Archive for the 'fiction' Category

Arise, Wanderer

There wasn’t enough electricity and paper in the capital, so there were no newspapers or web connectivity, hence there was also a shortage of bad news. Some people believed that the moral decrepitude of the times had spread to the sub-atomic level and that electricity was lacking because the charges had started acting on their attraction to the same instead of the opposite charge. Other people were quietly discovering the easiest, the most natural form of heroism, which is, against disaster and the fear of war, to remain the same. Negotiations between Colorado and Utah had broken down and re-started yet again. Feeling the need to agree on something to show for their efforts, they’d decided to draft a pair of joint non-binding resolutions entitled “Things We Can All Agree Are Cool” and “Things We Can All Agree Are Lame,” and had just finished up the second list with the concluding item “Names that end in Roman numerals.’” It took the Mormon delegates especially long to peruse since they insisted on reading them through glasses with stone lenses. But after they finished, then what?

At least both sides had an interest in maintaining the peace. The Mormons found it difficult to keep a fighting force in the field, when their best soldiers were continually being raptured up to heaven at such a rate that a squadron could vaporize before a bullet was fired. The army was becoming so short of soldiers that recruiting officers had started staking out hospitals, drumming their fingers in the waiting room and cheering on surgeries and births in the operating room. At least, having banned TVs long ago as a form of satanic propaganda, Utah had avoided the ill effects when the broadcast networks in the now hostile foreign metropolises of New York and Los Angeles simply began broadcasting irradiating waves, which had reduced much of the Coloradan population to lurching, catatonic zombies. For this the countless herbal doctors, as they did for everything, prescribed medical marijuana, which failed to revive the population’s lost dynamism. Both sides needed a miracle. The Mormons prayed to God for one, while many Coloradans performed yoga exercises to become more centered, figuring it couldn’t hurt.

Clearly survival, though a simple goal, demanded convoluted tactics. But spring had come again, or at least the three months of oscillation between winter and summer which passes by the name there. The year was one of drought; farmers feared they might not have a harvest of grain, the vintners feared they might not have a harvest of grapes, and, with the rivers at a trickle and no hydraulic power, the light rail conductors feared they might be able to operate their silently advancing trains and gather their harvest of distracted pedestrians.

The Supreme Elder of Utah was busy confusing and frightening a lot of people. First he’d gone to war against Las Vegas and burned it to the ground, consistent with his age-old hatred of casinos and all the sins they represented. But then he had declared war on Colorado, and still no one knew exactly why. Then he had declared peace just as abruptly two years later. Confused analysts attempting to divine a logic, though, did not know how much he loved to sign his name. Every order that he signed–troops sent into battle, troops withdrawn from the battle they had just arbitrarily provoked, import duties raised, then lowered, dueling statements from the ruler fondly supporting and fiercely opposing the same position–provided the set-up for a counter-order negating it and a second chance to sign his name, doubling his pleasure. Sometimes when a document included space for the signatures of all his ministers, he signed his own name in every space. He loved everything about signing a document: the heavy scratching sound, the firmness of the paper, the aggressive curls of his name posturing and threatening the last paragraph of the document.

The President of Colorado, meanwhile, was preparing to launch an operation which he hoped would give him a stronger hand in the negotiations. He had raised the subject in his council meeting with the circumspection befitting a highly secret mission: “I want to launch a black op deep in Utahan territory.” “You mean an African-American op?” his chief of staff asked. “Alright, fine, we need to launch an African-American op of the highest risk.” “Is it African-American because it’s so dangerous?” asked the Director of Public Relations bitterly. “No, it’s dangerous because it’s a black op–” “African-American op” said the chief of staff. “Whatever. The point is, they’re dangerous by definition.” “I see,” said the Director of Public Relations.

When the operation had been agreed and the councillors were leaving, the chief of the army and the legal counsel conferred. “With what the President is asking of us, I’m becoming worried about him.” “Or her,” said the legal counsel. “No,” said the chief of the army, “it’s a him.” “Could be a her.” “No it couldn’t, the President is a man.” “Doesn’t have to be.” “Of course it does! Were you not just talking to him?” “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you meant this President, upper-case p, is a man. I thought you meant that the president in general, lower-case p, is rightfully a man.”

And so the African-American op was launched. To lead it the government did not choose a heroic, many-talented special forces soldier, a crafty master of ruse and infiltration, or even an unstable hothead with some mysterious personal animus. They probably wouldn’t even trust one of those type of characters out of fear they would run over the mission budget. Instead, they chose the head of the Department of Mystifying Public Art, charged with ensuring that new monuments not veer far from the standard set by the demonic horse out by the airport or those ethereal animate Q-Tips dancing behind the convention center or the mysterious giant blue bear peering in through the window in front of it. And they chose the rest of his department to carry it out. In fact, the director, whose name was Anton, had tried convince his superiors that his department was fully capable of performing any task up to and including high-grade military operations, as a way of expanding his budget. But that was not the reason he had been selected. In fact, his superiors were fairly confident he and his underlings knew nothing about tactical military matters. They had had selected him for the African-American op because it was so high-grade that if the team in charge of it did understand what they were doing and how to do it, they would know too much.

As it happened, the inexpertise of his department for this task was even greater than might have been expected because he had managed to insert his entire family onto the payroll, including his five-year-old daughter, whose role was defined as “educational.” Actually, they constituted the whole of the department. This was possible as privacy laws in Colorado were such that no private information about any government employee could be requested, including their name, unless they were suspected of wrongdoing. Which was somewhat hard to arrive at when no one’s name was known.

Kata, his wife, was very upset to learn that she and her entire family had been drafted into an off-book military run. She commenced to inflict a sex strike on him. However, he did not know this until she announced it a week later.

“Oh,” he said. “Then what have you been protesting the last six months?”

Anyway, he had no control of the situation now. She needed to find a way to get at the powers that be. However, she soon learned you could only evade an order, not defy it. At first she planned to pass her children off as a pack of German Shepherds and herself as a minimalist armoire.

“But none of you look anything like those,” objected her husband.

“Even better,” she said. “So they won’t even be able to draft us into service in that capacity.”

“I was just going to try to bribe my commanding officers.”

However, these orders came from the highest levels, and power has a dividing line, like a tree line, above which bribery is just a tribute.

“Can’t you hire some new employees and send them?”

“We have no budget to afford anyone–at least not since you went to Cherry Creek on Saturday.”

“Can’t you just turn it down?”

“Are you kidding? For me to know about this kind of thing and refuse to serve it would be considered treasonous.”

“Well, there’s no way in hell the children are going, government officials or not,” she said, while packing juice boxes into big army backpacks. She had promised the kids that they were going to stay with their grandparents in South Park.

“Are you going to tell them differently now?” she had asked.

They had met for the first time in the summer after a rain. He saw her standing atop a marble railing in Civic Park, with the sun upon her, wreathing her head like a halo, and he mistook her for a statue. He’d just started working at the Dept. for the Mystification of Public Art, and the fact that this statue had gone up without its knowledge or participation was less disturbing than that the statue definitely seemed to conflict with the department’s mandate. But a moment passed, and he saw more clearly through the sun’s glare, and then she moved.

She was not the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, but she did seem to make Denver a slightly smaller city. Even if only by a couple of master planned subdivisions and maybe that mountain with the weird “M” on it in Golden. She was standing on one leg, both arms plunged shoulder deep up into the sky. For some reason he felt his position gave him pretext to talk to her.

“Why are you standing like that?” he asked

“What? On one leg?” she said. “I’m just one leg away from levitation.”

“I could just take you up a mountain. Wouldn’t that be faster?” This was before the war.

“I don’t like mountains.”

“Do you come here often?”

“Sometimes. I’m taking a break.”

“From what?”

“Children.”

“From having them?”

“No, from taking care of them.”

“You have children, then?”

“I wish. Then I could tell them what to do.”

“So you’re nannying?”

“Not at the moment. Though I have no idea what the parents do if they need a turkey sandwich when I’m not on call. Maybe they call 911.”

“Why don’t you get some sleep?”

“There’ll be time. The youngest is already 10.”

Her eyes nonetheless did droop as she stood there and almost closed, but the rest of her body stayed perfectly upright. He wondered if this was the position of her body at rest, the position it would take in zero gravity or underwater.

“Do you come here often?” he asked.

A bum walked up to him. “My name is Jake,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“Anton.”

“Cool. Now that we’re friends, can I borrow some money?”

Anton pulled a five out of his wallet. As he was handing it over, he noticed it was actually a 20. Still, there was no losing by it: Jake was happy, and the girl must be impressed. If she thought 20 was a lot for him, it meant he was generous, and if it was very little for him, it meant he was wealthy. Win-win.

I wonder if he’s buying drugs from that guy, she thought.

She had gotten bored with the conversation, so she asked: “Would you like to meet me again?”

Not that night, but before the month was out, they had switched skins. One night they both unbuttoned, from nose to crotch, took them off and swapped them. The whole of the penis, balls, breasts and birth canal all the way up to the ovaries detached with the rest. They wound up doing that many more times in the coming years. Until it got confusing.

Now they were driving West again, as their ancestors had, as maybe they never should have stopped doing. Kata stared out the window with unfocused eyes at the still-standing telephone lines passing by, swooping down and curving up from pole to pole like a very languid heart monitor. She imagined the birds perched upon them, pulling them tight then rubbing their feet to produce notes, plucking the wires from time to time with their claws. She could imagine, when they sang, the seeds they had ingested flying out again through their beaks and up onto the tree branches, where they would burst into flower. At times, she saw refugees leaving the high country with flowers in their beards as well. In many fields crops of money plants had been sown, but the drought was such that much of the fruit had wilted while still tiny pennies and dimes, well before they’d ripened into quarters, much less blossomed into paper money.

Once they entered the mountains, they saw less people streaming East, and greatly more bears. They’d heard tell that those that refused to leave their homes even when they were burned and destroyed in the war often took to the trees and streams, or wandered between the peaks at night, where they turned into great brown and black bears, many of whom got shot by soldiers on both sides anyway. 

