Body of Evidence: Day One: Neek
This was the first bit of Body of Evidence that I wrote, back on August 4, 2003. Yes, I have the exact date recorded. I was somewhat annoyed when the TV show Lost came along and did something very similar, but what can you do? I ended up cannibalizing elements (and characters) from this project and it become part of Magnetic Gecko, so at the very least, this stuff is worthwhile to get some insight into the world that MG would eventually uncover.
The main difference here is that, at this point in the series, there’s some weird stuff going on, but it’s unclear exactly what’s happening. That’s the way I like it. Over time, it would have been revealed what was going on with the island, as the kids got closer to unlocking its central mysteries. Commentary follows the story. Read on!
Body of Evidence: Day One
Episode 1: Neek
I felt her skin under my fingers. Her arms, her hipbones, everything. I just couldn’t see her. Too dark. I didn’t need to. I just pulled her tighter.
“Wake up! Unique, wake up, you muchacho perezoso!”
Except I was only holding a bundle of blankets. I sighed and blinked the sleep out of my eyes. My mother was yelling for me.
“Are you getting up?” came her voice again.
“Yes, Madre, I am awake!”
“Get down here and eat something!”
I grumbled my way into a t-shirt and jeans and stumbled down the stairs. My family, excepting my father, were in the kitchen. My brother and sister were sitting at the counter, and my mother was washing dishes, wiping counters, all that stuff I was happy to get out of.
My mother handed me a plate. Grilled cheese sandwich and ants on a log. I’m two years old, after all. “I’m seeing Pug today, I’ll eat something with him.”
“You’ll eat now! Sit down with your family and eat.” She had enough of a smile when she said it that I knew she wasn’t angry–she hardly ever was. But insistent? Definitely.
I sat down next to my brother, who immediately stuffed away the drawings he was working on into a folder. “What’re you drawing, Hermano?”
He just stuck his tongue out at me. I returned the favor. He was such a strange five-year-old. Rarely said a word. Always drawing something, but no one ever saw what. And no one knew where he kept his folder hidden when he didn’t have it attached to his hand.
Then Tolerancia chimed in. “Madre, Uni was on the phone until 3AM!”
“No wonder you slept until eleven,” my mother chided. “Who is she?”
“You already know who she is,” I replied, taking a bite out of the sandwich she wouldn’t let me leave without eating.
“It’s the Summers girl,” my sister blabbed. “She dresses funny and I hear she hangs out with bad people.”
“You be careful with girls like that,” my mother had to warn. “They can be trouble.”
“I can handle her, Madre. She’s not like that.”
“I bet he’s slept with her already.” My sister again.
“See! He has!”
“I have not! Shut up!”
“Unique! Don’t talk that way to your sister. Tolerancia! Leave your brother alone.” Then she came a little closer to me and stared. “Now, I don’t care what you have or haven’t done, but you watch yourself and be a gentleman.”
“I know, ma’. You raised me right.” I sighed and choked down the food as quickly as I could just to escape this discussion.
“Good. Stop eating so quickly! You’ll never get any nutrition out of it that way.”
“Then can I just not eat it?”
“Unique! Mind your mother!”
“Yes’m.” I slowed down while exploding my sister’s head a few dozen times. She wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d just shut up occasionally. The little brat.
I finished my food and dumped my plate in the sink, heading for the front door. I went for my car keys and my mother, in all her omniscience, called to me. “Your father took your car while his is in the shop. You’ll have to walk, or take the bus.” Dammit!
I caught up with Pug a few streets outside of downtown, sitting on the steps outside a condemned house, smoking Pall Malls and tossing pebbles across the street. “Where the hell were you?”
“My father took my car today.”
“You mean we have to walk? Fucking brilliant.”
“Like you had any plans.”
“At least I could’ve made plans if we had access to a vehicle.”
“But you forget one thing.”
“It’s my car.”
“Except when your father wants it.”
“Point. Where did you want to go?”
“Nowhere in particular. It’s just boring and summer, and the old lady won’t let me stay home all day.” He stood up and dropped a handful of pebbles, and pointed in the direction he was walking. I went with him, having no clue where we might be going.
“You could get a job,” I pointed out.
“What, so they can track me with my Social Security Number? No thanks. If I ever do get a job, it’ll be with an assumed name, and I’ll get paid under the table.”
“You know they collect that shit in aggregate and use it to predict trends and stuff? And then they put it to work in their social engineering projects. Do you trust bureaucrats to architect your future?”
“I don’t think we have much of a choice there. And you really need to relax.” I meant that wholeheartedly. Pug was bad enough without nicotine, but when he was on about his conspiracy of the day, his fingers would shake and his breathing would become sporadic and irregular. Sometimes I thought of asking about his home life, but somehow I knew his paranoia and general anxiety probably had a lot to do with his family. Not something I wanted to get very involved in.
“Everyone says I should relax. Maybe I don’t want to relax. Maybe I like being wide awake. I’m not living in a dream world like the rest of you. I know what’s going on. The whole system is designed to catch people like me and make them ‘conform.’”
“I kind of doubt that.”
