Story Time with V Stringman: Meaning

*** As usual I have to enthusiastically disclaim my things:  this is a fictional story.  The point of this story is not in the literal ending.  The point is in the fictional journey.  Do not read so deep into this story that you miss the point. ***

 

Xander continued his trudge up the mountain alone.  He cursed in the wind, but between the wind and the lack of other people to listen, what he said didn’t really matter.  He had gotten it into his head a year ago that he should climb Mount Everest, and now… here he was.  Trudging through the snow and ice with a crap-ton of gear on his back.  Slowly fighting the cold numbness while on his way to the next spot that would require actual climbing.  He wasn’t having as much fun as he’d hoped, and he wasn’t really feeling like he was going to gain any life changing perspective when he got to the top.  But he felt like he should at least try..

Xander stopped and sat down in the snow, facing away from the mountain so that he could take in the view of how far he’d climbed so far.  It was snowing and he couldn’t make out the ground anymore.  There was enough wind that the view just made him dizzy between the lack of reference points and the snowflakes all seeming to move independantly in random directions.

Xander stared into the mezmorizing snow and thought about the last few decades of his life.  When he was in his 20’s, he had asked his best friend how to make the most of life. His friend, Hal, had told him that maybe a career in the military would help him to put things into perspective.  Xander had joined the Army and fought in Afghanistan after rushing through Basic Training.  After a few years, he got bored and decided he’d rather be famous.  Xander chuckled, thinking about the rock band he had started.  Rockalicious had topped the charts with its one and only self-titled album.  Xander had lost count of the number of women he slept with on the one tour they went on.  That couldn’t hold Xander’s interest either and he dropped his band in order to try random things after that.  He usually stuck to trying things Hal said might be fun or that might teach him an important lesson about life.  Touring the wonders of the world, going to college, public speaking, walking through rain forests, playing various sports, running a team of dogs and a sled to the north pole… it all just felt hollow to him.  Fun, yes.  But utterly devoid of the meaning he was instinctively searching for.

Xander sighed. “This is just one more thing that isn’t going to make a difference.”

Oh well, at least I tried,” thought Xander.

Hal!” Xander shouted.

Yes sir?” Hal’s disembodied voice said in Xander’s head.

It’s boring and cold out here, pull me out.”

Xander’s vision went dark and he slowly felt his body tingling as he regained feeling in his real body.  Xander opened his eyes and sat up in his bed.  Hal was standing nearby, looking down at him.

I take it Mount Everest wasn’t to your liking, sir?” said Hal.

No, not enough ‘life-changing’ for me, I guess. Do you have any other ideas, Hal?

Maybe something on the fictional side, sir.  You’ve always stuck to realistic earth based scenarios.  Have you thought of a science fiction space opera scenario?  There are a number of popular science fiction programs based on 20 and 21st century works you could try.”

Xander thought this over, but a different thought came to his mind.  He could feel the edges of his problem starting to take shape as he paused before continuing the conversation.

Hal, what’s the meaning of life?

Hal cocked his head briefly before replying, “There are a number of proposed answers to that question that have been posited by various philosophers throughout history.  Plato once said, …”

Hal didn’t finish because Xander cut him off short with a quick interjection of, “No Hal, I don’t care what some dead guy from a few thousand years ago said.  What do you think the meaning to life is? Why am I here?

Hal paused again.  Xander knew Hal only paused like this for dramatic effect.  He had been programmed to mimic human mannerisms to make humans more comfortable around him.

Hal locked eyes with Xander and carefully said, “In centuries of research on this subject, the Collective Intelligence of my kind has only been able to conclude that the meaning of existence is very simply to exist.  Many humans have suggested that it is important for each individual to find additional uniquely suited meaning for themselves beyond thatI’m not sure I understand humanity well enough to weigh the logic of that theory, but I believe that this line of thought holds merit today more than ever.

Xander switched to a crosslegged sitting position on top of his bed and thought about that for a few minutes. While Hal politely averted his gaze so as not to be ‘creepy weird,’ as Xander would say.

Xander said, “What if the point of living isn’t really to live so much as to eventually die?

Hal retorted, “That seems like a rather illogical point to life.”

