The Exquisite Corpse
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The story has begun. 

          A young man stood on the beach, watching the waves break on the shore. All he could think about was his sister. She had been missing for years now, but he still thought about her every day. They had been almost like best friends, and told each other everything. He had always felt very comfortable around her, and could always tell her anything. She was especially helpful during his teenage years, when it seemed like he was not in control of himself and needed encouragement and guidance. Tragically, when he was 17, Anna Jane Marcus disappeared. She had last been seen on the morning of December 23, 1995, heading off to buy ornaments for their small artificial Christmas tree. Chris Marcus had been devastated when they could not find a trace of her, and now as he stood with the sand between his toes, he could still feel the sense of abandonment and loss as if it were yesterday. She was only 23, 6 years older than Chris. Her friends suggested that she might have run off with a guy, because she was very pretty. But Chris wouldn't accept this speculation. Anna wasn't the kind of person to run off with some boy. He himself could not come up with a possible answer to this seemingly unsolvable puzzle, but he was determined not to give up. He swore that he would find her, and he had a feeling she was still alive- and in the last place he would ever think to look. Chris' thoughts were interrupted by a car horn. He quickly pulled on his sandals and hurried to a parking lot. He had wanted to stay longer on the beach, but he knew that this man might be able to lead him to his beloved sister. Cars busily zoomed past 20 feet from where the red Ford Explorer was sitting idily. Briefly he thought about what a shame it was that beautiful Laguna Beach, California was attracting more and more visitors each year. Chris Marcus walked up to the passenger side door of the Explorer. He hesitated, but then opened the door. He knew that he was making a unwise and possibly dangerous decision, but he would do anything for his sister. He loved her. Slowly, he sat down and listened to what the man had to say...

     "Senor, I have come many miles in search of The Jeweled Tiara, which was stolen from my government many years ago. This beautiful object is worth much money and is said to have supernatural powers. During my search, I have visited many museums hoping that the Tiara might somehow have come to this area and been exhibited, and in one, the Laguna Museum, a young woman approached me and gave me this note. She hurriedly whispered in my ear to take the note and deliver it to Christopher Marcus. That is you, no? She said that you would read it and tell me where I could find the Tiara."

With trembling fingers, Chris slowly unfolded and read the note...

"Darling,

I know you must be worried ... but I can't explain anything. Not yet. I left my laptop at my desk. Someone has taken my computer off line, perhaps it was you? Regardless, I need you to reconnect my laptop tonight by 6pm. I can contact you after that.  Please don't tell anyone about my contacting you. I trust you Chris. Don't betray me.

                                    - Anna Jane"

        Chris turned the note over and stared at the blank side. "Obviously you read this letter before you gave it to me." Chris grumbled intently at the detective. "What do you think we should do?" Chris asked.

         "Nothing is obvious here Mr. Marcus" the detective replied.

         "What is all this? Who are you?" Chris demanded  The detective replied in a low consoling tone, "I am detective Juan Hernandez , I am investigating the missing tiara, that is all you will need to know. Where is the laptop? I can have it analyzed".

          Chris looked into Hernandez's eyes for answers but found only more confusion.

         Chris shouted almost involuntarily, "No pal, I'll deal with the laptop. Why don't you be a real detective and find out where Anna is?"

         Chris went home with the letter and looked over his shoulder as if he were being followed. Totally un-nerved he  shivered when his office key couldn't open his  apartment door. Chris had kept Anna's laptop near his own computer. Every time he turned it on, he was confronted by a password request. He didn't know Anna's password, at least not
directly. Perhaps it was time to see how much he and Anna really had in common.

         Chris spent hours narrowing down three potential passwords since the computer would freeze if he attempted a password more than three times. The final list was "Gryphon" her cat's name, "Rock Lobster" her favorite song or "Low Tide" which she had used as a password when she and Chris had shared an email account. After two unsuccessful attempts Chris decided instead, to go with the blatantly obvious and type in "TIARA"and to his dismay it worked!

