Friday, October 29, 2010

The Monsters (Excerpt from "Mythic Creatures") by Jesse S. Mitchell

The Monsters (Excerpt from "Mythic Creatures")
by Jesse S. Mitchell




I slept the night off. I tossed and turned my way out of the madness and left all the dreaming mystery of the night before behind in the crumpled, sweaty bed sheets… all pulled off my side of the bed…all pulled and pooled up. I shuffled my feet along the rough wood floor making two thin little rail-like trails in the thick dust all the way over to my window. I peeled open my eyes fully and yawned and watched all my human pets outside make their movements. No matter what ever happens…to me…or to them…all of them…they are always out there…doing the same things, going around in circles…rushing…rushing. I feel sick. I feel dizzy. I feel thirsty. The hush in the room is claustrophobic and close. I shake my head wildly as if that will make the world a more comfortable place to inhabit…if even it would work for a time. I notice that the sun is already very low in the sky. The color of fire red and sickly sweet crackled yellow is covering everything outside…this means I have slept most of the day away…no regrets with that…a day slept away is a day not lived in this hideous shrieking world. Shrieking world filled with tiny drops of blood…murder…and murders…and mistakes…and the marching Nazis…I saw them blown head clean away still firing into the living breathing breaking dawn…they meant to kill me and they meant to kill away the moon and the sun and all the stars as well if they could…I know. I watch the madness of simplicity unfolding on the streets with my eyes aching and watery. Leah walks up behind me. She leans her head on my back. The warmth of her makes me feel soft. I feel at ease. I yawn and hold out my hand and stare at it and touch the cool glass window.
“Are you awake?”
“Yeah, sorry I slept so late.”
“No problem. Are you going to get ready?”
“What? Oh the thing…at your friend’s place.”
“Yeah, ready to get ready?”
“Sure.” The word leaves my mouth like a sigh…like a whisper but too loud, the word leaves my mouth too loud all together. I am in no way excited about the prospect of this evening. The blue veins, sore, under my skin, rolled around when I placed my fingertips on them. I hurt almost everywhere. Down below on the streets the people passed each other and never looked in the eyes of the faces they met…their blues blind. Some of the people smiled. My stomach growls. My head aches. I wipe a bead of sweat off my brow. My hand hurts. I saw I had been bleeding again through my bandages…most likely as I slept. We are ready to go.


I stumble down the stairs to the apartment we are visiting. I stumble and mumble to myself…I hold Leah’s hand, at times, reaching out completely and grasping hard her arm.
“Ouch!” she whispers. “Why do you grab so hard?”
I laugh. My laughter shocks me and it fully annoys Leah…I want to stop laughing....I need to stop...I should stop...I try to stop laughing. I can only laugh harder. I say it over and over...repeatedly in my mind…stop laughing…stop…stop…stop laughing but it has no effect....no effect. I keep laughing and babbling.
“Grab so hard…always grappling and grasping…do I pull too hard…I may fall…hahahahahahaha…”
“Stop acting so strange…even for you, strange.”
We get to the door and we go through…we move our feet…in steps. We walk through the door…like a portal to another world. The street behind us, a dream, a surreal black and white motion picture musical dream....the street behind me folds up and fades as the heavy oak door slowly closes behind us. We walk through the door into another place…a place of red brick walls and off white splashes of paint…a place of crowds and art and wicked whiffs of sinful living. A place of little candle light flickers of space and time and conversation…a nowhere place of liars and children and genius…where nothing is beautiful unless it is all beautiful. Everything has to be so damned beautiful here…always…or else it all falls apart. I walk barely upright past a tiny tall table covered with a British Union Jack…a threadbare red white and blue tablecloth covered in wine stains and candle wax drips. This red brick, smashed windows place…here where the opiates sizzle in the metal utensils…here where the living half-dead haunt the memories of greater men long gone. There are already several people here…I make my way through the crowd. Like Moses, arms out stretched…Miriam singing behind me…head down so no one could look my in my sunglasses-covered eyes…like Moses of the bulrushes…a shepherd, lord of the field…the magician of Goshen…splitting my way through the secret waves of fools. I walk past the waves of fools breaking on either side of me…barely noticing me…taking drinks…puffing on cigarettes. The sweet scent of grass and tobacco and other things I cannot place, burns my nose. I walk like a ghost through a world, I believe for certain, totally drained of any of the sweet air…breeze…water…light…I ever knew it to hold…drained dry…drained dry and thin and empty. I walk like a ghost through a world made ghostly. My head is down. My neck hurts and I rub the back of it with my cut up hand. I can feel a few stares lingering on the wounds. Monsters everywhere…everywhere I can see, monsters staring at me…ready to pounce. Monsters put here to eat me…eat me alive. I can feel madness creeping up my spine and its dreadful shadow threatens to engulf my mind. I can feel the madness coming on…I need to find Leah. Tied into this machine with all these other lunatics…the feeling stalking my movements…I will come apart in this damned place. I will have to come apart. I must find Leah. I need the touch of her skin. The sky thunders in my mind…thunders and shakes…the storms come on quickly…fires and bombs…I can feel the sweat and sticky…sticky…ah the smiling monsters all around me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

