The Second Moon

Having been unwell for some time, and, matters having come to a head during the spring, I was being kept, for the summer at least, in a cottage in the hills that belonged, in some capacity, to a dimly remembered aunt. This sequestering was as much for the benefit of my health as it was for the protection of my family’s reputation, for my illness was of the kind that was considered to reflect badly not just on myself but my family as a whole, being seen, as it was, a malady of morals as much as one of health.

A stern, muscular woman, whose name I neither knew nor had any inclination to learn, cycled daily to the house from the nearby village that lay, unseen, on the other side of the surrounding hills. She would bring me a basket of food, return my laundry, and take down instructions for anything urgent that I might require, but other than that brief daily interaction each morning, I was left thankfully alone, and my days were spent in a restful, almost dreamlike, solitude.

The cottage itself was unremarkable, but perfectly adequate for my needs, furnished as it was with a comfortable bed, a well provisioned kitchen, and an armchair by the fire in which I could pass the evening reading the works of Milton and Donne by the glow of smouldering coals. A dusty yard, into which I dragged the small table and a chair from the kitchen, overlooked a meadow thick with wildflowers, the slope of which curved downwards to a small silver lake almost entirely concealed by the overlooking hills.

Indeed, when I mentioned the lake to the stern woman one morning as she brought me a basket of eggs, bread and thin slices of cold meat, she was entirely ignorant of it, despite having lived in the neighbouring village the whole of her life. Upon seeing it, she clapped her hands together loudly and declared it a beautiful impossibility, for she had climbed those hills many times with her lovers, and never seen even a hint of this idyllic pool.

When I eventually made my way to the lake, several days later, on an afternoon of such intense heat I could feel the warmth radiating from the baked earth through the thick soles of my shoes, it became apparent why its appearance was such a mystery to the woman from the village.

A horseshoe of yew trees lined the shore to the south, east and west, and although, as I bathed my feet in its cool waters, I could turn and see, back the way I had come, the cottage silhouetted against the dazzling blue of the sky, looking forward I could glimpse nothing of the surrounding hills above (nor through) the dense foliage of the trees.

I circled the entire lake, enjoying the respite from the sun that the shade of those trees provided, and in counting the minutes it took me to return to where I had begun, I estimated the circumference of the lake to be, perhaps, a mile, or maybe slightly more.

The surface, untouched by even the faintest breeze, was as smooth as glass and it reflected the sky as perfectly as a mirror. I spent the rest of that afternoon and much of the evening reclining against a tree and watching the reflected clouds dissipate and reform upon its surface.

I dreamt that night, and indeed, on many nights subsequently, of the lake rising, its silver surface placid and unbroken, the yew trees circling it drowning in its waters, until eventually it formed an inland sea that stretched from hilltop to hilltop, and lapped, ever so gently, over the doorstep of the cottage and around the legs of my bed.

A few days later, oil for the lamps had run low, and while I waited for the woman to bring me more from the village, I was left that night to rely on the light of the moon, which, as luck would have it, rose full and bright in the star-flecked sky at a little after 9 o’clock.

As the moon rose above the hills, I followed, from my chair by the back door of the cottage, its reflection as it traversed the surface of the lake. Yet when this reflection reached the far edge, I watched in quite some surprise as, instead of, shall we say, ‘setting’ at the western shore, it instead reflected, and began traversing the lake in the opposite direction, back towards the east, and the point from where it had risen.

The moon above, of course, did no such thing, continuing on its journey across the heavens undisturbed, and I realised, with a feeling that can only be described as relief, that what I had been watching had not been the reflection of the moon, but instead a submerged light shining up from the depths of the lake and illuminating its surface from below rather than above.

After returning to near the centre of the lake, the brightness of the strange circle of light began to dim, and by the time it had reached the far shore it had fully faded from view, the waters of the lake becoming once more as black as the sky above them.

I stayed in my seat until the early hours of the morning, but this mysterious emanation made no return, and, while no doubt inventing numerous feverish explanations for the strange occurrence, eventually I must have fallen asleep in my chair, for I was woken by the full glare of the midday sun and the harsh sound of the village woman’s voice as she announced her arrival at my door.

Although the woman had displayed no animosity towards me, (nor indeed any hint of friendliness), I was still somewhat circumspect in my dealings with her, for I did not know the extent to which she knew the circumstances of my health or the reasons for my stay.

She was, at least in some capacity, in the employ of my family, even if it was at several layers of remove, and I was still, even after a month of solitude, filled with a wariness that bordered on paranoia when it came to not only my privacy here, but also in the possibility of my day-to-day actions, no matter the benign nature of my current lifestyle, being relayed to the city with a more salacious spin placed upon them.

