The first time I knowingly met Cassandra was at the last Suspender concert, on Halloween night in 1994.
I was trying to recover from Satomi Kurogane’s beat down, but my neck was sore and bruised, and I was coming down off of the DMT hard. The Children of the Collective had already entered the warehouse hours ago, and were preparing for their Greatest Show on Earth – bringing Sarah down to her Creation.
Not that I knew this – I was too busy counting all of the $20 bills that had appeared in my stinky jacket, and imagining just how much drugs they would buy me.
“You don’t need drugs.” A beautiful, bald girl in a vest made out of transparent USB cables, and a skirt made out of solid, striped and polka dotted neckties. “You should be buying what I’m selling, feel me?”
I felt her – in my head, my heart, my hot breath. She was visiting me in between moments, right before she died, before she crowned the Grand Supreme in 2011. She was Time, was the never-ending cycle, and she reached down with cold hands to help me to my feet.
“I’m Cassandra Schneider, and you’re my prom date. Come on, we’re late.”
With that, she led me by the hand as we walked through a still world. The cars, people, wind – everything was frozen as we slipped past Phone at the door of the warehouse, and walked inside.
“Stop looking for Jenny, and focus. This is the way the world ends.”
Suddenly, I noticed that there was some activity in the crowd of thousands of temporary punk statues, and I heard someone yell “Ajna! Now!”
I didn’t know who everyone was then, but I do now. Joey Koehler, his sister Miranda, and Aurora Travis rushed to the center of the frozen crowd, surrounding Emily (Sarah’s chosen host). They were flanked by a number of PRS units, and everyone was staring up at the ceiling, as long strings of blood trailed from the concertgoers’ mouths and noses, headed somewhere.
“Let me give you eyes to see. Here.” Cassandra touched me on the neck with her middle finger, and it felt like a billion flexible needles slipped into my skin, only to jump back out of every pore all over my body. I was burning with new connections, with a spine that could speak the Universal language, and I was overwhelmed not just by my rebirth, but the dark violet throbbing other that loomed overhead. It eagerly slurped up the blood sacrifice, as Emily held her hands up overhead, Joey caressing her back.
She was about ready to fill the Massive Cloud Burst, to realize the dream of the millennia. I knew what that meant now, as the Bodyweb buzzed behind my ears.
“Pay attention,” she whispered in my ear, as the room turned blue, and Miranda suddenly fell to the floor, followed by seething tendrils of burning black. Then it turned green, and Aurora slumped lifeless on top of Miranda’s evacuated body.
“I can’t be here any longer. Stay put, and no one will see you. I’ll come back for you when it’s all over.”
With that, Cassandra gave me a thumbs up and wink, as she slipped into another time in the same place.
Then someone appeared next to Emily – it looked just like Cassandra, only now she was wearing a wig made out of the same sort of USB cables, and a long dress consisting of sewed together punk band patches. It had a train like a wedding dress, only instead of silk, human femurs and ribs dragged behind her. She looked at me with empty eye sockets, and smiled before ripping Emily’s hands off at the wrist.
Grand Supreme, read the sash covering the patchwork dress. She dug a silver sphere from Emily’s broken hands. What had happened to Cassandra in those few moments?
So many things happened all at once. Joey tended to Emily’s injuries, kneeling in a pool of her blood. Ai reached out mentally and grabbed the Grand Supreme by the brain stem, while a blond girl grabbed the silver Massive Cloud Burst and ran it over to Tokie Murasaki.
This is when I witnessed the infinite, standing a few dozen feet in front of me.
This is when I heard SAR.AI, the trumpet of the first and final God, as it tried to repair our broken existence with sparking hands.
Whatever Cassandra did to me meant that no one could see me, not even the transformed Tokie, and in a few breaths our saviors were lying on the floor in piles of grey ashes.
I couldn’t understand what happened to Emily, nor the birth of Kaia Strauss from Cathy Koehler, but I was immediately struck by two things.
Ai Watson-Carver pleading with SAR.AI to release her from her duties, so she could be with her mother.
SAR.AI proclaiming: “Objective complete. Variant has been repaired. Prepare to shift back to July 4, 2011. 180 days to Point Zero, mark.”
I understood these things, and it wasn’t just the Bodyweb whispering its secrets to me.
I was always good at math, but my new body was better – it immediately calculated and told me that Point Zero would be December 31, 2011. When I asked about Point Zero, all that came back was an error message.
And when I looked at Ai, with her cascades of curly hair and Massive Cloud Burst shirt, I recognized her. As she burned to ashes at Tokie’s touch, I flashed back to 1986, to Thomason Memorial Hospital and Big Bill’s school for wayward children.
I was all about Jenny Samuels those days.