diary of a heretic, chapters 20, 21 and 22

to begin at the beginning, click here

by kathleen maher

pictures by rhoda penmarq



20) Religion Without Rules



Well, they did it. They convinced me to give it another try. Carlos and Stephanie and Maggie Townsend spent half the night coercing me into giving the New C. of C. another chance. We’re planning one more—and I’ve sworn should it fail, last—meeting in two weeks. Why, I asked again, if they thought the idea was so “crucial” as Carlos kept saying, did I need to be involved? Why didn’t they start a theology group without me.
“Because,” Maggie said, “to succeed, the group needs a holy leader.”



“Why?” I asked. “Because otherwise it’ll devolve into a coffee klatch with pretensions.”
“So you be the one.” Tossing her head, Maggie mock-checked everyone’s face to see if she dared speak. “Hard to believe in this day and age,” she said, “but some Americans still have kind of problem with women’s spiritual superiority.”
“A problem,” Stephanie feigned astonishment, “with divinely inspired female leadership? You’ve got to be kidding.”



"Okay, okay.” I waved that issue away. “Then why not you, Carlos? You’re always saying you know how these things work.”
“Exactly. And they don’t work with someone like me at the top. Whereas you, Malcolm, if you’d only apply yourself—could qualify as a bona fide saint.”
“Oh yeah? Just how vain, and how stupid, do you think I am?”
“I’ve watched you for more than a decade, Malcolm; I know what I’m talking about. You’re a true innocent. You’re wildly non-materialistic and you go into these spells of communing with the universe, where you’re really, I mean really, out there.”



“Oh yeah?” Despite myself, I leaned back, grotesquely flattered.
Sometimes the more you swear something’s dead and gone—over and done with—the more inevitable that it pops up to prove you wrong. Carlos had taken it upon himself to close the shop.
He’d opened the front door and yelled at Mason and Roger. “Hey, you guys, the shelters miss you.” He’d cupped a hand to his ear. “Hear that? They’re calling your names.”



Two minutes later a rock cracked the plate-glass window. Carlos stopped rolling my hand around in one of those elaborate, comical-if-they-weren’t-so-infuriating handshakes and pulled a spool of duct tape from deep in his pocket. Without missing a beat, he taped the broken window while Maggie Townsend, chin on hand, eyes over bright, asked me pertinent, half-adoring questions about the New C. of C.




She tossed her blonde hair and said she could feel it in the air: something fantastic was about to happen.
Carlos was back to caressing the inside of my forearm. It took everything I had, life-or-death restraint, to hold myself immobile.
“Don’t you hear it all the time?” Maggie asked. “That hum rising to a buzz?” She personally was ready to dedicate herself to freeing legions of thwarted souls.



“What?” Upset about the window and determined to ignore Carlos, whose intricate, excruciating touch kept burning my arm, I asked Maggie how she and Carlos knew each other. What was their connection?
Lavishing even more attention on me, Maggie said, “From tai chi.”
They had taken a class together at the Y and had considered each other best friends” ever since.



Best friends? I couldn’t tell whether this was a romantic euphemism or a simple, plain truth. But nothing’s simple. Maggie Townsend talked too much. She wiggled in her seat and ran nervous fingers through her blonde hair. Her avidness was embarrassing in a way that made me like her. And, by now I was positive: No matter what she and Carlos shared ideologically, sexually they were impossible. Carlos was the archetypal secular gay monk. While poor, needy Maggie Townsend was obviously, tortuously “straight.” I liked her, too, because she agreed with me about the first meeting.
“False euphoria can be dangerous,” she told Carlos. “It was insulting how you set Malcolm up.”
(My problem is I don’t get out enough. My encounters with people consist of catering to customers, placating employees, and protecting myself from suppliers. Someone agrees with me on something more significant than decaffeinated vanilla-scented French roast and I am beside myself. Someone agrees with me on worship and it’s as if she’s saved my life.)
Fresh coffee and big squares of my carrot cake appeared before us.



Stephanie served us so unobtrusively, you’d think she had invisible powers. Pooling over, down and around each perfect square of cake was a luscious pineapple-cream cheese sauce only Carlos could have concocted.
“Okay,” he said. “So maybe the last meeting didn’t reach total rapture. Still, it was—it was perfect.”
Carlos was running his knuckles lightly, swiftly along my leg, “If you got carried away, Malcolm, it’s because the meeting took on a life of its own. And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? No one person running it, no one dictating how things should go?”
(Did I tell him that? It was my guiding principle, but did I ever say so out loud? No. Not to anyone.)
“I never planned this far.”
“No rules,” Carlos said, “and ritual will develop spontaneously.”
“Where are you getting this, Carlos?”
Stephanie, who was serving me more coffee and cake, said, “It’s not so hard to figure out. Religion without rules. Everybody has their say.”
“Who’s talking about religion?” I yelled.
“No one,” Carlos said. “No one is talking about it explicitly. But. . .”



