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Five Huckleberry Hax

I punched the words out, letter by letter, the tears starting to stream, the sobs starting to wrack through me. Before I'd got to the end I stood up, picked up the keyboard and threw it out of the window. The system unit followed a minute later, smashing to pieces on the frozen concrete below, and Step Stransky never got to hear what I really thought of him that moment. That's the thing with SL: you can always change your mind about what you want to say before you hit return; you can always write something else, or delete the lot... or throw the keyboard out the window. And you can always explain a sudden absence with the cover story of a bad computer crash, when in actual fact you're sitting on the side of your bed with your head in your hands, sobbing so hard you're gasping for breath.

"Daddy, what does 'nuclear' mean?" Henry felt his throat tighten. He slid the dry top over the seven-year-old's head. The boy was just at the age where you could start glimpsing the future adult in him, the demise of the innocent child. "It means powerful, Bubs," he replied. "Is our car nuclear?" Henry laughed. "Not all powerful things are nuclear things. Not all cars are powerful." Thomas rubbed his eyes and settled back down in bed. He watched his father in the glow of the bed lamp. Henry saw consciousness depart well before the eyelids shut; it was like watching the flame going out at the end of a wick.

My body warmed by others packed tight, we sway together as we bounce across waves, grey stones flicked from a distant shore. Soaked by salt mist, dried by the wind; sometimes we stumble; sometimes we touch the elbows of our friends, gently. I think of seaside smells and try to find at least one in the air around me. I try to find the sound of seagulls, but the birds are absent this morning. These last few minutes of my life, I shall be certain to know them completely. When my cheek ends up resting upon wet sand, I will try to think of the waves washing up against my flesh as water lapping over rocks, as it must. The lifeguard's whistle blows, and we are jumping, splashing, wading. Arms raised out of the water, we hold our spades above our heads. We charge: golden sands and a pebble bank our objective. Then, as I know it has to, the burning enters into me. Once, twice, three times I am punctured, like a swift rap on the door; punched, pierced by someone distant, who moves on. My legs stop moving and my body begins to empty itself. Just like that, it has happened. I stumble forward, my face smacks against the sea. These last few seconds of my life, I shall be certain to know them completely. Water is moving backwards and forwards through my hair, and I marvel that waves still know how to work today. I breathe blood. I find another to look at, we lock gazes for a few final seconds. Our blood mixes in the waters between us. I try to find the sound of seagulls, but the birds are absent this morning.

The name's Luck, Hard Luck. You might have heard of me. I run a metaversian detective agency on the east side of Twighlight, down by the docks where the bananas arrive: 'Luck, Luck and Luck, Private Investigators', it's called. My cofounding associates, Good Luck and Bad Luck are each departed from the metaverse now; the latter won the lottery in Real and the former got run over by a bus. You needn't feel sorry for me about that; I hated them both, and they knew it. About the only work Bad ever did was to build the hat stand in our office, and he was the conscientious one. It's a complicated story how we came to be in business together. The short version is I dated both of them once, believing them to be a) rich, b) cultured and c) female. When I say I dated them both, I don't mean consecutively. I think it was Good who walked in on me and Bad one day, but it could have been the other way round. The speed with which what should have been a moment of animosity turned into a full-blown lesbian love scene quite surprised me at the time. Their affair was a passionate one, but it only lasted for about a week; I think it was Good who left his microphone on by accident one day, but it could have been the other way round. In a bizarre twist of fate, it turned out that they both lived in the same city in Real. In an even more bizarre twist of fate, it turned out they were both seeing the same girl in Real (that also got found out as a result of a microphone being left on by accident, but it wasn't words that got overheard that time). In a subsequent meeting, we all decided that fate messing with our minds in this fashion needed to be watched, and watched closely; we decided to go into business together. You see, their mutual girlfriend was my sister. .

