I Left My Heart in San Francisco | By: Michael Christopher Thompson | | Category: Short Story - Mystery Bookmark and Share

I Left My Heart in San Francisco


This work protected by copyright. Copying material from here without my expressed written permission is against the law. The electronic documents posted here are the intellectual property of Michael Christopher Thompson II. Copyright 2010.

0. ("I left my heart in San Francisco...")


He is a romantic - one of the hopeless sort. He knows this, but as is the habit of all romantics, he is unable to decide what fate his nature will bring him to. His desperate romanticism usually brings about it’s own end, his desires giving cause to a backlash for which he is usually entirely unprepared. Not always, however. Now he is starting to learn the ways of the world. He is starting to understand that what he wants, he cannot have because when he gets it, he either no longer wants it or the desires do not cease. There is no satisfaction. He strives only for the unveiling of satisfaction’s mystery, and cannot be entirely sure that it will be satisfactory, either.

He knows himself so well at this point that he barely knows himself at all. Although he thinks his mind is his own, and his thoughts are his own, the truth is that he has given his autonomy over to something else. He has made up his mind that he is in control. This is why he lacks control. He cannot take his mind where it wants to go because he believes it already is where it wants to go. His own mechanisms are as much of a mystery to him as the nature of the world is a mystery to it’s own denizens. He is a scientist forging evidence to support his own claims, as are all the people of the land. A thick cloud of false rationality encircles his mind, although occasionally a star or two manages to shine through. These blinking lights he superstitiously supposes about, looking at life as though he has earned the lights that shine through when in fact it is the light that has put all the hard work into penetrating the cloud of his darkness. Richard is an ungrateful man who believes himself grateful. This is one of the few respects in which he is like most people. In most other respects, he is decidedly alien.

He sometimes picks and plucks at his own psyche, poking at the sleeping monster, trying to deconstruct himself through it’s lens and observe his actions in order to come to some relevant conclusions about what makes him up - but everything he has discovered is nothing more than a supposition. An improvable theory the sort of which has plagued him throughout his life. He’s no smarter than anyone else. He is a slave to his own mystery. Often he thinks he has given up, but on a rare occasion he permits himself to feel otherwise. He doesn’t know who he is, but only who he wants to be. He doesn’t know why he is the way he is. He can only guess at why the world is so strange to him. Perhaps it is strange to everyone. Maybe the answer is the mystery. But what kind of mystical non-sense would that be as an answer to the meaning of life? An answer is only an answer when it doesn’t end with a question mark. That’s what Richard thinks.

Others seem to cope well with this reality, whether it seems strange to them or not. It helps Richard to feel like an alien when making this observation, and for that reason he partially observes it quite often. He believes he knows things that others do not know, because he believes himself to be more aware. He thinks he sees things that others do not see, that he knows that what is declared impossible is not only possible but natural and quite regular. For this conclusion, he deigns himself “enlightened.” The secrets of the universe have revealed themselves to him personally, he feels, but the secret of his own is still wrapped in a shroud, buried deep inside of his heart in a place that he is unable to access. His enlightenment is a sham, and he admits this to himself on better days. He is not even entirely sure that he has a secret, only that he has confusion and that there must be some remedy to it trapped deep within his fractured mind. One fear still reigns supreme in his heart: chaos.

Richard hears voices. Sometimes they are audible, often-times he knows they are speaking only mentally. It is hard for him to discern entirely what is real and what isn’t. Over the last few years, Richard has started to realize that one thing numbs the voices that doesn’t effect his profession: alcohol. It helps to tell himself that the voices aren’t real, but sometimes the way that they speak to him is eerie. There are really only a few. One is a female, her voice often changes but he knows it is coming from the same mind. Really, he suspects, all of the voices come from her. Sometimes she will speak to him quite frequently for days at a time, disappearing for months. Once the voice disappeared for an entire year. When she speaks to him, she does not say things like “You are the reincarnation of Jesus Christ,” or “You must kill the president.” The voice is more taunting, sometimes leading him into situations. Once it led him into an alley to be robbed. He wasn’t harmed, but his bank account was and he lost $2021 dollars. Another time the voice led him into a beautiful blonde-haired young man who looked to be in his early twenties, and they had hooked up almost immediately. There are hundreds of incidents like this, many of which Richard has consciously forgotten about.

In his mind he also hears many voices which are his own, which he equates with different periods of his life. They try to convince him, they argue with each other back and forth. He can block them out sometimes, but not always. These are not her voices, he knows, but they are his own. Do other people have these voices? Is this normal? Sometimes he thinks that others all think like this, but that no one talks about it. Perhaps insanity is a farce, a delusion created only for the people who admit what others are too afraid to admit. But that’s when he starts to think that he could be insane, and the tumultuous voices suddenly cease, as if in fear for their own safety. Sometimes he smiles at this.

His temperamental insanity has led him into a great many teachings. One must be entirely distracted to not take the voices too seriously, so he tries to distract himself as often as possible. He has always been interested in the potential for a “spiritual” side of reality, particularly because of the strange experiences that the voices have led him into. For this one reason, one of his favorite distractions is mysticism, which he explores quite regularly. Although he wants to believe in parts of it, he knows enough about the human mind to know that he can convince itself to make significance out of what is insignificant, something which is at total odds with most forms of mysticism. For this reason, he tries to organize two different paths of conclusion on wh at they represent to him. On the one hand, it’s practical advice. On the other, it’s a psychological study on how the human mind can create any perception out of nothing. He knows he’s examining himself, and doesn’t mind the fact.

Richard’s mind always seems to have two sides, insofar as he always makes both a decision and it’s opposite simultaneously. He can hold the conclusion that yes, a particular Tarot reading was correct, and at the same time hold the conclusion that yes, that Tarot reading seemed correct because the cards represent broad archetypes which can be applied to all aspects of life and viewed as if through a lens using the hypnotic magic of the cards. This makes it not real, in some regard, but what is the difference? Although he is quick to assume that because he understands how the cards work that the magic is not real, a part of him feels as though perhaps that has all the magic has ever been supposed to be. A lens through which to view things. Perhaps psychology is legitimately spiritual, perhaps it is a form of magic. He holds this conclusion more often than not. Sometimes, however, he gives himself away to nihilism and assumes that there is no purpose for anything, and that human beings have figured out extremely clever ways to deny the truth. Richard is one of those people who can’t make up his mind. There are too many voices rattling too many opinions to give him time to consider even one of them for too long.

