Its gotten harder to tell if theyre tailing me, now that the operatives have swappable heads.
Not that it was ever that easy to tell before. See, they would work in teams. Three or four or five of them and they would switch in and out of the tailing position at uneven intervals of time. So the only way that I could lose the tail was to make quick and erratic changes in direction. I did this, of course, after spinning around and snapping a photo of all the people behind me on the street.
I know that they must have hated that. The fuckers.
All of the sudden and out of no where and with no indication, Id whip around and take a picture on my little digital and then tear off around the corner and then down an alley and maybe through the open backdoor of a restaurant kitchen and then through the dining room and then out the front door and then into the street. The whole time Im at a run and holding the camera out in front of me and committing to memory each of the small pixel faces on the screen.
Now though it has gotten exponentially more difficult, what with the swappable heads.
Ive taken to sleeping on the street a couple of nights a week. Always in different places. Last night in the dumpster corral behind a Jack in the Box, with my back against the big steel box into which they dump all of the used grease. The smell was terrible, like thick, burnt shit, but the steel was warm from the grease cooling and solidifying inside.
I go home rarely now because I think that my new neighbor is one of them. They must have been having trouble keeping tabs on me ever since I found a way into my building through the underground service utility ducts. So they must have moved out poor old Missus Gaintree from next door. Sure, she never did like me much because I used to play my music too loud and sometimes Id wake up screaming and shed already be banging on the wall with her prosthetic leg and yelling in whatever pygmy language she spoke. All things considered though, at least I knew that she wasnt a plant. Theyd never recruit a half-breed like that. I dont know what they did with her.
When the new people moved in next door I sealed all of the vents closed with three layers of duct tape so that they wont be able to see into my place from the ducts. It was the first time that Id ever used duct tape on something associated with ducting. Even that wouldnt stop them though if they have microwave of infrared, in which case they could be looking straight through the walls. So Ive started to line my walls with a patchwork of foil, which Im pretty sure will interfere with their equipment. So as not raise suspicion Ive had to start smuggling the foil into the building one empty bag of chips at a time. All I eat now are chips. I have a thick layer of salt and orange flavoring on my finger tips. Im eating chips almost constantly it seems, but I need the foil so what can I do?
The only reason that Ive been able to keep working is because I can jack into any media port anywhere in the city and check my stocks. I used to work the stocks. Commodities, soy bean futures, tech stocks, annuities, mutual funds, etc. But of course once I log onto the system they can track me so Im only able to log on for a few minutes at a time. On work days I hope to ten or twelve ports in different parts of the city. For awhile I had this great set up: a remote relay wired in a sub-basement at the phone company building downtown. It has a little switcher that would jump my signal between the different in-bound lines that came into the building. Anybody trying to track me would not be able to tell what part of the city my signal was coming in from. I learned how to make the relay from diagrams I found on the internet. The diagrams were in French so I had to download a translation program onto my deck. I deleted it afterward. That way if they ever found the relay and then matched it to the diagrams online, they would have to assume that I know French. And I just know that would drive them all nuts because it would be something that they didnt previously know about me.
After my signal from the relay went dead, I started watching for the disappearance of any and all things French from the world around me. The way I see it, if they think that I know French then they will want to remove from my environment anything French that might somehow give away their presence. And I have noticed, as of late, that I have not heard anyone speaking French around me. So maybe the operatives had been using French to communicate when they were near by me. Or maybe not, but I also noticed that this little French bakery over on Tate Street closed down last month. Im guessing that they had been using that as their local base of operations. It makes sense, I used to go in there in the mornings to get coffee. But not anymore. Fuckers.
Yeah, I felt pretty smart for a couple of days after that, having flushed them out of their hole.
But then they came up with the whole swappable heads thing and so I just dont know what to do now.
Just to be safe, Ive had to change everything that I do. I used to think that public places were safest, but now I try to be alone as much as possible. If I need to take a break during the day I go down to the x-rated video arcades that line the old parts of the docks and I lock myself into one of those little black rooms and put some money into the TV and I watch the porns and eat my chips. Its not like Im a pervert, I do it for the anonymous safety and so that I can empty out a couple of bags of Doritos. I swear I dont do it for the titillation.
If, as sometimes happens, I feel the need for some sort of sexual release, I sneak down to Box Town. It is down under the girders of the old cross-town expressway bridge. Box Town is like a little town, but made entirely of boxes. Thats why its called Box Town. Its not really a town, more a collection of boxes. Boxes which are large enough to live in. I go down there to see Acey.
Acey is like me, she foregoes some of the comforts offered by modern society in order to obtain a small stitch of real freedom and we never enjoy our stitch of freedom more than when we curl into her threadbare sheets, under her layers of old sleeping bags. We never love the world more then when we intertwine our limbs and lips and tongues. Never more then when she whispers into my ear - her hot breath that smells dirty like hand rolled cigarettes and sweet like cheap liquor - her words raspy and fast, this is the only real world.
When she crosses her legs across my back and pulls me into her, this is only ours and does not belong to them.
When she kneels naked above my face and pulls my lips to her softest skin, this is the taste of freedom.
