Bad: A Memoir of Good & Evil
Couldn't Call It Unexpected
Cyn & Tangents
Lead Paint Double Date Set Diaries
Moving to Mars
New Roman Times
Saint Red
Suspension of Disbelief
What Fools


New Roman Times
Part 1 - A Rare Medium

By Deric McNish

"Sorry Gino, this is all my fault. I should've picked a nice Italian girl, not a Jew broad like your mother. Then we wouldn't be in this mess. Course, then you wouldn't be you, you'd be someone else."

That's my dad waxing philosophical as he honked his way through Cid West traffic. On the passenger's side, my mom ignored the comment. She was too busy leafing through the monstrous tome of our insurance plan, trying to figure out whether my particular "problem" might be covered. They were taking me to the ophthalmologist, or optometrist, or whichever one costs more.

"I love you with all my heart," she said, a knee-jerk response she often uses for whatever she might have missed.

"Is it covered, Polly?" my dad asked.

"How should I know," she said, "this thing is impossible to read."

"Is it happening now, Gino?" my dad did a half turn in his seat so he could both drive and intimidate me at the same time. "Cause we don't have to go if..."

"We're going," she said, forcefully. "We're going and I don't care how much it costs."

"Just answer the question, kid."

I'd have rather shut my mouth. Actually, I'd have rather slunk out through the exhaust pipe and ran all the way home. Or better yet, gone back in time and kept myself from telling my mom about this stupid problem so that I wouldn’t be going through this right now.

"Well?" he insisted.

"Answer your father." Thanks mom.

I finally replied, "I told you, it only happens in mirrors."

"Mirrors?" he tasted the word. "Well give the damn kid your damn make-up mirror so he can..."

"I don't carry one, you know I don't carry one, because I don't wear a lot of make-up!. We're going, we're going, we're going. That's all there is to it."

"Jesus Christ," he shouted. "Forget it. We're here anyway."

Cid West is one of the few parts of New Rome where a person can, with real patience and persistence, actually find a place to park on the street. That's because all the people who live and work around there are too rich to bother. The super rich use chauffeurs or helipads, and for everybody else there's the subterranean parking structures with armed guards and valet parkers. As we circled looking for a spot, I watched the reflection of our car driving by in the mirrored windows of the huge office building that took up the entire block; I could just make out my miserable face glaring back at me.

Following a first-rate parallel, my dad walked off to find a lotto store leaving my mom and I to navigate the labyrinthine building and find the ophthalmologist’s posh office on our own. Thank God for small favors.

The doctor had leathery skin with a grayish hue, and his fingers looked far too stubby to work on my fragile eyeballs. Nonetheless, he sat me down on a stiff chair that reclined just far enough back that I felt completely helpless before he asked me, "What seems to be the problem, young man?"

"It's nothing," I grumbled.

"Tell him Gino!"

"Well..." I tried to find something to look at besides my frowning mother and this disinterested stranger, but all I could see were sadistic instruments and an eerie portrait of an eye that looked as though it had been stolen from behind the make-up counter of a department store. "It's not a big deal or anything, I just... we just wanted to know what it was. My mom worries too much." Why couldn't she just wait outside?

"So what is it?" asked the doctor.

"When I look into a mirror, I see kind of an outline around people, like a shadow, a faded outline."

"Around people?"

"Yeah. Sometimes around things too, but it's different, weaker, more faded, and the colors are always the same." I felt so stupid just talking about it.

"Well," he said carefully, "hmm... I would like to do a full examination first, then we will discuss the possibilities. Put your chin on this right here, please."

"This right here" turned out to be some kind of shiny torture device, and although I was pretty sure it would suck out my eye jelly, I obeyed the man anyway.

"So you're fourteen, hmm?" He asked in a lame attempt at idle chitchat while he pried inside my eyes.

"And a half," volunteered my mom. "He's due for a growth spurt soon enough, then we can throw away all those silly clothes."

My mom is always giving me crap about my clothes. At school, we all have to wear the same stupid thing: a khaki shirt, black pants, and a black tie. We look like an army of pubescent waiters. So when I'm out of school I like to wear fun stuff, express myself a little. That day I had on my "I am the Evil Twin" t-shirt, some faded jeans that dragged a little on the floor, black boots and these cool skull laces I got at Hot Topic. I also had a leather wrist band with a zipper pocket, a ring, and a gold chain (I'm half Italian, so screw you). I'm kind of like shopping mall punk, I guess. No piercings, tattoos, that kind of stuff, just enough to make me feel alive. I have short spiky black hair, and during long vacations I like to grow a beard. When school’s in though I have to shave. I look twelve years old without my beard.