“But what? You think you can read my mind?”
“The New C. of C,” Carlos said, “may not have anything to do with religion, per se, but it is life-affirming, a forum for the whys and wherefores of life and death.”
“Really! And, how the fuck do you know?”
“Because, Malcolm, I know whereof I speak.” He was caressing my shoulder, one satiny brown hand squeezing the back of my neck. I dragged my finger through the leftover sauce, and was raising it to my mouth, when he swooped in and sucked it off. Sly with mischief, Carlos swirled his fingertips over my plate, and then over his. He wagged five silken pineapple-cream cheese caps in front of my face.
“No thanks.” I averted my eyes.
He smacked his lips. “Oo-yum!” But when I looked again, his sauce-covered fingers were still there in front of my face, waiting to be licked.


21) The Ultimate Believer



Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m sure they’re right: You don’t give up after one try. But when I close my eyes there’s a nameless but familiar face there, winking and grinning at how stupid I am.
Carlos is back at work—and thank God (no questions asked, no answers given), back staying with me. Tonight when I said his plan for reviving the New C. of C. carried whiffs of conspiracy, he wrapped his arms around me from behind. I was standing at the counter, opening another bottle of Côtes du Rhone. Carlos had been taking his bath; it was easier for me to mention “conspiracy” when he was in another room. But suddenly, there he was, standing behind me, wrapped in a towel. The ends of his hair were wet and warm beads of water were sliding down his arms, on to my arms. His almost regrown mustache brushed my face. “That mentality, Malcolm, is what makes you so perfect.”
I did not even try not to tremble. Carlos is starting to get old and there are places where his skin is wrinkled but he’s lean and brown, and thick greenish veins swell over his sinewy muscles so that you can see, (and really but feel) them pulse. For a second I thought he was going to throw me to the floor—and then he was at the other end of the room, clothed in my robe.



Crossing his brave-looking, high-arched feet, he leaned against the doorjamb and said, “That lunatic fringe mind-frame is what makes you so perfect as a spiritual leader.”
After managing a long, steadying sip of wine, I asked, “How so?”
“Because it shows such extraordinary ability to look past everyday logic.” He shook his head and laughed. “Conspiracy nuts are the ultimate believers. Think about it, Malcolm. What is faith but the ability to see connections that are not completely there?” 


22) What Happened This Morning



That was two days ago, and what happened this morning was nothing. I know that. It was nothing!
My only excuse for even thinking about it is that it’s late. I can’t sleep. And I can hear Carlos sleeping in the next room.
At five this morning, after we’d kicked out Mason and Roger, but before Maggie and Stephanie’s arrival, Carlos was cracking eggs into the vat. I was leaning against the wall, still half-dreaming, so this next non-occurrence might only have been a figment. My eyes were half-closed and Carlos came over and placed his hands along either side of my face.
He stepped closer, pressing his body into mine. And then, cradling the back of my head, he kissed me, running his tongue over the front of my teeth at first and then pushing the tip along the roof of my mouth. Then, with a little push, he said, “Leave everything to me.”





chapters 23, 24 and 25

Sunday, October 24, 2010

the haunted house



by human being

illustrations by rhoda penmarq





i

she was standing in the hall
with two suitcases
the telephone was ringing
she decided not to answer it
she was not leaving
she had just arrived
let's not listen to others this time, she whispered to herself

ii



the walls of the hallway were all white and bare
except one with a tall mirror
reflecting her figure dressed in black
she opened the suitcases








they were packed with framed portraits
she decided not to hang them on the walls
she leaned them against the walls one by one
let's not listen to others this time, she whispered to herself

iii




the sitting room was even bleaker than the hall
a lone armchair was sitting in front of a cold fireplace
she decided not to take the seat
the adjacent room was the library






the walls were hidden behind the orderly rows of bookshelves
she stood there for a long while reading the titles of the books
leafing through some of them





she picked out a very thick one and carried it to the fireplace
let's not listen to others this time, she whispered to herself




iv




she lay down on the small rug in the middle of the sitting room
listening to the soothing sound of books burning in the fireplace
shadows were dancing gracefully on the walls and the ceiling
she closed her eyes
feeling something thawing within her
dripping on the rug






flowing on the floor
traveling through the house
room by room
a scratching sound stopped the flow







two cats were behind the window
in the dark wintry night
looking through the misty glass
right into her eyes
she decided not to ignore them and let them in
along with a chilly gust of wind, they jumped into the sitting room





paying no attention to anything but the door to the hall
where they cuddled up in the suitcases left wide open
she leaned against the door frame






contently watching the cats
disregarding the frowning face in the portrait in front of her
let's not listen to others this time, she whispered to herself








v

a dripping sound echoed in the house
she followed it
when she arrived in the kitchen, it started to rain



she decided not to use an umbrella
let's not listen to others this time, she whispered to herself
all night she was washing the dishes under the rain










next


Thursday, October 21, 2010

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 47: the Baxters




(Go here for our previous episode. Click here to return to the first chapter of our Rite Aid Award-winning serialization of this unexpurgated long-lost classic from the battered IBM Selectric of Larry Winchester.)

