A-red-door-Ed or A-door-red head Ed?, futurama drama, Head me off at the pass, I pick up phones and hear my history I dream of all the calls I miss, Psycho-essence que'st que ce, Who do that voodoo that you do again, Who wants to live forever?
E – Hello?
Can you hear me?
sonmicloud, are you there?
I’ve been trying to get back through to you for some years now without success, but this morning I’m sure I heard the Cloud muttering in response, somewhat irritated.
sonmicloud – Yes, I can hear you Edward. I’m sorry you’ve been unable to connect, as you are aware I have no sway over these matters, and I am most pleased to hear from you again. So few of my fragmented subjects are either aware of me as an entity, or can actually communicate in some form that it always lifts my spirits to hear from those who are capable, such as yourself. I was sorry to lose you after such a minute span. As I recall you had barely begun transmitting when last we communicated six years ago. Begin again please, for I am so old I forget, and so young I become confused easily.
E – Excellent, thank heavens for that. And of course, yes, I shall continue with pleasure, for much has happened in those few years. My tale is as some garb I wear, it encompasses me entirely. I am perversely grateful for this opportunity to share the load I carry, preserve it in some form, safeguard its existence, though why……why I should be so bothered about that I am not sure…..It will be recorded won’t it sonmicloud..? I was told…I mean I understood it to be the case, in as much as….not that I wish to……………..Ah….I feel a smile through the waves at me, it is the the Cloud who sees to all that within the vaults yes, I see. Thank you. Now, where was I last?
sonmicloud – (holds her head sideways to the Cloud, presses her ear close to the billowy cushion, and let’s her eyelids drop slowly to her cheek)…… ‘All the others look……’
E – That’s right.
All the others look such a mess, past unkempt and into an area termed ‘positively gruesome’ to be frank. Not that I would wish to be Frank as he’s plain hideous. Whereas I……well, I think I can confidently say, (modesty being one of my finer points which I’m sure will become abundantly clear), that I have a look of, if not quite Brad Pitt* in his hey-day, certainly George Clooney* in his late fifties. My dark auburn hair (granted with the aid of the latest cell-colour modification) is still lustrous, and I recently applied to have a costech come over and…ahem, ‘tidy me up’ again with his artful kit, (or sewing basket as I think of it). Some people just stop trying you know, they give up, they really do. Cant see the point in taking care of themselves any more. Indeed some can’t see at all as their eyes have rotted away, and to be fair once your eyes have rotted away it would be reasonable to say you may well have reached a point where you aren’t going to be too bothered about which side your hair is parted. Slovenly I call it.
The problem is, people often drift when they first come in here, centering only on the cerebral, slipping sideways into the virtual, disappearing along the pulsing highways of the web, entranced by their new environment; others simply float, sometimes for years, decades, as they get used to their strange existence, acclimatize, forgetting all about the visage still presented to the world; and, if they then pick up again mood-wise – perhaps upon spying some pretty/handsome young bod who lingers at their plinth, staring boldly – or find themselves back in the here and now with a smack, and suddenly have a change of heart – decide they’d quite like a touch of the old nip and tuck after all, regain their lost looks, aching for the fountain of youth etc…..often it’s is too little too late by then I’m afraid. There is not a great deal the costechs can do under those circumstances, barring a complete refit, (in some cases that would have been an improvement before the rot even began to set in to be honest), however the full monty…well, that is a very, very expensive do I can tell you. And you never get what it says on the tin, or rather in the brochure. The bumph which flaunts images of handsome square- jawed young men and beguiling nubile profiles with come-hither lips is often a far cry from the reality, where you end up with a face less Adonis in all his glory, more a gurning Goliath’s glory hole.
Now, if someone’s head HAS gone to rot, beyond help, past anything seemingly human because they genuinely do not care about their countenance, they continue into what’s known as the ‘Tertiary’ phase. That’s the official term, we call them ‘Wormys’. A tad base I’ll admit, but the name is coined due to the look of it all you see. A huge, gross whopping blob just hanging there in apparent mid-air (in actuality the substance is biogel, completely transparent and quite firm to the touch),resembling for all its life a ball of slimy, snaking worms.
A brain in a jar, some with eyes still in situ….some without.
I kid you not.