The rule of Colorado law came to an end among tundra bushes and marmots on Loveland Pass . When they crossed it, Anton decided he needed a gun. When they reached Breckenridge they asked the first suspicious character they saw where they might find guns, but he became suspicious of them. The second suspicious character they talked to was addled, and the third claimed not to understand their accents. Finally they found someone who directed them to the last right turn in town. As they reached it a couple of fighter jets came roaring overhead. They weren’t strafing or dropping payloads, but that’s not to say they wouldn’t. The street instantly cleared. Anton veered off Main Street onto the road just as they passed over. Utah? Colorado? Predatory third parties? Who knew? In front of them lay the shells of a few ruined hotels, and they found a low cavernous building with an intact side entrance. They stopped the car and walked up to It. A sign over the door read “SKI LESSONS.” Kata looked down at the threshold and saw a large red smear where it looked like a body had been dragged in the door. Just like how she remembered ski school.

“My prayers go with you,” she said.

“But you’re an atheist.”

“I may not know who to send a prayer to, but I do know who to send it for.”

Upon entering, Anton saw a room stacked with army equipment. Piles of automatic rifles, and not the restrictive models for civilian use imported from the East Coast which would only fire after you’d tried to verbally resolve your dispute. These were real military-issue. This place must have been a small-arms depot during the war– and perhaps the site of some final standoff as well.

Near the far wall sat a bearded survivalist-looking type, and he did not have the look of a man engaged in a service profession. In addition to the many guns piled up around him, he had a desk, under cover of whose air of respectability he probably had a couple more concealed. A taxidermied owl head mounted on a plaque hung on the wall behind his head.

Anton was wondering how he was going to broach the subject of buying a gun, without being immediately relieved of the money he planned to buy it with.

“I’m looking for a weapon.”

The guy got up. He was wearing very bright red sport shoes. It was hard to tell from this distance whether it was because he was a man of leisure with unscuffed shoes or because they came straight off the foreign aid pile. He pointed towards a pile of guns. “Like this?” he asked. Then he picked up a little stone from the ground and a rubber band from his desk. He made a slingshot out of it. “Or this?”

“Whichever one has greater range.”

“Depends what type you choose.”

“Well, I already have a rifle–I just need a back-up.”

“Yeah? What type is that?”

“I’m not sure exactly, I got it second hand.”

“Want to produce it? We’ll soon see.”

“I don’t have it on me–it’s outside.”

“You could go get it.”

“What are you so eager to see it for?” He felt that outflanking inquiry with general paranoid distrustfulness ought be a familiar and relatable stance for a gun dealer.

“So you want me to find you a match for a gun you don’t know the make of and which you also won’t show me. Why shouldn’t I just rob you instead?”

“Because I have a gun!”

“Well, it’s not here now, is it? Alright, I’ll give you a gun. But you better not say that your money is elsewhere too, or I’ll take something off of you that you can’t help but know when it’s gone as payment.”

“I won’t. I only have Colorado money, though.”

“That’s fine. As far as I’m concerned this will always be Colorado territory, even if the border runs around the four walls of this building. How much do you have?”

“450.”

“Come on, you think I’m just going to accept 90% of whatever you brought just because I have piles of these and I’m trying to unload them before the final treaty?”

“No, I think you’ll take it because we’re heading west where there will be even bigger piles with less takers.”

“Alright, I’ll do it, only because you’ll need it if you’re going that way.”

Anton handed over 400, all brand new bills he had gotten for the mission.

“Course, that one’s currently lacking a clip,” the guy said as soon as he had the money in hand. Then he pulled open a drawer and drew out a long chrome-plated pistol. “But this one isn’t, and if I want to make Colorado’s claim to this store more than a personal opinion, I’ll be needing the services of it and all the rest of these weapons.” He pointed the pistol at Anton. “You should go back where your laws as well as your currency are accepted. Your feet or your car or your donkey has led you too far west.”

Anton turned around and left the store. He turned right from the exit and picked up the rifle that was still sitting on the chair near the entrance where he must have abandoned during the fly-over and then forgotten it. It even had a clip sitting next to it, which was something. There was also a grease rag and a cleaning brush, but he left those, just as a reminder that no one gets by without trust.

When Anton’s wife saw him, he had a rifle in hand and showed no signs of being pursued. That would have to serve as a solid enough foundation for faith. Perhaps the god she’d prayed to had come through, despite the notable handicap of not existing.

As they approached the Utah border they saw a blast wall laid across the highway, with a single desk and a man in a black suit and porkpie hat sitting behind it, flanked by two armed guards.

Anton stopped the car before the wall, and he and his wife got out.

“What is this?” he asked the man, not even bothering to gesture.

“Judgment,” said the man.

“Oh. I thought this was Utah.”

“It is. But we can’t let just anyone in, in these times especially.”

“What if we just go around you that way?” This time he did gesture, to the mountains to the north, with a palm-up waiter-bearing-a-tray gesture.

“You think you can skirt judgment off to the right? It will find you wherever you are, one way or another. Might as well stick to the road and find it here.”

Anton thought for a moment. “Hey, by the way, what do you do about this desk and papers when it rains?”

“Oh, it doesn’t rain on us here. We’re not that kind of station.”

“And on what basis will you plan judge us? You don’t know us.”

“But you know me, which is a good start.”

“How?”

“Well, you knew someone would be waiting at the end of the road.”

“I thought maybe to welcome me.”

“Maybe someone will. Now, shall we begin? Name?”

“Anton–”

“Sorry, I don’t mean your name. I mean your nation or tribe.”

“We belong to none anymore.”

Suddenly a gust of wind from west lifted up the man’s hat and hurled it towards Anton.

“My justice hat!” he cried.

Both of his guards whipped out pistols and shot at the hat as it sailed towards Anton. Only one of them connected. Like a firing squad, no one would ever know the actual shooter. The hat fell like a dead bird before Anton’s feet.

“Thanks,” said the inquisitor.

At that moment a host came thundering out of the distance to the south. The line of it grew lighter and longer as it approached. It was enveloped in dust. The guards, already with guns drawn, stared suspiciously towards it, but unable to see clearly who approached they refrained from firing. Suddenly several gunshots caught both of them in the neck. A bunch also missed them entirely, and a couple winged them in the shoulders, but nobody cared about those. The inquisitor jumped to his feet. Anton and his wife retreated to the car. Several howling maniacs in war paint emerged from the dust and one of them beheaded him at one stroke with what looked liked a croupier stick made of steel and sharpened to an edge. Then the whole raiding party surrounded the car. They lowered their weapons and one of them motioned to roll down the car window. Anton lowered his a crack.

“We’re not connected with them and are only trying to leave this land peacefully. Who are you?”

“Historical reenactors,” said the warrior.

“Historical reenactors?”

“Yes. We had this idea, instead of just replaying the original battles, which our tribe always lost, we should see if we could get the best of them this time.”

“I think that makes you insurgents.”

“No, we’re redoing history, correcting it.”

“What difference does that make for us?”

“Well, we’d probably kill you instead of letting you leave our territory.”

“You killed those guys,” with a gesture towards the bodies like dropping something softly.

“But we’re letting you leave.”

“Suits me. That’s all we want to do.”

The circle of warriors did not move.

“Sooo….” Anton murmured, releasing the brake and letting the car coast forward slowly.

“I think you misunderstand us. We claim all this land outside the circle. I only said you were free to leave our land. That leaves only the area within it.”

“That’s not justice. Is this even your ancestral land?”

“No. It’s several days’ ride south. Very desolate, but still we were able to operate a couple casinos and live decently, until the Mormons came during the war. You know how they feel about gaming establishments. Look what they did to Las Vegas. So you see what we do to them in return.”

Kata and her daughter were the only women in the company. So far their captors had restrained themselves beyond what one could reasonably expect from marauders on horseback, but she didn’t know if they were just deferring. Or maybe they just lacked warm blood. The greater part of the troupe were actual skeletons, their clothes mere ossuaries into which which they packed their skinless bones with gauze and bubble wrap. Because not all the members of the tribe had escaped the casino where they’d lived before the Mormons set the torch to it. To see them now was like seeing its ruins, broken columns and charred I-beams, raised up to ride again in vengeance.

It soon became clear the horsemen were headed in one particular direction. It became clear they were headed in one particular direction because they kept going in many directions chaotically. Or more precisely, they kept striking off in a direction, then stopping, then huddling, then muttering, then backtracking, then striking off again in a slightly different direction.

They had seen smoke rising beyond a ridge that they were climbing, and as they crested it they saw a parched valley and a village below them. When they reached its outskirts they saw seven or eight women among the sparse trees, hanging laundry on lines strung between the trees. They all seemed to have children hanging on them or running around in a frenzy. It must be washing day for the village housewives. Then one of them looked up, saw the warriors and shrieked. The rest then raised their heads and similarly descended into hysteria. They snatched up the children and then all ran into the same house.

When Anton and Kata reached the courtyard, warriors were chasing the women around in a frenzy. The chief though seemed more fascinated by the children. He was turning a screaming baby around in front of him, inspecting its little sweater closely, looking up at it from below. After a minute he asked:

“Who says his words for him?”

He thought for a few minutes, perhaps contemplating the treasures that could be looted from the village. “We need bed sheets,” he said.

Nonetheless, he would not allow raping, though he did permit as much plundering as the tribe wanted. Anton later asked him why.

“Because the land and all its fruits belong to us by right, but not the people on it.”

One house in the village was considerably larger than the others. It was covered in a bulging layer of flesh and skin. The warriors began to cut long strips out of it. They cut cleanly with their croupier sticks and there was little blood. Underneath the flesh the house looked to be made of white stone rather than wood. When they had collected about enough meat to grow another house with, they decided to move on.

Unbeknownst to them, word had reached the negotiating governments in Denver of a border post overrun and villages put to the sack. Both sides put aside the their ongoing negotiations to join together for the urgent task of pinning the blame on each other. The Colorado military intelligence unit probably could have helped but, after the top-secret African-American op had been compromised, and unable to find Anton, the department had shut itself down, as the director was not able to be certain that even he himself hadn’t turned.