His strangeness makes it hard for him to seek out others to share his love with. He is a lonely man, and he has always been a lonely man, even when he is with others. They cannot understand him, because he is afraid to admit what goes on in his head. His thoughts are strange, often causing former lovers to pause and stare at him strangely, and sometimes to abruptly change moods, and even once to leave. Permanently. He cannot be himself, and even if he could, it might do him more harm than good. But as Morrissey might say, he is human and he needs to be loved (just like everybody else does). So he keeps trying. There’s got to be someone out there, he tells himself. There are too many people for there not to be. Perhaps he can’t find someone, he knows on the inside, because he is looking for the wrong person. He cannot find someone who truly understands him or even cares to, but as all artists are, he is in utter awe of beauty and pursues it where possible. Often to the bitter end.

Richard has always been in love - even when he loved no one in particular. He’s known he was gay since he was very young, but as with most people, it took him a long time to really accept himself for who he was. After he broke through these initial barriers and discovered his identity, or at least part of it, he began to date almost neurotically. He fell in love completely with the ones he stayed with, even if the relationships were short and bittersweet (and most of them were). Richard has never been able to figure out why things go sour, not entirely. He can see his own flaws, he can see how he is aware and yet seemingly unable to stop himself. He can also see the flaws in the ones he chooses to love. He can see them glaringly.

He is unable to fix himself, and he can say why and has no idea at the same time. It seems easy to understand what one’s own problems are, but then don‘t go away with simple understanding. At least not in Richard’s experience. All people seem to have the same problem as him. At least all of the ones he’s ever met. It seems sometimes that he is a slave to his passions and his angry, male emotions. When his inner mind decides that it wants something, even if his outer mind - his “conscious” mind - does not want it, it will find a way out. Freudian slips are quite natural for Richard. Many a relationship has ended with a snide remark one too many. If he doesn’t become immediately obsessed, he loses interest after awhile, and it never fails. Beauty can only be awed over for so long before the lack of brains becomes a problem. In those who he chains himself to emotionally, there is some mystery, some unresolved question which he chases. But in the ones he can understand, in the ones who have their shit together, no matter how beautiful, he finds himself unable to stay interested for too long. He remembers a quote often and laughs every time. “No matter how beautiful he is, there’s always someone, somewhere who is sick of his shit.” How true. How sad. A person is only worth putting up with when you can’t understand why you’re doing it.

He marks periods of time in his life by overlaying them in his memory with whomever he was dating at that time. He goes through different phases - sometimes he wants to date, and sometimes he does not. Sometimes he believes in monogamy, sometimes he does not. His opinions change like the seasons - whether in regard to sex or philosophy.

Richard has a problem with love. It seems he only loves those who don’t love him, and when the guys he’s dating actually do love him he finds himself becoming quickly and quietly detached. He has asked himself the question of whether it is really love that he seeks, and he already knows the answer to it. Of course it isn’t. But he likes to tell himself that it is, and often the illusion is a fun one to live inside of. Something about him loves to worship those who don’t care about him. He seeks to impress those who will never be impressed. He seeks to love those who do not care for his love. This is his real flaw. He knows this. He will always know this. The tragedy of life is to know that you’re making a mistake and to be unable to stop yourself from doing it. And it’s a tragedy that everyone alive is familiar with.

He cannot find a static self, he cannot find who he truly is because he feels like so many different people. His opinions are born, they become passionate, then weak and finally they die. Always. Nothing stays constant, and all things change. He has been a Catholic, an ex-Catholic Christian, a Buddhist, and he has tried a few different “new age” pseudo-cults, all of which he has found rather stupid in retrospect. It seems he finds a little truth in everything, although everything seems to contain an awful lot more lies than truth. It’s hard to pick and choose what makes sense and what doesn’t, which is why his opinions change. A scary thought has plagued his nightmares since he was a child - the idea that perhaps there is no proof of anything. Perhaps there is no proof of existence, or of life. Perhaps it’s all a dream - but then, who is the dreamer? He doesn’t know. Like his own seasons come and go, this is a question that sometimes he ponders and that usually he is unable to bring himself to answer.

His fears have always been strange. When he was a child, he remembers wondering if perhaps people saw each other differently - much more differently than merely through a psychological lens. Perhaps what was purple for him was green for another? Perhaps when he heard one sound, someone else heard a different sound entirely? Perhaps his perception - and the perception of everyone - was entirely whacked. He had never been able to resolve the question of different perceptions, however, because he had never been inside of anyone else’s head, and he never would be.

This is why Richard became a writer. Although he searches for “love” in all of his doomed relationships, the only place where he really expresses his love is when he makes up a character to write it into. Sometimes his characters disgust him, and he wonders how they came pouring out of his hands onto the pages. That happens a lot actually. He tries to create good heroes to go against the villains. Like many writers, Richard is unable to escape the mythic ethos of good guy versus bad guy, and it is a theme that he will never be able to escape subconsciously. For people like him, it simply is the way of the world, whether they can consciously admit it or not. Good versus evil, and decisions made to build only on that foundation, even if only to defy the vulgarity of the concept.

Two years ago, Richard lost faith in everything. He had expected his faith to come back, because it always did at some point. Even in his cynicism, he believed he was merely amidst another strange emotional cycle. But this time it didn’t come back. He’s felt completely lost, and he hasn’t had a relationship in those entire two years. He hasn’t even had sex. He’s felt so drained, so alone, and so pitiful that he doesn’t know what to do about it. He doesn’t know what he’s searching for anymore. It feels like a piece of him has died. He knows why, but it hurts to think about. It is a joy lost, and a piece of him perhaps has died as the result of that loss. In the past, before he knew the “answer,” he might have wondered why God could be so cruel as to give joy and then take it away. It’s a valid question, and Richard knows there is only a false answer to that question, as much as he wants to believe in that answer. “Because life is precious and God wants us to appreciate it.” Most people don’t believe life is meant to be appreciated. Richard is coming to feel that way himself. It seems more and more that life is meant only for suffering. The good things come to remind us of the bad, and not the other way around.

The cause of Richard’s current suffering seems clear: it’s Jeremy. His last lover, “the one that got away” and who was never meant for Richard in the first place. The one who left him aching. Jeremy is the only one that ever left Richard. He had left all the others himself, tired of them. Either his obsessions had ended, with his questions answered, or they had never been present in the first place and Richard had decided to end what he had always viewed on some level as a waste of time. But not with Jeremy. Jeremy was the one that he had wanted, the one he is not allowed to have.

His heart has been broken, that’s the only explanation. But why does his suffering continue? Why does he still want someone he hasn’t seen in years? He knows inside that he wants it because there is a sick part of his mind that desires only possession and satisfaction. This is a cancer he doesn’t know how to exorcise, one which he finds it easy to ignore when his mental debates between the voices in his head are going on. Regardless of whether or not he knows his desire for Jeremy is wrong, his passion has gone away. He cannot write.

