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,                             UfOFofO                 ,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                 4/27/98                 tahw ro who gniwonk
to think. You are in               FORTY-FiVE              ni era uoY .kniht ot
a state of unbeing....                                   ....gniebnu fo etats a



EDiTORiAL by Kilgore Trout



by Kilgore Trout

First off, I'm gonna make a recommendation. If you're one of those people that only reads stuff from the writers you know (and I know who some of you are), please make sure you read Morrigan's "Anesthesia Dreams." I really like it, and I think you should, too, especially since she almost didn't submit it. I should also say that you should read the whole zine after you read her story, but I just thought I'd mention that since I really liked it.

And after you're done doing that, you should drop by #unbeing some night and join in all of the frivolities that take place there. It's quite entertaining, and it keeps all of us insomniacs from going crazy. Watch Ansat molest the bot, watch Clockwork and me discuss the guests on Art Bell and come up with conspiracy theories, watch Nathan get k-lined the first time he ever gets on IRC, and watch Morrigan speed by on her T3. Yes, you too can be a part of the endless party that stretches from California to Bulgaria.

And then, if IRC hasn't sucked your mind dry at 4:30 in the morning while you're editing your own zine, why don't you write something for the zine? A little creativity is a great way to end an IRC session full of intellectual debates where things are posited, hypothesized, postulated, and squabbled over.

And if you've survived all of that, then maybe by next week you'll be able to download the second audio issue, which clock has been diligently and masterfully editing. Having heard much of it pre-release, I can assure you that the download time is definitely worth it. We'll be sending out a message when it comes out (and Clockwork has said by next weekend at the latest) so you can all be drooling until then.

So, enjoy the issue, and if you have any comments or questions, they'll have to wait since I'm going to bed. Good night.



From: crackmonkey
Subject: ha ha ha

ok....a couple brief notes......who is this Oxyde de Carbone person? you
can't just let him be an official groupie without taking the nessesary
steps to groupieness. just cause he can cook, yes i can cook too and
very well i might add, doesn't mean he gets to be a groupie. thats just
not the way things work. oh well....anyways i'd appreciate his email
address so i can do things in a more official mannor.

#2 you put brianna's name in the groupie section not oxyde's. you might
want to fix that for lack of confusion. ok. thats about all the
complaining i have ot do for today. later guys.

[actually, it's a she. and we've already thrashed clock with the cat o' nine tails for that mix-up last issue. the ACP bureaucracy is studiously working on drawing up contingency papers for groupie disagreements and how they should be settled, so once the specs are written, we'll be sure to get those out to you so the matter can official be resolved. i worry about that committee, though, since there seems to be a lot of snickering coming from that boardroom.]

From: Styx
Subject: sob

Umm..  After all that blabbing, poor ole' Oxide DeCarbonaide didn't even
get onto the officla groupie list.  some bumbling fool put the other chick
on there.  Poor OC2 will probably go throw away her life into a pan of
zuchini or some guy's truck.

love ya,

[well, hearty old chum, we have rectified the situation, and all is in order. as to the whereabouts of OC2, well, only time will tell. that is, if crackmonkey doesn't get to her first. who says you can't have an exciting life being an SoB groupie?]

From: Dan Dzenkowski
Subject: SoB Mailing list

        I should be added to the list for one main reason.
        I sent a reply to an acquaintance stating how rationalism is dead
and she should be as well. She replied that I was a' precocious little fuck'
and that I should check out your site.  I took a look at it and it seems
interesting.  I am a philosophy major at the University of Wisconsin and
have spent 3 years doing a critical study of Nietzsche.
        I am interested in arguing with other 'precocious little fucks' like

Thank you for your time
Dan Dzenkowski

[actually, "precocious little fucks" was one of the original names we were choosing from when starting up the zine, but we decided that we'd rather let people get to know us bit by bit instead of just saying, "Hi, we're a bunch of assholes." Either people haven't caught on yet or we've changed and gotten a bit soft. But we still like to argue. Just ask Takeem.]



Kilgore Trout

Bixenta Moonchild
Howler in the Shadows
I Wish My Name Were Nathan
Japhy Ryder
Kilgore Trout

Dan Dzenkowski

Oxyde de Carbone


[=- ARTiCLES -=]


[Editorial | Next]

by Patchwork

The bottle is held firm in my hands, and the keyboard lies before me, and I whisper sweet nothings to my fingers as they tap elegantly on the keys, expressing my mind and heart through these words. Again, I think of her. Still, I'm stuck on her. It's all I think about. I remember the night I slept over at my friend's house on the floor -- I remembered having dreams about her being there, beside me, in my arms, just like she used to be so long ago. When I woke up he was looking at me rather strangely. Did I whisper things about her in my sleep? Something far worse? It disturbs me so, how now even my subconscious turns on me. Why? Because I can't tell her. She's there, in front of me, and my mouth can't form the words, I can't pierce this coating around my heart and spill to her all about how I feel. I simply cannot do it.

It's taken me a long time to face the fact that I'm lonely. I fear being alone, but it takes so much to hold onto another. Soon, says a friend, the desire to be intimate with one of the opposite sex will so much overtake me that I will have no other choice than to act on it. I am still a virgin -- I am not ashamed of it, I have had chances, but I chose to wait. Yet I should have with her. I want my first time to be with someone I care about, and I can't think of anyone I care more about than her. Her beautiful face, her flowing hair, her wondrous chin, her tender lips: all so inviting, all so irresistible. How could I let this go? How could I turn my back on her after she was so patient with me, so caring? She won. I let a great thing go.

I am such a fool.

Such a fool.


"For the temporary relief of minor aches, pains, headache, muscular aches, sore throat pain, and fever associated with a cold or flu."

--Nyquil, Hot Therapy


[Prev | Next]

by Bixenta Moonchild

What do I do if I have learned the secret of it all? I will stay very still. I do not wish to let my colossal secret spill out through a glint in my eye or a twitch of my lip. I feel that the universe is unfit to be endowed with the ability to perceive itself in truth.

What do I do if I do hold the key to our undoing in my mind?

I will let the doing work its wonders inside myself, for if I disclose it to the outside world, my outside world, the one I have so victoriously captured in the apex of human consciousness, all consciousness of all existence, then it would turn to poison at the moment I let go, and it would surely destroy their world which does not operate on truth.

No, no, their world is my world. Has not my inner world come to a perfect mirror image of the one outside? Foolish human brain, with your imperfect thoughts.

Ah, and not just an image, but I have stolen the ultimate energies of the outside world into myself where they can be good instead of poison.

But which is the poison? How do you judge two opposites when you have nothing to measure them by? Could it be that I am a creature of celestial poison?

Blast this simple brain of mine! This magnificent new reality I have found must not have replaced all of the many silly ideas that came to occupy my thought boxes to long ago. I must not let myself be consumed by simple human thoughts. I must not forget that I and I alone have come this far to be the guardian of the mystical forces that rule the cosmos, that I am now the ruler of. Yes, I am the master; I have given my captive universe a new life, a new era of existence inside myself, for all is inside myself, for I am it all. But because I am its master, all must be separate from my greatness and under my control, my brilliant control that has created the goodness in everything to follow my own perfection.

But wasn't the world alive and well before this discovery of mine, without my help? No, no, I have reinvented the world to be the eternal treasure only a God could have made, made by me. See? Look! Look at it all now! All these happenings happen because I just happen to wish them, to command them into being. The world is my slave and would disappear if I so desired. Nothing escapes my powers.

Wait, help, I cannot escape my own powers. I am a slave to myself, to my wishes, and I do not know where my wishes come from. But where could they come from if there is nothing greater than I, nothing beyond my reach, nothing outside of my omnipotence?

Stop! This burst of illogical logic is sounding like that which comes from the humans that amuse me so with their stupidity. I am not an ordinary human. Ah, I see, there is an infinitely small part of me that is human, because I am infinity. But I must have always seen and always known and always understood everything, including this. It is impossible that something has just escaped my wisdom. I am not flawed. But if infinity is my domain, are there not flaws included? No, no, when any random, helpless entity becomes part of me, any imperfections are dissolved. But no, they were always a part of me, because there is never anything but me!

Help me, my secret is tearing me apart! No! I am the one with the divine ability and all else is helpless. And only I can choose to help or destroy or ignore a thing in its tiny reality that only I can choose to give meaning to.

But I have no choice! Where is the ultimate me that is the decisions that I make, the desires that I feel, the creations I distribute, the ideas that I uncover, and the manager of them all and everything in between?

You don't understand; I have triumphed. I am the change in my thoughts and the movements of the moments and the stillness of the rest and the determination of every detail in the never-ending flow.

But I am whole and I am one, but this all-encompassing wholeness is breaking me into pieces.

Leave me alone! All of me!

Help me! I just can't see the end. I just don't know. No! I know! I know everything! There is no end. And I am everything and I am the end.

Everything is me! I am all there is. I am it all.


[=- POETASTRiE -=]

"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."

--Charles Bukowski


[Prev | Next]

by Bixenta Moonchild

In my lonely confusion wrapped in dry, quiet, cushioning garbage
the empty things rub against each other a little too hard again
Time is gone while I share myself with the
different black patches stationed in the air around me
When a clean, brilliant view tumbles through me
its magic gets drowned back into the way things used to happen
Somewhere near the center there's a windmill
scratching the edges of my thoughts
but I can't feel the breeze because I've sunk too far down
into my ice-covered flower bed of isolation
Waiting has gotten too easy, only the promised hidden universes aren't
getting any closer
I wonder how everything can stay so still
And now the garbage man has forgotten a few things behind the horizon
The whiteness of the blur of my memories
makes me forget how much I'd hoped for that magic wand
and those white sparkles that could be the cure
Outside the wind begins and the prophets are buried under the sand
Forget about real courage; it's the thought that counts.


"If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it. I'm sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told. It's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

--j.d. salinger, the catcher in the rye


[Prev | Next]

by Kilgore Trout

huzzah huzzah

pleasure-based mind control aphrodisiac superhuman erotica swaying technology waning spirituality showcase of major trends eroding the elbow grease of society proof that fish swim because of their location longer necks equate natural selection bumblebees horseflies and orangutans take over the world hallow be thy name charlatan heretical faith healer of human concepts and baseball statistics manipulators of cancer and aids and the plague and tooth decay of the nuclear family power plants the seeds in the wet warm soiled diapers discarded in discord reggae hipsters tripping on beats of soldier police riot squads with batons and shields protect the guilty

huzzah huzzah

biology kills god damn she says mourning the loss of identacled nightmare gunshot harmonies freeing the soulless species living dark and swarthy insectoid jobs eyesight craters shroud the opulent moon cities dead in l.a. waiting for earthquake bingo masturbating pigs and chicken foodstuffs carried in tractor trailer trucks a simple reduction of individual to number punching calculators glorified slide rules of man challenged in court jesters juggling balls of fire the end is nigh saith the lord

huzzah huzzah


"So much to turn down in these Babylonian times...."

--Max Blagg


[Prev | Next]

by Japhy Ryder

     I died in America tonight
     Lay down in the technicolor nightmare
     Las Vegas vomited neon melange of electric tracers
     and bright sequined tortures like popping flashbulbs
             from a vicious paparazzi.

     Gone run down dead under tires
     of the green Babylon City Works garbage truck,
     the intersection of gated white rib and red crushed
     glint from dead chrome and 1$ Sahara chips,
     and comped whiskeys and betting heavy on 14 against
             the dealer's upturned Ace.

     Strange things have grown in the desert,
     things that would make Caligula blush, such Xanadus
     and El Dorados that would give Cortez a hard on like
     Montezuma never could, such little middlewestern Montgomerys
     out in the desert ready to lose big at their own personal El Alamein,
     and greedy geriatrics up from Phoenix blowing their Social Security
             and dreams of an RV.

     And all of America is debt,
     a great cascade of nothing built on nothing--
     driving Maximas and Camrys and looking to trade
     up to a Volvo or Beamer--middle management waiting
     to get old so, they can respectfully latch onto Town Car,
             or 5th Avenue, or king-hell Cadapussy Broughm.

     So in Circus Circus little wolverine-
     faced children cruise the casino floor through the pits
     and long rows of Pavlovian dream machines grooving
     to the aggressive ching ching ching ching, chunk chunk
     of tokens splatting into the tills and hypnotic rush
     of bells and spinning prayerwheels--feral children
     sidling up to parents (who are looking for about $2000
     worth of fun) and saying, hands upraised,
                     "Please, Sir,
             can I have some more?
                     Please, Sir?"

     More in the neon vortex desert frontier night--all free
     fluorescence and oxygen on the timeless casino floor,
     and fantasy capitalism barking out its mating call:
             11, 11, 11, Lucky 'leven, c'mon hit baby yeah--
             double down bust, bets please,
             hard 8, hard 8, hard 8,
             No Field 5
             ching ching ching ching, chunk chunk chunk
     and a wild roar erupts from the Craps tables,
     and it's Hard Head by a nose at Santa Anita,
     and it's the clattertrap rattle of the Wheel of Fortune,
     a spinning mandala of love, and the warm caress of
     Franklins and Jacksons
                     bust baby Craps, bets please!
                     Yo 'leven!
     Comp me.  Comp me.  Gimme more!