Finally, after desperately scouring every possible alternative, the two sides decided to cooperate. As the tribe was last seen near Green River, it was decided that Utah would supply the troops, since they were closer, and Colorado would pay for them. The Colorado Minister of War then gave a rousing speech exhorting the nation’s prostitutes to make an extra patriotic financial sacrifice in aid of their new Mormon brothers and sisters. The Utah government, outraged to learn this would be the source of their support, angrily returned the money.

Meanwhile, the tribe was pushing through the San Rafael Swell on their way to get around at Salt Lake City via the lake, which the chief regarded as an extremely crafty strategy, and also because he’d never gone sailing before.

Whatever sensations he hoped to experience from taking to the waves, however, the endless ragged sandstone upthrusts on the way to them produced near the opposite. This route had its advantages when the Utah army decided to follow its new motto of safety first (which helped to protect its fragile troop numbers but hadn’t exactly set the recruiting trail afire), by sending its first wave of pursuers to give chase in tanks, which stalled out at the first ridge line.

The defenses in the town of Tooele, in a valley just beyond the south end of the lake,rude to a wild burst of overly wildly imaginative counter-strategic thinking, had actually been designed to guard against a secret attack across the lake, but those whoring degenerates in Las Vegas had never pulled together sufficiently to undertake such an operation before their city was burned to the ground. Now the fortress, entangled with and gown out of the old army depot, just obstructed the town, and weeds had grown all over the gun emplacements like little illegitimate gardens.

The commander of the fortress didn’t know from whence the threat to watch out for lay, but he did know that the Bonneville salt flats lay not far away–trouble could arrive in a hurry. Of course, he spent almost every leave day prospecting in the hills, and he always brought the girl that secretaried for him along, for all the phone-answering and visitor-receiving at the dig site.

He wanted to control an army of prospectors to scour the hills for him. He already controlled an army, so he just needed to make prospectors of them. Most days he had the whole garrison off in the hills, swinging pick axes. For a while they took to stripping off their uniforms to work under the desert sun, but this he soon forbade, because without their uniforms they quickly got confused and started to forget who outranked who.

The Indian band had turned the corner and begun riding north up the Tooele Valley. The chief had to be talked out of riding over to the salt flats to see if his horse would gallop faster there. At night he sometimes talked to Anton and Kata because they were not in duty bound to respect him.

“Ruling the desert, there aren’t enough people to take prisoner. We are mostly proclaiming our might to the lizards and the owls.”

“But there have also been no soldiers to contest your claim,” said Kata.

“Why would they want to stymie our progress? They probably think we are going to throw ourselves in the lake.”

“I thought that was the plan.”

“Nonsense. You’re going to enter the nearest town to it as our pale faces and purchase us a yacht or two. See if they make longships anymore. That would set the right note.”

That night, as the chief lay in his tent, expecting to sail into battle the next day, an apparition visited him. The chief took him for an angel or an ancestor, standing as he did outside the fire, not illuminated but somehow clearly visible, not shimmery but rather indistinct, as if a concentration of the colors around him. Tattoos were etched into bas reliefs on his arms, swirls and hoofs and extremely detailed hand prints.

“Who are you?” asked the chief.

“A representative of the heavenly army,” replied the specter.

“Have you come to join the fight with us?”

“No, we just wanted to wish you a happy birthday. We didn’t know you were fighting. Who’s the foe?”

“Salt Lake City.”

“Ooh, that’s serious, you must watch for the angels guarding the Temple. There are a lot of them, because the Church takes in a lot of revenue, they pay their angels quite well. We very much enjoy the virgins that you sacrifice to us, but you know, it also wouldn’t kill you to pour us out a real drink once in a while.”

The next morning, as they made their way through the hills due west of town to avoid being seen, they ran right into the pack of soldiers from the fort prospecting for their commander in the hills. Hardly any of them had weapons besides their shovels and picks, but they still wore uniforms to avoid confusion, so the tribe, surprised and frightened and thinking themselves ambushed, fell upon them at once.

The tribe began to rain bullets and arrows onto the army party. A couple of Utah soldiers sustained arrows to the eye. They really had no way of fighting back except one or two that discovered a talent for hurling a pickax end over end like a dagger. They ran up the rocky slopes where horses couldn’t follow. Several of them tried to roll boulders down on the tribe. When groups of them fled in different directions, detachments from the tribe rode after them until they fell. Finally the main body of them collected on the other side of a high ridge. The rear guard protecting the ridge’s front side was composed only of dead bodies.

And then a white flag went up above the ridge. Blood prints and mud stained it in spots. It looked like a soiled bed sheet. Maybe they had made off with one of the tribe’s. Then the figure holding it appeared, slightly shielded by a pinyon pine. He raised his right hand high for silence and called out:

“Best two out of three?”

“My people and ours have already fought a match or too,” the chief answered. “But I will tell you what I will do. I will allow all your troops to leave, if you go straight West from here and don’t return for any reason to the town. We will be there, and leave the lights on to warn away any stray travelers.”

As it turned out, there were no yachts on the lake to pilot. Or longships, or dingies, or anything except for a couple little boats with outboard motors. Several of the tribe were able to fall back on remedial boat-making skills, a few went to go pillaging in the town, and a couple even started looking for logs to float. A huge soldier named Dennis started lifting giant boulders and heaving them into the water.

“What in God’s name are you doing?” asked the chief.

“I’ve heard that at least one kind of rock floats,” he said. “And so I guess I’ll test them all until I find it.”

Anton paddled the canoe that he and Kata were floating in such a way as to stay near the pack while keeping a little behind and off to the right side, as if to try to present the possibility, to anyone watching on the shore, that they were not actually part of the raiding party, that they were just sort of doing their own thing nearby.

As they approached the shore, the chief began brandishing his rifle wildly at the city before them. Then a sudden gale kicked up, ripping it out of his hand and sending it into the water. Without hesitating he ripped a twig off the log he was riding and brandished that in its place. Dennis plucked the rifle out with one hand as his pumice boulder floated by.

The wind soon blew up into a chinook off the Wasatch. “Cover your nose and mouth!” shouted the chief. He feared it might be a coversionary wind. He had seen whole armies during the war marching into battle, decimated in a matter of minutes by that cursed wind, suddenly ready to join the Mormon side and celebrate at the victory banquet with apple juice.

When they reached a dock, the chief ordered that all the vessels be tied up neatly. All except the huge pumice stone. That Dennis picked up and, seeing a nearby boathouse, hurled the rock at it, staving in half the roof.

“Well, when were we going to start acting like invaders?” he asked.

It was a very quiet summer evening. In the orchestra hall in the city an audience in jackets and evening wear were listening to the nightly performance of crickets. The night was dark and the shore was miles distant from the city. Though the tribe might well have the element of surprise, they could hardly fight while swallowed by the darkness, which hindered their movement as much as having their arms and legs all plunged in different alligators’ mouths. They would have to find a steady light to burn it off and allow them fight themselves free again.

As they approached the center of the city, smoke was rising out of holes in some buildings, and blasts had eaten away at many of them. The chief called a halt to the party and addressed them all.

“We know this battle well. So don’t disgrace yourself, no survivors, and we will all meet again a month ago.”

To Kata the warriors had come appeal through the chief’s perpetual reference of events to a certain code of conscience, so the command to leave no survivors seemed a harsh jolt. And that was it for inspiration? Except for the bit about going back, which just made no fucking sense.

“What do you mean by meeting a month ago?” she asked.

“Well, you will soon discover, but when we die as we are all like to do, we can all go back to the start of this ride. Heaven is way overbooked with holy warriors, as you might guess, since it was never built to very big dimensions. So none of the dead get to move on, they all just get booted back in time. But we have found it has made our kingdom on earth invincible. It’s a thousand miles wide and a month long, and within its boundaries we haven’t yet been defeated or overthrown. Or rather when we are, we start again from where we began.”

“So when you say no survivors, you mean yourselves?”

“Of course, not that this will be difficult to abide by.”

“There’s really no chance of prevailing?” asked Anton.

“We’ve come this road a number of times already, and never even come close against their numbers and weapons. So then all there is is to die.”

“Because I can say now that I’ve deputized by my government in Colorado to fulfill one piece of a greater plan, and we’ve been riding with you all this time in hopes of seeing it fulfilled. And now if this mission is doomed to fail, I don’t know what will become of the whole.”

“And what is this secret task you’ve been given?”

“To destroy this city.”

“And who was to help you accomplish this.”

“Oh, it’s just us two.”

“And what were the other prongs of this grand strategy.”

“Well, they were going to string along the negotiations to distract them until we got it done.”

As they approached the temple they saw what appeared to be a battle raging. But both sides were wearing the same uniforms.

“Wait a minute, this is where our final stand is supposed to take place,” the chief said.

“What is going on here?” he shouted as he entered the square. “This is our fight!”

Officers on both sides signaled to their men and everyone stopped. One of them detached himself from the enemy who he had in a headlock but whom he seemed to be having an exceptionally long time deciding to finish off. “We decided to preenact your battle,” he said.” The real thing– much too violent. The ground, though littered with bodies, was in fact spotlessly clean of blood.

“How did you know we would attack?” asked the chief.

“Do you see that restricted area over there?” The officer pointed to a large warehouse-looking building on the other side of the square with a heavy fence around it topped with barbed wire. On the gate leading in hung a sign on which was written in some kind of sans serif font: Caution: Spoiler Alert. “Someone accidentally got in there.”

“Why have you done this?It’s our right to lay our lives down in the service of eternity.”

” No, there’s been too much war already. There will be no violence in this square.”

“You can’t stymie us by occupying the square,” said the chief, drawing his long croupier blade. “You all will learn to fight for your lives, if you won’t take ours by choice.”

He rushed at the officer, who leaped back and took off running. “First you’ve got to catch us,” he called over his shoulder.

