talonkarrde: (Default)
They are beautiful, fragile, impossible worlds.

And each is an escape, a diversion, an impression of meaning onto a world that gives none, a world that shifts crazily from minute to minute, teetering on the brink of incredulity, of hopelessness, of manic creation.

He constructs them in his mind as he falls asleep, thinks of a scene, a thought, a moment, and carries it with him into his dreams. He doesn’t know if other people can do this; he’s never told anyone about it and never will. It’s his superpower, he chooses to believe; it’s super enough that it saves him, at least.

And when he falls into the realm of dreams he takes that scrap of meaning — the feel of his mother patting him on the head and telling him everything will be better, the sound of his classmates slurs' — four-eyes, slant-eyes, flat-face — ringing in his ears, the abject loneliness of not wanting to go out to recess to be mocked more, where the teachers can’t see... he takes that and he creates worlds from them.

Worlds where those words, those feelings, that hurt is personified and anthropomorphized and made into something that he can slay as a knight, something he can shoot with Han Solo and Luke Skywalker by his side, something he can escape from by asking a boon of Lord Morpheus. He creates worlds in his dreams where all of the hurt that he suffers during the day becomes a monster, a quest that he undertakes in many ways and under many guises, one where he always escapes in the end.

They are long quests, and the battle is hard — but the nighttime is his respite, his chance to lick his wounds before going to battle the next day.

As he gets older, the words change and become more subtle. Sometimes they are not even words at all, simply glances, or eye-rolls, or disgusted sighs, and he takes those, too, and uses them as the foundations to create worlds that he dreams about, worlds where he does more than stare awkwardly to the side, not knowing how to respond in the proper manner, if there is one. He writes about those worlds sometimes.

These worlds are darker — there is less black and white, fewer princesses that are damsels in distress and more friends that are actually enemies in disguise; he has learned. But they are no less colorful, no less filled with fantasy and adventure, and meaning and symbolism and most of all success, or love, or whatever is missing from his life. He doesn’t win all the time now, he doesn’t get every girl or kill every dragon or beat the buggers every time, but his dreams remain his escape, his harbor, his shelter from his all-to-real enemies.

It’s not until later still, when he’s an ‘adult’, according to society, that he has the first intersection — the first flash, when his dreams take over for a while, because that’s the only defense mechanism he knows how to use, the one that’s served him the best. It’s a cliche, of course — he tells a pretty, popular girl what he really thinks, and gets nothing but scorn in return. Scorn, and a trip to the hospital, where he’s careful to say only that he tripped.

But clichés are what they are because they happen, often. Too often.

The next day at school, he feels his glasses ripped away from his face, and then it all blurs. As it should, but instead of seeing blurry schoolmates and classmates and every single one of them laughing at him, he sees ghosts and demons and he is clad in armor, a knight who must stand against the darkness.

And he does.

He does not cry, he does not sniffle, he holds his head high and demands of them, demands with his sword held out to them for his belongings to be returned. And those demons, they hiss and they snarl but they back away, they do, and he sees one come forward with the jewel of sight in its claws, and he takes what is rightfully his. And the fantasy disappears.

The next thirty minutes are spent in the campus health center psychiatrist’s office. It comes with all the usual tests, the drawing, the questions about whether he’s wanted to kill himself, whether he has friends, and he answers them all truthfully. No, he hasn't, yes, he has a few friends, et cetera, et cetera, until he's dismissed, with nothing to show for his experiences except a missed class.

But then it happens again, the next week, when an unfriendly classmate trips him, and he turns with the pen in his hand now a sleek, silvery weapon, and he threatens to take the man apart into his dissociate atoms. The voice is the voice of a hero, and the villain slinks away, unable to confront the light. It works, it is successful, and as reality returns, he wonders at the gift that he has been given.

Until it starts to happen every time he is threatened, his dreams come to life and replace reality, to defend his mind from the unfairness, the cruelty of real life, to substitute a world where right is right and wrong always loses. 

But it's not the real world, and there are consequences that he can not control in this world. And every time he has an episode, he loses a bit of that control, as the monsters don't always follow the plot, as his weapons and speeches do not always work. And what he loses are his defenses, bit by bit, until they are eroded away and all his dreams no longer come — for what use are they, when they do not defend him — and his world is only a small room in a small institution where there are no sharp edges.

