The Twelve Story House Part XII: The Awakening of Ed
The only thing of Ed’s that touched the brick ground was a white string hanging from the cuff of his breathable white linen pants. And when Ed bobbed in the air, that sound--white linen brushing on brick--was the only audible thing in the large curved space of the Spire--well, the only thing, that is, besides the times when Reggie, levitating beside Ed, would take a break from meditating to exhale with a snort.
Like Ed, Reggie’s feet were bare, his eyes were closed, and his arms were extended out with open palms. When the two of them were backlit in front of the Spire’s large Central Window, they looked like two lazy crosses, the arm bars slightly drooping. And indeed, Ed’s current Ed Body, with its full beard, long flowing hair, and yoga retreat nightwear attire, did make him resemble a back-to-nature guru, a kind of modern day Jesus. Reggie’s current Reggie Body, meanwhile, looked like a hippie too: tan shorts and tank top, braided leather bracelet, and gold hoops pierced through his ears.
Floating there like that, their bodies appeared still. But in actuality, their respective third eyes were quite busy funneling out streams of anxiety through the middle of their foreheads while nothingness funneled in. This was a process refined and personalized by Ed and Reggie through the Twelve Stories so that they could now spiral out these mental energy streams in dazzling patterns throughout the room.
And then it began. The Awakening of Ed.
The string from Ed’s pants skimmed just over the brick, missing contact with it, and then jerked as it rose higher.
Reggie opened his eyes. “The Hell?” he said.
He was floating up.
Focus, for both of them, shifted back to the Spire. Ed squinted to get a better look. “Don’t look now,” said Ed, “but--”
Reggie cut him off-- “Oh no, I see it, dude.” As they were rising, the world was narrowing. The curved wooden boards that formed the Spire’s structure were themselves shifting, coiling inward and upward tighter and tighter.
“That’s some true bullshit right there,” said Reggie, gesturing up to the narrowing. “Is this how it’s gonna go down in the end?” I have to be honest with you for one second--I didn’t think it would go down this way. I really didn’t.”
“Some sort of death trap,” replied Ed.
Reggie pursed his lips and nodded. Outside the Central Window, he watched as the world outside underwent upheaval. Someone walking on the gravel path outside the Twelve Story House carried a sign that read: "Time is Narrowing." The sign warped and disappeared, along with the man carrying it.
Reggie turned back to Ed. "Okay now that,” he said pointing to the window, “That right there was actually some really true bullshit."
Ed tried to offer Reggie a comforting smile. It didn’t look sincere, though, and then it went away entirely when something else caught his attention. Ed cocked his head to the side and pointed at something in Reggie’s eyelash. Reggie said, “What are you gawking at, weirdo?” Then he picked at it and showed Ed what he’d collected: a black, sticky lump. “Mascara…” Reggie played with the bit of mascara and smushed it. “How did I carry this up with me from Eleven, Ed? You ever notice anything like this before? If you did, I swear to God, c’mon, man, you got to tell me these things!”
Ed stroked his beard. “No, honestly, I never saw that or anything else. Just now is the first time, okay? Serious. Look: anything goes on the final floor, bro. All bets are off. You know that.” There was now pink polish on his fingernails. “Reggie, look.” He held up his hand and Reggie saw.
“Jessica and Joanne,” they said at the same time, grinning. “Merger.”
Ed held his polished nails to the Peak. The stillness of his palm stood out in front of the coiling, tightening boards above him. He wiggled his fingers and noticed something beyond his palm, in the background. Something was moving up there, right at the tip of the Peak...No, he couldn’t make it out. And then his head spun back to Reggie. “Wait, do you hear that?”
“I think so,” replied Reggie--his left eye now completely made up in mascara.
Reggie pointed back up to the Peak.
Ed looked up again and could now make them out: millions, no trillions, of other versions of their bodies...no, not their bodies but their bodies mixed with the female versions of their bodies--the Jessicas and Joannes that they inhabit on the House’s odd-numbered floors.