     More in Dick Clark's Bandstand disco all-American
     Rockin' Eve, in tight, spangled jumpsuits and short shorts
     and Bonne Bell cherry lip gloss, a carniverous smile behind
     a popping bubblegum boomtown, and the obscure chant
     "Wayne, Wayne, Wayne, Wayne" settles like dust over the Strip--
     and in the Hanging Gardens a dthclassth Jesus pitboss hands
     out blessings and benedictions and double odds on Come bets
     to the knowing gambler; and a black velvet Elvis gorges
     himself in the buffet line--and this is the old fat Elvis, of course,
     with his super bell bottoms and atrophied rhinestone bestudded
     cape--and there's Liberace wangling his dick out so Illinois
             tourists can rub it for good luck.

     And there's long rows of women who lovingly fondle
     the thin chrome shafts of the slots--yank and crank and caress,
     jerking in hopes of a beautiful golden shower ejaculation
     of More and Now, grinding into their stools open-mouthed,
     wet with intensity, and deep in the carnal knowledge that
     this lover far from being a bandit is the sugardaddy
     of all sugardaddy King of Diamonds who'll spin and pop
     their cherries, whisper lemon nothings with nitrous oxide
                     "Jackpot, baby.  More.  Now.  Jackpot, honey.
                     Gimme some more.  Jackpot, My Sweet,
                      I need some more, now."
     And they answer with Need, this petite bourgeoisie,
     their thin lips painted full red, and garish jewelry,
     color-coordinated Nieman togs--sweaters and stretchpants
             or tennis gear and shamblewear.

     And the men, should-be Kubla Khans
     or lonely Travis Bickels, split queens at the $25 tables,
     and dream of impossible blowjobs in the Keno Parlor
     by improbable dancers with an all-over body tan and pencil-eraser
     hard nipples saying,
             "oh my, you're sooooo big.
             Unh, you're sooooo good."
     And they bust out with a smile after hitting on 12.
     And what's a little less of More in the Pleasure Dome
     when we have sex by proxy--this wad of money we've blown
     in social orgasm, because there's always more, and more now, and

             O brothers and sisters I have sinned before you.
             I have visited the dens of iniquity
             and have indulged in pleasures of the flesh.
             O my brothers and sisters, I have placed myself
             a stumbling block in your righteous path.
             I have lusted in my heart and in my actions,
             but cannot pluck the offending eye from its socket.
             I stand before you repentant in Sodom, bathed
             in the blood of Gomorrah as the Almighty cleansed
             that evil Place with fire.  I have sinned!  I have sinned!
             I have split Jacks and I have split 9's and I have
             laid the 5 for 1 Any Seven sucker bet and the Hop bet,
             and 5-number bet with a 7.89 vig for the casino.
             And brothers and sisters and sports fans of all ages
             I have wanted More and have laid down in front of More
             and have rubbed More's feet, and I have died
             an American Death every night in the desert--
             cash heat death--and I am bleached bones
             at the poison watering hole, and I need more
             and I need it in a pretty big fucking hurry, don't you?
             And I'll do what it takes, won't you?
             And I'll kill if I have to, wouldn't you?


[=- FiCTiON -=]


[Prev | Next]

by Morrigan

A city. A vast racing network of faces and cars and food and music and pavement and fat birds. There, a small patch of green, at first glance completely out of place, accepted because of the sidewalks running through it and torn paper fluttering, mimicking absent leaves. Benches act as beds as well as chairs, and grass is appreciated as a pillow more often than as decoration. Hearts beat to the constant thrum of high heels and wingtips and worn sneakers. Cigarette smoke floats against a clear un-blue sky.

* * * * *

Alice hurries behind her boyfriend. She struggles to keep up with his long strides while trying not to trip on her heels, specially designed to force a dignified pace. She internally whines, reluctant to voice her annoyance but equally hesitant to accept the minor discomfort. Her will power weakens, though, and after half a block she proclaims her complaints firmly. "Slow down. Why are you walking so fast? It's hard for me to keep up in these shoes. My feet hurt already and we still have three blocks to go. Why won't you slow down?"

Anthony keeps his silence until she pauses and then turns to her incredulously. "We're hurrying because you were late and if we don't get to the restaurant on time, they'll give someone else our table. I was hoping to take you out for a nice lunch on your birthday, but you're making it more painful than enjoyable so far."

"Oh," Alice murmurs, temporarily placated by the knowledge that the fuss is for her.

* * * * *

She strides down the sidewalk, easily rolling to the beat of the Ani DiFranco song resonating through her headphones, her trench coat waving in the breeze of her passing. Meg hums and half-sings a favorite line and a few choice chords. Anticipation of a concert two months from now brings an unrepressed gay glint to her eyes. As she notices a bench with a free space her path instantly shifts and she flops loosely onto its graffiti-carved slats. Meg executes a quick rummage in her backpack with all the finesse of a zealous puppy, ending in the triumphant removal of a new book. She snuggles contentedly into the bench with her feet tucked in beside her and continues to hum.

* * * * *

A gaggle of girls skips and twirls its way along the crowded pavement. Forgotten bubble gum falls from a laughing mouth and without fanfare becomes merely another trampled stain on the cement. They turn a corner and jostle into a small shop, lit by neon. After sharing their gossip with the girl behind the counter, they emerge sipping pale pink milkshakes.

"Did you see that guy with the tight jeans and the cowboy hat?"

"He belonged on a horse with some cows, not here in the city!"

"I think he was lost or something. Maybe we should have given him directions: West's that way."

"How do people like that end up in cities, anyway?"

Their laughter lets the conversation drift to other topics. Perched on benches, they slurp the last few inches of their milkshakes without missing a single word.

"Wait, there he is again!"

"Who, the cowboy?"

"Hey, you're right."

As he passes them, he tips his hat with a smile amid delighted giggles and clapping.

* * * * *

His freshly polished wingtips press firmly into the sidewalk. Their soles carefully avoid any cracks thanks to long years of superstitious and subconscious conditioning. Jake's conscious mind is wandering far from his mother's back, though. A glance catches the briefcase swinging at his side and a thoughtful look wanders across his face as he fleetingly lets himself mull over his next case. As soon as he catches his mind sneaking towards work, he sheepishly pulls it back to the issue at hand: the problem of how to fit in a trip to the jewelers for his wife and his son's orthodontist appointment between his daughter's soccer game and a hearing that begins in an hour. Long practice helps Jake to come up with a solution quickly, at which point he unleashes his mind to sprint back to the tantalizing new client he signed only yesterday and the predicament that said client caught himself in due to lack of knowledge. He happily ponders the options for untangling the legal mess that interstate tax laws have created. Routine prompts his glance to fall on his watch. What he sees startles him into a long striding run toward his office.

* * * * *

A pigeon lands on the awning of a restaurant while its cousin pecks around a bench in a park as its brother gets caught in an empty styrofoam milkshake cup and his mother glares at a man who has almost run over her tail in his hurry to get somewhere else.


"But usually we're busy denying death. We have some wonderfully evasive expressions for this purpose, like, 'If something happens to me....' It ain't if, it's when, and it ain't something, it's curtains."

-- Dean Sluyer, Why the Chicken Crossed the Road
and Other Hidden Enlightenment Teachings


[Prev | Next]

by I Wish My Name Were Nathan

Languidly drowning, the hitching of the lungs alerts me to my danger. Limbs flailing, mind racing, the surreally slow movement underwater beckons me to give up, feast on the strangeness, dwell in the depths, and die. Concentration is at a premium here, and control seems to be a faint memory, but somehow I remember breathing once, and walking, happy. That's all I can believe in. Before my tired mind's grasp on credulity slips, I must experience that again, if only to remind myself it was true once.

I have a goal, and I start to remember. Arms thrusting in unison with my legs, pointing up, straight up, this is so damned hard without breath, should I just give up now? How much farther is it? Why bother.... At once my eyes open and I can see dimly through the murky expanse of water some other people trying to get out, but I cannot but doubt my senses. Looking down, I realize I have just ascended from a pile of corpses, heaped on the ocean floor, with an occasional free arm lazily rocking in the undercurrent. My attention is distracted and I feel myself sinking again, in horrific wonder, until it becomes clear that the arms are actually reaching, grasping, and trying to pull -- me! Oh no! Not again!

I redouble my efforts and refuse to think about what I have left behind, wanting only to leave the water and find out what I faintly remember about breathing and walking. My lungs are aching, my mind is reeling in hopeful frenzy, and I am sure my heart will burst from its terrified throbbing, but as I ascend, the pressure decreases and everything gets brighter, or is that just a trick of my mind?

I glance back down and am caught in unexpected wonder, for everything around me is positively shining. Why hadn't I noticed that before? Had my eyes been shut tight in concentration? Something then beckons me to look up again. Before moving a muscle I know what it will be.




My head pops out of the water like a bubble and I take in a tremendous gulp of air, the whole universe utters a sigh of relief. I notice the glowing orb of light far above me. The sun! How could I have ever forgotten! It is all too apparent, of course, what had been distracting my attention, and I can only laugh at myself for having been a fool. The sun is warm too, so warm, but for the moment my wet skin only shivers from the contrast.

Startled, I forget to tread and am taken underwater again. I didn't need to remember what it was like, but my terror burns into my mind a reason why I should. The heavy water which presses equally at all points makes one forget that it is still a brutally constant force. A lot like air, I reflect, but remember that breathing is a romantic exchange, a give and take, which doesn't drown.

My mind is set and settled and I rise to the surface once more to do the work of reaching shore. It's so easy to see through air, no one ever believes that, but I can merely turn my head and take in everything around me. I see that I have emerged remarkably close to land. Land is something else no one will believe in, and I had almost dismissed myself the belief in the fabled foundation upon which one could rest. But I understand something about this piece of land. Aside for a small accidental ledge, it is a mountain, and the mountain meets the water at such a steep angle that underwater, with the effect of erosion, it can seem to be nothing more than an impassable wall. Had I not had some hint myself, I wouldn't have even been able to convince myself that climbing the wall was the only way out.

I swim to shore and recoil in pleasant surprise at the touch of sand and rock, which is positively burning under the sun's rays. I intuit my next step and pull myself to shore and lay down on the small ledge. Instantly I feel utter calm and safety and have to laugh at how easy it is. Had I really resigned myself to dying underwater? If anything, I would choose to die here, happy, and not writhing and panicking... but that's what the water makes impossible to avoid. Unburdened, I soon fall fast asleep.

* * * * *

I woke up hungry and sore and knowing that somehow this ledge was not anywhere to be. I toyed facetiously with the idea of walking around the mountain and staking a claim to sea level but knew intuitively that the only way was up.

I had no clothes, no shoes, no hat. I knew I'd had some before or made some or something like that but they'd got lost underwater. I think I can remember insolently tossing them off as unnecessary baggage. I felt quite stupid about that but my mindset was not at all defeatist. With my well-deserved sleep I only felt more earnest to continue forward. I would merely have to be careful scaling the rocks, and avoid sunburn, and be sensible. Or, I could be reckless and just thrive on the joy of being on the mountain. There was something vaguely repellent about that, though.

Up! I remembered. I sensed a definite danger of forgetting everything again, since I was in such relative ease. But I had no food and no clothes and couldn't subsist here any better than underwater.

As if to dissolve any lingering doubts, with an accidental peremptory glance around me, I noticed other people on the mountain. "I knew it!" I thought, as if I wouldn't have, but my memory was coming back to me. My anxiety was quelled and I called merrily to some other figures far ahead of me. I could feel them smiling back although few of them said much. I felt silly again, sensing that they needed their concentration on their tricky paths. I joyously started to climb.

It was a bit tricky to learn how to find footholds and secure outcroppings to grab onto. Kind of a disappointment coming from the uniformity of the water, which gave no illusions about its nature, but no compromises either. While starting out I impetuously grabbed onto several rocks that gave way when I pulled on them and could have spelled my doom. With an appropriate balance of fear and determination, though, I drove on forward, higher and higher.

The memory pains me but it is important to recount. I had been climbing for several hours with nary a rest, so proud of myself that I didn't consider to stop once. My uncovered feet were bleeding because I had told myself with bravado, "no pain, no gain." The sun had been burning into my skin the whole time since I hadn't thought of circling the mountain and climbing in the shade. And without any food or water, my mind alone was keeping my body going. I was moving forth, step by step, knowing I was doing something wrong, but making up excuses for continuing. Indeed, in my frenzy, I was actively convincing myself that this amount of hard work and labor was the discipline I'd been lacking. Yes, I thought, I need this pain so I won't forget to keep trying, just look at all those people who give up when it's easy. I was so sure of myself that I decided to howl at the sun in mockery of its relentless heat and stamp on the mountain to taunt its immovability and spit into the air to mock its ephemerality.

And I fell.

And as I fell, it became clear that the ephemeral air would not restrain me, and the immovable mountain would not reach out to grab me, and burning sun would only look dumbly down and blind me. And while the air was empty and the water was soothingly constant, while falling, the plane between them was hard enough to break bones.