He wants to tell him that he is not like the others, that he was only there because his mind did what it needed to survive, that he is perfectly sane -- but his words fall on deaf ears. In the end, he loses even his worlds, as his dreams turn blank and bleak with the drugs that he is given.
talonkarrde: (Default)
The main problem with deception is this: once you get really good at it, you find it almost impossible to stop. It's a skill, just like any other, and it's pure human nature to showcase what you're good at — whether it’s tennis, finance, or manipulating people.

Even when you want to tell the truth, it's hard not to put that slightly enhanced edge on your words that makes them easier to hear — that fine coating on sugar on a bitter pill, often. And when you want to mislead someone, of course, the talent comes out in full force, and every time you spin a beautiful web of lies that glitters and stands up to all attempts to break it, you fall in love with it a little more.

So you see, it was probably inevitable that I ended up in front of the high court, accused of everything from bribery and racketeering to mopery and dopery. There was a war going on, the judge thundered down at me, and I was taking up resources that could be used elsewhere. I would be facing years in a not-too-cushy prison, he said, and then perhaps I would be conscripted for the war as cannon fodder.

Confronted with that, I did the only thing that really made sense to me — I wove the most beautiful web ever.

I told the judges I wasn't always in control of myself, that I had other people in my head, that it was crowded in this body, and all I could do, sometimes, was sit back and watch. It was supplemented with evidence my defense lawyers came up with — video of me in public places, dressed differently, in different ‘personas’. A Russian factory manager named Vladimir, a French poet called Georges, a Southern gentleman called Tom Hicks, each of their — of my — actions were paraded in front of the judges. Their different accents, their different interactions with people, they were clearly not the same person — the only common thread was that, well, they all shared this body.

I could see the web in front of me, my falsehoods supporting one another, glittering like diamonds, as the judge tested it, watching the videos, watching me. I stood there as myself, looking weak and ashamed as the shrinks came in and gave their opinions, and my web trapped all of these experts.

#

The cameras in the asylum were always watching, and as a result, I spent my days fooling them, creating other people living inside my head, and showcasing my results to the cameras, visible and otherwise. When I was Vlad, I spoke wif a heevy accent, like dees. When Georges was around, he greeted the all the female residents in French — "Ah, mes amoures!" They started out as caricatures, but that was the point — they were immediately obvious as being different. They were easy to react to.

But it needed to be more than that, especially since I knew the authorities were still suspicious. In order to be more convincing, I needed to be them instinctively, without thinking; I constructed personas for them, thought-patterns, backgrounds. I learned languages from the books of my 'homelands' that I requested, and slipped more and more easily into their mindspaces, as I thought of it.

I diversified — they needed to have different skills, be completely independent, and so each one started learning something that would make sense for them to know. Georges became an excellent people-person, with a high EQ; he could calm even the most aggravated people down. Vladimir developed an eye for logistics — as a factory manager, he needed to make sure the cogs were always spinning optimally. And so on — the surprising thing was that my characters were all fairly good at their chosen skills. When Vlad was ‘front’, or in control, they asked him to improve the inventory management for our food. Tom was asked about survival skills, something he had picked up living alone in the bayous and forests of the South.

Once I established how the others’ minds would work, I practiced slipping into them on demand. I was good, but not good enough — I always had at least a few seconds of lag time when I ‘switched’. But I wanted it to be perfect, and soon realized that to do it properly, I needed to keep their minds in mine at all times, so that it was a simple matter of shifting who was ‘in charge’. Once I realized that, it was simple.

The 'switches', where I would change from one persona to another, would come with moments or cues that I knew the shrinks would pick up on, and I became an expert, never failing once to switch, even if it was extremely inconvenient for me. It was the point that it was inconvenient which would fool the shrinks, I knew — the same way doctors test for a real unconscious victim by putting a patient’s hand above their head. If the doctor let go and their hand smacked them in the face, they weren’t faking.

Letting my switches be inconvenient was a small price to pay not to be rotting in jail or worse, conscripted.

#

The main problem with deception is this: when you're good at lying to other people, you're also pretty damn good at lying to yourself. After all, you are just as human as the people you lie to, and deceiving yourself is often infinitely more useful than deceiving others.

Physiologically, you are most convincing if you're not lying when you're telling a lie. Simply put, the paradox explains that the best politicians, polygraph-busters, and successful con men all share something in common: we believe every word that's coming out of our lips as we’re saying them.

I opened my eyes one fine Friday morning and without thinking, flirted in French with the nurse that came in. I, Georges, paused for a moment, and realized that I had succeeded — I was all of those people I had constructed six months ago, and their thoughts were as natural to me as breathing. I believed in this lie that I was telling, and that meant the world had no choice but to believe, too.

