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 7/04/00 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in SiXTY-FOUR ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
I bet you weren't expecting another issue so quickly. Neither was I, but this being Independence Day [insert picture of G. Gordon Liddy polishing handguns that he doesn't own since that would be a crime because he is a felon here] and all, I thought that we needed to show some of our patriotic spirit.
We want to celebrate democracy. And that doesn't mean going to see a Hollywood moving picture about the Revolutionary War, either. Democracy is much more than hoping ole Mel will bare his ass for the camera (while wearing a tri-corner hat, no less) in between slicing and dicing Redcoats. Democracy is not a picnic with your family and friends. Fireworks do not show the importance of freedom. They do, however, set fires, so be careful.
The staff that runs around the offices here have thought long and hard about democracy. We know what democracy is, and we spent hours trying to figure out a way to best portray what democracy means to us.
So, here you go, kiddies. It's an all-fiction issue.
Yeah, it's a goddamn metaphor, so go play with your Black Cats and bottle rockets. Eat your hot dogs. Drink your beer. Sing your patriotic songs. And when you're out of breath, bloated, and your ears are ringing because you didn't throw that firecracker fast enough, I'll be laughing at you.
Each of the stories herein have been carefully selected for their democratic value, and if you can't see it at first, look harder. And then, when it does hit you, realize what this moment means. Understand the nature of the times you live in and the gaudy fehness of the fake millennium. Once you get that, you'll finally be able to acknowledge the one simple fact that keeps the human race from evolving.
Because I've been like you, my friends. I've eaten hot dogs. I've had my beer (last Saturday, while watching Zardoz and Silent Night, Deadly Night). I've had firecrackers blow up in my hand next to my ear. I know what it's like. I have been there, down in the trenches of patriotic zest and partying. It doesn't help. It's like an addiction. Pretty soon you're waving flags and baking cakes shaped like George Washington's head. Biographies of Betsy Ross litter your coffeetable where obscure-but-hip books once had been. You acquire a dartboard with the design of Cornwallis' face in lieu of playing your weekly Go game.
And what is the thing that keeps us from evolving? What can be so simple that can hold us back from achieving our true destiny? Why has no one told us this before? And why is it so obvious now on July 4th?
Hell, I don't know. Democracy is about making stuff up as you go along, and then hoping people vote for it. Democracy is about style, not substance. Glossy sheen equals freedom. Why do you think the United States is the most democractic nation in the world? It's not because of the Bill of Rights, buddy. It's the captivating glint of light that bounces off each and every American man, woman, child and product like a hypnotizing ray.
You want to be democratic? Shave your head. Get that polish and rub your head until people without eyes start to see you. Your head. It's round. Sorta. It's a bastion of democracy. It's a symbol -- it looks like a globe. And don't we want the rest of the world to be like us? To be free? To be democratic? Why do you think the military shaves the heads of new recruits? To show their undying loyalty to democracy. Without hair, nothing gets messed up. You don't have to comb a bald head, and there are no dead ends to clip. Hair on a head is like communism, with its wavyness and tangledness.
So, today on this greatest of American holidays, before you leave your house, shave off all of your hair. And then, when you're out in public and see somebody who still has hair, ask them to shave their head. Politely, of course, because democracy is always polite. Offer them the handy electric shaver you brought. And if they refuse, chop off their head with the axe you happened to also be carrying.
Fucking commie bastards and their hair. Jesus. They'll get the sheen or the shear. But it's still democratic: you let them choose.
And now, the shaved issue. I promise you won't hear from us for a full month after this.
From: Mark McHugh To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Subscrip Hey Kilgore! Sign me up again for SoB!! I just figured why I haven't received anything from y'all since #59 and it ain't totally because of substance abuse--I got a new ISP. Here's my new addy: [addy excised] Thanks! Danke! Xif xif! Spasibo! Arigato! -- ~~ Mark McHugh
[this is a very fitting letter. my old eden.com addy is dying. so if you keep sending mail to it, i won't get it. as for your substance abuse, just remember. be safe: don't sure used draino bottles.]
From: DiscipleOfTheSun To: email@example.com Subject: SoB mailing list yo, can you mabie send me the new Sob issues and shit to my mail? thanks -DiscipleOfTheSun
[it's good to see people still worshiping the sun. just don't stare too long. your retinas won't grow back. take it from me. i had to buy news eyes from the black market flesh merchant on a floating ship in the pacific to restore my sight. may apollo be damned!]
From: Daine Mackey To: firstname.lastname@example.org Cc: email@example.com Subject: ancient hashish and ukraine control OK, i want three shirts. NO, dont delete this message thinking i some psycho who managed to get out of the ward, cus i've been out for two years now, all i want out of life is to be able to wear an apoculpro t-shirt three out of seven days a week.. Is there anything so wrong with that? is there some ancient code that states i can not wear three apoculpro shirts a week? Eh? is there?? Will Cthulhu sentence me to serve him limbs of minorities for the rest of my life on earth if i do??? I doubt it, i sit here at work asking myself that everyday, and i doubt it. However, in my past two conversations with Cthulhu, i've forgotton to ask.. i will tonight. but yah, is it so much to ask for?? I'm not asking for a blood sacrafice or anything like that. Which brings us to my next question, You're always hearing about gods wanting you to "bring them sacrafices" but they dont give enough detail! Do they want the sacrafice to be alive?? to be killed infront of them? Or to be dead when you bring it to them. If I go by what my cat seems to do, he brings them to me already dead (and usualy chewed upon) but that doesnt realy PLEASE me, so i'm thinking all these guys out there who kill animals as sacrafices and bring them to their altar, are actualy just pissing off ancient deities. If i continue going with that philosiphy, it would please me greatly if my cat brought to me a beautiful naked chic.. so face it guys, if you want your magick to actualy get you results, you can forget the sacrafices, and start looking for naked chics. PS- I WANT SHIRTS Daine Mackey
[now that's fanaticism. can you hear my ego about to pop? oh god! my hairy head is about to burst!]
