Jack arrived at my door shortly after his bicycle accident. Usual idiot. He left the house thinking he was being a good father and husband by getting on his mountain bike and blasting around the city instead of doing what he wanted to do: whack the shit out of his wife, son and daughter.
Of course, he was too much of a man to wear a helmet so, when he came off the Burrard Street Bridge – no bike lights of course – the jackass slid on some wet sludge on the Gregor Robertson Approved Bicycle Lane and flew over the concrete divider into a Range Rover. It was driven by a distracted stupid bitch who wasn’t watching because she was checking her phone for a text message. Jack ricocheted, flew off his bicycle like a rag doll into the concrete barrier on Pacific Avenue and smashed his head open like a really crunchy egg.
I was standing in front of a door marked “You’re next, asshole.” All around me were mists like what you saw on old science fiction shows. Where was I? I pushed through the door and was faced with a large, muscular black guy.
“Jack, Jack, Jack,” he said. He was holding what looked like an iPad. “You were an abusive husband and you neglected your children.”
“What? Who the hell are you?” I asked.
“Denzel. Don’t worry – no relation to the movie star. I’ll be your post-mortem disciplinarian.”
“Oh you poor thing, you don’t remember. Let me help you.” Denzel touched my arm and I remembered the bike accident. I was on my knees wanting to puke, but nothing came.
“Yes, you have no stomach, so you can’t barf,” said Denzel.
“But, I have a body,” I muttered.
“It’s pretend. Now shut up and listen. They tell me I’m privileged to be helping people like you – abusive morons – see their errors and move onto a higher plane of understanding.”
I stared at this guy. He looked like a football player but talked like an angry gay guy from the West End. This seemed pointless. Even if I could be different (Denzel should have met my father) I didn’t see what yakking about it was going to do.
“God you’re boring,” said Denzel. “Everyone thinks they’re ‘OK’ when there’s someone worse. It’s so lame. There’s always a worse driver, worse parent, worse policeman, worse murderer – Pickton says he killed 49, I’m nothing compared to that.”
I couldn’t believe after all the time I’d been doing this job I let a minor, minor league wife and child abuser get under my skin. Maybe the infinite quantity of unmoving, unchanging fucking morons coming through my door was finally wearing me down.
Anyway, they’re always confused at first as to how things work. Jack was no exception.
“You have been cursed with figuring out why your life is such a bad example of human existence,” I said to Jack. “I have been cursed with showing you the way. How it works is that I put you into situations that you have to address – you know, try to improve – and then you report back to me. You will have a body, but it will only appear to the people involved in the unpleasantness. You will be impervious to harm. You will have substantially more physical strength that any human around. When you touch someone – or if someone is stupid enough to touch you – you will be able to see into their minds. Have fun. Good bye. No more questions. See you.”
I quickly flipped through my list of scenarios on my simulated iPad and saw a juicy one. I double tapped it and sent Jack off. I took a short moment to quiet my mind.
“Next!” I yelled.
That crazy shit Denzel just tapped on his iPad (Apple Computers in Hell??) and now I’m here … in someone’s shanty smelly tiny house. The air felt like desert air. Why was I breathing anyway? Wasn’t I dead? Denzel talked so fast I wasn’t sure what he was going on about.
Then I heard the unmistakable sound of sex, but the female partner was clearly not enjoying herself. Denzel sent me here to give someone Sex Ed lessons? Then she screamed. Obviously a young girl. Her words sounded Arabic, but as I heard the words I somehow knew what they meant, knew it was Yemen Arabic. Denzel hadn’t mentioned that trick. She was clearly saying, “you’re hurting me.”
I left the room and entered what I presumed to be the bedroom. There I found a guy – I guessed he was about forty – forcing himself on a girl who seemed to be nine or ten.
“No matter where, that’s rape,” I said.
Naturally both of them were pretty surprised by me being there. They scrambled to throw on some clothes. The girl moved away from the guy and he started shouting “Who are you? What are you doing in my house?”
I ignored him and asked the girl, “Can I get you out of here? Take you home? We can go to the police if you like.”
“Stop talking to my wife!”
