friends

My Collapsing Head

I owned an enormous apartment in the penthouse of a tall building in the centre of a city which was an amalgam of London and Berlin. There were several bedrooms with double beds and silk sheets, and a huge living-space with marble floors which extended around a central room. I had been throwing a party for old school friends and acquaintances, and everyone was crashing out now in the beds. F was there, and we had some kind of brief, animated conversation with waving of hands and laughter, and I remember being happy that we could still get on well together.

An old schoolmate was there who had actually killed himself with a shotgun when he was 15, but this didn't appear strange to me; I just became suspicious when I saw him moving the Xbox out of the main room, because I suspected he was stealing it, so I followed him into the bedroom he was bringing it to and asked him what he was doing. He got a dull, haunted look in his eyes as he explained that he just wanted to get on to Xbox Live, and I saw that this was the room with the modem in it. I felt a little guilty for assuming he was thieving, since he obviously knew what I was thinking.

When I left the room, I noticed something a little strange about my head. My forehead felt strange. I found a mirror and was shocked to see that my "forehead bone" had become displaced and was moving around my face, making it misshapen. I thought, "Oh Christ, I've punched myself in the head too many times and this time I've done some real damage, I'm so stupid." I pushed it back into place with my fingers, and it slotted back in painfully and slowly, with a horrible feeling in my face of it sliding around under my skin. I was in a mild panic, and I decided I had to find a doctor. I ran out of the apartment and found some strangers and said "I need a doctor...please help me..."

The next thing I knew I was being examined by two doctors in a surgery. They were fascinated by my dislocated forehead, and they decided it had to be replaced by a prosthetic. While they were in the process of removing the old forehead bone (for some reason I was awake and calm during this procedure) they discovered another thing that interested them - my entire upper jaw had been replaced by an "orthodontic plate". I remembered that this had been done years before when my jaw disintegrated, and I'd forgotten about it. The doctors moved the pieces of my head around like a jigsaw and put me back together.

I went back to the apartment afterwards to find Jo and explain what had happened, because I'd been out all night, and I thought she might think I was out cheating on her. When I got back she told me that she knew what had happened, and she looked at me with deep concern, because the work hadn't taken properly yet. I looked in the mirror again and saw that the prosthetic forehead protruded at the sides and that my eyesockets were in the wrong places, preventing me from seeing properly. I tried to manipulate everything back into place, but it had all become plastic and my face kept morphing away from anything recognizable. My nose grew and shrank, my eyes moved around and even my skin tone changed.

All of a sudden my face turned into my father's face. It was his complete likeness, and I thought "OK, this is possible because genetically I have my father in me." I spoke to Jo, and my voice was my father's voice too. Then a little more manipulation and I changed again. At one point I looked like myself again and there was a sense of relief, but I knew that at any moment it could change again; that what was holding my face together was very fragile. I was trying to think through the implications of this when I woke up.

Monsters and Islands in the Sky

I'm in the streets of a strange city, at some unspecified time in the past or future. It's hard to say if it's even on Earth, because everything is mixed together so strangely - the architecture is Greco-Roman, with low, white, columned buildings, wide streets, plazas and statues, but there are cars and restaurants and horses and the people are dressed in 20th century clothing. The sky is a pure, perfect blue and the air is hot.

I've been chosen as the prey in a national sport, as punishment for some crime that I can't remember. I can't remember exactly what the sport is, until I look into the sky and I see the head and arm of a gigantic monster, just like the Rancor from Return of the Jedi, but far, far bigger, a mile high, with eyes tens of metres across staring down at me. This is the game. This monster is to catch and eat me, and the citizens of the city will know that justice has been done.

I run and hide in one of the buildings. I know instinctively that there are certain rules to the game - the monster is intelligent, and will follow these rules. It is an embodiment of the judicial forces of the city, and it will not just randomly crush houses and kill indiscriminately in order to get me. It can only kill me, and it will take as long as it takes.

I can feel it trying to reach inside the building to pluck me out. It seems to be able to grow and shrink as it pleases. I nearly dive into a waste chute heading downwards from one of the walls inside the bulding, which is full of old clothes and baskets, but a sign on the wall says that it is full of acid. I leave the building and run across a square into a maze of narrow alleys.

Later, I'm ascending a hill which is completely covered with houses - a densely populated, elevated quarter. Somewhere along the way I've picked up a companion, a woman who says she can help me escape. I'm in no immediate danger from the Rancor, which I can see in the far distance searching a different part of the city, but the realization is starting to sink in that I can't elude it - the monster is tireless and immortal, and it will never stop hunting me, and one day I'll just be too tired or careless or forgetful, and it's hand will reach down out of the sky and grab me at last.

We pass a famous theatre where actors perform Shakespeare's plays on a balcony hundreds of meteres above the street, and we go from there into the warren of buildings that cover the hill. It's almost like the entire hill is a hive of people, honeycombed with houses and streets and shops and lit by torchlight. People who we talk to seem willing to help me, but there are also people pursuing me, who want to give me up to the monster, so we have to keep moving.

I reach the far side of the hill, where the city ends and the landscape opens out to something like the Arizona desert, with high, jagged mesas and lightning storms. It's getting close to sunset. I swim across a small pool of water to stand on the city wall, and I realize I don't want to become a wanderer out there. I want to stay with the people I know and love. So I decide to remain, and take the chance that the monster will catch me.

Days later, I'm in a restaurant having dinner with some friends, and when we come out I look up into the sky and I see an island floating there, green and blue and white, like a child's version of heaven up in the sky. Clouds all around it spell out its name, which I can't remember, only that it began with an A. Then I see the Rancor again. I realized I could always be found because I was electronically tagged, and whenever I paid for something, like in the restaurant I had just been to with my friends, my location would be broadcast to the authorities.

I wanted to give up. I thought I would just let the Rancor kill me and get it over with, and in that moment I saw the reality of my own death: no certainty, no heaven or hell, no inevitable return, and the loss of every companion, all my loved-ones and friends, all memory and familiarity, sucked into the universe and washed and forgotten. I was too afraid then to give up, so I ran again.