Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna ,tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UsOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not -iSSuE- ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what TWENTY-THREE tahw ro woh gniwonk to think. You are in 02/29/96 ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
This issue was ready to go for the 23rd, but I decided what the hell, HOW MANY CHANCES AM i GOiNG TO HAVE TO RELEASE THE ZiNE ON LEAP DAY? So, I waited. And waited. And even got a couple of extra submissions in that time too. Wowee.
Leap Day is a strange day. It only comes around once every four years. I think that accurately describes the last girlfriend I had. I think we should just get a new calendar, or use about ten different ones. Then no one would really care that the Gregorian folks need to add an extra day just to keep it "accurate." I mean, really, so what if everyone gets a day off. Who's that gonna hurt? Oh, the people making money, you say? Well, I sure as hell ain't one of those scum-sucking capitalist bastards, and I could...
Er-hrm. Uh. Yeah. Sorry. Leap Day does that to me.
Anyways, this is a mighty big issue. Nathan's story takes up around half, but I liked the story so much I didn't want to split it up, cause I knew I would have wanted to kill someone if that happened to me. It's cool, I recommend it heartily, and that should be enough for you to skip down to the bottom of this zine and read it before doing anything else. I'll wait.
Okay. It was damn good, wasn't it? See, I told you so. As some of you might have been suspecting, this isn't the promised theme issue. We already give you guys some strange stuff, so producing that "strange" issue was kinda redundant. Needless to say, in one of the upcoming issues, there will be a mini-theme section that I think will be especially cool. Stay tuned for that.
I'd also like to welcome Noni Moon aboard. She's starting a new column entitled "Mind Probe" that is gonna investigate some of the key SoB writers and why they do what they do. Her first interview with me is in this issue. She's really cool and has the coolest blue hair of anyone I know.
With that said, here's SoB 23. Politics, poetrie, space aliens, deities, drugs, NASA, report cards. You name it, we've got it. See you next month.
[ouch. and you thought some people couldn't tell the difference between art and pornography. geez. still, wonder what that java stuff on their web page does. hmmm.]
From: email@example.com (Eric Langan) To: "'firstname.lastname@example.org'" <email@example.com> Subject: WEB LINK Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996 13:13:04 -0600 Saw that you maintain an adult site on the Internet. Wondering if you'd like to make a link to us and vice versa. We are X-Citing Systems Online, an adult BBS accessible through the Internet. Our URL is http://www.xsolis.com. Be sure to use Netscape 2.0 when checking it out because of the Java animation. If you'd like us to put up a link to you as well, please send us your URL and also the URL where we can see our link for bookmarking and update purposes. Thanks for the help! If you have any questions just send an email. Also, if you send us an email requesting a link you'll be able to see it within 24 hours at http://www.xsolis.com/hotlinks.htm. Eric
From: N1MILLER@delphi.com Subject: Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking SoB's To: firstname.lastname@example.org Does SoB still exist? Is it still regularly published. I've tried calling the Lion's Den and iSiS UNVEiLED (U GUYZ SP3LL TH/\T PR3TTY 3L1T3!) but I didn't get very much. All I've seen is stuff on io.com, and I'm impressed. I'd like to get in on the fun and make some submissions, assuming that you guys still operate. -Thanks
[well, since you're letter is being published in this issue, do you think we're real or just some elaborate net.conspiracy? actually, sometimes we wonder about that ourselves. i've pretty much come to think of it as one big practical joke which turns out pretty good on a constant basis for some reason. thanks for the compliments, and send us stuff when you get around to it. (for some people, that can be a year, maybe two, eh, clockie?)]
The Gentleman Who Fell
I Wish My Name Were Nathan
I met Kilgore on a cold February night inside Metro, a coffeehouse on the Drag in Austin, Texas. An ice-storm, at least for Texas, had just blown through, so instead of driving among those who go 70mph no matter what the weather, I trudged about a mile from my apartment to the Drag on the icy sidewalks. When I got inside, I ordered a large coffee and went upstairs to find Kilgore.
He was sitting in the corner by a large window, smoking and reading Cult Rapture by Adam Parfrey. He noticed me, said hi and shook my hand. Kilgore stands around six feet tall, has shoulder-length brown hair (which he tells me is naturally curly, causing jealous stares from women everywhere), and a short goatee. His beret and blue sunglasses give one the impression of some literary anarchist bent on messing things up royally. Or, that was my take anyway.
I first ran across State of unBeing digging around in the zine archives at ftp.etext.org. The zine, as Yahoo said, covered everything. It seemed quite an undertaking, given the small number of writers, and yet they offered articles on everything from politics to magick. I was quite impressed.
After some small chitchat about surviving encounters with stupid Texas drivers in the past few days, I got down to business.
NM: Thanks for meeting me tonight.
KT: No problem. I could never pass up a chance to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes with anybody.
NM: First, I'd like to get a little background information on you.
KT: Well, I was born in Dallas, Texas in '75, and my parents adopted me about six weeks later and took me back to Austin. I lived there until '86, when we moved to the small podunk town I currently reside in now, Georgetown. It's about thirty miles north of Austin. We moved because it had a "better school system," and we couldn't afford the private school I was attending anymore. I went to the University of Texas in the fall of 1994. I withdrew this semester cause I got fed up with the place. I'm hoping to get into Rhodes College in Tennessee soon. We'll see how that plan pans out.
NM: A private school? Like a magnet school?
KT: No. A Baptist school. It was a church that also had a school, from kindergarten to high school. Go do some multiplication tables, read, and then learn a Bible story. All in a day's work.
NM: Oh. You don't seem like you're too much of a Baptist, looking at the zine.
KT: I'm not. I'm primarily an agnostic who understands that belief is a useful tool. I can't say one way or the other whether God does or does not exist. One person at my church said I was hedging. I think I'm just being honest with myself.
NM: Do you practice any type of organized religion?
KT: No. I do attend church on Sundays, but that's more out of economical reasons since I'm living at home, and those are the rules of the house. I think there's a lot of good stuff in the Bible as well, just as there are in a whole bunch of other religious texts. My main problem is the imposition of dogma. I used to practice Thelemic Magick, but I've let that slide quite a bit too. I think religion and spirituality should be a purely personal thing, and what you get out of it yourself is the most important thing. Anyway, I figure if I go to hell, I'll be able to play a good poker game with William S. Burroughs, Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary, cause they'll be there too. <laughs>
NM: When did you first start writing?
KT: I've been writing ever since I could read. Most of my early work has been lost, praise "Bob," and I doubt anyone would want to read the inane stories of a six year old. My biggest troubles back then were wondering where I was gonna get 4,000 extras to play stormtroopers in a Star Wars movie I made. The script was about four pages long and had a cast of about ten thousand. It could only have come from the mind of a child. I finally started to hit the good stuff in high school. Teen angst is good for that. A lot of the poetrie was horrendous, but it was practice. Most of the stories I wrote involved killing people I knew. It was cathartic and kept me out of trouble.
NM: And then you put out your first zine. Tell me about that.
KT: We had the idea in late '92, but nothing ever really came of it. We had a cover and everything, but no pieces. That died out after a while. Then we got wind of some sort of underground publication being planned, and we got in on that in early '93, my junior year in high school. I ended up editing and putting the first three issues out. The fourth one was done by Nathan. It was called "Where's There's a Will, There's an A" with the "A" being an anarchy symbol. It was messy, juvenile, but it was fun, and it pissed off a lot of people. Around seven people got suspended, FUCK CENSORSHIP got involved and we got more publicity than we ever would have had they left us alone.
NM: Did you get in trouble?
KT: Me? No way. I was considered one of the good kids. Yeah, we used a lot of profanity and we made a couple of major mistakes that were probably the cause for a lot of the trouble, but all in all it was very rewarding, from an editor's perspective. I learned then how hard it was to keep a bunch of people writing for you for free.
NM: After that you started putting out State of unBeing?
KT: About six months later. I had originally planned to start up a textfile group, but decided that sounded too "elite" and I had pretty much gotten out of that scene. We kept the use of handles, though, cause I like the anonymity and would rather have the works judged on their own merit, not on any preconceived notions of the author. That was my thinking at the time, anyway.
NM: What was your original purpose in starting SoB? It certainly wasn't another "fuck the system" type of magazine.
KT: In a way, it is, just in a more rational form. We're not here calling for mucho changes, because one small e-zine ain't gonna do that. Instead, we explore alternatives to the current system. A lot of the political stuff that we've published has not been very mainstream. Moonlight's guerrilla tactical handbook, for example. Not many people aren't gonna put out stuff like that for fear that they'll be labeled right-wing militia freaks. I'm certainly not one, but I liked reading Che Guevara in high school. Maybe it'll even come in handy someday. Who knows? Information wants to be free, and if I like it, or even if I don't like but think other people will, I'll run it.
NM: That's where the old SoB motto, "We'll publish anything" fits in, then.
KT: Yes. I've rejected stuff in the past that was poorly written, but my writers tend to be high quality, which I think is really lucky. Plus, most of them have been with me for the whole run, which I find incredible as well. Getting back to the original question, I started SoB as an outlet for myself. I wanted a place where I could release my own stuff and that of my friends. I thought we were fairly decent writers and people might dig what we were doing. I was, and still am, mostly centered around the literary aspect of the zine, but that's always been my primary love.
NM: Just how have you managed to keep going for so long? Most e-zines die out after a few issues.
KT: I couldn't tell you. That's something I've wondered about a lot. I can be a real pain in the ass when I need submissions, but maybe it's because I'm such a nice guy. <laughs> Seriously, it still amazes me that we haven't folded up. Most of the writers that write for every issue are good friends of mine. I met a few of them through the zine, in fact. It's just something we all enjoy doing, and we'll keep on doing it until we get tired of it.
NM: Which almost happened last summer...
KT: Jesus, I was afraid you'd bring that up. I tend to kill things that are going too well, and I just decided to drop it. I wanted to try something new. My plan was to start a weekly zine called "cavity" that would be just me. I soon realized that would be more work than I wanted to do, and when a few writers told me that if I stopped putting out SoB, they'd keep doing it anyway, I decided I should keep it alive.
NM: It's a good thing you did, because since September the issues have been excellent.
KT: Thanks. It certainly made me realize what a good thing I've got going here, and I'm not going to blow it again.
NM: Since we're talking about the zine in general, I think a lot of people would like to know what really happened in regards to SoB #8. All that talk of the Secret Service kinda got some people freaked out. I know you had a couple of e-mails to that effect as well.
KT: Let me start out by saying that the whole thing was a big hoax. I felt sure that we were dropping big enough clues, with all the tongue-in-cheek references to Agent Williams and Tachyon reporting from far-off locations like Sri Lanka. Some people just didn't get it. So, when they e-mailed me, I played along. When issue eight was supposed to come out, I had one poem. That was it. It was the end of summer, people wanted as much play time that was left, myself included. I had planned on just waiting until September till putting it out, because by that time I would have regained my normal evil editor composure and gotten submissions one way or the other. The credit for the whole SS raid idea has to go to Hagbard. He thought up the idea, and it worked out quite well. He also wrote all of the Tachyon reports. We let the joke run until we had had enough of it ourselves, and then we put out "The Lost Issue" out and wiped out hands clean. Agent Williams still remains one of our favorite creations, though. Most SoB writers who see strange men in suits refer to them as that.
NM: I knew it was a joke all along, though I was surprised people thought it was real.
KT: Sure you did, Noni. Sure. <laughs> One of the things that amazed me was that anyone would believe anything we put out there in front of them. It makes you think how gullible the average guy out there is who will believe anything that is put on paper. It also makes you think about your responsibilities as a writer. Kinda scary, kinda sad. I mostly write fiction or philosophy, so I don't worry about it too much myself. As an editor, though, I do try to make sure the stuff we run has had research done on it.
NM: That is part of the journalistic ethic. I mean, if I just made up this interview after talking to you, no one would know. It is a responsibility.
KT: It seems that on the net, people are way too trusting. It's the same way with television and radio, but even more so on the net. People will believe anything you tell them. Kinda like the Good Times virus, which is a good example of that and provides an excellent study in memetics.
NM: Why do you think that is?
KT: It's a new medium, and people haven't learned how to detect the kinks in it yet. With the net, the only emotional context we have are emoticons. There is no body language, only words. It makes it a lot harder for most people to detect an air of deceit that isn't overtly blatant.
NM: Let's switch focus for a moment and come back to you. Who would you say has had the most influence on your writing style?
KT: I'm not going to tell you because I don't have any. Stylistically, no. Influences are for other people to pick out. I write how I write. If it comes close to the style of someone else, so be it. But I don't consciously think, "Oh, look at how he wrote that. That'd be cool to do." It probably creeps back in subconsciously somewhere along the line, but I've never really tried to pick em out.
NM: Fair enough.
KT: Not that I'm trying to avoid the question or something, but I honestly can't tell you. I can tell you author's I like, and that would probably be just as good of an answer there, but I wouldn't call them influences on my style.
NM: Okay. Who are your favorite authors?
KT: Touche. Fictionwise, I'd have to go with Martin Amis, Robert Anton Wilson, William S. Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, and Kathy Acker. Everything else would be covered by Aleister Crowley, Robert Anton Wilson, Tim Leary, Terence McKenna, and Adam Parfrey. Plus you'd have to include three publishing houses with which I'm never disappointed.
NM: And those are?
KT: Vintage, both domestic and international, Feral House, and New Falcon Publications. I've never read a book by those three companies that I didn't thouroughly enjoy.
NM: Have to keep that in consideration. So what exactly would you consider your style?
KT: I'm not sure yet. I've been toying around with a couple of different things, such as reworking texts ala Kathy Acker...
NM: See, that's an influence.
KT: You got me there. But that would only pertain to one thing I've done, a small section in my story "Immune." Look, Noni, you can't ask me explicit questions like that and expect a quick answer. I have to weave them into our conversation.
KT: Anyways, before I was so rudely interrupted, I'm discovering a certain style right now that, for lack of a better term, I want to call Chaos Penetration. Basically, it embraces the chaos and uncertainty of everyday life, revels in absurdity, and then goes looking for the underlying meaning, if there even is one. It's quite evident, I think, in my story "Grey Matter Champion" and to a lesser extent in a few of my other stories. Nathan's "No Strings Attached," too. I've been reading a lot of quantum physics and holographic theory, so that's probably where a lot of this comes from.
NM: Interesting. I noticed in "Grey Matter Champion" that the characters seem so totally confused about everything. The man in the story, I thought, was more confused than the lady because he thought he knew what was going on when he obviously was just as lost.
KT: Exactly. And that was the point I was trying to get across. Mary knew she didn't know what was going on, and that's what scared her. She had her moments of sanity, but in the end she couldn't cope. Donald did better, but he had already lied to himself numerous times to build up his own protective shield.
NM: What exactly did he do to her?
KT: I haven't the slightest idea. That part of the story was left intentionally vague, for the reader to imagine. I could have described some horrible event or experiments, but the reader's imagination probably ran a lot further since I didn't set down exactly what happened. I don't want to give everything away to my audience. I'm not going to lay the whole thing out on a platter. They're going to have to do some of the work too. It's an intellectual exercise. If you want pure entertainment, get some old back issues and read Dr. Graves.
NM: So this idea of "chaos penetration" comes through in all your stories?
KT: Not in all of them. I've only noticed the trend recently myself. I'm not sure which way I want to take it. I can totally immerse them in chaos without any hope, or I can turn it into some form of transcendence. I've done both already. But, like I said earlier, it's a crappy buzzword I made up to try and sound cool (which never works for me). Call it what you like. I wrote it, and I like it, and that's all that counts for me.
NM: You don't really seem to care if anybody else likes your work.
KT: For the most part, I don't. I write what I write because I think it's good. It pleases me, and it's probably the most enjoyable thing in my life. I do like to hear what other people think, but that really doesn't change my attitude much. I'm still a pompous asshole. <laughs>
NM: That's good, well, you not letting other people's views get you down...
KT: C'mon, Noni, were you going to agree that I'm an asshole?
