My lawyer wants me to write this as an exercise. I don’t see the point. The verdict has come in, and everyone wants me to go away. I want to go away. No more attention, please. No more idiots shoving microphones in my face, asking if I’m sorry.
Yes, I’m sorry. Very sorry! I’d do it again. I’d do it a hundred times. I’d do worse. But I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?
I’ll write a little, because it beats staring at the wall.
I was born forty two years ago in Brisbane, or so I’m told. I don’t have a birth certificate. I don’t seem to have ended up with the usual accessory of a father, either. I can remember a man picking me up when I was very small, so maybe that was him.
I was raised by my mother, and then by the council when my home situation deteriorated. I hotwired a car at thirteen, and squatted in an abandoned apartment when I was seventeen. I never had a problem with stealing, never thought it made me a bad kid. Now I’m on the hook for a crime to make all the rest look small, so I might as well speak my mind.
The part of my youth I want to tell you about happened when I was nine years old. I don’t remember where mum and I were, but I remember what we did.
We went to see a man.
Looking back, I think my mum was looking for a husband – although she didn’t want to marry.
She’d gone all-in on a man before, and he’d run away. She would not make the same mistake twice. But she still had this psychological need to be around a strong male presence, to be a planet orbiting a star.
She wouldn’t go all in again, but she made little calls and raises. She’d get Tony Robbins courses, and Dale Carnegie tapes, and Eckharte Tolle books. All of her self-help heroes were male. Oprah Winfrey and Joyce Meyers did not hold power over her.
She had a photo autographed by David Burns. I saw her framing it when I was little, and it made me unhappy. Maybe because I realised then that I would never have a father. Being able to awaken the giant within is not a substitute for an actual real dad.
Work was intermittent, and she had time to make endless road trips to self help workshops. She often took me along. I would be playing in the dirt, poking at worms with a stick…and then mom would pack me in a car and we’d go and see worms walking around on two legs.
The self-help gurus were loathsome. Maybe my memory is shit, but I can only tell you what’s there. Whether it’s accurate in content or not is your call.
I remember dark conference rooms with stiff-backed chairs, tacky promotional fliers, an odd air of anticipation and desperation. Up on stage, loathsome smooth-talking men talking about success and belief and bit-chunked pop-NLP techniques. I can only describe them one way: inhuman beings.
I couldn’t understand half of what they were saying, but the talking got to me. The rhythm of their voices, the sussuration of their breathing. I felt like ghosts were dismantling my brain with little screwdrivers.
I saw rows of faces watching them, hypnotised. I saw a fly land on a woman’s face, and she didn’t brush it off, didn’t want to interrupt her breakthrough.
Once, a fellow in Canberra spoke for forty minutes, telling a simple story about a bird nest. It was stupid. It had nothing to do with anything. But everyone listened like their lives depended on it.
It was ridiculous. He had everyone twisted around his microphone. His voice would speed up, and then slow down. Your heart rate would rise and decrease right along with it. He’d stop from time to time, and everyone looked sort of panicked, like swimmers with their air supply cut off.
At the story’s denouement, he paused and did not break that pause for two entire minutes. I kept track, right? The second hand on my watch made two revolutions. Nobody spoke, and nobody seemed to breath. They musthave breathed. Nobody holds their breath for two minutes. But I couldn’t hear anyone breathing, and that scared me.
I wanted to scream and flip chairs over.
Finally, he started talking again. Just picked up the thread of his nonsense story and continued.
After six months of brainraping, I started hiding from mum whenever she looked ready to announce a car ride. Looking back, I’m furious at myself. There were so many other things I could have done. Slash the car tyres, maybe. Why the fuck didn’t I think of that? It’s difficult to Think and Grow Rich when you don’t have a car. She would have hit me – the beatings were already becoming bad. But I would have avoided the final guru.
I remember his name. Vernichtung. I think that’s how it was spelled – a German-sounding word.
Where was it? I’m not sure. All I have is snapshots transmuting into more snapshots. Dark carpark becomes bright foyer. Bright foyer becomes dark conference room. Across all the snapshots are whispers from the faithful – reverent, quiet. Why? What’s so special about this fellow that you don’t even have a right to your own voice? You’d have thought someone was dying.
I can’t find anything about Vernichtung now. I’ve looked, but he hasn’t left any records behind – odd. Normally LGAT gurus leave a trail of self-promotion like a snail leaves a trail of slime. But there must have been two thousand people there to see him that day.
He spoke and rambled. He told us about an early life – not once did he specify whether it was his early life. He wore ill-fitting clothes that clung loosely to his body like fabric leeches, all of them clashing and none making sense. It hurt to look at him. Listening to him was far worse.
Four hours passed. It was intolerable. By the end, it was nearly impossible to remember a time when I hadn’t been in the room.
Nobody looked bored. That part was normal – all of this crap is fake, just nobody wants to be the one to break the spell – but this time I got the sense that none of them actually were bored. They stared at him, four thousand eyes transfixed. Puppets sans strings.
