Sydney West — Chapter 1
Posted by rblackbird on July 1, 2012
The divisions in the common public are defined in many ways. It’s the differences the definers hold most important that may not only tell us something about those they speak of, but the speakers, themselves. Relativity and variety are subjective things, just as objectivity is subjective depending on the biases of the thinker. For, though we all profess some form of realism, the purest form of it is rare.
Stories told, especially of the novel, are rarely objective. Even history, atop its Olympian pedestal, is still a product of flawed and biased humans. Every recollection, especially when on a wide scale, is tainted by the Storyteller. Only a true intellectual marvel is able to attain complete objectivity and, if that were to occur, it could be argued that the said intellect has ceased to be human at all.
This story is not intended to be free of subjectivity, seeing as the events detailed here are what some would consider, and quite rightly, as bizarre. There are things that lie beyond cold facts of a textbook, if textbooks have any facts at all, and things that cannot be explained by the best deductive methods. That said, here begins a story hidden in ordinary days, a story no one would believe — no one has believed. Yet all that’s been said so far is an exterior reasoning. Decide what you believe for yourself.
This is the story of Sydney West.
Stories start in all sorts of places. Where they begin often tells the reader of what to expect as they progress. Castles often lead to dragons, country estates to deeds of deepest love (or of hate), and ambiguously presented settings usually lead to equally as ambiguous characters and plot, leaving a reader with an ambiguous feeling of disappointment. That’s one of the worst kinds.
Yet, some stories are so wholly unlike their beginnings that the reader is soon jerked roughly by the collar and out of their contentment. Some stories demand something of the reader.
The line before the coffee counter was extraordinarily unremarkable. The tiny, brick building sheltered the small mob of decidedly average-looking people from the wind whistling outside. Everything beyond the small bubble of warmth was swarmed in a pale blue haze of winter.
The line wasn’t moving, due to a particularly ill-informed customer that was in a verbal scuffle with the pink-haired teenage girl behind the counter. It was something about the finer blends of coffee that they didn’t carry. The rest of the people in the line looked anywhere but at the two, at the colorful posters and advertisements for currently trendy things, like bands no one had ever heard of, various possessions for sale, or the upcoming craft fair.
Unremarkableness in such a shop is also quite relative, as some of those reading may attest. There are odd things and people that congregate in seemingly random places, and thus redefine what is remarkable in a location. A very tall, pale man in a black trench coat kept his place about halfway down the line, and he was the only one who didn’t seem to be trying to ignore the spat up front. His coat was perfectly tailored to his thin frame, and the collar was flipped up halfway. His grey eyes stared straight ahead, his plain face completely motionless.
The argument in the front ended with a stern word from a man with a badge who had mysteriously appeared over the shoulder of the bright-haired girl. The line started to move again. The tall man’s face cracked in a wince, and his impeccable posture broke, as well. He let himself fall back a step, crashing into a younger man with thick-rimmed glasses and a carefully kept look of uncoolness about him.
They both exclaimed, and the taller turned to face the other, the same blank look of tiredness over his face, in sharp contrast with the surprised confusion slightly below him. “Sorry. I’m…sorry,” said the taller. The strange pallor over his face made the younger stop a moment before replying. After all, that, combined with the man’s long, black coat, may have been due to some unknown affiliation of fashion, which he didn’t want to risk offending.
“Are you oka — ”
“You look like a nice, dependable young man,” the taller of the two began. The other merely looked at him skeptically. The stranger definitely didn’t look right. With his black-gloved hands, the stranger took something out of his inside pocket.
“I wonder, if you could,” he paused and glanced somewhere else, the color of his face suddenly taking on more grey than white, “in about seven seconds, call an ambulance.” After that, his knees promptly buckled, dropping his scarecrow frame to the scuffed wooden floor. Another man attempted to catch him, but failed. The rest of those in line kicked up the buzz of commotion, but the man with the glasses stared in blank awe and confusion over what had just happened.
The man on the floor had left a small, blue cell phone in his hand. Snapping out of the daze, the young man flipped it open and hit three numbers — 9-1-1.
Within an hour, the tall man was at the hospital. The fact that he had not regained consciousness led the medics to believe he had hit his head on the floor as he came down. It was a tough time getting through the icy roads with the ambulance, but the towering buildings soon rose up on all sides, blocking out the sun. The blizzard had just broken the day before, and the sun had since busied itself, turning the streets to a network of icy mirrors.
The back doors of the ambulance opened, then the real whirlwind began.
Without a single piece of identification on him, the man was dubbed “John Q.” until he should wake. The bright, white shirt and oddly crisp black trench coat, among other articles, had been placed in a cabinet in the corner, replaced by a pale blue hospital gown. With the gown came wires and softly beeping monitors.
The man with the glasses had been admitted as a visitor on the basis of his being the one who made the call, in addition to being the last person the man spoke to, as witnessed by the bystanders. There was also a strange sense of concern in the pit of his stomach, beyond what he would consider the normal concern for another human. It was more like curiosity — nagging curiosity in the back of his mind that demanded he see the odd occurrence to its resolution.