I don't know how I survived. Finding myself drifting downward through the water, breathless, all that came to mind was anger. Nothing else mattered but to express my rage at the injustice done to me. Hadn't I earned anything with all that, for it to be so pointlessly taken away? How could that possibly have happened? Hadn't I been trying, giving it a hundred and fifty percent? I couldn't believe how unjust it was that these morons drowning down here in their own apathy would feel less pain than me, and I couldn't stand the thought of them watching my broken body drift down into the heap to join the others. I didn't deserve this, not at all!

Oh, but was the point anyway? All the effort of finding my way to the surface, swimming to shore, climbing so high, so easily whisked away by the dumb and blind force of gravity. I couldn't stop gravity, could I? Well, fuck it then. Fuck it all. Forget it, gravity, you win. I'll just sink down here, I'll take my last breath of salt water and listen to my lungs hitch up and watch my brain stop and curse you the whole way to my death. You can make me fall but you can't take away my will.

In my orgy of self-righteous anger, of course, there was no way I could really accept the humiliation of giving up, but the fantasy of cursing gravity to the very end seemed so very sweet....

I whipped my head around to sneer at any of the drowning idiots who might be grinning slyly at my demise when I realized that I was still far higher than I'd been before. I was amazed. I couldn't see a single one of the desperately grabbing hands reaching up from the depths. In fact, cold light still shone around me. What could explain this? I noticed dumbly that I was still madly treading water.

Before I could laugh at myself, I found myself pulled to the surface. This was more startling than coming up by myself. I'd never imagined that anyone would bother to rescue me. I was confused and angry, still grasping onto the fading plan to die indignantly, and I was about to transfer my anger to my rescuer when I saw how serene she was.

"You had a nasty fall there."

"Who are you?"

"I'll pull you to the shore."

She wrapped her arm around my chest and swam me up to the ledge. I was baffled and still entertaining the idea of pushing her aside and claiming my death. What did this mean? She didn't say anything else, and I didn't either, not sure whether to thank her or curse her.

On the narrow shore-ledge, she wrapped bandages around my feet and rubbed a cream over my neck, shoulders, and back. She gave me water and I didn't understand at first that I should ingest it. I hadn't fathomed the concept before -- I had lived in it! But this water was different. It didn't burn and it seemed to dispel the heat. I drank it greedily.

I was grateful but confused, angry, and depressed. I thought it was all over. I was on land again, and I knew all I could do was learn to climb. It seemed entirely out of the question to go underwater again. I'd thought I would die there.

"I don't want to climb."

"You're in shock."

"I hate the sun. It will just burn me and blind me. It's evil."

"You need to rest."

"I hate climbing. It's too hard. It doesn't get me anywhere."

"You don't know that."

I sighed. But part of me couldn't believe with what indigence I had changed my mind and thrown away all the possibility I had only recently rediscovered. But I felt humiliated. I shouldn't have fallen at all. If I hadn't fallen, I wouldn't have had to go through the humiliation of being rescued. I didn't want this woman to see me naked and injured. It was terrible.

I sat in silence and thought about my rescue. This woman seemed so comfortable and prepared. She had shoes and clothing and she was happy. I knew instinctively that she didn't need me whatsoever and would probably soon leave me here. But instead of resenting her, I too started to calm down and rethink my actions. She had that effect.

"Did I really climb all that way without shoes?"

"You did. I wish you hadn't."

"You don't want me up there." The words escaped me, I didn't mean them.

"I want everyone up there."

I thought about this and marveled at her naivete. There was no way that would ever happen. I figured. "Is that what you really want?"


"Then why don't you --"

"It's not my job."

The way she said it, I again realized how unimportant I was to her. And only then did I also realize that there was no reason I should have been important to her. It wasn't her place to fish everyone out. Unless they already wanted to, she would let them stay. I decided then that it was in my best interests to continue climbing. Not just as an alternative to dying in the water like most did, not just because it was different and exhilarating, but because I wanted to. I knew somehow that good would come of it.

"Do you have any shoes?" I asked.

"Thought you'd never ask. Here," she said, taking off her own shoes, which surprisingly fit me. "I can't offer you a shirt just yet. Until you get one, climb in the shadows."

"Makes sense," I said. "Thank you."

In spite of my relief and remounting joy, I couldn't help but notice that she seemed a bit tired of me, again pointing out that I was nothing to her. So, I decided to accept my humility. At once, she stood up and took her leave.

"See you on top!" she said, beaming.

At that moment, I couldn't discount the feeling that I had only been projecting.

* * * * *

I start climbing again after circling around to the shady side of the mountain, where I find to my surprise the slope is less steep, although it will be a longer climb. I am still amazed to see so many other people up there and I hope to know them all some day.

I look up and the sun is hidden behind the mountains. I will find later to my dismay that the sun disappears, but reappears again. All the people on the mountain attest that this cycle never ends. I have my doubts. I doubt even that the mountain will be here forever. And everything else? But I am sure that I won't be around to find out otherwise. So as I take my first steps back up, I put my trust in the support of the mountain, which may give me slippery slopes or loose rocks to keep me aware. I put my trust in the life force of the air, which may blow me uncomfortably loose from the face of the rock and grow thin as I climb higher. I put my trust in the warmth and light of the sun, which may burn my skin and tax my body and disappear when I want it most. And I put my trust in the sustenance of the water, from which I came, and to which I must return.


"There are many people and many tribes, but only so many stories."

--Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age


[Prev | Next]

by Howler in the Shadows

A steady gust of wind blew from the south, forcing the rain to hit and reflect off the wall of the Chicago North Star Regency's wall, creating a small haven from the water at its base. A teenage girl huddled in that haven, scanning the passing crowd. Her hair would have been the color of fire if it had been dry, but the water turned it almost auburn and matted it in thick tangles down almost to her shoulders. She wore an old, brown polo shirt with tan bands at the end of the short sleeves. The shirt had a tear from the last button to the upper part of her left breast, and another across her midriff. The shirt tucked into a faded pair of blue jeans with a single tear from the knee to the upper thigh of her left leg. She had a large, black cloth bag pressed between the small of her back and the hotel wall. Her wandering eyes suddenly halted, locking onto a single figure in the crowd. A man in the beginning stages of middle age walked quickly toward the hotel. Holding an umbrella over his head was a massive man wearing mirror shades and a suit that looked two sizes too small for him.

Anticipation and queasiness filled the girl's belly as the men drew closer. The smaller man slowed to a stop as they came even with her, the larger stopping a foot behind and to the right. Her light brown eyes met his dark green ones. His eyes widened a little in surprise. He smiled at the little bit of fear that had sparked in her eyes. His gaze traveled hungrily down her body, taking in exposed flesh of her slim, athletic figure, her wet clinging shirt, her bare feet and most importantly, her ringless hands. She could almost read his thoughts.

"Guildless," he would be thinking, "this girl has no Family."

"Girl," he said, breaking her train of thoughts, "you look cold."

She nodded mechanically, her eyes locked onto his face. It was not an ugly face: dark, sun worn, with stress lines disappearing into graying stubble. His dark emerald eyes seemed to shine with life,

"You're soaking wet, girl," he said, his kindly expression ruined by the excitement in his eyes.

"Would you like to come upstairs?" He licked his lips. "Maybe get something to eat?"

He was enjoying her nervousness, but worried that he might scare her off. The girl paused, as if considering, then grabbed her bag and slipped her arm around the man's side. After a moment's hesitation, the man's arm slipped around her shoulder in a warm, if confining grip.

"Sir, I don't think this is such a good--" the larger man began.

"You worry too much, Davis, relax," the man responded.

"After this morning?" the man retorted.

Irritation filled the man's eyes, he looked at the girl for a moment and then at Davis. Finally, he smiled.

"Fine then. You can search her when we get up stairs."

Davis did not respond.

If anyone in the North Star's Lobby thought it strange that this man should walk in, arm in arm with a barefoot and soaking street girl, they kept it to themselves. The man directed them into one of the elevators and seemed relieved when the doors closed without anyone else entering. She could already see his erection through his pants and his arm had somehow drifted down so that his finger tips rested lightly on her breast. After what seemed like an eternity, the elevator chimed and the doors opened. He led her out of the elevator and down the hall, stopping at the fifth door. He released her and dug in his pockets, finally producing a card key. He swiped the card, cursed when the lock buzzed angrily at him, clumsily reversed the card and swiped it again. He sighed when the light turned green, pushed the door open and gestured for her to enter. She stepped in and looked around. It was a nice room, making it a very expensive room. It was large, and filled with quality synth-wood furniture. In a corner stood a high-res holo-tank with very real looking coy swimming lazily about in it.

The man stepped inside and closed the door after slipping a "do not disturb" sign on the outside knob.

Davis stepped up to her. "I would like to search her now, sir," he said, laying a large hand on her shoulder. The man nodded irritably and walked over to the desk where he began shuffling through some papers. Davis did a quick, thorough search of her. When finished, he grabbed her bag, dumped the contents on the floor and dug through them.

"She's clear sir."

The man turned to face her. He watched as she squatted down and carefully packed all her belongings back into the cloth bag.

"What's your name?" he asked, meeting her gaze.

"Angel," she responded in a quavering voice, dropping her gaze.

"You certainly look the part," he said, smiling. "Why don't you go sit on the bed while I make a phone call."

"Can I have my food and my shower first?" she asked, her voice almost cracking.

She flinched when his gaze snapped back on her. His anger melted away quickly and he smiled.

"Of course. You were thinking I'd have my way with you and then have Davis throw you out, weren't you?" he laughed, his eyes betraying that he had been thinking just that.

"Go take your shower and I'll order us some dinner," his impatience had reappeared in his voice.

She nodded and walked quickly into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind her. She stripped off her clothes, wrung them out in the sink and draped them over the towel rack to dry.

She reveled in the jet of hot water that hit her in the face when she stepped into the shower. She found a disposable razor wrapped in plastic and a small wax-paper wrapped bar of soap sitting in the soap dish. She used them to shave her legs and armpits. She washed and combed her hair and then just stood under the spray of water until it started to turn cold. She turned off the water and stepped out of the tub, toweling herself dry. She heard a faint knock at the outside door and Davis's muffled voice saying something.

She found a large white robe hanging on the back of the door and slipped it on. It was too large for her and had the letters N.S.R. embroidered in gold on the left breast. She opened the door and stepped out into the living room.

The man sat at the table that room service had wheeled in, eating a very rare vat-grown beefsteak and sipping a Japanese beer. Davis had resumed his place to the left of the front door. The man watched between bites as she walked over to the table and sat down opposite him, drawing her legs up under her. She took a few nibbles of the sandwich he had ordered for her. She glanced up nervously, cast a glance over at Davis, and back to the man.

"He's not going to watch is he?" she said, blushing.

The man laughed. "You hear that, Davis? The little girl's shy."

Her face turned scarlet. Davis did not react.

"He he makes me nervous. I would like it better if you sent him outside." Her blush deepened.

The man laughed again, "well, sweet, innocent little angel of mine, when you're ready, I'll send him outside." He placed a large, sun-darkened hand on her pale knee.

She smiled, her face changing back to its normal color, and began eating again. The man didn't eat much. He simply sat and watched her, seemingly enthralled. When she had finished, she smiled, stood up, walked past him to the bedroom door and paused, looking back. The combination of innocent and seductress in her eyes filled him with desire. He stood up so quickly that the dishes rattled and his beer tipped over. He cursed and picked it up, throwing a napkin over the spreading puddle of beer.

"Davis, wait outside," he said, following her as she disappeared into the bedroom. She stood facing the wall, waiting. When she heard Davis close the outside door behind him she undid her robe and let it slip to the floor.

"Oh yes, you certainly look the part," the man said in a breathy voice, standing closely behind her.

He grabbed her with the intent of twisting her into an embrace, but when she spun, she swung an open knife-hand strike to his throat. He gasped and stepped back a bit, hurt and startled. She didn't wait for him to recover. She spun again and landed a wheel kick to his throat, crushing his wind pipe. He gasped like a fish out of water and struggled for the door. She swept him, stepped over him, and planted her heel on his neck, breaking his spine. He lay face down in the plush carpet.

Angel's mind raced. All traces of nervousness had evaporated. She grabbed her cloth bag and dumped its contents onto the bed. She pulled out the liner and removed several small plastic wrapped packages containing an expensive, if conservative business suit. She retraced her route through the apartment, removing all traces of her presence. Once satisfied, she changed into the outfit and pulled her hair into the severe bun that was in style for upper-level business women.

She reentered the bedroom, picked up her bag and flipped it inside out revealing a brown suede synth-leather surface. She carefully repacked her belongings. When she finished, she pulled off the false skin she'd been wearing on her hands and stuffed them into her bag. She retrieved a plain gold band with a clinched fist engraved on it from her pocket and pushed it onto her left ring finger. Finally, she slipped on a pair of white gloves.

