Knives Dark – Chapter 9 – “Quotient”

Allan sat quietly in the living room of his house, which he utilized as a makeshift studio. On one side of the room was a concert-ready, quad-input Roland power amplifier, a 500 Watt Fender bass combined amp, and a much smaller 100 Watt Fender Mustang tube amplifier. Three mic boom stands pointed dynamic microphones at each one of the three speakers. A myriad of 3/4″ cables snaked their way from the speakers to a veritable jungle of audio equipment.

Every cable went through a looper and tied into the output from one of his numerous instruments: a Gibson SG professional guitar which fed a pedalboard loaded with distortion and effects pedals; a Korg mini-analogue synth; a Moog Grand Mother analogue synth; a 64-beat drumpad; and an Ibanez dual active-passive bass guitar. Lined up against the wall adjacent to the speakers was a couch, across from which was a fine coffee table with maple legs and a cloudy glass top. On top of the table sat the keyboards, the drumpad, and a Macbook for recording audio.

A simple 4-channel XLR input Steinberg UR-44 took the microphone inputs and plugged into the Macbook through a USB-A to USB-C adapter. There was one more mic boom stand with a condenser microphone and pop-filter leaning over the coffee table. On the wall opposing the speakers and adjacent to the couch were stands for the guitars.

Allan sat on the couch with his trusty Gibson, the room silent save for the the buzz of white noise from the speakers. Feeling the usual slight anxiety prior to any of his recording attempts, he hit space on his laptop to begin recording, and started finger-picking. He plucked the introductory arpeggio of his song, a somber and sad tune, then began playing chords with the same notes as he sung the lyrics.

Let the blood drip
Down the drain
The pain is what
Keeps you sane

Leave the knife
By your bedside
To comfort you
Through the night

He switched to a major progression for the chorus.

‘Cause nobody’s there to hold you
No one to tell you
“It’s alright”
Everyone says you’re crazy
And you think
They might be right

Then back to the melody.

Their words stick
Like fungus
They eat at you
From the inside

Let the gangrene
Grow rampant
Just rot on
Until you die

Then the modified second chorus with the same major progression.

‘Cause nobody’s there to hold you
No one to tell you
“It’s alright”
Everyone says you’re crazy
And you know
They can’t be right

Back to the melody for the final part.

And when you decide
You’ve had enough
And you’re ready
For the final cut

Stop to think
If God should forgive
Sinners like you
Who refused to live

Allan swallowed with difficulty, a rock forming in his throat and his eyes welling up. All he held in his heart were countless tormented moments, lonely sleepless nights tossing and turning, and vacant days where he poured himself into work and meaningless cheerful banter with his coworkers to stave off the inevitable emptiness when he would go home. He sang the final chorus, hoping, praying, that whoever else out there felt similarly might one day find some modicum of hope in his lyrics, like a sip of water in a scorching desert, and from this droplet find the courage to keep on living, like he had.

And I’ll be there
For you
I’ll tell you
“It’s alright”
Just stay on this Earth
With me
Life is but
A single day.

He strung the final arpeggio and felt the all-too-familiar pain in his heart. Leaning back on the couch, he sighed. He wished so badly that he could pour himself endlessly into his art, to sing before audiences, to broadcast his soul in its bare nakedness and raw truth for others to see. It wasn’t fame that he sought, but a sense of purpose that he couldn’t derive from anything else he did.

His mind then wandered to recollections of the women in his past. He hadn’t had a relationship in over twenty years, and he didn’t foresee that changing anytime soon. Not that he was trying, not by any stretch of the word. He’d tried so hard in his twenties, it was enough to last a lifetime. All that was left now was his hardened heart, a cold objectivity, and a seed that waited for the right conditions: something that might never come.

In his early twenties, he thought he’d found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, Anjelica. Allan had a way of haplessly falling head-over-heels in love at first sight, a phenomena he realized was a rarity amongst people. For all its glorification in books and media, the truth was, most people did not love as unconditionally nor as purely as he did in the beginning steps of any relationship. In fact, to the contrary, most people approached such things with an almost zealous cautiousness. They presented the best versions of themselves, maybe made themselves out to be more glamorous than they really were. This was a facade that Allan despised, and he never made any attempts to be anything more than exactly who he was. This level of honesty and sincerity did absolutely nothing for him, because it was so easily misinterpreted and misconstrued in those early stages of distrust.