NM: No, I wasn't... just got tongue tied.
KT: <laughs> Whatever.
NM: Really. I mean, I know a few zine people who take the stuff way too seriously. Sometimes they let it get the best of them.
KT: We have too much humor for our own good. Somebody reviewed the zine and called it too "high-brow" for your average reader. I dunno where the hell he got that idea. Yeah, we've published some heady stuff, but we're not trying to come off elitist or academic in any sense. We're here to have fun, although after that review came out we did publish a long paper on Satanism in Swedish Decadence literature or something like that. I dunno. It was dry, Ansat wrote it for his Swedish lit class, and it definitely fit the high-brow thing. We have to live up to our reputation, after all, whatever that may be.
NM: You don't get many letters?
KT: Nope. Only from pornographers and UFO gurus. Go figure.
NM: You attract a strange crowd, Kilgore.
KT: You're here, aren't you?
NM: <laughs> Yeah, I guess I am.
KT: That's what I thought. Strange things have a way of finding their way to me. Strange books, weird ideas. It used to freak me out... now I just accept it as the way things are.
NM: So you'd call yourself a freak?
KT: No. The way I see it, I'm the only normal one.
NM: I'd like to get your thoughts on the Communications Decency Act. How will that affect your zine if it is upheld in court?
KT: It won't affect anything as far as I'm concerned. I'll still put out the zine. There's not much they can do, and I'm sure people overseas would be more than happy to hold the issues if it came to that. It really pisses me off that this is occurring because this is an election year, and all these politicians want to do something "for the families" by messing with stuff they know nothing about. I think people need to start taking responsibility for themselves and spending time with their kids, especially on the net where there are so many ideas that the information overload is inevitable. Besides, any kid who wants to get pornography is gonna get it somehow, on-line or not. That's not much of an argument, but it's the truth.
NM: So you don't think it will be upheld?
KT: No, I doubt it. If it does, things are looking pretty bad. I could put my zine on paper, and it would be totally legit. But since it's on the net, it's somehow more evil. Legislation in ignorance is not one of my favorite things. The really sad thing is that a lot of these people probably believe they are doing the right thing, the "moral" thing. They just don't understand that morality cannot be imposed. Consensual crimes should not be crimes at all. We'd have a lot fewer people in jail, and people would probably be a lot happier if the government would stay the hell out of their lives. Yeah, if you impose on someone else's Will in a violent way or rob them of their possessions, go to jail. Laws don't really need to be this complex, at least not in KilgoreWorld, and that's a whole 'nother planet.
NM: Where do you want to take State of unBeing in the future?
KT: I dunno really. Just putting out issues is a pretty satisfying enough. I'd like to get some fresh new faces, like yourself, on board, and maybe pump up the non-fiction, which has been lagging in the past. As for some big vision, I don't really have any. Let the information be free, and maybe we'll show some people a good time. Perhaps they'll even learn something, too. We've got the words, you've just got to read them.
NM: And what do you see yourself doing in the future?
KT: Who knows? I'll probably have a philosophy degree in 3 years. Guess I'll have to join a philosophy firm. I've heard there's hundreds of them. Maybe I'll get a novel published. Anybody out there who wants to turn State of unBeing into some slick corporate lit rag, make me an offer. I'm not too cut out for your normal 9-to-5 job, or even your average college classroom. Whatever happens, happens. I've got enough karma stored to keep me in good shape for a couple of years yet.
NM: Any last words?
KT: Yeah. I'm out of cigarettes. Can I bum one?
The current vogue, especially among the liberal left, is to claim morality can not, much less should, be legislated or enforced. The perceived "freedom of choice" is the dogma of the day, and fundamentalist choicism is as dangerous a dogma as fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist materialism. All lose the reality in the dogma. The obvious flaw in fundamentalist choicism is that inherent in any dogma of absolute tolerance, viz. to prevent the enforcement of morality is to enforce the morality that choice is supreme. A contradiction, as has been repeatedly demonstrated by better minds than mine.
Every law enforces morality. Hence, many Anarchists oppose laws for the sake of opposing laws. This, of course, is Nihilism. It is not a revolutionary philosophy, but is rather a reactionary one. Nihilism is to Anarchism what Dadaism was to Surrealism. It is a useful, perhaps necessary, process of tearing down, but it is useless and worse than useless unless followed by a period of building up.
The Anarchist -- not the Nihilist, but the Anarchist -- must accept an absolute right to guide his actions, and he must accept an absolute right that others would follow if they only knew. "If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed." Once this is accepted, enforcing this morality (call it "truth", "right action", "the Will of God", or "natural law", as it pleases you) follows.
Of course, this is nothing new for Anarchists. The terms may be "bourgeois" or "reactionary", but the principles have guided Direct Action since time immemorial. The very principle of Direct Action is inherently coercive, whether in its introverted form of showing people how a free man acts (and axiomatically how a free man should not), and hence how they should act, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ," or in its extroverted form, as terrorism, the principle holds. When an anarcho-commune is built, what is it but a sign saying, "This is right," a veritable "City Upon a Hill"?
This established, what does it have to do with extroverted Direct Action? First, some terms ought to be defined briefly. Nihilism is the concept that laws should be opposed for the sake of opposition, and destruction is good for the sake of destruction. Modern Anarchism has suffered much from its identification with Nihilism. Nihilism is a childish philosophy, and although it may be used, it is a means and not an end. As the Anarchist matures in his views and comes to embrace the existence of a moral law, Nihilism as a philosophy atrophies and Anarchism as a viable philosophy emerges.
Anarchism is a topic too broad to be adequately defined here. Briefly, it is the philosophy that society can best exist without (Greek An-) rulers (Greek Archon). Anarchy does not mean that there will be no society, no order, or no cooperation. Indeed, Anarchism rests on the premise man is inherently good, in the materialist tradition, or inherently redeemable, in the Christian one. If man could be freed from his restrictions and taught, he could best discipline himself. Anarchism is a revolutionary philosophy. It seeks to build a new world, and has answers to the questions of the day. Nihilism, disorder for the sake of disorder, is a reactionary philosophy, reacting to the injustices of the world, but with no solutions. Anarchism is a philosophy built on the love of man. Nihilism is a sophistry based on hatred of law and injustice.
Direct Action is the principle by which Anarchy is enacted. Nihilism, as a juvenile parody of Anarchy, utilizes Direct Action as well. As implied above, Direct Action can be divided roughly into two forms: introverted and extroverted. Introversive Direct Action is action one takes on oneself. Extroversive Direct Action is action one takes on another. An example of the first is the construction of an anarcho-commune, a commune where Anarchist principles are voluntarily adhered to by all members. An example of the latter is terrorism.
The point of morality's existence is an obvious result of true adherence to Anarchistic principles. The identification of this morality, and more the justification of its enforcement, have long divided the community. So much so, in fact, that many Anarchists, well intentioned and otherwise, have used Anarchism as a cover for selfishness. De Toqueville said of the United States (paraphrased), "She is a great country because she is a good country. If she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." The same can be said of Anarchism. Anarchism is a philosophy that can only be adhered to be good men, or at least by men committed to trying to be good and open to correction from their equals.
Kropotkin, perhaps the greatest of all Anarchist philosophers, should be mentioned here. His essay Anarchist Morality is an excellent work on this topic, benefiting greatly both from his genius and from his knowledge in the fields of politics and biology. This writer greatly recommends that anyone with an interest in Anarchy, either supporting it or debunking it, should go through the effort of locating a copy of this essay. As with any translation from another language and another time, though, we must consider the context. His term for "morality", as I use the word here, was "principle", and the principle he chose to uphold was equality. He claims to oppose ideals, and this is true in the sense of the ideals of the day, but equality was his ideal if we are to be honest about it. He, too, supported freedom of choice on the surface without falling into the trap of fundamentalist choicism. In his words:
Here is a freedom of choice, but not one devoid of obligation. Freedom does not include the freedom to do wrong, as Pope John Paul II has said. Do what thou wilt has nothing to do with do as you please, as said Aleister Crowley. If you love me, keep my commandments, as said Christ.Perhaps it may be said -- it has been said sometimes, "But if you think that you must always treat others as you would be treated yourself, what right have you to use force under any circumstances whatever? What right have you to level a cannon at any barbarous or civilized invaders of your country? What right have you to dispossess the exploiter? What right to kill not only a tyrant but a mere viper?"
What right? What do you mean by that singular word, borrowed from the law? Do you wish to know if I shall feel conscious of having acted well in doing this? If those I esteem will think I have done well? If so the answer is simple. ...
Yes, certainly! Because any man with a heart asks beforehand that he may be slain if he ever becomes venomous; that a dagger may be plunged into his heart if he should ever take the place of a dethroned tyrant.
And now, with these terms defined, let us remove our heads from the clouds of Utopianism, however pleasant, and address ourselves to the matter at hand. What does this mean to the Anarchist today, where he has to face the restrictions of society and the evils of man? Is there a place for morality here? Of course; only a monster would answer otherwise. Is there a place for the legislator of morality? Therein, as they say, lies the rub.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke said this centuries ago, but Anarchists had best heed it today. For too long, good men have done nothing, and today we reap the whirlwind. Once the Anarchist has come, in good faith, to see evil, then he can take action to end it.
And now we come to terrorism, and to extroversive Direct Action. When someone does evil, they must be stopped. If this is not done, then no Anarchist society can be achieved. If a tyrant suppresses his people, the Anarchist knows it is right to rise up in opposition to him. More subtly, is someone is corrupting his society, it is the right and the duty of the Anarchist to put an end to this corruption, this most insidious of oppressions, by any means possible.
An Anarchist act of terrorism against a political target is not universally condoned, but it is universally understood. The Anarchist stands against oppression, and like him or hate him you at least understand him. The mature Anarchist, though, stands for right. He sees that evil in the society corrupts and leads to slavery, and so opposes those who promote it. An Anarchist act of terrorism against an exploiter of women, such as the operators of a brothel, is thus as much an act of liberation and an act of righteousness as was Phineas's. An attack against an exploiter of man who uses their pain to his profit, such as a seller of narcotics, is an act of liberation as much as standing against the forces of Franco with the Anarchists in Catalonia.
Morality is not an evil. Morality is the codification of righteousness. It is wrong to suppress another man, as we are all equals. Thus, exploitation is immoral. An educated and mature man, an Anarchist of good faith, will then take the revolutionary tack of finding what derives from this. The selling of addictive drugs puts one man in another's slavery, hence selling narcotics is wrong. It is evil. It is the right and responsibility for an Anarchist in good faith to oppose this slaveowner, this tyrant. The use of propaganda to gain control of a man's mind and soul is another form of slavery, and so all who prey with the word are to be as opposed as those who prey with the sword. It is the right and the responsibility of the Anarchist to police his ranks and those of his society, protecting his freedom and, eventually, forming the free society of which we dream.
In short, the Anarchist has the responsibility to educate his conscience, to oppose his -- and all -- oppressors. He has the responsibility to oppose the oppressor in his nature, and the oppressor in that of his friend's, and eventually to show the way -- to lead if possible and desirable -- to freedom from all oppressors for all mankind.
It is not oppression to force someone into freedom. It is oppression to allow someone to believe he wants to be a slave. Are there such men as these, who are educated and righteous enough, who are free enough, that they can lead mankind into a world of freedom, and the eternal battle to preserve it? That is what I and all lovers of freedom hope and pray, and it was these people Kropotkin elegized toward the end of Anarchist Morality with the lines:
This fertility of mind, of feeling or of goodwill takes all possible forms. It is in the passionate seeker after truth, who renounces all other pleasures to throw his energy into the search for what he believes true and right contrary to the affirmations of the ignoramuses around him. It is in the inventor who lives from day to day forgetting even his food, scarcely touching the bread with which perhaps some woman devoted to him feeds him like a child, while he follows out the intention he thinks destined to change the face of the world. It is in the ardent revolutionist to whom the joys of art, of science, even of family life, seem bitter, so long as they cannot be shared by all, and who works despite misery and persecution for the regeneration of the world. It is in the youth who, hearing of the atrocities of invasion, and taking literally the heroic legends of patriotism, inscribes himself in a volunteer corps and marches bravely through snow and hunger until he falls beneath the bullets. It was in the Paris street arab, with his quick intelligence and bright choice of aversions and sympathies, who ran to the ramparts with his little brother, stood steady amid the rain of shells, and died murmuring: "Long live the Commune!" It is in the man who is revolted at the sight of a wrong without waiting to ask what will be its result to himself, and when all backs are bent stands up to unmask the iniquity and brand the exploiter, the petty despot of a factory or great tyrant of an empire. Finally it is in all those numberless acts of devotion less striking and therefore unknown and almost always misprized, which may be continually observed, especially among women, if we will take the trouble to open our eyes and notice what lies at the very foundation of human life, and enables it to enfold itself one way or another in spite of the exploitation and oppression it undergoes.
Such men and women as these, some in obscurity, some within a larger arena, creates the progress of mankind. And mankind is aware of it. This is why it encompasses such lives with reverence, with myths. It adorns them, makes them the subject of its stories, songs, romances. It adores in them the courage, goodness, love and devotion which are lacking in most of us. It transmits their memory to the young. It recalls even those who have acted only in the narrow circle of home and friends, and reveres their memory in family tradition.
Such men and women as these make true morality, the only morality worthy the name. All the rest is merely equality in relations. Without their courage, their devotion, humanity would remain besotted in the mire of petty calculations. It is such men and women as these who prepare the morality of the future, that which will come when our children have ceased to reckon, and have grown up to the idea that the best use for all energy, courage and love is to expend it where the need of such a force is most strongly felt.
"The poets? They stink. They write badly. They're idiots you see, because the strong people don't write poetry.... They become hitmen for the Mafia. The good people do the serious jobs."
Put aside all 'thought'! --
There is room here only for feeling.
The feeling of the Love within our hearts;
The feel of your body pressed against mine.
What good is it to rationalise
That which cannot be defined?
Come with me, and we shall leave behind
This limited Universe.
Come! There is a place beyond,
Which we can find in each other.
Come! And we shall meet the Divine,
Each within their lover.
I. Madness Creeps
You want to leave
but you can't go
You're trapped in here
The madness creeps
into your mind
and your screams
are few and far behind
you try to run
but you just fall
your broken nose
smears the wall
the darkness all around
invades your mind
as demons form
before your eyes.
As the door flies open
and they come inside
They give you pills
They give you shots
In soothing voices
They tell you nought
of your life outside
this devil's box
You hear their laughs
as they close the door
and you scream again
aloud once more
You see their twisted smiles
through the glass
as the door slides shut
you're alone at last
The darkness comes again
you begin to cry
you cradle yourself
hoping to hide
you wish to god
they would let you go
out of your cell
free from this Hell
you hope and dream
to see the sun
but the visions you know
are all that come
you see no colors
save what's in your mind
you hear voices in the dark
voices of the past
voices of the heart
you hear their words of hope
Not to give up
But the darkness surrounds you
soaking you up.
You scream again
and run at the door
but it doesn't give
and you fall to the floor
you sink into unconsciousness
and as you begin to float
dreams of the past
scream with a familiar note.
Visions of a horrible kind
float to the surface
of your unconscious mind
you wake with a start
and you thrash about
but the jacket you're wearing
keep you from getting out
As you are staring with your eyes
you moan and cry
towards the ceiling sky
your vision is blurred
by the tears of sorrow
and no matter
how much hope
you seek to borrow
your hate arms you up
but the drugs they gave
wrap you in a cocoon of sleep
as your body goes numb
your so pathetic
you can't even suck your thumb
you roll to the corner
of your room
but your own heart beats
the rhythm of your doom
you scream with such force
you feel your lungs tear
you shut your mouth
and bite you tongue
and taste the blood as
it trickles down your throat
you almost choke
you gag and grope
for that last string
And as you pray to stay alive
the madness creeps
into your mind
and you sing songs of an unknown kind
with a voice hoarse and dry
The ache in your bones
is more than you can bear
and your muscles cry for
a relief in the despair
so you let yourself slip
into the dreamland's care.
