Recap #146: Magic Fire by Christopher Pike
Title: Magic Fire
Author: Christopher Pike
Cover Artist: Franco Accornero
Tagline: He loved to burn.
Summary: He just had a thing about fire.
Mark Charm is a pyromaniac. Since the time he was a child, he loved to watch fires. But it is only in his senior year at high school that he takes his personal obsession citywide. It is a dry autumn in Southern California and the desert winds are blowing. Mark has a box of matches, and it is late at night. Would it be so bad, he thinks, if the whole state burned?
My first Christopher Pike recap! I ran it by Wing and made sure this wasn’t one of the books she plans to recap for the website. [Wing: I’ve never actually read this one before! Excited to see what it’s like.]
[Wing: We encourage recappers to tie the personal to their recaps if they’re comfortable doing so, because, as you may have noticed, we bring different perspectives and experiences to the table, and that’s a part of what I cherish about this site and this community, recappers and readers and podcast listeners. Jude talks about quite a personal story in this recap, and he wrote an introduction to why. For length and site design purposes, I have moved that to the end of the recap, where the bulk of the discussion takes place.]
This book is strange, because the online summaries didn’t do it nearly enough justice. This is one of those books like “Fear Hall” which I tend to cling to. A lot of you may feel the twist at the end comes from out of nowhere, but as I’ll discuss in the final thoughts, I believe there were clues from the beginning.
Also, I’m not sure how to feel about usage of the term “Pyromaniac,” if that falls under ableism or not. That type of thing’s never really been something I’ve thought about in regards to mental illness, so if anyone wants to start a discussion I wouldn’t argue against it. [Wing: That is an interesting point. It is an actual diagnosis, and I don’t think “pyromaniac” and “pyromania” themselves as words are ableist, no more than “mania” or “manic” is. To me, ableism comes in how the word is used, particularly whether it is being used pejoratively, whether it is being used in a way that causes harm to or others the people to whom it is applicable.]
Mark Charm was under Jessa Welling’s spell. She enchanted him, enraptured him, as he watched her perform on stage in their school auditorium. This was the fourth and final performance of “The Season of the Witch,” featuring Jessa as Ebo the witch, cast opposite the handsome David Simmons as the minstrel, Speen.
“I am a mere mortal, lost in an illusion from which there is no escape,” Speen replied. “I have come to you for truth and wisdom.”
“Truth and wisdom!” Ebo said with a laugh.”You will find neither here. You have entered a realm of shadows, where only death can show you light. She continued to stroke his cheek lovingly and spoke softly. “Shall I show you this light now? Or would you to prefer to wait?”
Jessa was mostly the center of Mark’s attention ever since she transferred to Zale High at the start of school year several weeks back. She was attractive and intriguing, though she wasn’t exactly a model. That was just fine with Mark, who was enamored with Jessa’s sensuality and body language; she was a classic vamp. He was aware, too, that he was hyping her up when she was only human, and if she rejected him he’d get over it eventually. If only Mark had the courage to speak to her. It’s not as though Mark was awkward or unattractive. He was shy and intelligent, a good tennis player and an avid surfer. More than a few girls crushed on him the same way he did Jessa, but he only barely knew about these female admirers.
Mark watched Jessa as Ebo cast spell after spell, tormenting and rewarding several individuals before finally succumbing to her own curses and dying in Speen’s arms. Ebo was no angel, much like Jessa, so her ending was fitting. When the curtain fell down, the audience burst into applause. Mark took his opportunity to sneak backstage amid the chaos of closing night and hoped to finally speak to Jessa. She was already in her dressing room, but he didn’t enter until she granted him permission. With her back turned to Mark, Jessa was removing her make-up and didn’t notice his reflection in her mirror until she moved slightly. Mark’s heart almost skipped a beat when he realized Jessa was only wearing a simple white slip, and could make out the outlines of her bare breasts as she turned to face him. Jessa clearly didn’t care if he noticed. [Wing: Well this is classic Pike breaking women down into revealing body parts.]
It took a moment, but Jessa began to recognize Mark. She’s seen him several times in the library, but he apparently never noticed her. The two discuss authors; Jessa’s favorite being James Joyce due to “Ulysses.” She’s also rather fond of Dante’s “Inferno” because she’s interested in Hell.
After joking about how odd their names are (Mark CHARM, JESSA Welling), Jessa brazenly asks if Mark’s the kind of guy who likes looking at half-naked girls. Mark responds he actually likes completely naked girls, and you can practically hear him screaming inside his head. But Jessa takes the joke as was intended instead of thinking Mark’s a pervert. Mark expresses his admiration for Jessa’s acting, but felt David Simmons was “Okay.” Jessa confides she can’t stand David, mentioning their kissing scenes always make her want to puke. Mark’s surprised since he thought Jessa and David were a couple, which of course means he’s got a chance after all. Unfortunately, their meeting does and does not go the way Mark hoped. He’s unable to bring himself to ask Jessa out, but Jessa mentions wanting to talk with Mark some more when they have a chance. Mark is practically kicking himself in the parking lot for having wussed out, but the thought of Jessa saying SHE wants to hang out with HIM elevates his feelings. Sadly, reality had other plans for Mark and his worries catch up with him. Mark leaves Zale High and drives to the UCLA Medical Center to visit his dying mother, Jessica. [Wing: I am weirded out that he’s so interested in a girl who has such a similar name to his mother.]
Even with all the current genetically engineered miracle drugs of the 21st Century, Jessica’s bone cancer had spread so quickly all the doctors could do was keep her on painkillers. Every waking minute not on Txex was sheer agony for Mark’s mother. She was all he had, his father having died when he was ten years old. Mark honestly had no clue what he would do when his mother finally died, and the doctors didn’t help by informing Mark she’d be one of the first people to die of cancer in Los Angeles in this year. Fucking bastards. [Wing: … why would you even tell him that? Goddamn.] He wasn’t even sure how he was handling her pain right now, but firmly believed his mother’s illness had nothing to do with his feelings for Jessa (despite the similarities in their name). Mark tried his best to offer his mom comfort, visiting her as often as he could, giving her back massages when she was in pain, and playing computer games with her. He tried to let her win, but her concentration was quickly eroding. It was clear she didn’t have long.
Mark dreaded arriving at the hospital. With his mother’s impending death hanging over his head, the building felt more like the witch’s castle straight out of Jessa’s play. It was past visiting hours, so Mark would only have a few courtesy minutes to see his mother. She was asleep, thank God, but the sound of her labored breathing and the thirty years added to her 44-year-old face proved too much for Mark. So, he decided to relieve some stress the only way he knew how.
There were only a few gasoline stations left in L.A. after electric cars primarily replaced fuel-burning vehicles, but Mark passed one such station on the way to the hospital. He filled up a five-gallon tank kept in his trunk and went on a search for something to burn. Mark did not want to believe he was a pyromaniac, but in all likelihood he probably was. He loved fire, he loved smoke, and he loved watching things burn. He didn’t jerk off to fires, though. When he did think about it, Mark comforted himself knowing this wasn’t a sexual desire. He burned things when life became too unbearable and it felt like he wanted to explode. He wasn’t interested in hurting people, but he’d worshipped fire nearly all his life. [Wing: Mark, that is some wishful thinking. It doesn’t have to be a sexual desire for it to be pyromania.]
Mark had the perfect target in mind for tonight, a newly constructed and extravagant McMansion he’d happened upon while hiking in the Malibu hills one day. Mark remembered watching the rich white guy who owned the place mercilessly chewing out the Hispanic foreman in charge of the construction. The memory helped Mark rationalize destroying the man’s home. This was the first time he’d ever burned down something so extravagant, but tonight his need to burn was great. No one had moved into the home yet, of course, but Mark still had to take out the security system. A quick snip of the wires and a broken window made Mark’s entrance all too easy. [Wing: So technology has moved on to mostly curing cancer and everyone using electric cars, but security systems are that easy to beat?] He proceeded to douse the empty house in gasoline, flinging the tank all around and letting the heavy stench of gasoline comfort and thrill him. But tonight he felt like being a bit wild. Instead of waiting until he was at the front door to light the flames, Mark was up for racing the blaze to the entrance. Normally, he had better control over his urges; that whole self-preservation thing was what stopped him from doing a really convincing cosplay as the Human Torch. The fire sprang to life in the bedroom, and Mark started to come to his senses as he began to run. Yet oddly, even though the fire had already spread to the rest of the house, it was like the inferno was trying to give Mark a head start. It seemed to recoil as he got closer, giving Mark the opening needed to escape with his life.
Brushing off dirt and broken glass, Mark went back to his car and drove to a nearby hill to watch the rest of his handiwork from a safe distance. Armed with binoculars, Mark sat on top his Saturn and gazed down as the fire trucks and cop cars took their sweet time getting to the blaze. Mark could tell they knew the house was a lost cause. His anxiety sated for the time being, Mark was about to leave when he noticed something else through his binoculars. On a nearby hill, someone else was out late and enjoying the sights. Only this person wasn’t watching the fire, they were watching MARK. Whoever it was realized immediately their cover had been blown, and Mark could only witness as the mysterious spectator drove off. Yet this person did not drive in the direction of the policemen. Mark had a sinking feeling he’d be seeing the stranger again.
At school the following Monday, Mark was eating lunch by himself when Jessa decided to join him. Mark was shocked to see Jessa was smoking a cigarette AND drinking a can of beer out in the open; Ms. Welling gave zero shits who saw her. She sits down next to Mark and helps herself to some of his sandwich before bringing up the previous Friday. Jessa’s impressed by the nerve Mark showed, entering her dressing room like that. Mark asks what she did over the weekend, and it was business as usual for Jessa. She smoked, she drank, she painted, she worked on her book. Jessa immediately regrets adding that part since she hasn’t told anyone about her novel. Mark promises to keep his lips zipped as she explains her book is horror, science fiction, and romance. She’s been working on it forever and doesn’t know where it’ll end. Hell, she doesn’t even know if it SHOULD end. She plans to keep on writing and writing. [Wing: I kind of love Jessa right now.]
