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[ACT ONE: FANTASIA]


“...the exhaustion of the future does not even leave us with the past. 

Tradition counts for nothing when it is no longer contested and modified. 

A culture that is preserved is no culture at all.”

-Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism


SEPTEMBER 6, 2019

Friday Afternoon

Confederation Park, Ottawa

S&P/TSX: -39.48C$ / Temp: 21℃

It is Jenny Aubade’s birthday. The coming autumn clouds have retreated for now, giving the park a favorably sunny disposition. The newly seventeen redhead has taken the chance to sit down in one of the lousier benches, wood already starting to scrape up, and pass judgment on passerby with a silent, watchful gaze. A blond, middle-aged man, sweat pouring out of his suit, snarls at his phone; his job’s his life, she sentences him as he pays the petite, brooding girl no mind. She’s got no peace of mind, is what a mother of three noisy, raucous kids gets after a casually callous glance. They’ll waste what little future we have , to a couple of college dudes, designer clothes fashionable but smelling of piss and beer. She shoots a scornful frown at the True Party of Canada pamphleteer, you’d have me in a conversion camp if you could. A hungry-looking teenager, biting their lip, almost makes eye contact, and Jenny has to stop herself from thinking to the pit, for all I care.

“Gets old after a while, doesn’t it? This game?” She hadn’t realized a man was seated by her side.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, mister,” Jenny turns her eyes away, “but it’s probably got nothing to do with you anyway.”

“To the contrary, dear”, a butterfly lands on his outstretched palm, “playing, uh, ‘supreme arbiter of humanity’, it’s very…”

He closes his fist, the butterfly vanishing in a dusty glow. Some of it lands on Jenny’s face, and she looks back at him.

“...how should I put it, familiar? You probably know a better word.” The man, sharply-dressed and obliquely-masked, chuckles.

What does he know , she thinks, noticing that the mask in his face quite resembles the butterfly that now rests in his shoulder.

“I know a lot of things. That’s a quality we both share, wouldn’t you agree? Knowledge… and power.”

“Are you trying to say you won’t go away if I decide to ignore you, creepy masked man?”

“How astute of you to notice. Sorry, sorry, I did not intend to come off as rude. It is your birthday, after all.”

How… “How the fuck do you know it’s my birthday?”

“Eh, if it bothers you, pretend I didn’t say it. I just wanted to kick off a spirited conversation, and this seemed the way‒”

Jenny stands at once, clutching at her bag. Her tie, well-made, flows like her hair with the breeze, and both obscure the sharpness in her. The man, eyes glistening with fog, leans back, one of his gloved hands reaching into his suit pocket.

“You’re testing me. Throwing me for a loop with every sentence. You want to see when I crack. I… I won’t , mister.”

“There’s the knowledge.” He points at her heart through her dress shirt, his smile visible from the mask’s crack. “Those capable of holding up their end in such an affair are so… are so scarce these days… you know?”

He’s right. God damn this fucking discount university pervert in his Eyes Wide Shut costume, but he’s right.

“I do. But I also don’t make a habit out of debating the nature of humanity with strangers in parks.”

“Why not start? You may find it surprisingly engaging, considering the nature of your hobbies.”

“Look, you want to debate with me, put on a kid face, sign up for a debate club, and maybe, just maybe , you’ll get lucky. Otherwise, this is bullshit. Frankly, I don’t even… even give people I know this much time of the day.”

She turns, about to make herself scarce, but it’s not any of the stranger’s tricks that keep her there. You can’t walk away now, can you? From the one worthwhile thing… one interesting thing… What does it matter anyway? What does any of it matter?

“You mentioned power, ” Jenny questions, sun striking her eyes as she moves back, “what did you mean by it?”

The light, seemingly from nowhere, coats him from above, as he pulls out a case from his pocket, and hands it to her as she sits back down. The effect would be quite astounding to the sight, if Jenny wasn’t focused on opening it to find a transparent, smooth visor.

“Your power. My power. Everybody’s power… humanity’s power. It’s in my… well, it’s a proposition of sorts, you see.”

She carefully, quietly, dislodges it from its place, then puts the visor on, finding that it’s as invisible as when seen without it.

