Gifts

That market stall was there again. The one that sells broken junk from other dimensions.

Sometimes in other dimensions too, 4 or 5 or 7 or 9 of them, extending out in all these directions beyond what we could see, beyond what were even directions really, but something else, something beyond our understanding, so there’s no hard edges, nothing you can hold on to, no possibility of containment, so your hand passes clean through after you’ve paid.

And the shopkeeper laughs as you realise you’ve just wasted your money on something that might as well be a hologram, or a ghost, or a memory, a thought.

It’s only then they offer you the use of their spacial manipulator, so you can get it home, and of course there’s a fee for that, a large fee, a very large fee, an astronomical fucking fee. But you pay it anyway. You have to. You don’t want to, but you have to. You don’t want to think you’ve wasted your money on some shit you can’t even take home.

So now of course I’ve got a whole shelf of things like that at home, shimmering and undulating and ululating and shivering, pulsing and trembling as the aspects of their intersections with our limited world shift and move as they through the universes they inhabit, utterly unconcerned with ours.

They’re never the same. Not even for a second. From my limited understanding of the mathematics involved, it’d be impossible for them to ever be the same again. No rotational symmetries. Not even the usual 1. None.

So sometimes they’re beautiful, so beautiful they make you want to cry. Other times they’re so alien there’s no comprehension of them at all in your mind. Visual noise that hurts to look like.

Somehow pictures never capture them at all. As if they don’t even interact with light, not how we understand it, anyway.

Although, in that case, how our eyes catch these glimpses of them, I do not know.

But they didn’t have anything like that today. Everything was three dimensional and solid and safe.

That’s not to say there was nothing interesting amongst their wares, just that there wasn’t anything so immediately, obviously, horrifyingly, enticingly , irresistibly wrong, either. At least on first glance.

“I haven’t seen you here before?” they said, with a questioning look.

They say this every time I come in. I think they’re trying to undermine my confidence. Not that it needs much undermining.

But I’m used to it now. And I am distinctly unmemorable. It’s the same everywhere I go. “And your name, sir?” After a while it barely even feels insulting.

“What’s this?” I said, pointing to the inert half of a strangulated pulsometer. It’s always good to ask a question you know the answer to first. Sometimes they lie. Sometimes everybody lies. At least this way you can calibrate their honesty.

“It’s the inert half of a strangulated pulsometer,” they informed me, correctly. “Not a very interesting piece on its own. If you’ve got a throbbing crystalline heart, it’s probably worth the price, but otherwise…”

They shrugged extravagantly, in the theatrical style.

“My heart’s throbless, unfortunately,” I said. “And diffuse in structure.”

I moved my attentions to the other pieces on display, picking up a jar filled with some sort of mimification jelly and pulling faces at it to test its responsiveness. It could cope with smiles and laughter, but turned my screams and scowls into giggles and blushes. It was very cute.

“How much for this?” I asked.

“The Caricreature?” they said. “It’s quite expensive. Very expensive. Very expensive indeed.”

They laughed expansively, in the evil style.

“Oh that’s a shame,” I said. “So how about that?”

I pointed at something entirely at random. It looked like a polyp. A polyp from some strange realm, obviously, not a polyp from ours. Totally different styles and textures.

But it looked like a polyp all the same. I assumed it was some sort of seed, from which something terrible and confusing might sprout or spurt or seep.

“That’s not for sale,” they said. “That’s lunch.”

They picked it up and bit it in half. Chocolate oozed out from inside, mingling with the blood from the raw flesh of its shell.

“You want to try,” they asked. “Highly addictive. Like a Tunnock’s Teacake.”

I shook my head, and picked up the mimicking thing again.

“So, how much was this again?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333%.”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of what?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of your soul,” they laughed, in the ominous style. Well, in the ominous and evil style. And the theatrical.

To be fair, there’s probably no other way to laugh when discussing the purchasing of souls.

“Ah, that’s not too bad,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I can afford that.”