"You know," said the doctor, "the eyes are the windows to the soul." Where does my mom find these people?

"I thought that was the stomach," she said.

"No," I said, "the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach." Holy fuck, who just said that? I looked around. Nope, nobody there to beat me up, I’d have to do it myself.

The doctor shot a burst of compressed air at my eyes, but I blinked before it could possibly have done its job. He didn't do it again though, so I figured he didn't really care. He was just putting on a show for my mom. After his examination he asked me a few more questions about what I saw in the mirror and nodded while I spoke as if it all made sense.

"The technical term for what you are seeing," he said, "is an aura. It's nothing... mmm... mystical, it is just a second reflection. You see, mirrors are made with a layer of glass and a layer of reflective metal. The second reflection you see is from the second layer in the mirror, that is all. The only odd thing about it is that... mmm... humans don't typically see it."

"What do you mean, humans don't see it?" my mom interjected.

"I mean I have never heard of a case where a human being was able to see it, but it is really nothing to worry about. It is not a dangerous condition at all. Some mirrors are made without that second layer, they are just highly polished silver, or fused quartz, or other materials, but they are much more expensive. This mirror here," he indicated a tiny surface on his instrument, "has only one layer. If you looked into this, you would not see the aura. Otherwise, everything checks out, his eyes are in fine shape, although he is very slightly nearsighted."

"I'm nearsighted?"

"That's where you can't read?" my mother was horrified.

"No, that is where you have difficulty seeing distance, watching movies, for example, or driving, but as I said it is only slightly, there is no need to get lenses just yet. Perhaps in a couple years when he gets his learners permit."

"So I just have to get used to seeing double in the mirror? You can't fix it?"

He took a long breath before coming up with his clearly ignorant reply, "It may go away. Maybe you will stop paying attention to it. In any rate, it is not harmful."

That out of the way, my mom quickly reverted to business. "So will our insurance cover this visit?"

She followed the doctor out into the hallway and I was left alone in the examination room. I found that special mirror he'd pointed out a few minutes ago, the one with only one layer. I held up my finger and sure enough, there was my aura, just as I’d seen it in other mirrors, only this time there was a slight bluish tint.

That doctor was full of shit. I had to find some answers on my own.


Living in New Rome automatically makes you about three degrees cooler than everybody else in the country. It's ridiculously expensive, there's a complete lack of nature, and everybody's crammed together like crayons, but it still seems almost worth it. Our apartment is on the East End Jut, a development built on land-fill. There's the classic, cool, expensive, beautiful East End; then there's the Jut. It's not so bad, a quick walk to the old brownstones, yuppie coffee shops, and endless garbagey stores on the narrow cobbled roads of the East End. Ours are just big brick buildings that advertised views of the harbor but really just look out onto other big brick buildings. The only really nice thing about the Jut is that in the center of it all is a massive Entertainment Complex with movie theatres, bowling alleys, pool halls, and one of those huge bookstores where you can sit all day, read magazines, books, whatever, and never actually buy anything.

So I spent the rest of my Saturday there, sitting on the floor of the bookstore, drinking coffee (which I got from a cheaper deli outside), and leafing through a pile of what I now know to be dumb, commercial, and way-off books on mysticism, the occult, auras, and all that crap. The only thing I really learned was that I was in the wrong place if I wanted to actually figure anything out. I got some of the basic definitions down, and one book came very close to describing what I actually saw. In "Mysteries of the Mystics Explained" by Doctor Bullshit Artist or something like that, it said "an aura is a colored emanation that surrounds all individuals and can be perceived by a Medium. By noting variations in the hues of a person's aura, the Medium is able to describe a person's personality, needs, and illnesses. The shriveling of the aura is considered a sign of an impending death." I took a quick trip to the bathroom after reading that, to make sure mine hadn't shriveled.

I'd spent so much time there I was almost late for dinner. I wasn't eager to sit at the table with my family. The car ride home had been awkward enough.

"So the doctor said that humans can't see it?" asked my dad.


"So Gino's making it up. You're making it up. I wasted half my Saturday on this bullshit."

"Honey, language."

We'd just finished our matzo ball soup so I cleared away the bowls while mom set out a tray of manicotti. To my relief, the conversation strayed for a while away from me.

