On my couch I daydreamed the Lady of Night. She wore an eggshell dress. Her wedding day? who can say? My imagination clawed for the clasps of her brassiere. She looked in the mirror with icicle eyes preparing herself with talcum powder, when I changed from the channel. Shamefaced.
The next scene was me. On my couch with a virtuality visor suctioned to my face like a plastic octopus. I laughed. I laughed. I watched myself that way, watching myself laugh, then turned the channel again wondering whether what I’d seen was indicative of that old question posed by the 12-fingered typist, in, An Exit At The Inner Door, Into... Not our best work. But the line which came to mind, appositely, was this:
“Do Dreamers Dream Dreams Or Do Dreams Dream Dreamers?”
Paradoxical sleep, the REM state, is the stage of slumber wherein we dream vividly, experience electrochemical sensations most similar to our waking physiology. The paradox lies in lucid dreaming; we are awakened to a dream.
Needless to say, but we’ll say it anyway, you’re smarter than the rest. Come on. Don’t kid yourself, kid. The time is late. Way past your bedtime. Should you be watching? Who’s will will stop you? Nobody’s. If not you. Your generation admonished real sleep. Real? Spiel. You know where fun is! Right here. On DreamScape 1 Mid-Day. The Russian dancing bears are back. And so are the Tellugio twins with their irony, their wit. But wait, there’s more. More? you say? Heck yes. Stay tuned for your favorite, our special slumberer... 874. You heard it here first, friends. Plug in, to ON.
The dreamer dreamt of a faceless man stood fronting a forest’s parted seams. Like a curtain of clasped fingers, unfolded, curled into the palms of a piney dark. Moon a cueball at a cornerpocket of sky. The man entered neath an arch of intertwined Loblolly Pine limbs, an arboreal gate which closed behind as he padded foreward thereon following the flickering green bioluminescences of fireflies. A smatter of hieroglyphs writ vertically on bark as rosin. Illumined crimson by the lightning bugs. Peridermal symbols sapped forth. The firefly flock led him along a decline unto clayey lowland. A marshy draw. Their lights dispersed. Shades of darkness. Shadows of shadows. He stopped. Ankle-high in water reflective of naught. He looked aloft a gap in the overstory. Starless. Sightless. Only the soft moon unmoving basked in the gone sundown. The sun witnessable as a refraction. Firmament unflowing. Time thereby untraceable. The earth bore his dun gaze. Cypress stumps like armless dwarves. Oddly-toed footprints stuck in the muck. The faceless man fit his barefeet in the impressions. He trekked the tracks sinking more each step till his nose filled with mud. He sunk. His eyes like two beaming marbles balanced on the murky meniscus. Then, with one sucking fwoomp, the mire swamped him to its shifting bedrock. Gloppy globules bubbled upwards. And...
Is Evil Afoot...? STAY TUNED. DON'T TURN THE CHANNEL! HERE, WE’RE DREAMSCAPE.
With no ado, we resume our regular programming:
No no no, 874. Wake up! spoke a voice in his inner-ear. Cockadoodle-d’you hear me, 874? Your transmission has stopped. Wakey wakey. Gather your shit. And so then go up to E-val. Mister Officer Welks awaits you.
The man, number 874, brought his hands behind his head to the nylon straps of his virtuality visor.
The swollen voice cautioned: And no pitstops at a crapper.
His stomach felt like a bagged raccoon fighting to get out.
A pause in the visor’s transceiver. Two clicks and a beep.
He let the straps slap back against the base of his skull.
A different, distinct yet sexless, voice entered the auditory void: Richard Roe, s/he called him. Check your pockets. Therein’s a key. Take it to Terminal 1 Lotus Lane Station. Locker 9-B. There’re instructions inside.
And then the transceiver was white noise. Like synthetic crickets stridulating at crescendo. Richard removed the visor and rested it in its plastic mold atop his desk.
Images inside the visor ran last fragments of his daydream fantasy... the faceless man with a thousand fish flew through the galactic pond. The cueball moon struck from its cornerpocket floated freely across the cosmic table. Infinite.
Roe rubbed his raw brow. Touched his temples. Brushed back his brown crown of hair. Shaved bald atop. A tonsured hairdo. An ecclesiastical cut. He fished the key from the kangaroo pocket of his ‘blues’— cobalt blue Every Wear coveralls. The key; a square bow, tapered shank, with an intricately cut bit. Roe did not clutch it long. He studied his blankface reflected in the visor’s dead display. Him, fisheyed. Exaggerating an exhale he spun in his swivelseat pushing palms off of his knees.
Sheit, spoke 874— Richard.
He’d the need to defecate.
It happened thusly; when paradoxical sleeping ended, an abrupt urge to vacate the bowels erupted. Sleep scientists were still unsure why. Several theoretical dissertations examined the issue, including the infamous, Dr. J.B. Durn’s, An Excretory Essay: On Fecal Matters, Fecundity.
“Primates in captivity (we are not referring to clerical ‘Primates’) show signs of slumbrous onanism. Colloquially called ‘wet dreams’. Three orange orangutans —Otto, Priscilla, and BoJambo– after receiving sedatives for sleep either excreted feces and urine or jism. Upon awakening it was noted that the animals were not ashamed. No. Rather, they appeared tranquil. Zen-like. Otto, for example, an otherwise irritable knuckledragger, signed that a great weight was lifted. Asked if he was lonely Otto said, Otto no.”
(excerpt from: ‘Do Apes Dream Of Be[com]ing Human?’)
Richard Roe noted the rows of turned heads at cubicles. Faceless. Wired in. Their virtuality visors clamped taught. Shoulders squared or slack. Some, as he strolled by, slouched and toppled from their chairs. One frail woman faceplanted. The prone crone’s matchstick ankles convulsing sparklessly. None awoke, however. Digital clocks suspended from the ceiling on cables showed the time in hours, minutes, and seconds, which each sleeper was required to sleep. To dream their diurnal dreams. Then, each was snapped from their subconscious reveries by an alarm inset their virtuality visor.
Richard hadn’t checked his own clock. Nor did he need to. He knew they’d pulled his plug early. His alarm never sounded dwoop!. If it had, he’d have hit snooze. To hold a fading feeling a few moments. No such luck.
The room where the slumberers worked/slept/dreamed was bare with bad flourescent lighting which gave a funereal quality to everyone, everything.
Purposeful deadness. Even pain to death is a delight. Death knows not. A clear compartmentalization of cubicles and wasted characters set therein. In morgue-like workrooms of their own making. Living graves and deathmasks.
The daily grind.
Richard Roe passed the last two slumberers. Sat stiff in their chairs. Woodenly so. The one on the right’s clock clicked 00:00:00 thence awoke and sat at a 90° angle. Excruciatingly postured. Suddenly, his head spasmed atop his nape, like a jack-out-of-the-box. He vomited into the visor. Roe had seen such sickness before. A first-rate frigging greenhorn, Roe judged.
Custodians in tan jumpers and bug-eyed gasmasks bumrushed The Retcher. They drug him and drugged him underarm, (in)conspicuously. Pulled past Richard along the long row of slumberers to god knew where— rehabilitation.
CARETAKER: typed on the back of their janitorial jumpers.
Richard exited through the first floor office’s entrance.
The key a question.