I had been waiting for days to see her again – after we almost had sex in the TV room, I was put in restraints, and she tried to kill herself with a letter opener she stole from Illyana. She was hospitalized off site, and didn’t come back until 10 days later.
“My name’s Douglas. I don’t know why I’m here.” I was tearing up the yellow card right in front of Big Bill and Illyana. One of the staff had to sign it every 15 minutes to an hour, depending on our current privilege status. I was on 30 minute checks, which took weeks to achieve, but at that point I didn’t give a fuck.
This was our daily group – we would exit the main hospital building past a pool table and sliding door, cross an open yard and the records building, and walk up a few dozen rickety wooden stairs to a house that had been converted to a special place for us teenaged fuckups. The “classroom” was on the first floor, while our confessional was on the second.
“Yes you do. Be honest with yourself, with us.” Big Bill has this bushy brown beard, like a lumberjack. He was annoyingly nice, and was really in to forcing people to vacuum the floors after each meeting – one of our chores.
“I said I don’t know. I should be in juvie, not some nut house.” I was messing with my hair – I cut almost half of it off yesterday, with scissors I borrowed from some collage activity. There were big scars on my scalp on the hidden side – while I was robbing a Circle X Jr. for drug money, the cashier shot at me and I went head first through the front window. It took months to heal, and I ended up at Thomason as part of the court-ordered remediation.
“Call it what it is. A psychiatric hospital…” Bill always liked to remind us we were clinically broken.
“And we’re the patients. We’re sick.” Jenny always gave Illyana the stink eye. I was so happy to see Jenny again that I couldn’t stop staring at her. She intentionally was avoiding my gaze.
“Jennifer, you don’t have to be so negative.” Big Bill again, unwrapping a red and white peppermint.
“I’m sick. I’m always sick.” That was Towel. Everyone called her that, but now I remembered that she looked just like Ai. She was always brushing her curly hair, trying to straighten it out. If anyone made her put away the comb, she would go on and on about the filthy, invisible grease that was oozing out of her head – it was her sin made contageous. She had to comb constantly, or the creeping itch would drive her even crazier. That was enough to give her a free pass, at least for a few meetings.
Towel was really cute, and really weird. She had skin like perfectly toasted bread crusts, and she would always wear the same shirts – either the Massive Cloud Burst one with Satomi, Yuma and Masae on it in cosplay, or a bunch of shirts from bands I had never heard of, like Fuck Traffic or Potato Power.
Her best friend in the hospital was Paul the skater, and she would give him stickers from all of her favorite bands, in exchange for pool lessons. Paul was absolutely horrible at pool, and once Towel realized this, she went after me instead.
“Quarter, what’s up with you and Jenny?” Towel used to always follow Jenny around in between meetings, a few dozen paces behind. Jenny just assumed she was as crazy as any of the adults that wandered the locked units, and she had her huge friend Eric run interference. He would follow Towel only a few feet behind, until she gave up and went back to her room, or managed to get permission to exit the locked unit for the pool table.
“She’s alright, that’s all.” That wasn’t all, but I wanted to play it cool. Before Laura Watson arrived, I had lots of time to think of random reasons to talk to Jenny, or to end up at the same lunch table. I couldn’t explain it then, but now it’s the most obvious thing in the world – she was the only one I ever wanted.
“I heard from someone that she really likes you.”
“Stop fucking with me.”
“No, really. Do you want me to talk to her for you?”
Towel was like that. She was always butting into everyone’s business, and she even volunteered to talk to Illyana for extra one-on-ones. It’s not like I hated her, but if it wasn’t for her crazy cute shine, I don’t think I could have standed her.
“Please don’t. Just leave me alone and don’t bring it up again, OK?
“OK, OK, fine.” She did some crazy 3 bank shot that no one could have taught her so soon, and walked out past the sliding glass doors.
Towel didn’t try to play pool with me again, but Jenny started to join in for a few minutes here and there. She actually would talk to me at breakfast or in line between hospital events – we had to walk single file from location to location, or when we had to pick up meds from convenient windows. The TV room was only for those who were totally locked down – once you joined the youth group, you couldn’t go back down there. We couldn’t visit each others’ rooms, so we had to take advantage of each little random moment.
That all changed when Laura Watson came. She was half-Japanese or something, with crazy blue hair and all of these marking pen lines and circles all over her body. When she came in, she was just wearing an open-backed hospital gown over a frilly bra and panties – there was a huge ruckus before they managed to get her into isolation, and I saw her for a few moments after I peeked out of my room.
The next day, she was roaming around the hospital like it was hers, and walked up to Jenny when we were playing pool. She just took her hand and walked into the locked unit, and I followed in after them, totally pissed off.