I Wish My Name Were Nathan
K. Mark Hoover
It was safety lectures day in Mrs. Harrington's fourth grade home room class. "Now, children," she intoned dramatically, pacing back and forth in front of the blackboard, "one must remember what to do in case of a fire." She held out her finger, ready to select a student to volunteer the answer. Jeremy raised his hand, and was selected.
"Well...," he stammered, suddenly caught with a tad of stage fright. "One must avoid opening doors..., with hot knobs. That means there's fire on the other side. Y-- must stay close to the ground. Smoke rises. Aaaand...."
"That's good, Jeremy, excellent. Next question: what if one finds oneself on fire?" she asked, in a frightened way, pretending to pat out flames emerging from her shoulders, hips, and stomach.
Samuel raised his hand and urgently offered, "Stop, drop, and roll!"
"What's that voice?" Mrs. Harrington asked. "Did I call on one? Kimberly!" she said, picking her out.
"One must stop, drop, and roll," she said, somewhat embarrassed for parroting Sammy's answer, although she wouldn't have hesitated to prove that she really knew the answer, by reciting some other memorized facts.
Mrs. Harrington called out, "Right! What if one finds oneself on fire? Again! Wendy!"
"One must... stop, drop... and roll?" she asked, hesitating, unsure if the other answers were actually wrong. But no, Mrs. Harrington felt it vitally important that everyone know the drill, especially the girls. "Rhonda, you're on fire!"
Rhonda repeated, "Stop, drop, and roll," a bit droningly. "One must!" she added, after an uncomfortable delay.
"One must stop, drop, and roll."
"One must stop, drop, and roll!" she cheered, energized by the rapid-fire drilling.
"One, must, stop-drop-and-roll," he muttered.
"A little louder next time, dear. Thomas!"
Thomas was distracted from a conversation with his friend Isaac. Somehow he had managed to miss the entire topic. "What?"
"Pardon me, young man, one does not say 'What?' to one's teacher!"
"Yes, ma'am," he begrudgingly said.
"The question is, what does one do when one finds oneself on fire?"
Tommy smirked and said, "You hafta stop, rock and roll, I mean drop-and-roll, somethin' like that."
"Thomas!" she shrieked. "How dare you!" He had achieved the desired result, and Mrs. Harrington detested the very thought that children had "desired results," and bade him to answer with the proper respect.
"All right," he moaned. "You hafta Stop, Drop, and Roll."
Our teacher had no thin line of persistence. She pursed her lips and pointed to the blackboard, on which was a diagram where the pronouns "I, me, you, he, him, she, her, they," and "them" were crossed out, with a thick arrow pointing at the word "one".
Tommy dragged his eyes over to the diagram and examined it as if seeing it for the first time. After a laborious display of reading comprehension, he dragged his eyes back to Mrs. Harrington's expectant expression and yelled, "Y-- One hasta stop, drop, and roll, for chrissakes! How often am I gonna be on goddamn fire anyways."
The matriarch leaned forward as if to walk over and slap him (though she wasn't allowed to, of course), but he applied this salve of charm and saved his ass: "I humbly apologize for my unwarranted outburst, ma'am."
She smiled primly and moved along to other subjects. "Next topic. This is a situation one doesn't want anyone to have to face, but with our drill, one can be prepared. What if a stranger asks one to take a ride in one's car?"
"Which one?" Kenny, a silly boy, asked.
"The stranger's, Kenneth," she replied smartly. "Don't be silly. This is a serious issue." Josh raised his hand. Mrs. Harrington was proud of his courage to discuss such scary subjects, and allowed him to speak.
"One must say, 'I don't talk to strangers,' and run away," Josh recited.
"Thank you, Joshua. But what if he says one's mother asked one to pick one up from school?" She stopped him short, saying, "Someone else," wanting to get maximum class participation. Andrew was called on, because he was pretty, therefore in danger.
"Me? Uh... I dunno, uh...," he stammered.
"Now Andrew, remember to phrase one's thoughts before speaking. It doesn't make one look any smarter to stammer, even if it fills the silence," she scolded.
"Thank you," he said, bizarrely, and hesistated while thinking, visibly agitated not to be running his mouth, then blurted out, "I-- One would know if a stranger was gonna pick m-- one up because mommy would tell me. One." Tommy and Izzy snickered at him, because he was pretty, therefore a fag.
"That's enough from you two," Mrs. Harrington said in an authoritative tone which dispelled her need to name names. "Good answer, Andrew. But what if this stranger assures one that one's mother could not get through to one before one arrived that afternoon?"
A girl named Diane raised her hand, and, assured of being called on, launched into an essay about all the various ways strangers could trick and confuse children to achieve their insidious goals. She found considerable pleasure in reasoning out hypotheticals with more than two instances of deception. Mrs. Harrington admired this bent, and hoped she would write detective novels instead of wasting herself on philosophy when she grew up.
"Thank you, Diane, quite sufficient. William, what did she say, for the class?" William had neither excellent communications skills nor an airtight grasp of logic. But he hadn't been called on yet, either.
"One must not get in the stranger's car. It's a bad idea. You one gotta be careful. Who knows where the stranger came from? All of y-- one's questions weren't..., one didn't get an answer. It's too confusing. One can walk home faster. Everyone knows, the stranger just wants one's money." Billy considered his job done, and resumed staring at his desk. The lasting silence prompted him to look up, meet everyone's eyes, and nod, as if to provide closure.
"Wellll, ummmmm, yes," Mrs. Harrington said coaxingly, sorting the fragments in her mind into a picture, but more baffled by the part about money. She realized, with a pang of adult shame, that her ingrained fears regarding the abuse of children were neither obvious to her students nor appropriate to discuss with them. She tried for a context switch into obvious emphasis mode.
"Right..., William. As... William pointed out, when a stranger wants one to get into one's car, one likely intends to kidnap one, to take one's money."
She held her hands out, in a gesture to absorb any shock this might cause. No one even blinked, though Tommy and Izzy were whispering secretly in the back, but she couldn't interrupt herself. She made an expression that conveyed that reality must be faced sometime, and she wasn't happy to have to do it, either. There were a few nervous shuffles in the silence. Tommy punched Izzy's shoulder with a guffaw. Daniel raised his hand.
"For a ransom," he finished.