The time: an evening in early September, 1969.

The place: the Johnstone ranch, several miles outside of a town called Disdain...


The nice young couple pulled their Buick Riviera up near the yard and got out. Shyly they approached the now rather noisy barbecue. The fellow wore a bright plaid cotton sport jacket, a blue tie, blue slacks, and brown penny-loafers. The young woman was in a blue gingham shirtwaist with a modest string of pearls, a white angora cardigan with only the top button fastened, and on her feet were a pair of sensible white mules.


Over the laughter and the talking and the popping and sizzling of the roasting beef an already half-drunk mariachi band stationed under a lone dead box-elder sang a song in Spanish about a pistolero who kills an evil ranchero.

Big Jake (who understood little Spanish) saw the young couple and came on over, a beef rib in one hand and a bottle of Michelob in the other. He was all dressed up for Saturday night with a dashing Indian silk “neck square” peeking through the Mao collar of his white Arnel-and-rayon twill fly-front jacket with double-flapped side-pockets, over navy Orlon-and-wool bonded jersey slacks. An 18-kt gold-plated lariat cord hung from his neck and ran through a hundred-peso gold-piece slide on his massive hearty chest. On his head was a white ten-gallon Stetson and on his feet were red and gold patent-leather Tony Lama cowboy boots.

“Don’t tell me,” called Big Jake, “-- the Baxters!”

“Yes, sir,” said the young guy. “This is Phyllis, and I’m Chad.”

“Chad ‘n’ Phyllis! Pleased to meetcha! I’m Jake Johnstone -- call me 'Big Jake'.”

Big Jake stuck the Michelob bottle into the paw that held the rib, and he put out his free hand. The young fellow took the hand, Big Jake gave him his customary death-grip shake, and after a painful half-a-minute the fellow pulled his hand away, waving it in the air and smiling sheepishly.

“Sorry, Tad, don’t know my own strength. Come on and meet the folks.”

Chad wiped his sticky hand on some Kleenex he took from his pocket, and Jake introduced him and Phyllis (as “Brad and Phyllis”) to all the other guests and to Hope and even to some of the hired help. Chad and Phyllis had heard about the ranch in town and they had telephoned Big Jake just that afternoon to see if there were any vacancies. Jake had told them there sure were and had invited them to come right on out and have some barbecue.

They seemed an eminently boring young couple and after a few moments no one paid them any mind. It was almost as if they weren’t even there.


(Continued here, just in case something happens.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Titans from, the novel "Mythic Creatures" by Jesse Mitchell