I turned to the guy and said, “You’re kidding, right?” (It passed through my mind that somehow I was speaking Arabic without knowing a word of it, but I didn’t dwell on this because I was too busy dealing with the child bride thing.) Then he charged me as if to push me out of his house. Once he touched me, the whole story flooded into my head: the financial deal with the girl’s father; the whole messed up concept of family honour. Essentially, about two weeks ago, she had been bought and paid for and he felt he could do whatever he wanted. I pushed him back and he flew across the room and smacked against the wall, looking as surprised at my strength as I was. Denzel was right. What else had he told me? I was supposed to address this situation? Yeah, like how?
Then the mother came into the room. Not the girl’s mother, but the so called husband’s mother. Her screeching made my paranormal head hurt. She looked around sixty going on ninety but had the lung capacity of a high pitched moose.
“Would you shut up?” I said.
“Get out! Get out! Leave my son alone!”
She came at me and I didn’t realize she had a big honking knife until she was on me. Talk about a flood of venom when she touched me. The pictures I received from her head of what she used to do – sexually – with her son when he was a kid were literally beyond my ability to describe. It made what my old man did to me look like a cake decorating class. I also learned that she too had been a child bride.
This crazy woman was snarling like some kind of feral dog and I flung her off me only to find her big knife jammed into my left pec up to the hilt. No blood. No impairment of movement or breathing, but it sure hurt. I pulled the knife out and pointed it at the mother-and-son combo. I lost my temper. I said to the girl, “cover your eyes and turn your back.”
After, I found out that the girl was called Jasmeen. I told Jasmeen to pack up her things and dress to go outside. I asked her where she used to live, I assumed with her parents, and I started walking her home. I couldn’t realistically leave her in that mess. We walked the dusty streets and she asked such childish questions. She was the size of my 8-year-old daughter, a bit more mature, but given what she’d been through I expected more.
“Are you an angel?”
“What are you?”
“A ghost,” I said.
“How did you die?”
“Did it hurt?”
“Why did you help me?”
“Do you help lots of people?”
“Will my daddy make me marry again?”
“Not after I talk to him.”
Literally no one saw me until a rough looking character walked toward her saying, “where are you going little girl?” I felt myself solidify; the guy trying to hassle her jerked back in surprise as if he was thinking where’d he come from?
“Walk away, jerk,” I said. And he did.
There were no other incidents. Once at her home, she ran to her mother in tears. The father came out at the sound of the ruckus. He stared at me. Saw me. I approached. “Listen carefully. You sold your daughter and she was raped. Your days of being a moron are over. Take care of her or you’ll end up worse than her ‘husband’.”
Jasmeen’s father seemed convinced. I was surprised he didn’t start arguing with me.
“What happened to him?”
“He had a discussion with his mother that didn’t go so well.”
He started to cry. I hate it when guys cry. But I started to fade away and I disappeared into those dry ice / Classic Star Trek style mists again.
I was in front of Denzel’s door once more. The sign on the door read, “Nice try, asshole.”
“Jack, Jack, Jack,” I said. “‘Address the situation,’ not ‘murder the perpetrators and set up a grisly crime scene worthy of CSI.’ Although I am one who can’t help but appreciate a good quality faked murder-suicide, especially when the mother was set up as the murderer. Just an inspired bit of homicidal rage. No pent up anger in you, eh?”
Jack just stared at me. I knew what he was thinking but I needed him to say it. So I waited. Eventually he spoke.
“They didn’t seem to think that they had done anything wrong.”
“So? Killing them leaves little opportunity for improvement.”
“I assumed the point was to save the girl.”
“The point is to save your soul.”
“Isn’t it a bit late for that seeing I’m dead?”
“Souls are forever you yutz. Bodies come and go like Paris Hilton’s underwear.”
I was staring hard at Jack. He hadn’t made the connection yet. It’s always a challenge to break down the barriers. He had the capability to be smart – to make connections, to draw conclusions, to modify his behaviour. But he was stunted.
“So, Jack,” I said, “do you think Jasmeen’s experience and Sandi’s experience with you are similar?” (Sandi was Jack’s daughter.)
“Oh, come on. You don’t think all the times you called her names, took her stuff away from her for no comprehensible reason, made her watch when you verbally abused her brother – just to ‘toughen her up’ – isn’t the same as what Jasmeen’s father did?”
“I wouldn’t sell Sandi. I wouldn’t touch her.”
“Yeah, sure, but what if she got really bad, Jack? What if she really disrespected you? What if she mocked you? Wouldn’t you want to show her what a real man was?”