As such I made no mention of the strange light I had observed beneath the surface of the lake, while also trying, as best I could, to hide the fact that I had slept in the chair in the yard rather than in my bed in the cottage.

And yet, from the brief taciturn conversation I endured with her, as she delivered to me fresh bread and an urn of thick black oil for the lamps, I received no flicker of interest in my activities of the night before, and as such was left to ponder, for the rest of the afternoon, on the necessity of my earlier furtive manner.

I attributed this strange reflectiveness on both the sleep deprivation from which I was evidently suffering, and a lingering headache that did not ease until I took myself to bed in the early evening, whereupon I collapsed into a deep dream-filled sleep.

The dreams were of a kind so vivid and involving that they felt as if they were the lived events of a second life, and by the time I rose the next morning it seemed that, rather than a single night, many months had passed.

Faint remembrances of these dreams lingered on the edges of my perception the next day, and although some of these images were disconcerting in their strangeness, the overwhelming feeling that they engendered was one of contentment, and I went about my morning routine in a mood almost reminiscent of joy.

For so long my melancholy had acted as a restraint upon my senses, but as it lifted I began once again to perceive the world in the fullness of its splendour. Colours seemed brighter, and my sight, as I viewed the hills from my window, clearer, as if a haze had been removed from the air and everything was viewed through a pristine lens.

The sound of distant birds, even the cyclic buzz of insects from the meadow, became sharper, yet, simultaneously, more distinct, and I appreciated each one as a separate marvel rather than an accumulated drone.

I was eating mulberries from the tree at the top of the path, exulting in their succulence, when the woman cycled into view, and as I held up my hand to greet her, I noticed that my fingers were stained a deep red from the juices of those fruits, a blemish I expect was mirrored upon my lips.

The strange emotions present in me caused me to speak with a certain ease and familiarity to the woman that I had not found possible in previous days, my lingering paranoia evidently eased by the previous nights dreams, and soon I found that not only had my senses returned to their fullest extent, but so had my desires, and it was not long before I lay naked beside her in my bed, the relative coolness of the room doing little to douse our passion.

Although I had recovered some of my strength in my time at the cottage, my physique was still quite diminished from its previous vigour, and as I looked down at my body as it lay against hers, I was overcome with a dizzying sense of vertigo, as if her sturdy frame was a great precipice over which I peered down at my own withered flesh as it lay discarded, distantly, at the bottom of some unexplored ravine.

Afterwards, as I fed her mulberries in the shade of the tree, I asked her if she would be missed back at the village while she lingered here with me, and when she shook her head, I spoke unguardedly about my vision of two nights previously, and the second moon that traversed not the sky above but the lake below.

“Sometimes,” she murmured in response to one of my more fanciful speculations, “you have to decide whether to believe your eyes or your heart.”

I considered this a strange, not to mention facile, thing to say, but made no attempt to counter it. Instead I nodded a weak assent, for the afternoon was too pleasant to spoil with unnecessary dispute, and so I gently turned the conversation towards a more agreeable discourse.

Alas, later, as the woman readied herself to leave, I provoked a disagreement, although quite by accident, and which was all the worse for it being such an unthinking act on my part. At least a deliberate provocation can serve some purpose or intent, but this was so unnecessary I gained absolutely nothing from the endeavour.

Overcome as I was with these intertwining emotions of contentment and joy, I said, off handedly as she left, that perhaps, in her next letter to my family, she could mention the improvement in my emotional state as well as my physical wellbeing, and recommend, if only by implication, that my exile here need not linger on into the autumn.

Her face regained a measure of its thin-lipped sternness at this, but I continued blithely, saying, with a nervous laugh, that of course she need not mention the exact circumstances and exertions of this afternoon, and here it was that the misunderstanding occurred.

Even though my paranoia had dissipated, I had, I realised, accepted the assertions conjured by that affliction as fact, and assumed much in the way of her conduct and knowledge that was not attributable to anything other than my own mind. For, as the woman explained, patiently yet bitterly, she was not in contact with my family, and knew nothing of my circumstances, having assumed that the note she had received laying out the duties of her summer employ was authored by my own hand, and the money attached from the same source.

Further, the suggestion that she might speak of our earlier tryst was, of course, quite unreasonable, having the implication about it of some measured threat on my part, for the consequences for her, a married woman resident in a small pious community, of the discovery of such a relationship were far greater than they ever could be for me, a man of evidently self-sufficient means, hailing from a far-off city and an even more distant class.

