Chuck, You're Animated
by Steven Mayo
“And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus,
who because he could not grasp the tormenting,
mild image he saw in the fountain,
plunged into it and was drowned.”
He woke with a start, found himself upright, bracing with his arms, sweat-glistened chest heaving, frightened gulps, air was warm, settled on him like an extra blanket, all around him, night air, bed was soaked, manly imprints of moisture, felt like steam, held as suspended raindrops, like time stopped, sounds of wind chimes, oscillating, high bars are chipper, where am I, low bars are holding, resonant whispers, Chuck, you're, a flash, he scratched his head, weak with nausea, view like pointillism, door's ajar, drifting clang, won't stop ringing, did time stop…
“I had the weirdest dream last night.”
“Come off it, you have the weirdest dream every night.”
“No, this is different.”
“It's not different. It's not gonna be different.”
“Don't tell me now. If you tell me now then I'll have to hear it again…”
“…when you tell the old man, and then again when you tell Ma, and…”
“… then again when you tell Sis.”
“Spit before you speak.”
“I'm not tellin', okay?”
“Good, and while you're at it don't tell me later.
“You've got plenty of room!”
“You're a bowl hog!”
“Spit before you speak!”
“You'll have to hear it eventually.”
“No, I won't.”
“I hate you!”
“I hate you, too!”
Bill and Chuck vault down the stairs, former taller and older, latter shorter and younger, nineteen and seventeen, house is large, twenty-three rooms, three half-bath, the good part of town, Southerly Hills, Zanarkand City, they go to the kitchen, breakfast is served, eggs toast and bacon, smells delicious, old man reads the paper, sports section, Abes win again, favorites for the cup come this fall, star player seen with famous actress, again, a new one too, he doesn't greet them, Ma wonders where they've been, tells them eat, eat, she's frumpish and angry, like a turnip with a hangover, Sis is fourteen, pretty, almost too pretty, she never eats, Bill eats her share, Chuck eats a little, bouncing with excitement, nobody notices, Bill doesn't care…
Though even from its most eastern point you could discern distant waves of the beyond, only one part of Zanarkand really touched the sea. And so there existed only one beach, and this beach was always empty. Because in Zanarkand they do not care about the sea. It was the non-life, the absence of life, and there the towers could not stand. And so its water was alone, to them a distant poison, as if Mother Nature were her own apothecary, though they gave her no ingredients. They only filled her depths with remnants, the remains of the day,
of the water-way,
of the blitzball sphere put on display.
And so from high-rises, towers uneven like broken columns that hold their weight into the final days of an empire, great familiar falls, beacons of now, coursing down there sides like force fields, connecting the great bridges and roads, the people do not go to the beach, and the sea dwells and gets angry.
The bus stops, a gush of pressurized air, tired feet, clamoring, ready for leather backs and dozy chatter, test today, good mornin', how ya doin', keep it quiet now, click, gush…
“So let's hear it.”
“You mean it?”
“Jimmy's not here, I 'm bored.”
“Great! So, there was this…”
“But it better be different!”
“It's different, it's different!”
“Good, if it's not I will punch you in the face.”
“So there was this woman.”
“It was a different woman. She even spoke to me.”
“What'd she say?”
“Well, it kind of cut out at the end, like static on a movie sphere or something…”
“Was it a movie sphere?”
“Then what'd she say?”
“It's weird, but I think she said 'Chuck, you're animated.'”
“And she wore clothes like I've never seen, and…”
“Your dream woman told you that you're animated?”
“I think so.”
“Well, what's that supposed to mean, anyways?”
“I don't know, it's just a dream.”
“So what happened next?”
“Uh, that was it.”
“But it was so real!”
“I hate you!”
The Zanarkand Academy is the most prestigious educational facility in the world, and the leading provider of physicians, lawyers, and politicians. It's relatively small class could let out its breath because acceptance was near assurance of a wealthy life in the future. Academically, the Academy produced the champions in pentathlons on every subject, chess and sphere break, and brought every single academic grant to one of its members every single year. They release record highs on standardized tests, crushing the runner-up by 38%. There are only two downsides. First, because of the rigorous curriculum, the program has two extra grades, holding students until they're about twenty. Second, because the Academy has no blitzball team, nobody cares.