Once each month she comes, when the moon sails its silver ship through high-reaching boughs and past the greedy, grasping finger-forms of steel and glass. Once each month she kisses me, and nearly pulls my soul out, but each time she stops, and smiles, saying she mustn't still my voice. Both my body and her visits follow the moon's rhythm, and so it is that my blood flows twice each month.
Sometimes she stays, and wraps me tenderly with her strong arms, and I am safe from all fear. Sometimes she rocks back and forth with me, and tells me tales to mesmerize, verses crackling with power. "Remember them." she softly says, her low voice like the wind in leaves. "I give them to you, and you must place them out for all the world to share." She is very like me, and yet fundamentally alien - I wish I could understand her.
I asked her once if I could ever be like her - so strong and calm, wise and serene. Grief cloaked her expression. "You do not know what you ask." Her words were bitter. "What you see as calm is but oil poured over stormy seas - mere illusion, temporary at best. And what you name wisdom I call the teaching of an indifferent world. What I am is a paradox - at once a vast blessing and a great curse." Then she looked into my eyes, all her sorrow and anger banished. "Do not worry, perhaps in time it will happen. It is far more wise to enjoy the present than to waste it yearning for a future which may never arrive."
It was a chill and darking night when first I saw her. I felt her eyes upon me as I walked the lonely streets, and I turned to learn who spied on me. She stood not more than a yard behind me, her black cloak blending in with the shadows. "I'd be careful if I were you. 'The night she is / a living thing, / with star-bright eyes / and tail to sting.'" She turned and vanished into the night before I could ask her how she knew my unpublished poem. I thought her a dream then, but now I know her reality.
Her caresses are tender, as are her kisses, and she takes me to an ecstasy I have never before known. I am entangled in her silken hair, her long tresses the deep brown of a sky-fogged midnight. I drown in her eyes, all the manifold chocolates of a confectioner's display. She is pale as a spotlight, and my skin is startlingly tan against hers as we curl together like kittens. Even when we part, the horizon brightening with its timeless, ruddy hue, when I am weak almost to exhaustion, and my mind is adrift on a sea of newly learned couplets, still am I radiant with the afterglow of her presence. That is when I write.
Some are curious about the seclusion which has become my habit, but most attribute it to my "poet's constitution". And as my books attain renown, some ask who this Persephone is to whom I dedicate my works. So I answer them with full truth. "My muse."
I met the aliens Friday at a local coffeehouse. There were three of them, dressed in flannels and sporting groomed goatees. I assumed they were travelling incognito, which is what I'd do if I was an extraterrestrial.
"So, you guys are from outer space, right?" I asked. "What's it like?"
They just stared at me. They must have forgotten their translator devices. I attempted a simpler form of communication.
"Me, Julius," I said, pointing at myself. "You are?"
"Fuck off, you weirdo," one of the aliens told me. You'd think that aliens would be a bit more cordial, being guests on our planet.
"No need to get angry. I was just asking a simple question, as I don't get to meet visitors from another world often. The last bunch, however, were quite nicer."
"Look, now," another alien said, "go away. You're annoying us. We just want to drink our coffee."
I can understand people not wanting to talk to me. Sometimes I can be a bit eccentric, but I thought establishing contact with these creatures would benefit both our cultures. Maybe they had landed in New York City and thought it was proper to be unfriendly. I've never met an alien I didn't like, but there's always a first for everything.
I tried to explain my reasons for continuing the dialogue. "I am just trying to facilitate diplomatic conversation between our two races. As a representative of the planet Earth, I am pleased to be the first to welcome you. Are there any questions you would like answered about our planet and its inhabitants? I would be honored to give you answers or show you a fine library where you may do extensive research."
The three aliens stood up, and they didn't look too happy. I couldn't see any phasers on them, but their powerful mind rays would probably be a problem. Dammit, where is a tin foil hat when you need one?
"Guys, let's be reasonable," I pleaded. "Instead of disintegrating me, why don't I drive you to a pasture where there's a whole bunch of cattle? Would that mend the rift that has developed between our species?"
One of them flicked me off, and, picking up their glasses, they went to the other side of the room. I sighed, relieved -- another case of cosmic death narrowly avoided. I guess I'm just a lucky guy.
Aliens are a strange bunch, believe you me. I should know, since I've met fifteen different types and even dated one or two. They're everywhere, and I try to tell people that, but they never believe me. The government has got them hoodwinked good.
Sadly, that is to be expected. Who's gonna believe in aliens unless they've actually seen one? Oh, and just to clarify any questions you may have, we're not talking about those small childlike aliens with big heads and huge eyes. These are CIA agents wearing masks trying to spook people. I've read all the experts -- Bill Cooper, John Lear, Whitley Strieber -- and they're full of themselves. The aliens look like us, a fact which is both amusing and appalling.
Most aliens that visit Earth are a friendly bunch, hailing from a planet whose name is unpronounceable in our tongue. Their technology surpasses ideas our imaginations only hint at. Yet instead of exploring the uncharted portions of the galaxy, they choose to study us. That makes me feel pretty damn special.
My first close encounter occurred about six years ago. I was sitting in a bar alone, having just finished off my fourth beer, when an elderly gentleman approached me. He sat down and started rambling about quantum physics and how science was finally on the right track. The man was quite drunk.
After listening to him for about half-an-hour, I didn't really understand much of what he was talking about. "You're really out of this world," I told him.
He smiled. "Yup, I sure am," he admitted and walked off.
It didn't hit me until the next morning that I had spoken to a real, live space alien. I was amazed that he admitted it so freely, but I'm sure the alcohol had something to do with that. Boy, I sure hope that he didn't get in trouble for revealing his true identity to me. The CIA will kill their agents for that, ya know.
And that was just the beginning. Since that time, I've met hundreds of aliens. In the early nineties they were usually disguised as yuppies, no doubt due to bad intelligence gathering. Now they usually appear in the form of gen-xers, and they can be found with great frequency at coffeehouses.
I've developed the theory that extraterrestrials came to Earth for the coffee. I know that sounds really strange, but, like the old saying, truth is stranger than fiction. When I visited their homeworld (they gave me a compound called DMT to counter the ill effects of space travel), there was no coffee on their homeworld. Their scientists, despite being years ahead of our own, could not devise a way to manufacture it. When I mentioned that they should purchase an espresso machine, they told me they didn't have enough currency and preferred the atmosphere of coffeehouses anyway. Alien logic, indeed.
You can bet that two out of every three people in a coffeehouse are not really human. As I mentioned before, they usually wear flannel shirts, and the males almost always have some form of facial hair. Combat and hiking boots are worn almost universally. The aliens seem fascinated with body piercings for some reason unknown to me. I myself dress in three-piece business suits at all times. I feel as an emissary of the human race that I should dress professionally. I might also add that I look damn good, too.
To gain the aliens' confidence and trust, one must be discreet. You cannot let them know you are on to them until they are ready to openly acknowledge themselves. The rules when dealing with aliens are awkward but necessary. Giving knowing winks and gently hinting that you know who they really are tends to make things easier.
A small group of people entered the coffeehouse, and I could tell right off that they were not from here. One of the females had day-glo orange hair, a sure sign of otherworldliness. I raised my hand and spread my fingers ala Mr. Spock of Star Trek. That was the only thing that show was right about -- the alien greeting sign.
"Live long and prosper," I intoned loudly. Sometimes protocol has to be broken to show open friendship. I tend to break protocol often.
The four aliens stared at me for a second and then started laughing and pointing in my direction. Good, I thought. They've given me the alien sign of friendship and acceptance. Once they've gotten their coffee, we could begin communications.
I told you earlier that I had dated an alien before, and I think I ought to give you a little insight on non-human mating rituals. When a female alien is ready to copulate, she dons what we would consider slutty clothes and stands on downtown street corners. Human males then must pay the female money in order to have sex. I assume this is one way the aliens fund their earthly affairs. The rates they charge are ample enough to buy many Mr. Coffees, but I guess they're saving up for something really swell. Maybe a big-screen TV for the mothership?
The first alien I saw was standing on the corner of 11th and Alamont. I pulled over and rolled down the passenger window. She glided over to the car and leaned in.
"Lookin' for a good time?" she asked.
"I am ready to help improve your species knowledge of human anatomy by allowing myself to be experimented with."
She frowned. "Anything kinky is goin' ta cost you extra," she explained.
I was quite esctatic at this news, as her higher price meant she must be an exemplary scientist. The girl hopped in, and we drove to a nearby motel. I won't go into the details, but needless to say, it was a great learning experience for both our peoples.
I looked up from my coffee, expecting to see the aliens ready to chat. Instead, Raoul was towering above me. He owned the coffeehouse.
"How are you tonight, Raoul?" I inquired.
"Julius, I've been getting more complaints about you," he said. "I wish you would stop hassling my customers."
"But Raoul, I'm not hassling anybody. I'm just being friendly to them."
"I know you're a bit, er, different than most people, but people who come here often don't like you. They say you keep talking about how they are aliens. People don't like to be called Martians."
"I never called anyone a Martian. No one can pronounce the name of where they come from."
Raoul looked down. "Look. I think I've been pretty accommodating towards you, and I've overlooked a lot. But you're bad for business."
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to not come back. I'm sorry, but that's the way it has to be."
I stood up and walked out sullenly. The aliens would miss me there, I was sure of that. Still, this town has tons of coffeehouses, and where there are coffeehouses, there are java-guzzling aliens.
My work towards galactic friendship was far from over.
"Stop. Stop this insane chase. Stop this wrongful thinking. Stop," Rath said, solemnly and steadily.
Lithan, who never let down his sword, eyed Rath suspiciously. He had fallen for several traps in the past, but this time he sensed something different. There was a look in Rath's eyes.
"Good. Do you know why we fight? Do you know who wrote the first recorded writing? Do you know who or what the gods are?" Rath said much more calmly as he let down his hand.
Lithan didn't answer, his sword slowly dropped to his side, and his face looked as if it was straining to remember his first memory.
Rath hadn't expected an answer.
"Most believe the distants are the gods. But you and I know that is not true. We're not fools. The distants are mutations of us which think they control our lives. They play games up there using us as their tools," Rath stated.
"This is the first time we've really talked. Did you realize that? Would you have realized that?" Rath said.
Lithan stood motionless. He began to sheath his sword into it's scabbard. "So?" he asked. He had been examining Rath this whole time. Not a spell on his lips, not a weapon on his body.
"It's not really important, I suppose. Do you know why we take living lives so that we might live?" asked Rath.
"I take them so that I can stop you," Lithan replied with a slight shrug.
"No. You take them to please him. To stop me, that is true. But to stop me from what? Now, originally it was right for you to pursue me and you did do the world a favor. I wanted power, but had I unleashed that power, I would have also unleashed knowledge. The knowledge of our history, but most importantly I would have unleashed the knowledge of him." Rath sneered to the sky and gave a quick mumble of words which even I could not hear.
"Who is him?" Lithan asked as his muscles flexed, he turned to the sky where Rath had been looking, but didn't see me.
"Slow down." Rath said.
"The woman which you seek to protect. She has the knowledge...." Rath began.
"You just wish for her power," Lithan interjected.
"That's what he'd like you to believe. He knows he has you, but not me, or her. She knows who he is and what he stands for. That is why he just keeps her to sleeping," Rath stated.
"Then why doesn't `he` just kill her?" Lithan asked.
"Too much energy and power. He must use that extra energy to sustain me, or the others who know. I do believe you have met one of them in the desert?" Rath smiled as these words passed his lips.
Lithan's gaze darted from the sky to Rath.
"Don't ask. I need your help. We must awaken her, Ellenai," Rath said.
Lithan paused. He looked confused. "I will awake her," he said.
"I knew you would say that, for if she truly is power then you will gain it, not I. And you, for all your goodness, will not be corrupted," Rath said. He had anticipated all of this.
"Lithan," Rath said, "we are part of our trinity. You are the strength and power. She is the knowledge and thinker. I am the leader and connecter."
They walked, side by side, foes, towards her tent. No one stood guard anymore.
I looked upon this action and I am afraid. I am worried. They might stop me. I have complete control now, but will I later? Will I after this night?
Lithan leaned over, and pressed his lips against hers. Her eyes, once shut for years, shown their bright blue again. She was truth. She was justice, she was alive.
Rath nodded his head.
Ellenai, now fully awake. Came to her feet.
"So, I suppose you know," she said to them both.
Her words, sweeter than all the flowers carried throughout the room, but for all their beauty made both Rath and Lithan shake.
"I still have a question," Lithan said. "Who is he? And why did he keep me from waking you?"
"He is our oppressor. He rules us and uses us. He keeps knowledge of himself away from us, so that we do not grow angry with him and challenge him. He has no name or face. But he watches everything. He countered Rath, who was out to wake me for one reason or another, by placing you here. And those others who fought him, he weakened. He put me to sleep. He destroyed the history of himself and how he got his power so that even I don't know. But I do know that once he was our equal. Every world, every universe, every place has their own. We shall fight ours, for our freedom," she said in her powerful, melodic voice.
Lithan knew that what she said was true. He knew who this nameless, faceless man was throughout his life. He knew me, but wasn't sure. That's how I work. That's how we all work, us controllers. Us rulers, us users. Lithan drew his sword, Rath drew his and Ellenai brought out her staff. The three stood side by side, different and yet alike. They stared at me, and their stare brought me fear. Fear of death, for I knew it was coming. They would be free, but I will be dead.
When I looked out the window this morning, there was a huge cable hanging from the sky. It must have measured about a foot in diameter, and i couldn't determine what it was made of. Warning bells went off in my head, and I quickly closed the curtains. Something strange was going on, and I didn't like it, not one bit.
"Lamar, you've got to be reasonable about these things. It's nothing to get excited over."
"I know, I know. But sometimes, Nancy, sometimes I get this feeling that I've lost control -- that we've all lost it."
"Don't be silly. Nothing is going to happen. You've got nothing to worry about."
"But what if something does happen? What then?"
"Well, I guess you'd be shit outta luck."
"You can say that again."
Waking up to find a cable dangling from heaven is not how I like to start my mornings. For one thing, it raises all sorts of troubling questions. Where did it come from? What is it attached to? Why is it outside my window? Before my first cup of coffee, I can't even decide what cereal I'm going to eat for breakfast.
C'mon, dammit... answer the phone... I know you're there... you're always home... so pick up the phone, already... I need to talk to you... stop avoiding me... I'm going to keep ringing until you answer... i'm a stubborn SOB, and I've got all the time in the world....
I went outside and circled the cable a few times. It swayed slightly in the morning breeze, but it wasn't going anywhere. That thing just went up and up, like it came from outer space or something. Hell, I thought I might be hallucinating this. No one really knows what all that flouride in the water does to a guy's head. Maybe someone on the evening news broadcast can tell me something.
"And how are we feeling today, Mr. Burton?"
"And are you taking the anti-depressants I prescribed?"
"Oh, yes. They are quite wonderful, Doc."
"Good. I'm glad to see we're making progress. So, what would you like to discuss today?"
"Well, let's see. I went to a lecture called "The Ataxia Telangiectasa Gene is Implicated in Checkpoint Control and DNA Repair."
"Wonderful. It's excellent that you are furthering your education. What did you learn?"
"Most of it was over my head. I now see genes as organic customs agents and mechanics. Everybody's got 'em, but mine are different."
"In what way?"
"Someone bribed my genes to mess me up. My genes have been compromised."
"Surely you don't believe that. You are in perfect health."
"I wouldn't have believed it, either, until I saw the invoices."
I called a friend of mine who was ex-CIA. He didn't know anything about the cable, or at least that's what he said. He did mention that if it was connected to something circling the earth, that something would have to be in a geosynchronous orbit. That meant somebody was out to get me. Again.
"I told you to stop calling here. Nancy doesn't want to talk to you."
"Look, this is important. I need to speak with her."
"Lamar, you've got to stop this. If you don't, I'll involve the police."
"She's the one who knows what's going on, Jack. Just five minutes. That's all I want."
