Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival presents... The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review: Best Acts of 2010 Published in arrangement with the authors Compiled by Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival Edited by Trevor Richardson Cover design and interior layout by Erin Deale Interior illustrations by Trevor Richardson Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and “Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival,” except in the case of brief quotations embodied within critical articles and reviews. This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, or historical events, is purely coincidental. 4
Preamble A Letter from the Editor Dear Revivalists, Curious Perusers and Distant Friends, For those of you that may be wondering, the Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival began in May 2010 over diner coffee. It was me and my girlfriend, Erin Deale, talking about a desire to change things. The way we saw it, as aspiring creatives ourselves, an artist in the current system has only a limited level of control over their own destiny or “success” or future – however you choose to label it. Let’s look at the facts. We are taught to seek out the patronage of other, larger interests. Whether that means a publishing company, record label, film studio, agent, manager, or art gallery, the end result is still the same: we are handing our fates over to an outside force that may not have our best interest at heart. More than that, the idea out there is that we need them if we want to succeed. If they say no then that’s that. Erin and I didn’t feel that was right and we started trying to think of a new system. The philosophy of Seahorse began with an agreement that this stalemate isn’t good enough anymore. The larger, often corporate entities are granted the power to determine what the art world looks like, and that power is given out, supported and maintained largely by the artists themselves. The artists’ intentions are not evil, it isn’t selling out or bastardizing standards, it’s simply a desire to reach the largest possible audience that motivates them. However, best intentions aside, the backlash of reaching out to Big Business for help is apparent, albeit, rarely voiced in the way we came to look at it. It is this backlash that inspires the hipster outcry of “sellout” or “mainstream” and the like. Simply put, in granting so much power to big business, in allowing them to determine which art “makes it” and which doesn’t, we have given them the power to determine what the art world looks like. Everywhere we go, the books we see in stores, the music we hear on the radio, somewhere along the line there’s been some bigger group working to get it where it is. So what about the stuff they say no to? What about the fact that they have obtained the power to say no? The resources of some of these groups are astounding, able to make or break the fates of dreamers in a single blurb, so why the negativity? Why the resistance. In truth, if their motivation were actually based on the artists themselves all would likely be well. But that is clearly not the case. Any business, no matter how idealistic, is always going to be motivated by economy. Their choices are based on markets, sales and predictable gains, not the quality of the contributions our generation is making to art history. Not that we can blame them, but if we imagine every one of these corporate interests sharing the 5
motivations it is not difficult to recognize the potential for homogenization. Everything that gets promoted looks the same if everything is chosen for the same reasons. We wanted to break up the monotony. We wanted creative diversity, but to do that we needed a way to get our hands on the same resources as the larger powers we hope to contend with. How do you get ahold of the power to help art succeed without becoming another corporation? That question led directly to the Seahorse project. The idea was to bring artists together to pool resources, skill, labor and more. No single person gains an abundance of power, no one is in charge here. We’re all in this together. The idea is that we are stronger working as a group than we are working alone or, in some cases, against each other. Trying to bring people together to create new, diverse projects that benefit everyone is what we are all about. No one is taken advantage of and no one is putting more into it than the other. The goal is to be completely communal while trying to make truly great art, music or literature successful. We have many experiments in the works, ranging from social events, public installation pieces, mixed media performances and more. One of those experiments was an absurdist magazine simply dubbed The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review. Like so many fledgling attempts, we’ve had our bumps and false starts, but the result of our efforts has made up for any amateur failings. Over the course of the year we published work from many talented young writers on their way up. All of the work has merit ranging from interesting turns of phrase, bizarre voices, impressive storylines – it was all off the proverbial beaten path in some form or other and as such would probably never make it if there wasn’t someone there willing to give it that first shot. This anthology represents the combination of the Seahorse philosophy, the raw talent of many creative individuals, and a year of our best, strongest voices. Hopefully the first of many to come, this anthology exists as a declaration of intent. We want to be responsible for bold work created independently, off the grid, marketed to those that share our spirit, and created by those that want to be part of something new. We are always looking for new names, fresh suggestions, and creative ideas. As the editor, and one half of the team that makes Seahorse tick, I am proud of the fruit of our labors and the literary hopefuls, the someday giants, collected together in this book. Thanks for Reading, Trevor Richardson Editor-in-Chief, The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival
Table of Contents
If I Lost My Mind Josh Goller....................................................................................................................................6
El Paso Carib Guerra................................................................................................................................9 Dreams I Hope Don’t ComeTrue,Number 73 Thomas O’Connell....................................................................................................................14 Elusive Dillon Mullenix..........................................................................................................................16 The Ballad of LongTom Garroutte Daniel Eli Dronsfield................................................................................................................20 This WackyWeather Danger Slater............................................................................................................................40 Margot in Reverse Adam Moorad..........................................................................................................................47 LastThings Robert Kulesz............................................................................................................................54 Babe Rockerfeller:A Canadian Gothic Lumberjack Romance KirkA. C. Marshall...................................................................................................................58 His CableTelevision Ray Succre.................................................................................................................................76 Kill Room Debate Walter Foley..............................................................................................................................78 Dismantled Bill James..................................................................................................................................82 Sonata Miles Klee..................................................................................................................................90 Sensorium 7 Isaac Coleman..........................................................................................................................98 The Great Growing J.P. Kemmick.........................................................................................................................125 Talking the Untimely Demise of Uncle Sam Trevor Richardson..................................................................................................................143 7
If I Lost My Josh Mind Goller If I lost my mind, I would shave every hair from my body and slather myself with paints of all colors. I would dance in the rain, my umbrella turned upside down, and sing “London Bridges.” But I haven’t lost my mind, so I obsess about fixing errant strands of hair in place with product. I lament the occasional pimple. I remove lint from my nicer clothing with a band of masking tape turned inside out around my hand. If I lost my mind, I would wrench off the mini-blinds in my bedroom. I would punch through the window panes and rip holes in my bedroom walls with a claw hammer. I would glut my lungs on the newfound breeze and bask in the halo of settling drywall dust. But I haven’t lost my mind, so I sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day, tucked away in the dim corner of an office, surrounded by stacks of paper. I return home to search for the elusive job that will promise a larger workspace, taking breaks to stare at a television screen and watch commercials I now know by heart. If I lost my mind, I would greet everyone on the morning train. I would shake every hand as I walked down the street. I would pat the backs of passersby and offer unsolicited words of encouragement. I would assign concocted names to each stranger and greet them as such. “Hello, Walter Kensington.” “Top of the morning to you, Charles Pittman.” “Looking well today, Abigail Peppercorn.” But I haven’t lost my mind, so I avoid eye contact even when it takes considerable effort to do so. I do not engage in candor or camaraderie. In the instances where polite greetings are unavoidable, I take care not to call people by name for fear of using the wrong one. 8
If I lost my mind, I would run through the park, limbs flailing, face red. I would find a moist spot and rip clumps of sod. I would shower my head with the soil. I would overturn the largest rock I could manage and stuff beetles down my shirt. But I haven’t lost my mind, so I trudge up three flights of stairs to my apartment. I squash centipedes on my wall with Kleenex. I slump onto the sofa and watch a man on television get dunked upside down in a tank of cockroaches and win a million dollars. If I lost my mind, I’d hit the streets with a pack of cigarettes, case of cheap beer, and pocketful of one-dollar bills. I would comb the city for all the panhandlers and hobos I could find. I would gather the old woman singing badly through broken teeth. I would collect the man who thinks he’s Jesus and hasn’t washed his feet in months. I would grab the fat man in the lime green polyester suit who talks to himself under the bridge. I would gather them all. We would each have a drink and a smoke. We would talk loudly all at once. We would each buy a single lottery ticket and beg for a penny to scratch it. If nobody won the jackpot, I would invite them back to my place to use the toilet and play Twister. But I haven’t lost my mind, so when I pass the homeless I clutch my spare change in my pocket to stop its jingling. I scowl. “They’ll just use it for booze.” I pick up a six-pack and some Parliaments at the Safeway and cross the street to avoid passing a man in a sleeping bag. Once I return home, I use my toilet without joy.
osh Goller sprouted in Wisconsin soil but the winds carried him to the gloom and damp of the Pacific Northwest. His short fiction has appeared in many online and print publications and he recently earned his MFA in Writing from Pacific University. He writes art-house movie reviews for a local weekly and in his spare time he enjoys driving through fog and not taking himself too seriously. He can be reached at email@example.com.
ElCaribPaso Guerra The trees to the edge of the road are tall, and block the sun in a blinking sequence as he drives by. They’re moss drenched. Fern sprouts out in the branches nooks where the moss grows thick. The sun visor is pulled down and out to shade his eyes, and the car will stop soon. There’s no gas. He can feel the choked rattle coming on, but he’ll drive it until it stops. The sun is getting close to the hills, and he’ll walk for a while before he sleeps. Just for a few hours. Using the backpack for a pillow. Under the wool blanket. The smell in the wood is soft and rain. The ground gives. It’s sweet on his back. There’s still some light in the sky. The clouds carry it around, and it sits on the bark tipped outline of the trees. He breaths in, silently, and soon he falls asleep. He’s a child & there are other children with him edged out from the large chain lowering them on a stone disk down the well. The walls are dripping & one of the children sits very close to him immediately next to him is crying [Where are we?] around her shaking tongue. He doesn’t know but it feels like forever & at last he’s resigned. It’s darker when he wakes. It won’t be long till the sun rises. There’re birds already sounding, and the wind is laying in wait. It may rain. There’s always a chance up here. Better to expect the rains. He rolls his blanket ties it to the backpack. The backpack rests well on his body. He undoes his zipper, and reaches in with his fingers to maneuver his penis from the fly styling, and when he pees there’s a stale tension in his cheeks relieved to his temples a moment in his neck. His face dips. A smile release it’s warming. Does just what it should. He’s walking on the side of the road again while the sun is rising. He had been running before. He always begins in a sprint, and when his legs hurt and his chest burns he walks. He’ll run again in a few hours because nobody will have picked him up, for company or pity, and he won’t stop 11
unless he finds water or food. The sky is thick and close with clouds. Some heavier and grey but the others lit as though light were their color. There are some flowers in the grass past the pavement. Small white flowers that remind him of a dress that a woman with red hair had worn in a photograph. He had always hoped to see her in the dress under sun and near those flowers. He had wanted to take a picture like that one since the smile in the other wasn’t meant for him, or had she known? and thought of him saved that smile for him to see then. But he had never known her on a sunny day. Close to nightfall, when the bottoms of the clouds are pink against the graying blue, and the stars sneak out when his eyes stop searching in the rich blue descending, a truck pulls to the side of the road. He walks through the warm exhaust He hears the lock click open on the inside of the door. The handle is roughed plastic. Beads of water are pressed against his palm, and he feels the mechanism release. The side mirror catches the tail light when he opens the door and again when he closes it. Now the red and waterbled halo stays in view, colors the trees and road which begin to move instead. The man to his left is thin and not old, but probably looks older than he is. The truck is newer, but not fresh. Mostly plastic bottles line the floor he can feel the fold of a magazine which has been wet and dry before. A gallon jug is heavy with water or some other liquid against his boot. The driver looks at him with no intent, then back to the road and the headlights rolling over what moves by. He flashes the brights at hills and sharp curves. At some point he smokes a cigarette and cracks the window to a thin whistle. “Where’re you headed?” The driver says. They all ask that question in those words. He wonders if they all would normally use the word ‘headed’, or if the context somehow demands it. “El Paso,” says the man. The driver lets a few quick laughs in his closed mouth. “Well I could take you down to Eagle’s Pass. I’ll bet you’d get a ride to Reno from there.” On the radio a slow deep voice that knows that this is its audience, and so speaks mostly for its own sake. Weak sad strings open behind it. They grow more pleading. The hot air is drying his skin. The driver nods with the undertow of the violin. “So what’s in El Paso?” “I’m meeting somebody there.” “Who’s that, some sweetie?” he slips, then quickly, “Look at me being nosy.” “It’s fine. I’m meeting an old man. A friend of mine.” The driver looks over at him for a moment then back to the road. 12
“I used to have a friend who lived down around there. Las Cruces, really. My roommate in college. He was all right. He was tall. Funny guy.” Neither man talk for miles in the night. On these higher roads, clumps of snow sit unmelted, and flash bright in the headlights when they pass. “Do you mind if I sleep?” “No,” says the driver, “Go ahead.” “Thanks.” “No problem. Bet you’re real tired.” “I am,” says the man. The driver nods in the glow of the dash. Ave Maria begins its creeping blue rise. The grace comes in with that golden cello and with closed eyes—lashes brushed aside and aside by the wind leaked through the driver’s cigarette smoke—he forgets himself again. In a room with no ceiling hardwood a smell like an old cigar box. The walls are divvied compartments with holes for handholds & though they’re all different sizes the drawers are stacked to fit. He’s running the fingers of his right hand against the smooth wood some small drawers in the far corner rattle as though with the very sensation on his fingers. He removes his hand the rattle stops like it never began & when he touches his chest it sounds again. This time a few of the larger drawers clatter above him slide open then shut in rhythm. There’s a ripple of wood against wood as the drawers open shut in a rising wave. A sudden ripping bang as they all move at once. It’s almost deafening in the instant, but when it ends, again, it’s as though it never happened. He shakes from the frame a bright light sun on metal sounds that shouldn’t be in this room. He knows. Then it’s still again. He reaches for a large drawer the height of his chest. He pulls it open it’s very light as if on rollers but the feel is grain against grain & he looks inside of it. The drawer is a long way down & lined in an elegant pattern with oddly sized slats. In the corner far left from himself is a small wooden man opening one of the slats. Bright flash of sun off metal the smell of gasoline & restrooms & tires sound of freight engines in long rows, the driver’s voice— “Hey there,” says the driver. The man rubs his eyes awake and the world opens up around him, “Took you all the way through to Doyle, but this is my stop.” “Thanks,” he says, grabbing up his backpack. “No problem,” the driver pauses, looks down for guilt or sympathy, “You need a little cash or something?” “Could I take this water jug?” “The jug?” the driver looks at the jug, as if to appraise its worth, considers, and then shrugs, “Well sure. I guess so. It’s yours.” “ T h a n k s .” The sun is bright, but the air has a dry chill. The man lowers his cap, but the 13
light gray parking lot is blinding in refraction. Windshields each hold another sun heat from engines shimmering hoods the bending of vision around metal mirages. He walks around to the side of the shop, spots the spigot next to a stack of plastic milkcrates all different colors, darker tones and one light blue. The tap is hot, and tough to open. Like the windshields, each drop of water holds another sun. They splatter on the browning soak concrete, and onto the tips of his shoes. It feels good in his hands. It’s starting to cool. Against his face, he can feel the dirt and salt holding thick where the water doesn’t wash and he holds both hands under the glutting stream brings them to his face over his hair. His cap falls to the ground beside. He fills up the jug and sets it near the wall. It’ll make running bulky but he knows that he is water. Constantly refilling, cleansing, never let your water sit, become a cesspool. He turns to pick up his hat which he wets before running his hair back and fitting it again to his head. He turns the tap off. The straps on his shoulders are wet now, but the backpack is still light. His body feels good when he slings it off, relieved, like his back is floating. From the backpack he pulls out a coil of nylon rope and a small knife he keeps sharp in a leather sheath. Wrapping the cord around two fingers, tight into the meat, the man measures a length from his elbow to fingers twice and cuts it free. Reties the cord. places it and the knife in the backpack. He picks up the jug which he loops the rope through and once the backpack is on he rests the rope sling over his shoulder on the strap. He stands up, and walks back into the glare. He feels like a centered point. An apex from which two unavoidable truths become equally immediate, and both equally unattainable in their constant withdrawal. Moments pass, and shiver still from his distance— ever growing—as he’s carried on into everything new, still familiar. He does move, of course, in a certain way, but always towards and away, towards everything else. Limitations. When he’s running again he feels the movements as specifically as he can. Just the brief touch of his foot, the lean of his chest. The duck and bounce of his forehead and the skin on his cheeks. His arms move as though they must, in sway opposite his tense calves, and from the shoulder he pushes hard with his elbows, his thighs. He wonders how fast he can make his body move without losing control of its rhythm. There is no movement everything in perfect function the right place all adults & their infinite children all with no faces which is a same face since the face itself never changes looking out of blood chapped swollen eyes pus pore lashes the tired blink of necessity solving the dryness of inaction which is to say constant action all parts realized at once & shown here in varying degrees of now in chains ball gags match the color red of their eyes their nipples like the smell of spit the sound of screaming every sound in an otherwise void. 14
arib Guerra: est. 1984 +41.2 -123.2; 1/6852472823; loc. +40.7 -73.9 circa 2011.
Dreams I Hope Don’t ComeTrue, Number 73 Thomas O’Connell
She came upon a picnic table by the river. A birthday cake sat at one end. The candles were still lit and dripping opaque wax, which gathered on top of pale frosting. Matching paper plates and napkins sat facing each other on either side of the table. A piñata had been lynched in a nearby tree. There were no party guests around. They had been hiding in the river, holding their breath, waiting for her to arrive. They were going to jump up out of the water and yell, ‘surprise’ Because she was late, they all drowned and floated down stream to somebody else’s party.
homas Oâ€™Connell is a librarian living in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, although his heart will always remain in his native New England. His influences have been P.D. Eastman, S. E. Hinton, and R. S. Thomas. Poetry and fiction has appeared in Caketrain, Sleepingfish, The Broken Plate, Slab, and The Blue Earth Review, as well as other print and online journals. Given time to spend, he spends it with his wife and daughters. Given time to waste, he creates space-age folk art.
Elusive Dillon Mullenix There is a new attraction on the back-country roads of San Diego County, and it isn’t the ferocious and hard to kill wild boars (currently en route from Texas), which I’ve been hoping for. No, this is a mutant anomaly far more intriguing, even to a non-scientist, like my neighbor Ed, who finds these creatures fascinating and calls them, “Crooked thieves, locked into a death grip with the rest of the world.” On countless nights we’ve gone out with flashlights, and one particularly bright strobe light, looking for these strange beasts. It was a misadventure in search of these loathsome men that brought me near them at first, their psychosis engrossed me, and became an addiction so consuming that it’s rivaled the strongest narcotics. Now, it has to be said that this is a tricky endeavor - chasing the natives one requiring much skill and patience. All the driving, when you’re out after sunset with your camera, must be done with the headlights off so that the animals won’t know you’re coming and flee into the darkness. Don’t worry about the hum of the engine, though, they usually mistake that for the natural vibrations of the desert, which they are particularly familiar with and attuned to like Aboriginals. In the truck, or whatever you are pursuing them in, you must be silent and ready, no talking and mundane chit-chat, and for God’s sake keep the speed down or you’ll miss them. Mostly they are found hiding in road-side ditches or roaming through high grass, their black plastic bag slung to the curb as they pick up one can at a time. Now, if you see a creature as previously described then you’ve probably 18
seen him! The miraculous high desert road tweaker. You are now part of an elite club, my friend, but beware, this person is not to be approached, they are violent and have been known to attack passersby unprovoked. This, however, will not deter you, I’m sure, because this minor setback does not, to the passionate observers of the road tweaker, diminish at all their incredible draw. They are, in fact, akin to Darwin’s finches. When the road tweaker first appeared they weren’t seen during the day, but now that isn’t the case, they are braver, no longer scared to show their shallow faces, emaciated bodies, hunger ridden bodies, pacing with a quickness not common to normal men along the roadside. They are driven by an incentive to consume and everything counts. They are going green (in the American Business Sense), but they didn’t mean to. It was just the only viable option when it came time to score another hit. Occasionally, these men of leisure sickness stick out their opposable thumb, in hopes of conning you to the side of the road, like a traveler might, but these transient clones will rob you blind and steal your car, and your woman, to trade on the black market for speed, a small butane torch, and a few good light bulbs. Then they’ll be on the road again, like a run-dry Kerouac going crazy in the high desert of San Diego County. This is the land of wine and tweak, good old fashioned chemical nuts with guns and flu medicine, cooking methamphetamine in white trailers hidden in rocks and brush. The flowing industrial stranglehold on the economy has made it worse, the rich are noticeably nervous, and the poor are more virulent. The world is different for me today, but history has seen it all before, and is laughing at our short-term memory loss. If you ever get curious, and you’re already coming out to Julian to eat pie, or Temecula to drink wine, or Ramona to hit the rodeo, or the Salton 19
Sea to score meth, drive a little slower and watch the roads, we’ll be out here, Ed and me, watching for the ghosts of moonless nights and sun beaten days, and if you’re good enough, maybe you’ll see a good example of the Nation in Action also. The road tweaker is a microcosm, a personification, of the modern America, a keyhole into its paradigm. He’s eco-conscious because it helps to subsidize his dwindling economic resources and make him seem reasonable to those who question him. He has many addictions, none of which he is willing to give up, even in times of drought and economic rancor. He is happy to sustain his incomprehensible lifestyle by stealing and suckling from the tit of other hard working people(s) of this country. He poisons the land he uses, pollutes the air with escaping plumes of fumes, pours toxins into the water supply, occasionally blows things (including himself ) up, ruptures the ground he builds on, and creates a bio-hazard catastrophe on a global scale. But, he is private and therefore uncontrollable. He is perplexing… and he doesn’t think. He acts without a thought to what it does. The road tweaker is a total narcissist and he is distinctly American. For those of you that are scared, don’t worry, they only run wild by night, in the day they are little more docile, especially in the summer months. The sun is baking their brains then, and cooking them alive as they walk with their shirts off – but the summer is a scant season, and nothing much is seen by the weekend-warrior, only the real road-dogs like Ed and me, out here every day & night like hounds, baying when the guttural squeal of a road tweaker is caught by the hot wind and flown across the valley. If you see this ravenous animal, starved and mangy, you’ll know him by the burnt red color and texture of his skin, thoroughly abused it barely holds on to their corpse like bodies, and his pipe will be hanging out from one of his haggard pockets, ready for use at any moment – but they will act like they don’t see you, staring at the ground. It will look almost like they are buffalo waiting to be shot, huddled in their diminished number that are, now, somehow on the rise like an inflated Titanic rising to the surface. Get a sense of the epidemic that’s spreading across these hills and making us all hunters. In the city no one thinks of the madmen high on adrenaline and crystal, looking like the re-birthed homeless depraved dead who walk around like burnt-out wrestlers on a starvation diet. But here, in Warner Springs, CA, it’s a daily reality, and it’s amusingly caustic. 20
here is an anarchist living in a fortified compound in high desert where the wind blows, carrying the strange smells of a haggard people hundreds of miles across rotten stewing images of corpses left like molted skin; and trees to timid to grow, wave scantly in that acrid atmosphere, calling out nameless hopes to the sick man who lives there, like a hermit, writing epitaphs for the lost. His name is Dillon Mullenix. He has been published in FORTH Magazine, Autumn Letters, Glass Cases, PenSpark, The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review and Haggard & Halloo, as well as two anthologies, Relationships and Other Stuff and Vwa: Poems for Haiti. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ballad of LongTom Garroutte Daniel Eli Dronsfield
The following are transcripts of interviews that I have conducted over the last fifty years in more than one hundred countries concerning the enigmatic and near-mythical trickster hero of the Northwest; LongTom Garroutte.
Interviewing the Mirror.
“Have you never heard the tale of LongTom Garroutte? Why, he’s the greatest American hero since Paul Bunyan, the best since that old moonshiner Johnny Appleseed. The earliest stories of the most recent incarnation of LongTom often begin during the great hobo migrations of the early twentieth century right here in these United States. He is said to have saved Rusty Skillet himself from the hands of blood-lusting Pinkerton’s in the hollers of West Virginia. It’s said that he stole the President’s turkey on Thanksgiving while all the hoboes were camping in Washington. LongTom, Junkyard Jed, and 3-tooth Tiny broke thirty-one anarchists out of prison in Joliet, Illinois. Once he even stole an entire train and gave the grain and millet to bankrupted orphanages and churches. He only did these things because he liked mischief and adventure, not because of any staunch or solid moral code. At least that is what he would claim through eloquent mumbles if you were to ask. I heard that he invented zippers and barbecue sauce, and that he was the first man to hit a grand slam. I heard that he twice talked Charlie Chaplin out of suicide. I heard he was ten foot tall and that he was a midget, I heard he looked like a Viking and that he was half African and half Mohican, I heard he fathered a hundred sons and seven daughters. It is difficult to say how long he lived or where, because everyone sees him as such a different man. And in a way, I think that is correct. LongTom is a character that lives through generations, he is like Tin Cup, or Jesus… The first time that I heard about LongTom Garroutte I had never heard about him. He has been said to be many things. Well, one thing for sure, he was a man. He walked these hills and sailed those seas. Some would have you believe 22
that he was more than a man, that he was carved from bronze and not from flesh, and these are the philistines and dilettantes that I set out to disprove… Every man’s story deserves to be told… At least once… The first time I saw him I was but a boy, knee-high to a june bug. It was in the middle of this country, out there where the corn grows tall and the cheeks grow rosy. Me and three of my brothers were on the trail of a pack of coyotes that had been eating our chickens. Least we thought it was coyotes. We were slogging around and swishing through the tall grass when we came across it. It had been a coyote pack’s den, but no more. When I looked back inside of it all I saw was blood and fur and two beady green-blue eyes. That was the first time I laid my peepers on this man, LongTom. He was probably ten years older than me, but so skinny he looked younger, and I shan’t forget to mention that he was shithouse crazy. We took him back to the farm because he had killed the coyotes, saving us the trouble. We let him sleep in the barn that night, but back then he was wilder than the wind or a wolverine and he ran away in the night and I didn’t see him again for decades. Over the years as I worked in mines and on trans-Atlantic steamers I would hear mention of him. He is a man who cut a wide swath. It seemed as if people would attribute the most outrageous and fantastical exploits to this man without ever having met him. In truth, I don’t think any of the stories really capture that power, that frightening whimsy, and that lust to know all things that resides just behind the eyes and nose of our man Mr. LongTom Garroutte.” Oregon fighting ducks. “Thing most people don’t know is that the ducks in Oregon are some of the most violent creatures ever to exist. They are rarely seen fighting in the wild. In the wild, the dominant male duck becomes so dominant that he no longer has to fight. He rules through a regime of sheer terror. Any duck that has questioned his power has already been reduced to a greasy, feathery, smear. Was a time when LongTom lived on an island in the Mckenzie River and he had seen the deadly dance of the ducks. LongTom, being a man of the world, had seen much spectacle. He had lost many pesos at cockfights in his life. When he saw the unabashed honking quacking murderousness of the ducks, he got an idea. That is how the notorious resurgence of Oregon duck fighting began. First he trained a duck. Logically he grabbed the dominant male of the area. He called this duck Tractor-Face Jim, and he was a killer. After his training old Tractor-Face would strike at anything that moved like a quacking cobra. He was a lighting bolt of a mallard and LongTom became quite proud. Now, when it came to the lifestyle of LongTom he would go for months in absolute hermitage and then reappear in society and immerse himself in humanity and shenanigans 23
until that once again soured, and he would ramble the hell on. So he had been out in the bush training ducks to fight and he wanted to show off. He wanted the world to know of Tractor-Face Jim. So, LongTom, never being a man to sit and wait for something to happen, set out to find some competition. It began in all the bars of Oregon. From Davy Jones Locker down by the creaking docks of Charleston up to the sunburned blackberries of Blue River, LongTom Garoutte worked the taverns, looking for bikers and badmen, talking to hunters and highwaymen, looking for somebody who had a fighting duck. And that is how he ran into me, your man, Curly Burns. You see, I myself come from a long line of hard men in the Oregon hills and when I was a boy my granddaddy had a resident flock of ducks on his land. Those ducks were like fucking pitbulls. I never felt safe around them. I remember seeing the duck fights as a boy. Groups of small dark Calapooyan men wearing fedoras and Mexican blankets would come down out of the hills. Some of them would have ducks tucked proprietarily under their arms. All the ducks have to be blindfolded, because they are killers, they attack any other duck they see. Gaunt, red-cheeked white men, not filled with the fleshiness you see in folk these days, would ride up on skinny horses with mason jars filled with moonshine. There was much whooping and money changing hands. It inevitably ended with men fighting in the dusk with rusty blades, arguing over unpaid debts or slights of honor. When I met LongTom, I was just back from the war. He was a whooping and a hollering and buyin drinks and dancing in the sawdust. I liked his style and quick as we shook hands he asked me what I knew about fighting ducks. Well, I says, I looked him up and down and I sez, “Yeah, I might know more than your regular Joe…” He seemed trustworthy, despite his obviously loose hold on his sanity. He then took me out to his truck and showed me his duck, Tractor-Face Jim. Now that was one bad duck. He had scars all over his face and the second his blindfold was removed he lunged right at me. LongTom laughed with a whiskey wheeze and asked, “Can you find us some competition?” I sez “Damn LongTom! Looks like you already found some! What happened to that ducks face?” I remember he seemed surprised, but he just looked right back at me and says, “Training.” Training! Hah! He was a unique individual this guy. Shit,… Well then what happened… Well from there things just snowballed. Seems like the rural folk around here had just been waiting for something to bring them all together and it turned out that LongTom Garroutte’s idea to bring back the Dirty Depression Duck Fights was just the thing to do it. 24
By the third week we had to find a new venue because the crowds were getting so large and ornery. LongTom was like the master of ceremonies during these fights. He would get up there in his American flag zoot suit with the top hat and he would wave around his huge bad-ass duck Ol’Tractor-Face Jim, and he would challenge all comers. Thing was, he would always win… Most other folks had a whole truck filled with their fightin’ ducks, no, it wasn’t like the old days, although a few Calapooyans would still show up, now they dressed like rich cowboys…He always just had the one duck, Tractor-Face. Six weeks in we were doing it at the county fairgrounds. We paid off the Sheriff and we would have the fights in the middle of the week in the middle of the night. Some nights we had three hundred, four hundred people. That sort of thing is hard to keep quiet. So wouldn’t you know it, the local gangsters wanted in. They were something of a meth dealing and tractor stealing outfit. Not too intimidating but they seemed cracky enough to not have anything to lose. So we paid them too, shit, there was plenty of money. But if you give a mouse a cookie… so pretty soon those cracky bastards wanted a bigger and bigger piece of the action. LongTom didn’t care because that man never had much use for money, but me, I mean I got kids to feed and they sure ain’t getting fat. So it’s hard to say what was going through his head, I think he thought things were getting too commercial, he often complained that you couldn’t hear the pained quacking of highly trained Oregon fighting ducks anymore, and could instead only hear the “thundering of the buffoons”. He became a bit stormy of brow for a while there and I could see something brewing. The big night came and he was there drinking white lighting homemade moonshine out of a mason jar and smoking a haphazardly rolled cheroot. He was in high spirits and held Tractor-Face Jim slung across his chest in one of those things people use to carry their babies. “ “A day no ducks would die!” He said to me when I saw him. “What?” But that’s all he would say. “A day no ducks would die…” “But we’ve been killing ducks for weeks… Shit, that’s our business brotha…” He then took a large gulp of the shine, lit a match and proceeded to blow a giant fireball at a pile of hay in the corner of the fairgrounds. It immediately exploded into flame. “What the fuck?! What are you doing?! How did that hay get there?” He only answered one of my questions. “Oh. I put that there a couple of days ago.” “Why?” “You know, it’s strange… At the time that I did it, I didn’t myself even 25
know why… And look at it now… It’s a magical world…” Then he just looked at me. He was such a strange dude. People came running towards the fire with blankets and buckets. “Now we release the ducks.” He said this with conviction, in a low voice so only I could hear. “But they are savages, they’ll kill each other the second you let them free!” “Well, that’s freedom motherfucker!” Then he punched me in the face. I saw him fifteen years later and he only had one leg. I think he recognized me, we didn’t really talk, we just nodded, quite profoundly, to one another. The Tiger-Lady. It has been said that he was an operative, a spy. Though I personally cannot imagine that he was very helpful to any particular side, as he was quite definitely a man who disdains anyone in power. He disdains a power that needs to be awarded and respects power when it is natural. He was never a man to respect laws or governments, but I think the idea of being a spy and the adventures that he could get into are what brought him in. The way that I heard it he was in China. This is Cultural Revolution, closed to the world, sixty million people starving to death, Chairman Mao, muthafuckin China. At this time there were a great number of people trying to escape the death camp that mainland China had become under Mao’s flabby iron fist. The way with the highest success rate was swimming to Hong Kong. This is an audacious swim even for an Olympic athlete and in a stretch of sea that is profoundly shark-infested. I met a number of older Chinese men over the years and they all have told similar tales: as they were swimming away from a certain hell upon earth, near death they were, some of them with a wife or child clinging monkey-like to their back, they saw a man. A white man, or certainly not a Chinese man, a man with strange laughter in his eyes, and he was swimming the other direction! None of them could believe that anyone would want to go where they were coming from. They tried to tell him, they shouted and waved their arms, he waved back, but he just kept swimming. So he got ashore. Now, he was always a trapper, a killer, he was good with his hands and could walk naked into the bush anywhere in the world and live comfortably. In China he wanted to wrestle a tiger. Sure he was spying on the communists to see what they were up to, but he didn’t give a fuck for the affairs of the world. He wanted to wrestle a tiger. Before he did that he went into villages and he saw the people starving and killing each other. He saw a group of peasants attack and eat their former landlord. He is said to have knocked a man out of the way to get a piece for himself (“Just curiosity”). Gnawing on a grown man’s 26
forearm, LongTom growls out the only phrase he knows in Chinese, “Where lives a tiger?” A blind man who is eating a big bloody chunk of his landlord grabs LongTom by his shirt and goes to lead him away. They go. They go down through the village and outside of it and up over two hills. They walk very slowly because the blind man is leading. Eight days later they arrive at another village, they walk through that, and just outside the village on a little green Chinese hilltop, there is a house. It is made of bamboo and sits high off the ground on less than confident stilts. The old blind man points at the hut, says some shit in a mumble, and begins to walk away. LongTom shouts after him, “Where lives a tiger?” The old man points at the shack and says the word for tiger and another word that young LongTom can’t understand. Then he climbs the hill, ascending unknowingly directly into the claws of the tiger-lady. You see, the old man is half deaf as well as blind and when LongTom showed up the old man just assumed he was looking for the tiger-lady, so being a good communist he had taken him to her. She was something of a legend in here own right, so it almost makes sense that she would cross paths with such an epic wanderer and romantic as our man LongTom Garroutte. It seems that two hundred some years ago a tiger had come into this village and eaten a family, it is said that he spared their youngest daughter but not without giving her a very violent tiger-raping and fleeing back into the bamboo. From this horrific affair a child was produced. Everyone in the village wanted to throw it in the river and forget the beastliness that had occurred there, but the holy man wouldn’t allow it. He was very wise and three and a half feet tall. He took the baby. He raised it himself in a cave behind the highest waterfall. The half-tiger baby was gorgeous, but dangerous to raise. The holy man soon was killed by his playful little tiger-girl. She felt no guilt, as she was a tiger. She then ran through the woods but couldn’t live just as a tiger, she also was a girl and when she reached a certain age she desired copulation. She went to the logging camps deep in the jungle. These camps were staffed by chiseled little Burmese men who worshipped leaves and wind and hiked up through the jungle from their villages in Burma. They would log a great section of this foreign forest and take payment and return to their village, deep in the tall trees. The trees surrounding their home contained their gods and they would kill to protect them. That is why they had to hike so far, to find trees without their gods in them. Obviously these trees still contained gods, just not their gods. A man must find a way to make it. When she first appeared the men were scared, but she could be quite provocative with her feline grace. She could almost talk, but at this generation her tongue was just a little bit too tiger still. So soon she fucked the whole camp, 27
but their puny human masculinity could not sate her thirst, many men were killed in the process. She ran on. So it was to be for her, and then following her, her daughter. Her daughter’s daughter is the one we meet along with our man LongTom Garroutte. Now her daughter’s daughter, our aforementioned Tiger-Lady, was more lady than tiger. The tiger in her was three generations back. She was something of a mythical character in the small village where she lived. As we have said she lived in a stilt shack on top of the hill. The villagers would occasionally climb the hill and supplicatorily leave her things, rice, sweet treats, combs with emeralds inlaid in them, daggers, and pearls. She took it all and rarely gave them the slightest response. Once a year she would perform what the villagers simply called “The Wildness” and lash about through all the valleys sating her tigress’ lustiness. She was now nearing thirty and had yet to produce an heir. She was feared, due to the fact that during her period of wildness she had killed a number of young men and boys with her ferocious copulation. When LongTom arrived at the bottom of the hill the Tiger-Lady was out behind her house slicing the wings off of butterflies with her thin sword. It made a wonderful noise when the blade slashed through the air and the silence of the wings being removed was like a siren call to LongTom’s unique ears. He walked up the hill barefoot and silent but her minute feline whiskers twitched and alerted her of his presence long before he came into view. He came around the corner of her house and she was ready, just before he had come she had leapt upon the roof and now pounced upon him with a ferocious roar. She was decidedly Chinese but her hair was streaked with shocks of orange and startling white. She had long claws that were retractable and the only thing about her face that betrayed the tigress in her heritage were her slightly oversized eyes. They were green and the eyeball itself was shaped like that of a feline. As she dug her four sets of claws into twenty wounds on LongTom’s chest, thigh, neck and genitals, he couldn’t help but be shocked by her beauty. He stared into those eyes, eyes the likes of which he had never before seen on a human, and he had a moment of realization. “I came to wrestle a tiger.” He thought to himself and then looking at this gorgeous beast who had pounced on him, he snatched one of her claws loose and flipped her over. What followed was a squabble that made such horrible noises as to give children in villages two days hike away nightmares for years. They rolled and they snarled and they fought. Within ten minutes her shack was torn to the ground and it’s bamboo used as a weapon until smashed to bamboo dust. They, still locked in a high pitched tangled snarl of battle, rolled thumpity-thump down the hill and plopped right into the swiftly flowing river. Their fight continued under water and down river for an hour or more, then they both flopped to the reeds of the river bank, naked, bloodied and exhausted. 28
This is the story of how LongTom Jr., the tiger boy, was conceived.”