"Yeah," the students murmured, a bit confused about the need for Danny to state the obvious.
Ricky humbly raised his hand and reported, "Mommy says the Teletubbies also want my money. And my soul."
"Absolutely right, Richard, don't watch that filth," she said absently. Wait, what did he -- Mrs. Harrington dropped the ball and yelled out, "Thomas and Isaac, if I don't hear silence --"
"But wait, ma'am, I had a question to ask," Isaac peeped coyly.
"Do you?" she asked curtly, leaving herself open to a substantial disruption.
"Yes, ma'am, what if the stranger, what if one knows the stranger?" Izzy asked.
"Isaac, if one knows the stranger, one is no longer a stranger," Mrs. Harrington lectured. Semantic trickery she would not tolerate, though she often flubbed her antecedents.
"Pardon me, ma'am, I need to rephrase my question," he stated. -- Damned if he and Tommy were not only the most charming but also the most seditious children in her class. How could such qualities mix? -- "Say the stranger is one's family member."
She realized suddenly that they couldn't discuss divorce or custody today; that was scheduled for next week! "Oh, dear, Isaac, --" she started.
"No, please, ma'am, I can handle it," Isaac said. What a brave young man he was! "In this case, Tommy's older brother Nick." What, ho? Tommy suppressed a giggle.
"What if the stranger asks one to get into one's car, and one refuses, and he says one's there to pick one up, and one again refuses to get in, and then he asks why not, little nerd, and asks if one would rather like to be picked up by one's underpants and slung over the tetherball pole?"
Tommy burst in, "And it's an offer one can't refuse, and doesn't?", guffawing at the memory.
Wincing, Izzy said seriously, "I propose, for the benefit of any classmates who may be involved in a similar situation, that one follow Mrs. Harrington's advice -- don't do what I did. Instead, kick the stranger in the nads and high-tail it out of there."
"Isaac! One may not say that word in one's classroom!"
"Which, 'one'?" he asked innocently.
"You know which one!" the teacher hissed.
"One wanted one to say 'nads'?" Izzy asked, perplexed.
"Be quiet this instant!" she shrieked.
"In all humility, ma'am, one doesn't think it is polite to discuss one's nads in the classroom."
During her fruitless search for facial expressions for one that would most quickly and effectively kill mischief at its source, her glowering eyes, cast toward the ceiling, and her mouth, drawn downwards in despair, conspired to combust a volatile atmosphere into a rumble of giggling among the students.
Izzy faced the distraught teacher, riding on a wave of contagious laughter. "One's advice is well-taken, ma'am. One must learn not to trust any one, especially with one's nads."
"As should I!" Mrs. Harrington shrieked. "You two, go to the office!"
As they cheerfully got up and walked out, Tommy piped, "One humbly apologizes --"
"Shut up, Tommy!"
"-- for one's unwarranted outburst --"
And Isaac added robotically, "-- one one one one one one!"
"I don't want to hear another --"
They were briefly silent until they passed the room in the hallway.
"Did we --?"
"No, one won!"
"One won one won one one!"
Suddenly, a serious voice. "E-leven."
"How many --?"
Their voices faded into obscurity. The class was disrupted. Laughter: God forbid; all is vanity. All was lost. "This is how it ends...," Mrs. Harrington recited under her breath, sighing and erasing the board. All that pedagogy backfiring down the drain in spades. Suddenly, an eleven-word haiku trampled through her head: "Sweet flower of youth, blossoming, petals withering, dying, dead -- yup, dead." Or something like that. It made her smile.
Thom had a savings and wasn't working. It was the beginning of summer and he was living in an efficiency flat with only a single bed and a small wooden desk to keep him company. Every night between five and nine o'clock he sat on the cement steps outside his building. There were five tiers to the steps and he sat on the uppermost. He wore glasses and people said he looked like a bespectacled bear. He drank imported beer and smoked cigars until the summer light vanished and the mosquitoes came out and devoured everything made of flesh and blood. He wore white shirts and dusty pants. He was not the kind of man who bought his bathroom supplies in a packaged system and he could change soap without changing shampoo. He never speculated on matters he knew nothing about.
Tomas lived next to him in a one bedroom apartment. He worked part-time at night and did not get up until late in the afternoon. Because the refrigerator in his apartment was broken and food spoiled quickly, each day he walked to a small grocery chain to buy the ingredients for that night's dinner. While walking he saw many people he knew and he would nod at them. Across from his apartment and Thom's steps was a corner market that sold the creamiest chocolate milk he'd ever tasted and on his way back he always bought a quart. By the time he would get with his groceries and the creamy chocolate milk Thom would be on the steps drinking and smoking.
In late May, after putting his groceries away, Tomas walked back outside, introduced himself, shook Thom's hand, and then sat down on the steps, a few tiers below him. Tomas opened and drank the quart of milk he'd just bought, his neck muscles tightening and flexing each time he swallowed. They sat in silence and the time passed and the sun set and soon it was close to nine o'clock. At nine Tomas went home, ate a quick supper, and went to work. Thom went inside, read at his desk, wrote a letter to a friend, and eventually went to bed.
At five o'clock the next day and for the rest of that summer Tomas sat down in the same spot, drank the creamy chocolate milk he bought every day, and tried to concentrate on nothing.
In the middle of June, near six o'clock, a particularly attractive woman walked by, her lips moist and breasts free beneath light clothing. She asked them for directions to a local laundry mat. She said her name was Marie. She had thin features, small, delicate hands, and large, blue eyes. Her feet were tiny and her taut waist emphasized her figure. She put her hands on her hips as she spoke. Tomas stood up, answered her question, and then pointed in the direction of the laundry mat. Filled with her scent, violently burning in desire, she drained him of strength, and plunged deep in the rarefied air of her presence, there was also a sense of overheating. Tomas found Marie unbearable. As soon as she started in the direction of the laundry mat, he sighed turned to Thom and said, "When life reaches the right temperature spirit and blood flourish and exist at ease in contradiction, indifferent to death." Marie's smile and the opulent truth of her body had convinced him immortality has nothing to do with the future.
