The Decameron Stories – Day Two

In the year 1348, while the Black Death went scything through Italy, ten young people took refuge in the countryside outside of Florence. To pass the days as they waited for the Reaper to be on his way, they told each other stories.

On the second day of story-telling they elected Filomena their queen. She demanded from each of them a tale of misfortune, which must end unexpectedly with happiness. So one by one they went stumbling through hazards and sorrows, until ten happy endings left them breathless under the setting sun.

Then, as on the first day, they all looked up from Boccaccio’s dusty pages and waited to hear what I would say.

“We enjoyed your first story very much,” said Filomena, “and we appreciate that you told it according to our fourteenth century customs. But we beg you to speak more freely and in keeping with your own times. Shock us if you must. We won’t hold the centuries against you.”

So I told them a tale from my own time, inventing at will as I went along.

Day Two

the tale of the Ford

Once upon a time there was a

2013 Ford Fusion

tuxedo black with beige interior

front wheel drive

 some kind of engine

 automatic transmission

 120,000 miles

The lady wanted seven thousand for it, but Josh had talked her all the way down to five.  On condition that he paid cash today. 

Continue reading “The Decameron Stories – Day Two”
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The Decameron Stories – Day One

In the year 1348 as the Black Death went scything through Italy, ten young people took refuge in the countryside outside of Florence. To pass the time as they waited for Death to be on his way, they told each other stories.

On the first day of story-telling they elected Pampinea their queen. She demanded from each of them a story about anything at all, because it was her wish that the teller had freedom for a tongue. So one by one they ventured into topics of their choosing, until ten tales were told and the day was nearly spent.

Then, very much to my surprise, they all looked up from Boccaccio’s dusty pages and patiently waited for me.

Day One

the tale of the bean counter

Not so very long ago there was a bean counter in the land of New York who had a beautiful wife through whom he sired two incredible children.  They all lived in a great big house which they filled with many wonderful things.  Moderate success and moderate happiness came easily to them, and it seemed to their neighbors that they must be the most fortunate family on earth.

Continue reading “The Decameron Stories – Day One”

Xenomatra – Part 1 [short story]

A Brief Intro:

Here’s another story that will never have a home.  This one had its genesis in the very simple, completely juvenile observation that the Greek goddess of ‘social justice’ is a dyke.  Never mind that her name is spelled D-I-K-E and is pronounced differently (it rhymes with Nike) – it was close enough to the mark that I had myself a chuckle at the expense of wokeness.

It ought to have ended there, with the ‘heh’ I probably muttered under my breath.  But for some reason a mythic origin story for the Social Justice Warrior began to appeal to me.  I wondered what would happen if I set aside my antipathies and chased a certain kind of narrative logic to its unbiased conclusion.  Xenomatra is the unexpected result.  I’m posting it in two parts because a) it’s rather long, and b) formatting this particular story for the blog has been a nightmare.  Part 2 is still under the knife.

So here is Part One of Xenomatra — the original SJW. Continue reading “Xenomatra – Part 1 [short story]”

Escape from Psycho Pasture – Part 1 [Jim #17, Short Fiction]

The Psycho Rapist Pasture wasn’t really a pasture. It was more like a circular prison that never came around all the way, and in the middle there was an off-limits garden. Jim figured calling it a pasture was some kind of euphemism.

“And if you’ll look over here,” said the chipper tour guide, “you’ll see the Masochist Chambers, where psychotics can torture, bind, mutilate, and rape a few lucky visitors. The facility is equipped with every known torture machine devised by man, dating all the way back to the bronze age – and a few that the angels cooked up themselves.” Continue reading “Escape from Psycho Pasture – Part 1 [Jim #17, Short Fiction]”

Jim Novel and Short Film Status

Well, if you’ve been following these crazy stories at all, you’ll have noticed that there’s been a significant drop in the rate of posts lately.  I finally got another story uploaded – if you didn’t see it on the main page it’s right here.  It’s a two or three parter, so expect some more soon.

As for the novel, the manuscript is finished and the illustrations and cover are on the way, and all that’s left is the drudgery of formatting.  The Book of Jim will be available in paperback, kindle, and nook real soon.  For real this time.  I promise.  If it’s not, I’m either dead or insane or both, and you should probably look for something else to read.

The short film Limbo is finished.  I’ve seen the final cut, and it’s hilarious.  I love every second it.  Fangso and Haines did a brilliant job on it.  Most recently it’s been accepted to a film festival in Florida, and we’re waiting to hear from Tribeca.  If you’re one of those amazing and intellectually disturbed people who put money into the kickstarter, hopefully you’ve gotten all the updates and goodies you were promised.  If otherwise, get a message to me and we’ll make sure you get sorted.  The film itself, you’ll have to wait a little while longer while it runs through the festivals.  They can’t release it while it’s “on the circuit”.  How big of a while I’m not sure.  Probably a few months yet.  And after that, it will be available for free online.  Especially on this blog.

That’s it for now.  Expect the book and some more stories soon.

 

Cool Cogito, Bro [Jim #13, Short Fiction]

Small Town, Paradise. Green yards and clean air and split-level houses. A post office, a police station, a grocery store, five bars and a set of stoplights. Autumn in the afternoon and summer in the evening, and every evening a new episode of Financially Stable and Moderately Happy Family.

Jim watched from up the road as a man mowed his lawn. The lawn was lush and smooth, already clipped to quarter-inch perfection, and still the man mowed over it. He marched back and forth over his square of grass for half an hour before cutting the engine, putting the mower in his garage, and entering his house.

Jim waited five minutes then knocked on the door. The man answered with a beer in his hand.

“I was wondering when you’d come around,” the man said. Continue reading “Cool Cogito, Bro [Jim #13, Short Fiction]”

An American Dreamer in Paradise [Jim #12, Short Fiction]

“I don’t dream anymore.”