Who had left the key in his kangaroo pocket? Who would do so? An androgynous competitor to SleepSoc? Myriad faces crossed his consciousness. None however, whom he knew the names of, nor of their ultimate motivations.
Into the reception lobby and to the receptionist situated between the elevators. Her breasts resting atop the desk like Santa Claus’ magical bag. She was dumpy. Or just sat so with arms overlapped above her bosom, hands jammed into her pits. Hugging herself, neutrally. Professional nonchalance, but (plausibly) pretty, yet unsmiling. A face of the vast unloved.
Richard felt like a bug before her. Scant chance to escape her verbal flyswatter. He read her pyramidal nameplate: Gloria.
She snorted. Very snottily.
Yes. Uhm. I’m meant to see Mister Welks. In E-val?
She stared straight through him. Roe was not there.
Mister Welks? he repeated, voice and hands atremble.
What floor? she asked, unblinkingly.
He looked for a directory. None. Not even a number posted. How many floors were there in SleepSoc? Equal to ceilings.
Uhm. I dunno. They... someone told me E-val.
That’s level sree. She wristed mucus from her nose onto her hairy arm.
But y’ill need ta verify yerself. D’you have any verify-cation, sur?
No, well, uhm. Richard held up empty hands. He didn’t give me any, Roe said. Nuh uh. Intestines in skeins he withheld some minor flatulence. He danced a whitey watusi waist down. Post-slumber’s bowel pressure passed.
She, Gloria, masticated her molars sore. Bubblegum gums. She chewed on her next implicit move, and sighed, heaving her hippopotamus bazooms. I’ill give em a call, she said. Dissatisfaction echoed her voice to every crevice of the vestibule. She read the number on his coveralls, his blues: 874. Then stuck a pinkiefinger deep in her eardrum, prodding forth a rope of wax which she smeared on the desktop. She plucked an earpiece and put it in the ear and thumbed two buttons from the desk’s flat terminal screen.
She popped all airpockets in her fleshy fingers individually. Waiting.
Hi-lo, she spoke. This is Gloria. Her intonations dallied and austere. Down at reception. Yes, well. Oh. Bartleby. How’re you? Her tone turned simoultaneously tinny and throaty, like some Mongolian double-voice singer. I’m well. Considerin. Gloria looked up from the phone at Roe.
Yes, well, I gotta fella ere says he’s schedooled fer an E-val... sure I do. Number’s eight, seven, four. OK. Jus gimme a sec. Waz yer name?
Richard, Richard said.
She giggled, very gravely. A demure cast to her eyes, her pursed lips.
Richard Roe, Roe repeated, thinking she, Gloria, hadn’t heard him. His fingers fidgeted, magnetically drawn to the tiny mystery key.
Coffee? No! She laughed like a bullfrog (a heifer-frog, respectfully). She twirled out yarns of her beehive hair, yanking whole clumps like taffy. Her eyes rolled white. Same lively croak. Yes... she said, almost orgasmic, yes. Nine o’clock? She smiled. The smile of someone who willed the wicked world to end with a wink. Ah yes. OK. I will see you then, Mister Bartleby.
She tweezered out the earpiece. Whence she did her apocalyptic grin dissaperated; her old dourly professional dispassion reinstalled.
Mister Welks will see you now.
She thumbed a button. The lift’s doors groaned open like the vertical mouth of a mechanical monster and Gloria’s facial muscles motioned— bovine.
Richard Roe hoped his way was up and not down into SleepSoc’s bowels. The isolation chambers. Dead weights. His spine shivered. Thankye, he told.
Gloria snorted again sounding like snot swallowed up her nasal cavity.
He entered the elevator. Its metal lips sealed. Its intestinal coils deep below contracted, creaking. The metallic gullet of a gargantuan beast, grumbling. The elevator hopped. His hopes, the arrow indicators, going up, up and up. Relieved, Roe sighed and steadied.
BIG MONEY BIG MONEY goes the machine
Wheelchair bound septua/octogenarian
Smoking through an oxygen tank, mask
Highrollers shift through turnstiles
Checkerboard slacks baloon backsides
BIG MONEY BIG MONEY goes the machine
The allurements of tinnitus and sign
And all of that beautiful fruit spin
All oranges, oranges
Play blackjack Jack,
If, you above an age.
The blues band gets here Sundey. I don’t remember the name. Lightnin Swamp or some such thing. Anyway, I ‘eard they good. Gotta fella called Gray Hultkrantz. Helluva name, him. Odd guy, you ask me. Then again, him’s a musician. You know musicians. Them all music people played ere not long go. Gray plays a one a those derned Melodicas like a half-piano half-harmonica.
The elevator music was Hank Williams:
“I rode my horse to town ta-day, and a gaspump we did pass. I pulled ‘im up and hollered whoa! and said, fill ‘im up with gas. The man picked up a monkeywrench and wham! he changed my tune. You got me chasin rabbits, spittin out teeth, and Howlin At The Moon.
A man entered the elevator, introduced himself as Dart Roco and aboutfaced. Dart Roco said, I, Dart Roco, fix z elevator. He was a burly bastard with black hair in black custodial coveralls with REPAIRMAN written on the back.
Dart Roco took a hexagonal-headed screwdriver from his backpocket and began to unscrew bolts from a metal panel. Then he disgorged a circular gauge connected to multicolored electrical wires.
Richard Roe had nowhere to go or everywhere else to. Even so this was not his floor. They were between floors. OK, he said. How long’ll it take?
Dart Roco now fix z elevator, he stated anew, squatted on his heels. He reached up, down, and around, elbow-deep in the machine’s guts. I tell you story if you’ve z time. Anon thereafter the elevator thunked to a stop.
No much more zen z time take to smoke z cigarettes. You smoke smoke? He held two fingers as if in a splint to his marshmellow lips.
Roe shook his head.
Dart Roco shucked a smoke from the frontpocket of his coveralls and lit it off a match. The livid smoke wafted in hazy tiers thickly sulfurous.
Eyes already lachrymal, Richard Roe refused Roco’s proffered nicotine. He thought Dart Roco sounded foreign, but from what nation he hadn’t any notion.
These elevators ‘ave bad ventilation. You know. Once upon a time Dart Roco come to fix z elevator and find a dead man with a alive cat lick at his boots’s like zis... and z floor of z elevator littered wiff zem butts. Z butts of cigarettes and so Dart Roco think and he ask the cat if zat man die of suffocation and zat cat only continue to lick and Dart Roco become so depressed he pick up a burning butt still smokening and pick up z habit.
Dart Roco glanced overshoulder smiling supplicatory, his dentures like little blank dominos. One of his eyelids closed by a neoplastic cyst. Dart Roco asked, Do you find z Dart Roco story funny?
Richard wondered whether he might make it out of this elevator alive. Or out at all. He agreed with speechless nods to the (killer) operator.
Dart Roco wagged his screwdriver. You no so dumb as you look, yes?
Richard Roe coughed into his hand.
Dart Roco ask what floor you want?
The repairman lunged again into the innards of the elevator. It rose two floors whence the bell dinged and the doors opened and Roe ambled out. Out of a bedimming carbon cloud.
Dart Roco says, luck to yu!
Richard Roe hit the wall with his hands before blindly turning right down the hall towards the glass doors of E-val. He pulled and pulled but they only opened in.
Find Lucky, Dart Roco said.