Later, I did a search online about auras but couldn't begin to sift through all the garbage that popped up. If the internet was ever useful, now it's just a huge waste of time for anyone who’s not looking for porn. I searched through the online yellow pages and found seven possibilities under the category "Book Dealers: Metaphysics Mystic, etc." Some of them had websites. I clicked on them and found one with a single page, text only, very unpretentious and therefore more convincing than the others. If it had shown blinking crystal ball icons or java tarot cards I probably would've closed it right away. But all it said was:

"New Rome Tomes. Specializing in theosophy, anthroposophy, the occult, varieties of mysticism. Buy & sell ancient and rare texts, out of print selections. Experts on staff. Open occasionally, but never after 5."

It was way after five so I printed the page and stuck it in my bag. The next day I headed over there. My mom still gets nervous about me going around the city alone so I told her I was going to spend a few hours in the bookstore again. That was technically true, I just didn't mention which bookstore.

New Rome Tomes was in Cidso East, a quick trip from my neighborhood but a world unto itself. The bus let me off right in front of a storefront so plastered with graffiti that it had to be a management choice. The only legible sign read "Daycare for Grownups," but a flickering neon Guinness tipped me off that it was actually a bar. Right next to that was a brick townhouse with a lush garden in the shade of a tall tree. The neighborhood continued like that, contradictions everywhere: bars, clubs, black box theatres, cabarets, strip clubs, and more bars mixed in with tree-lined townhouses and expensive white tablecloth restaurants. Overall it’s a pretty rough place, but I was making my solo visit on a Sunday afternoon, and the most offensive things I came across were a foul-mouthed woman using the brail method of parking and a homeless guy leaning against a bike rack and mumbling to whoever passed by.

I had to walk right by him on my way to the store, and the smell that wafted up was less than pleasant: kitchen garbage with just a hint of piss. I noticed, though, as I walked by, that his shopping cart—packed to overflowing with black-bagged mystery objects—was padlocked and chained to the bike rack. The man was possessive of his junk.

I skirted around him and walked up to the store. The iron grate was down and the inside was dark. I couldn’t see past the grimy windows. The website hadn’t mentioned that they were closed on Sundays, but that wasn’t too surprising. Since there wasn’t anything else in the neighborhood I could legally or morally do with my time, I headed back home.

The next day, right after school, I hopped on a bus and went across town only to find that the store was closed. Just after three o’clock on a Monday and it was closed.

"You were here yesterday." Normally, a stranger sneaking up on me in the middle of the street, particularly a bum that by my estimation was nearly seven feet tall, would scare a white streak into my hair. But his odor gave me a little forewarning, and his voice was so pitiful that I couldn’t be too frightened of him.

"Yes," I replied. I turned to get a better look at him. I could tell by his entirely red outfit that it was the same man I saw yesterday sleeping by the bike rack. Or at least, I thought he had been sleeping.

"They’re not open on Sundays," he offered.

"I noticed." I was really trying not to be sarcastic, which can be difficult for me. But I wanted to avoid headlines such as, "Boy Provokes Insane Hobo—Gets Stabbed In Ear."

"They’re not open now," he continued.

I managed to squeeze out a very straightforward and not condescending, "I see, thanks."

The following day, I took the same route but I approached the store carefully. I wanted to avoid another protracted conversation with that freaky guy who seems to live on the sidewalk around there.

"You have to be persistent. Never let them see you coming." How the hell did he sneak up on me? The store was dark again, and I’d been searching the window for some hint of their hours. Just like yesterday, he was wearing all red. Not that I expected him to change. If I kept my whole life wrapped up in a shopping cart, I probably wouldn’t bother with too many changes of clothes either.

"Are they still in business?" I asked.


"Can’t make much money if they’re never open."

"They’re open all the time."

"Apparently," I said, that time failing to check my sarcasm.

"You just missed her. They have a select clientele."

"A select clientele?" I asked.

He brought his lips so close to my ear that wisps of his beard tickled me as he whispered, "I think she doesn’t like you."

"Thanks," I said, and I headed home.

I swore the next day that this was the last time I was going to try. I had to stay after school for a mandatory study session, but I was back on the bus by four. "I give up!" I cried when I found myself facing the iron gates once again.

"You’re late. I was worried."

I wasn’t even startled this time. In fact, I shocked myself when I replied, "I had to stay after school."

"Didn’t get in trouble, did you? You look like a good boy."

"No, just this study thing we have to do sometimes." What the hell was going on? They’re just supposed to shake their cups at you while you walk by and pretend they don’t exist. This guy hadn’t even asked me for a quarter yet.

I was really drowsy while sitting in Earth Science the next day listening to Mr. Rabinowitz drone on about igneous intrusions. With my eyes half open, I was completely relaxed and my vision blurred. Everything got kind of pixilated, like a poor quality photo. Colors bled into each other, maybe because of my watery eyes. But while I stared dumbly at the head of the girl in front of me, I saw a pattern just like what I see in the mirror: a glowing outline of the person before me. I looked around the room and while the rest of the world took on a gray, dull, ashen appearance, I saw the same bright glow emanating from all the students. Everyone's was different, too: the colors, strengths, and hues.