And then, with surprising speed, the Gazelle was upon us, hovering aft off the port bow. A few people out on the public decks below shouted at others and pointed. I imagined a slow, gentle nudging from there to the spot above me that would take perhaps five minutes at least; actually, the helicopter lolled over to us with almost casual disregard for the extreme danger I fancied such an operation entailed. It was literally no more than a minute since I'd snapped my phone shut and the hoist was already being lowered. I looked up at the underbelly of the aircraft and decided that the situation warranted a sequence of the most foul obscenities I could think off. The crewmen grinned and secured the ring around me, and clipped me in. And then I was up, swinging through an arc of probably no more than five or ten degrees, but it felt like gravity was going to reach up and slide me out of that harness and pull me back down to the deck or the sea below just as fast as it knew how. I gripped the rope above me and worried that I might destabilise the helicopter if I swung too much. It seemed like an endless climb. The ring was wet from sea spray and I felt my jacket sticking to the damp rubber and my body moving – sliding – against the dry surface of the inside; in my anxiety, I imagined I was about to slide out of my coat. My grip on the rope intensified; I tried to pull myself up to compensate for the imagined slippage and felt my muscles start to tremble with the completely unnecessary exertion. I started to panic as I realised I wouldn't be able to maintain this hold all the way up. I shouted out, “I can't hold on!” but of course my voice was tiny now – nothing at all – against the roar of the rotor blades. The downdraft, which was immense, seemed to be pushing me back down to the end of the rope also. I cried out, hysterically. For some reason, I started to waggle my legs furiously. And then there were hands reaching out, taking hold of my arms, pulling me into the aircraft. I felt blessed metal beneath my feet. I tried to stand, but my legs buckled and I half fell into a seat. My harness got unclipped. The door got slid shut and instantly the noise and cold and wet got all muffled. We banked to the left. I gasped. I tried to get my breathing back under control and wiped the tears from my face.

On Snow Day, the Internet gets turned off. We look up the frequency of local radio, tune in for the first time in eighteen years, attend to the list of schools shut, tut at elderly listeners phoning to say a bit of snow never stopped the world from turning in their time (and your money was safe in banks back then, too). We assess the road in thin light, make our minds up, call in to work. We await exclamations and hurried feet on the stairs. Out in the street, the neighbours are talking, making out like we actually know each other. “Did you hear some guy drove into one of the holes they're digging in the road?” We spread the word; we head on down, passed by a rescue truck. At the yellow tape we spend time discussing it with our fellow strangers. There are those who talk about the lost art of braking; others assert it was a hole just waiting to be filled with something, and maybe they should have thought about the forecast before digging it. The boy watches the crane at work. Just the other day, I was driving him back from gymnastics when some idiot on the radio started talking about hoof prints he used to press for his son at Christmas, in the night. Is it too much to ask for a little thought of a Saturday afternoon? Do they just assume no child in the land will be listening? He's not the only man in the world who's noted an extra use for the rim of a grande cappuccino mug. Luckily, just then, a white van in the oncoming traffic cut across me; I was able to cover up the revelation with loud cursing, tossed in a CD whilst I swore. Even so, we avoided

Even so, we avoided looking in each other's direction after that. I got told last year it's time I stopped trying to prolong magic now, accept that nine year olds don't need to believe that any more. But today, on Snow Day, he declares himself my personal plough, instructs me to walk behind in the path he clears, makes engine noises with his lips. Sings. We roll a giant ball of snow together. He plays until the light is nearly gone. We take a night-time walk and look over fences, complain about unused snow “going to waste”: there's a snowman in our garden who could use some of that. We chat. The Snow Day has blown open a closing door, and I am grateful. Let me watch. Let me look at him one more time like this, as I always thought he would remain.


"He said it's because I'm lazy, which I know I am," she said. I'm hardly going to disagree. Inside, her inactivity sits in piles on the carpet and the stairs and is stacked up beside the kitchen sink. Out here it blocks out the sunlight and threatens the felt. Before we start, we audit our requirements and come up short by a saw. "You know," she says, "I think I might have left it at his place." For sure, it's under something in her shed, but we make the trip to the store anyway and she tells me how he dumped her in a text. I do my usual tangent thing; I wonder if it's time someone invented a word for that as we look at the step ladders.

