APROXM: SHORT STORY

BRAIN SCRATCH

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PREFACE: Class assignment. I was addicted to attempting conversations like Deus Ex dialog--attempting.



As I slowly climbed the slick concrete stairs leading up to a rather brightly lit building, I felt for the now crumpled note buried deep within my back pocket. Brandishing the scrap of paper, I read off its contents for perhaps the twelfth time today.


JEROME'S ETERNAL EMPORIUM! GADGETS, KNICK KNACKS, AND DOO DADS THAT DESERVE A PLACE IN YOUR FUTURE. ASK INSIDE FOR OUR ETERNAL REST PROGRAM, ONLY 6000 CREDITS! CALL US AT 1-800-367-EVER FOR MORE INQUIRIES.


Jeromy Higgen, or just "Jerome" as he likened to himself in several television commercials, was absolutely everywhere--I didn't even have to try to find him, because he found me. Billboards stretched across I-451 would feature his beaming grin along with his prominent 1-800 number. Besides commercials, Jerome's warm thumbs up would be featured alongside nearly every news site, along with his signature tagline: "ASK FOR YOUR PLACE IN THE FUTURE!" Point is, anyone and everyone was well aware of Jerome's Eternal Emporium, but no one shopped for the collection of junk he fronted on his store floor--for the same reason I stood on the final stair step, people came here to inquire about their "place in the future".


Deep breaths, I thought to myself as I slid the crumbled scrap back into my pocket. Immediately after the glass doors of the immense structure slid open, an employee grinning from ear to ear greeted me and welcomed me to the emporium. Gesturing his hand towards the sales floor, he begged the question, "Shall I show you what interesting devices and electronics we carry here at Jerome's Eternal Emporium?" I shook my head.


"Come now, you are merely unaware, not uninterested. Among our regular stock of rapid-fire blenders and self-repairing tape guns, we have some interesting Lifto-Boots!"

"I'm here for the… sorry, I'm here to inquire about the Eternal Rest progr--"

"Are your shoes lacking? Need a pep in your step? I'm sure you'll find that--"

"Just here for the package, my shoes are just fine, thanks."

"You should consider the Lifto-Boots sir, I know for a fact that they will positively lift your spirits!", followed by an added hearty laugh.

"The only thing that'll lift my spirits is killing myself or jumping forward a few thousand years. I've already failed at the first, so I'm here to try the second method."

"... Ah. Forgive me, you know, it's the commissions…"

"The program."

"Right, right, right this way sir, if you'll follow me!"


Trailing behind the eccentric employee, I observed my surroundings and noticed all sorts of bizarre garbage that belonged in a pawn shop rather than one of the most famous stores globally, and, to my surprise, it was practically empty save for the meager amount of employees prowling around the sales floor on the hunt for potential customers. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at all, given the fact that everyone knows why people really come to Jerome's Eternal Emporium.


Our venture through the emporium was abruptly interrupted by the eccentric employee's sudden stop at the base of two doors. Continuing to grin from ear to ear, he beckoned me inside, claiming, "I promise you, you will not be disappointed with our service!" I met his eyes and smirked. "Not the first time I've heard that, but thanks. Through the door on the left or right?"


"Whichever one you think is right, sir!"

"Uhh.. okay. I guess the… right, then."


Happy to be out of his uncomfortable company, I entered through the door on the right and found myself in a minute office, with its only decorations being a receptionist pounding her fingers rhythmically on her keyboard, a wall-mounted display flickering in RGB colors, and a potted plant nestled in the corner attempting to escape its enclosure. The general weirdness in the atmosphere at Jerome's made the receptionist's unwelcoming, well, reception an expectation, so I introduced myself.


"Uh, hi there, I'm looking for the--I'm inquiring about your program--"

"Name?", she demanded, with as much enthusiasm of a potted plant.

"Yeah, it's--"

"Rhetorical, don't answer that. We knew your identity the moment you walked through our retinal scan."

"I walked through a what now?"

