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THE long week By Chris Ludwig


It is here on this tattered page that an equallytattered soul commits the strange tale you are about to hear...with...your eyes. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a fairly regular guy, by all counts; I attended a local art institution, and was nearing my Junior year. It was good times then. ...But after the project I so unwisely pursued, there’s only one institution I belong in now... ...and it ain’t for Art. So prepare yourself, humble viewer, for a world no sane soul should ever have to enter, ever. Like...ever. This is all the footage I could accumulate over the week of my project--and yet, even with it all collated, even with my own pictures, and pictures that I know I didn’t take, the only proof I really have is at the bottom of a bottle of Jim Bean. Not bad. Little drunk. As these things often do, it all started in class...


MONDAY

It was a day like any other, and a class much the same as the day. Our professor had just finished up the class lesson plan, and had moved on to our newest assignment: a 40-page, 20-spread coffee table book outline, done up and cleaned off in a nice, new-age digital format. Way of the future, as I heard.

Amidst the understandable wailing and gnashing of teeth of the class, I struggled with the concept for the book: “A Week in the Life of...”. Thing is, my life wasn’t so thrilling. I would have to go meta on this thing, and do a book ABOUT the week I spent making the book. Not bad, right?


One good night’s sleep later, and I began setting my plan in motion: I’d hop over to the school nice and early, rent out a camera and tripod, and start snapping some shots of the local areas of Austin. I knew some places. Good places, too. The kind any schmuck could make a knockout book project over. Piece of proverbial cake...

tuesday


By noontime and a minute, I was back at the old apartment, ready as I’d ever be. The equipment was in good shape and I was feeling pretty decent about the whole crazy thing. I hopped online, pulled some addresses up, and made sure I was headed to where I ought, before I got back in the car, and got to it. It was all like hot butter down a slope: quick and smooth. I had a good feeling about this project, at least so far...


First stop, a popular little spot about town --I <3 video, off airport, just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of I-35 and its congested glory. I pulled around back, flashed my student ID, and BAM, I was in like sin. Time for some photos!


Founded back in the glory days of analog, the mid-80’s, I <3 Video might’ve been mistaken by some passerby as a relic of the rental era; yet the old girl had managed to thrive, and then some, even with the advent of Netflix and the proliferation of streamed media via some series of tubes.

The place was a cine-mecca of nostalgia and unbridled nerddom. My kind of place. I headed up to the second floor, set up my stuff, and did my business. It was good to be there, in that odd fantasy realm of a store. The kind of stuff that happened in those old VHS movies...well, they just didn’t happen here.


My instincts and my stomach told me some place to eat would be best, so I swung by a local greasy spoon (if you didn’t feel like chopsticks), Asia. “Going to Asia, be back in an hour”, was the line this place had made so famous. Good egg-drop, low prices, and plenty on the plate. At the rate I was going, my fortune looked good.


A few more places, and it began to get dark out, so I packed up what I had, drove back home, and started getting all my flim unflammed on the PC. The photos were looking good, and I was in what the more inebrated of our kind might have called â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;high spiritsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;...but so help me, something odd happened. When I sorted through the first shots at I <3, I started noticing this guy, loitering about the place. Was...was he following me, or something?

He seemed like the government type, with the shades and all...but why did he look so familiar?


...Holy smokes. As I moved to my other location, Asia, there the stranger was, still, just standing there. Had he been spying on me? Nah, couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have been, I had thought to myself. Why would he bother with me? Curious, I checked further...

Sure as sunrise, there he was, in place after place, everywhere I had been! But why!?


The longer I spent looking through my footage, the more spooked I got. By ten in the p-m, I had checked my windows and peep-holes about fifty times. If that stalker type had followed me throughout the day, then surely he knew where I was now. I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sleep or eat; all I could do was catch up on Breaking Bad.


wednesday

By morning, Tuesday had tapdanced its merry way into hump day--and I felt like Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d crossed more desert than any camel. I figure, looking back, that my lack of sleep might have hampered my attempts at a second opinion on my sanity. Arriving back at the school, I waved down a buddy, Rich, for a one-on-one talk...


It’s funny: I wasn’t much in the mood to explain things, and Rich wasn’t in the mood to listen. No amount of sinister stalker evidence could keep the guy in his seat more than two minutes. Well, in fairness, class was about to break loose... and, if I didn’t find out what was going on, I figured all hell might break loose, as well. Granted, I didn’t REALLY know that at the time, but give a guy a break...


That night, returning home, the area all seemed to be normal enough...but as I got near my door, before I could blink, a letter was suddenly there! Had I missed that? I took the thing in and, curiosity and anxiety in checkmate, I turned the light on, and saw exactly what my strange admirer had ninjamailed me just then.


Oh, sh************* ****************** ************t...tired as I had been, I knew right then that I wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be sleeping easy anytime soon...What had I done!?


THURSDAY Whatever the reason was, things were getting real serious now.

