Rio Youers is the British Fantasy Award–nominated author of End Times and Old Man Scratch.His short fiction has been published by, among others, St. Martin’s Griffin, HarperCollins, and Cemetery Dance. His latest novel, Westlake Soul, was recently nominated for Canada’s prestigious Sunburst Award, and has been optioned for movie by Hollywood producer, Stephen Susco. Rio lives in southwestern Ontario with his wife, Emily, and their daughter, Lily Maye.
1. Not a Pip.
Somebody somewhere is writing this down. This I know; I’m a living (kind of), breathing genius. I’m reaching out and making it happen—from right here: the vegetable patch. Albert Einstein couldn’t do that. The dude was shit-hot with atomic bombs and the theory of relativity, but could he talk to dogs? And Goethe … nobody used their 10% of the iceberg more effectively, but when it came to tapping the ego and the id, he was just like the rest of you.
My name is Westlake Soul. I know what you’re thinking … a name like that I could be one of Gladys Knight’s backing singers. One of her Pips. But I’m not a Pip. I’m a twenty-three-year-old former surfing champion (Billabong Classic ’07, Ride the Barrel ’08). I live in Hallow Falls, Ontario, with my parents, my little sister, and our dog, Hub. You want a description? Imagine Stephen Hawking. Now lose the glasses and give him a Kurt Cobain haircut. It’s pretty close.
I’m smarter than Hawking, though. Like, much. He’s too chickenshit to take an IQ test, but I can tell you he’d register in the 160s. Me? Dude, I’d break the gauge. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale was not designed for a mind like mine. It’d be like a weathervane in a tornado. A thermometer on the sun.
All superheroes get their powers from somewhere. A radioactive spider bite. A science experiment gone awry. I got mine from a surfing accident in Tofino. The ultimate wipeout. I woke up with the most powerful mind on the planet, but a body like a wet paper bag. I’m not cool with the trade-off, but such is life.
I won’t be like this for long, though … being fed through a tube, my mouth hanging open, fucking drooling. I’m going to use my superbrain to drag myself from this (permanent) vegetative state.
You can forget saving the world.
I just want to surf again.
The ocean is 621.2 kilometres away, but I can see it whenever I want. All I have to do is project my soul, which is easy without the distractions of the conscious mind. Imagine holding a feather in front of an electric fan and then letting go. If your focus is the feather, or the breeze from the fan, then you fail. If your focus is the letting go—the precise moment of release—then give yourself a gold star.
I’m going to show you so much cool stuff.
Come with me…
Rolling blue sea and spray that shimmers like a smile. That embracing ocean smell, the chorus of breaking waves, and gulls curving their wings into the thermals. A catamaran skims along the blue, its sail full of life, and further out—miles, I can reach as far I want—a humpback breaches, its scarred, muscular body twisting through the air. Weave yourself around its dorsal ridges and ride with me. Feel it. Be it. You are not a person, a gas, or a light. You are that moment of release, attached to life. The water rushes through you and the whale’s body sings. You spiral and descend. Its heartbeat makes you glow.
What else am I going to do? Look at the frickin’ ceiling? Roll my head, look at the frickin’ wall?
Okay, that’s not entirely fair. My parents have done their best to make my room cool and comfortable. Pretty groovy, Mom said once they’d finished decorating. I wouldn’t go that far. I can’t imagine Earth, Wind & Fire wanting to hang out here for very long. The décor is designed to be stimulating. There’s a lot of happy colour. A shade of yellow from Benjamin Moore called Little Angels. The ceiling painted Surf City Blue. There’s an egg chair in the corner like the one Mork sat in when calling Orson. Couple of bean bags. Pictures of me on the wall, surfing, playing hockey, meeting Patrick Swayze. A window looking out on the back garden. Shelves loaded with my surfing trophies. A yucca in another corner that mocks me with its healthy leaves.
I don’t mean to be cynical. I’m truly grateful for all the love and care I receive, but I know for a fact that the groovy makeover was more for my parents’ benefit than mine. They told themselves that the colours and trophies could help “wake” me, but didn’t believe it for one second. They—fuck, everybody, except Hub—has this crazy idea that, because I don’t respond to stimuli, I feel no pain or emotion. So why bother painting the ceiling blue or hanging pictures of me catching barrels? Shit, you don’t need a superbrain to answer that question. They did it because I’m depressing to be around. Heartbreaking, even. It’s no fun wiping spit off my chin and listening to me grunt. The colours lift the mood. It’s as simple as that.
I have a wheelchair, too. It has buffers to keep my head from flopping around too much. From gutterballing—that’s what Dad calls it. Most days I’m rolled out to the living room. Just for an hour or so, then I’m back in my brightly painted box. If the weather is nice I’ll be wheeled onto the rear deck. I’m not sure why, given they believe me insensible. Actually, I am sure why. It’s to assuage their guilt. They don’t feel so bad about having a good time if I’m sitting in the fresh air with too much sunscreen on my arms. Again, I know that sounds cynical, but that’s just the way it is.
One day last summer, they were having such a good time that they forgot about me—left me on the goddam deck for most of the night. Dad got trashed on cheap beer, and Mom had been at the Crown Royal. They were in the living room watching shit TV, and my sister was in her bedroom showing her titties on Skype. I waited … waited. My sister flicked off the webcam and got into bed with her iPod cranking Lil Wayne. Mom got frisky and dragged Dad into the bedroom. Now I’m faced with a dilemma: do I wait and see if they’ll suddenly remember that they’ve left me on the deck, or do I try to send a telepathic memorandum? I didn’t hold out much hope for either; I’m not so hot at the whole Professor X thing—you know, controlling their minds (not one of my superpowers), and although I can jump into their heads whenever I want, it isn’t something I like to do. Their thoughts are too close, too personal. You ever had your mom or dad talk to you about sex? Their sex, I mean. We used to have to do it in the back of your father’s Catalina. Or, Your mother was a saucy little minx back in the day. Ewww, right? Don’t go there, right? Yeah, it’s like that, but a thousand times worse.