Jessa finally stops shitting around and tells Mark she’s been thinking about him a lot since Friday, even though he’s not much to look at it. Mark’s a bit stung by Jessa’s curtness although she agrees with him about his redeeming qualities. When Mark adds he believes Jessa’s nice, she laughs out loud declaring she’s as corrupt as one gets. Mark relents that he doesn’t know much about Jessa beyond she’s a great actress. Oh, and that she’s sexy, Jessa adds. Jessa asks Mark to cut class with her. Mark decides to forget about his important chemistry exam AND his afterschool job at the record store as Jessa asks to go to the beach with him. All the two need to do is retrieve a couple of things from the lockers before leaving. Jessa decides to meet Mark at his car, but when Mark says he drives a red Saturn Jessa cryptically informs Mark she already knew that.
The two arrive at the beach, but the waves are pretty high today and Mark is worried when Jessa says she wants to body surf. He warns her doing so with the way the water is right now is a decent way to get permanently injured, and adds he’s got a friend who was paralyzed from the neck down at this very beach. Jessa’s saunter is temporarily halted at the thought of spending her life as “A head on a pillow,” [Wing: And there goes that love for her. Fucking shitty thing to say, Jessa.] but breaks out of it happily stating neither of them can be hurt. Mark’s not sure where that came from and reluctantly joins in some body surfing. Sure enough, Mark barely avoids breaking his neck when he gets caught in a wave and walks away with sprained wrists and badly skinned knees. Jessa has the time of her life but decides to stop for Mark’s sake and settles for him having him rub suntan lotion ALL over her body. [Wing: This is also classic Pike.] Mark has no problem with this compromise save his wrists are still sore. Still, he acts like a gentleman and avoids the temptation of touching her ass. Jessa realizes Mark’s got something on his mind; Mark quips she’s probably a mind reader. Jessa claims she is and accurately guesses it’s his mom. Mark wasn’t prepared for that, asking how Jessa knew about his mother. She mentions something about people from school, but Mark doesn’t believe that since he doesn’t have many close friends and wasn’t prone to discussing his mom around his classmates or teachers. Jessa says she heard his mom was dying and Mark confirms it’s true. Jessa apologizes, but while Mark thinks this is her way of being comforting and replies it’s not her fault, her answer is strange.
“How do you know it’s not my fault?”
Jessa figures it’s extremely difficult seeing his mother in such a state and being unable to do anything to properly help her. Mark is taken aback by how on point Jessa is right now and agrees with her. Jessa offers him a way to get past it and asks if he’s heard of something called MAZE. Not “Maze” as in a labyrinth, but MAZE. Mark stops and thinks for a moment, feeling a sense of recognition when Jessa brought up MAZE but can’t properly recall what it is. He thinks he read about it somewhere, but the lack of information disturbs him. Jessa fills Mark in that it’s a cousin of LSD, and the full name is “Methlenedioxy amphetamine z-emertrine.” Now Mark recalls having read about this new designer drug, even though he wasn’t into that particular scene. Jessa’s got some on her thanks to a few connections she has. It helps her parents are both TV producers who are fucking loaded (although his opinion on Jessa doesn’t change that the shows her mom and dad work on are both awful).
Jessa defends the drug saying there are clinics in Mexico devoted to its production, although the Mexican government doesn’t approve of MAZE even if it’s tolerated. Jessa adds MAZE is unlike any drug out there, letting one see what’s really real. Mark is rightfully wary, remembering while MAZE isn’t physically addictive it has quite the psychological effect on someone. Jessa implores Mark to keep an open mind about this, emphasizing that MAZE is proving beneficial to the exploration of the human mind in an era where so many new discoveries are happening. Mark questions why one would need drugs if this is such an exciting era. Jessa takes the high road asking how Mark can judge something he’s never tried and continues to insist MAZE opens up the world for you. [Wing: … not sure peer pressure can be considered the high road.] It allows one to understand things that are incomprehensible while straight and sober. Mark wonders if Jessa’s on the drug right now and while she insists she’s not, she has the doses with her. Mark gets to the point and flatly tells Jessa getting shitfaced with her isn’t gonna stop his mom from dying. Jessa, for all her brazen curtness and lack of fucks to give, is remorseful for a moment and apologizes for implying this was going to make things better with his mother.
Mark questions why this is so important for Jessa since it makes more sense to get to know each other without getting stoned. Jessa takes out the bag of MAZE crystals and explains the drug can speed up the process. The future’s uncertain, and with MAZE they can learn things about one another in just a few hours what an entire lifetime would require. Jessa points out her interest in drugs upsets Mark, which makes the prospect of their future shaky, but then shares another groundbreaking inquiry.
“And there is nothing you do, privately, that you wouldn’t be ashamed to let me know about?”
Mark’s genuinely considering Jessa might be a witch like the fictional Ebo with how sharp she’s been. Jessa assumes he has a big secret, but Mark insists there’s nothing to him but the surface. Jessa feels that’s bullshit, thinking he has far too much on his mind. She’s seen him at school even before they met in the dressing room and deduces he’s got something going on. Mark won’t tell her because they truly don’t know each other, and feels she just wants to screw with his brain. Jessa coyly adds his brain’s not the only thing she’d like to screw with.
The two head back to Mark’s small house he shared, shares, with his mother. Even though they live in a rich neighborhood, they aren’t particularly wealthy. Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, Jessa shows off her love of the morbid expressing her interest in what a beating this road’s taken, what with all the floods, earthquakes, fires. It’s like the ocean can’t wait to reclaim this land. Mark doesn’t add they’re driving by the remains of Friday night’s inferno. Mark asks what he can expect from the drug; Jessa says you have to drop your expectations for the cool shit to happen.
The effects of MAZE:
- It lasts at least six hours on a person
- It’s best to smoke the drug to get the full effect
- It makes food taste fucking a-MAZING
- It shows you reality for what it is
Jessa showers off at Mark’s place before they decided to start tripping dem balls. About twenty minutes after they smoke the crystals, Jessa and Mark are both overcome with nausea. Jessa beats Mark to the bathroom, and we’re not told where Mark ended up vomiting. After that phase ends, Mark really starts feeling the MAZE.
Keep in mind, this next part truly is trippy and it’s hard to describe without simply reposting the entire sequence.
On his TV, Mark views a movie about aliens invading Earth in catsup (NOT ketchup) bottles, but the movie lasts about a minute. Or was it a commercial? Mark’s not even sure if the TV was ever on. The aliens return on and off on the TV, and Mark believes they’re a part of… something.
Mark’s senses begin to awaken thanks to the drug when Jessa enters the living room nomming on a turkey leg (Mark prepared a big turkey for the week to stretch out his modest food budget) and her senses have become equally heightened. Mark can see the food being digested in her body as she eats, can make out the dead cells in her hair. All human beings are just digested food and dead cells.
On the TV, the aliens have been replaced by transparent beings with visible brains. Mark somehow deduces these new beings are the first race to have lived on Earth before the aliens came. Mark starts a discussion with Jessa about who the aliens are and how they tie into what he senses. All around them, Mark is sure there is some presence operating at a higher level, yet all he can identify is Jessa. Jessa is a mystery to him, because he knows she’s lying to him about whatever is going on. As best Mark can tell, there are two mysteries at work, but one is more significant than the other. The aliens and the beings with exposed brains are tied into one of the mysteries. These aliens, whatever they are, are the ancient enemy. Powerful enough to blot out the sun and travel great distances, yet they weren’t truly evil. They were people who had jobs and families and friends.
Although, a part of him openly admits from a logical point of view he’s only seeing aliens and weird beings because he’s high.
Mark now suspects MAZE isn’t a drug and asks Jessa what it actually is. Jessa claims MAZE is everything around them. Mark wants to know what, exactly, Jessa wants from him. Jessa answers the only thing she wants from Mark is love. Mark is certain Jessa wants something else from him, some kind of power. Jessa wants him to do something, but whatever she wants she can’t have. He refuses. This devastates Jessa, who weeps the only thing she wants from Mark is his love. Mark believes her, in a sense, that she needs his love in order to survive. He’s sure they’ve known each other for much longer than three days. But now Mark thinks whatever it is they had has been dead for eons, long before any aliens came to Earth. Jessa pleads with Mark they can rekindle what they lost, pretend like it was always there. She’ll even read to Mark from her book and they can lie beside each other as she tells him the truth. [Wing: I am seeing so many pieces of Pike’s other books in here: there’s some Last Vampire and some Weekend and some Scavenger Hunt and — well, I could go on, but thematically, this fits smack in the middle of his other work, his writing, his style. It’s wild.]
Mark asks her again what MAZE is.
Jessa tells him it’s a door, and the aliens are already here.
Mark gets a vision of the transparent beings as they’re dissected and their brains dumped in a blue liquid. Mark believes Jessa is not of the aliens, who catalog everything in their massive computer and could brighten or darken the universe with a press of a button.
Jessa promises she’ll reveal her story to Mark if he makes love to her.
Mark wakes up feeling like absolute SHIT. He has vague memories of some nonsense involving aliens and the TV and isn’t sure if he and Jessa fucked or not. He doesn’t even know if Jessa’s still in the house. But then OH SHIT HE FORGOT TO VISIT HIS MOM TODAY. Mark quickly gets dressed and drives to the hospital even though it’s midnight. He contemplates the oddness of his growing relationship with Jessa over the last three days and is reasonably sure she’s a MAZE addict. Mark’s senses are still a teeny bit heightened and he’s beginning to understand the lure the drug has; he’s curious to try it again but knows he won’t. He’s not interested in becoming just like Jessa.
Mark finally arrives at the hospital and goes to see his mother… except her room is empty. Mark panics and heads to the nearest nurse’s station to find out what happened to his mom. The nurse, a pillow faced woman with a bad complexion engrossed with a trashy romance novel, is all “Oh, Jessica Charm? She dead.” [Wing: … what the fuck is wrong with this hospital?]