Her new persona complete, she ran into the bathroom, pulled open the under-sink cabinet and cursed. She had paid the cleaning lady five-hundred creds to tape a Tranq pistol and ammo to the back of the pipes. It wasn't there. There was no time to wonder why. She would deal with that later. She momentarily felt sorry for the body guard, but let it go. Her mind raced. A man like her target did not go about unarmed, body guard or no. He would have it somewhere he could easily get to, but not on his person -- too easy to get caught that way. She spotted a metal briefcase in the open closet. She rushed over and cracked it open, dumping out the multitude of documents. It would have a false bottom. Her hands found a cleverly disguised latch and triggered it. She cursed again. Inside the compartment was a snub-nosed needler with a clip of needles and several spare air cartridges. Next to that were five gold bars each about four by seven inches across and two inches thick. She grabbed the bars and threw them into her bag, then picked up the pistol. It had a full clip, but the air cartridge, needed to propel the darts, was half empty. Her target was either very busy or very sloppy; she was willing to bet on the latter. She exchanged cartridges, double checked the settings, and plugged the pistol's fiber-optic lead into a subtle hook-up in her wrist. She became aware of the pistol more as an extension of her hand, than as a separate object. Her targeting hardware was state of the art. The gun kicked and let off a truncated hiss as she put a test shot into the body of her former target. She smiled, shouldered her bag, and headed for the door.

She leaned against the door with her left hand on the handle and her right holding the needler pointed at the ceiling. The door would open in, therefore Davis would be on the left side. That way, if the door opened, he could tackle anyone coming out. Angel slowed her breathing and listened. Silence. She hoped that meant the hall was clear except for Davis. She turned the knob, threw her weight onto her right foot, opened the door and pivoted with it exposing only her arm and her face. The gun hissed once, and Davis collapsed onto the floor. The needle had hit him in the left eye, piercing his brain and killing him. She checked the hall. Seeing that it was clear, she grabbed her bags and left. When she reached the elevator, she disconnected the gun and dropped it down a garbage chute. She called an elevator and calmly waited for it.

As the elevator traveled down, she let her language software kick in, sinking deeper into her new persona. By the time the car reached the lobby, the real Angel had sunk completely out of sight. She walked purposefully up to the front desk and called for the clerk's attention.

"Checking out Ma'am?" he asked, placing a ring-print scanner on the counter.

"Yes," she said, her German accent heavy. She slowly pulled the glove off her left hand and placed it palm down on the pad. The computer in the pad scanned her prints and ran them against those stored in the microprocessor embedded in her ring. Finding a match, it checked her out and settled her bill.

The clerk was looking at his screen.

"According to my records, your luggage was brought down last night, as per your request, and our driver, Reginald, is waiting out front to take you to the airport. Was everything to your satisfaction, Ms. Leiberstaad?"

"Well, there is one thing," she said smiling, her accent making it hard for the clerk to understand, "the room directly above mine -- they made much noise."

The clerk smiled apologetically. "Well, I hope you will accept our apologies, ma'am. I will send someone up right away," he said typing, no doubt making sure that no priority guest was in that room. She nodded curtly and headed to the door, ignoring anything else the clerk might have said.

She did not completely relax until she was in the limo and on her way. Once on the highway, she picked up the phone and let it connect to her ring. She dialed up the number of a dry cleaner in Seattle. The answering machine picked up.

"Seen the sights, be home soon," was all she said before hanging up.

She dialed the number of a flower shop in Sacramento. A marionette -- a program designed to imitate a human -- answered.

"I'd like to have an arrangement delivered. I want a single white rose in a green glass vase. No card. I am forwarding you the address now," she said. She selected an address off a menu prompt on the phone, and forwarded it to the shop's computer.

She hung up. The ring's microprocessor settled the bill for the flower and the two phone calls then disconnected. She sat back and began to think, analyzing her performance, noting those aspects that could have gone better. She got to the gold bars and paused. Clan Law dictated that the bars were clan property. She should surrender them to her superior upon her return. Her thoughts drifted back to the job just completed and she wondered, not for the first time, how much longer she would want to stay in this line of work.

"Driver," she said, waiting until she saw his eyes in the rearview mirror before continuing. "What is the largest bank in Chicago?"

"That would be the Chicago Trans-Global, ma'am."

"Would you please take me there?"


"Give humans motive, opportunity, and a mechanism for being unpleasant, and they will be."

--Peter Jackson


[Prev | Next]

by Kilgore Trout

She smelled of sweat. Paul could feel her nearby, watching him, trying to anticipate her next move. She's not in my mind yet, he thought and blindly swung the aluminum baseball bat in the darkness. Nothing. He heard her breathe, but he couldn't judge where she was. The size and acoustics of the room toyed with Paul's senses, and he was on the verge of breaking. Paul gripped the handle of the bat tightly, readying himself for another strike.

It's not fair, he thought. It's not fair that you've always been in control.

Paul took a step forward and waited. A muffled gasp came from his left, so he turned and smashed the bat in that direction, connecting with something solid. He heard bones crack.

"That wasn't me," a female voice called out from above him. "Who'd you pulp, Paul? Do you really want to know?"

Paul dropped the bat and raised his hands. "I'm tired of your games, Melinda. I'm finished playing. It's over."

"Not until I say it is," Melinda shouted back, and then the room was awash in a blinding white light.

* * * * *

"So, how's class going for you, Paul?" his father asked. They were seated at the dining room table eating breakfast. Paul's mom walked in with some bacon and sat down.

"Sucks as usual," Paul replied with a mouthful of scrambled eggs. "But I did meet this girl in my intro to western religions class. We've been dating a bit."

"Oh, my Paulie's finally got a girlfriend," his mother said elatedly.

Paul rolled his eyes while his father chuckled.

"Tell us all about her," she said.

"Her name's Melinda," Paul answered. "She's a sociology major. Only has one more semester after this."

"An older woman, huh?" his father asked. "Way to go, Son. I knew you'd get out of your shell finally."

"Dad," Paul objected.

"Well, Son, you have to admit you're usually absorbed in those strange books you read or sitting in front of a computer. It's nice to see you get out some, that's all."

"Your father's right, Paul," his mother explained. "We know you've got some good friends, but it's nice to know that I might get to be a grandmother someday."

"Jeez, Mom," Paul said. "It's not like we're about to get married. We're just dating."

"Well, just be good to her, and she'll be good to you," his mother advised.

* * * * *

As Paul's eyes adjusted to the bright light, he made out two burly shapes hurrying towards him. He bent down to retrieve the bat, but a hard kick from one of the men sent him slumping to the ground. He grabbed his belly, coughed up some phlegm, and rolled over onto his back. He looked up at his attackers, recognizing them as Jim, a running back on the football team, and Laurence, his roommate.

"Help me, please," Paul gasped, trying to regain his breath.

"No can do, little man," Jim said.

"But she's crazy," Paul said. "Melinda's off her rocker."

"Not really. Not once you get to understand her."

"Yeah," Laurence agreed. "She's a lot more stable than you ever were."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Paul asked. "Look what she's done."

"What, made us stronger?" Laurence sneered. "I don't consider that a bad thing. You could have been like us, Paul. It would have been so simple."

"Never," Paul spat out. "You're delusional. Melinda's got you by the balls."

"Stop your inane arguing," Melinda's voice echoed from above. "You can't turn them against me. Power has its advantages, a fact that you can't seem to fathom."

Paul turned his head to the left and saw the limp body next to him, blood pooling around its head. Laurence bent down and grabbed the head, lifting it and turning it towards Paul. He saw his own face with eyes glazed over in silence.

* * * * *

Melinda smoothed out the skin on her face and attached the clasps behind her ears. "There," she said. "A perfect fit. This is one of my favorite faces."

"Doesn't that hurt?" Paul asked. He was lying naked on the bed, rubbing the socks on his feet together.

"Not really, thanks to modern painkillers," she replied, turning away from the bathroom mirror. She was naked, too, and Paul watched her small breasts rise as she stretched her arms upwards.

"I still don't get this whole face thing," Paul said, stroking his hairless chest. "It kinda freaks me out."

"Understandable," she answered. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"

"No, no. It's just that when you said you had many different faces, I didn't think you meant that literally. I figured it was a sordid background or manic mood swings or something."

Melinda slid across the room and sat on the edge of the bed. Her milky white palm caressed Paul's thigh softly. He sighed.

"It all about conquering the flesh," Melinda said. "We're forcing evolution. We can be anybody. All we need is skin."

"But I don't understand still," he complained. "You were beautiful before."

"That wasn't me, Paul. You've never seen me. And it's not about beauty."

"Then what is it about?"

"Identity. Being. Control of self. Let me cut you, Paul."

"I like my face."

Melinda bent down and kissed his thigh. "For now, Paul," she said. "For now."

* * * * *

Jim and Laurence grabbed Paul's arms and legs and hauled him out of the room. He did not resist. They took him down a hallway with walls of peeling plaster and into what looked like a dining room. A long, metal table with a chair at either end was in the center of the room. The two men dropped Paul in one of the chairs and left, locking the door behind them.

Paul ran his fingers over the cool, smooth surface of the table, wondering whose head he had bashed in back there, wondering who was wearing his face. He leaned forward and stared at the reflection in the table, seeing Melinda's face glaring back at him.

"Surprised?" Melinda's voice asked from behind him. "You were so beautiful when I cut you."

Paul whirled around, seeing Melinda with his face on. It sagged a bit at the chin. He stood up and tried to speak, but no words came to him.

"Luckily your face was salvageable," she said, scratching the hanging goatee. "A tad big for me, but I could get used to it."

"Who was it back there?" Paul asked. "Who did I kill?"

"We've got lots of time for your questions. How does my face feel?"

"Why? Why did you do this to me? I never wanted this."

"Come now, Paul. You are not your face. I thought you would have figured that out by now."

"I want my face back!" Paul screamed.

Melinda walked over to Paul and knelt in front of him, unzipping his pants. "You know, Paul, you of all people should be able to understand the significance of what we've accomplished," she said. "Don't you understand the power I've given you? You're free from your bondage. You're free from yourself."

Paul stood motionless as he watched his own face give him head.

* * * * *

Paul would feign being asleep in the mornings to try and catch a glimpse of Melinda when she was unmasked. He wasn't sure if he really wanted to see her as she really was, but part of him wanted to see underneath her flesh. She was always careful, though, making sure she never made herself visible.

Sometimes he thought it might be nice to be able to change faces, but he also wondered who Melinda had really been before this, if any of the faces she wore were her original face. Paul asked himself if Melinda had forgotten who she had been, who she really was. After all, he could never be sure himself.

* * * * *

Paul awoke in a haze on the sidewalk, the taste of chloroform still in his mouth. He tried to recall what had happened before he had been knocked out, remembering that Melinda had been talking to him as Jim and Laurence held him by the arms.

"Nobody wants to be themselves," she had explained. "If they did, everyone would be happy. No, people always want to be something different, to be like someone else. We've given you that power, but you still won't accept it. You just can't see the possibilities, can you? No, of course not. I forgot. You like your face. You are not your face, Paul. Do you know who you really are?"

He stumbled onto his feet, balancing himself on sore legs and looked around. The setting was downtown, but it was unfamiliar. Paul wasn't sure what town he was in. He slowly walked over to the window of an electronics store and tried to look at himself in the dim reflection. He didn't recognize the face at all.


"This book should have been written three years ago.... But these truths were a fire in me then. Now I can tell them without getting burned. These truths do not have to be hurled in men's faces. They do not intend to ignite fervor. I do not trust fervor. Every time it has burst out somewhere, it has brought fire, famine, misery.... And contempt for man. Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent."

-- Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks


[Prev | Next]

by I Wish My Name Were Nathan

"Fuckin' god damn!" Tony shouted as he was walking down the sidewalk. "I hate this!"

"What, what?" Evan asked. "What?"

"My drink, you stinkin' bum! Can't you see? It just flew out of my hands."


"Right into the fuckin' sidewalk. Look at that," he cursed, throwing his hands at the sight. Evan looked obediently and glanced back and noticed how a tree root had upended a block of the sidewalk several years ago and conspired through time to steal Tony's drink. "Now tell me if that ain't fucked. It's seeping right through the pavement. Is it thirsty?"

Evan kept mostly silent, but offered, "The pavement is porous."

"'Porous,' eh? Porous. Por-ous. Poor us, huh? Poor goddamn us."

"Buy another drink, okay?" Evan suggested finally, a bit testily.

"Pardon me, okay, just pardon me. I don't deal well with loss or something, okay?" Tony snapped. Evan merely shrugged. "Now all my concentration is gone. Were we going somewhere?"

"Back to the park where Nikki and Hunter are, I figured. They might want to see 'Lost in Space.'"

"Sure, let's go all the fuck the way back there, and me with my hands empty and nothing to do," Tony lamented, giving angry looks at his white palms.

"Do you always have to be holding something?"

"Alright then Evan. I'll just, oh, walk like a goddamn fairy." Tony proceeded to walk forward, extravagantly animated, waving his arms in double pinwheels. "Let's go, huh?"

Evan watched sullenly and muttered, "Goddamn fairy, that's good."