“A wager, dear. What human can resist a wager? Even I can’t. Heh, a little joke there, if you‒”

“You gonna get to the point?”

“Alright, alright,” He chuckles, before fixing his eyes on her, as if to reveal whole universes. “To the faithless who looks for humanity’s dark heart‒ you’ll find what’s to come thought lost. It’s in the cards, you see? This… uh, this slow cancellation of the future; its chickens are coming home to roost. In less than a year’s time, catastrophe will strike, not from heaven above or hell below, but wrought by men’s hands… hands guided by instinct, without wisdom to stay or redirect them. You’ve broken it all, you see, and now the wheel has turned and seen that you all be broken too. Forever. Which is to say, essentially, that all these poor foolish folk that you despise for whatever reason are doomed, and it’s their own fault. Catch my drift?”

Silence.

“Shit, what kind of bet is that? I don’t even know what’s on the line.”

The man mumbles, aware his speech did not have the intended effect, but opts to keep on nonetheless:

“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Everything . All that there is, all that there might be, undone by stubbornness‒ by fear of the light that could guide humanity to something better. That’s my bet anyway, dear. How ab‒”

“I bet you’re wrong, mister. I bet you’re dead wrong.”

What. What what what what--

“Consider our contract sealed. Usually, it takes far more… subterfuge for things to go this way, but you’re really not one for, uh, performances, are you, Jenny Aubade? No, not at all, I see. This could prove to be very interesting, all things considered.”

“It’s done. This fucking bet of ours. I see you again, I’ll call the police.”

At that, he can’t help but chuckle. The sun has gone back to normal, Jenny finally noticing the supernatural brightness, and already starting to regret indulging the mad fool who’s now standing. As she puts the visor back in its case, he says his goodbyes:

“This might as well be it for me, dear. My subordinates will aid you with what comes next. Until then, be safe, faithless… and be wise.”

Pulling a velvet card from his pocket, he hands it to her. Jenny takes it, wielding the warmth of someone handling uranium, and looks down, finding it to be a birthday card. She looks up, weapons grade sarcastic reply at the ready, but he’s up and vanished. That’s what you get for having a playdate with someone straight out of the Black Lodge. The girl stands, shoving her gifts inside her bag, and decides to walk back home, hoping to have no other meetings on this godforsaken day. Nevertheless, she reminisces:


Friday Morning

Ottawa Collegiate Institute

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“Thanks, Cora!”

“Happy best day ever, Jen!”

“You know it, Ronnie!”

“Happy birthday, girl!”

“And don’t I forget it, Sam!”

“Have a merry birthday, miss Aubade.”

“Thank you, Mr. Huxley.”

“Happy birthday, debate queen!”

“Thank you, Jay!”

“Another year bites the dust, Jenny!”

“So it does, Mike, so it does…”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“Thanks, Colin.”

“May you have a joyful birthday, classmate!”

“Heh, I, uh, thank thee, Tristan.”

“Happy birthday, grumpy!”

“T-thank you, Jacques!”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“Thank you, M‒ Andrea!”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“Thank you, uh, Maryam.”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“Thank you… uh… sorry…”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“...thank you…”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“...thank… you…”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!”

“...thank…”

“Happy birthday, Jenny!” “Happy birthday, Jenny!” “Happy birthday, Jenny!” “Happy birthday Jenny!” “Happy birthday Jenny!” “Happy birthday Jenny!” “Happy birthday Jenny” “Happy birthday Jenny” “Happy birthday Jenny” Happy birthday Jenny Happy birthday Jenny Happy birthday Jenny happy birthday Jenny happy birthday Jenny happy birthday Jenny birthday Jenny birthday Jenny birthday Jenny birthday jenny birthday jenny birthday jenny jenny jenny jenny


the well

She’s been here before. Whenever her thoughts get… tied up, it seems her feet just walk on their own. Through the fog, the concrete jungle, it’s always there. It stands at the end of her road. The all-familiar well, moldy brick melted into the grassy ground. Hues you could almost call colored if the fog didn’t obscure them. A smell of dirt and water and petrichor. The darkness waiting below.