I chuckled to myself, as I transferred that tiny sliver of a sliver of a remnant of my heart to their eager paw. The good thing about percentage pricing is that things get cheaper every time.

“And, actually, I don’t mind spending a little extra today anyway,” I explained. “It’s a gift.”

“A gift!?” they shouted, suddenly startled. “Is that really appropriate?”

“Er, yes?” I said. “I mean, I haven’t even told you who it’s for yet.”

“It’s the principle of the matter,” they said. “Haven’t you seen Gremlins?”

“No,” I said. “Anyway that’s just a film. It’s not real. It’s just a film. A film!”

They did not agree. They tried to take the jar back, but it was too late. I’d already paid.

That market stall was there again. The one that sells broken junk from other dimensions.

Sometimes in other dimensions too, 2 or 1 or 3/4s or 0 of them, contracting down in ways that made no sense, limited this way or that, or occluded by our reality completely, in ways difficult to understand, so there’s no depth, or width, no possibility of escape from the constraints of their limits, no possibility of life, of synthesis and fusion.

And the shopkeeper sympathises with you as you realise you’ve just wasted your money on something that’s as inert as and useless as some semi-solid lump of xenon.

It’s only then they offer you the use of their hologrammatic projector, so you can expand their appearance into enough dimensions to perceive, and of course there’s a fee for that, a small fee, a tiny fee, an infinitesimal fee. You don’t mind paying it, not really, you just wonder why it wasn’t included in the original price, why they rang it up separately like this.

So now of course I’ve got a drawer full of things like that at home, three dimensional projections of these zero dimensional shapes, sitting as still and dead and pathetic as they can, existing, if they can even be said to be existing, in their own limited dimensions, utterly uncomprehending ours.

They’re always the same. They never interact with anything. From my limited understanding of the physics involved, it’d be impossible for them to ever interact with anything. Simplified chemistries, based upon a periodic table without periods.

They’re never beautiful. They’re never repulsive. They’re just this constant unending blandness of conformity. It’s painful to look at, sometimes. Like a generic supermarket food brand made flesh.

A simple picture captures everything about them. You don’t need to see the real thing. What’s the point? They have no substance of their own.

Although, in that case, how I ever managed to carry them home, I do not know..

But they didn’t have anything like that today. Everything was three dimensional and solid and real.

That’s not to say there was nothing uninteresting amongst their wares, just that there wasn’t anything so obviously, depressingly, dispiritingly, abjectly, all-encompassingly bland, either. At least on first glance.

“Nice to see you again,” they said, with a welcoming look.

They say this every time I come in. I think they’re trying to bolster my confidence. God knows it needs it sometimes..

But it’s lost its effectiveness now. Compliments wither through use. It’s the same everywhere I go. “It’s so nice to see you.” After a while you don’t even hear it.

“What’s this?” I said, pointing to… something. It’s always good to ask a question you don’t know the answer to first. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re talking about. At least this way you can assess their knowledge.

“It’s the irregularlly fissioning half of a strangulated pulsometer,” they informed me. “Not a very interesting piece on its own. If you’ve got a desiccated liver, it’s probably worth the price, but otherwise, you know, not so much…”

They shrugged extravagantly, in the theatrical style.

“My liver’s wet, unfortunately,” I said. “And filled with blood.”

I moved my attentions to the other pieces on display, picking up a jar filled with some sort of mimification jelly and pulling faces at it to test its responsiveness. It could cope with screams and insults, but turned my laughter and smiles into endless haunting despair. It was distressing.

“How much for this?” I asked.

“The Caricreature?” they said. “It’s quite cheap. Very cheap. Very cheap indeed.”

They laughed expansively, in the evil style.

“Oh that’s a shame,” I said. “So, how about that?”

I pointed at the one thing I couldn’t take my eyes off. It looked like a polyp. A polyp from our dimension, rather than a polyp from some strange dimension.

It looked out of place among the marvels of their wares. I had no idea what it was for. Maybe they’d had it removed during some recent medical procedure.