So I woke Hub. I told him to start barking like Lassie, or something. Hub did. He even scratched on my parents’ bedroom door. But all he got for his trouble was my old man’s foot up his ass.
That didn’t go as planned, Hub said to me.
The mosquitoes were in full force at this point. I even had a few in my mouth. So I reached out and knocked on Dad’s mind. Real quick, then ran away before I could see what he was thinking. Dad’s humping Mom by now, pulling a stupid face, sweat in his beard. Then he just kind of stopped mid-stroke.
“What is it?” Mom asked.
“Not sure,” Dad said, his eyes all glassy.
“Did you come already?”
“No … did you turn off the stove?”
“Never mind,” Dad said, and carried on humping.
I was pretty pissed off, as you can imagine. Not because I’d been left outside and the mosquitoes were partying like it was Mardi-fucking-Gras, but because I’d been forgotten. And suddenly I didn’t want them to remember me. I wanted them to wake up in the morning and find me with dew on my eyelids and a caterpillar in my mouth—to feel a tidal wave of guilt, for it to crush them and pull them under, and leave them feeling like shit for weeks. No less than they deserved. Hub asked if he should try barking again. No, I said. Fuck ’em. And I released … flew away. I went to the ocean and swam with dolphins in the moonlight.
Anyway, Hub did start barking again. He told me it was because he needed a night-piss, but I didn’t believe him. Dude was looking out for me. Dad cursed and got out of bed, let Hub out, then noticed me sitting on the deck.
“Oh, fuck Jesus,” he said. “Jesus fuck.” He wheeled me back inside. “Sorry, Wes. We just…”
Yeah. You forgot. I know. Asshole.
They’ve only forgotten me once. But there was another embarrassing outdoors moment. I was sitting on the deck, pondering the simplicity of the Riemann hypothesis (like you do), when a bird landed on my head. A goldfinch, too. The most arrogant of birds.
What the fuck is going on? I said. Excuse me … bird … you mind?
The finch shook its yellow feathers. Relax, dude, it said. I’m just taking five. I’ve been flying all day, so don’t give me your jive.
Outwardly I had no reaction, but inwardly I was agape.
I’m sorry, I said. Did you just … rhyme to me?
There’s a whole world of difference between rhyming and song. I thought you were smart, but I guess I was wrong.
Let’s not discuss the fundamentals of verse, I said. Get the hell off my head.
Niki, my sister (it’s short for Phereniki—my parents truly are fucked in the head), came outside then, yapping on her cell phone, trying to sound American even though she’s from small town Ontario.
“So I’m, like, really?” she yapped, rolling her eyes. “And he’s, like, really?” She glanced at me, then pulled one of those comical double takes.
“Ohmygod,” she said. One word. The thought balloon in her mind read, OMG. Then it read, LMFAO as she started to laugh her fucking ass off.
“Westlake has, like, totally got a bird on his head.”
And I’m, like, really?
“I’m not kidding,” she said. “I’ll take a picture and totally e-mail it to you.”
So she took a picture and totally e-mailed it to her friend. Then she took another and totally uploaded it to her Facebook page.
“Mom-Dad,” she shouted. “Come quick. Westlake has got a bird on his head.”
So Mom and Dad came outside and they started laughing, too.
Satisfied? I asked the finch.
Stop being so square, the finch replied. Stop being so bitter. It’s been a long time since you gave them a titter.
“Does that have video?” Dad asked, pointing at Niki’s cell phone.
“Hell yeah,” she replied, and started recording.
“Priceless,” Dad said.
Mom slapped Dad’s shoulder playfully, wiped tears from her eyes, then did the decent thing and shooed the bird away.
Go on, Tweetie-Pie, I said. Fuck out of here.
It took wing in a brief tick of yellow, cussing me in rhyme, like an R-rated, avian version of Dr. Seuss.
No wonder I release. I’m trapped in body, but not in mind—in soul. It feels like a horse behind a starting gate, pushing and frothing, and all I have to do is throw the gate open. The horse bolts. There’s no stopping it. To the ocean. To the mountains. Wherever. It’s wild, powerful and fast.
I don’t always release to exotic locales. Sometimes I’ll hang with my old buddies while they cruise Hallow Falls or go clubbing, although that makes me sad because I’m not physically with them. And despite my family being a lovable pain in the ass, I’ll often float into the next room … sit with Dad while he illegally downloads music or plays World of Warcraft. Or I’ll watch Mom reading or watering the plants. She sings to them, softly, and I like that.
But what I like more is the fact that they’re being natural. There is no false hope. They’re in a place where they’re not thinking about me—where they don’t have to think about me, and that’s exactly how I like to see them. It warms my heart. It’s so beautiful.
The ocean, though. The world’s emotion. Sometimes calm. Sometimes raging. Always deep. Where it began—life on earth. Where it will end. And I go there, when the box just isn’t bright enough. I throw myself into its moiling depths and remember what it was like to ride. To feel the life beneath my board. Aquamarine in my lungs. Salt in my hair. The top of a wave curling over me, gathering me, like God’s wing.
© Rio Youers, 2012
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.