If I was going to bust this thing open, I knew Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d need to understand why I was being targeted in the first place. I began driving around town again, just retracing my steps, trying to see if there was anything out of the ordinary around that might unlock this mystery. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s right, my project had become a full-on mystery! Or so I thought: the more places I went by, the less I figured on seeing anything that crazy, laying about.


I was about to leave, when I spotted a strange kind of gun on the pavement. Just as I looked it over, I got knocked out from behind!!

When I woke up, the finger pointing at me might as well have been a loaded magnum. Some goon in black started running off about how I had been looking into the wrong places--key points, he called them. Apparently I was doing project research at places that his people were using, and nosy types werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t allowed. Did he mean the government? Was he the stalker? It was so dark, I just couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t tell. After the tell-off, he decided to ask me to stay away with his fists...


They say teamwork forms the spine of all success; the goonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s co-workers, Mr. Left and Mr. Right, had succeeded all over my spine, and when it was all over with, I found myself dumped back on the curb, the worse for wear. I fell on reflex, and decided to call up Rich--this time heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d listen, for sure...

...I just needed to get inside my place and get cleaned up a little, first. No sense in wearing something so ridiculous to a serious meeting, after all...


Things had gotten even more real in just one lousy afternoon; but when Rich didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t answer the phone, I knew things were about to get even real-er on me, and fast. Bracing for the worst, I drove over to his apartment. I waited outside, the entire place terribly quiet, before I mustered up some courage and a side of guts, and tried the door. That it opened for me didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t help the terrible feeling I had. I called out, just to see if he was listening to music or on the john, but again, nothing answered back. What if I had gotten him into some trouble, just by trying to talk to him about my project? And come to think of it, why didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t I make more of an effort to interview the goon earlier? I still needed at least one interview for the project, I had totally forgotten!


And there, rounding the corner, was Rich, every bit as dead and gone as the Taco Bell Chihuahua. Beside him, to my increasing shock, was the same gun from before--the one that the goon had taken from me earlier! That meant... he had come for Rich as well, to shut him up! But wait--why was the gun still here, in that case? Was the goon still around? Cautious, I went up the stairs, slowly, step by creaking step...


AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUHG!!! What the hell was this!? He must’ve been beaten out of commission by Rich, before he died of his...whatever! The goon’s face suddenly slid off from the head, and I could see it was a cyborg! The goon was a government cyborg! I KNEW IT!! When I looked closer, it hit me: the goon had seemed familiar to me, and I realized why...it was my friend, Joe! But that was utterly impossible!


My pal Joe lived nearby, but work kept him pretty busy most times; I was certain that the government, for whatever reason, had cloned a cyborg of Joe between shifts--or maybe even during a shift at his government job! With the goon dead, I decided it might be safe enough to go over by his house, and check on him as well... This was getting too insane, he had to be okay!


I found him there at home, watching some TNG; he seemed surprised I was there, let alone so relieved. I explained it all as best as I could, but I could tell he was pretty sleep-deprived from work--probably about as much as I was. It was clear he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t believe my super-ridiculous story from the get-go...


Certain that the goon was gone, I felt like I could finally sleep again. Joe, despite my crazy tale, let me spend the night on his couch. I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want to go home just yet, the entire week had been way too surreal...


Only a few hours pass, and a nightmare wakes me up again, so I head to Joe’s room; he’s usually still up late, so I knock a few times, then go in... ...to the one sight I was hoping I wouldn’t see. There he was, the poor soul, dead as the Harlem Shuffle, and twice as funky. With the goon out of the way, I thought my project was safe again; yet here he was, the life choked out of him! Who did this, anyway?


Unfortunately, on the way out of his room, I already got my answer--another copy of Joe was there!

Before I could make my toughest girl-scream, he was giving my neck a death tie, half-off. Having left the gun in the car (admittedly kind of a goof, on my part), I thought fast, and did the one thing that even a clone of Joe would stop murdering for...


PIZZA. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cholesterol-laden un-health saved my life, as I offered to go and get him a pie if he stopped killing me for a minute. It worked out so well, the big palooka even started to tell me the reason I was in so much danger. I had gone all this time thinking that the government wanted me dead, but I know now that was just crazy. No, it was aliens. ALIENS. They had been in Austin, hiding among the people, ever since the first SXSW.

I had been doing project research on areas that they were using as their bases. When I asked clone-cyber-Joe (trademark) what the aliens were doing here, he just shrugged, and kept eating. I think the cheese overstuffed his circuits. So my friends were dead, and the city was in the midst of some kind of alien plot. To figure it all out, I would need all my wits and sanity. I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t let my grip on reality slide any further than it already had...


friday My city cries out, from deep within the gutters and the empty lots. It cries out for justice. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s an alien consipracy stinking up the works, and itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s time to Febreeze. ...Man, these blinds are filthy.


The paranoiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s getting to me. I got home from Joeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s, to find the lights were on. Had I turned them off when I left? I thought I had. Maybe someone else was here, hiding, waiting to spring out of my cereal bowl like a hyperactive ferret that got into the cupboard. It could happen! If aliens are a thing, then I can take a little creative license with my metaphors...