"What program are you interested in, sir? Our Adventurous Vacation package has us boxing you up and shipping you out to a random, yet relaxing destination, all for just 2000 credits. Perfect for the man who desires a little spice in his vacation stew."


All without lifting her fingers from her keyboard as she attacked with a visceral desire.


"The Eterna--"

"Or perhaps you're interested in the Mind Games package, which, for just 1000 credits, you can have puzzles downloaded into your brain that brings a level of excitement and thrill to life that you've never experienced before."

"My uncle bought that, and he found himself checking into a clinic three weeks in."

"He was unsatisfied with the package?"

"I'm unsatisfied with the customer service. I want the damn Eternal Rest Program, not any of this kitschy garbage you try to pawn off on others."


There was a moment of silence between the two of us as her rapid keyboard tapping suddenly ceased, and she appeared thoughtful, yet calculating. My eyes wandered towards the television as I wondered why they would allow it to function so improperly. My scattered thoughts were interrupted by her speaking up, as she queried, "Are you sure you desire this specific package?"


"It's either this or I try to shoot-"

"Yes, yes, shoot yourself. We heard you at the front door, thank you."

"..."

"Slide your card through this reader and I can let you through. 6000 credits, sir."


Hesitating for just a mere moment, I pondered on her question--if this was really what I desired. But it was, and so I did.


"Excellent, you may continue through the door."

"... What door? You've got nothing in here but a desk, a broken television, and some pathetic looking vegetation over in the corner."

"Before you came in, the door on your left was locked. Now it isn't. Please proceed."

"Are you kidding me? That wacko outside said--"

"Yes, we heard. Please continue through the--"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it. Thanks."


Exiting the rather surreal office, I was immediately received by the employee from before, who excitedly asked, "Well, what package did our dear customer sign up for today? Do I get to stick you in a box and send you to the Bahamas? Or was it Antarctica…"


"As far as I'm concerned, you can shove your left door/right door and boxed vacations up your ass, I'm just about done with how utterly weird this supposedly world-famous emporium is."

"If people want something badly enough, they'll ignore the red flags, sir!"

"Just get out of the way, I need to get through this door."


I glared at the eccentric employee until he shrugged his shoulders and backed up, allowing me passage through the left door. Entering, I found myself at the beginning of a dimly lit but seemingly infinite corridor. Chalking it up to just another oddity of the emporium, I began my walk--a walk which quickly turned into an exercise in boring a human being to excruciating levels as the hallway dragged on further and further. After a certain point, I couldn't quite ascertain if the hall was on even ground or if I was descending, and this thought process was deemed to be the only exciting bit of the journey.


My footsteps slowed to a halt as I came to a single door, ending my rather exasperating journey. Without hesitation, I gripped its handle firmly and twisted the knob, drawing myself in. I closed the door behind me and found myself blanketed in darkness. More frustrated than nervous, I began impatiently tapping my foot until white poured into the room and I came face to face with an immense monitor mounted opposite of my direction. The entire room was painted in plain white, all signs of deterioration and mishap banned from the premises. Two doors, besides the one I came in through, lie on opposite sides to my left and right. With a sudden flicker, the screen lit up and it, too, was white.


Continuing my impatient foot tapping, I yelled out to the screen for an answer to all of this ridiculousness. "After that insipid trek through your asinine emporium and hallway infinitum, it'd be really nice if I could speak with someone who isn't a complete sociopath!" I demanded. "Is that too much to ask?"


As if to answer my demands, the screen displayed a familiar visage: Jeromy Higgen. Our eyes locked, if one can truly lock eyes between electronic interference, and there existed an almost thoughtful silence on his part. I decided to make the first move in our budding conversation. "Your emporium is a dump, sir," I began, "and your employees are unsavory." Jerome reacted with little surprise on his face, as if he agreed. He then answered my remark.


"They are hurdles. It is all hurdles, after all, to get here. Not just anyone can come down here."

"If you've got 6000 credits lying around."


Jerome smirked, wrinkles forming under his eyes.


"Not exactly. Not always. But if they seek it, they will earn it."

"I'm tired of dealing with riddles, today, Jerome. I came here for the Eternal Rest program, and I'm getting real sick of the process."

