Short Story: Spengler and I

clownfish

Old Spengler and I – my 7 foot companion with orange afro and gingerbread beard – had gone into London for a pleasure outing that very quickly turned squiffy. It had been business as usual, only, minus the business, when, after one too many left turns and margaritas, we found ourselves in circumstances that really would rather not have had us in them. But circumstances can’t always choose their inhabitants. It’s a tricky business being a circumstance. I should know – I’m a very circumstantial fellow, as all but Old Spengler would agree – but I’m not here to arouse your sympathy for circumstances. I’m here to relay you a story. The Case is as follows:

 

It all started with a wet dream.

Wet dreams have a way of sneaking up on you. You can be there in bed, dreaming as usual, following the same old avenues of reified thought, as old and as stale as movie picture cave paintings, when, out of the abysmal blue, up crops an image out of the despicable archives labelled ‘SELF INDULGENCE’, under the subheading ‘Ejaculation’, reminding you that you aren’t quite as clear of conditioning as you thought you were. I’m strictly off the porn, you see, as celibate as they come, if you’ll excuse the pun; but that was not always the case, as my mind so gleefully likes to remind me, assailing my sleeping self with stray images of thighs, breasts, buttocks, and other arousing body parts disassembled sporadically before me in an orgy of anatomical dissociation – only the choicest cuts from my ejaculatory history, you understand, the ones always guaranteed to give – and here I am, in a right old sticky mess, in between sheets whose snuggle percentile has markedly dipped in the last few seconds.

Fortunately, I lost little of my vital essence. I’ve been practising non-ejaculation for a while now, and my pelvic floor muscles are so tight, that my urethra can close-up on any escaping semen with all the might and finality of a descending iron gate.

It’s not my favourite way to be woken, but it got me up just the same, and just in time to find an old flame of mine, bikini-clad and unconscious, lying on the ceramic floor of my hotel shower, eleven stories above ground.

But things had gotten weird much sooner than this, so forgive me while I meander.

 

We got into London two days ago. But the London you think of when I say London is not the one we’re currently inhabiting – this is InterLondon – an undemarcated, unplaceable domain that exists between, in, and around London, but not exactly within any specific region, manifesting whenever you’re not looking, and disappearing just as quickly when you get wise to it – it is a plexus, a network, a slender framework of spectral constructions available to all, but accessible only to a few – it’s not your choice, nor anyone else’s – the only thing that counts is whether InterLondon think you’re a right fit for the place or not.

And, you have to be the right fit for a place like InterLondon, an insidiously enveloping breeding ground where the cream of the crop and the dregs of society come to romp, coerce, and comport themselves, contorting through tunnels and supersonics railways that wend around the city like public service rollercoasters, built for your daily travelling needs. Thing about these ‘coasters is that they circumnavigate orientation in the same way that they circumnavigate the city, and even the most honoured and slandered of patriarchs and gun molls couldn’t tell you where any given line will depart to next; it’s very much the luck of the draw – though anyone who would bring luck into an equation as inauspicious as this, seriously needs their algebra examined. No one has to pay for anything in InterLondon – the whole place pays for itself. The only price is your acquiescence; your willingness to surrender completely to a place where danger is tattooed into the very matrix of the zone itself, and hardknocks come at you as quickly as the testicular balls of a poor man’s lottery. I do not use this allusion lightly. On former visitations I have literally witnessed poor men being castrated en masse and their detached testicles being used as lottery balls in some far from gnarly application. After a lengthy spell of tension accumulation during which the balls are juggled in the machine for the tediously-chilling time duration of twenty minutes, the first six balls to be removed – and the owners to which they once belonged – are spared; but those whose severed testicles are not so forthcoming get killed on the spot, and have their remains fed to oversized Dobermans who get fed steroids in liquid form from their waterbowls. But to die this way is the preferred choice. Those who survive must last out a life no man would want to endure. There’s lives are prolonged needlessly to the point of comparative immortality, so that the abuse that can be inflicted upon them is not limited by either their life-spans or innate frangibility. I pity such souls. But Pity does little good in hell, where it only serves to fan the flames.

I always like to have Old Spengler with me on a case such as this. He’s one of the few people I’ve ever known to be born in InterLondon, and actually possess a desire to go back there. There’s just something about the guy. Someone could spit the guy right in the face – provided the wind was on their side, which it seldom is here – and he would just smile benevolently down on them, like they’d done him a favour, given him the name of a great restaurant, or a terrific new band on the scene or something. There’s plenty of good music here, mostly Jazz and Psychedelica, and Spengler could always be found somewhere near the front, nodding his head copacetically, digging the vibes, and casting a huge pall on all the audience members behind, many of whom, despite getting egregiously pissed off, somehow seemed incapabable of starting a fight with him: the penumbra of delighted unconcern it cast was just far too effective a palliative – and any that didn’t need to be injected or sniffed in a place like InterLondon was considered a bonus.

That’s not to say that Spengler’s rap record was a clean slate, no mama – mostly just minor infractions he joyously admitted too – one time he stole my watch, and then gave it back three years later, never did understand why, never liked that watch, think it was his idea of a prank, funny sort of humour he has sometimes. A couple of people in the herd had bandied about the word ‘rape’ a couple of times, but I never believed it, not Old Spengler – who could help but be delighted by the gentle promiscuity of a clown such as him?