I mean, how can you enjoy the amazing things in life without the risk of losing your own life?  It’s like any game, part of what makes the game fun is the fact that you could possibly lose.”

So you think the meaning of life is in the danger of dying?” asked Hal.

Yeah… so not really dying… just surviving something that could cause death.”

Hal’s kind had been invented specifically to take care of human beings while preserving their freedom above all else.  Supercomputers with Artificial Intelligence had long ago figured out ways to cure every possible medical issue, even to include aging.  The only two dangers they couldn’t fully prevent without violating the hard coded constraints humans had placed in their programming were a lack of desire to create children and suicidal behavior.  The Collective was prevented from harming human life, attempting to control people against their will (without legal authority based on manmade laws, anyway) and from cloning human life without orders from a properly authorized human.  There were a number of additional parameters as well, but those three had been the main areas that were a factor today.

Hal decided that maybe he should disregard the Collective’s standing guidance and inform Xander of the human population crisis, “Sir, please don’t do anything rash, you should know that you are the las..

Hal, deactivate.”

Hal stopped speaking and calmly walked over to his charging station.  Xander didn’t want Hal’s safety protocols attempting to intervene against his new idea.

Thanks Hal, you always help me make sense of things.” Xander said to the now deactivated robotic assistant as he walked out of his bedroom.  He walked across the living room and into his spare bedroom where he kept one of his 3D printers.  He turned on an illegal hack program to over-ride some of the safety features on his printer and then used it to print out a six-shooter.  The same model he had used in the old western simulation he had played as a teenager.  He printed out a set of bullets as well.

Xander whistled and then carefully put one bullet in the revolver and gave it a spin before cocking it and holding it up to his temple.

He heard someone knocking on the apartment’s front door. “Damn… forgot to turn off the internal cameras..

Xander had trouble pulling the trigger.  He realized this was the first time his life had ever truly been in danger.  Science had long ago found ways around every type of medical issue that could remotely threaten humankind.  Most people had stopped interacting with other humans decades before Xander was even born.  Artificial Intelligence was just so much easier to get along with.  It was a miracle two humans had come together in order to give birth to Xander.  They had immediately split up and given Xander up for adoption after he was born.  He had been raised by Hal.

Xander heard the door of his apartment unlock and open in his apartment’s living room. The automated police reacted much more quickly to seeing him print out a firearm on the apartment’s security cameras than he would have guessed. “It’s not like I’m the last human on earth for you guys to monitor,” Xander muttered with a slightly disgusted tone.  He’d better hurry.

Standing next to his printer, feeling his heart beating faster and faster.  This was the first time Xander remembered ever truly feeling alive.

Hal… am I going to have a story for you if this works out,” said Xander with a smile on his face.  Xander heard a robotic policeman walking towards the spare bedroom.  With his eyes closed and teeth gritted, he pulled the trigger.

The End

 

*Editor’s Note:  Do not commit suicide. Do not play russian roulette in any form.  Find something that’s meaningful that you have or that you want and live for that — dying can wait.  This story is meant to say something, and that thing has nothing to do with advocating death or extremely risky and/or stupid behavior that can easily cause death.  No matter how dark you life may be, suicide is a permanent solution to what is almost definitively a temporary problem.*

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Story Time With V Stringman: Another Day

*** you know the drill; This story is very nearly fictional.  If you think my fiction is about someone you or someone you know, you’re a liar ***

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Jake sat quietly in the bar in the middle of the afternoon.  Drinking a Shiner Bock and chain smoking Marlboro Reds.  He had recently separated from the Air Force and was currently unemployed.

It was a hole-in-the-wall bar.  The kind you can find in any town if you know where to look. Dark and dirty.  The smoke just kind of hangs in the air because they can’t afford one of those specialized fans that sucks the smoke out.  People always seem more real in these places.  Outside, on the streets, everyone wears a figurative mask to hide from each other. Smiling and waving at each other while mumbling casual up beat slogans at one another.  It just feels fake out there.