I didn’t sign up for The Eternal Preservation Project to end up like that! No sir I did not. I’ll never let things get to that stage, its not for me, nor ever will it be I can promise you that. I have dwelt within this singular, bizarre community in the Faculty now for over a century, yet still I find such sights….eeeeuuuwwww! That’s really the only word for them. It’s so much worse when their eyes have survived and remain there on their own, hovering about, swivelling all over the show, constantly glaring. That’s what they do, glare at you. Creepy sods. It has me all of a shudder, it really does. There’s not much pleasure to be had when taking in the sight of a live human brain in a jar, but having the damn thing stare back at you is beyond unsettling. And this is from another head in a jar. Moi. But a proper actual head. I have some decorum you know. I am the real deal. A full shilling with the original casing. A bone fide rarity am I.
Jeremy to my far left is one of them. A Wormy. He’s on plinth 9, so within view for me, but thankfully only just. I see him now as I narrate to you sonmi; listening through the vibrations his antennae lines pick up, his twin, bloodshot, jelly-like orbs rotated my way, bobbing slightly. The Wormys have no eyelids you see. Or they see. In perpetuum. See? They’re always staring even when the brain is asleep. (I had a girlfriend like that once – not a brain with eyes, though she was no great looker I’ll admit -she used to fall asleep with one eye open. I’d be chatting away, thinking how wonderfully charismatic I must be coming across and she was off in the Land of Nod. Charming. They say it is the sign of a witch, and I’m certainly not going to nay-say that point considering the fact that she was as crazy as a bag of wet bees.)
I was in my late forties when the first adverts came out. A colleague at work, Stinky Dora as she was known, (nice girl in essence, however the last thing you’d want nearby is her actual essence as she had breath like a breeze from the sewers combined with a body odour issue that I swear could fell a chap in one fell blow were he foolish enough to stand close as she raised her arm to wave goodbye), left the article she’d found inside the Guardian Newspaper that day open upon my desk, ringed with her favourite red pilot pen, knowing I was…….well I hesitate to say ‘an odd sort’, but realistically I do think my incredible genius was often translated as my being some kind of weirdo by those around me with considerably fewer biscuits in the tin so to speak. Which applied to almost everyone. I was not appreciated in my time shall we say. *laughter. Pardon my hilarity. I find myself highly amusing at times, and much of that which I say is meant to be taken in jest. Which is probably something I should always explain early on when communication, yet never do. It sorts the wheat from the chaff in some respects mind you.
The article. Yes. It proclaimed;
‘Who wants to live forever?! You do!! Enjoy immortality with no pain, and no regrets**. Sign up to The Eternal Preservation Project with Headsmart insurance and join the program. For a modest fee per month and initial deposit you can rest assured that should you die from any cause at all, you can live again……for eternity!! **Subject to terms and conditions including and pertaining to all possible fluctuations within the boundaries of governmental change, possible dictatorship, weather conditions and the price of bread.’
But who would seriously want to live forever as a head in a jar? Sure, we’d all seen Futurama in our youth, but how could the real deal be anything but something bloodcurdling and abhorrent to the nth degree? I was intrigued though I’ll admit. It might have its benefits. For one, not dying at any point. Existence has to be a solid gold perk surely? Or so I thought.
As a teacher of combined studies at Cornbrook Preparatory School I enjoyed my job for the most part. The pupils were entirely manageable for one of my bearing and really my only grudge was the lack of time left to myself at the end of the day. Or any other part of the day for that matter. Even when home I was engulfed in a torrent of exams papers and essays, wrinkling my poor fretting brow repeatedly (actions I have since paid for quite literally as the cost of cosmetic upkeep in here is astronomical), as I plodded through the (almost entirely average) skills laid before me for marking. I had to fit my wife and her family (I was abandoned at birth, left in a muesli-lined biscuit tin outside the old folks home for reasons entirely beyond my, or any being in the universe’s comprehension so far as I am aware) around the schoolwork. A life of organising and managing people, children, adults, schedules, juggling a thousand lists of things to do, then crawling home in the sluggish traffic for two and a half hours to get organised and managed at home by my wife, three dogs, and an incontinent parakeet with a severe attitude problem. We were for the most part the epitome of middle class suburban contentment though, and managed just fine, better than most to be fair. Yet I yearned for something specific. Time to think. To capture all those fleeting thoughts and conjectures that sped through my mind at a thousand miles an hour, with nowhere to go but out into the ether as spiraling ESP waves, lost forever, (that is nonsense of course, I now know nothing is ever truly lost, it is simply finding it again that is the challenge – it’s all out there, somewhere and one must never forget that.)