Vernichtung kept on talking and talking without break or pause. He never obviously changed the subject, but every five minutes he was talking about something different. Trying to follow along or understand was an impossible endeavor.
“The map is not the reflection of the territory. The map is the perfection of the territory, it’s actualisation, the place where the territory’s flaws are erased. Keep the map. The map is good. Throw the territory away. This will change your life, I promise.”
I’d often wished I could leave my mother’s self-help events, but this was the first time I actually started planning escape. I looked around at the door, wondering if I could slip out and have people assume it was a bathroom break.
Before I could put any ill-advised plans into action, he stopped talking. Silence filled the room like a paralysing neurotoxin. After a pause that was both brief and carefully calculated, he said “if you are worthy, come to me.”
My mother snatched my hand and dragged me to the front. I was now a puppet.
I didn’t want to go up to this man. He was evil, the fact was ineluctible and undeniable. He made a living scamming sad fucks like my mum. But I was going up to him anyway.
Dozens of people were up the front. He was touching their hands, and whispering to them. His voice was full of need. It ached and pulsed with it. He was like a spider that had learned to speak.
“Sir, my son…” my mum pushed me in front of him. “He wants to know you.”
Vernichtung looked at me. Up close, his face seemed to be all planes and angles. I met his eyes and wanted to die.
“You. Give me your hand.”
Caught between the Scylla of my mother and the Charybdis of this man, I extended my hand.
He took it in his, and I noticed that he had six fingers. The superfluous one wrapped around the curve of my hand. He had a wedding band, but it was on his little finger. It was all so wrong.
I should have run away. Why didn’t I? It would have made lots of things better. And even if it caused consequences worse than my worst imaginings, it would still have been better than how things turned out.
If you find yourself in my position, don’t hesitate, and don’t ignore your instincts. Your instincts are smart.Your brain is stupid. Don’t try and reason your way out. It will not get better. Just run.
He patted me on the head, he told me I was worthy, and then he kissed my cheek.
I went away from the conference in a state of near hysteria. I felt violated. My cheek felt as if there was a crawling fungus on it. Even my mother seemed shocked by the way things had gone.
I asked if he’d infected me with some disease. She said no.
But you can’t always see diseases, can you?
The nightmares started later that night.
I’ve rested my hand. Let’s give this another shot.
What can I tell you about nightmares? Yours aren’t like mine, I bet.
Yours are either random, or directly traceable to something causing you distress. Mine are planned out like movies that happen night after night. I have three main types of dreams. Sometimes a few details change, but they always hew to one of three categories.
The boat dream…
I’m five years old. I’m at a wharf, watching boats sail. There’s about five or six people with me, they have their faces turned away.
I feel like I’m a character in a photograph. Movement seems mechanically possible, but unwise. I feel very strongly that I should be standing still.
My mother is next to me. She’s wearing a flesh-tone bonnet, and I can’t see her face.
I soon realise that nothing seems to be moving.
In my peripheral vision I think I can see reeds blowing in the wind…but there’s no wind on my face, and when I look, the reeds are still.
I look out to the water. The boats are cutting white bow waves…but they’re not moving. This only vaguely seems like a problem, or something that should not be happening. My mind is adrift on a windy slipstream of delirium, existing only to experience madness.
The reeds continue to not-blow. The boats continue to not-move. But something is changing – my emotions.
I don’t feel safe anymore. I want my mother to take me home.
She’s still looking away. I will not talk to her, but maybe she’ll look at me, and reassure me.
Then I see the hand resting on her lap, and count six fingers.
I then know that the face behind the bonnet is not my mother – and it is then that her head begins to turn to me.
Then I wake.
The path dream…
Mist shrouds a forest path. I am alone in walking the path, and I must reach the end. I know this atavistically. I cannot stop breathing or eating or drinking or shitting and I cannot stop walking towards the end. Warm mist wreaths me, caresses me, a paradox – yin of heat matched by yang of cold.
Thick trees cover both sides of the path.
There are six-fingered hands reaching out between the trees.
Hands thrashing, flailing, and reaching. Hundreds, uncountable hundreds. I see them lining the path in front of me – a freakish forest of waving and groping limbs.
I must walk between them, an amorata courted by thousands of blind suitors.
As my feet take me past the end spasming, agitating limbs, I wonder…What if they reach me? Heaven save me…what if they touch me?
I stay to the middle of the path, placing my feet with fetishistic obsession. A centemetre’s deviance either side takes my center-mass closer to the hands. I need space. Oh god, all the space I can get.
The path is narrowing.
Suspicion turns to surety. I look ahead and the path is getting narrower than perspective allows. The walls of trees and waving hands are convexing to point, and I am walking into that point.
Soon there is no more path, and my feet brush knotted and tortured tree roots instead of dirt. The hands on my left are close and getting closer. The hands on my right grab and sieze at far too little empty air.
