My feet hit the ground before the sun bothered to roll over the horizon. It was cool and quiet. The wind cut like paper, linear bee stings that brought untraceable pain. My little Civic cranked up and took me out. All I have for company this morning is the fucking Nicofiend.
Every smoker knows this little beasty. Strike that. Every smoker who's bothered to try and quit knows this cock sucker inside and out. I used to think of mine as a snarling werewolf that loved nothing more than clawing at the inside of my skull. Oh but it’s much worse than that.
Just imagine having a sociopathic parrot stapled to your shoulder. All it does is pick and prod at the interstices of your brain. All day, all night it cries the same sullen dirge.
Polly wanna smoke, polly wanna smoke.
I'm five miles out, haven't even made a dent in the trip when the Fiend wakes up. Fuck, it's too early for this shit.
Polly wanna smoke, polly wanna smoke.
Addiction is a bitch of a slut of a filthy ex that just can't leave you alone. Sure no one forces you to answer the phone at 3am. Sure you could say no when she slides into bed all booze and flooze. You could say no but you don't. It's only been 48 hours since I fed the Fiend and already the bastard’s becoming unbearable.
Smoke, time to smoke. Why aren't you smoking?
Knuckles turn so white they almost glow. The steering wheel doesn't complain as I try to eviscerate it with every fingernail I own. It's too cold and too early for me to put up with the fucking monster. The day’s already got me on a 4 hour drive time handicap.
I put some music on. It helps.
There's this recurring fantasy I have. I've always had the basic idea but it evolves and contorts as I get older. It's about time travel, kind of. Sometimes I think about what I would change in history. Mostly I think about dragging a shit load of post humanity back in time so I can steal the body of my younger self and relive life with some distinctly unfair advantages.
Sometimes I think about averting disaster. Most of the time I think about taking some brain implant to keep me from ever picking up a cigarette without 10,000 volts of subcutaneous agony to discourage the habit. Also whenever I rock out in the car, and only in the car, I think about something like the data downloads from The Matrix.
”Can you rock out harder than anyone on every instrument and speak every language on earth?”
I don't know why but ever since a middle school talent show I have thought about going back in time to start a band. There’s a whole infrastructure to the formation and physics of the fantasy. Any time I sing in the car I am really singing on that non-existant stage.
Half an album later and I start to feel ok. Thirty miles down and the Fiend is just staring holes in the back of my head, shitting all over his cage.
The GPS turns into a gibbering idiot just a few miles outside Hickory, NC. I've made this trip 4 times now. Every single time it provides a new convoluted route. Today's course demonstrates that my useless navigator can't make sense of one way streets. It keeps trying to route me the wrong way. I end up making a big jagged spiral around the office until I find a landmark and track it down the good ol' fashioned way.
How the fuck did we survive without Google? Seriously.
That was me thinking just now, not the Fiend.
Everyone at the hickory office knows me, there are only 4 employees. It's nothing but warm smiles and first name greetings all the way to the back. One of the doctor's laptops is on the fritz. Before I can even look at it he's asking me about hypothetical solutions to potential errors. I don't even know the symptoms yes. HQ just said it was a dead Network card.
"Why don't you just tell me what happened, starting from the last time it worked correctly," I say.
"Well," he begins with an impossibly long indrawn breath. I'm already muttering fuck, fuck, fuck, as I smile and nod. My poker face is perfect, high carbon steel bonded with volcanic glass. I don't wince or scream or snap a single inanimate object.
He's standing there talking to me about his phone tether and how he downloaded some third party app to speed things up. I don't pay any attention. I can already see the tether's a USB cable and this program's done something invasive and scary to the TCP/IP settings. As soon as he leaves I'm gonna dump the driver but I sit through 3 more minutes of this shit.
"Shut it!" I scream inside my skull. The slightest, faintest quiver comes over me as I do. Maybe the face isn't as perfect as I thought. He's still talking, the doctor is still talking. What a pisser. As polite as I appear all I want to do is grab the newspaper he’s holding and shoo him away. It’s nothing personal I just can’t work while I’m in customer service mode.
One thing I have noticed is that network grunts can commiserate with psychologists for a very sad reason. By definition we both work with systems and components made up of other systems and components comprised of more complexity than any one person can understand. At least we have the luxury of spare parts, white papers and tech forums.
The human brain is way more of a cluster-fucked kludge than the shoddiest networks concocted in my deepest darkest work-related nightmares.
Oh good, I notice he's gone. My ass hits the chair and I go to work. 1 minute to give up on the shitty touchpad and switch to a mouse, 2 minutes to purge the driver, another 1 to reinstall and test. Probability waves collapse as I test my theory. Internet and network work. That's just fucking aces. I bet the doctor hasn't finished the front page of his newspaper.
For now I'm done with the easy part of my job. Trying to exfill without follow up questions is impossible, it’s fundamental as gravity. I jump into space, waiting for the tug which hits me before I even brush against vacuum.
"I've also noticed my email doesn't always work in hotels and stuff. I can receive it but not send. Isn't that weird?"
"Nope," I say calmly. I might as well have poked him in the eye. Stupid phrasing, I think. Now I have to explain more than I want to. "Your ISP probably doesn't allow SMTP traffic to be relayed to other ISP's.” Before he can ask why I interject. “They do it to cut down on spam."
Christ on stilts I hope that shuts him up. It doesn't. I explain, nearly making the always dangerous mention of Net Neutrality. Luckily I catch myself. The last time I made that mistake I lost 20 minutes of my life before giving up and saying 'Google it sometime.'
Before I know it I am out the door and back on the road. To the mountains! Hickory's an hour from home, Boone's an hour from Hickory. Long fucking day.