Then the chief went plunging into the crowd of soldiers hacking and slashing into a crowd of soldiers but they ran dodging and leaping and ducking and evading every whichaway. Finally, exhausted, standing into an emptied-out circle of men, he drew his bow and arrow. But then an officer called “Riot squad!” and sure enough a platoon in armor, helmets and shields pushed their way to the front of the circle surrounding him. He stood defeated, but then he noticed opposite the spoiler zone what looked to be a construction site. The crowd parted for him as he approached he saw a huge cement mixer inside. He broke the lock with his croupier blade, raced inside, raised himself over the edge of the trough and burrowed in. He wriggled out a minute later, covered in cement down to mid-shin. “I’ll have to commemorate myself the old-fashioned way,” he shouted, then staggered back towards the temple. He climbed the first two steps, tried to strike a heroic pose and then stuffed the handful of concrete he’d scooped out of the mixer into his mouth.

Downwards into the mountains

The baby was screaming right in Allan’s ear. He made a face. Its mother said to him:

“Don’t worry, she’s okay. She’s just a little hungry and tired.”

The alleged worrier was not worrying. He was even a little excited that his face could appear so much more compassionate than his heart at the moment. Maybe he had finally found his superpower. But let the story of the people on this subway car be a cautionary tale. Take the drunk with the dreadlocks, the unordained sandwich-board preacher roving up and down, and whatever that was scratching itself on the bench outside on the platform like a restless, ambulant staph infection. Shouting in the metro has a major downward career trajectory.

His girlfriend had told him to come disguised as an assailant. She told him if she recognized him or if he entered her apartment via the orthodox method she would bar his way. Of course it occurred to him that if he came in through the fire escape unrecognizably disguised as a home invader she would also probably try to repel him–her apartment wasn’t exactly located in a low-crime neighborhood. This would not have been his largest clothing mishap though. There was the first day he went to work at a law firm and found out that the suit he was wearing was in the colors of the rival firm they were feuding with. He thought that for a pack of beefing lawyers to claim navy blue as their color was a much too sweepingly ecumenical gesture. They could have at least gone for charcoal.

He hadn’t talked to his girlfriend in weeks. They had realized at some point that the only code that couldn’t be broken was silence, and the only real source of mystery was the void. He was sad not to see her nonetheless. It was a sincere emotion wearing slightly ridiculous clothes. He felt a a lack of spiritual resolution that probably came from spending too much of his life sitting on sofas and un-ergonomic chairs. He could have benefited from the heady rush of constant activity that comes from not accomplishing tasks quickly. People trying to catch fish with their hands, for example.

He thought she was seeing her therapist today. Perhaps that’s why she wanted to be taken roughly in hand by a felon later on. He really did not understand the continuing reallocation of wealth towards the psychiatric profession, but perhaps for a certain kind of person there wasn’t really anything better available, barring some major technological breakthrough in the mirror industry, their main competitor. Personally he preferred the spiritual ancestor of the psychiatrist’s office, the confessional booth. Both are founded on the knowledge that people are fucked up, but he liked that, unlike psychiatrists, confessors make people apologize for that fact.

Anyway, he was not going to visit his girlfriend. He was going to see a married woman named Christine who conveniently lived on the same stop, which allowed him to not be en route to cheating the instant he left the house. It can be a form of courtesy to seduce someone, to spare them the self-knowledge that they were out looking themselves. He and Christine had dueling outside relationships, but since hers was legally binding she beat him out for the privilege. But this whole realm of etiquette and ethics was abandoned by God. If only there were some charity right at hand that offered more of a guarantee of absolution than that leering bum holding the cup, who his bad conscience was probably going to just get drunk, or rather keep drunk.

When a pack of planes roared into view, strafing the church he was passing in front of, his intensity of movement increased greatly, while its conscious tactical direction more or less vanished. After diving into the alley next to it he looked back the way he came and saw bodies and webs of blood connecting them before everything disappeared in smoke. He dove into a doorway of the building across from the church and covered his head. The missile blast was pretty much straight on the front of the church, so only a few stones crashed into the alley.

When he finally emerged and rushed forth to save his womenfolk he realized, within his general cloud of fear, that he could not go to both of them at once. That did slacken his pace a bit. Obviously Christine’s husband was not home or he wouldn’t have been going to see her, but he could at least hope that the man would soon be back to look after her. As it turned out, and contrary to his previously stated beliefs, when the moment came Allan didn’t want the husband to be obliterated by air strike. He could try to give Christine a call, though he didn’t think the odds of the wireless network weathering military attack were good. On the other hand maybe they had finally found their hour to shine.

Somehow the network was still operating, and she did pick up and remained unharmed. She had talked to her husband, who would be arriving home shortly, and she agreed that Allan’s presence there would be highly strange when he did, circumstances notwithstanding. Apparently her husband was the first person she called. Maybe they do have a future together, thought Allan. Another call having verified the safety of his girlfriend, he was a little freer to look about him. Way down the avenue and across the river he could see smoke going up and little swarms like hornets trying to tear the whole city down.

So there would be more bodies. He had seen some along the way, the blood creeping out from beneath them like shame-faced transgressors. And that was the image that remained in his mind in the days and weeks that followed, as a strange silence continued to envelop the origins of the attack. No one could find anything out about it, as if the planes were a horde of Mongols descending on a forest village and all forms of communication with the outside world were merely divining rods held by sorcerers.

One morning a few weeks later he was watching an aerobic enthusiast jog down his road with the gait of a Greek god–the one working the forge, granted. It seemed to him a sign that normalcy with all of its questionable pursuits was returning. That was the day the infantry arrived. They came from the north but didn’t talk, so it was difficult to say where they were from. They were all almost inhumanly tall. The ground defense forces that had been hurried out to stop them when word of their arrival hit had not been able to participate in more than a mostly bloodless checkmate. The advancing soldiers were not particularly rapacious, though. In fact they seemed strangely uninterested in sinking malevolent fangs into a defenseless populace.

When he next visited his girlfriend she was all for mounting a heroic resistance, but she was confused. “These soldiers don’t plunder or pillage, they’re obviously not a bunch of out-of-control sadists, I really don’t see what motivates them,” she said.

“Well, they’re all eight feet tall and interfere with radio signals when they pass in front of buildings. They might be robots,” said Allan.

“You know, you might be right. I guess maybe this was to be expected at some point. Things have sort of been heading this way ever since soldiers started caring about how they make their beds. What are we going to do? Surely it won’t take much to achieve superiority over them in the field of personal charisma. If you weren’t so fixated on the general shiftlessness of existence you might make yourself a decent flagpole for the cause.”

He agreed and went outside right away to begin making plans. For him 90% of the work of organizing a revolution was a matter of hammering out details with Christine. After that the seed should more or less be planted. In the following days he did actually try to procure a large number of guns, but the back-alley merchant who promised to get a crate of them produced instead a crate of light bulbs. Not having received his guns, Allan was not in a position to do anything about this, so he went back to see if his girlfriend had any money.

He himself had nothing. Part of the reason for his difficulty getting a hold of guns was that they were proliferating all over the city, to the point where guns were becoming both the currency and the object of trade. It was becoming an all gun-based economy. If you wanted guns you needed guns to pay for them. Guns were being exchanged for guns, or, if the transaction went south, bullets were being exchanged for bullets. The city streets were in a constant state of war-mongering.

One day the supply of milk into the city ended. Allan shed a lot of tears that day. He went to his girlfriend seething with insurrectionist fervor. He found her with the phone he’d left a couple of days ago where she’d be sure to find it.

“I see what this is. You think I’m always away like some absent phantom of parental indifference. I’m not there for you enough so you seek outside sources. I must say I never thought I’d have to battle someone named Christine for anything.” She was thinking: this ought to baffle him enough about his own motives. With any luck he’ll start mistrusting his own subconscious and think he really did leave it here on purpose.

This moment kind of made Allan like her more, since she had disappointed his hopes of cutting free. This was what he dreamed relationships would be: a bunch of dreams that ran into each other, jumbled and piled up in big stacks forming all together the shape of a city. He felt they would have to leave the city, though. Head west to the mountains and form a resistance there. He did not see how he would choose between his women. Leave one and leave with one, there was no way around that. Unless he were to get married, that might smooth things over so they could all leave in one company…

                                           *     *     *

The peaks that Allan could see were fully framed by the window, as if they had been delivered in handheld portions.

The exam time was finished. He took a key and unlocked his desk, where next to a rather sizable loaded black pistol he kept a whistle. He took out the whistle and blew it. The exam papers snaked up from desk to desk to the front of the room, then were shoved over the edge into the pit separating the students from his desk.

He’d come to the school originally with some belief in its basic function, being for teachers to come and disburden themselves on younger bodies of all the useless knowledge and insane prejudices they’d been saddled with from childhood on. But the job brought on fresh piles that had to be evacuated on a daily basis. The end of this first term was time for a major re-evaluation. If he wasn’t careful he might be done with all of this soon. Whereas it had been his intent to get stuck on some snag in life for as long as possible to avoid being swept away.

Suddenly the loudspeaker started shrieking down on the hordes in corridors and classrooms. Its voice amplification was more heat than light:

“Hi Araunt, I was just wondering what you were doing later today. Get in touch. Love you.”

It was often a little hard to tell when one of these personal intercom messages was directed at you, although he didn’t know of any other Araunts at the school. Of course he was not one himself, but he felt it was a message coming through several layers of indirection to him from out there. Or maybe he heard the message from the crackling speaker wrong and it was his name. So, as he saw coming the other way a strange-looking teacher of lying and posture whom he recognized and who didn’t seem to have ever entirely learned how to walk correctly, he threw a couple of punches at the man’s face. He didn’t really know how to communicate back to a spirit talking through a voice on an intercom. This was just a guess.

The teacher of lying and posture was confused as well, as he frequently was. He wasn’t sure whether his job was actually to teach deceit or a recumbent position, and this state of ambiguity had begun to wear on his mind. So after being punched in the face he wasn’t sure whether one falls to the ground or begins telling some ridiculous falsehood. He too hazarded a guess and began describing the canonization of his mother, who apparently performed a miracle by being made a saint.

The teacher of lying and posture was trying to apologize to him for having played a part in an act of violence. Allan just walked away. His attempted communication had been unsuccessful. Well, there would be other chances. A girl had also told him she loved him just last week, and he believed that was a message from the beyond as well. It had happened right in the middle of their performance of a play when, right in the middle of a particularly heavy scene, his co-star had burst out to him with those words: “I love you.” As she was expected to do, since it was written into the script.