The room was as quiet as one would expect for a hospital, but for the measured sounds of the machinery. The heater at the windowsill growled faintly, keeping him company in a beastly sort of way as he kicked back in the padded chair, paper coffee cup in one hand, doubled-over newspaper and ballpoint pen in the other.
A nurse in green had come in once to check the readout on a complicated looking machine. She had amazingly bright red hair, and asked if he knew there was a vending machine down the hall. “I didn’t, but I’ll be heading out soon,” he replied. She smiled and was gone seconds later.
His eyes wandered to the table on the other side of the bed. On it were the only objects connected with the strange man, other than his clothes; there was a ten-dollar bill and the cell phone. He had the burning desire to snatch up the phone. As much as he hated to admit it, he’d seen all the crime shows, read more thrillers than he could count and, the moment the authorities
divulged the fact there was no identification, his thoughts went to the phone. He didn’t know if anyone had checked it. Probably not. It wasn’t a crime scene, and the man would wake up soon, anyway.
He began to tap his feet, then stood up quickly and took a glance at the door.
He leaned over the bed to grab the phone, then nearly had a heart attack, knocking the phone to the floor in surprise.
“Do I know you?” the pale man in the bed said quietly, eyes still shut. It was the best place for cardiac arrest, was the first man’s thought. His second thought was scrambling for an answer to the question the man in the bed had posed to him. He returned his heels to the floor and stepped back as the tired grey eyes opened slightly to look at him.
“Um…” The man in bed only stared blankly. He knew it was because of events,
but it didn’t make it any less unsettling. “Yes,” the standing man answered.
“You don’t look familiar,” the other informed. The one standing went for
a small red button on the wall, thinking to call the nurse, but his hand was deflected with surprising dexterity by the man in bed. “Don’t press my button,” was the command.
“I probably should have said no, actually,” the man standing confessed. Before he could explain, the calm, almost monotone voice of the other began.
“So you’re just a freak who likes to hang out in hospital rooms.” “Now, wait a minute!” “I have a feeling I’ve been waiting for a long time; one more minute is
fine with me. Please, do continue,” the man said, sitting up slightly. The long sentence caught the other off guard, and he sputtered for a moment, the man watching him with what appeared as bored eyes. He finally gave up on renewing his train of thought, and came around the end of the bed
to pick the phone up off the floor. He wordlessly handed it to its owner. The pulse monitor made it a tricky thing to hold, but he did, maneuvering the plastic clip on the end of his finger to the other side of the phone. As he suspected, the last number dialed was 9-1-1. He then scrolled through the rest of the menu. “They said you went seven or eight days without eating,” the tall, spectacled, vaguely annoying man said. John Q. didn’t look up from the phone, but stopped scrolling through the blank menus. “I was just wondering why,” the one standing defended, sensing a rising anger in the stranger, though there was no outward sign of it. He just seemed that sort of person — tense as a default.
“An appropriate question,” was his curt reply. There was another moment of silence. “Why are you here?” His left hand came up to scratch the back of his head, an otherwise casual act made quite painful by the realization that there was an IV tube attached to his wrist. His confusion was replaced by another wince of pain as he found a deep bruise as he rubbed his head.
“Well, I have to be honest. Curiosity, mainly. Things like this don’t happen every day.”
“‘Things like this’?”
“Yeah, you were the one who asked me to call an ambulance. I suppose I feel a bit of responsibility, after that.”
The man in bed stared blankly. There was a long moment of silence. Why did the man in the glasses feel like he was a a Jack Russell being stared down by a leopard? The next sentence from the bed was prefaced by a large inhale, usually indicating the next words are something reluctantly said.
“I see you quite like to read, so I am asking you not to take an overly enthusiastic, nor skeptical, reaction to what I have to say.”
“Well, all ri — wait, what? You ‘see’?”
“There seem to be two main types of people in the world, crosswords and sudokus,” he explained, using his smallest finger to point to the newspaper still on the chair. The crossword was nearly filled in. John Q. looked back.
“Now, may I — “ The impending revelation was cut short as the red- haired nurse entered. Surprise burst from her face like a roman candle.
“Well, hello there!” John Q’s face cracked in an attempt to return her smile. It looked more like mocking in annoyance. She came around to view something on another machine, then pressed a button that made the head of the bed rise with an electric buzzing. The sudden beginning to the movement wiped the annoyed smirk off his face as he braced against it.
“Now, could I get your name? The office needs it to find your insurance,” she said in a matronly voice. He forced the exaggerated smile back onto his face. The man in the glasses merely stared, unsure of what was going on.
“Chloe,” the stranger began, which made the younger man look up in surprise. The nurse had written her name on a nearby whiteboard several minutes before, but he hadn’t seen the stranger look at it. “As I was about to tell Hipster Boy over there, I haven’t a clue.” He held the smile and looked back over to the man in the glasses.