He wants to believe there is a spiritual remedy to this disease, disorder, whatever it might be. Twenty minutes of meditation every three hours! someone might charge a lot of money to tell him. None of that would matter. He knows the only way out of this situation is to find a way out of it for himself. Sometimes he is willing to believe he can cleanse his spirit and return to normal. There are things about this world that make no sense, this he admits. This he has experienced first hand, hearing voices and all. But what if he’s simply insane? What if all of his inspiration is the result of some mental disorder? He doesn’t like to think about that. Regardless, the faith he had once had in God has dissipated, whether strange, unexplainable phenomena actually occurs or not. He doesn’t feel the presence of God like he once did. He feels lost in the darkness, lost in discord.

He’s been to psychiatrists, psychologists, shamans, hypnotists, witch doctors, and even (again) to Catholic priests. The latter is something that he is not very proud of - it was a true moment of weakness, he thinks, and on some level - although he is too proud to admit it - he is ashamed of that momentary weakness. The priest had only offered him the same brainwashed garbage that he grew up with - the same drivel he spent his life trying to escape, and which at a moment of pure desperation he was willing to try to embrace once more. That willingness disappeared quickly when the priest reminded him why he had left with some choice bad advice. The man had said something that is so cliché that it fell out of his mouth like drool falls out of the mouth of a drunken wino. “God works in mysterious ways,” the priest had said. “We must live in accordance with God’s will or he punishes us. This secret you seek after, this mystery you hope to unravel - God has sealed it within your heart for a reason. We should not go around poking in the devil’s garden with a stick. There are a lot of serpents in there, with a lot of apples.” “Great,” Richard had replied. “Thanks for telling me nothing.” Then he simply walked out while the priest stared at him, silently praying for his salvation as he left. Richard was disgusted. Had the priest actually just referred to his heart as the devil’s garden? How utterly Catholic.

Richard has been around the world. The reason he has been able to see so many “specialists” - or as he likes to think of them, hacks - is because his job affords him a great deal of money. Once Richard was just a writer - that was ten years ago. Now he‘s a moderately successful writer, potentially on the verge of becoming a highly successful writer. There’s a really big difference. He has been earning a living by spinning worlds out of nothing - or at least, some reflection of nothing - for ten years now. He has been earning a relatively decent living for five of those ten years, five years ago being when his first major novel came out. He had two novels published previously, both rather short and neither particularly successful. His only other credits were a few short story awards and a decent paycheck writing articles for a fiction magazine. The book that put him on the New York Times Best-Seller list was called “Post-Dimensional,” and it managed to find it’s way to #1 given a few months.

He remembers how the words for that story had come to him, how the characters had seemed to write themselves out of thin air. The plot was simple. The main character was an angel - Arcady. A weird name for an angel, but Richard tries to let his characters name themselves. This angel had, over the course of the novel, come to realize that he was not working for God but was in fact working for the devil himself - the same devil who was in charge of both Heaven and Hell. The ending had not been what he envisioned when the inspiration came to him, and when he greedily pretended that the story was all his own and was the result of his own magnificent genius rather than admitting he had barely had to work at all to create the thing. The original ending had been that Arcady would discover that he was working for the bad guy and then fall in love with a human woman named Rachel, and that he would be turned into a human being at the end of the story so that he could live a happy life with her. A picturesque (and retrospectively, terrible) ending.

That had not, however, been conclusion. The actual ending had been much more gruesome. The words had simply flowed out from under his fingertips, channeled through the miracle of the keyboard (thank God for technology) onto the word processor. Arcady had hung from a cross on that last page, his angelic blood slowly flowing out of him. Satan-God stood laughing at him, chiding him for his treason and warning him of seeking out knowledge that was not for him to have. He was crucified for eating the apple of wisdom - the sin of Adam and Eve. Unlike those two, he was not cast out of paradise, but he was cast entirely out of existence, and so was his lover Rachel. A rather dark ending, but one which seemed to have sold a lot of books at the time. “Post-Dimensional” has been hailed as a ‘post-modern classic,’ a ‘Satanic Bible,’ and a ‘forbidden fruit’ itself, amongst other things.

Richard doesn’t know how he had arrived at the ending, because he had simply been typing. Almost in a trance, really. When he stops to think and write, it doesn’t work. But when he puts his fingers on the keys and does not stop typing for anything, not even to think, it all flows out of him - perfect stories, stories that guarantee him success. Success, but not happiness. Sometimes he zones out and doesn’t even know what he’s writing, although this has only happened two or three times. On these occasions, he is quite frightened that he managed to enter a trance during which his body was still functioning. One of the stories he wrote is complete garbage, another seems perfectly normal if not lacking a bit in imagination, and a third was the prologue to “Post-Dimensional.”

He was dating a young man named Jason Bernard at the time that he wrote “Post-Dimensional” and for two months after it was published. Jason was beautiful, as Richard’s lovers always tended to be, and a bit shallow, although well-meaning and ultimately good natured. His eyes were blue, which is Richard’s preference, and his hair was blonde, which is also Richard’s preference, and Richard remembers him fondly as one of the few people he has dated that he felt a strong connection to. In Richard’s mind, Arcady’s appearance and demeanor was inspired to a great degree by Jason himself.

To say that he treasures Jason, and to know at the same time what the fundamental foundation of their relationship had been (sex, and the short-lived emotions that come with it) makes him feel dirty. Although they had a real emotional connection, it was not of the sort that builds strong romances. It was more of a kinship, a happiness to have found each other but not a lasting devotion on either part. It was temporary, both had seemed to understand from the start. It was lust that drove them further. He feels like he looks at Jason as a trophy, as something to be proud of, and he knows that it’s wrong. He also knows that Jason did not give a damn about his writing and only commented on it with vague “Oh, that sounds good,” replies. He usually just repeated those exact four words. So it had been doomed from the beginning, but it had been quite thrilling for awhile. Richard knows that he did love Jason, to some degree. His care for him was unconditional. At least until it wasn’t anymore. In the end, he had decided that Jason was undeserving of his love. This was a selfish action, he knows with shame.

Richard had made Arcady look like Jason in the novel, except of course that Arcady had light blue skin and golden eyes. There were parts where he looked human, though, to advance the plot. Arcady’s lover Rachel had been based on another past lover of Richard’s, one of the first ones who came years before Jason ever showed up. Richard had been eighteen then, and the boy he dated was nineteen and named Alex Coach. Everyone tries to guess who is the “man” and “woman” in a gay relationship, although it’s usually obvious. Well, in this relationship, Alex was the woman in all ways; emotionally, physically and intellectually. It was a perfect match. He had never met someone who he found seemed to fit so perfectly with himself - because he was, he knew, predominantly male. They fit together like puzzle pieces, because one of the primary laws of the universe is - hilariously - that opposites attract, and opposites attack. God has a good sense of humor (although good is a subjective term, Richard thinks). Alex was not effeminate, at least not exactly. He still seemed like a guy to Richard, but he knew that the brain of a female must have been inside of that gorgeous head. He looked rather similar to Jason Bernard, by all accounts.