        Everything looked normal in the laptop, but before reconnecting it to the network Chris decided to make a copy of the entire drive onto his laptop. Just as Chris completed the copy the phone rang. The answering machine picked up. "Hello you have reached Christopher, I can't take your call at the moment so please leave a message and I will call you back" following on line, Chris heard a male voice "Hi Chris, it's me Carl, call me.Your line has been busy all night, who you been talking too?" Chris reaches over and picks up the phone "Carl, it's me, what do you mean busy?" Chris asked  "Busy as in not getting through this century, any way pal are we still  playing Friday? The guys wanna know." Carl asked Staring at his sisters laptop, Chris hangs up the phone before answering Carl, "No, I'm out"

       That was weird Chris thought to himself. But I guess I have every right to be paranoid.

        Chris decided the only way he could make it through such a deeply disturbing (and typically Californian) night was to submit to paranoia, drink coffee, ignore his hormone driven and beer swilling friends, and hope to God the nightmares would not plague him again. Ever since he lost her, he had dreamt about her. They both stood in the middle of a shallow green pool filled with ice blue water. As he reached over to her, she smiled slightly, tilted her head, and simply fell back into oblivion. He would wake up sweaty and trembling from an eternity of dreamt searching and almost-drownings. He wanted to find her. He needed to find her.

         As he walked towards the laptop again, Chris grabbed a cigarette and inhaled like a man in love. Anna never liked his smoking, lectured him constantly about his annoying habit. That same habit killed men in our family, she said, claiming it would kill him before....It would kill him before his paranoia would.Cigarette forgotten in the ashtray, Chris hurled himself in his computer chair, logged on the system, and pulled up Anna's files. Performing a cursory search through the files, he found the one he was looking for:TIARA.

        Unfortunately, yet quite expectedly, it was encrypted and his rudimentary omputer skills could not open it. It was 5 minutes to six. Chris didn't know how he would open the file before Anna's designated contact time......

        Just then the phone rings. I am startled by the disruption in my concentration of the laptop. I wondered if I should let the machine get it  or answer it. On the third ring I decide to pick up the receiver and before I can finish saying "Hello?", I heard heavy, tired breathing on the other end. There is a faint voice but echo's as if they were in a grand hall. It's a woman. "Help me please- I ran into an old freind... betrayed me. I am ... building...north of town. Address is ..96..7 Wor..Road.. Please come quickly" The connection was very bad and was going in and out.

        "Hello?  Repeat yourself, Who is this?"

        I was starting to panic. Was this woman someone I knew? Or yet another face in the crowd who had some information about Anna? I heard the click of the reciver. "Hello? Hello?!" I relized we had been disconnected and I knew that I must find out what building she was referring too and was she in trouble. I hung up the phone and glanced around for the local phone directory. I had used it last week when I ordered a pizza, but couldn't remember where I had  left it. My eye caught the reflection of the laptop screen. Blinking in the upper right corner,there was a small icon which was much smaller than the other icons on the screen. I winced to look, but my glasses were on my  desk. I tracked them down and looked at this small blink on the laptop. It was a small diamond but had the look of a new program that was out on the market for running tax programs however the title was in the same font as the encrypted page. I clicked on the small icon...

        The program's opening screen appeared. Chris took a deep breath as the words "The Exquisite Corpse" flashed across the screen. "'Exquisite Corpse'?" he thought. He started to think about what it could mean, but then the words disappeared and the picture of a tiara filled the screen. As soon as he had digested that image, a new one appeared... Anna Jane's senior high school photo. His eyes opened wide as words started to write themselves across his screen "Chris, it's me, Anna. I'm sure you've been worried about me, but don't be. I am coming home soon. I need your help. At the end of this computer program will be an address. Go to it. I will see you there."

        The words dissolved and were replaced by "9687 W. Worthy Road, come alone." Then the screen went blank and the laptop turned itself off.

        "I almost fell for it," Chris thought. "She never called herself Anna, but Anna Jane. What has she gotten herself into?"

        Hesitantly, Chris picked up the phone and dialed Carl's mobile phone. It was picked up on the second ring. "Yeah?"

