CHAPTER 1: Poisoned Perfection – You are not who you think you are!
The moment I hit the streets of Barcelona, the heat entered my body like an evil spirit. The neighborhood was called Gracia and I was on Calle Verdi – a street which smells of seaweed due to its proximity to the Mediterranean. That’s the optimistic interpretation, anyway; as far as I was concerned, the salty odor was actually an eggy odor and I entered a secondhand bookshop to avoid it.
And that was when I first saw her.
Weirdly, my mum has this obsession that I’ll meet my future spouse in a bookshop, and as far as I can tell from her gin-soaked narrative, the story goes like this. My future wife – who for some reason is always called Charlotte – will be buying Emily Dickinson while I pick up something manly like Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century (Mum’s still holding out for the day I become a hedge-fund managing alpha male, instead of a fail-male who teaches English as a second language.) Then, for years afterwards, Charlotte will make everyone uncomfortable at dinner parties by being really intense when telling the story: “I just F**KING knew it right there and then that he was…THE ONE!” And her lip will quiver when she says it and there’ll be a distant look in her eye, and the men at the table will wonder if she isn’t slightly mad, but the women will feel envy because – according to my mum – they know you only get that look with regular doses of a massive c***.
Needless to say, my encounter in the bookshop veered off script. There was no Pickety, for a start; I was checking out John Grisham while the woman who stood beside me went for Plato. Furthermore, I didn’t even see her. Just an arm.
As arms go, however, this was an interesting one. It was slender and brown with a tattoo of twisting vines that curved around the forearm, ending at her knuckles. Just before her wrist, the vines formed an arboreal black hole with a fox being sucked into its center. As Gracia was bohemian, I expected the tattoo to belong to a bohemian woman – the sort who did yoga and didn’t eat meat and allowed the dog to sleep in her bed. And maybe she was, but the arm was also decorated with a Chanel bracelet that gleamed like gold bullion.
Opening The Republic, she whispered the first line…“I went down to the Piraeus…” and made a faint sound of amusement. I shifted to get a look at her, but she immediately turned and left the shop.
Trying to recapture the moment, I grabbed Plato and read I went down to the Piraeus – but couldn’t see the comedy. Piraeus was a port in Athens so why was it funny to say…“I’m going down to the port”? I didn’t know the answer, but I wanted to, so I bought the book.
Leaving the shop, I went downhill and stared at the Catalan flags sprouting from apartments above. A slither of a breeze brushed across my face and everyone on the tree lined street paused to enjoy it. Maybe it was seaweed after all. But then it was gone…and the street returned to its default setting: fucking hot.
I pulled out my mobile to see the time, but already knew what it would say: beer ‘O clock. I was the only person I knew with a digital timepiece stuck on the same hour. I turned to a shop with a beer fridge and reached for an ice-cold beauty to lubricate my throat and tickle my nucleus accumbens.
“No, Felix…have some fucking discipline!” I withdrew my hand from the fridge and resisted temptation.
Continuing downhill, I decided to head for the poor man’s AC unit: the shopping center. Of course, that would mean the metro and a roasting on platform three, but the aircon temple was worth it. The concept of platform three reawakened the concept of a beer, now rebranding itself as a cooling beverage for the journey. Who could argue with that?
This unassailable logic sent me back towards the beer shop, and that’s when I saw the tattooed arm again. It belonged to a woman in her late twenties.
Scarily, she seemed to be heading straight for me, and while everyone else was milling and weaving, she strode forward with purpose – like a bank robber that had told everyone to get on the fucking floor. I carried out a visual sweep from head to toe and produced adjectives like… stylish… awesome… sophisticated: A.K.A…everything I wasn’t.
She was wearing a cowboy hat and a pair of sunglasses, while a braid of dark hair curled around her shoulder with a wolverine twist. The tattoo, which I’d only seen part of, snaked up her clavicle and disappeared under a t-shirt with the slogan, Carpe Noctum. Seize the night. I stepped back and did what everybody else did: I got out of her way.
As she came closer I saw her olive skin and Instagram lips, but my attention was consumed by something else: the weirdest birthmark I had ever seen. It reminded me of a dog called Patch because it circled one eye with a swirl that congealed into a scar on her cheekbone. Her face was poisoned perfection.
I froze. Although I couldn’t see her eyes, I knew that the clocker had been clocked, so I started walking down the street again. Fortunately, this took me five meters from the beer shop and another lapse into temptation. I headed for the metro.