“Nobody dreams anymore.”

“Is it still possible to dream? In this place?”

“Well, anything is possible. But no, not really.”

“I miss it.”

“You miss it?”

“Dreams. Dreaming.”

“They’re just dreams.”

“You don’t miss dreams?”

“No.”

“When I was a kid I dreamed about the world series and hitting a homerun. You know, bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by a run, I’ve got a broken arm and I’m hitting into the wind – and then boom it’s out of the park. I march the bases, wave my hat, I stomp down at home. The crowd goes wild.”

“It’s a nice dream.”

“I think so.”

“You know, you can just do that now.”

“I have.”

“You’ve already done it?”

“Yeah.”

“Well there you go.”

“It wasn’t the same.”

“That’s because it was real.”

“I felt stupid.”

“It is stupid. Incredibly stupid.”

“You just said it was a nice dream.”

“A nice, stupid dream.”

“Well, I miss it.”

“I can’t give you your dreams back. Dreaming requires lacking and you lack nothing. Except for dreaming. Which is weird, but that’s just how it works. And if you try to dream about dreaming you’re in for a real headache. So don’t go doing anything like that.”

“Can you do anything for me? It doesn’t have to be the world series. Just a simple one maybe. I used to dream about driving down the highway. That’s it, just an open road and the engine and the sky. How about that one?”

“No dreams. Here’s what I can do for you though. I’m going to go ahead and diagnose you with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

“I don’t think that’s what I have.”

“Are you sure? It comes with a wagon full of dex.”

“What’s dex?”

“It’s pretty much meth. Your teeth won’t fall out, but it will stimulate your psycho-activity.”

“I can’t dream anymore so you’re giving me a wagon full of meth?”

“Dex.”

“To stimulate my psycho activity?”

“Take it or leave it.”

“Well, I mean, if that’s all you got.”

***

Jim pulled the wagon of dex along the top of the wall. It was like a little red wagon except it was big and blue. The pills were white and they rattled like teeth. The wall, forty feet high and ten feet thick, cut an erratic line through the Middle of Nowhere. Jim popped another pill and went back to stacking bricks.

Somebody called up to him from the ground.

“Hey! You! What’s the big idea?”

“Idea?”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“It’s a wall!” Jim said. “I’m building a wall! Eighteen million nine hundred thousand three hundred and sixteen bricks so far. You never knew how many bricks it took to make a wall!”

“Well who’s it keeping out?”

“Nobody!”

“Where’s it going?”

“That way!”

“Why you building it?”

“I was bummed out and unfocused because there aren’t any dreams anymore but then the doctor gave me all this dex and I started to build a wall. There’s an infinite number of bricks up here and I never even thought to build a wall before. Eighteen million nine hundred thousand three hundred and seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen. Just look at this beautiful fucking wall!”

“Say, come to think of it, I don’t dream anymore neither.”

“Climb aboard! I’ve got a wagon full of dex and bricks for days!  Yaaachachachaka!

The somebody climbed up and turned into a George, who swallowed a fistful of dex and started scraping mortar. Jim stacked the bricks. When they finished a section George carried the mortar and the bricks and Jim pulled the wagon of dex.

“This is just great!” George said.

“Nineteen million one hundred and thirty-two thousand three hundred and forty-two!” Jim said.

“All this time I was just kind of wandering around I didn’t really know what to do I mean there’s so many things you can do up here I was just a little lost I was overwhelmed and distracted there aren’t any directions around here. You know? But now it’s like I don’t even have to think the thinking is gone and I can just do and do and do and I don’t have to think for myself I can just fucking do.”

“Fuck dreams!”

“Fucking do!”

Yaaachachachaka!

***

There were a lot of people like Jim and George. Everyone they ran into seemed to have dreams that didn’t work anymore. Pretty soon there were a hundred, then a thousand dreamless souls, all tweaking through the Middle of Nowhere and leaving a trail of bricks. Whole teams for mixing clay and mortar, excavating, rock-breaking and landscaping, brick-laying and brick-counting and bricking. They were very organized. A hundred new miles of wall went up every day.

The psychiatrists of Paradise discovered the wall and rallied around its cause and began recruiting every patient for its construction. Thousands more and tens of thousands were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and soon a million men and women roamed the wall. The dex came in trucks.

They sang a song.

Fuck your boring dreams, and fuck your boring soul –
All you need is Dexedrine off you fucking go!
A zillion bricks to stack, eternity to roll –
A wagon full of dex will build a wall to
WHERE?!
Nobody really knows!

So heed this word from us, who build and build it high –
Fuck us living, fuck us dead – Let’s build it to the sky!
A googol miles to march, infinity to fly –
A wagon full of dex will take us all to
WHERE?!
Somewhere, Paradise!

***

For about thirteen years they built the wall. Their numbers swelled to thirty million and the wall stretched on for a million miles. The dex mines of Paradise passed the infinity test and no dreamless builder built without the bumps of Adderall or Ritalin or Dexedrine. Thirty million tweakers united by a single purpose – to build a brick wall through the Middle of Nowhere.

And they made it. Jim and George led them right to it. The great impasse loomed and the building of the wall came to a stop.

“What is it?” said Jim.

“I think it’s a university,” said George. “That there looks like admissions.”

“Can we build through it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Around it?”

“It’s pretty big.”

Just then the gates of the university opened and a man rode out on a white horse.

“I am the Dean of the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and the Somewhere,” the man said. “What is your business here?”

“We just want to pass through,” Jim said. “We’re building a wall.”

“If you want to get to Somewhere, you have to go through the University. If you want to go through the University, you have to get a Diploma.”

“We don’t want Diplomas,” Jim said. “We just want to pass through.”