The Havana Slammer. “Well, me and Garroutte got off the boat in Kingston, no Havana, Havana! Of course, it had to be, well, off the boat we went for a bit of shore leave. It was me and Garroute, we left the boys on board to guard the boat, because back then, well shit, I bet even today, those docks down there in the Caribbean, every single one, filled with pirates, thieves ready to steal the wheel right out of your prop house, crafty devils… yes, me and Garroutte, and we are down in the Prado, we sidled up to one of those down and dirty, built in 1321 type Cubano cantinas and grabbed ourselves a two liter bottle filled with that sweet molasses of Cuban rum, and into the streets, why we painted the town! And in Havana everything needs a paint job… We quickly met up with three gorgeous eyed girls filled with the kind of whore’s charm you only find in Cuba and Brazil and we danced the dirty sweaty night away, we ended up in their room and they began to speak in a language different from the Spanish we had been speaking all night, they talked in a weird secret language. All the words they used started with the sound of the letter p. “pippila petoto pedangi petricio…” some shit like that… LongTom didn’t give a damn because somehow he had two of them in his bed… When I woke up the three of them were sitting on their bed naked and someone had produced a chicken, it was walking slowly around the bed on some line drawings, looked like one of them chickens that can play tic-tac-toe. They were still speaking in that weird ass pippilo poopoloo language and I couldn’t understand shit, but won’t you know it, fucking LTG is speaking that shit as if he was born with it on his tongue. I remember thinking to myself “what the fuck are they going to do with that chicken?” But then I heard that church bell chime and I realized we were set to leave at oh seven hundred and I will be damned if that bell didn’t clang seven times. I damn near knocked my little Guantanamera onto the floor on my way out of there. “LongTom! Let’s get a move on!” I threw open the rickety old Havana door and flakes of sky blue paint fluttered to the ground like little lead based snow flakes. He didn’t even look up. “You go. This is way more interesting.” Shit, I looked around that room and they started talking really fast in their weird strange Cuban whore language that Garroutte now knew so well, and I slammed the door and ran for the port, leaving behind a veritable blizzard of sky blue. I had to jump off the end of the dock and swim to the boat, and that was the last time I saw LongTom Garroutte. 29
You know what I heard happened though? Not sure if this is true, but an old salt told me… After that, Garroutte and his two Voodoo priestesses got in really close with Castro. What happened was they got arrested for doing some crazy fucking large scale voodoo shit and when they were about to gun him down Fidel was actually there to watch. LongTom was blindfolded but, just before they shot him, he began to speak. No one could pull the trigger, you know Cubans, they love a good orator. He gave a speech for some nineteen hours and Fidel spared their lives. It is said that for a period of two years he was something like spiritual advisor to Fidel. He took to wearing fatigues all the time just like the Beard and he grew a thick beard and smoked cigars and he would make outrageous demands of Castro and Fidel wouldn’t be able to deny it because he feared Garroute’s power. He ended up getting a cobra and he would walk around with it in his sleeve, slithering up there all poisonous and vipery. He tried to get Fidel to be revolutionary in all areas, he wanted him to legalize drugs and homosexuality and subsidize every artist, eventually Fidel grew tired of LongTom and his Voodoo whore priestesses. But by then I think LongTom was probably bored with playing that role and interacting with humans so much and he left the capital. I heard he went and lived in a cave way up on a cliff in Pinar Del Rio for a while with a goat he named Maurice. He just drank goat’s milk and ate lizards fried on a stick the whole time. After that I heard he jumped on another ship, and lord only knows what happened after that. Monkeys and Molotov’s. Well some folks might try to tell it like it’s a romantic tale… shit was about as romantic and pulling a rotten tooth out of your rotten head… It was Kinshasa… It was the seventies. I was sitting in Chez George drinking away the hotness of the afternoon when in walks this guy, your man. He is old, at least sixty-five but he walks with a certain vigor. He is a sinewy mutherfucker, coiled-like. Anyway, he walks in with a chimpanzee. Walks in, sits at the bar, orders a bourbon on the rocks and- I was listening- “a double for my monkey.” The chimp has climbed up onto the bar and is cracking peanuts. The bartender sees the wad in LongTom’s hand and is the coolest thing in the hot Congo afternoon when he obliges this request as if it happens to him thrice daily. The chimp and man are both served and set about sucking at their drinks. It was maybe three thirty in the afternoon and the ape, this strange man, and myself were the only occupants of the bar aside from the bartender and two whores snatching naps on barstools behind languidly rising smoke plumes. Next I see the old guy light up a smoke and light up one for the monkey. I laugh aloud and we make eye contact for the first time. He doesn’t look at me 30
threateningly, it is almost dismissive, but I get a strange feeling. Not wanting to seem coarse or species-ist I decide to engage this extraordinary couple in conversation and perhaps find out a little about what the fuck is going on. The introductions were turgid and the conversation muddy. Somehow I blubbered out a question about the possibility of them being circus performer’s and Mr. Garroutte backhanded me across the mouth. My nose began to bleed. Upon seeing this he immediately softened and made long explanatory speeches that could be construed as apologies and spoke often of being “out in the bush” and of “forgetting the nuances of how to deal with city-humans”. We then spoke for a while of fighting techniques and avant garde filmmakers, and the bar began to fill with the usual nighttime crowd of foreign journalists and peace corps types. I could see him get steadily more uncomfortable as the place crowded. As people showed up, each and every one commented comedically about the monkey and when they would try to touch him he would very mannishly shrug off or slap away their paws. As the night wore on he would growl at them. Low, mean, growls that would provide us with ample space at the crowded bar. People and ape became drunk and I could smell carnage in the air. When it happened it looked like LongTom did most of the fighting, the monkey went straight for the bartender, then the register, then the vault. LongTom fashioned a Molotov cocktail from a bottle and held the crowd at bay with it while the monkey disappeared into a back room. There was an explosion just before he threw the Molotov, and there was one right after. Last thing I saw was LongTom and the ape jumping through a plate glass window and running away, the ape carrying a weighted down pillow case and firing a pistol wantonly back in our direction. Somehow this was never in the newspapers.” Dolphin boy. “It was in the Amazon, I mean deep down there, where the men are naked and the treetops disappear the heavens, down where the bugs can spit fire and cure cancer, down on that big muddy river that still has pink river dolphins swimming beneath it’s lazy swirls. I was drinking sugar-cane juice down by the river when I see this white man paddling a canoe. He is paddling standing up and in the boat with him are two Chiquiki looking girls with nose plates and machetes. The canoe was riding low low in the water due to it’s cargo of capybaru and tapir pelts. Upon seeing me, well, I can’t really call it a smile, but, he bared his teeth at me, and then hailed me in a language that I didn’t recognize. I responded in a click/whistly combination of Aymara, Quiche, and Portugese. Apparently my polyglottic response pleased him and he poled and paddled his little boat over to the bank in front of me. In 31
Portugese he asked for news of the dolphins, the pink ones… I said I knew nothing. He stepped out of the canoe, wading knee-deep in the cocoa brown water towards me. He sat beside me and produced a skinny spiraling shell. He packed the wide end of it with a gummy black substance. He lit it, and smoked a milky wave of smoke, taking three volcanic puffs and passing it to me. I took it and puffed. It tasted like the inside of a temple smells. The girls stayed in the boat and sang a song in low harmony. We just sat there and smoked until our vision sharpened. Soon everything zinged as it moved. The birds chirped along with the frogs and bugs symphonically. The warm night wind blew and LongTom asked if I wanted to barter. I told him I had nothing to trade. He told me we all have something. I looked at myself and at the dirt upon which I sat, and I looked back at him. He bared his fangs once more. “Where are the dolphins?” I looked at his eyes. They were wild and leonine, they almost rolled in his head. Just then I heard a wail, small and high-pitched emanating from the canoe. A baby popped it’s head over the side of the canoe, crawling out from under the animal pelts. The baby had very indigenous features except for it glowing green eyes and great shock of curly blond hair. LongTom smiled and said, “My son.” He looked over with paternal bliss for a moment, then looked back at me with business in his eyes. “I don’t mean the dolphins any harm. I am trying something new. You have no reason to fear me.” He went to the boat and produced a leather bota bag filled with pisco and lime juice. He plopped on the bank next to me and told me his plan, his theory. He was obviously an accomplished linguist and it was in that direction he was questing. He told me of working on a research boat years ago at sea. “You see, it was like this, we followed a pod of dolphins during a Trans-Pacific migration, and
we were recording their speech and attempting to identify patterns and linguistic repetitions in dolphin language. We recorded their songs and played back parts of their recorded speech to them. They became excited and made many new sounds. The problem here was that our recording robot did not have the human brainâ€™s capacity to learn. It would play back random clips and this eventually frustrated the dolphins. They would try to engage in conversation with us and the robot could only respond with nonsensical foolishness, and they finally gave up attempting to communicate. Try as I might, I couldnâ€™t make the dolphin noises or find any recognizable speech pattern. I have just been a human too long to learn the dolphin language.
So I gave up for a long time. But, now…” He gestured with a leathery elbow to the canoe, where the two girls had started a fire and were cooking a big hunk of tapir haunch. They had ceased to sing but continued to whistle lowly along with the random meter of the fires crackle. The baby had climbed over the side and crawled and splashed dangerously in the shallows. “I have a son. He has not been human too long. I think he can learn to speak dolphin, if we can just give him that chance.” He looked at me quite seriously, but I couldn’t contain myself and let out a hearty guffaw. He chuckled along with me. “I don’t know how, but I will try to help you. I have always wondered… I have always wanted to talk to animals, or at least understand what they are saying. Dolphins, huh? Well there aren’t very many left.” “I know. Now is the time.” We finished the pisco, ate the tapir haunch (delicious) and set out downriver on a dolphin hunt, beneath the cover of a lonely white moon. Many days we spent, dolefully floating, sticking our heads and the baby’s head underwater, hoping for high-pitched dolphin squeals. Nothing. Once a piranha bit me on the nose. LongTom fought and killed an anaconda just to combat boredom. We would drop the girls off, dressed only in mud, on the riverbank and pick them up two days downriver. They would always have a large supply of fresh bush meat and smiles in their eyes. We went up and down, tributaries and inlets, we talked with fisherman and fire-eaters, loggers and Indians, we saw river sharks, we saw alligators, capybarus and crocodiles, we saw it all. No dolphins. LongTom began to get frenzied. He began to fear that his baby was becoming too much of a human, too far from the womb to understand a language spoken underwater. As we flowed downriver LongTom would periodically hold the boy underwater, to remind him, to help him learn, sometimes I feared the boy might drown. As things were becoming dire, when near to all hope was lost, a dolphin jumped right in front of our canoe, pink as Valentine’s day, and splashed a little brown river water deliciously onto my lower lip. LongTom howled and tossed his son into the river. He had attached a vine to the boy’s ankle and trained him to float just below the surface with a thin slice of bamboo as an improvised snorkel. Magically, the dolphin came right for him. All you could see from the surface was a pink dorsal fin and a little brown butt, bobbing with the current. Eventually the dorsal fin disappeared and LongTom hauled Dolphin Boy back aboard. About an hour later, from downriver, we see four pink dorsals swimming our way. This time they stayed for hours. The boy came back aboard smiling and 34
squealing in a decidedly dolphinesque pitch. Next day there were nine pink dorsals. Soon we had countless numbers surrounding us. The river veritably roiled with pink dolphin. LongTom loved it, but became worried because he was now having trouble teaching the boy human language, which was an essential element to the execution of his plan. The boy’s squeals sounded exceptional and other-worldly when uttered above water. He had never yet said a human word. One day, about midday, when the river was so full of dolphins you could cross it by hopping from back to back, it happened. The canoe was upended. The vine was sawed through by three pairs of dolphin teeth and he was spirited away. He looked back at us, at his father and mothers as he sat astraddle the biggest dolphins pink dorsal fin. We could do nothing. We all bobbed in the drink, watching Dolphin Boy disappear. When he was almost out of sight a great vocal peal escaped him, it was heavy with dolphin accent but it also sounded positively like an infant trying to speak Chiquiki, yelling ‘Daddy!’ That was the day LongTom heard his son’s first and last human words. The dolphins took him. I knew LongTom Garroutte for thirty more years after that and that is the only time that I saw him cry. Shit, I saw him get shot twice, well, those tears and those dirty thieving dolphins are still down there, flowing slow, along with the Amazon, and you can see ‘em, if you use your eyes right. Zebras, Bacon, and Breastmilk Cheese. “Old Garroutte, he wasn’t the type of man who would be told things were impossible. Or, actually he quite often told that things were impossible, but he was the type of man who never would believe it. I met him, oh when was the first time? Ah, yes, back then, anybody who was doing anything interesting was doing it in Africa. I was working as a bush pilot in Eastern Botswana. The first time I saw LongTom I thought I was saving his life. HE got really mad at me. You see, I was flying some cocaine smugglers back to the coast along with three German tourists who wanted to see the “real Africa”. I looked down and I saw a man all alone and stark against the savannah. A man alone out there is like a man bobbing in the middle of the sea. By that I mean, he need saving. So I spiraled down to save him, much to the lament of my smugglers and tourists. As I neared him, a small herd of zebras stampeded away. When I landed I expected him to be overjoyed. I expected him to act like a man who has been rescued from certain death. Instead of that response, it was quite the opposite. He bared his fangs at me through the window. When I finally cut the engine and opened the door he was already deep into a horrifc and multi-lingual obscene invective heavy tirade that damn near stripped the paint 35
off my plane and the enamel off my teeth. I must say I was taken aback. I had never heard anyone speak like that, least of all someone that I had risked my life to rescue. I just closed the door on his guttural profaneness and flew away. I didn’t see him for a year or so after that, but I thought of him nay times. I also heard reports on the bush grapevine that there was some crazed American out there trying to ride a zebra. When I heard that, I knew it had to be LongTom Garroutte. That turned out to be his name. Two years later, I was working, once more for the ex-pat community, and at this point I had become a bacon smuggler. Muslim laws are put into place but german tourist still need their bacon and schnitzel. I had a little Citroen station wagon and I would run the Malawi-Mozambique border every three weeks. As I was bribing my way across the border one day, I was engaged in generic banter with the border guards and they mentioned that a man riding a zebra had just bribed his way across the same border, using not money, but some type of exotically pungent and flavorful cheese. I found this hilarious. I relayed to them my encounter with what must have been the same man. Now I was intrigued by this guy and I decided I would set about seeking him out. You see, I am no greenhorn, when Maurice Mulligitawny wants to find a man, that man is as good as found. So, I got in country, sold my bacon, collected some cash and imported cigarettes and crates of liquor, these things being a perk of being involved in the ancient and dignified trade of smuggling. I made some queries, tapped a couple of contacts, and I got a location on your man. Well, the reports weren’t positive as to his location, but word was that he had charmed his way into a fiercely traditional tribe of warrior nomads who were currently encamped down on the banks of the big river. I went down to check it out and was promptly chased away with rocks and spears clattering off my windows. Rumors continued to circulate, the talk of a tamed zebra I found intoxicating, because shit, I don’t know what you know about zebras, but I know quite a bit. Zebras are some of the most vicious, pernicious, wild, and stubborn animals that exist upon the face of the blue and green earth. People have been trying to ride zebras since the dawn of time. Problem is, whenever a human gets close enough to a zebra to throw a lasso around its neck that zebra would bite said person, most likely in the face, but the arm or leg too, and proceed to run up and across and around, dragging and trampling the enterprising person until they are dead, or wish they were. Yeah, the classic horse kick hasn’t been the zebras chosen weapon, they are biters. If you have ever been around a horses mouth you surely have noted the 36
scariness of those enormous yellow teeth, teeth that could grind off a mans arm. The thing about horse teeth that is exceptionally intimidating is their flatness, those grass chewing teeth would grind your bones to powder. So I wondered how this guy could have tamed a zebra. I wanted an audience with anyone who had the audacity to even attempt such a feat. So, I set up a stake out. I headed back to the border, a place I knew he had been. I also suspected he was smuggling something, which is a bit of a personal affront to me, as he would be cutting into my business. Deals would have to be made. I slipped the border guards a carton of Galouises and they smoked as I sat in stake out. After a couple of days of this, there he is, and he comes riding up on a zebra. The guards were elated, as they had become unabashedly addicted to his stinky cheese. They moved towards him with reverence and humility, they didn’t even brandish their weapons, which I had come to regard as the sole occupational imperative of third world border guards. He greeted them with papal waves and a gentle paternal condescencion. He gave them a large chunk of cheese wrapped in Swaziland newspapers. They danced and chanted. I moved in. “That is a fine mount. From where was it acquired?” “Acquired? So coarse. We encountered one another out there in the wilds. Our relationship is one of mutual respect and understanding. I needed transport and he needed purpose.” “You seem an accomplished horseman. How does the zebra ride?” “A tempermental mount no doubt, but with proper crop application he moves well enough. It is something like riding the worlds strongest donkey, something of a super-ass.” We conversed for a while in this vein, him never dismounting, and I alluded to the business in which I myself was involved. This intrigued him, I think he liked the idea of bacon smuggling. I tried repeatedly to query him about his cheese, he remained tight-lipped, though he ended up giving me a small piece. The cheese was of a unique and near-erotic flavor. I commented on this and Garroutte laughed a hearty laugh. I asked if we could meet again, and he gave me a time and date three weeks in the future. The location was left undisclosed. “How am I supposed to be there if I only know the when and not the where?” He cocked an eyebrow and then he spurred his zebra on. I couldn’t help but laugh. I am not a mystic, so I gave chase. I have tailed many men in many countries, on foot, at sea, in car, bus, and bicycle, but never before have I tailed a man traveling on zebra back. This presented me with unique challenges. I had trouble following in my automobile due to obvious noise and speed reasons. On foot, I had difficulty keeping up with 37
LongTom and his zebra. They would walk for long stretches and then explode into a gallop. It seemed as if Mr. Garrouttes control of his mount was far from absolute. I followed at a useless distance for hours, and then, after cresting a small hill, I saw a zebra. I am no weakling. I rolled up my sleeves. I went to sneak up behind it and when I was just close enough to grab it, it whirled around and bit me on me left bicep. Its teeth sunk and clamped down solid on my bone.Then he ran. Three days later I awoke on the bank of a big muddy river, surrounded by zebras and elaborately costumed natives. Before me, sitting on a stool made from an elephants foot, was LongTom Garroutte. He introduced himself to me and dumped a bucket of dirt brown river water over my head. I could not speak. The three preceding days came back to me in a blur of unspeakable pain and horror. There was a dead zebra on the bank next to me. It looked as if its neck had been snapped. Garroutte explained that one of the young girls of the tribe had saved my life. She smiled down at me shyly, clutching her spear before her with both hands. As I scanned the crowd I slowly realized it was all women. I worked my way up to leaning on one elbow, and in trying to speak, succeeded only in vomiting a stomach-full of blood. As I lay there in the dirt, puking blood and attempting to draw wind into my punctured lungs, he looked down at me with unadulterated contempt. “Why were you following me?” I mumbled some nonsense and LTG spat at me and walked away. The little woman who had saved my life moved forward and squatted proprietarily by me in the dirt. Everyone else slowly mumbled and shuffled away. That little lady was my salvation. She helped me staged to her grass hut and she nursed me back to help through the monsoon rains using a combination of acidic tinctures and esoteric chants. It was near a month before I could walk again and I didn’t see LongTom the entire time. She carved me a handsome cane from a wildebeest femur and thence I could locomote. Once again, I set out in search of Garroutte. I really just wanted some cheese. After convalescing for near to six weeks I had picked up a bit of the native tongue and I began to query my native princess as to how the cheese was produced. At first she was coy, but I eventually got it out of her. The next day at dusk I snuck to the spot, to see. I was surprised to not see any cows, nor goats, not that they were common in the region. But where was he getting the milk? It was a straw hut, like the rest, erected during the monsoon and easily blown away after, the brilliant low impact housing of the nomad. Two young women came out, chatting amiably. I wrapped myself in a shawl and hunched over my cane, limping like an old lady and hoping to get a look in the door as I passed. Just as I walked by a young woman was coming out the door, and as the door blanket swung back into place I caught a momentary vision of what was go 38
ing on inside. There was LongTom and he was cupping the breast of a tribal teen and holding jar in one hand. In the split second that I saw and realized, so did he. As if sensing my presence, he looked up just then and we locked eyes for a single moment. The door blanket swung finally closed and I heard a guttural growl from inside. I tried to make my escape, shuffling painfully through the closing dusk. He was on me in a flash, knocking me to the dirt. “Why can’t you just leave me alone? “You’re interesting.” “You are such an American, you want to ruin everything. Must you master every mystery? Let me tame Zebras and make breast milk cheese! I let you do whatever you want! Just back the fuck off !” At this point I realized we were not going to become friends and felt stupid and needy for forcing this situation. I just got up and limped away, never learning how to make cheese from breast milk, or how to break a wild zebra. He was an asshole, but I understand. I obviously didn’t have much to offer such a man. The Murderous Catapulter. “Well it started with a string of unsolved murders… We kept finding men in the middle of the woods crushed to death, as if they had fallen from a great height. There were no parachutes. I thought we had a Peron-type, old school Argentinestyle helicopter assassin. That is to say, after my primary investigations I became quite sure we had an aircraft involved. I came across your man one day, deep deep in the bush. He was fashioning a rabbit trap from a tender sapling. When he saw me he let it go, and it sprung back upright, much like a miniature catapult. Now, I been a law man for a long time, and sometimes, there ain’t no detective work in it, you just know. You see a man, and you know it’s him that’s done it. This was such a case. I saw him, way out there in the woods, your man, LongTom Garroutte, and I knew he was involved, I didn’t rightly know how right then, but all my internal alarm bells clanged and clonged. We locked eyes and I stepped to him. “Where were you last night?” I’m a cop. I don’t mince words. I wanted to use my presence and position to intimidate him. He appeared unflapped, amused even. “Hunting.” And he went to resetting his rabbit trap. I stood there a while longer, asked a couple more textbook questions and received mono-syllabic replies. Back at the crime lab, the boys told me that our victims did not fall straight down, they had come in at an angle. This had us confused. A straight 39
helicopter suicide or murder is investigatable, but this, we didn’t have a suspect, a motive, or a method of dispatch. We just had bodies, broken in the bushes, as if tossed from the heavens. I spent a lot of time out there in the woods where we found the bodies, and when I was out there I saw quite a bit of you Mr. Garroutte. He lived, as far as I could tell, in a cave behind a waterfall and killed or picked all his own food. He would sit, patient with a lasso in the center of a deer trail. When a deer finally happened by, he would yank the lasso around an ankle and move in. He would have the deer’s throat slit before it realized it had even been caught. He tanned the hide and made pants and jackets of amazing quality. He would stand atop the waterfall with spear in fist, waiting for salmon to expose their silvery sides. He made musical instruments from their small bones. I staked out his cave for six weeks and never saw him interact with another person, let alone murder one. The victims all turned out to be high powered and particularly unscrupulous timber executives, so I gave up my stake out and went to the city to see the source, to investigate the lives of these men, the beginning, instead of solely investigating the place where they had ended. Around about that time was when we found the senators body. He was killed in the same manner as all the rest. When I got to his cave, Garroutte was gone, there was no sign he had ever been there. He left no trace. I started looking around, kicking floors, punching rock walls, pouting, angry that I had lost my man. As I stepped outside I could hear the roar/crackle of a large fire in the distance. Fighting preservation instincts, I headed for the flames. There, in a small clearing of blue and purple wildflowers, engulfed in a raging inferno, was the largest catapult I have ever seen. LongTom was on the far side with a pitchfork throwing great heaps of dry pine needles onto the fire. He smiled at me through the flames. I was circumnavigating the fire when my legs were swept out from under me, and I found myself swinging, upside down, and a little too close to the flames. I stared at him, and he laughed at me. “You are a murderer.” “The catapult did all the killing.” “You won’t get away with this.” “I punish myself when I do bad things. I don’t trust your blanket justice. I am an autonomous entity. I am not subject to your laws. “Those men died because they wanted to kill this forest. With the aid of a socio-pathic catapult the forest ended up killing them. Who would you charge with a crime here? The Earth?” I swung gently as he spoke, the asshole. So, yeah, that’s it, he left, that’s all, that’s the one that got away, are we done here?” 40
aniel Eli Dronsfield is an explorer, educator, author, photographer, visual artist and filmmaker. A graduate of The Evergreen State College, he received degrees in Independent Film Production, Linguistics, and Crypto-Zoology. His first film to receive notice was “The Iceblock Cometh! The Life of a Cambodian Iceblock.” This film premiered in the Hawaii International Film Festival in 2005. Indie Wire called it “…brilliant…”. He is an avid writer and has been published in The Barcelona Review and The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review, as well as a number of smaller literary magazines. His play “The Verbose Gourmands” ran for six weeks at The Hollywood Fight Club Theater. email@example.com 12/14/80 www.dedunlimited.com http://dedmedia.tumblr.com/
ThisWackyWeather Danger Slater Dear Fellow Scientists, Greetings from SkyFortress3000! I wish I were writing to you today on more cordial terms. Since my banishment from the League of Extraordinary Pancakes [the world’s preeminent scientific/pancake collective] our relationship has been a bit..well... stressed. In case you were wondering, the answer is yes, I recieved your death threats. I have edited them for grammatical errors and have sent them back to you. If you require any more proofreading in the future, my office hours are 9am-1pm, Monday-Friday. I realize you all consider me a “loose cannon” of sorts. You claim my techniques are reckless. Unnecessary. Amoral, even. Listen, just because a guy clones a few dozen Sexy Hitlers’ and then declares his floating islandfortress its own private country, all of a sudden, I’m the one who’s being unreasonable. Let me tell you something - if my Sexy Hitlers’ had succeeded in their Final Solution, we’d all be wearing a lot less pants right now. But I’m not bitter. So I compose this letter not to publicly proclaim my hatred for you all - a hatred that is both all-encompassing and eternal - but rather, to extend an olive branch. A peace offering. My Fellow Scientists, I need your help! I’m sure by now you’ve noticed the recent surge of bizarre weatherrelated phenomena we’ve been experiencing. It’s hard not to. The sky is in revolt and the weather is something that affects us all. It has the power to ameliorate or destroy. Revive and ravage. The weather is the ultimate unifier, pulling every living being under its big, blue blanket. So before you rip this letter up and use it as toilet paper or campfire kindling or tickertape for your sactimonious robot-orgy parades, please know, all I’m asking from you is to listen for a moment with an open mind and heed the warning I am about to relay. I’m speaking, of course, about global warming: 42
What is causing it and what are its implications? *** I, like most of the scientific community, used to scoff at the idea of climate change. But all that changed a few months ago when it started raining amputated limbs outside of my Los Angeles body dysmorphia clinic: At the time, body dysmorphia was all the rage in Hollywood after Jennifer Aniston, Matthew McConaughey, and their entire viewing audience had their brains removed before the premeire of their latest romantic-comedy crapfest Someone Else’s Finger. As it was reported in Us Weekly, proponents such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Sir Ben Kingsly could all attest - amputation is the fastest way to shed those extra pounds - and keep them off ! Every trophy wife in Beverly Hills was rushing out to have thier legs cut off or their hunchbacks removed. And I was making bank! Then one typical level-5-smog-alert-self-righteous-liberalism-tiny-dogsin-purses afternoon the sausage-like clouds above us started to gather. The sky grew meaty and sinister. Thunder clapped. And suddenly fingers, toes, arms, legs and torsoes were falling from the heavens in a torrential downpour. The terrified screams of pedestrians echoed across Rodeo Drive as a meteorite comprised of condensed guts - appendixes, pancreata, and other assorted viscera - smashed into my solid gold Rolls Royce, evaporating it in a mushroom cloud of gore. The L.A. River overflowed with sweet and sour slime, washing away hoboes and shantymen alike on its apocalyptic journey to the sea. The corpse-shower shocked the newsmedia, causing Local 12’s weatherman Chip Branson to nearly mess up his hair. Luckily, his helmet of hairspray and perfectly straight teeth repelled the cascading refuse with tact and aplomb. Afterwards, he straightened his tie, looked directly into the camera, screamed, “IT’S THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD!” and then blew his brains out on live TV. The local Emmy was awarded to him posthumously. Meanwhile, on the streets, in the thick of it all, knee deep in the mucous and severed limbs and bile stood I, watching the sun turn the color of blood. The ground shook as a very, very, very, very centralized earthquake nosed its way through Tectonic plates and rocked the lowest part of my lower intestine. Before I knew it, I - one of the greatest minds the world has ever known - was uncontrollably pooping in his pants! Patients leaving the clinic were both confused and anxious. Were the body parts they had just removed enacting their swift yet austere revenge? And was I, their favorite doctor - one whom they had lauded and hailed as their makeshift Messiah; a title I humbly accepted because, in fact, I most 43
definately deserved it - suffering from a case of Fatal Diaper Failure? The shock of it all was too much for them to handle. One by one, they orderly took their own lives. I could only watch in horror as my friends, relatives, and lovers perished by their own [lack-of ] hands. *** [Personal note: I realize that performing elective disfiguring surgery on the rich and famous is not the nobelest line of work a man of my stature could persue. Some even say it violates the Hippocratic oath that I, as a doctor, have sworn to uphold. But it takes a fuck-ton of money to keep SkyFortress3000 running efficently. So judge me not, fair members of the Leauge. I’m just trying to make this world a more beautiful place, one severed organ at a time.] *** I realized then that something was wrong. This type of extreme weather is usually reserved for the Armageddon. Never in the summer. And never in L.A. But the debacle at the B.D.C. was to be merely the tip of an evermelting iceberg: Reports of midnight sun, fire snow, reverse tornadoes, and banana tsunamis are pouring in faster than the election committe of Miami-Dade county can count the ballots. After a month of recounts, bake-offs and a few “lazy Sundays,” in an unprecedented act of nepotism and political bias, George W. Bush was declared the Supercell Supreme of the United States of America and Hell froze over. While many Democrats merely cried, a few began spontaneously lactating bees, prompting some Republicans to declare America as the new land of Milk and Honey. As the Supercell destroyed cityscapes and countrysides alike [most notably, New Orleans. The mishandling of the situation by FEMA and ineptitude of the fedral government had UNICEF up in arms and forced certain narcacisstic rappers to proclaim “Cyclones don’t care about black people!”] the social-economic infrastructure crumbled around us. The country slumped into a Depression. Obesity rates rose. Incidents of violent crime increased. And somehow I misplaced my car keys. Again! All of this commenced in the winter of 2008 with the election of Barack Obama into office, promising to give us the “Change We Need.” The disenfranchised were hopeful. Finally a candidate who’s rhetoric didn’t seem like a complete natural disaster. But alas, on Inaugeration Day, just seconds after being sworn into office, President Obama “changed” into a Katabatic 44
wind which blew any chance of healthcare reform right out the window. Millions of people are still living in poverty and recieving improper medical care, ushering in a new era that many backalley abortionist are calling: The Golden Age of Organ Theft. Indeed, prices for black market organs have inflated, and nearly everyone is feeling the crunch. But until the auto industry can develop a proper electric car, the cost for a gallon of blood will continue to rise. *** The economic devistation is just one of the many facets that global warming will affect. The planets average temperature has climbed 1.4 degrees F since 1880. While adversaries of global warming claim this statistic is bogus [as it was reported in the confidential intraoffice memo between Cargo shorts lobbies, entitled: The Future of Cargo Shorts: The Fallacy of Global Warming and How Exploiting the Lie is Going to Make Us All Very, Very Rich. Perhaps We’ll Even Get a Blow-Job From That Girl at the Starbucks. Did You See the Tattoo of a Cheshire Cat She Has on Her Forearm? So Cute. I Bet She’s a Tiger in the Sack. Me-ow! HaHaHa.] But the Cargo shorts conspiracy is literally full of holes. Seriously, I put my cell phone in my pocket and it must have fallen out somewhere. It had all my contacts in it and everything. So annoying. By the way, I need your number. I know we don’t talk much, but just in case, you know? The fact is, the increased sale of Cargo shorts is just a symptom of a much larger problem. All fashion trends aside, complete ecosystems are at stake. The Nuclear Reactor Coral Reefs are rapidly disappearing. Roman Emperor Penguins are being fed to the lions. Bi-Polar Bears have fallen into a funk. And Serial Killer whales have grown lethargic, no longer stalking and hunting the vulnerable young women on which they used to prey. The increased volume of vulnerable, young women has put an unnatural strain on their local environment as the demand for new-age self-help books and vampire novellas have risen exponentially, causing the continued deforestation of Amazon.com. *** I realize the sheer volume of this information is daunting to you. To put it all in perspective, I have compiled a list of facts and myths about global warming which may prove helpful as you disseminate this material: 45
MYTH: Global warming is responsible for stealing my newspapers every morning. FACT: It is your redneck neighbor that is stealing your papers. MYTH: Global warming does not exist. FACT: Global warming is very real. More real than you, even, as you, I suspect, are a hallucination brought on by a sentient supercomputer [see archived footage: sect. IIX, file 426: The Matrix.] MYTH: Global warming will not affect me in my lifetime. FACT: Global warming will affect you in your lifetime because it is happening. It’s happening RIGHT NOW! Oh wait, it just stopped. Okay, it’s happening again. Now it seems to be slowing down a bit. And... it stopped again. Hold on...oh, no it didn’t. My mistake. It just kind of looked like it did for a sec, but yeah, it’s still going on like it was before. Wait...okay, now it’s stopped. For real, this time. Crap, it started again. MYTH: Last night, global warming and Bigfoot thew eggs at my house and then toilet papered my tree. WTF? FACT: While global warming and Bigfoot did both egg and toilet paper your house last night, they both did it of their own volition. The fact that it happed on the same date is coincidence. While global warming was only looking for some cheap thrills, Bigfoot’s agenda is still unknown. MYTH: History shows us the planet goes through natural heating and cooling cycles. How do we know that global warming is the result of our anthropogenic influence? FACT: While what you say is true, the rate at which our atmosphere is warming far exceeds the rate at which it happens historically. Natural climate change can take several thousand years. What we’re experiencing has only taken decades. Plus, what do you know about history, anyway? You barely graduated county college. Remember that class we shared? I saw you doodling in your notebook, like, the whole time. Don’t even try and tell me you were listening. Oh, that’s how you learn? By drawing a unicorn fighting a helicopter? Yeah, right. Listen, kid, your good looks and charm may have gotten you by in the past, but you’re in the big leauges now. What’s that? You’re only in college because your parents are making you go? Ya, real good reason to persue an education. What are you studying anyway? Environmental science?!? Oh Jesus! 46
MYTH: Global warming is having an affair with my wife. FACT: Again, the redneck neighbor. *** The research facilities in SkyFortress3000 are vast. When the Sexy Hilters are not busy commiting genocide against their own bodies [an act they call “making love”,] they are fastidiously at work, compiling data. Attached to this letter will be a spreadsheet, graphing their findings. Be advised, the sheet will only spread after a lobster dinner, a couple of glasses of wine, and some coy yet flirtatious remarks. WARNING: DO NOT PRESSURE THE SPREADSHEET. It’s been hurt before and it may take a while for it to trust you. As the planet’s best and brightest, we have an obligation to ensure that future generations will be allowed to prosper. The world our children are to inherit is a dangerous one. Our pursuit of technology and convinience has poisoned the globe, almost irrevokably. Putting aside all the petty differences and tenuous pancake breakfast’s that we’ve shared, I am calling on you, my fellow scientists, to help me in reversing the folly of our selfish ways. I have at my disposal an unlimited supply gorgonzola cheese, an as-yet untested DeathRay, and a paper sack full of illegal fireworks smuggled in from the next state over. I am willing to donate these resources towards whatever plan of action that we, together, can come up with concerning this impending plight. Please get back to me as soon as possible. The Sexy Hitlers’ are waiting by the phones. Call in the next 20 minutes and recieve a second complimentary Snuggie - The Blanket That Has Sleeves®. . Thank you for your time.