For a week, it was a beautiful outcome. I was sharing headspace with my other personas, and could shift in and out of them at will. I was content in my deception; I would live a comfortable life here until I got tired of the others, pretended I was cured, and then go back to my old ways. I had beaten the system; maybe I could even make a book from it — under a pseudonym, of course.

I revelled in my success, and let go of my control, and that was the fatal mistake. Even then, I think, I should’ve seen the symptoms, the start of the whispers even when the others weren’t occupying my body, the tics that were definitively not myself. But I was busy celebrating, crowing my success at having completely deceived the Man.

I didn’t realize that I had also completely deceived myself.

Exactly a week after my ‘success’, I found myself alone in a hallway for a moment, and decided to revert back to myself, which is something that should have been simple. I hadn’t tried for a while, but it was necessary to keep up the deception. Here, though, I was reasonably sure there weren’t cameras; I wanted quiet for a moment from the others’ thoughts that I kept streaming.

I couldn’t.

They found me on the floor, clawing at my face.

"GET OUT, GET OUT OF MY HEAD—"

I was a spider, caught in my own beautiful web.

#

In the tormented mess of my mind, the languages I knew flowed into one another, my words as muddled as my thoughts. I spent a week on suicide watch, babbling nonsensically, switching between languages, between personas, between myself and myself and myself.

I had lost who I was and for a while, I could only find glimpses of sanity, moments when I knew my true name, when I knew who I really was; the rest were lost to me, their—my memories locked out. And even when I was myself, those switches that I had constructed to deceive the shrinks would kick in, unconsciously, and I would lose myself to Tom, or Vlad, or Georges. It could be minutes or days before I resurfaced, and each time, it was more wearying to hold on.

Those same shrinks that I had caught in my web were now my only hope. They spoke of disorders and personality changes and how my other personalities had finally ‘learned of each others’ existence’, as if it was some holy grail of psychology that they were witnessing. I wanted to tell them — I did tell them, when I was lucid enough — that it was bullshit, they weren’t witnessing enlightenment, just self-destruction.

But when do sane men listen to those committed?

Day by day, though, the psychologists that I had deceived so beautifully now saved me from that deception-turned-reality, extricated me from the web that bound me. Session by session, they tried to organize my thoughts, establish control, and somehow, somehow, it started to work. The other’s voices, their thoughts, no longer came together, at the same time; I could sort them out, tell who was speaking, and I grasped onto myself longer and longer. I was the alpha, the center, the front, and they were just creations, I kept telling myself.

With time, my ‘illness’, my deception, was cured — or at least, the symptoms addressed. There was me again, a mind that was, if not in perfect control, at least able to quell the others. It was, to me, the greatest irony — I was saved from the madness I had inflicted upon myself by the very people that I had fooled.

Inside the asylum, I learned to stop weaving tangled webs to deceive.

#

The main problem with deception is this: once you construct a lie, build a framework to support it, and then go forward with it, you can never take it back. Every time you convince someone of something, they put effort into believing it, they make decisions based on that belief, and they commit to that worldview that you have sold them.

Even if you go back on your words, show them proof that what you said was not the truth — if the initial deception was sound, they will always have doubts. They won’t trust what you told them at first, but neither will they trust the retraction, and are stuck in a state of limbo, of doubt. It is a crippling condition.

For a period of time after I was discharged, I was well. I was honest, I remembered what my errors had been and what price I had almost paid for them. I lived a boring life, working as a low level peon, bowing to the whims of secretaries when I used to seduce secretaries for their bosses’ passwords, working for the corporations I used to be able to bribe and blackmail and own from the shadows, with nothing but charisma and talent.

But there were times when I was given just the slightest opening, and, well, who would know if I made the truth a bit sweeter than it was? It wouldn’t hurt, certainly, and so I told a small untruth, and then another, and—

And then I found myself pounding on the door of the police station, begging to be taken back to the asylum. The voices were back, back in my head, and they wouldn’t leave. I could hear them, their voices chattering, clamouring, wanting to be the one to use these lips, to move these fingers, that to think with this mind.

I was caught by my web again — or perhaps, truly never freed from it. I couldn’t convince myself that the truth really was true, that I was only myself and the others never existed.

#

The general was a thin, severe man, with a beak of a nose and the countenance of a bird of prey. He watched me from across the table.