“Somewhere can only be reached by those who have Diplomas,” the Dean said. “And to receive a Diploma, you have to give me money.”

“What?! Like, how much money?”

“Lots of it.”

“Well fucking how much?”

The Dean of the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere held up his hands, about three feet apart.

“He wants three feet of money?” George said.

“Three feet per person,” the Dean said.

Jim counted on his fingers.

“So if we get you ninety million feet of money, you’ll give as all Diplomas and we can pass through your University and get to Somewhere?”

“The cost of books is not included,” the Dean said. “There are also administration and athletics fees. And technology fees. And living expenses, such as parking and food.”

“Goddammit how much?”

“Two hundred million feet of pure money,” the Dean said. “I expect it in full no later than two weeks after the day before the beginning of the fall semester.”

The Dean rode his white horse back through the gates and they closed. Jim and George watched and scratched their heads.

“Where we gonna find two hundred million feet of pure money?” George said.

***

The banker spun her pen and clicked it then spun it again and tapped it on her coffee mug. It was a plain coffee mug. She was a plain woman with glasses.

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You and all your friends got doped up on amphetamines and built a wall that serves no purpose in the Middle of Nowhere. You crashed your wall into a university, and you want me to give you two hundred million feet of money for diplomas that you neither know how nor intend to use?”

Pure money,” Jim said. “And the dean says the Diplomas will get us to Somewhere.”

“Okay.” She spun her pen and pressed it to the document, paused and looked at Jim over her glasses. “And I have your personal assurance that, following the catastrophic failure of all your ambitions, you will spend the remainder of eternity paying the interest on this loan, in a futile attempt to get back to where you were before you started?”

“Yep,” Jim said.

***

Thirty million people was too many to make the walk, so the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere fired the Diplomas out of T-shirt cannons. The red-ribboned parcels flew through the air like grapeshot. Anthropology Diplomas, Philosophy Diplomas, Liberal Arts and Fine Arts and Commercial Arts and Graphic Design Diplomas. There were Diplomas for Physical Fitness and Taking Pictures. One of the red-ribboned parcels struck Jim in the face and he tore off the ribbon and as he read it his name appeared in black ink.

The University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere
The Board of The University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere, after verifying the purity of three full feet of his/her money, has conferred upon
JIM
The Degree of
BACHELOR OF ARTS
GENERAL ENGLISH
Together with all the Honors and Privileges belonging to that Degree.

“General English?” Jim said.

“General! Well shit on me.” George stood at attention and saluted. “I got Parks and Recreation.”

“I think it means English in general.” Jim held the paper up to the sky, turned it this way and that, squinted, sniffed it. “I don’t get it. Shouldn’t everybody just have one of these?”

Disappointment and confusion were ubiquitous. Thirty million graduates built a Great Wall through the Middle of Nowhere, and there wasn’t an Engineer among them. No Scientists either. Just a bunch of philosophers and artists. They all seemed to understand at once that a mountain of dex would never bury their shame, and as broken individuals they stumbled off into Somewhere, clutching Diplomas in their anxious fists.

“Hey. Hey.” George jabbed Jim in the ribs. “You’re General Talking, I’m Private Walking. Get it? Parks and Recreation. Get it?”

***

“The drugs didn’t work.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I didn’t get anywhere.”

“It says here you got Somewhere.”

“Well, it turns out Somewhere isn’t any place in particular.”

“So why are you here?”

“I need more drugs.”

“I thought they didn’t work.”

“They don’t.”

“I’m confused.”

“I owe the Bank of Paradise two hundred million feet of pure money. I couldn’t find any English work, but I’m pretty good at stacking bricks now. There’s a guy over on Cloud Fifty-seven with a brick fetish and he pays by the yard. So I need some more drugs.”

“Another wagon?”

“I need at least a truck.”

“Not a problem. So, it says here you were missing your dreams? How are things on that score? Do you still miss them?”

“Not really.”

“Well there you go. I can’t tell you the satisfaction that comes with helping a fellow soul in need. Here’s a prescription for an endless supply of any drug that keeps you productive, a flash-drive  full of NBC sitcoms, and a bucket to scream in. And here’s my card for when it all falls apart again. Good luck to you, Jim.”

“Thanks.”


 

Jim Home

Other Short Stories


Zawning [Short Story, Science Fiction]

Shank rattled down the sidewalk. In some distant and huddled corner of consciousness he remembered what the inside of the city felt like, what it looked like. He looked at himself from that place: the jitter of his eyes, the disheveled clothes, the wild hair, the tweak in his walk. He was repulsive. Dangerous.

He bumped an old woman in furs. She made a noise of surprise, and on seeing him a face of fear and disgust. He barely recognized it as a face. It was more like a residual blur, an afterglow of some strange image he’d never understand. Her poodle yipped as she yanked on its leash and hurried away, and he started laughing. His laugh was insane, and he knew it, and he laughed harder.

People were looking. More faces. More disgust. How does a man fall so far? What did he used to be? Did he used to be anything? The thoughts were his own but seemed to come from elsewhere. The attack confused him, cut his laughter dead, sent him reeling forward.

An alley saved him from the faces and muffled the traffic. His nerves, tense to breaking, loosened. He breathed in the smell of rot and knew he was in the right place. A sign above a rusted door said “The Other Side” and he rapped the hollow metal. The clank of a bolt preceded a pale eye behind a crack and a chain.

“I haven’t seen you in a month.”

“I need to come in. Just let me in. You have to help me.”

“Did you clean the stain?”

“The stain. I am a fucking stain. You’re a paradox. The whole thing is absurdity and it followed me back. I can’t explain it through the cracks. Open the door. Open the door.”

“You don’t look so good.”

“Open the fucking door!”