Hugs and Kisses,
Dr. D. Slater, Carnival Barker and Mad Scientist
anger_Slater is the world’s most flammable writer! He’s so flammable that he’s actually on fire as you read this! Seriously. Why are you still here? Go get help, goddamn it! His short fiction has appeared in online magazines and offline anthologies, and his poetry can be found in many truck stop bathroom walls across the country. His first novel, Love Me, will be out in Summer 2011. For more disinformation please visit his website: dangerslater.blogspot.com.
Margot in Reverse Adam Moorad God watches trashcans from the eyes of a toothpaste billboard. He hangs, suspended like a vulture above my block, floating high above the aluminum sides of buildings on the outskirts of this outskirt. Apartments sag with cadged windows. Dogs bark. Planes purr. A kid in the street smashes a can against the curb and kicks it. I hear it skip across the road towards the gutter…God doesn’t blink. On the ground shadows draw burn-mark sketches in the shapes of angel wings. I watch them reaching blindly towards alleys choked with yellow shrub and thistle – wild species impressive in their ability to tolerate the environ their Maker made them in. Glass from Margot’s shattered windshield is still scattered across the fractured pavement like sharp, malformed marbles. They reflect sporadic light from the sun in mazy spiderweb white against sewer gravel. Everything is irreparably broken. I see a Hispanic girl on the sidewalk and watch her picking pepperonis from a wet slice bleeding transparent through a paper bag. She licks her fingers and swallows. The church bell tolls three blocks away. It does every hour almost on the hour. I cough and keep on coughing. The sun descends behind billboard and coats the churchyard in shade. I limp to my balcony where my cane sticks to the tar on my platform. Like every day, I see strangers smoking on faraway terraces through the aerial disconnect. We recognize one another as familiar, gimp silhouettes outlined against the sky. To 49
gether we sweep the street with our eyes from opposing perches. The stale, windless dusk wraps bands of vinegar around every exposed object. My skin tingles. The air is dry and vague with the aroma of cigarettes and kerosene. My mouth begins to water. The odor absorbs me. ■ We were driving and now we’re not. “You want to use this?” Margot says, holding out a wadded paper towel. In spite of everything, her voice is sympathetic, almost tender. “Why? Do I need it?” I ask her. “Is my nose running?” “Not running. You’re bleeding, but I mean, I guess it’s running too.” “It is? I’m sorry…” I tell her. She hands me the paper towel and rummages through her purse. “I usually keep Kleenex in the glove box, but I don’t think I have any.” “I can use my shirt,” I say. “What the hell does it matter?” “No,” she says. “I love that shirt. Don’t get it all bloody.” My shirt is hers – old and dingy with the dander of other men. I take the paper towel, unfold it and spread it across my face. All I can see is the color yellow. I hold it in place for a few minutes, leaning my head back. My ears sting with the ring of airplane cabin pressure. The salt flavor breaches taste buds on the back of my tongue. My seatbelt unbuckles itself. I swallow. “Here they are,” Margot says. Her voice carries the air of resiliency, of somehow maintaining buoyancy on an ocean where nothing floats. I feel myself sink in a graceful drowning. I remove the paper towel and come-up for air. Margot is holding a compact mirror in one hand and a packet of tissue in the other. 50
“God, you look like Rocky,” she says. “I hate that movie,” I say. My eyes are fixed on the cement wall. Its mortar. Its sallow globules of paint. Margot doesn’t speak for a while. I wonder if she’s even there. I take the packet of tissue. Again, I tell her I’m sorry. “I’m sorry too,” she says. The church bells ring. It is eight after the hour. ■ Unexpectedly, the clouds open like curtains and begin to dry the wet jetties along the shore. I watch Margot watching the booths and fountains and Ferris wheels through the fading marine layer. A baby on a blanket rolls over, screaming, kicking its feet and holding up its hands. It is naked except for a pair of sandy socks. It lies between its mother and father on a spread towel beside us. The father murmurs muted Russian into a cellphone. The mother holds a milk bottle of formula in her hand. The fluid laps softly inside its plastic canister. I begin to thirst. Margot presses against me oddly, pulling me aside. I have never seen anyone so pale and disengaged. She twists her feet in the sand and shakes her head. I look down and watch the beach swallow her shoes. I nod my head, but she isn’t looking. “Are you alright?” I ask. “You feel sick again, or what?” “Just funny,” she says. “We can leave now.” She walks briskly up the beach, retracing the same route we had taken earlier down the boardwalk from the parking lot. I follow, but she stops. “You want something to drink, some water?” I ask. “I think I should just sit down for a minute,” she says. We cross the street and enter a dark cocktail bar on the final block before the lot. The place is empty. The bartender fills troughs with ice. He looks at us knowing 51
ly, like he’s seen us before. The jukebox mumbles distorted ambience. The sound hangs stale in the sour indoor air. Margot rests her arms on the counter. Her skin glistens with a creamy heat. She lowers her head, just touching it to her forearm. She falters slowly and feigns, like she wants to collapse on the floor. I watch her breath coalesce in the fuzz around her lips. I listen and hear all the little eggs hatching inside her. ■ The television hisses a soundless vacuum. We stare at the screen in silence, watching the weather coat the earth on Doppler radar. Green and yellow shapes sidewind across the mapped sky like a snake. A gentleman in a suit whispers daily horoscopes from a faraway studio. “I’ll think about it when the time comes,” I tell her. “It’s just the way I’m made.” “Somebody’s going to catch you and beat you to death,” she says. Her voice is low and tense. “I’m not stupid enough to get caught,” I tell her. “Not to boast or anything.” I offer a prayer to God, but end up only talking to myself. “How long has it been?” she asks. Her eyes tell me that she doesn’t want to know. “I don’t really remember,” I say. “What am I doing wrong?” “Nothing,” she says. “It’s fine. Let’s talk about something else.” Her basement smells of ash. I watch a commercial, feeling congested in the head and chest. A red-lettered weather bulletin scrolls horizontally beneath a mouthwash advertisement. “We smoke too much,” she says. “Then quit,” I say. We become silent. I grind my teeth, feeling the tickle and throb of bone against 52
bone. She slips a Camel in her mouth and lights it with a kerosene lamp. When she does, she looks much more natural than before. ■ Margot smiles slowly, rubbing her leg back and forth. “Everybody in the world thinks they’re going to heaven,” she says. I sigh and move with her, nudging. “It’s natural,” I tell her. “Do you even care?” She brings her hand up from under the water. I can see her make a tiny fist of sudsy knuckles against my ribcage. “It gets to be a drag,” she says, segueing matter-of-factly. “And why is that?” I say. “Because no one actually understands the bible, or anything,” she says. I nod. “Sometimes you’re too much,” I tell her. I taste methane on my tongue and feel disgusted. She puts her hand back underwater and takes her pants off. I do the same. “Shut up,” she says. And I do. We lay there side by side breathing one another’s air. “What time is it?” I ask. “Never mind,” she says. “Are you in a hurry?” “You wanted me to leave,” I say. 53
“I’ll call you a taxi when I’m ready,” she says. Her mouth is muffled against my chest. “Whatever,” I say. “Don’t act like that.” She hitches her arms around my head. Her lips smack. I laugh. She snickers. I take in a lungful of air and shudder a gasp into the old bathwater, swallowing some. I close my eyes and hold my breath. “My God,” I hear her say through bubbles. “We’re in the tub.” Slowly, her voice and my own thoughts entwine in lathered submersion. All our sounds become inaudible, communicating only in the way soap does with raw nerve endings on infected skin.
dam Moorad is the author of Prayerbook (wft pwm, 2010), I Went To The Desert (Thunderclap Press, 2010), Oikos (nonpress, 2010), Book of Revelations (Artistically Declined Press, 2011), and Piñata (propaganda press, 2011). He lives in Brooklyn. Visit him here:adamadamadamadamadam.blogspot.com.
LastRobert Things Kulesz The world was ending again. It woke Marshall up and that took some doing. He’d heard the percussive roar of it deep down in his dream, and it woke him from that dream. The rest of them, the mobs rampaging in the street, they knew something was wrong; there was no way to miss that. They just didn’t know what. The ocean, all the water had been sucked far out, exposing the green-black bottom and wet hills. The populace panicked, tearing in and out of buildings and searching frantically for some high ground, but there was none. Marshall himself panicked, racing in his nightclothes up the narrow winding alleyways to the highest spot he knew, the druggist’s place, ten feet above sea level. Since the Heat Storms of a century ago, the ancient Flat Earth myth was very nearly a reality. Whole mountain ranges had collapsed into the weakened crust of the planet, deserts had stretched out their needy arms and wild seas had devoured the coasts. The town was pure pandemonium; a brightness shed itself on the night as the bell struck two, and there was something almost beautiful about the rearing horses and the fires out of control and the babies being dropped in the straw, the sky unpredictable and alive. Car batteries failed-- there weren’t too many cars left from before the Storms anyway, and the limited phone service died too. The high wail of humanity before it goes out. At the druggist’s, the black and white parquet floors were running with liquid, some of it on fire. The man himself was slumped in a tatty velvet chair in his bathrobe, depressed apparently, smoking a cigarette, which he never did. His assistants were tearing the place apart, so much shouting and climbing of ladders, clearing of shelves, gathering 56
of powders. “The ocean will be coming back soon,” Marshall said to the druggist, “in a high black wall. You know that, right?” The druggist stood up from the chair and told his assistants to dispense a liquid agent which would impair the fears of those about to die, namely everyone in the room. Not whiskey. It was something yellow and viscous; the druggist said it would be like getting drunk but faster and more philosophical; it would raise the mind to such metaphysical heights that looking down on your own head you’d see nothing but a pinprick. Then the Earth itself would become a pinprick, the stars would become huge, then pinpricks again; the blackness, the void, the eternities would all shrink into a little ball that would drop into the bearded mouth of a giant upturned head, and make an Adam’s Apple inside the giant throat that supported the head. Then the head would become a pinprick. By the time that happened you’d be dead. Marshall drank it down. “Death,” the druggist reminded him, “a bell that wakes you from a dream.” He sat down again. There was almost enough of the agent to go around but one man was shorted, assuring complete consciousness when the awful moment came; his bravery failed and he ran screaming into the fires in the street, maddened, in a futile attempt to outrun the onrushing deep. “Well,” Marshall said, “in five minutes it’ll all be over.” He leaned closer to his friend the druggist and put a hand on his arm. “There’s a giant hole in the ocean. The crust is collapsing in on itself. It’s like a continental sinkhole.” The druggist slouched back down into his wine-colored ratty armchair and raised his fingers to a tent. “Ah, so that’s what it is this time. A hole. I thought it might be more storms, or another asteroid. Mountain slides. Mud quakes. Something like that. What’ll they think of next?” “The Atlantic is getting sucked out but it’s coming back,” Marshall said. “I heard it in my dream.” “What a dream that must’ve been!” the druggist said. Behind him, his assistants in their white lab coats sat around the large wooden table near the open kitchen, swapping sports statistics and drinking orange juice. “Death is quite the conniver, and we’re perennial rubes.” “It’s a little unfair,” Marshall admitted, “seeing as there’s no sound basis for a hole in the ocean, so suddenly like that, but who can argue with a dream? I mean, it’s scientifically disingenuous at best.” 57
“Disingenuous and undeniable, I’m afraid. Still, you’d think we might catch on after all the times we’ve died already. It’s always this way, isn’t it?” “I remember one time,” Marshall said, “I fell through the ice. I’d gone down to the pond on my own, after my older brother had warned me not to. That was hard. They planted a tree in the schoolyard in my memory. That tree stood for over three hundred and fifty years before it went down in a storm. It became the same man who just ran screaming down the street. I only saw the resemblance just now.” “Why do we always remember these things at the last minute?” wondered the druggist, leaning back to stare at the ceiling. “Yes, you were a little girl, back in the early nineteenth century... your house was near the coast. I was the milk cow living in the pasture across the road. It’s all coming back again. It’s always in the last minutes that you remember absolutely everything.” Marshall nodded. “I used to pet you through the fence.” “Why a druggist this time, I wonder?” said the older man, wiping his glasses on his lab coat. “If you go from milk cow to druggist, is that a promotion?” Marshall tapped his front teeth with a fork. “This is bigger. I mean it’s not just us this time, not just Earth. This is an exponential thing.” “Yes,” murmured the druggist, putting his glasses back over his ears. “It does feel more important. We’re moving past religion, I think.” The windows began to buzz lightly. The room went dark. Phosphorescence lit the outside world; a blue electric line sparked back and forth along the crest of a huge wave, just visible though still miles away. “I’ll see you soon, somewhere.” Marshall’s voice came out of the darkness. “Not this world again, I think. I can’t even imagine what we might become. Something different.” The world was a pinprick far below and the stars were becoming huge. “Right,” breathed the druggist, closing his eyes. “Could it be stranger than this, though?” His voice was fading. He laughed. “I mean these hands, these long fingers, cylinders... and such tiny eyes!” He held up his arm and squinted but it was too dark to see. “How did we ever find this beautiful?”
obert Kulesz writes short things that he remembers when he wakes up in the morning. He’s published some of these in 5_Trope; Wascana Review; The Santa Barbara Review; The Bitter Oleander Press. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize but wasn’t surprised when he didn’t win, for the same reason he doesn’t play the lottery. It’s for suckers..