At the age of thirty-two, Richard has not had a date in two years - and frankly, he is not even interested in one. And worse than that, he doesn’t know why he’s not interested in one. He does believe he knows a great deal about the universe since his first success, that book that had come out of nowhere, than he did in the time before he knew about “Reality” (distinguished from reality, mind you) and all of the wonderful things contained therein.

He had received many letters after “Post-Dimensional” came out. Most of them - strangely, it actually was most of them - were from legitimately crazy people. At the time, Richard had found it ominous that over half of the letters that he opened were from psychopaths who believed in demons and angels that were just as real as the ones he wrote about in his novel. Although Jason had no interest in reading Richard’s novel, he had a lot of interest in reading the letters and making fun of them - a fact which highly irritated Richard sometimes and which led to the ultimate demise of their ill-fated love affair. He had time to read literally hundreds of letters and laugh at them, but he couldn’t be bothered to read a single chapter of the highly successful novel of his own lover. It was fucking annoying.

Richard once believed that only human beings were sentient and intelligent. He doesn’t believe that anymore. Something happened after his first novel came out, after that initial wave of success. It’s as though he felt energized in a way that he never felt before, his senses were alive and he almost felt like his mind was a radio antenna, picking up broadcasts from far out into the universe… broadcasts from things that were decidedly not human. This was, of course, a theory that he kept entirely to himself for a very long time. All sane people hide their insanity, don’t they? He heard the voices more frequently than ever after he began to receive major attention for “Post-Dimensional.” He had struggled to ignore them and shelter them all his life, but they began to get out of hand, leading him into strange experiences which made him uncomfortable and nervous. They would talk about the people he knew, and he still doesn’t know if all of the horrible things they said were true, although he is sure that some of them were true at the very least. It was at this time that he had started to drink, and he found that if he was at least slightly buzzed, the voices were significantly decreased in volume. If he was drunk, they were gone entirely. He made a decision to start drinking regularly, whether at book signings or speaking in public or even on television. It was rare that he was blasted in public, although there had been one or two photographs taken (on which he had never bothered to follow up).

Although the alcohol usually helped, sometimes he would have experiences that he would not have otherwise. A voice would break through, and things might become strange. Once he saw a man made of pure shadow walking around in broad daylight, and when the shadow man saw him, he ran across the street and was hit by an oncoming car. The walking silhouette had instantly dissipated. Richard has seen these types of things before on hallucinogenic drugs, but never on alcohol, and he had barely been drinking that day. It was the first full on hallucination he had ever experienced. That was in October of 2005 - two years after “Post-Dimensional” was released. At the time he was dating a young man named Silas - as usual, blue-eyed and blonde-haired - and that had lasted for a mere two weeks. They were two quite excellent weeks though, except for the explosive last day where Richard had maniacally searched his apartment for a stalker when the shadow man had returned later that evening, only to disappear into a closet and never return. The shadow man is not the only strange thing that Richard has seen. He’s seen other things as well.

In the Mall of America in Washington D.C. (in April of 2006) he saw an entire family - a husband, wife, son and daughter, all very normally dressed - that had emerald green skin. None of them even noticed him staring, and apparently no one noticed that the family had green skin either, because he saw people walking up to them and acting quite naturally, completely oblivious to the emerald flesh that the family walked around in as if it looked like their own quite normally pigmented skin. As this incident was occurring, he was reminded of his childhood questions about perception, and whether or not some people saw things totally differently than other people. Surely this seemed to confirm it, but perhaps he had a brain tumor or something of that nature. He has never had it checked out, because part of him fears that this may be why he feels like his sanity has been degenerating over the last few years. The incident in the Mall of America was one of many strange incidents that he has witnessed. It was this particular one which began his descent into nihilism, however. After seeing it, he began to question all of his perceptions. Perhaps he is seeing things concretely in ways which are not real? What does that mean? Having a full on hallucination is not a good sign. It’s not good for one’s mental health… and then, there may be a ticking time bomb in his brain, a tumor waiting to go off and kill him when he least expects it. But he can’t have that looked at. He won’t. He’d rather not know.

It was after the seeing the green family that he began to see the numbers. At first he only saw 44. He would wake up at 4:44 AM, he would turn on his television to find it on channel 44 (AMC - a channel he never watched), he would receive phone calls from various people he knew at 4:44 PM like clockwork. He would come up behind license plates that had either two, three and sometimes even four fours in sequence, multiple times a day, at 4th street or beneath a bill-board with phone numbers reading “443-2244” emblazoned in bright large letters. Richard found it quite unsettling that he passed exit 44 on state route 404 at 4:44 PM - regularly. Was it his subconscious that made him notice all of these symbols and number synchronicities? Perhaps it was - and what of that? He had been all too happy to shrug off the numbers for as long as he could - and after four months and four days (which he had meticulously verified), he caved and decided that perhaps he was going crazy.

Although to many, such coincidences would reaffirm a belief in God, to Richard they just reaffirmed that God does not exist. Being inclined to read both sides of any situation, he looked at them as divine, and then he looked at himself as insane and pathetically stupid for believing them to be divine. He became his own gatekeeper. The coincidences became to Richard, ultimately, proof of his own superstitious imbecility. Fuel for his self-hatred. They were secrets not to be shared, thoughts that exist only to be buried and guarded. This was his position at least half of the time. Half of the time was more than enough for it to hold him back.

He was familiar with Karl Jung’s theory of synchronicity. But how could he apply it to his life? He didn’t understand how seeing the same things over and over again could actually wake up some thought in his head that needed waking. Why the fuck was it always the number four? Why couldn’t it be two? Or three? Or five? Or one? Richard knew why it wasn’t those numbers, however. It wasn’t those numbers because it was always 44. At least at first. Richard had been dating no one during “the 44 period” (as he remembers it).

The next number had been 23. It seemed to randomly shift one day - all of the sudden the 44’s were gone and replaced with 23’s. He moved to California, where his zip code ended with a 23, his telephone number’s last four digits were 2323, and his second novel had exactly 132,323 words in it. The 44’s had simply disappeared. At first he didn’t notice the 23’s - his mind relegated them to coincidence. He was simply happy that the 44’s disappeared. It meant he would not have to go on medication, or see a psychotherapist. It meant he could keep that secret tucked away safely in the back of his mind, which was at the time right where he wanted to keep it. Between occasionally hearing voices and now seeing the same two numbers everywhere, there were plenty of things about himself that he wouldn’t be mentioning in front of polite company. He saw them shortly before beginning to write his second novel. It had been titled “Apropos” and it had been similar to “Post-Dimensional” only in theme. It was not as well received by critics as “Post-Dimensional” had been, either. It was released in September of 2007.