Titans from, the novel "Mythic Creatures" by Jesse Mitchell



Leah guided me to bed last night and left. I do not know where she went but none of this is really about her anyway. So tired, I fell down into the mattress, and faded into the dim light all around me. I awoke this morning a million little specks of being, not entirely held together. I awoke this morning alone. I awoke a spirit unfleshed. I am clothed. I am a bit of everything. I am an old familiar song. I am a sound drifting through the floor. I am a flickering light behind your eye. A specter gliding through the walls. My eyes and my ears and my fingers numb and wobbly and barely conscious. My mind lost, completely lost now. Beset on all sides by madness, a special madness, my madness. I walk outside and the sun burns bright and high in the sky, like a blazing fire, burning me. I stare up into the air and watch the fire burn…watch the sun fire burn…hot…hot and dazzling…hot and brilliant. The clouds, like shadows, gather round and shade the light so provocatively. Little balls of dust and seeds and leaves and things float by me in the soft breeze. I cannot be sure as to the solidness of my surroundings. I feel ethereal. I feel like an angel. I feel like a ghost. I feel like a monster. I am a human being. I am human but a human…a human smiling at heaven as if he knows it…knows all of its tricks. I do. I do know all of the tricks. The blood ran so red. The blood ran so free and red so many years ago…the blood…so much blood that now when I think of home all I can think of is red red red…all I can think of is blood, bloody blood. I look at the sky and let my eyes burn. I let my eyes be burned by the orb of air consuming fire. Burn them out. Burn them right out of my head. Burn them out. I can still see. My curse. I will always see. I am cursed, you see. Madness and lucidity. Quiet. Quiet. Silent the streets are today. I look back down at the Earth spinning, revolving below my feet. I can see into the windows of the buildings along the street.
Breathing this air is like breathing in poison, hot gas, molten iron. Breathing this air makes me choke. Like everything is filled with ice, little shards of broken frozen ice, the air cuts me and fills me up like concrete. The sunlight burns me. The heat makes me feel coated in drying mud…cracks all over. Everything surrounds me and pulls in close on me. Like Yggdrasil surrounds the trunk and gnaws the roots of the tree of life, the serpent waits and constricts around me in all this natural air and glowing red-hot sunlight. I burn all over…this is a sign of something…it is the way it happens that makes me think this is a sign…a message to me. I am not meant to live like this. I step (it feels like a stomp) out onto the street and make my way through the maze of grey-faced building fronts staring at me with their greasy window eyes, frowning their wrought iron doorway warnings at me, standing up so high behind the running human mob. The castrated Uranus and all the other bloodied titans grimacing at me from behind our movements and bicycle riding passers-by. I cannot walk through this maze. I am filled with concrete and steel and wooden legs and bloody lungs and twisting mind and fear from warning and cold things…I am filled and dying. My feet land hard on the ground as I walk past the shoppers and workers. My face is twisted up in confusion and pain. I cannot seem to move quietly any more. I am loud. And Heavy. I am loud and heavy. I ripple when I walk and shake in and out of all this dream or reality or whichever one it is…I am much too heavy and the look of my face draws away the eye. No one can see me now. I am much too… No one can eye me out here. Dare not to speak my name. Bu I do speak it…over and over in my head…a constant chorus, a refrain, a repeating mantra praying its hot-breathed sighs to a heaven frozen under and over…hard as glass. I speak my name to myself, all alone in my mind…echoing as I walk…I say it because it soothes me. I am uncomfortable alone. I am uncomfortable with others. I need peace. So I calm myself as I walk through the monsters and the graveyards of monsters…a grey tomb etched out of the sky looming dark over me…casting shadows I can never hope to see through. The world surrounds me. I breathe hard. Lines and words wrapped around me like a band of leather…like strings and strips wrapped around my arm…like tefillin…all up my arm. Place before my eyes…in the center…a box of heaven…open it up and let the law scroll out and read back to me the word…line by line…the case against me. Oh strapped and cut and twirled in string and reeled in, caught in this net…I made this thing I am trapped in, I made it with your eyes…with my hands and your eyes and words words words.
And you shall love the lord your God with all your heart
With all your soul
With all your might.
The little red car that nearly crushed my left foot rushed by so fast…so fast…I was almost knocked flat by the wind. My hair blew and bounced. My face felt so tight and dry in the wind. I walked to the closest window to look at myself but I swear I could not see me…I could almost…almost…catch a glimpse but the light would change and the background noise would ripple the whole scene and distort…just distort…I swear I could not make out my face. I rolled my feet over the soft rocks, the smooth tiny stones at the edge of buildings. I stood straight and quiet. I waited in the open air but nothing happened…so afraid of not moving…cannot hit a moving target but nothing happened there for a minute but best not to take chances…to take those kinds of chances…test the fates…got to get moving.
The lines of everything seem out of place and stunted. Nothing seems as settled as it did the last night or the night before that…what is coming of the world? Why the spaces so strained? Everything flogged and fogged up and boxed in and turned around. I walk down through the maze, the wilderness, my fingertips gliding along the limestone cement walls of these mad buildings. My fingertips dusty, leaving trails, leaving trails so that I can find my way out of the labyrinth…fight my monster and follow my chalky bread crumb hand prints out…oh to my peace and freedom.
I turn the corner to a familiar street. My pace quickens and my heart flutters its last flutter and the beating beat of my rapid pulse slows. The cool iron rail, ribbed, spines, wrought iron, bolted into the side of the revolving Earth, feels good under my palm. All the beauty in this world right below my hands, like words, words raining down from the golden clouds, raining sleets of steel glass, puncture holes in my skin, dotting with red blood, with words all in lines…perfectly lined up lines…straight as sticks in row rows rows.
I pull madly at my hair. It hurts. I do it again. I pull it up in places just so I can smooth it back down. All this awful rushing around. The sight of blurred insanity, the smell of the terrible coming apart…coming apart at the seams…at the weakest spots. The only way to destroy a thing is to get right at it in the weakest spots and tear and pull and yank and torture and torment. I toss a loose bit of crumb-covered paper in a wastebasket. The sun glows red through the hell of a sky above me. The glass in the windows reflects the ugly heat back at my pinched, pulled skin. I cannot stand the way I feel. The sweat comes rolling down my brow like water, waves and waves of hot sick water…the tides…my tides…ruled by the moon…some heavenly body too far out of my reach to petition, I cannot make a case for myself to any heaven...too far away...held too far away...the distance...the distance makes me a monster. A wounded animal biting at the world in rough frustration. Too many horrible years terrifically piled one on top of the other…high up to the watchful hands of that which damns me…dirty things and awful days piled up up up to make a great scene…a great stink…a tower…a tower of Babel. Disperse me, confuse me, make my ways undone, make all these things my hands have done come to naught…don’t let me build build build. The laughter I hide deep inside myself comes bubbling up. My face cracks wide open. I know that this is all there is as I pull my hair…hard…I pull my hair winching and laughing as all these lunatics skitter around me. Breaking like waves of water on a stony beach. I walk in strides too large and almost falling over, my hands all twisted up in my hair and pockets. I am Nimrod, builder, hero, hunter. I will shoot my arrow into the sky. I will make my mark in your stars. The laughter is too much for me. My feet can’t carry me along.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 46: radio