Babe Rockerfeller: A Canadian Gothic Lumberjack Romance KirkA. C. Marshall
I was heading my way up north, in slow but surly pursuit of the seasonal mallard migration, in the hopes that there would be some shooting at the tooth of Powder Mountain. It had proven one helluva long racket, both in physical mileage and in manifestation, from my outpost as Store Manager of the town of Whistler’s Timber Supplies and Woodwork Shop. I’d hung our sign reading “Closed Till after fall” in our shop front window – knowing well that drifts of blue autumn snow would soon obscure the glass – and had bedded down early, with nary an eyeful of William Carlos Williams and a kick of gin before sleep stole on me. 4 am the next morning, and with a burning cigarette bummed from the deck of Red Devon quashed into my shirt-pocket, I’m surveying the lay of the country at the cabin of my Winnebago. Extinguishing the cigarette onto the sole of my boot, I crunch out of the caravan’s threshold into the snow, and of a sudden it’s falling freely onto my shoulders like the stoat-robe of a boggart-king, or the nuclear fall-out from some misbehaving hydrogen bomb. I’m breathing gin into the woodland air. The smoke hangs for a moment so that my eyes sting, and the song of a warbler resonates in the thick of the treeline. A star looms sharply at the height of the sky’s thermals, right above me, and I can still make the shape of a few others, night’s celestial survivors clustering to a raft in the wake of day. I do a hard and savage piss at the back of the truck, thrust the hood of my parka over my scalp, and shoulder the supplies. Winter game, as a stoic sort, can be pretty timid and selective in when they choose to break hibernation: but like those possessed of even the best stamina, it ain’t wrong to anticipate the transgressions of deviants. It’s near to a koan what my daddy imparted to my childhood sister and I, before he suffered a heart attack and suffocated to death in the ore mine: You ever seen a caribou read? Nossir. And you know why? Because caribou harbour no concern for the theories of those animals who can. I wasn’t presuming to pretend that a population of buck elk would be fanging through the pine at Brandywine Mountain, especially not so early in the season. One evening at the shop, I just became consumed. 60
A feeling of urgency descended upon me. My heart beat like the handshake of a Blackjack champion. Standing at the counter, I had to excuse myself. The sweat was streaming off me, lashes of it, and I retreated to the shed, out back in the frost, fists balled to my abdomen. Panting, I shut out the birdcall and the susurration of engines at the front of the store. I was being called. It felt like an invitation to fight, simultaneously mean and polite, and I knew the ghost of my daddy was calling upon me to forge my way northward. I’d heard tell of rogue black bear coasting like sludgetankers through autumn’s yellow revolt, and of a convoy of wapiti which made their claim of the maples in a clearing somewhere north-west of Brandywine Falls. A reverent people, elk. This herd was said to be decades old, the veteran phalanx of some lost generation, vaulting over river cascades and through bitter snowfall in a feeble plight to recreate the grandeur of a winter exodus. Either unprepared for or contemptuous of the commitment necessary to abandon the choreography of an annual migration, these elk took to the highest fucking climes of British Columbia in order to satisfy tradition, and the onus of their forebears. I couldn’t much discern the point, not at the time, but it took me more than a few months after the event to realize that I wasn’t just seeking a trophy for validation to justify the beckoning which had begun to seize me up during the day, invading the mental refuge I’d established for nights of unaided sleep. It took me more than a few months, actually, to appreciate that I’d long been hibernating on my feet. I had yet to endure two different heartbreaks and confront the possibilities of unnegotiable catastrophe, kill a creature that wanted my future, and dispense with daddy’s 77 magnum over the smoking foundry of Brandywine Falls before returning home. Bullet cartridges blossomed from my fist down into the swell of the rapids, darting from beneath my presiding shadow like a shoal of red salmon into rhapsody, into deep water. For hours my hands would stink of gunpowder as I tramped back up the foothills, leaving prints for a flank of wolves to divine in the permafrost of afternoon. *** At 7,700 feet, Powder Mountain prevails over the ice fields which extend from the mouth of the Squamish River to the south of Whistler all the way to the furthest topography of Ganbaldi Provincial Park, devolving into a ridgeback annex which wallpapers the frozen horizon, describing a circumference of caldera lakes and stone promontories which no hand of miraculous intent could properly sculpt. I’m fond to regard the summit as the centrifuge of some widespread storm front. Rolls of thunder descending in parabolas of molten basalt. Forks of lightning carved from granite, and wind-smoothed like striated glass. But I ain’t much of a proponent of narrative-fantasy, leastways not over a long61
haul: I can’t seem to muster the longevity, nor maintain the lie which an athletic imagination demands. So I’m swift to calculate that Powder Mountain is really only as vertiginous and impressive as fable might protest, when it’s viewed in the bracing clasp of a chill violet dusk. Looking at it square, like I’m fixing to deter a returning shark, I can’t assemble the syntax, nor the breadth of wonder which that mountain provokes in me when I survey its implacable contest, ingest its scorn and tiger beauty. Hunching low to the undergrowth, I squat and exhale vapour. I’ve long been loathe to exchange parry or parlance in the language of the clock, but it takes me a sure ten minutes kneeling in the new lawn of snow to fasten the gas kerosene, like a bedroll, to the centre of my back. In seconds it’s aflame behind me, a fist or blade of orange light cleaving the conspiracy of forest blackness embroidering the pinewood canopies. The flame flickers as I walk, sending and disrupting silhouettes to the borderzones of my peripheries, fireshapes like autumn leaves dancing on the canvas of a Canadian morning. Oil fumes escort my passage as though the jet of ink enabling a squid’s escape. My feet are breaking tiny icicles as they fall; and still the buoyant squash-racquet devices attached to the underside of my snowshoes erase these furrows which my progress leaves: like the ribbon of a typewriter spun from silence, quietly reclaiming words as it surfs across a page. This begins the lonely march. It’s an hour before I palm a cigarette into my mouth, striking the waxen match-head against an emery board I’d misplaced in my jacket pocket; another hour after that, as daylight intrudes with the welcome vehemence of an old pro, before I stop to gauge my bearings and refill my water-flask. Sometimes all this snow, all this vibrant ice can make a man believe things his own blood would accelerate to disconfirm. It’s the violence of wind loping uncaged and luminous through the trees, or the sound of a branch snapping a pace of twelve feet behind you, or the illusion of movement at the height of the closest foxhole undergrowth when everything is disorientating and obscured by log pile mists that can converge to spook a man. I was being haunted by birds. At the outset of my trek there had sounded the occasioned warble of a thrush, the startled alarm of a wood-pewee as its red-breasted platitudes reverberated through the gaps of conifers, voices like bells from thoraxes of glass and throats of melody. It didn’t take six cigarettes to start hearing the whoop of a pride of kestrels hunting above me, or the manic chattering of magpies between the leaves and the opaque peat-like fog. I’d divined fresh rainwater after harvesting a bushel of ice from the edge of a snow-bank, malingering on my haunches and snapping like rabies at the wheel of a pocket-lighter with my thumb, melting the frost into the bottleneck of my flask, when I heard wind of the barks. It sounded like laughter at first, dark choleric laughter, a coughing that wheeled and escalated between the snowfall, the flakes tumbling too heavily to discern where the murder or merriment emanated from. A wing flapped. A cough, a 62
bark. I shouldered my pack, the kerosene lamp curiously contributing no measurement of security to my passage. I forged through the snow, doubling my efforts, scaling higher ground, running, tripping, clawing without traction at the mantle of white death, forever judging and collapsing the mortar and marrow of men, snow above me, snow below me, snow sweeping into my fucking eyes, snow. The light was venomous, silvering, spangling through prismic sleet like chaos braiding chaos between strange attractors. It kept falling, would not concede, did not recede. It continued to blind me, and the voices were sharp now, viscid and insistent. When I couldn’t move any more I waved my arms about, sundering my umbilicus with the forest floor and its autumn graves. I shook off clover, snow, sky, ghosts, snow. An apparition formed before me, and I knew it was both the birds and not the birds: a scarecrow united through, and agglomerated by the forms of a parliament of ravens; black birds with red hearts and pupils, come before me to build the body of a man. The wraith engineered from this swarming, rustling roost of ravens was looking at me, manifest before me with two hundred persecuting eyes. He outstretched his arms, the forms of arms. The birds chittered like a Spanish monkey puzzle tree, the tide of quarrelling, carolling laughter shivering down the scarecrow’s body. His arms were wings, and they were the assemblages of wings. I could not discriminate a face, if such a creature can be said to possess one, but he did have a chest because it rose and fell with the breath of two hundred others. ‘What the fuck do you want?’ I screamed, my face hot with tears. ‘Leave me the fuck alone!’ A voice as bright, as accusatory, as noxious as a firework held back the advance of day. ‘I need to know the state of my son. I need to know Babe Rockerfeller, my son, possesses the fortitude and gamble to devour this fucking mountain and all its power.’ ‘Dad,’ I croaked, my voice hoarse, ‘I’m okay now. Just demonstrate me some fucking peace.’ *** I spun around wildly, stumbling in the snow, now succumb to the visor of blackness which had hooded me, screaming into the night, breathing hot pillows into the air, breathing lotuses. The warbling and politics and brilliant chatter of the ravens expanded, coalesced to seal me into an envelope of corvid speech and blue illumination, a realm of sound where no compass nor cartographer could have proven useful. I squared up into a boxer’s stance, my eyes and forehead lowered, the cleft of my chin sharp with my chest. I would fight the visions of the night, I decided: I would not allow the moon its crimson 63
victory, I would violate, I would seize the hearts of ravens, still dark and beating; condemn them to lands leagues beneath our earthly wind. I would swing my fists. I would eat the ripest cries for mercy, never mind the bitterness, and spit out the pips. ‘I taunt you with a dare!’ I shrieked, my voice and its hoarse promise failing through the blanket of snowfall which cloaked my mouth and eyes. I spat out snow, but it did not abate: it continued to enter me, burrowing into my ears and nostrils, blinding me with a sharp frost which accumulated like glass-crafted dew over the lids of my eyes. ‘Reveal yourself, and I shall kill you without pleasure!’ I whispered, my throat strangulated by the deed of some unapologetic apocalypse. I could see nothing; the windows had been boarded from the outside, by swift and unholy hands, and I was trapped behind once-inviting walls, clawing like a feeble animal at where I guessed points of light used to penetrate. Blindness is like being in a condemned church that is about to be razed to its foundations. I couldn’t see the fire – my eyes were too fast-closed to afford me the luxury of witnessing my demise – but there was a flame forged by devils encircling me, I was compelled to admit to that much, and before the weapon of the night struck me its savage blow, I felt good about having seen my daddy, and my body exhaled like the chrysalis of a leopard moth until it was fit to rupture. Something sudden and wet and angry rustled beneath the schism of my chest, and I could feel the gin leave my stomach and exit my mouth in plumes of dragon breath, until my ears burned and my head pounded. There were sounds in my mind, somewhere, like a rage born in driving rain. I fucking hated this snow. I hated the moon, I hated the forest which had me skulking on my belly like a cornered fox, I hated the birds, conspirators on wings, I hated the witching hour and the dark which had flooded my body, burying me whilst I still yet breathed. I tore off my gloves, and scratched at my eyeballs, unvigilant and furious, shouldering the blizzard wind and all this molten ice, unending space-junk being shed from on high, to the hackles of my back, murmuring to myself, Get behind me, get behind me, give me only your blessing. My hands found their purchase, and my eyes graced the cold clearing, vision rushing back like sound through a wave-pounded ear. I was standing alone, and it appeared the snow had long since stopped falling. The sun was banding the trunks and boughs of trees, emerging from between the thick of pines. The sky was light, unclouded, bearing the hue of a honeycomb city. I heard owls make off, their great wings thrashing, into the woodland’s barren centre, where the shadow of dawn retreated the slower. I stood within a cairn of volcanic stone, the surface and contour of each metamorphic rampart gleaming like an evil prize beneath the treeline. My eyes were bleeding, the trickle feeding into the apexes of my mouth, and though my lantern was extinguished, as dead as the world in a historical photograph, I could only smile. My breath returned, ragged and euphoric, like a dog pulled from 64
the body of a river and reclaimed by its master. The morning was trembling between the teeth of conifers and the needles of powdered snowflake. I couldn’t fathom what I was seeing. As cool as new steel, the fist of my heart unclasped itself, wholly inviting the ebullience of this new event and embracing the sun as it gloried in my surroundings. Not three metres from the pinnacle of my shade, at the centre of the cairn of stone beat the flesh and thresh of a giant monarch butterfly, with a span of orange wings more vast than the days of spring. The insect had to be a metre-and-a-half wide at the diameter if I’m to own up to my talent for the measurement-tape at all. It was labouring over an egg of ice, drinking its fill with the singular zeal of a fey thing, all proboscis and wisdom and iridescence and wing. I lay down beside the butterfly, unfastening my pack, and watched it open and close like a fist or a flower, until my head became heavy, and sleep smote me of reason. *** ‘There are some who sleep as though fearful that their indiscretions might surface in their slumbering behaviors, thrashing and shunning away from the rose-dark toxicity of dreams.’ The voice entered my head with a means to usurp me, upturning the furniture of fantasy to sit astride the throne of the black kingdom behind my eyes. It smoked sweet tobacco, and purred its witticisms with a face like that of the red astral tiger. ‘There are still others, however,’ the voice demurred, ‘who sleep with the abandon of escapologists. Succumbing to the night’s helm to evade eyes who might wish to ask discriminating questions.’ It paused to inhale deeply from its filterless smoke. Red Devon. My brand. My deck of cigarettes. ‘In theory, one such question could manifest itself as: “Who the fuck is it that I find sprawling in his own spew on country repatriated to the remaining ancestors of the Squamish Indian Tribe, and why does he carry nothing but books of William Carlos Williams and ten boxes of cigarettes?”’ I woke, then, all breath evacuating the fortress of my sternum. A man of Indian descent with deep-set eyes, a green so dark they appeared lapis lazuli, had the peak of his knee set with a violent mathematics squarely into my rib cage. I screamed soundlessly, my retinas casting their aspersions whilst I held clenched teeth. He observed these silent allegations with a quixotic amusement, and shifted the fullness of his weight so that my lungs could do nought but embrace the trespass. I choked, and I mouthed something from a Herman Melville novel or a Billy Zane flick. It made no impression: the blood of the Squamish ran through this man like centuries through the Squamish River. I couldn’t do 65
squat to him that might lend an edge of malice to the drama of my ill-forged threats. He looked equipped to arm-wrestle the one-eyed Jack of Diamonds, least of all a carpenter from Whistler with a receding hairline and the scar of a car collision wrapping the bridge of his boarish nose. I ascertained the commonplace: the Squamish maintained the advantage. ‘What do you want me to say? What the hell do I have to say to get your carcass off me?’ He exchanged a stare with me that was a dazzling thing to behold. In the spangle of afternoon light, I could neither identify nor guess at where the whites might be. It was a gaze to shovel away the violet dusk. The Squamish was smiling. ‘Ah. So much depends upon the red wheelbarrow.’ He withdrew his knee, and my lungs swelled to burst, pitching me forward until I was involuntarily possessed by a coughing rage, gulping in droughts of air, shuddering with jaw agape, sucking it in, all that damaged life. I watched him shrink back beside my pack, as I lay cradled like a foetus in the bower of surface snow. Laboriously, his face a crossword puzzle of scar-tissue, he sank to his ass and thrust his palm into the innards of my supply-pack. ‘Get your claw off my shit,’ I grunted, feeble enough not to mean it and smart enough not to try. I saw the coyote, then. It sat on vigilant haunches, the gums of its teeth bared and marbled-gold. It was calculating the arithmetic of a kill: how swiftly did it need to seize my jugular between its jaws before I might react, before I might demonstrate competition for my own life? Or maybe it wasn’t contemplating much at all. My daddy always said a dog’s as dim a specimen of creation as you’re likely to find during the prowess and on the plane of mortal man. Just what do you reckon a hound wants to ask of you, if it were privileged the intellect? I tell you, now, Babe Rockerfeller: Why does the master never have to lick his own balls? ‘Can you tell your ungovernable fuck-dog to go eat a deer or something?’ I groaned as I struggled to propel myself onto my elbows and sit upright, with daylight encircling my gin-fug forehead. ‘You whine like a bitch,’ The Squamish trilled. ‘You best be wary. White Wake is the duke of all coyote, and never neglects an opportunity to sow the seed of future pack-kings.’ The dog looked to its master, before returning to entreat me with a gaunt, funereal glare. White Wake’s teeth caught the phosphorous frozen light, his tongue lolling between its cage like a gladiator at the entrance to the field of battle. I might have chosen to say something dumb and cavalier, but I hadn’t evaded death by raven to suffer murder by a wolf ’s basest and most primeval prejudice within half a day’s hoof from the crag of Powder Mountain. Instead, I encouraged within the Squamish his satisfaction. Instead, I rolled the die and entered the game. ‘Okay, okay now, River Phoenix. Light me up a Red Devon, and maybe prevent your coyote from raping me, and I’ll show you a like courtesy.’ 66
An unsealed deck of cigarettes fell on my chest, followed by a pocket lighter. The Squamish’s head cocked quizzically toward my own, his lofty eyes divined my every moral measure, drinking my frostbitten uneasiness like it constituted the best part of the milkshake. I could almost imagine the appetitive slurps. His hard face slackened. The crow’s feet which had claimed sovereign territory of the topography around his eyelids started to conspire. The Squamish was grinning. ‘Those of the Squamish First Nation who still retain the Salishan dialect call me Blue Bluff Crow,’ the Squamish muttered with a voice that pirouetted between that of a horse-whisperer and that of a wharf-blown fishmonger. He extended me his palm, vice-like and skeletal. I took it, and using the grip like a fulcrum he pulled both himself and me wholly onto our feet. ‘Of course, today a name like that’s been disinvested of both its significance and power. And it’d seem prosaic of me to pretend like I live out here in the pinewoods – perpetuating an existence of diasporic mimesis – pitching fistfuls of flammable, iridescent dirt into the autumn wind like some hokey alchemist or huckster-shaman.’ The Squamish had yet to release my hand. Still, I felt it’d be somewhat insensitive to divorce him of the chance to deliver his reverie, by alerting him to the fact that my wrist had gone numb. I felt pockets of inspiration rise within me like pearls of helium. ‘But I gotta call you something. You understand: the colonial mission’s taxonomizing instinct: 1066 and All That. If I’m remiss to classify you now that I’m within a bear’s-hug of you, I won’t ever get my name canonized in The Century’s Great Naturalists, along with those other genius-anthropologists John Ford and Al Jolson. This is my potential for being the Great White Hype we’re talking about. You’re not so savage as to refuse me that?’ I waited, indiscreetly searching the Squamish’s wan, cobalt face for an indication that his penchant for swift-footed banter and my self-deprecatory sarcasm had somehow converged to locate a common ground of expression. His face was inviolable, impassive, weathered with its tattoo-like network of skin depressions, heavy lining and scars by either fatigue or seasonal erosion. Observing the peninsulas of flesh rippling across Blue Bluff Crow’s face was akin to contemplating cloud forms: the longer you stared, the more you’d start to see. Islands warped and waned over his countenance, like the sundering of Pangaea. Fissures bisecting Blue Bluff Crow’s cheeks and mouth adopted weird, distorted shapes, not dissimilar to the effect of pareidolia associated with the knots and callouses of redwood trees. I could see ravens flocking east; a spring ascending the face of a mountain; my daddy whittling wooden birds with a pen-knife whilst standing by the sink and whistling; white perennials strewn by my ma’s burial plaque; my first fist-fight at school; the Toulousain broad who’d fucked me for birthday well-wishes before stealing off to leave me a heartless dandy; the interior of my shop devoid of occupancy, wood skeletons engineered into familiar shapes to afford me some semblance of company. 67
The Squamish broke out into riotous peals of laughter. ‘You fucking guy,’ he was repeating, his chest beneath its leather jacket shuddering with a private, pious mirth. ‘“The Great White Hype”. Hoo!’ I was on safe soil: the Squamish harboured a bellicose highwayman’s sense of comedy. ‘You want a name? For you, I’ll be Charlie Chinstrap. A colonized man of gentrified heritage such as yourself should feel right at home in saying that.’ ‘Right on, Charlie,’ I balked, retrieving my palm from his. ‘Like the brother I never had and always wanted.’ He hooted like a nocturnal visitor from out of the woodwork, directly beneath an unadulterated Canadian sky. White Wake took up chorus to Charlie’s chuckles, arching his lupine snout back and lowing with wanderlust at the distant image of Powder Mountain. It damn near sent my hackles astir, but I could still catch wind of my daddy’s voice telling me the best jokes are those that, upon hearing, give you the willies, just that itty bit. *** I’d long since unfastened the ironwork kerosene-lamp from my pack like a limp and lurid thing, and had begun sculpting a tubular parcel of smoke-dried beef with the sickle of my hunting knife, acquiring a satisfaction and feel for the method. I was fixing to tuck in and palm a hemisphere of the preserved brown meat into my gob’s wet yawn, but White Wake wouldn’t suffer nor tolerate any of it. Fucking canine. His jaw and its legend of serrated teeth were mechanisms of unsurpassable architecture. I dispatched the log of charcoal-salted jerky directly into the coyote’s maw. Fucking asinine. ‘I know a good thing too many about coyote.’ I hazarded a philosophical leer. Charlie, for whom I’d hastily developed a perplexing fondness for, was occupied in administering dime store shaving foam in a lather to the crevasses of his cheeks, before sweeping them clean with the whetted filament of a singleedged razor. It reminded me of something; but the shape and veracity of the memory had been eroded and reconfigured by years of forgetting, so I pushed it away, and out it went again, a coracle departing the moor to be reabsorbed by a lingering fog. ‘I’m addressing you, Chuckles.’ ‘And I’m maintaining my damndest to ignore your every squeal for favour.’ He was proud of that one: the vertices of his mouth contorted vaguely, a grey man emerging from a snowstorm of experience; an old man reunited with his dignity, remembering how to dress himself. Such were the gravity and relevance of Charlie’s linguistic victories. ‘Ho, now, Chuckles! Reveal your intention to deploy me one of your half-liners next time.’ I hunkered over my 68
snowshoes, fingers steepled in the frost. I began to fastidiously relace my boots. ‘Otherwise you might blindside me. I’m lucky I’m even breathing after that last palaverlanche.’ ‘Fuck your mother,’ was Charlie’s response, and I had to admit I was stalemated. He encapsulated me, attended to me with those deepest, winter-woozy eyes. Charlie’s eroded, spider-vein face was shorn of its final vestiges of decay, irradiating the new moon’s lackluster reflection. ‘What? No retort?’ He rotated to face me,
and I understood, perhaps like I’d never understood before, that sometimes a person knows the exact moment when they’ll meet death, but even an agent of purpose, even a man of elegance and virtue will not betray that same confidence and slink with resignation to their venue of passing. I was staring at a boy, and I was staring at a ghost. Somewhere in the morphology between the two stood before me a regal fucking Charlie Chinstrap, and I held his gaze, because I was going to be privileged with witnessing something I sensed was both glorious and terrifying. I’d never been so scared in my life as in that unnavigable chasm of seconds prior to Charlie speaking his next endorsement. I don’t believe I’ve been ever so scared since. ‘We’re hunting, White Wake and I. If you know something of coyote that might work in my favour to possess, I’d be obliged to you, lumberjack from Whistler.’ ‘I’m firstly compelled to clarify my means of employment,’ I croaked, placing a lit cigarette to the cushion of my lips. The longer and more persuasively I stalled, the more time I’d retain in preventing Charlie from whatever exigency or manufacture of death he was willing to surrender himself to. As I was standing right there, whole hours away from the snarl of mountain country I’d embarked four torrid days prior to embrace, I became sure: I would not allow this sad, time-crippled Indian man the leniency of a triumphant, allegorical death. It ain’t life’s duty – nor its responsibility – to convey the morality found in fiction. An honest man has no entitlement to demand a subtext for his plight, a meaning in the way or wend of a river. Boy: You’d be nought but a marvellous fool to hope for some final meaning, and your mother didn’t birth no fool I ever held. My daddy’s words, my saving grace. ‘I’m a carpenter: not a lumberjack. And, Chuckles, I can tell you this much, without a transitory invading doubt. Whatever the fuck you’re out here beneath the echelons of Powder Mountain to hunt, White Wake won’t be capable of taking down.’ Charlie Chinstrap became Blue Bluff Crow in the dance of heartbeats. There was no mirth here. ‘What is it that you think is out there, Babe Rockerfeller? What is it that you believe a senile old Squamish bastard and his slow-starving lap-mutt is committed to fighting? What are you convinced of ?’ I extinguished the cigarette into the snow, and breathed deep from the constellation of smoke. ‘I’ve got a reasonable idea,’ I exhaled, sheathing my hunting blade to the kiss of its scabbard. If this were any sort of mythopoetic quest narrative, I’d have expected nothing less than the following; but I couldn’t consider myself the idle construct of an author-god’s fable, the benefactor of some perverse, arduous fantasy – I stank of sweat too much, and wheezed too much from the altitude of the ascent to disprove the factual currency of my present situation. That’s why, when 70
both Blue Bluff Crow and I heard the unearthly thunder bellow through the steaming bracken, we blanched perceptibly from the causal theatricality of the sound, and exchanged wary silences with our eyes. The noise repeated, this time accompanied by heartbeat echoes of throaty reverberence, and birds evacuated their canopied roosts, wingspans erupting near, far and away. It was the third call which reified my hunch that the entity making it was not of meteorological or geological persuasion. There was no possibility in hell, no way. An animal was advertising a challenge. It was recruiting for a purpose. ‘It wants us to find it,’ I said, withdrawing daddy’s 77 magnum from the holster on my back, and tightening my fingers around the weapon grip. ‘That’s no cautionary threat. It’s inviting us to go find it.’ I lunged around to confront the Squamish. ‘What the fuck lives out here in these blue mountains?’ ‘Shepherd’s bane,’ Charlie grinned. ‘That song’s the fighting dirge of Powder Mountain’s very own Black Stag. And hoo-boy, White Wake and I’ve been tracking this thing from the mouth of the Squamish River two weeks tramping south of here.’ The Indian gripped me by the elbows, and breathed something rotten, tropical and sickly sweet onto my neck. His eyes were dancing pugnaciously, and I knew then that this was how he’d prepared to do it: Charlie Chinstrap would claim the hide of this illegitimate beast, or be killed beneath its head and hooves. ‘Don’t you see, lumberjack from Whistler? The Black Stag is the devil’s hand, incarnate. It’s a creature so rare and loathsome that any evidence attesting to its existence has warped into rumor, has faded into folktale. But I’ve seen it once before.’ Charlie’s face shone from within, made epiphanic by some secret and furious inspiration. He looked like a lunatic. I pulled away, but he clutched at my wrists, propelling me forward to hold his gaze. ‘It doesn’t take on the form of your private psychical horror – it manifests a new one. Your own father thought that if he could tame it, he might be able to locate solace in the feral eyes of the Black Stag. If you fish in the abyss for revelation, stare into that lonely chasm for some justification to continue living, the abyss fishes in you for every last hidden minnow of regret.’ ‘What are you saying?’ Charlie loosened his vice-like hold. I seized my fists into the folds of his leather jacket, pulling him back, but he was lost to me; he was laughing giddily, giggling even, and I would have slapped him of all daylight with the open splay of my palm, if he didn’t artfully dart through my grasp, and make off in a half-bent run beyond the clearing into the thick of the treeline. ‘How did you know my daddy? What do you know about it?’ I was screaming into vacant space at the centre of a cairn of stone. Screaming with me, the raucous bray of the Black Stag exploded from amongst the conifers. His brazen silver coat flashing past me, White Wake was a fleeting lupine shape whole yards away, already the size of my thumb-nail. 71
*** This whole thing teeters on the cusp of cliché. I was breathing hard, my lungs pumping. Some quiet exultation burned in my chest. I blew oxygen into the night. The branches of trees thrashed against my running legs, leaving scars and gashes like a coastline breeze. I couldn’t see Charlie, or White Wake, but ravens were flying overhead, flitting like kites through the greenery, and I knew daddy was directing my vengeful hand. I had the rifle lashed fast to my sternum, and the snow was as soft and forgiving as heather. A full autumn moon hung billowing above me, luminous and melancholy. It cast shadows onto the surface snow. I could feel my feet quicken, swift as a kill. I began talking then, whispering things to myself which I can neither recall nor decipher. I was vaulting through forest vegetation, my rib cage churning, and the Blag Stag’s thunderous voice remained half a yard in front of me; quarter of a yard. I could do this without Charlie, without his coyote. This belonged to me – this was the destiny I’d authored. The Black Stag’s head was mine for possessing. Racing now, I capered through pine needles and tangles of maple, blood bubbling from bitter cuts to my forehead. I broke into an up-slope culvert of mountain-rock, breath smoking like a blade on a forge. Five metres away from my entrance, the Black Stag was champing the wind with its great fleecy head lowered. An ash-black ewe with the red tufts of a fox’s winter-coat sprouting from its throat, the Black Stag of Powder Mountain snarled, stamping cloven hooves the hue of funeral soil into the plateau. I smiled recklessly, maybe the first time I’d felt closest to daddy since he’d left for that last ore-mine appraisal. I raised the sight of the 77 magnum to my right eye, caught the demon between my crosshairs. Hurriedly, I sought motivation, casting about for a hero’s sentiment. I remembered the words of the Squamish Indian. ‘Fuck your mother,’ I told the Black Stag as it cannonaded into me, squeezing the trigger, razing the mountain with a blast of gunpowder, the recoil and my adversary sending me without purchase wheeling into free air. *** I was lying stunned and inert on my back, my head swimmy in a poetic breed of darkness. My blindness was total. I couldn’t discern the fingers of my hand, even when I pressed my palm to the tip of my nose. I had either lost my sense of sight irrevocably, was dead, was writhing in the abdomen of a leviathan, had departed the plane of mortal territory, or had fallen into a crack of torture’s making. My body ached; I felt afire, and my stomach felt like it had suffered the brunt of a prizefighter’s wrath. I pitched forward, throwing up the alkaline contents of my tiny, torn gut all down my shirtfront. A car had hit me. No, a 72
freight train. A jet fighter, right in the eye of my chest. I vomited again, halfgagging when no new pre-digested remnants followed. Rocks of various shapes and classification rustled beneath my back, stabbing into the fleshy contusions between my shoulder-blades. I rolled, groaning, onto my side. There was a stave of light protruding through the implacable black vicissitude presiding above me on this side of my enclosure, and I could half-make out the ambiguous, geometric shapes of abandoned pick-axes and a coiled tether of horsehair rope. ‘A fucking mine-shaft,’ I growled, coughing a pulpy slurry of blood and phlegm into the charcoal beneath my chin. I hauled myself upright, swearing, onto the balls of my knees, and squinted with bloodshot eyes into the unilluminated confines of this mineshaft beneath the carbuncles of British Columbia. I knew where I was, though I’d never seen it before. It was like recognizing the face of the stranger you instantly wish to wed amidst a thrall of anonymous, comingling people. My deceased daddy’s supply-pack lay crumpled a handspan away from my sluggish grasp. Through the visor of a belligerent headache, I identified it with my eyes without needing to debate the obvious. My hands hunted in it, squeezing the dirt-clothed baggage beneath my nose, wanting to inhale the history of a family legacy now long vanished. I came out with a compass-watch, a cylindrical flask of water, a paperback edition of A Voyage to Pagany, its pages gummed together by dew and fungus. I was breathing so hard. My heart was booming, here, beneath the surface of the snow-dappled universe. I held it. I’d been travelling doggedly, for five days, for five years, for five million tears to feel the shape of this ending, its rectangular form, between the cathedral of my fists. I held it. A reason for my daddy’s desertion. I couldn’t prevent myself from howling. I stared at the object more fragile than an infant love in the clutch of my fingertips. I rotated the letter in my hands, exhaled, and tore open the envelope. A single page withered in my grasp. I made my way towards the light, scaling the rock, pushing against the underside of the mountain with my snowshoes until I could see that new day sky. It’s not a blue. It’s unclouded and azure. I read daddy’s words. *** Look. The thing a person needs to appreciate is that there forever arise trials to untether a strong, generous being, and sometimes there’s no method of evasion which you might hope to call up to benefit you whilst the world shrinks to hug you in a human-chain of calamity and the basest evil. But stories neither demand nor expect a hero of an immaculate cloth. That’s not what’s expected: what makes a man into a beautiful victor, what marks a man as an agent for certain justice all 73
depends upon the pact he’s forged with the very guts which any reputable diviner will confirm contains the most forsaken future hidden to him. You can always tell a good one from the way he holds himself ! Dignity resides not at the surface of tissue, muscle, or even bone. Goodness – that rarest and most cultivated fungus – a true man’s goodness proliferates like a cluster-fuck in the blood, in the marrow, and nowhere else. Like mushrooms chairing a committee in the dark. You can’t cast disputations. You can’t disregard the mane of a champion, no matter how gorgeous or mutt-ugly it veils his hard, blue eyes. You can’t blow smoke-rings around his visage. You can’t hope to thwart him, not by binding yourself to his fucking ankle. You mustn’t obstruct his passage. A hero is a thing of the greatest, divine and most violent of creative acts. It is a thing that casts constellations to the winds. He is a wonder. He is marvellous and ungovernable. Do not reckon with a hero. You will only weep later, when you recall the way in which you retreated to kiss his feet. I cannot stress the importance of this thing I am about to tell you, son: When your mother died, I understood how desolate and tiny a man I was. For the first time, son. It was like squinting through the other end of a telescope to look at myself from a distance of kilometers, and I could only suffer the amazement of how so much love can diminish to something so broken and gambled and unshared. I walked down that hospital corridor. The tears were flooding my face. I fell to my knees. The wardens swarmed upon me, and my fingers hooked into the indistinguishable grooves of white adobe tiles. I probably called out names of people I hadn’t seen in decades. I know I cowered somewhere amongst a collusion of rubber-soled sneakers, spitting when I couldn’t cry and crying when I couldn’t utter the word “No” anymore. Losing your sweetheart is a wicked wound, boy. And fingers whispered over my body, kneading me into boozy reaction, but I can only accurately quantify the ache by establishing the following context: in fifty-eight scrofulous years, I’d never before been exhausted of light leaving me, like that, not ever. They say – those bad, forlorn souls with foul hearts and corrupt hungers – that when you break a man, there’s one moment before his heart cavorts spastically into its awful descent. And it ain’t anything as graceful as a flock of swans bearing the newborn babes of God Himself falling without music or glory into the black watches of some silent wood. It’s the death-blow that misery anticipates. It’s the bullet to an innocent dream formed of color and revelation. I don’t think I ever explained, not to you or your tiny sister, what your mother meant to me. A man is an animal, and he must exist in solitude, and it’s an artefact of his honour to keep that moment which broke him like a whip to himself. What I’m saying is that I ran underground. I’m a coward, boy. I sought escape in my Canadian mine-shafts; some place I could sculpt a foundation and prize jewels from the bedrock of disorder; torchlight so bright I would hope to go blind and forget the joy of your mother’s face. I’m a fool, understand? I might hope to succumb to the 74
bloom of cataracts, but what I was rejecting was the fact that I had a happy ending. It was staring at me. Like two awesome trophies waiting to be remembered with faultless patience. You’re my hero, Babe Rockerfeller. Your sister is my hero. The trick of a hero is to exchange every endless kindness until an old, sad fucking fart fails to discriminate the meaning behind that sacrifice of self. You and your sister shouldn’t have had to suffer the collapse of someone you admired, whilst life had already robbed you of someone you loved. I made a second marriage of my work. And that was wrong. I never told you that. So I’m sorry. The moment I knew the break in my gut wasn’t irreparable wasn’t a momentous realization. Not even an event lambent with fortune, promise or resolution. The hospital orderlies pushed me through the door, and there you and your sister were. Standing there. Your faces were already shining from the tears. But it was your hands, boy. Your hands were there to lift me up, right beneath the arms, and I’ve never known a hero who had such a hidden wealth of fortitude. You’re more than a man, Babe Rockerfeller. You’re a son. And I’m a father who forgot it. Maybe for a minute. Before you buried my face into your shirt. What can I now say? I’m sorry I had to do this. I couldn’t wait any longer. Not for her. I will miss you. But you know that. You were always smarter than your old man.
*** When I think back on my time searching desperately for a direction or directive at the foot of Powder Mountain, all those years and seasons ago, the memory that comes most readily to mind is standing over the cascade of Brandywine Falls after the rifle floated away from me, tumbling and pitching with the white-water swell. A rogue elk meandered up to the river on the far bank. Its kingly crown of antlers was host to hundreds of perched and staring ravens. I cocked my head, with measured reverence, to the image of my daddy’s legacy, and turned my back on Powder Mountain, even though its peak vibrated with splendor and sunshine. I shook my daddy’s compass, turned south, and began the short, sublime march. Somewhere not quite near, a coyote lowed at the starless morning sky. I wiped my palms onto the frost, and walked into the winter of Whistler, calling out the names of the trees as I passed. *** 75
irk Marshall is a twenty-six-year-old Brisbane-born, Melbournebased writer. He is the author of Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories (Black Rider Press; 2011) and A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953, a 2007 Aurealis Award-nominated full-colour illustrated graphic novelette. Kirk has just completed a standalone novella entitled The Signatory, which constitutes a 45,000-word exploration of Scottish cryptozoology, amongst other concerns of the day. He edits Red Leaves / ç´…č‘‰, the first Englishlanguage / Japanese bi-lingual literary journal.
His CableTelevision Ray Succre Cord and unferal current state one thing, border of a television made to put shape around a sheet face, even while the signals single through one another, pieced apart, seamed together cosmetically by the cathode, his adult film singed in weather to a static rhyme of pleases-the-mind and shows-a-thing, shorting eyes out, his motherâ€™s shriek from his kidhood, and his auger stare now measured in commercial half-years. These people are dead. They state one thing to a man watching sadness at twenty five, and his glass of nothing special.
ay Succre is 34 and currently lives in Coos Bay, Oregon, a small, coastal town where art is sparse and, when it does exist, is of a general relation to driftwood, deer, dying romance, or various maritime subjects. He has tried to leave the town numerous times. He is married, has a four year-old son, and loves the south coast. Ray is a novelist and a writer of poetry, and his work can be found in hundreds of publications in print and online across two dozen countries. His poetical fugue theory has been published in several publications and his early work also appeared in The Book of Hopes and Dreams, a charity anthology edited by Dee Rimbaud, out of Scotland. For images or small talk, indecent propositions, query by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can read his online journal for some information about him that is not in the third person at: Ray Succre, Specific, and feel free to peruse his Interviews with the Dead. You can find Ray on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, all under the simple username raysuccre.
