Saturday, March 29, 2014

Photographic Memory

I was travelling in Argentina about 5 years ago, through the town Bariloche. In summer, the tourist town is a hub for travellers looking to go hiking up the neighbouring mountains. On my second day I planned a trip which would take me up a mountain one day, stay overnight at an outpost, and come back down the next. I couldn’t wait.

I should note that as a backpacker, I was travelling solo. This meant that friendships were temporary and companions on such day trips came by chance. I was alone on this hike so I took the chance to pack my favourite necessity – the iPod. The best thing about travelling alone is listening to a couple Led Zeppelin albums in a row!

I also managed to pack some other essentials - water, food, sleeping gear, a couple pesos, and, of course, my camera.

The trek was long; longer than expected. But rather than offering a challenging gradient, it would zig-zag up the mountain like those roads in the Tour de France: up to the left, hook around a corner; up to the right. Feeling adventurous, I figured I could save some time by cutting straight up through the bush from one road to another, effectively halving the time taken. The best thing about travelling alone is that when you had a great idea, no-one is there to second guess you!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Walter Wallace - Chapter 113

Walter waited in the back corner of the cafe. Although the constant staring and whispering from relative strangers had subsided, it was still simpler for him not to invite more attention by sitting out in the open.

It had been 6 months now since the Towers had crumbled and it was becoming easier to deal with the sadness that period brought him. He felt for those who died for him. And those who died for William Unston. He thought about Lucy a lot. Every day he remembered her in her brightest light. He had forgotten her imperfections, her missteps and ultimately her betrayal. She was the Lucy Blues he always wanted. The one girl he would always remember and she was gone.

The bell attached to the door of the cafe sung out and a man leaning heavily on a walking stick slowly entered. Nothing brought more sadness and guilt to Walter than the sight of Stevie. The man who sacrificed so much just for Walter’s wellbeing was left crippled and broken. Walter had spent the majority of those first three months waiting in the hospital for Stevie to wake up. He paid for all the medical expenses including the physiotherapy and the carers. He even spent a month caring for Stevie out of the hospital but it was agonising work.

The man had lost his hope in the world. He had learnt to walk again not through positive reinforcement and support, instead through embracing his anger to the world. More than once he had blamed Walter for everything that happened; asked him what it was all for. What good has come of it?

He would apologise afterwards, but he was right. What had Walter achieved? Why was he here?

Walter stood and smiled, shaking Stevie’s hand. Stevie looked warm and welcoming as he rested his walking stick beside the table. “Walter, what did I tell you about giving me that look?”

“Sorry,” Walter said, smiling. “How have you been?”

“Holding up. Every day is another day.” Stevie slowly lowered himself down to his seat. Walter made to support him but Stevie waved him away.”Yourself?”

Walter Wallace - Chapter 112

It felt like it was still part of the dream. But eventually all the buzz words caught up and began to lace into reality.

Walter Wallace...Citadel Inc...Officer Steve Coulter...a youth who is affectionately known by his fans as Hippy Flip was the only conscious survivor pulled from the wreckage and his first action was to go back and help the emergency teams search the room. He delivered an expletive-laden rant before being taken to hospital with severe injuries. He has not been available for comment since. The contents of the rant could not...

His mind ventured back into the void. The black space that existed between the Towers and the present. Was everyone OK? Was he OK? He forced himself to wake again but now the television was off and behind the curtains the dark night sky showed no sympathy. He felt a strong urge to get up for the bathroom but found little response from his body and before he knew it he was urinating. He could not fight it. An emptiness swept over him and he fell back to the ever expanding void.

But you probably can’t even hear me. Some of the doctors say my problems won’t go away if I keep telling them to all the patients. I wonder what a psychiatrist would say about this. Is talking to a coma patient the same as talking to yourself? Does this make me crazy?

“Actually I am a psychiatrist,” Stevie croaked.

He could barely see as his eyes adjusted to the light but the grey outline of the nurse jumped with fright. “Oh wow, you sure did scare me!” she laughed. “Umm, let me go get the doctor.”

Stevie stared up at the light at the top of the room, squinting as his eyes adjusted. His mouth was dry and his neck felt like a rusty hinge as he tried to move it.

A doctor came into the room. “Mr Coulter, my name is Dr Tank.”