        "Carl, does the address 9687 W. Worthy road mean anything to you?"

        "Wasn't that Kathy Gurley's home? Your sister's best friend?"

        "Oh my God Carl, I think you're right. But what does she have to do with this?"

        "With what?" Carl replied.

        "Nothing. Nevermind. Did Kathy Gurley have anything to do with a tiara?". . .

         There was a sound of beer cans rattling and rolling across the floor. An unfamiliar voice announced, "Christopher Marcus, I am completely out of patience."

        Chris looked up from the laptop screen. A rabbit-shaped ball of dusty debris with violet eyes and lavender antennae was bouncing from empty beer can to empty beer can, sending them rolling across the floor. "Hey, guys," Chris whined. I told you I didn’t want to party. Cut the crap."

       "Christopher, I am not one of your playmates. I am a manifestation of your common sense and I am totally and completely out of patience with you. When was the least time you emptied that ashtray? Are you trying to collect more beer cans than the recycling center? Do you really enjoy the smell of rancid pepperoni?

       "You’re twenty-two years old. You have a set of wheels that will be repossessed if you don’t make your back  payments by Tuesday. You have a crummy efficiency apartment that you can’t be bothered to keep picked up—let alone clean. Flipping chicken wings is just like flipping burgers—it’s a dead end job. For recreation you hang out with stereotyped party animals or you drive to the beach and think about how much you miss your sister. I am completely out of patience with you."

       "Who in the hell are you?" Chris demanded.

      "Let me add that your listening skills are on a par with the rest of your feckless life. Most people either act on their good intentions, or use them to pave the road to hell. Your good intentions are right here in this apartment, mixed up with the beer cans and the dirty socks. You miss your sister? What are you doing about finding her?

       "I don’t have to answer to you. Besides, when you interrupted me I was checking out Anna’s laptop. Today I received information that Anna may be involved in big trouble. The Case of   the Jeweled Tiara is probably international in scope. I just had a phone call from a woman who is in big trouble. I’ve got lots of things to check out, and you had better leave me alone."

        "Leave you alone to do what? Feel sorry for yourself? Party with losers? I’m a Dist Bunny—that’s D-I-S-T-- and I’m going to stick with you until you find your sister or until you grow up—which ever comes first.

             "Dude? Who are you talking to??" asked Carl incredulously.  Chris had totally forgotten that his friend was still on the phone. "And what's up with Anna Jane and some tiara?"

             "Oh, sorry Carl. I gotta go, man. Some weird stuff has been goin' on around here. I'll try to catch up with you later." Christopher was anxious to get off the phone and figure out what this bizarre creature was doing in his living room, and how it all tied in with his missing sister.

              "Wait, Chris! Are you in some kind of trouble? Let me help,"

               Carl sounded really worried about his best friend. Chris hadn't been the same since Anna Jane had disappeared, and often had spells where he wasn't the same old Chris who liked to chill with his friends. " No, it's okay...I'm okay. I've just gotta figure a few things out. I promise I'll call you back in an hour or two. Besides, you've got my cell number...call me if I don't call you." The rabbit creature glared impatiently at Christopher and motioned for him to get off the phone. He didn't like the looks of this thing. 

                "Okay...I guess I'll hit you up later...but this seems awfully strange..." Carl was afraid Chris was using drugs. He thought he heard voices at Chris' place.

               "Oh, but before you go! To answer your last question...about the tiara."

               "Yeah? What? What about a tiara??" Chris clung to the phone desperately, hoping for answers, willing Carl to set everything straight. The bunny thing whipped up its head at the word "tiara."

                It's antennae stood straight on end, and it took a few steps closer to Christopher. A faint static noise began to hum on the phone line.  "Um, well, the only thing I can think of is Anna Jane being crowned Prom Queen her senior year of high school..."

               "What does a stupid school dance have to do with anything?"   Christopher felt totally let down, but the alien creature bounced practically onto Chris' lap. Carl heaved a sigh on the other end of the increasingly static line and shook his head. "Remember the crown they gave her...the tiara?? The principal had found it on his trip to Egypt and made some stupid speech about how Anna Jane 'was the perfect student to receive such an honor' or some crap like that. Remember...??"