When he got outside he came upon a fellow teacher in the department of theoretical attractiveness. His name might be Steven, although Allan doubted it. Probably-not-Steven was gainfully employed at the school, but he was one of the teachers who had never really fully committed to going inside. He felt that inside you were continually being subjected to the unexpected. Out in the open you couldn’t be set upon unawares. Allan remembered him as a sort of potatoey mass that would occasionally thrust forth a memorable eyebrow or suit-and-tie color combination, but that might just be the way his memory worked.

“Everyone worships God due to His being continually absent. I have a job at this school despite never having done it or been paid for it, which isn’t quite as good, but on the other hand, I have no malicious band of perverts spreading my name across the earth.”

“Did you know I was a highly legislative infant? And very symmetrical as well. I once lived inside a woman’s vagina. All forms of societal organization since have been failures.”

This was not a conversation. Probably-not-Steven was talking on a phone, and Allan was muttering in his own ear. Probably-not-Steven pranced tragically away.

“Heaven gets described with the most brightly colored profanities these days. That’s what comes of leaving the gates open too long. A torrent of unspeakables came tumbling to earth and mixed up with mud. At the end of days people aren’t getting swept up into the sky, but their language will be, their words will be taken away from them. The Word was the origin of everything, and all its shattered fragments will be gathered up together once again, and the mute creatures left behind, lacking that which used to make their seethings and rumblings seem almost reasonable, will hack and pound.”

Allan often forgot what he was doing, and found himself performing other people’s actions and his words being uttered by someone else. Emerging from his meditation, he now found himself on the open highway, bearing down upon a crossroads at sunset, where a huge shadowy form waited, like a storm cloud connected to the earth with stable jointed lightning bolts. These were made of what looked like human arms and legs stitched or fused together, and above them a huge face with each of its two eyes made of a woman’s face.

“You have stolen from my eyes,” it said to him in a voice like a rotting valley of sugarcane. “They speak with their sight and see with their smell. They see too much.”

“You’re very much mistaken if you think my goal is to escape from your sight,” he said. “Don’t you know this road was only built to provide work for rebellious peasants? It doesn’t go anywhere. I didn’t come along it to get to its end.” His voice barely held.

“But that you’re here, then, says something about how you feel about the company you keep. Or how they feel about you. You meant to go unseen by anyone out here, except perhaps the eyes of the Lord. You can’t improve the beauty of a face by carving off the less beautiful elements and leaving the rest behind. You must appreciate things in their totality. It’s a great privilege for wind to blow or snow to dump on you when in the presence of the right companion.”

He was beginning to suspect that it was speaking a different language, concealed in the same words and syntax as his own.

“Have I no claim on you?” said the monster. “Shall I tell you a thing that binds us tight? I know you entirely. I know you’re surprised every time you get paid for doing work. I know you believe yourself to be the center of a universe that doesn’t exist. In the days when hordes of pirates would sweep down and ravage cities to the ground armed with an arsenal of chair legs and sacks of russet potatoes, you followed a pillaging life. That was your only real qualification for becoming a teacher. I believe I had some very different points to make, but my words have shifted around inside me.”

Doubtless wishing to convey a less ambiguous judgment, the monster began waving a claw, which was formed of several clenched right hands holding knives, and what looked like a rabbit’s foot, in Allan’s direction. But since at least three of the hands had dropped their knives and begun making obscene hand gestures, this message was not entirely understood.

Allan seized one of the knives and brandished it at arm’s length. He saw this as a gesture of reconciliation though. He would make a few more stabbing passes at handing the knife back, and if the paw still hadn’t stopped moving he would just have to bury the blade in the creature’s abdomen in order to return it. And yet it had begun to flicker in and out of sight.

“I know you see in me those that you know well,” said the monster, “but you can’t know who it is as a whole that you’re striking.”

Having slowly and stealthily angled himself throughout the course of this back-and-forth within reach of the gold ring on the beautiful female hand that he indeed knew very, very well on one of the other front paws of the creature, he seized hold of it, cut off the ring with the finger it was on and rushed from the crossroads. The whole sky had gone almost dark.

When Allan returned to town, he couldn’t understand why on the sidewalks everyone seemed to be speaking using the bottoms of their feet, or why the air was mewing like a cat. He felt the finger with the ring still on it in his pocket. The monster was wrong: it was less mutilated now than in its previous state, though considerably more so than when he first put the ring on it so long ago.

Ghosts are always unseemly. Not being somewhere after one has left it seems like a natural decorum of life, but maybe they never learned it. It can be hard sometimes looking back after having passed through love, he thought, to tell if one woman, let alone two, was friend or foe. And he had feared having to choose between them, to leave one behind. But still, to see the two made one, to see them become… It was as if they had not been lost but rather unmade, and his love consequently had lost not its objects but its backbone. The miseries of the elect, he thought. Only in hell, not in heaven, can one’s spiritual merit continually increase…

A pillage and a fair

There has been a progressive depopulating of the cosmos since our original hatchet-holding maniac ancestors wandered out of Africa looking for species to drive to extinction. Back then, everything was alive with spirits of the wild. Then there was the pantheon of gods, then just the one God, now not even that, at least in the big, developed, homosexual-tolerating cities of the world. And where once the populated Earth and the swarming heavens constituted the universe, now it’s just one mysteriously populated drop in a big black wasteland. And where existence used to be immortal for the soul, now it’s only a fleeting moment of life, a rather large percentage of which is wasted thinking up usernames. And not even the human body and spirit is granted uniform aliveness any more. Now it appears to be virtually all mineral solutes washing around in water, perhaps imbued with animation in some way between the action of a salt shaker and a particle accelerator.

Whenever she accompanied someone to a closed space and left them there she always felt like she was entombing them, laying them to rest in a place from there was no surety they would come out again. And so she consorted widely with hobos and pitched her blanket frequently amongst heathens. She didn’t give up her home only because it’s hard to seduce an industrialist and dispossess him of his lucre from a pup-tent. Then too whenever a mysterious and motiveless crime arises from the depths, the person passing windy nights out on the heath is never not a suspect.

She had had her living quarters redesigned so that the hallways were too narrow for two people to pass each other. If one person saw another coming the other way one of them would have walk out in front of the other the long around to wherever they were going. She had taken up permanent residence in the realms of theory, strategy and premeditation. She wanted only to talk to people she had advanced upon by design, not that she chanced upon in passing. In reality this made her every interaction with guests in the hallway longer and more battle-like. This might appear tactical failure. But as she saw it, the material part that she could control conformed beautifully to her will. The human element that she had no control over did as it pleased and perpetrated its debilitating anarchy upon the world.

Her netted factory owner, William, had told her one day that all her furniture was disheveled and uncouth-looking, so she made sure to hang some neckties from the dusty sofas and tables before the next time he came by. He came bearing mostly excuses, also a pendant (come by who knows how) and the grotesque visages of some flowers that he’d had freshly murdered for her benefit. He was evidently operating under the false impression that an excuse accepted is an excuse successfully employed, instead of the acceptance being, as is frequently the case, a concession to fatigue or dying interest, which would not have its last embers of vitality consumed in beating a true confession out of the deceiver through blows with a spatula about the head and shoulders.

Not that she was really concerned that he was cheating on her. Which didn’t mean that she believed he wasn’t. But she didn’t concern herself much with the politics and intrigue of people’s bilateral arrangements. Plus, she believed that everyone in the world that she didn’t like was secretly related. If he was fooling around with someone else, she wouldn’t like either one of them, which would mean they were kin, and it would take a very particular kind of weirdo to want to commit not just an affair but an incestuous affair. And if what she couldn’t provide him was what a sister or a cousin could, who cared about the whole mess?

She didn’t trust the air particles between too people to all vibrate properly and carry her words unchanged across a distance of more than three feet, so she mostly only consented to talk to people by whispering in their ears. Of course whispers are very much liable to be misheard, and the gesture of making them to be misinterpreted, and this had led to quite a few unexpected dalliances. Still, she was not abandoning this strategy either. Unlooked-for love was better than unintended feuding, which was the kind of misunderstanding that seemed to happen more often when people faced each other at a distance.

She didn’t want to say that she was running a scam on William. She didn’t like to think of her wholesale desire for him in that way. But it wasn’t what they had arranged or what he probably imagined. It was like dragging a deer fawn into the bull-fighting ring. And the further down the path of loyalty he didn’t go, the more dissolute and vacillating he proved himself, the more he didn’t deserve at all and at the same time totally deserved to be burned to death by her fire.

Maybe she would go back to writing sometime. She had stopped because she felt like a dupe having to provide the same product at the same price to everyone. She should be able to sell a higher quality of writing and better endings for the right price. If someone had the money, there was no end to the number of miracles she was prepared to wreak: reviving dead characters, bringing home lost orphans, opening up a seismic rift underneath a fictional sweatshop. Wreak a miracle. She liked the sound of that. In the past the Lord hath wrought, but in the present only seems to perform miracles. She had one or two she would like to wreak on the world.

She walked out of her home onto the street and began a walk of purposely deceptive direction. She saw a pack of hounds malingering in the shade. She didn’t trust the intentions of dogs because they seemed to have a hereditary dislike for persecuted minorities, prisoners and political demonstrators of every stripe. At least she assumed that was why police were always using the former to threaten the latter. Nobody ever seemed to round them up in this city. In the absence of agile demonstrators they often turned their attentions to savaging grocery shoppers, mailmen and the elderly.

She continued down the murkily sunny street. A sign warned “Keep Right,” so she crossed over to the left side where the right side fell away into a neatly bordered chasm. The street outside her house only went two directions unfortunately. So it was difficult to make a really unconventional feint. Sometimes it was a matter of passing and re-passing in front of her house many times, not letting it be guessed which time she would make a break for it. Today, on her 9.4th circuit she dived down an alley and ran to the next avenue. She turned right, brushed her way through a row of cat carcasses strung on a line hung across the sidewalk, and veered into an office lobby. Just as she entered a man in front of her holding his cup to a coffee dispenser got shot in his open left eye by a well-aimed high-pressure stream of coffee.