Having resisted the urge to argue earlier, I now found myself responding to every point, as if, just by the application of my words, I could erase the substance of her accusations and absolve myself of any wrongdoing in this affair. This of course did not prove to be the case, and long after she had left I was still ruminating on the particulars of the argument, and found myself quite unable to regain the calm that had settled upon me throughout the day.

That night, not long after dark, I saw, once again, the second moon. As before, its initial path mirrored that of the true moon, before being reflected from its path by the far shore of the lake, and beginning its return journey across the black, unseen, surface of the lake.

I rose from my chair and hurried down the hillside, but I had gone little more than a third of the way to the lake before the second moon began to fade, and by the time I reached the water’s edge there was no lingering trace of its light at all. I slept fitfully that night, and rose early the next morning in a state of excited agitation.

My hands and lips were still stained red with the consequences of yesterday’s mulberries, and try as I might as I made my morning ablutions, I could not scrub myself clean no matter the vigour with which I scoured my hands with the brush.

In a frenzy of activity, I made plans for an expedition that very day, and spent the morning gathering the necessary tools from the house – a lamp, rope, matches, knives – and loading them up on the table in the yard.

I hoped to tell the woman from the village of my plans, and ask her, as a way of apologising for yesterday’s impoliteness, to join me on the walk, but by noon, she had still not arrived, and I was too impatient to wait any longer. I left her a note containing an effusive apology for my conduct the day before, and then proceeded with my plan.

In the dilapidated barn that stood, obscurely doorless, behind the rusted threshing machine and the ruins of a petrol pump in the far corner of the yard, I had seen, on the one occasion I had explored it, a small rowing boat, and it was to this I made my way.

I dragged it, with great difficulty, from the barn and then, after tying a rope to its bow and loading my equipment inside, somewhat more easily pulled it down the hill towards the lake, leaving behind me a wake of flattened grass and crushed wildflowers.

Although it was not exactly a herculean task, it still took me far longer than I had supposed to reach the lake, and by the time I did my body was so tired from its exertions that I sat down by the side of the boat and dozed.

By the time I woke it was almost dusk, and my arms were still so weak from their earlier effort I was not sure I would be able to row, even on waters as serene as those of that enigmatic pond. My fears were unfounded, however, and as I pushed away from the shore and drifted slowly out towards the centre of the lake, I caught the first glimpse of the moon in the sky above, and not long after, a glimmer of the one below.

As the submerged moon began its secondary journey back across the surface of the lake, untethered now from its gibbous sister above me, I manoeuvred the boat towards its path. Soon our courses met, and that ghostly apparition passed not over the surface of the boat but beneath, proving then that this truly was not an aberrant reflection of the known moon, but a projection of something more startling from the depths of the pool.

I leaned inquisitively over the side of the boat, trying to glimpse the source of this emanation as it passed through the waters below. In my eagerness to see I leant too far, and fell with a sudden splash over the side of the boat and into the cold waters of the lake.

As I fell beneath the surface, I caught a glimpse of some strange white orb, as smooth as a pearl, glowing with its own enticing light, drifting through the swaying vegetation at the bottom of the pond.

I rose to the surface to catch my breath, and then dove down once more and tried to follow the light’s path, but the task was more difficult than I expected, and I quickly lost track of its movements through the dense foliage beneath me.

Returning to the surface again, I tried to calm myself by taking a series of long deep breaths, in the style of a diver, and then, having swam a small way on the surface of the lake so that I was directly above where the light shone brightest, dove down again.

As I swam this third time towards the pale illumination of that second moon, its light seemed to grow brighter yet ever more diffuse as I approached it, and soon the whole lake bed was aglow around me. I saw then that what I had perceived previously to be the leaves and fronds of submerged weeds and vines swaying in the depths, were in fact the up-stretched hands of the drowned.

The corpses lined the lake bed in their dozens, their torsos half buried in the silt, their shirts billowing around them in the currents, their arms reaching up hopelessly towards the sky, their fingers slowly undulating in disconcerting patterns that reminded me, somehow, of the hypnotic movements of cuttlefish.

On seeing that terrible vision, I tried to swim back up towards the boat, but several outstretched hands grabbed at my arms and legs. Fingers hooked themselves through the belt of my trousers and held fast to the cuffs of my shirt, and they held me there and would not let go.

As I struggled, I looked at the faces below as they turned upwards, one by one, and stared impassively at me. Each was a perfect replica of my own face, their waxy visages blank enough I could read any number of contradictory emotions and accusations upon them. Contempt, admiration, resignation, resistance.

In these faces I saw the reflections of my past misdeeds, rebukes for any number of personal failures. I wondered dimly in the hallucinatory light how many times before had this illusory moon drawn me here. How many of these deaths had I deserved.