"Why?"

"Why am I sick of the process?"

"You know why I asked ‘why'."

"I don't think why I want the program is worth a damn. I gave you the money. Now how does this work?"


There existed yet another thoughtful pause.


"There are thousands that come here. Some have immense struggle in their lives, and they are unable to cope. Debts. Debts drive many here. And there are some who lose something… important to them. Love. Love drives many here, because many do not know where to turn when love fails. When they leave them. Or when they die. So they come here."

"Is it in your job description to invent riddles? I told you I'm done with this. How soon can you get me into this program?"

"Soon, but you must listen. Everyone who ventures down here must listen. I desire to know who you are."

"Well, for starters, my name is--"

"We know who you are. We have known that, yes. But I want to know who you are."

"Is that so? I eat sunflower seeds and enjoy long walks on the beach. Can we start the program, now?"

"You are perfect."

"Come again?"

"You are what I need."

"I thought you were what I needed, but now I'm having second thoughts."


Breathing deep, Jerome closed his eyes wrinkled his brow.


"Let me start over. I must start over so I may help you."

"The only help I want is the package."

"Are you unhappy?"

"With this service so far? Yes. I am."

"Are you unhappy?"

"With your bizarre employees? Yeah."

"Are you unhappy?"

"With you incessantly asking me this question? Sure."

"Are you unhappy?"
"Are you going somewhere with this?"


My foot tapping echoed throughout the room as the question continued to be asked.


"Are you unhappy?"

"..."

"Are you unhappy?"

"Why else would I be here?"

"Some come here happy. But they must escape. Yes, they have to leave. But you are not happy, are you?"

"Seeing as I just implied I wasn't…"

"Why are you unhappy?"

"Does every paying customer get this sort of treatment?"

"Why are you unhappy?"

"Eating sunflower seeds and taking long walks on the beach just isn't doing it for me anymore."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"... Because I'm not. Why can't it be as simple as that?"

"Why are you unhappy?"

"I don't--Look, I don't know."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"I just want to leave. I want to be far away from this life."

"You tried to leave before."

"Yeah, the hard way. Didn't work, because I failed at even that. That's all I do is fail."

"People fail."

"Not like me."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"Because I fail."

"Why are you unhappy because you fail? People fail. Everyone fails, I have seen it."

"Because I'm unable to cope with this. My life is a series of regrets and failures and mistakes and… causing trouble. For everyone."

"Is this why you are unhappy?"

"I'm unhappy because I hate making these errors. Mistakes. Constantly."

"Is this why you are unhappy?"

"I just want to be happy."

"Is this why you are unhappy?"

"I just want to leave forever. I paid the credits, please. Just let me through."

"It's a lie."

"What?"


Reverberating sounds of my constant foot taps ceased. I dropped my arms and clenched my fists.


"You cannot go into the future"

"What the hell are you talking about? I--I paid the credits, I sat through this, I just… I just want to…"

"It is a lie."

"What the hell do you mean it's a lie?!" I demanded.

"They keep me alive. The people that come through here. Yes, they are me."

"Riddles. Please, just let me through…"

"Many people come here looking for an escape. They pay their way to an escape. And they get their escape. But not how they wanted."

"What?"

"I have been alive for so long. So long. Longer than anyone. When someone comes to relax for.. eternity, they do not. They are placed in a pod and they are promised, but it is broken. I drain them. I drain them so that they die and I live. And they need me."

"You…"

"I am a monster. I do not like it. I do not like to see the looks on their faces as they excitedly tell me that they are hopeful for the future and grateful for the opportunity. I do not like seeing them enter the pod. But they make me."

"..."

"I cannot do it anymore. I will not allow it. I need you. You are perfect."

"What are you asking of me?"

"Through that door--on the left. Yes, you must go through it. And you must find me. And you must unplug me. You must kill me. I need you to do this."

"I paid--Stop this, I paid my money, I just need… to escape. For a good hundred years. I can escape this, and I can be happy."

"There is no escape. Not this way. But I need to escape. And I need your help. I beg for your help. I need you to."