Stevie’s heart leaped a few beats. “Wh- What?” he managed to mutter looking up at the tall figure in the white jacket.

“Dr Tanner.” The doctor replied, noticing Stevie’s increased heart rate on the monitor. “Don’t worry you are perfectly fine. You have been in a coma, Mr Coulter, and the good news is you’ve woken up.”

Stevie tried to look around, taking in whatever details he could but hospital rooms looked notoriously generic. “How long?”

“Three months just last Thursday – today is Sunday by the way, 11 in the morning.”

The doctor shone a bright light in Stevie’s eyes. He checked other less intrusive indicators as Stevie tried to piece together what had happened. He remembered the Towers, the agents, Walter and his machine. They were fresh in his mind like it happened yesterday but they felt intangible and improbable. It felt like yesterday’s dream. It would be forgotten by midday before he has a chance to retell it.

“Mr Coulter?” the doctor was at Stevie’s feet, looking up expectantly, “can you feel this, Mr Coulter?” He had a sharp pencil-like object and was pushing it into Stevie’s big toe. Stevie could not feel a thing. He tried the other foot and different parts of his leg but still no response. The doctor remained quiet a moment. “The damage to your lung is substantial, compounding on a recent injury but you should return to close to full capacity – no smoking though. As for your legs, we’ll have to get some scans done but it does appear like you have lost function.”

Stevie still felt like this was all a dream. “For good?”

“We can’t say just yet. You will be in a wheelchair for the immediate future if not indefinitely. We will wait for the scans and work out a plan from there.”

Stevie looked up at the ceiling with a comforting sense of helplessness. He imagined letting go, putting a gun to his head just as Mark had done. Who would care? What would be lost?

“It is advised that you perform some sort of activity immediately after waking from a coma. As you cannot walk we will have some food brought in and you can sit up and eat it. I do understand this is a lot to take in Mr Coulter. We can arrange visits with the hospital psychiatrist if you wish.”

“I am a psychiatrist.” Stevie said bluntly, still staring at the ceiling.

The doctor sighed. “I will have the nurse bring in the food and we can let your friends know when you are ready to have visitors.”

Walter Wallace - Chapter 111

Phil could not see anything. He could only feel the crushing weight that had pinned his leg. Nobody responded as he called out to his friends. It had been days, or at least he imagined it so. He drifted in and out of sleep. In his waking moments he would call out to Walter and Stevie. He had found a metal pole by his side and used it to bang on the steel door he was pinned to. It echoed his cry of help out to the world. He tried to count how many times he heard the monotonous thud. Hundreds, once more than a thousand before he gave up.

Then he received an answer. A hard thud on the other side reverberated around the room. He woke from a restless sleep and scratched around for his pole. “Stevie!” he yelled as he felt the metal in his fingers, “Stevie they’re here!”

He slammed the pole against the door and waited a moment. Had he dreamt it all? Was this his desert oasis on the horizon?

The thud came back and he yelled out in glee, banging the pole on the door with all his might.

“Stevie they’re here to save us! Hold on, Stevie, hold on!”

Walter Wallace - Chapter 110

Walter felt physically sick. It was a feeling he was now familiar with and he could no longer imagine his life without it. He saw no future where happiness could exist, an unattainable mental state. He finally understood the sorrow of all the people he had tried to help. He finally saw how foolish he was to try and reconcile them.

“Walter!” the voices in the room sounded distant and stifled. It took him some time to realise he was being addressed by someone other than Sam Tank. “Walter! I don’t believe we ever actually met!” It was the crippled man who had just entered the room. “Boss Citadel!” he said cheerfully as Walter raised his head. “I would shake your hand but...” he shrugged his shoulders, indicating his hands were full – one with a crutch and the other with a gun. “I will say your magic potion is a thrilling little kick. I’ve been on morphine for weeks now and it does not even come close to what I’m feeling now!”

Ricky Talk, the large man beside Sam, growled with disapproval. He looked at Sam who shook his head before speaking to Boss. “Tell me, Simon, and I concede that you have slipped this one trick by me.”

“It’s a secret, Sammy.” Boss laughed. His speech was slightly drawled and he couldn’t quite pronunciate the words through his tightened jaw, but he was enjoying himself nonetheless. “You know I never have seen you like this. So open and honest, thinking you had it all figured out. You should see your face.”