But then I looked up at Mr. Rabinowitz. The shape around his body was withered and gray, bleeding into the dullness of the rest of the world. I was suddenly fighting nausea. A sense of dread welled up in me, a miserable feeling, so much that I got up and ran towards the bathroom. I didn't make it; I puked in the hall right outside my very own locker.

I accomplished one thing by puking in the hallway. Well, two, if you count pissing off the janitor who had to cover it in sawdust then mop it up. They sent me home halfway through second period. My parents weren't home to answer the phone, but since I live pretty close they said I could just walk. The moment I stepped out of the school I headed straight for the bus, and by 10:30AM I was outside the bookstore in Cidso East. The gates were raised and on the inside of the glass door hung a faded sign that read, "Open." I reached for the door before anyone could slam down the metal gate and before I could get sucked into another conversation with that strange guy.

The door opened with a friendly jingle but when I stepped inside, the woman at the counter said, "Dammit. I thought you gave up?"


"Look, why don't you damn Goth punk brat kids go to the mall?! We don't sell Wicca broomsticks or 'I hate God' bumper stickers here, ok? Now leave, we're closing."

"I'm not looking for bumper stickers, I'm looking for books. Isn't this a bookstore?"

If it wasn't for her nasty attitude I might've thought she was pretty. She had red hair that was black at the roots, but it looked strangely cool. The counter was waist high, but everything above the waist seemed in good order (by which I mean she had very nice tits).

"Well, let's get this over with," she said. "What are you looking for, exactly? By the way, I’m up here."

She caught me looking. "Sorry," I said, sheepishly. "I'd rather just browse myself, thanks." It was at that moment that I first had the chance to look around the store, which was so cramped with books and unidentifiable objects that it looked as though everything had been shoveled in place. The aisles were so narrow you'd have to shimmy sideways through them.

"Browse, he wants to browse. Why me? Fine, have fun, take your time. We close in ten


With one minute to spare I found something promising. Way in the back there was a glass case, behind which were a series of leather bound tomes. I almost skipped over them because there was a book about something called "Tantric Massage" obscuring them, but luckily I took a second look. They were ancient, or appeared to be, and that made them all the more appealing. Actually, very few of the books in the store had an ISBN number; they all seemed to be pretty old. This one was dusty and cracked, and even the language had kind of an "olde English" feel to it. It was still legible though. Entitled, "Decyfering the Aura," it read like a manual in interpreting the visual manifestation of the aura. In the center, there was even a drawing which captured pretty much what I see when I look in the mirror, and what I saw when I spaced out in class today.

I placed it on the counter and took out my wallet. The salesgirl stood there and looked at me as if I'd just puked on her shoes. "Why do you want this book?" she asked.

"Just for research, school, nothing..."

"Really..." her eyes narrowed. "We barter at this store. I'll give you this book if I can have that leather wrist-band you're wearing."

Again, weird. "Thanks," I said, "but I'd rather just pay for it."

"Ok," she said, cheerfully, "that'll be... 3000 dollars please. And we only take cash."

"You're crazy," I cried.

"Plus tax."

"Forget it. Goodbye," I said, leaving the book on the counter and walking towards the door.

"I really like your wristband," she called after me.

"Fine," I spat, turning around. I knew where to get another one just like it anyway. "Here." I unclasped it and set it on the counter. She quickly scooped it up and clutched it tightly in her hands. This lady was really freaking me out so I didn’t wait for her to offer me a bag or receipt, I just grabbed the book and headed for the door.

"What's your name?" she called after me.

"Why?" I asked.

"Thank you! I just have a few little questions before you leave. Again, why did you choose this book."

"A school project."

She seemed to enjoy my response. She asked, "How long have you known that you're a Medium?"

"What are you talking about? I wear a small."

"Sometimes that's how it begins. But reflections can be deceptive. The book will explain all about that. But tell me, how clearly do you see them?"

"See what?" As much as I wanted to dart out of the store I couldn’t help but stay to find out what the hell was going on. It was as if she was pulling answers out of my head.

"Impressive, a lot of Mediums can't do that well when they're trying at it. Fifth question, last one I promise..."

"Look, this is... thanks for the book but you're freaking me out, later." I turned to the door.

"Last question: where do you live?"

"Goodbye," I said, reaching for the door handle.

"Be seeing you, Gino."

Go to Part 2