Story by Dan Hekate
Kate Macmillan had been following Specimen July 13th all week. He fascinated and beguiled her in equal measure. It had been months since she had been this intrigued.
Kate liked to follow people, to capture them unbeknownst. She hoped one day to put on a solo show somewhere in Shoreditch, ‘Waking Life’ it would be called. She had decided long ago there would be no interaction with the subject, that only through a lack of information could she portray an unbiased portrait. As a rule she would only follow her subject, her specimen for a day, for no more than two hours and always in a public space.
This week she had broken almost all of her rules. It was now the 19th; she was crouched behind a wrecked Ford Astra with her zoom lens pointed a hundred metres across an industrial marshland as Specimen July 13th rummaged through a skip.
July 13th’s hair was a bush of grey curls that defied gravity as it arched back from his receding hairline. He wore a mish mash of clothes or what first appeared as such, an old waistcoat, a new rain mac, a long wooly scarf. Although incongruous, the items somehow matched, blending together in a murky array of browns, blacks and dark greens. From afar he could easily be taken for a homeless man but up close it was apparent how cared for the clothes were, not that she had got up close. She had used the zoom. She had been careful, Kate was always careful.
From her observations it appeared as though July 13th was both calculated in his actions and chaotic; he would sometimes walk with determination or dither in an area without any air of purpose. He moved around the city collecting what could only be described as random items. He would stow these inside a beaten, ornate leather case on wheels. A piece of newspaper, a cup with a smear of lipstick, a flyer to a Techno rave.
His collections extended beyond physical objects, he would take photos, shots of people, places. Some he would spend minutes composing, others he would fire off, neither checking the frame nor the results. He would record sound with a small tape recorder, sometimes
diligently using a microphone, monitoring wearing headphones and calibrating the recording levels. At other times the recordings would be taken arbitrarily, no MIC, no monitoring, no calibration. He would record the movement of traffic, the squawk of birds, people talking, crying, screaming, humming in time to their Ipods as they sat on the tube with their huge headphones clasped around their ears. Kate could comprehend no reason why July 13th would terminate the audio recordings, no checking of the time or referencing of any digital device. If he had a phone or a notebook she had not seen it.
All his actions were performed as discreetly as possible, everything about him was indiscernible, he blended into his surroundings. In all the time she had been following him she had witnessed no one throw him even the slightest glance; it was as if July 13th himself was invisible.
Aside from the rule on interaction, the only other one Kate hadn’t broken was to follow a specimen after sunset. Yet today her curiosity got the better of her. She had to understand what the objects were for, what was the purpose of the collections. She set herself a new rule, she would not open any closed doors. The locked door would be the end of her adventure.
She followed July 13th far west on the Central Line, through a urine-soaked underpass, underneath the monstrous mass of the Westway flyover where the traffic was dense and noisy. Down a long industrial street, bordered on either side by factories closed down for the night or permanently boarded up.
At the end of the road a battered shutter hung in the air, the black chasm of an open warehouse sprawled in the shadows. July 13th passed underneath the shutter and into the darkness beyond. Although Kate felt like stopping, this was not a locked door, she was breaking no rules. She gave it a minute and ducked under the concertinaed metal.
At the other end of the warehouse on a black leather sofa in a small pool of light, July 13th sat and stirred his cup of tea. He looked up as she entered and nodded to her almost imperceptibly, beckoning her to approach him. She held her hand weakly aloft in salutation and stood her ground, her bravery ebbing away.
“Do you want a cup of tea before we start? The kettle has just boiled,” asked July 13th. Kate did not reply but neither did she make a move to leave, how long until she broke her rule on interaction, had she already broken it?
July 13th got up off the sofa and made his way over to a door. He opened it.
“I have to lock this behind me,” he said.
She turned, glanced at the exit, and strode towards the entranceway.
With the door shut firmly behind them, July 13th turned the lights on, illuminating a laboratory at the centre of which stood a big black vat inside which was a noxious yellow liquid. From the bottom of this vat pipes weaved their way up the wall where they branched off into numerous spouts from which a clear viscous liquid dripped slowly into a variety of containers- old plastic bottles, polished metal flasks, beer kegs and colostomy bags.
“I’m Kate.” she said, extending her hand nervously.
“I don’t like names, they’re so imperfect. The world is ever changing. What was one thing today may begin tomorrow in another fashion,” said July 13th.
“Not really, scientifically speaking tomorrow is Saturday, that’s it’s name,” said Kate as she looked around trying to work out what the different machines were used for.
“People who are unable to comprehend the enormity of our reality use science. This world is not computable in solely mathematics, it lives and breathes. Using science to understand the world is like eating soup with a fork,” said July 13th.
He tipped out the objects he had been collecting onto a table and arranged them, in what appeared to Kate, a haphazard fashion. He took out the tape from its recorder and set it into an old style boombox. He pressed play. The air was filled with screams, whimpers, the grumbling of engines and the grinding of rubber against tarmac. The sounds whirled around the dusty beams of the ex-factory and then seemed to disappear as if they were sucked into the bubbling yellow vat.
