When I began gathering the eggs, it was a compulsion that at first hauled me up out of sleep and while still barely awake, out of my flat and into the apartment complex. That first egg was hidden away in the bowels of the block, down in the sub-basement level where no one usually went. Whether it was really an egg or not I didn’t know – it had the rough shape of a hen’s egg, but made up of flat planes, like someone had made a wireframe egg on an ancient home computer, and then then painted it all gold, but not very well – a rough crust of gold. That one was about the size of both my fists placed together, and heavier than it looked, for all that it might have been gold when I first picked it up. I walked out into the carpark in my pajamas and bare feet and only then noticed the cold under my toes. There was a car waiting for me and I handed the egg through the driver’s window to the man inside. There was something wrong with his face, like he’d been in an accident and had massive plastic surgery. He croaked out a thanks and I returned to bed. When I woke up properly it had the quality of a dream, and only my grimy feet which had left filth all over my bedsheets suggested I might not have dreamed it.
That was all a long time ago, and now that strange sensation that once roused me at night comes to me at all times of day of night. I’m not compelled to do it. More and more it feels like the right thing to do. Like I’ve been chosen for a great undertaking. It feels good to be chosen, to be useful. I was the kid picked last for football, and I sat at the back of the class alternately working and frantically colouring in the margins of every page of my textbooks. I can’t say adult life got much better, but office work is tolerable and it pays for my quiet little apartment. I’m a roundish sort of person – not unlike the eggs I collect, but I think the waistcoats mask it well enough. I’ve certainly been getting more exercise since the eggs entered my life.
It’s hard to explain how I know where to go, but it’s as if there’s some link between the eggs and a place inside me. Like a compass, or an invisible thread that links us and it reels me in as I draw nearer. Sometimes I imagine I’m stationary and pull on the thread, making the whole world move toward me until the egg is safely in my hands. They’re funny little things. Like I said, they’re not round like a real egg, more a rough approximation. And that gold colour comes off too. There are parts of my hands I just can’t get it off – it looks like I have gilded palms. I think about wearing gloves, but unless it’s brutally cold it doesn’t feel right. There’s something about the contact that is electrifying, that feeling of doing the right thing. I imagine it’s how someone who is really good at dancing feels when space on the dance floor opens up around them and they’re being worshipped by the other dancers. It feels like that. Accomplishment, satisfaction, reward.
Lately the frequency of eggs has increased. At first it was just every few weeks, long enough for me to almost forget about them, especially when they woke me up from dreaming. Now it’s daily and I’m having to invent excuses to leave the office, or extend my lunchbreaks. My supervisor seems a little concerned, but I explained that I have a health condition. I’m perfectly happy to make up the work time, and they seem mollified by that for now. Yesterday I learned that the eggs have a name: ir. I don’t know what it means, but apparently I am an ir-harvester. Sorry if this seems a bit jumbled, but it can be hard to place these things in order. I don’t mean yesterday, I don’t think.
It was perhaps the most unusual collection of ir I’d experienced. I felt the call in my head and my heart and in my feet and in the tips of my elbows. It was almost lunchtime so I ducked my head and made my way out of the office and into the lift. I realised I’d need a car, so I borrowed one of the office cars. They’re for meetings with clients and so forth, but the keys are just in a case behind reception. I drove the boxy little thing (no need to take one of the expensive saloons) and drove way out across town until I reached the edge of the shallow river that skirts the town to the east. A bit of a puzzle, as that thread led directly through the water. I got out of the car to get a better look, and on the other side, underneath the shadow of railway bridge that runs over the river, there’s a little sandbank or whatever. On it crouched a woman, and I could just make out the glint of the egg – the eggs, plural! – hidden behind her. I was immediately concerned that someone else might have found the eggs. That wasn’t supposed to happen – they’re not for just anyone. She waved. I got back in the car and carefully drove into the river. It was only a foot or so deep here in the middle of summer, but I proceeded slowly, just in case. Miraculously, the car didn’t give out, though it did fill up with river water. I drove to within a few feet of the woman, and got out of the car. Immediately she started pressing eggs into my hands to place in the back seat.
“I’ve never met another ir-harvester,” she said as she passed me yet another golden egg, “but of course I knew there were more of us.”
I didn’t really know what to say to that. I had never occurred to me that there were more of us. But then I’d never wondered what happened to the eggs after I gave them to the man in the car. This woman, this fellow ir-harvester, had seven eggs. Seven! Three were very large, bigger than my head with the others diminishing in size almost to the size of a hen’s egg you might find in a supermarket. We were both soaked up to the waist. I offered her a lift somewhere, but she said she knew that I knew where I was going, and she got out once I’d driven the car back to the riverbank. The car wasn’t in very good shape, with the footwells sloshing with water. I shrugged and drove off to meet the man who would be waiting for me.