It's one of the largest facilities in all of Zanarkand, spanning four conjoint towers as tall as any in the city. Even citizens, the non-tourists, marvel at the great structures, the brilliant mixture of black and aquamarine down the sides, and the way the precisely directed spotlights make the waterfalls glimmer shades of deep red and purple. Each tower was topped with a holographic image of one of the four college founders. But the technology atop these towers could produce far more dramatic displays of light and sound, as proven every year by the show to accompany the homecoming chess tournament (the show was a class project for thirteenth grade engineering students).
The Academy was a great among greats, surrounded by the court house (the tallest building in Zanarkand and famous for being completely of concrete construction), the Mayor's office (a sharp spike of a building topped with jetting water currents that splayed into hanging gardens hundreds of feet wide) and even the blitzball stadium (which got so loud on game night that a dormitory student on the top floor of building three (the furthest away (and also the of the thickest build as it houses the physics lab)) would find himself unable to sleep over the noise (though more likely he would be at the game anyways (since students of the Academy don't have to study (money makes the world go round))).
Chuck was finishing up his eleventh year just as Bill was finishing up his thirteenth. Their marks were perfect, the teachers sent home beaming reviews, and there was even talk of Chuck skipping a grade, much to Bill's dismay. Sis went to the Academy but she didn't like buses and she got a ride with a friend. The bus didn't actually go to the Academy, it just had a stop close by. Students of the Academy were far too rich for buses, but the old man wouldn't let them have the car and wouldn't drive them himself. He wouldn't do anything actually. But what's it matter, the grades are right, the classes are right, the ducks are in a row. Yep, in Zanarkand, things are good.
Oh, it's you again... I want to know...
Maybe some answers this time… what…
I don't know what that means…
Could you speak up… animated…
Is that what you're trying to say… how…
How am I animated…
I want to understand you... Stop cutting out...
“I'm sick and I'm not going to school today.”
“Honey, try to at least eat some pancakes, what was that dear?”
“I said I'm not going to school today because I'm sick.”
“Come off it, what with?”
“I don't want any pancakes.”
“Well, you don't look sick to me, I think you'll be going.”
“Do what your mother tells you.”
“Mom, I don't want any pancakes.”
“Look, there's no reason to yell, but you seem perfectly healthy so unless...”
“Eat your pancakes!”
“...there's no reason for you to stay home and...”
“I'm not lying!”
“...worry your professors like that.”
“Worry my professors?”
“Would you look at that? Jecht's boy out for the season...”
“I don't like that tone, young man.”
“... with a broken hip. Not livin' up...”
“Dangerous waters, Chuckie.”
“I don't need to hear it from you either, mister.”
“Mom, I ate some pancakes, I'm leaving.”
“...to his old man that way.”
“Mom, I said I'm leaving.”
“The phone's ringing.”
“I haven't missed a day in ten years and I have perfect grades, I don't think...”
“The phone's ringing.”
“...that I'll worry...”
“Well maybe you should get off your big butt and answer it then. Hmph!”
“...anybody by missing one day.”
“Bill's never been sick, he's never missed school.”
“Shut up, Sis!”
“One second, please. Hey, I'm trying to use the phone!”
“Yes, I understand. My goodness!”
You should've seen it. They had to block off the bridges for a mile in each direction, not that you could use'em with all the debris. I hear that a chunk of one of the dorm beds was found three miles away from the site. Just try to picture it at least, a fifty story building pummeled down to a dusty stump, the millions of glass shards fanning out around it like the petals of a sunflower. All that rubble compressed to just about two stories of mush; that was Building One. Even better was Building Two, which still stood but looked crumpled-in like paper. It was running top to bottom with craters, big freakin' holes; I bet you could fit a house in some of'em. I took a picture and lookin' at it now I'm not sure what to think, what could have done it. It's like a meteor shower came and made it its punchin' bag. I had first period in that building; if I'd stayed in a friend's dorm as I sometimes do I'd be dead right now. And there's no witnesses, if you can believe that. At least, not one that they've found. I saw on TV that they've confirmed the bodies of over two-hundred individuals already. All of my professors are dead! Chuck got lucky that he didn't have to keep playing up that whole sick routine; it'll never work with Ma around. They're talking about canceling the semester and starting over, which my old man says is pretty damned inconvenient and I'm inclined to agree...
He shut the door, slid the lock into place, checked it, checked it again, steel and cold, in place, not a problem, removed his clothes, tired, bad sleep last night and one before, he does feel sick, like lava in his gut, lava mixed with pop rocks, new sheets, he pressed them corner to corner, house is quiet, he goes to bed last, these days he wakes up first, bad dreams, he picks up the old sheets, a crumpled pile of blue, still moist, grit in his hands, he looks, feels a light trickle, is that sand...