The crack disappeared, the chain rattled, and the door came open. Shank entered and the hole closed behind him. Before him were the instruments of his madness. He had dreamed of them too. Monitors and grids and panels whose complexity and engineering were far beyond his understanding, they gave the room a strange glow that had once intoxicated him. Now it frightened him. He shuddered.

“I talked to Holly. She said you only made two sessions. Where the hell have you been? We gave you up for roasted.”

There was a parenthetic question mark behind the last. Am I roasted? he wondered.

“I zawned,” he said.

“You . . . zawned?” The incredulity in the voice was drowned in excitement. “It takes people years to – nobody like you has ever – are you sure?”

“It wasn’t a dream.” He turned to Nikolai. “I want to show you.”

The geek’s eyes were wide. “A zawning has never been graphed before. Fuck, Shank, people don’t even think it’s real. You think you copped an image?”

“It’s at least a gigapixel.”

“It ain’t about the damn pixels, man. Anybody can come back with ten gigapixels of foggy shit. You really think you zawned, and came back with a resolved image? I mean, spatially, radiometrically, resolved?”

“Just light me up. You’ve got questions, I’ve got questions, it’s shaking me loose. Just light me up. If it isn’t there, it isn’t there. Maybe it isn’t there. Maybe I’m not here. I’m gonna lose it. You watching this? The whole thing’s melting right the fuck out of my head. Ask me another question.”

“Alright, alright.”

Nikolai wasted no time with the apparatus. For what it did, the thing was pretty simple. Seven nodes attached to the head, they transmitted the data wirelessly to the networked drives. Nine of them, slinging bits and information on the order of a terabyte per nanosecond. It was the cooling that was the suck, and energy wasn’t cheap. Nikolai usually reminded him that every pull cost him a legal month of watts, but this time he just flipped the switch.

The lights flickered and dimmed. The hum of the cooling rods met the hum of the processors, pulsing in a low binaural beat. Shank closed his eyes and called up the image. This was what they called the magic minute. Anybody could dream, but only a few could bring one back, and only a few of the few could render it. And barely any of those could transmit. In the strange glow and invasive rhythm of the machinery, Shank viewed the still from his memory more clearly than his eyes could have seen it. Captured in a dream beyond a dream, enhanced through conscious processes, painted now physically across the synapses of his brain. All else faded away, thoughts became dim then mute then disappeared. The image shuddered once when his fear returned, but even the fear phased out. The world beyond the image dissipated, and the image was everything.

The sensation that occurred as the nodes kicked up their dust storm of neurons was surreal; and with every pull it was newly surreal. It was as if the world became unhinged, and tiny ghosts with stingers attacked from all sides at once. Unseen, unfelt, the prodding force could only be experienced beyond the senses. The assault seemed to last an age. When at last it ended Shank let the image fall and with it some of the memory. He opened his eyes.

Nikolai was at his panel, manipulating the figures on the screen with unconscious dexterity. It was all Greek to Shank. Splatter patterns and algorithms and all sorts of esoteric mathematical jargon bounced around in the display. If he hadn’t seen the results before, he might, like many others, think the whole thing was a parlor trick.

“Here it comes,” said Nikolai.

The back wall shimmered and became white. A wave of black light swept through it, leaving behind a faint pattern of black flecks. Another wave, and another. They came at faster intervals, filling the canvas with black. It was all black. Something was wrong. The image wasn’t coming through. The waves ripped until nothing remained but the deepness of the absence of color. Shank looked into the darkness, not understanding.

“Is this a joke?” said Nikolai. The edge in his voice was fear, and maybe anger.

“It was dark, but it wasn’t that dark. There was horror in the hole, but the disk was made of light. Every color you’ve ever seen. A curling bridge of dust and great storm of white fire, the shadow of the hand that found me. It was there. It’s here. I saw her face. My thoughts are made of color, not this darkness.”

“Get out.”

Shank looked at Nikolai, not seeing him. “My thoughts are made of light,” he said. “My memories are masterpieces.”

“You’re fucking roasted,” Nikolai said. “Forget about the stain, you’re whole brain is fried, man. Who am I going to sell this to, huh? Who the fuck is going to buy an empty piece of fucking nothing?”

Shank replied, but it was an unintelligible mutter. He muttered all the way out the door, down the alley, back into the cracks of the city.

***

The Metroplex was a mountain of glass and metal, ravines and spires. Tar roads trickled through the pits, skyways hovered in the twilight zone, the Church of Man rose up over all, a lonely peak so high it made the tourists dizzy. And orbiting the edifice like a Saturn’s ring a ribbon of Heaven boasted the achievements of the flesh. It was a dreamscape projected onto a stream of particles, built and maintained by the church, the forty-second wonder of the world.

Shank knew the man who dreamed it, a man that used to have an eye for the world. Jon Newton had been among the pioneers of dreamscaping, turning the unknown realms of sleep into the next frontier of expression. He sculpted dreams of diamond oceans, floating cities, falling skies. But then a bishop from the Church of Man slipped a check in his pocket, and now he called himself Wazir and only dreamed of Heaven.

The Church of Man. It brought the bile up, thinking of it. The final resting place for the god of the gaps. The old religions had surrendered to science and reason and the deluge of secularism that came with the second Enlightenment, only to reemerge as a hybrid of humanism and new age mysticism. The clergy wore jeans, the songs had a backbeat, and Jesus was Muhammad was Buddha was Vishnu was the answer to the letter y. Physics, chemistry, biology – they had the how of it, but people still needed a place to go when their bodies gave up the ghost. Escape route, plan B, the way out. Consciousness was the last mystery on earth or in the stars, therefore god. And therefore heaven and Jon Newton’s billion dollar dreams.

Maybe god was in the cards, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was god’s hand reaching out of that darkness, curling its fingers around his mind, giving him this squeeze. Maybe it was the other guy.

Maybe it was me.