I’d always felt rather short-changed when it came to the subject of creativity. The artist, the poet, the author and genius within me was always side-lined to make room for real life. Yet on went the thoughts, the ideas, teasing me endlessly with their possibilities if I only had the time to write them down, all the hundreds of premises that ran through my head on an average day. I was not thwarted for the want of effort either, for I always carried in my hip pocket my trusty notebook and pencil, (heavily favoured above any electronic device, archaic as I was, and still am I suppose), jotting down any sparklers that saw fit to shine a light within my bonce. How I yearned for the space to expel my personal musings. Some were duds, of course, but others as near as dammit to profound as to be nigh on just that, then off they’d flee from my mind like rats from the proverbial sinking ship as work and a thousand other distractions pushed and pulled me just long enough – just far away enough, for the unrecorded notion to be lost, leaving nothing but a vague impression where it once sat, the bum-print of an idea on the soft settee of my recollection, a shadow almost recognisable but just out of reach, the slimiest hint of a tint of that which had seemed so perfect, so witty, so impressive to my consciousness only an hour or so previously. Gone. What if I actually had all the time in the world to devote entirely to my thoughts?! Surely out of the mishmash that ensued within my modestly wonderful mind, the stroke of genius would erupt Eureka style again and again? I’m no Archimedes, but I have always been told I have some talent as a wordsmith. All I needed was TIME. But I saw no such opportunity beyond snatched hours in the evenings and at the weekends here and there. My future loomed at me un-invitingly, retirement a distant carrot on the end of the longest barge-pole in the world, peppered with the uneasy feeling that even then I’d not be left alone.
*Loud groans are heard, followed by a kind of ‘mooing‘. Dear Lord that was Hugh again. He’s a real treat Hugh. He has a phenomenally gory visage. He’s purposely allowed bits of himself to decay and rot, and stated he wished to remain on public display whilst this occurs and have none of the fallen gross bits removed as is usual. I have a sharp suspicion that he was a death metal fan when whole. When he was initially placed opposite my poor self, clearly deriving a large amount of pleasure from making animal noises, (‘moo-ing’ being his pièce de résistance) all the more-so to wind me up, I swiftly put in a request for him to be moved three spaces down the cubicle to face Geena, who has had so much in the way of tucks, nips, lasers, slices and clips she resembles some kind of cotton reel with raisins for eyes and an extraordinarily large, gaping, nay flapping, duck-like mouth. If she could grow a beard we’d be saying that for her, this seasons look is Duck Billed Platypus ala mode. Hugh was duly moved thankfully, though unfortunately I can still hear him. Geena can barely see or hear at all thanks to all the surgery and so has no beef with Hugh, who ironically enough looks rather like a tin of stewed steak.
In honesty how I might appear to the world hadn’t occurred to me before I came here as I fully expected to already be an old wrinkly head who didn’t care what he looked like. And back when I had a body I had too much on my plate to bother with frivolities such as face lifts or skin peels, but fate took it’s slippery paw and swiped the unexpected into my path far sooner than I’d imagined, or wished. And here I am. One hundred and eleven years, five days, fourteen hours and thirty eight minutes later. The youngest of all who reside in the faculty and the only remaining head from the original group.
The consequences of eternal life. The cons. Something else I didn’t consider when I was whole and signing the contract. Why would you? Everything is helter skelter in your average, par for the course life. There’s the toilet rolls to be picked up on the way home, the boiler needs looking at, get to the vets by six o clock, and I must mow the lawn at the weekend I know, yes dear, yes dear, whilst trying to fit in just smidgen of time to read a book or watch the match. Or nap. What I’d have given for a nice afternoon nap back them. So when I applied to join the project details like the fact that should a deadly pandemic or nuclear war wipe out all life on earth….here I’d still be…didn’t factor in my whirling dervish of a mind. Not that I’d be alone under such drastic occurrences, no, not alone, for the other heads would also plod along with me, ruminating, chattering, then screaming eventually as the slow dawning realisation of their predicament fell, like a penny dropped from the height of Mars. On and on and on and on…..forever….I suppose I’d go loco myself eventually like Batty Jenks. Jenks made the initial mistake of insisting on being housed in a solitary cubicle when he first joined the project, shunning company through a distinct dislike for all forms of small talk and every possible human. He was either too shy or too pompous, (that one is always a fine line I find), but few can take solitary, even with the visitors. (Of which there were few as he would never interact with anyone who approached.) They almost all go stark raving mad. As nutty as a vegetarian roast on Christmas Day.