 

So, you may be wondering what we’re doing here. A vacation in The Yellow Springs is not a popular destination choice; but, neither Spengler nor I could be considered popular people, so who are we to pick and choose?

Spengler had really wanted to come and see The Oil Slick Lakes. If you could avoid having your tie and your Rolex wrenched off you by the caged baboons near the entrance, then visiting these squalid wetlands was as good a pleasure outing destination as any. Piles of clownfish were all hustling as close to the shore as they could get, as though they were flirting with the idea of becoming land-based animals, but hadn’t quite yet developed the determination to commit. We poked our fingers into their tiny, suction cup like mouths for a few hours before moving on, and everyone in the streets looked at us like we were gods. Oil Slick Lake fish are considered some of the best eats in the world, and I’ve seen gang lords and Yakuza Kings turning themselves in, on the offchance that a policeman’s bribe to give them one of these fish in the hoosegow might turn out to be less than bullshit.

They were best eaten as a sort of sushi, with the skin kept on so you could still appreciate their inverted colours of albino white with orange stripes snaking like copper-soaked seaweed around them, as though that might have been the thing that squeezed them to death, and not the strange instruments the fishermen used to catch them. They looked halfway between vacuum cleaners and pneumatic drills, with only a passing resemblance to the function of either. For nights passed now I’ve been haunted by the dream of a man trying to vacuum inside an infinite void – but that’s the thing about InterLondon – here, life and dreams get reversed – you do all your office hours and work while you sleep – real living is for demoniacs.

To be served an Oil Slick Clownfish is a major occasion: one of both deathless solemnity and Dionysian fervour. There’s a reason criminals with a tyrant’s command of obedience are willing to get locked up just to try them, for eating one in public is as good as signing your own death warrant.

You see, though rarefied, the public taste for Clownfish is high, superlatively psychotic, and if anyone sees a man have a piece, then everyone wants a piece of that man, literally. First, a Bacchanal is thrown. Everyone drinks wine to surfeit, and vomits it up as freely as it formerly entered them, joyously dancing, and swinging barstools around for salsa partners, upending pinball machines, and writing letters home telling their deceased mothers how much they missed them, and then burning them immediately after, because in an in-between metropolis like this, you could never be too sure who had killed their own mother, and who hadn’t.

After this, an Asiatic gong is sounded. The chef comes out dressed to tens as a Chinese emperor, and places a golden platter before the incumbent consumer. Everyone turns completely silent, and no one makes a single sound nor belch as the customer, slowly, and delicately, consumes every last flake and morsel of the fish with as much as care as they can. There is no time limit to how long a person can take to fully consume an Oil Slick Clownfish – filleted or not – some reckless souls polishing it in hour; but most doing their utmost to draw it out for a day, weeks, and – in a few famous cases, recounted from restaurant to restaurant – months. Some golden fellow was once reported to have spent a full nine years eating the clownfish: but only the most earnest of devotees believe this legend, though few eateries would be seen without a statue of the figure, positioned somewhere very noticeable and eminent within their establishments, usually near the entrance or on the cocktail shelves to usher in good luck. As for the audience, people will often give up their whole lives, going from restaurant to restaurant, just so they can always be there to participate in the glorious waiting of this festival – for, as soon as the meal is over, and the last shred has been sinfully swallowed to everyone’s satisfaction, then the audience let rip – the honoured customer is torn apart in a riot of deranged connoisseurs, all plunging straight for the eater’s stomach or bowels in the hopes of even getting a smidgeon of the flavour of the fish that once passed through them – or was still passing through them, depending on the swiftness of the meal. Sometimes an observing customer, driven rabid by the waiting, would shout “WOULD YA HURRY UP ALREADY?!” at the eater for fear that all morsels would be digested and shat-out prior to his actual evisceration. But there was an etiquette at these occasions; and sifting through the customer’s toiletries was strictly verboten, as was a fellow customer’s right to interrupt the sanctified silence no man may break. Of course, there was a small black market of sewage marauders selling bagged shit they claimed had once been pre-digested Oil Slick Clownfish – but only fools bought these, and no one lent much credence to their supposability, or to their proffered delicacy.

Most of the time, people obeyed the rules. An orchestra of Tibetan dungchen players was kept close on hand; and, as soon as the (purely functional) cannibalistic riot was in motion, the players would blow, and blow hard, filling the violence-sequestered rooms with their cacophonous flatulence. So esteemed is the Oil Slick Clownfish by these peoples, that it is the patron animal depicted on every InterLondon flag; and its mystical, benevolent, but wily character is the subject of many myths and creation stories and children’s cartoons.

Old Spengler is the only man I know who has ever tasted an Oil Slick Clownfish and lived. I remember his Consumption Festival well. After the Bacchanal, every one simmered down to silence, as Old Spengler slid himself into his royal booth, and sat before the fish. He looked at the fish long and hard, as though he were somehow willing it to start flapping about on his plate, unmindful of the audience members looking at him with an equal rapture of rapacity. I just didn’t understand his behaviour. I had tried to talk him out of it fiercely and persistently. But he just did not comprehend that to submit to this indulgence with tantamount to signing the certificate of his own murder, and just kept on assuring me what a tasty fish it was going to be.