I'm ready for you this time... what does 'Chuck, you're animated' mean...
I can't hear you...
Stop cutting out...
Stop it... I want to hear you...
Who are you... what...
What does it mean... tell me...
Only one person in the entire history of people who get quoted made his quote about the sea. A star blitzball player, churning up the legacy of his old man, stunned a reporter before a wailing crowd when asked, “What's your favorite part of the game?” He smiled brashly, flicked the golden spikes of his hair still wet from the victory, and said, “Up at the top,” and he pointed high above the dome, where he might be going into his famous Mark III, then said, “That's where I can see the ocean.” He smiled devilishly and ran into the crowd that engulfed him as a coming wave would. And no more was spoken, and the sea was not paid...
Homage for the life it made...
The pity of the hands it stayed...
Lost to the human unrighteous cascade...
“I think she wants my help!”
“Don't crowd. Who?
“You know who!”
“The 'animated' lady?”
“That's three nights in a row!”
“Come off it, nobody in a dream wants help from anybody.”
“It's different now! She's, like, angry.”
“Your dream is angry? Chuck, I should...”
“Okay, you're right. Not angry. But she's desperate, like she wants me to do...”
“...something. Like she wants me to do something.”
“Ya know, hearing voices is a bad thing...”
“...and hearing a woman say 'Chuck, you're animated' is a very bad...
“I won't! What does she want you to do, then?
“Be animated, I guess!”
“Don't be smart.”
“I don't know yet, she keeps cutting out during 'animated'.”
“This is stupid.”
“There was a boy this time.”
“Yeah, he had blue hair.”
“Come to the beach with me.”
“Come to the beach with me.”
I guess he'd finally gotten me to the point of wanting the answers for myself, though every part of me that wasn't swayed into this way of thinking knew without a doubt that it was all a big waste of my time. Chuck was always going off and doing stupid things like this, trying to have adventures, failing at that. Don't ask me how he got the administration thinking about sending him up an extra grade. Of course, that whole administration is dead now, so it probably won't happen, at least that's good news. The tiny beach sits on a small jut in the ocean like a fingernail, for a pinky finger no less, and it's all but abandoned for what I can tell. And you shouldn't ask me just why he wanted to go to the beach 'cause at the time I couldn't tell you for the life of me. I knew, just knew, at the time, that I was about to miss my shows because of some pointless dream he had had. But I went with him because it wasn't a long walk and, like I said, I kind of wanted to know myself...
“You see'em?” Chuck asked frenetically, hopping over the rope gate and dashing off towards the sand. “You see'em, now?”
“See what?” Bill asked back, carefully climbing the gate as if it were a perilous act. The beach was pathetic against the great blue backdrop, heavy cylindrical buildings scuttling up to either side. It was only a few hundred yards wide and ridden with refuse of man and sea alike. The crystalloid granules were not a vibrant white or even a healthy amber but were dusty and moldy, darkened to a morose brown. The plains of sand were flat and lifeless.
“The footprints! Do you see the footprints?”
As he reached the edge of the beach Chuck jerked to a halt suddenly as if colliding with some invisible wall. And he head jaunted to and fro and he spun a bit, far too excited for a seventeen year old.
“You see'em, now?”
Bill, far more athletic and mannish, finally came up to where Chuck was bouncing and looked to the sand, and one couldn't miss the single row of footprints trailing up towards the sea, but ending just before the shore line.
“Okay, there's footprints. So what? It's a public place, Chuck.”
“No, don't you get it?” asked Chuck rhetorically and then he pulled one sandal off and jumped carefully to the closest print. Then, with an archeologist's care, he dropped the naked foot into the print and the soggy walls of the sand fit him snuggly as a glass slipper. “They're my footprints!”
For the briefest glimpse Bill was caught off guard, something he hated. He quickly recovered.
“If they're your footprints, then why did you bring me out here? Like I don't know you can make footprints!”
“No, they're mine, but I never came to the beach.” Chuck's brown eyes puffed up like a dog's, pleading for understanding, but Bill backed off a bit, trying to distance himself from the stupidity.
“If they're yours then you did come to the beach, so stop playing these silly games. I'm tired, I'm going back.”
“Wait, please, wait!” Chuck was desperate; his pleas shrill, almost as if he were crying. He momentarily forgot about the mysterious prints and ran around the head off his brother, and then pressed him back at the chest. “This has to do with the woman!”