She made a move towards him but he ran out the door and onto the street, where an approaching car careened left to avoid him and hit an oncoming truck. The man ran off down the street, and a couple of minutes later some police arrived, along with a road crew, who set up a road block around the accident and a sign with a digital display that read: “Public Front and Side Impact Crash Testing in Progress. Please Seek Alternate Route.” She had not heard the sound of any approaching ambulances by the time she left the scene.

At that moment she was very irritated to see the person she had been going to talk to standing on the sidewalk in front of her. This person had his face averted so that she could not see it, and was wearing a full-length black coat that she had ever seen before. As he turned slightly, his coat swung open slightly to reveal a red skirt and heels. He was talking into his phone with a soft and high voice and shaking his head full of long blond hair. This was the exterminator that she had hired to get rid of the rodents and insects in her house, but his employment became problematic when she tried to hire him to take care of the neighbors’ dogs that pooped in her garden. With the ferocious canine army currently prosecuting its war against the flow of commerce and communication on the city streets, she again had a use for his services. She walked up to him and addressed him in this manner:

“Excuse me sir.”

No response.

She tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me sir.”

A smooth and lipsticked face with a confused expression on it turned to face her.

“Who are you talking to?”

“You.”

“Yeah, I got that. Why? You’re not supposed to talk to me in public at all. Our association is supposed to be covert.”

“It’s ok, I’ve disguised you as a man.”

“No you haven’t.”

“I addressed you as a man, didn’t I? And as a stranger. I even gave you a disguise persona in my thoughts to make the ruse complete.”

“Why did you give me a persona if you’re going to address me as a stranger?”

“You should never stick to just one story. If you do, they’ll know who you are, even if they don’t know who you are.”

“Do you know why I came to stand here to wait for you to come see me? I need to confide. I know a secret that I have to unburden myself of.”

“I don’t want a secret. I’m not an avaricious person.”

“I don’t care. Listen…” And thus began to tell her the secret.

                                          *    *     *

As she walked away from the exterminator she reflected that he had probably intended not to make her his trusted confidante but simply to off-load a dangerous burden onto her. It was the kind of deceit that could create a family. Fortunately she had turned around and left the instant he had said “listen…”, and thus saved herself from hearing whatever dangerous nonsense he had in store for her. They might still come after her though, if they knew that she had met with the exterminator and that he had told a secret, for they might not catch the nuance that he didn’t tell it to her.

The way in front of her was blocked by hordes of depraved personages, like breakfast cereal except more sinister and not food. She would have to hurry in order to make it in time to see her daughters. Finally, as she strolled into view of the café she saw them outside it, barking at a pack of hounds that been locked in. Evidently she was not late enough. Actually she was sort of touched though. Disharmony too is a form of togetherness, and doing something together is doing something together.

They did not have but a moment on the street before a group of the abusive instigators in the recycling trade lurked into view. These were the gangs that put people’s things to a secondary use by making off with them. It was hard to challenge them when the law stated that the greatest value to society came from putting goods to the use of the greatest number of people. Or at least that is what they said the law said, and nobody had really gained the necessary tactical superiority to challenge this. And they even honored the spirit of reciprocity implicit in this legal principle by leaving their garbage behind when they left. They wore uniforms, though no one really knew where they came from. Not that that stopped anyone from claiming to know, but the order of that knowledge was what one might perhaps call bardic.

She was not going to stand for this today, when she finally had a chance to see her daughters. She took the two of them by the hand, drew herself up to her full height and faced the approaching mob with a serene expression, then turned her back on it, and ran off down the street, dragging both of them along with her. Dodging, hiding and seeking shelter, a spirit of wild rationality seemed to roam the streets in their bodies. Though she didn’t believe that those thieves would have meddled with her. They never had in the past, and they had been well warned to stay away from her kind. They didn’t have any reason, actually, to be pursuing her and her girls, and they probably wouldn’t have if she hadn’t fled, but if they continued long enough they would probably come up with one.

She sought comfort in the hands of the Lord at times like this. Not to save her from danger, but to assure her that she was not merely engaged in some debased scramble for survival. The girls on each arm were like anchors that let her fly up into a greater realm beyond herself, until she remembered that it was she that had gotten them into this situation. But it is strange, she thought, that people see someone running along and they think a desire is being revealed or enacted. But she had sacrificed all that. She might not want to put her daughters in harm’s way like this, but she was a mother and she couldn’t put her own wants first anymore. Their desire might be the same as hers, but thinking that would be totally going the wrong way. Obviously by this point she had stopped running.

As they took a side street, emerged onto an avenue and tried to blend in with the crowd, she hesitated to say anything to the girls. She had heard that there were agents that spoke the same language as the citizens, so that they could actually listen in on what people said to each other. Well, there was nothing for it. Gesture language could be read from even farther away.

“Well girls, shall we take a trip somewhere?”

“Where could we go? Let’s just get away from those bandits,” said the older one, who she also believed to be the shorter one.

“I don’t mean to actually get somewhere, the important thing is not to cease being on the way somewhere. The best hole to hide in is a busy public street.”

Well, maybe not. But if they were somewhere they might not necessarily choose to pass the time with her. As long as they were nowhere she had a chance.

“Can’t we just go home?” the younger one, who when she was born she had called Seraphine (though she hadn’t planned on calling her it again), asked her.

“What? No. I moved out of there, and I’m not moving back. You have so many rules that you would order me to force you to abide by.”

“Come on, you could cut me some slack.” She had exhausted her daughter’s rebelliousness to the point of death in trying to get out in front of her intentions and stand against them.

If there was not such a horde of her it might be easier for the girl. Of course if there were not so many of her, her pursuers might have caught up to her a long time ago. Did they understand that she had never run away from anyone that was following her? She had only run away when she was alone. Avoid someone and they’ll know who you are: the one that’s not there, that evades them. But run towards them and crowd around them like a heathen throng and they won’t know who they’re after.

Aqueosity

I should never have gone to college down South.

I had never really thought there might be a reason Florida looked like a melting drop hanging off the end of the continental shelf, or that the perpetual mismanagement of the sun states might be a sign of one big liquification of boundaries and borders. My first day of class was the first time at that latitude I had had to sit in one place, not allowed to move and with the sun beating down on me. Within 20 minutes I could feel myself softening and wettening. My posture, as it sunk into a slouch and then a terminal slide, got the opposite of sympathy from the professor.

What a strange and exciting and shameful feeling it was, first a hot rush and a tingling sense of giving way and buckling under, and then all there was was a thick pool of me cooling on the floor. Somehow I could see myself from on high, but I don’t know if it was because I was dreaming, because my soul was departing its now un-container-like body or because I was starting to evaporate.

There are those that would call any prolonged stay atop the earth that could purport to the name existence a blessing. But I come from way north of the Bible Belt, where we don’t need a horde of preachers on hand to justify the ways of the Lord when people start melting through no fault of their own.

I was stunned, half in denial and fearful of what would happen next. I trembled slightly, although I’m pretty sure that would have happened regardless. Any feeble attempts I made to, in my suddenly antiquated mental vocabulary, grapple with the new and form a plan were pulverized every half-minute or so by the repeating realization that none of my dreams for my life were flexible enough to accommodate a non-solid-state existence.

Since about the only commiseration I got from anyone after that was a janitor that eventually came by and swept me into a holding container with a floor mop, I had to drop the tragic turn of thought that asks for sympathy pretty quickly or lose my mind. When I would do that around other people it often made me feel better, but now that it could only echo around my own mind it made me feel a lot worse.

Most people were more or less bound to see such a change as the plight of some diseased unfortunate, since their basic assumption is that the highest state of existence is their own human kind, and that it is a major misfortune at best or failure at worst to be in any way bumped away from that. It never occurred to most of them that I wouldn’t prefer to trickle on as a mangled apparition of human life rather than becoming a new form. But really, making a new kind of liquid existence with no model to follow would be a higher accomplishment than anyone else of woman born had ever had the opportunity for, even if that existence would necessarily collect at the lowest depression of any given surface.

Gradually I got tired of those waxy bipeds whose bodies were so haughtily discrete. Their religious beliefs were only good if you were one of them, with the occasional exception in favor of cow or cat, and then there were their perpetual laudations of their own horniness…

I learned a long time ago from the observation of house pets that you don’t need to talk to win someone’s affection; all you can usually accomplish is to lose it. So I didn’t necessarily regret the loss of a mouth that much, especially when I had gained the ability to refract light in a friendly manner.

Nobody warned me though that the air was going to start liquifying too.

Over the course of several days the air smoked more and more, turning into a thick, impenetrable gray steam like some eau de commnunism sprayed all over the color spectrum. The atmosphere, nearing some sort of terminal point for non-marine life, was not the ideal consummation of an existence that had been reduced to a few slowly evaporating liters in a glass bowl that it might seem to be. I was liquid but I wasn’t water, and even if I was, if I merged with the-sea-that-used-to-be-the-air, I wouldn’t be a body, but merely a density of several units per thousand dissolved in a gigantic ocean.

On the other hand, this creeping mist might as well have thoroughly impregnated me with gold. It had suddenly laden my existence with value in every particular. A body that I had deemed worthless had gained inestimable worth from its imminent termination.

The disquieting turn the world had taken was not bravely disregarded or even viewed as substantially less catastrophic by the people that got to keep their human form. As they paced the earth with difficult breaths and bulging eyes, I suddenly changed in their eyes from a degraded remnant to an uneasy harbinger. They weren’t yet at the point of making any attempts on me with sorcery or sacrificial palliation, because they weren’t born into a religion that cared to vest its superstitions in anything directly apprehensible. Conversions do sometimes happen, though, with the speed of a T-boning on the freeway.

Maybe they would have been dissuaded from their pending millenarian apostasy if I could have told them that I wasn’t the first one in my family to suffer from this. The sun doesn’t shine equally bright on all corners and edges of any family’s destiny, so I didn’t have access to this information as fair warning in advance. I only reconstructed the situation retroactively from the little bit I knew before but didn’t understand about a couple of people in our family weirdly evaporating completely out of our world. And I grasped the purpose of some aspects of my family’s seemingly arbitrary puritanism, such as their massive geographic intransigence. That in particular had enraged me so much before that I didn’t even give them a chance to talk me out of going to the college that I chose: my departure happened with all the tears and ceremony of a pet escaping the yard.