Halfway there and the sky starts shedding some flimsy ephemeral crap that barely registers as visual data. There's no substance to it, nothing but incidental refraction even lets me know that it's real. I know this distortion, snow. When I left it was dry and sunny. Only 55 miles from home and I am skirmishing with the vanguard of a blizzard.
This is when I crack. It's not like smashing into a big pile of glass, more like the relentless grind of a glacier that shears and devours me. I know its wrong as I make a quick stop, throw the little civic in park, hop out, walk to the door, grab a token beverage, head to the front behind some dude and his adorable 3 year old, arrive empty handed but for my debit card and diet Sundrop and ask for 'one hard pack, Marlboro menthol lights please.'
I know its wrong as the clerk, some no face, hands me the goods. I know that it’s wrong as I swipe the card and hastily fling the pack into my left jacket pocket. The second I touch the receipt I drop it into the right pocket. Some sleight of hand inside, I pull out a lighter with inhuman quickness. Fourteen taps, each one a solid audible caution begging me to throw that fucking pack of death into the hills and still I have menthol in my teeth before I even get back in the car.
Sweet metastatic bliss that first drag is the warm kiss of an angel breathing fire down my neck. The Fiend is ejaculating all over me as I breathe deep and savor the poison.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
I take another drag as I turn back on the road. The Fiend passes out in a pool of his own carcinogenic spew. A few moments of peace blanket the world in quiet fuzz. I flick my angel out the window and she sparkles as the frigid wind turns her into another anonymous piece of roadside shit.
Just then the boss calls. He wants to know what's going on, how the trip is and if I am aware of the situation I am rolling into.
I am, I say coldly. It's always the same shit. Something broke or someone fucking broke it. That's life, everyday and everywhere, people like me are always there to fight it. I don't tell my boss this, he knows we are nothing but stop gaps against entropy until the robots take over.
Five minutes in and the call drops. I keep talking for a few seconds until my phone announces that it's gone blind and mute. Feeble thing. I'm driving past a sheer slab of tortured rock. Chilly construction crews are widening the road here. The telltale signs of drill marks and dynamite are everywhere.
Some other poor bastards did good work. I guess we don't all just resist entropy. Some of us proactively go out and break the world's teeth, blunting nature's edges wherever they may be.
The Fiend stirs. I beg it to leave me alone but it is already shaking off its stupor. Fucker!
I try to focus on the road but the Fiend is awake again. No longer placated, the nicotine mantra returns with a vengeance.
Polly got a smoke. Polly want another smoke.
Fuck off, I just fed you! It's a cry in vain. The Fiend never listens. Only fifteen minutes ago I had withstood 48 hours or more of abstinence. Now the cunt can't wait a second longer, again, it has no memory, no tolerance.
Polly wanna smoke, polly wanna smoooooooke!!!
Sweet stinking Buddha, I reach for another. What the fuck, I have a whole pack and I have already killed my streak. I light it up as I am making the final approach to Boone. It's a long downhill stretch of road, 4 lanes wide. I'm riding the innermost, hugging tightest to rock walls glossy with windblown ice.
As I drag on the cigarette I have one of those heart-stopping moments where reality transmogrifies into bad dream molasses. I drift a few feet into the lane to my left. That isn't what scares me. I turn the wheel, feel it move in my hand but still keep drifting towards oncoming traffic and a very fragile looking guard rail at the edge of a cliff. That is what scares me.
The Fiend turns invisible and most of my concerns go mute. Any second I could be dead. All because of this fucking miserable day, I think. My teeth tighten into enamel mills. Everything is slow and terrible. The wheels catch a second later and I regain control.
"I can't fucking believe it," I say to myself. "If someone had been in that lane then my whole life could have been fucked to pieces." The spark of fear lands on dry tinder.
"I'm going to fucking write this down when I get home," I say out loud. "And I'm going to write about this part right now and it'll be just aces. Fuck, you gotta love metafiction." Here's the irony about moments where time seems to slow down like that. It doesn't, you experience the moment in real time just like all the other events in your life.
Your brain records more frames than usual so playback comes in slow mo. Your perception does not increase at the moment of stress, there's no hyperactive frenzy of brain activity. You just remember it that way an instant after it happens. And that, dear reader, is why science rules.
Only minutes remain on the trip. An old buried habit goes zombie and crawls out so that I will smoke one last cig before I arrive. I haven’t even finished my second.
I won't lie I finish the smoke and start to reach for another. I have the third smoke between incisors when my subconscious mind borrows the body for a moment.
A word about the other person that lives inside your skull. He/she doesn't like you, doesn't care for emotion or conscious thought and thinks you're a dumb drunken ape sitting at the controls of a quantum supercomputer. Check that. He doesn't need to think he just knows because he's running the part of your brain that doesn't report to the conscious mind. And his indifference to you is well founded.
This other person is an armor clad assassin and when he talks 99% of the time you have already obeyed before you realize there was a choice in the matter. Subcon moves two fingers deftly to the left.
The cigarette flies out the window, the rest of the pack skids along the icy road. I feel a little guilty for littering. Next, Subcon takes out my lighter and performs a Gesture of Significance. I have carried a lighter in my pocket for as long as I can remember, long before I smoked. The little red plastic firemaker joins the cigs on the open road, soon to be crushed or buried in ice.
Fiend goes apeshit over this. Subcon sends him a tight little memo.
Subcon: Silence, Fiend. Get cognizant. No more.
Huzzah! I could practically salute the scary bastard. There would be no point. I don't salute computers for doing their job. Subcon would care as much as my Linux box.
Enough of this traveling shit. I am happy to shake the pins and needles down my khaki's as I pull into job #2. Five seconds in the door and I have identified my first problem, the office manager.
# # #
This ends Part I, Check out Part II