Let’s do it. It’s been too long. Seventeen whole yeeeaaaars

She’s‒ Jenny’s‒ confused. So much confusion. So much at once. And nothing to show for it. Nothing happens at the end of the road. The end of history. Just the same days and the same nights, the same lives and the same deaths. It’s no way to live. Waiting for oblivion as if oblivion wasn’t all around her every day in every place and every time and every person… in every her.  

It’s gonna be the same every time until you’re gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone

You’re close to the well. Jenny’s shivering. Your hands are shaking. She wants it… don’t you? Like scratching at your skin until you bleed, the itch just grows and worms inside and penetrates every lasting depth of your flesh until it’s all want and need and she’s here for it and it’ll never end until she makes it end and it needs to end and it needs to end now because it’s all gone wrong

A blister of light seems to burst from her bag. Jenny opens it, slowly, methodically, to find the visor case almost breaking apart. Burning to the touch, she nevertheless holds onto it, experiencing every last moment, before suddenly raising it above her and throwing the box right into the well like a basketball through the hoop. A lonely, delayed splash is all that happens, and Jenny realizes she was holding her breath. Letting it out, condensation clouding her sight, she turns back from the cold, and tries to find her way home.


Friday Evening

The Aubade House

Jenny strolls to the front of her house, the typically middle class refuge’s lights out, and hopes that this means her stealth will have paid off. No luck. As soon as she steps on the aptly-named front steps, the garage lights flicker into life, revealing a trio of girls around her age. Sam Wu, almost biting on a cigarette, finally takes it out of her lips, coughing a bit before greeting her sardonically:

“It’s us, the Superfriends!”

Her short black hair and height advantage makes it just a bit intimidating, but another coughing fit kills the mood. She giggles, handing the cigarette to the girl at her right, who eagerly shoves it inside a ziploc, before zipping it shut. That done, Cora Anderson, all wide eyes and friendliness, waves at Jenny, who can’t help but smile. Ronnie Cannon, feeling feisty, pushes her long brown hair back with her hands, then races to her friend, freckles contorting with her predator smile as she embraces Jenny with the strength of a bear.

“We waited like two fuckin’ eternities for ya, Jen! And… uh… why your jeans damp?”

Them being damp at the bottom precludes the more awkward options, but Jenny is not in the mood to make much talk either.

“It’s… nothing. I’m‒ thank you all, but… why were you waiting for me?”

“Your ma and pa wanted a little surprise party,” Sam comments, twiddling with her jacket sleeves, “they went to get cake, by the way. Should be back in half an hour or so.”

“We know you’re usually not in the mood for like, you know, big celebrations and the like,” Cora adds, “so we thought about, I mean, you know, a little shoot-the-shit girl group routine… yes?”

“She means nerd shit,” Ronnie whispers in Jenny’s ear, “girl homebrewed a one-shot campaign just for ya.”

“Don’t spoil other people’s gifts, Ron,” Sam admonishes her, “bad enough you forgot yours.”

“It’s stuck through shipping, ke! God-Emperor Bezos is still pissed at us for helping ya with that fucktastic‒ Jen?”

The birthday girl is breathing deeply, eyes focused as if elsewhere. Ronnie lets go of her and backs away slowly, soothingly.

“Are you, you know, feeling okay, Jenny?” Cora questions slowly, “You look worse than after Loretta.”

“We do not talk about the nonentity Loretta,” Sam whispers harshly, “but she’s right, Jenny. You don’t look well. Can you speak?”

“I… yes, I… just go. Please, I… today was not… not a fucking good day. I’m… okay, I’m‒ just, let’s, let’s talk tomorrow.”

Ronnie holds out her hand, and Jenny takes it, playfully twisting her arm, but without the smirk that usually accompanies it.

“We’ll let ya be, Jen, don’t ya worry. Come talk to us to-morrow, if possible… we’d appreciate it…”

“I… I’ll try…”

“That’s swell for me! When the debate queen sets out, she fuckin’ wins it, don’t she?”