"No. And don't call again."
The receptionist at NASA couldn't help me either. She probably thought I was some loon who believed in UFOs or something stupid. Hell, all you had to do was come to my house and verify the evidence. I don't need a team of expert researchers -- just one guy to see the cable himself. Bureaucracies never get anything done anyway.
"Convenience store owner slash philosopher."
"Munitions, guerilla tactic, hostage negotiations."
"Ready Oatmeal, Texas for upcoming NATO invasion."
"I made three A's, two B's, and got a D in conduct for chewing gum with my mouth open."
"Acceptable. You will be contacted again in two months' time."
None of the news reporters believed me when I called them. They said I should try a tabloid. I went back outside, hoping the cable would be gone. It wasn't. Was it some sort of modern-day tower of Babel? I didn't particularly care for the idea of shimmying up a cable to meet God. Way too exhausting, if you ask me.
"Gott in himmel. Der Fuhrer will not be pleased with you this time."
"I did everything you asked. I've been faithful, and I want my reward."
"Nyet. Peristroika has survived due to your belligerence. You have been a failure to us."
"No, that can't be. What did I do?"
"Read my lips: you are an atheist, not a patriot. Get it?"
"You've got to give me another chance."
"There was only a lone gunman, and Hitler only had one testicle. See the connection? Something is missing."
I pulled hard on the cable, and it started to come down. I backed away, watching foot after foot of cable pile up on the ground. In a few minutes, I could see a white object coming down. I ran.
Later that night, in a motel, I watched the evening news. Somehow, the space shuttle had crashed on my house. Those bastards knew I'd pull that cable. Next time I'll be more careful. My survival depends on it.
This is a completely true story.
I work full-time at the Juncture Shop 'n' Shop. It's a local convenience store chain around here. We boast the third-highest prices in town on common candy and drinks. Even with that, these stores are losing their charm fast. The Seven-Elevens and Circle K's are wiping us out. Oh well, I'm lucky. I just work here. Wouldn't dare own one. Wouldn't think I could muster up that much courage, or money.
Let's see, how long has it been now? One, two... six-and-a-half years. Good lord, that's pitiful. You see, I'm also twenty-eight. I started working here right out of college. I waved my philosophy degree around the county for a few weeks and found no one was hiring. So I lowered my standards considerably. Of the selection, only the Shop 'n' Shop appealed to me. I guess I earn even less than those burger-hustlers, since there's no way I can climb the ladder, so to speak. But it's comfortable. This is a very small store. I'm the only employee.
So Dad was right about the futility of a philosophy degree. He moaned when I told him that's what I was aiming for in my junior year. And he moaned when his prediction about the lack of philosophy jobs came true. I got to hear a lot about it until I moved from my home Creedence to Juncture and got a job and an apartment. Lucky they go dirt cheap here. This town is losing out to its neighbors just as the Shop 'n' Shop is. And our country is losing out to the world, I guess you could say. Philosophy allows me to pass that sort of judgement. Even so, I'm stuck being a part of the whole mess.
Ah, yes, but this job hasn't been as bad as it sounds. I've only been fully aware of it for a few months now. Yup, last November my buddy Crane got busted for dealing drugs. LSD and marijuana were the ones I was personally acquainted with. I think he also dealt amphetamines of some sort. The state executed him a few months back. The community cheered. I'll always miss those drugs. I hardly knew Crane, except for what he said in the newspaper, all the fragments of his confession and statements during the trial which when read together made him seem like a perfectly horrible man. I have to suppose he was.
Why did I get caught up with drugs? I'd already started by the time I graduated. Just experimental doses. Or at least that's what I would have told anyone who found out. I really scared myself a few times there, when I got reckless and almost failed a few midterms. My philosophy degree was all- important.
But I cleaned up real fast, and got my degree. And then the degree and five years of college turned into dust, because of no good jobs. It had all been on scholarship, luckily, so no big loss. But that wasn't my mindset in 1990. It was quite a shock to find that college was worthless, at least from my standpoint. I didn't know what to do, except to work here. Crane came into my life around then. He'd gone to my high school. I found out what his job was, decided it was noble, and became an eager, then a mellow, then a spaced- out customer.
It sucks how he had to die. I liked it better back then.
Four months ago, February it had to be, I was locking up the Shop 'n' Shop to go home. We always closed promptly at ten. I think that was why the store had low approval ratings in the community. That, and we didn't carry any alcohol. I guess that's a good thing, though. I wouldn't like to be tempted by it every day. It's a killer.
It was a cold day, about twenty degrees, which was a killer for Texans. There was ice all over the roads, so I had walked to work, and would have to walk home too. My boss told me no kind of weather should prohibit me from working. He said especially since people like to hoard food during disasters, such as cold weather.
The morning the cold front blew in, I watched the people of Juncture flood the streets, some on foot, most in cars on the ice, to panic-shop in case they had to stay home for a day or two. There weren't any accidents outside my door but I heard the sounds of squealing brakes and crunching metal nearby every few hours.
Of course, since all the stores were packed, so was my Shop 'n' Shop. The place was empty of merchandise by eight that night. I simply sat around for the remaining two hours to shoo people away, except for Eddie, who picked up the money and took it to the bank. I surely wasn't going to defy my boss' orders and leave early without permission.
I didn't care much being stuck there doing nothing. I had nothing else to do. Six years of continuous drug use hardly earns you lasting friends. When they caught Crane and the chemicals wore off, I found myself basically alone in a small town. That came as a shock too, but not as big a shock as finding I wasted five years in college. That's when I started to rethink my life. So far not much progress had been made. I only have myself to please, so the going has been slow.
So, I walked home. I had to be careful not to slip on the ice. Fortunately, the city had done a good job of throwing sand around on the sidewalks, so I could walk at a pretty good clip. Then I came to a neglected area. It was very odd that they would have missed this area; it was right in the middle of a long stretch of sidewalk.
I looked up for an explanation, and saw five or six young guys standing there. They didn't have anywhere near enough winter clothing and were huddling together to share some heat. Only two of them had gloves. The others were shivering and rubbing their hands together mechanically. I realized that they were homeless. That still didn't explain the remaining ice.
I stood there for a second and tried to figure out what had happened. I started to make a detour through the street when the boy nearest to me stepped forward and said, "Hey, mister, wanna take me home with you?" Without a second thought, I set my hand on his shoulder and said yes.
The thought had run through my mind before on much warmer days, to share my apartment with a homeless person. For the mere $250 rent, I had two bedrooms. It was the only place available at the time. Ever since then, that extra room had been completely empty. Sometimes I walked in there to look for something I'd misplaced, but that was all. Lately I'd started to feel guilty
about letting it go unused. And here the opportunity came right out and presented itself. My philosophy degree was working on me, you see.
The boy and I took the detour into the street and I led him to my apartment.
"What's your name, kid?" I asked.
"Jeremy. What's yours?"
"Jonathan Squires. Man, this is a horrible time to be homeless."
"Don't I know it! My cock was about to freeze off," he said, winking.
I laughed. "Yeah, sometimes I feel the same way. Say, Jeremy, would you like to stay with me for a few days? I have a spare room in my apartment, just dying for someone to live in it."
Jeremy's eyes opened wide. "Really, you mean it?" he asked. "Which complex is it?"
"The Spare Change Rooms, downtown."
"Oh, good. That place is pretty nice. I'd never go back to that Wood Plains place. They have rats and leaky plumbing."
"Did you use to live there?" I asked.
"No, I just stayed a night once, you know, that sort of thing," he said, shrugging.
I nodded. "Here, turn right. Down that street."
"Yeah, I know. I spent a night there too."
Again I nodded. I guess he had some friends around here. Why didn't they put him up?
We crunched along in the sandy ice in silence. A car came up and honked. It was my boss. He rolled down his window.
"Hey, Squires! How was it today?"
"They cleaned us out, Mr. Graham."
He looked surprised and then screwed up his face. "Even those year-old Boston Baked Beans?" I nodded solemnly. "Some people!" he smirked. "You may have to sit around a while tomorrow before they restock the place. But be there!"
"Say, Squires, who's your friend?"
"Oh, this is Jeremy," I said. "He's homeless. I'm gonna get him out of the cold." I glanced back and saw Jeremy was looking away, still rubbing his hands together.
"Nice gesture," my boss said. "Damned cold tonight. And speaking of that, I'm wasting heat here. I'm about to freeze! Well, see you later!" he said, rolling up the window and driving off.
Jeremy and I walked on up to my apartment. He stood with a quirky smile on his face waiting for me to unlock the door. I smiled back and opened it.
"Say, I'm about to have my little dinner. You want something too?" Jeremy had plopped down on the couch, still rubbing his hands together. He nodded eagerly. "Any preferences?" I asked.
"Just nothing cold."
I headed into the kitchen to make some soup. That would be best for him. I hoped he didn't have frostbite. I checked out the cabinets for crackers, found some, and placed them on the table.
"We'll have chicken soup, okay? Maybe when it gets warmer he can try something more creative," I said, sitting down on the couch next to Jeremy. He was still grinning and rubbing his hands together.
"Here, let me see your hands, Jeremy," I said. He pressed them against my cheeks. "Whoa, much too cold. You oughta get some gloves. I think I can find some spares. Here, lemme hold them." He gave me his hands and swung around in the couch to face me. "You been outside in the cold all day?"
"Nope. Tommy and Will and I were all hanging around in the movie theatre earlier until they kicked us out. There wasn't much of a crowd anyway."
"People are heartless, aren't they?" I said, rubbing his hands with mine. "It's just look out for old number one."
"You're not heartless, John. You're a very nice guy."
The name caught me by surprise. No one had called me that for years. "Urgh, don't call me... oh, well, all right. Call me John."
"Wait, I can call you Mr. Squires if you want. I'll do anything you want." Again, that quirky smile of his.
"Nah, you can call me John. And you don't have to do everything I say. I'm not your father. I'm gonna let you live here, and do as you please -- as long as it's reasonably sane. You're just as free as I am."
Jeremy nodded and lost his smile to a look of befuddlement. "Well, okay."
I let his hands go. "Your hands should be fine by now. Keep rubbing them together though. And that soup's probably boiling now. Let me go check." I headed into the kitchenette and he slumped back into the couch.
I brought out the bowls of soup to the table. "You want anything to drink with that? I myself find it's usually best on its own."
"Uh, guess not," he replied, getting up and walking over to the table.
We sat silently through the soup. Jeremy's expression gradually changed from confusion into a smile again as he ate. As he became happy again, so did I. A warm feeling, distinct from the soup, filled my heart. It felt damned good to do this. Man's inhumanity to man is so overplayed. Here was a prime example of simple kindness. Things like this probably happen all the time, but people just concentrate on the bad stuff.
As I watched Jeremy eat, I wondered suddenly if he couldn't be my son. What was he, thirteen? The harsh black hair, the dark eyes, the protruding lower lip -- did that Nicole Fresco and I actually have sex in eighth grade? Couldn't have been; she never showed up for the date. But this might well be her kid eating soup in my apartment. The similarities were astounding.
"Hey, kid," I said. "What's your mother's name?"
Jeremy sat bolt upright, dropping his spoon to the floor. "You're not going to call her!"
I waved my hands no. "I just wondered if I might know her. Is it Nicole?"
He stared at me. "No."
"Okay, just wondering, sorry. Making sure you weren't my son."
A look of utter bewilderment took over his face. "Are you looking for your son?" he asked.
"No, no, I don't have one."
"Okay," he said, returning to his soup after fishing the spoon from the floor.
Sigh, a son. I couldn't possibly have one, due to the fact that I'd never ejaculated anywhere near a female -- or anyone else -- in my whole life. I'd accepted celibacy in college anyway. The idea to experiment with sex had entered my mind and left in a depressingly short amount of time when I saw that no one considered me to be in the game.
I'm not the self-loathing type in the slightest, at least not about the lack of a sex life. I know I'm attractive, at least physically, but no one seems to notice. But I've accepted the obvious reason -- I'm invisible. During a particularly enlightening acid trip six years ago, I realized that fact. I looked down at myself and only saw the chair I was sitting on. That was of course a surprise to me. It explained a lot of things right away, like why girls would always walk right by me without noticing I was there, even when I waved at them and said hi.
Obviously the next thought in my mind was, why did some people see me and some people not? I mean, if I'm invisible, no one should know I'm here. But I was a student in college, and they took attendance; and my parents still recognized me, and I'm sure they weren't just being nice about how tall I was. I soon realized through trial and error that I was only invisible to people for whom I had sexual feelings.
You see, during that LSD trip, I'd been planning to masturbate and see how different it felt while under the influence. And I was invisible.
I'll admit, I hardly ever masturbate, which gave me few chances to notice that I was invisible. Furthermore, I did it in the dark or with my eyes closed. Otherwise I'd lose my concentration and find myself wandering around with my pants around my ankles and my dick in my hand.
This whole realization of invisibility at once struck me as a godsend, not as a curse. It explained what had been "wrong" with me for so many years, and also told me what the future would be like. There would be no more anguished lusting. I was free from sex.
Jeremy finished the soup before I did. Afterwards, he sat at the table, leaning back with his eyes closed. Every time I took a sip, a slight smile came to his lips. He was vicariously enjoying my meal, I guess. He certainly wolfed down his.
Finally there was nothing left in the bowl but soup water, so I put the bowl to my lips and slurped it down. With this, Jeremy's eyes popped open and he uttered a moan. I slammed down the bowl and asked, "Hey, are you all right?"
"I'm perfectly fine, John. I'm full to bursting. How about you?" he asked, grinning queerly.
"Oh, I'm okay too. You sounded sick for a moment."
"Well, that's good," I said, standing up to collect the bowls. "Well, Jeremy, it's getting late. You want to go check out your room? There's actually a bed in there. This place came with some free furniture."
"I'm not so sure I want to stand up right now, if you know what I mean," he said, smirking.
"Is that soup making you sick?" I asked. "I sure hope it isn't. That would be a pretty terrible way to welcome you here," I said. "Sit there until you feel better, unless you think you can walk. I'll go make your bed."
Actually, his bed was already made. I hadn't touched it once since I signed the place, and then only to see which of the two was better. Neither of them was that good. They were like hammocks. That's a hint why the rent was so low. I pulled all the sheets off the bed and shook them in the air. Strangely, there wasn't much of a musty odor. Sunlight shone directly on the bed from the window on the side of the room. Maybe that explained it. I tried not to think too hard about it.
"Hey, there you are. Here, it's all made," I said when Jeremy walked in. "The bathroom's across the hall, there. When the door's open, it's available. Uh, and I wake up and make noise around seven to go to work. You want a clock?"
"Uh, no, I have no schedule," he said.
"You don't go to school?"
"No, I left."
"Don't you have to be seventeen to drop out?" I asked.
"Yeah. I'm only fifteen so I had to leave," he said curtly. He didn't want to discuss the matter. I wasn't going to press the issue, because after my college experience I wasn't all gung-ho for school anymore either.
"All right, then. It's all yours," I said with a wave of the arm. I went to my room.
The next day I woke up and walked outside. The hard freeze, which is another term the citizens of Juncture like to throw around when the temperature drops below thirty, was still going on. I didn't even think of starting my car, which was covered with ice and snow. In examining the ice pocket my car was sleeping in, I heard a series of sounds from down the street. They were: a wet splash, a cracking sound, a moan, and a curse. I craned by neck out to see a man with a bucket standing next to his car, holding his head in his hands. The windshield makers of Juncture were going to have a heyday.
I wandered on down the road to work. Apparently a lot of people were still out there driving about, throwing caution to the wind. There were scores of plumber trucks creeping along the roads like vultures listening for cries of helplessness. As I came upon the intersection of the main thoroughfare through town, Gondola Road, there were ten cars left deserted from yesterday's set of accidents. In some of the cars, the radios and heaters were still running, but in most, the batteries had died. In every case, of course, the owner had bailed out when the threat of an icy death became clear. I don't blame them for looking out for their safety.
