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.

 

 

Short Story: Reuben and the Octopus

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After being shipwrecked, I woke up with an octopus wrapped around my chest. I started into her molten, goat-like eyes. Her gelatinous body was the color of the rust and red tree fungi.

I asked her what she wanted with me. But the octopus just throbbed and buzzed, emitting a devil drone that both terrified and pacified me with its malefic magnetism.

I lay on the beach like that for a while. The waves playfully molested the sands, and my feet began to freeze as the tide rolled in.

By the time it was midnight, I was violently cold, and my body was convulsing in a futile attempt to rescue itself from hypothermia.

But the octopus remained unmoving, her golden, glowing eyes lamp-lighting my face, so that I could never forget who was allowing this to happen to me.

After I had died, my wife lifted up her veil with her tentacles, and kissed me with her suction cups in the moonlight.

“Why did you have to kill me?” I asked

“I always hate it when you don’t come home,” she said.

We spent the rest of the cosmos frolicking in flames.

The Tea Chronicles: Chapter Two

Dragon woman

Once we had passed through the miraculous vortex of the tea tin, we found ourselves in a beautiful field of swaying, long grasses, the whole region doused in a perfect smattering of lambent sunshine. The Dragon Queen, who, at first, had a dragon’s tail for a bottom half, quickly absorbed her tail, and exchanged them for a sleek, pair of velvety legs. She wore white imperial robes, and had long pink hair.

“You didn’t have to get rid of your tail on my behalf, O great Queen. It didn’t make me feel that insecure.”

“Different realms are more amenable to different forms,” she said, smiling at me softly. “It is better to be all things in all circumstances, than one thing in every circumstance – though, the highest masters make no distinction between these. But, sometimes, these changes and alterations cannot be helped. Like you cannot help getting wet in water, or being set aflame in fire, so you cannot help changing into different shapes when you go into different realms. Check out your reflection. You might look pretty different yourself.”

Doing as she instructed, I moved towards a small pool to the left of us, and checked out my reflection in the surface of the water. I was shocked to find that I, too, was dressed in imperial clothing, though mostly in black; but, more shockingly, I found that my face had taken on a slightly fearsome, dragon-like aspect, my beard, moustache, and hair billowing goldenly, almost like fire, so much so, that I made quite a scene, and began swatting at myself to try and put it out.

“You do not need to be disturbed,” assured the Dragon Queen. “One of the reasons I chose you as my tea student was for your fluidity and malleability. I have seen you take on and cast off many identities over your short life as a human, and your longer one throughout the cosmos. Just because your changes were usually internal, it does not mean that you should be affrighted now that they have leaked outside as well.”

“But why am I so dragony? And what is this ‘longer life throughout the cosmos’ you speak of? Just how long have you been watching me?”

“In order to be taught by a dragon, you must become as a dragon. But don’t worry, that appearance is not permanent. The first principle of being a dragon is that all appearances are illusory and subject to change, like the quality of smoke being influenced by the fire it is exuding from. But there is always something beneath the fire. Always something beneath its beneath-ness.

“As for your longer life in the cosmos, I shall not trouble you with that now.  The more you traverse these strange and myriad realms, the more your natural memory of them will return. It is quite an organic process, and you need not dwell on it now, for we are late in meeting ‘The Master of the Long Grasses.’

“Alright, I’ll bite – who is The Master of the Long Grasses?’

Before she had time to answer, we heard the distinct, sharp call of a heron, which, having stood silently on the other side of the pool, now took off grandly into the air.

“That was The Master’s Envoy,” she said, biting her lip. “The heron is flying off now to inform him of our imminent arrival. We must be off. We had better not disappoint him.”

I took this as an indication that our question and answer session was over. But as we were journeying down a perfect path between the long grasses, with a silent rustle of her white robes, she said:

“It is advisable that you keep thinking to a minimum as we travel through these long grasses.”

“I’m sure that advice is generally applicable to most things,” I concurred, “but why here in particular?”

The Dragon Queen looked like she was struggling to answer this, but finally she got it.

“The consciousness of these grasses is, ugh, very sensitive, if that’s the right human expression. In the same way that someone lightly touching the hair on your arm can send shivers all through your body, or the millions of nerve fibres that all contribute to the joyous delicacy of the clitoris, these grasses could be said to possess a similar refinement in terms of their sensitivity.”

“What would happen if I thought too much?” I asked, feeling curious.

“It’s not so much a matter of ‘thinking too much’ so much as what you think about.”

“So what is it that I shouldn’t be thinking about?”And concerned that this might exasperate her, I added, “Just so that I know not to think about it.”

“If I told you what not to think about, it would happen immediately..”

“What would immediately happen?”