Jenny chuckles, and Ronnie lets go, straightening her suspenders. Cora walks up to her, scratching at her gloves, and takes Jenny in a hug of her own, to the latter’s surprise. The other two friends are also fazed, but make no comment, and Cora holds onto the birthday girl’s shoulders as she disengages, as if to say something, but instead moves back with Ronnie. Her turn, Sam approaches, holding a small package in her hands, which she hands to Jenny, before facing her straight-on in the eyes:

“Unlike some,” she nods, “I bought local. Hope you like it. I’ll warn your parents that you’re not in the mood.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t you mention it. We look out for each other, the four of us. That’s forever, is it not?”

Jenny can’t bring herself to answer, so Sam simply smiles, waving goodbye at her with the others as they head out of the neighborhood. Holding the package, she takes care to open it, and finds a small notebook in her hands. The cover’s faded, but its patterns seem to resemble those of a sigil. Beautiful decorations on each page, but otherwise they’re all empty. Its smell is old, but not dusty. Rather, almost antique. Static, even. She holds it in a tight grip as she enters the house, climbing up the stairs into her bedroom. Making little notice of the mess, she throws her bag aside, undressing quickly, and putting on pajamas more out of necessity than anything else. Notebook still within her reach, she puts it beside her, alongside the velvet birthday card that’s floated atop her things. Dropping onto her bed like a starved cadaver, Jenny weakly claws at the covers, before a heavy, mournful sleep overtakes her.


???

Standing. Standing amongst the fog. Even in her dreams she finds herself there. It feels different this time. A blue light seems to descend on her‒ the butterfly from before. It touches her fingers, then gently flies forward. Jenny follows it, finding herself unable to do anything but walk, until Doric-style blue columns seem to occupy the space all around her. Losing herself through the maze of pillars, unable to look up, she eventually stumbles upon a lonely chair, beckoning itself like the jaws of death. Obviously, she sits on it. At that, a table, which seemed once far away, is now right in front of her. Soon enough, another chair joins them, this one with an occupant facing her directly. Long-nosed, doll-like, the old man in a suit seems to jump over the uncanny valley itself. He croaks squeakily:

“Welcome to the Velvet Room. This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter‒”

“I figured.”

“Respect my master, guest,” speaks a moustached figure, similarly doll-like. Striking yellow eyes pierce her soul from the side of the table where he stands, outfitted in a greek-style toga, except velvet blue, just like the curtains that slowly fall from the columns, closing in to create the ambience of an actual room. Jenny simply looks on impassively.

“My name is Igor,” speaks the long-nosed man, “the attendant by your side is Henri. As you have entered a contract, it becomes our responsibility to assist you in the journey to come.”

“A… contract?”

Henri pulls out the velvet birthday card from within his toga, lightly resting it on the table, as Jenny groans:

“Oh, kooky mcfucker.”

“His name is Philemon, guest,” Henri reprimands her, “and you wouldn’t do well to antagonize him. Trust me.”  

Henri looks to the side as he says that, but Jenny can make out something other than the harsh face he’s been putting on. All the while, Igor taps the birthday card, flipping it to reveal a tarot card. None other than the fool, perchance.

“You are haunted by lost futures, my wild card. This is because you are the fool, the zero of infinite possibility. If you learn to master its power, to have faith in the world around you and those by your side, then the doomsday clock might finally cease its ticking.”

“Why… would you help me with that?”

“You sign a contract with a higher power, the Velvet Room is open to you,” Henri explains, “nothing personal about the arrangement.”

“...sure. Go on, Igor.”

“More will come to you as day devours night and night devours day. The reality of the situation will haunt you inside until it cannot be escaped. Our part in what’s to come is limited by reach and fate, but before the curtain falls, I would like a moment.”

A deck of Arcana lies in his hands, shuffling itself without his interference. Henri gestures for Jenny to touch the fool, lightly pushing it to the left of the table. He smiles at her for a brief moment, while two cards float from the deck into the table, facing down. Igor pulls one, revealing the judgement, then the other, revealing death. Side by side with the fool, the three cards seem to surround Jenny’s future.

“This is your journey, my guest. Trials, tribulations, transformation. You must have faith in it, or your future will be stillborn.”

“I‒ this is not an agreeable proposition, Igor.”

“Yet the crux of it is in all humanity. You must listen, and be ready. Your exordium will soon be at hand.”

Jenny’s about to retort, when Henri suddenly touches her shoulder, as if to say something, only for nothing at all to come.

The curtain falls.