Mark has no idea how he got back into his car, nor how he got out of the hospital where his mother’s dead body was most likely rotting away on a morgue slab. The one day, the ONE day he didn’t call or visit her, and she died. And to make matters worse, while his mother died in her bed wondering where Mark was, he was busy getting stoned and fucking some girl he hasn’t even known for a week. She died at 6:35, probably the moment the MAZE kicked in. Mark’s feelings are all jumbled up and he has no idea what he’s doing. It had been him and his mother for so long, and now it was like the center of his universe had collapsed in on itself. He was alone, and he wanted to die even though he couldn’t force his body to stop. There’s only one thing Mark is certain of. He doesn’t just want to burn, he wants to DESTROY.
Mark sets out to create a fire that would, if birthed properly, would annihilate Malibu, Westwood, and Pacific Palisades. The weather that night was perfect for creating a proper inferno, with the desert winds nice and hot and blowing in just the right direction. Lighting a match would’ve been enough to draw the attention of every firefighter in the area, but that wasn’t good enough for Mark. Strangely, though, Mark was unsure of where this desire was coming from even with the shock of his mom’s passing.
Mark knew the perfect place to start as well, a small oil refinery at the edge of the San Bernardino Valley (of course Mark knew about all the refineries in southern California; he takes his hobby very seriously). Mark chose this particular refinery because it was so small it didn’t even have proper security. The layout of the place was ridiculous as if the person who designed the refinery had fried their brain on acid during the 1960s. Nevertheless, Mark found a proper fuel truck, yet ironically there was no gas in the engine. The act of siphoning fuel from another truck to power his engine of destruction took at least an hour, which meant it was around 3 AM and he had to hurry before morning.
The next step in Mark’s plan is to bring the fuel truck to his neighborhood in Pacific Palisades, the Highlands. As the most exclusive neighborhood in the area, the Highlands had a specially constructed fire road to allow fire engines access in case of blazes. Mark seeks to use the fire road to enclose the Highlands in a wall of flames, making a full evacuation impossible and ensuring his master blaze couldn’t be stopped. The private security in the Highlands neighborhood was a joke and Mark was easily able to get the truck onto the fire road.
But of course, he HAD to forget his matches. This has not been Mark’s night. Luckily for him, he’s able to steal a bike from a nearby house and navigates the fire road to get to his house. Too bad the trail’s a fucking nightmare and Mark’s exhausted, but the travel home makes him realize something. If he goes through with this, people are going to die. He’s never desired to hurt people when he burned things, and he didn’t want to do it now. Yet Mark was still determined to make this fire happen. Was this the real Mark Charm, exposed by the reality shown through MAZE? Or was this Mark born from the absence of his mother? He didn’t even feel pleasure at the prospect of starting this fire like the ones he created before, but Mark knew someone or something wanted him to do this. Feeling powerless, thinking about the alien hallucinations, Mark’s thoughts returned to Jessa and his belief she might be a witch after all. He was still surprised to see Jessa on his front porch, though.
Jessa claims she was worried about Mark, even though she didn’t try to wake him before she left earlier that evening. Jessa knows something’s wrong, but Mark won’t tell her. He won’t even look at her, her attempt to hug him and the idea of her love making him feel so much worse. Jessa immediately guesses Mark’s mother has died and apologizes. Mark recognizes the odd tone he’s heard in her voice before and demands to know what Jessa really means. Hell, Mark wants to know why she even gives a shit. Jessa asks if he’s angry at her because he might believe, if Mark hadn’t been with her he could’ve been with his mother, but Mark doesn’t care. Mark asks if she’d like to give him more MAZE, if Jessa thinks that’ll help him. Jessa offers Mark anything he wants to make him feel better, and all she wants is to be with him. Mark is not in the mood for her vague declarations of love and asks what the fuck is she talking about, acting like they love each other when they know jack shit about each other’s lives. Jessa claims that isn’t true, that she’s always known Mark, or at least that’s how she feels. She confirms they did have sex while under MAZE, which makes Mark laugh. They can only be close when they’re high.
Mark orders Jessa to leave him alone so he can get some rest, however, Jessa accurately deduces he’s in the middle of something. He smells of gasoline, even though he drives an electric car and it’s nowhere in the vicinity. Fuck, he’s drenched in gas. Mark is afraid he blabbed all about his pyro-clivities while under that stupid drug, so he cautiously asks Jessa what she thinks he’s doing. Jessa believes he does strange things when he’s upset, and he’s especially upset now. Mark, tired of all the questions, would like to know what Jessa thinks he does that’s so strange.
“You burn things,” she whispered.
He was beyond stunned. “How do you know that?”
“I know you.”
She hugged him. “I know because I love you.”
Mark knows Jessa’s not leaving his side, which is good in a way because he wants to know what her goddamn deal is.
Jessa is setting out to be the most supportive girlfriend ever when she helps Mark establish the trail of gas across the fire road. Set up the way it is, once the flames are lit the wind will carry the fire and spread it around the Highlands. They have to hurry if this shit’s gonna hit the fan because Mark wants it to hit while the firefighters are too groggy to, well, fight fires. Mark is worried the trail might be too thin and is also worried that he’s fucking doing this at all. Jessa inquires as to how many fires he’s started, and promises no one is going to get hurt. They’ll be evacuated in time. Mark thinks she must be high because if he starts this fire, people are gonna die alright. Mark wonders why Jessa isn’t disturbed by any of this, but she seems to feel the idea of “Normal people” is a joke. Like that’s an answer.
Mark knew to park the truck several yards away from the gas trail before he lit the fire, and had Jessa stay near the truck as he brought the fire to life. Unfortunately for Mark, there’s a gap in the line which he needs to immediately fix to retain the element of surprise. He wasn’t too worried about leaving Jessa by the truck, even though he knew it was possible for the wind to change in the direction of the truck. A couple of dry bushes helped rectify the gap in the line, but then another gap occurred and Mark was getting pissed. Logically he knew he should get back to Jessa, but Mark wanted to have his cake and eat it too by fixing the break with enough time to return to his gal. Mark knows it’s his passion to burn things making him go through with the survival of his fire.
At that moment, Mark stopped before he got close to the second break. An ominous feeling emerged, and he noticed the wind had indeed shifted direction which meant Jessa would be in danger. Even if the truck was empty, the fumes still made it likely to explode. However, the destruction must be completed, and Mark wonders if maybe HE is the alien and not Jessa. Mark focuses on the fire and receives an odd, almost magnetic feeling in the center of his forehead as the flames seem to make the effort to complete the gap in spite of the wind’s direction. Mark’s prayers are answered and the wall of fire is completed, so Mark runs like fuck to get back to Jessa befor-
Welp the truck just exploded. Thanks Mark you just blew up your drug addict girlfriend.
Jessa sensed no danger before the tank ignited. She was thrown through the air and landed on the far side of the fire road, bouncing twice like a burning ragdoll. Mark frantically ran to Jessa and tried to extinguish the flames on her clothing. Jessa’s still alive and the fire didn’t spread to her head or face, which brings small relief to Mark as she, solemnly, assures him she cannot die. With the truck gone Mark has no choice but to carry Jessa up over the hill and away from the flames. She’s in no state to walk and the burns on her legs are pretty severe even though she doesn’t feel them yet.
Mark has surprisingly no trouble carrying Jessa, but due to the fire there’s only one direction Mark can go in and made it less likely for them to reach civilization. Jessa is happy Mark was here for her, even though it was his fault. Jessa argues differently, that the situation they’re in right now happened because of her. Mark’s back to not understanding what she’s talking about as he searches for a drainage pipe to hide in from the fire. Nearby, Mark witnesses his flames engulf a neighborhood and destroy a Mercedes-Benz. He sees people running down streets trying to get away from the wall of flames, but all he’s worried about is Jessa’s survival.
After finding the drainage pipe, Mark discovers it’s choked with weeds and all sorts of crap. It’s gonna be difficult to get Jessa inside, and now she’s blacked out while he can hear more people screaming for their lives. Mark attempts to get inside first to make room for Jessa by clearing away some of the debris, but then he has to drag Jessa in by her legs. Her burnt legs feel like raw meat and Mark’s convinced he’s scarring for her life. Oh, and she gets her head smacked against a rock as she’s dragged on the ground. Mark’s scratched up pretty badly by rocks and branches as he maneuvers Jessa. By the time they’re in the relative safety of the pipe, it’s over 120 degrees and they’re wounded, bleeding, and burned. The fire closes in on the pipe opening, but even if the two aren’t burnt to death they’ll suffocate from the smoke. Jessa comes to and Mark tells her they have to keep moving down the pipe to the other end. Jessa’s responses make her sound delirious, telling Mark he did what he needed to do by starting the fire. Jessa begs Mark to leave her because she’s in too much pain, and offers little to his doubts claiming she can’t die.
“I can save us both,” he said frantically. “A hundred feet inside and the smoke won’t kill us.”
She stopped him. “I can’t move. It hurts too much.”
He wept. “But I can’t leave you! Jessa! You’ve got to try!”
She shook her head sadly. “No, I’ll stay here. I have to stay here. Everything will be okay.”
Mark can’t move her and he knows she can’t move even if she wanted to. He won’t abandon her, so he lies beside her as the smoke gets heavier and the flames get hotter. Jessa believes this was meant to happen as the fire, the Magic Fire, envelopes them…
And then Mark wakes up in a lavish penthouse apartment, bandaged and clean. Jessa is asleep beside him and is equally clean and bandaged, but hooked up to an IV. Mark has no idea how this occurred. The last thing he recalls is blacking out. Cautiously he inspects the apartment; the skyline is clearly downtown L.A. and Mark has a good view of the fire raging in Pacific Palisades. A veritable holocaust and it’s his fault, he feels nothing but shame. The rest of the apartment is pretty swanky, the fridge is loaded and in the bathroom, there’s a Percocet bottle with Mark’s name literally on it. The prescription’s been filled out by a “Dr. Brain.” Mark warily takes one pill, not trusting this scenario at all but needing to dull his pain somewhat to figure out the next course of action. The front door is locked, and even if it wasn’t Mark didn’t know how to get Jessa out of there. Mark showers, eats, and turns on the TV only to learn all the news stations are, naturally, covering the fire. 200 people and counting have died, Pepperdine College has been destroyed, and the firefighters have no hopes they can stop the inferno from destroying more. Mark’s glad his mother passed when she did, so she wouldn’t have to see what he’s done.