The sidewalks had been sanded again, which was nice for me. I couldn't have walked along the edge of the road in any case due to the fact that cars lined each side of the road as far as my eye could see. I again came upon that strange area of sidewalk which hadn't been sanded.
I glanced to the side and saw two boys lying huddled against the wall. I think they were some of the ones from yesterday. They didn't have any gloves. They weren't breathing either. I glanced up again and saw they were lying at the entrance of the local secular church. The door of the church, like the door of the Shop 'n' Shop and the door of the drugstore, all had signs hastily tacked to them. The sign on the drugstore read, "No cold medicine." The sign on the Shop 'n' Shop read, "No food." The sign on the church read, "No bums." I guess someone would pick the boys up later in the day if it got warmer.
I unlocked the door to the Shop 'n' Shop, shooing away ravenous customers. Handprints and noseprints decorated the windows. "We don't have any alcohol," I told them. They left.
Inside the store, it was cold. I kept my jacket on. Mr. Graham, the owner and my boss, didn't want to waste energy keeping it heated and well-lit all night when no one was there. I didn't blame him, of course. I took a trip back into the breaker panel and turned on the heater. In the meantime, I sat on the counter, waiting for the stocker to arrive.
During my wait, I became quickly bored. I was used to morning coffee and some mindless chatter with customers to start my day. Here, there was nothing. I wandered over to the swiveling book rack. It was still packed full. The books actually were the only bit of merchandise that never needed to be restocked. As I've heard people say, Juncture is not the literary center of Western civilization, so why read? I picked out Call of the Wild by Jack London.
For the next several hours, my concentration was broken several times by customers wandering in like emaciated dogs looking for food. Due to the heavy layering of clothing and the general rotundity of Juncture's citizens, the analogy held no visual correlation, of course.
I was considering locking the doors and waiting until the stocker showed up, when instead my new friend Jeremy walked in.
Out of habit, I said, "We're empty," and then, "Hi, Jeremy!"
He looked up at me, reading and perched on the corner of the counter. "Hey, Mister... Jonathan," he said. "It's cold."
"Yeah, I know," I said. I realized Jeremy was still wearing the same clothes from yesterday, jeans and a flannel shirt. "You can certainly hang out in here to stay warm if you like."
"Thanks," he said. He walked around the store, noting the empty shelves and freezers. "Wow, no more food. All those people must be thinking they're gonna starve."
"That'll make them put their lives in perspective, right?" I suggested.
"No. They've hoarded food all year long, like squirrels. No worries there."
"Yeah," I said. "You know you were certainly welcome to eat something at my place. Did you get anything?"
"No, I usually only eat once a day." He punctuated this by slapping his stomach a few times. "Very efficient."
"That's cool. Saves you a lot of money."
"That I don't usually have, yeah," he said, nodding.
"Say," I asked, "what do you do for money, anyway?"
Jeremy squinted at me and grinned. "Oh, you don't know?"
"Haven't a clue," I said.
"I don't get it."
"You know, sperm mining. Sometimes I take, sometimes I give it back. All for valuable cash prizes."
I had to think about it. "Oh yeah, I get it," I lied. "Sounds like an interesting job."
"No, it's a fucking sucking job," he said, grinning.
"Oh, sorry about that."
"Dude, you're clueless, aren't you?" he asked.
"Yeah, sorry. I recently got off a six-year drug habit."
"Ah, like those eggs in the frying pan?" he joked.
"Uh, I guess so." I hadn't seen any TV in college, nor did I own one now. What with working fifteen hours a day, I wouldn't have had time anyway.
"Well, John, you seem pretty okay otherwise."
"Thanks, I guess," I said, grinning.
Jeremy walked behind the counter to look around and found my sitting stool there. He scooted it out and sat down on it facing the store. With that, he leaned back and rested his elbows on the counter.
"This is a fucking cold day," he said, smiling.
"Yeah, yeah, it is. And it's getting to be a freaking cold afternoon in a few hours. I wonder where that Barry is?"
"Hancock. He's the guy who supplies these Shop 'n' Shop stores. Usually as punctual as anything. Must be the weather," I explained.
"Aaah, forget him. This is pretty fun, basically having a whole store to ourselves."
"A whole Shop 'n' Shop store, that is. Smallest in town."
"Aaaah, that doesn't matter. It's got heating. And it's so fun to watch those bastards out there slipping on the ice."
I laughed. "And have wrecks."
"True, true." He leaned back again and closed his eyes to bask in the warmth. I returned to reading my book when he sat up and spoke again. "Guess you saw two of my buddies frozen dead on the sidewalk."
I was rudely awakened. "Yeah.... It's a sad thing."
"Not after a while. I mean, it doesn't ruin your whole month anymore. Just a day or two. They were only two of eleven so far. And they died a lot more peacefully than some I've known. Rape, suicide, drugs, stuff like that."
"Man, I never realized it was so dangerous."
"What do you mean?"
"I assumed people just left you alone, you know. Ignoring the homeless is the great American pastime."
"John, you still don't know what I do for money."
"No, I really don't. What is it again?"
He looked me in the eye and considered what he wanted to say. "You're not going to freak out, are you?"
"I usually don't."
"I'm a whore, you get?"
"A what?" I asked.
He rolled his eyes. "A prostitute. And yes, I am a guy."
It struck me as odd that I'd never heard of this before. Since when do women crave sex so much? I... then it came into focus. I slapped my head. "Good God, am I ever dense!" I exclaimed. "Welcome to the club!" I cried.
Jeremy's eyes boggled. "You're one too?"
"No, no," I said. "I misspoke, sorry. That expression means something different to me." I certainly hadn't meant to imply that I was also a male prostitute. I'm sure if I had tried I would have earned the nickname "The Invisible Man" and been shunned.
"Welcome to the club!" had been a saying I learned in junior high. My friend Bryce and I used to mutually misunderstand almost everything that was said to us, namely jokes. So we'd hear a joke and be left baffled. But then a few hours later, or even the next day, we would finally understand the joke, and one would whisper to the other, "I finally got the joke. I can't believe how slow I am." And the other would say, "Welcome to the club."
Of course, the expression was also useful when talking to myself.
"Okay, well that explains everything, then," Jeremy said. "You see, I thought when you picked me up last night that you were going to have sex with me."
"Mmmmm, I'm afraid not, Jeremy," I said, shaking my head.
"You're probably not even gay then."
"I wouldn't know about that."
"What do you mean there?" he asked, grinning.
"I mean, I wouldn't know. I don't have sex. I don't even think about it," I explained, suddenly feeling inferior being in the presence of someone who, compared to me, was probably an expert.
"That's funny. I knew someone like you in school. His name was Kerry. Girls and guys both used to try to pick him up, and he always said no. Actually, this is the truth, I used to come on to him to get practice in being rejected. You see, he didn't even know I was a fag. He wouldn't have even cared if he did. People like you are safe."
I grinned uneasily. "Safe?"
"You know, no bashing, no raping. You see, that's what got some of my friends out there. Mean hets like to beat us up, mean queers like to too. And some of the rapists with bad consciences like to come back and, well, eliminate the evidence."
"Good God, that's horrible!" I exclaimed.
"And you don't usually hear about that, just for the reason you said. People ignore the homeless. No big loss when, say, Nathan gets picked up and thrown away by some guy who just happens to have an obsession with cutting things. Or when Frank finds himself led into a room with five angry policemen. You know, gutter trash."
"Freezing to death is wonderful, then," I suggested.
"Yeah, you see?"
"I guess that was sufficiently vivid, eh?" Jeremy asked.
"Yeah, it was. I just never thought of that before."
"Sorry about that. I had to tell someone, I guess. It's pretty much taboo to whine about it to anyone but yourself," he said.
"No, actually, it's okay that you dumped that on me. It just makes me happier that I'm letting you stay with me. That's a lot safer than living on the street."
"Yeah, that's true, thanks a lot. But I'm still going to be out there, you know, doing my job."
"You don't have to pay me back for anything, you understand," I said, hoping he'd take a break from his job for a while, now knowing what he risked every day.
"I'd still like to have something to do, though. A day is a long time to do nothing."
"Especially several days. You're certainly welcome for that long."
He smiled. "I can't help but thinking that some of my buddies out there are more deserving, though. I think I can make it on my own."
My heart sank. I'd already become attached to him. "I guess you could, but please, accept my offer for a little while longer." My mind suddenly decided that I might want to adopt him. Uh, if his parents wouldn't.
"But I'll feel really guilty the whole time, for my friends," he said glumly.
"Please don't, Jeremy. We both know life isn't fair. You have every right to enjoy the ordinary privilege of living inside for a while. Their time will come too."
He smirked cynically. "Yeah, if you put it that way..., well, alright."
"Good for you!" I said.
"And John, as a token of my appreciation, I'd be happy to show you what I do for a living," he said, winking. "Just ask."
I turned red. "Jeremy, you know I don't --"
He smiled and laughed. "I know, I know. That's what I used to do to Kerry." He slapped his hands on his knees. "It's so fun playing with asexuals!"
We shared a laugh and then I got back to reading my book. I had to distract myself from the train of thought starting in my head. I was about to imagine what sorts of things Jeremy did, just out of curiosity, of course, and certainly didn't want to find myself turning invisible right in front of him. It might upset him a little.
Around noon, another person came into the store. I said, "We're empty," behind the book.
"For the whole day at least," said the voice of my boss, Mr. Graham.
I put down the book. "Looks like it. Barry hasn't shown up yet."
"He had a wreck on the highway," my boss said. "Crazy bastard was going seventy. He's okay, but he won't be coming by here any time soon."
"Hmmmm," I said.
"So, Squires, have yourself a holiday. Go home, relax without guilt. We're wasting energy heating this building with no business going on."
"Wow, thanks," I said, not wanting to seem sarcastic. Because you see, I'd never been let off work before. I worked seven days a week, and even Christmas. At least I think that's how it was. Images of coming to work and going home regressed infinitely into my mind like a kaleidoscope. I don't remember anything being different about any of them, except for recently. Not like I really cared. I had no friends, no special hobbies. Never visited the parents either, since they're so ashamed of my useless philosophy degree, I guess. Just never went back. Again I was amazed at what I'd been doing for six years. I didn't feel particularly bad about it.
"It's all in the interest of money," Mr. Graham said with a smile, as if he meant his statement to be sincere. And he did.
"This is so strange," I said.
"Yes, I know. You're such a consistent worker. You've never missed a day for sickness or laziness or anything else. I'm glad to have you here. Sorry I have to send you home today. It must screw up your routine."
"Yeah, it will," I said, grinning, as if I meant my statement to be sincere. And I did.
"Say, who's the boy?" he said, motioning to Jeremy.
"He's that homeless kid living with me," I said.
"Oh yes, him. Such a nice gesture," he said. Then he whispered to me, "Don't let him take advantage of your good fortune."
"Oh, of course not," I said confidently. I was appalled.
Mr. Graham left, and I started to close down the store. I pointed Jeremy to the book rack. "Take one to read if you like. That's what I'm going to be doing."
"Uhhhh," Jeremy started, and then said "Oh yeah, sure!" He walked over and pretended to judiciously pick one out. What he selected was the catalog of books available from the Book Shelf, the company that supplied the rack. "This'll keep me interested," he said with a false smile.
I wasn't going to sustain his discomfort. "Jeremy, I'm sorry, I didn't realize. Go ahead and put it back."
He hung his head low. "Sorry I won't be able to discuss literature with you."
A laugh escaped me. "What do you mean? Were you expecting to have to do that?"
"Yeah! Wasn't I? Isn't that what you book-people do?"
"I'm hardly a book-person, Jeremy. I was just bored."
"Oh. I mean, you were reading a book in here, and the first thing that came to mind was that you were a book-person. The kind of guy who spends all his time reading, and the rest of his time he's discussing what he read. You know? It's such snobbery."
"I'm sorry you think that. I don't have much time to read anything. I'm usually working. I work every single day of the year."
"Wow, that blows!"
"I didn't realize it until a few minutes ago myself," I admitted.
So that afternoon I went home early. I noticed the sun had come out and found myself shielding my eyes. It was quite embarrassing. I fancied myself a vampire for a moment. Could I be a vampire? I decided no. I certainly didn't exhibit any of their traits. Also, they're only invisible in mirrors.
"Still pretty icy out," Jeremy said. "But, hey, it's warmer too!"
"You think so?" I asked. I was concentrating on my resemblance to a vampire.
"Yup. This ice will be gone any minute. And then they can get these dead faggots off the sidewalk," he said, kicking the corpses huddled in front of the church door.
"Good God, Jeremy! That's heartless!"
"Oh, John, they're dead. Everyone knows that a dead body is just a dead body. It's not me down there, and that's all I care. Bye-bye, Keith. Bye- bye, Jacob," he said.
It seemed like a personal affront for him to say that, seeing as how I'd derided selfishness the night before. But I felt bad for him. He was obviously showing emotional stress.
"Urgh, fuck!" he exclaimed, shaking his head violently. "I can't believe I said that!"
"Don't worry about it, it's normal. It's like nervous laughter at... a funeral," I said, laughing nervously.
"Jesus, I just can't believe I said that! That I did that! Argh! Man! In all seriousness, really, it is getting warmer, so I won't feel as guilty about leaving my friends in the cold. There, that was sincere."
"Yes, it was. Good for you."
I spent the rest of the day reading Call of the Wild. Damned intense book. Only I kept on laughing, when I realized that most Juncturians considered themselves to be in the same situation just recently.
Jeremy, of course, became bored. I had nothing for him to do. No TV, no video games, no board games, no nothing. He told me he was "going out" and to expect him later that night, if not the next morning.
I accepted his leaving humbly. I was appalled at my absolute lack of a life. While I'd been finishing the book, I tried hard not to think about how I had stood six years of this. The answer, of course, was obvious. I already knew that. I'd spent most of my waking hours stoned and tripping out of my mind, with a very liberal and inexpensive supply from Crane. Apparently it didn't affect my job any. The only strange part is that I simply don't remember anything special having happened during that time. I didn't seem to have gotten bored with that life, although that hardly seems to make sense.
I think I can remember a routine, such as having LSD one day, marijuana the next, both the next day, two hits of acid and three joints one day, three hits of acid and two joints the next, and so on. But what did all that give me? I can't even remember the effects they had on me!
And hell, wouldn't one of the customers eventually notice? I mean, I had to smoke those joints some time. I guess those were during breaks or trips to the restroom. I guess that's it. And, obviously, they would get quite used to my "quirky personality" after a while too.
It all seems to have been such a waste. Only I don't even have the sense of time having passed. It was just like there was one state, doing drugs and working, and then one day, I woke up, agitated about Crane going away, and then things were normal again. It really makes me....
God, look at the job I'm working at now! And I got through six years drug-induced and now a few months later, it seems like hell. It really makes me....
Damn, it really makes me want to start up again.
Of course, I wasn't able to start up right again. I didn't know who would give them to me. And I certainly wasn't going to wander around town asking for drugs. I figured the most obvious thing I could do would be to quit my job and take a new one. The prospects of doing that without moving seemed small. I didn't want to move. I had good rent.
It's real hell contemplating your life. Not only is it hard work that you're usually not doing, but also, it's damned important. I wanted to convince myself that I could stave off my boredom for a few weeks and find myself enjoying my job again. After all, these two days were extraordinary in that my whole routine was upset. I should be able to cope.
A week later, when the cold snap had been forgotten and Jeremy had taken up the habit of hanging around with me at work a good portion of the day, I was thinking seriously about two options I had. Either quit my job or start doing drugs again. The first choice still held no reverence for me. I'd glanced at the want ads for several days and nothing was appealing. And of course, no philosophy jobs. I was about to scratch off the second choice when I realized Jeremy might know something.
"Come closer. I need to whisper." There were some children carefully choosing candy in the distance.
Jeremy leaned over, grinning. "What is it?"
"I need some dope."
"You do, huh?" he asked. "You think I have some?"
"No, but I wondered if you know anyone."
"I know tons of people."
"Oh, you mean people with dope?" he asked. He was being silly.
