Noam wasn’t looking at her, but she was now looking at him. He looked totally fucked up. He was just staring blankly forward at what she guessed must have been an equally blank wall. Noam hadn’t been the most dynamic guy before but now he was positively catatonic. He has a nice nose she noted, watching him watch the wall.
She realized she wasn’t wearing a shirt and felt embarrassed. Looking at Noam, looking down at her boobs, back to Noam. She slipped on her beautiful bra. Instantly she felt better. Her cleavage looked so killer.
Grabbing her white t-shirt, she headed towards Noam. Standing in front of him in her bra confirmed that he was still in fact a million miles away and not actually seeing her. She stares into his vacant green eyes before being really fucking startled by him when he stands up and goes into the bathroom. Her heart was pounding. She really hadn’t expected him to move. He didn’t close the door to the bathroom (why would he have?) and Stella quickly spun away from him as he pulled out his penis and began peeing. She couldn’t help but giggle. Here they both were, barely knowing, nor liking each other, standing half-naked and vulnerable.
When the peeing sound stopped, Stella waited a moment and then turned around. Noam was at the sink now, and he turned on the faucet and began washing his hands methodically. Feeling the need to intervene, she put on her t-shirt and entered the bathroom, standing right beside Noam, her hip touching his. He continued to wash his hands, completely unaware.
Shoving her hands quite forcefully into the water stream, Stella collected some water in her cupped hands and threw it in Noam’s face. It felt fucking awesome but there was no response from Noam. She did it again. Still he continued to wash compulsively, like he suffered from OCD. Grabbing Noam’s hands, she cupped her hands below his, creating a bowl that they shared. Quickly it filled and once it was, Stella attempted to make his hands and hers throw the water into his face. Maybe it was the force of her hands shoving his upwards but his elbows locked halfway through the motion and the water ended up soaking his shirt. His face was still blank but his elbows wouldn’t move. She wondered if she could consider that progress?
Reaching for each of his wrists, Stella figured she could pull his arms straight, like he was a doll, but found them impossible to move. Sticking her hands in the running water, she filled her cupped hands and threw the load in Noam’s face. She repeated this action at least five more time, driven by the hope that the next throw would awake something in him. Not a single splash seemed to register on his emotionless face.
Fed up, soaked and feeling defeated, Stella turned off the tap with a loud, dramatic sigh. The moment the sound stopped, Noam turned, elbows still locked at a 90° angle, and walked back to the bedroom, sitting down in the exact same spot on the bed he had previous occupied. Following him into the room, she noted that he continued to hold same intense but lifeless stare, all directed at the blank wall across from him. Sitting beside him on the bed, she made sure that her thighs and arms were touching his, and that their shoulders pressed firmly against each other. So far the only thing that seemed to affect Noam in any way was contact with another human, so she figured a little snuggling couldn’t hurt.
She sat there for a moment, enjoying the silence of the room. She was so tired. These last few days, and this adventure, were just too much for her. She felt like giving up. She’d only just started this job, and met this guy sitting beside her. She didn’t really care about any of this. She didn’t care if Noam ever woke up and she didn’t care about the Rewriter. Turning crack heads into corporate slaves hardly seemed like the worst contribution to the world; Noam did seem slightly easier to be around in his current state… His current state. How did he get there? How did they get there? She closed her eyes and tried to picture being back in the Rewriter’s office.
She could recall his voice telling them that they were in love and that they didn’t need to suffer anymore. She’d had a physical reaction to the suggestion of love between the two of them, so it stood out to her. She remembered next him saying something about changing the story they believed in, and she could recall him clearing his voice, about to tell it, and the creepy surprise she felt when his voiced sounded totally different, feminine almost. Her memory was black, nothing after that until she woke up in the cubicle.
How did this help Noam now? Or her? He was sitting there like an idiotic zombie. Anything that was remotely unique about him seemed gone. He was the beige-est person she’d ever met — and she’d met her fair share of tans. He was entirely average. His hair was average, his clothes the same. His body now had a slight hunch and the loose and ill-fitting clothes he wore couldn’t hide the bit of paunch that inevitably now protruded. They’d cut his hair the way they’d cut hers — badly. Shifting so that she was on her knees sitting in front of Noam, she looked into his eyes. They were green and decently shaped. Lifeless, green, and decently shaped. His pretty pupils sat dull in his sockets, he looked right at her and yet through her.