They continued to walk along the side of the road, where the sidewalks eventually tapered off into chaotic sprays of gravel, and then still-muddy foot-trails, and then subtly stamped-down grass. The blocks were wide and underdeveloped on the edges of the town and the streets all headed into dead ends. Before the grid of streets disappeared into overgrown grass and cactus, a plain row of brown warehouses delineated the edge of the city, most rented out for private storage. And a few blocks behind that, in a circle of trees, Tony expected to find Nikki and Hunter getting stoned or skateboarding.

"I swear I'm gonna die if it gets any humider," Tony complained, laboriously stretching the collar on his shirt and waving air in.

"Maybe your jeans will stay up for once," Evan commented.

"Maybe I'll whale on your ass, huh?"

Evan refrained from commenting but retained his sullen expression. He hoped they could get to the movie sooner than later.

Crossing between two warehouses, Tony called out, "Yoo hoo, kids," capitalizing on the resonating echo effect, "movie time!" And then, "Fuckin' no way!"

Evan stopped short and started to turn back. He knew the tone of his voice meant they'd been ditched. Since they'd planned to borrow money for two tickets from Nikki (and had been cautiously optimistic that she'd understood the situation as well as they did), they were hosed.

Still facing the empty space under the trees, Tony said, in a tone oddly triumphant, "Okay then, no goddamn movie." He laughed. "I heard it sucked anyways." When he turned around and saw Evan receding, he cried out, "Wait up!"

Evan continued to walk blithely on, having made up his mind to ditch Tony and waste the day by himself for once. Tony had other ideas.

Running up behind him, Tony exclaimed, "Hey man, where you goin'? Stick around, I can fetch up somethin' fun to do! We don't need those sorry fuckers around!" Evan continued to ignore him, only shrugging vaguely. His determination didn't wane. "Well at least let me follow you then," Tony muttered.

Walking back into town, the afternoon sun blazed directly into their faces, and for Tony this seemed to mock their failure. Ditched by their friends, and now the humiliation of coming back with empty hands. All he could bare to look at was the obscured silhouette of Evan's head in the way of the sun. He bored his eyes into the back of Evan's skull and hated him.

"You know what?" he said, as if offhandedly, glaring at the black shadow of Evan's head. "I bet we wouldn't have missed them if I didn't have to explain to you the whole fucking complicated fact of spilling my drink."

Evan knew that Nikki and Hunter would have walked to the theater just as doggedly as they, and there was no way they could have missed them by a minute. "What?!" he shouted at the illogic, and instantly regretted it.

"Yes, you motherfuckin' made me. I was content to leave the spilt milk behind, but you were too goddamn dense to understand."

Evan recognized and knew this pattern, triggering one of the rare moments in which he honestly wished he were actually too dense to understand. He braced himself and shrugged in the most noncommittal way he could.

"Fuck you!" Tony shouted and rammed his hands into Evan's back, sending him flailing and falling into the street. "You ruin everything for me!"

For a few agonizing seconds Evan's mind raced with deciding whether to stand or remain prone on the ground. He decided to stand up as slowly and coolly as possible. He could feel Tony glaring down at him and he could imagine the expression he always had on his face at these times; wide angry eyes, flared nostrils, flushed red cheeks and nose, and a scowl infected with a repulsively malicious half-grin. Evan resisted the urge to meet that glare and concentrated on relaxing his eyes into a dead gaze so the stress wouldn't make them shake. He pushed himself up by his arms and slowly brought his legs under him until he was almost sitting. He looked silently at Tony's shoes, ancient Adidas, the shoelaces frayed, almost hidden in the ample legs of his baggy jeans. After a quiet moment of reflection, he carefully extended his legs and stood up, facing Tony with an equanimous expression. Then he glanced down, turned his head, turned his body, and continued walking.

Six... five... four..., Evan counted in his mind, one... -- nothing. He hadn't prepared to continue walking and dazedly meandered forth, now understanding some of the effect that the blazing sun had on his unhinged companion. As he kept uneasily placing footstep after footstep, he contemplated breaking into a dash and running away. /You could, you know,/ he told himself in a ludicrously over-calm voice. /Tony would never catch up./ Oh no. Evan repressed the thought and noticed his walk had stiffened likewise. Don't. /With those silly jeans./ Not funny. /He'd run and fall./ Stop! /Flat on his face as he reached out to grab you./ Evan screwed up his face and clenched his teeth. Okay, now none of -- /Baggy-ass motherfuckin' jeans!/ Fuck! His body expelled a laugh and he was too late to morph it into a cough.

"What the fuck is so funny?!" Tony roared, leaping on Evan's back and sending him into the pavement screaming. Tony hooked his arm around Evan's neck and twisted his head to meet his frightened, pained face. "Look at me, bitch!" Tony hissed. Look? Let me breathe! Evan's mind replied, wondering if it was worth the pain of breathing to continue living. He'd never been so conscious of each one of his ribs, nor of the orientation of his spinal cord.

"You are such a fuckin' comic genius," Tony growled. "I make you laugh. I can make you cry too." He released his hold on Evan's neck (and his half-grin grew while hearing Evan's spasmodic breaths) and without warning slammed his face into the pavement (and he smiled at the crunching sound).

"I can't possibly... thank you for the... influence you've had on my life," he continued. "You know that... without your constant... help, it couldn't have possibly become... so utterly fucked!" Evan gasped for breath after forcing air through his nose and mouth to clear out the blood and wished that he actually had been so intertwined with Tony's life to fully appreciate the significance of the moment. But the sarcasm seemed as meaningless as everything else.

Evan saw himself at the height of impotence and wondered what it would be like to die kissing the street and tasting blood and grime. He tried to imagine it and found himself in a strange state where it seemed like it didn't matter at all, in any way whatsoever, tiny or cosmic. He was ready to die, and somehow this seemed sweet....

"Aren't you gonna fucking fight back, you cunt?" Tony yelled, honestly bewildered. He started to feel kind of bad. He took his hands off of Evan's head and saw the rivulets of blood flowing between the pieces of gravel. In a final magnanimous gesture, he stood up and lifted Evan to his feet and exclaimed, "Goddamn, Evan, you're taking this way too seriously! We were just playing!"

Evan took two lolling steps forward and collapsed on in a heap on the road. He stared at the road and let his eyes oscillate, to accompany his dizziness and disorientation. Then suddenly he had energy again and he leapt to his feet and sputtered, "My GOD you're a psychopath!"

"Why, you fuckin'...," Tony growled and jumped at Evan again. He stepped back in time for Tony to grab hold of his shirt and rip it into shreds while falling. Evan instinctively stiffened his leg and drove it forward into Tony's face, eliciting a surprised grunt. "I'm going to fucking castrate you for that!" Evan ran off, stumbling back home, knowing Tony couldn't catch him. Or hoping.


"Slipping into madness is good for the sake of comparison."



[Prev | Next]

by Bixenta Moonchild

What is this? The man who uses me daily is dragging a large bundle towards me. It is not bath time. It is late in the night. I can sense that something is not right. I can feel it in every grain of my perfect porcelain. The man has a kitchen knife in the hand that also clutches the gathered-up sheet. Those two things don't belong in here.

The man lets down the corners of that sheet, whose color is as spotlessly white as mine, and there lies a wrinkled corpse. Its limbs drop to the floor with the linen. It is cold, still, and lifeless by my side.

What a horrible thing to bring into my immaculate temple. A weak stench of decay is beginning to permeate the air surrounding me. I want it to be gone, I want to rest in the flawless dark of night, with only a narrow moon beam illuminating my gleaming insides glazed with soap residue. I want to revel in the absolute perfection and spotlessness of my being and of my home, until the hour comes when I will once again show my generosity and sympathy by cleansing a dirty, putrid human body to be ALMOST as pure and stainless as I.

But he will not take away this terrible thing that is ruining the purity of the atmosphere of my home. Every second, I know that the smell is swimming through the air, infecting the sterile walls of my palace and diving down towards me.

The man is now lifting up the dreadful thing. I am washed over with a wave of relief. I am sure that he is finally removing this source of poison from my presence. But no, now he is moving towards me, thrusting the dead thing closer with each of his hasty steps. He stops and leans over me with it in his arms. As the corpse's fingers dangle back and forth, almost touching my curved white rim, a deadness comes over me. As it hovers above me, I try to pretend that it is not there, but it is impossible. Just the terrible closeness of this malignant presence drains me of all hope.

Then it happens. The man releases his hold, and it falls inside of me, hitting me with a force that knocks me out of the wonderful existence I had just moments before.

As the pain begins to pound through me, and while the first burst of agonizing misery penetrates my consciousness and sets in on torturing my soul, the man raises up what will bolt this pain to my spirit for eternity and give it the drive to constantly eat away at me in a never-ending feast.

The beam of moonlight concentrates itself on the knife he grasps above his head, and I am hypnotized by the beautiful sheen of such an evil object as I wait for him to scar me with it forever.

And it comes. He plunges it into the rotting flesh. He furiously saws away, and as he withdraws the blade, a strange, thick, red water gushes from the wound. First a glob of the odd liquid collects on a seemingly level area near the gash from which it came. For this moment I let myself think that it will stay there, that it will never get any nearer, and then the revolting intruder inside of me will vanish in this frozen frame of time, and I will soon be restored to my original purity.

The threatening substance lingers on that spot just long enough for this naive hope to become a definite truth to me. But in an evanescent instant, while my attention is fixed upon this foolish prophecy of mine, whatever forces are holding up this bulge of scarlet decide to release it, and it streams down to touch my surface.

It first blots out a small circle of my pearly shine, but it grows larger and larger at a terrifying rate. The man continues to slice the corpse, spilling massive amounts of the vile ooze with each tug of the knife handle.

And now comes the death of my former self; I begin to feel it penetrating my surface, seeping through me, polluting my entire being, invading, then contaminating my spirit, and soaking all the way through to inhabit my soul with its filthy evil. Every particle of my being is moaning and wailing in protest, but as the red sauce fills me and overtakes me, I am silenced and slowly becoming calm.

I wait to be overcome with the feeling of disgust I am expecting, but I can feel only shame. As repulsive as this atrocity is, it is now a part of me, and I am painfully ashamed of what I have become.

I am enveloping these messy red fragments piled up in a pool of their own juice, and the sinfulness they radiate is enveloping me. I wish he would chop me into pieces also, because I cannot live with this torture. But there is no more chopping, no more violent desecration, and no more chance that I will be destroyed and set free from the horrors of reality. There is no more movement in this room, but there is a turbulence inside me that cannot be weathered.

Now the man is pulling out the mangled remains. As dripping handfuls are removed, I try to remember how I felt not so long ago when I was clean and everything I knew was good, but it is nothing more to me now than a faded fantasy.

The man's off-white hand, with not a spot of the mess on it, reaches over to make the good, clear water shoot into me. It dissolves all that is viciously clinging to my bottom floor. More pours down and climbs on top of the first to come in. It grabs the stain off my walls and pulls it into itself. It takes on a murky tint, but eventually becomes as transparent and clean as that which falls from the faucet. And it slips out of my drain.

Now it appears that there is not a trace left of the wickedness I have undergone. But I can feel it is still in me. The intensity with which it constantly batters me has not been washed away.

Now I do not even bother to wish for this feeling to go away; I am certain that it will be attached to me always and will never lose the strength to keep its hold on me. The anguish that is haunting me deadens any thought that comes to me other than one of this pain.

The man opens the window and the nasty, tainted outside air comes creeping in carrying a multitude of foul things, but for the first time I do not care. Dirt such as I cannot be made any dirtier. A spirit such as mine that is crumbled into dust cannot break any further.

I look the same as I should, but my sanctity cannot be recreated.

This deed is ingrained in me for eternity. I can never be the same. I am forever unclean.


"The history of saints is mainly the history of insane people."



[Prev | Next]

by Morrigan

When i first woke up, there was no way to tell where i was. My senses were dulled and dim, feeling had only just returned to my cells. Only part of the anesthetic was wearing off, though -- the part that numbs your nerves. The part that numbs your mind lasts longer. i wish it had stayed forever.

The first thing you notice is the blood. Like i said, when you wake up, you can't really think yet. So when you see someone pushing down on your stomach and feel and hear and see the never ending gush of red, red blood, you know that something's gone terribly wrong. You see yourself with the ultimate clarity that comes with lack of full consciousness and you can't help but jump to conclusions. You can't help but believe this is your deathbed, too. When they tell you the procedure, go over it in careful, painstaking detail, they never mention how it feels when the last of the warmth, the last of the blood that you've been carefully heating in your body for the past six months flows out, leaving a cold, hollow, still place inside of you. They never prepare you. So your fogged mind decides that the time has come for you to pay for the death of your beautiful little girl.

And you accept that fate because you never felt all right with your decision in the first place. Even though most of them were supportive and told you that you made the right choice and said you were strong, more strong than they could have been, you feel the secret disapproval, the thought that to be this strong is to lose part of your humanity. In the moment before you fade out again (because consciousness comes and goes at first, after that much anesthetic), you hear the words of that first doctor echoing in your head: "The only way to redeem yourself is to carry your child to term and to give it to a family that would love it. There are so few healthy white babies born that if you have one, it is your duty to give it to a family that needs and wants it. Otherwise you'll never be redeemed." The wording is perhaps changed slightly, but you'll never forget her intention. The word "redeem" will always stay with you, interjecting its doubt just when you thought you might finally be comfortable with a decision you can't change. You slip back into black.