Holly and her zawners were on the fifth floor of the church. Through a silent door he found the ocean-blue lobby, pocked with dull-eyed baitfish. They came here to dream because dreaming was the only moral high. The holy LSD. There was a god in the cracks between sleep and death and a cure for existence. Whatever work they did was meaningless, whatever families they had were the same notch of mute. They came here for the numbness.

The receptionist recognized him.

“The artist returns to us,” she said. She had the mystic’s calm, a voice that crawled through time. “He brings a question.”
Heads turned. They knew him here.

“Holly.”

“She makes the dream. Have some tea. The time will pass.”

“I need to see Holly.”

“The time will pass.”

“There isn’t any fucking time!” His fist on the counter was an alien violence. The intrigue of the faithers behind him smelled like plague. He took a breath, lowered his voice. “I have been where you pretend to go. I returned with an image, and the dreamscape was black. There’s a hole in my head and it’s sucking the life out of my eyes and I need to speak to Holly. Now.”

“You projected?”

The voice was in his ear, the lips too close. He turned, and the face was pale with awe. Others came. Faces. Too many faces. They were all flat with wonder, glossed with the oblivion of belief. They surrounded him.

“What did you see?”

“Was there a light?”

“Did it feel like they say? Did it feel like flying?”

Lambs. The folds of the old testaments, dull and willing. He saw the emptiness that built this edifice, the absurdity that furnished and sustained it. All the monuments through the ages, from the Church of Man to the Parthenon, grown brick by brick from these seeds of wish and fear.

He was saved by another door. She stood within its frame, a feminine paradigm and a halo of blue light. The calm these faithers pretended was savage in her. She won through pain what they hoped to purchase through donation.

“Shank,” she said, “Please come inside.”

He followed her.

***

“You are lost.”

“Everybody’s lost. I’m off the plane.”

“You found your way here.”

“You did this to me. You, this place, those people. I came here to get the needle out of my brain, you replaced it with a knife and sent me screaming through the void. I just wanted a pill, something to pop. Something to clean the stain. I didn’t ask for this.”

“For what?”

“Zawning. Your out-of-body freak-show. I don’t believe in this nonsense, I don’t subscribe to magic, I don’t fuck around with prophets and voodoo. I dream, and I paint. There’s nothing mystical about it. I don’t chase angels through the ether. My dreamscapes were smeared, and came here, I found here. They said you’d done it before, gone inside and flushed the pipes. They didn’t say you’d shove a rocket up my ass and aim for the abyss.”

“You believe you’ve zawned?”

“It wasn’t a dream.”

“Can you describe it?”

“Ashes at Midnight. Coal in a Tar-pit. I copped the image and that’s what I pulled. Oblivion.”

“Oblivion?”

“Don’t you get it? It’s impossible. You can’t pull nothing. You can’t pull what you can’t fathom, and nobody can fathom the darkness. Not if you’re blind from birth can you project full absence, because the mind itself is something.”

“And the dream?”

“It wasn’t a dream.”

“The zawn, then.”

“You don’t believe me.”

“I believe you’ve had a transformative experience.”

“Fuck you.”

“I only asked you to describe it.”

“I can’t! It isn’t words. I’m no good with words. Can you describe Picasso? Can you describe a supernova?”

“I could try.”

“I’m not roasted.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’re thinking it, you’re looking it. I can smell it. Shank’s hit the wall, too much time in lala land, brain-splat, game over. Didn’t come back this time, did I? Buried my soul and shit in the hole.”

“Do you think you’re roasted?”

“I’m not.”

“Then tell me what you saw.”

“Colors. Shapes. The shadow of a hand and the face of beauty. There it is. Picture it if you will.”

“Shank, I can only help you if you’re open.”

“I need to go back. I can’t get back. You have to get me back.”

“Back to what?”

“Back to the hand that found me and the eyes that knew me!”

“Shank – ”

“I was there! I can’t describe it and I can’t prove it and if we were reversed I’d never believe it, but I was there.”

“Shank. Shut up, look directly into my eyes, and do everything I tell you.”

***

Consciousness. Pure and unthinking and ablaze. In high movement above the city it burned with the unbridled positivity of existence without awareness. Then it blinked twice and became afraid.

The city was a gorgeous wound in the earth, its dream of heaven a solemn ring of infection. Around it the skin was flat and smooth until forests or mountains or rivers. The fear became wonder became fear again. A fall from this height was death, and there was a universe to go.

Another blink and Earth was a haloed sphere, wretchedly blue against the white glare of the distant sun. The bleakness of the distance was awful. Earth was a lonely and vulnerable thing, moving at terrible speed through darkness, held to its course by the weakest force in the universe.

A ring of orbiting rocks and mountains, some glistening like diamonds. Tumble weeds blowing through a ghost system. Beyond them the great mass of Jupiter stood like its namesake, its one eye a wandering threat.

Another blink and Saturn was a pale dot and the sun was cold. The Church of Man was a pin prick on a pin prick on a speck of light-stricken dust. The distances were coming in magnitudes and suddenly the sun was just a star. A star among a billion stars. Stars that went shooting past, balls of light that flashed white for a moment and cooled to red as they raced away to punch another hole in the shrinking expansion. Until the flashes became streaks, ribbons of energy bent through time and pointing home.

Then, as if it were the heart ripped out of his chest and dropped from a height, Shank watched the spiral of the galaxy fall away. The whole galaxy, with its legions of stars and men, became a faint glow in the stoic emptiness.

The fear fell with it and he realized he was looking backwards. He turned and discovered that journey had just begun. The void swallowed him. They weren’t stars but galaxies that went streaking past. Embers of the dying fire fighting against the cold and the dark.

And the great darkness loomed. The black disc dominated field and spectrum and sucked existence inwards. A trillion suns made wild orbit, their guts ripped out in whorling torrents and ringing the abyss with a dance of fire. Blue geysers of energy made a violent escape from the belly of the hole and etched a brilliant highway through the absence around it.