"Female charm," Thom replied, "is tyrannical." Tomas agreed, but he drew a different conclusion. They didn't speak of her again.
One night, in late July, after seven or so, the traffic on the streets slowed to a soft trickle and only the sunlight filled Tomas's head. Thom pointed down the street. From a distance Tomas saw Rich coming their way, his gaunt frame hunched over and pushing a bike with a flat tire. When within hearing distance Rich asked, "You need any work done today?"
"No, we don't have work for you," Tomas yelled back.
Rich kept walking toward them. He stopped when he was a few feet away. Thom was quiet for a moment, then said, "Clean the bathroom. There's a bucket and supplies under the sink. Wear gloves." Rich nodded as Thom added, "We'll barter. You clean and I'll buy you a pack of smokes, okay? The door isn't locked." Rich walked inside and Thom got up to buy the cigarettes.
When he got back Tomas had finished half his milk and the half-empty container sat beside him. Thom seemed angry and his eyes tried to pierce Tomas. "Why'd you tell him we didn't have any work?"
"He's on the spoon and needle. Cigarettes are traded for cash."
"The only mistake he made was getting tied to something that can be taken away. He could lose everything. He should find something that can't be lost." Thom stopped talking and stared directly at the sun. It was a blistering July fireball. His pupils grew small as they adjusted to the brightness.
"Aren't you afraid of him stealing?"
"No. Like I said, I don't believe in anything that can be lost." Thom laughed and then added, "Kind of like you and your milk."
"It's good milk, Thom. Creamy and chocolate. You should try it. And I have more than the milk, there's also Annie. And yes, eventually we'll go our separate ways, through break-up or otherwise, but there is the desire to exhaust the possibility of sexual love. I don't mean for some mystic purpose but to exhaust the possibilities of life. Besides, what do you have?"
"Tomas, faces and bodies are not unique. They blend into one another." Thom closed his eyes as he tipped his bottle and took a long drink from his imported beer. Tomas didn't respond. He knew they disagreed and there was no reason to argue. He wasn't going to press Thom about the meaning of his life.
A few minutes later Rich stepped outside and let the screen door close quietly behind him. Thom went inside for a look, came back out, said it was clean, and then gave him the cigarettes. Rich left the way he came.
Thoughts of Rich left their minds. The traffic was dead. Thom lowered his head and in a quiet voice said that he liked this time of night. "The traffic always reminds me," he continued, "of the commerce centers of city, of the networks of pointless and uninterruptible circulation with no human or humane purpose. But at this time of night, with the streets dead, the world is no longer a simulacra without an original. There is life in the silence and lack of movement." Tomas was going to say that the city's buildings were lined together like so many tombstones and that it repelled him, especially when he walked to the grocery store, but he didn't. He didn't say anything at all. Instead he took a sip from his milk.
Some time after Tomas had finished his milk they looked up and saw purely poetic visual pleasure. They both knew the impassive and cement city was nothing without its sky and on that night a purple glow mixed with an abundant and viscous red haze that densely stretched out to all four corners of the horizon. Ageless patterns of change, cold and heat and wind, and even death itself, could never erase the sky. Tomas pointed toward the lake, and there was a strong simplicity in the movement of his arm and hand. At the horizon the red sun was ramming itself into the water. "It reminds me of two lovers," Tomas said.
Thom disagreed. "The sunset," he replied, "is a new beginning. Like all beginnings, it is intimately connected to violence, not passion. No beginning can be realized without violation. Whatever life is capable of grows out of the destruction of what already exists." Tomas was silent and felt no need to respond.
That night, about a half hour before nine, on the narrow surface of an earth filled with cement, an incomprehensible dirty rain started. It came down quickly, a canvas of water that pushed everything downward into the earth, spiral after spiral becoming one with the soil between the buildings and sidewalk, opening it up, revealing a rich blackness without bottom. They watched and felt weak. Their eyes were transfixed, impaled by the spirals and the seemingly bottomless blackness of the earth. Tomas took out his pocket watch. He opened it, looked at the hands, regretfully said he had to get ready for work, and then started to get up. But Thom touched his shoulder and said, "It's not time." They stayed on the steps until nine and by the time Tomas got home he was soaked and had to take off all his clothes as soon as he closed the door.
The next night Tomas sat down and started in on the quart of creamy chocolate milk he just bought. Thom turned to him and said, "Tomas, I have silence. It can't be taken away."
"But there are many kinds of silence," replied Tomas, "some good and some not so good."
"I was thinking about this last night after you went to work. I wanted to answer your question. There only are two kinds of silence, I think. The first is uncomfortable, like riding alone in an elevator with someone you don't trust. But there is another kind. As I grown older I've learned to expect less of people. This is the silence we have. Our silence speaks in a confident voice: 'No, the world hasn't killed either of us, yet.' Loyal, silent companionship is enough." Tomas agreed and nodded to let Thom know as much.
In the middle of August they were on the steps and it was getting close to nine. "Tomas, I've got to start working again," Thom said, "and I've taken a job on the East coast. Don't go to work tonight. Get up early and watch the sunrise with me." Tomas went home and called in sick to work.
Not used to sleeping at night, Tomas stumbled out of bed at six, nearly waking Annie in the process. A light sleeper, she would sit straight up in bed if disturbed, so Tomas was quiet as he put on jeans and a gray, short-sleeve shirt with a pocket on the left side. He kissed her on the forehead before he left the bedroom. After going to the bathroom and rinsing his mouth, he stepped outside. Thom was waiting for him and motioned that they should walk to the lake. They started walking in that direction. Tomas noticed that the morning was clear and that a supreme indifference lay over the city and its desolate roads. The sun was just beginning to emerge.
At the edge of the lake Thom turned to Tomas and said, "I was going to get married once. Her name was Catherine. She was intelligent and beautiful, had dark hair and strong, bony white hands with soft skin. But I realized it could all be taken away and because of that I never asked her." Tomas knew there was no reason to respond. After that neither of them spoke.