* * * * *

It's a scene that you would expect to see on a bad Hallmark card. The kind that has gold embossed lettering, a picture that's all fuzzy about the edges, and a badly written, trite poem praising your mother or daughter or granddaughter or aunt. But this scene is far from that poem, beautiful, meaningful and as precious as that card is not.

You're in a park, strolling slowly down the worn dirt path that you used to follow on your way to elementary school. This park has always been one of your cherished places. It's not a particularly large park, covering only the space of two city blocks. It is a grassy expanse, hemmed in on one side by a stand of perpetually rustling aspen and on the other three sides by towering Douglas Firs, each of them easily a hundred feet tall. One of these trees is your special friend that you know as the "Rainbow Tree", named such for a reason long vanished in the blur of early childhood. This is the tree that you learned to climb in, that you had your first kiss in and that left you with a thin scar on your hand when you jumped out of it one last time before leaving for boarding school.

It is to this tree that you wander with the little girl who has placed her tiny hand trustingly in yours. You look down into her upturned face, amazed with unsuppressible motherly vanity at how much she looks like you did at her age. Her white blond hair wisps and curls about her temples just as yours did, and still does if you don't brush it. Her eyes are perhaps bluer than yours were -- a pure azure unbroken by flecks of gold or green or brown. She giggles at the story you've been telling her, a story about the sprites and brownies who live amongst the pine cones and talk with the birds that fly by. You offer to help her climb in the lowest branches of the tree, so that you might find one of the little people for yourselves. You hold her tiny waist and help her stand on the well worn limbs that are almost like stairs this low down.

She feels so close and alive, smelling of sugar and freshly mown grass like happy children always seem to, and you're struck anew by how much you love and treasure her. You would never hurt her, never let her slip from your grasp to fall even those three feet to the ground from where she now climbs. If you had any say in the matter, there would never be any blood on that face, those hands, those feet (both with the right number of fingers or toes, though you had to count to make sure, of course). You'd give your life to protect your perfect little girl from even the slightest glimmer of a thought involving killing her. Of course, such grim images are far from your mind. You're just standing, enjoying her company, her small-person babble. You're her mother, she's your daughter, everything is just fine, thank you.

* * * * *

This time when you wake up, you remember where you are. You're lying in a bed in a clinic. You think you may even remember why you're here. But before you can focus on that thought consciousness sneaks away.

* * * * *

This time you're with a boy instead of your daughter. After almost a year, you know him well -- well enough to trust him like she trusted you. He was always a gentleman (except... but you've blocked out those memories. He was always a gentleman).

You're sitting on a sagging cot in a cabin usually used for summer camp. You're not supposed to be here, of course, especially not with a member of the opposite sex, but you're teenagers and the years have proven that better behavior can't reasonably be expected from you at this age. Besides, neither of you are the type to engage in the truly forbidden activities that such places are usually taken for. You've more than held his hand, but you've always been more modest than most and he hasn't been able to change that. A few weeks ago, you touched on the subject of how far your relationship might go. He'd always preached no premarital sex, abstinence and respect and so when he offered his acquiescence to your assertion that you wouldn't do that now, not at this age, not in this place, not with him, you thought that the subject was resolved and put it aside, forgot about it. You trusted him.

Yet you feel somehow nervous now. There's a touch of unfounded apprehension in the air that lends brief hesitance to the light caress you bestow on his shoulder as you sit together and emptily prattle. You think his touch feels more aggressive than usual, but you write it off as your imagination and banish such thoughts with an admonition about silliness. You try to keep yourself convinced that his insistence is normal, that the only place where anything's the matter is in your mind. But just as you begin to realize that perhaps something really has changed, he gives you final proof that all is not well.

Your protests are ignored and you're too frightened of his strength and too bewildered by an impossibility come true to know how to fight him effectively. All your mind can do is retreat as far away as it can get and wonder what changed. Another corner of your mind briefly almost laughs as it recognizes its ability for detached clear thinking that they always say is possible in the midst of a crisis. Perhaps it was that in three more days you'd be each going off to your separate homes, your separate lives, your separate schools. He couldn't bear to leave you, so he did the one thing he could think of that would ensure you'd never forget him. Perhaps the taunting of the boys in his dorm had become too strong -- "aren't you man enough?" But he was a gentleman and sensible and said he loved you, so it couldn't have been either of those things. So what was it? All you can remember from that night is the thought that you thought you'd be older.

You see a unicorn running away through the woods, frightened by your call, your plea for help.

* * * * *

You wake up to softness against your cheek. You hold the teddy bear closer. In this moment when you've proved your ability to be a woman, you're a little girl again. All you need is your teddy bear and just by holding it you know that everything is going to be all right. Comforted, you snuggle up to sleep.

* * * * *

You're listening to the doctor who runs the clinic that you've chosen for your operation. He's telling you why he does what he does. He tells you that his goal is to give girls back their futures. He tells you that all he wants to do is give you the chance to fulfill the dreams you've had. He's the first person who doesn't moralize about the creature that's hijacked your uterus. He leaves the moralizing to the protesters crowded outside his doors -- all he cares about is you, your future, your chance to live the life you deserve, the life you want to live, rather than the life that's been forced into your hands. He lets you think, helps you think that maybe you don't have to sacrifice yourself and your beliefs and your dreams to be redeemed, that maybe saving yourself is redemption enough. He gives you the hope that maybe you were right, maybe you chose the right road.

His words are in your memory. Your response was in the dream.

* * * * *

Summoning all of the energy stored up by your latest nap, you turn your head, questing for validation of your sin. In the next bed, you see another girl, another woman, sleeping off the same homicide as you. Somehow she pulls open her own eyes. You see your own guilt and shame and relief reflected there. It is enough. You go back to sleep.

* * * * *

You're with your daughter again. But this time the fuzzy halo has vanished from her head. Your love has turned to hatred. Because in her face, you see his. She's developing the same lisp that he had. Yesterday she motioned with her hands to prove her point (something about butterflies, or was it caterpillars?) and the gesture was his. You can't forgive her for letting his genes mingle with yours. And your hatred isn't for him or for her, it's for you, because she doesn't deserve it and he is beyond hatred.

And you'll never be able to love her completely. Perhaps it would have been better if she'd never been born?

* * * * *

The face you wake up to is his, too. But after that first split second, uncertainty takes over. After another split second, the face has resolved itself into a nurse, asking you how you feel. You start to answer, but find yourself overwhelmed with nausea. You're not sure if your stomach's rebellion was induced by the horror of your experience or merely the lingering effects of the hormones and pain killers. The effort of emptying your stomach of contents it didn't contain takes what little energy you thought you had and you stumble back to slumber.

* * * * *

You think you're lying in your bed in the clinic. It's the same sheets, the same gown that's perpetually sliding off of your shoulders because the ties won't stay closed, and the same overwhelming antiseptic fumes. The sheets under you are still stained with your blood and your muscles still ache from contractions that were as strong as you'd been warned, but stronger than you had thought possible. Your head is still fuzzy from anesthesia, though your disorientation isn't quite as complete.

Yet there is one key difference that makes all of the similarities irrelevant. In this dream, instead of holding the teddy bear that you asked for in a hurt girl voice, you're holding the daughter that you asked for in a content woman voice. You hold her in your lap and gaze at the face that's finally been revealed after months of imaginings. As she shifts in her half sleep, you lay her on your stomach and wonder at the sensation of feeling the kicking from the outside in instead.

After long minutes spent in the same complacent state as your daughter, her warm presence soothing any remaining tension you may have had from the past hours' work, the door to your room opens. A couple with now familiar faces greet you. Their eyes, almost frighteningly full of hungry love, seek the baby girl who sleeps at your side. You exchange pleasantries and give them permission to pick her up. From the utter connection with life that you felt just moments ago, you now feel cut off and out in the cold, an outsider looking in on a process that you never actually belonged to. As your daughter's new parents coo at her, the dream that you are a mother ends and you return to being just another seventeen year old girl. Perhaps the nightmare of what can be done with an unbelievable situation is over, but the magic of new life and the closest connection possible between two people is over, too. And even if it seems like you've been separated from all that has happened, your rational mind knows that it's not the same.

* * * * *

You come back into your physical body and start to panic as your mind fights with what's real and what was the dream, because it feels exactly the same. It's only your heart that belies the shift. Tears unbidden rise and flow down your cheeks, taking consciousness with them.

* * * * *

Hope -- you once had hope. In this dream you're walking down the street at spring break and instead of worrying about making sure that the wind doesn't blow your shirt against your stomach, revealing an outline, you're carefree. You left your boyfriend with promises to write often, no regret and no resentment. Your back doesn't ache from unfamiliar weight and you haven't changed your posture to compensate for it. You want pickles and chocolate, but only because they've always been your favorite foods. Besides, you don't want them together.

In this dream you didn't suffer through six months of silence, afraid to talk to even your close friends for fear that you might reveal something better kept hidden. You weren't worried about whether or not they'd believe your description of his actions, much less accept the results of his choice. You didn't spend hours poring through books on herbal medicine, trying to find a remedy for your condition that you could implement in a free period. You didn't delude yourself that such a remedy existed, that you could somehow sneak into the orchard between math and history and free yourself of this confusing shape. You didn't begin to look upon the added weight with wonderment and love instead of loathing.

Then you recognize the distant feeling of sheets starting to dry, crusty with blood and know what is real.

* * * * *

In the end, you place your fingers on your abdomen (ever so gently so as to not harm the life that lies within), feeling for the little movements that you'd come to cherish over those six long months. There's still that rush of adrenaline, that sense of anticipation, both feelings tempered by the fear of what they represent, what they're responding to. In a sudden burst of anger (or is it regret? hope?) you push your fingers down.

What has happened finally sinks through all the layers of my brain. My fingers don't find a familiar resistance. Whatever it was, I killed it. It wasn't a child but it could have been one. I didn't allow it.


"This magic moment, so perfect and so new
was like any other until I met you,
And then it happened, it took me by surprise.
I knew that you felt it too,
I could see it by the look in your eyes."

--Lou Reed, "This Magic Moment"


[Prev | Footer]

by Kilgore Trout

"I see your face in the clouds up there, high up. I see it whenever I go outside and look. Even during thunderstorms, I can always pick you out, hiding behind the rain. It reminds me when we were together, of when you'd cry on my shoulder and then worry about getting my shirt wet. When I stop seeing you up there, in the sky, I'll know things have changed, that something has happened."
--diary excerpt, 04-10-98

* * * * *

[Monday, 04-20-98] [5:46pm]

David slammed the phone down onto the bed after listening to it ring for eternity. Dammit, he thought, why couldn't Alice invest in an answering machine? He swiveled around in his ratty rolling chair and booted up his computer in order to leave her email. After connecting to his internet provider, David loaded PINE and checked his messages, hoping that Alice had written. She hadn't and he cursed his computer repeatedly.

He scanned through the rest of the messages, most of which were from various mailing lists and old school buddies. David sorted those into their appropriate folders, leaving his with one message from someone he didn't know. He lit a cigarette and read.

     Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1998 12:35:33 -600
     From: unknown <>
     Subject: you.

     It always begins with death, doesn't it, David?  I know your plight well,
     my friend, more so than you could possibly imagine.  The future doesn't
     believe in you, but I do.  You think you were meant to suffer, but I can
     change that.  You've tried everything, from drugs to religion to
     therapists to figure out who you are.  I know who you are, and more
     importantly, I know where you come from.

The cigarette hung motionless from his lips as David read the message again, trying to figure out who the sender was. Could it just be someone messing with his head, getting his name from a USENET posting and playing some mind game? Maybe it was Alice, trying to get back at him. But no, David dismissed those options shortly. It was the first phrase of the message that bothered him. "It always begins with death." That was his mantra, the phrase that repeated over and over every night as he went to sleep. David hadn't ever told anybody about that, not even Alice.

He says he knows where I come from, David thought. What does he mean by that?

David hit a key and sent a reply, asking who the sender was and what he meant in his cryptic message. He leaned back in his chair after stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray and breathed in deeply. All he could do was wait.

* * * * *

"You're acting so pissy all the time now. Why won't you let me help you? Crawling inside your head isn't going to help any. Fuck, you can be such a bastard when you get this way. Rachel keeps telling me to leave you, but I can't. Now now, not when you're like this. I just want to help, and you definitely need it."
--diary excerpt, 03-26-98

* * * * *

[Monday, 04-20-98] [5:46pm]

Alice slowly sipped warm beer through a straw as she watched the light blink on her phone, signaling that someone was calling. She had turned off the ringer after the first five minutes, and now she sat on the couch, holding her bottle and waiting for the blinking to stop. It was David who was calling, of course, but she had made up her mind to stop talking to him. She'd put up with enough, and she'd finally taken Rachel's advice and dumped him. After Friday night, with his berating accusations of betrayal and deceit, she wanted no more contact with him.

There was a knock on the door, and Alice slowly got up and opened it. Rachel stood there, rubbing her left shoulder and smiling.

