The next morning there was another note.
Not from the Mark simulacrum, but from my family.
They said, or Dad said, that they would be away for a while. There was a mountain they had read about in Wales and they all thought, hey, why not go and climb it.
What? I asked the note, moving on to the next part.
It was a new mountain, apparently, just got classified the other week and half of Liverpool was off to climb it.
But what about me? Didn’t they want all their kids to come?
The note said they’d thought about asking me to come but I was still asleep when they left and they didn’t want to wake me, and besides, with the Japanese problem, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to publicise it too much to others.
‘Yeah, thanks Dad.’
I scrunched up the note and dropped it on the floor.
No publicity, right.
I walked around the barren housse, aimless, the Japanese Bela Tarr.
After an hour or two, I went to the bathroom and stared at the face in the mirrror, willing it with every ounce of whatever passed for spirit in my stupid head to change back to normal.
But it was weird…looking around the room, things did seem a little lower.
I opened the cabinet and pulled out the measuring tape.
It was true, I’d felt taller since the change, but I hadn’t acted on it.
Probably just poor posture anyway.
Or my mood shift affecting the way I moved.
Depressed people did tend to slouch. In filmns. And anime. Maybe in real life too.
I stretched the tape from the floor to my head. Admittedly, I did slump a little, but it didn’t make much difference.
That’s how tall I was now.
Two and a half centimetres taller than before.
Putting the tape back, I hovered for a few seconds looking vaguely morose then sat down on the bathroom floor. My brain told me I should be happy, most people wanted to be taller, but I wasn’t most people.
In truth, I would’ve done anything to be 181.5cm again.
After sulking for another hour, then slapping myself in the face a few times, I went downstairs.
The living room seemed even larger without anyone in it.
Like a whole display flat.
I sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. There was nothing decent to watch locally, so I switched to GENTE + instead. Not a good feeling to be funding the adventurists, but what could I do, they’d monopolized most of the decent sci-fi and fantasy shit, and added a limited, voyeur-only VR catalogue, so there we all were.
The machine scanned my face and my old personalized menu came up on screen. Planet Dark, Void Galaxia, Moon Factory 7, Elf Serenade, Star Trek, Doctor Who…ah, the one dad was talking about. I clicked on it, bringing to life a vintage, blue phone-box and a grinning lunatic in a coloured scarf.
Vague memories from Doctor Who [random]…
- Two cleaning ladies cooking in a kitchen when one of them answers a buzzer and gets sucked into a giant cleaning machine waiting outside. It’s very dark.
- Lots of swamp-men or fish-men coming out of the sea. Men in costumes…
- A man with dark hair, looks like Mandrake from Captain Three.
- An old English country housse, a man trying to make a phone call, a robot monster entering the room and attacking him. Close-up on the man, shocked.
- A young, punkish woman with red hair getting on a bus. The doctor waves goodbye. The bus explodes.
- A woman being watched by statues.
- The same woman surrounded by four statues.
- Statue terror face
Ah, that’s what it was. Doctor fucking Who.
But…yesterday, I’d never heard of it.
What was happening here?
Amnesia and face graft?
Buffering through arbitrary bursts of ah that one and what’s this again, I stayed glued to the sofa and managed four episodes straight.
The last two were about that guy who looked like Mandrake, only he didn’t look like him anymore, he looked like Derek Jacobi, and then he died and looked like John Simm.
The doorbell rang.
I got up and walked into the hallway to answer it but, as my body got closer, I remembered my Japanese face. Kuso. Explanation season. Adjusting leftwards, I hugged the side of the wall in case whoever it was at the door was looking in through the glass panel.
But then I thought, why hide? I’m gonna answer the door anyway, they’re gonna see me. And it’s my fucking housse.
Yeah, fuck them, and fuck their questions too.
I answered the door, slouching again.
At first I thought I was looking at a delivery man, but after blinking, I realised it was Barry. Easy mistake to make. Trousers were brown, jacket was brown, and his entire body was arched backwards as if he were about to give up and leave.