“Apropos” was the tale of a man who discovers the secret history of the world. This man’s name had been Leyland Height, and in the course of the story he had discovered that the world was now and had always been run by the same immortal people. People who would never die, and people who knew human kind so well that it was impossible for their power to be displaced. At the end of this story, exactly as Richard had envisioned this time, Leyland turned his back on human kind for immortality and became one of it’s silent, never dying dictators.

It had been nice to get some publicity, some attention, and of course a sizeable paycheck. “Apropos” did not ascend to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, however, and after awhile Richard realized that “Apropos” had gone from being a period known in his life as “the present” to being a more familiar period known as “the past.” He dated three young men when during the “Apropos period.” The first’s name was Joseph, and he was a blonde. The second’s name was Joshua. He was a brunette. The third’s name was Jeffrey. He was a redhead. Strange that they all had J names - Richard has chalked it up to another weird omen. There are a lot of them in his life. Of the three of them, the only one he felt a real connection with was, unsurprisingly, Joseph. The blonde. What is it with Richard and blondes? None of them lasted for very long.

Slowly, he began to realize that the 23’s were not going away. They were following him everywhere. Waking up at 4:44 AM had stopped, disappeared completely, but now he was waking up at 2:32 AM. No longer would four cars with 44 license plates pull in front of him. Now it was always 23 on the plates, and he saw it far more frequently than he ever saw 44. His hope that he would not need medication disappeared quickly and soundlessly, and no tribute was paid to that hope.

But medication and psychiatry did not help. Richard went to see a psychiatrist named Dr. Gordon Watson in January of 2008. Although he mentioned the repeating numbers, he did not mention hallucinating the green family or the shadow man, or even that the voices would occasionally get louder and louder. The doctor had put Richard on an anti-psychotic named Nombil that had actually made him a great deal more psychotic than he had been previously. During this period he kept a dream journal, and most of his dreams were about cold-blooded murder. Every night Richard would wake shrieking from a dream where he was either being killed, or worse, where he was doing the killing himself. After a week of this insanity he flushed the tiny white Nombil pills down the toilet, and when he stopped going to the psychiatrist the good Dr. Watson had called him.

“Why haven’t you been coming to see me, Mr. Lawson? Hasn’t the Nombil been working?” “Oh, it’s been working fine,” Richard had said. His paranoia was kicking in at full throttle now, all of his racing thoughts began to spew forth over the line to the psychiatrist. He knows now how he must have sounded, even if believes that there was some element of truth in his ramblings. “It’s been making me go crazy, which is the purpose, right? To keep me coming back to see you and get my doses upped? To line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies? I know your game, asshole!” he had shouted angrily. “Mr. Lawson…” Dr. Watson had timidly replied, and after a moment of silence he said “You are starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist.” “Fuck you!” Richard had shouted back, and he had hung up the phone angrily.

One week later he had been grocery shopping, and that’s when he saw the front page news item on the cover of National Enquirer - “Satanic writer has gone crazy, doctors say.” And there was his photo beneath it - one that made him look particularly insane, unfortunately. In it his hair was ruffled and he was unshaven, and his eyes looked almost delirious. Of course, the eye effect was photo-shopped, and he had simply been photographed - unknowingly, he thought bitterly - on a day when he had not cared to make himself look pretty before going out in public. He begrudgingly bought the National Enquirer and read the article bitterly.

“POPULAR SATANIC WRITER--” - Satanic writer? Why the fuck were they keep calling him Satanic? “--RICHARD LAWSON GONE MAD.” Beneath the bold headline there was a revealing line. “Richard Lawson has started a descent into madness, doctors claim. An anonymous source” - of course, of course - “claims that Lawson has been spotted at the Cherry Grove Psychiatric Center, and the source says that Lawson has told doctors that he is hearing voices that tell him what to write.” Although occasionally true, Richard had never told this to his doctor and never would have under any circumstance. He had angrily called the National Enquirer and demanded a retraction, but that had been a bad idea as well because the following week another story about him had appeared, this one even worse than the last because it was utterly fabricated.

The headline to this story was “LAWSON SPOTTED AT SATANIST CHURCH IN LOS ANGELES.” It was utterly untrue of course - Richard laughs at the idea of Satanism, and he did back then as well. The idea that people worship a force that is inherently evil - that is evil for the sake of evil - has to be one of the stupidest things he has ever heard. Assuming that Satan is real, which is a pretty enormous assumption, Richard would never choose to worship him because Satan has always stood as a symbol of destruction and chaos. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with chaos, and perhaps sometimes destruction might even be called for - but to worship the being that provided these ideas and made them into reality would be sheer folly because the worshiper would necessarily fall into chaos and destruction himself.

To Richard, it explains why every Satanist that he has ever met is a self-worshiping moron or worse, a Dungeons and Dragons playing dipshit who tries to summon up demons in his parent’s basement (where said dipshits always live) based on instructions found on a website that has not been updated since 1996.

Richard does not like being associated with Satanism anymore than he likes being associated with Christianity or any other religion or cult. Unfortunately for Richard, the claims will not go away, and they still follow him, although to a lesser degree now that he’s told his side of the story - even if his platform isn’t quite as high up as the National Enquirer’s. Today he is occasionally referred to as a “Satanic author” and when taking questions at a public panel, many times he is asked why he chose to become a Satanist. He had wanted to sue the National Enquirer at the time, but he decided that the further he pressed the issue, the more it looked like he was trying to hide something. So he let it go. It’s a decision that he now bitterly regrets.

He should have sued those fuckers into oblivion, he thinks now. He should have done to them what his Satan-God had done to Arcady and Rachel - he should have unmade them. But of course, he is not God, and he is not Satan, and the power of unmaking is not his, at least not entirely. Fate had decided the National Enquirer would remain growing like a tumor on the face of American culture, and fate is never wrong. Well, only rarely, anyway. He supposes he could still sue them, but there is a part of him that he listens to which tells him that he knows it is pointless, and that he is only making the problem worse by putting himself in the limelight as such a public spectacle.

In the fall of 2008, he had become so caught up in his own troubles that he had miraculously managed to stop paying attention to the 23’s. Coincidentally, he had also stopped writing. He could only stare at the blank word processor. Occasionally he would type a line like “Michael Jeffries thought he was on top of the world,” and then he would shamefully delete and chastise himself for having typed something so stupid. When he tried to find inspiration, it did not come. He had tried to write a sequel to “Post-Dimensional” but the story kept shrieking at him “There’s nothing left to tell!” And what could be told? Had not Arcady been destroyed and erased? Was Satan not God in that story? How could one defeat God? Yes, Richard knew regretfully, the story was told. There was nothing left to tell.