I should have known better, and expected something of this sort, given how well I know Spengler; but, when he picked up the whole Oil Slick Clownfish with his right hand – the insult hand in InterLondon – I just could not believe it – what was the motherfucker going to do? Surely he wasn’t going to eat it whole! Who would throw away an opportunity as hallowed as this! I could even hear folks around me, falling for the same racket, literally sharpening their knives at the prospect of consuming what must have been, undoubtedly, the freshest Oil Slick Clownfish anyone had ever eaten vicariously.

But when I saw that big old Zen Monk grin impale itself on his face, I knew my man hadn’t quit on me just yet.

Sticking out his tongue, and spinning it in a circuit as though to warm it up, he pointedly applied his tongue to the fish’s tail, and licking it as slowly as any man would gurglingly dare to do, he covered its whole length and breadth, taking extra care to lick around its eye sockets three times; and then, before we knew what was happening to us – (because, to be honest, I had been just as ready to tear him to pieces as anyone else, if only out of deference to both custom and our friendship: I knew it’s what he would have wanted) – he flung it down disgustedly on his plate, belched out a proclaimatory “YUCKK!” and stormed out of the restaurant. Apparently, a few kids did follow him, and pester him into cutting out his tongue and giving it to them; but I don’t know if this is true – (Old Spengler has always claimed he has ability to regrow his tongue at will) – and, how he ever got away with it, I’ll never know. Spengler says it’s because no one ever remembers his face.

“But you’re seven foot tall for Fish sake! And you’ve got a ginger beard – and an orange afro to boot! How could people forget your face?”

Spengler shrugged.

“Anyone could have those attributes. Like I said, it’s my face that people don’t remember.”

 

So, in honour of this anomalous event, it was customary for us to visit the Lakes whenever we had time off from work to take the chance.

Earlier in the day we had stopped off at a shopping mall for a McDonalds. (They sell battered imported Clownfish for the kids’ Happy Meal which is kind of cute. I guess they have to learn about these things somehow). Not that I was eating; I was engaged in other things. But once I was too tired to continue and went looking for Spengler so we could go back to our respective ensuites, I found him leaning against a non-drive thru window, talking to a little girl of about six. I had no idea what they were talking about at the time, and it escaped my mind to ask him later when I got the chance. But the thing that struck me was that Spengler looked serious. Spengler never looked serious. The only time he did was when he farted or took a shit, and it was generally a convention of his to do neither in front of children. I was concerned to say the least.

When our fingers were numb from being sucked on long enough, we were going to head back for the night and call it quits. But then Spengler called out:

“Hey, what’s that?”

I looked in the direction his voice implied, and saw an enormous black tadpole the size of a squashed submarine.

“Shit, man!” I exclaimed, “Look at the size of that thing!”

We looked at it in wonder and disgust for a few moments before we attained the same chilling realization as eachother.

“If that’s the tadpole . . .” Spengler began.

“Then what the fuck is it going to grow into?”

We both took a few moments to let this digest.

And then something happened.

I thought about the wet dream I was going to have tomorrow morning.

And then everything came full circle.

***

It wasn’t easy getting Catherine to come to. She did not respond to verbal commands whilst unconscious, and – given last year’s arm operation – it was a bit of a drag getting her out of the shower and into an environment a little less hypothermia-inducing. I did what I could to warm her up and get some clothes on, which all made me feel a little too close to being James Stewart in Vertigo. Believe me, I was not feeling sentimental. I just wanted to get some answers and resolve this madness as quickly as possible, so that Spengler and I could resume our pleasure outing as though it had not been interrupted. It had not been an easy year, and we needed this time to come back to our senses.

As she clearly needed to rest her brain from whatever trauma had driven her into this state to begin with, I left her to it, and began to idle around. Sure, there are plenty of things in InterLondon that could have this effect on a girl – that was no surprise to me. But getting here at all? That’s the bit that did. Cath knew nothing at all about InterLondon – or even Spengler for that matter – and though I had had a couple of cases here while we were together, none of my files on the place would’ve made much sense to her, as I write them all in a tiny, coded, shorthand even forensics experts have been unable to disentangle.

So how did she get here?

As I said, this isn’t a place you can get to, even if you want to go to it or know about it. The only certified admission pass is being the right fit. And Cath isn’t. I’ve never known a broad to be pure-minded and free from sin or confusion, but she was the real deal. It’s no wonder we didn’t make it.

But, then another thought crossed me.

Just because you can’t come in by your own willpower, that doesn’t mean someone can’t get you in by means of theirs.

I reflected on this a spell.

Was there any precedent of anyone being smuggled or kidnapped into InterLondon?

None that I knew of from my own limited experiences, but that’s not to say there’s wasn’t.

I was going to have to do my research on this one.

I would have gone to the library right there and then, but I didn’t want to leave her alone, just in case she woke up, flipped out, and tried to hurl herself out of a window or some other crazy activity. I had never heard of any outsiders coming to InterLondon before, and I wasn’t sure of what the side effects might be – how could I be sure she wouldn’t immediately start screaming on arousal, and go straight to with the heart palpitations and skin blemishes. I cast a glance over at her. At least she looked fine now. She can’t be hurting too bad. But adding consciousness into any equations is always a bit of a wild card, and I did not want to try my chance by being negligent and leaving her here alone, so the library would just have to wait. So I called up Spengler, asked him to come over at his earliest convenience, and just waited it out.