The morning sun was thin but continued to edge upward. It confidently announced its inexhaustibility. It was not yet high enough to reflect sharply off the water. As Tomas and Thom stood side by side they set their eyes on the lake. Above the water a white pigeon was flying in circles, its wings motionless until it flew higher and darted away from them, eventually moving out of sight. At the meeting point between water and land, convex waves pushed against smooth stones until the water was still. Then another tiny wave would strike. Between the convex waves and the smooth stones was silence. It was an ancient silence lodged forever between Thom and Tomas and nature's immovable objects.
After the Purists overthrew the government and shot the President's wife on national 3V, we decided to buy passage on the next star transport to the Forward Edge. Let them have the whole goddamn world, that's what we thought at the time. Most of us, anyway.
There were lots of planets to choose from, but Wahoo was just coming on-line, so it seemed best. The multi-national corporations who owned it needed people for colonization. The day after the Library of Congress was burned we signed up the whole family, even my baby, Adrian, on the Bacchanalia.
Tudor jacked into the DataSphere to learn about Wahoo. There were all kinds of planetology stuff like albedo, axial tilt and oblation none of us understood. When Tud started on about Wahoo's sun, using terms like luminosity and insolation parameters, Sindee said he was showing off and why didn't he just tell us if Wahoo was a good place to live.
Come to find out, it was. Wahoo is in the middle of its star's habitable zone. That's the region Earth-life can live and maybe make a home, which sounds good at first, until you realize the MNC's pay people to go out to the Forward Edge because there ain't nothing there like we have on Earth.
"The plant and animal biochemistry is CHON-based," Tud read. He looked up from the flatscreen. "That means we'll have a real chance to survive. If a plant or animal of a new world uses the same basic elements we do, then maybe we can eat it during times of famine."
Sindee, ever the pragmatist, pointed out: "Only if it doesn't decide to up and eat you first, Tud."
Which didn't scare me so much. Not really. The universe is a harsh place no matter where you go. You just have to make sure you're tougher while recognizing your own limitations. I expect that's what the old man did when the Purists seized power throughout the Western Bloc. They were already televising more real-time executions on the morning newsblinks to show they meant business. Their Fifteen Commandments were the new rule of law. If you didn't like it, you were labeled a heretic and shipped to one of the work camps in the MidWest.
Well, we spent that whole last night packing, and what I remember most was me bawling because I didn't want to leave the Enclave. I remember thinking: Who did the old man think he was uprooting us like this in the middle of the night? I got hard mad whenever I had a few spare minutes to think on it -- between packing clothes and religious artifacts.
Which is why, after I gave the baby his milk and put him down for the night, I snuck out for a talk with Fath. I found him on the glider-swing, Lila, as usual, draped across his lap. My half-sister gave me a cryptic grin.
"Come to join the fun, Cleo?" The nipples of her breasts tented her thin cotton blouse. She had one arm possessively around Fath's neck while her other hand absently scratched his muscled stomach.
"No. I've got way too much work to do." The screen door squeaked and slammed behind me. "I want to talk to Fath in private, you little tramp. Why don't you go somewhere and hide?"
Lila simpered. "Make me."
But, I guess Fath saw the deep upset on my face and knew I had something heavy on my mind. He swung Lila down. "Go finish packing, Lil."
"Mind what I say." He gave her a playful swat on her tight rump. "When you're done I want teeth brushed and everybody in bed. Got a long trip ahead tomorrow."
Lila thrust out her bottom lip. "Yes, sir."
She sashayed over to the battered screen door, pausing now and again to see if Fath might change his mind. When he didn't call her back, she disappeared inside the house in a huff, curls bouncing.
Fath loved all his children, but Lila was his favorite.
To be fair, we all thought she was pretty special. Mostly, because she was part of Mawn, being cloned like she was. Lila was beautiful, achingly so, just like Mawn before she passed away from the Blue Fever.
"Baby asleep?" Fath was the patriarch of our Enclave and leader of the Thirteen Families. I was the oldest, so it was my job to keep him informed on everything that went on in the house.
"Yes, sir. He's a grumpy puppy, though. I think he's getting another molar."
Fath nodded. He'd seen lots of baby teeth and other growing aches and pains -- some natural, some deliberate -- in all his children, not to mention those belonging to the twelve other families of our Enclave.
He lit a jung, passed it over. I held the pungent smoke in my lungs before knocking the ash off the glowing end.
Fath made room on the swing for me. "Prop your feet up, daughter. You look done in."
I hooked a bare leg over the edge of the glider-swing and the other over his bony knees. I was exhausted. I'd rushed all day trying to get our circus on the road, wondering how Mawn would handle the crisis. I always compared myself with how I remembered her. More often than not, I found myself coming up short.
"This move hit all of a sudden like." I tried not to sound like I was complaining. Fath never liked being second guessed, especially from someone in the Enclave who wasn't ordained. "But we'll have everything ready for when the airbus comes tomorrow."
"I ain't judging you, Cleo. Child, you're tougher on yourself than I could ever be." He smoked for a while, staring moodily into the distance. "You're a fine daughter, by half. Whatever you decide for the Family is best."
I reached for the jung between his long fingers to finish it off. We sat quiet a minute or two. I hadn't turned on the porch light so there were stars and the moon's silver crescent sheeting off the river. A yellow light or two shone through windows of the other houses nearby, along with the smell of late night fish frying drifting through the commune. The Necklace was in the sky, too: one half looped through the heavens and the other half drowned in umbral shadow.
A bobwhite called across the dark flat. A prospective mate answered, behind a ridge of hills that hid the lights of the nearest city.
"Fath, what space tower we gonna use tomorrow?"
"Olduvai is the only free tower left," he said.
I wasn't too happy to see the resignation in his eyes. What with everything that had happened lately it looked to me like he was getting old fast. I'm telling you, it's not easy for a daughter to learn her old man ain't as strong and powerful as she always thought him to be.
"Goddamn Purists have shut down the others."
I closed my eyes, opened them again. "I don't want to leave, dad." There, I'd said it, even if it was blurted out in one breath.
A strange light came into his eyes. "You think I do?"
He got up so fast I had to grab the swing chain to keep my balance. He clumped to the edge of the porch and looked across the flats, hands shoved defensively in his back pockets. "This is my home," he said low. "It galls me I got to run from my own home so I can protect my family."