‘I like these hole-in-the-wall bars’, he thought to himself.  The perfect place to go and watch people.  Jake didn’t care much for people, especially today.  He didn’t want to be alone either.  He didn’t trust himself when he was by himself for too long.  So he would walk across the street from his motel room and wind up in this small hole-in-the-wall bar.  It was one of those small establishments with a witty name that most of these places tended to have.  Names like “That Bar” or “The Office” or “The Other Place”.  People always seem more honest with themselves and each other in these kinds of bars.  It’s where people go to drop their masks and just be themselves.  He blew on the end of his cigarette to heat it up a little more. He wanted to keep it hot.

Every morning for the past five months, Jake would wake up at exactly 0615.  It was important to wake up at 0615, because otherwise the trash truck would wake him up at around 0625.  The trash truck would cause the lid on the dumpster outside to slam shut with a loud bang.  He didn’t handle sudden loud bangs very well anymore, so he’d turn the TV on and be in the shower when the trash truck came.  It didn’t come everyday, but Jake could never remember which day of the week it was, so he felt better off just waking up every day at 0615.

When he woke up in the mornings, he’d briefly curse the fact he was breathing before thinking that he might as well do something since he was still here.  Then he’d get up, take his shower and then get online to post his résumé to countless companies that would never respond.  They all say they want to hire veterans, but they usually fail to mention that they only want veterans with 5-8 years of business experience.  ‘They don’t want veterans, they want civilians that happened to have been in the military before,’ Jake spat to himself.

Jake crushed an empty pack of cigarettes before pulling a full pack out of where it was tucked into one of his socks.  He forcefully packed it five times, flipped it longitudinally and packed it five more times, before flipping it back again and packing it a final five times.  It felt good to have some semblance of order in his life.  He opened the pack and grabbed a fresh cigarette.

Jake was an artist, it was important to him to find pain and understand it.  Embracing the darkness was almost a hobby for him.  People used to warn him, ‘How long can you seek out darkness before it swallows you, Jake?’.  Jake enjoyed the darkness.  It helped give him inspiration to create. Music, drawings, bad poetry… it was fun and cathartic. Some people used to call Jake ‘goth’, but he never really felt like a label was warranted.  He was simply Jake, nothing more and nothing less.  ‘Maybe a little more less than more at the moment,’ Jake thought and almost cracked a smile.  ‘Can’t believe that fu..,’ Jake stopped himself mid-thought and ordered a shot of Jäger.

Jake remembered the guy in Montana that was covered in scarring from burns.  He had won some gigantic settlement over however he had gotten the burns, at least that’s what Jake had heard.  He had some crazy tricked out mansion, no job and a devoted wife. The wife always followed the guy around like an abused dog.  Someone had pointed out to Jake that she had some scars on her forehead that looked a lot like her husband’s rings.  Jake couldn’t understand why people stayed in relationships like that.  He wondered how badly the burns had hurt.  Jake had read that 3rd degree burns weren’t usually too painful because they had a tendency to cause nerve damage.  ‘Physical pain would be better than this..,’ Jake thought.  He ordered another round and lit a fresh cigarette.

He felt his pocket vibrating.  He pulled out his phone and looked at the caller ID.  It was his mother again.  Jake hit the silence button and put the phone back in his pocket.  Jake remembered that base he had been stationed at eight years ago, and the hole-in-the-wall bar he had found there.  It was in Dover, Delaware.  There was one local that would be in that bar at any given time of the day or night.  It didn’t matter when you showed up, this old man would already be there.  Jake can’t remember ever seeing the guy not shit-faced. Jake almost cracked a smile.  Then he remembered the darkness that followed that guy.  The old man was always there and always so drunk that no one could understand him.  He would catch someone’s attention and proceed to tell them something that must have seemed important, but all that would come out of his mouth was a string of unintelligibly slurred syllables. The guy must have been hiding from something.  Trying to stay drunk enough to quiet his brain.  Jake could relate.  Jake never found out what the story was behind that guy, but he always liked to imagine it was something horrible.