"You could be lying. You could be… just trying to stop me from gaining my happiness."


There was yet another pause, and Jerome seemed to ponder this question with serious intent.


"You are right. It could be. You could go through the door on the right and forget this. They do not know what we talked about. What we discussed. They will put you in the pod and you will sleep."

"And you…"

"They will make me continue. I do not want this. I need you to help me."

"..."

"You can be happy. You do not need this to be happy. But I need you so I may be happy."

"..."

"I need you. You are perfect and I need you for this. Yes, I need you."

"..."


Thousands of thoughts raced through my mind. My fists released and I found myself with sweaty palms. All of this--this utter insanity was too much. It was all too much and I felt a mixture of anger for wasting my money and my time and a hatred for failing to successfully end my life. I felt anger and gloom and regret. I stared into the sorrowful eyes of Jerome, who beckoned for me to aid him. I shut my own eyes. I shut out everything.


I placed my palm on the doorknob, twisting it and entering through the door frame.

===========================

BRAIN SCRATCH, REVISED (2017)

As I slowly climbed the slick concrete stairs leading up to a rather brightly lit building, I felt for the now crumpled note buried deep within my back pocket. Brandishing the scrap of paper, I read off its contents for perhaps the second or third time today.


JEROME'S ETERNAL EMPORIUM! GADGETS, KNICK KNACKS, AND DOO DADS THAT DESERVE A PLACE IN YOUR FUTURE. ASK INSIDE FOR OUR ETERNAL REST PROGRAM, ONLY 6000 CREDITS! CALL US AT 1-800-367-EVER FOR MORE INQUIRIES.


Jeromy Higgen, or just "Jerome" as he likened to himself in several television commercials, was absolutely everywhere--I didn't even have to try to find him, because he found me. Billboards stretched across I-451 would feature his beaming grin along with his prominent 1-800 number. Besides commercials, Jerome's warm thumbs up would be featured alongside nearly every news site, along with his signature tagline: "ASK FOR YOUR PLACE IN THE FUTURE!" Point is, anyone and everyone was well aware of Jerome's Eternal Emporium, but no one shopped for the collection of junk he fronted on his store floor--for the same reason I stood on the final stair step, people came here to inquire about their "place in the future".


Well, here we go, I thought to myself as I slid the crumbled scrap back into my pocket. Immediately after the glass doors of the immense structure slid open, an employee grinning from ear to ear greeted me and welcomed me to the emporium. Gesturing his hand towards the sales floor, he begged the question, "Shall I show you what interesting devices and electronics we carry here at Jerome's Eternal Emporium?" I shook my head.


"Come now, you are merely unaware, not uninterested. Among our regular stock of rapid-fire blenders and self-repairing tape guns, we have some interesting Lifto-Boots!"

"Oh no, I'm fine. Where is the Eternal Rest Program?"

"Are your shoes lacking? Need a pep in your step? I'm sure you'll find that--"

"Nope, I'm good, I just need to know where the program is."

"You should consider the Lifto-Boots sir, I know for a fact that they will positively lift your spirits!", followed by an added hearty laugh.

"That sounds fun, but I just need to know where the program is."

"... Ah. Forgive me, you know, it's the commissions…"

"Yeah. I understand. Can you show me the program, now?"

"Right, right, right this way sir, if you'll follow me!"


Trailing behind the eccentric employee, I observed my surroundings and noticed all sorts of bizarre garbage that belonged in a pawn shop rather than one of the most famous stores globally, and, to my surprise, it was practically empty save for the meager amount of employees prowling around the sales floor on the hunt for potential customers. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at all, given the fact that everyone knows why people really come to Jerome's Eternal Emporium.


Our venture through the emporium was abruptly interrupted by the eccentric employee's sudden stop at the base of two doors. Continuing to grin from ear to ear, he beckoned me inside, claiming, "I promise you, you will not be disappointed with our service!" I met his eyes and smirked.


"Okay. So which door do I go in?"

"Whichever one you think is right, sir!"

"The right one looks nice. I'll take that one."