 

 

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The Tea Chronicles: Chapter Three

green-hills

I enjoyed whooshing along through the long Grasses on the back of The Dragon Queen. I won’t deny that I got an erotic thrill from it – for an immortal, she was quite a fox! – but I was quick to redirect the flow of this sexual energy, as I knew she would immediately sense it – as she must have done already – especially as such a fantasy could be precisely the verboten thought that could set off the afeared response in the grasses that she had been so guarded and cryptic about.

I must admit, I also felt slightly envious. I have always wanted to be able to change my form instantaneously, like a cartoon character; but, while I have been able to warp my thought body during meditative experiments, even during lucid dreaming, my body has always remained rigidly in form, and I’ve never quite been able to fly. But I knew, as my dragonian reflection in the water had already proven, that it would not be long before I was shapeshifting with the best of them, and able to fly, crawl, and dive at my leisure.

Just as I was beginning to day-dream, and drift off into my desultory thoughts, The Dragon Queen landed abruptly but softly, and changed into her fully humanoid form again.

“We’re here,” she said, sombrely.

I looked forward, and I could see a prominent mound, protruding regally before us. The land we had travelled through had been almost invariably flat, with the exception of the sense of a barely perceptible escarpment in the distance. So, seeing this sudden swelling was quite stimulating to the geography of the mind. Both The Dragon Queen and I could sense its prodigious retention of energy.

“Is there anything in particular that I should say and do; or not say and not do?” I asked, suddenly aware that this was likely to be a portentous encounter.

The Dragon Queen smiled and said:
“Just be yourself. You will learn Immortal Etiquette – and how to go beyond it – along the way. Be your fully authentic self. That is why you are here, after all!”

My fully authentic self felt pretty uncertain at that moment in time.

But The Dragon Queen, reading my thoughts, mollified me, saying:

“If you are feeling uncertain, then be uncertain, and make no decisive movements until it has passed. Decisions are thing to be accepted and acted upon – they are not to be rushed, or forced into existence.”

I breathed in the wisdom of this advice, and we walked lightly and solemnly towards the mound.

As soon as we ascended it, we saw The Master of the Long Grasses, sitting placidly on the ground, his tea set laid out before him. I could see the tea steaming perfectly in the gilded, simple, china cups, and could not wait to hold it lusciously in my mouth. It smelled slightly sweet, and I suspected that it was some type of oolong, supplemented by an additional herb.

The Dragon Queen bent on her knees, and genuflected before The Master.

“I am sorry for our tardiness,” she said, humbly and sincerely.

“It does not matter if you are late in keeping appointments, so long as you are prompt in following The Way!” Quipped The Master. “The tea is still warm, so please! Drink!”

I settled down on a mat, sitting on my knees in the Asian fashion, and slowly picked up my teacup. It had a golden edge around its rim, with a fascinating design comprised of many ornate balloons floating through the sky. It was a beautiful design, and, when looked at closely, gave the impression of enormous depth.

The tea was still too warm to drink, so I just enjoyed inhaling its sweet steam, feeling the heat of the cup in my hands, and admiring the loaded potentially of the deep, clear, golden elixir.

“And how did you get along with my grasses?” asked The Master of the Long Grasses, smiling mischievously.

“No incidents, so far,” I said, in a way I hoped sounded winsome.

“Good, good!” He responded, good-naturedly. “Never can tell what that raggedy bunch will take to, next!” Winking. “But you’ll have to excuse me if you find me coarse. It’s been a long time since I’ve had visitors!”

I took this statement as an opportunity to examine The Master properly. He had a long wispy beard, tied up hair, and emanated immense purity. There was nothing ‘coarse’ about him.

“Speaking of time,” I began. “Since we’ve been in this realm, I’ve observed that, although we’ve been travelling for several hours now, the quality of light in the sky hasn’t changed at all. Why is that?”

“Why, he’s a very canny fellow, isn’t he?!” said The Master, turning to The Dragon Queen, and raising his thick, cloud-like eyebrows in comic fashion. “The answer, my boy, is that time moves very differently here from the way you’re used to. That’s why I chided your elegant proprietor for apologizing for her tardiness- a side effect of spending too long in lower realms, no doubt. You could no sooner be late here, than insult a Buddha, and get a beating for it. You probably can’t make it out, due to the somewhat infinite, and mirage-infested, horizon we have here, but it takes the sun no less than fourteen million years to set on this planet. For that reason, it has become known as ‘The Planet of Perpetual Dusk.’ Of the length of the days, I cannot speak. But suffice it to say this: It has been a long time since I’ve seen the night-time.” And, with a slightly crazed look in his eyes, he urged us. “Your tea should be cool enough now. Please, drink! Go on – drink!”

I needed no more encouraging. I took a sip, and was instantly refreshed by the tea, which caused my whole being to shudder with relief. Being without tea for long is like being without love or oxygen – it is always a cathartic and seismic response when you taste it again. The tea tasted clear, and sweet, and had a delicious, ineffable quality to it, that I could not readily describe.

“I know it’s an oolong,” I said, “but why does it taste so unique?”

The Master of the Long Grasses looked pleased.

“It is a Premium Ginseng Oolong,” he said. “After the leaves are steamed, withered, oxidized, and rolled, they are coated with powdered ginseng and liquorice. Here! Look!”