He tilted his face to regard the stars playing hide-and-seek behind veils of cloud wisp. "Eighty acres of dried-out juniper, a rambling commune and the Orthodox Church of Satan. That's all I've got holding up my name. Once, it would have been enough for any man by the name of Chatterton." A shadow fell across his words. "Now I have to trade it for something new and different." He turned around, eyes glittering. "To be honest, I don't know if I can do that, Cleo."
"Fath, are you scared?" I paused. "I am, kind of."
"You must make sure the family stays together during the crossing." He sort of leaned over me. Our words had become tight whispers. "You understand that, don't you, Cleo?"
My voice sounded small in his shadow. "Yes, sir."
Damn this Purist jihad sweeping the world, I thought. There was no place for chaos or entropy in their intolerant, mechanistic viewpoint. No place for any Word other than their own. But what they didn't understand was once they cleansed every man woman and child who didn't kowtow to their insecure (he demanded you worship him one day a week) and cannibalistic (this bread is my body, this wine my blood) god, there wouldn't be anyone left to hate but each other.
"Our Enclave never went on Crusade," Fath went on, half to himself. It upset me to see him trying to fathom something he couldn't understand. "We never persecuted innocent women and children. We never preached love and practiced hate. We didn't tell people they had to live one way and then turn around and do the opposite. We were never hypocrites, Cleo. You can be proud of that."
Fear's a huge motivator. That's why the multi-national corporations footed the bill to ship people and cryogenically frozen samples of germ plasm out to the Forward Edge. The only problem was once selected you didn't always end up where you wanted. There were no guarantees, other than your family would be kept as a unit. We wanted to colonize Wahoo, but maybe we'd be sent to Camberwell instead. Or, if we were really unlucky, April's Dawn. I mean, you signed up for frontier colonization, but maybe a corporation needed to replace some workers who suffocated in one of the kafirstone mines on Ymir or drowned in a mulch vat on Kandy III. Faced with the choice, what are you going to say? No thanks, you lied to me? Good luck! Space holds many desiccated bodies of those who didn't do what they were told; it's the ultimate burying ground to hide corporate mistakes.
The bobwhites called to each other again. A big grey moth beat helplessly against the screen door behind me.
"Why can't we just live on the Necklace, Fath?"
He looked at me with exasperation. "Cleo, how long do you think the Necklace can hold out after the Purists shut down the last space tower?"
I thought it over. Nothing imported or exported, nothing going up or down. "A year. Maybe two."
Fath sighed with a deep rumble. "We might as well stay here and die, for all of that. Or do you want to see your sisters and brother shipped to one of those work camps up north?"
That didn't deserve a response. "But what about all those months I spent memorizing the New Testament backwards? And kneeling on broken rocks before an inverted crucifix, for hours. Let's not forget that bit of fun."
And last All Hallows' Eve, leather-strapped to an iron cross and suspended over a pit of dogs while the members of our Enclave sang hymns. I screamed my throat raw before one of the deacons cut me down and I was passed among the men (and not a few women) until daybreak.
"Seems a lot of work went for nothing, Fath, if what you're saying is half true."
His eyebrows crowded together. "Do you feel the Black Mass is nothing but a waste of your time, child?"
"I guess not," I finally admitted, truthfully. "But what good is faith when an implacable enemy is determined to kill me?"
"Chaos reigns," Fath said simply. "That's the code our Church lives by, daughter. If a Mawn starts questioning her faith, then maybe it's never meant much to her in the first place." Slight hesitation. "I have to know I can trust you."
The bobwhites started back up. I listened to them so I wouldn't hear my own heart hammering under my rib cage.
The jung had left a stale taste on my tongue. The night was warm but my hands and feet were like fractured blocks of ice.
Yep. And there's not a damn thing we can do about it.
I held out a trembling hand and let Fath could pull me up from the creaking glider-swing.
"Please, Fath. Tudor, and Sindee and Lila and little Adrian... and all the other families in the Enclave. We need you. And me, I need you, too.¶
He drew me close and hugged me, like a father, which is what he always was -- even when he made me kneel on black satin sheets, wrists tied to the headboard, staring up at an inverted crucifix nailed to the wall above.
He picked a strand of hair out of my wet eyes. "This land is my home, girl. Not those cold stars. You're asking me to run as far as any man can go--and never return." He searched my eyes with his. "Cleo, I'm not that strong. But you'll have to find that iron rod deep inside you, and hold tight to it. That's the only way you can keep your family together."
I sniffed. "I sure do love you, Fath."
He cupped my face between his rough hands. "And I love you, Cleo. Your daddy loves you." He kissed my forehead, gentle. "Come on, we'd better tell the others before we both lose our nerve."
They were sitting in a half-circle in the living room, slurping hot chocolate and nibbling cold pizza. The luggage was stacked by the fireplace, ready to go.
Tud was telling Sindee and Lila what to expect during the crossing.
"We'll sleep inside zero-tau stasis tubes after the med techs fill our lungs and abdominal cavities with flotation oil," he said. Then, after you're immersed in the stuff--"
Sindee wrinkled her nose. "What ever for, Tudor?"
"So our organs won't slosh around under the immense acceleration. You want to end up like a squashed toad when the transport opens a gate into null-space?"
Lila piped up, "Speaking of which, I saw a squished horned toad on the highway yesterday. Coupla buzzards were fightin' over him. I used my wrist rocket to chase them off. Pegged one o' the bastards in the head. You think they have anything like horned toads or buzzards on Wahoo, Tud?"
Fath cleared his throat. Tud looked up, guiltily. "I know we're supposed to be in bed, but Sindee wanted to know what the trip would be like--"
"That's not true," Lila piped. "Tud's just showing off how smart he thinks he is."
"Never mind that," Fath said. He deferred to me. "Cleo, it's your place to tell them, not mine."
I was shaking. The armpits of my black dress were soaked. I took a step forward.
"Fath has decided I am to be the Enclave's new Mawn--"
"Cleo, that's great!"
"Oh, how wonderful!"
"You'll be the best Mawn ever!"
"--but Fath isn't going on the transport with us."