For months he went on like this. He had started trying to write in March of 2009, and he didn’t get out a single whole chapter that wasn’t deleted until late July. There were many Michael Jeffries - some named Stephen Connor, some named Sarah Jenson - all were erased, like Arcady, except the difference with Arcady is that he not truly been erased at all but he had been created. By Richard Alexander Lawson. And now Richard could create no more.

Perhaps the National Enquirer headlines had been a premonition, because when the writer’s block had hit, that’s when the voices came back again, talking through the meds as though they weren’t even floating around in Richard’s bloodstream. It was the end of July, and he was staring at the blank word processor screen. He had all but forgotten how to let the stories flow out of him, how to type without thinking, how to let a scene paint itself without being molested by his own thoughts. Now all he knew how to do was to lament his lost talent, and cry to the heavens “Why hast thou forsaken me?” On this night, that cry was heard, and as he stared at the blank screen, from behind blank eyes, inside of a blank mind, the woman’s voice began to speak to him inside of his head.

“Richard,” she whispered, “you don’t know how to listen.” He ignored it. Don’t respond to voices in your head was something he had always found to be good advice. When he had heard them before he let them talk to themselves. His responses only drew him further into their black hole of insanity. He has always wanted to believe that everyone heard the voices but most people were smart enough not to talk about it.

“Do you want another story?” her voice asked. “I have an infinite amount of stories for you…” He tried to clear his mind and block out the thought - the voice - but he was unable to. “I have a million best-sellers already written… I have so many stories to tell, so many stories that still need to be told… and so few people willing to tell them…”

He had thought then that he had surely snapped, that his mind had cracked under the weight of his anxiety and depression. Or perhaps he had always been crazy and up until now he had been able to slip under the radar. “You are not crazy,” the voice had whispered to him as these thoughts started to flood in. “Everyone else is crazy.” He could not think to respond to it - and surely if he did, it would be like admitting that he was a lunatic to himself. The voice did not need a response, however. It merely said “If you call to me, I’ll come to you.” He only stared at the monitor. A word kept repeating in his head, a word which he did not like the sound of. “Discord,” it whispered to him, over and over again.

He actually wanted to write, then. Words did start to come to him. Characters started to visit his mind. “Hello,” they would say. “My name is Evelyn Argus. I was burnt as a witch in 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts.” He remembers Evelyn well, he wrote a thirty-two page short story about her. It was one of many short stories he wrote, and after writing short stories for a week - honestly, sixty-two in all, a shockingly high amount (and all of it good!), he started to write a novel. He didn’t sleep, and he barely ate. He didn’t bathe or shave either, until he absolutely had no other choice.

It came out of his head and into his computer in just under two weeks. It was published within two months, and in October of 2009 it was finally released. His third novel was titled “The Shape of Things” and it was about a World War II veteran who comes home to America in 1946 only to discover that no one knows him, and that his family does not seem to exist. When he returns to the military for help, they no longer seem to remember that he exists either. It was a mystery, and as usual it had many supernatural twists. During the writing of this novel, Richard had discovered something about his particular brand of creativity that he had never understood before. When he wrote, he was simply playing with archetypes.

He was walking onto a playground, which he did when he was a child, and creating characters based on larger emotions and feelings. His villains often represented anarchy, insanity and chaos - although sometimes his heroes represented those things as well. His heroes primarily represented evolution, compassion and moral strength, however. When he realized this, he had been able to change the archetypes he normally used in his writing, because he realized how he was limiting himself. The characters in “The Shape of Things” had been utterly alien to him. In many ways it was the least supernatural book that he had written, and in many other ways it was the most. It described his own descent into madness. The veteran had been named Corey Nihler. Corey began to follow the same types of omens that Richard had started to follow when he began to notice the 44’s.

Every question that Corey was able to answer only led to another question. Nothing seemed to make sense, and it was perfect. The end had been ambiguous - the best type of ending. “The Shape of Things” was a New York Times #1 Best Seller. It was hailed as “A wonderful exploration of schizophrenic behavior,” and “A brilliant exposition on conspiracy theorism!” Because it featured almost no supernatural elements, it was readily accepted by the main-stream - much moreso than either “Post-Dimensional” or “Apropos” had been. It was also acceptable to Christians, Muslims and Jews because it didn’t (directly) attack any of their religions, as opposed to his other works. If you must know the ending, Corey Nihler is insane. It’s a rather predictable ending, but one which seems to play well with mainstream audiences in plots involving conspiracy theories.

His ego told him that he was getting the respect and credibility he deserved. Finally, he was a “mainstream author” - and what was even better is that “The Shape of Things” was actually a good book, even if it had a predictable ending. He didn’t have to sell out. He had honestly felt the book should end the way it ended, and he dealt with very little criticism on that front anyway. Most people only had good things to say about the book, and that made him feel good, and it eased the voices and the strange coincidences. He knew he would be successful. Perhaps all of this was for a reason, he told himself back then. Perhaps this was just part of his learning process. He knew it from the moment he heard that voice, the one that told him to call to her… When he thought of this voice, that unsettling word flashed in his mind once more, a whisper of “discord.” He had been noticing them again. The whole idea for this book had come to him one morning after awakening from a dream at 2:32 AM.

But he’s not happy now. The success doesn’t do anything for him. He hasn’t written anything in a year years since that book was released. A year to the day. He went on a short publicity tour, but that only lasted two months and since then he’s been living his life here in San Francisco, doing nothing but drinking and contemplating. He sits on a park bench now, and the Autumn sunset blazes over the Golden Gate bridge. He stares at it almost in a trance, thinking back on his last few years, thinking of Jeremy. The boy he met at a club at the end of the publicity tour. Jeremy was twenty-three. They had dated for four months, and Richard had found himself obsessed with Jeremy, but more so than any of the other boys he had devoted his attention to. There was something strange about Jeremy, a lack of emotion that seemed more like a restriction than a shallowness to Richard. His beauty was enhanced by his mystery, but it was a mystery not destined to be unraveled during their short relationship. Jeremy had never been particularly interested in the same things as Richard. Because Richard found himself so obsessed, it was easy to forget about his problems and treasure only his time with Jeremy, and with getting to know him. A part of him changed, became less egotistical and hateful, one that merely molded to try to fit whatever it was that he felt Jeremy desired.

Jeremy never cared for Richard’s moderate wealth or for his literary accolades, or about his career or his stories. He wasn’t impressed with Richard’s wide range of vocabulary or knowledge of various useless things about ancient history or religion or mysticism. None of that interested him. There was something about Richard that he needed though, something that he clearly wanted, something that was never defined and which haunts Richard. It has created in him a weakness he had never experienced before, one that he desires so desperately to experience again. It was Jeremy’s lack of love that sparked Richard’s desire for it, and to show it to Jeremy. But there was more there, there was something about Richard that Jeremy loved as well. Richard fears he will never know what it was. He fears worse that he may be wrong, but he cannot sustain this fear, so sure is he that Jeremy loved him in some way. Richard thought with time things could work out, and be understood. That Jeremy was different than the others, that his interest would not fade. But that was not how fate had arranged things.