He offered me a small tub of the tea in its unbrewed form. It looked very strange, a mysterious green colour, flecked with gold, like a rare, but volatile rock from a distant moon.

Reading my thoughts, he said:

“Distant Moon Oolong – that would make a remarkable name for it, wouldn’t it? I may start calling it that from now on,” and then, standing up, and directing his voice out towards the grasslands, he shouted “DISTANT MOON OOLONG! DISTANT MOON LOONG!”

We both looked at him quizzically.

“Just letting the grasses know,” he said, sheepishly. “They’re very into that sort of thing. But it is very important that you drink up. I do not give you this tea, arbitrarily. A long and dynamic journey has been arranged for you by the heavens. Ginseng is an immense repository of celestial yang energy, and so is this mound. As such, it nourishes the vitality, and increases the strength. But not all of the places you will be travelling too will be quite so nourishing, or accommodating, with their energy reserves.

“As a human, you have been habituated to living in a solar system, and that relationship to the sun has informed a good deal of your understanding of the astronomy of the cosmos. But there are many different types of planetary system in the universe, not all of which could be said to possess such a unifying, and radiant centre. In fact, much of the cosmos is littered with Lunar Systems – in these, an enormous moon serves as the centre, around which all the sibling planets orbit. Unfamiliar with fire or solar energy, these planets live in a deadened, haunting twilight, beset by interminable waves of hallucination and delusion. There is no mediating ego or waking consciousness here – only the mystery and danger of darkness. It is quite a thing to look upon whilst voyaging through space – all of these bewildered planets moving slowly around a watery, tyrannical moon, in a slow, and sluggish procession. The planets are all deeply bewildered and imbalanced, and, thus, often collide into one another, sending shockwaves throughout the galaxy. We refer to these Lunar Systems as ‘The Nodes of Yin’.”

“Will I ever have to go to such a place?” I asked.

The Master of the Long Grasses nodded gravely.

“On this Moon, called ‘The Floating Pit,’ there is a network of caves. At the bottom of this cave is a chamber of frost and snow. If you can melt this snow, and turn it into water, it can be used to make The Broth of the Illumined. Of course, you will meet many dangers and guardians along the way, but isn’t that always the case when apprehending something profound? You may even have to die before you drink it.

“But let’s not dwell on such things, right now. Such travails are a long way off, and you have not even finished your first cup of tea since leaving the planet Earth! Settle your mind. Leave danger for later.”

With that, The Master of the Long Grasses ceased speaking, and we drank our tea in silence, the whole planet enshrouded in peace, as the sun continued to set at its own impenetrable pace.

Chapter Four: The Shaman and the Stripper

Strip

So Roxy The Doxy was there on stage, in the dingy gloom of our windowless club, swinging around her flail-wielding tits, like a warrior with an axe, getting her freak on, when, in a professional lapse of sagacious audience participation selection, she completely mistook her mark, and flung a piercing tit right into Paper Thin Louie’s face.

The whole building was instantly in uproar. Chairs and tables upended themselves, and people rioted in a benevolent frenzy, as Paper Thin Louie exsanguinated all over the place, twitching on the floor like a dying insect, and moaning a pallid moan.

“What are we going to do?! What are we going to do?!”  both the denizens and staff of the bar wailed.

Louie was practically the patron saint of The Smoking Waldorf Strip Club. It would be quite impossible to carry on the institute without his geriatric felicity to sustain it – or, at least not without a lengthy interregnum in which to find a suitable replacement. Every strip club needs its own mascot. Some take this tradition more seriously than others. But, at The Smoking Waldorf, this famed institution was as beloved as that of The Dalia Lama[1].

Things were not looking good for Louie. His semi-translucent pallor with giving way to a proto-invisibility that had a way of mirroring, refracting, and dissolving all light-reflecting objects around him. As the girls busied themselves frenetically around him, jets of rainbows burst out of the projected opalescence of his skin, momentarily mystifying everyone. All the girls stood about stupefied, waving their arms lucidly through the rainbows, like a group of stoned flower-children at a love-in. The closer his de-bloodifying brought him to death, the more brilliantly his opalescent emissions seemed to flicker, until all were almost joyously blinded by the greatness of the light. The warmth of his august soul enveloped everyone, all and sundry unified in this strange, magical moment.

But Missy stuck to her guns. She wasn’t going to be fooled by a pretty light show. Pulling up her G-string authoritatively, she yelled:

“If you’re all quite done tripping your tits off, you might remember that we have a dying old man on our hands. We can get squiffy with the mushies if you’re still riding this hippie shit later on – for now, get into formation, and save this man’s life!”

Their bedazzlement utterly obliterated, they all snapped to attention, as Missy meted out the orders.

“Ginger – check his pulse and vital signs. Tiffany – massage his feet and extremities to ensure venous return. Cathy – get down on his dingle and do your thang – let’s see if we can’t convince his blood that it has better things to do right now than leave his body.”

“With honour,” Cathy squeaked, as a tear of respect rolled down her cheek.

“Okay, Elliot – I need you to run upstairs, darling, act with tact and diplomacy, and get one of those sore-ass junkies lodging upstairs to lend you a syringe. Try and choose the one with the least amount of hepatitis virus coursing through their system. You’ll have to use a judgement call on that one. Mary Lou – fetch me a quart of blood, AB Negative, from The Surgeon’s fridge. And Sherry – be a daring and fetch that enormous rubber dildo I like to spank people with. I don’t really need it, but it just helps still my mind, is all.”