And then a knock comes at the door.
Mark is greeted by none other than the man from Friday. For all intents and purposes, the man could’ve been a robot covered in flesh judging from the impassiveness in his features, but his voice was gentle as he asked how Mark felt. The man reveals his name is Grimes, Mr. Grimes. Grimes and Brain, they bandaged up Mark and Jessa and transported them to the penthouse. Mark knew he was going to see this guy again, but the implausibility of the last several days is not doing wonders for Mark’s mood. From the brief glance Mr. Grimes takes towards the fire outside the penthouse, Mark understands this man has some heavy burdens on his shoulders.
Mark starts off by asking how he and Jessa got here and how they got rescued and all that. Grimes takes the opportunity to start by explaining he can’t tell Mark everything right now, only what his superiors have allowed him to share. Mr. Grimes is supposedly part of a very powerful group of individuals who’ve been interested in Mark’s family for quite some time. Grimes starts asking Mark questions about his deceased father, like how Mr. Charm died and if he missed him, the usual shit. Mark truthfully doesn’t miss his dad that much and whatever he does know came from a child’s perspective. Turns out Mr. Charm was a firefighter.
Who died in a fire.
Like the ones that are raging right now.
[Wing: Well now.]
Mark gets defensive, saying these fires were “An accident.” Grimes says nothing, although his raised eyebrow gives off the vibe he’s amused. Yet at the same time, Mark concludes everything Grimes says and does was calculated and thought out in advanced ages ago.
Grimes calls Mark’s lies, adding Mark made the fire much like his father created the fire that killed him. Mark refuses to believe his dad was a pyromaniac even as Grimes reveals that Mr. Charm took on a job as a firefighter so he could be close to flames. Unlike Mark, Mr. Charm worked to keep his desires in check a tad bit more carefully. Although even though he didn’t realize it, Mark’s dad had indeed started the fire which killed him. Mark doesn’t get the point, and is especially not happy when Grimes pulls out the term “Pyrokinesis.”
According to Mr. Grimes, Mark’s ancestors had this ability, Mark’s dad had it, and Mark has it, which is why the Charms have been so carefully observed by Grimes’ organization. Understandably skeptical, Mark points out he needed gasoline and matches to start the fire to which Grimes brings up the gap magically fixing itself. Mark thinks the wind did it while Grimes inquires if Mark felt anything weird or unnatural at that moment, recognizing when Mark lies and implying he may be a mind reader.
The conversation moves to Jessa and if Mark feels awful about what he’s done. Turns out the skin damage was indeed as bad as Mark thought, and Jessa’s gonna be scarred for life. Grimes promises Mark his group can do far more for Jessa than any hospital or doctor could. Taking out a seemingly ordinary tube of white cream, Mark is astonished as Grimes uses it to heal his blistered, scarred arm in seconds. Of course, Grimes isn’t giving it to Jessa, not just yet. Mark wants out of this messed up arrangement of half-truths and magic tricks, and seeks to take Jessa with him. Mr. Grimes is clear on Jessa not getting the miracle cream for her wounds. Oh, Mark can certainly leave with Jessa and even call an ambulance, but she won’t get the kind of help she truly needs. Mark sees Jessa was brought along for leverage, but Grimes is quick to mention HE isn’t the one who started the fire that burned her in the first place. So Mark, who’s really responsible for her pain?
Defeated, Mark resigns to listening to what Grimes has to share. First, Grimes spells it out Mark REALLY needs to listen and understand what the following discussion will reveal. Going back to the previous evening, Grimes repeats his question about what Mark felt regarding the gap in the fire. Mark answers he felt a magnetic sensation pulsating out of his forehead, and when it occurred the gap was fixed. Mr. Grimes is satisfied enough to move towards Point B in the schedule, opening the floor for questions.
- Was Mr. Charm a pyrokinetic? Yes.
- Did he KNOW he was a pyrokinetic? He was slightly aware.
- Why did he feed the flames that killed him, albeit unknowingly? It’s in the nature of Mark’s family to burn. [Wing: I am delighted.]
- Does the organization answer to the government? No.
- What’s the name of Grimes’ organization? That’s classified.
- How old is the organization? Centuries.
Hearing this mystery group is also mystical in nature, Mark is then told they have psychics and other firestarters but none quite as potent as him. The organization wants Mark because he can be a very powerful weapon against a very powerful enemy. Mark is modest in this regard, like, how could someone like him be all that AND a bag of chips? Mr. Grimes asserts the enemy in question has no knowledge or expectation of psychic abilities, so they’ve got no way monitoring them, giving the organization the element of surprise. Sadly, Mark’s laughing his ass off when he’s told the enemy they’re dealing with is an alien race which invaded Earth years ago. Mr. Grimes is deadly serious as he explains Mark’s got no reason to laugh once he learns the full scope of what these aliens have done. While most people, including the major world governments, don’t know it, the human race has been conquered and it’s a provable fact. So, okay, Mark wants to see this proof. And of course, Grimes tells Mark he has to wait.
Mark jumps at the chance to call bullshit on this, because how can he believe anything Grimes has told him without proof. Grimes points to the cream healing his arm and how they know Mark’s a pyrokinetic. Mark replies the cream’s effects and aliens existing are completely separate matters, and Jessa obviously knew about his abilities. That last part gets an unexpected response out of Grimes. Mark clarifies Jessa obviously knows a lot of things, wondering if she’s been of interest to the mystery group as well. Jessa’s been monitored too, but Grimes is deliberately vague.
Mark’s disbelief and annoyance grow as Grimes refuses to allow Mark to meet his superiors with the added detail the aliens are just like human beings. Even as Mr. Grimes explains they come from the star system NCG123 (422 light years away), and have been spied upon by the psychic agents in the organization, Mark will not entertain such asinine ideas. Mark threatens he’s gonna leave with Jessa and demands the cream to heal her; Grimes will heal Jessa if Mark stays. Mark reaches his breaking point, screaming he can’t stay here and do nothing while the fire he started continues to destroy. Mr. Grimes makes a final attempt at placating Mark’s guilt, that the good he will do in service to humanity will far outweigh the sins he believes he’s committed. Mark notes the word “Believe,” like Grimes doesn’t think Mark killed 200 people and counting. Apparently, the aliens have done a LOT worse.
Grimes leaves with a promise of returning in the morning. Mark is pissed at Grimes’ selfish refusal to heal Jessa when she finally wakes up believing Mark saved her. He corrects her and asks if she has any psychic powers. Jessa jokes that she’s got a very active imagination, if that counts. Mark is being serious, but Jessa shushes him.
“My power is you, that I have you. That is all the power I need.”
The next day, Mark and Jessa are transported to the Nevada desert in a motor home to the organization’s home base. As a show of good faith, Mr. Grimes healed one of Jessa’s legs before she was moved. Mark is still angry at the indignities heaped on Jessa and is pretty sure her other leg’s started to rot. Jessa tries to keep on a brave face and took several painkillers to dull her suffering, but has to be kept on her back for the trip. Mark fills Jessa in on Mr. Grime’s ridiculous story about aliens and mystical orders, yet she’s on the fence about whether or not it’s true. For the most part, she doesn’t hold it against the regions of outer space that one planet out there decided to conquer Earth. No, she will always love the stars and nothing can change that.
Mark doesn’t know what to believe or think. He feels powerless in every aspect and is still upset thinking of the shame his mother would feel if she were still alive. Jessa is earnest in her belief Mark’s mom would be proud of the good he’ll do, but it does nothing to quell Mark’s angst because this nonsense about aliens can’t possibly be true. Jessa doesn’t necessarily trust what Mr. Grimes has told them, but she does trust Mark and has faith in his capability to do great things. Again Mark doesn’t grasp where this unshakable faith is coming from but does wish to believe Jessa is sincere.
It’s clear they’ve brought Jessa along for leverage against Mark, but now Mark feels she’s the one capable of achieving wonders by how much she’s healed him in regards to his mother’s death. Jessa takes this poorly, strangely insisting she did nothing to help Mark process his mother’s death, nor was she there to help him. She believes everything she says and tells Mark not to think otherwise. Mark is left trying to get a grip on Jessa’s… well, Jessa. She keeps saying weird, contradictory nonsense but she has such conviction in the things she talks about Mark is starting to believe her. Again he wonders what MAZE really is and his memories of the TV aliens and floating brains resurface.
By the time the motorhome reaches the organization’s compound in the desert, Jessa has passed out from needing too many pain pills. The compound is made up of a barb wired fence and several small, ordinary looking brick buildings. Mark’s pretty sure the base has got more going on underground, but wonders how the government hasn’t found this place since it doesn’t seem too worried about hiding itself. As Mr. Grimes’ associates bring Jessa inside one of the buildings, Mark asks what they have planned for the two. Mark is told he’ll be using his ability to strike against the aliens FROM the base, and instead of killing them he’ll be destroying their main computer. This computer is powerful enough to monitor the entirety of the human race, and taking it out will sever the hold on humanity. Mark still doesn’t think he’s powerful to reach into the depths and space and destroy a computer on some alien planet, but supposedly the alien computer is close. VERY close.