“That’s not for sale,” they said. “That’s tea.”

They picked it up and bit it in third. Blood oozed out from inside, mingling with the chocolate from the crumbling, delicacy of its shell.

“You want the rest,” they asked. “Disappointing. Like Turkish Delight.”

I shook my head, and picked up the mimicking thing again.

“So, how much was this again?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333%.”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of what?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of your soul,” they whispered, in the ominous style. Well, in the evil and ominous style. And the terrifying.

To be fair, there’s probably no other way to whisper when discussing the selling of souls.

“Ah, that’s higher than I’d have liked,” I said. “But I can just about afford it.”

I moaned to myself, as I transferred that great wedge of my heart to their trembling hand. The trouble about percentage pricing is that it seems cheap at first. But it isn’t long before it’s not.

“And, you know, I don’t have any choice but to spend big today,” I explained. “It’s a gift.”

“A gift!?” they laughed, suddenly amused. “You’ll regret it!”

“Er, what?” I said. “I mean, I haven’t even told you who it’s for yet.”

“It’s the heart of the matter,” they said. “Haven’t you seen Gremlins?”

“Yes,” I said. “Oh, god. Is that a warning? Are you warning me? What is this thing?”

They would not say. I tried to hand the jar back, but it was too late. I’d already paid.

_________

Notes:

1. Written in early August, 2020
2. This was surprisingly annoying to format correctly
3. Mostly because the formatting here is slightly different from the format in my word processor
4. And also even know it’s still probably unreadable if you’re on mobile
5. Or your browser screen is slightly less wide or slightly more wide than mine.
6. So, er, maybe it’ll just be easier if you read it as a pdf
7. Words I’d never thought I’d say there.
8. But such is the horror of modern life, etc
9. So here’s a link to it as a pdf: Gifts (pdf)
10. Now let us never speak of this again.

__________

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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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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

__________

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March My Captive Head

There was not much left of Nick. The face was broken. Huge grey eyes with tiny black pupils that seem to spit needles. From his mouth floated coal gas and violets. He did not have the concentration of energy necessary to hold himself together and his organism was always on the point of disintegrating into its component parts. On his T-shirt is ETERNITY in rainbow letters.

In the distance muffled explosions like dynamite in jelly. The war between the sexes split the planet into armed camps right down the middle. The doctor did not seem to hear.

“When the fog lifts you can see their fucking church sticking up. Let’s have that shot,” Nick said.

The doctor was sitting in a surgical chair of gleaming nickel. “One day perhaps you will learn the meaning of patience.”

The room was empty with white tile floors and walls. As the shot of apomorphine cut through poisons of Minraud he felt a tingling numbness. His hair stood up on end. Conversation slackened.

***

But the subway is moving. Riot noises moving closer. Several nearby fags raise their heads like animals scenting danger. Learn to sit back and watch. Red haired green eyed boys, white skin with a few freckles. Some people you can spot as far as you can see; others you can’t be sure of until you are close enough to touch them. The boys puffed blue smoke two bodies fuzzing the web one shuddering white tile walls in polar distance blue haloes flickering.

The doctor nodded. It’s time. They got off the subway and began to walk on snow-covered sidewalks between tenements.

“Certain things simply must not be allowed to change; otherwise, WE ARE COMPLETELY FUCKED.” The Old Doctor reeled out onto the platform.

“Do I have another appointment?” Hands on his belt Nick hesitated.

The doctor stopped chuckling. “Will you be settling your account today Mr Jones?” The doctor’s voice was barely audible.

The man was smiling, flapping vapor like rusty swamp smell. Sunset through black clouds. It was the end of the line.

“You can’t – You can’t – You can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m almost without medicine.”

“Where can you go, Nick?”

“I’m going home.”

“You can’t deny your blood kid,” said the doctor, and walked away before Nick could say anything else.

And there was the dirigible ahead, moored to a tower.

***

When Nick got back to the house he told his father about it in the attic his father used as a studio. Kim noted the frayed cuffs, the cracked shoes.