Here was the center of things. From this point all points arose.

As before the hand reached out to him. He could feel the consciousness behind it. No other force would dare the demonstration. It was the fifth force, the eyes that made eternal observance and substantiated the others.

But the hand was made of light, and even light surrendered to infinity. The darkness bent it to breaking and swallowed.

When the face emerged it knew him. It moved to speak.

***

“Shank! Shank!”

He was shaking. The eyes were Holly’s.

“Shank, are you there?” She snapped her fingers at him. “Say something.”

“I’m here.” He sat up. He was on the floor, drenched in sweat, and his whole body ached. Holly was frightened. He had never seen her frightened.

“You seized,” she said.

“I have to get to the Other Side,” he said. He tried to stand but his legs were weak and they failed him. “What happened?”

There were faithers in the room. They clutched the walls, afraid to approach, and they looked at him with terrible reverence.
“I’m sorry,” Holly said. “They just . . . came.”

“The Other Side,” he said. “I have the image, Holly. The face at the center of things, at the center of myself, the eyes of darkness and beauty. Nikolai – take me to Nikolai.”

Her hand on his cheek was cool. “You need to rest. Your body is tired.”

Holly. The ages could be traced in the lines of her skin and her voice echoed back from the halls beyond death.

He pushed her away. When he stood, his legs held him. But one of the faithers, tall and glazed, blocked the exit and held up a hand. The calm in him was dumb and the eyes were baked with borrowed dreams.

Shank grabbed a heavy bookend from Holly’s shelf and cracked his faither skull. He cracked it again. Blood ended the mystic playtime and a woman screamed. A final crack and the man fell and Shank stumbled and ran out the door.

The heavy thing, the white ivory in his grip, it was an angel, bowed sublimely with folded wings and splattered red.

***

“Nikolai!” His fist rattled the cheap metal. “Nikolai! I have it! The image is clear! Open the door!”

The bolt, the pale eye and the crack and the chain.

“You’re roasted. Get the fuck out of here.”

“You don’t understand,” Shank said. “I was there. I breathed it. I’m infused. These are the colors of life and the hole is black murder. I have it, Nikolai, and this time it’s real. You have to trust it. You have to risk it.”

“I scrapped a month of watts on your darkness,” Nikolai said. “It’s game over for you, Shank.”

Shank kicked the door. “Explain it then! The image wasn’t smeared, there wasn’t a stain. It was absence, fully resolved. It isn’t supposed to be possible.”

Nikolai said nothing.

“It’s something,” Shank said. He put his face to the crack. The metal was cool. “There’s more of it. I pulled this from the edge, Nikolai. I didn’t cop the lines, they’re seared across my brain. You just have to turn on the machine. This is it. This is the one, the one that puts me back on the map, the one that gets you out of this dive.”

The chain clicked and the door opened. Nikolai wielded two fingers like a dagger and jabbed Shank in the chest.

“You better not be fucking around.”

“Just turn it on. Turn it on, turn it on.”

Seven nodes attached to the head. The cooling and processing thrummed. Shank closed his eyes and brought the image forward and traced its lines with his mind. The magic minute came and the nodes kicked up their storm of neurons, ghosts, and stingers.

When he opened his eyes Nikolai was a blur at his panel. The jargon bounced around his screens like a coded game of pong and the clacking of keys was violent against the hum of the machines. A final clack and the black light began its sweep over the white wall. Patterns emerged, and colors. Colors from a dream that wasn’t a dream.

“What is it?” Nikolai asked.

“You’ll see. Everyone will see,” Shank said.

Every pass of light laid a million flecks. Lines became clear, and then shapes. Shapes that formed a face and the face was Shank’s and it screamed from a hole in the universe. Streams of light and dust shot through the particle miasma and wrapped the hole in a halo of agony and a hand reached out but never touched the stars.

“It’s brilliant,” said Nikolai.

“It wasn’t me,” Shank said. “Where is she? Milk and eyes, Nikolai! This isn’t what I saw. She was beautiful. You fucked it up. What is this? That isn’t me. Where is my masterpiece? What did you do you with my masterpiece?”

The rattling of the door, a thunder from the other side. Nikolai went and opened the crack and the voice came through it like a flood.

“Metroplex Police. Sheldon Banks is wanted for the murder of William Laughlin. We tracked him here. We have a warrant. You can open the door or we can break it down.”

“Murder?”

“Open the door, put your hands on your head, and back away.”

Murder. The red splattered angel and the faither. The face in the hole with the eyes of fear without hope, an elbow against his spine and the taste of concrete and teeth and copper blood.

“My dreams are beautiful. You should have seen my dreams.”

“What the hell is this place?”

“Looks like dreamscaping. Black market, keeps the watts off the grid. You fucked up your friend real good with this back-alley rig, buddy. You’re going down for the juice, and accessory.”

“I barely know this guy! My watts are clean, check the logs!”

Shank had no resistance to give. He was limp as they dragged him.

“I dreamed of purple roses once,” he said. “I dreamed of purple roses that hung from a sheet of sky. The girl, she stood on a blade of grass – she had a face of milk and eyes.”

The officer made a note of it and pushed his head into the car.


 

Daddy Lazarus [Jim #11, Short Fiction]

“So. Jim. Why do you want to become an angel?”

“I think I’m pretty good with people,” Jim said.

This was his first job interview in a few hundred years and he was a little rusty. The executive sitting across from him was a serious woman with glasses and thin lips. She looked at him over the rims.

“Do you even know what angels do, Jim?”

“Well, sure I do.”

“What do angels do, Jim?”

The woman never blinked. There was nothing in her office but her desk and a bookshelf filled with potted cactuses. A clock without numbers ticked on the wall.