I become paranoid that I’m straying too far away from the middle, I correct myself and correct my corrections, ridiculously trying to get more centered than the center, and then I realise something
The hands will seize me soon no matter what I do.
There is no more space to walk.
I look at the hands. Six fingers open and close, agitating softly as if they expect imminent contact.
I must keep going.
But there’s nowhere to go to.
As I go down the final stretch, the path narrowed to a mere sliver, a hand reaches out, and I know that this is it: it will touch me, sieze me, pull me –
The maze dream…
I’m a brightly lit room. There are four brightly lit doorways, leading to other rooms. For some reason or another, I go through one of the doors, and then the lights go out.
My eyes adjust, and walls and a roof fade in through the stygian black.
I’m in a tunnel. Gray cement walls are boxing me in with perfect geometry.
I go ahead, feeling like a cow in a chute, unsure of where I’m going or what I’m doing. Ahead: another room.
I enter the room, and my head swims with sudden vertigo. I stumble against one of the walls, and the ground seems to spin underneath me. When the attack passes, I look up.
The room is empty, with four hallways branching off like spokes from a wheel. I look down the hallways, one by one. Each of them leads to another room.
I choose the doorway to my right, and walk.
I enter the next room and another spasming lurch of vertigo hits me. I lose my balance. My stomach feels bad. Another moment to rest.
Another empty room. Three more hallways.
I decide I’ve had enough. I’ll go back to the original room, and wait for the lights to come back on..
But which hallway did I come from? They all look the same, and the vertigo attack has disoriented me. Nor can I remember which of the halls I came from in the last room. I now know that finding my way back will not be easy.
Coming here was a mistake.
I feel a growing fear, but fortunately its teeth are still small.
I choose the hallway straight ahead of me. I walk down it, and just before I enter the room, a stroke of inspiration strikes.
I use my fingernail to score a scratchmark on the cement wall near the corner. I am somewhat lost, but I can yet stop myself from becoming hopelessly lost.
As I enter the room, the predictable bout of vertigo strikes, and I again lose my bearings. Looking around the empty room, I decide to return, and to try one of the other hallways.
I look for all the scratchmark I made over the entrance, and my fear doubles in size.
All four doorways have scratches in the cement. They are all the same, my original scratchmark split and multiplied like a cement kalaiedoscope.
I am choked up by this development, so I stand, and wait, as if my eyes have committed a clerical error that will soon be rectified. My vision darts from scratch mark to scratch mark, waiting for sanity to be restored.
Then I hear someone’s footsteps.
Someone’s looking for me.
I have no more time. I must get away.
I dash through one of the doorways, run down the hall and into the next room. Vertigo hits in mid-strike, and I crash painfully into a wall. Winded, a blizzard of stars scurrying across my vision, I right myself and run down another hall.
I wander the maze, making no attempt to mark the way or do anything except get away from the footsteps. Even though I am running and the owner of the footsteps is walking, the footsteps become ineluctibly louder.
Panicking, I turn into another room, stagger across to a door, and run down the hall. I have no idea where I’m going. For all I know I could be going back through the same door I came through. My sense of direction is totally destroyed.
I have no sense of left or right anymore, or up or down. The vertigo causes me to lose my balance one too many times and I stop trying to regain it. Now I’m crawling from room to room on my hands and knees.
Concrete walls surrounding me like arms that will never let go.
An infinity of rooms, connected by a boundless number of hallways, forming interstices in a never-ending maze.
I cannot escape. And the footsteps are still getting closer.
These dreams have been with me for more than thirty years, and now I know they are almost ready to consummate.
With each passing year, each one progresses a little bit further. In the boat dream, I see more and more of the face. In the path dream, the hands get closer. In the maze dream, the footsteps get louder.
Soon, I will be seized or snatched by one of these dreams. What will happen to me then? Do I sound like I know, or I want to know?
But I do know that I was marked, years ago, by demon pretending to be a man. I belong to him. I might not be able to get away, to renege on the deal, but I have to try. And by “try”, I mean “try anything”.
The penny has dropped, hasn’t it?
As I said, I want to go away.
I want to be locked up. No wall is too strong, no bars are too thick, no number of guards is too many. I want protection. Do you want to know if I’m dangerous? Yes, I am. Very dangerous. Total hazard to society. I’ve done a crime that earns a lifetime behind bars in a maximum security prison, so now it’s for the state to do their part.
I’m out of time. Save me.
Per request, find attached a letter K wrote to me from his cell. He didn’t date it, but I received it on the 22nd. Mail from Brisbane takes about two days to arrive at my office, and we can allow an extra day for Boggo Road’s processing and inspection. It would have been written very close to the time of K’s disappearance on the 20th.
The letter is presented in its entirety, and without comment. I hope that it will in some way help you in discovering K’s whereabouts. Whether this is a closed communication or should be made available to the press is a decision I leave to you.