I struggled, I struggled, and then, as the light I could not reach flickered and faded, in the dark I struggled no more. Above me the moon became obscured by clouds, and was gone.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in August and September 2019

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Separations

They blamed it on the large hadron collider. I’ve never been convinced. They blame everything on the large hadron collider.

The explanation goes something like this. It was switched on. It hummed and whirred and trembled, glowed and burned and radiated, all that shit, and then, as all that tremendous bunched-up coiled fucking energy burst out and collided with itself, in that momentary momentous moment, through some fundamental altering of some fundamental aspects of the fundamental, it split the world into two.

Or untethered it from an adjacent identical world. Or scuffed away the muck between this layer of reality and the next, rendering what once was opaque now ultimately translucent. No one was really sure. But something along those lines anyway.

And like I said, I don’t believe a word of it anyway.

It’s a fucking delusion to think we can know what the fuck it is that happened. It’s insane to think we did this.

I mean, it’s not like I have any better explanation. I’m not claiming I have all the answers. I’m just saying they definitely don’t either. Just cause I don’t know the truth doesn’t mean I have to believe theirs.

And if it was the large hadron collider, it sure took a long time to take effect, for anyone to notice. Like, when was it they turned that infernal machine on, anyway? Ten years ago? Twelve? I don’t know. Fucking ages ago, anyway.

Yet, no one noticed anything until, what, a year ago? Two? I mean, what the hell was happening for the other ten years. Yeah, yeah, I know, it was incremental, too small to notice, a rift so tiny that even if you did notice you just ignored it anyway, all the usual excuses.

That hardly sounds scientific, does it. It barely even sounds rational. Oh, we just ignored it! For ten years! Yeah, right. And they say I’m the one that won’t face reality.

Then suddenly, two years ago, it was noticeable. A persistent little fuzziness round the edges, of everything. Like when you look in the mirror and there’s a ghostly set of teeth offset just slightly behind your real teeth. But not just in the mirror, and not just with your teeth. Our world and the next were parting ways, ever so slightly, like two previously overlapped images slowly being slid apart.

It’s an entirely visual phenomenon, soundless, smell-less, heatless, and at first it seemed pretty trivial. You’re handwriting always looked ever so slightly smudged. People would complain at the cinema that the projector wasn’t focused properly. At Wimbledon, no-one could tell for sure if the ball really was in or out, no matter what the machines claimed with such implacable certainty was true. Eye tests at the opticians were a right fucking futile faff.

But then, things got worse. You’d try to look someone in the eyes, to show the deep sincerity of what you were telling them, but instead you got distracted by the shimmerings of their pupils, the overlapping edges, the glints of light where all should be dark, and I’d end up looking so shifty and evasive as I looked from edge to edge, eye to eye, finally down and away, or up or away, off to the side, anywhere but that mesmerising, terrifying separation of edges and lines and circles at the centre of their irises.

I gave up eye contact pretty quickly, moved instead to looking at people’s mouths as they spoke. But then even that, as the separation of worlds continued inexorably, soon presented problems, ghost mouths, ghost teeth, ghost tongues.

Ghosts all the way down.

People calculated the rate of the separation – sixteen point one eight something something and so on micrometres a year. A millimetre and a half every century, or whatever. I mean, it’s nothing, is it? We could have just ignored it and it’d have been okay. We’d have got used to it. We’d never even have noticed it.

And, christ, we’re all getting old, everyone’s eyesight’s getting worse every year anyway. It’s barely even worth worrying about. It’s fucking stupid.

So, apparently, anyway, this is why it took so long for anyone to notice, and therefore, if you accept their measurements, if you believe their extrapolations, this proves it started then, when they turned that thing on, like they’d always said. This proves, they say, with pinpoint high powered laserlike accuracy, the moment we started drifting apart.

Yeah, yeah, right. I mean, how convenient. How terribly fucking lucky. It’s always easy to make up facts now to fit your theories of what happened then. Well, maybe they should have come up with a theory then that explained all these subsequent facts now.

Maybe if it’s all so bloody certain and incontrovertible they never should have flicked that fucking switch in the first fucking place.

My wife calls me irrational. My wife, ever the scientist. It’s always someone else that’s wrong, isn’t it? Not them, not their calculations, their theories.

It’s always me that’s wrong.

Hannah’s a physicist. She’s spent years working on this. She thinks this makes her an expert. Yet all the physicists everywhere have spent years working on this. It’s all they ever fucking talk about. They can’t all be experts. They can’t all be right.

They can’t even fucking agree.

The most fundamental contention when it came to the split world theory – with all the theories, to an extent, but especially the split world theory – was that, as the universe is, at its base, probabilistic, once the universe is split things should diverge, not slowly, but wildly. Chaotic infinitesimal quantum events should cascade until these atomic micro fluctuations became macro deviations.