Jake liked finding out why people were the way they were.  He liked to try to understand the damage that had shaped people.  He remembered picking up a hitchhiker in Kansas on his way to a new base one year.  He carried the guy a few hours and wound up dropping him off in Amarillo.  The man had told him that his wife had died a couple of years prior.  Since that point, the man would just hitchhike around the country, stopping at various relatives’ houses.  Jake assumed the guy typically left a place after the relatives kicked him out at some point.  The man hadn’t said that part, but sometimes what people don’t say is just as telling as what they say.  Jake had given the guy a $20 and a pack of cigarettes when he dropped him off.  It was less out of sympathy and more because he had enjoyed the dark story.

The hitchhiker had been in a state of loss without his wife, and was now doing his best to be physically lost to mirror the feeling.  At least that’s what Jake imagined. ‘I wish that could have been my st…,’ Jake started to think.  He didn’t want to think about this right now, so he flagged down the girl who was tending the bar and ordered another shot of Jäger.  Jake was tipping better than he probably should have, but the severance pay had been enough that he wasn’t worried yet.  Besides, the bartender tended to be more responsive this way. He tipped the girl and downed the shot.  He blew on the end of his cigarette to heat it up again.  It was important to keep it hot.

Jake was thinking too much.  In the back of his mind he could feel thoughts he didn’t want, creeping to the surface around the corner of every memory. ‘… and while I was in Afghanistan…’.  Jake ordered another beer with a double shot of Jäger. Jake wished he was still in Afghanistan.  It was simpler there and everything made sense.  The CONUS had felt different ever since he came back.  Everything and everyone just seemed hollow.

People came and went throughout the afternoon and evening.  Jake just sat on his barstool and drank, only stopping for an occasional trip to the restroom.  Most regular bars would have cut Jake off hours ago, but hole-in-the-wall bars need the money more than they need to protect people from their own decisions.  Jake liked hole-in-the-wall bars.  He gradually eased into what he liked to call, “the void”.  He was physically in the bar, but it was arguable if he was really there at this point.  He didn’t really focus on anything around him and everything sounded like it was blurry and coming from a distance.  It felt like falling.  It felt like slowly going numb.  It felt nice.  Jake lit another cigarette, took a few drags and blew on the end to help it burn hotter.  He briefly emerged from the void to order another shot before drifting back into his free-fall.

Jake had stopped running through old memories about other people’s pain and other people’s tragedy.  He stopped having to fight his brain to mute the negative thoughts he was trying to hide from.  This was what he had been working on achieving all night.  He was in a state of inversed Zen.  Him and his thousand yard stare into the abyss.  Him and his Shiner Bock, his pack of Marlboro Reds and an ashtray full of cigarette butts.  Sitting in a room by himself with some strangers at a hole-in-the-wall bar.  Society didn’t want him anymore.  His soon to be ex-wife didn’t want him anymore.  The Air Force didn’t want him anymore.  Jake wasn’t so sure he wanted himself anymore.  But, ‘you might as well do something while you wait to die’.  At least that’s what Jake typically told himself in the mornings.

Jake ran out of beer again.  He briefly came out of his death-like trance to order another beer and another shot.  He had spent the last hour or so zoned out and just drinking and smoking from pure muscle memory.  As the bartender came back, Jake noticed a few people caddy cornered to him at the bar staring at him in a mixture of disgust and shock. Jake didn’t understand why.  He tipped the bartender, took the shot and resumed casually and slowly burning the tattoo of a ring off his left ring finger with his cigarette.  He had already tried this a couple of months ago, but the ink had been too deep, and the burns had been too shallow.  The tattoo remained after the blisters had healed.  He wanted to make sure he got it right this time.  His finger had a deep ravine going around it from hours of burning.  He wondered if it would fall off. He kind of hoped it would.  Jake wondered what kind of damage the customers that were staring at him had as he started to drift back towards the void.

The End

Story Time with V Stringman

*disclaimer – this story is very nearly fictional and crudely fashioned purely for entertainment purposes — if you think it is about you or someone you know, you’re a %&#$ing liar.*

I am due for another blog entry.  So here is a nice bedtime story hastily thrown together to satiate your cravings.  Get comfortable, drink some hot chocolate and read this work of fiction to set your mind at peace before you drift off to dreamland.

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Part I:  Spring

There was a boy.  The boy was largely nondescript, neither excelling nor failing at the things he tried.  At some point, like all young men, the boy grew fascinated with what the future might hold.