His face seemed less like a face every time we met, though I felt mean for thinking it. The doctors can’t always put a face back together properly can they, not if the damage was bad enough. His face was more like a stack of thick fleshy wedges that somehow made me think it was a face. He accepted the eggs, and croaked his thanks. This time though he said something else, looking at me as I dripped water everywhere. He said “the time is coming” and “be ready”.
I left him excited and returned the car to the parking pool, taking some care to ensure no one saw me return the key for the rather soggy car. I sat in my wet clothes at my desk for the rest of the day, but I don’t think anyone noticed. I didn’t, I was too excited. When I got back to my apartment and showered and changed I discovered that the gold leaf or whatever it was had transferred to my stomach and arms, presumably from carrying all those eggs while wet. It wasn’t just paint though, the golden patches on my stomach and arms had that same rough texture as the eggs. Strange, but oddly comforting too.
Over the next few weeks I gathered many more eggs. I had to call in sick to work and pretended I had a doctor’s note because I just couldn’t make enough time to spend at the office. I harvested twenty ir one day. I saw the woman several times, collecting the eggs she had harvested as well as twice when I met the man who received them. She was excited too, I could tell. There was a smile that tipped up only the very corners of her mouth and her eyes were wet and warm. I knew the feeling – it’s the same expression I saw on myself in the mirror. Her hands were all golden too, and although she wore a thick cardigan buttoned tightly at her neck, I was sure she too was becoming golden all over. Her name is Kathryn55.
I’d had no phone calls from work. I’d sort of expected to be pestered about returning to the office, but they seemed to have forgotten me. I didn’t mind, it gave me time to do what I loved, and who would ever complain about something like that. I think we’re on to today now. It can be hard to tell. I spent last night retrieving ir from the roof the local art gallery. You’d think it would be harder to get into some of these places, but there always seems to be a way, and people don’t notice me when I’m on ir business. I was a bit tired, because the call came every few hours but I had become quite good at napping. I’d even rented a car, or I think I did. I had a car and its keys, but I don’t remember renting it, even though there’s a “Top Car Rentals” sticker on the dashboard.
Today is the big day, what we’ve been waiting for, Kathryn and I. I feel tingly all over, and like there are tickling pins in my stomach. First I have to collect some more ir. This time they’re precariously balanced in a child’s treehouse. It’s a bit of a squeeze and the rope ladder wasn’t much fun getting up, but there are three eggs clustered around the edge of the hole where you climb up. They’re encrusted together, so at least they are easy to pick up and hold under one arm while I sweat through the descent. With them safely in my car I set off. It’s a much longer drive, and it eventually leads me to one of the big hydroelectric dams. There’s a road that drops down the side of it and a set of low buildings. I drive between them and get out. Always knowing where you’re going feels immensely reassuring. I used to get lost all the time, but I always know where the ir is and where it needs to be. There’s a roll up door which has been unlocked, so I push it up and go under, shutting the door behind me. It looks more like a self-catering hotel room than a lock-up at a power station. I place the eggs on the breakfast bar and sit down to wait, scratching a little at the encrusted gold on the heels of my palms and wrists.
Kathryn arrives first, with her own ir which she places on the counter too, and then sits down on the bed to wait. We chat a little, but we’re both nervous with excitement and soon fall into a comfortable silence. It’s a while after that that the man arrives. Maybe it’s the different lighting, but for the first time I can see that he really isn’t a man at all. Those fleshy wedges that I thought made up his face only look like a face from certain angles when the light is right. It’s more like someone with a huge mouth has stuffed their face with slices of ham and tipped their head way back so the meat is all you can see. He too has crusts of gold like nodules attached to his skin. From a bag he pulls out two bags of prawn crackers that you might get from a takeaway, and croaks, “eats”. While we eat he asks me to unbutton my waistcoat and shirt. I feel a touch self-conscious with Kathryn there, but he asks her to do the same, so I do it anyway. My round belly is all golden now, though its texture is more like rough concrete. Kathryn’s is the same, though much less round, except for her breasts which are also golden, and all of the same texture as my body.
The man encourages us to keep eating while he takes the ir from the counter and gently pushes first one into my stomach, and then a second into Kathryn. Our skin isn’t really skin any more: the eggs part the skin of my belly like it’s molten metal or paint. Once they’re inside I feel warm and content, and a little sleepy. I sit on the bed with Kathryn and we lie down together while the man with the face made of meat keeps pressing ir into us. I feel very full, but good. Kathryn and I hold hands and lie facing each other. I think everything is going to be OK now, always.