Ed slouched. "Time to prepare, my man. Let's take deep breaths."
Reggie joined him: a deep breath in and a deep breath out. They continued rising, deep breath in, deep breath out, apply everything they’ve learned through the Twelve Stories of the House, closer to the bodies mushed into the narrowest part of the Spire, and they kept breathing, breath in, breath out, until Ed was out of sync and his breaths started quickening even more. Reggie opened his eyes and watched Ed trying to control his breathing. Ed threw up in his mouth a bit. Some of the vomit got past his lips. He moved to clean it from his beard but, to his shock, his beard was completely gone and his skin was smooth.
"Ed, what do I look like now?" asked Reggie. “Did I change as much as you did?”
But Ed was too focused on his own situation. Anxiety pricked through his body. It came on stronger when he tried to put his hands in his pockets, only to find that the pants were now a mixture of white linen and stretchy black nylon. “Ouch!” he yelled. His hair yanked itself back into a scrunchied ponytail. “Ouch!” he yelled again as the ponytail tightened. He brought his palm to his mouth to muffle another pained outburst. When he took away the palm, there was a lipstick stain--the same color as his nails--imprinted onto his skin.
“Ed, this shit is getting real as shit, dude!” The baby fat on Reggie's face was melting off, morphing into Joanne's more angular features, along with that powerful twinkle of wisdom she always had in her eye.
“Joanne,” said Ed, pointing, mouth open. “It’s totally you.” He laughed, crossing his arms and nodding. “It’s really, totally you.”
“No, Ed, please...Not Joanne. Call me Reggie-Joanne.”
“Okay, I can do that. That’s cool. And does that mean that I’m now Ed-Jessica?”
Reggie looked him up and down. “Honestly, you might be more of a Jessica-Ed to be perfectly honest with you, ponytail and everything.”
Ed, or Jessica-Ed, smiled. "You know,” they said to Reggie-Joanne, “You were always able to pull off being a woman so well. It always seemed so natural for you and I always admired that."
"Thanks, that's cool of you to say that, I guess.”
They looked back up to the mass of undulating bodies. When they were close enough to do so, they asked one of the other bodies, “What’s making everything move like this?” And the body moaned something about different speeds of gender-bending and time-narrowing.
They smashed against some bodies and felt the rippling. They looked at each other and, in their final communication, transmitted the same thought to one another: "It’s been so real, fam.” And that was it: they were gone--merged into the mass of other bodies.
“Okay, this is what it all comes down to,” one of the other bodies said. It was difficult to tell who was speaking; their faces were all squeezing into the narrowest part of the Spire.
“You ready?” asked another one of them. “From here on out it’s all deep meditation.”
Bodies pressed deeper into the cracks between other bodies.
“This is what we were trained to do in the Twelve Story House!” someone yelled. “We can do this!” Pressure on ribs and shoulders mounted and hands grabbed. “Meditate!”
They all did their best to meditate but the chaos of the narrowing Spire proved too much. In the back of the mass they heard the screams. The Spire was crushing bodies. Meanwhile the other Ed and Reggie Bodies from the floors below floated up towards the mass. They looked just as naive as Ed and Reggie had when they began their initial ascent. As they grew closer, they, too, underwent merger with their Jessica and Joanne bodies.
The new bodies landed, asked some questions, and merged into the mass.
No one knew what was going on. Bones breaking. Crushing. The Spire tightening.
Screams. Darkness. The force ground down their bones until their bodies were a sort of clay. The clay then became a cream. The cream funneled higher, whitening, speeding until it shot through the tip of the peak into darkness, through the darkness, and, waiting, waiting, waiting, until, here we go, we’re now leveling-up,re-emerging, (everyone ready to wake up), re-solidifying, growing, heart pumping, light’s approaching, becoming real, and here we are, we’re an entirely new being funneling into time--a baby crying in a hospital. That’s us. In Montreal. Now. Look at us. And when asked what our name would be, our new parents deliberated for a moment. They then turned back to the group and, beaming, announced we most resembled an Édouard.