“Did you do that computer thing I asked you about?”
“Well… what you are asking for is possible, at least. But I have no idea how to make plastique.”
“You sure don’t know much.”
“About blowing shit up, anyway.”
“I’ll give you a recipe. But you got a transmitter and a receiver, right?”
“Yeah. 900MHz. Should work up to a few hundred feet away.”
“But my room is a Faraday cage. You’ll have to put something on the door frame to carry the signal to the computer itself.”
“What the hell did you do to your room?”
“I lined it with copper mesh. I know about TEMPEST, man. Don’t you? All your electronic devices can be monitored remotely.”
“I think if anyone wanted to go to the trouble of spying on you, they’d manage.”
“But they’d have to put forth some effort, and maybe then I’d notice.”
“Or they’d just kill you.”
“Man, shut up! I’m tired of arguing with you. Will you do it or not?”
“Sure. But I’m not making plastique at my house.”
“Fine, I’ll make it for you and give it to you.”
“Let me rephrase. I will not bring any explosives into my house.”
“Then you can finish it in my dad’s garage. If you blow up his Corvette, I’d just laugh.”
“I’ll try to remember that.” When I next looked ahead, we were heading onto one of the outer roads. I guess one could call it a highway. It stretched from one end of the island to the other, with ports at either terminal. Up ahead there was an overpass for the street that crossed the pseudo-highway–it covered the northern and southern ports.
It was lunchtime, so traffic was moving along as people tried to use this road as a shortcut to restaurants. Nothing out of the ordinary, except people failing to notice that if everyone takes the same “shortcut,” it ceases to be all that short anymore.
Pug threw down his cigarette butt and, in all his eagle-eyed observation, caught a vehicle on the overpass that was moving erratically. He and I recognized the car simultaneously. “Isn’t that–”
”–High Clash’s car.”
”–that’s not right!” The vehicle, northbound, red, large, old, swung sharply left, toward the guardrail, bursting through, and flipping end-over-end into the traffic below.
“Holy fucking shit!” came out of my mouth before I could help myself. The fast-moving traffic slammed into the car and each other, spilling over into all lanes, and smashing the traffic quite quickly into a sudden standstill. Smoke and flames sprouted from several cars. Some people’s horns were stuck blaring. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I asked, turning to Pug.
“I don’t suppose I can just stand here.”
“No, you can’t. Let’s go.”
I’ll probably never be sure what induced me to get involved. Something about seeing so many people hurt, trapped, dying. My instincts took command and pushed me into the wreckage, to see if there was anyone that could be easily extracted. I managed to pull an old woman and a few kids from vehicles before emergency personnel showed up. I didn’t get to see what progress Pug made before we were shooed off the scene. No sooner were we pushed away from the carnage than news cameras got in our faces. At the time, I had no idea what I was saying. I imagined I was saying something intelligent, but I was hardly coherent. Pug ended up destroying one of those $40,000 cameras, and that’s when we had to start running like hell. Pug laughed the whole way.
Pug and I parted ways a few blocks from his house, still unable to wrap our heads around what we’d seen. We agreed to inform each other if we found out what became of High Clash–the cause of the whole mess. I turned my back on Pug and headed home. It was almost time for dinner.
I got back to the house and found my car in the driveway. My parents were having some sort of discussion when I walked in, which they abruptly ended when they heard the door shut. I put my shoes on the rack by the door and flopped onto a sofa in the living room. The TV was on and Tolerancia was crying in one of the other chairs. My mother came in and looked at me. “Did you hear?”
“There was a terrible accident today on Long Way. That Clash boy threw his car off the Short Way overpass!”
“Yeah… I saw it. Why is she crying?” I asked, nodding toward my sister.
“Her friend Lake didn’t make it out.”
“Oh. What about High?”
“I haven’t heard about him yet. But it should be on the news shortly.”
And it was. The raw numbers: 6 dead, 34 injured, 22 cars involved. High was listed in critical condition at Passage & Reverence. The little “interview” with me popped up, and I had no idea it was going to be so embarrassing.
“What did you see?”
“[beep] [beep] and he threw his [beep]ing car off the [beep]ing overpass! I’ve never [beep]ing seen a [beep]ing thing like it! Holy [beep], [beep]! [beep]!”
Maybe they only aired that part for entertainment value. If so, that wasn’t very nice.
They listed the names of the dead. Fortunately, it was no one I knew. But there was Tolerancia’s friend. I wanted to comfort her, or at least do something vaguely brotherly, but I was too generally annoyed with her to try. My mother halfheartedly tried to make something for dinner, but we ended up fending for ourselves that night. My father commented that my car needed a tune-up, and that he’d scheduled one for Thursday. I told him I’d take it in.
I took a nap for a few hours, and by the time I woke up, everyone else had retired to bed. 10PM. What had roused me was a sound from outside my window–a door slamming. I took a peek and saw her running to her car. I didn’t need to see tears to know they were there. I sighed and got back into bed, debating myself for a moment. It was a short argument, and I sprung into my shoes and hit my car, following her now-distant rear lights.
I eventually figured out where she was going.