“No more about the woman! 'Chuck, you're animated' has nothing to do with anything!” Bill tried his best to make it a spit of fury, but the foundations were cracking, he was becoming afraid. The row had lost some ducks.
“The woman wants my help! I know it! She wants something from me!”
“It's a dream, Chuck! I'm gonna tell Ma that your loosing it!”
“I think she's been trying to warn me about the sea!”
“There's nothing in the sea!”
“There is! And it's huge, and it's coming! And ... and ... and I think I'm going to be a part of its destiny!” Chuck screamed it and then fell into hurt asthmatic gasps.
“Come off it! I'm really getting sick of this!”
“You've got to believe me!”
“Nobody is going to believe you!”
“They will, they will! Just as soon as the woman finishes her message and I know what she's trying to tell me.”
“Just shut up!” Bill screeched and swung his right fist around, socking Chuck so hard in the cheek that he back somersaulted into a sprawled mass on the sand. Chuck did not move.
Bill thought he had remembered wind not moments before but now it was deathly still, even so that the ocean didn't seem to shift back and forth but rather lay dormant like a frozen lake. And the distant call of machinery and birds eased up and there was no sound. Bill cradled one fist in the other, but then felt ashamed for it and dropped it to the side, absorbing the pain. Chuck was not so vain, and he did cup his hurt jaw with a palm, but did not cry or move, Bill could only hope his eyes were open. He had to speak, had to say something.
“There's no trail leading back.”
“What?” asked Chuck after a little time, a time wrought with anxiety for the other.
“For the footprints; there's no trail leading back.” Bill's voice was low and unsteady.
“Huh,” said Chuck, solemnly, “I guess you're right.”
He shut the door, slid the lock into place, checked it, checked it again, checked it one more time, it's locked, it's locked, now stay locked, door's ajar every morning, he's afraid, he removed the ice pack from his jaw, needs new ice, jaw hurts, probably bruised tomorrow, he sat on the bed, new sheets, Ma's starting to wonder, he doesn't want to sleep, he's afraid, bad dreams, doesn't know what it means, knows it means something, it's changing him, he's more than he knows, or at least he thinks, he lays down his head, pillow is cold, all things are cold, he closes his eyes, lids are black, he's afraid...
Stop cutting out! Stop cutting out! Stop cutting out!
Stop cutting out! Stop cutting out! Stop cutting out! Stop cutting out!
Stop cutting out! Just tell me! Stop cutting out! Now, tell me! Who is that! Stop cutting out! How!
Stop cutting out! How am I animated! Stop!
Ow! Hey! Stop cutting out!
Who's that! Where am I! What is this place!
The world all around was endless and yet it closed in on him so close that it strangled him, he couldn't breathe, didn't need to breathe. He was so distant from himself, like his eyes had been torn from his body and sent worlds away but still he received the image. The gray statues beaming with angry electricity, surging through, shocking him and making his chest hurt. So his heart must also be here, maybe all of him was here. It was a wall of them, statues writhed between statues, they looked in pain, having bad dreams of their own. So many of them, so much pain, they are tired. He couldn't move no matter how hard he tried and he wanted to shut his eyes away from this world of hurt before him but his eyelids must have stayed behind. He couldn't' even move. For a second the cries, the anguish, reached his ears, which also now inhabited this world, and he started to sing in his mind to fight them off. He didn't want to hear the screaming, didn't want to hear they're anguish. He wanted to choke himself out. But he couldn't because he also wanted to help them. Somehow he had the power. He saw a statue, no, a mirror. He saw himself, no, just another statue. Or could it be ... he knew...
“I understand! I understand! I understand! I understand you, now!”
“Chuck, Chuck, what's wrong? You're gonna scare everyone half to...”
“No, I understand now. I understand what she wants!”
“...death. Huh? The 'animated' lady?”
“I get it!”
“She stopped cutting out?”
“Cutting out? She's not cutting out!”
“No, she's saying exactly what she means to say.”
“Chuck, you're animated?”
“I can help her.”
“Is that what...”
“I can help her and I'm going to!”
“You're not helping anybody in this state!”
“Bill, don't you get it, it's my story, it's my story...”
“You're story is get out of bed and don't give Ma a heart attack. She's under...”
“But ... but...”
“...enough stress as it is!”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You really are oblivious. Did you ever think about what else might be...”
