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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Parable: The Master and the Disciple

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Disciple Funnyguts went to visit Master No Worth.

Bowing before his teacher, the disciple beheld him with great reverence and humility, and said:

“Master – I am very ignorant. I know very little about anything, and my mind is very simple and slow. Won’t you please accept me as your pupil, so that I can learn to be a great sage like you?”

Master No Worth regarded the Disciple with a ferocious gentleness.

“Why come to me?” He asked. “I know even less than you do!”

Disciple Funnyguts thought about this for a few moments and then said:

“Because, one day, I hope to know even less than both of us combined.”

The Master was greatly pleased by this. He bowed to his student, descended from his throne, and gave him a present.

“Please accept this gift. It is an acknowledgement of my respect. In it are contained many treasures. These treasures encompass everything you will need to succeed on your spiritual path.”

The student was so excited that he rushed back to his chambers, lit some incense, bowed to a statue of the Buddha, and, with great joy and felicity, he set about opening the box.

Once he had removed its lid, the Disciple expected his eyes to be near-blinded by the glistening, mysterious treasures he anticipated finding inside. But, once he opened it, he found there was nothing inside the box – it was just an empty box.

The Master sneaked up behind his pupil, and with great compassion said:
“My gift to you is emptiness. Keep it, treasure it, and never lose it. If you can keep it close to you at all times, then you will never want for anything.”

 

 

 

Short Story: The Samurai

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The Samurai was upset with himself.

He had spent years training in the Way of the Warrior, refining and strengthening himself ceaselessly, acquiring understanding and skill in the myriad transformations and the non-acquired form of formlessness.

He had mastered inner tranquility and renounced all his attachments; engaged in bloody battles as if they were no more trivial than child’s play. He had severed the eyelashes off mosquitoes, and gorged himself on the blood of his gurus. He had meditated in charnel grounds, piling up pillows of corpses as his meditation seat, inhaling the fetor as though it were nothing at all; nuzzling himself into the flesh of death, as though it were the bosom of his very own mother.

In short, the Samurai thought he knew death. It no longer chased him like a pirate’s black flag – he threw himself into it, like a child into a carefully designed pit of multi-coloured balls. If there was a pit of snakes, he would entangle himself in it; if there was a wild boar, he would wrestle with it; if there was a demon, he would convert it; if there was a delusion, he would obliterate it.

But the Samurai knew nothing of death, nothing at all, nothing whatsoever. He had steeled his senses and brutalized his ego mind until he truly believed there was no foe he would be afraid to face, no battle he would balk at the notion of engaging in. The blood of the world was the medium in which he moved; the skulls of the fallen were his best friends, and the chalices from which he scooped their victorious brains.

But, for now, the samurai felt a terror – a terror he had truly never felt before. Of course he had known fear, he had always known fear – he had known it in more battles than he could count, and more quivering heartbeats than could be enumerated. But that was always a manageable fear – a fear with a purpose – a fear with a very practical intention of fulfillment in mind.

This terror was different. It had no logic – only a throbbing tachycardiac pulse. This was a fear beyond destruction – a fear that even his unity with destruction might have been destroyed.

But that was what he had come to realize. He had merely flirted with destruction up to now. All his tireless training, his indefatigable cultivation of mind, body and spirit – all of that had merely been foreplay preparing for the main course – a rape of his will that threatened to shatter the very last bastions of selfhood he had not even realized still existed.

For the Samurai had met a girl. And the girl was nice. She had beautiful eyes, and a smile, and all those other things nice girls are in the habit of having.

What’s worse is that this girl mattered to the samurai. Her being, her presence, her life-hood – all these energies of her essence intermingled with his own to create a horror of insecurity – the literal chastisement of security. The Samurai had fought in battles without weapons, nude and devoid of armour, clubbing opponents to death, not with a club, but with the sheer ferocity of his willpower.

But this girl had penetrated the cracks in his armour – wormed her way into his body like an intestinal parasite, and forced him to have feelings.

Of course, such feelings had arisen in the past. But they were brief, and light, and frivolous, and no heavier than a monk’s pay-check. This was strong, onerous, burdensome, impossible to lift. It was stronger than him. It was an enemy he could not defeat.

And so he accepted the defeat that had always eluded him. Accepted it into heart, into his mind, into his muscles, and into his bones. He let the defeat wash over him like the smothering mother of the ocean. He let it perfuse his veins, enter his cells, causing mass cell die-off and DNA scrambling. He let the defeat endure in his body, and his face – gone was the ferocity, the colourlessly stern face of death – now he was just a quivering tumour, a jellied milksop, a tear momentarily animated by a human form. He was pure pain, pain that cannot be ameliorated, pain that cannot be denied, pain that cannot be ignored. Pure unacceptable pain that you have no choice but to accept. Pain, pain, pain.

And it felt wonderful! All the accrued tension, all the habitual firmness and indomitability had finally been dominated, and it felt great!

And so the samurai buried his corpses, treasured away his skull cups, took off his armour, assembled his scars, kept defeat as his only possession, and entered into the corpse-strewn battlefield of his lover’s mysterious arms.

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.