“They roll out the welcome mat,” Jim said. “They keep the peace. Some of them just seem to party and get high all the time.”

“Angels do not get high.” She flipped through his file. “I’ve been screening applicants for a long time, Jim, and you’re the worst I’ve ever seen. By far. You’re reckless. You’re aimless. Your libido is a tornado. The only reason I accepted to see you today was morbid curiosity. I asked myself, what sort of man spends the first two hundred and seventeen years of eternity playing with his dick, then applies to be an angel? What sort of ego? Does he really think he can walk into my office with nothing but a cock and a smile, and walk out with wings?”

Jim smiled. She slapped him through the face.

“Ow! What the hell?”

“You’re a pig.”

“A pig in Paradise.”

She slapped him through the face.

“Dammit! Why are you hitting me?”

“Why do you want to be an angel?”

“I don’t know. I just – I don’t want to be useless anymore.”

It surprised Jim as much as it surprised the executive. She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms and looked at him differently. Jim rubbed his cheek.

“Vulnerability suits you,” she said.

“Thanks.”

“So Jim wants to be useful.”

“Yeah, I guess. I mean, the tornado thing gets old after a while.”

She stood and walked to the bookshelf. She looked at Jim, sized him up, and chose a cactus that was six inches tall and fairly thick. It wobbled when she set it on the desk.

“Do you know what fascinates me about the cactus?” she said.

Jim shook his head.

“It’s strong,” she said. “It’s resilient. It will quietly endure almost any environment. You could forget to feed it for a month and it will survive. And of course – ” She pricked a finger on one of its needles and showed Jim the blood. “It won’t be tamed. Violent and useless.”

She removed a pair of scissors from a desk drawer and cut the cactus in half. Jim gulped.

“Useless until you break it. Only then do you discover its utility.”

She lifted the potted nub and tilted it over her tongue. A pulpy white goo dribbled into her mouth. Some of it dribbled down her chin. She pushed it back into her mouth and swallowed.

“That’s not how mine works,” Jim said.

The executive sat down and wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to him.

“Before you take the entrance exam, you’ll have to take a course on modern women issues. Go to that address. They’ll set you up.”

Jim looked at the paper. It said,

Nil Cunt Court
Sylvia Plath’s Bottomless Pit of Feminist Revenge

***

At the end of a middle class cul-de-sac Jim found a hole in the ground. It was a large hole, large enough to swallow a house, and when he peered over the edge he couldn’t see the bottom. He plugged his nose and jumped in.

He fell for a long time. The circle of light shrank over gravity and then disappeared and it was dark. He fell for a while longer then splashed down into something warm and sticky.

The pool was circular and surrounded by high smooth walls and lit by torches. The liquid felt like mucus and smelled like metal. Jim treaded.

Why have you disturbed the sacred pool?

It was a woman’s voice, soft but amplified by the cavern. Jim searched for its origin and saw a pale woman standing on the wall.

“I’m here to take the modern woman course,” Jim said.

For what reason?

“I applied to be an angel. They said I had to come here first.”

What do you know of the modern woman?

“They’re new?”

Lesson One: The Modern Woman of Paradise does not bleed. Her menstrual cycle is tuned to a secret frequency, transmitted over radio waves, and collected in this pool.

Only now did Jim notice the outlet valves on the walls. They spurted out more of the viscous fluid at irregular intervals.

I got some in my mouth, Jim thought.

There is only one way up,” the pale woman said. She lifted her skirt and her bush rolled down the side of the wall like a banner.

Jim swam over to it, grabbed a fistful of the gnarled hair, and pulled himself out of the menstrual goop. His hands were slick with blood and her bush was greasy and the climb was long and difficult. Lint and crumbs and flakes and loose hairs shook loose as he climbed and they peppered the pool below.

In my mouth, he thought again.

When he finally pulled himself over the top of the wall, he was tarred and feathered.

“Do all angels get their wings this way?” he said.

“Some,” the pale woman said. She jerked her leg and the bush rolled back up between her legs. She lowered her skirt took a torch down from the wall. “Follow me.”

***

The tunnels were dark and labyrinthine and the only light came from the pale woman’s torch.

“Are you Sylvia Plath?” Jim said.

“No.”

“Where are we going?”

“You will see.”

“Will there be a shower?”

“Yes.”

They turned and turned again. Some turns they didn’t take. Lower and lower.

“So, what’s with the zero?” Jim said.

“What zero?” The pale woman never looked back. She walked like a ghost and spoke sharply.

“Nil Cunt Court. It’s a funny address.”

“All other numbers are either phallic or lesbian,” she said. “Zero is a woman’s only refuge from the chauvinist math of men.”

Jim pictured the numbers in his head: 1234567890.

“I kind of get the one,” he said, “and maybe the seven. Is two phallic or lesbian?”

“The two is an inverted ballsack and phallus.”

“Huh. And three?”

“Just balls.”

“Four?”

“Three phalluses.”

“A four is three dicks?”

“Yes.”

“What’s five?”

“Regular ballsack and phallus.”

Jim mulled it over. The pale woman walked.

“So eight’s the lesbian,” he said. “What about six and nine?”

“You know very well what six and nine are doing.”

“Well, there you go. That’s mutual. Equal.”

“Please. Six is obviously the woman, and nine the man. Six is worth less, is upturned and submissive – a gagged bitch hanging from her ankles and at the mercy of the rapist nine.”

As the pale woman led him deeper into the feminist cavern, Jim quietly exercised his brain with the strange arithmetic. A hard dick plus a pussy was a hard dick, but a hard dick times a pussy was a pussy. A hard dick squared was itself, but added together two hard dicks became an inverted ballsack and limp dick, which squared became three dicks – and three dicks squared was one hard dick and a gagged bitch.