                "Oh my god, Carl!! That's it - -" The phone line buzzed loudly and went dead....

                  Carl faded into a deep dream state and felt the sound and pulse of the waves move across his feet, penetrating his eardrums, the water seeping into his soul. The salt water slid into his lungs and as he washed up on shore he choked and jarred himself back into consciousness. Beside him the rusted tin tree lie wasted and worn, absent of the ornaments that never made it to its once silvery branches.

              While Carl slept, Chris was on his way to 9787 W. Worthy Road. He was a curious soul and really was not interested in the whereabouts of beer cans  and dirty socks. It was the only way he knew how to cope with the world, feigning concern for his friend's misfortune seemed more commendable than his real mission....The Tiara

             Chris intially met Juan in the summer of 95. They traveled together in Peru.  They met in Lima at the gold museum and shared a cab ride back to the hotel  where they both were staying. They decided to have dinner together and get to know one another a little better. Everyone can use a little companionship while traveling. They found a common interest in jewels and were determined to find a way to acquire their own dazzling collection. At first it was harmless flights of fancy, just talk among men, but it quickly became clear that Chris and Juan had found their calling. Juan had heard of a Jeweled  Tiara which was located in the embassay in Lima. They began to plan the heist. How they would pull it off is another story.

           In the summer of 1995, the jewel heist that would change three lives is about to take place. During the summer of 1995, a new employee at the Gold Museum in Peru was none other than Anna Jane Marcus. She’d been hired as a Intern at the Gold Museum, basically acting as a go-fer, doing whatever was need of her. She chose to join a program in HS that gave her extra-credit to work in a museum in a foreing country.

             Late one hot July night, at about 3 AM, Chris and Juan set out to pull off the biggest jewel heist in history. "Okay, man, where can we find this tiara?" Chris wondered aloud. "Not too worry, man I have heard from the locals that the Jeweled Tiara is buried under the US embassay in Lima. According to the locals, the building was built over the Jeweled Tiara, and it is buried underneat the embassay."

            "Oh, great, how are we gonna’ get it? We can’t just bust in the front door with guns blazing." Juan could sense the fear in Chris’s voice, so he tried to settle him down. "Relax, we’re not going to go through the front door, but rather, through the back door." "What ya’ mean?" "We are going to dig our way underground until we are under the building, then we can find the Jeweled Tiara. Relax, all I ask of you is to be my look out, I’ll make the actual heist. Can I count you in?" Chris thought for a while and nodded his head.

            Anna Jane is working late one night, spending time speaking with her good friend, Professor Thompson, who is an archeologist. Archeology is a hobby of hers, and she struck up a friendship with the Professor of Archeology at the University of Lima, Peru. Professor Thompson brought her deep within the bowels of the earth, about 100 feet south of the embassay building, to show her where he found some of his treasures.

            Meanwhile, Chris and Juan had been digging underground for more hours than they can remember. They brough a shove and pickaxes, which helped to move the dirt. "Man, I’m getting tired. We’ve been doing this for over 12 hours straight. When are we going to get to that damned Jewel?" Chris cursed in frustration. Relax, according to my calculations, we are about 200 yards away from where we need to go before we can find the Tiara. Once they reached that area, Juan unzipped his backpack, and brought out several sticks of dynamite and placed them under the foundation of the building.

            "Allright, hold onto your butt!" A massive explosion rocked the foundations of the embessay, sending debris fling, and also knocking Anna Jane and the professor around like ping-pong balls. With dirt and concrete flying everywhere, the Jeweled Tiara popped out and Anna Jane grabbed it, unaware of what it was . All of the sudden, a bright light appeared in front of Anna Jane, and she felt a wave of terror come her. What happened next changed her life, not to mention her brother’s life as well…

       Ancestral memories flowed forward over her mind like the inundated waters of the Nile. She was seated upright in a highbacked chair engraved with gold-filigreed hieroglyphics. Servants stood off to the sides in front of immense round stone pillars. A vaulted ceiling hung a hundred feet above, illuminated by dozens of flickering torches in wall sconces around the chamber. The still air was cold and dead in her lungs as she breathed shallowly.