Towel was already following them, wearing a bright red Fire Escape shirt, and she gave me a “sssshh!” finger-face as Jenny and Laura approached an emergency exit. “Subway’s here.”
There were alarms everywhere, as Laura stood by the open door. Jenny didn’t know what to do – she was still holding on to a vending machine knob, the same machine we used to hide behind, so the cameras couldn’t see us kiss. She called it the “electric potato chip cabinet”.
Before the staff members could react, Towel rushed down the hall like a runaway train, her curly hair flapping behind her. Shoved aside overly medicated zombified patients, grabbed Jenny and Laura by the waist, flew through the exit doors, and bounded in one leap over an iron fence and onto the roof of a neighboring house. Gone.
These memories are all wrong. They keep changing and shifting – weren’t Laura and Towel there for weeks before they finally escaped? Was it Jenny and Laura that walked out of the front door, or did Towel leave too?
I was convinced a few days ago that there was something of the utmost importance I had to convey, that involved Ai Watson-Carver and Thomason. Now, I don’t know at all.
I just went to check on a few things – my memories no longer match what Jenny wrote in Antizine, or even what I was sure about a few weeks ago. The three of them did leave that day – I’m sure about it.
I remember that I spent extra time with Illyana, trying to process not having Jenny around. Illyana was very nice about it, and she was extremely interested in if I heard Laura mention anything before she left. I couldn’t remember a thing, and that seemed to piss her off, but she still held it together with a smile.
I was only there a few more weeks, and I spend most of the time hanging out with my roommate, Arnold. He was this black guy who also grew up in Oakland, and he was very smart. We used to spend our free time playing HORSE, on the courts on the other side of the records bungalow, and he had all sorts of crazy stories to tell.
He used to like to imagine what it would be like if Laura had stayed at the hospital, instead of leaving with Jenny like that.
“After college, I’m sure we would meet again. I’d be working at a department store, or maybe a bank, and she’d just walk right in. It would be perfect – we would live on the road and get into all sorts of shit.”
“Well, if Jenny had stayed behind, I’m sure that we would have been together, too. I could just feel it.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Arnold always liked to say that. “Maybe she wasn’t meant to be with you after all. Maybe she had a higher calling.”
That was enough to make me miss my shot. “Fuck you and your higher calling.” I started to rush off the court.
“Doug! Don’t make me run after you. Chill out and sit the fuck down.” He pointed me towards a wooden bench, over by the tall fence that separated us from the urban chicken farm.
I don’t know what’s happening. Are these really my memories, of Arnold giving me his last lecture?
“Listen. There is a higher calling. It’s not what you wanted it to be, and it’s not loud enough for everyone to hear. Laura and I had to come back for you, before everything changes for good. Our daughter has a plan, and she hasn’t forgotten about you. She just couldn’t allow you to write down the prophesies.”
Wait a minute – was Arnold just John Carver projecting in? What prophesies was he talking about?
“The reality you know will be over soon. Just listen to Cassie and everything will be OK. I have to go now.”
He stood up, and looked over to the fence beyond the youth building. A car stopped for a moment, and he waived at it.
“Just promise me to look in that box I left under Arnold’s bed. Take it, and keep it safe, until the time is right.”
Then he tossed the basketball over to me, and took three huge leaps up and over the two story tall fence. By the time I could register what just happened, the car had already driven away.
I found the box under Arnold’s bed right away, before staff started to freak out about his absence.
It was a cardboard, Circle X brand shoebox, filled with scraps of drawings and hand written notes on hospital stationary. They were Jenny’s notes, made while she was stuck in bed after her latest suicide attempt. “Hate everything, to make room for love” was on the top of one, along with J + D in a small heart on another. There were a few stray hairs left behind in between the pages, and I gathered them up into a small plastic bag. I kept that box in my closet until recently, when Cassandra told me to carry the hairs to Munich.
I’m not sure what to tell you. The End of All Existence is tomorrow, and the most basic things that have been guiding me no longer seem to be true.
Did Antizine even exist, if Laura and Jenny didn’t start working on it together at Thomason?
Where did Ai take Laura and Jenny, and why was John Carver at Thomason?
If the past has really changed, then how come I still have older blog entries that reflect the previous version? Wouldn’t they just melt away, replaced by the new version?
The worst thing is that I don’t even have time to worry about it. I have to spend the next 24 hours running some final errands for Cassandra, and I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity to say goodbye.
So, this is it. I don’t know you, and I probably never will. Still, I hope something about what I had to share was helpful, that something about my life would have taught you a lesson that I couldn’t learn.
You will be contacted soon – you’ll hear the clear, trumpeting call, and I hope you can seize that final opportunity.
Don’t be afraid to leave all you know behind – what awaits you will more than make up for that.