13.8.06

A Story About Who Else It Can Still Be

This where I went with this week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings.

Invidious means ‘likely to cause offence’.

In all seriousness, I do rather hope that there are still many people that I can be - a writer, a soul mate, a father (perhaps), a person with confidence, a likable person even. But there is a story I must write, so I won’t dwell on this.

Although the following cautionary tale of identity theft is 100% true, the names of the innocent have been changed to protect the guilty.


Nobodies

When Sarah didn’t come home from work at her usual time, I knew that the monster Invidious must have stolen her identity, sucked it out through her ears with its suction hose. Now she was a person with no identity, a Nobody.

A Nobody was still a human being of sorts, they had two arms, two legs, two eyes, a nose. They had no mouth, for without an identity, what could there ever be to say? And they had no ears, for without an identity, why should they care what you say? With their soulless white eyes, Nobodies did not look at anyone, only at the inert objects around them, and even these they perceived only in the most instinctual terms. A house is a cuboid that one lives in. A tree a more complicated shape that one must walk around. Grass is a myriad of different, small shapes, but one does not walk on the grass, one walks on the path. A person is a shape like oneself, one has little to do with people, for why should one? And so on.

Nobodies were neither fat nor thin nor tall nor short nor - and this is the hard bit to understand - somewhere in between. They had blue skin, all of the same shade, and they all wore the same clothes, although you would never remember just what clothes they were, for they were entirely unmemorable and, of course, showed no personality. The Nobodies all worked for Invidious in its factory, for the whole length of the day. They went home to sleep and when they awoke they returned to the factory.

Most people were Nobodies by then. Sarah and I were the only people left on our street who were somebody. And then even Sarah was a Nobody. Just me left. At midnight that night, a Nobody came in through the door and lay down on our bed. It went to sleep and I knew that it had once been Sarah. I slept next to it. It slept on its back the whole night and did not move or snore. Sarah always snored and stole the blanket. I didn’t mind, in fact I missed it now. At the crack of dawn the Nobody got up and left the house again.

There was one chance, and I had to take it. Invidious took her identity, yes, but what did it do with it? I had to find it and free it, even if that only hastened the moment when my own identity would be taken.

I waited a whole day. The Nobody that used to be Sarah came back that night to sleep and when it got up the following morning I followed it to Invidious’ factory. The factory was bigger than it seemed from a distance. From our house it was only a crooked tower surrounded by fat chimneys that belched smoke into the forever clouded sky. Up close for the first time, I could see just how huge it really was, I could see the catwalks and pipes that wound around it like the muscles and nerves of a flayed corpse. Nobodies swarmed around it, great crowds of them bulging in through the immense front gates, then flowing around inside like ineffectual blood.

As I went in the gates, no-one stopped me. Of course, there was nobody there but Nobodies.

I was the first Somebody that I have ever heard of entering the factory. Finally I could learn what the Nobodies did inside. As I should have expected, they expended all their energy doing nothing at all, and they did it as hard as they could.

Over there some Nobodies were extracting water from steam, and steam from water. They worked a heater with a massive wheel that had to be turned to produce steam, and a cooler with splintering wooden levers that must be pushed back and forth to produce water.

Over here the Nobodies were removing the holes from doughnuts and placing them in plastic containers. The doughnuts were mouldy and crumbling to dust. Extracting the hole from a doughnut is a task that never ends. No matter how much hole you remove, there is always more. In the end the Nobodies must simply give up, as the doughnut broke apart, its hole triumphantly bloating to take up its entire breadth.

And in this place, by the elevator, the Nobodies were punching holes in ring-binders and placing them in other ring-binders, that they then punched holes in and placed in other ring-binders.

I entered the elevator, my hands trembling and sweaty. At the top of the buttons numbered for floors, (B to 362), there was a button labelled ‘I’. I pressed it, hoping to reach the secret, lofty den of Invidious itself.

The elevator lifted slowly and in rhythmic jolts (there were Nobodies on the roof of the factory pulling up the cable). But eventually I reached the top floor and stepped out into the windowless penthouse of Invidious.

Invidious was, apparently, a middle aged man with no hair and a double-chin, wearing swimming shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He looked at me, surprised. “Who are you?” he said.

I looked around. The walls of the room were layered with shelves, shelves of thick, transparent jars. Each jar held in it a thing. The things were all impossible to describe, and each one was different. Many of them seemed to be impossible, contradictory shapes. Some were light and see-through, others dark and deeply coloured. Some gave off a bright light, others shrunk into themselves, gathering all in one corner of their jar. I realised that I had only to find the jar that held Sarah’s identity and smash it.

I rolled my sleeve down, over my fingers, balled my hand into a fist and lunged at the nearest jar. It cracked with an ear-splitting sound and the nebulous thing inside gushed out as if under high pressure. It flew across the room, a blur, found a crack in the ceiling and forced itself out.