An atom here should instead have been an atom there, causing that atom to go there, and so on, all that well-rehearsed chaotic butterfly nonsense from Jurassic Park. It shouldn’t be like this, orderly and neat, everything exactly still in its right place, all just slowly, neatly, sliding apart, atoms and molecules and organisms and structures all obediently locked together, arm in arm, even as we all slide inexorably, predictably, continually apart.

This had always implied an entirely deterministic universe, the end of free will, all that shit. And no-one wants that, wants to admit that we’re just tiny little cogs in a relentless, remorseless machine. Everyone agrees that that would be awful, unimaginable, unacceptable. Hannah agrees.

I don’t.

I want that.

I would kill for that.

But there’s no going back now.

Hannah solved the problem, proved it beyond doubt, won the Nobel prize, everything. Free will’s a fact we’ll all just have to accept now.

I came home from work one day. Hannah was sitting at the kitchen table, facing me. And she was, transparently, sitting at the kitchen table, her back to me. The two Hannah’s – my Hannah, the real, solid, Hannah, and the other Hannah, the transparent Hannah, the ghost, the duplicate from the separated world – were talking to each other – talking to themself.

The conversation was conducted soundlessly, the pair of them signing faster than I could understand, babbling on excitedly, in the snippets I could translate, about the incontrovertible nature of their proof.

This proof that sat, transparently, before me.

They worked through the implications of their forced separation, questioned whether they should publish, and how – singularly? jointly? Was there even any distinction yet? Would there be later?

They spoke about whether they should risk the revelation of their method, of their accomplishment, of how anyone, everyone, when they wanted, could see their own ghost.

And about how, just by having accomplished this, even if they kept it quiet, even if they never published, they had already changed the world – both worlds, ours, theirs – forever. There would be a cascade now. There was no going back. They both agreed on that.

They both agreed on everything, but they especially both agreed on that. Already atomic chaos had been unleashed, divergence that could never now be converged.

There was, like I said, no going back now. The differences would stack, multiply, cascade. Change will become chaos.

They didn’t say that last sentence, I did. The two of them jumped, turned, looked and finally saw me. The one me, still overlapped, still singular. Ghostless. My Hannah’s me, and that Hannah’s me, standing there dumbfounded, locked together, frayed at the edges but intact at the core.

They looked at me, and I looked at them. One, then the other, back and forth, back and forth.

At least, Hannah said, both Hannah’s said to me, although I only heard one, that this proves she was right all along. Free will, split worlds, the large hadron collider, all of it.

I didn’t agree.

I will not agree.

Even now, with the Nobel prize, with all of it, with everyone separated out into two, with the whole world doubled, I still hold out. She’s wrong. They’re wrong. Your wrong. Everyone’s fucking wrong, but me.

It might make me sound like an arsehole. I can live with that. I’ve lived with that all my life. But, accepting that… I can’t. I can’t.

I came home today. It was like the first time again. They were there in the kitchen. Hannah and Hannah. And Hannah and Hannah. They’d separated out a third layer, and a fourth, teased new selfs from beneath each of themselves, one to My Hannah’s left, one to the Ghost Hannah’s right.

Even I could see the implications of that. This is never going to end. Soon now there’s going to be a fifth Hannah, a sixth, a thousandth, a millionth, and so on, forever. A trillion separated lives, all interacting, all wilful and realised and free, fractalising the complexity of every goddamn fucking thing.

There’s going to be so much free will now. So much it’ll never fucking end.

The four of them look at me. Still just me, singular, solid, tethered me. Four layers deep, all held together by my own fucking defiance.

My own fucking fear.

I look at her, and her, and her, and her. They’ve decided to leave me. I can see it in their eyes, see it behind their smiles. And I can’t say I don’t deserve it.

Still, that doesn’t mean I can accept it. I can’t. I just… can’t. I mean, I’d acquiesce if I could, I really would. I love Hannah. I do. I promise I do. But, but, oh god, but…

The thought of it. The thought of seeing myself. That’s what I can’t…. I just can’t. Urgh. Seeing myself. Seeing myself. Seeing myself sat there, across the room, outside of the mirror. Seeing myself like others see me. Hearing myself. Talking to myself, listening to myself. It’s just. Oh god, it.. it…

It’s bad enough in here already, alone in my own brain. The thought of that, duplicated, triplicated, it’s… it’s too much.

It’s too much.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on August 1st, 2019
2. The illustration is Separation by Edvard Munch
3. but split
4. and duplicated
5. etc

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Magic Trick

Our mother was a magician. She performed on stage and everything. She was brilliant. One day we came home from school and she had bricked herself up in the chimney.