“Huh,” Jim said. “The square root of a rapist is balls.”

“And every vagina increases a number’s value by an order of magnitude,” the pale woman said. “At least men got that much right.”

Jim thought, if that was true for pussies it was probably true for balls and lesbians and rapists too. Not to mention that the magnitudes came in multiples of hard-dick-and-pussy, together. He kept his reservations to himself and said,

“I had no idea feminists had to learn math all over again.”

They finally came to a round door and she opened it and he went in.

***

“No no no!”

The horrible fat woman whapped his knuckles with a phallus. It was a ruler, but the Entrenched Symbolism as a Justified Means of the Perpetual Objectification of All Women Everywhere course-book had taught him that it was also a phallus. He’d taken courses in Sensitivity and Emotional Awareness and Dating the Empowered Woman. He tested out of Feminist Mathematics. The horrible fat woman taught the final class, Natural Beauty and the Institutional Shaming and Objectification of the Female Form. They’d been at it for weeks.

“Again,” the horrible fat woman said. “Which of these two women do you prefer?” She held up two photographs, a hot chick and a fat chick.

“The hot chick,” Jim said.

Whap!

“The correct answer is, I do not have enough information.”

Jim pointed at the photograph of the fat chick. “That’s a lot of information,” he said.

Whap!

Jim rubbed his knuckles.

“Beauty is a totality,” the horrible fat woman said. “And that totality has been fragmented by the misogynist media, sexualized at the expense of the Natural Woman, pursuant to the gratification of Abusive Men. The commercialization of the female form has normative blowback, and your male brain has been artificially rewired to appreciate only the immediate and physical aspects of a much deeper feminine glory.”

Jim massaged his temples. All this equality was giving him headache. He swam through a pool of menstrual blood, learned phallic algebra, and watched The Notebook twice – but for some reason he couldn’t swallow the horrible fat woman.

“You know what,” Jim said, “I give up. I surrender. They can keep the wings. I’ll set up a mechanic’s shop or something. Just get me out of here.”

To his surprise the horrible fat woman melted with a sigh of relief. She dug a finger into her scalp and unzipped herself forehead to crotch. The fat fell to the floor and an attractive, sweaty, pissed off young woman glared at him.

“Three weeks?” she said. “Really? Three fucking weeks?” She dug around in the fat and retrieved a purse and checked herself in a pocket mirror. “Ughh, I look like a truck stop whore.”

“What’s happening?” Jim said.

“The last room is a test,” she said. “It’s a test to see how long you can put up with our shit.”

“Did I pass?”

Pass?” She stuffed the fat into a closet. “Did I pass?” She stripped out of the unitard and threw it in with the fat. Stark naked and squatting she scoured her purse. “One hour. You only have to last for one hour. Uhhgghh! I can never find anything in here!”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I can’t tell you. I lose my job if I say anything.” She found her underwear and snapped it on and pulled her hair back in a scrunchie. “I pick up one afternoon shift, and I get the wonderboy who shatters the fucking record. That bitch Susie owes me big time.”

She was dressed, high-heeled, made-up and out the door before Jim could reply. He chased after her.

“Wait! Are you Sylvia Plath? Is it over?”

“I’m taking you to her, wonderboy. I almost missed my birthday because of you.”

***

Sylvia Plath’s apartment was deeper still. It was a flattened transparent sphere, sparsely and elegantly decorated. The walls looked out beneath the surface of an ocean, and colorful fish swam belly up. The floor looked down at a clear blue sky. Sylvia sat at her writing desk.

“You’re so deep you’re upside down,” Jim said, looking past his feet at the sky.

Sylvia started to laugh, plugged her mouth with a fist, and laughed anyway. She stood up and walked around the desk and hugged him. It was a long hug. Jim coughed and she pulled back.

“Jim,” she said.

“Miss Plath,” Jim said. “Errrr, Mizzz Plath. Shit, I don’t know. Can I call you Sylvia?”

“I heard you gave poor Ashley quite the show.”

“Ashley? Was that the, uh, the girl in the suit? Natural Beauty?”

“Three weeks. You doubled the record, you know.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. I hope she made it to her birthday.”

Sylvia put a hand on his chest. “You’re a sweet man, Jim,” she said. “A sweet man with a good heart.”

Jim gulped and blushed. Her smile was a razor and her eyes were hungry.

On her toes she whispered in his ear, “I hope it’s not a secret, because it isn’t safe with me.” And she kissed him on the cheek.

Jim was frozen stiff. Sylvia laughed again and returned to her desk.

“Do you have the paper?” she said.

“The paper?”

“I believe I have to sign something.”

“Oh yeah.” He gave her the paper.

She pressed her pen to it, paused, looked up.

“Do understand any of it?”

“No.”

“Would you believe we prefer it that way?”

“Yes.”

She signed the paper and handed it back to him.

***

The executive pursed her thin lips and sniffed.

“That’s Sylvia’s signature,” she said. “I’d have bet the left side of Paradise against it, but there it is.” She filed the paper away, clasped her hands, and gave Jim the business eye. “Unfortunately, your application did not survive the preliminary screening. It’s already been denied.”

“What? How? Why?”

“You’re not pretty enough.”

“Not pretty enough? The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Angels are pretty. You are not. Therefore your application has been denied.”

“But, but – But feminism.”

“Feminism? Are you a woman?”

“Well, I mean, no. But, uh – Oh come on! It’s relevant!”

“No it isn’t.”

“How not?”

“It’s swinging between your legs, cowboy. Now get the fuck out of my office before I file a harassment charge.”

Jim stood. He kicked over the chair and swiped a cactus from her shelf. It was the largest one, a foot high and thick as a soda can.

“I’m taking this,” he said.

She waved him away, the back of her hand. “Take it. They grow like weeds.”


 

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