“The thing that we don’t want to happen.”

“Which is?”

“Again, if I told you, it would immediately happen. So it is best not to talk about it. Quiet your mind, and centre your awareness. I can hear The Master of the Long Grasses pouring a cup of tea for as we move.  So we must hurry, or else it will be cold when we get there. Which would be a considerable blow to our progress. So, hurry, hurry!”

With that admonition, she unleashed the full, glorious flowing dragon tail of her underparts, and, straddling my legs around it, we travelled at enormous speeds, through the whirling long grasses.

And, if you want to know what happened once they met The Master of the Long Grasses, you will have to wait for the next chapter!

The Tea Chronicles: Chapter One

Dragon Tea

Although retailers of tea are only merchants, I tend to look upon them as gods; patron-saints of the divine tea leaf that have deigned to reduce themselves to human form in order to peddle their holy elixir for our ignorant consumption.

I saw one such woman in the marketplace yesterday. She was a crooked old thing in a cloak, whose body looked like it had been carved out of unruly, knotted wood, a scream of skin and bark, wound into a moving, human sculpture. But, in spite of her crippled body, she could not have been called ugly: she seemed to be of Asian, possibly Vietnamese extraction, had smooth, unwrinkled skin, and I noticed more than one young man looking in her direction, in a mixture of lust and confusion.

Though she must have been there to make money and sell her wares just like the others, she didn’t seem to have done a very good job of it: there appeared to be only one tin of loose leaf tea on her merchant’s table, which was otherwise pristine and empty.

I walked over to her out of curiosity, and, as I did so, the air grew thicker, and the cacophony of the other marketers faded into a muted, muffled pulse, the condensed heartbeat of grass roots’ commerce.

As I looked at her, her robe, once uniformly black in colour, began to exude a lashing of slow, waveform colours, as though black was just the contour she needed in order to amplify these hidden torrents of psychedelia. Her face shone like an evening candle, and her crippled body began to unwind itself, almost like a large snake uncoiling itself after a post-prandial slumber, as she chanted this verse from the Tao Te Ching:

 

Crippled becomes whole

Worn becomes new

 

Her whole body arched itself up to the ceiling in a curvature that defied the limitations of Euclidean geometry, and looked down upon me. Her colour-swaddled body was now the shape of a long tube, and it did seem that she may have been some sort of phantasmagoric serpent, except for her very pinnacle, which, at least, seemed to remain semi-human.

“I can’t see you up there,” I said. “Would you mind coming down?”

She lurched down swiftly like a body of falling water, and hovered her human-segment before me. The emanations of her golden hair filled the entire hall, and soon threatened to enwrap me like a spider packaging its prey in a cocoon of moribundity. It was hard to concentrate on her face, but also difficult to look away from it; it dizzyingly flickered between many women’s faces like a malfunctioning algorithm, though I’m sure I occasionally saw it flicker into the moustachioed face of a golden, oriental dragon.

“How might I be of service?” I asked, somewhat uncertain of the protocol and conduct of such situations.

“I am The Dragon Queen of the Northern Tea Hall of  the Inner Heavenly Mansion,” she said. “I have searched and swarmed the whole world over in search of someone who truly understands tea. I wish to inform you that you are the living finality of my search.”

“Yep. That’s me,” I said. “I know a little about tea. How long have you been looking for?”

“Oh, only for a couple of millennia, during breaks between my shifts at the palace, not very long. Though I have had to undergo great hardship in many of the dimensions in which I searched. Some worlds consider dragon queens to be consummately tasty, and it was only through my wiles and perseverance that I was able to escape, un-shishkabobed.”

“How do you travel?” I asked.

“I travel by tea,” she said, matter-of-factly. “As you know, every cup of tea is a gateway to a new universe. The problem is, it is exceedingly difficult to determine which universe you will get. It seems to be very dependent upon which tea leaves you use, where they were grown, how they were harvested and manufactured, the brewing time, and what tea ware you use to harness its creation.”

“If you don’t mind my prying, may I ask what variables you used to get here?”

“To get here,” she said, “I drew my water from the Star River, boiled it up in The Big Dipper, plucked my tea leaves directly from Lao Tzu’s beard, fermented them for a thousand years in the halls of Jupiter, and brewed the tea in a pot fashioned from the ribcage of an Arcturian Space Whale.”

“I bet that tasted good.”

“It is better that we don’t speak of that now. Not everyone will be pleased that I am disseminating this forbidden knowledge for the holy brew. Come with me,” she said,” Before we get discovered.”

And, at this, she opened the top of the tin on her table, pulled me in, and we travelled far and in wide.

And if you want to know where it is we went, you will have to wait for the next chapter!