A few minutes later, I was not far behind her car, on the Long Way again. There were no signs of the earlier pileup in the darkness as we passed it. I followed her for a good fifteen, twenty minutes, before she pulled off onto an unpaved road, and I knew where this one went.
It wasn’t much longer before I found her car a few hundred feet from the beach, and pulled up alongside. She wasn’t in the car, though. I looked toward the water, and saw her there, sitting, looking past the stars and the ocean.
I went toward her cautiously. I didn’t know if she’d seen me beforehand. Didn’t want to scare her off, either. I quietly sat down beside her. She jumped for a moment, then calmed down when she saw who it was. “Hi,” she said.
“Hi. Nice night.”
She shrugged. “It could be.”
“Sorry for tailing you out here. I just saw you were upset.”
She smiled, just a little. “Thanks for caring.”
“Are you okay?”
The smile went away quite suddenly. “I swear, my parents must have signed a pact with the devil that endears them to make my life miserable.”
“What’d they do now?” As one might imagine, this was not a unique discussion. Just a variation on a theme.
“They tell me where I can and can’t go, with whom, and when, and why, and it’s just ridiculous. I’m sixteen years old. I’m not a child. I can be responsible. I am responsible. But they won’t let me prove it. As soon as I get home, they’ll probably take my keys away and ground me forever. So, I’m going to stay out here as long as possible.”
“I hope you don’t mind some company, then.”
“I don’t mind your company.” A little smile again, and then she faced the water. “I feel so trapped here. This island in the middle of fucking nowhere. And it never seems like there’s any way to escape.”
“Some people leave.”
“But you have to have somewhere to go. What am I going to say? ‘Give me money to leave because I hate it here’? I don’t see that working very well.”
“You still have a couple years to figure all that out.”
“I don’t think I can survive another couple years. This place suffocates me. It’s like everyone here is sleepwalking, totally oblivious.”
“You’ve been talking to Pug again, haven’t you?”
“Not like that. It’s just that… no one realizes how pointless our lives here are. Or maybe they do and don’t care. Their spirits are already gone. And then there’s SOMAC… controlling everything worth controlling around here. I just can’t live like this. There has to be more out there.”
“And you’ll get to see it someday, if you just stay focused now.”
“Yeah. That’s just the hard part.”
I moved a little closer to her and picked up a handful of sand. “You could be glad you’re not sand, I guess. Takes millions of years to form, and then a few minutes to turn into glass. Or fiberglass. There’s a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t have if not for sand, but it doesn’t seem that important, does it?”
“Does anyone ever tell you you don’t make any sense?” She took the prompting anyway and dropped her head onto my shoulder.
“I hear that all the time. It doesn’t matter. We’re not sand. We’re people. And people are stupid and strange and nonsensical. Grains of sand are all alike. People aren’t. I’m pretty sure you can’t make anything useful out of people, either. So, that’s lucky for us, or someone would’ve made an industry out of human derivatives.”
“Yeah, lucky us,” she snorted. Maybe the things I said were a bit too weird, sometimes.
“I’m just saying things don’t have to make sense. There doesn’t have to be a point to everything. When you figure that out, you’ll be free, and can do whatever you want. Expecting there to be some grand reason for everything is going to disappoint you. Thinking getting out of here will change anything is going to disappoint you, too. Change doesn’t do any good on the outside if the inside stays the same.”
“You may not be much of a philosopher, but at least you kind of make sense now.”
“Well, thank you.”
“Now shut up and hold me.”
So that’s what I did. I think we eventually fell asleep, but most of it was an uncertain, fuzzed blur. One of those things I’d like to remember, but can’t seem to grasp with any clarity.
Commentary: Adverb soup. Too many “-ly” words. On a technical level, the story is easy to follow, but it jumps from event to event without a good framing device. Maybe a framing device is unnecessary, but it feels like I’m telling three different stories, and none of them come off making the point. Granted, the whole purpose the “Day One” project was to actually cover a 24-hour period from the point-of-view of each character. In that sense, some of the events were random and will have no further repercussions, and others would be important down the line.
Pug isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and hopefully his behavior and manner of speaking demonstrate that. He’s paranoid to the point of absurdity. Neek is much more laid back, with a responsible streak. Pug shuns responsibility and it’s a wonder he has any friends at all: odds are people like Neek only tolerate him out of a sense of pity. If the few friends he had didn’t stick with him, he wouldn’t have anyone.
Neek’s relationship with Des(tiny) Summers was supposed to be one of the major anchors of the series, though I never finished Day One so it’s difficult to know how that would have turned out.
Were I to rewrite this, I would probably reduce the use of Spanish. It feels clunky and awkward and I think I can communicate Neek’s heritage and family environment without being so blunt about it.
For the curious: yes, all names are just everyday words. Some are less everyday than others. But all of that was meant to add to the otherworldly feel of the series. It’s like our world, but not exactly. I only managed to write Day One entries for four (out of ten) characters. I had high hopes for this series, and perhaps I will come back to it someday as a “side story” to Magnetic Gecko, to provide more background on the events in that book.