Still, Allan was adamant and refused to change himself to conform. No matter what, he felt that the adoption of such artifices as a mask was the surest way to lose oneself. He would never betray himself in such a way.

Most men, he was fairly confident, thought more about the sexual aspects of a relationship than anything else. Though sex was something that was naturally on Allan’s mind, he never approached anyone with this as his chief aim. It was always the loneliness, the lack of emotional fulfillment in his life, that had driven him to seek companionship. To such ends, he only consorted with women he felt he would be interested in marrying. Anything he considered as being purely physical attraction was not worth pursuit by his standards, according to both his own moral metrics and the stipulations of the religion he believed in.

Granted, it had not always been this way. High school and the first year of college, sex was the only thing on his mind. But he’d transformed in that sophomore year, and that transformation had crystallized into what he was today. Those ideals from back then rung true in the present with growing resonance, and though they had done nothing for him, he had wrought from such ideals a mental purity and faith that was a rarity in contemporary society.

He recalled his first and only girlfriend, Alexa, back in middle school, during the age of innocence. She was tall, taller than Allan, a fact that he loved. She was extremely slender, another trait that Allan found himself inexplicably drawn towards. And she was blonde, with glacier blue eyes, the sort of eyes Allan loved gazing into.

That was before he’d ever watched porn or had any notion of what masturbation was; before sex had entered his mind as a physical need. He didn’t even know what a blowjob was, or that there was such a thing. It had been wonderful then, but… then his family had moved, and that relationship had withered.

Allan had tried to keep his relationship with Alexa alive despite the distance. But the immeasurable stress of being alone in a new place with no friends weighed heavily on a pubescent teenager, like a rainy cloud on a sunlit day. Even for adults, long distance relationships are difficult, and that was doubly true for a thirteen-something. It didn’t help that he’d also begun to develop feelings for another girl at his new school.

In the end, he’d felt so utterly miserable, so completely torn and crushed in being unable to see the person he cared for while feeling guilty for liking another girl, he’d broken it off by lashing out in a fit of misdirected frustration and rage.

That was how his anger always boiled over. He said words designed to hurt, the most stabbing and viciously honest words his mind could find. For a person as intelligent, internally sincere, and observant as he was, he understood most people’s psyches well enough to know exactly which buttons would hurt them the most, and when he was angry, he shredded into them remorselessly.

He did this to his father, so many times. It used to weigh on him, all the hurtful things he’d said. He’d apologized time and time again to countless people, until he felt his apologies no longer had meaning. This was who he was. It wasn’t someone likable or necessarily good, it was someone who was genuinely emotive. The only thing that made sense was to find someone who could see past the hurricane and into the eye of the storm. Allan had long since conceded that such a person could well be fiction, little more than the words on pages he wrote to console himself.

After a year had passed and Allan was about to enter his freshman year of high school, he visited his hometown of State College, staying over at a friend’s house for a couple days. It was then that he reconnected with Alexa. They’d met in the back of a book shop. She wore a long skirt, the kind you don’t see many women wearing anymore. Allan remembered watching her spin and twirl, barefoot, behind the bookshop, as a light summer drizzles sparkled their faces. Watching her then was one of the most beautiful moments he’d had in his life. There weren’t many like that.

At that time, it was the arts festival in State College. On the Penn State campus, right in front of Old Main, there was an outdoor stage. He’d laid with Alexa there, on the grass, holding her close to him, and kissing her. They’d make out every couple of minutes and just lie there. He only remembered the sky, a feeling of absolute contentedness in feeling Alexa breathe, and the terrible case of blue balls he had later that evening. He remembered wondering if it was normal for an erection to last for an hour.

That was probably the single sweetest moment of his life. After that, everything began to crumble away, leaving the cold dark steel that was the Allan of today.

