“Before I met Mr Downearth and Freddie, I didn’t know who I was. Life had changed for the worse and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Valerie left, the kids too, and they were never coming back. So I left too; ascended with my new friends.
“In the first year, it felt like my flat was eating me alive. I was suffocating, like an indebted wretch thrown to the bottom of a deep, dark canal. ‘Who am I now?’ The question echoed through the empty space of my room, bouncing off the walls in an endless, erratic dance. Who am I, with my lack of presence? No longer a worker, no longer a father, barely a functioning man. A nobody.
“In the midst of my despair, Mr Downearth appeared. I hadn’t spoken to the fellow in many years, but I vaguely remembered him from the days I spent at the library with my wife. I remembered his smile. His honest, unrelenting eyes. I remembered picking up his books just to put them back down and truth be told, I remembered my desire to stay away, because in his studies he was up to more than I could really bother to understand. I mean, why bother with all of that strange business if you have no reason to escape? Back then that was my one and only truth. But now, I need a new truth. The pining, red-eyed mess of a man I’ve become… he desperately needs something.”
I stand in front of the smoky, bird-footed creature that used to be a man. When I lean down to take a closer look I notice the name tag attached to his robe reading “0001” in neat, black lettering. I turn to Professor Downearth who’s been observing me from a corner of the room.
– Is that him? I ask.
The professor nods. I turn back to the monster to greet him.
– It’s nice to meet you, Kane.
A subtle sound like a stifled laugh. I ignore it and continue:
– I’ve read about you. Can I ask you a few questions about yourself?
– Maybe about your wife? Valerie?
More silence. The professor steps in and puts his hand on my shoulder. He’s smiling, yet I can’t discern the expression on his face as he says:
– Now, what you’re trying to do is very interesting, but it’s no use. He doesn’t know who he is.
– Not at all? I reply.
– So he doesn’t even recognize you anymore?
– He does not, I’m afraid.
– Does that upset you, Professor Downearth?
For a second, his face seems to freeze. Then he smiles even wider.
– The results of the study have been positive, haven’t they? Trust me, there’s no reason to be upset.
As the professor swivels us around to exit the room, the smoke around 0001’s head seems to puff even thicker.
A recent study conducted by the University of Escapism indicates that, yes, it is indeed possible to ascend through smoking. I went to interview the university’s own Professor Downearth for more details.
Walking through the halls of the university, I feel the urge to question the tall gentleman once more:
– Is it true what you claim? Can you really ascend through smoking?
He simply smiles. He walks, I follow. As we walk, the walls start to cave in around us. Space crumbles, I follow. The professor saunters along the now non-existent floor nonchalantly. Dancing along to his own heartbeat in the thin air seems to be second nature to him. As soon as I manage to pry my eyes away from his feet long enough to start worrying about my own safety, he pulls me along with him by my wrist, saving me from falling into the lifeless abyss below. He walks, I follow. For a moment, or perhaps a million, I seem to lose my grip on the concept of time. When it finally, or perhaps immediately, returns to me, we are standing in front of a metallic door labelled “Air”. Professor Downearth’s calm expression remains even as he opens the door and says:
– Meet the Airheads.
The room inside is dark and foggy but I can see them clearly. Twenty-seven or so grotesque beings sitting huddled up on the floor. About half of them each hold a lit cigarette in their hand. These beings look human enough for me to not feel frightened, yet strange enough for me to become concerned. The shapes of their bodies I immediately recognize as my own. Their feet, however, are enormous and birdlike, sharp claws sticking out of coarse yellowish toes. It’s quite amazing. But the truly most amazing part is what I notice next: their heads. Or, the thick, swirling clouds of smoke that take up the space where a head should be. I’m not sure where their bodies end and the clouds begin. I’m not even sure if they really have heads, though I would guess they do. The lighting is a smidge too dim and the smoke a smidge too thick for me to confirm it, but in the center of the clouds above their torsos I can almost make out a dark, round shape that appears to be the core. It seems to hold some of the smoke together to form the shape of a head, while the rest of the smoke ascends and spreads throughout the room like a fleeting dream.
Whether or not the Airheads still remember who they are, I don’t know. Neither do I know if they are better or worse off now than they were before they were brought into the laboratory. All I know is that they seem to have peace of mind. They seem to be part of a community, their heads evaporating and connecting in the ceiling like a smoky hivemind.
If you don’t drink your coffee, the horse man will cut your face to pieces. Nobody wants their face cut off, especially not when you can influence the inner factors by slowly beating your head against a wall. The fractures you create makes it so that the horse man likely won’t appear. You want to avoid the horse man, do you not? He lives across the street in the entrance over there. Whatever you do, don’t peek through your keyhole at 1 o’clock in the night. He will most likely stand there. If he sees a ray of light he will strike and strike until your door is beaten down. Whatever happens next is anything but good, especially for the neighbours who will hear your shriek in the night. So come on, drink your coffee. Otherwise the horse man will guard your door every night, and the night it’s unlocked is the night you lose your face.The first stories of the horse man were told in the 17th century and can be found in the diary notes written by the former landowners of Häckeberga Castle. A heavily built man with a stooped back and a laugh like a neigh was seen near the water mill. That’s how the millkeeper told the story in the beginning of the 19th century. Shortly thereafter he hung himself in the barn. In 1932 the stables were ravaged by fire as two children disappeared from the village. A few days later, a boy said he had seen the children sitting on the stooped back of a man who was playing with them and who sounded like a horse. They were headed for the water mill at nightfall. /Ushiri