Like sluicing ice water over their heads. Tud's smile wilted. Lila's mouth opened in surprise but nothing come out. Sindee stared at the carpet, suddenly pale.
Like a gunshot, Lila shrieked helplessly and crawled across the floor like a wounded animal, face crumpling like paper.
When I saw her crawling that way the strength got cut from my legs and I fell to my knees. I gathered her up and held her tightly while she kind of clawed at me. "I can't stop him, honey." My words got muffled in her hair. "We gotta go on without him, and that's all there is to it."
Tud's face had twisted into an unrecognizable mask. "How can you do this to us?" There was more hurt than anger in his voice.
"Tudor..." Fath started. You could see it wasn't easy on him, either. "This is something I've thought about for a long time. This has to be done for your future."
"I know why he's doing it, Tud," Sindee's calm voice grabbed everybody up short. She raised her eyes to Fath. "Don't I?"
"Yes," said Fath, smiling softly. "I think you do."
Tud grabbed Sindee's arm so fast his fingers left red marks. "How do you know?" he demanded. A muscle jumped in his jaw like a live wire. "Tell me!"
"Because, Tudor, this will make us strong enough to survive anything the Forward Edge can pitch against us."
Tud blinked foggily at me. "Is... is that right, Cleo?"
I nodded. "All the Families must anneal their faith through similar trials of fire. It's the only way to insure we're strong enough to build new lives on a harsh world. The Enclave must survive. Our Family and our Church must survive. There's no other way around it."
"Chaos reigns," Sindee said, low.
"Chaos reigns," Tud's voice, hoarse with resignation.
I asked Lila, "You understand why we have to do this, don't you, honey?"
She nodded stiffly, her wet face resting on my breast. "Fath has to be strong, so you can be strong."
She nodded a second time. "And someday," she said, her tiny voice looking ahead, "I'll have to be strong because then I'll be the new Mawn." She paused to reflect on the turn of events and said pretty much what we were all thinking. "There just ain't any other way of getting around it, I reckon."
Tud used his athame to carve these words into the headboard after Fath stopped breathing:
Sindee lit white candles on the dresser as we knelt around the edge of the bed. The sun was rising up over the salt pan outside, throwing light through chinks of curtain. The room was quiet and still in the presence of death, and the morning air was close and reeked of laudanum.
"What do we do now?" somebody asked, snuffling back tears.
"Let's pray," was one suggestion.
"Our Father, who art now in Hell, unhallowed be thy name..."
Later, we packed everything we owned into a rented airbus and punched in the coordinates for the Olduvai Space Tower. The airbus circled one last time over the dilapidated commune that had been my home for nineteen years. Fath's final charge echoed as the hard ground fell away and we vectored to Africa.
Keep the family together, Cleo. Whatever you do, no matter what happens, keep your family together.
Five days later, our star transport opened a gate into null-space. We were on our way to the Forward Edge.
"The language of time is infinite," whispered Rudrappa as she pushed open the gate, burst into the house, and slammed the door shut behind her. He had been sleeping in a leather chair before an unlit fireplace whose mantle sported a rifle and various objets de la gloire from a war his great-grandfather had served in. He woke when he heard the door open and close. He had been waiting for her. "The silver-streaked ghost dog," she said, "it has been sighted. The sound of its tyrannical barking has been heard. A single bullet in its chest will put an end to the beast's life, of that I am certain. You must hurry, you must not rest. It is your destiny."
Rudrappa lived in an abandoned mill far above the city, alone. She feared others. She was religious and fond of citing obscure passages from ancient, forgotten texts. Her hands were long, white, bony and slender, and she had the eyes of one who has recently died. A few nights earlier, it was near midnight, she had passed of the fever. She died insane and rejected. For weeks she'd been ravaged. In her delirium she had spoken convincingly and at length of matters discredited long ago. She had prophesied that after her death she would return with a message for him, a message for him alone. The message she carried was simple: "The most tragic case is that of the man who sets himself a goal forbidden not to others but only to himself. You, Eschaton, will live and die in the prison you have constructed for yourself, so that others may have knowledge of you, see you when they wish, never forget you, and put your name in their poems. You shall suffer in captivity, but your memory will live on. The gods have spoken to me in my dreams. I grasped the reasons of the universe, I accepted the cruelty of fate from time immemorial and evermore." As soon as she spoke those words she disappeared, as though annihilated by a fire without light. Eschaton rose from the chair, threw on his boots, tied the laces tight, grabbed the rifle from the mantle (it was already loaded), and rushed out into the darkness of the night.
Many years earlier Master Saiz had said he would one day be called upon to hunt the silver-streaked ghost dog. They were climbing the snow covered north face of the Akely Mountain. "Step well, Eschaton, step well," said Master Saiz as they continued their ascent. "The treacherous history of the north face of the Akely," he continued, "is the history of a snowy graveyard. More than seven hundred have died. Like the horrors of the recently deceased century, their deaths weigh on my thoughts like a brutal nightmare. Look well to each step, my child. Look well to each step."
The weather forecast called for harsh winds and an ice storm. There was already more than a foot of snow on the route and no one, including the world famous Italian alpinist Jean-Antoine Carrell, climbs the Akely under such conditions. Throughout their climb Master Saiz-his beard crusted white, a shiny ice axe in each thickly gloved hand, crampons on his feet, a series of ropes thrown over his shoulder-had chastised himself for his own unchecked hubris. He said he had too jealously coveted the mountain's summit. Eschaton did not speak. It was not his place. Master Saiz was his Master.
That morning's climb had been speckled with black stones, some as small as pebbles and others the size of over-inflated balloons, all of which had fallen thousands of feet with a near fatal velocity. By mid-afternoon it had grown colder and the snow plastered mountain was nothing but a slippery surface of ice. They had left the moraine and crossed onto the glacier. They were lost in a leaning labyrinth of wide-mouthed crevasses. Their continued ascent was a half-desperate dance against death.