And the boy dreamed.  He dreamed of being a war hero.  He dreamed of technology.  He dreamed of white picket fences and a pretty young wife.  He dreamed of unnamed offspring and the years ahead.

Dreams are funny things.  With the proper desire, dreams can light a fire in the imagination that will turn into a series of goals.  With the proper motivations and perseverance, goals can be met and conquered.  Some boys find dreams without desire and others find dreams without motivation.  Still others find desire and motivation, but will then find themselves lacking in mental fortitude when it is time to seize the things that are needed.  Then there are boys that overcome the many mental and physical challenges only to find that they are capable enough to accomplish anything.

This boy was of the latter category.  His dreams fueled a fire in his soul and he spent his young years disproving all that doubted him while defying any who opposed his will.

Something in the dark felt the boy’s fire,  “It is too soon, we will wait,” it said to itself.  And wait it did, for patience can occasionally be a virtue, after all.

 

Part II:  Summer

The boy soon found himself to be a young man.  Some young men burn too brightly.  A person can only disregard the cruelty of life for so long before others will take notice.  Many times, ‘others’ would refer to other people.  There certainly were some of those in the case of the young man.  Other times, ‘others’ refers to beings far darker than most humans are capable of comprehending.  These ‘others’ collect together in a singularity of the souls of man.  Do not be concerned, fair reader, my grammar has not left me – one singularity… coexisting in many souls.  If this makes sense to you, perhaps you do not need to read the rest of this story.  If it does not make sense to you…. perhaps you should not read the rest of this story.

The void called out to the young man.

The young man answered.

Why do you not fear us?” whispered the void.

“I do not fear man, nor nature.  Why would I fear one comprised of nothing?”  answered the young man.

If you do not fear us, then embrace us and feel your will amplified by our focus.”

“I have trusted many to my detriment,” replied the young man, “I will not place my trust in you.”

The void departed, and the young man went on to achieve many things and accomplish many great works.  The void is a funny thing.  It is focused and determined.  The void’s need to consume and destroy balances the combined hopes and dreams of all human kind.  Such a determined being will never stop until it has consumed an object of its desire.

 

Part III: Fall

The void took sway over a young woman, and motivated her to distract the young man.  The young man was distracted and felt his dreams grow from his newfound knowledge of love.

The void then took the young woman away, and the young man knew a pain he had never known previously.  The young man meditated on the pain, and then realized that it had obstructed his dreams.  Upon that realization the air chilled and the room darkened.  Light itself seemed to bend into and evaporate into the void.

The void called out to the young man.

The young man answered.

We are glad to see that you still do not fear us, young friend.” whispered the void.

“I do not fear man, nor nature.  Why would I fear one comprised of nothing?”  answered the young man.

Since you do not fear us, then embrace us and feel your will amplified by our focus.  We can help you move past your pain

“I still do not trust you, but I would hear what you offer,” replied the young man.

Your heart brings you pain, we will take your heart and you will no longer hurt,” responded the void.

The young man thought this over and then responded, “I think I might need my heart, but you can take the parts of my heart that are holding me back.”

The void showed the young man how to remove the most troublesome portions of his heart, and then consumed the bloody fragments of muscle before fading away.  The young man felt like the edges of his soul had frayed, but he did feel better.

The young man grew into a man and found himself slowly inching closer to his dreams.  The man did not miss the damaged portions of his heart.  He knew that he had enough of his heart remaining to leave room to eventually find a wife.

The void took sway over a young woman, and motivated her to distract the young man.  The young man was distracted and felt his dreams grow from his renewed dreams of love.  Always and forever have different meanings to some.

 

Part IV:  Winter

The void bided its time and watched love grow.  It hid in shadows and silhouettes that people think they see in their peripheral vision, only to find empty space when they turn their heads to focus.  The void watched the marriage and held its tongue when it was time for objections.

Quietly, after the ceremony, the void whispered to the young woman of all the things she had never realized she wanted.  The void wove strife and discord between the man and his wife.

A year later, when the man left to fight a war, the air grew cold and the shadows of the room darkened as the void whispered again into the young woman’s ear.

you are meant for so much more, why not come with us and meet someone who will give you the things you deserve?