When he saw me, the arch became a confused full turn. He bent to the wall at the side and double checked the number.
‘It’s the right housse, Barry…’
‘Who are you?’
I thought of telling him I was a Japanese exchange friend of Mark’s, but something inside said I had the tools to explain my true self, so I told him direct that it was me, Mark.
‘Mark. Your best friend. Standing on the doorstep of my housse.’
‘Yeah, it’s weird, but it really is me. And I’m Japanese, not Chinese.’
‘Mate, what the fuck…where’s Mark?’
‘Look…I can prove it.’
I told him as many things as my brain would allow about our shared history. The nights out, the sessions at the gymn, the school-days, that time at paintball we got cornered in the gorse and he shot another guy in the knee, point blank range.
‘Shut up, where’s Mark?’
‘You don’t believe me?’
‘Believe what? You’re Chinese, mate. A Chinese nut.’
‘Barry, you fucking clown.’
He tried to look past me into the housse, but I blocked him.
‘Are you gonna believe me or not?’
‘Really not in the mood for this. Where’s Mark? Is he in there?’
‘Okay. Fuck off then, mate.’
I shut the door before he could say anything else, and rode out the door banging that followed.
That night I decided to stay awake.
No naps, no bed.
I watched what must’ve been around thirty episodes of Doctor Who. It was amazing, GENTE+ had pretty much all of them, and each one that came on, I instantly realised I’d already seen.
By six in the morning my eyes were giving up, so I turned off the TV and walked slowly to the mirrror in the bathroom. Okay, reveal time. If it happened one night then it could be fixed the next. Or maybe some kind of slow fade, like make-up that smudged after crying.
I splashed the mirrror with water and wiped it with my sleeve, building up hope.
The next day I thought about watching Doctor Who all day and night and going to sleep at six the next morning, but I didn’t.
Instead, I went to 361.
Old Multan was surprised to see me. I looked for The Comma but it wasn’t there, so I asked him if there were any copies left.
‘No more Comma, sorry.’
I asked him if my voice seemed familiar to him and he said, ‘yes, scouse.’
‘Yeah, but…like anyone you know?’
‘Is it like someone else’s voice around here?’
‘Multan, it’s me. Mark.’
‘Excuse me, there’s someone behind you.’
‘No, there isn’t.’
‘The entrance, coming in now.’
‘That guy? He’s not even touching the door…’
‘Have a nice day.’
Muttering ten years I’ve been coming here not even close to under my breath, I passed the guy coming in, headed into the main forum area and sat down on the nearest bench, which, in the city centre or by the dock, would’ve been rail-segregated. Fucking Adventurists. Putting their pathetic little stamp on the only part of Liverpool they could get their mitts in. Dazzling people with their KOL propaganda. Introducing separate ticket, toilet and seating costs for footy matches. If Jeff Fahey knew about that shit…
There was noise nearby, something not English.
I turned, making an awe-like ahhh sound. Across the square, dotted around the circular tables, was a horde of primary school kids doing interactive language sessions. As usual, the Twi and Portuguese groups were the most popular, but Japanese wasn’t doing too badly. Seven kids, far as I could see, and one very sleepy-looking teacher.
One of them glanced over and saw me and started jabbing the girl next to him. She turned and did the same to the kid next to her, and pretty soon they were all pointing my way, shouting out hey and doko kara kimashita ka?
For a few seconds, I was puzzled…then I remembered.
I sat at home, elevated on mum’s comfy chair, wondering if it was a good idea to go out again. My heart said, yes, hit the Waverley Loop for lunch, but my gut said hide. Someone would undoubtedly start talking to me, someone I probably knew, and what would I say then?
And another thing…no, another name…
For some reason, there were Japanese people in my head calling me Keni.
A guy lying on the floor with a knife, calling me Keni.
The girl in the wet towel, again, calling me Keni.
Whatever this was…wherever it was coming from…it was getting worse.