Happy to be well on my way to "eternal rest", I entered through the door on the right and found myself in a minute office, with its only decorations being a receptionist pounding her fingers rhythmically on her keyboard, a wall-mounted display flickering in RGB colors, and a potted plant nestled in the corner attempting to escape its enclosure. The general weirdness in the atmosphere at Jerome's made the receptionist's unwelcoming, well, reception, an expectation, so I introduced myself.


"Hi, I'm looking for the Eternal Rest program."

"Name?", she demanded, with as much enthusiasm of a potted plant.

"Oh, it's--"

"Rhetorical, don't answer that. We knew your identity the moment you walked through our retinal scan."

"Okay, that's fine. Can I have the Eternal Rest program?"

"What program are you interested in, sir? Our Adventurous Vacation package has us boxing you up and shipping you out to a random, yet relaxing destination, all for just 2000 credits. Perfect for the man who desires a little spice in his vacation stew."


All without lifting her fingers from her keyboard as she attacked with a visceral desire.


"That's okay, just the Eter-"

"Or perhaps you're interested in the Mind Games package, which, for just 1000 credits, you can have puzzles downloaded into your brain that brings a level of excitement and thrill to life that you've never experienced before."

"I think my uncle bought that one, but he didn't like it very much."

"He was unsatisfied with the package?"

"I dunno, maybe. So, can I have the Eternal Rest package or program or whatever?"


There was a moment of silence between the two of us as her rapid keyboard tapping suddenly ceased, and she appeared thoughtful, yet calculating. My eyes wandered towards the television as I wondered if I could ask to have some show put on. My scattered thoughts were interrupted by her speaking up, as she queried, "Are you sure you desire this specific package?"

"Yep."

"Yes, yes, shoot yourself. We heard you at the front door, thank you."

"Huh? I didn't say anything like that."

"Slide your card through this reader and I can let you through. 6000 credits, sir."


Hesitating for just a mere moment, I pondered why she bothered asking me her question, then shrugged and slid my card through the reader.


"Excellent, you may continue through the door."

"Oh, what door?"

"Before you came in, the door on your left was locked. Now it isn't. Please proceed."

"Okay, I guess I will. Thank you."

"Yes, we heard. Please continue through the--"

"Oh, sorry. Goodbye."


Exiting the rather surreal office, I was immediately received by the employee from before, who excitedly asked, "Well, what package did our dear customer sign up for today? Do I get to stick you in a box and send you to the Bahamas? Or was it Antarctica…"


"Nope, I'm getting the Eternal Rest program."

"If people want something badly enough, they'll ignore the red flags, sir!"

"Huh? I guess. I'm going to go through the door, now."


I beckoned for him to move, which he happily did, allowing me passage through the left door. Entering, I found myself at the beginning of a dimly lit but seemingly infinite corridor. Chalking it up to just another oddity of the emporium, I began my walk--a walk which quickly turned into an exercise in boring a human being to excruciating levels as the hallway dragged on further and further. After a certain point, I couldn't quite ascertain if the hall was on even ground or if I was descending, and this thought process was deemed to be the only exciting bit of the journey.


My footsteps slowed to a halt as I came to a single door, ending my rather exasperating journey. Without hesitation, I gripped its handle firmly and twisted the knob, drawing myself in. I closed the door behind me and found myself blanketed in darkness. More bored than nervous, I began impatiently tapping my foot until white poured into the room and I came face to face with an immense monitor mounted opposite of my direction. The entire room was painted in plain white, all signs of deterioration and mishap banned from the premises. Two doors, besides the one I came in through, lie on opposite sides to my left and right. With a sudden flicker, the screen lit up and it, too, was white.


Continuing my impatient foot tapping, I queried the screen for an answer. "So, how do I begin the Eternal Rest program?" As if to answer my query, the screen displayed a familiar visage: Jeromy Higgen. Our eyes locked, if one can truly lock eyes between electronic interference, and there existed an almost thoughtful silence on his part. I decided to make the first move in our budding conversation. "Your emporium is nice, sir," I began, "and your employees are interesting." Jerome reacted with little surprise on his face, as if he agreed. He then answered my remark.