She wasn’t sure what to do. She had no idea how to help Noam. She kept staring into his eyes, willing them to take on some life. Her body heat rising the longer she sat there, racking her brain, acutely aware of her inability to solve the current problem. Before she knew it the heat had turned to hot tears and exhausted she finally let herself cry. Focusing on the deadness in Noam’s eyes, she was able to cry for longer than she usually could, and it felt so good to release some of her frustration. Laying her head down on the bed, she continued to cry staring at nothing, and thinking nothing of her sadness. She wasn’t sure how long she’d sat and cried for but when she looked up, sniffling and feeling a bit boogery, she didn’t notice anything different about Noam. It wasn’t until she headed into the bathroom and emerged wiping her nose that she noticed his head had turned, and he was no longer staring at the wall. He was now staring at her. And as she moved the short distance through the room to the place she previous sat in front of him, she watched his head move to follow her and his dead eyes do the same. It was kinda creepy, quite frankly.
His arm was still stuck in the awkward V position, like he was one-handedly raising the roof, and the rest of his body he was still holding in a stiff, yet squishy way. She shuffled herself closer to him so that she was almost nose-to-nose with him, staring skeptically into his eyes. Was he really not seeing her? He was looking at her, she was sure of it. Grabbing his frozen arm, Stella stood up and attempted to pull Noam up too. She tugged for a while, unwilling to give up, and it wasn’t easy but she was able to pull him into a standing position. While his arm was still frozen in place, his body did feel more pliable than it had before. She took that as a good sign. Locking her arms behind him, she steered and pushed his body into the bathroom to stand in front of the sink once again.
Peering at his eyes in the reflection of the mirror, she was patient, waiting. She watched him, willing for something to happen within him. He continued to stare ahead, at the reflection of the two of them in the mirror. And she continued to do the same, matching his gaze, staring at him and willing him to show some kind of emotion. She continued to do this until she really did see something. She saw a pleading in his eyes, the emotion moved through him quickly and if she hadn’t been staring so intently she was sure she would have missed it. She took this moment as another good sign. She had felt from him a fear of being trapped in his body, unable to communicate. Once again she felt afraid that she couldn’t help. To counteract that feeling, which was wildly uncomfortable for her, she began to do what had worked to wake her up, and had not worked moments before — she started throwing water in his face.
She figured it could help, or at least not hurt, as all that seemed to connect with Noam in any way had been physical contact and human emotion. So, as she threw the water into his face, she was sure to really slap it into him, touching his face with each throw. She spoke to him while she did this, telling him what she knew about his life.
“Your name is Seamus Noam. You are 23 years old and male. You grew up in Canada, in the city of Toronto with your younger sister, Jenny. Your parents are happily married…” She noticed she was now hitting Noam harder than she intended and she relented. “You’re an adventurer and you began working with the Academy because of your experiences growing up in Toronto with all the climate refugees. You saw that something had changed more than just physically in the world… that a new Age was upon us. And so you desired to bring to light the beauty of the dark. Now, you find yourself here. With me. I’m Stella Dorothy Leigh, and I’ve just joined you on your adventure. I don’t think you’re very happy about it since you’ve been a total dick since day one. I was sent here, against my wishes, by the Academy of Impossible, who seem to feel I can help you. We met for the first time five days ago. I think you may have disliked me from the beginning, then again you might just be terribly, dickishly apathetic to me. Needless to say, your communication can use some work.” She was slapping his face hard again, no longer really caring, since he was a soaked, lifeless zombie in her arms. “From what I’ve observed about you, you don’t seem to get along with most people. Why is that? Are you really as terrible as you act sometimes? I think you aren’t. I think it’s a facade you put up to keep people away. At least that’s what I thought before I’d ever met you. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe you are simply just terrible.” The slapping continued, and perhaps it was even harder now for Stella was definitely not paying attention. She was running her mouth, letting off the steam that had been building in her, and thinking nothing of it since Noam was a million and one light years away.
What do you think Stella did when the zombie she was barely paying attention to grabbed her left hand mid-slap? She screamed bloody murder, and punched the zombie in the face. She felt and heard a sickening crack, and Noam’s nose exploded with blood. It was disgusting. She’d never actually punched someone before and it felt strangely, satisfying good. Noam’s blood was on her knuckles and she looked at it, fascinated before she remembered the whimpering half-man that had fallen to the bathroom floor.
Stella squatted down and rolled him over, so that he was no longer lying with his damaged face squished into the cold marble floor. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Stella lifted Noam’s head and placed it in her lap. His nose was still gushing blood, and a faint constant moan emitted from his mouth. Punching someone was far grosser than she had imagined it would be. Perhaps next time she’d aim elsewhere other than the nose? She figured she’d broken his.
Pushing out from under Noam, Stella stood up and grabbed a bath towel and washcloth and wet them in the sink. Back on the floor, she held his head with her left hand while she wiped the blood up and off his face with the washcloth. It was a lot of blood. More than they ever showed in movies. Why was that? Why was it that movies never showed the actual true effects of violence? It seemed pretty gross to her, and definitely what one could deem as good entertainment, if you were into that sort of thing. The washcloth was already red and thick with blood. She replaced it with the towel, doing her best to be gentle with his garbled nose, and to not suffocate him with the extra fabric. His moaning continued, muffled beneath the towel.