"Hi," she said. "I tried calling, but I couldn't get through, so I decided to come over. Hope that's okay."

"No prob," Alice responded. "Want a beer?"

Rachel shook her head as she came in. "Uh-oh. You're drinking. I thought you quit."

"It's David. He keeps calling. I don't think it's sunk in that it's over."

"Maybe he wants to apologize."

"David doesn't apologize," Alice explained, returning to her former position on the couch. "And even if he was going to, I still wouldn't listen. I'm through with him, and he's just going to have to accept that."

Rachel took a beer from the fridge, popped the top, and sat down next to Alice on the couch. "Well, I, for one, am glad you finally got rid of him," she said. "I always thought he was a bit, um, unbalanced."

"I tried to help him," Alice said. "I really did. But he wouldn't talk about it. He always said that it was his problem and that he was the only one who could deal with it. I think he thought he was protecting me, but he just made me feel alienated."

"You did more than you should have. David was always too morbid when I was around him. A lot of that rubbed off on you, and that's definitely not a healthy relationship to be in."

"That was just a side effect of what he was dealing with. I mean, he should have at least talked to me. That alone probably would have helped. I always figured it had to do with being given up for adoption. David always said that never bothered him, but being bandied about through foster homes for eighteen years has to leave some emotional scars."

"Well, they're his problems now. You don't have to worry about them anymore."

Alice sighed. "I don't know if that will ever be possible," she said. "I still love him."

* * * * *

"I remember when we first met, that night outside the sold-out concert, looking to buy scalped tickets. You asked me for a light and I told you that smoking would kill you. You said that was a good thing. I thought it was just a hard-ass act, that you were just playing tough because you were too soft inside. I still hope it is."
--diary excerpt, 04-15-98

* * * * *

[Monday, 04-20-98] [7:20pm]

After going out for a burger, David returned to his apartment. He had totally forgotten about contacting Alice. Instead, all of his thoughts were concentrated on trying to decipher the mysterious email. It worried him, in a way, that this person knew something about him that no one should possibly know. Still, the proposition intrigued him, primarily because it was so absurd. David went into the bedroom, releasing a loud belch, and flipped on his computer. When he checked his messages, there was a new one.

     Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1998 18:44:07 -600
     From: unknown <>
     Subject: Re: you.

     I knew you'd be curious.  I'm pleased with you, David, because I've
     waited a long time for us to meet, and I wasn't sure if you'd actually be
     interested.  You have so many questions, and I can answer them.  If you
     want to meet, and I'm pretty sure you do, go down to 24th and Speedway at
     midnight tonight.  I'll have somebody come and pick you up.  Remember,
     David, I know who you are.

David sent back a message saying that he would be there. There was no hesitation in his response because he had nothing to lose. Alice wasn't going to answer any of his calls, so there wasn't any reason to hang around. He was still bothered by the reminders that the sender knew who he was, and his intuition told him not to go, that meeting strangers in the middle of the night was not a smart thing to do. His desire to unravel the puzzle that had been presented before him overcame common sense, and he resigned himself to go.

The rest of the evening was spent trying to hurry time along. David watched television unattentively until eleven o'clock and then left to catch a bus.

* * * * *

"Why did you tell me that you never loved me? I can always see through your lies, but it hurt just the same. I know you wanted to hurt me because you felt that I rejected you, but will you ever realize that you've always hurt me? I tried to be there, to be the one you could turn to. Why did you never learn to trust?"
--diary excerpt, 04-19-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [12:02am]

David stood on the corner underneath a streetlight, glancing up and down the road, trying to pick out the car that he was supposed to meet. A cab rounded the corner, stopped, and a voice yelled out from the open window if he needed a ride.

"No thanks," David replied. "I'm getting picked up."

"Well, I'm supposed to pick someone up here," the cab driver said. "Are you David?"

David nodded.

"Get in, then. I ain't got all night."

He shrugged as he climbed into the back of the cab.

"Where are we going?" David asked as the cab pulled away from the curb.

"An old country road about an hour away. Sit back and enjoy the ride. The fare's been taken care of."

* * * * *

I've got to stop feeling sorry for you, I know, but I can't help it. You're on your own timeline, it seems, but I want to stick it out and make it work. I wish I knew when your timeline and mine converge, though. It'd make things so much easier."
--diary excerpt, 03-28-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [12:52am]

Alice awoke with a queasy feeling in her stomach, so she crawled out of bed and half-skipped into the bathroom in the dark, barely making it to the toilet before crashing to her knees and vomiting. She reached up to her right after retching two more times to grab a towel, and as she wiped her face, she promised she'd remember why she quit drinking.

Standing up and scratching her ass through her pajama pants, Alice turned on the lights and splashed cold water on her face. She checked her short, blonde hair for puke and found none, thankful that she had just gotten it cut. After washing her face again and brushing her teeth, Alice shut off the light and crawled back into bed.

"Alice. It's time."

She sat up in bed at the sound of David's voice. There was movement to her right, something was sprayed at her, and within seconds she lost consciousness.

* * * * *

"Rachel stopped by today and we talked a lot about you. Damn you, you've got me drinking again. It's good that I've got friends to support me, but it makes me sad that you don't have anyone anymore. I'm sure that there's someone out there who can understand you. I just know that it isn't me."
--diary excerpt, 04-20-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [12:56am]

David watched the cab drive off until he couldn't see the glow of the tail lights. He turned around and studied the old house he had been dropped off at. It was immense, rising three stories before him, and the elegant architecture whispered wealth. He walked up to the front door of the house and loudly knocked on the wooded door with the knocker.

It was opened shortly by an elderly gentleman with frazzled white hair. He smiled at David and invited him inside with a wave of his arm. "The master of the house has been, ahhh, detained on some business," he said. "He will be arriving in an hour. Would you care for something to drink?"

David mentioned that some coffee would be nice, and the old man nodded and led him into a study, telling David that he would return with his beverage. The room was huge, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on the walls. A small desk and a couch were the only furnishings. David slowly paced alongside the bookshelves, admiring the collection. Many of the books appeared to be very old, from authors he had never heard of: Agrippa, Levi, Dee, Mathers and others. Walking over to the desk, David noticed two books, a bible and something called the Sephir Yetzirah.

The old man came back in, bearing a tray with a coffee pot and cup. He poured David a cup, handed it to him, and reassured him that his host would be back soon.

"And who exactly is my host?" David inquired, seating himself on the couch.

"I'd better let him explain that," he answered. "If you require anything else, just call. I'll be near."

* * * * *

"You once told me that you were your worst enemy. I don't understand how you can always be at odds with yourself. You are who you are, and you've just got to accept that and learn to deal with it. Jesus, just who do you think you are, anyway? Or are you still waiting to find out?"
--diary excerpt, 04-02-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [1:47am]

"I'm so glad you're here. Please accept my apologies for being late."

David spun around on the couch and let out an audible gasp as he stared directly at the figure standing behind him. He looked exactly like David. The coffee cup fell from his hand and spilled onto the carpet.

"Don't worry about that," the man consoled. "I'll get Eli to clean that up later. Besides, your shock is quite understandable. I'd probably react in the same way?"

"Who are you?" David stammered.

"My name is Joshua," he said. "It's good to meet you, brother."

"Brother? I don't have any brothers."

"Take a good look at me, David. How could I not be your brother?"

"You mean we're--"

"Twins, yes," Joshua interrupted. "It wasn't supposed to be like this, of course. I was always so careful in choosing mates, but one foul up in two millennia isn't all that bad in my book."

David stood up. "What the fuck are you talking about?" he asked.

"Calm down, calm down now," Joshua said soothingly. "Let me explain."

Joshua walked around the couch and took a seat as David sat back down. David studied Joshua's features, getting the strange feeling that he was looking into a mirror.

"You see, David, I'm two thousand years old," Joshua said. "And I need your help."

"This is bullshit," David shouted. "I didn't come here to listen to kook talk."

"Oh, this body definitely isn't that old, but what's up here is," Joshua said, pointing a finger at his head. "Every time I procreate, my soul -- my essence -- is transferred to the fetus. I am most assuredly older, but I don't have any records of who I was back then."

"What kind of crap are you trying to shovel on me? I'll accept the fact that you're my twin just by looking at you, but this immortality business is bonkers."

"Were you expecting an explanation along the lines of vampirism or something akin to a trashy fantasy novel? Immortality isn't that easy, David."

"Okay, then. Who were you originally?"

"Like I said, I don't know. The memories of each incarnation aren't transferred, so I can only go back as far as my records go. That's also why I have to be careful when I choose to procreate. Immortality isn't worth jack if you don't know about what you've previously done."

"Then how far do your records go back?"

"Joshua is the English transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehesua. You might recognize the Greek form better: Jesus."

"You think you're Jesus?"

Joshua smiled. "I know I'm Jesus, or was, rather. See, when the new baby is born, the old body dies, so great care must be taken to explain to the mother exactly what is going on. That way, she can properly educate the child as to who he really is. Otherwise, he'd grow up like you, full of internal torment and strife, aware that he wasn't like everybody else."

"So what went wrong that time, then?" David asked, grimacing as the reality of the situation began dawning on him.

"Apparently I didn't do a good job of explaining things, because in that incarnation, my mother filled my head with ideas about being the son of God and all that jazz. Superstitious bitch. She did get the immortality part down right, though, so I made sure to impregnate Mary Magdelene before they killed me. And no, there never was a resurrection. It was all about revolution, but when I died, my followers turned it into a religion. Mary escaped to England, and from then on I've been careful to insure that something like that wouldn't happen again."

"Then why do you need me? More importantly, why am I even here? It sounds like I never should have been born."

"Over the years, I've learned to keep a few people around me to ease the problems of transition. Eli, for example, has been with me since 1937 over three incarnations. Being alive, in a way, for two millennia has also ensured me a great amount of wealth, so they live comfortably and keep my secret. The last time, however, in 1975, the mother had twins and died during childbirth. I always was careful in choosing mates who had no family, which could cause unnecessary trouble, and I obviously don't have relatives, so we were given to the state to be taken care of."

"Then how did you learn who you really were?"

"I have Eli to thank for that. He was able to track me down with a lot of luck and kidnapped me. I was about ten when that happened, and I was already deeply disturbed about who I was. When Eli explained everything to me, it was a great relief, and I knew deep down that he was telling the truth."

"Give me a break," David objected. "Did it ever occur to you that he could be some crazy old man?"

"Of course it did," Joshua agreed. "But seeing the stacks of manuscripts full of two thousand years of history allayed any of my doubts."


"Possibly, but they were in my handwriting. Yours, too, I'm sure."

"I still don't understand why you need me, unless you just want a family reunion."

"Because this body is impotent," Joshua revealed, "and that is like my worst fear come true. You see that book over there, the Sephir Yetzirah? It's the book of creation, an ancient Jewish mystical text that describes the creation of a golem. Modern medical science failed me, and so has occult technology. You are my last hope."

"And why should I help you?"

"Because we're family -- actually, more than that. We're one and the same in two separate bodies, even. I can only imagine the suffering you've been through, feeling displaced and out of sync with the rest of the world, wondering why those thoughts of being somebody else would never leave you alone. It was bad enough for me as a child, and it must have been twice as bad once you were able to actually understand what identity was."

"It always begins with death," David said, finally understanding.

"Yes, you're catching on now," Joshua said gleefully. "It is through death that we are reborn. It's too bad people thought that applied to everybody, but at least it gave them hope."

* * * * *

"You would have made a great philosopher, you know that? You were always concerned with things bigger than yourself. That was one of the reasons that I was attracted to you, because you seemed so mature for your age. You wanted to know why things were and not just live day to day like most people. Now when I look back, though, I think you consumed too much of yourself in the process. You should have lived more, and then maybe you would have found some joy."
--diary excerpt, 04-15-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [4:43am]

Alice groggily awakened from her forced slumber, slowly wiping the drool from her chin. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized that she hadn't been having a bad dream and that she was in a completely foreign bedroom. Alice struggled to her feet, noting that she was still dressed in pajama pants and a t-shirt. The door, naturally, was locked. Shit, she thought, what kind of fucked up game is David playing with me?

"David!" she screamed, pounding on the door. "David, let me out of here! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

She heard a key turn in the lock, and in a moment she was greeted by Eli.

"Good morning, madam," he said. "It is a bit early, but I could fix you breakfast if you'd like."

"Who the hell are you?" Alice asked.

"My name is Eli. Please do not cause any trouble. As long as you are courteous, your host will consider you a welcome guest."

"I want to leave. Now."

Two men stepped into view behind Eli.

"I'm afraid that is out of the question," Eli apologized. "How about some breakfast?"

Alice turned and sat down on the bed, shaking her head. She watched the door close and heard it being locked.

* * * * *

"It was really awful not seeing you today. I think it's the first time we've been apart since we've been going out. I wish you'd call, tell me that you're okay, something. I don't want to be kept in the dark. That's the worst thing you could do."
--diary excerpt, 04-07-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [8:30am]

David declined a third helping of eggs from Eli, who promptly took his plate and returned to the kitchen. Joshua was still finishing his breakfast, so David sipped orange juice and watched the rain falling outside.