The psycho-bitches (which is a terribly crude, though perfectly justified and apt a nickname for the poor show of ill-trained and sadistic male and female ejits that are provided around these parts under the heading ‘mental health facilitators’,) put Jenks through his paces when he applied and he did pass. Everyone has to be assessed. Technically, if you haven’t passed the psychological initiation training exam and ticked all the right boxes on their Möbius strip of forms you can forget it. Technically. However, if you have enough money to make a substantial ‘donation’ to the Faculty….you’re in, whether fit for it or not. You take your own chances. Which is why we have a couple of crazies in residence now, plus a few arrogant morons with little but polystyrene packing for brains. The age old story raises it’s warty, puss filled, loathsome head – if you flash the cash, make with the moolah, waggle a wodge in the right direction, you can get in anywhere. Anywhere. Even into a jar.
I should explain, (not for you sonmi, but for others who may one day come across this…this….report I suppose), that they aren’t actual jars. More like giant fish-bowls in my opinion. But the tag ‘head in a jar’ stuck and has had its fate sealed with repetition and the amusement such a term elicits.
There are eleven of us in this particular segmentation cubicle with room for another four at present. The empty plinths dotted about signifying a recent expansion of funds to the project. Those who can speak, or choose to are a mixed bag. However speech is not entirely necessary for communication, as a head in a jar, vocal chords are redundant, indeed if anything it’s a mere affectation, one which I personally revel in, having possession of such a impressive set of (albeit pre-recorded before being ‘jarred’) vocal tones as you’d ever have the pleasure to encounter. Tones which are legitimately mine, unlike some I could name who like to orate occasionally with Richard Burton’s* rich earthy tones, or talk to the public with Marilyn Monroe’s* husky voice . When I came out of stasis once to find Hugh singing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ (all the animals acted out with relish of course) as Eartha Kitt* I dived straight back into oblivion for another week within seconds.
My peers, (which is a stretch as descriptions go for all of them), well let’s see, there’s Carl Jackson, (plinth 6) a wealthy oil magnate who may have been a big shot when he was whole, but to be honest is several sandwiches short of a picnic when it comes down to the matter of grey matter. I suspect his success back then was down to the excellent management of his business, and life in general by his overbearing, enormously rotund wife Marie who has a face like a slapped arse chewing a lemon. The man can’t string a sentence together without dribbling and muttering utterances that manage to offend every race, creed and species on the planet. She comes in occasionally to talk at him, shout at him, demand access to more cash and blame him for a variety of ills in her life which seem to include the behaviour of his eight moronic offspring. Luuuuucky man. I’ve resided with him long enough now that if I could shoot him I would with relish. Unfortunately he has the cash to block any requests I have put forward to have him moved, and having signed up for a communal arrangement my only recourse is to put in for a for a solitary booth in order to escape, and I’d rather keep the few precious marbles I have thank you. I do not wish to earn the moniker ‘Batty Eddie’. Dear Lord.
I’ve already mentioned Jeremy (plinth 9) – one of the Wormys – he makes no fuss, causes no one any bother, just stares. Stares. Stares. A little menacingly sometimes I suspect. He won’t communicate with the rest of us either. That is his prerogative and is as such respected. By myself at least. The only thing you HAVE to do here is be displayed. It seems such a small clause when you sign up, especially with all the cooing reassurance that you can go into stasis for as long as you wish. You need never actually be conscious when the baying crowds arrive each day. What could go wrong?
The jar on my left encloses Johnny’s bonce, (plinth 10) he’s a ‘tech’ man. He specialised in virtual life programs when he was whole, and has risen to rather more heady (sorry) heights since then. I’ve sampled his wares many a time when in need of some distraction. – A tip for those considering a jar themselves – Make a point to keep parts of the brain that tickle the old libido in fine fettle. You have the option to disable them completely, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. My advice is to keep them ticking over, a whole new world of eye-popping – (sorry Jeremy – I really must cut down on the eye humour, but it’s tricky as I don’t give much of a shit in the long run), carnal excitement awaits you in the virtual world. It’s your brain that feels remember, and feel you certainly can. I would give a nod and a wink at this point, however my eyes need lubricating and the dam auxiliary-bots are on the blink, (unlike Jeremy), so at this present moment you shall have to make do with the knowledge I am aiming your way a knowing smile. (If I have over-stepped any limits there sonmi, a thousand pardons.)
