Cold Storage, Chapter 01
 

Chapter 01: Hold, Please

I’m breathing through a tube, and I am dying. I have no way of knowing how long it’s been like this, or who may be responsible. All of the stories in this world are hints of what might have been, of that much, at least I am certain. That, and they play me music. That’s why the headphones all the time, because they represent home for me. Not the place where you keep your stuff, but that place in your mind where you always belong. I know that, each hollow, echoing breath is the same nasally sound that plays back through my ears when my headphones are on. So the breath lines up, tubes to my nose, wires to my ears, and I’m dreaming this reality as part of the experiment—only, something’s gone wrong. The stories hint at a uniquely unpleasant ending for whomever, friend or foe, was responsible for feeding the other end of these tubes and wires, and maintaining this menagerie; under no circumstances should I be able to compare nasally breathing sounds. The two different sets of stimuli, simulated and real, would cause too much interference with one another resulting a kind of insanity. The stimulation from the real world is redirected, monitored, and discarded. It’s never supposed to reach the subject.

But I wandered into one of the stories.

The stories manifest in any number of ways, not the least of which, emerging between my thoughts, seemingly seamlessly only to confuse what I know. Feels like a stop gap solution, doesn’t it? Hrm? Yes. Yes it does.

But I’m trying to focus here.

I’m trying to identify what I know.

I’m breathing through a tube. I am dying. These are things I know.

So much happens at the end of things. When you believe you’ve read the whole story, when you believe no more answers will be voiced, you fill in, automatically every gap. You build the world. The process is not at all linear. Amorphous, lightning quick, and unconscious, you believe you know a lot more about the story than what you actually read. It’s the very same process that makes you believe the car alarm went off in real life at the same time as the alarm clock in your dream. We read stories front to back, left to right, top to bottom, but that’s not how we end them, how we live with them, or how we carry them with us. Anyway, the damn point is that, the things I know are few, and unattached to any recognizable context. I’m breathing through a tube, experiencing a dream of death. I may already be dead. I may be entirely existing in that moment of departure.

It is impossible to know when I am in the timeline of my own being. This, I also know. Just try to nail down when things happen in your dreams. Stories like, maybe I’m an AI being turned on, or off, or ON AND OFF again, or living in the Matrix, or in an insane asylum all crowd out the others, but none of them is correct. I’m really breathing through a tube, and it really could just be fucking cancer. All I know is that someone induced this state, maybe to block pain, or to increase my life, or to preserve me for torture. Shit. I don’t know.

I know I’m dying. I can smell it in here.

Everywhere I go in this dreamland the stench of decay persists. Undeniable, no matter how faint. Unmistakable, no matter the confusion of scents and senses. I try to block it out, and admittedly, I’ve had some success just smelling nothing, but then I miss out on some of the only pleasures I’ve found in this faux-verse. The problem is one of logistics. My body fails in one universe, and the effects bleed into this one.

And so, I’m aware of the smell.

Could be my corpse. An artificial lung and heart shove breath and blood into the rot, like a lover attempting resuscitation having arrived far, far too late. It makes a soul sick just to watch it, to know those denials, and the inexhaustible power of the will; one, two, three, and breathe. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever stop trying. To make a difference, to force the story back on track. The glassy eyes. So many glassy eyes. But that force of will, that ridiculous vibration coursing through every cell, holds no real power over reality. But I am not the body, or the lover. I’m the departed human spirit observing the end. Each of us, impotent. Each of us frozen in that frame. Only, the rest of time does not share the attachment of the three and it moves forward steadily. Zombies mechanically attempting to resurrect one another, ignoring the leaking bile, and ragged flesh. And the stench.

Even as I’m typing, sitting in this lovely cafe, with coffee beans, baked goods, and the synaesthetic cacophony of perfumes and colognes, I smell it.

“Hold this here,” the words sizzling through her teeth, “I said. HOLD IT!”