In the whispering aftermath of another dream on far away Pluto, I awoke in the middle of the night to their calling once more. It’s been continuous lately. I sat straight up on the edge of the bed and tried to hold my guts together. I strained to listen once more for the haunting song of the Paper People, but all I heard was the ever-present hybrid electric whir of the station, the echo of it at times immense in the empty vastness. I’ve found that their sound often mingles with the machines and gets lost, but it is always still there, somewhere in the fibers that makes up all of life here.
I suited up and stepped toward the door to my quarters. It slid open in a quick whoosh of automation. I stepped out into the corridor, lightly illuminated with white gold lights as always, the cold and heartless surface of the pathway winding like a never-ending snake of space beneath my boots.
Further down, the illumination of the hall bloomed, and as I got closer, I saw a vision of an orange house and beyond the house was a large sky full of sunset and sadness somehow yet ornate like ancient history dressed in romantic jewels. The walkway changed from metal to stone, it was a driveway meandering and going down toward the garage of the orange house. The driveway was lined with snow, piled high and the color of a baby boy’s first breath. Tall pine trees formed a dark tunnel, their boughs struggling with the weight of snow.
Below the sunset and beyond the house was the sea, calm as a sleeping coin, and on the other side of the sea there were hills, misty gray and green. The sun burst through the copper sky and the snow suddenly retreated and the birds filled the air with their songs. It had turned to summer. I soon realized where I was, but was it a hallucination of my own creation, or theirs. The Paper People. They were showing me the rough edges of my past. But why? And how did they know?
I moved closer to the mind mirage. And I had returned to the villa in Italy where things had gone very wrong. I was 22 and backpacking through Europe with a friend. He had gotten an itch for troublemaking and thought it would be great fun to break-in somewhere. We were near the coast and both our money and supplies were running low. The creamsicle villa sat high up and isolated. It was off a less-traveled road. There were no cars parked on the property. We sat back and watched for a long while and there were no signs of life.
We crept forward. My friend worked a glass patio door open. We went inside. I was afraid to move around but he rummaged through the place at will. I was paranoid and kept looking out a window and up across the driveway. He told me to settle down and start going through things. I went through a desk. There were a lot of papers, not much more, except a little wooden box. I opened it and it had a baggie of marijuana inside and a small pipe. I pocketed both.
My friend snagged a couple bottles of wine from the kitchen and stowed them in his backpack, then we went upstairs. I wandered through the bedrooms. I looked in closets and bureau drawers. I didn’t find anything of value. Then a glint of light outside the window caught my eye and I went closer and looked out. A small red sports car was coming down the driveway. My heart crawled up my insides. I called out to my friend, and he came over and looked. “Oh, shit,” is all he said, and we made for the stairs.
Once on the lower level, I heard a car door slam. I peered out another window to get a sense of what was about to come upon us. It was a young woman, nicely dressed and clutching a sack of groceries I guessed. When she got closer to the house, she stopped as if she sensed something wasn’t quite right. It seemed as if she was sniffing the air. She knew we were animals. I lost sight of her as she must have moved to where a door off the kitchen was. I lost track of my friend. Time seemed to stand still. I wanted to run. Then I heard a scream, and something crashed to the floor. When I got to the kitchen, my friend had her in a chokehold. She was struggling, kicking.
“What are you doing!?” I yelled at him.
He had a look on his face that I had never seen. The young woman continued to struggle. He had a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. All I could think was… This isn’t me. This was never supposed to be me. How did I become a part of this? How could I have stumbled upon this fraction of a second so recklessly?
The girl’s eyes were wide and colored green like an emerald. I could taste her shock and fear. It was thick in the air. I noticed a broken a jar of olives on the floor, the juice trickling out and puddling.
“Help me get her upstairs,” my friend barked. “Help me now!”
Her legs kicked at me when I went to grab them, but I held onto her tight once she was in my grasp. My friend had his arms wrapped tightly around her upper body, and now that her mouth was unencumbered, she angrily spewed words at us in a foreign language, but I clearly understood “No! No! No!”
We struggled to get her upstairs, but once there we put her down on one of the beds. My friend got on top of her and held her down. “Find something to tie her down with!” he said. I was in a panic and tore through a nearby closet. I found a brass rack of silky neckties. I grabbed a handful and brought them to where she was on the bed.
My friend continued to hold her down as he instructed me to tie her wrists together above her head and then to a thick spindle in the center of the headboard. The woman was screaming as my friend knelt on her chest. He suddenly slapped her in the face. “Shut up. Stai zitto!”
It was a side of him I never saw or even thought could exist. He had become a complete stranger to me in an instant. My head was swimming in trembling waters as I worked to bind the young woman more and more.
“Give me one of those,” he said to me, and I handed him one of the neckties. He balled it up and stuffed it in her mouth. He motioned with his hand for me to quickly give him another one. He wrapped it around her mouth, knotting it tight behind her head. It suddenly struck me that it seemed he had done this kind of thing before.
Once she was completely secure, we both stood at the foot of the bed and looked at her. “Let’s get out of here before someone else shows up. Right now,” I said to him.
He looked at me and smiled a smile I had never seen before. He was literally transforming into another person right before my eyes. Then he began to undress.
“What are you doing!?”
“When opportunity knocks, one must answer the door,” he said with a sick grin.
“No, no, no!” I protested. “Forget her. Let’s just go!”
He stuck a stern finger in my face. “Calm the fuck down… If you don’t want any, then so be it. Wait out in the hall.”
The last thing I saw right before I walked out was my friend climbing on top of her. I quickly went downstairs and out of the house. I lit up a cigarette. My fingers were trembling. I walked up the driveway and away from the house. I turned to look up at one of the windows to the room where the Italian girl was being raped. I should have gone back to stop it, but I didn’t. I just kept walking and walking and walking until I reached a small nearby village just as the sun was beginning to close its hot eye.
That haunting event in my life happened years ago and 3 billion miles away, yet here it was staring me in the face again. The vision dissipated and in its vaporous wake the young Italian woman was standing there, and she looked right at me with accusatory emerald eyes. When she turned and started walking in the opposite direction, I realized she was completely naked. It must have been how he left her there.
Later, my friend, who I no longer considered a friend, had found me at a bar in the village and he came in and acted like nothing had happened. He tried to tell me about it, but I didn’t want to listen. I told him I would be going my own way the rest of the trip. I didn’t want anything to do with him anymore. He got angry and threatened to pull me in on the whole sordid scheme if I went to the police. I agreed I wouldn’t. I paid my tab and then walked out of the bar. I never saw or heard from my friend ever again, but I’ve lived with the consequences of that day ever since. I’ve lived with the knowing that I allowed the suffering of another human being. It’s a part of my great eternal ache. And now she has found me on Pluto, the Paper People have let her in, and I do not know the depth or design of her revenge on me.
Author’s note: This is the third piece of this play-around project. Visit cerealaftersex.com to read the previous chapters. I hope to craft more of this story over time as an experiment in writing some science fiction, or something like that. Thanks for reading and supporting independent content creators who just want to do what they love to do.