illustration "Cell" by Cal Leckie
With fragmenting thoughts spiraling in his imagination, Callíum Lecky found himself sliding day by day and tumbling further away from his ordinary lot. Peering with his mind's eye deep into the shifting continuum of his memory, he looked upon himself commuting on the filthy streets with a tiresome dedication toward a full time job processing various prescription drugs for the elderly. Gazing day by day past the bus's grimy window at the brick and concrete buildings blurring by outside only emphasized the feeling he was going nowhere. Despite this daily grind things never became altogether unbearable for him. He was still there nevertheless, sweating over the company desk in front of the glare of the streaked-clean plate glass spectacle before him. Beyond it the city lay spread out, an austere study in shades of grey. That drab view was one of the few genuine perks of the trade.
Most of the day, he was at the machinery. He was a damaged man enclosed inside a cramped work-space, answering calls by way of a shoddy headset and dutifully processing orders with a computer keyboard that ought to have been replaced a year ago. He'd been thinking how he'd been repeating the same morning ritual, commuting to and from the nondescript building every weekday, for the past two years. What it seemed like to him was wading through a noxious haze in a strong gravitational field. As if he were passing into a gelid mist with an anesthetizing effect. Traversing it was like gliding within an ethereal fog on another planet. Even the lighting appeared to be filtering in from an unfamiliar sun. That is a nearby star.
Cal felt as if he'd been wandering across a stolen world that others punctured, that he was stumbling over its garbage. In the dark sheds that the seasons ignored. It left him feeling dazed at first, then eventually just bewildered. Walking toward and away from the subway he perceived he was treading a smoldering vapor as if it were an atmospheric seam nearly three feet deep, hovering at waist level, spread out and undulating in all directions as far into the distance as he could see. As each day dragged by, the more extensive this sensation became, until he was convinced it was no hallucination.
He felt this layer of the atmosphere provided a mysterious polarization, and regarded it as having compelling galvanic properties. Since he rented a studio apartment on the first floor and his bed was raised to waist level on its metal framework, every night as he climbed onto his mattress and slid under the sheets he could feel the gentle lapping of the faintest electrical field outstretched just beneath him. It felt to him as if he were laying upon an empyrean waterbed. The soothing rippling sensation helped lull him to sleep better than anything he'd ever experienced before. Soon he'd transition from nightmares of beak and claw, stranded on a dying world with phantom figures shrouded in steam that evaporated upon waking. With no remorse it was a reminder he was no longer under the spell of the evening's trance. He held the levers that guided the signals to the radio.
Every morning he prepared and made his coffee, then off to slide and stumble out the door again. He'd ride and tumble, slide and stumble, back from work and to his flat. Back and forth and back to nothing. Every night since the advent of this elemental condensation, he slept as if floating on a gentle lake outspread into deepening twilight. He dreamed so intensely that it wasn't so much a matter of remembering or forgetting their impressions upon awakening, it was more as if he'd traveled somewhere so remote that it remained beyond his capacity to fathom it. He'd awaken with such gradual precision into conscious lucidity that the ease with which he arose from his bed startled him. But the words he received, random code, broken fragments from before, kept him moving through his door.
He often felt that he must've visited a hidden sanctuary of the noumenon. Or in some unprecedented manner, accomplished something extraneous to conventional human experience. If such were the case, there could be no association betwixt there and here, nor comprehension that there could have been something to be recollected in the first place, since that would take recognition; Cal understood that very well. Yet the certainty lingered in his head that he had visited a principality outside of time. The remembrance of it kept him tidy, kept him humble. Out in the trees. My reason deserting me.
It also helped explain why he felt infinitesimally more tainted every new dawning that woke up to go to work. The province he awakened from with increasing regularity was so much more immaculate. It was as if an electric charge were growing in him every night. In the back of his mind, he knew that the progression of its transformation was not unlike a geometric one. It was easy for him to appreciate that the next expansion would occur in less than the blink of an eye. He would stare at his hand on his way to the bus stop. He practiced karate chops for no good reason, without having ever taken classes or been trained for it. He thought he could get ahead of the rest. Chop and change to cut the corners. Oh, the dark stars cluster over the bay.
No matter what part of town he found himself strolling in, if he closed his eyes he could imagine himself plowing into a strange frigid purgatory of deadening detritus, as if constantly breaking up a floating crust of intangible debris. It cast his perception toward the idea of being an explorer drudging along the welkin pith. We all trudge within the shallows of the troposphere. Its all we've ever done. Of course nobody thinks of it that way ordinarily, because their heads rest tall upon their shoulders. As far as he knew, it was more commonly understood that few people bother to look upward. Looking down at the concrete sidewalk sliding underneath, that was a different story. The more he began doing it, the more he noticed occasional flashes, sharp as razors, shiny razors. Then in a certain moment, I lose control.
The scarcity of those who really scrutinize the ground passing under their feet was lesser appreciated. It's not common at all to believe we're dwelling at the bottom of the world, hardly moving, never trying. Not in this dominion of self replicating memes, mused Cal, advancing the narrative of the conquerors in competition with one another. Since time immemorial... No, the top of the world is a region so high in the sky it's been dared in tragedy before by eagles, and much less by humankind. Is something a challenge just because it's interpreted that way in the minds of men? Cal walked along the favored paths of his city not because they beckoned, but rather, because they didn't refuse his passage. Never moving, hardly trying. I was just a broken head. And at last, I am part of the machinery.
He had no reason to believe his existence was warranted unless he explored the desolate alleyways of these dirty boroughs. Except there was no figuring the deadening sensation this warm salt bath in the aether had rendered unto him. The real question was, why did it only begin a few months ago? It dawned on Cal that this lower level he wandered over, the bottom of the sky so to speak, was one of the first microlayers of the planet's atmosphere. He shrugged off the thought with a lazy yawn. If so, he only became sensitive to it in recent months. I stole the world that others plundered. Where are you?
He had never thought about it before. He could stand in this insensate echoing pond all day or he could get a move on. The choice was his to make and it took extreme effort on his behalf to send and then receive the signal from his brain to his legs to lend them the nerve to move. Now I stumble through the garbage. He'd begun drinking his coffee black a few weeks ago, mainly because his window of time to prepare for work was diminishing the more he lay paralyzed in bed each sunup recharging. His mind remained intent on the envisioned hyperlayer in the troposphere he waded hip deep in ever day. He wondered sometimes if maybe he converged upon an oilslick of dark energy or matter, something along those lines. A stupefying spill of nanocrystals wavering along a microgravitational membrane in alignment with the electromagnetic spectrum. And the light disappears.
Callíum Lecky only stopped thinking about all of this while his coffee beans were grinding. As if the sudden burst of power and noise displaced his thoughts. For six seconds each day he was rendered catatonic while the fresh whole beans were ground into powder. He was running out of time for this morning ritual. He hated missing the bus. He couldn't afford to punch in late to work again. Cal wasn't the only one in his flat slowly waking up. The colony of cells in his body were doing so as well. It made sense because he was their host. They'd been vigorously growing along with him all this time. After all they depended on one another. They hinged on one another like a chain reaction. It was all in their self interests to complement each other at their level best. Greater opportunities had yet to come along. Together they were augmenting their harmonic song. Slide and tumble, slide and stumble. As the world makes its circle through the sky.
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