Jeremy had moved to Hollywood abruptly, breaking up with Richard only two hours before leaving. It seemed as though Jeremy had been sensing Richard’s obsession and found it extremely uncomfortable, although nothing so precise was ever said about it between the two of them. Not much was said at all, really. The goodbye had been awkward and Jeremy had hardly looked at him. Richard had not cried then, and he wouldn’t for a week afterward. When he did, he would be short and hard. That was six months ago. They had lived here together. Jeremy had taken Richard’s heart with him, and his passion. All that’s left of him now is this zombie, wondering why his life has turned so rotten.

He finds it funny that of all the places in the entire world to move to, he has to find himself in San Francisco, a gay writer with writer’s block. He still sees the 23’s, but now they seem to laugh at him. Right now he’s sitting on a bench with a lawyer named Jerry Hamilton’s face (which is not very good looking, even in this professional photograph) plastered on it, and his telephone number, which is 545-1423.

He shakes his head. Maybe he should try that Nombil again? But he needs to write something. The expectations are high, he knows, and he doesn’t know if he can fulfill them. Whatever he’s going to write, it has to have some kind of supernatural element to it, and that’s not what people are expecting. But it’s just how he writes. An author gets used to his toys and he chooses to play with the same ones over and over again. That’s simply how it goes, it’s the nature of the artist - it’s called a unique, individual style. Some people appreciate it and some people don’t. Richard doesn’t really care about the personal opinions of others regardless, which is the habit of all (good) artists.

It’s Autumn in San Francisco, which means it feels like it always feels in San Francisco. He sits in a white t-shirt with a sun on it in the center, a pair of old blue-jeans and sandals. The sun is rising, and he looks at it. It’s beautiful, he thinks, and so inspiring - except for the fact that he’s not inspired. Beauty has become an ornament to him, and nothing more. Perhaps this is why he cannot find someone to love, or perhaps he is just not ready for it yet. He doesn’t know. Part of him doesn’t care. The other part does care. He finds it easier to ignore all parts these days.

Music is blaring in through a speaker in the park, although it’s very low. “And here he is, the star of our show! Direct from the bar… Mr. Dean Martin!” shouts the announcer to the exultant cheers of an audience. The band starts playing and Richard can visualize him walking out onto the stage, smiling at the crowd as they were hypnotized by his shining star… “I left my heart…” Mr. Dean Martin croons, “in Fran Sancisco…” The crowd laughs at this lazy joke, and Richard has a nostalgic moment although he had never been alive at a time even remotely close to when the Rat Pack had been popular. “High on a hill… it calls to me…” Richard feels a tear clouding his eye, and is embarrassed at his sentimentality. He loves this song. They play it I this park all the time, he hears it sitting on this bench and watching the sun go down over the Golden Gate bridge at least twice a week. He is having what most people might call “a lucid moment.” The music feels so perfect for this scene as he watches the sun rise. His body shakes as the notes drift and sink into him. “To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars… the morning fog may chill the air… I don’t care… my love waits there, in San Francisco…”

He clenches his fist and wipes his eye. He wishes that he had felt this way about someone in his life. He has loved many, and many have loved him - but it seems like the two positions never seemed to come together at the same time. To be in love is something he has always wanted and never had. He has never felt love of any kind, really, which is perhaps why he seeks out destructive relationships. The little love he has received later in his life has been too little too late, and suspect as well considering his newfound fame. He wants to find someone who he can love and be himself with, but he doesn’t know if it’s possible. All of the fire has gone out of him, all of the passion. His apathy wins the day as usual, and his tears dry up, and he stares at the beautiful sunset and the moment that was “the present” becomes “the past” as all moments thus far have done eventually.

He returns to apathy not happily, but gratefully. Dean is still singing and it’s still beautiful, but now only in a passing way. That’s when he sees the angel.

There is a young man who looks to be about twenty-four or twenty-five standing thirty feet away, against a tree, staring at him. He looks beautiful. His hair is dark brown and his eyes match that mesmerizing hue, although his skin is fairly pale. His lips are the bright red of strawberries and look full and perfectly arranged, as all of his features do. His eyes are large and magnetic. He’s wearing a pair of black jeans and a light gray hooded sweatshirt. It’s zipped all the way to the top. He smiles as Richard notices him and nods at him.

This is strange, Richard thinks, because he hasn’t seen anyone who made his heart skip a beat in years. And here is this boy, oddly playing to this song. The lucidity of the moment rushes back to him, almost overwhelming. Richard notices the young man is holding an bright red apple, which he takes a bite out of. Richard tries not to stare, although every few minutes (seconds) he throws a glance up to see if he’s still there. He always is.

After five minutes of this strange game, the young man throws his apple in a garbage can and walks over to Richard and sits beside him on the bench. “Hello, there,” he says in a voice that is extremely attractive to Richard. “Why, hello,” Richard responds. “How are you?” It’s all he can think of to say. “I’m doing great,” says the young man, “I’m always doing great. What’s your name?” he asks. Richard begins to feel - is that? - yes, hope. This boy is as beautiful as an angel, and it seems like he’s interested in getting to know him - why else would he come over here and start talking to him after Richard had been so obviously looking at him, and so obviously shy about doing it?

“You don’t know who I am?” Richard asks. “Should I?” the young man replies. “I just thought, since you came over and sat beside me that maybe you knew who I was.” “No,” says the young man, “I just thought you looked cute stealing glances my way.” He smiles and Richard smiles back at him sincerely, although he is blushing like he was just caught doing something highly embarassing. “Well, my name is Richard,” he says. “And yours?” The young man smiles and begins to think for a second. “You can call me Remy,” he finally says. “Nice to meet you Remy,” Richard responds. The name immediately makes him think of Jeremy. Remy smiles at him. “So you like Dean Martin?” he asks. “How do you know I like this song?“ Richard questions him. Remy smiles. “Saw you getting a little teary-eyed there,” he says. Richard’s blush manages to brighten and he starts to talk, but Remy laughs. “Don’t get all macho on me,” he says. Richard shakes his head. “Not really a fan of Dean Martin, actually I think the Rat Pack is rather lame. But I do love this song.” Remy nods. “Me too,” he agrees. They both stare at the falling sunset over the bridge, saying nothing. After a moment, Richard feels Remy’s hand lay atop his.

“I have the answers you are searching for,” Remy says seriously, and he looks at Richard. Richard turns his head to look into his eyes and makes a sour face. “What?” he asks. Great, he thinks - a freak. Or maybe worse, a stalker, although a part of him admits he wouldn’t mind being stalked by Remy. A decidedly weird part.