We continue our Harold Robbins Award-winning serialization of the unexpurgated “director’s cut” of this masterwork by the man Harold Bloom called “not only a great film-maker and a great novelist, but a great guy”, a man I am honored to call my friend and mentor, and at whose Mission/Colonial house on North Ivar Avenue in Hollywood I have spent many happy hours: Larry Winchester...


Early September, 1969.

That land of enchantment, New Mexico.

A large Victorian house on a ranch just several miles outside of a town called Disdain...

(Click here to review our previous episode. Go here to return to the beginning.)



Dick lay on the bed, his hands folded behind his head. Only the one night-table lamp was lit. Daphne was taking her turn in the bathroom, and he was still wearing only his old kimono. he could smell the beef roasting down in the ranch-yard, and he was hungry.

He had Big Jake’s son’s transistor radio sitting on his stomach. So far, nothing.

Then someone or something spoke in an electrical voice and he sat upright like a shot and the radio fell off his stomach and down between his legs. He stared at it, the voice continued but it was not coming from this radio. It wasn’t making any sense either. It was either speaking some foreign language he’d never heard or the transmission was screwed up in some way. But where was it coming from?

Over there. Near that chair. The chair he’d thrown his safari jacket on.

He got up, feeling as if he were in a dream but knowing he wasn’t that lucky, and he walked over to the chair.

He stared at the jacket. The voice was coming from that pocket, definitely.

He reached into the pocket and took out the shot-up transistor radio. The voice continued to crackle from it, pouring right out of the bullet hole in the front of it.

Daphne came in the door, draped in a Palm Grove Hotel bath towel.

Dick was sweating. He could barely talk.

“Daphne.”

“Yes?”

“Can you hear this?”

“Yes. Of course I can hear it. What is it, Swahili?”

“Daphne, this radio is wrecked. It has a bullet hole though it.”

“Oh. How come it’s working then.”

“I -- Daph --this is the voice I told you about.”

“Oh. So you weren’t kidding.”

“No. Of course I wasn’t.”

“Well,” she said, “I thought maybe you were speaking -- you know -- metaphorically.”

“No,” said Dick.

“So, what’s it saying?”

“I don’t know.”

“But before you could understand it.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Well, turn it off if it’s not going to speak English.”

“I can’t turn it off,” said Dick, clicking the useless on-off switch. “It wasn’t on in the first place. It -- it --”

“Well it’s damned annoying,” said Daphne.

“I know.”

“Give me it.”

“Why?”

She came over and held her hand out.

“Because I’m getting rid of it.”

He handed the jabbering thing to her.

She shook it, then stared at it.

“Damned annoying,” she repeated.

She went over to the open window and tossed it out. It emitted a slow thin disappearing whine as it fell.

“Nasty thing,” she said. “Creepy. Now let’s get dressed for dinner. I’m famished.”


****


Agent Philips had been standing bemused watching the bare-chested sweating Chang turning the enormous side of beef on the spit and occasionally squirting it down with what looked like blood from a giant-sized syringe (which was otherwise used to inject cows with sperm) when the transistor radio landed in the dirt a few feet to his left.

He glanced up and then around, and then went over and picked it up.

It seemed to have just dropped from the sky.

It seemed to have a bullet-hole through it.

He looked up at the massive and looming house. The thing could have come from any number of windows, or even from the gabled and towered roof.

No one else seemed to have noticed it. He looked it over again and then put it in his windbreaker pocket.



(Continued here. Coming soon, from Ha! Karate MultiMedia: a special double-sided DVD of two of Larry Winchester’s classic action epics with Dolph Lundgren: Blunt Force Trauma {1992} and Coup de Grace II: Galactic Hitman {also 1992}. Featuring interviews with Dolph, Larry, and Blunt Force Trauma co-stars Lance Henricksen and Kari Wührer.)