Acey is the one that put me onto the swappable heads that the operatives use now. See, she says that she has some bits of metal in her skull and jaw from when she was in a bus accident as a kid and her skull was squashed in some little bit. The surgeons used the metal to reshape her. Acey says that some days, when the weather is right, she is able to hear one of the radio channels that the operatives use. She says that they have high pitched voices that waiver and worble down the audio ban. Sometimes she gets terrible migraines from the transmissions. When that happens she throws up and wallows under her sleeping bags for days at a time, but then the weather changes or the operatives switch to a different channel, which they seem to do periodically as a part of their security protocol.
When Acey comes through one of those episodes, when she is able to sit up and drink some water, she talks about the things that she heard them saying. About the conversations the operatives were having inside the lightning storm of her brain. They can take off their own heads, she told me after the last time. She was naked but for a sheet and the layer of sweat still on her body from the migraine and the tremors. They carry around extra heads in bowling ball bags and they can change them. They can swap them, one operative to another. So we never can know who they are or where they are.
I take her water and make her lay back in her sheets and stroke her skin and we lay there with our heads pressed together and then she falls asleep for a couple of days.
And I think that something happened then, as we were laying in her box, our temples touching and some sort of physical process like osmosis must have taken place. Some dark transference of her stormy receptivity.
In the days that followed I started to develop a sort of low frequency headache that sat, like a vibrating metal sheet through the top portion of my brain. It hurt in a dull, constant way. A threatening way and then it started to get worse and one night I slept in the cardboard recycling bin behind a middle school and even though I like to wake around sunrise, I slept through most of the day and some school kids opened the steel door of the bin and all of that sunlight was like napalm on my grey matter and I screamed at them, I have a fucking headache! and they scurried off quick and I had to crawl out of the bin and skidder off down an alley before the operatives got wind of my presence.
I hate you, you fucking headache, I said to myself later on the bus. It was so bad that I had to start drinking again. I bought a cheap jug of burgundy wine and I went to the park and sat in the deep bottom of one of the fountains, which was turned off for the winter.
Fucking headache, I said and drank my wine from its jug.
As the headache was getting sharper one day, I realized in an especially stabbing bout of pain, like an especially bright bolt of lightning on a night with no moon that it was them! The operatives had somehow done this to me. Now it was harder for me to concentrate, it was harder for me on to be on the look out for them. Those fuckers.
But what did they do? How did they do it?
And then I thought about Acey and sleeping naked with her for all those days in her box. They must have done it then. They knew that I was there. They must have. They gassed us while we slept. Gassed us with some kind of anesthesia that curled its way into our bodies through our lungs. And then they . . .
I dont know.
But somehow they gave me this headache. Maybe they got inside my head. I felt around through my hair, feeling for an incision or a bump, or a hole. I want to go back to Acey and have her look at my head but I cant go back down there. Shes been made. Theyve probably gotten rid of her by now. Those fuckers.
I take a chance by going into a public beauty salon, the little Vietnamese woman looks at me funny but she takes me over to the chair and sits me down and puts the smock on me and asks what I kind of hair cut I want and I say to her, very quietly, very calmly, I think that they put something in my head so I need you to take off all of my hair so I can see, and then as an afterthought, but be careful with the razor because there might be stitches. We dont talk for the rest of the time that she cuts my hair.
When shes done, I get up close to the big mirror and twist around and use a little mirror to examine my scalp and the back of my head. But I dont see anything. So I give the lady a handful of money, a wad of greasy ones, and I run out of that place quick.
I go down to the subway station on Tate Street where I know that they have a bathroom and I lock myself in one of the stalls and I run my nails around my scalp and what the fuck did they do to me I take off my boots and socks because the cool, sticky floor tiles usually relax me but my head is positively throbbing and Im rubbing my own shoulders and the back of my neck and then I realize I get it like some burst of inspiration some fleeting moment of clarity some epiphany what they did to me. They took my head.
This isnt my head. They stole my head and my head is getting carried around the city in a bowling ball bag by some operative. Those fuckers.
When they gassed me they swapped my head the way that they swap their own heads and this isnt me anymore, this is what they programmed me to be, so that Id lose focus. Damn those fuckers are cold blooded.
They turned me into one of them to keep track of me and they stole my head.
I try twisting my head around but it doesnt unscrew so I dig my fingers in around my collar bones to feel for some kind or catch or release button, but theres nothing. I just know that I have to get this head off of me.
I kick the stall open with my bare foot and I run out onto the platform to see if theyre closing in on me but I dont see anything to indicate that. So I still have some time.
I can feel the concrete rumbling a bit and that means the K-line train is about to roll in and then I realize I get it like some burst of inspiration some fleeting moment of clarity some epiphany what they didnt count on. Those dumb fuckers.
I dash to the edge of the platform, look both directions, then hope down into the bed where the rails are.
I step carefully over the electrified third rail and get down on my knees. Then I lay my neck down carefully over the track so that the head will be under the train and my body will be on the other side so I can make a fast get-a-way.
The K-train is loud now. I realize that Im facing the wrong direction. I roll over and see that the heavy steel wheel is bearing down on me and I hear people screaming and the train comes at me fast and then . . . . . .