Predictably, he took a swing at me. He was still too attached to the flesh. I’d been trying to avoid violence, but it’s still there for me. The pleasure. Even though his arm and my arm were simulated, not of earth, I took a delicious pleasure at wrenching his arm around, shoving it up his back and tearing his simulated shoulder ligaments and breaking his wrist.
Jack writhed in pain. I kneeled down beside him and whispered in his ear, “Fix yourself Jack. Remember your real body is in a body bag on Pacific Ave.”
The pain in my arm was incredible but the bastard was right. This wasn’t real. This was like the knife in the shoulder. I concentrated, straightened out my arm and imagined it was in one piece. And then it was.
What was the point of this? Was Hell a real place where they sent guys like me who were mean to their wives and kids? Some modern torture chamber run by angry gay black men?
“‘Mean to your wife?'”, said Denzel, quoting what was in my mind. “Jack, don’t you get it? You were abusive. You hit her in anger. Come on, loose the justification that just because your Dad used a closed fist and you didn’t doesn’t make it any less abusive.”
I really didn’t like that Denzel could read my mind. I wondered if it went two ways.
“OK,” I said, “What the hell do you want from me? Is there some kind of 12-step program or rehab in the afterlife I can sign up for? I have no idea what the rules are here. I’m not all that thrilled at the prospect of spending any time at all with you.”
“Oh poor widdle Jackie. He’s afwaid of dah black man. Afwaid dah black man gonna do something nasty to him with his big johnson.”
And Denzel started laughing. That laugh was creepier than any part of this so far.
“No sweetheart,” said Denzel, “I have another job for you to help you ‘get it.’ This time, I’d really recommend finding a more creative way to handle the issue.”
He tapped on his damn fake iPad again and I was suddenly in a suburban home, specifically its wood panelled basement. There were many boxes labelled with “family photos,” “university texts,” and so forth. Some sporting equipment was piled around including skis and a diving wet suit, which was hanging on a rack. There was stuff up against all the wood panelling except for one spot where boxes had clearly been pushed aside. There was light coming from underneath the panelling. It was a fake door. I quietly pushed through the 2/3 height door into a home made movie studio.
I was once again glad to be a ghost with no stomach. A man was operating a console that was controlling the angles of three video cameras. He was at a desk behind a Plexiglas sound wall. It was dark where he was sitting but the lights were bright in the fake bedroom where he was filming a masked middle-aged man having sex with two underage girls – I’d guess the girls’ ages to be 9/10 and at most 12. No doubt this was being fed live to the Internet.
To have a complete picture of what was going on, I was going to have to touch this creep. I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back from the consoles, taking his rolling chair with him. This bastard’s story shot into my head and I will not describe it all here. He was selling his step daughter and real daughter to men for sex. He then filmed them and sold the footage online to perverts around the world. Read any study on sexual abuse and it follows the same pattern. The lulling of the children. The promise they’ll be stars. The brutalization of the mothers into silence. The subsequent self-justification.
In my mind, the temptation to simply kill these guys was huge but, I hate to admit, Denzel was right. I was given the physical capability to easily kill, but did that mean I had to use it? However, for efficiency, there was going to be a little violence.
“Who the hell are you?” was all the cameraman could say before I punched him in the face. He was howling in the chair and it occurred to me that it would be fun to alter my appearance. I concentrated and willed my face into a classic red-faced devil with horns. I went around the Plexiglas. The girls started to scream the moment they saw me. The “actor” pulled back, his mouth an open O when he saw me. I grabbed him by the shoulders and tossed him into the concrete basement wall. No wood panelling for this guy.
I turned to each of the cameras and said “I’m coming for you.” Then I crushed each of the lenses with my bare hands.
I let my face turn back to normal and said, “Girls. Put some clothes on and wait here for the police.”
I grabbed the actor by the leather strap of his mask – he was screaming quite loudly now – and dragged him to where the cameraman sat, who was cupping his bleeding nose. I tossed them both to the ground face down. I unplugged some of the PCs’ power cables and tied their hands behind their backs and bound their feet. Then I dragged them both by the feet up the narrow stairs from the basement to the main hallway. (That had to hurt.) I continued dragging them outside to the curb. I smiled when I saw the trash cans. How fitting … the next day was garbage day.
The night air was refreshing as was the sight of lights coming on in neighbours’ houses. I guessed it was around 11 PM, but I had no idea of the day. I could tell by the trees that it was autumn.
I went back into the house, found a phone, punched up 911.