He took a similar approach with the pictures; connecting the camera up via a cable to a projector, he then beamed the pictures into the air whereupon they were sucked into the vat.
Once again, in what appeared to have no order or system to it, July 13th took each of the objects he had collected and fed them into the vat. Each object dissolved, letting out a hissing noise and a putrid smell, like burning plastic, as it hit the gurgling liquid.
“What are you doing?” asked Kate.
“Recycling,” replied July 13th.
“Bloody hell that’s vague, it doesn’t look like recycling to me.”
“If you want better answers, you need to ask better questions.”
“What is that dank yellow liquid?” asked Kate.
“Dank is an objective adjective as to some extent is the colour yellow, whether it’s a liquid is also debatable but I won’t question your inability to fathom such a thing.”
“We can all be facetious,” Kate said, tapping one of the containers at the end of a pipe. July 13th slapped her hand away.
“Don’t touch! In its unblended form even a drop of that liquid can send your mind down a bottomless wormhole.”
“Do you only speak nonsense?”asked Kate.
“This is a filtering system as old as the fabric of reality, if one were trying to be more specific it could be referred to as an interdimensional portal, this liquid is a connection between the portal and the dreamer, a psychedelic bridge between your mind and the plane of shared imagination.”
“You’ve got more than a screw loose.”
“I didn’t ask you to follow me,” said July 13th as he collected up the various containers.
“OK, what are you even doing now?”
“Deliveries,” said July 13th as he loaded the containers into the van. “And you?” he asked.
Kate wanted to go with him, to see this through to the end, to understand quite how deranged this man was, to finish the story.
“This is where the road splits, if you come with me you might never be able to find your way back,” he said as he swung himself into the cab.
“I’ll take the risk,” said Kate and got in and slammed the door shut behind her. She had gone too far to step away now.
“Why not use the van to collect the samples?” asked Kate.
“Inside our own bubbles we miss the stories life plays out for us.” July 13th turned the key and the old van spluttered into life.
During the course of the night, July 13th visited an array of different establishments: cake shops, soft drink suppliers, cigarette factories and other assorted distributers, bringing each of them the strange clear liquid in a variety of receptacles.
Around four in the morning, July 13th pulled to a stop somewhere just after Blackfriars, attached the colostomy bag under his jacket and exited the van in the direction of the Thames. Strolling up and down the banks of the embankment he appeared to urinate in the huge river, by all accounts a tramp or drunkard reliving themselves in the dirty water.
“What does that liquid do to people, exactly?” she said as he pulled himself back into the drivers seat and they set off.
“It gives the demons form,” said July 13th.
“You’re so annoying, demons. You’re a dickhead. Can you please make sense for like a second?”
“Buried inside our psyche lies a collection of thoughts, feelings, memories, desires. You need to stir these for the brain to function properly,” he replied.
“I shouldn’t have even asked,” she said.
July 13th shrugged and fired the engine.
Kate was silent for ten minutes, thinking, trying to work the old man out. The van pulled up outside a huge brewery.
“This is my last drop and then I can take you home.” He said, picking a glass jam jar off the dash and exiting the van.
“Take me home! You owe me an explafuckingnation. Why don’t you stop being such an oblique wanker and explain to me what you’re doing? You do know half the shit you get up to is totally illegal?”
“I owe you precisely nothing.”
“Just tell me what is that yellow shit?”
“I’m afraid lacking an ability to open your consciousness up beyond the confines of this limited reality, you will be unable to ever fully comprehend it.”
“Sounds like a load of fake arse shit if you ask me. Don’t take me for a little girl. I’ve taken LSD and DMT. If you can take it, I can too.”
“Who am I to stop you, the choice is yours,” July 13th said and exited the vehicle.
Kate sat in the front of the van and stared at a small vial of the yellow liquid. ‘No substance is that powerful,’ she thought as she uncorked the vial.
Kate ran down desolate streets trying to escape from a figure with a camera for a head. Camerahead caught up with her, grappled with her, tore at her clothes, and beat her. Looking up she could see herself across the street observing.
Kate looked at her other self and was about to cross over to help, to intervene when she felt a presence lurking behind her. She turned to see Camerahead. She set off trying to escape, running down desolate streets until she was caught and beaten.
She observed herself from across the street but felt a presence lurking behind her, she turned to see Camerahead and ran, down desolate streets until…
July 13th entered the van to find Kate staring off into the distance. She had made her choice, chosen her road; chosen to recycle herself. He turned the key in the ignition and set off back to the laboratory.
July 13th fed Kate’s body into the vat of bubbling yellow liquid, turned out the light, picked up his antique leather bag and made his way back out onto the streets. As he set off to see what the morning had brought him the sun rose over the smoke, illuminating the buildings, traffic and commuters in a fiery red glow.