“I’m in here,” she said cheerily.

“What are you doing in there,” I said.

“Hiding,” she replied.

“From who?” I asked.

“Everyone,” she said.

“How did you get in there, anyway?” Jane asked. “It’s tiny in there.”

Jane knew that cause once she’d crawled in the fireplace and pushed her head up there looking for fairies, and she’d almost got her head stuck.

“It was a bit of a squeeze,” Mum admitted.

She must have done some impressive contortions to slide herself up there. I could see Jane looking up and down the wall, imagining Mum’s body all stretched out up the pipe, standing on tiptoes, her arms pointing right up to heaven.

This still didn’t explain how she’d bricked up the fireplace behind her, but then Mum never did like explaining her tricks. She said it’d spoil them.

“Now go outside and watch this,” she told us, and we went and sat in the garden and waited. Eventually there was a puff of smoke, and a great fat pigeon flew out of the chimney pot and fluttered away across the street.

Two weeks later child protection arrived, and we’ve been in the orphanage ever since. They’re still looking for Dad.

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Notes:

1. Written on August 8th, 2019

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Fading My Name Through Dying Air

So choose your color kid. Stand a little back from the game. Face to the west. Pretend an interest. Get it out of your head and into the machines.

***

Abruptly the city ends. Tentative half impressions that dissolve in light. Grey shadow on a distant wall. The putrid smell of rotten blood hangs over cities of the world like smog.

I don’t know how he got the address. The Empress Hotel is in a rundown shabby area on the edge of a rural slum with shops selling jellied eels and blood pudding.

In a room with metal walls magnetic mobiles under flickering blue light and smell of ozone. There was a jar of KY on a glass shelf. The waiter was singing through his disk mouth a bubbling cave song.

There are two drummers at the bar drinking beer. He looked around resentfully, as though what he saw was unfamiliar and distasteful. She puts on a record, metallic cocaine be-bop. In Minraud time. Screaming neon in the throat.

A portentously inconspicuous man, grey beard and grey face and shabby djebella, sings in slight unplaceable accent without opening his lips. “A violet by a mossy stone/Half hidden from the eye!” I handed him a brief case of bank notes and he faded into the shadows furtive and seedy as an old junky.

“You trying to short-time someone, Jack?”

I look up. Doolie looked at me and sucked on his cigarette. We were both emaciated now.

“You know the answer to that a lot better than I do.” The words came out so ugly I surprised and shocked myself.

I ordered two beers, and he went on telling me how he was accustomed to reciprocate. The waiter set down a flat limestone shell of squid bodies and crab claws.

“Have a cigarette,” he said.

I drew the black berry smoke deep into my lungs and symbol language of an ancient rotting kingdom bloomed in my brain like Chinese flowers. The effect was uncanny. A sweet metal taste burned through stomach intestines and genitals.

Our faces swelled under the eyes and our lips got thicker through some glandular action of the drug. On the smoldering metal I saw a giant crab claw snapping. I noticed that my mouth was bone dry.

“I’m going now. Don’t ever look back, kid.”

I pulled him back and he threatened me.

“Ain’t it a bit unhealthy to know as much as you know? Because all Agents defect and all Resistors sell out…”

Suddenly we are both awake.

“The very same thing occurred to me. When you stop growing, you start dying.”

“Don’t look so frightened young man. I’ve told you ten times. Just a professional joke.” He made a gesture of a plane flying upwards at a steep angle. “It’s more complicated than you think.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about now,” I said.

“The zone has been nationalized. I’m leaving town.”

When I told him of my plan to make an expedition to the interior of the island he said it would be impossible.

“The needle is stopped. We have no such powers my son.” He stands poised on his toes like a ballet dancer. “Return to base immediately.”

Clearly the interview is at an end. I kept on drinking. Empty, sad as the graves of dying peoples.

***

Thawing hurts.

The cellar is full of light. Doolie sick was an unnerving sight. He crumpled there on the steps and now looking at me silent as all the red hair and smudged freckles and red flesh of the world flushed through him blurring his face out of focus the red swirls and blurs. And there was a blast of hate from the heavy heart of an old servant. “We regard it as a misfortune…”

I felt a sudden pity for the violated veins and tissue.

He starts to say, You’ll be all right, bursts into tears instead.

Then the dotted line.

***

“This man is never to be recalled or reclassified.”

This is no longer true. Few beat the house, but no one will talk about anything very long.

I stayed off the junk.

Fadeout.

Shut the whole machine off.