"How about your boss?" he said, smiling.
"What the hell?" I said out loud. The children in the distance instinctively dropped their candy and ran away.
"He's quite the dope fiend."
"How do you know that?"
"I get around, John."
"Have you had sex with Mr. Graham?" I asked, shocked.
"No, no, he's disgusting. But I've seen him make quite a few transactions. He's very sloppy. He would get caught if anyone happened to look his way."
"Oh, that's too bad," I said, sincerely. "He sells, you mean?"
"Yes. How often do you see him, anyway?"
"Hardly ever. Maybe three times a month."
"He's got a job too, you see," Jeremy said, forcing himself to contain his excitement.
"I always wondered. Why didn't you tell me before?"
"You never asked. Welcome to the club!"
Jeremy had appropriated my saying and used it a lot around me.
"What does he sell?"
"He sells ephedrine, pot, acid, and speed."
"That bastard took over Crane's job!" I exclaimed. "Except for the ephedrine." We used to sell it in my very store. You see, ephedrine is sold as a cold or asthma medicine. When taken in large quantities, though, it's basically a caffeine-type rush, with the humorous side effect that the body thinks it's a lot warmer than it really is, making you sweat profusely. Your hair tingles like crazy too. A few high school students were found to have used it, and the school board thought a dangerous fad was about to start. They were very serious about their war on drugs. So, the school board threatened to sue us unless we pulled it. So we did.
But Mr. Graham didn't lose a penny.
"You knew Crane? Tall, with short black hair?" Jeremy asked.
"With a name like Crane, I'm sure we're talking about the same guy. I used to buy from him for six years."
"Wowee, quite a track record. I dated him once too."
"Was he good?" I asked, not knowing in the slightest why.
"Oh, I did all the work."
"Were you good?" I asked, laughing.
"Good for you," I said. "You knew him better than I did."
"So, Mr. Graham sells. That's very odd. I don't know if I could approach him about that."
"Sorta touchy, I'd say," Jeremy said. "What's he gonna do, though? I think you have the upper hand in this case."
My stomach writhed. "I wouldn't blackmail him."
"You don't have to. Graham will know right away that you've got the upper hand. Just do it. It'll make you better friends."
"That's an idea, I guess," I said. "What are his prices?"
"I'm not sure. He ought to be competitive, though. There are a few others in the market. The going prices now are ten dollars for a dime-bag of pot, five dollars for a hit of acid, three dollars for a tab of speed, and one buck for a bottle of ephedrine."
"Geez, Crane and I had a deal, I think. That would've run me about two hundred dollars a month!"
"And again, I say you have the upper hand. Graham will make a deal with you, I'm sure."
"Man, things are starting to look good."
A couple of short days later, I was baked.
A few hours after that, I was noticing all sorts of things that had never caught my eye before.
I started to notice that my customers were treating me much more amiably now. I don't know if it was a masking of my self-consciousness or what, but I also found myself being nicer to them.
Although I had never been mean to them. I distinctly remember now that after I realized Crane was gone, that I also found myself having to become reaccustomed to serving customers. It was like I didn't know them, and they didn't know me, but that we once had been friends. I see now that they had gotten used to me as a quirky stoner-tripper for six years, and then saw me in the raw. Now I was back to normal again. It was great. I was loving my job.
"Say, Jeremy," I said one morning in April. He was still living with me. I'd sort of forgotten to bring it up. Not that I cared; Jeremy and I had become very good friends.
"Yeah, John," he replied, that very same morning.
"I can't believe I've been so rude all along. I've never asked: do you want to share a hit with me?" I asked, holding out a tiny square of paper on my finger.
"Sure, why not? I've never done this before. I've gotten a lot of practice watching you, though."
"Oh, Jeremy, you can't know anything about the real thing! What do you think it'll be like?"
"Well, my eyes will dilate and I'll walk around moaning and jabbering and staring at random things. And when I try to explain what I'm staring at, I'll suddenly wander off and talk about something else."
He grinned. "I'll wander right out the door with a bottle of water. Then, in full view of everyone, I'll spend hours spilling tiny drops on the palm of my hand, cooing and moaning all the while?"
"Huh? When was that?" I asked, amazed.
"You did that two days ago!" he said. "I handled the cash register for you."
"What did you say to the people?"
"I said, 'Look at that. He really enjoys life.'"
"And what did they say?"
"They said they suspected as much."
Obviously, Jeremy didn't really know what to expect. But I didn't tell him either. I doubted I could explain it. So I let him find out himself. Of course he didn't do it alone.
We waited for a lull in the customer flow, which was really most of the time, and placed the tiny pieces of paper on our tongues.
Then we sat around for an hour.
LSD is funny that way. It takes that long to start working. Which is a pretty good psychological trick. To the beginner, it seems like his hit was a dud. Pretty soon he gets disappointed and stops waiting for the strange stuff to happen. He expects that it will never happen. And then, he's off playing Doom or something, and he realizes the monsters are laughing at him. The ones in the back, see. They scoot by so fast he can't be sure. But the freeze- frame image hangs in his mind, and that fireball-throwing imp in the background is grinning. Immediately, though, that huge pink monster is telling him a secret. Its slobbery chewing sounds transform into the rocky cancer-throated voice of an old man, uttering important words he needs to remember for later in the game. Soon, though, he realizes what's really going on, and he gets up from the mildly disturbing act of murdering under the influence, and starts having real fun.
Oh yeah, I know so much about Doom because I apparently got Jeremy an Atari Jaguar and a used TV set a few weeks ago. I guess it was the least I could have done.
So Jeremy had a good time. And I also had a totally new time as well. You see, one thing about acid that I never realized was that it was so much better with company. Then there's the added feature of suggestion. That's where someone has the mind-blowing power to suggest some sort of scenario and make it come true in your mind.
It first started happening when Jeremy wandered around the store, looking at everything for sporadic amounts of time, touching things, staring off into space, and jabbering like a chimpanzee on acid. Most of the things he saw, I had never thought of before. For one thing, that cans of Tab looked like they were glowing in the florescent lights, and then looked like they were floating. I eagerly ran over to see. And they were! And I picked up a can -- they were separate since no one would consent to buy an entire six-pack -- and it actually was weightless! My mind, expecting fleetingly that it would be light, found itself amazingly confirmed. That blew me away. I expected the other cans to be weightless, but they weren't, so reason told me what had really happened. You see, something had poked a hole in the can and it actually was empty. The sticky brown patch of goo behind the can proved that. And then I touched the goo, and that was a blast too.
Naturally I was excited about how Jeremy's observation had influenced me so, so I turned around to tell him about it. He wasn't there anymore. He was over next to the freezer section, pressing his cheek against the glass, and giggling madly. "This is so homeless! Freeze me in the wintertime! Lie me on the ice!" Apparently it wasn't as emotionally charged as he wanted it to be. But at once, I felt a breeze of cold air float by me; it was gone as soon as I noticed it. I knew it would be winter where Jeremy was. I walked over and stood up against the freezer case with my hands and tongue against the glass. It was amazing. I was back in fifth grade, just about to get my tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole. And this frozen flagpole was a rarity in my hometown of Creedence and just begged for stupid kids to lick it. My hands were in mittens wrapped around it. The physical position of my arms had nothing to do with what I was feeling when I closed my eyes. I of course feared sticking my tongue to the flagpole. But a trickle of hot water released me from the grasp of the ice. That was, in real life, simply slobber. I laughed about that for quite a while.
But the real special effects hadn't even started yet. Jeremy was over next to my stool, squeezing the seat with his hands. "This is so fuckin' awesome!" he cried out, for about the hundredth time.
"Ain't this great?" I cried out in return.
"This must be what heaven is like, with all the angels tripping all day!" he said.
I stopped dead cold.
That was the truth.
I was an angel.
I sobered up pretty quickly, thunderstruck by the fact which had been taunting me for the past five months. I was dead. The whole time. I turned around slowly to face the inside of the store. I saw an elderly man, a middle- aged woman, and a thirty-year-old man standing and watching me.
I raised my hands. "I love you all," I said.
"We love you too," they said, and quickly left.
I smiled weakly. Everyone loves angels. I staggered over to the counter, shoved Jeremy away from squooshing my seat and sat down.
I remembered my death vividly.
I had graduated from college with that philosophy degree. My GPA was about 3.8. I had all the qualifications for a high-paying, intelligent job, and I knew I was going to get one. But that wasn't the case. There was nothing to do be had in the area around Creedence. And I'd been rejected from the one hopeful prospect in Juncture -- because I was overqualified! They just wanted someone to write greeting cards. I was overqualified and offended that this was the only thing I could have done, had I been stupider. It was an insult to my very intelligence.
And in my mind, my father's sneering words: "What are you gonna do with a philosophy degree? What good is that? You're gonna study for four years on how to talk smart? That's a great thing. You do that, you faggot."
You see, I'd always been asexual, and my father saw that lack of a sex drive as latent homosexuality, which he naturally thought was repulsive. "Any boy who hasn't had a girlfriend by age eighteen has something seriously wrong with him. Don't let me know if you have a boyfriend either. That's not what I want to hear. I may suspect it, but I'm not going to hear of it." I never gave him any real fuel for his fire, but he always found a reason to hit me.
And in my mind I remembered the weakly adolescent talking rebellious: "You don't know what philosophy is all about, Dad. It's all about understanding people. It might even help me understand you some day! <takes a slap> Although I doubt it! <takes another slap> This is gonna help my mind, Dad, this is gonna make me a better person, and better able to get along in the world. And I'm sure people out there are looking for guys who know how to get along, Dad. I'm gonna do something with my life! <punch, fall down, curtain.>" The last sentence apparently seemed somewhat mocking.
I guess you need to know about my father. He was a cuss. And a pool-hall owner. He inherited the place from a cousin. He liked pool, so he dove in. He had been working as a mechanic before. He opened the place with all the glamor that befitted a white-trash establishment like that. Some of the fringe benefits of working in a pool hall, besides taking bribes to make him "forget" about all the illegal gambling that took place therein, was the sporadic and exciting appearance of a woman. My father was naturally a very kind person, so he took a lot of care to explain the rules to the obviously neophyte females, and to hold them gently as they lined up shots, and to ask them if they were available for a night. He relied on his charm, I'm sure, to bag quite a few. I know because I caught him doing it once. I got insanely furious with him because of that, since Mom was still very much alive and married to him, but of course had it beaten out of me. My father had the upper hand, and a legitimate reason to do what he did, because he was a heterosexual. And again, of course, I was the opposite, because I didn't have sex at all.
After I'd been rejected at the greeting-card place, my worst fears had come true. I had indeed wasted five years of my life learning how to make myself unemployable. With my youthful arrogance, I had never before allowed myself to believe anything my father said. But I found that he had been correct all along. He had told me the truth. I guess it was his delivery that somewhat skewed my perception. I mean, look at my dad. He was probably the most uneducated bigoted asshole in the whole town, but he predicted my future exactly. With the benefit of no college education whatsoever, he knew what was a good one and what was a bad one. He knew his job market! It couldn't have been a fluke, could it? It was instead poetic justice. I was striving to be the opposite of him -- smart, caring, decent -- and he knew all along that it was pointless. My youthful arrogance had completely warped my sense of reality. My dad knew the truth!
However, I was pretty sure I wasn't a faggot yet. But I worried that I would soon be. Dad was always correct, right?
It was 1990, though, so such predictions of faggotry were considered ludicrous in all but the small towns like Creedence. My mind had been shattered anyway, so it was that much easier to accept the prediction as fact. I mean, I didn't know. I hadn't had sex yet. You can't know anything until you do it.
So I intended to get the chore over with. I would find out what was what. I carried my feet over to a part of the town where I knew the hustlers hung out. I had some money. I had nothing to lose. I trudged and trudged and trudged.
It was a street down from Main Street where they hung out, outside a book store which was a front for all sorts of illegal pornography. Those three men in Creedence, Texas actually had bought a bookstore called Ages of Pages and ran it as a front for pornography, stealing the idea from the book Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut. It was an ingenious idea and an ingenious appropriation, perfectly suited for the citizens of the small town of Creedence. No one would enter the store looking for a book, period. No one would read Slaughterhouse-5 because it was banned from schools. Everyone who cared to know, knew what the book store really was. And the hustlers were out front.
I walked up to them mechanically and said the words I assumed had to be said. "I've got money." The guys looked at each other somewhat uneasily.
"What do you mean, dude?"
"I'm looking for sex," I said. Everyone was, right?
"Oh, oh yeah," they said, nodding. They knew all along what I meant. I just had to make it clear.
One of them stepped toward me. He appeared to be about twenty. "Say, you look like a selective guy. You probably want a caring, tender boy, who's an animal in bed."
"Sure," I nodded. Whatever.
"Let's go, then."
"All right," I said.
He gestured toward the book store. So I followed him in. I'd never been inside but I knew what to expect. The two token bookshelves in the place served as barriers for the windows. We walked between them into the concealed interior. The room was filled with tables of photographs and well-worn books and private stalls where customers could try out the merchandise. We walked into the back, past several nervous gentlemen looking into small boxes.
I mused cynically. These poor perverts, so addicted to sex. I knew I was free of that curse. And I was going to verify it. I was sure I would.
The back door led into an alley. We walked down the alley to the rear of an apartment complex. I didn't recognize it, but it had to be the Ottoman Quarters of Creedence. It was very opulent. My new friend and I climbed a set of stairs into a room.
The room was very simple. It had a bed and a dresser and a bathroom. It appeared low-rent. My new friend entered the room and waited for me to follow. I simply stood in the doorway, my mind blank. I didn't know what to do. I stared into space.
"Is it your first time?" my new friend asked. He tilted his head to one side in concern.
"Yes," I said.
"Hey, that's cool. Nothing wrong with that."
I nodded my head.
My new friend walked over and sat down on the bed. "Come on over here," he said.
"All right," I said. I decided to put some effort into it. I would probably have to pay one way or the other. I walked over to the bed and sat down. "My name's John," I said.
"I'm Carter," he said. "Are you a police officer, John?"
I woke up a little more. "No, are you?"
"No. Just making sure."
"Oh. Do the police...?" I started.
"Every once in a while they try to arrest one of us, yeah."
"So it's best to ask before..."
"Uh-huh, yup. They can lie though," Carter said, smirking uneasily.
"Oh, I'm completely sympathetic with the human condition. I couldn't be a policeman."
"That's good then."
We sat on the edge of the bed in silence. I started to wonder just what I was doing. My father could well have been right about my sexual future, but did I have to prove it or refute it at all? No one had to know, not even me. What was I doing?
"I can't do this," I said.
"What do you mean?" Carter asked. "Is it me?"
"I'm not gay," I said blankly.
"You had to pick me for some reason, John."
"Don't call me that. Don't call me anything," I said forcefully in confusion. "I don't think..."
"Now, now, calm down. There's no pressure."
I became nervous. Rationality was setting in. I thought about where I was and what I was doing, but.... But I couldn't decide to go or to stay. I couldn't even outright reject the idea to stay. My mind only told me it was a chance to prove my father wrong -- or right. I didn't know at all what the outcome would be, and I didn't want to find out. The outcome I dreaded seemed to be inevitable.
"I'm not sure," I said aloud.
"Well, think about what you want," Carter suggested.
I didn't want anything. I wanted blessed ignorance. But I wanted to know, more. "I came here because I wanted to know," I said.
"To know if you'd like it?" Carter suggested. He was becoming a little nervous.
"Just tell me what you want to do," he said. "May I do this?" he asked, putting his arm around my shoulders. My God, he was so warm! It was so eerily comfortable, I... I sharply glanced at his face. He was smiling kindly.
"I..., I...," I stammered. His arm flexed a little. "Good God," I mumbled. I couldn't believe the effect of that arm on me. Nothing at all felt wrong about it. It felt just right. It was so comfortable... but friendly. It was like he was suddenly a good friend of mine. That was it, it was just a friendly gesture, and I...
"Is that okay?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. I was so surprised. My eyes were wide open with awe. I put my arm around his shoulders. It was an instinct. I glanced at my hand on his shoulder. It wasn't there.