Mark and Jessa are allowed to share an opulent room similar to the penthouse apartment, and hey this one’s got a Jacuzzi. Of course, the windows aren’t designed to open, but Mark stayed awake for the whole trip and did his best to memorize the path back to civilization should they need to escape. Jessa awakens and asks Mark for a cigarette under the misconception he smokes. She jokes for a bit about how they could escape to Las Vegas and get married but becomes morose saying of course Mark would never agree to it. Mark wonders why she’d think that. Jessa feels “Never” is her life story boiled down to a single word.
After that latest mood swing, Mark and Jessa are visited by Mr. Grimes and the legendary Dr. Brain. A winning combination of obese and balding, [Wing: Zero percent wrong with either thing.] Dr. Brain does a quick examination of Jessa before Grimes orders him to hurry up. It’s time for Mark’s pyrokinesis to be tested, but Mark’s not going any further until Jessa’s other leg is healed. Grimes is sticking to a timetable that doesn’t involve healing Jessa right away, but Dr. Brain attempts to be more diplomatic as the discussion goes back to the aliens. Dr. Brain believes they exist as well, having arrived to Earth in massive starships big enough to house entire planetary populations. These ships were supposedly ingeniously cloaked. The word bothering Mark the most is “Were.” Grimes wants everyone to get a move on and orders Jessa to be brought with them. Mark doesn’t want Jessa moved out of fear she’ll be in pain. Dr. Brain asks why Mark was led to believe she’s not a part of the procedure, and Jessa is fine with being brought to the testing.
In a room several floors down, Mark is brought to a well-furnished conference room under the surveillance of several security cameras. Mark’s at least convinced the people backing Grimes and Brain have got money backing them for this kind of spread. Mark isn’t too thrilled knowing he has to set some newspaper in a metal bowl on fire since the still thinks this is a crock of shit. Dr. Brain begins the test by easing Mark into a state of serenity via hypnosis. Mark closes his eyes as Dr. Brain talks about the spiritual eye, the point of focus between the eyebrows. Mark starts to relax as the doctor goes on, saying what Mark needs to do is simply want the paper to burn instead of trying to make it burn. It’s as though Mark is being set free into the void even though he still senses the room around him. Unexpected sensations occur and Mark hears the distinct beeping of what he recognizes is a heart monitor.
MAZE flashes in his mind again.
Mark can smell the faintest trace of smoke and hears a faint sizzling sound. The beeping has disappeared even though it felt like the monitor was right next to Mark when he opens his eyes and discovers the paper is burning. No one is more relieved than Mr. Grimes and Dr. Brain, who obviously needed some definite proof of Mark’s capabilities. Jessa congratulates Mark, having had total faith in his power. Mark would appreciate if she’d share with the rest of the class how long had she known what Mark could do. Back in the dressing room when they first met, for instance? Or much longer ago? Jessa, Grimes, and Brain are equally shocked that Mark’s figured out she’s been in on this project the entire time.
Mark refused to speak to Jessa for the rest of the evening but still slept beside her. He didn’t want to be anywhere near her but couldn’t turn her away. Of course they healed her other leg; they always planned to fix Jessa regardless of what Mark did. She was a willing participant in the exploitation of her wounds. Jessa tries to talk to him, to justify her actions, as Mark goes on about how he should’ve known this was too convenient. The mysterious sexy new girl who spoke to Mark for like three minutes before she started doing drugs and having sex with him, telling him she loves him, going along with him starting a fire that’s murdered hundreds with no argument. Jessa is obviously hurt but Mark cuts short her attempt at another love declaration. Jessa insists the aliens still exist and must be dealt with, but all Mark plans to do is flee the next morning. Jessa gets scary ON PURPOSE for the first time and tells him escape isn’t an option. Mark is reasonably sure Jessa’s still lying to him and brings up the topic of MAZE. Jessa reasserts it’s a drug, but now Mark wants to know if she was ordered to give it to him. Jess claims that was her decision and hers alone, but it was necessary to get Mark ready for the revelation.
Mark is now curious about why Jessa is a person of interest to this group. She’s got the power to remote view, which means to project a portion of her consciousness out of her body. There are a few others with this ability, but hers is the most potent since she can bring others with her. It’s through the remote viewers the organization has spied on the aliens. Mark remembers reading about the military using remote viewing in the 80s and 90s but scrapped the process because the info it gathered wasn’t reliable. Which is why Mark wonders if anything she or the others have seen of the aliens can be verified, and he wonders if he really set the newspaper on fire since his eyes were closed. Jessa confirms he sparked that flame on his own before Mark asks if she found Mark through her remote viewing. No, she didn’t. Mr. Grimes was being truthful when he said Mark’s family has been observed for a long time, she was just sent to verify a couple of things and get Mark involved. Yet it doesn’t change the validity of her feelings. But Mark wants to know why she acted the way she did with MAZE and everything. Jessa finally admits the drug might’ve been a mistake.
Jessa asks if Mark hasn’t felt like abandoning everything and running away somewhere. Mark experiences déjà vu, thinking of the drug and the aliens and transparent beings and how Jessa’s question was not a casual one. Mark answers no, you can’t just leave everything behind and shit travels with you. Jessa interprets Mark’s response as if he’s saying heaven and hell are the same, that it doesn’t matter what a damned person or a saintly person does. Mark thinks she’s being a bit extreme, but that’s how he feels.
Jessa changes the subject back to the alien supercomputer, which Mark will see for the first time tomorrow morning with help from the other psychics. Jessa adds the computer monitors humanity so what they might have made of themselves. Mark notices the further use of past tense, just like Dr. Brain, and presses Jessa on when the invasion occurred.
It was ten years ago.
The discussion becomes heated as Mark presses Jessa on more details about the aliens. What exactly is their real interest in the human race? They dominate just to observe the Earthlings? They monitor but don’t interfere? What’s the point? And where exactly is this computer? Why would Mark be freaked out if she told him now? And now why is Jessa telling Mark the fire he started was “A setup.” Nothing makes sense and nothing has made sense, Jessa believes, in two-I mean, ten years. The more confused Mark gets the angrier he gets as his belief Jessa is manipulating him multiplies, until finally he grabs her by the throat screaming “Who are you?”
Mark stops before he kills Jessa. He entertains a horrible notion that, if he’d strangled her, everything would’ve been fixed. His mom would be alive and so would the people who died in the fire. It’s true, Jessa is a witch after all. Jessa tearfully apologizes to Mark, but he apologizes as well for having hurt her. Jessa pleads with Mark her love is true and she will prove to him if he gives her the chance. Mark only asks that she stop lying to him. Of course, Mark refuses to have sex with her even as she begged him. He was still rightfully wary of her.
The next morning Mark gets to meet the other remote viewers, so now it’s time for some racial stereotyping. There are three psychics, a British plain jane, an exotic African beauty, and an adolescent Japanese boy. With Jessa at Mark’s side, the group is led into another trance this time by the British woman, and Mark feels his consciousness transcending time and space. He’s still aware of the room and he hasn’t totally left, so he’s in a paradoxical state of total freedom and confinement. Everything is dark before being blasted by the light of electrons and atoms, when things become dark once more. Mark has manifested in a wide open space of metal catwalks suspended above a number of dark, massive tanks. On the other side of the catwalk, deep below, was a pulsating violet generator of pure energy. From what Mark could see, the aliens do indeed have incredibly advanced technology. Mark’s consciousness explores around the area, finding only two inhabitants walking along the catwalks. They appear to be a man and a woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. Neither of them notices Mark as they work with some type of control panel, and Mark gets the sense these two are the only ones overseeing the entire complex if not just the alien computer. Mark notices dark forms floating in the tanks.
Tanks filled with blue liquid.
A familiar looking blue liquid.
Mark gets closer as he tries to make out just what he sees inside the tank. He’s overcome with anxiety and repulsion as he sees what, at first glance, is some type of mutant jellyfish. But it’s not that simple. His MAZE vision returns and Mark realizes what he’s staring at is a human brain. One out of five million human brains harvested from their bodies and dumped into tanks.
Brought back to the “Desert,” Mark is left completely numb by the revelation he and everyone else in the world are nothing but dissected brains floating in a tank. Mr. Grimes allowed Mark to wander the area to process his feelings, but of course that was impossible. Reality was a twisted illusion created by a race of body thieving monsters. He didn’t even want Jessa to touch him as they lay together in what looks like a bed. Not that Jessa could truly touch him anyway since neither of them has a body. Jessa tells Mark he has to keep going, he can’t give up because of what he knows because they still have plans. Mark finds that hard to believe as Jessa explains when the alien invasion truly began.
Mr. Grimes said the aliens arrived ten years ago, but that wasn’t exactly true. To the human race, it’s been ten years, but it took them nearly five centuries to be transported to the alien homeworld. NCG123 is 422 light years from Earth, and while the aliens are still massively advanced in the realm of technology, they haven’t built ships capable of breaking the light barrier. When the alien ships arrived, they unleashed a massive pulse that rendered every human being on Earth unconscious. After removing the brains, the aliens stored them in hibernation on the ship before following suit and had the ship programmed to return to the planet. So really, Earth’s been a slave to these aliens for half a millennium. As for the reason why, apparently this race seeded the Earth with humanity which is why they look so similar. They’ve been conducting similar experiments with other planets, creating life, allowing them to flourish, and then harvesting their creations and putting them in a controlled environment. Mark thinks they could’ve learned more had humanity been left alone, but this is about control. The only reason they don’t know about Mark’s power and Jessa’s power and such is because they’re monitoring general developments of societies as a whole. There’s a possibility the resistance organization might even be a result of the aliens tampering to see how things go, but that idea leads to unquestionable despair. Mark’s already there though.
Jessa tells Mark he can’t give up, that he’s humanity’s best hope for freedom. Yet the idea of how to attain said freedom is shocking, to say the least. Mark is still expected to destroy the computer with his pyrokinesis, but as Mark points out, destroying the computer would kill every single brain. This has been the end goal all along. Mr. Grimes, Jessa, the entire organization, they’ve been geared towards a suicide mission. The only way for humanity to be free is to die. And then Jessa gets angry at Mark, truly angry, for the first time ever.