Commodified consciousness. That is the central economic export we, here at SleepSoc Incorporated, concern ourselves with. We are, analogically, like interior decorators. We sell furniture for the mind; beds for the brain, carpets for the cerebrum, and a thousand throw pillows for each encephalon. The beauty of our bargain is that we already have our foot in the door. In partnership with Virtuality Visor, we’re in their homes and in their heads. If you have a commercial in mind, why not send it to SleepSoc? We have a great rapport with a preexisting customerbase, which is growing everyday. Furthermore, we have already done the job of subliminal, or subconscious, advertisement. Think of it! All you have to do is fill the bill and we’ll do the rest! Start a promotion with us today! You won’t regret it, I swear.
-Ulysses Aloysius Johnson, Chairman and CEO, of SleepSoc Incorporated.
SleepSoc’s Evaluations Officer, one Woodrow B. Welks, was a westerner with panache. His office décor an extenuation of his dress. Cowboy contemporary. He had a grandiloquent drawl and cast his attention far yon when he spoke:
You all may think I like bein a hardass. But that aint the case. I hate it. Though somebody’s gotta be I guess. See, Mister Roe, Richie, I frig assholes. I know. I know. I aint supposta say that. Yer sittin thure in the bitch— begyerpardon— chair and I’m at a level so far abuv ya I may as well be God A’mighty. From up ‘eres. A flash cut across Welk’s aviators.
Well. Lez jus say I see the societal scurry. Like ants. Y’all’re all ants. And I’im a man with a magnification glass. And you all ants, like assholes, dont know they’re, yer, frigged when they’re, yer, frigged. They, you, jus squirm. S’what they do. Don’t know sheit. So maybe at’s all they know— sheit. Watcha think a that? concluded Welk’s denigratory sermonizing.
Caught in cunctanation, Roe stammered out a series of sounds unknown to any living language, save perhaps some intelligent ape’s.
Point is, we’re bout ta find out what kinda ant you is, Mister Roe— Richie. You don’t mind my callin ya Richie, Richie? does ye?
Roe muttered an Uhm.
Ah! Our silent sleeper has spoked! Yahes, yahes. By God, shout it out.
M’i, uhm, bein fired, Sur?
Welks raised his arms before him as if fighting off several spirits. What in the world’d give you that impression? No. Mister Roe. Richard. D’you know jus who you is? Who you is to this company? To the millions of viewers who modulate into DreamScape each day? Who’ve adored yer dreams?
Richard Roe’s eyes gazed forward in a glaze. He shrugged. No. I dunno.
Yer a asset, Son. Welks held his hands outward in numinous assertions.
A asset, Richard Roe repeated meek as a mopedist on an 80mph motorway.
At’s right. Mr Welks crossed snakeskin Noconi cabellero boots on his desk. I got yer files. And not just me. The whole company collects ‘em. Sure, they dont know it’s you, but; I gotta notion you aint a glory hunter.
Richard shook his head. His bottom lip like laundry, lolled in a wind.
That Bartleby’s dumber’n a retarded rooster but ‘e makes up one hell of a cup. Yer sure now?
Yessur. No thanks.
Jus ‘ave some, feller. Yer shakin like a damn rattle-in snake, you is.
OK. Roe forced his fingers rigid on the plush arms of his spinnychair.
As if announced, the dandified receptionist –aka— Bartleby ambled in. Spine straight as a servile scarecrow, he held two saucers with chintzy china coffecups clattering atop and then set them on the desk on cotton napkins and lingered, rolling fingers into his palms as if there were dice.
Welks eyed Bartleby askance, posed so officiously.
Sur. Bartleby tugged his lapels proudly and blurted breathlessly: I’ve a date, Sur.
With what, Beetle? Fate? A womanikin?
Richard Roe could see why Welks nicknamed him Beetle; eyes, hair, all.
No. A real person. Her name’s Gloria.
Welks slapped a knee. Reception lady?
Yes, Sur. Gloria.
Welks cackled. Damn Beetle. I’ve run’d all over the damned world now!
Bartleby looked disheveled, despite fixing his sparkling shirtbuttons.
Awh! Gawd. Welks wiped one fictitious tear from his nasolacrimal duct. I reckoned the lucky lady’d be dead-as-latin, not of livin, breathin flesh.
Richard Roe imagined the beluga whale receptionist and beanstalk man-servant making low-decibel lust in musty motel sheets then dispensing with postcoital talk for latenight infomercials. Roe grimaced at the assessment.
Bartleby smoothed the creases of his livery and asked, Shall I leave you both to your coffees?
Yahes, Welks said, punching a cigarette from the red pack on his desk. He felt for a lighter in the inner/outerpockets of his blazer. Wait a sec. Ya gotta light, Beetle?
Bartleby produced a flame from nowhere and Welks sucked the flame to grow and blew a series of smokerings within smokerings then nodded. Well. Beetle. Welks grinned like a crooked nail.
Bartleby stared as a servant ready-in-waiting to disoblige, his arms aside stiff as Popsicles. I will, Sur? Bartleby said diffidently.
Tryta harpoon her Buddy. Welks harpooned his cigarette out, which boomeranged back and hit him in the heart. Sparks schisming from the cherry’d end. Welks clutched his heart, knees above the desk like a premature birth; he smoked, obviously delighted with his weird performance.
It’ll be a miracle that Porpoise don’t getchya coupled up, may Lord willin.
A miracle Welks didn’t capsize from the characterization, Roe thought.
Bartleby blinked rapidly. His cheekbone dimples contorting.
Welks conformed his frame to the seat and gulped his black coffee back like an espresso shot then waved Bartleby away. Good java. Now be gone with ye, Beetle. Scurry along to yer SheWhale.
Yes, Sur. Bartleby exited. And thank you, Sur.
The door did what doors do.
Welks eyed Richard Roe. Sunglasses showing the tenebrous outlines of his eyes. Welks removed his shades. Glacier-colored eyes calving into an ocean of thought. Iceberg eyes, the tips of which indicated little of the processes beneath such intellect.
Richard Roe glanced elsewhere.
So. Welks snubbed his cigarette in a translucent ashtray.
Roe brought one eye nearer by.
The coffee, Pardner. At there’s the best in the west. Peruvian. Hmm?
Hmm, Roe responded dutifully.
Drink up, Dude. Welks put palms on the desk and a telescreen appeared.
Roe complied to drink coffee.
Then let’s review then, Man. Please, be at ease, Richie. This is more consultation. Not necessarily correctional. There’s no need ta be alarmed. He twirled the tips of his long horseshoe mustache languidly with one hand while the other flipped through Roe’s films. The collated images from Roe’s unconscious. Seen these yet?
Roe craned over the desk. A grid of boxes, each, with an image inside.
No. Not that I can recollect.
Welks nodded. Even if ya had you prolly wouldn’t re-member. Not an uncommon... malady? Condition? Yahe. Not such an uncommon kinda condition. Some do, some don’t. I, we, don’t know why. Not yet. R-and-D baby, R-and-D.
How many people’ve seen these?
Welks beamed like a lighthouse.
Conservatively? He abstracted some formula in the air above his head. Welp. Give er take a hundred thou. Welks picked at his frontteeth with a thumbnail. At’isa lowball figur’.
Roe’s cheeks flushed salmon.
