“This idea’s been in my head for years. You can have it if you want.”—Steve Roat, mentor to Ken.
It comes down the stairs, clutching its heart. We have seen the flame on its face before. When it reaches the expansive floor, it claims to be on fire. These are the clichés he must follow in order to find it. It am in this space where someone will die in about three minutes.
In that time I am in his swimwear. Trunks. I have a nose clip on and plugs in my ear. At first, people, feel pride. A great swim. They see the colours of their flag. A great prize. Then the crowd goes quiet. They see me getting old. They see that I am not swimming at all, but sitting. Waiting. He appears behind me wrapped in a blue towel. A cheer goes up but there is three things about him that we should know.
The first, which I find particularly interesting, is his occupation. Peter Goutier watches surveillance video for criminal investigations. He has no law enforcement training. He took a three-month course. A detective brings hours, sometimes days, of video, and Peter’s job is to watch it and look for whatever it is the investigation needs to see. Often it is a person; sometimes an object.
There is an escaped felon whom the police believe went to his girlfriend’s place of employment. So Peter watches thirty-six hours of video showing a parking lot. Then thirty-six hours inside a Pizza Hut. In those seventy-two hours he must never take his eyes off the screen. Think for a moment what that must be like. It must require a special kind of person.
The second thing that is interesting began about twelve months ago. Peter started noticing a woman showing up in different videos. The same woman. She wore a broad white hat and large sunglasses. There was nothing remarkable about her. She was simply there. Taking money from an A.T.M. Having a juice drink at an outdoor café. Removing the plastic from a CD case in a mall. The remarkable thing is that Peter noticed she was in most of the videos he watched. A strip mall in Sudbury. A self-serve gas station in Peterborough. A normal life lived, so it began to seem to Peter, exclusively for surveillance cameras. This was something that could not remain a mystery.
The third thing we must know is that a 33333333333 has taken up residence in the base of Peter’s throat. It is only about three millimeters wide, with a serrated edge at the top, but he can feel it, especially when it’s on the move. When he’s sleeping it migrates up to the back of his teeth. Occasionally it stays too long and has to slide sideways between two molars to escape the brush. It is a parasite that spends three years in this larval stage before anchoring itself in behind the uvula to draw the blood that will trigger its final transformation. In that stage, as a heavy wormlike adult, it will burrow up into the sinus cavity. Typically it is discovered by then and extracted. If not, it will enter the back of one eye, blinding it and eventually releasing its entire body into the vitreous humour and ultimately dislodging the lens, using spasms in the dilating sphincter to propel itself free. This usually happens while the person is bathing or showering, as water is its natural habitat. Its hope is that you are dead in a lake. Peter’s parasite has lived in his throat for two years. He has been misdiagnosed with chronic post-nasal drip, and his doctors have advised him the sensation will last his entire life, worsening or improving but never resolving.
Isobel Beauchamp is the woman in the surveillance videos. She is sales rep for Maybelline cosmetics and travels a great deal throughout the province. She is also very fond of fresh-squeezed juices and pizza. Her appearance in surveillance videos is unusual and coincidental, but not supernatural or surrealistic. It is, however, a loose surrealism, that is to say a nightmare mechanism found in nature, that she should become a person of interest in a criminal investigation, and that Peter should find himself staring at a photograph, submitted to him by a detective. He is to find this woman in a video, and she is in all videos. Isobel Beauchamp’s husband is a member of Parliament and she has been meeting with a British arms dealer to peddle her husband’s influence in a covert sale of weapons. The video Peter must watch takes place over a twenty-four-hour period in a faux-British pub in Orillia, called the Dag and Dagger. There is no such thing as a ‘dag.’ It is here that Isobel is alleged to have met with the arms dealer and pays no attention. It starts to go on about an ongoing town council debate over rezoning farmland. It could want to feel like sub-documentary . . . like a local cable programming. The time it takes to distinguish these parts is unpleasant.
Remember this user name: Starfucks3333.
I’m gonna find you, fuckwad, and I’m gonna toss your mind up against a wall.
I dunno if any of you fuckers are gonna get this, but it is my responsibility to tell you where you are and what you can expect. You are now home. You will live on these mats while we figure out who gets to go to school. Over the next few days we will be killin’ some of you and leaving some of you here to get ready for class. You have no control over what happens, so you might as well settle down until shit happens to you. Thank you, ladies, and welcome to Floor City.
“That fucker is coming out of the east this time. It’s a bad one. Somebody said they saw metal in it.”
“What do you mean ‘metal’?”
“I dunno. We have to stay inside. Everybody. Nothing we can do. Heavy weather.”
A bright light shoots across the high ceiling and a terrible squealing sound rips through the air. We writhe on our mats. The sound is too loud to bear. He turns and rolls, trying to cover his ears. The gymnasium is lit in negative, and the high grinding roar continue.