Obviously, it was a coincidence that the woman from the bookshop had appeared; we’d just been in the same shop after all. It was a clear case of move on…nothing to see here!
Twenty-five minutes later, however, the coincidence was looking tenuous. In fact, it was pushed to breaking point because when I finally got on the metro and parked myself on a seat, she jumped through the doors just before they closed.
Now, you might point out that being in the same neighborhood meant catching the same metro, and that’s why she was now sitting in the same carriage – three seats up. But there’s a problem. Instead of catching the closest metro, I’d cut across the backstreets to Verdaguer to avoid changing lines. Even in the unlikely case she’d done the same, it was an improvised route and I took three wrong turns. If her arrival in my carriage was chance, she would’ve had to…
● Also decide on Verdaguer.
● Take exactly the same amount of time.
● Choose the same carriage.
As there was no way those things could happen by chance, I had to face the fact that she was following me.
I mean, I couldn’t even get followed on Instagram, so why would a beautiful woman follow me in real life? Women on the street looked through me like the invisible man, but not the one from HG Wells but one from a Smiths album. As my flat mate, Mikey, once said… “if you fell into a barrel of tits, Felix, you’d come out sucking your thumb.”
This meant that if she was following me, there had to be a nefarious reason. Maybe she was a Mossad agent. Or a cartel assassin. Or she’d pounce on me with a court summons from an ex-wife or offended party. However, my life was devoid of drug-lords and ex-wives and offended parties. In fact, my problem was that I didn’t offend anyone – as Mikey enjoyed telling me when he overheard a girl say I was ‘inoffensive.’ Not a great day for the old self-esteem!
My fundamental problem was that although I was hetero I kind of wasn’t. For example, when I saw bookshop girl walking down the street, I wasn’t thinking… “Oh my God you’re so hot…” I was thinking, “Oh my God you’re so cool.” I found myself getting obsessed with girls but I never thought about “giving them one.” I didn’t want to give anyone one; in fact, on the rare occasions when I had sex, I was always opening my legs as if the girl was giving me one! I suppose it was this sexlessness that women picked up on: instead of pouncing like a tiger, I minced like Hello Kitty. But I didn’t really like guys either; well…kind of…but…
“Oh, shut the f*** up, Felix,” I thought to myself, “It isn’t time for a sexuality meltdown.” And I then returned to two baseline conclusions: 1) there was no way this woman was following me, and 2) I definitely should’ve bought that beer.
It was clearly time to read Plato, but I didn’t get further than Piraeus before my eyes wandered to the passengers opposite. They stared ahead like suspects in a sedentary police lineup. But I wasn’t really looking at them, I was searching for a gap where I could see you-know-who reflected in the window. Shades still on, she sat there impassively.
Until she smiled at my reflection.
I was so surprised that I dropped the book. When I went to pick it up my phone slipped from my lap and crashed against the floor. Volcanic heat erupted across my face and I went redder than Valpolicella. Three seats up, I heard that same sound of amusement from the bookshop. All doubts she was following me were erased and I now sat in a state of pure anxiety. Although deep down I craved excitement, I was much more comfortable watching it on Netflix. This was too much.
“Next stop, Entenca,” a loudspeaker announced.
As the train slowed, my eyes darted to a metro map above the door. A red light indicated there were eight stops remaining. Despite the evidence, I debated once more whether she was following me and decided to sit there til’ the end of the line. Cornella. There was no way she was a local, and there was no way a tourist would go to Cornella, so if she stayed on board, I’d know she was following me.
Having a strategy gave me a momentary illusion of control. As we arrived at the next station, I stared at the doors to see if she would alight. She didn’t. The countdown had begun.
8. Sants – no
7. Badal – no
6. Collbanc – no
5. Pubilla cases – no
4. Can vidalet – no
3. Can boixeres – no
2. Sant ildefons – no
1. Gavarra – no
“Gavarra – no!” I screamed inside. The penultimate stop!
Beads of sweat on my forehead began to form an abacus. Everyone had left the carriage except her and an old man. And that’s when I figured it out: there was an offended party in my life. Vladimir Putin! It was that Reddit post I’d written on Ukraine. In a warning shot to dissenters worldwide, the Russian dictator had sent an agent to make an example of a single, lone internaut. What luck! Out of all the billions of potential targets, I was the one who’d be dining on a polonium kebab.