Monday, October 11, 2010

diary of a heretic, chapters 17, 18 and 19

to begin at the beginning, click here

by kathleen maher

pictures by rhoda penmarq



17) Alone Again



I knew it was coming and it did: Carlos is gone. He’s gone but he’ll return. Even if five days is not long enough to establish a routine, let alone what it felt like—a lifelong ritual involving our entire beings—I am have absolute faith. Carlos will come back and we’ll return forever to the world we so effortlessly made together.
All morning long, I tried to ignore the impending rift. Before, after; then, now. Totally within the moment, I recalled an aphorism about not knowing what you think you know and vice versa. Carlos commented that it was too cold for clouds to form. I answered that that was a myth, cold doesn’t affect clouds like that. The sun, though, was blinding; the sky excruciatingly blue; the els and buses running on schedule.



I spent the morning absorbed in details—details were all: the smell of coffee, the wiggly activity of customers, the sound of crockery knocking together, the way my hand looked on the countertop, and oh a hundred other things at once. My life was the same now as ever. And whatever happened—happened. Using all restraint, I tried not to try.
And yet—there was no ignoring the crystalline air outside our doors being too sharp to breathe. Or the rock-solid, six-foot-high snowdrifts rising every several feet. Paul from Mystic made it through the alley, though.



And Louie Duvall’s man triple-parked in front and dollied the flour in through the restaurant. Even old Mr. Downey and old Mr. Hedlund trudged their way in today, and shook their heads at the way I do business: letting delivery men in through the front. Tsk, tsk.



At noon, Carlos whisked off his apron and I knew: He was leaving. Busy checking Louie’s order, I fiddled with the paperwork. “There’s supposed to be no charge.” My voice was anxious to attract Carlos’s attention, draw him to me.
He was zipping his jacket, hoisting his backpack. A nasty chill leapt from my nerves to the pores of my skin.
Had Carlos brought his backpack down at four this morning when we flicked on the lights and beat on pans, rushing out Mason and Roger?
I would have noticed. But I would have noticed more if he’d darted up at some point to fetch it from the apartment. yet there it was dangling from his gifted, gloved fingers. He had his jacket zipped, his stocking hat on his head.
Louie’s driver was saying, “Relax, man,” and pointing to the “ppd.” scrawled at the bottom of the page.




If Carlos waved or nodded at me, if he mumbled, “Later,” I was aware only that as the alley door bounced shut behind him, the air turned bleak. Everything went flat, everything looked fake. And from then until now, it’s been all I can do to force myself to go through the motions—“Hi, good to see you. What can I get you folks?”


18) Lard Logs



I think if I weren’t writing this down, I would have lost my mind by now. Carlos is still gone; he did not come back last night, or the night before. I can see now how ridiculous it was for me to expect him to. But expect it I did: every time Mason or Roger turned or coughed downstairs, I listened for the next sound, which I was sure would be that of a lock turning, a door opening, Carlos in the kitchen, up the back stairs. Sounds that never came.
 By Saturday afternoon I’d recovered from Carlos having left for a while After all, the man had to go home. Put on fresh clothes, check his mail, check his phone machine. And by eight that next evening, serving college kids coffee and brownies to fuel their resumed studies, I was telling myself it was good he’d left when he did. After five straight days and nights, we needed a short spell to take stock of ourselves, clear our heads. Carlos had trusted me to understand the situation tacitly—and I did. (And I’m still telling myself this—with one slight alteration: that what happened during the storm was so earthshaking we need an unspecified amount of time, rather than a short spell, to take stock, etc.)
By nine o’clock last night I was absolutely convinced he was on his way here. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, that’s long enough. Carlos was going to show up any minute. To get myself ready, I closed the shop early. A picture was stuck in my mind of myself posed nonchalantly in the narrow arch between entranceway and bedroom as Carlos rushed to explain where he’d been.
Mason and Roger tapped on the front window.



Letting them in, I said, “One false move and you guy’s are on your butts in the snow. No, fuck that: one false thought, if you guys still have thoughts.” One of them mumbled something at the floor. The one I think of as Mason clutched his crotch and winced.
“All right, all right, I said, furiously, “But hurry.”
Then I stood outside the men’s room, holding the door open and yelling, “Come on, come on, Jeez.” I made sweeping motions with my hands. “Wash up and let’s go.” Then I kicked the air near where they lay their heads.
Upstairs, I took a long shower. If Carlos should arrive while I was in the middle of luxuriating under the spray, he could just wait on the landing until I was done. Twice while drying myself, I thought I heard him there. Half-naked, I opened the door and peered down the chilly dark—empty—stairwell.



Oh well, better really if his first glimpse of me was while I was busy, fully clothed, hair dried. I put on an ironed white shirt, a sweater vest, and jeans that were tight before the storm.
At ten-thirty I was happily finishing Friday night’s wine. He’d arrive in an hour or so, which would be perfect—there’d still be time for him to circle the floor in my robe, iron balls chiming in his dexterous hands. At midnight I was still telling myself he’d come any minute. At one and two I was listening to every creak, every rustle and sigh. At three I was praying. Preparing myself for four, when he’d arrive for his shift downstairs, turn on the lights and the radio, as if nothing, nothing, nothing had ever happened.
I promised myself I’d wait until seven, as I always used to—before the snow. But at five when he still hadn’t come, I raced downstairs and rushed the bums out. No food, no bathroom. I screamed curses, berated their mothers, and locked the front door behind them. Then I turned on the fryer and started a huge batch of cake donuts. In twelve years Carlos has missed work three times.
At six-thirty I sold eight large cappuccinos to go and a dozen of my inferior donuts. Unlike Carlos’s, mine made grease spots on the white paper bags before I’d even finished ringing up the sale.