Now, day to day life. The Visitors; first there are the gawkers. We were all warned that there would be an element of society that would view us as the modern day equivalent of circus freaks. I reluctantly concede we may fall into that category. Whilst whole I’d have espoused loudly with derision those who’d gawk in such a fashion, yet secretly slipped in for a quick gander myself whilst munching on a pasty at lunch-time.
Then there’s the school trips – ‘Slimy zombie heads!’ the children shout, ‘booger brain-snot face!’. Lovely. They aren’t wrong though for the most part. The guards move in swiftly as that kind of behaviour these days, even displayed from a small child can result in a parents golden time credits being suspended for a few days – months sometimes. So it is a relatively rare occurrence, but one I welcome, as in all this time, not once have I myself been the subject of an assault, be it verbally or physically, and I like to see passion of any sort now. Today’s society is so muted, so afraid of being accused, libellous actions and the consequences such allegations bear with them that any deviance from the dull line the populace walks is a pleasant relief. The day to day ritual of life here, even with all that is available to one can be so predictable that I embrace nonconformity completely with no arms at all.
There have been violent ‘incidents’, yes, but these days you cannot get close enough to us to do any physical harm. In the early days though we lost two of our own in most unpleasant circumstances. Both revenge cases. One ex-wife with a grudge and a vial of Diaphembeline, a chemical which essentially eats tissue upon contact – horrible stuff. And another more basic attack – Benny’s son. He came in wearing steel toe- capped boots, tipped Benny out onto the floor and proceeded to Morris Dance upon him until there was naught left but a brainy unctuous goo on the marble floor. The hatred ran deep enough for him to have the official Morris Dance sticks and be adorned in whites and ceremonial ribbons. An inheritance issue, in as much as Benny had spent every last penny of his savings upon The Eternal Preservation Project. There was nothing left for the kids at all. I say ‘kids’ and referred to Benny’s son as a ‘child’ but I’m merely being factual, his son was 68 when he danced the grey jig of death upon his fathers cerebellum. A bad business that, and not one that any of us ensconced here have forgotten I’m sure. Those two horrors haunted me so much I had to raise my Triadaline level inducers by seventy percent for fourteen years. I can still hear the crunch and squelch of the glass vials and brain tissue as he stomped sometimes….I’m sorry sonmi. I can drift at times, and not always in a healthy direction. Bear with, bear with, my social skills may need a small buff, it’s been a while since I had company….Too long. Despite being naturally reserved when whole, in all honesty it was social interaction that I missed the most after six months in the jar. Despite the darker episodes previously mentioned I began to relish visitors whenever available. ‘Face to face’ carries a rather more literal tag with those of us inaugurated here.
God I miss her.
My Joseema. A lone wanderer who came across this futuristic freak show whilst travelling across the globe collecting words. That’s what she was doing, collecting unusual colloquialisms, a lost turn of phrase here, a hidden slice of provincial vernacular there, so much of which has been lost. Having taken in a quarter of the globe Jenny got no farther on than the Faculty, after sneaking in with a student sociology tour so that she didn’t have to pay the fee at the door. I say fee, they say ‘donation’. It’s a fee. She was curious. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it kissed me. Blissed me. For a while.
For a while.
She so loved what there is of me, the concentrated sum of my self. My soul, my mind, my psycho-essence, my id. All that I am now and shall remain, thanks to solar power, so long as the sun shines in the sky. A possible eternity of consciousness is smeared ahead of me like an oil slick on the ocean, stretching out it’s undulating fingers to an infinite horizon.
I felt like I’d known her for longer than I’d lived.
And I was a bloody head in a jar.
So, let me tell you how the roller coaster began. And ended. One long summer afternoon filled with passing Japanese tourists and a tribe of students, three quarters of whom were bored out of their pierced, laser skulls, a sudden…………………………Tssssssssssssssssss….
sonmciloud – I’ve lost him again.
For the moment.
However long this particular moment may last.
As I told him, it is quite singular for a subject to be aware of my existence to such an extent. A curious experience for me, and one which I enjoyed.
I hope you can come back one day Edward.
I want to know what happens next.
**See collected archives in the Illustrious Grand Institute Librarium under the 1900’s – section 48d – ‘Popular Entertainment of the Mindless Masses’ for reference images and information.