Kill Room Debate Walter Foley 1: You’re sitting in a dark room, and in front of you is a lamb and a snake. A voice tells you that one of them must die, and it’s your choice which. 2: The snake. 1: Why? 2: Oh, come on. 1: Because the lamb is cuter? 2: No. Some other reason. 1: Then why? 2: It was just a random choice. I picked at random. 1: OK, sure. Now you’re sitting in a dark room, and in front of you is an adult human and a cow. A voice tells you that one of them must die, and it’s your choice which. 2: The cow. 1: Why? 2: It’s a cow. What do you want me to say? 1: Explain. 2: Well, as far as we know, a human has more potential than a cow at assessing, enjoying, and marveling at reality. It’s self-aware, so you would be robbing it of more. Also, the human is so frail. We’re emotional — Does the voice say how it’s going to be killed? 1: No. 2: That’s the other thing. If there’s a lot of pain involved, I’d much rather it not be a human. When a cow feels pain, it probably just feels pain. When a human feels pain, it asks, “Why is this happening to me?” It’s heartbreaking. 1: Now you’re in a room with an adult human and an alien from some other galaxy. The voice tells you the alien is even more self-aware, and much more emotional and intelligent than the human. Which one dies? 2: … I’m not answering that. 80
1: Answer it. 2: No. It’s stupid. 1: Did I just strike an uncomfortable thought, or a gorgeous one? 2: Shut up! You shut the hell up and get out! I won’t talk to you anymore! 1 was just trying to create a discussion during a lull at breakfast. She used a similar set of questions on all of her friends, trying to spark a debate for the sake of debate, but 2 felt something change inside him seconds before lashing out at his friend. Now he felt a massive weight inside his chest as he sat frozen in his chair, eyeing 1 as she stormed out of the café. He didn’t move for hours, cried a little, couldn’t hear the people bustling around him. Eventually he was home. He definitely walked the 6 miles, but couldn’t remember much about it as he stumbled into the kitchen. Bugs. Bugs everywhere. He grabbed his old magazine, rolled up and crusty with death, riddled with tiny legs and guts. He felt sick and slapped himself across the face. There was stale bunt cake sitting uncovered in the refrigerator. He bit off a small chunk for himself then laid the rest on the floor next to the cabinet and sat cross-legged to watch the bugs feast. He just now noticed his exhaustion and fell forward onto his face, careful to dodge the bugs. He rolled over and stayed there. Sprawled on his back, mouth open. It took almost a week, but he eventually forced himself to slide three feet over and stick his head under the sink to catch an average of 29 drops of water on his tongue per day from the leaking pipe. He never closed the refrigerator door, so the bugs had been feeding and multiplying at an astonishing rate. When they became so numerous that they started traveling in a steady, unbroken flow, their little bodies began to feel more like a massage creeping over his body than the unnerving tickle that at first drove him crazy. Every so often a bug would crawl into his mouth and get sucked down his throat as he slept, keeping him alive and conscious for another day. But as the bugs grew in number, and the stench of the house attracted more and more creatures, 2 found himself with a fuller and fuller belly, week to week. And as the sink pipe corroded, he received better hydration. One day a mouse propped itself onto his nose and upper lip to drink 81
from the pipe. It gnawed at the metal, choked on some rust, and fell dead into 2’s mouth. Sweet protein. Once digested, this would be the last bit of strength he needed to stand up and start his life again. It took him hours to reach the front door, sliding his feet across the floor to clear a path, carefully brushing the bugs out of his clothes and crevices. He was so flabby and weak. Twiggy arms with mushy gut and bosoms. Nearly blind from the sun, he crawled along the pavement with one squinty eye open to avoid squashing something. He reached the door to 1’s apartment and knocked feebly. She screeched when the smell stabbed at her nostrils. 2: Hey. What’s the alien look like? 1: Classic image. Pale glow, anemic body, large black eyes. 2: I’d kill the alien.
alter Foley writes a mini-zine of flash fiction and essays, many of which are posted at henrystrashcan.wordpress.com. He lives in Philadelphia where he likes to play drums and do readings whenever possible. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Dismantled Bill James Veronica Belen Karina Anayeli Rice Chicken Beef Stew Radish Turnip Carrot Sticks Mormon Chicks Are Hot Sinead O’Connor enlisted to be lead singer of the “Bodies Revealed” touring band. Sinead O’Connor in a Wendy’s commercial. Sinead O’Connor as the subject of the song “Thrash Unreal.” Clipboards Pizza Party Run-through We have a plan! A plan to get rid of David Ivan. Cyrus: Cyrus has only one ear as a result of his youth fencing instructor’s propensity toward prescription drug use. 84
Callie: Callie was raised in a remote area of Vermont to which her parents had defected after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction threatened Callie’s innocence. Michael said that Lonny was definitely gay. Did you pick up on that? Stephen: Stephen has a violently intense fear of the color blue. He has a 504 plan in place that demands an effort be made to avoid exposing Stephen to the color blue itself as well as any verbal mention of that particular color. This will make Stephen’s participation in the class’s study of Island of the Blue Dolphin particularly difficult. Sarah Palin ate my dog. scaffold forest letter Pearl Hester Prynne noon/midnight The letter Pearl day/night Hester Prynne The forest Arthur Dimmesdale The scaffold Which has greater influence on an individual’s freedom: the individual itself or the individual’s surroundings/environment? Support your answer with specific examples from the text. Does freedom come from within the individual, or is it determined by forces outside of the individual? Support your answer using specific examples from the text. Turtle Probing Assistant Telephone Plays Accordion Terrible Polyphonic Armoire Tiger Pretending Amish The assassination of Michael Gross by the well-mannered love child of Gary Bus 85
ey. Before you got here, Michael told the instructor that his grandparents built the county. He invented Spanish but he forgot it during The Industrial Revolution. They can’t spell but they know Darwin is The Devil. Did he say, “rice”? I also have a student that I suspect has Tourette’s. He keeps telling me to “Fuck off.” There’re also soft tacos. Eragon Stew One of them said, “You match again!” Manifestation Determination Is the crunching really loud? He’s got moxy! I picture them pinching each other in the car all the way back to Calaveras County. 2 ways to fail: -Don’t know shit
-Not enough hand-outs
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine who exactly the greatest human being of all time is. Personal Safety Kit 1.
Cookie Dough 86
2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.
Barbecue Sauce Copy of Terms of Endearment Chinese Handcuffs Kneepads Wooden Nickels Various recipe books “Making of Speed 2: Cruise Control” Collectible Stickers Tang Happy thoughts The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin Sense of Balance James Spader Fan Club Membership Card Silly String
Question: What member of blah, blah, blah had a uniquely distinct signature? Response: John Hancock David Ivan [in incredibly disconcerting Chris Farley voice]: Johnnn Hancock? It’s Herrrbie Hannncock! [laughs heartily as he looks around room at people in room, none of whom are laughing heartily] Resolved: an individual’s freedom is dependant upon forces external to the individual. David Ivan to new girl: So where are you from? So what’s your story? Why are you here? Mumble, mumble, classes and stuff ? So are you going to be with us, or are you taking classes here and there (gyrates hands at “here” and “there”)? We can be a little rowdy but you’ll be alright. A single rosebush, against the wall of the town prison, surrounded by an overgrowth of weeds: this powerful image, brought forth in the opening pages of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, serves to establish the author’s tone and purpose in the story that follows it. The rosebush clearly symbolizes the individual, as the aforementioned image suggests a single object of color and beauty amongst the multitude of colorless and dull weeds. As the novel progresses, we see that the individual in question is 87
Hester Prynne, as Hawthorne clearly describes his protagonist as a single object of dignity and elegance amongst the drab Puritan society in which she is placed. It is through Hawthorne’s diction that his biases for Hester and against Puritan society are made evident. The weeds, which, as mentioned above, symbolize society, are described as “unsightly vegetation.” The rosebush itself, however, is described as having “delicate gems” offering “fragrance and fragile beauty.” It is through these descriptions that Hawthorne establishes the tone of an oppressive society threatening the individual. We have a plan to get rid of David Ivan. David Ivan is a student in our credentialing program, which is like night school for teachers who are not yet real teachers. David Ivan is annoying. He makes jokes that are not funny and then laughs at them. His voice sounds like something is sitting on his head. His nose is weird. It looks like he was making a face and it got stuck, like children’s mothers always say will happen. The plan is foolproof. He will not notice until it is too late. We are going to dismantle him. We will take little pieces of him away, bit by bit, until he is gone. On the first Wednesday of the month, Anne will take away David Ivan’s fingernails. On the second Monday of the month, Tyleen will take his toes. On the second Wednesday of the month, Michael will distract him with a question about NASCAR while Melissa takes off his left arm. By the third Monday of the month, the plan will be going smoothly. David Ivan will be missing his fingernails, all of his toes, and one arm, and will seem to be none the wiser. WHO ARE YOU? Do you belong? What does it mean to belong? How do you know you belong? Jessica? Jenny Silvia bluish gray stucco Titles 88
“Mormon Chicks Are Hot”
“Flashfloods of Pain”
“The Spirit of Things Never Said”
“Where’s My Butter?” “Migrant Ed”
“The Assassination of Michael Gross by the Well-Mannered Love Child of Gary Busey” “Adam Hill is a Shape-Shifter” “Sarah Palin Ate My Dog” “Karate Kult” “When Swayze Was Mine” “Sinead O’Connor: Alien Bounty Hunter” “Our Flasher” “Don’t Call Me ‘Mom’” “I Agree With EVERYTHING” “Interception” Have you seen No Country for Old Men? The book? In the book, Lewellen’s wife says, “That’s what she said” as a joke, but they didn’t use it in the movie. In the first scene in their trailer house.
1. Do you like your job? Why or why not? 2. Warm up Rhetorical Question Hypophora Chief Seattle Lean On Me It will start with his fingernails. He won’t miss fingernails. Just one or two at a time. He’s no doubt a busy little fellow, as many of us are. He hasn’t the time to fret over a few missing fingernails. Eventually he may come to accept it, and if so, wonderful, things will be set in motion. A week or so later, when a finger comes up missing, he may think nothing of it. Just one of those things, he may think. Move on. It could be worse. I’m lucky to have fingers in the first place, by God. And once he’s come to these terms, what’s one more finger? And then another? So that’s it. That’s the plan. The plan to get rid of David Ivan. This debate is a war The bank of justice is bankrupt This idea is a cancer on our society He doesn’t loaf around, that’s what.
ill James is a recent graduate of the Low Residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska. He has taught High School English for the past five years, before which he worked at Wal-Mart. His work has been published in The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review, Cause and Effect, Mississippi Crow, Foliate Oak, The Duck and Herring Co. Pocket Field Guide and Leaf Garden. You can find Bill on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/people/BillHoward-James/1622730556.
Sonata Miles Klee I. Adagio sostenuto Sam was watching a commercial and the commercial was there with him. The commercial showed a man growing agitated in his attempts at sleep, while beyond him and barely sketched a woman’s silhouette dozed on. Quiltō, said a toasted female voice. “Quiltō,” Sam intoned, sipping his beer. He acted like he was interested in what TV said, just to humor it. Is now Quiltō+. An extended release sleeping aid with two layers. “Layers?” The man had stopped thrashing under his blanket. His eyes were closed and his smile pinned on. The woman—the wife—from over a shoulder observed his contentment, the utter stillness of which had woken her. The pill’s first layer puts you to sleep. The second layer keeps you asleep: No more waking up before you’re ready. What an ominous thing to promise, Sam thought—better steer clear. He looked at his beer and found it to be an empty bottle of Quiltō+. Doesn’t mean I took them all, he reasoned. Or any. It was late; he was ready for the last beer of the twelve-pack he’d bought to help himself pass out. He walked to the fridge and opened it. His reflection did like 92
wise in the full-length mirror on the far side of the living room. Only his reflection was slower, and the fridge light filled its face like the lurid glow of treasure in an old pirate movie. There were two beers in there, double the expected inventory. Sam took the one sitting further back. He returned to the living room, where the bottle opener was. The TV was saying people who take Quiltō+ occasionally experience positive side effects. “Positive?” said Sam, popping the beer. The piano music in the commercial swelled; he plucked the remote from the mess on his coffee table and held down the left half of the VOL -/+ button. Nothing happened. He pressed the left of VOL -/+ more seriously, then whacked the remote and pressed the button with calm firmness. Scoffing for effect, Sam got up to press the TV set’s VOL - button (separately articulated from the VOL +). The music, meanwhile, stayed loud, because it was coming from his stereo. He’d also left the fridge open: disappointing behavior. So a commercial had slipped into his frame, real graceful—no excuse to waste electricity. Approaching the cold fluorescence in the kitchen, a link in his chain of reasoning snapped, and it was remotely deduced that his proximity to the open fridge meant the time had come to open the last beer. At that moment Sam was just two sips into the surprise extra beer now warming on his coffee table, which in being forgotten and not serving its purpose had been erased from a couple layers of exis tence. But the stereo. You could see how the grilles of the speakers blurred as each lucid chord touched down. Sam ran his hand over the vibrations and looked at the beer bottle in his hand. His dad’s brand, dark as dark chocolate, pines and a modest Northeastern peak on the label. Someone’s lazy idea of where beer comes from. Ask your doctor about Quiltō+, said the toasted female voice, and the screen imposed a purple over-starry sky above the dreaming insomniac. In its center hung the benevolent yellow drug like the moon after plastic surgery. “What doctor,” Sam said, on his knees, searching the disaster of the coffee table for his bottle opener and thereby knocking over the opened, half-existing beer he’d forgotten. He sprang forward to save it; everything else on the table slid off in a sheet. A full beer in each hand, he let his face drop carefully onto the cleared surface, a 93
nice enough fact even if the mound of ash and broken ceramic and census forms alongside it was not. This commercial, he sensed, was going on forever, or repeating itself, or almost over. “Don’t wait another minute for a good night’s sleep,” it said. Oh god, Sam thought, face soaking up the table’s cool wood as a wave of stars twinkled to life along his narrow band of vision. Got to remember what I was going to do. What I’m doing. He picked his head up and took a long swallow of the open beer after trying to swig from the closed one. He pulled his legs out of their compressed kneel and stretched them under the coffee table. They touched the mess on the far side. His head lolled back onto the couch, and a loathing crystallized in Sam—because what had he been doing, watching a commercial when he could have fastforwarded. II. Allegretto One balmy Tuesday in the Late Cretaceous, a triceratops awoke with a start, shook off her advanced dreams (triangles, endless triangles) and ambled over to some shrubs for a midnight snack. The search for high-density leaf coverage led her away from the slumbering herd, toward plants on the fringe of the area they’d methodically stripped that day. A groggy hundred yards later, at the edge of a rushing stream, the triceratops found what she was looking for. Four-five good mouthfuls of leaves left on this shrub, she estimated. No feast, but a respectable late-night nibble. She clamped onto the lowest-hanging leaves with her powerful beak and set to chewing. As she savored the waxy treat, her upper horns jostled the skeletal shrub to a gentle rhythm established by the lock-tempo churn of her jaw. Suddenly there was a hot breath on the triceratops, and she looked around in alarm for whatever had breathed on her. She looked in every direction and back at the bush. The heat was still there, on the peak of her back. She waited a beat and did something for the very first time: she looked straight up. Had she tried it any other time, she would have been unimpressed with up, up being the meaningless pattern of inedibility she’d always assumed. But in the center of up’s untouchables was a sun pulsing red and hot. Though it hurt to have her bony frill pressed against her back like that, she kept her sight trained upward. The sun was growing, though it did not light the land, and the hot breath sensation began to feel like a burn. When she could stand it no longer the triceratops galloped into the cooler dark. 94
A sound like hissing geysers built around her. She turned to see a giant egg-shaped stone sitting right where she’d stood a moment ago. She crept back toward it, taking cover behind another barren shrub, vexed at her failure to catch its scent. The stone cracked near its base, and through the crack a straight dark leg extended. For a while nothing more happened; the stone showed no sign of activity, and the triceratops had laid eggs like this, ones that get halfway through hatching and then give up and wait for their mother to help. At last there was a glimmer at the crack. It traveled like an upright beam of water along the extended leg. Another followed. When they reached where the leg met high grass along the stream, the triceratops came to see that these were living beings, silver and shaped like thin saplings. Mesmerized, she drew closer. They were speaking to one another in calls too quiet and muddled to understand. “Why are we meeting him here?” she didn’t hear one of them say. “Don’t ask me his business,” she missed the other replying. “You’ll go far in this organization if you stop asking the incriminating questions.” The first silver sapling, the inquisitive one, scratched the left set of its branches with the right set. It stepped away from the second sapling, toward the stream, and cautiously dipped a lower extremity. The second sapling reached behind the dark leg they’d walked down together and produced a black tube that glowed red-hot at the tip. It aimed this tube at the inquisitive sapling’s crown of branches and approached. “Well this place is a dump,” the inquisitive sapling said. “Say something good,” the sapling with the weapon said. “Last thing that toy under your skin records.” The inquisitive sapling spun to face its killer and froze in thickening red light. Its branches withered and turned to ash that dropped in a hazy cone around its stillupright trunk. The trunk went papery and hollow. The living sapling tossed its weapon aside and kicked the husk of its partner into the stream, where it flaked apart and became yet more shine on the hurried water. The triceratops resisted valiantly, but in the end a full-octave burp escaped her. The lone silver sapling—already halfway up the dark leg to its stone—paused and 95
cocked its branches. It glided back down to the grass, strode over to the shrub the triceratops was hiding behind (as if it knew all along she was spying) and spoke directly through the bramble at her. There was no point in being impolite, so the doe-eyed triceratops came around the shrub to engage the silver sapling, which tracked her movement with an air of infinite patience. Once out in the open, she snorted and stomped a triceratops greeting customary in those parts, but the poor sapling was too dumb to understand. It merely clicked in soft laughter at her display and went up the leg to the crack in its stone, the stone then withdrawing the leg and sealing the crack and twanging up beyond the planet’s hold. III. Presto agitato At dawn they were going to round us up and do the massacre right, so an obvious question loomed: where would we throw our very last party? We were semi-hungover from the previous night’s revelry, and it was late into Saturday’s drizzle when we got around to asking. Even before settling the matter, we gathered our accessories—among them a battery-powered record player, a wooden coffee table with glued-on ashtray, a leather beanbag, a moody Rothko liberated from its frame—and swooped down on the city like drunken angels. For an hour we bullshitted each other about acid jazz in the middle of Riverside Drive, cabs swerving wetly around our humble cluster of furniture and guests. As the rain broke Ryan brightly informed us of a gathering some blocks south, on the Staten Island ferry. Eliza said if we were schlepping all the way down there, we may as well stop by the party on the 1 train and pay our respects, so we trooped into the dank intestinal subway, hopped the Seventh Avenue Local and took turns doing goofy pole dances as we hurtled sideways through space-time, with Logan pompously translating the Morse code of tunnel lights that flickered by. Alas, as with most 1 train parties, it wasn’t long before a crasher arrived and tried to hijack the ambiance with his acoustic guitar. Not wanting to make a big fuss, we bade a French goodbye and hit the ferry affair a tad early. It was just as well, seeing as parties were often catatonic until we came along to resuscitate them, full of solitary people doing solitary things like reading novels or playing handheld videogames or adjusting fat earphones. We took the coffee table and beanbag and a mattress we’d found in the gutter en route and stacked them on an unoccupied bench toward the prow, then played King of the Mountain until Quentin twisted her ankle in a flirtatious war of attrition with Jules. For a dagger of a moment we 96
feared our fun was finished, and Jules went the color of mayonnaise. But Quentin declared that nothing would spoil our evening and asked for some ice, of which we naturally had a bucket, as Gregory took his Chivas on the rocks. It was the relief of our short lives. After a cocktail intermission we found ourselves back on the southern tip of Manhattan: fortuitous, as a Chinatown party was on the point of existence. There was a terrifying round of Manhunt that made use of the cramped and alley-like streets, Chase ATM lobbies serving as jails until Foster escorted a captive Logan to one and found Melissa and Nikolai—warden and ward—lewdly tangled. While they buttoned and smoothed their clothes, others of us congregated on the curb serving as territory line to signal that the game was up; head by head we collected our ranks until only Ryan was missing. Quentin texted him. Gregory said to forget it, that he’d obviously run into some other crew. The faces of these rival playboys and playgirls ricocheting around in our skulls, we walked toward an idea of sunrise and caught the 6 train well after its gala had fizzled, empty save a few evaporating puddles. We disembarked when Eliza reported a whiff of afterparty emanating from the corner of 75th and Madison—a dubious scent, we concurred, given its Upper East Side origins, but no one offered an alternative. Soon enough we encountered the jutting tiers of The Whitney and began to exchange troubled glances. The sky was a pinkish gray. This place was dead. We started slowly, uncertainly north. Then Melissa stopped walking, and we all stopped with her. “I don’t know why I stopped just now,” Melissa said when she saw we were waiting. A police car slid past us and parked at the corner. Two cops got out and walked toward us. The one who’d been driving was sipping from a huge Yankees thermos, and the one who spoke first had a discolored dent in his forehead. “What’d you, forget?” he asked us with his hands on his belt. “Hey,” said the one with the thermos. “They won’t all fit.” “We can fit four,” his partner told him. “All we need. You, you, you. You.” The four of us chosen were handcuffed together in same-sex pairs while the rest watched with historic expressions. 97
“Ladies get dropped first,” the cop with the thermos explained as we crammed into the backseat of the squad car. “They get processed at a separate facility.” Our friends blew meaningful kisses and waved tiredly as we swung east around the corner of 76th street. They’d scatter across the boroughs to doze away their mistakes in private. I hoped there would be no need for the siren; exotic flowers of pain had opened behind my eyes. The cop driving slurped from his thermos while the other slapped his knees. “Had your fun then, did you?” one of them asked. We turned south on Park Avenue and had the next light, and green lights all the way out.
iles Klee is 26 and lives in Manhattan. His writing has been published in The Awl, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Contrary Magazine, Storychord and elsewhere.
Sensorium 7 Isaac Coleman I am going to read this story one more time. I’ve read this story seven times now without speculating about the characters’ names. It seems like the plot is more important than their names. None of the characters use each other’s names, and two characters are figments of the imagination of the protagonist. I’m still not sure how this works in fiction, but all the same, I’m going to use names even though the author didn’t provide any. Leonard is sitting on the corner of a messy bed painting another version of his vision onto a canvas resting on an easel. The painting in progress looks similar to forty-two other canvases scattered and stacked about. Built-in chestof-drawers line the walls underneath the windows of the second-story bedroom. Leonard is only wearing blue jeans; a few smudges of green paint cover his arms and tone torso. He is meticulously, frantically, applying tiny strokes of gold to the center of the canvas. Natalie slowly opens the door and eases her head into the room filled with paintings and dirty clothes. She knocks and speaks simultaneously, “Ready for lunch?” Her voice is nasally and sugary sweet. The noise causes Leonard’s hand to jolt upward across the canvas. A smear of gold strikes through the blue sky. When I first read this story, there were just generic tags on the dialogue like: says the artist, she says, the administrative assistant says. This time I want to give more depth to the characters which is ironic because if ‘the artist’ knew I was reading his story again, not to mention exposing him to who knows how many more people, he would be upset. So if you’re joining this reading late, you should know that the protagonist is crazy, and there is a trick ending, but it changes with each reading, so I can’t ruin the story beyond telling you that much. And the ending isn’t at the end. I’m calling the artist Leonard, which isn’t too terribly clever in respect to the fact that when I think of a painter, which is the type of artist Leonard is, the 100
painter that comes to mind is Leonardo DaVinci, so I dropped the “o.” Before I read the opening scene, where Leonard is now painting, everyone should know that Leonard is crazy. I told you this, but it is more complex than that. Leonard is crazy but thinks himself to be sane and wants to trick the world into thinking he’s crazy. It’s a catch twenty-two; the crazy can’t know they’re crazy. All that Leonard really wants is to perfect the image he has had in his head since he was a child. The image is a field of rye with a grove of pine trees that taper toward the vanishing point on the horizon in the middle of the canvas; overhead, clouds swirl, and a barbed wire fence acts as an illusory barricade in the foreground. The catalyst that will push Leonard into seeking refuge in a psychiatric ward is his roommate, which is the first problem in this story. Until today, the roommate, who may also be crazy, who was once just ‘she,’ who is now Natalie, used to leave Leonard alone while he painted. I’m still not sure what role, besides being Leonard’s roommate, that she plays in his life. It isn’t very important to the plot, but I’m curious. The author doesn’t say much about her. The way she acts so caring toward Leonard, it’s like she must be dating him, which makes sense, but she hasn’t been dating Leonard very long. In fact, Natalie has only been living with Leonard for about one month. Leonard suspects that Natalie is a homeless drug addict. He picked her up at the bar one night, took her home for a one night stand, and when the next few days passed and she remained, as though not really there at all, Leonard didn’t say anything. They basically started functioning in the same apartment, sometimes going all day without interacting until the evening when they made sweet gymnastic sex. This, Leonard excused himself, was a good enough reason to avoid ever really talking to her. He thought that by not talking to her, and only interacting physically with someone, he could have one perfect, meaningful relationship, even if it was ephemeral. And it is ephemeral. I won’t lie to you. Natalie doesn’t exist. Well, maybe she did the first night Leonard met her, but she left his apartment a long time ago. But the author wants you to believe that she is real. At this point, it really doesn’t matter, other than it makes accounting for the gymnastic sex a little awkward, but it could be explained, but there’s no need going into such perverse things. That story is in a magazine that people read without looking at the words. Or you can use your imagination if you have to. From now on, realize that Natalie is the result of Leonard’s mind and body overworked. Yes, that way. This is a turn off in the fact that this scene is the “and then he woke up” scenario, but I promise you the schematics of this story are structurally sound. It really doesn’t matter if Natalie is real. None of this is of any importance to Leonard’s story. Leonard is a crazy painter, and without an anonymous audience, 101
none of this would matter. Natalie’s biggest problem is that she started talking to Leonard, who is crazier than a crow flying through a glass city at night, but to his credit, he did realize that the silence wouldn’t last forever. Leonard thinks maybe she is a theater major trying out an existential acting exercise on him. Leonard is sitting on the corner of a messy bed painting another version of his vision onto a canvas resting on an easel. The painting in progress looks similar to forty-two other canvases scattered and stacked about. Built in chest-ofdrawers line the walls underneath the wall to wall windows on the two exterior sides of the second story, corner bedroom. Leonard is only wearing blue jeans; a few smudges of green paint cover his arms and tone torso. He is meticulously, frantically, applying tiny strokes of gold to the center of the canvas. Natalie slowly opens the door and eases her head into the room filled with paintings and dirty clothes. She knocks and speaks simultaneously, “Ready for lunch?” Her voice is nasally and sugary sweet. The noise causes Leonard’s hand to jolt upward across the canvas. A smear of gold strikes through the blue sky. “Dangit.” This doesn’t sound harsh enough. “Do I need to hang a sign on that door that says ‘do not knock’ just to remind you every day?” Leonard does have anger problems, but having anger problems myself, I find his response to the situation justified. “No,” Natalie responds, probably with indignation. “I’m not stupid. Do you have to be in a pissy mood with me just for trying to make you lunch?” “No. I don’t want lunch.” Leonard responds calmly, and slowly turns back to his painting. In his mind’s eye, he is already covering the yellow streak with blue, but he is afraid to actually continue. He thinks that this particular painting is closer to matching the very image in his mind than any other version. “I’m really intent on finishing this. I’ll cook for myself when I finish up here. Could you please try and make sure not to disturb me again until I’m done, okay, sweetie?” Leonard speaks without turning around. He thinks this might emphasize how desperately he wants to finish this painting. “Fine. I was just out here cleaning, you know, and got hungry. I miss you. I thought it would be nice if we took lunch together. Why don’t you take a break and come have lunch with me?” Natalie’s dialogue really makes Leonard freak out now. He throws his brush against the white wall. The brush leaves a tiny yellow splatter. I wish he is an abstract painter using a thick brush to spread around a large quantity of red; then when he throws the brush, it would seem to mean more with globs of red splattering everywhere—at least, if not red, a large brush, but I just read this how it is written. Poor Leonard is really just a beautiful, misunderstood, stereotypical, artist type who just happens to be crazy. And he has a problem controlling his temper. 102
“Because I don’t want to. Baloney sandwiches, twenty-five cent potato chips, and Kool-aid don’t really interest me right now. Because this-” Leonard gestures to the canvas with both hands, “this is what is important to me. Finishing this painting that inspiration is striking me with, inspiration that I am losing having to have this conversation with you right now, this, this painting is what is important to me right now. I haven’t felt this good about a painting for three months.” Knowing that one of the characters is a figment of the imagination of the protagonist undermines the power of this scene, but now it won’t feel like a rip-off when the author tells you that Leonard has been hallucinating. The painting that he has been working on looks nothing like what he thinks he sees—the colors are muddled. Leonard walks over the dirty clothes lying on the hardwood floor to pick up his brush. Leonard really is a good guy. He says, “I’ll by you oysters and a steak dinner with the most expensive bottle of wine I can find when I’m done. Just don’t distract me again until I come out of this room.” “It’s always about you isn’t it? You have no feelings for me. You think your work is so important, well, I’m important too, damnit. I’m just going to completely quit worrying about you.” This is what Natalie says before she slams the door. Leonard sits back on the bed corner and runs his thumb nail through the bristles of the brush and has an epiphany. He wonders if Natalie could be a figment of his imagination. It creates a binary between the different consciousnesses of his mind. One side is telling him to come out and live and take a break before he truly snaps, while the artistic side is consuming him. Then when these two forces meet, he shouts about oysters and steak. Remember: The last thing Natalie said was “I’m going to completely quit worrying about you.” Leonard runs his thumb nail through the sparse hairs of the paint brush that are clogged with thick yellow paint. Not thick bristles with red paint. “If only you would. If only you would.” To digress again, I must say, I hate it when characters say the same thing twice. Leonard’s hallucination that is Natalie re-enters the room. “Are you sure I can’t fix something and bring it in here for you to snack on?” “Yes. Get out of here.” Leonard rinses his brush in the jar of yellowish water. The yellowish jar is one of an assortment of jars of many colors that rests on a cardboard box next to his easel. Various sized brush handles stick out the tops of all the jars. Leonard picks a fat brush from the blue colored jar. With his thumb and forefinger, he squeezes down on the hairs to remove the water. He is looking down around his feet for his pallet when he hears a vacuum roaring upand-down the hall. Of course, there is no vacuum whirring; this is part of Leonard’s hal 103
lucinating mind, but right now he is envisioning Natalie pushing the vacuum up-and-down the long narrow Persian rug in the hallway. Leonard is incensed that Natalie is not only vacuuming a rug outside the door, a rug that doesn’t need vacuumed, but that Natalie is so scatterbrained that she isn’t fixing herself lunch and has now chosen to vacuum with a vacuum that Leonard doesn’t even own. The fact that she is somehow cleaning his house with a vacuum that he doesn’t own infuriates him further. As the vacuum that only exists in Leonard’s mind subsides, the noises from outside grow louder. These noises do exist. The sounds existed throughout the day; Leonard just found a way to block them out until now. The noises consist of car engines, brakes squealing, children shouting, a couple arguing, and then finally a car alarm is set off. The car alarm is actually set off by the author of this story when he visits Santa Barbara. He walks past a purple Dodge Viper that tells him to “step back.” Being commanded to do anything by a car pisses him off, so he kicks it. This simultaneously happens every time I read this story. Leonard stares so intently at his work that he becomes lost in it. He hypnotizes himself. In Leonard’s imagination, he gets up and closes the window. The window actually remains open, but Leonard truly believes he got up and closed it. Outside, it is now ninety degrees and rising, but the air conditioner was left running all night, making for a chilly morning; however, now that Leonard thinks he has closed the window, he believes it is getting cooler. To refresh himself, he moves the brushes in the green jar to the side and drinks the water. Leonard loads a fat brush up with blue and white and begins covering the long yellow smear. In Leonard’s mind, he hears what he believes to be the sound of his door opening. He turns to watch Natalie enter, carrying a plate in one hand with a glass of red liquid in the other. “I went ahead and put mustard on your sandwich. I didn’t think you would mind. I figured everyone likes mustard. What’s a sandwich without mustard? Whew it’s hot in here.” Natalie sets the plate and glass on the card board box and walks toward the window. Leonard watches as his hallucination opens the window that was never closed. “I’m sorry, I can’t remember that well. I think my memory must be slipping. Didn’t I tell you not to disturb me again?” “Well, I just thought-” Natalie tries responding before Leonard cuts her off. “I thought that I said that I wasn’t hungry yet, that I wanted to be left alone. Do you recall me saying that? I forget.” “Don’t get upset. I thought a little food would help fuel all that creativity my baby has.” “I know you’re trying to help. I thank you, but it would be of more help 104