“You mean you guys are going through all this just to commit suicide? Is that what all this is about?”
She nodded tightly. “Yes.”
“I don’t believe it.”
A note of agony entered her voice. “What is there to believe? What else is there to do?”
He shook his head. “You’re lying.”
She punched the bed. “I am not lying! Goddamn you for saying that!”
Mark stops Jessa from freaking out, switching roles as he tells her this isn’t the real her. He says he knows she’s a witch, she has power and she must have something up her sleeve. Jessa relents, admitting for the rest of humanity it’s hopeless, but she does have a way out for them. She reminds Mark about the two aliens, the couple, he saw working with the tanks. Well, with her ability, it’s possible they can take over the bodies of those two for their own. They can escape. Jessa knows this because she’s experimented with possessing the woman’s body during her viewings. She hasn’t fully tried it yet but now she’s willing, and they have to do it tomorrow because the next session is gonna be the last.
Mark wants to share this info with the others, but Jessa refuses. She’s afraid they’ll lose the element of surprise and they don’t have the luxury of finding more bodies for Mr. Grimes and the rest to inhabit. It would seem more suspicious and draw attention from the rest of the aliens. At the very least they can still destroy the computer and free the human race, even if they’ll still be alive. Mark doesn’t like this at all. He doesn’t want to be the executioner for five billion people. Jessa’s not so moved, rationalizing they would never get a clear answer from the rest of the human race and it would prolong the inevitable. If the aliens find out humanity knows the truth behind the curtain, they could shut everything down and they’d be screwed anyway. Mark is disturbed that Jessa isn’t so bothered by all this, about casually committing genocide for the greater good. But then he remembers his mother. She’d been healthy ten years ago. Was her cancer a result of the aliens? Was she even truly dead? And all those people he killed in the fire. Were they still alive? Not to mention the idea of all the children who were born during these ten years in captivity. Mark asks Jessa if they would’ve met had none of this happened. Jessa believes it was destiny regardless of the aliens, but now they can stop them.
Mark still doesn’t want to leave as he doesn’t want to abandon the world. Jessa loses her patience screaming the world is a lie, it’s a cage, and to do nothing for the sake of humanity is the act of a coward. Jessa hits her target, and Mark receives a better understanding of her. Forget Mr. Grimes and Dr. Brain and whoever the fuck their bosses are. In this compound, the one in control is Jessa and it always has been her. She said Mark was her power, and he is. He’s the power to erase everything leaving just the two of them together. She’d been planning this all along.
But then again, what do you expect from a witch?
Before the last session, Dr. Brain pulls Mark aside for a private chat. He talks about the aliens, what Mark saw during the viewing, and asks what Mark believes the group is going to do. Mark doesn’t reveal his late night talk with Jessa and glibly responds they’re gonna kill the aliens. Dr. Brain gets angry saying Mark is smarter than that. Desperately, Dr. Brain begins to weave desperate hypotheticals about reaching out to the aliens and bargaining with them. Despite how horribly humanity’s been beaten, Dr. Brain flatters Mark saying he’s the best hope for the human race’s survival. If they send an envoy to the aliens, make them understand the true potential of the human mind, maybe they could be given new bodies. Mark realizes the organization hasn’t been in agreement about the suicide pact as Dr. Brain feverishly reveals what Mr. Grimes has planned, like Mark didn’t know. Mark thinks Dr. Brain is reaching, that there’s no way the aliens could or would make bodies for five billion people. Dr. Brain quickly adds they wouldn’t need bodies for everyone, just a choice few to herald a new age for the human race. Mark quickly sees where this is going, thinking Dr. Brain has probably imagined getting himself a hot new body like the male alien on the catwalk. Mark doesn’t share the doctor’s enthusiasm and believes the idea of reaching out to the aliens is foolish.
Dr. Brain’s anger increases, frantically asserting the aliens are peaceful and advanced, they wouldn’t just kill all of Earth. Mark reminds him they did steal the minds of every being on Earth, and if the resistance shows itself they might just kill everyone. And anyway, he’s not talking about this without the group. Dr. Brain grabs Mark, knowing he doesn’t give a shit about a group that would follow Mr. Grimes to death. Mark only cares about Jessa and accurately deduces she’s got something up her sleeve. She always does. Well, now Dr. Brain has something up HIS sleeve, a syringe filled with what could be poison or simple water. Mark wonders if Brain and Grimes had developed a small amount of control over the illusion, thinking the miracle cream could’ve only been toothpaste. Dr. Brain refuses to let Mark leave, claiming he complicates the equation and plans to get rid of him. Mark resorts to using his pyrokinesis lethally for the first time, lashing out at Dr. Brain not by setting him on fire but directing the focus of his ability solely on the doctor’s brain. Dr. Brain drops to the floor, blood leaking from his nose. Mark grabs the syringe and is joined by Mr. Grimes.
Grimes doesn’t give a shit that Dr. Brain is dead, dryly asking if Mark plans to use the needle on him. Mark asks if Brain’s dead for real-real, not for play-play. Grimes asks if Mark cares about Brain being dead, or if he means his mother. Grimes doesn’t particularly care either way what Mark does at this point but asks if Mark will be joining the session anyway.
During the final remote viewing, Mark is brought back to the catwalk and the alien couple. He can make out Jessa’s form beside him, gradually gaining more definition as she reaches inside the alien male and pulls… something, out. The woman tries to help her companion as he convulses on the grid before Mark finds himself sinking into the male’s body. Mark can feel a real pain in his chest as he begins to stand up inside his body. Jessa quickly follows suit and claws her way into the alien woman. It takes a moment and Mark worries Jessa might be dead before the alien woman stands up and smiles, no problem for a witch. Having quickly adjusted to their new bodies, Jessa leads Mark in the direction of the supercomputer before any of the other members of the group learn what’s happened. Mark realizes they aren’t speaking English, but whatever language belongs to the alien race. The two now inhabit bodies hardwired to understand this language, as Jessa puts it, so of course they’d have no trouble speaking it.
Going down in an elevator to reach the computer monitoring the tanks, Mark asses the information still in the alien’s mind and discovers the body he’s inside goes by the name “Lartza.” Jessa’s body is called “Dweem” which sucks for her. The two are basically engineers, and Mark now outranks Jessa. Lartza and Dween are married and have a six-year-old daughter named Sharmti. Their race, called the Cray, was rather amazing. They’ve colonized over ten thousand worlds and mastered space travel and terraforming.
Jessa wants to hurry and destroy the computer before the other viewers complicate things, and tells Mark he has to do it with his pyrokinesis. Jessa reasons the complex will have security cameras or some equivalent. If Mark uses his ability, they could make it look like a freak accident occurred and not sabotage. Jessa tells Mark this is the only compassionate thing to do after humanity has been raped on a daily basis. Mark asks what will happen to the brains, will they be hurt? Jessa promises they won’t feel a thing. Which just leaves the two of them. Jessa promises Mark they will be okay, damn liar.
Resigned to his role as executioner, Mark is shocked to realize his ability was connected to his mind and not his body. The supercomputer is magnificent, but Mark still unleashes the fire from his mind. He doesn’t settle for destroying just the computer and his mind sets ablaze nearly the entire complex. The fire and heat lash out of control and boils the brain tanks, Mark understanding there’s a chance some of the brains might survive even if the computer is destroyed and wishes to put a permanent end to their suffering. But Mark feels utterly hollow inside.
Mark and Jessa barely make it out of the complex before everything’s ruined, but emerge unscathed into a brilliant, futuristic landscape under a red sun and yellow sun. Mark and Jessa are briefly questioned by a couple of investigators on what happened and which system had been destroyed. Mark searches Lartza’s memories and says the M-1-26-5 system was destroyed. The investigators aren’t that worried once they know it was “The Terra System,” a rather primitive one at that. After answering the questions “Lartza” and “Dween” are free to go, quickly returning to their apartment complex. It’s a sleek home but leaves something to be desired regarding interior decorating. Now home free, Mark and Jessa can’t help but laugh out of sheer relief over what they accomplished. It’s then they realize they’re not alone, and Mark gets to meet “His” daughter, Sharmti.
Sharmti is adorable and precocious, wondering why her parents are home early. As Sharmti fixes herself a snack with the apartment’s food processor, Mark says there was an accident at work while Jessa tells the girl her parents need some privacy because they’re planning a trip. Sharmti asks where they, as in, all three of them, plan on going. Jessa reminds Mark they “Talked” about a long trip off world. Sharmti gets excited, but her presence causes some tension between Mark and Jessa. Jessa curtly tells Sharmti to play outside before Mark takes a more empathetic route and asks Sharmti to give them some space so they can talk. Inside the adult bedroom, Mark and Jessa demand to know what the other is doing. Mark wants to know what trip Jessa is talking about while Jessa doesn’t want Mark pretending to be daddy to that little blonde bitch. Jessa reveals she’s obviously talking about going back to Earth, the real Earth, now that they have bodies. All they have to do is steal one of the most powerful ships the Cray has and then kill its entire crew to get to Earth. Simple right? And this has been Jessa’s plan since Mark walked into her dressing room so long ago. Jessa reasons the Cray are so peaceful and crime is practically unknown in their society, they’ll never expect someone stealing a military cruiser. They’ll book a regular ship, deviate from the scheduled course, send out an SOS, hijack the cruiser, and by the time anyone’s figured out what happened they’ll be long gone and in hibernation.
Mark reminds her they have a daughter to worry about, but Jessa’s prepared to abandon Sharmti, if not outright murder her should the need arise. Mark is aghast Jessa would do that. She’s only a little girl. Jessa argues Sharmti’s a murderous little bitch from a race of murderous little bitches. Mark won’t abandon the girl even as Jessa believes they can’t bring her to Earth. Mark says he will think over Jessa’s plan before she decides they can finally relax. You know, RELAX. Jessa doesn’t particularly care if Sharmti hears her parents having sexual relations. Mark’s glad he didn’t have to worry about a little sister or anything back on “Earth.”