“Haha! A bit of fetishistic  meditation to quiet the consciousness – got it!”

Everyone rocketed off to do their assigned tasks with vim – particularly Cathy – except for Mary Lou who looked lost, and upset that she couldn’t be so immediately helpful.

“Umm, Missy? What blood is that you be talking about? Ain’t no blood in the fridge, girl. All we’s got is ketchup and May-O-Naise.”

“What do you mean, no blood?! We always have blood! Jessica uses it every night in her seedy, throat-slashing routine. How can we not have any blood?”

“Don’t you remember, hon? Jessica’s strung-out. She OD’d at Ledo’s two nights ago, and she took all her blood with her. She says she likes to have a tipple or two of it when she gets her dragon chasing gear on.”

This was not what she wanted to hear. She couldn’t let Paper Thin Louie die just because some selfish strumpet couldn’t tell the difference between cocaine and compassion. She was on the verge of slashing one of her tits and getting Louie to suck the blood from them, but she decided against it. Her club couldn’t survive anymore without her tits than without Paper Thin Louie. So, sighing, she deferred that idea to the waste basket, and did the only thing she could do.

“Okay, Mary Lou. Get the ketchup. We’ll just have to hope there’s enough sugar in it to keep him stabilized until we can get him to the hospital.”

“Won’t it be all sludgy and shit?”

“Most probably, Mary, but we have to work with what we’ve got. Boil it up on the stove as quick as you can, and see if you can liquefy the viscosity out of it. A single ketchup clot to the heart could kill him like that, so we need to keep it as streamlined as possible.”

This last tremulous order clarified, the salvage operation was in full swing. The only girl not in cahoots was Roxy The Doxy, who was looking very doe-like and un-Roxy-ish, weeping her mascara into oily rivulets.

“I – HUUUUUHHHH – KILLED  – HUUUUHHHGGGHHH – HIM!” she blabbered between sobs. “EVERYONE’S GOING TO HATE MEEEEEE!” Coming towards Missy for a hug.

“No one’s going to hate you,” Missy assured her. “And take off those tassels of yours before you come near me. We don’t want anyone else bleeding to death today, do we? You might want to think a little about recalibrating your act.”

“Sorry,” says Roxy, pulling off her tassels with a POP-ing suction cup sound, going in for a hug with Missy, and weeping into her glitter-freckled tits. “Is there nothing I can do to help?”

Missy mulled.

“All the bases have pretty much been covered; but if you want to make yourself useful, then you should say a prayer – Lord knows we could do with one right about now.”

“Who should I pray to, Missy? Jesus?”

“Jesus? Hell no! What do you want to pray to that nobody for – he ain’t a surgeon! No, if you want to pray, pray directly to Louie. It’s really only his choice whether he lives or dies now. You might be able to sway his mind.”

“Okaaay, Missy. Sounds a little kooky to me, but, if you think it’ll help, I’ll do it.”

So, Roxy The Doxy takes a latex nun’s habit from a nearby mannequin, kneels next to the weeping body of Paper Thin Louie, clasps her hands devoutly together, and prays to him. Prays to him to stay alive, not to reject the condiment transfusion, and NOT to give up the ghost.

Louie was still looking luminous to the point of invisibility, but his incandescence was beginning to fade to a much more sober hue. Cathy was unable to coax an erection out of him, and his pulse was becoming as irregular as an Alaskan Milk Round. Death was doing more than just knocking at the door – he was using a wrecking ball.

The rescue operation started to coalesce. Elliot was back with a clean-enough syringe and an eye dropper. It didn’t really matter if he got HIV at his age. He’d be dead long before the virus’s variable incubation phase was ended. So long as they could keep him alive, and retain his mascot-hood for a few for months, they would have enough time to find his successor, and negate the inconvenience of another interregnum. Times would be hard if The Smoking Waldorf had to close down, if only temporarily. Stripping in Alaska was tough when the chips were down. Missy could probably get by meagrely if she doled out a few karate lessons a week, but she feared for the safety of the rest of her girls whose attention span when it came to non-erotic work veered between the dangerous and the non-existent. This place was a ghost town at the best of times, and while that meant no shortage of abandoned buildings to squat, doing so in a place with no food or central heating was tantamount to suicide, especially with the fishing season so far off in the future. We need you, Paper Thin Louie, Roxy Prayed, please don’t leave us yet.

Mary Lou had returned with her concoction of boiled-up ketchup, which they busily filtered into the syringe. They tied the tourniquet around his right arm, and tried to find a forthcoming vein. There wasn’t one: all of them had receded to the submarine depths of his disappearing cardiovascular system – they would just have to try their luck, stick the ketchup-conveying needle any old place, and hope they could trick his body into thinking it was haemoglobin until they could get him on the back of Minnie’s motorbike, and drive him to safety.