        She became aware of the numerous items about her body: dry leather sandals, a light linen robe with sigils along the hemlines, heavy golden bracelets on her wrists, and more heavy metallic collars around her neck and throat. Her skin, she noticed, was deeply tanned and her nails were a muddy red in color.

        She raised her hands to her head as the sensation of taughtness sunk in. Her hands found her hair bound in place with a pair of rods, feeling not quite like stone or wood. As her hands moved further up, they encountered the Tiara.

        Without seeing it, she knew exactly what it looked like. A solid arc of polished gold, curving up from her forehead to form an intricate lion's head. Various precious stones set into the arms of the diadem, trailing up the back of the great cat's head, leading to the central gem, set into the beast's jaws. The central gem, a round diamond three fingers in diameter, brilliant and clear except for a dark spot visible at its core.

        The stone was called The Eye of Ra, after their Goddess Sekhmet.

        She also knew its powers. On the head of one who had gained the favor of Sekhmet, the wearer was able to serve as an avatar for the goddess and become a host for her Presence.

        More memories lapped at the shores of her mind, conflicting memories, memories of pain and of blessing.

        She remembered that two weeks hence, when an assassin entered her bedchambers, she found herself awoken by the raw essence surging through her veins. She became aware that she was standing in the middle of her dusty stone floor, holding the thin black-clad figure against the wall with an outstretched hand. Twenty feet separated the two, but the man was pinned as a mouse under a cat's paw. Then the presence within her raised her other hand and she watched as a guttering fan of flame blossomed out to the man, engulfing him and immolating him. His screams competed with the roar of the flames as they intensified, gouting out thicker and thicker from her spread fingers; his screams rose into shrill, wheedling tones and died away as his shape began to dissolve in the blast. Finally she lowered both hands, the flames ceased and the dead man's burnt remains crumbled to the floor.

        She also remembered recently meeting a one-handed servant who brought her a bowl of fruit. Upon seeing the healed stump on his right arm, she felt the surge again, knew that suddenly she was one with her goddess again, and she bid him to approach her in a voice that was not hers. The voice was deep and felt full of tenderness and exhaustion. The man stepped forward, face awash in incomprehension, and she grasped his arm and guided it so the end touched between her breasts. A rush of sweet lightning streaked from her heart throughout her body at his touch. Her lips parted and she inhaledslowly, holding the man to her. The air in the room turned suddenly hotter and pressed harshly in on them from all sides, and a red glow appeared around the man's deformity. The glow brightened until it washed everything else from vision and then faded away. The man then lay on the ground, asleep and unaware that his right hand had reappeared on his arm.

        Anna Jane returned to consciousness with brick dust in her mouth and pain jolting through her neck. She couldn't see where she was, it was pitch black and something heavy lay atop her torso, pinning her tightly to whatever she lay on.

        She lay there, taking in the memories she had just absorbed, trying to comprehend their meaning, when her mind turned to her right hand and the object in it. She knew even without her vision that she held the tiara that held the Eye of Ra. She knew she had the artifact once known as the Diadem of Sekhmet.

          Anna Jane suddenly remembered that she really didn't even believe in past lives. As a matter of fact, she was really sick of this whole tiara business. She threw the "Diadem of Sekhmet" on the ground, stood up, and saw her brother Chris standing in front of her! She was astounded, confused, and  had a really bad headache from the blow. Just as she was about to speak to Chris, he ran forward, grapped the tiara off the ground and screamed   "EUREKA!" Anna Jane was even more astounded. "Eureka? Who says 'eureka' these days? Chris, what has gotten into you?"Chris stared for a second, realized he was facing his sister, the sister he had missed for so long, and yet he didn't care. Because, he wasn't really Chris...the real Chris was locked in a dark room somewhere. This Chris was a clone, an invention of Anna Jane's professor who had decided that this diversion, this clone, was the perfect way to get to the tiara and keep it, and also a way to ruin Anna Jane's life. The professor figured if Anna Jane was disgusted with her brother, the one she always spoke of leaving, then maybe she would run into the professor's arms, because balding and old as he was, he still thought he had a chance with Anna Jane. She was so beautiful in his eyes.