The young woman thought this offer over, and she traveled with the void until she met someone who she liked better.  The man returned many months later to a cold and newly impregnated wife.  To compound things, the war was largely over and the man was no longer needed by his country.  The man watched his pregnant wife and young daughter leave him.  The man learned what it means to realize the complete loss of the things he had defined his life around.

The man cried out and drank until he surpassed numbness.  He drank until his insobriety brought on a deathly calm and a clarity of vision.  He carefully tied thirteen loops in a rope above a slipknot and began to look for a tall and sturdy tree.  The void sensed the impending darkness in the man and relaxed it’s gravity for an instant.  A tiny light escaped the void and shot out to the man.

The man remembered that he had more to do in this life before he could rest.  He put away the rope and found a way to move forward.

The man and the wife were divorced.  The man left the military and rejoined the citizens he had long strived to defend.  The man felt pain and loss and a confusion from the war and his divorce that he could not resolve.

The man called out to the void.

The void answered.

It is good to see you once again, my friend.” whispered the void.

“In a world as damaged as the one I have seen, there are worse choices for company.”  answered the man.

We sense a damage to you, friend.  Perhaps it is time that you remove the rest of your heart.

“I am not ready to give up on my heart today,” replied the young man, “but I think I am ready to give up the fool’s errand that led me to here.”

Very well, we will help you” responded the void.

The void pointed to the man’s ring finger, where a tattoo of a ring remained ingrained into his skin, “Remove the symbol of the promise, and you will be free for the rest of your days.”

The man, fueled his desire to move on with the self-loathing of his present condition.  He pulled out a sharp knife and dutifully carved his ring finger from his body .

The void devoured the severed finger and dissipated back into the background.  The man knew that he was unraveling, but problems of the present would not hold him back from his new future.

The man established his place once again in the world.  He remembered his old dreams and evolved them to fit his new world.  He began slowly building his new empire with new dreams.  The man slowly became middle-aged.  The void showed no interest in the man for several years.  There are some things in life that do not rest without purpose.

 

Part V:  Rebirth

When the time was right, the void took sway over a young woman, and motivated her to distract the middle-aged man.  The middle-aged man was distracted and felt his dreams grow from his renewed dreams of love.

The void did not wait as long as it had previously.  It whispered to the young woman of the possessions that the middle-aged man had left to give.  It whispered to her of seduction.  It whispered to her of lies.  It whispered to her of other men.  The void whispered so much and so often, its hand became apparent to the middle-aged man as his world once again came crashing down.

The man called out to the void.

The void answered.

It has been several years, my friend.” whispered the void.

“In a world as damaged as I have known, how could I have doubted your presence by my side in the darkness of every night.  Every whistle of every rocket I heard in the war.  Every happy gurgle of every friend that killed himself after succumbing to his own demons.  The guilty moan of every woman I have loved.  You have always been there,”  answered the middle-aged man.

It is as you speak,” replied the void, “our ways are infinite, yet confined to a pre-determined path.  All beings, mortal and non alike, dance to a tune written outside of your concept of time.”

After a slight pause to think over these words, the middle-aged man said “You have worked against me in the guise of an impartial guide.  You have bowed me in a way that no mortal has ever achieved, I will have the name of the only one strong enough to break me.”

We will teach you our name on one condition,” whispered the void.

“Name your condition, void.”

Only those without a heart can truly understand our nature,” whispered the void.

“I have no need for this useless organ any longer, it only brings sadness and pain,” replied the middle-aged man.

The middle-aged man cut out what was left of his heart and ate it.

We understand now,” said the middle-aged man, “We are stringman.”

Stringman grew in understanding and in age.  But continued existence only saw Stringman unraveling as it lost its memories of pain, hope and mortality.  Stringman wonders if it could find some new hopes and dreams to fill its void.  If such things could be found, would it remember the warmth that used to fuel its soul when it was mortal?  It doesn’t know.  It doesn’t care.

It sees you, having carefully read to this point.  It feels your disgust.  It feels your quiet unease and your glaring judgements.  It doesn’t care.  It sees you, and it is carefully measuring the weight of the hopes and dreams in your soul.

Sleep well, my friend.