For reasons I will never be able to properly explain, I have for decades been hardcore obsessed with the opening seven minutes of the Bonfire of The Vanities movie that DePalma did. Terrible movie, astonishing opening. Also, remember when 1999 was a thing way in the future? Only if you're old as fuck!
ThEraPeutIc SKIn JobS #9
Everybody's fucking at the end of time
I hate to wait.
Looking down, I see my fists clench and unclench involuntarily as I nervously wait for my cue. This wasn’t my idea, but I’ve been convinced that I should say a few words.
“On in five, Kyle,” says Bridget, smiling at my discomfort and speaking to me in a ridiculously soothing tone. “You ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I grin back, giving her a falsely positive thumb up.
“What the hell does that mean?” asks Bridget, obviously curious as she tries to repeat my gesture with her hands.
“Bit before your time,” I sigh.
Bridget stops playing with her fingers and glances at her watch. “Oh s**t,” she moans in faint despair and I console myself with the thought that some words never go out of fashion. “It’s almost time.”
“You got that right,” I answer, jumping up and down on the spot, trying desperately to shake off all this nervous energy. “It always is.”
“Cheer up, Kyle. It might never happen,” she grins at me as she walks away, leaving me alone to my thoughts.
Well. Here we are. New Years Eve, 2999. This is it.
I reach inside the pocket of my battered leather jacket and pull out a small jade pendant on a chain, watching it as the tiger it’s been crafted into catches the light, casting strange patterns on the wall which mess with my head, pushing me into a trance-like state of near bliss. A roar from the crowd out there snaps me out of it and I shake my head, placing the pendant back in my pocket.
The pendant stirs up long forgotten memories of a time a thousand years ago. Jesus. It doesn’t feel that long ago. It still feels like yesterday. No. Not yesterday.
It feels like it’s still happening.
Ruth glances back at me and winks, pulling me across the road. Cars veer away, missing us by nothing, but Ruth’s legendary confidence gets us across to the other side of J Street in one piece. Physically, anyway.
“Christ, Ruth!” I yell, leaning forward to catch my breath. “You could’ve warned me.”
“I did,” she answers back, stepping down the alleyway right in front of us. “You just didn’t hear me.”
I follow Ruth down the alley, blinking slightly as we walk between moments and come out again on the other side of J Street. “Right,” I say firmly. “When are we now?”
She glances at her watch. “Um, June. 1997.”
“Okay,” I reply, trying to figure out which way Evans had suggested. “We better hurry. This was an uncertain time. I don’t want to get stuck here.”
“This way,” prompts Ruth, grabbing my hand and heading upstreet. “There's a door down here that’ll take us closer.”
“How far do we have to go?” I whine. “How many more times do we need to cross the street?”
“Weren’t you listening to Evans?” scolds Ruth without looking back at me. “He told us.”
“I was listening,” I answer feebly. “I just forgot.”
Ruth stops and turns to me. Street inhabitants don’t give us another glance as they walk by. “Only one more crossing,” she says, smiling at me slyly. “You’re getting forgetful, ‘Karma Kyle’.”
“I’m getting old. We all are, ‘Bulletproof Ruth’.”
“Heh,” smiles Ruth, leaning forward and kissing me lightly on the cheek before resuming walking. “Come on! No time to lose!’
“What’s the big deal?” I ask, unconditionally following. “It’s only New Years. An old New Years, at that.”
“Yeah, but I missed it. I was stuck on that other J Street, remember?”
“I know, but it wasn’t that big a deal.”
“I know that,” says Ruth, stopping in front of a dark green door. “But I missed it. And I never miss.”
“I suppose,” I sigh, instantly deciding that now’s a good as time as ever to reveal a secret. “I have to go back anyway.”
“Oh?” And why is that?”
“Because I met up with my own future self on New Years, 1999. And I always knew I’d have to go back to uphold the other side of that meeting. Believe me, you don’t fuck with space-time without a paradox biting you on the arse.”
“I believe you. So what do you have to say to your past self?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No,” I say pathetically. “I forgot. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’ll come back to me.”
“Here’s hoping,” smiles Ruth, pulling the door open and walking through. I follow her and, after a sudden flash of intense vertigo, find myself standing in exactly the same spot. But the ever-present traffic has shut down, and the street teems with life. The inhabitants of this fucked-up street have all poured out onto the road, intent on celebration.
“Is this it?” I ask needlessly.
“Oh yes,” nods Ruth without looking at her watch. “This is most definitely it. Welcome to the last moment of 1999."
Wait a minute. Nineteen-ninety-nine?
