The Last Days of Johnny Doe

Jonathan James Doe and his unfortunate name were born on the 16th of June, 1990; an oversight resulting from an absentee father and a teenage mother who had never heard the term before. It was a quirk that went largely unnoticed; until a social worker was sent to investigate what was thought to be a bureaucratic anomaly. It was then that little Johnny was discovered, tottering around his Mamma and playing with a toy train. At that point it was a little too late. He had been “Johnny” for the last three years and strangely enough, the child seemed to have become quite attached to his name. Attempts were made to include his middle name, and for a while “JJ” was thrown into the mix, but neither ever fit, and so he grew up “little Johnny Doe”.

Over the course of his teenage years he weathered the storm. Indeed, by the time his 20th birthday rolled around, Johnny had fully embraced the moniker, although he remained a “Johnny” – opting to keep the other two letters – largely to avoid instances of confusion. In a lot of ways, his name defined him. The joke had been accidental, as had his birth; a pattern that continued throughout the rest of his life. Johnny stumbled his way through adolescence and school, surviving predominantly on natural ability and luck. Both of which he seemed to have in abundance. The fact was; Johnny was as okay with his circumstance as he was his name. He was a talented guy who achieved a lot with little effort and somehow finished high school ranked in his class’s top ten, barely having cracked a textbook.

What came after that, however, was open-ended. Johnny’s young, remarried, and now financially gifted mother pushed for college, and for the most part, he agreed. Higher education appealed to him. The only problem was that, like most kids in their late teens, Johnny had no idea as to what it was he wanted to do when he grew up.

Johnny had never been concerned with the greater questions of life: questions centered on notions of divinity, fate, and his greater place within the grand scheme of things did not occur to him until a chance encounter that took place a little after his 21st birthday when, one day, he hopped on his motorcycle and took off. Johnny’s initial intention was to ride until he hit water. To the coast, as if to draw on a natural pre-disposition to seek answers from Mother Ocean. Instead, a series of events involving a nap in the sun and an unlikely meeting with two very pretty, very bubbly girls named Ruby and Mim, led our dearest Johnny to a night-time gathering of like-minded souls on the banks of a lake overshadowed by pines.

It is at this point; in the flickering light of a bonfire, that Johnny’s tale becomes somewhat significant. For it was at this gathering, at the behest of Ruby and Mim, that Johnny met Bart Brooks, a paradox of truly Babylonian proportions. Consider for a moment, that, for all your life you have held on to one belief with a complete and utter dogmatism. It is not an idea rooted in religious faith, any notion of principal or superstition, but something much more personal and basic. It is the seemingly concrete assumption that you are an unprecedented original; an amalgamation of physical features and personality traits as individual as a snowflake.

Now imagine the seconds following the moment you come face-to-face with the individual who crushes that perception. Imagine the questions that arise from staring into your own eyes, as an expression of mixed confusion and curiosity, identical to your own, twists the borrowed face of your new acquaintance.

This was Johnny’s experience when he met Bart Brooks. It began with shock, before following a logical progression; questions were raised regarding time travel and the possibility of extra-terrestrial involvement, before the swapping of childhood stories, and an eventual dive into questions of a more philosophical nature. It was a discussion without precedent that stretched into the early hours of the morning, as the bonfire’s flames gave way to embers and an oil slick sky turned from black to grey.

Bart wove a story very different to Johnny’s own. It was the story of a father who stayed. It wasn’t a horror story, but it was far from the fairytale little Johnny had clung to growing up. Meeting Bart meant seeing his reflection, along with the lines of white powder someone had cut on the mirror.

Their conversation was interrupted with the return of Ruby and Mim, who spurred the pair into the water of the lake for a pre-dawn swim. Happy for the reprieve, they accepted, dipping into the murky depths of the lake with tired eyes and laughter, splashing happily in the shallows.

At some point, someone, it’s hard to say who for the early morning fog surrounds so many of these recollections, suggested a leap of faith from the rocks above the lake. A fifty-foot outcrop, which bore a striking resemblance to some sort of ancient Hebrew ruin in profile to the sunrise. All parties agreed, and as the first rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon four silhouettes launched themselves from the rugged tower, limbs flailing as they tumbled helter-skelter to the water below.

Four went down, and three came up. Somewhere, down beneath the water line, a boy, one in a matching set of snowflakes, disappeared.

It took the better part of a laughing, splashing minute, for the realisation of their diminished number to strike. Laughs turned to panicked cries as figures thrashed beneath the surface, duck diving down in hopes of finding a flaccid limb. Long minutes later, three bodies clambered onto the bank, and concerns shifted. Lazy bodies lay about the dying fire, and the need to call for help was met by protests tied to little bags of powders and pills. It was a conflict between those who had been in the water, and those lying in the mud.

Somewhere amongst the arguing and blame, the raised voices and pointed fingers, a boy slipped away. He took a set of keys from a pair of abandoned jeans and disappeared through the pines, onto a motorcycle that purred to life and carried him away.  Maybe towards the coast.

In later days, a body was found. It had washed up on the muddy banks of a lake surrounded by pines. He was taken to the local morgue, and without any means of identification, he was put to one side, on a cold metal slab with a white sheet and a toe tag. For administrative purposes, they called him John Doe.


Woroni 2

This piece first appeared in the Woroni Creative Edition, 2014