I didn’t really know what other people were doing to deal with the imminent liquefaction of their universe. I do know that there was a lot of distribution of scuba gear and preparation of giant submersibles from the suddenly-relevant-again naval warfare department. Military build-up being the near-infallible sign that the danger for which it is being amassed is over, they definitely were not ready when the air stopped thickening while still within the realm of breathability and everything on the ground started turning blue and white. I wish I had thought to measure the intervals between when these changes started and between when they started and stopped, but I didn’t even have the instinct to look for patterns. With no useful training of any sort, be it martial, scientific, medical, technical or even tantric, even had I remained solid, functionally my state would still more or less have been advanced puddle. In retrospect I realize that choosing to be an English major was a declaration of belief that fundamentally nothing would ever happen in the world that I would need to be a part of.

It was around that time that I convinced myself that immortality was virtually guaranteed for me. Since I was still conscious without heart or brain, I didn’t feel that much would really be required to keep my uneasy confederation of molecules self-aware. If I evaporated and they became separated things might get a little fuzzy and I might get the feeling of novocaine brain, but their connections seemed to be working more like cell phones calling each other than like the gears of a watch. Granted if I was dispersed across three clouds I would lose the capacity for cohesive movement, but it’s not like I’d be giving up Sunday morning bocce ball anyway. It seemed more like I was the only one on the planet no longer forced to put all his eggs in one basket.

Then I spent a few hours just thinking about raining on people. I was going to set upon the pinnacles and outposts of human habitation like a race of bullets. I was going to turn the water cycle into aerial warfare. I was going to become a fifth column in their drinking water, a god of war in the digestive tract. I don’t know how serious I was, but I can say that whenever I used to hear about a school shooting I would think that with respect to that there was not just one but two extremes I couldn’t understand: those that actually open fire on their school and those that have never imagined doing so.

And yet to this point, far from escaping from the horde of juvenile reprobates that I spent my childhood surrounded by, I had been left to slosh around indefinitely in uneasy proximity to the barely more rarified crew that managed to grasp pencil in fist and spell their names adequately on the application form to a state university. At least until such time as I was able to complete my escape, molecule by molecule, up through the ventilation system.

As my evaporation continued I didn’t feel any sort of cosmic expansion or even diffusion of my consciousness. So at a certain point I started to call these molecular escapees my children. I had no evidence that they possessed any sort of independent mental apparatus any more than does a rainstorm, but I wasn’t really any longer in a position to follow the royal highway of observational dogmas laid out in my high school biology textbook. My own body had all the visible dynamism of a body of water that old people would throw bread crumbs into and then fall asleep on a park bench in front of. So while I know that, for the loud-mouth atheists, being soon to be deceased is not an acceptable reason for allowing somebody his illusions, even they would have to admit that what I did was not the same kind of thing as giving names to your stuffed animals.

I was a different sort from the common run of humanity. Not just in that I didn’t go around stomping on dandelions and gnawing desiccated cattle hind parts like the other human specimens any more, but also in that I didn’t even obey the laws of physics evidently. Despite evaporating I wasn’t diminishing. In fact I seemed to be growing heavier and bigger. It seemed like the evaporation had eased the strain for a while, but now I felt almost a pain from bulging up against the sides of my container. I had filled every ounce of it and was now desperately in need of some kind of release. My destiny was now manifest, considerably more so than the meandering uncertainties that sometimes pass for such. I could almost feel myself draining down the bowl and away. But I had finally gained enough lucidity to realize I was going to have to get up and go to it first.

Buffaloed

She had always felt a little disappointed by her surroundings, so she gave them a few extra hours every morning before waking up to catch up to what she had always envisioned. And she was ready to keep sleeping in for as long as it took for a better world to be created. It wasn’t fitting to be up before dawn. That seemed like walking into a room before the person announcing your arrival.

Choosing something to put on was not easy. She couldn’t understand wearing clothes that revealed to anybody at all your likes and preferences, any more than being revealed by saying things that you believe to be true. Better than that to be seen making the obviously insincere gesture of wearing something unmistakably ugly, though even that could reveal too much. The unspeakable, the incomprehensible, would be good.

There was no use looking ahead to what might happen in the course of a day. She had often thought she might have to beat a psychic just to test their powers. Of course she would actually have to follow through with it, or a lack of fear in their eyes beforehand would prove nothing. Anyway, people wouldn’t have to try so hard to divine the future if they didn’t allow themselves to be surprised by the past.

Her apartment was at the top of a very tall building, high enough that walking up from it seemed like a faster way of getting to ground level. The apartment was in serious danger of losing the last of the heroin junkies and beaten prostitutes that flopped around on the pavement outside, and if that happened there would be no denying that the neighborhood had gone to hell. The city was decaying amongst the creeping rot of upscale art dealers and actual children.

Her job was difficult too. The previous day she’d made a man, for serial infidelity, forfeit having ever been married to his wife. She’d given him 30 days to dispose of his photo albums. On the other hand, her job did keep her away from the man who was sleeping with her on a capriciously erratic basis, who worked for a manufacturer of the pheromones that airlines release on their planes before take-off to make their passengers horny and distracted during the flight.

She needed portents and auguries. She was ready to poke around in the entrails of animals for a sign in lieu of the instincts which had repeatedly proven their inadequacy. With every marriage names accumulated on top of other names, as if names in general were becoming progressively less able to capture the mysteries of her existence. Some of the names that had piled up at the end of her own she hadn’t really had time to learn how to spell.

She believed that the ground under her feet was basically tolerant of all the things people do on it, be they aberrant, misguided, or even jumping up and down repeatedly. Not that she felt a great need for the earth’s forgiveness in any case, as she had never pursued the shrouded chaos of the life of a malefactor. However, her memories of her classes in college were mostly of professors whose lectures consisted of what could perhaps be best described as homages to other people’s ideas. But she didn’t feel cheated by this, since the papers she wrote for them were likewise homages to other people’s papers.

She saw a dog prowling alongside of a strange-looking woman. Animals are a great help to society, she thought. With them people can learn to be nice even before acquiring subtlety or nuance. Then several rounds of dance music artillery went off from her phone. The display said “David.”

“Hello?”

“Buenas noches.”

“What? It’s morning.”

“Yes, a fitting time to prophesize a good night.”

“Do you have any news for me?”

“I have to wait for it to happen first, then I can report it. That’s the order things are supposed to go in. I’ve finally memorized it.”

“Well, what do you know for sure?”

“Joanna got out yesterday. Wait, no, she definitely will be released soon. Or maybe it’s just that I want her to be released. It’s still hard to keep them all straight.”

“Uh huh. Well, presuming these many theories discredit each other, let’s go watch some music tonight.”

Where could you go in the city? Places get used up. The earth here hadn’t been scratched bare by hoes and the weirdly pink soles of people’s feet like in the starving lands across the sea, but the weathered building facades and the flat landscape they were planted on had been worn by too much thinking, agonizing and obsessing. Even the city’s name felt rubbed down by too many tongues.

“I don’t know…I just…mm…”

“What’s going on?

“…I feel like my body is going to explode with flowers. Everything around me is like a sound not a sight. Why is my furniture all bulging outwards?”

“I understand you. I think it means that we should spend some time together.”

“Eeeyyyeah, I’ll call you a little later. I really need to go to the bathroom right now. My phone gets bad reception over bodies of water.”

Ugh, she could barely think about writing this one up. Just the thought was a little breeze of nausea rustling her mind. The last time she had had to write a status report about her and a man there had been tears on her graphs and charts. This was already proving more humbling. It didn’t seem right that a man could just camp out in the borderlands of ambiguity indefinitely, shrugging and napping with all his other half-alive friends, when she was expected by her superiors to show she was gaining a steady increase in affection and financial support. Why even aim for growth under these conditions? Why not just confiscate the pasts of some more adulterers and call it a life?

She finally reached the building where she worked, which looked like an open-pit mine walled with glass windows. Some of them were cut so as to form the staircases leading down into the building, so having a window office generally meant facing a near-constant clattering and shaking all around. The reigning philosophy there being that everything in life is a trade-off, this suited management fine. And in addition they cared about their employees: they weren’t going to move the stairs by removing the windows and letting their employees get snowed and rained on. The result was that a lot of people gazed towards the sun through footmarks.

Nobody was allowed to leave the building by going back up the stairs and out. The only exit was by a back door down at the bottom. Nobody could stay past their shift either. There was hardly any room in the whole building for extra people, and since the night and day shifts used the same offices, if one group stayed long the place would get jammed up almost immediately. She wasn’t really sure why it needed to be staffed 24 hours a day, since the average course of romantic conquest and dissolution usually progressed at a rate barely sufficient to fill a lunch break’s worth of activity per day, but the directors had more than once expressed the view that society’s preparedness to deal with misdeeds was inversely proportional to the number of misdeeds they would actually be called upon to rectify, so as the need for this department’s services dwindled they would continue to expand at an ever-quickening rate. She suspected the presence of unpaid interlopers, there for the prospect of rifling and pillaging. The department would be happy to save on salaries, and would probably even respect an outsider’s greater impartiality more. And she believed this secretary was one of them, a scavenger picking around at the edges of the campfire.

“Hi, back at it today?”

“Yeah, guess so.”

“Why didn’t you come in later?”

“Why wouldn’t I? This is when we’re supposed to.”

“But missing several days because you couldn’t take it anymore, and then back in today right on time? Makes it seem like you had problems with your health, not your attitude.”

“Do I look weak or incapable? I’m fine, this place sucks, that’s all.”

“So why did you change your mind all of a sudden?”

“Some things need to be put off and avoided more than coming here. That’s when most work gets done. And since you have no evidence that I’ve been sick, you’re just taking an interest in my life.”

“You accusing me now? Unbelievable. Just leave.”