It lasted all of two months before Alexa broke it off. She cited that… well, Allan was a great boyfriend. But she wanted to date other people, and to look back warmly on their time together in their youth. She’d told Allan that he was a good first boyfriend, and she’d always keep that memory locked away in her heart. Alexa then moved to Utah to be with her grandparents and her mother, who had recently divorced her father, something that had been a tremendous strain upon their family.

It hurt Allan to think that was all he was good for. A first boyfriend. A stepping stone. He hadn’t said anything then, because he understood the situation. There was nothing he could do. His heart would break and hurt, but he could do nothing as a fourteen year-old to be close to the person he loved, except talk with her over the phone.

Consequently, that’s exactly what Allan did. He stayed in touch with Alexa through the next year, talking over the phone, as friends. But just that, as friends. Alexa would tell him about the different boys in her life, and Allan would listen, content that someone as beautiful as her wanted to confide in someone as forgettable as him. If what he had felt for Alexa wasn’t love, he wasn’t sure what was. In the meanwhile, hearing Alexa talk about all this, Allan felt he needed to move on, and began to pursue the girl at his high school whom he’d developed a crush on.

Her name was Raquel, and Allan pursued Raquel with the same innocence and honesty that was his hallmark. She had jet black hair that always pulled back neatly into a ponytail. She was quiet, bookish, a talented artist, and so genuine. She laughed in a carefree, spirited way that Allan adored. Those were the traits that drew him to her.

Back then, he mostly hung out with a group of guys who belonged to a clique of the more popular kids at school, and they made fun of him when he told her that he had a thing for Raquel because they all thought she was queer. It was all in good fun, and he smiled thinking about it.

He had looked up Raquel’s home number in the school directory and used to call her and talk to her. He always enjoyed the innocent wholesomeness of their conversations, and he got to learn about her other interests. They didn’t gossip about other people in school, instead, they talked about anime and manga, and their dreams for the future. It turned out he and Raquel were more similar than he’d originally imagined. He asked her out to the movies a few times, but she always declined, and he figured she wasn’t interested in a guy like him. It didn’t hurt him though, because he still called her and talked to her, and she seemed okay with that.

The day before her sixteenth birthday, Allan had cutout balloons from colored poster boards and written “Happy Birthday” in artistic cursive. Using twine for the string, he’d taped those balloons to her locker after school while there was no one in the hallway to see him. While he was doing this, his heart beat so loud in his chest, he thought he could hear it thumping against his ribs.

The next day, his stomach sank to see that the balloons were gone. When he talked to Raquel about it over the phone later that week, she told him she’d put the balloons inside her locker. At this, Allan’s heart rocked with joy.

Then his family had moved again during his junior year of high school. That uprooted his social circle once more, except this time, it was different. Allan didn’t have the words to describe it, but this was the first time he was truly depressed. His new school was bigger, the students were all brighter. He hated his new school, because he just wanted to be somewhere he felt comfortable and safe.

He cried so much that year, he wished he could just die. At school, he acted happy and upbeat because he could, but at home, he felt utterly alone. So he threw himself into work, into web development and video games. He made a website for aspiring game developers. He led a community. This was the single solace he had during that time: this one website filled with people he had never met in real life.

That made him feel alive. In a way that nothing else had, so to speak. It gave vitality and energy to him in his youth to do that kind of work. Maybe, he just enjoyed having power and tried to wield it responsibly. But whatever the case, it was a constructive outlet in that Allan applied and grew his skill in computer programming. That was the same skill that had sparked and carried him all through his entire career.

He’d always aspired to make games. Even though he had never created a complete game in his life, he somehow felt that the creation of an artificial escape from reality was a healthy outlet for frustrations of older adults, and a way to develop the imaginations and abilities of younger folk. Allan imagined that in the future, governmental gamification of life itself in some meaningful way would be how success was fairly and openly determined in democracies.