Yessureebob. Yer dreams’re famous, Richie Boy. Welks flicked flecks of phlegm off from both nostrils.
Roe slunk in the swivelseat.
But you aint, Welks added. Still. I’d trade ten slumberers yet fer what yer worth. Look ye, hither this. Welks pointed to a picture upon his desk then threw it overshoulder in an unbound prism. The polluted cityscape behind Welks eclipsed by the digitized dream. At’s a cool winder, idn’t it?
This was one a yer first. Wudn’t a instant sensation. Now it’s seen’d quite a bit a traffic. Like a pebble in a pond ripplin out to the edges. Honest, Roe, I dunno where you go when you go a-dreamin. Nobody do. But, Bud... why don’t we just view it?
They watched the dreamscreen.
The first vignette was of a freckled girl stood in an open duffelbag. An aquatic shimmer to the surrounding country. Trees oscillating like seaweed, the color of coral. A hand appeared brusquely and reached for her.
S’that me? Roe asked.
We dunno. Maybe. Maybe not. We call this guy Joe Nobody. Or John Doe. Easier for our virtuality viewer at home to identify with. Helps ego death.
The hand of Roe if Roe it was reached for Roe’s daughter. She drew the bag overhead and zippered it from inside. The hands, which resembled Roe’s down to the circular scar on his lefthanded ringfinger, moved shakily for the leather. At the hand’s touch the bag fell down like a flower-stalk cut twain. And Roe’s daughter, like a stigma, vanished. Poof!
Wanna know how we titled that?
Roe didn’t answer.
Aright, Welks aquiesced. Guess it ain’t crucial anyhow. I’ill show ye another’n. S’a bit longer, this’n. Welks chucked another softball dream underhanded from his desk to window. This’n’s been our best distributed. You’ill see why. Herein we go.
The window washed with another brand of night. The image appeared as if the window were resuming its reality; the foggy cityscape glimmering as beacons at sea. The streets covered in groundclouds. The whole mass moving. Resplendent ripplings of lamps.
You’se flyin’ in this one.
I don’t see me, Roe noted.
At’s ’cuz it’s point-a-view. Imagine! When people watch this they’re really soarin’. We’ve even a development contracted out to a company usin’ yer dream-as-template where folks’ll fly lucidly. Now. How’d’ya like that?
I’m scared of heights, though, Roe said to himself.
At’s the idear, though. It aint for you. Welks continued, Through this folks can confront their fears. Phobias. Now the pigs’ll friggin fly!
Though Welks’ back was turned, Roe noticed his earlobes lift in a smile. Undoubtedly, dollar signs rotaried in his eyes like a grand jackpot. He cackled with the malice of all men motivated by mere money acquisitions.
The screen’s virtualization descended to streetlevel, over gaseous plumes geysered out of water drains. Neons winking. Faces of people Roe had never seen and would never know.
Then Roe levitated over a hotdog stand, If he he was. A gargantuan one-legged veteran, with a furry mole on his upperlip, sat in a wheelchair snoozing with a smutty magazine spread on his lap, whilst his stoic Vietnamese mailorder bride-to-be in bright white sneakers prepared hotdogs with steamed rice, kimchi and ketchup. She shouted, Gissem when deyer haut.
Ya’ve been invaluable in the Phobia-field, Welks said. Truly. I don't dare guess what yer ol folks did ta ya. But, Mister Roe, Richie, it’s safe to say yer one hot brand of neurological nightmares.
Roe closed his eyes to little firework flashes.
This is where it gets good. See? At first it ain’t anybody. But then, see, the more personal dream-stuff is shown here.
Richard Roe audibly swallowed his own saliva.
It was the black hood of Roe’s first ride. The red racing stripes. Headlights low and no traffic. His highschool neighborhood. Wisps of white smoked twirling off the roach of a joint in Roe’s (unwedded) hand. Him, in his varsity tennis jacket. Skulls and crossed rackets stamped on the cuffs.
Roe remembered the night well. And the day after.
A rabbit darted before the car slamming sideways into its steel grill. Bones cracking. Bumped over behind. Roadkill in the rearview illumined by cross-hatched streetlamplights. An absurd, violently abstract street art. Roe pulled unto his driveway. Used the automatic garage opener and got out, looking manically amongst the packratted carport’s crap for something to wipe the bloodstains off his BrandSpankingNew Mustang. A sunflower shirt. Yellow. Roe grabbed at it. Managed only to smear the bunny’s blood more. In his room Richard slept under ZincSulfide stars stickered to his ceiling.
The next day— the screen timelapsed the night imperceptibly— his Pops, Lucian, entered his room and yanked him out of bed by the throat, heels dragging to the window and made him look at the bloodied frontbumper below.
Yer dead, Boy.
Roe thought his Pops would defenestrate him.
Poppa Lucian thought he’d killed his sister.
It. Was. A. Raaa-aaa-aaabit, Roe choked out.
Rabbits don’t wear a dress, his father spat.
Back on the road to school the rabbit plastered to the pavement moved.
One more? Welks asked with a sidelong glance.
Roe began to utter a question regarding the reanimated rabbit but Welks said: Arighty then! On we go. Roll tape! And flung the third ‘film’ onto the faux-frosty pane. This’n’s a bit harder to foller. But it’s the reason I sought you.
Why? Roe asked.
We’ill talk on it afterwards. Aright. Welks settled back in his seat as if preparing for movie previews with a soda and popcorn.
A long fade-in.
A lone candleflame hovered above a storebought birthday cake. Hazily flaming. Background warm as Christmas. Unintelligible voices, glossolalic, without grammatical pauses. A zoom-out. Roe’s daughter in her boosterseat, drooling. More glossolalia. His wife’s face entered and blew out the lone candle and smiled. Her teeth vampiric. Eyes black as the coffee currently in Roe’s hands. Blade in hand she cut the cake, maintaining eye contact and the same grotesque smile. Blood seeped from the cake’s sliver onto the rhomboidal tabletop and spilled valance over the sides. Blurry peripheral vision. The perspectival eye captured the blood, trailing in hyper-real color along the grout of the floor to a pair of inverted, planted feet. Pooled blood. Feet submerged. What world was the kitchen went to blackness.
This aint it, Woodrow reminded him.
Why don’t our voices speak? speak American? I mean. Roe clarified.
We’re lookin into it. We still aint entirely sure that you’re you.
Roe’s eyed focused on the black turned into blinding white lights.
Or that anyone is anyone in any dream. It’s really complicated, Man. Some dreams’re in American. Others aint. S’a mystery we been funnelin’ money inta ta figur’ out. Cant imagine how irritated folks get when they watch yer dreams and they aint subtitled.
It’s purty durn scary, Roe admitted.
‘xactly. Don’t get da full affect this way, Welks said, unfortunately. The only way we can fully immerse, modulate, is through a virtuality visor.
A highfalutin term for to ‘insert in the illusion’, Welks added blasé, rabbit-earing the expression.
The white light doubled until Welk’s office was full and Roe was unsure whether he was anywhere or anyone.
Then there’s this, Welks introduced.