“Proxima Parada – Cornella – fin del trayecto.”
‘Fin del trayecto’ is ‘end of the line’ in Catalan, though a more appropriate phrase would have been ‘end of my tether.’ I glanced at her reflection through new eyes: now I saw that the funky, supermodel shades were actually FSB standard issue, and the leather satchel – a mobile stash house for her plutonium payload.
“Get a grip,” I chastised myself, opening up The Republic.
The old man stood up as we entered Cornella station and I looked down to read the first line once more – “I went down to the Piraeus”. But I heard the words out loud. The voice saying them was female. It was her. She was sitting beside me.
“Wh…wh…what?” I stuttered.
“I went down to the Piraeus,” she repeated.
With those words, she removed her shades, and despite the darkness of her skin her eyes were as green as chlorophyll. For my part, I went greener than a bucket containing Kermit’s aborted lovechild.
“Do you remember?” she asked me, “the tutor made us read that sentence, and then spent a whole class analyzing that one line.”
As a language teacher, her accent was familiar. It was foreign but with an American tone that suggested wealth and international schools. She reminded me of a thread I’d once seen called ‘Israeli army chicks.’ She was beautiful and exotic, but with muscular legs and toned arms. I could imagine an M16 in her hands.
“Actually…I don’t remember…” I said, relieved, finally arriving at the most obvious explanation of all: mistaken identity. She was following me, but thought she was following someone else. Curiously, this gave me an insight into the moral dilemma of a hot twin in a romantic mix-up. I really wanted to be the person she thought I was, but I wasn’t. “…I’ve never met you before in my life.”
“In this life…no.”
“So when? In a previous life?”
The train had been stationary for two minutes and a cleaner advanced down the carriage.
“Now is not the time for explanations…and it’s certainly not the place.”
She pointed to the metro sign for Cornella. Somehow she managed to curl her lips in disdain while looking amused – yet at the same time kind of weird because of the scar – while still looking incredibly hot. There was more going on with her face than Lord of the Rings.
“So…let me propose something to you,” she continued. “Accompany me as I travel around the city…and we can talk about it more. Just imagine I’m a tourist you met on the metro and you’re showing me around Barcelona. My name’s Kalia.”
I didn’t know what to say. The whole thing was too weird. A system error flashed in my mind: do not compute. As I looked at her beautiful face, however, Mikey’s voice popped into my head. The cruel overseer of my pygmy masculinity was outraged. “Do not compute! It’s not a fucking equation in need of a solution, Conrad, it’s a pussy in need of drilling. Hot loon girl escapes from mental hospital and thinks you were lovers in a previous life. Lock it down, son…this is a bargain!”
As usual, the only thing Mikey achieved was to make me feel nauseous (which raised the pertinent question of why his voice persisted in my head) and the do not compute message continued.
“What?” she asked.
“But…but…but…why were you following me?”
“Oh…I wasn’t following you; trust me…you wouldn’t know if I decided to follow you.”
“So what were you doing?”
“I was checking to see if you were being followed. Look…just come with me…stop worrying…let’s get a cab.”
Kalia grabbed me by the hand and lifted me up from the seat. I complied like a gimpoid. The touch of her hand and the curve of her smile were irresistible.
“Where are we going in the cab?” I asked.
“The Mandarin hotel. We’ll have lunch there.”
I took a final look around the carriage as if searching for an audience, but there was none – only a cleaner who scraped a piece of gum off the floor. Passing through the train doors, I asked myself one of those deep questions that humanity has asked since the beginning of time…
“What the fuck?”
And it had nothing to do with Plato.
THE END OF CHAPTER 1
Here ends Episode 1 of Crossdreamer: Journey into the Transdimension. If you want to facilitate the speedy conclusion of this novel, then please contribute to my Gofundme. I have been sent to this dimension to locate 500 elite Amazonian warriors banished to Earth 7 ?Unfortunately, unlike Kalia, I don’t have a platinum credit card and can’t afford to write full time and put food on the table for my pair of Earth 7 children. Visit Gofundme and help me complete my mission. Hugs.
Alternatively, buy the first few chapters…. (buy 3 copies!) Thanks.
Because the book rejects autog, the text is also included in this anthology… Buy it right here right now (Three bucks cheaper than Amazon. For confidentiality, the purchase is called “A Keats Anthology.”)