What he sought to capture through his website were the meaningful efforts and struggles of budding artists around the globe who strove for self-expression. He viewed art as a quantifiable and storable metric of people’s lives and experiences. It was this train of thought that first led him to think up

AcrossTime’s purpose was simply to store human experiences of individuals who wished to commit their memories and ideas for the remainder of time. He genuinely meant all time: he viewed the project as an anthropological medium to preserve fragments of humanity as people evolved and grew. “That’s a steep order.” he’d chuckle to himself.

Facebook was more or less the leader for such a service. There were plenty of other portals already devoted to art, animation, and game development as well, ranging from DeviantArt to NewGrounds, Flickr to Vimeo, and the monolithic YouTube. While the niche wasn’t necessarily saturated, the biggest contenders already dominated the market. Upping them would require innovation on multiple fronts; it wasn’t something that could be done in the span of a few months or a year.

While Allan felt certain that his idea had merit, he also knew that in order to truly execute his vision with the idealism he intended required patience and care. He didn’t want to create something ephemeral to cash in on it. He wanted to build something that would stand the test of time immemorial, to outlast him and the generations after.

He wasn’t entirely sure how he could improve on anyone’s formula with existing technology. In a manner of speaking, these various companies were already the biggest archive of human memory and data. But they weren’t quite what Allan sought, which was distilled cultural value in the form of art; creations of anthropological significance; and raw human experiences. Not words. Not pictures. Not facades idealizing or glamorizing particular individuals. But a raw, emotive texture that conveyed the hopes, struggles, dreams, and successes of humans in their evolution.

The existing offerings were dumb monolithic stores inundated with noise. As technology progressed, it seemed like the normative culture regressed. Instead of doing something meaningful, people attained fulfillment by doing things that were wholly ephemeral and forgettable. Rather than relying on their imaginations and wits, people relied on their cell phones and gadgets. Rather than thinking for themselves, people sought media conglomerates and news outlets to think for them.

Indeed, as Allan saw it, the world was structured to hypnotize and mesmerize people into ordinary sheepish lives, whilst the wolves had their run of the flock. In fact, it had always been this way. Deception was necessary for both one’s allies, and one’s friends.

This wasn’t to say that people at the top were crooks. No, everyone with power had their own agenda, their own vision and were independent agents of progress or chaos. Only they could speak to their true aims and intents. The indisputable truth of the matter was that, those with both vision and the gumption to execute were few in number; the critics of such people were greater, for it was much easier to condemn than to create; and most were mere laymen who needed not lift a finger for the marvels of these visionaries to come to them.

Visionaries established human industries upon the shoulders of laymen that could be easily controlled and swayed. In order to enact their vision, it was necessary to promulgate it and they had the means to do so. The question of which came first, the uniform body of like-minded laymen or the visionary that unified the various laymen could be seen as a question of the chicken or the egg. Was a King worthy of his title with no country or people to lead? Or was it the people and country that made a King?

Perhaps this tendency towards uniformity and idolization was integral to human cultural and societal identity. Perhaps, anthropologically, this was how humans and countless other mammalian tribal species had survived. There was no doubt that it was always the people who saw things differently who evoked the greatest growth and change within cultures, but few people had the resolve to really push that difference of vision to the forefront. It wasn’t sustainable for everyone to be unique and different, so maybe this heterogeneous system, a scientific byproduct of genetics and biology, was the sieve that would separate the specks of brilliance from the mundane.

Whether he was brilliant or not, Allan left that for time and future generations to tell. He believed he was brilliant, and that was all that mattered now. As for his vision for AcrossTime: he didn’t care about the day-to-day lives of people, their views, or their thoughts. The things that facebook captured were mostly meaningless to him. It was enjoyable to talk to people to hear and see what they were up to, but he didn’t much care on a regular basis, unless they were related by blood. Healthy discussions and conversations were of far greater value, but this wasn’t something he saw often on facebook. Moreover, unlike many of these billion-dollar companies, he didn’t want to monetize on human data. What he wanted to capture was the spirit of being human, like an archive or a library, in a truly timeless fashion.

“At the end of the day… the currency of this life was belief and action. Not money.” Those were the things that would follow a person’s soul. How much they earned was a moot contrivance, a fickle byproduct of an era and circumstances. What they thought and what they did… now that forged a human.

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