"They are hurdles. It is all hurdles, after all, to get here. Not just anyone can come down here."

"Oh, I didn't know. Do people get lost or something?"


Jerome smirked, wrinkles forming under his eyes.


"Not exactly. Not always. But if they seek it, they will earn it."

"Okay, if you say so. Can I start the Eternal Rest program, now?"

"Why?"

"I dunno, I thought I would get it if I paid for it."

"You know why I asked ‘why'."

"Oh, do you mean why I bought the program?"


There existed yet another thoughtful pause.


"There are thousands that come here. Some have immense struggle in their lives, and they are unable to cope. Debts. Debts drive many here. And there are some who lose something… important to them. Love. Love drives many here, because many do not know where to turn when love fails. When they leave them. Or when they die. So they come here."

"Oh, that's weird. Can I start the program, now?"

"Soon, but you must listen. Everyone who ventures down here must listen. I desire to know who you are."

"Okay, my name is--"

"We know who you are. We have known that, yes. But I want to know who you are."

"Hmm. I like to eat chocolate and I watch some TV occasionally."

"You are perfect."

"Oh, alright."

"You are what I need."

"If you say so."


Breathing deep, Jerome closed his eyes wrinkled his brow.


"Let me start over. I must start over so I may help you."

"With starting the program?"

"Are you unhappy?"

"Not really."

"Are you unhappy?"

"Nope."

"Are you unhappy?"

"Nah."

"Are you unhappy?"
"Nah."

My foot tapping echoed throughout the room as the question continued to be asked.

"Are you unhappy?"

"Nah."

"Are you unhappy?"

"Nah."

"Some come here happy. But they must escape. Yes, they have to leave. But you are not happy, are you?"

"No, I think I'm pretty okay."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"I'm not, though."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"I'm not, though."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"I'm not, don't worry."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"I'm not."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"Really, I'm not unhappy."

"You tried to leave before."

"Oh, no, sorry, this is my first time in here."

"People fail."

"Okay."

"Why are you unhappy?"

"I'm not, though."

"Why are you unhappy because you fail? People fail. Everyone fails, I have seen it."

"Maybe you have me confused for someone else."

"Is this why you are unhappy?"

"Oh, no, it's okay, mistakes happen."

"Is this why you are unhappy?"

"I'm kind of bored of this."

"Is this why you are unhappy?"

"I'm going to go through the door, now."

"It's a li--wait, what?"

"See you."


Reverberating sounds of my constant foot taps ceased. I crossed over to the side with the right door and placed my palm atop the handle. The now-perspiring face behind the monitor struggled to correct the situation.


"W-wait! You can't go into the future!"

"Huh? But I paid for it, so I'm gonna."

"It is a lie."

"I don't care, I'm gonna go through the door now."

"H-hold on a second--listen! They keep me alive. The people that come through here. Yes, they are me."

"I think you should take a nap or something, you're not really making any sense."

"Many people come here looking for an escape. They pay their way to an escape. And they get their escape. But not how they wanted."

"I'm gonna go through the door now."

"Please! I… I have been alive for so long. So long. Longer than anyone. When someone comes to relax for.. eternity, they do not. They are placed in a pod and they are promised, but it is broken. I drain them. I drain them so that they die and I live. And they need me."

"Okay, goodbye."

"I am a mons-"


Higgen was unable to finish whatever he was trying to convey as I opened the door and entered a spacious facility filled to the brim with all sorts of pods--which would hopefully involve myself, soon. Indeed, I noticed many different people stored in many different areas, all looking peacefully asleep.


Interrupting my observations, a scientist greeted me from the other end of the passage, and asked if I successfully solved the test. I didn't really understand what she meant, so I just shrugged and followed her to a freshly-deploying pod. Its bedding beckoned me with invitation of comfort and relaxation, and, with a careful nod from the fellow scientist, I entered the bubble and relaxed my body.


This was exactly what I dreamed of--exactly what I had been working for all this time: a peaceful slumber--forever.