When they neared the Silere Pass, a height of no less than 15, 453 feet, they found the refugio, a tiny, square-topped wooden shack. Master Saiz suggested that they lodge there for the night or until the bad weather passed over. Eschaton agreed. Master Saiz quickly made a fire, boiled a small pot of soup, and then spoke softly of the dangers ahead of them. While they ate the soup Master Saiz told the story of the talented Polish alpinist Pierre Misokinski. Pierre had fallen from the Silere Pass several days before they began their climb. Trying to console himself, Eschaton spoke in a confident voice. "He made a mistake. He died because he made a mistake. We will not make a mistake." "No," Master Saiz replied, "that is a lie alpinists tell themselves to cure their insomnia. The mountain is dangerous. Much of it remains uncharted. That is all that can be said. And we must not be arrogant." Eschaton had been reprimanded. He did not speak. Master Saiz was his master.
After they finished their soup Master Saiz spoke of many things. His thoughts evoked vast, polyphonic, indefinite ideas. His thoughts were like the light of the moon seen from a window with half-closed shutters: they did not strike directly but were uncertain and not easily made out and were reflected and diffused alongside indistinct, imperfect, out of the ordinary shadows. His thoughts were purely poetic aural pleasure.
When alone together and Eschaton had no questions, and Master Saiz had no other pressing affairs, they often told one another stories. Master Saiz began telling a story. However, he first asked a question. "Eschaton," he said, "what is a dream?" "A dream," came his reply, "is by its nature a wispy thing, or incredibly stark and astounding."
"That is a fine answer, my child," said Master Saiz. "Let us listen to this dream as if flying above it with unfettered wings." He told his story. He finished and there was silence. They prepared themselves for bed. Before falling asleep Eschaton told Master Saiz his recurring dream, the dream he had dreamed every night since he first dreamed at all.
"What does it mean?" he asked.
"The dream means," said Master Saiz, "that one day in the distant future you will be called upon to hunt the silver-streaked ghost dog. It is your destiny."
They woke early in the morning. The snowstorm had passed. They continued their ascent. They reached the mountain's summit at noon. Standing atop the mountain, Master Saiz said his training was complete. He was no longer Eschaton's master. Eschaton was his equal. "Remember," he said, "one day you will be called upon to hunt the silver-streaked ghost dog. It is your destiny."
After several hours of tracking, he had finally sighted the silver-streaked ghost dog. The reality of the animal struck him like a hammer. In a frenzy of tenacity, his mind seized upon it. Yet he was unable to distinguish its shapes or sounds. The animal was a reality beyond not only beyond touch and sound and shape but also silence and thus memory. This realization threw him into consternation. Everything he'd ever seen and heard and felt were nothing but masks; the fingers of his hands as he gripped the rifle tighter and tighter were nothing but shadows-vague and insubstantial. As he raised the rifle and sighted the animal it was as if the clock of history turned digital, the movement of time thus stillborn, a spectre of isolated sensations and images. To tell the truth, he was afraid to pull the trigger. His hands shook.
He fired, brought down the animal, and decided to return to the house.
The incident occurred as soon as he returned.
Upon approaching the house he had the sense of having lived the moment before, that he was destined to live it forever. When he entered the front door there was a man in the leather chair, already there, waiting for me. He was drinking from a bottle of domestic brandy. He was tall, fragile, very stooped, and possessed of a certain graceful clumsiness.
"Who are you?" he asked
There was a long silence. Then the answer came: "My first name is Eschaton."
He asked a second question: "Where were you born?"
"I'm American, from the Midwest," came his answer.
"And as a child you lived at number eighteen, across from a creamery?" He nodded. "In that case," he said, "you are me, and I am you." After a moment he said, "I know." There was silence between them, then his other self looked at him. His eyes lit up. It was as if he were looking at him for the first time. As he turned away from him and reclined in the leather chair, he understood that it was himself who was looking at him for the first. It was disconcerting.
He stood and spoke: "I'm always afraid someone is dreaming about me." There was a feeling of solitude in his pronouncement. He turned toward the mirror and looked at himself. He spoke again, his voice animated, nearly unaccountable: "I always pictured you in this house, as though you were in a great city, surrounded by glossaries, dictionaries and calendars, timetables and schedules, magic lanterns, sundials, hourglasses, encyclopedias of etymology, seventeenth-century treatises on typologies and the arts of cartography...." He went on and on, recited to his other self four or five pages of a poem long forgotten, spoke at length on topics he was incapable of understanding. His voice was constant, passionate, insignificant, ineffectual. He listened and continued to look at myself in the mirror. The reflection was backwards. He put his hand on the wall and then turned to himself and said, "What is it that you want?" He raised his eyes and face became sad. "I've always wanted to see you and tell you," he said. "I've always wanted to see you and tell you," he repeated. He breathed heavily as he spoke. He went on to say that his whole life had been dedicated to finding himself in reality. No one ever understood him. He agreed, he agreed profusely.
"What do you want to tell me?" he asked. His teeth felt tight as he waited for himself to reply. "Tell me," he said.
"I'll tell you now and you'll know it's the truth. But first I want to touch you." Touch me, he said. He walked towards himself and slowly put out his hand. He saw the fishing scar on his right hand from a trip our father had taken them on when they were very young. He knew it was him. His hand touched his own and he said, "I think I dreamed about you once, about this very touch." He told him: "I remember that dream as well. I assume we've met in other dreams too." He started to pull his hand away. "You'll ruin it," he said.
"It doesn't matter," came his answer. Outside the wind fluttered. There was a flash of lightening and it was as if the whole world was going to be blown away in a storm, but the wind quickly grew quiet, and he thought he could hear the breath of someone who was sleeping. For the first time he smiled at himself, a smile of capitulation to the unbelievable. "It doesn't matter," he said, "because you won't remember any of this tomorrow, you won't remember Rudrappa, Master Saiz, the death of the silver-streaked ghost dog, or our confrontation in this room. We never remember anything of our dreams after we wake up. After we wake the images of memory vanish, leaving behind only words, and though the word was there in the beginning, in the time of Cain and Abel, and in the future it shall be more things than we can imagine, the word will never be adequate in its descriptions of our faces."
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 2000 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 2000 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: World Wide Web http://www.apoculpro.org irc the #unbeing channel on UnderNet Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The SoB distribution list may also be joined by sending email to Kilgore Trout. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--