Blinks from darkness to light— vice versa. Eyes rolled aside watched a man wheeled in on an army gurney by facemasked nurses. The man’s ribcage exposed. Guts visible, gooey, dark as syrup, percolating the linen sheets. His arm a socket, the knub of which rotated wildly. The phantom patient. His head covered in crossed bandages. Only beady eyes that saw naught. The nurses brought the wounded soldier to the bed beside him (Joe Nobody). The soldier screamed. Screamed all day into the night when the overhead lights shut off. The others in the ward shouted back at the man’s screaming, Just die already! Just you fucking die, Man! Do us all a favor and fucking die! Roe heard his own voice, God damn you, Man, just fucking die. The screams stopped. The next day by barred sunlight the dead soldier was wheeled off again in a new gurney by facemasked nurses. A last look at the dead man, like a prayer, then rapid blinks. Another alternation of blinks to a blank.
You lose alotta the omniscence of dreams when you watch em. It’s true. But an audience, they keep tabs. On you. Small details. Whole forums dedicated to parsin out what each dream means. But they still aint cracked who you are Richie. Count yerself... Lucky. Welks laughed conspiratorially.
Roe looked to the televisual window at a three-legged dog, lacking time to process the pitiful scene he’d just witnessed again in hard detail.
The three-legged dog is a recurrent motif in yer dreams, Welks stated.
The three-legged dog licked and nipped at its florid underbelly’s fur.
Wanna guess what his name is? Welks asked suppressing dubious snigger.
A bone-shaped nametag read Lucky.
Lucky? Roe commented.
Luck, Welks affirmed.
But I aint gotta dog.
Don’t matter. We’ve determined that Lucky’s a catahoula cur. In some dreams he posseses four legs. Chases rabbits. Here he’s at a gasstation. A Sinclair. See? Shows up in lot’sa places. I’id reckon places you ain't neva been.
There was a green brontosaur in the background tethered to a barditch. The sky clear as icecubes. Mountains yonder like hunchbacked beasts buried remissly by gods lacking shadows or shovels.
What’s happened to him? Roe asked. To him. Lucky?
You tell us. There’sa litany of conspiracies regardin that thurn mutt. We’re fixin ta find a four-legged catahoula— you can only imagine how hard it is to find one with three legs, then... make that new dog inta a mascot.
The perspective zoomed in mircoscopically on Lucky’s fur. Like a maze.
What’re those? Roe pointed to frantic roundbodied objects on the pink belly meat.
I don’t get it.
And neither do we. Yet. Mr Welks didn’t seem disturbed by not-knowing.
Then the image of the fleas expanded and there was a monkey hanging from a porch, by a noose.
The hell? Roe asked.
Suicide, Welks said.
Damn. Roe apologized, I mean...
There’s more, Welks said, but you get the idear. Welks turned off the televisual display on his window with a clap and the world outside returned. Twilight towering over the metropolitan. The cold moon obscured in a mass of billious clouds, blowing Westwardly, which haloed Welks’ head.
They shared uneasy silence, uneasier because Woodrow Welks watched the window.
We, I should say Editing, entitled that segment: Divinity, In A Flea. A little artsy for my taste. A little surreal. But it seems yer brain has become a bit bizzare. At first, when you began, your dreams were like some story. In narrative. Then, in the, I don’t know, I reckon, last two months or so, thure’s been a split. Half the shit ain’t even sellable sorry ta say.
So ya see why we’re here, Welks told him, turning about.
Yahe, Roe said, scratching the hairless top of his head.
Y’ain’t in trouble Roe. Not with us. Not yet.
A psychiatric glint polluted Welk’s frozen eyes. So ow’re ya sleepin?
Roe’s head felt heavy on its stalk. His eyes asking for more silence.
Not here. Welks chuckled. At yer home. Yer apartment. He elucidated: After yer shift. Whaz yer routine? Jus gimme a lil sketch for our database.
Roe thought: he hadn’t ‘slept’ independently in what seemed one month. I guess I pine some of the time, he said. For what way things was, and all. Fore this. Routine? I dunno. Work. Home. I go out. I doubt more than twice a week. See friends. I’m gonna inherit some money from my father. Not much. I see my girl weekends, sometimes. I’m plannin to send her on an orbit to th’outer atmosphere in a year or whenever I’ve saved enough money to do so. But my ex-wife, she’s...
That’s anough, thankye, Welks said uninterested. Any insomnia?
Nah. Roe shook the weight from his head. No. I don’t think so.
Here’s a funny story: about priests raining down from the sky.
S’called The Defenestration of Prague. I won’t go inta detail.
That was fine with Roe.
It’s just that something I saw in yer videos reminds me of it.
Roe remained silent.
Welks clapped. The window remained as always a window. Let’s try a game, shall we? Free association. Here’s how it’ll work: I say a word and you answer with the first word that pops into yer head, and so on. Back-n-forth. Aright-o?
OK. Dream, Welks started.
Roe: Sa... no. Stars. Yahe, stars.
More’r less the same so far, eh? Explorer.
Yahe sorta, Roe said, unsure to the point.
Welks took Roe’s turn. How bout? Inernets.
Information, Roe followed.
Uhm. Hmm. Book? Yahe book.
Seems to repeat itself dudn’t it? Yahp. University, Welks began again.
Parties, Welks reminisced.
Drugs, Welks smirked knowingly.
Nice, Mister Roe! I think music or sound.
Roe’s confidence in ‘the game’ increased.
Rhythm, Roe responded reflecting on Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor. A song fit for free association.
Circadian, Welks reparteed.
Roe’s confidence deflated like a hot air baloon.
No no no, Welks said sussing out distress on Roe’s face. You did very well. Circadian brought me, us, back to dream. Dreams. The circadian clock is our bodies way of coordinating time. Means, essentially, the rhythm of the day. So, as you can see, we are back to where we started. An ouruboros.
Roe’s face plunged into his coveralls.
You been to college, Mister Roe?
No, Roe said. No Sur I have not.
This admission embarrassed Richard Roe. All those fine jargon words: circadian, litany, modulate, ouruboros... heretofore meaningless.
Welks dismissed his own line of inquiry with a wave. No problemo, Roe. Most’ve the men and women who work in the dreamer department at SleepSoc haven’t a graduate degree batween ‘em. At’s inconsequential. No importanté. What’s important is you’ve displayed an ability to associate, Welks opined. I can’t say the system’s foolproof.
Roe rubbed his eyesockets red.
That means yer brain hasn’t turned to mush. That makes you somewhat unique in yer line of work don’t gotta tell ye.
Roe did not feel dignified. Nor so unique.
I ain’t gonna bore ye with the details, Richie. Just know that yer, as far as I’m concerned, A-O-K. I’se worried you’d be another, well, to put it simply, a well of dreams gone dry. Yer recent ventures, like the one I witnessed today led me to believe you was.
Roe had confusion on his face like ductape.
Sunk into disassociation. Un-learning, Welks added, acknowledging no lack on Roe’s part to comprehend.
Nope. I feel fine, Roe lied.
A’course. A’course. So you been takin yer tablets then?
Lunars? Yahep. I take em.
They discussed the drugs.
Welks remarked that Roe’s recent dream indicated negative drug affect. How, in time, his narrative threads unwound. That, if he made an attempt at revisiting the same structures of his dreams, say by meditation mixed with more medication, he’d thereby give their viewers what they wanted. There would be no problem. Job security. Salaried position. Loyalty to Virtuality and SleepSoc. He recommended Roe remain on his regiment, and if so, in due time Roe’s dreams would resume their circad... their regularity.