"I hope you slept well," Joshua commented, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "If you were even worried about missing work, don't be. I've got ample resources, if that wasn't already obvious."

"No, I hadn't even thought about that until you brought it up," David answered. "I was just wondering when we were going to do this. Does it have to be on a certain day? Christmas?"

Joshua chuckled as he poured himself more coffee. "Nothing like that. It just has to be done."

"So when, then? If you die when the child is born, what's the best age to do it at?"

"That's the immortal question, so to speak. Many factors have to be weighed, such as the present state of economic affairs, the availability of a suitable mate, and other things. I waited until I was 54 in the 1500s, but that was a reckless thing to do. There is always the constant threat that you might die before the task has been accomplished. I'd say that, given our current circumstances, we should act as soon as possible."

"What a horrible way to exist."

"Not really. Living for two thousand years straight would drive a man insane. The way it works, though, is like living a new life every thirty years. Childhood is still fresh on your mind, you are always young, and you know what your purpose is."

"And what purpose is that, to live forever?" David asked, sulking.

"Precisely," Joshua said. "Man is born to die. We die to be born."

"It just seems so pointless."

"It is not pointless. It is about self-preservation. Most people would do anything to know these things, to know who they really are and what they are meant to do."

"But I've done nothing."

"You will, David," Joshua icily said, glaring at him from across the table. "Otherwise, you and I will die."

* * * * *

"I've been thinking a lot lately, wondering why we even met at all. It was a chance encounter, and I always hoped there was a special reason that Fate had deemed it appropriate to bring us together. The only thing I'm sure of is that Fate can be very cruel."
--diary excerpt, 04-13-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [7:24pm]

"Alice?" David questioned. "Why Alice? Not Alice, no."

David had spent the whole day reading Joshua's manuscripts, catching up on what he had been doing for twenty centuries. Joshua had been right about the handwriting, which had been quite unsettling to look at. He had only been shown one page, however, since all of the manuscripts had been transcribed onto a computer, which made reading easier and also helped preserve the fragile pieces of paper. But all of this was lost on David as Joshua's suggestion captured his thoughts, replacing the newly infused "memories" he had garnered from the manuscripts.

"But she's perfect, David," Joshua said. "She's intelligent, so she can understand the gravity of the situation we're in. Alice is strong, too. She'd have to be to deal with you for so long. You were going out, so it would be natural if she got pregnant. That alone ties up a bunch of potential problems."

"She hates me, you know. She wouldn't agree to any of this."

"You're wrong, David. She still loves you."

"And how could you possibly know that?"

"Because I've read her diary."

"But, how?"

Joshua walked over to David and handed him a small black book.

"She's here, David."

"You... kidnapped her?" David asked.

"I'm not taking any chances. I thought this was my last life, and I'll be damned if I let something fuck it up."

"I won't do it. Not Alice. Anybody else, but not her."

"It's too late. Do you think I can just let her walk out of here? If you don't do this, I'll have to kill her."

"You're sick. Do you realize that?"

"I'm not sick. This isn't personal. This is about self-preservation, David."

"She won't do it. She won't agree."

"Don't worry about Alice," Joshua ordered. "Worry about yourself."

* * * * *

"Rachel sways you just need time to sort things out, to figure out your life. I've been thinking a lot today about you, about how you looked when you were asleep, the sweat running down your forehead and cheeks while you dreamed. I wish you'd leave yourself alone for awhile. You need to give yourself some breathing room so you can get straight what's important and understand that there are people who do love you."
--diary excerpt, 04-20-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 04-21-98] [9:04pm]

It always begins with death, David thought. Joshua was right about that, but why Alice? Why did it have to be her?

But he couldn't see any other options. Letting Alice die was absolutely out of the question. This was about self-preservation, like Joshua had said. Morality had no hold on this game. This was what he was meant to do. This was his destiny, as absurd and disfigured as any destiny could possibly be. David clutched his stomach and squelched the urge to empty his supper onto the hallway floor.

Eli had given him the key to the door and left, saying that Alice was ready. So now David was standing outside the door, trying unsuccessfully to talk himself out of this, knowing that it was wrong and horrendous. He wanted this to end, to be over, and this was the quickest way to do it. He would be dead in nine months, and then Joshua could go back to living forever. He felt that Joshua saw him as an abomination, as an unwelcome partner in this facade of forced conception.

It's all about self-preservation, he thought.

David drew the key out of his pocket, sliding it into the lock and turning it with a click. He opened the door and saw Alice naked, each limb tied with a rope to the four corners of the bed. Her right eye was black. She stopped struggling when she noticed David in the doorway.

"Get me out of here, David," she screamed. "What's going on?"

"I can't," he said, stepping into the room and shutting the door.

"What do you mean you can't?" she asked, resuming the futile attempt to free herself.

"I can't," David repeated. "This is about self-preservation."

"What the fuck are you talking about? You abduct me from my apartment, these strange men keep me locked up here and then tie me up.... What the hell are you doing?"

"That was my brother, not me," David said, knowing somehow that it really was him.

"Your brother? What brother?"

"I have to do this," David said, undressing. "I have to do this so he can go on living and so I can die."

"You're not.... Oh my God, David. Stop. Look, we can talk this through. Please, David, not this. Not this!"

It's all about self-preservation, he thought.

"You don't understand," David said, climbing onto the bed. "If I don't do this, they'll kill you. This way, I'm the one who dies."

"Stay away, David. Death would be better than this. Don't do this, please. I'll never forgive you, David. Do you hear me? I'll hate you, David. Please, God, no."

It's only self-preservation, he thought as he positioned himself between her legs. She was still beautiful, he noticed, even at a time like this. He knew this would destroy her, but it was the only way to destroy himself. As he sank into her, David shut out her cries and lost himself in his head, repeatedly thinking that it always began with death.

* * * * *

"Last night was so wonderful, so perfect. It had been so long since I had been with someone, and you seemed to know all the right things to do. It was so cute the way you were so nervous, afraid you'd do something wrong. I don't think you could ever do anything wrong to me."
--diary excerpt, 03-04-98

* * * * *

[Wednesday, 04-22-98] [8:24am]

"Wake up, David," Joshua was saying as David opened his eyes. "Can't you feel it beginning? You've done well."

"I feel nothing," David replied as he realized that he had fallen asleep on the couch in the study.

"The cycle has begun," Joshua said. "Congratulations. You're a father."

"You can't know that yet."

"But I do. Death ebbs through my veins. You have saved me, David, and yourself."

"I'm a rapist. That's how I feel."

"You'll get over that. Remember, it's all about--"

"Self-preservation," David completed. "I know your fucking philosophy. That doesn't make it right."

Joshua put a hand on David's shoulder. "Of course it's right," he said. "Alice carries your child. She carries you. Survival of the fittest."

"More like survival of the twisted and demented."

"You don't have to like it, but it had to be done. You and I both know that. And now you've only got a few months to live. I'd suggest you enjoy it."

"What happens to Alice now?"

"Well, obviously I'll explain the situation to her, and we'll give her the best medical care money can buy. Just like you, she'll accept the predicament she has found herself in."

"Alice won't stay. No chance in hell of that."

"She has no choice in the matter," Joshua flatly stated. "I'm in control here."

"I thought you preached love and shit," David said. "Whatever happened to that?"

"I've grown a bit jaded over time. Two thousand years can do that to a man, you know?"

"Then why? Why keep on living?"

"It's simple. Because I can."

* * * * *

"I keep listening to this one PJ Harvey track over and over and over. It gets me too depressed, but I don't care. I want to wallow in my grief for awhile, to see if I can hit the bottom of the pit. Her recorded voice keeps asking, 'Is that all there is?' I think she might be right."
--diary excerpt, 04-17-98

* * * * *

[Wednesday, 04-22-98] [10:20pm]

Alice heard the door open and sat up in bed. "Who's there?" she asked.

"Quiet," David whispered. "I'm getting you out of here."

"Change of heart? What about all of the fucking self-preservation Joshua told me about?"

"Screw that. I can't live with this on my head. He doesn't even have a good reason for living forever. It's just a game to him. It should have been someone else and not you."

"I always loved you. I want you to know that."

"I know. C'mon, let's go."

They silently slid out into the hallway after David peered out of the doorway, making sure it was empty. He patted the car keys in his pocket that he had taken from the garage to reassure himself that they were still there as they made their way downstairs. In his left hand, David carried a poker from the fireplace in the den.

David had fought with himself all day long about what to do. He had finally come to the realization that he had never been himself, just an ignorant copy of Joshua with a functional dick. Even knowing that he would die soon, David was resolved to help Alice escape so she could make her own choices instead of being trapped like he was.

"Stop, David," Joshua said. The lights in the kitchen came on.

"Get out of my way," David said, brandishing the poker. "She gets to leave."

"I was afraid something like this might happen," Joshua said. "I can't allow this. Take her back upstairs, and then we'll talk."

"I'll talk after she's gone. We can get somebody else."

"Not possible, I'm afraid. She's already been impregnated. Things are already set into motion. Do you want to be born again, naked to the world without any knowledge of who you are? You've already lived that life once. Don't tell me you want to be like that again."

"I don't want to live, period. Not like this."

"If you let her go, you're killing me. Do you want to be a murderer as well as a rapist?"

"I'm dead already," David said. "I've always been dead. I've always been you. This isn't murder, it's suicide."

"And you'd give up the gift of immortality to have a clear conscience? Nobody throws away something like that. Nobody."

"You're worse than me. You live just to live. You have no purpose. Your whole existence is futile, a pure fabrication."

"Was your brain turned off when you read the manuscripts? Didn't you understand the significance of all that history, of everything I've done? Of everything that you did? We've done things people can only read about. We have been the world's only constant historian. Who else can say they've been to Italy during the Renaissance, to Rome in the height of her glory, to be indulged in excess in the court of the Sun King in France? These are memories that we share."

"Those aren't memories. They aren't anything except words on paper. And what have you learned from it? Nothing. You just seclude yourself from society, intent only on staying alive. That's no gift. It's a curse."

"I'll only tell you this one more time, David. Take Alice back upstairs. Don't think you're being some kind of hero, because you aren't."

"Let us go, Joshua."

"It doesn't matter what you do, David. She'll still have the baby. And when it's born, I'll be born. You'll be nothing. Gone. Kaput. Finissimo. At least this way I won't end up pathetic like you."

David ran forward and swung the poker at Joshua, the hook implanting itself into the side of his head. It ends with death here, David silently reflected.

Alice cried out and David turned around, seeing Eli holding back two henchmen. Tears were beginning to stream down his face.

"You could have let him live," Eli said. "You didn't have to do that."

"He'd lived too long already," David answered. "Everybody has to die."

Eli motioned towards the body, and the two men picked it up by the arms and legs and carried it out into the garage. David stood next to Alice, uncertain of what would happen next.

"Whatever you think of Joshua, he was my friend for many years," Eli said. "My wife gave birth to him once as well. I should hate you, and I do, somewhat, but I also know that you are him, too."

"So what happens to us now?" Alice asked.

"We leave," David said.

"Yes, that's probably best," Eli announced. "If you'll give me a minute, I'll gather up all the disks and manuscripts so what happened to you won't happen again."

"I don't want it. It wouldn't do me any good."

"But you can't continue like that."

"Who said I planned to?"

"Goddammit, Joshua -- David. How do you think it feels to lose someone that you felt was your son?"

"How does it feel, Eli? How do you think it feels to kill yourself and still be alive?"

* * * * *

"I never told you that you were like this guy I dated in high school, Greg Murdock. He was a lot like you, always searching for answers and finding nothing. He killed himself on the last day of our junior year, hanging himself in the freshman wing bathroom stalls. He didn't even leave me a note."
--diary excerpt, 03-30-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 07-02-98] [2:30pm]

David and Alice had moved to another town, laying low and living off menial wages while waiting to see if Eli would try to exact retribution. None ever came. David and Alice both knew his time was limited, so they tried to enjoy what time was left. Today was his last, David knew, as he stepped out of the shower and toweled himself off. Alice had already left after a long kiss good-bye, and David mentally pictured her looking at him as he combed his hair and dressed in a t-shirt and blue jeans.

The covers on the bed were cool as David slipped underneath them. He thought about trying to sleep, figured that would be impossible, and rested on his back, staring at the white ceiling. All he had to do was wait.

* * * * *

"It seems like I only keep diaries when I go out with people, so I guess this means I've found someone since I'm writing. I met this guy last night named David, and he seems pretty nice. He's very deep and thoughtful, and we went out for drinks after the concert. I could see myself having his kids. God, I hate it when I get maternal every month. Ugh. I wonder what he thinks about kids?"
--diary excerpt, 02-23-98

* * * * *

[Tuesday, 07-02-98] [3:45pm]

Alice stepped out of the abortion clinic and walked out into the parking lot, hearing the taunts of the protesters calling her "baby killer" and "murderer." You're right, she said to herself as she fished her car keys out of her pocket, but this was a mercy-killing. As she unlocked the door to her car, Alice looked up and frowned at the cloudless, blue sky.


State  of  unBeing  is  copyrighted (c) 1998 by Kilgore  Trout  and Apocalypse
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