“What time is it?”
“...going on in the world? Did you?”
“What do you mean? What?”
“There was an attack in downtown today, just like at school. A whole...”
“...bunch of buildings just beaten to a pulp, like a gladiator went at'em.”
“Covered in craters and everything, like Building Two.”
“And they found witnesses this time but you know what?”
“I don't want to know.”
“They're all blind! They all went blind!”
“Just leave me alone, I don't want to know about it.”
“You don't have to get defensive.”
“I'm not getting ... how did you get in here?”
“The door was open.”
“I ... just leave me alone...”
“Chuck, is that sand?”
“There, on the sheets, is that sand?”
“There's no ... forget it, just leave me alone.”
“How did you get...”
“Just get out! Get out! Get out!”
“Well I couldn't even tell ya what I was thinking when I said it, it just seemed like the thing to say, and I didn't get much response to it, so I never worried. It's true, I can tell ya that much. I guess people don't think about it much, but the sea is just damn huge, and it can't all be for nothin'. It brings the rain, it's the source of all water on the planet, so I should thank it that I can play blitzball at all. See it? Well, I've just always had this feeling about the sea, like I'm part of it, like one day I rose out of it, or that I might rise out of it in the future. I know, I know, it's crazy, but, well, it's a crazy world, isn't it...”
“Chuck, you've got to come out of there. It's been hours now.” Nothing from within. Bill couldn't drag himself away from the door. Not moments after Chuck had fought him back, his brother had locked the door and then did who knows what. Bill had spent the afternoon pacing the hallway, giving sentry to the door like a stationed guard, imploring desperately at first but now only trying for access every half-hour or so. His calls were pretty much the same, unless he could think of some new persuasion, but nothing worked. Only once did his brother answer anything back:
“Chuck, you've got to...”
“Call me the Dark One!”
But Bill could get nothing after that, as messed up as it was.
It was dark now, fallen into the late summer night. Earlier in the afternoon Bill had heard horrendous amounts of noise coming from within, sounds like hammers, sounds of scrapes and grunts. But it had died about an hour ago, just as the horizon was displaying the last corners of its palette before settling in for the night.
“Chuck, please answer me, this is ridiculous.”
Ma was about the house, cleaning something no doubt, and the old man was warming his arm chair as he did every night. They didn't seem to have taken much interest in Chuck's situation. Sis had been out with friends all day. It was up to Bill, how could Chuck do this to him?
“Look, I'm sorry I hit you, I didn't mean it and I feel really bad.”
“Tell me about the woman. Come on, I want to know. What did she say last night? What do you understand?”
“If you would just open up, maybe I could even help you. I want to.”
Bill spun quickly as an orchestra played a hit in his chest, it faded quickly. The old man stood at the top of the stairway, looking down the long hall at him, covered in shadows.
“Step aside, Bill, I've had enough. We're gonna break the damn thing in.”
Bill hadn't seen the old man standing for as long as he could remember, so he couldn't help but childishly back-step as the old man walked down the hallway and faced the door. Without a word more he lifted his boot high and stomped his way through...
He flinched from the cracking frame, jumped before the old man, looked around, nothing, no one, room was pale, like it was covered in white saw dust, debris on the floor, like concrete, bed was a mess, room was a mess, articles of everything strewn about, he walked further in, balled his fists, he was angry, a gust of wind, the window's ajar, he rushed to it, same old scene, the old man did nothing, then turned, walked away, what's happened, he's angry, a flicker of white, paper, a note, he snatched it up, like a starving dog, he read it, I'm going to help the woman, that's it, he's angry, but where, where to go, it was warm in there, so warm, the beach, he's gone to the beach, he's sure of it...
So he's gone now, probably forever. I still can't tell you what to make of anything at the moment, but I probably won't be alive to tell you. I got to the beach, but I didn't find him there, not that I didn't find something. It was huge even, bigger than him, and made of concrete. I don't know how he got it here. It was a statue, incredible detail, a winged creature writhing with pain, bound by chains, and a face that, well, I think he put some of himself into it. He went crazy in those last days, didn't he? I only wish I'd have time to understand it, but something's happening now that I can't describe. Like all the sea has woken and is coming to get us. It started as a low bulge and then grew into a huge tsunami, and now to this very moment it's charging us. I would have rather ended my time at the game, there's one right now. Oh yeah, and he signed, or at least he tried to, but I think he ran out of time, it's only half done...
Chuck, you're anima...