“I’m a messenger,” Remy said. “A messenger from who?” Richard replied. “An employer?” Remy shakes his head. “I’m a messenger of my employer, yes, and I guess maybe your employer as well, although he’s not hiring because you already have the job.” Richard shakes his head. He asks flatly, “What the fuck are you talking about?” Remy frowns slightly. “No need for hostility,” he says. “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Richard realizes that Remy’s hand is still on top of his and he pulls it away and places it back in his lap.

“Okay, are you crazy?” Richard asks. “No, but I know that you think you are,” Remy responds. “Don’t worry, though, you’re not.” Richard wants to fight back, he wants to argue, but he can’t. Remy leans in and kisses him on the lips, and it seems to last forever, although in reality it lasts only thirty-seven seconds. He pulls away from Richard and stares into his eyes. Richard feels hypnotized - he doesn’t care anymore what Remy’s agenda is, he will play along. Because he is in love. Every sane voice in his head is screaming to back away from the maniac, but the kiss has sealed Richard’s fate. Sometimes you can put up with crazy people. At least for a few minutes. That, and Richard has always believed in love at first sight. Another artist’s habit.

Remy smiles, intoxicating Richard. “I…” Richard is unable to help himself, it’s almost as though the words fall out of his mouth. “I love you,” he says, and the alarm bells go off in his head. ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?!’ his mind screams at him. He feels as though some beam of insanity is spiraling down into his pineal gland from outer space. The rational Richard wants to hold on, but he is being overwhelmed by the insecure part of Richard, the insane part, and an image of two crazy people floating past each other in space flashes in his head, their arms reaching out for each other, seeking comfort. He’s crazy, and if Remy’s crazy, at least he’s beautiful. Richard knows his acceptance of the boy’s words simply reveal he is not in control of himself, but at the moment he can’t bring himself to care. Not after that kiss. Not after that face, and those eyes. He said it, for better or worse.

Remy does not look surprised or upset at Richard’s awkward proclamation, and he flashes his beautiful smile at once more. “I know you love me, and I love you too, Richard,” Remy says. “I have always loved you.” This is strange - almost like a dream. It occurs to Richard that he is dreaming, and for a good two minutes he believes it’s the most likely possibility, although he decides he wants to ride this dream out to the bitter end.

“I thought you said we have never met?” Richard asks Remy. “We have not met, at least not in your current state,” Remy said. “But we’ve met many times before. And I suppose we’ve met in your stories…” “What do you mean?” Richard asks. Remy smiles and says nothing. “I told you I am a messenger,” Remy says. “Do you wish to know what messages I bring to you?” “Yes!” Richard smiles. “Anything! You are so… you are so beautiful, oh God…” He leans in to kiss Remy again, and Remy kisses him - another thirty-seven seconds exactly. Richard counts them, one by one. They break the kiss and Richard only stares at him. “I love you too,” Remy replies sincerely. “Are you ready?” “Yes,” Richard responds. “I’m ready…”

“You are lost,” says Remy. “But you are also found. You are sad, but you are also happy. You are sure, but you are also confused. You do not know yourself. You know yourself too well. All of these things are true, and they are also false. Do you take my meaning, Richard?” His manner of speech seems rather weird, but Richard does take his meaning. And this must be a dream after all. Either that or this beautiful young man is the most amazing con-artist of all time (which is a distinct possibility at a park in San Francisco). “Yes,” Richard responds. “I take your meaning very well.” And he really did. It was true that Richard was an extremist - he was such an extremist that he was an extremist on both sides of the extreme spectrum, batting back and forth. It is only his spiritual deadening of the last two years that has slowed down the seasons of his mind.

“You have so much love to give,” Remy says. “I can see your heart is wide, and you let others drink of it freely. But they take too much from you, and your love turns to hate. But you know that you can only hate someone that you already loved in the first place. This you know, correct?” Richard nods, but this time does not say anything. “Your heart is big, but your brain is big as well and you are suffering under the weight of both. They fight for dominance within you. Which will you listen to?” “My heart,” Richard responds, although he doesn’t know why because he didn’t think about how to answer. It simply blurts out of his mouth. Remy smiles.

“No,” he says. “It’s more complicated than that. Although I suppose it’s also more simple.” Remy speaks entirely in paradoxes and riddles, Richard is noting. This must be one of those lucid dreams… a divine dream. A gift from God. Perhaps the depression and confusion is over, perhaps this dream is a sign. “Is this a dream?” Richard says without thinking. Remy nods. “Life is a dream,” he says. Richard leans in to kiss him again, but Remy kisses his forehead instead. Richard is both bitterly disappointed and supremely grateful at the same time, and when he realizes the paradox, he laughs. Remy laughs too, an authentic laugh, as if he seems to read Richard’s thoughts.

“You punish yourself while you think you are helping yourself, do you know this?” Remy asks. Richard nods. He really does feel hypnotized. Is it Remy’s beauty? Or is it something else? He feels like perhaps it’s a little of both. “You desire recognition so you seek to have those who do not recognize you do so. But this is folly. You wish to change people, but people are not meant to be changed. This is the foundation of your unhappiness, Richard. It is the foundation of all unhappiness.” “What are you?” Richard asks. “I mean who?” Remy smiles. “I told you,” he repeats, “I am a messenger.” “A messenger of whom? Of what?” “We are all messengers of the same thing,” Remy says, and he does not add to his sentence.

“You are so beautiful,” Richard repeats, “I love you. I love you so much. I don’t know why…” Remy puts his hand on Richard’s shoulder and leans in, kissing his forehead again. “And I love you as well, Richard. I only have some advice for you.” “Anything,” Richard says. “Anything for you. Anything.” And he means it. “You must know yourself, Richard. You must learn to know yourself. You have been swimming with discord…” He looks gravely at Richard. “I don’t know what you mean,” says Richard. Remy only shakes his head. “You do know,” he says. “You know in your heart.” Richard tries to lean in to kiss Remy again, but this time Remy pushes his face away and shakes his head sadly.

“We cannot be together, it would not be right,” he says. “And I am just a messenger.” Richard does not respond, he only frowns at Remy. “You said you loved me,” he whines. He feels hurt, as if he has known Remy for years, for lifetimes, as if his heart has just been ripped out of his chest and stomped on. Remy puts his hand on Richard’s heart and Richard feels heat course into him and warm him. He calms down, and he feels the floodgates holding back his tears momentarily strengthen.

“I must go now,” Remy says. He stands up and kisses his fingertips, then places them on Richard’s lips. “God loves you so much,” he says, and then he turns his back and walks away. On the back of his hooded sweatshirt in large white letters is the number “44.” “I…” Richard whispers. “I love you, too,” he says, as if God is sitting beside him. And indeed, God is. Over the speaker, for some reason Dean Martin begins to sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” all over again.

(to be continued)

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