It is good to work with the sun on your neck. Perhaps that tree didn't need cutting up into quite so many pieces. "It's not like I'm so different now," she says, as she brings out tea, "than from when I first met him." Which actually does get me thinking. Is it five years now? Is it six? It's nearly twelve since his predecessor; that much I do know. "Oh well," she says. And she launches into recent anecdote. His story is in pieces now, neatly sawn. Fuel for future conversations.

Silence in Second Life is such a difficult thing to gauge. Pauses, gaps in the conversation, could be due to so many different things. The person at the other end could be distracted by someone with them in RL. They could be taking a phone call. They could have run to the bathroom. They could be talking to someone at the door or banging on the wall to get the neighbours to keep the noise down. They could be making coffee or raiding the fridge or hanging the washing on the line outside. They could be tending to their cat or shouting at their dog. They could be feeding a child. They could be sticking a plaster over a cut. Their computer could have frozen. They could have just received an important email. They could be responding to IMs from somebody else. They could be filing out their tax return in another application, juggling you with their work.

Still your profile greets me, still its words denote your endless sense of Second Life amusement. Still the real life section in it wryly quotes your frequent sense of Alice-like bemusement. Still our window opens with our last chat greyed; When you told me you could not be long here stopping. Still I see my farewell, blithely bade. Still I read about your shopping. Shopping! SHOPPING! Still your blog is packed with loved illusions, and such tales as Aunts in Athens feeding birds. In your journal's final post, you suffered no delusions. And now, you are gone, but... still I have your thoughts, Nancy; still I have your words. You leave us as the light of morning nears. Your friends around the world share smiles and tears.

I actually smiled when I saw her. I hadn't even thought about whether she'd be in or not. And she was getting ready to leave. Her waters were frothing and I watched a dock worker – this one wore blue overalls – lift the final line from the port-side quay and heave it into the water. The ship workers winched it up, and it slapped against the bow as it rose, dripping like a wet dog coming out of a pond.

Did the internet, I asked myself, really expose hidden, but pre-existing identity? Or did it create brand new identity that would never have happened without it? Or was its ultimate function just to take whatever identity you'd managed to build and to tear it into tiny, unexaminable pieces? Was Benjamin Burton just an evolution of his younger self – the guy I'd met at university who'd once told me he regarded marital fidelity as one of the most important pillars to the meaning of life – or was that man no longer in existence, replaced by a new human being who only happened to share a few of his memories? It was hardly the case I disagreed that opinions should ever be revised; it was hardly the case I thought that before the internet no-one had ever come to change their mind about something – the psychological literature was replete with suggested explanations for that process long before the first email got sent. But the degree and the speed and the totality of the change was overwhelming. Were we built to absorb such change? Was it possible to sustain it indefinitely? Was there a limit to how far we could travel from ourselves before we looked back at the distant shore and realised we had no idea who we were any more?

Christmas in Secondlife速 is a slightly odd thing. Land owners texture their soil in snow, home owners erect prim Christmas trees alongside fireplaces (complete with socks hanging from the mantle), and the increasingly complex creations of the fashion industry manifest in a month-long trade of assorted red outfits with white and fluffy trim. It's sort of like being trapped inside a slightly sexed-up version of a Coca-Cola commercial: on the one hand a soothing and familiar experience that activates those long-ago blurred memories of the undefinable magic and naivety of Christmas; on the other, a guilty pleasure in the incongruity between childhood innocence and adult sexuality, short santa-girl skirts hinting at pleasures in front of the fireplace that never once occurred to us on those long Christmas Eves spent in front of the window and watching the sky. .

Š Copyright 2012 Huckleberry Hax


A collection of pictures, poems and prose from Huckleberry Hax's five years in Second Life.