Sci Fi, Short stories

The Contemplative Nature of a Park Bench

2 January, 2023

I don’t recognise the voice, but I hear it shimmering in the trees, peeping out and getting carried away like the mutterings of passers-by. 

He sneaks among little autumn leaves that crumple into the soil. Perhaps the wind will rustle them, make that woodland sound. It’s as if you can hear the rot. Not in a macabre way, but in a way that uplifts the pits of my stomach from its enduring depths. Somehow, knowing that the leaves are reused, repurposed, oozy, wet, and fertile – it gives me a sense of hope for a bigger picture. A higher purpose in the brimming life that surrounds and suffocates us. There is so much more to give, so much more to take. 

The rustles return, but it’s not Nature’s rumblings this time. It’s him. That little boy who always reveals himself to me, heart racing, eyes open wide. Curious, as boys are. Yet just as I catch a glimpse of his silhouette, he retreats to the brush, leaving only traces of himself suspended in the air, like pixie dust. Sometimes, when I get lost in thought he watches, his fingers clutching the safety of his tree-haven. Safe from the dark, dangerous world of humans. 

I imagine he has some faith in our existence; a little twinkle in his eye as he watches a girl like me write in her book. With my incessant scribbling, I bait him into exposure and suddenly, I’m gulping in excitement when I feel his gaze. I look up and my eyes catch him, mid ponder, only to hear a giggle and a swoosh. He’s always too far away, only just intangible and so subtle that I strain for another sign of him only to find an arid silence. He’s back to holding his breath. 

And then I wonder. Could he be the same little boy who plunged James Barrie into misery and imagination; am I in the presence of Peter Pan himself? 

It could very well be him. After all, these are the trees, and these are the parks; these are the streets where they all made their names, lived, died, oozed, bubbled into fertiliser. Just like the leaves and just like the rest of us organisms, pumping, cracking, falling, metabolising, phosphorylating, decomposing, living.  

If Peter’s ghost is a passenger of the mind, I am happy to have that passenger. After all, it’s a long drive through a time only fathomable to us, and it gets lonely without anyone to talk to, confide in, love, hate, and feel an ultimate indifference. 

Maybe the two of us could ride in something that doesn’t have the comfort of a car or vehicle? Something bumpy, yes, slow and fast at times, weathered and beaten, but shiny in some parts. Something that gives the impression of authentic biological life. 

Maybe we can escape everything in this life-like vessel to a place that is dissimilar to life, but simulates what living might feel like. 

Let’s watch the ducks in envy, laugh at the people, plot their demise, and talk solemnly of our own. 

Let’s be friends in this whirlpool of chemicals, in this most beautiful hallucination.

Follow me. 

And I will follow you, Peter – to wherever you may take me.

The handwriting is hers, but it feels possessed, mixed with an overwhelming indifference to their life together. Her condition was worse than he could ever have imagined. If he had just known, if he had just taken her to the right people, the right company for her treatment – maybe things would be different. His throat clots with grief, and more sobbing ensues. He didn’t even know he had this much fluid in his body. 

“I’m sorry you had to read that again, Brandon.” The Lawyer pastes empathy on his face while he reaches into his drawer and deals his case file onto his desk. Contracts reveal themselves beneath the file cover. 

A snivel, a deep, heavy breath, and Brandon is finally silent, staring vacantly at Anna’s journal entry in his lap. The book is cold. Cold like the earth he wishes he was in; beside her. The grief-tremors subside and an eerie stillness slithers into the room. Brandon’s gaze shoots towards The Lawyer. “I’m ready.” he says, then sets the journal aside, grabs the papers and pen. Virulent scribbles spread across all the pages needing his initials. The Lawyer smiles. 

“There’s no need to worry, Brandon. There’s a strong case against these people. I mean, it’s not the first time that these implants have caused some serious psychiatric issues. And if that isn’t enough evidence, then the surveillance scandal will be. I mean, nothing breaches privacy like collecting someone else’s brain data, right?” 

The room is tense, unbearably silent, and so The Lawyer morphs his tune to suit the mood, “If we can prove that they were receiving her neuronal data before her suicide, we could save so many more people with this case. Shut them down for good, so that no one will have to go through this again.”

Brandon remembers her headaches. How he found her talking to someone who, he soon found out, was not there. She used to amble around the garden, spaced out, calling for “Peter”. He insisted on therapy. She insisted that he just couldn’t see him. That Peter was there, and that he watched Brandon too, but the boy was left unnoticed. 

After her first seizure, she was diagnosed with glioblastoma. A brain tumour, I guess. Lethal, of course. The life in her face drained to the floor when the doctors announced she had only a few weeks left. She was stripped of her youth in a matter of minutes. She withdrew into her digital life, onto her phone, and away from people like Brandon who tethered her to the reality of what was happening. 

And then that man began chatting to her on Facebook, a man who was part of a cancer group she had found. Chucking hope around like it’s a cheap flag, a disposable, common piece of fabric. 

The man was part of a new organisation, a company that rivals the “redundant” system of hospitals, doctors and money-making pharmaceuticals that uses misfortune as currency. Science had progressed, but it was not open to the public, only to those who could afford it, he said. Doctors were brainwashed, everyone’s been paid off, we’ve all been fooled to believe the system which kept us from the truth. But he said that Neurode Inc was here to change that; to give patients successful treatment through technology. Overriding biology, he said. 

Apparently, waving dreams in front of a dying girl and her desperate fiance is a niche in the market. 

They walked through Neurode Inc.’s research facility. Smiles aplenty, families and patients were wheeled about and filled the atmosphere with busy chitter-chatter. There were scientists suspended on the first floor, dwelling in their natural habitat, separated by a glass cage and an access terminal. Brandon watched them like wildlife, in their hazmats and glossy test tubes. Anna reassured him that so many people had life-changing results with these new implants. 

So they took the chance. And the implant worked. Miraculous, as stories go. The wedding was still on, the years bloated ahead of them, so saturated with future travel plans, mundane careers, Sunday lunches, and maybe even children.

But obviously, that was not Anna or Peter’s plan. Or whoever polluted that mind of hers. 

How naive he’s been. Here he thought this implant would help them both find the old Anna, before the tumor, the hallucinations, the seizures. 

All she found was “Peter”, and all Brandon found was her body. Swollen, blue and misshapen from the jump. 

 

Featured in UCL Writer’s Society Lost/Found Magazine

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