“In the terminals of Minraud, the car is waiting to take us to the fiesta. As far as the eye can see, nothing but replicas,” Nick says. “Fights erupt like sandstorms, through iron streets a wake of shattered bodies, heads bouncing into the void, hands clutching bank notes from gambling fights.”

Kim sat paralyzed like a man who has received a mortal wound, every drop of life ebbing out of him. It was impossible to tell just how much of this story he was expected to believe.

“The boy ejaculates blood over the flower floats. An orchid with brilliant red and green flowers hanging over the swamp mud.” Nick had a deprecating little laugh that he used for punctuation. “We waded into the warm mud-water. Arachnid is a grimly unattractive young man with a long face of a strange, slate-blue color. He strapped on his camera gun and walked along ancient paths and stone bridges over canals where the fish people swirled sending up color bubbles of orgasm that broke on the iridescent surfaces. He is as specialized as an insect, for the performance of some inconceivably vile function.

“We came to a street half-buried in sand. I could feel the phantom touch of the lens on my body, light as a breath of wind. Recorders of the city rotting. In a dusty shop window of trusses and plaster feet, a severed head on sand, red ants crawling through nose and lips. June, July and August walk on.

“On the sea wall met a boy in red and white T-shirt under a circling albatross. He looked at me, sick animal eyes gone out dying inside, hopeless fear reflecting the face of death. And looking into his bright blank eyes I saw that he was. Too quiet like they say in old Westerns. Time runs out. There was nothing there but cloth that fell in a heap on the floor leaking grey dust.”

The father holds up a restraining hand.

“That’s enough…” He got up, stretched and yawned.

“Well, no, that’s the whole story. The story of a 14 year old boy that died in the invasion.”

“What is it you do, Nick?” Kim asked politely, in the accents of an educated man.

“Only those for whom the knowledge is intended will find it…” He went through a pantomime of fixing his hair. “You must understand that an undercover agent witnesses the most execrable cruelties while he waits helpless to intervene, sometimes for many years, before he can make a definitive arrest.”

“What really happened?” Kim asks.

Nick makes a folding motion with his hands. There was no other place for him to go.

“There were at least two parasites one sexual the other cerebral working together the way parasites will. But a new factor, something that nobody has seen before, is changing the familiar aspect of disaster like the slow beginnings of a disease, so that no one can say just when it began. All out of time and into space. And what is remarkable it seems to be the only or certainly the predominating flora.

“We are turning into plants. You can’t breathe in fake lungs.”

“Are you crazy?” Kim said.

Wait a bit. “Lord, Lord, I don’t even feel like a human.” He looked at Kim and smiled.

“The whole structure of reality went up in silent explosions. The valley was desert, and it will be desert again. Eternity yawning on the sands.

“During the months that followed I worked in the fields. Crabs sidle from cone-shaped nests. Everything looks different, sharper. Pool covered with green slime in a ruined French garden. Surges of silence ebbing from ruined suburbs. Hail of crystal skulls shattered the greenhouse to slivers in the winter moon. Flowers and seeds and mist settle down from high jungle above the city.” He put a cigarette to his mouth, tapped his pockets, and turned his hands out. “Everything is leaking.”

“My dear, it’s quite folkloric.”

Nick was annoyed to find himself blushing. He straightened up and sees a face not tears at first. His father’s eyes are normally invisible behind black glasses.

***

At the end of three weeks he indicated the time had come to operate. He looked like a corpse slumped there on the dirty, unmade bed, his limp arm stretched out, a drop of blood slowly gathering at the elbow.

Kim walked over to the old railroad. He felt the sharp nostalgia of train whistles, piano music down a city street, burning leaves. (J-105) He fled down quintillions of years.

__________

Notes:

1. Written/assembled on August 26th, 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 Last Of The Gallant Heroes and Fading My Name Through Dying Air
7. A fully annotated version of this can be read here: March My Captive Head (annotated pdf)
8. So you can see exactly where I was cheating my own rules

__________

Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.