Awful Shadow, ch. 10: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

4:50 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Monday, June 16th, 2014
20:50 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, June 16th, 2014

Fast forward—

Simon is in a clean, brightly-lit room. There is a white-and-blue checkerboard pattern in the floor tiling, and kitschy animal figures on the shelves. Most of them are elephants, and all of them are engaged in various activities usually reserved for humans, playing golf or putting on bowling shoes or reading the newspaper on a park bench. A few are wearing bowler hats; the rest are bareheaded.

(He’s so cold, but it isn’t the room. It’s him. It’s his body, frantically flipping switches to try to stay alive. If it is alright to personify his organs and bodily systems, then all hands are on deck and every one of them is running terrified.)

There isn’t much else in the room, just a bed, an armchair, and a few stacks of books. He can’t see the books, but he knows that they’re there. This is a spot for sleeping, thinking, and (occasionally) being distracted by amusing porcelain figurines of animals doing human things. Quite a shame, really, that he’s gotten his blood all over the place. Although, it might not be quite accurate to put matters like that, as if he had taken an active role in dispensing it.

His heartbeat is sounding loudly in his ears, banging like a steady countdown–eight, seven, six–and killing him at the same time, his blood flowing out with his pulse. It’s faint. His head is filling up with cotton and fog and he can feel his life, almost, spilling out of his body and onto the floor with his blood. Simon tilts his head down; plastic wrap has been spread across the floor, perhaps to catch the splatter.

Drip, drip, as they fall against the plastic.

Simon doesn’t know how long he’s been like this, but he can gather a clue or two. He’s got all the symptoms of a Class IV hemorrhage. Assume that his body has so much blood, assume that the steady dripping in his ears has remained more or less constant as it is, and he’s been bleeding for something like nine or ten minutes. The blood on the wall hasn’t dried and gone brown, either, so he hasn’t been like this for more than thirty-to-sixty minutes, depending on room temperature.

Tap, tap, creak, go the floorboards as someone walks into the room. A tall man, with a heavy coat and reinforced boots speckled with dust and droplets of blood. In one of his gloves, embroidered with leaf imagery, is a painter’s brush, damp with the redness of Simon’s blood. It is the man in green, that man in green, and his toothy smile reminds Simon of how, in nonhuman animals, the grin is more typically a threat display.

It’s hard to keep his eyes open. Even as the man in green is entering the room it feels as though someone is attaching lead weights to his eyelids. Simon makes a faint noise, a moan that might have been words if only he had a little more strength in his body.

“Getting the message now, are you?” asks the man in green before he applies brush to wall and begins to paint again. All turns to black, and then Simon returns to himself, falling back from a once-possible future to the actual present.

“How are you feeling?” asks Dr. Denham.

Numb, is what Simon thinks, but what he says is “Alright.” They’re probably the same, anyway, and he always recovers in the end, and numbness is a better feeling than fear and horror. Denham’s death is becoming just another thing, exactly as it’s supposed to. Simon is learning other things, too. He’s becoming more familiar with the scene, growing accustomed to details that previously had passed him by on the second and third and even twentieth viewings. It’s fair to say that there’s never been another ten-second stretch of experience that Simon has examined as thoroughly as this one, and he thinks it’s improving his ability to pick up details on the fly in other visions.

“Is there anything new that you noticed this time?”

“Not really, though I guess I could try counting drops of blood next time, just for fun.” Denham just offers a raised eyebrow and half a smirk in response to that. “Doctor,” begins Simon, “what is this like for you? To hear about how you’re going to die, I mean.”

“How some alternate version of me will or would have died,” Denham replies. It’s something that the doctor has become insistent upon, ever since their conversation about branching timelines. Simon still isn’t sure whether Denham believes it himself or is just going with whatever will best help Simon to cope, but the logic is sound enough and Simon would be lying if he didn’t admit that he would prefer that these are just…projections or “what-if” simulations or something. Even if a properly-detailed simulation would have to operate on a high enough resolution that there’s actual suffering being produced, at least it all ends once the simulation is over.

“There’s nothing wrong with choosing the more palatable belief if there’s no evidence one way or another,” Denham once told him, though it sounds like something that all therapists would say whether or not it were actually true.

Maybe Denham is trying to distance himself from the idea, too, and his advice is as much for his own benefit as for Simon’s. Even now, after all, he seems to avoid the fact that his death could still unfold in this way whether or not Simon’s visions are “only” simulations. “It’s sobering,” says Denham, “to hear you describe the death of some future version of myself. It’s like attending a funeral, except that I get to do it twice a week.” He pauses. “It’s a reminder to keep my affairs in order. I guess that it’s also a reminder of the bigger picture: there are many more people who dying, and who are going to die in the future.”

Simon nods and shuts his eyes, leaning against the couch again. Dr. Denham had recently explained that he had planned to take sleeping pills once the world situation got too bad. Apparently he had failed to consider that someone might murder him before then. Maybe it’s because he had been experiencing Denham’s death for weeks before he found out, or perhaps it’s because the suicide was never actually carried out, but it doesn’t disturb Simon as much as Hannah’s death still does. He might have dreamed of dying in that armchair more than a couple of times since he and Denham began this exercise, but there’s more to be horrified of in his vision than the mere fact of Denham’s death.

“I wish I had possessed the forethought to make sure that there was a calendar in the room just in case something unexpected happened to me,” Dr. Denham once said, and Simon has to agree. He’s gathered that the suicide was not going to be entirely for Simon’s benefit, but partly due to Denham’s understandable disinterest in living through to the very end of the world. That, too, might be making his death easier to handle. Denham wasn’t…intending to instrumentalize himself, but was just going to decide when his situation was getting awful enough that it was time to check out. Which is to say, maybe, that Simon feels less like he’s using the doctor.

Even so, it would have been nice to have an idea of when the world got so bad that suicide became an attractive option.

“Have you figured out anything more about the person that you saw, by the way?” asks the doctor.

“No,” replies Simon. He isn’t sure if Denham knows that he’s lying or not, but the doctor seems content to let the matter go. The truth is, of course, that Simon recognized the man in green at once, but he’s been reluctant to divulge that information. It might silly or Simon could be making just the right move, he isn’t sure, but there’s something in his vision that has raised doubts in his mind and he can’t afford to say too much until he’s figured out a way to address those doubts.

In a certain light, given the vision that Simon obtained when they passed him by, the man in green and the woman in white could be regarded as harbingers of the apocalypse, not ushering it in but literally announcing its arrival. Still it seems, however, that in some ways the man in green fits the part of a more conventional herald of armageddon. There wasn’t just blood on that wall, and the man in green wasn’t just speaking to a dying therapist. There was a message there, written in the blood, and Denham had been left alone so that he could look at it–so that Simon could look at it.

The message could be nothing, or it could be referring to people that Simon isn’t even aware of at the moment. There’s so much information that he just doesn’t have. But Simon does know what the man in green had painted in the wall, and until he finds out more he’s going to have to use his best judgment and hold his cards close to his chest.

It wasn’t clear to Simon whether the man in green was trying to be enigmatic, to draw Simon in or simply because it was fun, or if he didn’t know if Simon would be able to view this message more than once and wanted to make sure that it had all been read. It said simply: We need to talk about your masters, Simon.

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