I snap out of it just long enough to realize what’s happening. I’m still standing backstage, waiting for my cue.
“Bridget!” I yell desperately, rubbing my eyes and trying to clear my head. "Help!”
“What is it, Kyle?” asks Bridget, at my side in a second and looking worried. “What’s wrong?”
“Somebody’s slipped me some Krono,” I hiss through gritted teeth. “I’m experiencing some pretty full on flashbacks here.”
“Oh shit,” says Bridget. “I’ll try to find some ClearHead.”
“You do that,” I groan as the past invades my mind again. “Unrestrained nostalgia has its place, but this is hardly the time.”
Ruth looks at me strangely and I lean closer to hear her voice over the roar of the crowd. “What’s wrong?” she cries in my ear. “Is everything okay? You looked kinda weird there for a second.”
“I’m okay,” I answer. “Just a bit of Déjà vu.”
“I’m not surprised,” laughs Ruth, pulling me into the mob. We somehow manage to push our way through to the center of the crowd and feed on the mood, drinking in pleasure with every breath.
“So where are you now?” asks Ruth.
“I spent most of tonight saving Max from the Nanomissionaries. But I shouldn’t be far away. I remember seeing the flyover.”
“Oh, I heard about that. They take off right after midnight, don’t they?”
“Yeah. It’s a sight.”
Ruth grins and jumps up and down in an effort to see better. I step forward to lift her up when somebody pushes into me, almost knocking me over. I turn around to see myself staring back at me. Shit. That’s right. This is how it happened.
The younger Kyle’s face creases in confusion before understanding replaces it with a shit-eating grin. “Oh,” he says to me. “It’s you.”
“Um yeah,” I answer. Why can’t I remember what I said to myself? “How’re you going?” I offer.
“Not bad,” shrugs my younger self. “Not too bad at all. Yourself?”
I sneak a peek back at Ruth before answering. “Oh, can’t complain.”
“Good,” smiles Kyle, saluting me sloppily before walking back into the crowd. “I’ll see you later then?”
“You will,” I say, saluting back and watching as he disappears into the mass.
Ruth leans forward, resting her chin on my shoulder. “Is that it?” she says, disappointment evident. “Is that all?”
“I couldn’t think of anything to say.”
“You could’ve told him about Max.”
“I wouldn’t want to know,” I say, suddenly very, very tired. “Look. Can we go back to 2011 now?”
“Don’t be such a spoilsport. There's only a minute to go. Savor the 20th century while you can.”
Ruth kisses me again and my heart melts. The excited tone of the crowd changes subtly, building to a crescendo. I count down the moments with everybody else, but the instant before midnight, understanding washes over me like a wave, dragging me back into the future.
Time fractures again and I refocus on Bridget, smiling down at me. “How’s that, Kyle?” she asks. “I found some ClearHead in Lennon’s trailer. Do the trick?”
‘Yeah,” I say, shaking the thousand year old memory loose. “I’m ready now.”
“You sure you’re okay? Krono is a pretty hard drug. It can hit you like a bomb.”
“I know. I’m fine.”
“Hmmmmmm….” says Bridget sternly.
“I’m fine. Honest.
“Hmmmmmm…” she repeats, walking away to check on the rest of her acts. I start jumping up and down on the spot again. I just want to get this over with.
I’m still leaping in the air when there’s a strange sizzling noise and the smell of ozone wafts through the air. I stop jumping and turn around to see a man step out of thin air and stand dead still, looking around with curiosity. He’s strangely familiar, and I suddenly remember where I’ve seen him before.
“Skin!” I scream at him, desperate to be heard over the intense noise of the audience. “You made it! We made it! It’s all good!”
Doctor Skin looks at me in confusion before grinning slightly. “Kyle? Karma Kyle?”
“That’s right!” I laugh, unconsciously dancing on the spot as the moment gets closer and closer. “I’m glad you remember. It’s been a thousand years….”
“What?” asks Doctor Skin. “Is this the future?”
"The future is now!” I scream, glancing at my watch and realizing that the moments arrived. “Oh my God. Time’s up.”
I try to smile reassuringly at Skin, but he must be misinterpreting my motives, because he backs away shaking his head. “I can’t…” he begins before fading away again, leaving me alone in the backstage area.
“Huh,” I mutter to myself, letting this last mystery go unanswered. I’m due on stage.
Stepping through the curtain, the first thing that hits me is the intense light shining down from the strobe satellites high up in Earth’s atmosphere. The second thing that hits me is the strange silence that’s descended upon the five billion people in front of me, all eager to hear what I have to say.
I make ‘em wait.