Roe explained how his first months if they were his first months with SleepSoc, felt foggy. He’d experienced an inability to sleep. The insomnia.
Welks asked what and when it changed.
Roe rejoined, I reckon those Lunars sent me for a spin, so ta speak. I think that’s why so many of our department newcomers get sick. So may be.
Perceptive, said Welks. But not yerself?
I dunno, Sur. The Doc increased my increment from two tablets a day to four before my dreaming shift. And I was logged out, Roe slanged— off. Sometimes I wouldn’t wake to my alarm. Then, afterwards, I’d be in a daze. I couldn’t eat and I’d, ya know, go to the bathroom more. But, I am better.
Roe gave an unconvincing grin. I am nocturnal, now.
And day-mares? Any nightmares occur during daylight?
Yahe. A bit, Roe admitted, readjusting himself. Worst part was it was like I couldn’t enjoy anything. Nothing but the dreaming know what I mean? Roe looked up as if into his brain. Then, I guess I got good at it. Dreaming, I mean. I used to remember my dreams all the time as a kid. But once I started working here I didn’t. Don’t. Don’t want to, may be’s what it is. Like this. This world, you and I are in, is the dreamworld, and the other one is this one. I’m 'fraid of getting stuck. There.
Don’t’cha think that’s plausible? Welks was sincere.
Roe’s eyes chinked.
Welks asked blackly, Bein stuck in there? Elsewhere?
May be. But I don’t feel upsidedown anymore. No. I am nocturnal, now, Roe repeated as rehearsed. Them doctors got me goin on... Roe trailed off, trying to recollect how many Moonshine tablets he was meant to take, today.
Welks forwent details with a shrug and Richard Roe thanked him for it.
Richie? I wanna give you sumpthin. A small gift. Really a favor. From SleepSoc to you. Ya’ve been invaluable to me. To us. Really. And I, we, wanted ya to have this. Welks opened a drawer of his desk and held up a shiny ticketstub. S’fer a joint called Cisco’s Disco. Or Cisco Disco’s? The address is on the back. I, we, want ya to unwind. Mind, you gotta be at work come Monday. Welks handed him the ticket.
At gets ya in ta the Whistle Symphony. Mhmm.
A Whistle Symphony? Roe wondered.
What is a Whistle Symphony?
Welks leered sidelong his window. Tells em that Mister Woody Welks sends ye, Welks told.
The Whistle Symphony was the creation of Linnaeus Carp. A swedish composer of the seventeenth century. Carp, at fifteen, had (ghost)written eight instrumental symphonies before producing a play entitled The Last Laugh. Though it’s possible Carp stole the concept of the ‘Whistler’s Symphony’ from Jacoby Burnstein— a famous composer in his own right—, Carp made it his own. Nowhere is love for the whistle so clearly expressed as in Carp’s beloved tragedy, The Last Laugh.
Carp’s play is, admittedly, pretentious crap, but the whistling portion is positively delightful.
The Last Laugh enjoyed varied success in Europe, and elsewhere. In it was a scene wherein the leading lady Dido and a doublefaced Jupiter Priest accost prostitutes selling their lewd wares on the high shores of Cyprus. Fifty whistlers whistling astage in tune.
Thus, the Whistle Symphony was born.
The Whistle Symphony started at 8, read Roe's ticketstub. Roe took the monorail from Somnus Plaza, South, the site of SleepSoc’s headquarters, North, to Downtown Dalliance, Central Station.
The decadent skyrises, and dirty streets.
He exited a subsystem hub with the stub in hand and walked the length of Vermouth Lane to Whiskey Street. Cisco Disco’s occupied the cornerlot. Formerly a Pentecostal church, set amongst informal, sinful establishments.
The previous street pronouns were not Vermouth and Whiskey en passant.
Roe’s (self)awareness showed as he walked the sidewalk. His shadow stretched out into manholes and gutters.
Grackles congregated on powerlines.
Dogs roaming free on callused paws.
A peacekeeping pack on rollerskates patrolled the block. Shockbatons at the ready. Their sleek black teflon suits tensile’d to the bodily limit.
Ritzy downtowners ambled the streets in virtuality visors, un-seeing the scum of the earth shuffling along in dismal realities. Selecting from several virtuality filters to occlude all the odorous woebegone sensations. They sat at street cafés and milled around.
There was so much to not see. Such as,
Nextdoor an avantgarde outdoor theatre was wheeling in props for that night’s performances. A limbless man laid on a platter gagged by an apple, painted pig-pink, delivered by two actors in formal dinnerwear. Flagbearer for THE CANNIBAL CARNIVAL. A bearded dwarf on wooden stilts sauntered in. A bipedal elephant donning a gold crown shook the public’s hand with its bifurcated trunk. All sorts of loitering types. Actors and audience undifferentiated by dress illumined by halloween lights strung from arbors.
Not Fade Away, by Buddy Holly and His Chirping Crickets hummed out of old speakers, near the stage, enclosed by a horshoe-shaped copse of Pecans.
Roe ignored such staged strangeness.
There was an unpeopled line along Cisco Disco’s red-roped labyrinth. Roe navigated it. Others followed him. Richard approached the doorkeeper. An American Indian in a Dalliance Wranglers ballcap, backwards. He warned Roe back with his hand and looked through the church’s peephole.
We are not yet ready for you Sur, said the Native American.
The ticket says eight, Roe said, extending his ticket. If this was the place it looked like no discotheque clergymen could morally approve of.
We are not ready yet Sur. Stand back. Dripping Faucet will let all through when the clock strikes eight. The bell tower beside the steeple clanged thrice in quick succession on the hour. Dripping Faucet snatched the ticketstub and ripped it in half and asked for Roe’s backhand to stamp.
The handstamp a flourescent cross.
Roe’s heart beat ¾ time, skipping.
Dripping Faucet judged Roe for the deadhead he was, then opened the doubledoors unto the porch and a neonlit narthex appeared. Projections of suspended crucifixes swooping. Enjoy the show, Dripping Faucet did bid him.
Roe checked his ticket for seating.
The empty aisles were recently buffed with an IndustrialGrade lacquer.
A few brave souls explored their seats in the nave. The view declined unto the transept. The choir’s dais tiered up unto the high apse where a blindfolded conducter stood behind the purple-sashed pulpit. So sanctified.
The church was somnolent.
Roe’s seat was located at the rear, rightside. Seats farthest from god’s messenger, thence the good message. Only three rows of less worthy sinners, set bowed behind him.
More folks filed in to the nave. All dressed for work like Richard, he noted. No children. As Roe took his seat the fourscore choir proceeded from either sides of the partitioned ambulatory, blindfolded and dun-robed.
Roe searched around.
Bodyguards posted at the aisles without alms. Their brown shirts said GOD SQUAD on the back. Each bald, bad demeanors, stiction’d by muscle mass.
Was this a disco? No one looked as if they had ever discoed. No. Cisco Disco was the proprietor. The man. A legend.
It was a hard crowd. The midmorning-stripclub sort; Greasemonkeys, Motorcyclists, seemingly staid Businessmen with loose ties, possible Pimps, Drug-Addicts. Almost all male. The few females in the congregation wore skimpy latex, backsides barely veiled. Miss Arm Candys, saltier than sweet.