What if something terrible had happened to him? At the cash register, I had a cinematic vision of myself behind the wheel of a car. The speedometer was stuck at the far right; the brakes did not exist. And I had to fight the impulse (as a customer had entered) to throw my arms up over my face. . . I sold an old man a cup of Lipton’s and a plain cake donut and then hurried back to the kitchen, where I found Carlos’s unlisted number scrawled in a tiny, ancient address book tucked among the old ledgers. Twice I dialed the number but hung up mid-ring.
I made four pans of brownies, because my brownies if nothing else are as good as his. The third time I dialed, a man trying to sound like a woman (or vice versa) said, “This is Venus. How may I help you?”
Then Stephanie burst in, cursing before she’d even gotten her coat off. Where the fuck was Carlos?



“Like I’m supposed to serve your lard logs and—hope people tip out of pity?”
Where was Carlos; where was Maggie?
“Isn’t Maggie,” I asked Stephanie, “supposed to waitress with you?”
“That’s not what she does. Maggie the waitress; what a laugh.”


19) Be A Man and Ask



A dismal omen: the first customer this morning was an old woman with shoe polish in her hair, who handed me a dollar (sixty-two cents short but I couldn’t bear to quibble) that was translucent from age, as soft and warm as living tissue. Then after a slow, dreary day, at 8:00 PM, with the shop empty—relief and fury. He appeared!
 Breezed in with the voluptuous, beautiful Maggie Townsend, on his arm. I watched from behind the swinging door at how she slid out of her ankle-length coat, wiggled in her low-cut dress, and squirmed in her chair. And from where I stood, Carlos the militant ascetic, Carlos the nonpracticing homosexual, seemed oddly flushed. His attention horribly, peculiarly riveted. Stephanie’s big block-shaped backside obscured my view. As if she knew. Or not as if—of course she knew! Blonde hair bristling, she asked if they wanted my “artery cloggers?”
Then as Carlos’s covert operative, she stepped far enough left for me to see him ease himself free from his leather jacket and smooth an Irish sweater over his chest. He was telling Maggie that he couldn’t recommend anything except maybe my brownies. I watched him take off his fleece stocking cap.



His hair was loose, clean for a change, and to tell the truth, beautiful. He reached for the girl’s pale, plump hand and pressed it to his mouth.
And I clutched the doorway. Maggie leaned over the table, pressing into it as she whispered passionately. A second later, the vicious Stephanie caught me watching them, and with a snide grin, flapping their receipt. “Pellegrinos, Malcolm. No ice. No brownies.”
I had six carrot cakes baking. Vaguely aware I was hyperventilating, I began crossing the room to take them out of the oven, when I felt his breath on the back of my neck. He touched my shoulder, traced a line down my spine to my waist. If I hadn’t bitten my tongue I’d have moaned out loud. As it was, my traitorous body shuddered with unmistakable, horrible, pleasure. “You can always tell a true saint,” he whispered, “by how long and how hard he resists.”
I wheeled around, confused and desperate. Because the words were his, the breath, the touch—but the voice was Stephanie’s! And it was she who was standing there, grabbing my belt loops. She narrowed her mean little eyes, released me abruptly, and said, “Go on. March on out there, Malcolm. Be a man, and just—ask.”







chapters 20, 21 and 22

Sunday, October 10, 2010

favorites

by rhoda penmarq






when i was born i made a list of my 25 favorite universes

when i opened my eyes i made a list of my 25 favorite ceilings







who each made a list of their 25 favorite spiders




who each made a list of their 25 favorite flies







who each made a list of their 25 favorite windows

outside the window i made a list of my 25 favorite flowers

who each made a list of their 25 favorite bees






who each made a list of their 25 favorite skies

who each made a list of their 25 favorite clouds

who each made a list of their 25 favorite raindrops








who each made a list of their 25 favorite umbrellas

who each made a list of their 25 favorite doormen

who each made a list of their 25 favorite hotels

in their 25 favorite cities

in their 25 favorite universes



entering the lobby i asked the desk clerk for my 25 favorite newspapers

which i took up to my 25 room suite on the 25th floor









where i read my 25 favorite comic strips

and checked the scores of my 25 favorite teams









and the progress of my 25 favorite wars

fought by the followers of my 25 favorite gods









who each made a list of their 25 favorite followers

but i wasn't on any of their lists







so i cried 25 tears

who's your favorite?