__________

Notes:

1. Written/assembled on September 8th, 2019
2. This was made entirely using sentences from five different William Burroughs novels
3. Which were Junky, Naked Lunch, The Ticket That Exploded, The Soft Machine, and The Place Of Dead Roads
4. With no sentence used being from the same novel as the preceding or following sentence.
5. This is the first part of a trilogy called In The Terminals Of Minraud
6. The other two pieces being March My Captive Head and Last Of The Gallant Heroes
7. A fully annotated version of this can be read here: Fading My Name Through Dying Air (annotated pdf)
8. So you can see exactly where I was cheating my own rules

__________

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Last Of The Gallant Heroes

In moments of excitement Salvador is apt to lapse into broken English.

“Throw it into wind Jack. It’s a real Hollywood Spectacular.”

The air was cloyed with a sweet evil substance like decayed honey. I smoked some and felt a little dizzy and my throat hurt.

Licensed assassins are the new elite. I looked at him. We were the only riders and as soon as the car started we slipped off our shorts. I moved in for a close-up of the boy’s flank and took his shirt off followed the pants down, circled the pubic hair forest in slow autogyros, zeroed in for the first stirrings of tumescence, swooping from the stiffening blood tube to the boy’s face, sucking eyes with neon proboscis, licking testicles and rectum.

He laughed. “You trying to push me down the tone scale, baby?”

And I glimpsed a hidden meaning, a forgotten language, sniggering half-heard words of tenderness and doom from lips spotted with decay that send the blood racing to my crotch and singing in my ears as my penis stretches, sways, and stiffens naked lust surfaces in my face from the dark depth of human origins.

***

So I am a public agent and don’t know who I work for, get my instructions from street signs, newspapers and pieces of conversation I snap out of the air the way a vulture will tear entrails from other mouth. I’ve had every weapon in three galaxies pulled on me one time or another.

Happiness is a by-product of function. It is a long trip. Time jumps like a broken typewriter. In the terminals of Minraud, I woke up in the silent dripping dawn.

The paper and the embassy had warned me that I would be on my own, a thousand years from any help. I know the risks and make preparations.

***

Naked except for a quiver of silver arrows and a bow, [Salvador] radiated a calm disdainful authority. His face, devoid of human expression, molded by total function and purpose, blazes with an inner light. He looked at the ceiling, hands behind his head, cock pulsing.

“Finnies nous attendons une bonne chance!”

Time to be up and be gone.

***

Every citizen of Annexia was required to apply for and carry on his person at all times a whole portfolio of documents. You can’t fake it any more than you can fake a painting, a poem, an invention, or a meal for that matter. It won’t do you a bit of good on the trip that you’re gonna take. You need entirely too much.

The town is built over a vast mud flat criss-crossed by stagnant canals, the buildings on stilts joined by a maze of bridges and cat-walks extend up from the mud flats into higher ground surrounded by tree columns and trailing ianas, the whole area presenting the sordid and dilapidated air of a declining frontier post or an abandoned carnival.

A premonition of doom hangs over the valley. The scene looks like a tinted postcard. Silence – Solitude. Streets with flame gates. Rings of Saturn in the morning sky.

***

I was subject to hallucinations as a child. Flashes in front of my eyes naked and sullen. Cows driven into the slaughter chutes. Poisoned pigeons rain[ing] from the Northern Lights. Bodies rolled on the pallet leaving trails of flesh. Smell of blood and excrement in the Tangier streets. Afterbirth of a withered grey monkey.

I learned to use the shield of constant alertness, to see everybody on the street before they saw me. Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.

***

Well, things start to go wrong.

The street blew rain from solitude of morning, mixture of dawn and dream in doorways. Darkness fell in heavy chunks blocking out sections of the city. We were walking up tenement stairs. Rusty tracks overgrown with weeds.

The building I never quite saw was the armory. In the doorway Salvador stumbled over a pile of rags that smelled of urine and pulque. His voice falls flat and heavy in the damp air.

“What is word?”

The centipede nuzzled the iron door rusted to thin black paper by the urine of a million fairies. It was about two feet in length of a translucent green color.

Only one blast to free the lungs. Another shot in the side of the head and it rolled sideways, kicked three times, and died.

***

“Who’s that at the door?”

Bradley stood naked with ten subjects in a room lined with metal mirrors. He was putting away his instruments. Couples attached to baroque harnesses with artificial wings copulate in the air, screaming like magpies. Pulsing human skin stuck to faces half-remembered.

“Hello, Jack,” he trills, a ghostly child voice from a haunted attic. “Long long expected call from you.”

“I told you I would come.”

“What’s the commission? No one of your race has ever been here before.”