It was an intense moment. Naturally, Missy was the one to deliver the shot. All of the girls gathered around, in various stages of undress, biting their lacquered nails nervously, except for Roxy who was still praying. Missy plunged the ketchup into his body slowly, replacing it with vial after vial, until all had gone. When the final one had been injected, they were finished. All they could do was wait for a response

[1] Was there a tradition of reincarnational succession as with The Dalai Lama? No one has ever been tell me so. The attributes of a successful candidate have more to do with his – (this being a patriarchal ascendancy) – venerability and psycho-physical quirks, rather than any belief that he is carrying the soul of his former incarnation. Proof of this is the fact that many mascots have been elected whilst their forebears were still in existence, though, in light of the evidence that it is possible to split up the soul and live many lifetimes at once, this proof may be debunkable. Some believe that there are only 12 main souls in existence on planet Earth, correlating with the vagaries of the Zodiac, and that all the peoples on this planet are just fragmentations of these official main twelve. Though the same could be said regarding the inherent oneness of all things, DoDecaDaoism – DDD for short – is an interesting subsect, with many doctrinal quirks of its own than can be inferred elsewhere.

Short Story: The Universe Eater

whale

Swimming about the universe, there is a whale so large that there is no earthly measurement system yet devised that is sufficient to measure and compute its size. Even its relative size cannot be computed, because, never having seen it, we have nothing with which to compare it. It swims about in the effluence of space, navigating by a means we have yet to understand, so big is its body, that not even the myriad stars and planets it passes are sufficient to exert a pull on it. It moves with ease, and, when it opens its enormous maw, it is quite capable of consuming whole clusters of solar systems with all the ease that a baleen whale might lazily engorge itself on a shoal of krill. For this reason, it is colloquially known as ‘The Universe Eater’. No one knows how often they procreate, whether they are divided into male or female, or even if there is more than one of these whales altogether. Some have hypothesized that, were you to dive to the bottom of the universe, where Dark Matter is at its densest and darkest, there you would find their resting place, whole pods of Universe Eaters all reposing in silence together, satiated and exhausted by glutting themselves on who knows how many planets. There they rest for countless aeons, before lumbering back into matter to begin their repast anew.

Their place in life is likely an ecological one. Even if the universe is constantly expanding, there must needs be those who prevent it from becoming unruly and frayed around the edges. An untended garden can quickly begin to stifle itself. The same is true of infinity. So they rise, and consume, in languid consumption, stop galaxies from choking each other, and quench the finite in their dark matter bellies.

The scope of a Universe Eater’s mouth is so large, and its process of digestion so long, that the world in which you currently find yourself could already have been eaten by one, and you wouldn’t even know about it, for everything that you’ve ever known, or ever been able to see, will have been consumed right along with it, and you’ll have no means to distinguish the difference. Even so, the organism of The Universe Eater is largely translucent, and being consumed by one does not alter your perception of light and dark. Its bowels are massive. Their convolutions are unknowable, and its digestion mysterious, but it may shed some light on the beliefs of cosmologists, The Big Crunch being merely the anomaly of its bowels constricting around a given universe it has swallowed, and The Big Bang a rare example of its cosmogenetic flatulence, farting worlds to life. The Milky Way dribbles out of its blowhole, and its stern-like underbelly is tattooed with barnacled nebulae. So large is this fish, and yet there are beings out there that can pierce it on the edge of a needle, and use it to make sushi. There is no difference between being eaten by a Universe Eater and not being eaten by a Universe Eater, so why mention it at all?

There is a man out there who hunts these whales. Eating of their blubber is said to confer one with immortality, and imbue one with the safety of non-being. He rides alone on a ship of his own making, manned entirely by his thoughts, stirred by oars of intention, and sails capturing the winds of fancy. No one knows how he trained to hunt these whales, or how he managed to build his boat. He has never seen one of these whales, propelled by faith, and hardened by a determination that cannot be fractured. He could even be carrying out his hunt entirely inside the belly of one of these Universe Eaters, and he would never know about it, hunting for fire in the belly of a dragon, stalking through a forest in the mouth of a deer,

He does not know

He does not know

His flesh is a creamy silver, tanned by a million moons. His skin is smooth, and remains untouched except by the very basest of elements. He hums whaling songs to himself sometimes. He knows how to exploit the natural acoustics of the universe, and has isolated a number of ‘sweet spots’ where things can resonate in all directions with the minimum of effort. This practice may not be as innocuous and as whimsical as it seems to be. Some think – (for it can be heard anywhere within the stretches of these dimensions) – that it is his attempt to imitate the song of The Universe Eaters, and thus lure them into the scope of his harpoon. If that is his intention, it is a futile one, to be sure. The crooning of a Universe Eater is an empty waveform that ensnares all those who hear it. It is a song of anti-matter that inverts all who hear it; though, it is so low, that it cannot be heard, nor even felt. As soon as it touches you, you are transformed beyond all ability to perceive it. So, to be sure, hunting these whales is a risky business, and one that pays little, except for those who are fanatical about it. Economies work very differently in realities in which immortality is the norm. Debt is a concern of those who die. But sell a Universe Eater to a specialist who favours it, and you’ll be set up for life.

Chapter Three: The Shaman and the Stripper

Alaska

I didn’t always find it this difficult to associate with others. Working in a strip club in a small port town, I had plenty of time to appreciate the characters that wove their way around me. I was just the barman – not involved in any of that happy-clappy business – and I got to vegetate behind the bar glamorously, all day and all night, beatifically taking in all who made use of our services. One girl who used to come in to work the joint, and take it off for the gents, was a young girl from Wisconsin who’d come to Alaska after her last boyfriend gave her a black eye one too many times. This treatment has caused her to spend a lot of time reading up on military tactics and street fighting, and so she had the remarkable ability to conceal knives in her teeth – collapsible knives hidden between her molars and premolars. I don’t know how she did it – and she never explained the trick – but it had something to do with cavities, I guess. We assumed she must’ve been wearing dentures of

a highly refined type, and had some way of jerry-rigging them to contain sometimes sort of quickly accessible knife-sheath, but she never would affirm or deny any suggestion she made. In fact, she refused to admit she had a knife at all, and always held firmly that she had never possessed one in her life.

