she didn’t feel pain in her own limbs and pain in her belly. What she felt was a definite fascination that had more to do with precisely executing a task than by acting or responding in any emotional way. 
Michelle came back for more and that was how she ended up on the channel of The Butcher. In the first video a guy was tied in ropes on a table and The Butcher appeared and he said I have been ordered to remove the hand of a thief. The guy was clamped in what looked like a medieval instrument which made it impossible for him to move. 
The camera zoomed in on the hand that was clamped in. The Butcher started with a swift incision around the wrist. Blood started sprouting, but what was more unsettling was the way in which the guy started screaming. It wasn’t just a scream of pain, but was agony mixed with a loss of hope and a loss of faith. The Butcher put the knife to the side and continued with a bone saw that did the rest of the job. After this The Butcher started pointing out the same parts that Michelle had observed in that first video: bones, tendons, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, skin, fat, skin. The whole lot. 
The Butcher took a hot iron plate and grilled the stump to stop the bleeding. It was the first and the mildest recording and after that it all started spiraling out of control and into insanity. The Butcher continued with more limbs, arms, legs, separating the meat. 
Michelle watched with increasing fascination: there was something about the act of butchering. It was the kind of fascination that some young kids have when they are finished playing with their toys and they then decide to dissect them to see how they work on the inside. It was just that she wasn’t sure where her fascination would end. 


3

This time the setting is a modern lobby in a dark hotel: black, grey and silver. The light has the feel of a cold winter moon. Mr. Ed picked the location, because he thought it would be appropriate if he wanted a real shot at figuring out what goes on below the surface, it might help to emulate a place where bad things happen just around the corner, and where few questions are asked. 

Michelle walks up to the bar and orders two drinks. She casually hangs around and for a split second she’s unsure why she wanted to meet again.(the thrill).
Why did you pick this location?” Michelle asks.
It might be conducive,” Mr. Ed says, “A more public space.”
Where is this place?” she asks, “I mean, if it was any place real?”
This here is the dead of winter,” Mr. Ed says, cryptically, “A far away town in Alaska, Iceland, Green Land you name it.”
Such a town….” she says, “A good place to hide.”
I know….” Mr. Ed says, and he can’t suppress a grin, “Who in his right mind will hunt a criminal to this far end of the earth?”

Michelle thinks: he’s still fishing for the extent of my badness.
You’d be surprised,” she says.

Where will it all end?” Mr. Ed says when Michelle has settled down, “How will it end for you?”
What do you mean?”
When should you fold?”

Michelle thinks: he thought about me.
Only when it’s the best play,” she says, leaning forward and softening her voice, “Roll dem bones.”

Mr. Ed thinks: she’s calculating and plotting right now.
Never come clean,” Mr. Ed says, “That’s what my old man used to say.”
Your prime directive,” Michelle says, trying to corner Mr. Ed, “Are you talking about you or me now?”
Let me tell you a little story,” Mr. Ed says, “Let’s say there’s this guy and he has this really bad day it simply couldn’t be any worse. He gets fired, he finds out that his wife is cheating, one of his best friends has suddenly died. If it was just one of these things, then it would mess us up pretty good, but this guy experiences all at once.”
It’s shit to the max.”
Right,” Mr. Ed says, “Now generally speaking different people respond differently to stress: some crumble up, while others fight to get from under it…. Now this guy, he was the latter: he literally lost everything and in his mind things couldn’t get any worse, ever.”
So this guy flipped.”
To say the least,” Mr. Ed says, “He went to a few crummy bars in a bad neighborhood, looking for a fight. In the first two bars they just laughed at him and told him to go home and sleep it off. In the second and third bar it was the same story: he was thrown out. The fourth bar was what he was after: He got into a fight with a guy who was playing pool. He was about to beat the guy and then another guy stepped in, then one of his friends, then another. In all his fury this guy who had lost everything won this fight. His fury burned so bright that he simply couldn’t be stopped.”

Mr. Ed takes a sip from his drink.
In stories like these it might end up with the person getting over all his fears and achieving what they had only dreamed of until that point in time. It happened, but just a little different. This guy got stuck in this violence mode and slowly but surely this violence became the only way that he could function,” Mr. Ed says, “Scratch deep enough and you’ll find the true measure of a man.”
So what did he do exactly?”
He became a war tourist,” Mr. Ed says, “He would get the closest flight to war-zones that he could get, hang around, get guns and gear and set off. And this is where it became a beginning and the end: this guy didn’t go there to secure peace, or even for the thrills. This guy purely went there for the thrill.”
To summarize: he found a way to tweak the system he found a way to murder and butcher and not be caught or held responsible,” Michelle says, “So what are you saying? This guy was a dormant murderer all along?”
Maybe,” Mr. Ed says, “And it links up with my premise: we’re violent by nature. Scratch deep enough and that’s all that we resort to.”
That’s a grim view.”
It’s the truth.”
There’s one distinction though,” Michelle says, “A guy like that is a lone wolf. In a society violence serves the purpose of securing position and hierarchy.”

Mr. Ed leans back and there’s one thought on his mind: but that’s not what you think….
You’re assuming that it’s always a means to an end….” Mr. Ed says. 
When you get off on something….” Michelle says, leaning forward, “There’s an end….”

What did you come here for exactly?” Mr. Ed asks. 
I’m not sure,” Michelle says, “Maybe I came here to figure out what’s below the surface.” (the thrill of almostgetting caught!).
“….”
It’s like a war by proxy: does funding a distant war make you guilty?”
You’re in a position to prevent.”
My point.”
If I get my kicks out of watching other people do bad stuff, does that make me part of it.”
Were you physically there?”
“….”

Mr. Ed thinks: did she see me? 
What did you see?”
It doesn’t matter….” Michelle says, “It’s a highly complex something and there’s no simple answer: there is a yesand a no, but it’s like telling a junkie that he shouldn’t drink.”
“….”
It’s like anything else,” Michelle says, “There’s this outward appearance of sociability, society, human relations, art, and all that, but at the end of the day it’s all perception. It’s all individual. We can only grasp at straws when it comes to understanding what goes on in the mind of another person.”
You want to know motive….” Mr. Ed states.
It’s like this old story: there’s a man and a woman, they fall in love and live happily ever after,” Michelle says, “But that’s not how it works. There’s this vast undercurrent of human needs and emotions that’s like a hunger that doesn’t end.”

Mr. Ed thinks: she didn’t see me she’s rambling about herself. This is all her, amigo! Brilliant and crazy and [BLEEP!]

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