As Jessa set up travel plans, Mark spent time with Sharmti, who was excited about going to what she believed was the planet Lyra. Mark couldn’t help but fawn over what a smart and perky young kid his new daughter was as she asked all sorts of questions about what they would do on Lyra. However, she asks Mark if something’s wrong with “Mother,” noticing the change in her maternal figure’s voice and behavior. Mark promises nothing’s wrong with her mom and finds himself truly touched when Sharmti says she loves him. Mark reconvenes with Jessa and advises her to act more like a mom. Jessa advises Mark not to get attached as she schedules their vacation flight the following morning. While gazing at the magnificent view from their apartment on the 94th floor, Mark wonders if Mr. Grimes died happy. Jessa doesn’t think the man was ever capable of being happy and expresses her feeling that things have come backwards the way they’re running to Earth to escape. Mark’s not sure what she means but can tell Jessa is tired. Jessa asks if Mark is scared of her; Mark feels there are parts of Jessa he knows very well yet can’t remember them. Jessa thinks that’s normal, but Mark believes nothing makes sense. Especially the comments she makes about running away. That’s all Jessa feels she can do.
“Nothing about our situation makes sense. Did you ever stop to think about that?”
“No. I keep moving forward. That’s all I can do.”
“You sound like a realist. Why those comments about running away?”
The question disturbed her. “What is real?”
“I hope you are. I don’t want to be in love with someone who isn’t.”
His remark meant a lot to her. “Do you really love me?”
“I love you,” he said.
She struggled with unexpected pain. He saw tears form in her eyes, and it shocked him. Her gaze flew out the window. “I can’t keep you,” she said.
Mark assures her everything will be fine, but when Jessa asks Mark if he will always love her no matter what she does, well, he can’t bring himself to lie.
The next day Mark and Jessa set out on their journey to Earth, with little Sharmti having no clue what her supposed parents truly have planned. Sharmti’s excited thinking they’re heading to Lyra; Mark warns Jessa not to hurt the child while Jessa says she’s not gonna help her, either.
Jessa’s now jonesing for a cigarette, asking if Mark misses them when Mark again reminds her he doesn’t smoke. Yet oddly, the suggestion of one gives Mark a craving. Jessa goes over the hijacking plan, prepared to do whatever is necessary and adding Mark should get used to it. Mark doesn’t want to be a murderer. Jessa argues they’re defending themselves. Mark asks if Jessa ever killed someone with her remote viewing and if she misses MAZE. Mark begins to wonder if anything they did in the last ten years mattered, so Jessa wonders if he’s trying to make himself feel better about the fire in Pacific Palisades. Mark concedes he feels better thinking no one actually died.
“How about your mother’s death?”
His mood darkened. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
She nodded. “Now you know why I don’t want to talk about MAZE.”
There’s surprisingly no difficulty in getting their ship out of the pre-programmed journey to Lyra even though Jessa hadn’t thought about any trouble and was worried about having problems. Mark soothes Sharmti to sleep with a mish-mashed version of Cinderella and Snow White, only Cinderella dies at the end which Sharmti hated. Once the ship has reached the vicinity of a Cray military cruiser called the Helon, Jessa sends a bogus SOS so they might dock. Jessa warns Mark they have to be ready to kill on sight. Mark swears to himself they’ll make sure Sharmti doesn’t see any dead bodies but is left wondering if the Cray truly are the enemy.
Via her remote viewing, Jessa and Mark are able to psychically glide through the ship as Mark uses his pyrokinesis to murder every living being on board except for sleeping Sharmti. Mark is assaulted by inhuman screams and burning flesh, like a personal revisit to the fire in Pacific Palisades. It’s a massacre and no one is left alive. Mark is sure for a moment he saw Jessa smile at the carnage.
When all is said and done, the two argue about leaving Sharmti behind. Jessa feels Mark’s being hypocritical, that there were also children aboard the Helon and he didn’t have a problem killing them. Oh, Jessa’s not saying they leave Sharmti to rot in space, they can program the ship so she’ll be found. But Mark won’t budge and refuses to let Jessa have her way on this. Either Sharmti comes with them or she can go fuck herself. Jessa has no choice but to agree, not exactly thrilled to learn Mark will choose a little girl he barely knows over her. But Mark’s feelings are more complex than that. Much like the way Speen killed himself when Ebo died, Mark was sure he would die if Jessa did. But Sharmti was another matter altogether. He may have been bluffing when he said he would abandon Jessa for the child, but he still won’t abandon Sharmti.
Jessa searches for a control room to take the ship to Earth while Mark moves the dozing Sharmti into another room, far away from the bodies. Mark wants to make sure she doesn’t see what her parents have done and plans to keep her in the room before they enter the hibernation chambers. Jessa announces she’s managed to program the ship to head to Earth but double checked to make sure none of the other Cray military cruisers will search for the Helon. Every other ship is on a deep space mission, lucky for them. Oh and get this, the ship’s staffed with thousands of robots so they don’t have to clean up the bodies.
Mark brings up they should start calling each other by their Cray names, but Jessa won’t abandon her name even for Sharmti because she fears losing her humanity. Mark understands it’s always gonna be like this now because of their disagreement. He said no to her once and the divide won’t go away. Jessa wants to quickly get into the hibernation pods without checking if they really are being followed, because Mark can just kill them all if need be. She’s positively giddy at the thought of having Earth all to themselves. And Sharmti. Mark gently wakes their new daughter to explain they’re not going to Lyra, but somewhere much more fun and exciting. Of course, they’ll have to sleep for a little longer, as Mark brings Sharmti to one of the hibernation pods. He has to prod Jessa to kiss the girl goodnight.
For a brief moment, Mark looked for a heart monitor, but found nothing of the sort.
Before they go inside their pods, Mark and Jessa hug. Mark tries to be more understanding of how much Jessa’s trying. Jessa admits she had a fantasy about being along with Mark on Earth, like Adam and Eve. She forgets they had children. As Mark drifts off in his pod, he’s forgotten if it was Cain or Abel who was the first murderer.
The Helon has brought the last two humans to Earth, and the planet is still there, albeit a mess. Pacific Palisades, really, the entire planet has been reclaimed by nature. A good chunk of California’s become an island. This is their Garden of Eden, and Jessa still believes they can’t be hurt now that they’ve escaped from the Cray. Mark wants to be happy, emphasis on “Wants.” Mark and Jessa explore their old home with their new daughter, marveling at the animals roaming free through the cities, the overgrowth of plants and trees. Jessa wished to explore without the aid of Cray technology, becoming almost reckless. She fucked with Mark constantly in whatever ruined and abandoned home she pleased, but never discusses babies or safe sex. Truly this was the Garden of Eden.
Which meant the forbidden fruit was there as well.
Three months later, Sharmti died. On the very first day, they’d left their island home. As summer became autumn and winter was on its way, Jessa surprised Mark when she revealed a carton of cigarettes she found buried in the Getty Museum. She destroyed a Van Gogh painting to get to the damn thing, but she was satisfied, especially since she found a lighter as well. Jessa decided to do more exploring with Sharmti, while Mark joked about having found her unfinished novel. Five hours later Jessa was carrying Sharmti’s body, claiming the girl had fallen into the water near the Santa Monica pier. Sharmti died when a huge wave smacked her head against a broken pillar.
As Mark held the little girl’s body in his arms, he couldn’t even bring himself to weep. Mark constructed a funeral pyre for his surrogate daughter on the same hill he’d set the blaze which destroyed Pacific Palisades in the simulation world. But there was no Magic Fire this time. Sharmti’s body burned, but still he couldn’t cry. Jessa did, though, which surprised him. He didn’t blame her though but asked for a cigarette.
A cigarette which he knows could never have survived five centuries without rotting away. Yet she wanted one so badly. It was obvious why Jessa couldn’t have one on Cray. Why would they smoke? Jessa doesn’t understand which is why Mark doesn’t blame her. If she knew this wasn’t real, how could she enjoy it? Having finally found the forbidden fruit, Mark has bitten into it and gained knowledge.
Mark understands how easily everything worked out for them. Starting the fire in Pacific Palisades. Being rescued. The cream healing their burns. Jessa being capable of transplanting their minds into new bodies. Destroying the computer. Killing everyone on the Helon. Getting to Earth. It was all so easy, which Mark figures is how Jessa wanted it. Jessa cries as she tells Mark they can’t stay and wants to know why he’s acting so strangely. Mark looks in Jessa’s new body and sees the same woman he saw perform on stage two years ago, not ten years and not several days ago, but two.
Mark carefully explains to Jessa how he knows where she messed up. He was only able to see just enough of the underground complex and of Cray to convince him it was all real. Mr. Grimes and Dr. Brain, as well as the other psychics and henchmen, were simple stock characters even someone like him could’ve created. But Jessa couldn’t fill in every detail and her imagination, nor his, didn’t either. She settled for just enough. After all, she’s a novelist. Jessa quietly begs Mark not to continue, but he soldiers on because it’s the reason he came here. Jessa screams and pathetically pleads that they can be happy, but Mark doesn’t see happiness, just a little girl’s dead body burning in a ruined planet.
What was it the Cray called Earth? “M-1-26-5.” Mark asks Jessa what the first, 26th, and 5th letters in the alphabet are, and figures maybe that was her subconscious speaking. Maybe. Jessa stubbornly insists MAZE is a drug in an illusion world, but Mark knows better. They’re inside MAZE and have been all along. MAZE isn’t a drug, it’s a prison.
Jessa tells Mark she won’t go back. Mark tells her he won’t stay with her and asks her to leave. Jessa won’t because there’s nothing left for her except for all this. Mark repeats his ultimatum that he won’t stay with her, even as he tells her the doctors believe she’ll die. She doesn’t care.