“What are you doing?” Sarah said sharply. I looked over my shoulder. She was standing where the middle aged man had been before. I almost smiled, but caught myself quickly. I saw the empty jar in her hands. She let it fall to the floor. Invidious had assumed Sarah’s identity, just as it had assumed the identity of that man before I came up.

“Is this what you do all day?” I asked. “Try on different identities like they were clothes, ignoring the fact that you took them from others who need them back, who need their identities more than air?”

She shrugged. Very much Sarah’s shrug. Why should I do the dusting? she might say with that shrug, when you do it so much more thoroughly and complain at my sloppiness? But Invidious had Nobodies to do its chores. It said, “Why not? How selfish of all of you to go around with your confidence and your strength and your happy lives, flaunting them to me, who had none. Now I have them all and you understand my position. Now that I have your identities, you want me to share them with you, ‘Oh it’s only fair!’ But when I was bankrupt, you gave nothing to me, as I squirmed in the mud, the last survivor of a million identical siblings. Now I treat you in the same way.”

It flashed Sarah’s angry smile at me. “Deal with it,” it said, as she had on occasion.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said. “You have an identity too, I’m sure, million siblings or not. Many would have been happy to help you with it, as I was helped with mine and Sarah with hers. If no-one had been happy to, then they should have been. But the fact that there is injustice doesn’t justify your horrors.”

I turned back to the rows of jars. Better not to smash, but merely to tip. I pushed the nearest jar to the edge of the shelf and then beyond. It fell silently for a fraction of a second, then shattered. As the liberated identity escaped I moved to the next jar and did the same.

Sarah’s beautiful brown eyes shed tears. Invidious sobbed Sarah’s sobs. “Don’t. Please, don’t.”

I walked along the shelves tipping jars onto the floor. They broke into splinters, releasing a miasma of individuality into the air. I was careful not to breathe any of it in. I was quite happy being me.

By the time I had smashed the last jar, the floor was carpeted with broken glass. Invidious sat on its knees - on Sarah’s knees, rather, hunched over, forlorn. “Now who will I be?” it whined.

“You can still be yourself,” I said. “Although I’d settle for you being anyone but Sarah.”

With a sigh Invidious breathed out Sarah’s identity, a little cloud full of rabbits and tennis balls and a fear of heights. The little puff raced up to the crack in the ceiling and escaped with a little squeak of joy.

The thing before me was now indeterminate and blue, a Nobody of sorts, although not a human one. But was it really a complete nobody? Wasn’t there a slightly sad look to its compound eyes? An almost imperceptible nervous trembling to its tentacles?

“I’m afraid,” it said. “No-one will like me. I’ll starve of love and waste away and die.”

I held out my hand. “You have me, at least. Sarah may like you too, if she can forgive you.”

Hesitantly it put a tentacle in my hand, flinched as I closed my fingers, as if it expected me to pinch. But then it seemed to almost look the tiniest part happy, and I noticed it turn a shade away from featureless blue and towards a kind of mottled green.

I led it towards the elevator. “You’ll find it’s not difficult at all,” I said, “to be a Somebody.”

10 comments:

paris parfait said...

Now that is a fascinating take on the prompt! Intriguing story! Well done.

Michelle said...

Your story had me entranced. At first, I thought it was more of a social commentary--and it could be. But then I figured out where you were going...I'm glad you finally put it up--I've been looking forward to reading it!

I suppose the feeling of being a "nobody" is what prompts people to go wild with this particular prompt.

severtheties said...

Wonderful!

susanna said...

You are always so original in your Sunday Scribblings, Pacian. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story!

commongal said...

That's a good piece of writing. Reads a little like Alice in Wonderland

Roadchick said...

Very interesting and definitely quirky. . . never a bad combination.
It reminds the 'chick of a Roald Dahl story - well, not an actual story, but a story in the style of. . .oh, you get it, the 'chick is sure.

Geosomin said...

“You’ll find it’s not difficult at all....to be a Somebody.”

Very true. That is the very "thing" I've discovered myself over the past few days.
Once again - this very original and unique. You always have such interesting ideas...how do you keep them all in there without your head exploding??

Pacian said...

The trick is to wear a very tight hat.

FatCharlatan said...

I actually read this last Sunday, meant to comment, and got side-tracked...but your comment on my blog today reminded me. First, thanks for visiting my blog. Second, I enjoyed reading this--there's so much here...social commentary, satire, experiment...that's it's hard to focus on one craft point in a succinct blog post.

I'm not usually a fan of experimental fiction (and I'm not even sure if I have a solid definition of it, or if this short story qualifies), but, regardless, your premise sucked me in from the get-go, and I read straight through. Nice pacing, dialogue, and description, too. Thanks for sharing it. I'll be back. :)

Peace,
FC

tinker said...

Now that I've read Marlowe's story, I had to scroll back to see your previous Sunday Scribblings. Well done!
Keeping all these creative ideas in your head must require a very tight hat indeed!