Without waiting for my answer he sat down not in a rude or objectionable manner but as if he belonged there looking at me with a familiar style. I felt the concussion of Bradley’s shot before I heard it. (NL-168)

“You’re dripping blood all over the floor.”

He laughed, black insect laughter that seemed to serve some obscure function of orientation like a bat’s squeak.

“If the mortality rate seems high we must realize that Nature is a ruthless teacher.” The man put on a tape of Arab drum music. “After all they’re only human cattle.”

Bradley sat in a booth and electrodes were attached to his skull and penis and lips. They cut off tiny bits of their flesh and grew exact replicas of themselves in embryo jelly. From a remote Polar distance I could see the doctor separate the two halves of their bodies and fitting together a composite being.

“Life is so beautiful! I can only advise you to leave the area.”

And Bradley fell slowly into the deep uterine sleep, frog boys curled between his legs and under his arms and on his chest streaked with iridescent slime from their sucker paws.

The room seems to shake and vibrate with motion. Blood runs in the pale door. There’s just no place to go.

***

I know now when it is too late what we are up against: a biologic weapon that reduces healthy clean-minded men to abject slobbering inhuman things undoubtedly of virus origins. These creatures are transparent like a heat wave, just the outline and the colors that flush through them and you can hear the whirr of wings hovering over you.

And if there is one thing thing that carries over from one human host to another and established identity of the controller it is habit. It is a humming sound that buzzes out of the larynx through the teeth, which are bared like wild dogs in the act of speech.

***

They looked up from their work. Salvador stands there all square-jawed and stern and noble like the Virginian getting set to hang his best friend for rustling the sacred cows on which the West is built. Naked and sullen his street boy senses darted around the room for scraps of advantage.

Shoot your way to freedom.

KAPOW KAPOW KAPOW

Shooting from the floor, he snapped two quick shots into Bradley’s belly…

***

One after the other, they fell away.

Juxtapositions of light made this dream. Excitement ran through me floating sensation. We could still hear Bradley out on the street.

Scores are coming in. Salvador does an insolent bump as he drills the sheriff right in the heart, and then just for jolly a quick shot to the head, which being a can of tomatoes with the top rusted explodes in a splash of red.

Empty all the hate faces sucked into fear. A frog-faced deputy sidles out of a doorway. Ghost hands twisted together in stone shapes. It is a man from the waist up and below that a giant spider covered with red hairs.

But Salvador is unperturbed. A shotgun blast catches the deputy in the side of the neck, nearly blowing his head off, he is falling against the sheriff’s horse streaking blood down the saddle, dead before he hits the street.

I could see people running now suddenly collapse to a heap of clothes. A bearded man falls slowly forward with a dreamy Christlike expression, a blue hole between his eyes from Salvador’s 32-20, brains spattering out the back of his head like scrambled eggs.

A flicker pause and the light shrank and the audience sound a vast muttering in Salvador’s voice.

“Quien es?” Salvador spoke in his dead, junky whisper. His eyes touched me inside.”Quédase con su medicína.”

I feel a numbing blow in the chest, sucking, grasping for breath that won’t come. I look down at the end. What have I my friend to give?

The birds drop and flutter to the ground, feathers drifting in dawn winds. And the idiot irresponsibles scream.

***

Well, these are the simple facts of the case and I guess I ought to know. 223 dead. The bodies were decomposed when found and identification was based on documents clothes and wrist watches. (SM-124) No one can ever say they did time because of me. When you ask Death for his credentials you are dead.

The Frisco Kid he never returns. Salvador’s body will remain here intact in deep freeze. The only thing I remember about his face is that he wore glasses. Other thoughts and memories separated like mold. The water we live in is time.

***

My own injuries were slight as usual and I was discharged from the hospital two days later. There was a raw ache through my lungs. Silence to say goodbye.

When I hit the street, I slipped and skidded on the wet sidewalk. The night air, balmy and cool round the edges, fanned my body. I was in a hysterical rage, though exactly why I cannot, in retrospect, understand.

_________

Notes:

1. Written/assembled on September 7th, 2019
2. This was made entirely using sentences from five different William Burroughs novels
3. Which were Junky, Naked Lunch, The Ticket That Exploded, The Soft Machine, and The Place Of Dead Roads
4. With no sentence used being from the same novel as the preceding or following sentence.
5. This is the first part of a trilogy called In The Terminals Of Minraud
6. The other two pieces being March My Captive Head and Fading My Name Through Dying Air
7. A fully annotated version of this can be read here: Last Of The Gallant Heroes (annotated pdf)
8. So you can see exactly where I was cheating my own rules

__________

Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like what you've read here please consider subscribing to our patreon. Cheers.