         The Chris clone looked at Anna Jane as she runned to him, and then hit her over the head with the tiara....she passed out, her mind going back to...those past life delusions maybe???

   Maybe. Maybe not. We can only speculate for now as she is unavailable for questioning, not that delusions would ever hold up in court. But anyway…

   The clone grabbed the tiara and put it in a Toy World bag, lit a cigarette and walked away calmly.

   If people think there are mysteries in the world and objects of confusion it's doubtful that they could imagine what it was like to be the clone of someone like Chris. Having access to Chris's mind similar to that of a twin, a twin without a life of its own.

    C2, Deuce to his friends, arrived at the toy store and successfully managed to "return" the tiara. He got his 24.95 back. "It's funny the way only assholes get rewarded sometimes," he thought after walking away from the scene he had just caused.

    He went down to Dolly's to sort through his thoughts, not really sure if they were his. As he was crossing the street to enter a man with a rabbit's head was coming down the sidewalk.

    "Dist, how y' been?"

    Before Dist Bunny could answer five young men walked out of the bar, took a look at Dist and came to the conclusion that none of them were in good enough condition to drive. Deuce and Dist weaved through them and sat down at the bar.

     "Hey Dolly!"

     "Deuce! How goes it?"

     "Good, man. This is my buddy Dist. He's trying to help me get some information about my origins." Dolly and Dist kept staring at each other, not quite sure what to make of each other. Dist finally had the nerve to go first.

     "So…how did a guy get a name like 'Dolly?'"

     "I knew when I started out the only way to make it was dollar-beers. So dollars…Dolly's. People come in, they say 'who's the owner?' I say I am, they say 'nice tits.' Customer's always right. So what's with the fuggin' rabbit head?"

     "Cloning experiment gone wrong. That's where we know each other from."

     After a brief moment of head nodding and silence Deuce asked for a pitcher so he and Dist could go up stairs to the poolroom.

     "So what'd you do with the crown?"

     "Got rid of it."

     Dist was somewhat flabbergasted and spit his beer out all over his whiskers. "WHAT?! Where?! How?…why?"

     "I was just getting tired of the whole thing."

     "Do you have any idea what that thing was worth? What it's capable of doing?"

     "I don't care. You know, it was so easy to trace Chris down, keep an eye on him. I was just about to approach him and then his sister shows up from out of nowhere and he's traveling all over the world. I can't afford that, the inheritance money we got from doc is running low."

     "Which is why we needed the crown."

     Deuce slammed his beer down. "YOU needed the crown! Not 'we.' I don't give a damn about the crown, I've NEVER given a damn about the crown!"

     After letting the rest of the patrons know everything was okay Dist figured a change of subject might be in order. "What's the last you heard about him?"

     "Last I heard he was digging some sort of tunnel with this detective guy named 'Juan.' It collapsed on them but they got out almost okay. He's in a hospital, unconscious."

     "What about Anna?"

     "I knocked her out with the tiara."

     "How close were they to finding each other?"

     "Pretty close. Hell, they're probably in the same hospital now. What have you heard?"

     "I was going through some of Doc's old files. You know how you've been comparing notes with your telepathy skills and that of twins?"

     "Yeah. Seems like I've got exactly what they do."

     "You do. You're not Chris's clone, you're his twin brother. Doc cheated."

     "But I checked the family records on that, Chris's brother died…"

     "Briefly."

     "So I'm a corpse?"

     "You were."

     Despite the conversations and the jukebox, the pool table and the glasses, a quiet seemed to fall across the bar.

     "If she's still unconscious, you know what that makes her?"

     "What?"

     "Anna Jane Doe."

     They laughed for a bit, drank some more.

     It was a good night for Deuce.

 

If you have questions, please email thecorpse@2000days.com .


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