She sat there for a while, staring off into space, waiting, willing the bleeding to stop. “Noam?” He wasn’t moaning anymore. Her immediate thought was that he was dead. Removing the towel from his face and touching him gently, she checked, asking again, “Noam?” His eyes whipped open immediately and fiercely, startling her. There was something behind them. They were no longer dead and unseeing. He was looking right at her.
“What the fuck, Stella?” His voice was raw, horse, angry, slow. This wasn’t exactly what she’d been hoping for, but it was something. Noam, it seemed, was back. A half-second later the pain of the lights registered for him and he began moaning, closing his eyes to the searing light. Wordlessly, she slipped out from underneath him, laying his head gently on the black marble floor and walked silently out of the bathroom, flipping the light off as she moved past his bed and back into her own room. The need to get away from him had returned, full force. She’d leave him to sort himself out. She wasn’t needed anymore. She went into the bathroom to look at herself and regain her composure. Breathing deeply she watched her face in the mirror until she saw Noam’s bruised face appear near hers. Even then, despite her brief glance in his direction, she stayed focused on her eyes and her breathing. Ignoring was something she was very comfortable and good at.
Noam finally spoke first, and when he did, she immediately wished he hadn’t. He asked what her problem was. She continued to study her eyes in the mirror, she wasn’t ignoring him she decided, she was simply focused on herself.
He tried again, this time doing a better job. She didn’t hate the words immediately. This time he simple said, “What happened?” He sounded tired, and disappointed. She looked at him in the mirror. His nose looked absolutely disgusting. His eyes looked scared. His mouth smiled slightly at her.
She should have taken a moment to think before she responded but she didn’t. She’d been waiting for this moment, and the words tumbled out, unedited. “Jesus, Noam. That guy you took us to. The Rewriter. He turned us into fucking zombies. Not the walking dead kinda zombies but the worse kind, the alive and emotionless, completely disconnected and unconscious kind. He turned us into ghosts of ourselves. Is that what you had in mind when you took us there? I saved your ass from a lifetime of servitude, man. That stupid fucker you got us tied up with is tricking desperate people into believing he can change their lives for the better. Instead he makes them forget they have a life, and turns them into ghosts. We’d forgotten our lives, our selves, until I put an end to it. He turned our uniqueness off and turned us into soulless robots. We were mindless idiots, trapped in his fucked up office for days, until I woke up. I saved you from sitting at a desk, typing bullshit and wearing bad suits for the rest of your life. You’re welcome.”
“I was out-of-it, unaware and disconnected from myself, yet functioning and doing things, for days? Serious? How is that possible? All we did was listen to that guy. How could that have done anything? You remember the shit story he was telling us? It was terrible… except I can’t remember anything after it, until now. How long was I gone for?” The raspy dryness of his voice was slowly working its way out.
“Today is the 11th. And we saw him on the 8th.”
“Three days. I’ve lost three days. This is bizarre. How is this possible? How did this happen?”
“I thought you’d know. Since you got us into this mess.”
“I got us…” Noam started and then stopped, his voice rising and falling. “I don’t know what happened.” He dropped his head into his hand, looking almost humbled. “I had no idea.”
“So this wasn’t part of your plan?”
He didn’t say anything in response, but he raised his head to look into her eyes.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.” He sounded tired.
“Was the story you told the Rewriter true? Because as I figure it, the reason I was able to wake up and no one else did or does is because I never believed my story, our story, in the first place.”
Noam didn’t say anything but she could feel the truth.
“It’s something about belief, I think. He’s able to manipulate it somehow. He uses what you want to believe to feel better against you. You wanting to forget… her… your story together… that’s what kept you ghost-like, I think. But because I didn’t believe it, the original story, I was able to wake up with time. At least that’s what I think makes sense. It’s your belief that someone else can change your life, re-write your story and remove your pain, which he uses against you. I think it’s what he used to turn you into what he wanted you to be, never caring what you wanted at all. You get to be numb to your pain, and he gets a great worker.” She felt proud of herself and her theory. It sounded pretty damn good to her, albeit impossible. But impossible had never stopped her before. And if she was to run impossible ideas across someone, Noam seemed like a good person.
“Hmmm…” She’d been hoping for more from him than that.
“Fine. What do you think then?” She challenged him to come up with something better.
“I think I’m happy I’m not a ghost anymore.” Not what she was looking for.
She paused and stared at him for a moment before moving on, “So, what’s next? What’s our next move? How are we going to stop him?”