This was obvious hokum. The girl could hold the blade like a seasoned street fighter, and moved as fast and as nimbly as a spider. To think what she could do with eight legs gives me the shivers: with only two, she could move faster than a neuron synapses.

Those of us who worked in the club (or regularly frequented it) always knew when something was going to go down. It usually began innocuously enough. A misogynist customer, or a guy who was too blazed and didn’t know to keep his mouth shut, would start talking too big, and making too little of her. This was something she could not stand. She was a proud woman, and would not take shit from anyone, especially men.

So, she’d let them laugh for a few seconds, indulge in their own inebriated vainglory, whilst she’d be there, onstage or in the bar area, disingenuously looking the other way, acting like she was too pissed to care, insouciantly reaching into her mouth as if to clean her teeth, when , WANG DANG DOODLE, out it would come, slicing and dicing and flailing around, cutting up her victim until he looked like an incised palimpsest of his former self. She had principles though. She was tough, but she didn’t want any homicide or grievous bodily harm charges on her hands. So she was always careful only to incise the foremost and most superficial aspect of the epidermis, holding her blade lightly like a fountain pen, and tracing it keenly all over her adversary’s body, and severing a nerve or two when she could, so that the appearance of the damage was always far worse than any harm actually inflicted. The schmoes very rarely had the gall to take their case to the police, which, at the end of it all, consisted of little more than an intricately woven web of very painful, but light, skin incisions. People such as this very quickly learned not to come back to the club ; and those that did seemed to have sincerely learned this lesson. Of course, you always got the morons who just would not quit. Getting a reputation for being a tough little missy, there was always some ball-yanking bastard looking to prove that she wasn’t all that, and rejuvenate his own waning machismo. But they never succeeded. Missy she was just too tough. No one ever got through the other end of her dancing spider blade without looking thoroughly blended afterwards.

But if you knew how to comport yourself correctly, and how to keep a tight rein on the more saucy aspects of your tongue, then Missy was alright, and a generally cool cat to be around. She could also be useful in emergencies.

One of the other strippers, Roxy The Doxy – AKA, Roxologist The Doxologist – had a real scintillating routine in which she’d attach nipple tassels the length of flails to her breasts and wave them around in violent, concentric circles, lashing out spontaneously at guests who looked like they were in possession of submissive, masochistic proclivities. This was usually received well, and was considered an integral part of the visceral pyrotechnics of the show, until the night she accidentally lashed out at Paper Thin Louie.

Paper Thin Louie was a highly respected patron of the bar. So old as to be emblematic of the past before he’d been thoroughly relegated to it, he was, as his name suggests, an absolute paragon of frailty. Like an ancient book that’s falling slowly to pieces and becoming gradually unglued from its binding, his various body parts and organs seemed to be completely dissociated from one another. The very matrix of his connective tissue was a shambles. If you so much as breathed too heavily in Louie’s direction, it would affect him like a heavy gust: ripples would appear on his skin like wind blowing on water, and the sound it would make would be like heavy gale tossing about a crinkled tarpaulin.

Sometimes, the girls would go home with him. Despite his nonagenarian status, the girls seemed to have a perverse fascination with him. The fact that a man could be so flimsy and live, and do so with enough libido to take part in erotic floorshows, turned them on immensely. They knew he had more offspring than could be counted by your average high school dropout, and were all eager to see how he would manage to perform so adroitly, in spite of his frangibility. The man may have been a papercut away from a tombstone, but what do I know? That was one tombstone who knew how to deliver.

The girls never did divulge exactly what Louie was like when it came to the bedroom arts. For my part, I suspect he never gave in. Strip club enthusiast though he was, he never struck me as anything less than a complete gentleman. I think he just liked the attention. They just probably went back to his small, shorefront apartment, and watched the gelid surf crash titanically against The Pacific Rim, tossing up seals, dolphins, and other imaginary behemoths in the coruscating fractals of the waves. Maybe he did ball them, I don’t know. A man such as Paper Thin Louie is impervious to scrutiny, but ripe for speculation. All facts dissolve into uncertainties and hearsay in the face of his mystique.

For some of the girls, I know this fixation was a purely anatomical one. Though both of them refused to tell whether he’d performed for them or not, both Ginger and Sherry confessed that he’d gotten naked for them. Apparently, you could see his organs floating about his body as clearly as fish in a dirty aquarium. His skin had all the consistency of an unpolished lens. They both sat there for hours, in awe of his dermatological lucidity, and pawed about the floor like children, analysing him in his nudity from every conceivable angle. They drank him in like a warm beverage on a cold night. Apparently, he struck a pose, and let Ginger do a still-life drawing of him: though when I asked Ginger if I could see it, she stayed silent, and acted as though I’d said nothing. In a dive full of belligerent, professional nudists, you learn very quickly not to repeat yourself.