My arm was invisible. I yelped and looked down and I saw my whole body fade out into nothingness. I freaked out. I simply freaked out. Everything in the room started rushing at me. I felt the presence of so many other people who had once been here. I had to get out.
I ran. I realized I was having a vivid flashback. Acid reflux. Things started to liquefy. Everything appeared to be streaming by as I ran. I rushed back through the porno slash book store and into the street. All the buildings appeared flat, like cardboard cutouts. The air was sharp. It seemed to prick into my skin when I breathed. I looked about me. Everyone was watching me. Their faces wore sneers of contempt. That means they saw me. I wasn't invisible anymore. But they knew that I had been. I couldn't stand their knowing my repulsive secret. I ran again. Everyone's eyes followed me down the street. The pebbles in the road were tiny eyes sternly watching me pass by. They could see everything.
I ran. I ran home. I skidded to a halt in front of my front door. It appeared to be as forbidding and inpenetrable as stone. I stepped back cautiously. My mind was a blur. My sight was a blur. Nothing wanted me around. Everything appeared to jut out and want to trip me or cut me or hit me. Go away, it said. You're no good. Go away for good.
I dashed into the storage shed adjacent to the house. A rifle was in there. I found it loaded.
My understanding of my whole life had been turned upside-down. I fell off the stool and the wind got knocked out of me. I climbed back onto the stool and sat hunched over to regain my breath. I looked down at my arms and legs and saw them pulsing in shape along with my heartbeat. It was utterly disconcerting. I tightly shut my eyes.
I never believed in life after death to that time. But I hadn't though devoted my life to denying the possibility, so this sort of realization wasn't as poetically just as it could have been.
I tried to sort things out. I was a dead man. Dead, dead, dead. But I was still here. I found myself completely lost in the world. I'd once had some sort of theory about what life was all about, but this? Why was I here? Why didn't anyone tell me what to do? What sort of reward was this?
I looked up for an answer. There was only Jeremy standing there, his huge dilated eyes staring at me.
"John, are you okay, man?"
"I'm back from the dead!"
"Walking zombies and women's high-pitched screams. Fog, fog, fog. That music, too. Clomp, clomp, grunt, grunt," he said, looking about blankly with his arms raised before him.
I just stared at him. He didn't understand. After a few seconds he looked back.
"Wait, are you serious?" he asked.
"I'm serious. I died six years ago. I don't know why I'm here now."
"That's fucked up, John," Jeremy said, looking at his hand as he wiggled his fingers.
"It's the truth! I just realized it."
"John, I don't understand what you're talking about," he said, staring at his fingers. "Wait, did you just explain it to me? I think I forgot," he said, giggling. "My fingers are blades of grass, whee!"
"What? Oh yeah, cool," I said, distracted.
"Whoa, no, my fingers are people, and they're zombies too! Whee!"
I decided to ignore him. He wouldn't be any help. An old lady who was in the store cautiously approached with a box of crackers.
"Will that be all?" I asked.
"Mmm-hmm," she said, glancing at Jeremy.
"That'll be two forty-one, not all in pennies, please," I said.
She smiled sweetly and handed me three dollars. They looked fake. Way too crisp. But they always did when I was tripping. Money was beautiful to look at.
"You always look at my money like it's counterfeit," the old lady remarked with a grin.
"I'm sorry about that, madam. Your money's always good here," I said, completing the transaction. I handed her her change. "You know I'm an angel?"
"You're a very good angel," she said, smiling softly.
"I wish you a nice life," I said, as if I could grant it.
"That's very kind of you."
I suddenly felt self-conscious, because I realized I'd really only been here seven months, and these people really didn't know me. The old woman left the store and tossed me a perplexed look before she entered her car. I grinned weakly.
I glanced at Jeremy and his huge dilated eyes were staring at me again. He was grinning too.
I woke up late that night in a huge drainage pipe. I had just been dreaming about my suicide, and it had repeated itself over and over and over again and I thought I'd go mad! But I finally woke up. And I had no idea where I was. I didn't care where I was. I was just glad to be awake. The first thing I laid my eyes upon was Jeremy.
"Whoa, hey, Jeremy!" I exclaimed. "Did you wake me up?"
"Yeah, I did."
"Where are we?" I asked.
"Right here," he said.
"Is this Juncture?"
"No, it's a sewer pipe."
"Creedence! That's it, right?"
"Alright, yes, it's Creedence," Jeremy said.
"Okay," I said, glancing about. To both ends there was darkness. Some strange light lit up the area Jeremy and I were sitting.
"John, I know you're an angel," he said.
"Yes, yes, I am. I died six years ago," I explained, still somewhat sleepy. "Do you believe that?"
"Yes, I do."
"I feel so funny saying that. It must sound like nonsense."
"No, it's not nonsense," Jeremy said. "You really are an angel."
"You believe that? I myself only realized today," I said, stretching and yawning.
"I know. I'm sorry. I slipped up."
"How do you mean?" I said, focusing my attention. Jeremy's eyes were serene.
"You're my angel. I brought you back to life."
I blinked. "You did?" My mind spun in circles. "I don't get it."
"You could say I'm a god," he said.
"Only my name's Jeremy."
"Why are we sitting here in the middle of the night?" I asked, looking around. "This is very strange."
"I wanted to explain things."
"Is this really Creedence? Where is this, anyway?"
"Oh, John, I'm sorry. I really haven't done this very well at all."
"Just a second," he said.
Late that night, I woke up with a start in a huge concrete sewer pipe. I had been dreaming about killing myself. I looked around me in surprise and saw Jeremy was sitting nearby.
"What the hell?" I said.
"We need to talk about being an angel," he said.
"Where are we?"
"Oh. What were you saying, then?"
"It's about your being an angel."
"Oh, yes. I'm an angel."
"I know it. It's true," Jeremy said.
"Really? Or are you just being nice?"
"No, I know for sure."
"Oh," I said. I still felt sleepy. I was still wearing my nightclothes. "How?"
"Did you say something?"
My eyes grew wide. "My God."
"That's really very disconcerting, Jeremy."
"Sorry. Do you believe me?" he asked.
"I guess I have to."
[Can you read my mind?]
[Hello, can you read my mind?]
[Hello, Jeremy! Hello! Hey hey Jeremy! Hello?!]
"Can you read my mind?" I asked.
"So I guess you find out today, huh?" he asked, somewhat glumly.
"That I'm an angel?"
"Good grief, it was so sudden. It all struck me at once."
"Yes, I'm sorry about that. I slipped up."
"How do you mean?"
"I didn't make you forget."
"You know about that?"
"Of course I do. I brought you back to life," he said.
"You know, Jeremy, I'm finding it really hard not to doubt you."
"I know. I'm compelling you to believe me. Here, think about it now."
I suddenly realized I was dreaming. I had to be. Jeremy didn't seem real at all. I didn't feel real. I couldn't feel the air or the concrete I was sitting on. All the words seemed to have been flying about in my mind, and had suddenly organized themselves into an intelligible conversation. I was relieved. I knew Jeremy was no god. He was just a person like I was. Except Jeremy was... God. Jeremy was God.
Jeremy pushed hard on my shoulder.
"Hey, whoa," I said.
"Sorry, you were dozing off there."
"Why did you kill yourself?" he asked.
"Don't you know?"
"No. I don't know much of anything."
"How can that be? You're God."
"No, I'm not really 'God'. I'm just Jeremy."
"Yeah. Christians have 'God', Moslems have 'Allah', et cetera. You have me."
"Are you disappointed? I'm just fifteen. I'm not really sure what I'm doing yet."
"I just don't know what's going on."
"What do you mean? Right now?"
"Yeah, sure. I don't understand why we're here at all."
"Oh, Jonathan!" he groaned.
I woke up with a start. I glanced at my clock and it read four-thirty. I sat silently to see if I had heard anything. Nothing. Just silence. I had just been dreaming about my suicide. I guess it was a nightmare and I woke up. I lay back down and pressed my head into the pillow. I couldn't get back to sleep. Upon reflecting about my dream, I didn't much care to either.
I lay on my back and stared upward. Dim light shone on the ceiling. I felt disoriented. My head ached. I started to think again about being an angel. It was a concept I couldn't quite grasp. I didn't know how I knew it, but I was sure it was true.
I'd been born, grown up, gone to college, and earned a useless degree. I looked for a job. There wasn't one. Then I went to a hustler... and died. End of life.
Then, six years later, I appeared behind the counter of a Shop 'n' Shop store, wearing a nametag reading "Jonathan", and I realized my friend Crane had been executed. That's really where it had to have started. There was nothing in between. I made up all the memories. I'd never bought drugs from him at all.
So why was I here again? Or better yet, where was I for those six years? Had to be somewhere. I guess in the ground.
Good God, it was such a mindfuck.
"Why the hell am I here?!" I whispered harshly.
I started hearing things.
(to die peacefully)
I sat bolt upright in bed again. Someone was speaking to me.
"Is someone talking to me?" I asked.
I lay back down. My heart was beating like mad. I was scared.
"Hello? Is that you, Jeremy? Are you talking in your sleep?" I whispered. I didn't want to wake him up.
"Yes what?" I whispered.
(yes it's me)
"Oh, okay, I see," I said, relieved. He was talking from the other room in his sleep.
I got up and tiptoed over to his room. The door was open a crack and I carefully pushed it open. Jeremy was sprawled out on his bed, mouth wide open. I tiptoed closer. He was asleep.
"My fingers are zombies," he muttered disjointedly.
I grinned. He was obviously reliving his acid trip. I went back to my room and got back in bed.
"Yes, mmm-hmm, Jeremy," I whispered back, to amuse myself.
"Hmmm," I said, and leaped out of bed again. I supposed he might actually be awake.
I walked right into the room as if he'd be waiting for me. Instead I was shocked to find he was still sprawled out in the same position with his mouth wide open. I almost laughed at the sight.
My eyes boggled. He hadn't made a move.
(you're an angel)
I saw nothing move. I got really close to his face and watched carefully.
(jonathan i'm god)
I sprung back. The message was five times louder but Jeremy hadn't uttered a sound. Frightened, I lost my balance and sat down hard on the ground.
(a god, not the christian god)
"Jeremy?" I whispered as silently but clearly as I could.
"What's going on?"
(go back to bed, you're dead)
My mouth dropped open. I wasn't hearing things. Somehow I realized God actually was talking to me. Overwhelmed, I got up and stumbled back to my room. I hid under the covers.
(i need to tell you why you're here jonathan)
I peeked out from under the covers. Although I was frightened, I suddenly became very receptive. "Okay," I whispered.
(to die peacefully)
"You already said that."
(believe it now)
"But what do I do? Isn't there something I have to do since I'm an angel?"
(life is too precious to have strings attached)
(just believe me)
"Should I quit my job?"
(shut up and go back to sleep)
"Okay," I said.
The next day I woke up with vivid memories of my conversations with God. I had to wonder for a few moments if I'd just dreamed the whole encounter, but seeing that Jeremy's door was still wide open from my panicked exit verified it for me. I closed the door quietly and went to work.
That day, even without the benefit of any drugs, I was exuberant. I knew what my purpose in life was. I had been redeemed for my suicide to walk the earth again. I picked out a dusty Bible from the swiveling book rack and eagerly started to read it.
In between bouts of reading, in which I was ashamed not to have been understanding much, I crouched down on my stool, leaning my elbows upon the counter, and watched the customers mill about. It was so rewarding to watch them in the process of picking out items, judging prices, comparing qualities and quantities, and finally bring their selection to my counter with an air of satisfaction, triumphance, or confidence. People are beautiful.
After each one's purchase had been made, I called out, "I love you, you know!" Because it was true. I had been ordered by God to love. And it came so easy! It was hard not to love the citizens of the small town of Juncture, because they all loved God along with me. My heart was warm.
At around two in the afternoon, Jeremy came into the store and perched himself on the edge of the counter where he always sat. You could easily pick out the spot because it was so well-dusted.
"Hey, Jeremy!" I exclaimed. "What a beautiful day!"
"Whoa, John, you're in high spirits. What's up?" he asked.
"Remember how I told you yesterday I was an angel? Well it's true! God Himself told me so."
His eyebrows rose. "Oh yeah? That's interesting."
"I woke up in the middle of the night and God explained why I was on earth again. You see, I desecrated my body and soul with suicide six years ago. It was a horrible mistake. But I've been redeemed!"
Jeremy nodded solemnly. "That is really amazing."
"And God told me that my job as an angel was to live, to love, and to die peacefully. Isn't that so easy? You know, no matter what anyone else ever says in the future, I'll always know God is kind."
"Say, John, what're you reading there?"
"Oh, this is the Bible. I'm hoping to find more instruction on how to live a good life."
"Hmmmm," he mused.
"I'll forgive you if you don't understand why. I've been blessed."
"Oh, no, that's not it. Say, is it helping any?" he asked.
I grinned uneasily. "Uh, I haven't been trained very well. I read the first few, uh, pages."
"Say now, son," a thirty-year-old man with bifocals and a cowboy hat suddenly interrupted. "I just overheard you and I want you to know what you're doing is the right thing. You just keep on reading. Jesus Christ needs more people like you on his side."
"Jesus Christ?" I asked.
"Yessir, the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour."
"Oh, I spoke directly to God, sir."
The man's eyes grew wide. "Sure you did, son, sure you did. But a note of advice: start with the New Testament. The Old one isn't of much use to anyone anymore, unless you want to be a Jew."
"Oh!" I exclaimed, slapping my head. "No wonder. I wasn't getting much out of it."
"'Course not. We don't want you going to hell. Say, son, by the way, where can I get some whiskey and a Penthouse around here?"
"Er, I think two stores down the road."
"All right, son, thankya!"
I flipped to the middle of the Bible and continued reading.
"Oh, wait! I love you, you know!" I called out after the man.
"Eh?" the man muttered, leaving.
I read through a couple of pages and still failed to find much meaning. I glanced up at Jeremy and saw he looked glum.
"Say, brother, what's wrong?"
"What, oh, me?" he asked, distracted. "Oh, nothing, just a little exhausted."
"Oh yeah, forgot to tell you that LSD would wear you out. You oughta get two meals today."
"Okay, I guess so."
"Oh, and we're never going to do that again, either," I said. "I've got the love of God now. I don't need drugs anymore. And I won't offer any to you either. It's better that way."
Jeremy screwed up his face and sighed. "John?" he asked, grabbing my shoulders and staring straight in my face,
(PUT DOWN THAT BIBLE)
My body convulsed and the Book flew out of my hands to the floor. "Jeremy?" I asked softly. His face was set in a furious stare.
(john I AM GOD)
Jeremy's face softened into a meek smile. He let go of my shoulders. He crossed his arms and waited for a response.
"Jeremy?" I asked, "what was that? I... I think I was interrupted."
(JEREMY IS GOD, JOHN)
The message was so loud and clear that I staggered backwards and fell off my stool. My head hit the wall behind me. "Good grief!" I cried.
"John! Are you alright?" he asked, jumping down behind the counter.
"I... I think so," I said. I saw the Bible lying near me so I reached to pick it up. Suddenly it disintegrated into a pile of ashes.
My eyes bugged out. Jeremy's did too.
I started to understand something. "I don't think I was talking to that God."
"No, you weren't. Do you see, yet?" Jeremy asked.
I looked up into Jeremy's face. He was standing there on his two hands, nervously glancing alternately at me and at the pile of ash.
"Welcome to the club," I murmured.
I carefully stood up, utterly bewildered. I got back up on the stool. I stared blankly at some fuzzy area in the interior of the store and rolled a joint.
An hour later, I wondered, "God gives blowjobs?"
Jeremy smiled and nodded. "I sure do."
I wandered over to the door and locked it. Then I returned to the stool. "So you're God."
"Well, I'm not that God. I'm sure you realized that."
"Yeah. But I don't get it. Why you?"
"Damned if I know."
"Is God for real?" I asked meekly, expecting another loud yell inside my head.