I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even want to go outside, not until I could crack this thing. I dug into everything I could find online, compiling notes along the way. Soon, something came: PROJECT GREEN, a recent initiative on the part of the city council, to turn everything in Austin green through recycling. It was the aliens, it had to be! Were the humans in the city in on it, too? Who could I trust? How could I stop them, and still make at least a B+ on my project? Then it hit me. Oh, my God. ...I still didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have an interview for the project. This was bad.


Pretty sure Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m about 20% crazier now. Slept in closet, woke to find clone-Rich rooting around my stuff. Blasted him with space-laser. Lazer? One of those, I dunno. Anywho, that takes care of him.

SATURDAY


Whoa, switched narrative tenses for a moment there, sorry. Even now, it’s tough keeping it all straight in my memory. After leaving cyber-clone-Rich out for the trash guys, I go back to find that, thankfully, my laptop is still where I hid it away; the clone had ransacked my PC, but I had already moved all my research and notations to the netbook, just in case! Booyah! I make to the car to get some distance from my place, when the old ‘chair-fullof-sleeping-gas-in-the-front-seat’ gag gets me! before I know what’s what, I’m out to a late lunch on the planet ‘Knocked-Out’.


I came to, to notice I was being given a ride by none other than myself--my robo-clone! Noticing I was up, he cheerfully explained that my nonsense had gone on long enough, and he was charged by the aliens with driving me out to my own grave. Not wasting any more time, I leap into action. I would interview the hell out of his clown. It’d have to do. ME: So, why do this? Why Austin? NOT-ME: Austin’s gotten so progressive these days, that the aliens feel it’s time to push ahead with their ultimate goal, the reason for all of the changes in the city... ME: Which is? NOT-ME: Recycling, of course. We’re recycling you lesser beings, and replacing you with ourselves. That, and aliens can totally subjugate clones that already follow them! ME: So what about me, then? We driving me to my doom, all because of my report research? NOT-ME: Yup!


Well, it wsn’t much of an interview, but...hey, wait! I saw the gun, still in my car! He hadn’t noticed it was still there--as he droned on, I worked to get my hands free, then I let him have it, just as we cleared a tunnel! Haha! Yeah! Eat space-death, clone-robo-cyber-me!

...Oh, damn. Turns out he was driving into a tight turn at the edge of the cliff. Bad timing, on my part. Much like with this plot, the car goes flying off the rails, and tumbles headlong off the road! I hang on for all I’m worth, screaming like a baby in a helium tent! It’s over! It’s all OVER!!


interm


ission


...So, okay. Got home. Tired. Beat up. Pretty mad. I collated all of my data, and saved the project onto my laptop. Screw being scared, I was going to sit and finish Breaking Bad, come hell or high water, or even the ticking from the bomb I knew was coming from the linen closet. I earned this. I was at the last episode, death could wait.

Sunday?


See, with a show like that, they really knew how valuable pacing and care is, in a storyline. Even the plane crash was manageable, where in a lesser show, I would’ve been like “no way, that’s just too much”. That’s how you tell a story. That’s good storytelling. Plus, the dichotomy of character and motive on the part of Walter really leaves the viewer torn: he’s commited to evil, but there’s something sympathetic to--oh, right, the alien bomb! BRB


My body and mind were shredded, and I had no home or friends left. The YMCA guys had stolen my socks, and I had to walk to school. But dammit, I WAS getting that B+. Yes. There was almost no one around the campus this time. Guess others had skipped. Maybe I should have tried that. And tried calling the cops at some point.

monday I think, possibly...


I turn the thing in, just in time, and the professor respectfully accepts all my hard work, like I knew would be the case all along. Swish! ...Unless, of course, the professor and all of Austin are cyber-copies already, and the city has already been overtaken long since or before my efforts. Hope not. Because then Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d just feel stupid.


the end


tHe players Chris is still enrolled at the school, where he no longer fears or fights the glorious regime of the Nubrinian horde, or its equally-glorious plot to enslave the world. He was in no way, shape or or form copied and replaced. He...just felt like accepting that there were never any aliens. All hail Nubrinia!

Clone-Rich was recycled into exactly 52 reams of printing paper, and now resides at the local Office Depot, located just outside of East Ben White. It’s how he would have wanted to go. Actual Rich was rushed to intensive care, where a doctor pronounced him “less-dead than thought”.

Clone-Joe continues to work nights at his job, where the co-workers are more robotic than his robo-clone. He maintains to this day that not only was his conversation with Chris ficticious, but that the pizza he had that day was “real good”.

“The Professor”, so named because it sounds cool, still works at the school, where he in no way maintains the standards of the Nubrinian empire. He gave the project a B-, due to lack of work on the margins and an oversimplified grid scheme.

Thanks to I <3 Video and Asia Chinese Cuisine!


THE LONG WEEK