The organist, an orangutan with a tailed tux, began to blow the pipes.
Everybody’s hands went demurely down to a lap.
Only one man sang along.
Blind Willie Johnson’s, God Don’t Never Change.
Not that Roe would know who Blind Willie was or why God is changeless.
The singer was Gray Hultkrantz.
Not that Roe would know Gray Hultkrantz from God. As can be said Gray.
The organ grinderesque orangutan turned chapel organist orchestrated the pipes magnificently at adagio, using a rhesus monkey to facilitate as feet prancing amongst the expression pedals. A music, halting.
Roe imagined he were elsewhere than there. Not his scene.
The projections ceased. Stultified air. Birds chirped. A single beam from the rafters fell upon the blindfolded minister, Pastor Scalf Scoliari.
Our Holy Father, in His infinite wisdowm, commanded us, his children, to celebrate and fear Him every day of our lives. Is it not so? And so we lift our voices to God. Please, listen, to the Whistling Choir of Cisco Disco’s Church performing Amen Corner.
That choir whistled the new hymn.
Roe heard some rabblerouser whistling near him. One livid-skinned guy. None other than Gray Hultkrantz. Not that anyone knew who he was. But Amen and Hallelujah, the GOD SQUAD, fit in the faith, escorted Gray quietly out.
And the choir held a discordant note. The room went red. The blinded choir faded away on that note, and behind descended veil. Nuns. Nuns. Nuns. Nuns strolled from both sides of the transept, following farty friars who held fireman poles on plinths, and positioned these poles along the aisles.
Wolf howls from the faithful flock. The nuns stripped to dungarees. Beautiful, almost coquettish, they uncovered from under claustral clothing. The crowd began shouting obscenities, such as: take my sin (expletive), and, (expletive!) I’ll break some godfersaken commandments with ya! Oo-ooo.
Scalf Scoliari clapped, so uncritically.
Roe hadn’t a clue. His shoes were heavy. He sat with the rest, a part and apart from them, so out of place. Yet, his hairdoo looked anything but.
The GOD SQUAD collected dollars in baskets at the ends of the aisles and brought them to nunnish brassieres and panties tucking them in elastic.
The nuns whooped.
Roe gave dollars.
It seemed virtue.
After the Whistle Symphony— and striptease— Roe went to The Last Call, for alcohol and took to the far wall where his thoughts if any might not be disturbed and took a Loonie from a pillbottle then ordered Mexican Beer.
The bartender had a bad back and said so. He also said, A Mex’can?
Roe sucked a lime and ate hot barnuts from a fishbowl— his supper.
A wild-haired man bellied the bar and asked for a shot of Lightnin’. And don’t go skimpin on da Thundah, Man. And chase that rabbit with a beer.
The bartender sidled off to concoct the drinks.
Sheit. I am one elated mutha frigger. A-ha-hoo!
The man hung to the bar with stars in his eyes.
Lemme ask ya sumpfin Friend-o. Jus sumpfin Bro.
Roe turned from his drink, chewing the remaining boiled Cajun cashews. He kept some in his cheek, squirrelly. Ma-crunch-ee?
Me you? You me? Gotta tell ya I aint too sure nomore. No no. I wanna ask ye. Ye gotta girl? a wife?
Roe raised his ringfinger.
Had ye. She a fine filly, er what?
And how, Roe chirped out, amiably.
The man smiled.
Roe’s amiability soured forthwith.
Gotsye any rugrats? Look like a paterfamilias, Man, sho nuff.
Yeah. One. Joan. My daughter. She’s sixteen come September. Tall. Taller’n me some day that’s for damn sure.
Well damn, cuz you look like Goliath.
The bartender brought the discolored man his shot of Lightning then left to linger near two socialites in virtuality visors, discussing sports.
She plays Basketball. Just like me— Richard. Richard reached his hand. Roe.
Nice meetin ya Richie. My name Gray, Gray introduced. Gray Hultkrantz.
Roe noticed then that the man’s skin was colored like contusions. An epidermis of different hues of blue-and-gray. Like ashes and blue food-dye. His hair like Frankenstein’s monster. A lithe performer always a-twitching. Hands crosshatched with calluses.
I aint neva played. I mean I played. Schoolground ya eard? My love was blues, like basketball turned audio. Gray scatted out blues, for a few.
Like who you mean like who? Gray J., damn, Hultkrantz, is who. But errbody just call me Gray, or J, or ol crooner Krantz. Errbody who’s gotta body, that is, Gray winked. He winked with both eyes, an idiosyncratic tic.
I meant who’d’ya like? B.B. King? Elmore James?
Gray surprised at Roe’s recall of the bluesmen.
Man, shooot. They good. Gooder than good, they great. But nah. I like, like, Lightnin’ Hopkins; Muddy Waters; Charley Patton, The Masked Marvel. Blind Willie Johnson. Robert Johnson too. All the soulful howlers/crooners.
Blind Willie Johnson? Roe asked.
Yahe. You know. Gospeler. Street Preacher. Tell ya sumpthin else. Yes. Some scientists done sent his voice to outerspace, Gray informed him. Yahs.
The bartender brought Gray another round of drinks— which Gray’d somehow slugged whilst speeching so fast— and shuffled off like a man in a fun mirror but miserable.
How’d they do that?
On a record. A Golden Record. Funny thing is, Blind Willie never had nothing Golden so long as he lived. Voice fulla truth and a face fulla lye.
Lies? About what?
Nah, Man. Dig. His Mama threw some lye on poor Willie, ya know, like they used to use fer makin the laundry. Was aimin fer Willie’s Pa. See. His Mama’as cheatin’. She come home one night and Willie’s there, and so’s his Pa. Pa says some such thing. Starts slappin’ her round, cursin’ her. So she throws this bucket’a lye right inna lil Willie’s eyes. Other theory says he saw’d a solar eclipse over Pendleton Texas, at’s out near Wacko. Wouldn’t surprise me none if so.
You’re for real? Someone really sent his voice into outerspace? And Roe imagined an alien, dropping a turntable’s needle onto the golden vinyl. His daughter Joan’s voice ringing crackly, Dad, Dad, it’s so nice out here.
Fo real, Gray said. Past Pluto. The Kuiper Belt. Dark Was The Night. Damn. Gray gulped one-third his beer. Cold Was The Ground, he finished. Anyway. I gotta ask ye sumpthin. Why’s a man with a doo like you?...
Huh? Roe touched his head.
Why’s a man with a doo like you go to do some sacriligeous spectatin?
You were there? At the Whistle Symphony?
Damn straight. Dragged my whistlin ass out, Gray laughed good-natured.
Cisco Disco’s Church. Roe wagged his head and finished his first of what-would-be several cervezas. That was something.
You didn’t think that shit was shit? Scuse me Man, but, that shit stank. Stank awful. Blasphemous bullshit, pardon my lips.
Load of hokum, Roe agreed. As my father’d say— said.
So why? Hultkrantz asked with sincerity befitting a worried godfather.
Work. Gotta free ticket. The guy, my boss, that gave em to me’s crazy.
Gray did not expound on his own reasons for being there, and said so. So lemme ask ye another. Gray waved the back-clutching barkeep over and bid him grab two more...
Cervezas, Roe said.
Dos Mejicano drank, Gray ordered with Tejas argot.