“What is the nature of your emergency?”
“I need the police and ambulance. There’s been an assault on two girls.”
“What’s your address?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m calling from a land line, so I hope you can figure it out.”
“How do you know about this assault?”
“I’m a witness and I interrupted the creation of a child porn video. The girls are in the basement. The rapists are tied up by the trash bins.”
“Who are you?”
“An anonymous source.”
I put the phone down, but did not hang up. I heard sirens in the distance.
I wasn’t sure about when I was done this mission, I felt that I could leave once I heard sirens and saw the cops pull up. I walked into the kitchen admiring how normal-looking it was given the horror show that had been going on in the basement. There were two calendars hanging on the walls. “November 2010” was on both of them.
The police sirens were really loud now and the flashing lights filled the front of the house. I faded away and was greeted by those mists and Denzel’s door. The sign on the door read, “You’re still an asshole, asshole”.
“Well, did you have fun?”
Jack didn’t reply. It looked like he was going to be stubborn.
“Come on,” I said, “what could go wrong? You were the hero. You saved the girls, you handed the bad guys over to the cops. You even had a chance to rid yourself of some of those nasty inner tensions. I liked the devil face; that was a nice touch.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” said Jack.
And then he grabbed me! Me. He grabbed both my wrists and looked into my face and said with his mind, “Who are you?”
So I showed him.
He showed me. He showed me horror. He had been a child soldier in Zaire and Rawanda. He moved up the ranks and became the most effective mutilator of women, children and men there was. The words rape, torture, dismemberment are just words. The words can’t cover the atrocities. And, worst of all, he enjoyed it. It was pleasure all the time until finally someone put a bullet in his head.
Jack let go of me and fell backwards. And he thought that what I’d shown him before was bad.
I wanted to get away from Denzel as soon as I could. There was no doubt that this guy could do the Devil’s work. I turned around and pushed out the door. I had a theory and there was no better time to test it. I walked straight into the mists and concentrated on where I wanted to be and when.
Well, I’ll be damned. It had been a long time since someone had thought to just barge out.
There wasn’t anything I wanted more than to have a conversation with myself. I thought it was a funny idea. It reminded me of when people gave me stupid advice like “you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror” and “be true to yourself.” The idea to counsel myself had come to me when I saw that 2010 calendar. I realized that Denzel had the ability to send me anywhere to any date. If that was the case, why couldn’t I do it myself?
To my own surprise, I materialized in my own basement about two hours before that bicycle accident. My earlier self was sitting at his/my desk. (Argh. Pronouns are going to be tough here!)
“Jack,” I said. He/I swivelled in the chair and said, “Wha?”
“Listen, there’s likely not much time. I have to warn you. I have to tell you … a lot.”
“What are you?”
When I looked at him/me I realized that some of my anger, my frustration was partly medical. There was something about my eyes that looked wrong. Talking was not going to work. My earlier self stood up and I kneed him in the nuts. Not too hard. It was strangely – what’s that fancy word – cathartic? Therapeutic? While his hands were holding his nuts, I grabbed his face and pressed my forehead into his.
“Listen and watch,” I said. It didn’t take long to shove my memories into his head; I started to fade.
Next thing I knew I was in my chair. I was no longer dead. I was no longer super strong. I really hoped I was somewhere where Denzel could not get me.
Now what? In a little bit something one of the kids does was going to set me off, putting me into a rage sending me on my fatal bike ride. This made me remember all the scenes. Yemen, the kid porn basement, Zaire. My innards were really wanting to let go of dinner. I took a moment to calm myself. Then I could feel it. I could feel the power of habit. Part of my mind was not wanting to change. To stay here, wait for the time to pass and hope for the best.
If I could save those girls in other places, I could save my own kids.
I picked up the phone and called my brother-in-law, Dennis.
“Dennis, it’s Jack.”
“Jack, how are you?”
“Bad. Can I stay on your couch for a bit?”
“Man, did she throw you out finally?”
“No, I’m throwing myself out.”
“Yes. I am not safe to be around my family. You said you knew some counsellors or shrinks or something.” Dennis did social work. Like his sister, he tried to save hopeless cases.
“No problem. I can fix you up with someone nuts-and-bolts. I know how much you like the airy-fairy stuff.”
“OK. Excellent. I’ll explain more when I see you.”
“You gonna bike over? It’s pouring.”
“No, no. It’s OK. I’ll walk.”