Maybe I should go to the park, get some air…Liverpool air…
I didn’t go out.
I watched Doctor Who instead.
At around three in the morning, I turned off the TV. The reason I wasn’t changing back was because I wasn’t asleep, was that it?
Agreeing with myself, I went upstairs and tried to sleep, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Japan.
There were even more memories now. Things I couldn’t possibly have done, but I did, I had done them, it was me in the scene. A little Japanese me, with a Japanese mum and Japanese dad and Japanese brother. And my Japanese dad was a bastard. He kept on hitting me with a metal ruler when I came back with B’s on my report card. Sometimes he even hit me for getting A’s.
I looked at my phone next to the bed.
Barely any time had passed, not even ten minutes. Kuso.
I got off the bed and grabbed The Martian Chronicles from the shelf and opened up to the pages with the note between them. It was still there. I read it again.
Wah, still couldn’t remember writing it, but it was definitely my handwriting.
And the novels he mentioned…seemed vaguely familiar. As if I had actually sat down and written some. But…
Was that one of them?
Quick theories and counterpoints concerning the letter
[presented to me by Tsukubashi-San]
Tsukubashi stood in a typical Japanese classroom, his back to the board.
‘Attention, kid. You listening?’
The Japanese version of me was sitting at one of the desks, the only kid in the room.
‘Right then. Beginnings…the letter.’
He pressed a button and the room went dark.
A spotlight appeared on the board, followed by a recorded copy of Tsukubashi’s own voice.
- Point one – It has your name.
- Counterpoint – You can’t remember writing it.
- Point two – It has your handwriting.
- Counterpoint – You can’t remember writing it.
- Point three – The letter tells you that you are not you.
- Counterpoint – How can you not be you?
- Point four – You now have a Japanese face.
- Counterpoint – You are not in Japan. You are in Liverpool.
- Point five – You have memories of a Japanese childhood.
- Counterpoint – You also have memories of an English childhood.
First theory off the bat: The letter is false. There’s a problem with your brain and you’re hallucinating the words that don’t make sense.
Problems: Your face has also changed. Your family has disappeared. How can memories be planted into your brain?
Conclusion: Theory dismissed.
‘Do you concur, kid?’ he asked me.
I jumped, startled by hearing his real voice again. Then nodded.
‘Do you have anything to add?’
Second theory: The letter is true. You have been switched with the real Mark and his memories have been implanted into your brain. Therefore the Japanese memories are real.
Problems: Why would you have Japanese memories? What kind of operation intends the patient to wake up with two different mind states? And why is the face still Japanese?
Conclusion: Theory sustained as default. The operation was conducted but there was an error, or several errors. You are not Mark. You are a boy from Japan.
‘Do you concur, kid?’
I stared forward, in a daze.
He threw the chalk against the board. ‘Do you concur?’
No, I don’t. I’m Mark.
‘Do you have anything to add?’
Yes, it’s wrong. There’s something wrong…
I shook my head.
‘Good. Lesson over.’
He put down the chalk and left the room, but the scene didn’t end. Instead, I got up and walked to the board and started writing some of my own theories.
Theory three: Your friends are playing a joke on you. The Japanese face is just make-up and prosthetics. Like Sean Connery in that Bond filmn.
Problems: Shit, I don’t know. None I can think of.
Theory four: Some scientists from the college are playing a joke on you. They tricked you two nights ago. They changed your face with quick surgery and implanted some random memories.
Problems: None. This has cheap science written all over it.
Tsukubashi came back into the room and asked what exactly I thought I was doing.
I told him I’d come up with two more theories to explain things, and that these two were closer to what I wanted to believe.
He walked over and read the two new theories.
‘Please don’t disprove them, Sir. I need them.’
He bent down and picked the chalk up off the floor then stood up straight and threw it at the board again. ‘Ridiculous and ridiculous.’
His leathery, pock-marked face turned on me.
‘Theory two is by far the truth here. Accept it.’