The secretary had nonetheless, as he did whenever they spoke, earned her sincere gratitude, because every time without exception that they spoke, this being one of the most precious uninterrupted streaks in her life, at some point after he started speaking he stopped speaking. She sloshed away through the rainwater that was above ankle height in the entry hall. Since this was the top floor there was no need for stairs going up from here, so the whole side facing the pit was open.

She didn’t speak or make eye contact with anyone on the way down the glass stairs outside, through the door set to one side of it and then someone else’s office to her own desk. With a whiff of physical unfitness still upon her, she wasn’t going to even bend that rule, especially near the secretary, even if she had just accused him of the very same thing. The department was against all work relationships that weren’t perfunctory and official. If your business is studying germs, you don’t want microbes polluting your sterile lab devoted to their analysis. So reasoned the edicts. Whatever. It wasn’t their rules that discouraged that so much as their hiring practices anyway.

Today, unlike most days, the sky was black and the stars were shining. Yet the clocks showed morning. Maybe it was some weather system. This could create confusion about the shifts. She imagined the hallways becoming oily with employees. And she couldn’t totally argue that she was more correct to be there than the night shift. There was probably too much pressure in the air. She felt caught and held. She couldn’t shake the feeling that all her claims and complaints of romantic mistreatment, when they had had all their leaves pulled off, revealed the kind of possessive statement that any good preacher would happily flail from the podium five days a week and then come in on weekends to flail some more for free. At least when someone dies you can put on black and be sad with everyone else. There was often a sort of subterfuge at funerals: nominally you’re sympathizing for someone that they lost their life, but in reality you’re mostly upset for yourself that they’re gone from your life. Being thrown aside by some man felt the same, but it was a death that was not even generally recognized as such. It was like being assailed and then finding out that it’s not a crime.

In order to provide a little diversion, the department had put a number of musical instruments in her office. However, since some employees couldn’t concentrate on their work with music playing, the instruments were locked up in glass cases. The directives concerning this, and every other order and communiqué, were required to be relayed to her in person by her immediate superior without attribution. This meant that her superior, like all the other middle managers there, basically only had time to deliver messages back and forth all day, and was paid like a courier accordingly. She sat down to write an angry letter to David. The hard part would be to subtly misspell his name and otherwise misidentify him, and to show a general haziness regarding important dates, places and events from their time together. Eventually she got bored and wound up pulling out a draft of an old break-up letter to a previous boyfriend, crossing out the original names and dates but leaving them clearly legible. Well, at least he could be happy at having warranted paper rather than e-mail.

By the time she had returned from posting the letter, somewhere deep within her brain a tiny homunculus lawyer was already frantically drafting legal briefs in her defense. In the department’s eyes the end of a relationship was almost always a death for which two people were responsible. There was hardly any space for innocence between killing off a promising match and having held on to a worthless one for too long, thus blocking opportunities for something better. The fact that his wife was being released from the hospital at some nearby though indeterminate moment of the past, present or future after a stay of many months, or that his pheromone-making employers were about to be annexed by her department would be no mitigation at all in their eyes. Seeming to have allowed love not to be the prime mover of their destiny might even be considered an aggravating circumstance. And with the evidence of her past marriages still trailing along towards the edge of her business cards… To fight all this she did not even (and yet to her detriment would nonetheless probably be believed to) possess the sole resources left to outcast women through most of history: witchcraft and prophecy.

Befitting its importance, the department had its own direct mail service and heavy security. However, due to an inability to really afford these services, the mail was delivered by trained pigeons and as for security, instead of guards every hallway had a fully loaded rifle in an emergency glass case. She was now using one of the latter, which she had broken out of its glass case, to track the progress of one of the former, which she believed to be carrying her letter, as she ran along the path away from work under the breaking dawn to stop her letter from being delivered. With a lack of almost any artillery training she was much more likely to hit a passing aircraft by mistake than the pigeon, which would strike a much bigger blow against society than the one she was preparing to shoot a pigeon out of the sky in order to cover up. As she watched the bird dwindle away in the direction of its destination she decided that even if she were a deadeye she wasn’t going to go about killing messengers. And what kind of prisoners guard the walls of their own prison with rifle-fire anyway? She veered off an intersecting street that seemed to head towards somewhere less populated. She shouldered the rifle, then tucked it under her skirt with the strap around her neck and her bag held in front of it to try to hide it, and kept moving.

Walking towards nighttime

Here’s the little story I’ve been writing. It’s difficult, because the avant-garde demands something new, and most other people want something easily comprehensible. Probably I’ve done neither, so no one will be happy. Which is fine, but what drives me crazy is when people criticize a piece not because they don’t understand or like it, but because they can’t categorize it. You either like something or you don’t, you find it interesting or not, and all the rest is bullshit. Anyway, enjoy:

“I’ve never really seen the point in just replicating reality. Someone lacking purpose doesn’t gain one by reproducing themselves.”

“Ok, I was just asking if you wanted your picture taken. Jeez.”

“Instruction manuals are the kind of book I most admire. Making the world follow the pattern you lay out instead of the other way around.”

Sometimes voices come with noses and hair, but not always.

“Everyone thinks I’m a wet rag just because I lament sad happenings before they happen. Emotional people place a high value on never seeing things coming.”

Who’s to say what lizard may have slithered onto the scene right at that moment, full of grasping desires that it never gets criticized for and little in the way of explanations for itself.

“Yeah, fine, I’m not blaming you for lack of emotional investment. I just don’t see how you can go along with the code of decency against fucking in print when we spend our entire lives there.”

The man in the bowler hat thought that he and the girl might agree more if the microbes in their guts were more synchronized. It seemed strange that they wouldn’t be, since he was pretty sure that he had become familiar with all of her friends in advance through the colds they had given him through her. He stuck his head in a bird cage that they were passing. It could be considered a dwelling only by the standards of exhibitionists.

“This is not what I became a doctor for. I’ve had patients continue seeing me for years entirely predicated on the off-chance that I might say something lucid. Are you one of them?”

For those that possess a higher degree of magnetization than the usual sort, staying clear of the world’s entanglements is a tricky business. As a nurse that waved teddy bears in front of sick children all day long, the woman sometimes wondered if she was falsely luring them back to a world where on the whole there were few of those.

“No, if you don’t understand what we’re about by now, I don’t think exchanging business cards at this point would do much good. That’s why most languages use short guttural words with lots of consonants to describe this sort of thing. Makes it easier to remember.”

Does anybody really love anybody else’s imperfections? Well, a trophy wife may cherish her elderly husband’s heart condition. But people with different levels of attractiveness don’t move at the same speed through time. Anyway, she was done trusting her eyes. Words could be sent forth to scout around and be abandoned without remorse in the event of an ambush. She wondered if cranial blood would taste different than blood in other parts of the body. It certainly washes by strange shores.

Walking together and keeping an eye on each other was not enough to keep them in the same state of health, though they did try. She wished he would behave a little more ethically so she could outsource her conscience to him. People that don’t want to be lonely shouldn’t get married; that has been said before.

They were entering a building with a circular corridor and no top floor. He was thinking that the ability to hold obscure, unconventional grudges was a mark of genius. She was thinking that in their disagreements, as usual with people that don’t care about the same things, the counter-argument on both sides was always the same: “I guess, but who cares?”

One of those white corridors that, upon entering, make you feel like you’ve gone slightly beyond the borders of rationality. A guard came forward.

“Have you names or not?”

“Not so far.”

She thought, never try to have a argument outside of your own walls. This was like a rubber ducky floating into the middle of the showdown between Ahab and the whale.

The guard, bound by rules in everything he did, had to speak at all times in trochaic verse meter. He saw this as a continuation of the baton-beating of intruders by other means. He was currently not allowing anyone past him because he had a messy stain on his backside.

They reluctantly allowed themselves to be turned away by someone dressed less imaginatively than they. He was thinking that words are an ever-narrowing spiral. You couldn’t use up all the good ones within five years of meeting someone, so he had set himself a daily word limit for talking to her. He was drawing close to it now; he hoped she didn’t have ESP.

The hallway went uphill and a revolving door was hanging from the ceiling like a rolodex. In the locked door to their right they thought they might have finally found what they were looking for. Words don’t work as well when things get serious, so the door was unmarked. Since there was a locked room in front of them they felt that it must be that they finally had a little privacy.

Then a host of nurses came by, fanning their own feet. Their uniforms weren’t quite adjusted properly. They were sicklings who had smuggled themselves into the hospital to work, so they could treat themselves without being diagnosed. Many of the sick have to join the business of healing.

“It’s only the benevolent harlots and indentured servants of the medical profession that get to walk these halls. That and the victims that get arrested by their microbial deputies and brought in with disease. The whole world bloomed out when I left the hospital after being born and it’s not going to be stuffed back in now.”

“Hush now, you don’t leave the world by the same rope you walked through it on. Now let’s try to find the medicine.”

Since they couldn’t find any uniforms of hospital personnel on the outside, and the patients all worked there, they had hoped to disguise themselves as part of the building or the furniture instead. In fact they were only saved by the total inadequacy of the ruse, since the staff only had authority to remove hospital property.

When the hallway was empty the man jumped at the locked door and burst it open. Inside there were only a few spare children and an abandoned sense of guilt lying on the floor. They left and retreated back down the hallway in the direction they had come from. They were now on the downward slope. Finally they saw a door to their right that read “Medical Supplies.” They pushed open the door, rushed in, and fell from the second-story doorway to the ground outside. The door creaked shut.

Not strengthened by contact with the earth, at least not after being heaved onto it from a considerable height, the man and woman nonetheless were finally able to stand up under the lopsidedly darkening sky. They saw no promise of a host of angels ripping through it, rending apart day from night to save them. Then they looked at the hospital that no longer had a sign of door or window. They had passed through the hospital, not ending their days there or having to retreat back out the same door they had entered through. On the symbolic level, success!

Maybe the staff at the hospital are not sick people that have managed to smuggle themselves past the bosses to treat themselves. Perhaps the bosses know they are sick, and thus complete the perfect circle. All staff are patients, and all patients are staff. As for the other sick of the world, the hospital was merely a prison turned inside-out.