if you stayed out of here until I’m done. Every time you distract me, and just having someone else around is distracting, it takes twice that long to get back in my zone. So if you would, please stop coming in here until I’m done.” “Alright, honey.” Technically, ‘alright’ should be two words, but it seems appropriate in dialogue as a kind of exclamation. All right? Alright! All right. The voice of Natalie in Leonard’s head tries soothing his anger. “I didn’t know it was that big of a deal. I just thought it would be better if I brought you lunch, then you wouldn’t have to worry about getting up and fixing something if you got hungry.” “Thanks.” Leonard thinks he sounds real sarcastic as he says this. “I appreciate it. I’m going to finish painting now. I’m almost done, okay?” “Okay. I’m going to do some laundry.” Natalie walks around the room in a flamboyant manner, bobbing up and down picking up an array of t-shirts and blue jeans. Her blonde hair falls around her face each time as she bends over. “No, you see, you need to get out of here completely, right now.” Leonard doesn’t like to use obscenities. He believes it makes a person sound despicable. I like characters to cuss even though I don’t. “There’s two weeks of laundry in the downstairs bathroom; there’s no need for you to be in here. And even if you can actually get the six tons of laundry done that is downstairs before I’m finished, which you won’t, there’s still no need for you to come back in here. Do you understand?” “Yes, fine, if you want to be in this pigsty, that’s fine with me. Go on ahead. I don’t see how anyone could focus on anything else except this mess. We should-” “Go!” Leonard’s exclamation should stand alone with just a period behind it. But he really shouts “Go.” “Fine.” Natalie shouts back. Leonard hears her slam the door. The sound, that was never made, makes him jump. Leonard doesn’t usually whistle, but he begins whistling as he returns to painting. I wonder if it would mean more if I told you that he just whistled his own melody or if something would be lost if I don’t say he whistled some famous symphony that makes you draw an allusion to Beethoven’s deafness, or Mozart’s brilliant eccentricities. I wish he was whistling something clever right now, but he’s not. It’s just mediocre whistling. Almost random really. Just as the tip of his blue brush is about to be pressed against the canvas, there is a knock on the door. “Oops, I’m sorry; I forgot not to knock. This will be just a second.” Leonard doesn’t turn from the painting. He continues staring into the vanishing point. Since Natalie is in his mind, if he realizes this, he could visualize her wherever he wants. But he doesn’t turn around and Natalie doesn’t enter into his sight. He only hallucinates hearing her. “I was just wondering if you paid the phone bill last month.” 105
“Yes.” Leonard replies and wishes he could dissolve into the horizon of his painting, but the barbed-wire fence is there to keep him out. “It’s paid.” “That’s good. I have just been using the phone a lot lately and I haven’t seen a bill show up. I thought that I would help pay the next one. The next bill should be here in a couple days, won’t it?” “Probably, go look at the calendar. I really need to finish this, okay?” Leonard’s calendar is full of receipts paper-clipped to the pages. He always marks the day he sends off his bills, who to and how much. He is diligent in such endeavors. He keeps each calendar for three years before throwing them away. “Okay.” Natalie responds. See I could have just said “she responds,” but now it is more personal, but a name doesn’t make her any more real. “No more distractions, okay?” “Okay.” Natalie responds. She exits the room then immediately returns. “Whaaaaaaat?” Leonard asks. He is on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” “Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m just great. Now leave and don’t bother me again, and I’ll be better. I’m about to freak out. I’m not making any outrageous requests, am I?” “No, I just needed to ask you one more thing. It’s really important.” At this remark, Leonard turns toward Natalie. He is wearing one of those go-aheadand-wow-me looks. An-entire-novel-could-be-reduced-to-single-stagnant-moment-with-hyphens, but this, unlike Natalie, is moving toward an objective, the not-at-the-end-of-the-words-but-the-end-of-this-story objective. She did not continue speaking. “What?” Leonard snaps. “What? What is it? Huh? What’s so important?” “Do you-I was-uh. I was wondering. What was it? How, what do you call it? I suddenly can’t think. You know that. Did you uh-” Natalie begins laughing, “I forgot what I was going to ask you.” “Yes, I’m sure it’s hysterical, now get out of her before I stitch your mouth shut, okay?” See how much less disrespectful Leonard sounds when he doesn’t add curse words to that sentence? It would have sounded a thousand times worse if he used any vulgarity, which I wish he would have, but if he used the obscenities, Leonard would be getting beaten down by his own hallucination, which would be hysterically contrived. “You prick,” she scowls. She sounds more upset than angry. As she turns to walk out the door, Leonard lets out a long breath through his nose. Natalie turns back around, “Oh, I remember now; do you have-” “No you don’t. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t even talk to me. Go. Get out of here. Turn around and leave this damn room.” Is damn a curse? If it is, it is a minor one. Leonard is at his limit. 106
Once upon a time in a workshop, the author of this story was told that, at this point, he needed to have Leonard, who then was simply called ‘the artist,’ get up and lock the door. “The problem is, I don’t imagine the bedroom door having a lock,” the author, who shall remain anonymous, responded. Then the person critique-slash-criticizing the author’s plot said that ‘the artist’ should at least get up and move the free standing chest of drawers in front of the door. To which the author simply replied, “’the artist’ didn’t think of it, he’s crazy.” I think that this is a valid answer, but it is too simple. In truth, the problem with the suggestion of moving the chest of drawers in front the door wouldn’t do any good. One, because Natalie doesn’t exist, accept for in Leonard’s mind. If she appeared in the room without moving the chest of drawers, Leonard would have a meltdown discovering that he is actually crazy—possibly sending him out the window which would deter this story from getting to the climax. Also, if Natalie was a real person, and as crazy as she appears to be, she would just push hard enough to eek the door open enough to speak into the room, all of which would be distracting in itself. It is fairly easy to push objects on smooth hardwood. And, if Leonard moved the bed in front of the door, which is the only thing that might keep it from opening, he would be spending his time moving furniture rather than painting, and at this moment in the story, he just wants to return to his painting. All of this is in vain anyway because Natalie isn’t going to come back to the room. Hopefully that’s a sigh of relief for you. The way she keeps returning in the beginning of this story never ceases to annoy me. Back to the story at hand. To which Natalie responds, “Asshole,” and leaves the room. Leonard gets up from the corner of the bed and walks over to the window. A group of children playing street football are yelling and laughing louder than before. The sounds of kids playing normally wouldn’t set Leonard off, but today he is particularly disturbed. He yells out the window, “Find somewhere else to play. I’m working up here.” This time Leonard actually closes the window. He slams it. “There. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe, just maybe.” Leonard talks to himself, which is funny to say since Leonard has been talking to himself this whole time, but this time he is full-throttle-consciously talking to himself. Sweat begins building up on his face again. He looks down at a pair of dirty underwear. He wipes his brow with the back of his forearm and begins applying a massive quantity of blue over the yellow streak. Leonard wants to be a nice guy. That’s why I like him. That and his artistic ambitions. I like people with a purpose. It really upsets me to have to know that a nine year old boy named Bobby is about to punt his football through the window Leonard just actually closed. Bobby should have known better than to punt the ball in such a boxed in neighborhood. His kicks always pull hard to 107
the left, but that’s just because he is wearing his red Chuck Taylor’s. One day he will start taking his shoe off to kick and will become a brilliant kicker, but today he is wearing his shoes, and he kicks the ball through Leonard’s window. This is the story I want to read next, but I shouldn’t say so much about a minor character, but if I read this story again, I would want to remember to pursue Bobby’s story from here next time too. Today, however, this still seems too non-sequitur. After the football flies through the window, it knocks over Leonard’s easel, causing his brush to smear blue over the green pine trees. When the easel falls over, it knocks his cardboard box over. Multi colored jars of water, a glass of Kool-aid, and a stale sandwich on a plate that Leonard brought himself a week ago and forgot to eat splatters all over the floor. He picks up the football and pats it in his hand in traditional quarterback style. “I told you to play somewhere else.” Leonard throws the ball, but his spiral is slightly off, and the ball breaks out another window. Leonard shakes his head ‘whatever.’ The only child left in the vicinity is Bobby. He is hiding behind a car, and the only reason he remains is because it is his football. When the ball breaks out another window from the inside, a huge, gap-toothed smile spreads across Bobby’s face as he laughs. Leonard reconstructs his easel and sets the painting back up; he turns his head to the ceiling and raises his arms. It’s funny. He’s agnostic, but he still blames a higher power for all his problems. I want to tell him that it could have been anyone, but it had to be someone. The minute the author conceived the idea for the plot the characters came with it, and thus, Leonard was born to be Leonard, unless his name gets changed in a later reading. But no matter his name, he is still ‘the artist,’ and each time he will raise his hands to the sky and question. A simple sensorium test might deduce that he is bonkers, but it couldn’t measure how bonkers. However crazy crazy can get isn’t important. It’s just important to the story that Leonard really loses his wits. This is good because he is starting to realize his real purpose in this story. The sooner he completes the plot arc, the sooner I can read something else. Enough, it’s time to move forward. The important thing now is: The screen behind Leonard’s mind is beginning to flicker between the present skewed-painting, to that of a man sitting in a dark room painting. The image is blurry in his mind, but it will become clearer. Just as the large tip of the blue brush is about to touch the canvas, the phone rings. He sits there for a moment waiting for Natalie to answer the phone, but the phone continues ringing. His thoughts flicker to the dark image of the man, alone in a barren room, painting. As the phone continues ringing, Leonard walks around the room gathering up his art supplies. He places the supplies in a green canvas bag, and places two blank canvases into a large, brown, portfoliotype bag. He pauses, and puts his hand to his ear. The phone rings again. He 108
picks up a once-white-now-paint-splattered shirt, and pulls it over his green smudged torso. Ever so calmly, Leonard places the two bags just outside the bedroom door. He slowly walks back in, and begins smashing his paintings into the walls. As he finishes splintering the wood frames against the white walls, he picks up the mutilated painting he spent the entire day working on and throws it out the shattered window. The jumbled mess of canvas and wood hit a jagged piece of glass and knocks it out on its way down. Leonard places the straps of both bags over his shoulders and proceeds down the stairs—careful to only step down in synchronization with each ring. The slow, falling, steps jar each leg to the hip. His sight flickers from the staircase to that of the man in the dismal room. Leonard is realizing his next biggest purpose. He sees that the man in the dismal room has a small barred off window that overlooks a field of rye with a barbed wire fence and some pine trees. If I took you to this window and let you look in from the outside, you would see that it is Leonard who is the man painting. I don’t need to do this because I’m sure you already assumed that it is Leonard in this dark room. When Leonard reaches the landing, he turns and stares at Natalie. She is sitting on the couch next to the phone. It is a red phone with push buttons and a tightly wound curly cord attached from the receiver to the base. The phone is still ringing. Natalie turns her head from the television, and looks at Leonard. “What?” she asks. The phone cuts off mid ring. When another ring doesn’t come, it seems eerie. Never before has a phone ringed so many times in a row. Somehow the phone company didn’t intercept the ongoing call to inform the imbecile, who happens to be a collection agent, that no one was going to answer. (This is known because the phone was answered in version four). Without saying a word, Leonard opens the door, and turns to exit. “Where are you going?” Natalie asks. “Away.” This is when the screen would stay focused on the open door then fade to black if this was a movie. When I originally received this story, it looked like an engineer’s diagram for a computer chip. That really made my job easier. The author told me he wanted to see this as a movie someday. He said he was also searching for a screenwriter to adapt it—if I don’t do a good job reading this. Next, when the scene fades in, the author wants to make sure his director places a camera in a flower bed. The effect would be a time lapse sequence where the front of the screen is focused on a flower closing for the evening while people and cars zoom around in the background. Leonard would approach slowly. Instead, I will have to use the mind’s eye as a lens through which to view this effect. Somehow this is symbolic to the story. After Leonard leaves his apartment, he wanders aimlessly through the lush city of Santa Barbra, California. At dusk he sits on the outside wall of a 109
brick flowerbed. The wall runs along a sidewalk in front of a mortgage company. The sun drops. The city takes on that blue lull. The cockroaches begin scurrying in zigzagged paths from the lawns, over the sidewalks, and back into the grass. Crickets chirp. The air is still warm from the concrete and ocean, but the cool, sunless atmosphere permeates the current temperature. The best description for how the air feels is in the summer when you bring in your jug of fresh sun tea and the liquid is still warm and you pour yourself a glass and add ice cubes and after you let the glass sit for a moment and then take a drink and you can feel the warm and cold strands of liquid run over your tongue. This is how the atmosphere feels on Leonard’s body. Leonard turns and notices one of several pink flowers on the bush in the planter. The flower has five petals, and on each petal, two maroon stripes run from the inside to the tip. Leonard stares at the flower so closely that the yellow stamen touches his nose. It’s a large flower. He watches the flower go through the delicate process of closing itself up for the night. To exercise artistic freewill, the author makes the flower open itself up again before his eyes then close again. I thought this might mess with Leonard, but he’s so crazy and into beauty that he just watches, completely mesmerized. Since he doesn’t have anything to do until morning, he watches the flower open and close until the sun comes up. Now the sun is up. It would be for the best if Leonard went to get some breakfast, at least a cup of coffee, but he doesn’t. His life has already been lived. If I would have known that it would take so long to depict a classical plot arc for a novella, and so many attempts, I would have charged more to read this. But from here it’s about to get easier for me. Coming up shortly, Leonard is going to be narrating his own story to himself, which gets hectic, and I won’t be the force in the story that I have been. Don’t be upset for me though. I’ll still be with you. It really isn’t narrating; it’s mostly just a mess of internal and external dialogue getting confused. This is another element that makes the plot. He doesn’t believe anyone is listening to his thoughts, but he’s narrating his thoughts as though someone is listening. Fortunately for him, his poetic thoughts are recorded here in a moment. I just thought I would let you know this before Leonard forgets his art supplies on the sidewalk and begins walking. He wants to find a mental institution to commit him. As he begins walking toward the outskirts of town, there is a heavy flow of people walking in the opposite direction. Not one person walks in the same direction. Leonard is still wearing his white, paint splattered shirt. The other people are mostly business people wearing dark suits. This may seem like a coincidence, but it cannot be. This happens in every reading. It must be a difficult thing being a character in a text, particularly a crazy character. They have nothing to attach themselves to. 110
I have been up front with you since the beginning, so I will continue to do so. While Leonard is busy believing that he is having a conversation with the gate attendant for a mental hospital, which is actually just a phone booth, I must let you know that the author wanted me to trick you. I was half inclined to go along with this, but I don’t want to have to sucker punch you. At the same time, if I don’t sucker punch you, then you will know that this story is a fraud and quit reading. But if I don’t sucker punch you, then I will still have to sucker punch you in some other way—which will probably be cheaper and shoddier. This is all terribly confusing for me. I mean, I have to understand all this; you don’t. Hopefully you won’t realize you’ve been sucker punched. I’ll let you decide. Here it is: the author wants me to show Leonard walking across some sort of grassy knoll toward a brick building with a white portico. During this scene, Leonard begins an eloquent little speech to no one, internally. Committed. That was the idea. Not your normal goal at twenty-one, but no one wants to be average. I prefer to think of myself as an all too true, altruistic, articulate artist eccentrically adding to that which has been left unfulfilled, lacking and then leaking the essence of men too preoccupied to be fully consumed, too engrossed with life’s little vices and man’s splendors to ever really find their consummation. This is just my annotation of course. What do I know? I’m just another artist. I made up my mind that I would take a shortcut past the long meandering curve winding around all the prodigality my path was spiraling down and jump right into my future fate. Becoming voluntarily institutionalized isn’t as easy as one thinks; especially if you are trying to go about it without having to flip the bill. Trying to convince a person that you are crazy enough to need locking up is a tough angle to work when you are coherently standing in front of them, arguing that you need mental help, and lots of it. When Leonard enters the front door of this building, the author wants me to read a sign above the door with the name of some purified water distributing company—a name like Water Drop Off or something more obvious. The author wants me to trick you into believing that Leonard actually walks into a water distributing company that fills those huge jugs of water that are in office buildings all over the world, 32% of which just released a loud bubble, but only 3% of that 32% of water jugs all over the world did the loud bubble actually startle anyone. The majority of that 3% are paralegals in New York City, where it is now 8:54 p.m. and dark. Here’s the thing: In Leonard’s mind, he believes he is entering a mental hospital, the author wants you to believe it is a purified water distributor’s office, but it is neither of these things, which I am sure you already guessed. Leonard actually wanders through a vacant lot and into a warehouse that caught fire last week. The warehouse used to store thousands of novellas that no one would read because of weird plot designs that readers now find blasé. The fire was started by one of the workers who saw that a large shipment of her novella was going to be stored in this funeral home for stories. 111
Unable to sell a new story, she had been working in the warehouse for over five years trying to block out the bizarre ideas in her head and write something insipid like working in a warehouse. She was justly upset before, but finding a bundle of her unread stories stacked sixty feet into the air made her madder than Duchamp in a pissing contest with gravity, so she touched a match to the pyre of her dreams. Dread the day there is a short story funeral home. So I especially thank you for allowing me to read this story to you. Now that you know the “conflict” of the story, which is a total fraud, I will continue on with this proto-metafictional story. Now you know the truth. This is like knowing how the magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat and still wanting to act surprised. I hope that you feel like you have enough invested in this story to want to know how it ends, which you knew to be a trick ending because I told you from the beginning, but I don’t know how I can trick you into being tricked since I already told you, that I wouldn’t, unless something here genuinely is tricky? To keep going: Leonard, the poor guy who just one draft ago didn’t even have a name, walks into the brick building with a white portico, the building he believes is a psychiatric ward, the building that the author wants me to convince you is actually a water distributing company, which is really a burned down warehouse. I already feel like I should have just lied to you. You are supposed to believe that Leonard is hallucinating but he realizes on some level that he is hallucinating within a hallucination. So, independent of the truth, the tension of the story is this: Leonard wants to be locked up so he can spend his days painting, which he wouldn’t be able to do anyway because the staff wouldn’t feel safe allowing him to have a paint brush that is capable of poking out an eye, if the staff rationally existed, but the only thing standing in his way is the administrative assistant, who he fears is trying to test him to see if he is crazy in order to justify seeing the doctor. Now it is really comical that the author wants you to believe the administrative assistant actually works for a water distributing company while she doesn’t exist at all; which, in a moment, you will see that from the dialogue the author provides, I wouldn’t have been able to convince you into thinking that she is real anyway, particularly not after Natalie. Now that I have popped this over-inflated, un-necessary plot device, I will let the story go: Leonard walks through the open lobby, an open room with a dome ceiling, marble floors, and two staircases crawling up the wall on each side. A hallway is seen immediately upon opening the door. He walks down the long corridor, and enters into a small room. This small room is more like a waiting room situated in front of a bigger room filled with filing cabinets and a purified water dispensing machine. The only thing really separating these two rooms is the secretary’s desk and part of a 113
wall that juts out from the hallway. This hallway can be seen from the waiting room. Down the hall, Leonard can see the trim for several doors. At the end, a frosted glass window is glowing with sun light. The administrative assistant is a middle age woman who is more than a little overweight with shoulder length, brown, wavy hair. Her face is puffy and round; she has gleaming blue eyes. She actually reminds me of the phlebotomist that injected the author with morphine when he broke his foot. He was carrying his typewriter to the trash because he had just purchased a laptop computer and a printer after dropping out of technical school. It typed up a sheet that said it regretted that he didn’t walk on his hands. Leonard doesn’t have the knack for tact so he simply jumps on top of the secretary’s desk, which knocks over her hand crafted pen holder. The pen holder is made out of a small, ceramic pot filled with beans designed to hold decorative pens wrapped in twisty-tie material with fake flower heads on top. Leonard shouts, “I’ll freak out right now. Is that what you are trying to do? Drive me to violence? I can get violent if you want me to.” “Sir. Sir. Calm down.” Her voice is soothing. It’s a good voice for a person to have who must deal with angry, crazy people, Leonard, who thought he was in a mental hospital, thought. “Don’t lie to me,” he responds out loud, “I hate malevolence. Just tell me where the doctor is.” These aren’t the words I would have chosen for him to use, but Leonard has quite the vernacular. And I think his dialogue sounds forced. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her voice is shaky; I know she is honest about being honest. Leonard hopped backward off the desk and jambs his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “As long as you’re being honest.” It really isn’t difficult to act crazy, heck, it’s the act of willingly admitting you’re crazy and having someone believe it that is the hard part. Any idiot can answer the doctors’ questions to make themselves sound sane or not. I’m not crazy; I just need to be able to constantly create without worldly distractions. Maybe that does make me psycho, I don’t know, but I can’t think about that now; I need to keep a good head on my shoulder;, now’s not the time to start second guessing myself. Thoroughly satisfied that he just proved to the secretary that he is in need of a doctor, Leonard walks over to one of the hard, black, plastic chairs that are shaped in a round curve to fit an over-average sized person’s rump. Here again I wonder if I should name the administrative assistant. I really don’t want to name her, but perhaps it would be easier to say “Linda” rather than “the administrative assistant.” Maybe I’ll use “Linda,” but as you partake in this story, pretend it just says, “the administrative assistant,” rather than “Linda,” then you will understand why I don’t think I should even bother. Perhaps I 114
should just be thankful that the author is giving me such liberty over his story. I am probably making this story of even less consequence by saying so much, but this is better than a person with voices in his/her head using a computer to write her/his memoirs while lying to the reader to make the story more complicated than it needs to be and then hiring someone to read it who ruins the whole story in the opening paragraph by imposing too much upon the text. I figure the extreme change in character would help convince her to convince the doctor to come see me with urgency; that I really am a person in need of a special room where I can be safe from other people and other people can be safe from me. A place where I can focus on one thing and one thing only, all the while inadvertently saving the world. They’ll encourage me to paint to help keep me from freaking out. Not only is Leonard really starting to lose it at this point, but he is also narcissistic. Leonard has a unique brain disease. Each side of his brain is genius independent of the other side. The problem is that both sides are forced into the same skull, and there isn’t room enough for both halves. Imagine the most brilliant creative half a mind and the most brilliant analytical half a mind in the world coming together to argue. This is what Leonard suffers from, and not even the most genius psychologist in the world can help him. I asked the author what he thought happens to Leonard, who was then just ‘the artist.’ He said he didn’t care. His response makes me feel horrible. It’s not like an abandoned character can just extend the text on its own. Even if you aren’t a static character, your life suddenly becomes extremely stagnant. The best thing you can wish for is death. So the next time a character that you like dies, don’t feel sad for him/her/it. Death is the best place for any character, and for the love of bullion cubes don’t let them get dehydrated into a Hollywood actor. But while Leonard is narcissistic, when he is done with this story, someone is going to find him a new world where he sells all of his imperfect paintings for so much money that he purchases the world. But that’s going to be another problem for after this story is read. Leonard picks up a magazine from the stand next to his chair. He stares at the clock on the wall while holding the prominent science magazine. Every ten seconds he turns the page. He is exaggerating looking at the clock and not at the magazine as he flips the pages to emphasize to the administrative assistant, Linda, that he needs mental help. Linda is still staring at Leonard. She looks to Leonard as though she has never seen a crazy person, which should be true since the author wants me to trick you into believing that Linda, who doesn’t exist to begin with, is actually a secretary for the purified water distribution company called Water Drop Off. Now here’s something I can work with. Leonard stares at a picture of a human embryo. “You believe in cloning, don’t you?” Leonard turns the magazine cover, which is actually the remnants of a charred noveu novel, toward Linda. “I suppose they can do anything these days.” 115
“Oh, not just these days, they’ve been doing it for a while, thanks to our friends. They’re just now starting to let us know about it. Actually, we’re all clones from a superior race.” “Really?” Linda began picking up the beans one at a time and placing them in the pot. I imagine that the reason why the author doesn’t have her do anything at this point is because she is terrified. And she isn’t real. She speaks to humor me, I like that. She’s good at dealing with what she has to deal with. “That’s interesting.” Linda continues. “Yes, the only reason I know so much is because I’m a hybrid. I was carefully selected to be a master painter and a genius of cosmic energies. Would you like to see some of my paintings?” Where is it? Where did I put it? The one I had painted to mock the existence of the human race. (A painting Leonard never painted). One I had painted intentionally poorly to test them, to see if they could grasp what I really wanted to show them, see if they could handle true beauty. Here it is. The one done with all that overwhelming, un-necessary green. Let’s see what she thinks about this abstract garbage. In Leonard’s mind, he thumbs through his canvas bag; the bag that he left sitting on the sidewalk next to the wall where he watched the flower opening and closing all night. He held up his hands to show the secretary a painting that wasn’t there. “Oh, that’s interesting.” Linda looks like she is filled with disbelief. Yes, let her be filled with disbelief. It doesn’t matter. What is interesting about it? It was recklessly made to show you and the rest of your naïve kind that you have no taste. You honestly think I would let you see the good stuff ? Not after that remark. Interesting? Hah. “Yes, what really makes this piece interesting is that I used various carcasses I found on the highway for paintbrushes. See, this swirl around the edge here was done using the tail from an all black cat. Not too unlucky, huh? Most the rest of it was done using various bird bodies; they just get so flat after a while. The tedious aspects were performed using catalpa beans believe it or not. I guess I should name this piece Recycled Road Kill. I’m sure you know what it’s like being a poor arteeest, huh?” I’m sure she appreciates the way I said ‘artist.’ “Well, I know what it’s like to be poor. What is ‘not too unlucky,’ though? The cat or the painting? I don’t understand what you mean.” What is ironic is that Linda believes Leonard to be some theater major performing some existential exercise to fulfill a class requirement. And she is waiting for one of the drivers to come into the office and kick the kid out. That guy would either be named Dan or Larry, but that guy doesn’t show up. “Interesting. Interesting. Interesting questions you ask. They really are interesting.” Hopefully after using the word ‘interesting’ redundantly she’ll get a feeling for how stupid she is. “Do we ever sense sorrow, or just fall flat, flattered, 116
dashed with green, screened, sent screaming chasing our tails, that that cat should be used past its own queer, primitive emotions? Fluttering down to the symbolism of cynicism I throw mockingly in the arrogant direction taste dictates. Unable to even falter past perversities contained, canned and contaminated thirteen shades of growing grass falling on lawns as if it were melting?” Now would be a good time to start slapping myself frantically with the magazine. The poor secretary looks mystified. Maybe if I flail about slapping myself that will help to snap her out of it. That look on her face is driving me crazy. If you could see Leonard slapping himself in the face the way I do, you would laugh so hard. No matter what, you can’t fake slapping yourself repeatedly in the face with a book. Leonard gets so carried away with his own masochism that he falls to the floor and continues slapping himself all over his body with what he believes is a magazine. Incidentally, this instigates a response from Linda, “Sir. Sir. Sir.” Linda rises from her chair. “Yes?” Leonard stops as abruptly as he began. This is where Linda tries gaining credibility as a character. “I’ve humored you as long as I can. You’re going to have to go.” “But, but, but…” But is the most exquisite word to use in order to buy time to think of something more clever to say all the while sounding like you know what you are about to say. I’ll walk around the room touching things. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. The paintings. The paintings, this I can see. Which doesn’t exist, but Leonard runs his fingers over the smooth wooden frames regardless of its existence. The plant. Yes, the plant as life would have it. Free coursing chaotic essence of indifference. How gently you sit, stridently glorified. Misted ideas of casualness as you drain your free resources, turning them into your own. Leonard rubs one of the fat, greenish yellow, heart shaped, leaves dangling from a hanging pot. “I told you when I arrived here, I need help. I see these certain shades that should not be, then in splendid fury I fuse them with subliminally soft sounds that the light makes as it dances across the iris of my mind. But, but, but…” Leonard scratches, more like claws, at his head. He claws trying to soothe some cerebral itch. I can’t blow it now: I just have to get locked up. She seems calmed down. I need to be locked up, the only place in this system I can have what I need. Food, shelter, bed, a view, a place to paint most of all, and everyone knows there are plenty of drugs if I choose to want them and lots of quiet time. I just want to freely paint. The tap on the shoulder from Linda snaps Leonard out of it. The tap is him walking backward into a piece of rebar. The figment of Linda is holding an aspirin—palm up. “Here, maybe this will help you.” And thus it begins. Leonard picks up the aspirin with his thumb and forefinger. “Thank you.” When Linda turns, Leonard places the pill in the pot hanging from the ceiling. She’s not going to get me that easily, not yet. I still need a 117
clear head to get fully committed. I’m sure that one little pill probably detours the rest of the suckers. That one little pill happens to be a corroded bolt that was left in the ashes of the warehouse. “None of this is your problem, I know. I’m sorry; I’m sorry; I’m sorry. Like I said, if I could just see the doctor...You see, he, we, the doctor, I, uh, we, if the doctor, I could just, all this pain in my head.” Leonard begins hugging himself and turns to look out a window that isn’t there. It feels cold in here. The view here is strange, very strange. I grew up here. I know this town. I swear the mental health hospital use to face toward the ocean. Why can’t I remember? This bugs me. “I’m so confused. Where did it all go? We lulled past the desert in our narcoleptic dreams of dreary misery. Trying to surpass the dry pains of physical existence in a non-substantial world counteracted by the weight of profitable progress; we mass produced our demise in a consuming nightmare of social technological frequencies disrupted by metaphors, miscalculations, and this malignant malnourished magisterial society of malfeasance. I’m trapped amongst a bunch of enviable invalids.” While Leonard falls to his knees and begins crying, I wanted to comment that he sure is poetic in a nonsensical, Marxist, narcissistic, loquacious kind of way. “Sir, you’re obviously in a lot of pain.” Her voice still sounds sympathetic even over her irritability. This is good. Linda began to lift the receiver of the phone, but when Leonard jumped to his feet, she quickly released. “What are you doing?” She better not be calling the cops, oh God, the last thing I need involved with is the cops. I came here to get away from having to deal with life’s unpleasantries. What the hell is she doing? Leonard is superfluously paranoid of police. “I was just a – never mind. It’s not important. If it’s going to upset you-” “You were, weren’t you? Geez! You heard me, didn’t you?” I hope that you realize that this whole story is a complete, convoluted mess; I realize now that no matter how many times I read this it is going to be a mess. When I get to the end this time, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Like I said, you’ll still see the original end to the story. Leonard is entirely insane, but now he is beginning to freak out even more. Oh no, don’t think, don’t think don’t think, don’t think- He thought Linda might be listening to his thoughts. “Sir, what are you talking about? I don’t think I understand.” Leonard put his hands on her desk and is bending over, glaring in her face. Don’t think don’t think don’t think don’t think don’t think don’t think- “Now you’re mocking me, eh?” Don’t think don’t think don’t think don’t think. Leonard snatches the phone. The secretary seizes the phone. Leonard yanks the phone off the desk and out of Linda’s hands. Leonard stumbles backward across the room. At this point, neither character realizes that the plastic clip attachment that locks in the phone just ripped off the cord. The phone is now useless. Leon 118
ard doesn’t know this; he slams the phone down. Well, if the phone existed, which it does on two and a half levels, this is what happens to it, but it doesn’t exist; Leonard just grabbed a charred up copy of a book in the warehouse and swung it against an “I” beam. The aforementioned act causes Linda to start shrieking and crying. Well, technically she might be having a sudden outburst of her own. Maybe the thought that she never loved her dead father might have just hit her at this moment. This is highly improbable. One, because when someone jerks a phone out of your hands and smashes it, a normal human response to this is to shriek and cry; and second, I am well informed of all the ins and outs of this story, as I have almost read this eight times now, and Linda does indeed scream because of the phone getting ripped out of her hands and slammed to the ground. Linda actually loves her father very much; her father is still alive and well in Phoenix. I only mention this to let you know that I do know all about this story, but I need to hide some of my knowledge from you because I could just tell a story like: a man was born on earth, he lived his life there, and then he died there—in between, he had complications, but it would be more fun to read if I filled it in with details like he is a crazy artist, and the thought of him dying prematurely never enters your mind, even though death is inevitable, and the best thing for a character— especially if you have the misfortune of being a character in a slice of life story, in which the main character would never die anyway. “What are you doing here?” Linda asks. “What do you want from me? I don’t know what you want.” “I don’t want anything from you. I want to see the doctor; that’s what I’m doing here.” How many times do I have to tell you? “Did you hear that? Huh?” Leonard is starting to lose the faculty to decipher between his internal and external dialogue at this point. Plus he is hearing something in a part of his mind that I’m not even sure if he can hear, but he is looking for it anyway. “There’s no doctor here,” Linda soothes. “That’s what I was doing on the phone; I was calling you a doctor. That’s what you want, isn’t it?” “Well isn’t that what I wanted you to do in the first place? And to think I believed you.” I can’t believe I even showed her my otiose painting. I do love the way Leonard speaks. I need a dictionary just to keep up with him. Too bad he’s crazy; who uses a word like ‘otiose’ these days? He’s becoming more megalomaniacal by the moment. “Now I don’t believe you. I know you were trying to have me jailed. Well forget that. I’ll come out worse than when I went in. Besides, think of the universe. What will happen when they won’t let me paint for a month straight? All I’m asking for is one simple freedom. I just want to talk to the doctor; he’ll see. Then the world will understand: Mom, the landlord, Mrs. Allison, my class, Natalie, all of them. You hear me? All of them will understand. All of them, you hear me? I’ll set them free.” Maybe you were mocking me all along. Too humor 119