He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
Mark is told by a familiar voice not to open his eyes until the doctor advises him it is okay. He knew the voice belonged to his younger sister, Shani. He wasn’t five hundred years in the future; he was in the year 2010 in a MAZE clinic, lying in a bed next to Jessa Welling. Mark had to wait ten minutes for Dr. Smyth, a caring individual who’d been eager to help Mark try to awaken Jessa, remove the brain tap from his skull. Opening his eyes for the first time in six hours, Mark turned to see the shriveled mummy Jessa had become, her hair falling out and a tube inserted into her stomach to feed her.
Mark met Jessa two years ago in high school when he saw her onstage in “The Season Of The Witch,” a play she had written herself. That much stayed the same between the real world and the MAZE (Mental Alteration Zeitgeist Expansion) world. MAZE clinics were popular escapes created in Germany with several clinics located in Mexico. Jessa had paid her entire million dollar inheritance to enter a world of her making, and the owners would not release her from the faulty machine she’d been hooked up to without her written consent. So Mark, brave idiot that he was, went inside her world to try and save her. And failed.
Mark could tell Jessa had based Sharmti and Mr. Grimes off Shani and Dr. Smyth. Many of the people staffed in MAZE clinics were pseudo-professionals, but that wasn’t the case with Smyth who’d truly attempted to help free Jessa. Shani tries to be hopeful for her brother’s sake, saying there’s a chance Jessa will awaken on her own. But Mark knows that’s impossible, and he finally accepts she’s never coming back. His love wasn’t enough for her.
Mark understood Jessa had exaggerated his love of fire and turned him into a pyromaniac as part of her attempt to rewrite his memories. She also killed off his mother, who was still alive in the real world, in her desperate attempt to keep Mark all to herself. As Shani begins to drive the two of them home, Mark stops and asks for a cigarette. He concentrates for a moment, remembering what Jessa said about the aliens having control, and focuses on the cigarette.
There is no Magic Fire.
Jesus H. Christ this is so far the longest recap I’ve done for the website, and I don’t think I’ll be reviewing another Pike book until after baseball season ends because I don’t have the time to do such a long recap while working two jobs.
If you’re wondering whether I believe the aliens in this story are real, I do not. There were hints all throughout the book that it was a fake world. Jessa knew so much about Mark and that could’ve been part of her cover as a member of the organization, but there was the way she acted about Mark’s mother. How she asked him “How do you know it’s not my fault” and how apologetic she was that Jessica Charm “Died.” Her disregard for everyone around her, saying she can’t die, how she knew things about Mark he thought weren’t true, and her reaction to his story about a friend who’s “A head on a pillow.” [Wing: It’s interesting, because so much of these are pieces of things that Pike has put into other books, so while they can be seen as foreshadowing, it’s also easy to dismiss them as just Pike being Pike in his writing.]
It’s a very meta story, and Pike brilliantly utilizes the lack of characterization outside Mark and Jessa, the blandness of Grimes and Brain, the racist stereotypes in the Black woman, how contrived everything was, the flanderization of Mark’s love of fire, because it was Jessa writing the book. The whole thing was the book she said she planned to keep on writing forever. The elements were contrived and poorly thought out in certain aspects because she’s desperate and her mind has degraded.
There’s some interesting deconstruction of the whole Prince/Princess/Witch dynamic in this tale I wanted to discuss as well. Maybe I’m reaching because I’m an “Utena” fan, but I feel it’s important to talk about why Mark failed.
Mark entered Jessa’s world hoping to save her, a prince valiantly trying to rescue a princess. He entered the princess’s castle. Yet at the same time, he continually refers to Jessa as a witch and believes she has some magic power. The princess’s castle is really a witch’s castle, and now Mark is trapped. Jessa shaped things in a way that Mark was constantly being forced to choose between her and everyone else, even the entire world. She “Killed” his mother, she put her well being in his hands with that shit about the cream and drove it home by having Grimes ask Mark who makes her suffer, and she kept convincing him he had to kill other people so they could be together. But a princess can’t also be a witch. Jessa couldn’t play both roles at once to please Mark or please herself, and all it did was cause them both suffering and drove them apart. But who was it that kept calling Jessa a witch, telling her she had magical abilities and could heal him? Who’s really trapped in the witch’s castle?
Mark was putting her in the role despite asserting he knew she was only human, so she tried to play it accordingly. She had to be a witch because it was the only way to protect her world, knowing Mark was going to try and force her out of it. And he does. He fails her because he doesn’t really help her. He never asks Jessa why she was so unhappy, try to help her understand what it was that made her so miserable she retreated to a dream world and allowed her body to rot. All that time spent under MAZE was six hours in the waking world. Who knows what he could’ve accomplished in that time? Instead, he tells her he won’t stay and expects that’s enough. Not “Please come with me,” but “If you won’t go I won’t stay.” He’s forcing her to choose between two options just like he was forcing her to play the witch and the princess and then adds to her guilt by saying she’ll die if she stays. She can either live as a princess or die as a witch. [Wing: Live as a princess someone else created or die in something she created.]
Mark went about this like he was some prince rescuing the princess, and because he did so he helped damn her. The prince’s other role is to vanquish the witch; he couldn’t have it both ways and because he kept seeing Jessa more and more as a witch instead of a person, naturally that was how she ended. He failed to save the princess and he killed the witch. His only accomplishment was in causing them pain.
Jude on April’s recaps
I have to explain to you guys something about this month and why I’m doing my recaps in this manner.
On April 1st 2016, 10:55 AM, my best friend, Patricia J. Thompson, died. She was a writer and retired professor of women’s studies. She considered herself a Hestian Feminist and had constructed a Hestian/Hermean system on public/private thinking. She was the daughter of famed Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, but spent decades fighting to have her place as his daughter officially recognized.
Despite the massive gap between our ages, Pat was one of the closet friends I’ve ever had in my life. I met her my first semester at Lehman College when I enrolled in her Family Relationships course. We instantly became friends because I was the only person in her class who knew who the Greek goddess Hestia was. Pat became my friend during a very horrible period in my life and her classroom gave me a space to take about my problems at home, plus several other traumatic situations I never really talked about before I entered therapy. I enjoyed hanging out with her before and after classes, just talking about anything. When I took her last course before she retired, Women In Antiquity, she repeatedly praised my final paper on Wonder Woman as one of the best things she ever read. Pat was one of the only people I’ve felt comfortable being alone with and I’d visit her at her apartment in Manhattan, although with my anxiety I didn’t hang out for that long. Still, she cared about me so much she considered me an adopted grandson and frequently called me such. But, really, she felt like more of a mother to me than my birth mother has been.
You guys think I’m putting her on a pedestal because she was my friend, but I’m not. She was truly one of the most loving, kindest, caring people I’ve known. Even my horrible parents and my awful sibling liked her. Hell, my sibling cried after meeting her, exclaiming Pat had treated them so kindly. It still makes me cry thinking about it. Pat was always supportive of who I was and she made me feel like the things I had to say were worth saying and believing. She believed in me as a student, writer, and human being. The only time she ever got mad at me was after my suicide attempt in 2013. She… meant so much to me.
I, I can’t, you guys can’t comprehend what it was like for me to learn she died. It felt like such a horrible April Fool’s joke when I got to the hospital and learned her time of death, which was around the same time I’d left the house to visit her. April Fool’s, she was already dead by the time I left to see her! That month was a nightmare for me. I’d scared more than a few people into thinking I was going to kill myself even though I had no intention to. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Thinking about her death and how she died still makes me sad and angry I just want to, to, UGGGGH it’s so frustrating for me! And knowing she’s dead while so many other people out there keep making the world a horrible place I wanna scream and break stuff and, damn it!
So, look, it’s been two years since she died and I’m not over it. I thought maybe I could do some exploring on my feelings through the posts with this month and the books I’m reviewing. I’m not gonna pretend I’m magically gonna be over Pat’s death come May, but it’s better than doing nothing but stewing in my regrets.
So why did I review this book as part of my analysis of Pat’s death?
I can’t judge Jessa or Mark for their actions in trying to build the other into something they aren’t. I meant what I said about what a good person I believe she is, and she was my friend and she saw me as her adopted grandson. But I think I wanted more from her than she could give. I saw her as not just a friend but as a mother, better than my own mother was because of the neglect and selfishness and arguing and old wounds I deal with. I don’t think Pat would’ve wanted to be seen like that, I don’t know. I never talked to her about it. I think I wanted her as more of a friend than was possible for her. No, I don’t mean a lover. I mean… one of the few things I truly hoped for before Pat died was to have a simple birthday party with just her and three other close friends. But I knew this was impossible because none of my other three friends live in my part of the world, but I still wanted it. Out of all the friends who are close and nearby, I wanted these four to be my family. A family I could depend on and be happy with. It, it wasn’t fair to expect this of Pat and the others, to force them into the roles no matter how much I love them.
The other aspect is my regret about how Pat died and how I did nothing to comfort her before it happened. I had one chance to see her before she died and I wasted it because I kept putting off my visit to see her at the hospital. I didn’t know how badly things got until the day before she died, but if I’d truly cared about her I should’ve made a better effort. I should’ve done more for her after all she did for me, and I can’t help but think about the suffering she must’ve been in. Like Mark failed to help Jessa, I failed Pat, because of my stupid anxiety and my laziness.
I wasn’t a good friend to her. I don’t think I’ve been a good friend to anyone.
[Wing: This is a lot of emotion to deal with, and why reading and discussing stories is so important to me as a reader and as a writer. It is important that we see ourselves in the media available to us, good and bad, because it is one of the ways we deal with emotions, we learn to be people, we learn about our world.]
I apologize for having sounded disparaging about Dr. Brain’s description. I was trying to convey Mark’s assessment on the first meeting which led into his belief that the good doctor was desperate for a hot new body.
Wing your comment about how this book seems to have pretty much everything Pike uses in his other books has led me to consider maybe this was supposed to be a deconstruction of his novels and writing style. Like, what does it say that all the tropes he employs manifest out of the mind of a dying novelist drug addict?