I had been in jail for three days, and I was expecting, after my full confession, to be taken out back and shot. From time to time, I would’ve welcomed it, given the tenuous nature of my grip on reality — on myself. It helped that there was nothing to prompt a switch, but I had to exert control to keep the others from rising to the surface, and I was getting tired. From time to time, I lost a few seconds to them, and couldn’t remember what they said or did.

I was losing it.

But here was this general, decorated with more medals than I had seen on any five other soldiers, sitting here in the interrogation chamber with me.

“Well?” I finally asked, after sitting there under his piercing stare for five minutes.

“I have reviewed every single video that has ever been taken of you,” he said quietly, his tone intensely even. “You are a master at your craft. This deception that you played on the court the first time — it bought you the safety of the asylum instead of the miserable conditions of a jail. From there, you developed your ‘other selves’ so as to pass every possible analysis, so that you would never be found out. You did it so well, though, that you lost who you were, didn’t you? And the psychologists and therapists helped you as best they can, but here you are, losing your mind, because you went back into the habit; you couldn’t resist.”

In a single speech, he had completely destroyed the web that I had constructed, erased it as if it had never been.

“You have two choices right now. If you go back out there, you’ll go back to your ways, and the voices will never leave you; you’ll never have any peace at all. Eventually, either the police will catch up to you, or you’ll kill yourself in a fit of madness. I’ve seen others do it, though none that are quite like you.”

I was still trying to fumble for my defenses, trying to come up with something, anything to distract him.

“The other choice you have is to work with me.”

My head snapped up.

“We need people that can do what you can, people that can blend in, take different personalities, that can pass into the ranks of the enemy and have a legend — a cover — that is absolutely solid. Your other talents that you have developed — logistics awareness, survival skills, a strong empathy sense — they’re all important skills that will make a difference in this war. We need you in the field, doing what you do best, and we need you to teach those skills to the others.”

And then, the kicker.

“And, of course, we would be supporting you constantly, with the best minds we have.”

To be able to weave all the webs I could; to have people depend on them; to never be caught in my own again. He knew my answer, of course, as he had known everything that was going to happen.

I think he almost smiled.

“Welcome to His Majesty’s covert strategic operations unit, Mister Charleston.”
talonkarrde: (Default)
These are the things he tries to think about.

The booming voice of the superintendent echoing across the field. “Upon the recommendation of the faculty and by the power vested in me by the Board of Education, you are now all high school graduates!” He cheers with the others, of course, screaming himself hoarse and hugging everyone in reach, but the true moment of passage is when he looks up and sees his dad crying in the stands – and then a wave of mortarboards hides him from view.

The feel of her hair against his face, one arm cradling her body close to him, the other growing numb under the weight of her head, though he hardly minds. He tilts his head, whispering into her ear, and he watches a smile grow before she turns to kiss him. He tries to recall the way they fit together, the way he watched the moonlight fall on her skin.

The smell of chorizo soup wafting through the house, a savory mixture of garlic, basil, and tomatoes that distracts him from the work he was doing. His fingers pause from their typing and he pushes the keyboard back, heading into the kitchen and leaning against the doorway. She stands there, biting her lower lip, concentration wrinkles across her forehead as she stirs the soup. He tiptoes in, trying not to distract her, until he wraps his arms around her and kisses her on the jawline. He remembers the shiver, the smile.

These are the things he tries not to think about.

The panic growing in him as he looks at the newest bill, warning him of a late fee on top of the already crippling bills. He doesn’t know whether he should tell her; she was in the hospital just a week ago, and she might not be ready for the news. She comes into the room, laughing at something a friend sent her, and he guiltily slides the bill under a pile of work papers, turning to smile wanly back at her. He’ll sell the manuscript, he thinks, and get them out of this.

The day that he comes back from the store and sees the Ford Explorer in the driveway. He didn’t know that Jason was going to be there; though their neighbor had been over often recently, he usually called ahead a day or so. Stepping into the living room, he shakes his head at the mess of clothes Jason had left on the couch, and heads upstairs. At the top of the stairs, he stops, hearing the voices. The sounds. The silence when the door swings open, his hand falling limply from the doorknob.

The moment in time he is in, sitting in the chair, the cold metal of the cap chilling his bare skull. The hard rubber of the mouth-guard is abrasive against his tongue and gums; he wonders how many deaths it takes to chew through one of them. The prosecutor stands and reads off the names of people he killed; he does not listen.

“Do you have any last words?”

He shakes his heads, numbly, and then, as the electricity courses through his body, he thinks of everything.

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