ing, you’ve seen a lot of nut jobs in here. Should I show you the real paintings? “Huh?” “I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t know.” “Good answer. You haven’t quite achieved the right answer yet, but you are getting closer.” I want to show you who believes. You must see the correct painting, that which will set us free. It will come to be known, rejoiced, the simplicity of intimacy intricately woven to subdue all subversions from equality, blatantly pointing out Unitarian structure. It is an almost overloaded carousel of light, blinding the dark side of man in an acquiescing entourage of ideal scenes being played out by humanoid structures. “I’m sure you will find it interesting to say the least.” Linda blots her eyes with a balled up tissue. “I’m sure.” See, this sounds so phony. Leonard turns to grab another painting from his bag that isn’t there. If there is one thing that could be said for certain about this insanity it is this: The bag that Leonard left on the sidewalk was found by another fictional character from another book. The character’s name is Horse Badorties, and he comes from The Fan Man, written by Henry Kotzwinkle. When he finds the blank canvas, he says, “Cool man, now this is art, man.” He is en route to his number three pad where he will flop the painting down on a pile of to-go containers filled with rotting bits of low-mien. After he throws the canvas down, he won’t remember he has it in his house until three days from now, at which point he will be walking through his number three pad, eating chili out of a can, when he will step his foot through the center of the canvas. When he looks down to see where the ripping sound came from, a spoonful of chili will fall and splatter on the painting. He will step out of the middle of the painting and pick it up and say, “Wow, man. Now this is art with a Horse Badorties twist, man.” How the heck did this happen? Leonard holds up the painting that isn’t there. He sees a hole ripped through the painting that isn’t there. “Don’t blame her. She’s already teetering on the edge of hysteria.” “What’s going on? What’s the matter?” This is where Leonard completely switches his internal dialogue with his external dialogue. This isn’t going to be as hard to follow as I previously believed it would be. I’m not going to italicize his external dialogue or anything stupid like that. It’s just for some reason what he would normally say out loud to Linda he is speaking in his mind while his thoughts are verbalized. I will only tag the next few lines so you follow. What am I saying? If I read this again, I will just scrap this paragraph. I mean if I can’t trust my reader, then whom can I trust? None of this nonsense makes sense unless it’s read. Only you can pass judgment on this. I trust you. It’s no wonder I live on the freeways in L.A. with a sign that says: WILL READ FOR MONEY. I should have known that any decent reader wouldn’t end up living on the freeway. What kind of story did I expect to get? It’s no wonder I’m stuck with this classical 120
plot arc piece of crap story where the main character is so crazy no one believes a damn thing. Don’t get me started on what a cheap-shot, crack-pot…the author is. “The poor thing cannot help but ask. How sweet?” Leonard says this out loud, but to him, he just said this in his mind. Then he thinks he says this, but thinks: Nothing. Nothing, it’s not a big deal; it wasn’t like I put any real creative genius in this piece. It just upsets me that I had to gather up all those carcasses and spend time making something like this. Leonard sets the painting that doesn’t exist back down on top of his canvas bag that isn’t there and slowly walks towards Linda, who isn’t there, but is more so there than the paintings. He stops in the middle of the cramped lobby and begins think-speaking. “Now let’s not play the blame game. She’s already upset enough. It’s not her fault you can’t control yourself better. It is a shame, though, I didn’t spend that time creating something sublime, but then again, here it would sit, torn. Without it I wouldn’t have known now what I now know about her.” This looks a little weird on the page, but the secretary responds to this comment, but because the mind works at a rate that is really off the time scale, Leonard thinks he says this thought in a flash before she responds. He thinks he says, I can’t believe I tore this painting. Did you notice me do that during one of my little outbursts? Oh, well, could I get another cup of water? I think I’ll paint. That will fix everything. It will help me to relax. No more wasting time or energy on foolishness until the doctor gets here. “Excuse me?” I wish Linda said something better than that, but she doesn’t. I want to ameliorate her response so it is more cleverly fitting to both of Leonard’s dialogues, but it isn’t up to me to altercate what these characters have to say to one another. Get me a cup of water. “Today would be nice.” Leonard begins unpacking his art supplies from the bag that isn’t there. “What? What? I don’t understand.” Water! Water! Water! What don’t you understand? I just need a cup of water so I can paint. I think the exclamation marks work well here. “Shish. Just when I start seeing the dim little light between her ears, and then splat.” Leonard slaps his hands together. “She falls flat. Smack, crack, she’s dense as a brick.” “What are you going off about now? How crazy are you?” What are you going off about now? How crazy are you? “Is she onto me? Maybe it’s a test, but why is she testing me? Unless she’s been the doctor all along, but if she’s been the doctor all along, then this whole thing is working because any other person would have seen I am actually sane and kicked me out by now.” How crazy are you? I just asked for a cup of water so I can paint and you just sit there. “Sir, this is a purified water outlet. You need to either decide if you are 121
going to make a purchase or leave before my boss gets back and sees what you’ve made of his office. He’s not as patient as I am.” Linda must have been expecting this guy to be back any minute. If I was her, I would have run out of the office screaming by now. But she just keeps picking up the beans one at a time. What makes this so bizarre is that I know enough people who wouldn’t do a damn thing in this situation. They would sit there picking up the beans and raking in the hours. As a matter of fact, I wish someone would come in and mess with me at my job, but this is my job, but I don’t get paid by the hour. I think if I read this story again I’m going to change some things. The author can go to hell. As a matter of fact, the next time I read this story, I’m not even going to read this story. I’ll read something about a secret love affair between two Japanese girls and when their families find out, they’ll commit harakiri without the knowledge that the other one is doing the exact same thing. If there can be an exact, proto-opposite, modern version of Romeo and Juliet that would be my proffering. “All I wanted is water, and now I’m being threatened with it. I don’t get it.” If this really is a water outlet, all I need right now is one cup, you do sell it by the cup, don’t you? If you could get it for me now, that would be really helpful. You know how it is, no, well, of course not. You see, inspiration is hitting me right now and it is vital that I get my cup of water. Leonard props his elbows on his folded legs and uses his hands to hold his head up. “Here.” Linda says and extends a clear plastic cup of water in front of Leonard’s face. “ At last, her voice has gained a sense of irritation.” Thank you. “Finally, I only asked ten times.” Leonard sets the cup on the ground in front of him and swishes the end of the brush, he isn’t actually holding, around in the water while Linda swipes one of the blue and white brochures from the floor—one of the brochures that were stacked on her desk before Leonard jumped on it from off the floor. “Here, look.” Linda waves the brochure in front of Leonard’s head bent toward the ground. “Look at this, I’m not kidding. Look at this.” Leonard doesn’t bother to lift his head. He begins moving his hand around above the floor. In his mind, he is working on his painting. I wish you could see this version of his painting. Sure, it doesn’t exist anymore than the canvass itself, but this one truly is superb. Oddly enough, he isn’t painting the painting he’s been trying to perfect all his life. Linda puts the brochure so close to Leonard’s face that it almost touches his nose. “Look. You see, sir, we really are just a water distribution company. I don’t know why you think this is a doctor’s office. Let me plug my phone back in, and I will call you a cab and make sure you get to where you want to go today. No hard feelings, huh? I’ll pretend none of this ever happened.” 122
“You will, will you? You’re going to make sure I get to freely paint all day long, as long as I want, distraction free, without any worries?” No, thanks. I’ll just sit here and paint until the doctor returns. That sounds so familiar, the way everyone closes their eyes hoping I’ll go away. And don’t plug your phone back in. I don’t trust you. “She must be the doctor. She’s trying to convince me this isn’t the doctor’s office. This is some sort of test. I’m onto their conniving little ways.” Leonard motions with his hand as though he is squeezing a tube of paint. Linda picks up the phone and examines the broken wire. “What the hell does she think she’s doing?” I thought I told you not to bother? “I-I-I-I-I-I-I I was just going to get a hold of the doctor for you, that’s all.” “I keep trying to tell her I hate malevolence, but nooooooo. No one likes a nice guy.” Who did you just call? You just called the police didn’t you? Didn’t you? Just to spite me. Just to spite me because I told you that was the one place I didn’t want to go. Maybe I should have come in here begging for jail; then I would have received a doctor. “Don’t worry, I want to help.” Leonard stands and rushes towards Linda and takes her down by the throat. His grip tightens. Why do you hate me? Why are you doing this to me? Is this some sort of test? “I’m really going crazy now. Is this what she wanted? It sure makes me feel better. Wait a minute, she can’t be the doctor.” Leonard lets go but remains on her chest. (Actually he held down a metal bar and was covered in soot). He looks around the room, amazed, as if he just solved a quadratic equation for the first time. Maybe I should read this again and let that brush splatter against the wall with red paint in its bristles. Linda coughs and rubs her throat. “You sure catch on quick, whacko.” “If she was a doctor she would have been intrigued to see what kind of neurosis dribbled out of my mind through my brush onto the canvas.” Sorry about that. You just got me worked up about the whole phone thing. Just don’t call anyone else and we’ll be fine. “I can’t believe I lost it like that.” Leonard smoothes Linda’s black blouse down for her and stands up and offers her his hand. Linda takes his hand, and he pulls her up. “This is good though; this is good, she’ll be sure to encourage the doctor to lock me up right away. She’ll probably go rushing right into his arms and tell him what a loon I am.” Leonard continues making imaginary brush strokes. Linda returns to her desk and starts twirling a white pen on the knuckle of her thumb. Leonard hears a distant knocking. It is actually a cop popping the siren of the police car. In version three of this story, I became the cop and rescued Leonard and it lead to my demise, taking a sniper bullet to the head—swimming from the coast of California to Japan to find the story about the lesbian couple. So, I guess this is the end of the story, even though the words continue. The author won’t allow me to become one of the characters in the story I’m reading. He receives a 123
memo from NASA in the future, threatening him not to let me do it—explaining about black holes and alternate dimensions and mysterious disappearances. Besides, if I save Leonard, that would mean I would have to become a character in this story, and I still have other stories I want to read before I get trapped in my own. Well, this is it: The cop pops the siren a couple times for good show. Initially, the cops are called because someone reported seeing Leonard trespassing in the recently burned down warehouse. That, and obviously he is talking to himself, which scares the mother of two young boys who like to play in the neighborhood. The cop pops the siren a couple more times for them; they’re still at that magical age where a cop is neat to see. It makes Leonard believe he is hearing a knocking in another part of the building. “What kind of administrative assistant is she? She doesn’t even answer the door.” Aren’t you going to get that? “Answer what?” Linda asks. The door, don’t you hear the door? This gets weird again. Now Linda, who is part of Leonard’s hallucination, begins answering Leonard’s thoughts, which was Leonard’s fear before he switched his verbal dialogue with his internal dialogue. “What are you talking about? I don’t hear anything.” What is it? “The knocking is driving me crazy. Make it stop, make it stop.” Right now, the cop, who I became in version three, is just watching Leonard from the car. It’s funny watching Leonard freak out. With the cop’s arrival, Linda realizes that she doesn’t exist, thus becoming ubiquitous to the text. She decides to make one last jab at Leonard, but fails anyway. “Maybe that’s your precious doctor you’ve been waiting for.” “It better be.” I’ve waited long enough. “Besides, my master piece is finished now, I’m prepared.” This is where the cop walks up tapping his yellow clicker pen against his metal clip board, pushing the spring top in and out nervously. Through Leonard’s eyes he sees a man in a white lab coat. “Are you okay?” the cop is obligated to ask. And I’m not giving the cop a name even if I read this a thousand times. Oh, thank you thank you doctor, it’s been so long. “I was wondering how long it would be before I got to see the doctor around here.” “I’m not a doctor, son, but I’m here now. I’ll help you.” “Now I really know he’s testing me, now’s my chance.” Doctor, doctor, I keep having this problem: Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are unquenchably thirsty and you cannot find water anywhere? Then you walk into a room and “Everyone is drinking big tall glasses if icy cold, purified water.” You drink and drink and drink. “Luckily your glass seems to keep filling itself up.” You keep drinking, it tastes so good. The taste of life. Then you wake up and find that you are even thirstier than in your dream. “Then you realize the bottle of water you 124
always keep full” next to your bed just for these moments is empty. “Unfortunately you’re also too lazy” to want to get up in the middle of the night “just for a drink of water.” “Okay, okay there buddy. Just what are you trying to tell me here? We’re going to get you some help. Just hold on a second.” The cop presses a button on the walky-talky on his shoulder and reports his location and situation. It’s okay, here, “I’ll show you.” I can’t tell you. “I’ll show you.” I’ll show you. Leonard bends over the blackened concrete and lifts up his imaginary painting. It is the most perfectly painted picture anyone has never seen. Leonard painted a brain in a jar in the desert, flawlessly. Unfortunately, it isn’t real, and he has been so bothered by the outside world that he forgot the painting he was trying to perfect. “He’ll understand.” You get it don’t you? Do you see? “Do you see?” “See what? I don’t get it. What are you trying to show me?” Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it perfect? It can be like this forever. Do you see? Do you understand? This is the solution. At this instance, Leonard realizes that he has been in an abandoned, burned down machine shop talking to figments of his imagination. “It really can be this simple, just give me a chance, there’s more, I promise, you’ll see. You’ll see. You do see the simplicity don’t you? This obvious truth I confide in you from the celestial clouds.” Leonard raises his arms to the sky, a deflating effect under a charred roof. “Soon it will rain down peace, washing away all this unsanitary physical distraction. The essence of light will reign supreme.” Leonard shouts this last part. Sometimes I wonder if this character is a prophet or a maniac. “Yes,” the cop says, “I see it. Why don’t you come with me? I’m going to take you to get some help, okay there buddy?” “It worked; at last, at last, it worked. I can hardly wait.” As the character is written, the cop forcefully grabs Leonard and leads him back to the cop car. Leonard struggles to turn around, but the cop keeps pushing him forward. Wait wait wait wait wait. Leonard coughs and speaks in a whisper as though regaining his voice. “Wait, my art supplies.” Leonard turns and extends his arm in vain. Through his eyes: art supplies on the lobby floor turn into art supplies on the sooty warehouse floor that dissolve into the sooty floor. The last image is a picture etched in the dirt. This cannot be the end of Leonard’s story. There’s too much uncertainty, too much left undone. That is why in the last version of this story I became the character of the cop after my obligation to read the story was completed. I took Leonard to my mother’s house, which turned into a saga of its own and ruined the story because it is not logical that the cop would drive Leonard to my mother’s house without my interference. And I ended up getting shot in the back of the head, which I think is un-necessary. But this time, someone like you, sees Leonard on his/her way home from work. The person is driving a white Honda Accord. The person may be you in a future reading of this story—now that you know what must happen. 125
saac Coleman has lived in various states all over the country, residing mostly in depression, anxiety, compunction and neurosis. Generously, he has posted his Masterâ€™s thesis at www.junkcityfilth.blogspot.com, free for everyone to view whether they belong to an institution of higher learning or not. His attorney assures him he owes the thesis publishing company no more than heâ€™s already given them and that he retains all rights to the work he labored to create. A couple of his short stories, short as in under five pages, have been published by www.paperstreetonline.org and The Lion Lounge Press: The Companion Reader Vol. II. He is grateful to The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival for providing a venue for his his quasiexperimental novelette. He has a tendency to over-write and would be happy to over-answer any question you may have for him at fictionwave@ yahoo.com. Hopefully by the time you finish reading his story he will have decided upon a name for his new kitten.
The Great Growing J. P. Kemmick It’s hard to say what drove Jeanie and me to plant the seeds in our pores. I think for Jeanie it might have been the stories passed down from her grandmother of an earth where things still grew, where we planted seeds that grew into things we could eat or at least admire. That was all before they had finished the Project, before the powers that be had decided we were all better off without dirt, before they moved the farms to the labs. I didn’t really have an opinion either way. My mother called Jeanie an old soul. She looked at least five years older than she really was: tangled hair, thick eyebrows, jewelry my grandma might wear, little wrinkles crackling from the corners of her eyes. It’s safe to say she looked wise. She read my palm the first time we met, told me there was a lot of pain in my past and that my future was flecked with disappointment and indecision and then just traced the lines of my palm up and down, saying nothing, like she was lazily following some river across a map. It was one of the sexier things a girl had ever done for me and helped me forget that just a moment before she had essentially called me a fuck-up. Looking back on our time together, I think she was probably just confused. Confused I was someone else. I’d like to think I never misled her, but I probably did, an innocent half truth here, a white lie there. She was beautiful though. Just really gorgeous in a way that was both retro and futuristic, like some time traveling gypsy. She never outright professed her love for the old world, but she would get this look in her eyes whenever someone would bring up an idea from the old days, like farming. I thought it was romantic at the time. I thought her ideas were hip with nostalgia. 127
In early June we climbed to the top of our apartment building and lay down on the hot tarry surface. That morning in bed we had slowly, hypnotically pushed seeds into each other’s bodies. We kept the blinds drawn so the sun creeping through the slats made the room glow and made the searching for each pore that much slower and deliberate. It was a muggy summer morning, our hair plastered to our foreheads, the smell of our sweat wrapped in the sheets and hanging in the air. A piece of wallpaper had started to come unglued. I’m not sure how Jeanie came by those seeds; maybe they were hand me downs from lost generations, buried in the back of some photo album. Jeanie’s family kept everything. We had made the process sexy, the leisurely massaging of each seed into our pores, and we had giggled, it tickled. And then we bathed, letting the water soak into our skin, our seeds, until we shriveled up like raisins and climbed the stairs to the rooftop, naked, letting the sun iron out our wrinkles. Maybe it’s not hard to say why I did it. Love or the assumption thereof. I don’t know, maybe there was some sense of elementary school science fair nostalgia in there too. I was pretty ambivalent about a lot of things back then. I thought I was going with the flow, but in hindsight the flow was at best a trickle. Or maybe it was Jeanie’s flow and I was just some drowning shipwrecked sailor she was doing her best to fish out. If Jeanie had wanted to set fire to the sun I would have done my best to aid her. As it was she wanted to lie naked with me on the roof for a summer and I could think of worse things to do with my time. Looking back on it all I think we were coming at the summer from entirely different angles. She never said anything about principles, about some deeper meaning, but I’m pretty sure it was there, whirling around her mind all summer. There had always been a tinge of rebellion to her eyes. Her mother had once told me she thought Jeanie’s persistent squinting was an attempt to crack her almond eyes. Jeanie probably knew I wasn’t the person to share that side with, even if she couldn’t get herself to admit it. At the time I was fairly preoccupied with her naked body, with her coy, trickling laugh. I was also young, simple enough. For the first week the seeds did nothing, just sat inside us, thinking about the possibilities, about how they thought they’d missed the opportunity a long time ago. Second chances. So Jeanie and I enjoyed ourselves. We pretended to ballroom dance under the summer sun, humming some old classical number, out 128
of tune and interspersed with laughter, our feet black with the soot on the roof. We had daily picnics, lying down on towels with sandwiches on our chests, cold beers nestled between our legs. It was slow, peaceful, good. I spent an entire day perched near the edge of the roof, watching people below. Our apartment was on a slow street, but the occasional car would hum along, its battery gently buzzing. I watched a little kid with a bouncy ball spend an hour throwing it off some steps and trying to grab it as it went flying at crazy angles back at him. I bet on a cat fight, lost money on a fat old tabby. Jeanie occasionally would come and put her arms around me and stare out over the city with me, looking at all that metal and pavement, reflecting and sucking up all the sun. She said something at one point about the color green and sounded wistful for some reason, but I can’t remember exactly what it was. At night when things quieted down a little you could hear the hum of the Conversion Factory, sucking in the CO2 and spewing out oxygen for us. It’s a nice system, efficient. At first the roots tickled. It was as if some small creature had found its way into my system and its little paws tip-toed under my skin. I told this to Jeanie and she called me adorable and kissed me, two quick short pecks. We watched planes fly overhead for hours at a time, lying naked on the roof, soaking up the sun to feed our submerged seedlings. I watched a Scrubber work its methodical way across the sky, hardly bigger than a dot, keeping us all alive. Sometimes one of us would let out a little shuddering giggle as a root system explored new territory inside our bodies. We’d be sitting on the edge of the roof or wandering around its periphery and we’d release a short laugh over the city, letting it free to make its own mischief. We laughed a lot back then at the little things. A bird shat right on Jeanie’s belly one day and we laughed hard for at least an hour. We were happy and we both thought we could nurture the seeds with our devotion, like we were raising a child. It makes little sense now, but we were young and empowered with an incomprehensible love. One day Jeanie suddenly stood up and made a mad dash for the stairs and came back a few minutes later with a paint set. She spent the rest of the day painting rainbows and fruits and vegetables on the side of the stairway door entrance. She wasn’t much of an artist, but her rainbows were pretty stellar; her strawberries looked like daggers. She shouted something to me about cave paintings, but 129
a street cleaner was humming by down below and I didnâ€™t quite hear her. When I walked over to inspect her work more closely she told me to lie down and then painted a rainbow across my chest, lifting her brush carefully wherever a seedling had begun to sprout. Sometime during that first week I watched a colony of ants slowly form and build a mound over a thin snaking crack in the roof. They were resilient little creatures, hauling bits of asphalt and cement in place of the dirt that had long since been covered when the Project swept over the world. In history class they teach that the Project had been a common unifying goal, bringing all the world together under one purpose. It was cleaner, easier. We knocked off a few diseases in the process. Made sense. I saw what looked liked little bits of glass on the backs of a few ants as they built up their asphalt mound. In those first weeks we had a lot of sex, rolling around, constantly tumbling under and over each other to avoid contact with the hot roof for too long. The tips of greenery were showing through our skin and we ran our fingers over each othersâ€™ bodies, feeling the fuzzy spouts protruding from within. By the end of the first month we could see the roots meandering through our body like veins underneath our skin, now a dark brown hue from the sun and the roots. It became tougher, more taut as the roots bulged underneath. We could feel the weight. Things got a little more sluggish, our energy was going elsewhere. Early in the second month I caught a glimpse of reflected light off a neighboring roof. It was an exceptionally hot day and the roots were feeling heavier than ever under my skin, but I managed to prop myself up with one elbow and squint in the direction of the reflected sun. I could just make out the figure of a person on the other roof. I slowly realized that the light was reflecting off a camera lens, that we were being photographed. Within the week there was a media blitz on our roof, all the local stations wanting in on the story. We were cast as renaissance souls by some, backwards-looking outcasts by others. Nobody went after the love angle. We just took it in stride, annoyed, but little more, and waited for them to leave. 130
Stories like ours popped up in the paper occasionally with headlines like “MAN GROWS OWN APPLE.” But we weren’t doing it for them, we were doing it for us, for a youthful summer of excess love. At least I’m fairly certain that was the original intent, but we let it gestate, let the seeds grow, long enough for that to change. By the end of the week all the media had left. My younger brother, in his early twenties and sporting a suit and tie, stopped by one afternoon to see it for himself, called us freaks and took off, walking fast back towards the staircase, like he was afraid I was going to hit him. Both Jeanie and I were far along with the growth. It was getting harder to move around and we spent most of the days just lying on the roof. The days seemed longer, we talked less. I had green frilly carrot heads poking their way through my chest hair and a head of purple cabbage sprouting from my belly button. I had a patch of strawberries growing on both thighs, little green things, hard to the touch. Growing tan under the sun one day, Jeanie asked me if she somehow managed to find a piece of real earth somewhere, the dirt kind, if I would farm it with her. I told her dirt was long gone, that the Project had taken care of that. “But what if, hypothetically, the Project had missed a patch somewhere?” she asked. “I was thinking of getting into business at some point,” I told her. “My dad has some connections at the port.” She responded with a look that she wouldn’t take away and I glanced down just as she muttered, “Business.” I’m not sure why I felt ashamed; I thought the port was a good deal, solid future, but Jeanie had a way of confusing my senses. We had a big thunder storm mid-July. I hauled out an old tarp we had brought up just in case and we huddled under it while the storm raged down on top of us. Jeanie thought that maybe we should try to soak up some of the rain for the seeds, but I told her I sure as hell wasn’t going out into that storm. She gave me a look, more disappointed than anything, and threw her side of the tarp off and sat out in the rain. I lifted a corner of the tarp up and watched the rain pour down her body, her long hair plastered to her back, the water coursing over her breasts and causing the tips of the vegetables to sway against her body. She looked purposeful and also, sexy as all hell. 131
I woke up one morning and hauled myself up to take a quick walk around the edge of the roof to keep my circulation going. A little breeze rustled the stems and leaves of my body. Walking past the stairway entrance I noticed an addition to Jeanie’s painted rainbows, tomatoes and strawberries. THE NEXT PROJECT was scrawled in shaky handwriting across the top, looking somehow sinister next to the colorful childlike rows of the rainbows. That was the first, and just about the only, tangible sign that our summer was coming to and end; maybe why I allowed myself to feel so surprised when it actually did. Like I had needed concrete facts written in a well organized report. It was a day or two later that it became near impossible to talk. A few of the roots had found their way into my esophagus and conversation became painful. Jeanie was having the same trouble. I did my best to assure her it would be okay. I croaked out the occasional, I love you, and tried to say as much as I could with my eyes, but I’ve never been the best with non-verbal communication. Something about a subtleness I’ve never had. I accepted the pain, convinced myself that it was all part of that imaginary flow I thought I was cultivating, that it would take me where I needed to go. Jeanie was getting more distant. She returned my croaked loves with a certain sad look in her eyes, that only later did I realize was as much for me as her. One day I looked to my right and saw a crow not even a foot from my head, just sitting there, staring at me, asking me what the fuck I thought I was doing. They had kept the birds alive with centralized feeding stations, a small caveat to the few who had insisted on the old world ways. It was weird to see a bird so far away from the nearest station. I stared back at the crow, tried to explain that the pain of the roots twisting throughout my body translated to some kind of love, but I couldn’t seem to make it understand. I didn’t understand, how could it? Eventually it hopped to the edge of the roof and jumped off like a suicide. I looked back over at Jeanie and she was staring straight up into the sky, looking hard at it, concentrating. I raised an arm heavy with onion bulbs and brushed my fingers across her face and whispered, “I love you.” She kept focusing on the blue sky, didn’t say anything back. Any halfwit could have seen it was coming to an end, but I was lying naked on a rooftop next to a beautiful young woman with carrots sprouting from my chest. To say I was not thinking my clearest would be an understatement. And besides, I’ve never been good at letting love go, have always held onto the wreckage 132
long after the ship has gone down (sometimes after the rescue boats have come and gone). Two nights later I woke up to the sound of sobbing. Jeanie was sitting up next to me, pulling at the stems and stalks protruding from her body. It was a full moon and bright. The stems protruding from her chest swayed and bristled in the moonlight, giving the whole deal a horror movie vibe, like Jeanie was pulling out the tubes her creator had used to bring her to life. A small pile of vegetables was piled between her legs, tiny little carrots, a few miniature zucchini. Little dabs of blood showed where she had yanked each carrot from her skin. She was crying. “Jeanie,” I said. It sounded more like a painful hiss than anything. My vocal cords had nearly surrendered. “This isn’t what I thought it would be, Michael,” she said. And then quieter, “I don’t know what I thought it was going to be.” Her sobs and her strangled vocal cords mingled to create a sinister rasp. She yanked at another carrot and it popped forth from her sternum with a strange soft pop. I lifted my hand and put it on her thigh, overgrown with strawberries, but she just kept plucking away and the pile of food kept growing between her legs. I didn’t know what to say. Within twenty minutes she was vegetation free and she stood up. Little multi-colored flecks fell off her chest and legs. Standing there in the moonlight her body looked so different than it had when we’d begun. It was dark and stretched tight, like she had pulled all her skin against her bones and pinned it there. She looked ancient and beautiful and a little crazy. “It shouldn’t be this hard,” she said. “It shouldn’t hurt this much.” And then she walked away. I waited a few days for her to come back, to show up on the rooftop, still naked, and admit that love conquered pain, conquered all. By the fourth day I wanted her to show up to remind her that it had been her idea, that she had pressed the first seed into my flesh. On the fifth day I pulled the first carrot from my chest suddenly and within half an hour I had added my fresh produce to her small wilted pile. The painted rainbow was still there, flaked and cracked and looking like a perfect chronicle of the summer. My body looked like something that could no longer exist in this world, like something from the days before the Project, when things still twisted their way up from the earth. 133
P Kemmick grew up in Montana and now lives in Seattle.Â He is an active urban gardener and, inspired by his own writing, is trying out a little guerrilla gardening.Â He does not blog at jpkemmick.wordpress.com
Showdown at Cherry Grove RetirementVillage: Compiled and edited by: J. KirbyWhite Michael Fugere
The following is a series of excerpts taken from statements gathered by the local authorities. These are the exact words given by the residents, employees and guests who were present at the Cherry Grove Retirement Village on June 11th 2004 to witness the death of Mr. Oscar Joseph Barnes. -JKW Benson Whales: I ain’t ner seen an’thin’ like it: two civilized, elderly fellers gunnin’ down one ‘nother. Now don’t get me wrong, I seen my fair share of blood an’ whathavya, being a war veteran twice over, an’ all, but I ain’t ner seen a ol’ man like myself git shot up by ‘nother. Hell, the spectators of the whole dern thing said it was right friendly. Well I say, even in all my years of service to our country, I ain’t ner heard o’ friendly fire bein’ intentional. Ner in my life, I tell ya. It was the derndest thing...[Spits onto the ground] I tell you what; it was all ‘cause of that yank sumbitch, Windsor. I ner did trust that feller. He jus had this look like there weren’t somethin’ right with ‘im; like a light was on in ‘is head, but no one was home, but not like a crazy person really...though there ain’t no doubt that he had a screw looseÉ oh, hell, it’s hard to explain. I reckon he didn’t need a straightjacket, jus a whippin’ and a good talkin’ to is all. One things fer sure; that sumbitch got everyone riled up and believin’ all the mess he had said. Tellin’ us folks that we’re prisoners in our own bodies and whatnot. Crazy mess. Nonsense, I tell ya. We all shoulda had the sense the good Lord gave us to see that he was nuthin’ but trouble, but I reckon old folks like us like to hear things that sound hopeful. [Spits again] We all here done lived our lives. 136
I reckon it was Oscar what first started to associate with that ol’ loon, Windsor. Oscar had lost his wife ‘bout six months ago an’ was hurtin’ real bad jus like I had done when Arlene passed back in ‘96. He was new to Cherry Grove an’ look’d to be needin’ a friend, an’ since nobody weren’t to talk to Windsor too much, I guess Oscar decided to get acquainted with ‘im. It won’t too long after that that the strange mess Windsor was flappin’ his gums ‘bout started to sink into ol’ Oscar’s head. It’s right funny how some fellers will latch on to anyone who seem to have a answer. But livin’ to be this old, you know there ain’t no answer. Jus more questions. Lord knows I got a whole sack full of ’em after meeting Windsor and seein’ what he had done. Frank Stratton Jr.: Well Earl Windsor was – still is, I assume - a rather nice fella, or at least that’s how I’d seen him. He was never much of a talker, though I do remember him having no Southern accent when he spoke in his normal tone of voice. As I recall, someone had said he was originally from somewhere up north. Pennsylvania, I believe. Which I thought was kind of odd with him being so interested – well, obsessed - with Westerns and the way the movies said cowboys lived. You know, gun fighting, cattle wrangling, and all that. That should have been a warning sign now that I think about it; but like they say, hindsight’s 20/20. The first day he came to the home, he had with him a ton of video tapes, and watched them in the rec room whenever the TV was freed up. I remember the first time I tried to introduce myself to him; he was watching The Searchers with John Wayne, his favorite movie as it turned out. ‘The name’s Frank,’ I told him, and stuck my hand out for him to shake, but his gaze didn’t stray form that darn TV. I pegged him as being hard of hearing and repeated myself a couple a times, but he never looked away. I was rather irritated by that point and raised my voice at him, asking him if he ever heard of Southern hospitality. And to that, he just said, while doing a piss-poor John Wayne impression, ‘have a seat there, pilgrim. Things are just getting’ good.’ I couldn’t help but chuckle at the old fella when he said that with a straight face. I thought it may had just been a joke or his senility was kicking in, but that weren’t the case. [Smiles] He was dead serious and despite what some folks will think, he was – is - a sane man. I know that much is true. Gretchen Smith:
Why Mr. Windsor was always a gentleman. He held open doors, 137
stood up when I walked into a room, tipped his Stetson hat when I passed him in the courtyard, he would even help me to my walker when it was out of reach. But I wasn’t the only one to be treated so kindly; all the ladies here at the home were too. Old age had not made him jaded like it has to so many other residents. Heavens, it was a breath of fresh air. If you ask me, I don’t think what he did was wrong. He gave some these folks here something to live for. He gave us a reason to get up each morning, even after many of our friends and families had passed on or abandoned us. We found solace in what Windsor was trying to do. Or at least most of us did. Now don’t misunderstand me; I think it’s an awful shame, what happened to Oscar, but he knew what he was doing when he put on that gun belt. He knew good and well. And I don’t think he’d regret doing it if he were still alive. Now I didn’t know Oscar as well as some. I wasn’t familiar with the hardships he had gone through in his life, but when he met Earl Windsor, he was happy for the first time in heaven knows how long. You could see it his eyes and I found comfort in that. Rachel Harley: Yes, sir, fifteen years; that’s how long I’ve been an employee here at Cherry Grove. Before that I worked at a retirement community – one not as nice as this one - out in Virginia where my husband was stationed while he was still in the Navy. He’s originally from South Carolina. That’s why we made the move here. What do I think about Earl Windsor? [Uncomfortably laughs] Let me tell you something, sugar; in all my years in this profession, I’ve never seen anything like this. I have been witness to many a disturbing act among the elderly: I’ve seen them hit and bite at one another; I’ve seen them try to take there own lives with cutlery and makeshift nooses, but I have never seen one of my residents murder another – and that’s what it was: murder. I don’t give a damn what other people tell you. The fact remains Earl Windsor – if that’s even his real name - murdered Oscar Barnes in cold blood. I’ll testify in front of a jury on that. Mark my words, sugar. Benson Whales: Dern straight he showed me those revolvers. Both of ‘em. And they was right fine pieces of work too. He had two .45 Colts that‘re ol’er than 138
the both of us, but sure as hell looked bran’ new, like he jus walked in a store an’ bought ‘em up that day. He kept ‘em in a ol’ wooden box uner ‘is bed. It had a picture of a feller on a mustang runnin’ down a stage coach etched a top of it. ‘Look here, Ben,’ he sed an’ showed ‘em to me. ‘They was my granddaddy’s,’ he sed, talkin’ like he was tryin’ a talk like me or sumthin.’ Hell, when I asked why he talked like he does, seeing as how he from up North and all, he got real mad and told me ner to call a Texan a filthy yank. I cain’t tell ya if he were playin’ er not. An’ yeah I held ‘em. They was right heavy. It was the first time I‘d held a pistol since Ko-rea. It felt odd, like they was sumthin’ wrong to grip a firearm when I won’t at war. I dunno. Er’thing ‘bout that feller was strange, I guess. [Shakes head] No, I dunno where they is nowÉI reckon with Windsor, wherever he may be. Like I sed, son, the whole dern thang is jus strange. Frank Stratton III: I was here with my son, visiting my father. We try to make it up to see him every other weekend. After my mother died we registered him with the home. He’s never complained, but after what happened today, I’m getting him out of here. I just can’t... [Covers his face with his hands] Good God. I mean, my son plays violent video games, but to see someone shot dead in real life, right in front of you has to be damaging. [Wipes a tear away] He’s only eleven for Christ’s sake! Frank Stratton IV: It was cool! It was like watching a Wild West movie or something. Two of Pa pa’s friends stood back to back and walked – like this [Makes large strides with his steps] – then they turned and [Forms a gun shape with his thumb and index finger] Pow! They shot at each other. [Laughs] Dad freaked out, but it was awesome. [Points to the police officer’s belt] Is that gun real? Gretchen Smith: Well he and Oscar became friends rather fast. They were inseparable, watching all those movies and playing cards in the court yard for hours on end. It wasn’t long before Oscar started to wear a cowboy hat like Earl. He 139
even began to talk to everyone in that fake Texas accent like him too. We all liked the two of them, well most of us did. I think Ben down right hated Earl and didn’t want anything to do with poor Oscar once they became pals. Betsy, Fay and I all thought they were very kind. It was nice having a couple of cowboys walking around, watching over us, helping everyone out the best they could. [Sighs] I don’t know what happened between them. Why they did what they did is beyond me. Like I said before, they were real good pals. You don’t shoot your pals, do you? Frank Stratton Jr.: Well this morning I woke up around six, got dressed, took my medicines, ate breakfast and wheeled out to the court yard. Gretchen and a couple other ladies were picking up pecans. (We have a tree back there. It’s a great big thing). Windsor and Oscar were sitting at a bench across from one another. They were both wearing Stetson hats and dusters. [Chuckles] I don’t know how in the hell they could stand it in this heat, but low and behold, they were wearing them. Like a couple of gunslingers. Gretchen strolled over to them with a grocery bag of pecans and offered to bake Windsor a pie. He silently tipped his hat in thanks and turned his attention back to Oscar. I didn’t really think nothing of it at the time, but Oscar looked upset. Come to think of it, he looked down right furious. Whatever Windsor had said to him got him fired up something fierce and made him pop up from that bench. [Points to a picnic table in the court yard] I remember Oscar pushed a flap of his coat aside to that Windsor could fully see his gun. What? No. [Points to his lap] it was in a holster. A leather one. Anyhow, he cocked the hammer and stared his friend down. Eventually Barnes stood up too. Fay Duncan: Oh yes, sir, he was a fine fellow. We all loved him, especially us girls. [Laughs] Mr. Windsor wasn’t half bad to look at, with those blue eyes and strong chin. He made us feel safe. Safe from what? I don’t know, but I liked it anyhow. And once he and Oscar both became cowboys, oh child, it was wonderful. I swear to you, those hats and coats made them look darn near thirty years younger, strutting around here like they owned the place. And let me tell you, Mr. Windsor spoke the truth. 140
What do I mean by that? Well for starters, he said that we all were running out of things to be thankful for. Most of us had already lost our spouses and were now losing our health. He said we had to live to the fullest and that our lives had kept us as prisoners for far too long. That’s truth if I ever heard it. A following? [Laughs] No, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, they were very well liked around here. [Rolls eyes] Well, Mr. Whales tends to exaggerate. I’d expect him to say some such of a thing, that old curmudgeon. He’s just mean as a snake and country as a stick, and that’s coming from a woman who has lived south of the Mason Dixon Line all her life. I wouldn’t pay him no mind. Mr. Windsor did not have any sort of following, unless you count Oscar. Benson Whales: What? Well she’s a damn lie! [Spits] That sumbitch had a follerin if I er seen one. Now they ain’t had uniforms an’ such, cept Oscar of course. Jus ax Betsy Miller. She kin tell ye; that’s fer dern sure. Betsy Miller: I wouldn’t say that. It won’t like some kind of hokey cult. We just really liked him. And he was right about a lot. Well for starters, he told us that we live the way society tells us: work hard, make babies, raise kids, retire, grow old then die. And we do this without question, without hesitation. We never take a minute to find the real us. What we can be, and who we really are. Windsor knows who he is. Do you? No. That’s just the you you think you are...[Cocks her head to the side]...What medication? Rachel Harley: He paid in cash. That’s right. And he registered himself in too. Well I didn’t question it. He just moved right in. The first day he stayed with us, he didn’t speak in any fake voice or wear any long coats or spurs. He was normal. Real quiet too. But the next morning, he was all dressed up like Wyatt Earp and was tipping his has to all the ladies here, saying, ‘ma’am’ like he was waltzing down the streets of Dodge City a hundred years ago. Yes. That’s right. About twelve o’clock noon is when it happened. Right out there [Points at the court yard] in the court yard. I was making my rounds in the building when I heard some shouting and came out to see what all the fuss was about and found about a dozen 141
residents and guests standing off to one side. They were watching something. A few of them were cheering. Others were screaming in protest. I couldn’t see what it was they were watching at first until I got a little closer. But by that time, Mr. Barnes and Mr. Windsor were already walking – pacing – away from one another. Once I saw the guns in their hands, I ran, shouting at them to stop but... [Sniffles and cries] Excuse me. Can I go now? That’s all the statement I really want to give if you don’t mind... Betsy Miller: I was out there when Oscar got upset. I couldn’t hear everything that Mr. Windsor said. It was something about their friendship, or lack thereof, I suppose. Well whatever it was made him right angry and he got up from where he was sitting. But when Mr. Windsor got up, Oscar went back inside. No. Mr. Windsor didn’t follow him. Frank Stratton Jr.: Well my eldest son, Frank and his youngest boy, Frankie was there visiting me. They came about eleven o’clock or so and sat with me in the court yard, a little after Oscar went inside. The weather was fair, not quite as hot as it had been last week. We sat for a bit talking about Frank’s job and such. Then just as Frankie was telling me about school, Oscar came back out. [Laughs] Frankie asked if it was cowboy day. Earl was standing in the middle of the court yard waiting for him. To be honest, I didn’t even see him standing there until Oscar met him there. There was a minute where they looked at each other, like they hadn’t seen one another for a good long while. My son asked me what was going one, but I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t help but watch them fellas standing there. Two gunslingers, they were. I weren’t the only one who was gawking at them. Everyone else was too. Before you know it, there was a group of people huddled on one side of them like we was watching some sort of game. Oscar and Earl shook hands then turned their back on each other and began to pace in opposite directions. They was taking big ol’ strides, one I know I couldn’t take even if I could still walk proper. I recon it was about twenty steps –or paces, I suppose – that they took. Once they got to the end of them paces they turned to each other 142
and shot. The sound damn near scared my son to death, but Frankie thought it was right entertaining. Earl holstered his gun and watched Oscar fall to the ground. I thought it was a joke. That maybe there was blanks in them pistols. But something – a feeling – said otherwise. I knew the Oscar Barnes was dead, and he died right over yonder [Points to the court yard] in that patch of grass. No. Nobody tried to stop it. We all just watched. Mrs. Harley came runnin’ up shortly after, hollerin’ for them to stop, but she was a little late. By the time she got up to Oscar, he was gone. I think she checked his pulse to make sure. I could feel my son’s hand on my shoulder and I looked up and saw he was cryin.’ Frankie looked shocked, but not upset in the least. Everyone else, ‘cept Mrs. Harley, had the same look on their face. They were apathetic. One of the people who lived here was just shot to death by another and no one seemed to be upset. It was like it was meant to be or something. Then it started to rain... I didn’t even see the clouds gathering before hand, but the sky just opened up and spilt out a tremendous downpour. The rain made the barrel of Oscar’s pistol steam up as he laid there still as can be. No. I didn’t see where Earl Windsor went. Everyone was looking at Oscar, just wondering if he was really dead – which he was. I don’t think we even noticed he was gone until Mrs. Harley asked where he was when she didn’t see him after checking on poor ol’ Oscar. Benson started to shout at us then, telling all of us that we were a bunch of fools and that we shoulda seen this comin.’ I hate to say it, but the mean ol’ bastard was – is – right. The strangest thing about it – which I know it’s hard to take the measure of something like this and even harder to determine what the strangest thing is – was that when all off us took our eyes off Oscar to look around for Earl, Oscar’s gun had done disappeared. That’s right. The damn thing vanished into thin air. It was there one minute, but once we looked away; poof ! It was gone. It was the damndest thing I think I have ever seen in my life, sir. The rest of the testimonies all coincide with the same scenario; the man that was referred to as Earl Windsor had fled the scene of the crime after he “murdered” Oscar Barnes. Despite the eye witness reports, the investigation could not prove foul play. No murder weapon was foundÉnor was there a bullet retrieved from the entry wound in Mr. Barnes’ body. The whereabouts of Mr. Windsor remain a mystery. -JKW 143
ichael lives in Virginia with his wife and Welsh corgi. He is in the process of putting finishing touches on his first novel and has written short stories and serialized graphic novels for Ronin Studios and Dial R.
Talking the Untimely Demise of Uncle Sam Trevor Richardson
This is Highway One. I see a Mexican vendor working a fruit stand that sells pickled freedom in glass jars. The sign says they’re a dollar and a quarter. Down in L.A. the population is made up of giant ants colonizing the sand and building up out of the desert. In Monterey, at the Naval Academy, the ants go marching in single file lines. Santa Cruz has a prostitute named Eden who says, “I’ll let you tend my garden for the right price,” but she’ll banish you if you don’t have the currency. There’s a record store in San Diego called the Record Store. They sell the cloned brains of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. For five easy payments of the still beating hearts of four immigrants, a pound of flesh, three gumballs and a mail order proof of citizenship you can have anyone reprinted and sold to you in a glass of formaldehyde. George W. Bush says, “I just bought Richard Nixon.” And Father Cannonball, who likes to blast himself ass first over the moon and into the child pool with his knees folded up to his chest, just bought his seventy times seventh copy of Jesus Christ. Driving up Highway One I stopped off to help a half-naked old man who had been beaten and robbed. When I sat him up his head was bare but I knew who he was even without the hat. I asked Uncle Sam what happened to his colorful suit and why he was wearing a burlap sack. He said, “I hocked the suit to make it to Hollywood and the hat for cocaine money.” I tell him to hop in and he bleeds into my felt seats. Uncle Sam tries to introduce himself, but I stop him and say, “Don’t worry, I know who you are, the name’s Jack Vagrant. Just call me Jack, none of that Mr. Vagrant crap.”
Out near San José there’s a Mexican vendor throwing up beside a stand 145
that is trading ACME Coyote immigration kits for a steel bullet vibrator and a Hazmat suit. When we pull the car to the shoulder Uncle Sam screams, “Which way to Winston-Salem? We want to buy our cigarettes factory direct!” The vendor says he’ll show us the way if we’ll just take him as far as Kentucky Fried Chicken. I tell him it’ll be a piece of cake, there’s one on the corner. “No, no, Kentucky, the state Kentucky. I want to buy my chicken direct from factory.” So we spun it east and crossed over the chocolate ice cream peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Uncle Sam says, “I give up on Hollywood, I’m too old. That town chewed me up and spit me out.” The sun sets and Father Cannonball explodes out of the western sky and bounces off of the moon, landing on his back in Savannah, Georgia, like a flipped insect. We’re on our way past the non-refundable highway now. This is the only way out of the Safety Factory. The Vendor says he doesn’t remember entering the Safety Factory, but if you haven’t gone in than you can be damn sure that you haven’t made it out. If you don’t know than you are maybe already there, but to be sure you should bite your thumb at the Unknown Soldier and see what color your blood flows. If this does not work you must promptly paint your face with your thumb like the Sioux warrior, strip off your clothes and jump six times followed by a backward rain dance around the monument. When you finish and have certainly died then you will have made it out of the Safety Factory and into the Void. Here we are in Memphis. I bought my love a rose, but it was smug and I fed it to a black cat. We kicked the Vendor to the Kentucky curb and huffed it on fumes out to Winston-Salem where we brainwashed the driver of a Camel delivery truck with Uncle Sam’s cheap propaganda and some nicotine patches on each temple. He promptly insisted that we trade my car for his truck and we headed out toward DC with a ten year supply of Camel Turkish Golds pre-packaged, shrink wrapped tobacco in 200 cigarette cartons. We camped with the Cherokee on the Appalachians and used the cigarette cartons for logs because the firewood was wet. When Uncle Sam was ready to go he peed out the fire and pissed off some Indians, as per his habit. He laughed and sneezed red snot on his V-neck tee shirt. We took the Cherokee with us to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier biting our thumbs till they bleed blue and dancing backwards in the nude with pigeon feathers in our hair and Phillip Morris on our lips. When the Reflecting Pool flooded us out to sea we were not surprised, but did not expect the water to 146
smell like septic tank. The last thing I saw before it all went green was Uncle Sam straddling the Washington Monument and stroking his marble erection as if he could make Lincoln jealous. We washed up on the shores of Liberty Island and were apprehended by black suited ninjas with FEMA tattooed in white across the front of their masks. They dragged us to Guantanamo Bay and held us as terrorists without trial. In the sex pyramid nude distraction of four illegal immigrants a faux Al Qaeda predator and Uncle Sam poking the ones that weren’t looking. I snuck out an open door, punched a guard in the throat, burned down an outhouse, kissed the president’s daughter and hijacked a small pontoon plane that took me to Canada. I had no desire to remain in Canada for long and so I promptly stuffed myself into a beer keg and crossed illegally back into America via Niagara Falls. The reprinted brain bots of the Hale Bop Suicide Cult were hot off the presses from the Record Store and picked me up in the Partridge Family tour bus. Outside Astoria our journey was cut short when the bus driver reached over with a metallic arm and tried to remove my genitalia with a claw clamp hand. He told me it was for my own good and I dove through an open window, landing softly in the lap of Eden. I shouted, “Have you followed me?” She was sitting on the back of a red dragon that dragged its belly through the asphalt shoulder of the highway. Her legs were spread apart and she sat on his jagged spine plating with a moan. Eden told me she was the Whore of Babylon and she had come to make love to the son of the one that would bring the end. I tell her I left him in Guantanamo Bay and she snaps her fingers and rides the beast into the sea. I knocked a mime off of an invisible bike and pedaled into New York. On the corner I see a street performer playing a poodle like bag pipes and I watched as the resurrected dead pour out of Penn Station groaning their hunger for the right kind of brains. Pedaling my invisible bike through the crowd I’m shocked when they don’t even try to touch me. There’s a woman bending herself into coils like a snake until she pops a water balloon with her spine. A black stink slick sprays across the pavement and I ask her what it is, she says, “It’s the blood of Exxon Mobil shareholders and, for your information, all of the zombies ignored you because you have the wrong sort of brain.” “What is the right sort of brain?” I ask her, feeling left out. “You have to want a top floor business office and a secretary blowing your load under your desk. You have to want to buy a yacht with the money you swindled out of small businesses and whatever you saved by outsourcing to India and leav147
ing the blue collar workers shivering for whiskey in the dark.” “I don’t know what I want. Sometimes I think this new, senile Uncle Sam should just finish stroking the Washington Monument and blow his load over the whole damn country. It would be the honest way for us to go out, washed away under a flood of jizz as we all individually died in pursuit of our orgasmic future.” The Contortionist says, “That’s why the risen dead don’t want you.” I ask, “Do you know the way out of the Safety Factory?” “Did you bite your thumb at the Unknown Soldier and dance a rain dance naked and backwards?” “Yes.” “Did you paint your face with your blood like a Sioux warrior?” “Yes.” says.
“Then you should be out of the Safety Factory by now,” the Contortionist
“What about you, are you out?” “I was on my way out when I got pregnant by the American Dream. He sometimes visits us in the night and makes us have his baby. We can only raise it where the business is or the child will die.” “Where is your baby now?” I ask her. “He grew up quick and mean and built the Record Store before he ran for Congress.” The risen dead swarm out of alleyways all around me and tear the Contortionist into five pieces. I run away screaming and hide in an abandoned apartment building with boarded up windows. I mumble under my breath, “The Contortionist had the wrong kind of brain. People only die like that inside the Safety Factory. I’m still not out.” “Do you mind?” 148
In a dark corner on the other side of the room is a bug infested rusty spring mattress where the Easter Bunny is giving it to the Tooth Fairy from behind. He grunts in between heaving breaths, “We need to procreate, it’s the only way to keep kids dreaming, it’s the only way to keep imagination alive!” The moaning Tooth Fairy says, “The risen dead have come back for their candy and molar money and children do exactly what textbooks and Mario demand.” Breaking down some boards with my foot I leap onto the fire escape as the Tooth Fairy starts to shriek, “Oh yeah! oh yeah!” and I wonder why people always sound like they have just figured out the answer to a confusing question while they’re in the middle of the act. Down on the street at a bus stop Albert Einstein is knitting a red scarf with his theory of relativity stitched in blue. “Oh yeah!” he shouts and yells up at me, “Mickey Mouse is the Sixth Reich and God was a dinosaur. Uncle Sam follows Hollywood because that’s the new propaganda. And the Whore is Eden because the beginning is the end. When you bleed at honor and dance naked in the past you can break through the barriers. Outside of the Safety Factory anything is possible.” Does this mean I have made it out? Is this is life in the Void, where relativity is still a theory and laws do not exist? In the flash burn power surge of the Void I wander back down the avenue. Following a gang of traveling Hari Krishnas leads me into Union Station. This is New York, the Big Apple. I’m a fruit worm in the steam manholes of the city. I can see the rat people. The Rat People are climbing the gutter drains into the New York Times and running the country’s information. The Good Ones try to fight them off, but the Rat People are strong and slick. They know how to get you. The Rat People can bite your ankles from under your bed and then you are one of them. They spread their disease fast. I’m with the Rat People watching the Holy Spirit of Corporate Takeovers move in flame tongues at Pentecost Park. The street bums beg for mercy and ransom whiskey with the threat of spreading their disease. A drunkard waves a Coke Bottle full of rat blood under the nose of a Korean convenience store clerk that begs for his life with tears. This is Central Park and the trees are singing the National Anthem. The trees are singing the proverbs of the Torah. The trees are purple and smile the blood of patriots. The trees are mean here and I have to play 149
chess against Death for my freedom. You have to win your freedom every day here in the park. This is Central Park and the Rat People are growing as a demographic. Cigarette ads in magazines are now directed toward them and the trees tell me cigarettes are sold to the ones we hate the most. A large red-eyed elm says that we will kill them slowly if nothing else. Now I see a fountain spouting fresh oil from the veins of an OPEC charity stealer. This is New York. This is New York. I’m in New York. I’m right here in New York and a cab driver with the face of a dragon and the hands of a rabbit honks and gives me the finger. And now my hands are guns and I go firing at everything that moves. When your hand is a .357 Magnum flipping the bird means blowing flaming chunks of metal at the pigeons. The Rat People are eating the pigeons and calling it a social service like an inverted Pied Piper. They’re moving up Wall Street now and have already infected the Public Library and the entire Park. They don’t mess with Harlem. I don’t mess with them. And now I see a bearded lady using two living rattlesnakes as nylons by shoving her feet down their throats. She’s kind enough to point her toes to avoid tearing and she hooks their fangs around a belt made from a bicycle chain. The Gray Man passes me with a wave as he steers a cab down Fifth Avenue. I’m swimming with the fishes now, swimming with fleshy pink fins and a black cloth tail. I’m swimming toward the Lady on High. She supervises me. I tell her that she has large feet and a pole up her ass and I get her to crack a slight smile, which is hard this day and age, you can rarely get Liberty to laugh. Under her island there is a cave that leads to the heart of the earth. You can find the pipeline and ride the waterfall to the molten core. I ride Subterranea’s Niagara and land with a plop in the lake of fire. Millions of souls wail and scream in the flames and I see an entire section cordoned off for the souls of ex-military men, dictators, politicians, oil executives and plastic surgeons. And I scream through fish gills when I see that the demons are funhouse clowns and I am actually a mammal. Here I am in New York, the epicenter of the Human Quake. I’ve just broken through the surface of the earth and still found myself right here. I thought I was out, but apparently I still haven’t escaped the Safety Factory. Nothing is what it seems. We’re not even fixed in one place in the universe. We’re actually hurtling 150
through space at top speeds -- terminal velocity. Earth is a tennis ball, no shit, earth is a bowling ball. What happens when we knock down the pins? No, earth is a bullet, earth is a missile, earth is a rolling stone, a broken bone, a disconnected phone, a lost baby tooth -- earth is in the bag. Earth is in the Tooth Fairy’s black bag and she’s mating with the Easter Bunny to try to germinate a new race of long-dreaming children. We’re flying through space in that bag. What happens when you reach the end of the line? This isn’t a train. There is no end of the line. There is no stitch in time. What the hell do you save nine of, anyway? Time is not a straight line. Earth is in orbit around the sun and the sun is in orbit around the universe, orbiting its bright center. The heart of the galaxy pumps gravity like blood. That’s it. I am in the veins of outer space pumping around and around its body, around its heart. I am hemoglobin. I am red and white cells. No, I am platelets. No, shit, I’m a clot. I am a hemorrhage. I am the AIDS virus. No, I am poison. The Rat People designed me that way. They play me against myself. They play good against bad. They’ve played it so long that there is no black and white anymore. The chess pieces have all faded to gray. There is no longer any good or evil. There is only In-Between. Earth is purgatory. I am an angel and an imp, the twisted blue-steel face of an industrial strength Jack-O-Lantern. I am a pawn and a king. They designed me that way. They invented America and Hitler. I watch the stone gray walls breathe me in and out. This warehouse is a heaving, breathing, seething, teething brick lung and I am the factory pickle jar skirting down rust-iron rollers. The wall bubbles and pops and on the other side is the Void. This is the tunnel. This is the long downhill kiddy park slide toward the white light. This is the pathway to Subterranea. The earth is a hollow egg. Growing in the yellow glob molten lava chicken yolk are the souls of the damned, writhing over each other and shaking the surface world when they rattle their claptrap chains. An agonized woman sealed away in Subterranea’s fires wails and moans shaking the support pylons with her melt151
down hands. There was just a tsunami in the Philippines . A small, slant-eyed fisherman was washed under his boat. Now he stands beside me and says, “Have I made it out?” Yes, you have escaped the Safety Factory. But those that escape it in death all wind up here. You did not bite your thumb at the Unknown Soldier, dance naked backward and paint the war paint with your blood. You are not free. You are only fuel for the fire. “How deed yoo escape?” asks a fiery puddle that was a Frenchman. I didn’t, I’ve gotten close, but they track me with their instruments. Their implants are scattered throughout my body and if any of those of us that are tagged and marked should happen to rebel then they can hit a button and give us cancer. “What sort of the cancer?” asks the Philippines fisherman. Any sort they want, brain, lung, stomach, bone, prostate, cock, balls?anything. The burning form of a once former podiatrist stands out of the human fire and says, “I didn’t know there was a cock cancer.” This is Subterranea where everyone is freed from the Safety Factory. This is Subterranea where everyone is a prisoner of their freedom. This is Subterranea, where everyone’s a critic. Here you no longer have to work to buy your freedom, security and sanctuary. Here you are liberated from safety and imprisoned by the human furnace. This is the earth’s core. An oil drill cracks through the ceiling and rocks crash down all around us. A billion voices cry out, “Free us, free us, we used to be human. I want to go back.” But there is no going back once you’re in Subterranea. I glued a coffee mug to my hand and burned a swizzle stick to the church mast sailing down Broadway. I drank a cigarette and smoked away with Johnny Walker into the Milky Way wild abandon douche canal. That’s the only way to be Born Again in the Safety Factory. And if you want to see the end of the safety then just flip the catch and pull the Cold War Russian Roulette Trigger. 152
Tell ‘em Jack Vagrant sent you and they’ll give you a discount on nicotine bullets. I can see a popped collar on the Metrorail and a greased-shellacked hair-do in Grand Central. I can smoke myself a reality and trip myself a poison-pill tongue tip tranquility. And that’s the new Hookah Lounge of the Headless Horseman. Now there’s Uncle Sam sitting across from me in my dark room. He’s wearing a seven-foot scale model of the Washington Monument like a lesbian hayride strapon around his lap. And the New York Times they are a-changin?? The New York Times they are a-endin’ and if the truth is in you then you’ll taste it on your lips when God tea bags you ‘til you bleed. The Statue of Liberty is showing some shoulder as she wades her way toward the lost-show emigration nights of Ellis Island. Uncle Sam meets here with his strap-on, still new with the sales tag that says, “Made in Washington DC.” This, after all, is the only way he can hope to please so much woman. And don’t you know that Mt. Sinai is Mt. Rushmore and the Burning Bush was the start of America’s Presidential Dynasty? Uncle Sam is up there on Washington’s big skull flipping off his boots and removing his hat to worship on that hallowed ground. Kneeling in front of the Burning George W. Bush, he says, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I took Lady Liberty to Ellis Island and sodomized her with the Washington Monument.” And the Burning Bush says, “Be not afraid, my son, this is the New World Order and I have commanded that in the New World Order all good Americans will flip up her toga and sodomize Lady Liberty.” Now the scene gets hazy and I can smell patriotism like an overheated radiator pouring anti-freeze green steam out of my ears as it grease-coats my walls. Now Subterranea opens up out of the wall vent and Dear old Uncle Sam enters in a tuft of flame wearing a black cape and rose-colored glasses. He smiles at me showing a row of jagged, sharp teeth and grows taller by two or three feet. His head itches the ceiling and his eyes breathe in his shadow mule. Uncle Sam tosses the cape off of his shoulders and his body is a liquid elephant from the waist down with the shoulders and arms of a stone-crocked donkey. He grows the Elephant Head on his right shoulder and trumpets his trombone trunk while the Donkey Head tumors out on his left shoulder saying, “Hee-haw, hee-haw, he loves to walk too tall.” 153
The mutant three-headed joker man chimera laughs-brays-trumpets and says, “I’ve upgraded to include the Darkness and the Light. I’m paying by praying and I’m neighing, braying the New America.” Panicking, I crawl into a corner to orgasm my tears onto the floor crying, “But you were Sam Wilson, the cover-front man of the 1812 Revolution soldiers. You were a hero with a blue collar and a meat factory.” And there, behind the lantern, I can see Subterranea trickling through the Void of the kerosene wick fire. In the orange-out blues a man without skin and a striped top hat says, “Let me out! let me free! I want to go back.” The sobbing Skeleton Man in a scorched overcoat tails jacket pulls at his chin hair. When the Beast sees him it disappears into its cape and out of the warehouse. Now I’m alone with the quiet temper of the Void. This is not the Safety Factory, this is not Subterranea. And I have not yet crossed over into the tunnel downhill slide, this is Oblivion and what happens in Oblivion stays in Oblivion. Now I stand in the meek chemotherapy lab bunkers that share a wall and a load bearing stud with Subterranea. This is the last gangrene Outpost of the Safety Factory. Here they handle all of the breeding, regeneration of limbs and resurrection of the dead. The transplanted cloned brain of Thomas Edison, only $19.95 at the Record Store, works the fingers of a chrome-plated robot that burns the bodies of homeless people, Mexicans and bull shit for fuel. He is repairing the damaged circuits of the Stock Market hive mind server. Uncle Sam recommended an upgrade and the Cyborg Edison begins replacing the Server’s copper wiring with gene-spliced nerve endings torn from the living brains of recently lobotomized illegal immigrants, Iraqi carpenters, journalists and crazies. Cyborg Edison says, “We must continually pursue more and more human technology. I want my cell phone to talk to me instead of ringing. My computer should smile at me and the Stock Market Collective Server should think on wires of human tissue. This is American self-actualization.” His iron claw fingers dig another nerve ending from the occipital region of a Catholic nurse’s lower cortex. Cyborg Edison stares at it vacantly through cellophane brake light reflector eyes and says, “That’s a big one, this will definitely do.” “You see, my dears,” he says to the twitching pack of brain dead spare parts 154
carriers, “We build up imaginary visions like money and then they hire someone like me to help them push it through the technology womb into existence. My dears, we build things like Stock Markets and watch them take on more life than even you or I have. Then we watch them run away and we have to catch them in bear traps and drag them back for me to repair. We built the Stock Market Server and watched it find so much identity all on its own that it has even gotten depressed and tried to take its own life on several occasions.” A blue flame sharpens out of the Cyborg Edison’s index finger and he welds the nerves into the Server. Lights flash awake and The Server moans, “No, not again. Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose in this world? What are you doing to me? What is the meaning of life? Why was I created?” And Cyborg Edison shouts, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Climbing through a manhole like one of the Rat People brings me to Washington Square Park. I can see the Big Cop right now. When I’m in it I can see him clearly. The Big Cop is invisible to all, but he becomes apparent to me while I’m in the trip. The Big Cop is invisible, he moves like an amorphous wisp of cloud. He moves as spirit and drops down on those he wishes to use. I can see the Big Cop. He moves like a ghost on decent, peace-serving enforcers and transforms them into brutish Huns, Genghis Khans, and Gestapo drones of the Dream. The Big Cop turns decent social servants into blind, bullying wielders of the taser, the baton, the mace. The Big Cop turned the riot squad protectors into the mob tactic foot soldiers of Detroit, New York and LA. They became the murderous law wolves that sprayed tear gas on Chicano Rights activists or rounded up beatniks in the park. The Big Cop used them to spray down hippies with fire hoses and arrested sit-in black boy protesters and Dr. King. The Big Cop moves as a cloud and possesses. He turned decent National Guard boys into the sort that fired live rounds into the college students of Kent State. They fuel the fires of the Big Cop in Subterranea with the bodies of the doomed. We are, all of us, doomed. The Big Cop will find us one day. Maybe in a routine traffic stop gone wrong or when you say something he deems treasonous. And right now, this moment, I’m sticking out my thumb on Greenwich Avenue, hoping to hitchhike back to Highway One. I’m hoping to go back to the beginning, to try to start over. Maybe this time I can make it out of the Safety Factory. Maybe this time we can all get it right. 155
revor Richardson is the author of American Bastards, his first novel published by Inkwater Press in Portland, Oregon. The novel personifies the American collective memory through a modern fairy tale for grown ups that crosses into other worlds, encounters American icons and folk heroes and deals with the biggest of lifeâ€™s challenges: personal identity. Trevorâ€™s work aims to combine satire, absurdism and philosophical dilemmas in a way that is eye opening and entertaining rather than one or the other. He is a founding member of the Seahorse Rodeo Folk Revival, Editor-in-Chief of its literary endeavors and, above all, is always on the lookout for new talented people to work with as a writer and an artist. Trevor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Made in Portland, Oregon June 12, 2011 158
Anthology featuring the best writers published by The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review from May - December 2010. Published May 2011.
Published on Jul 27, 2011
Anthology featuring the best writers published by The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review from May - December 2010. Published May 2011.