"I sure hope so. I don't know anything about most the people I see."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, hmmm. I think I should put it in these terms. My being a 'god' has nothing to do with the common belief. I mean the Judeo-Christian one."
"All right, I can handle that."
"That's a relief. In any case, I think I should refer to myself as a deity. It'll make it easier to understand."
"Anyway, I'm a fifteen-year-old boy. And that's how long I've been a deity."
I nodded my head. "So you're not a real god?"
"Yes, John, I'm a real god! A deity!"
"Okay, okay, sorry."
The phone rang. I took it off the hook, hang up, and set the handpiece down.
"I'm just starting out though," he said. "I didn't even realize I was a deity until several years back. It was I think 1993. At that time, I was realizing that I was gay. It was a bad time for me, because other people at school seemed to know about it before I did, and I'd been denying it. And there was this one week when I was becoming really depressed because I didn't know what to do about it. I didn't want to be gay. I'd tried to force myself to think about girls and all that, but it didn't convince me. So one day I was getting into the old I'm-all-alone mindset, right? So I tried to commit suicide. But I couldn't."
I gasped. "I'm so glad you didn't. No one should commit suicide," I said, thinking mainly for myself.
"No, John, I mean I couldn't! I had a knife and everything but I didn't die. I gashed the knife into my neck, I sliced my wrists open, I even slashed up my legs, and I just sat there bleeding for hours."
"It got really annoying after a while."
"So I thought it was some sort of great curse, that I was all alone and I couldn't get out of it."
"Then you realized you were a g--... deity?"
"No, I didn't. It was just perplexing. I have to admit, I'm not very smart. I just thought it was a disease I had that wouldn't let me die."
"It didn't help my self-esteem any, you see."
"This is very strange."
"So I sat there for a few hours until scabs started to form."
"They were pretty deep cuts. It took a little while."
"This is very strange."
"What ended up happening, was, I ran away from home. They'd know what I tried to do, of course. My parents, I mean. I didn't want to have to explain why I'd tried to cut myself apart. So I wandered around the country until I came to this huge concrete pipe in the ground."
My mind jolted. "A pipe? Where was that?"
"It was in Creedence somewhere."
"Oh, so you lived in Creedence too, huh?"
"Yup," he said. "Anyway, I sat in there while I healed, which was like three days. And that didn't strike me as funny either. I wasn't thinking much about that. I was still all depressed about being gay."
"Did your father think you were gay?" I asked.
Jeremy's eyebrows arched. "What? Oh, no. I don't think my parents suspected a thing." He squinted at me. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason, just wondering," I said.
"Hmmm," Jeremy said. "Okay." He glanced away for a second and grinned a little. "Well, anyway, I was sitting there in the middle of this long, dark sewer pipe, thinking about what was wrong with me, right? I kept on wondering if I was really all alone or not. And then suddenly, it happened -- I could just sense all these other people in my mind! And I just knew they were gay too. Girls and guys both, just everywhere, isn't that cool?"
"Whoa, that's amazing," I said. "How?"
"I can't possibly explain it, John. It's part of being a deity, I guess. Right? I mean, it's true, you can't sense anyone else?"
Jeremy blinked. "Just anyone. Do you, like, feel other people in your mind?"
"No, not at all," I said.
"Well, that's it, then. I can. And you see, this sense was all new to me at the time. It was really great, too, because I knew I wasn't by myself anymore." Jeremy was starting to talk excitedly. "It's all so fucking cool!" he exclaimed.
"Who were those people, though?" I asked.
His eyebrows rose. "I have no idea," he said. "I was so excited that I stood up and bonked my head on the pipe and passed out!" he exclaimed, starting to laugh. "When I woke up again, I'd forgotten about the whole thing and I just went right back home."
"Jeremy, that doesn't make sense. How could you forget all that?"
"I just did. I woke up, knowing why I'd gone there, but I didn't feel suicidal or depressed anymore. But I felt damned self-confident. So I went home."
"That's really strange," I said.
"My parents gave me hell about it, of course."
"What? The scars?"
"I didn't have any scars, John. They healed while I was there."
"Ah, there! Didn't you wonder why you healed so fast? Didn't you wonder about being an immortal?"
"Nope, sure didn't. I was a stupid little kid, John. My parents were mostly upset about the fact that I'd run away and hadn't eaten in three days. I didn't understand why. You see, John, I never even knew food was necessary to live. I just ate because it was part of the routine."
"Well, c'mon, Jeremy, didn't that tip you off either? That you were immortal?"
"I was a stupid little kid, John, sorry."
"And you're a god," I muttered.
"Pretty ironic, huh?"
"I just lost my respect for all religion."
"That's good, you should."
"So, Jeremy, I still don't see what's going on, why I'm an angel, why you're a prostitute, and all that."
"It's all pretty fucked up, that's true," he said, smiling. "Well, I went on the next two years in school. And naturally, I wanted to date, and all that. I was nervous at first, but then I became pretty self-confident, and that never went away. Eventually I found some people to experiment with, and then more people, and then more, you see, and I made quite a name for myself."
"Hmmmm," I said, somewhat turned off.
"Oh, don't act like that," he scolded me. "Sex is great! You oughta know that."
I shook my head. "I already told you, I've never had sex."
"Aaaah, well, someone has to show you then, and you'll see. Anyway, John, people in school started to harrass me, you know, because I was getting so much more than they were, and especially since I was a fag too. And then my parents found out too, with some nice anonymous hate mail and phone calls."
"Hate mail?" I asked, astounded. "People do that?"
"Oh yeah, cowardly ones. 'You gone burn in hell fag' and stuff like that. Of course, I now know that's bullshit."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Well, my parents weren't happy at all about any of it, so they threw me out of the house. And then, I became a prostitute. I mean, what else? Damn, life is great," he finished, beaming.
"This is totally bewildering," I said. "I don't think I can take this all in."
I rolled another joint.
A few minutes passed. "Okay, I can dig it."
"So, Jeremy," I said, "why am I an angel then? I know you brought me back, but just why?"
His face became solemn. "You're okay with it, right?"
"Being alive? Yeah, yeah, it's super!" I said.
"Okay, then! Well, you need to know about how I realized I was a deity. It was after I had been a whore for a few weeks. I was having a lot of fun, swapping stories with my buddies and all that, not even thinking of the dangers. I mean, I was really naive.
"Well, then my friend Nathan got murdered, by this sleazy guy Weller, who had a fascination for knives. The police asked me to identify Nate. I'd never even seen a dead body before! My friend Frank, who I also told you about, had to identify him too. The police knew about all of us, you see, and knew we were his buddies. They could never get anything on us though. But apparently they also knew about Weller being a maniac for knives and that he had been arrested a few times for attacking people on the street."
"Good grief!" I said.
"Really. Frank asked the police about that, and they told him how they knew about Weller. And Frank got angry. He bawled them out and called them pigs and murderers because they knew they could have saved Nate's life by arresting Weller for good. One of the cops simply said he didn't care. No big loss. Fuck off, homo. But Frank wouldn't shut up, and then a few weeks later, he got killed."
"But those are really rare occurrences, right?" I asked, shuddering.
"I don't know, really. I don't want to. At the time, though, it devastated me. I got scared. I was considering going home again, and back to school, both of which were a lot safer. I was a mess. I went to the cemetery where Nathan and Frank had been planted and I cried a lot. I just wished it hadn't happened. And that's when I sensed them in my mind. At first I assumed
it was a really strong memory, but it wasn't. I could sense those two lying dead under my feet."
"You could sense dead people?"
"Yeah, I could, but not all of them. I did a little experiment and wandered around the graves to see who I could sense. Fortunately, not many, not many at all. I asked the caretaker people in the graves and he said it'd been suicide or murder in every case. It was all people who had died too early."
"What about accidents or car wrecks?"
"That was the weird thing, I couldn't sense them. You see, that's akin to a natural death. They hadn't been killed on purpose. And the murders, they were all premeditated."
"How could you be sure? Surely some had been murdered without intention, like in drunken brawls, right?"
"There weren't any such cases at that cemetery but I found out for sure in others."
I was deeply affected. "So there are souls, aren't there?"
"Yes, there are. They die when people die naturally. If a person dies before his time, the sould simply remains trapped in the body forever.
"That's what hell is."
"But wait," I said. "I was dead for six years. I don't remember anything particularly hellish about that period of time."
"Oh, you wouldn't," Jeremy said solemnly. "I made you forget."
I thought about that for a while and had to roll another joint. "This can't be good for me," I muttered. "So, what do I have to do with all this?"
"Well, you come later."
"Well, I returned to Nathan's and Frank's graves after that. I was being torn apart knowing that their souls were still alive and trapped. So, the only thing I can say about it is, I willed them alive again. I was only wishing that, but somehow, I was actually able to do it."
"Good lord!" I said. "Power over life and death."
"Not exactly. I don't know how to kill people."
"Oh. All right. Well, what about Nathan and Frank?"
Jeremy looked down glumly. "I don't know."
"What do you mean?"
"Well," he started slowly, "I willed them alive -- not expecting anything to happen -- and then suddenly from below I heard these twin screams of agony rise up and fly by my ears. Then they were gone." He choked back a sob. "I made them into ghosts!"
"Jesus Christ," I whispered.
"I can still hear them sometimes," he said. "I can't put them back."
I asked cautiously, "But are they happy?"
Jeremy just started crying.
I silently sat by and waited. A moan started to fill my mind -- stark human agony. I leaned over and hugged my god.
"I hope I did better with you," he sobbed.
"Yes, yes, you did," I said. I'd never felt so emotionally vital in my entire life.
Jeremy wiped his eyes. "I don't know if I can stand to screw up again."
I simply nodded.
"I'll tell you your story now," he said.
I nodded again.
"All right, here goes. After I released those two, I realized what I was. I became scared of myself. I went back to the street for a few months to try to forget. But I couldn't. Nate and Frank kept on rushing through my mind occasionally and I was feeling horribly guilty about it. So I returned to the cemetery. I wanted to redeem myself. I listened for souls again. Yours was the loudest."
"Mine?" I said, taken aback. I thought he could only hear gay people.
Jeremy suddenly squinted. "What are you thinking about?"
"Huh? Nothing, just go on," I lied. Could he read my mind?!
"John, why did you kill yourself?" he asked.
"I had a bad flashback and freaked out. I found a rifle."
(you know why)
"What?" I asked.
(john, you're gay)
"No, I'm not!" I protested. "I'm asexual. I already told you that."
"I felt your soul, John. I only hear gay ones."
I was astonished. I knew the very reason I went crazy was because I thought I might be, not that I was. "I didn't know it myself then," I said.
"You knew for a few minutes."
I guess I did.
"You panicked, John. You took the easy way out. That's really insulting to the god that created you."
"Was it you?" I asked, shocked.
"No, I'm only fifteen."
"It's for your own good, John. Accept the fact that you're gay."
"I'm still not sure," I said. Jeremy stared at me with a painful grimace on his face. I felt my mind change. "Now I am."
"I'm sorry I had to force that on you, John," he said, "but I'm not going to let myself screw up again."
"You didn't force it on me. I just realized the truth. But thanks for helping me out," I said. It all certainly made sense now. I'd just avoided all sexual situations to avoid finding out. I still would, of course. Invisibility is a major turn-off.
"So, Jeremy, how did you resurrect me then?"
"Well, differently, of course. I willed your body out of the ground, and it appeared on the earth. I didn't think I'd be able to do that either. But it was disgusting! Your head was gone. I guess you shot it off, huh?"
"Pitiful. Anyway, I willed your body back into pre-death. Man, being a god has a lot of perks."
"Hmmm," I mused, grinning.
"But it was so odd. Your body was alive again, and you just stared at me. I talked to you and your answers were very stale. I said, 'Hello there, I'm Jeremy, you're back from the dead.' And you said, 'Hello, I'm Jonathan Squires, and I'm back from the dead.' Then, 'Do you feel normal?' And you said, 'I'm cold.' Then, 'Why did you kill yourself?' And you said, 'A rifle shoots big holes.'
He continued, "I sensed something was wrong, and I took your body to that huge sewer pipe under the ground. I wondered what the problem could be. So I finally said, 'What do you feel?' And you said, 'It's cold. I'm sitting on concrete.' And I said, 'No, what are you feeling?' And you said the exact same thing."
"My soul!" I realized.
"Exactly. It wasn't connected to your body yet. I could still feel you screaming in torment in my head. It was very disconcerting. I didn't like that at all. So I willed your soul alive, and the first thing you did was start screaming out loud. I didn't expect that. I almost ran off. But when I realized your soul was still with you, I figured I had a chance. Anyway, you were insanely outraged and started tearing and biting and clawing at me. No problem to immortal me, of course."
"Sorry about that."
"You weren't thinking rationally. Your soul had been, well, rotting away for six years, you see. It was like you'd been buried alive, except your body was dead. If your body had been alive, you probably would have chewed your arms off."
"Probably," he said. "That's a big problem I have with people. They think a dead body is just a dead body. But not always."
"Man," I said. "So how did I...?"
"Well, as I said, I made you forget those six years. It took a lot of work. Finally you stopped yelling and thrashing about and fell asleep for ten days."
"Good grief!" I said.
"It was so pitiful. I cried a lot. But I was also insanely happy. I was becoming more and more sure I'd done it right."
"I guess you did," I said in awe.
"So, you woke up, wondering where you were. You said stuff about not being able to find a job and that you were invisible."
"To the work force, I guess," I lied.
"I guess so too. I figured you didn't want to be in Creedence, since people thought were dead there, so we went to Juncture, and I convinced you to get a job at the Shop 'n' Shop."
"Oh, that was you, huh? Thanks a lot. Wasn't there anything better?"
"You know there wasn't, John. But you decided to get that nice two-room apartment, since you thought I was your son."
"I made you believe that, so you wouldn't find a reason to leave me during that time. I had a lot of work to do on you."
"It was really very exciting, a big adventure, reconstructing your life like that. Are you really pissed about having to work here?"
"Well, it's just, why do I work all day long every day of the year, Jeremy?"
He grinned innocently. "I didn't know what else you liked to do. You just kept babbling about philosophy and not being able to find a job."
"Well, I guess you had no choice then."
"Nope. And you were also babbling on about being gay."
"Oh, really? I actually admitted it?" I asked, amazed.
Jeremy nodded. "Yes, and you started to get really neurotic about it, and even a little insane. You kept on saying you became invisible when you got horny."
"Invisible? That's absurd," I said nervously.
"I thought so too. I could have sworn you were about to kill yourself again. So I kept on having to make you forget about things so you'd act normal. I didn't want to screw up. And please don't get that way again. We'd have to go through this whole thing all over."
My eyes widened. "Have we before?"
He grinned. "Nope."
"Whew, that's good. This is a lot to take in!"
"So you waited a few months to find out how I was, huh?"
"Yes, I did. And say, John, did I do it right?" he asked, looking concerned. "Does everything make sense?"
"Yes, yes it does. Thanks a lot," I said, smiling broadly. "You did very well. Thanks for everything, Jeremy. I owe you my life."
Jeremy nodded, turned red, and beamed. "No problem," he said bashfully.
Then he looked up. "So do you know what you want to do with your life now? It's all in your hands."
I suddenly found it hard to concentrate. I had been ignoring the people banging on the windows all afternoon. But at that moment I saw Mr. Graham walking up to the door with a key and a furious expression on his face. I remembered the phone was off the hook.
"Jeremy, I think I'm gonna get a new job, because I'm about to be fired."
"Holy shit!" Jeremy said.
I grinned and grabbed his hand. "C'mon, let's head out the back!"
We ran and ran and ran.
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 1996 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 1996 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: CYBERVERSE 512.255.5728 14.4 THE LiONS' DEN 512.259.9546 24oo TEENAGE RiOt 418.833.4213 14.4 NUP: COSMIC_JOKE THAT STUPID PLACE 215.985.0462 14.4 ftp to ftp.io.com /pub/SoB World Wide Web http://www.io.com/~hagbard/sob.html Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <email@example.com>. Thank you. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--