OK, Roe sipped on dregs of his drink. Ate a fistful of boiled kernels.
Why the doo? You godfearin? er wha?
I’m a recovering addict.
Not quite recovered all the way, eh? Gray winked his double-eyed wink.
Guess not, Roe tried a smile on for size.
What’s yer poison?
Same as everybody.
Not da same as me.
They drank their beers.
Errybody ain’t desensitized, Richie. I, fer one, don’t put no synthetic shit in my grocery hole. One way. Or another.
Roe laughed, letting the foam from his beer dribble down his chin.
My Ma useta say der aint nothin natural in this world can harm ye.
What about opium? heroin?
Gray Hultkrantz shrugged.
I’m bout ta go on, Richie. Keeps it cold, Man. Chill back, Brotha.
Gray spun off the barstool and skated to the stage where there were no musicians. No instruments. He went to a bowling bag with HOWLING BAG sharpied on the side, and extracted a wireless microphone. Testin. Testin, Gray hummed.
Tables and heads turned to Gray J Hultkrantz and The Swamp Lightnin’; the members of which were materializing in digital blocks from the feet up. An octet. The carpet that overhung the stage bristled with electrification.
Some say the blues is dead, Gray said. I see it in the eyes of folks, once in a while. It aint gone. Not in any sense. We traveled Old Orleans and back. Got busted for God-knows-what. Bein nightowls, I’d reckon. Some Peacekeeper pulled us ova in Natchitoches. We was knackered. The lot of us.
Well, the band was barely there. Barely visible. He asked how many we were. I said, ain’t he have any virtuality visor he could count em his damn self.
He changed my tune. Called me a no good nightowl. Told him I’d just as soon be known as a Night Howler. And so we paid him off, and I took the tune he’d changed. This song’s called The Night Howler.
The drummer introduced the beat above the bass player then the lead guitarist and keyboardist overtook the tempo and Hultkrantz began to sing: Light it shine. Let it shine. Let yer light from da lighthouse shine on me.
Tables recommenced hushed chatter.
Gray’s song’s lycanthropic lyrics.
Roe felt transported by the drink. By the Lunar. But most by the band.
During an intermission Gray told the audience about how his band had become dead. How he’d been accused of killing them. No truth to it. His manager, Mr Carl Korsky, decided the band was too valuable, so virtualized them. And, what did that audience think?
The audience did not make response.
Gray began the next tune on his Melodica. Do do do do. Dwoop!
Roe awoke five beers later and left the bar at 2 walking with the swagger of someone on empty streets. Streets sparsely populated by any persons but bums beneath bridges, tent cities, and tourists by the swanky hotels overshadowing the steeple of The Dalliance First Methodist opposite it the subway station. Stairs wide as an airplane hangar unto a platform of columns, splattered graffiti. An electric violinist with mechanical arm.
Roe jumbled down the steps and through the automatic gates. Turned a turnstile. After a brief –much belated— bathroom break he hurried to the schedule. To take the red line back to Townes Square, nearby his apartment, or to Lotus Lane, along the winding canals of Old Town, on the purple line.
Roe pictured gentrified Old Town. The low lighting. An evening stroll. The locker to the key in his kangaroo pocket. He boarded the purple line. In the three minutes inside the train; one man with headphones on shouted he was sorry he hadn’t done it earlier, not sorry at all; one woman knitted a dog sweater, which matched her own exotic excretic wool, kaleidoscopilly colored, while her husband, plugged into virtuality— sports, by the sound of it— erratically slammed his fists together; one faceless female peacekeeper entered to exchange posts, casually unboarded the train then dashed off with her shockbaton unholstered, charged to stun.
At the next and terminal stop the conducter informed them, Lotus Lane. The Train Sleepers and Tramps entered a parallel train. For another loop. It struck Roe then the uroboric pathways of the nocturnal. Their rhythms. Nighttime daze, the haze of insomnia. He saw it in himself his sanity only sustained in the regiment of Lunars, Moonshine tablets, Loonies, allowing him to overturn some million-odd years of human evolution. His recovery a pretense. He remembered leaving the Institution of Mental Wellness in Constitution, Texas, taking a prepaid cab into Providence where a barber eyed him and shaved the top of his skull and said he had a good head again.
Had Roe’s haircut helped? That saintly tonsure, an ecclesiastical cut.
Roe plodded out of the oppressively sterile subway onto the arched underpass road which ran along The Trinity River. Southeast to Northwest. A small waiting station lit well and warm with various vagrants splayed in uncomortable positions. Bums in shopping bag shoes. Felt blankets. Like human kolaches. Backpacks with all manner of scrap slung and bungeecorded. A deskman in a collared Subway uniform set asleep at his station on his arms, snoring. Totally logged out. Virtuality visor undoubtedly displaying sleep, someone else asleep to help.
Roe imagined a sheep counting.
The telescreen, in the corner.
The President of the United States eating a street hotdog from none other than the wheelchaired veteran and mailorder Vietnamese. Him asking them if Capitalism weren’t working for them? That self-evidence of Capital. See it your friggin selves, folks, spoke the austere President, right here in the heart of Dalliance. Then The President swallowed his hotdog whole. Kimchi, catsup, and all.
Roe hated television. So fake, he thought, or was taught. He turned from it.
All the subway lockers open, save two. One of which was 9-B. Richard opened it and removed a micro-card, on a nondescript lanyard, for a virtuality visor.
It was after four in the morning by the time Roe returned to his ratty apartment. Once more amongst the nightriders, the spectral commuters. Rattled like corn dolls on the tracks. The blinking underground lights. The underpinning course. When Roe arrived home he boarded the train again for the loop to Somnus Plaza, to SleepSoc. He was the first in the office. Gloria was not at her post. The virtuality program he modulated into that long dawn to midday was a mockery of reality.
Everything that stands stands upon something else. The analogy is the tremors felt in the Texas Panhandle. A hen no longer produces eggs. A farmer has no eggs. The supermarket hasn’t eggs, either. There are no eggs, only fowl. Something substantial. The water is dessicated. A ten-year drought. Wells all dry up. People proceed upon the hot highway. West. Upon what? Upon untold roads, upon the earth’s crust, mantle, core. Upon space. Upon everything stands an end. The past does not exist. Time stands upon itself, then. The picture of time-place is frozen in perpetuity. Somewhere in the universe is the past made present. Elsewhere, towards a new ending, we are merely stories. Told of, unseen. Reduced and expanded thus selfless.
The world was right within the people for the word of God was good in them.
Who would want to live in a world like this?
The Monday morning Roe slipped easily and lucidly into his dreamscape he wandered throughout a splendid city, shimmering, seemingly submerged in aqueous light. The limitless quietude. The desperation of darkness, to bear a brazen star. His daughter lost in the wild with angelic wings. Rains accumulated. Cloudless skies. The thick disc, Earth’s curvature deepening to dusk. Darkling. Up up up, turning back to Earth’s refraction. The pollution of night. Joan, his daughter, above.
Who would want to live in a world like that?
The world did not wimper or simper. It did not end. The world was composed of souls inextinguishable. Embarkations unto eternity. The ending. No safety net to catch the hundred the thousand kaleidoscopic fish, nor the faceless man flying to face his daughter, in the cueball moon’s crater.
An out of body experience. Bombarded by rays of information. Sickness bubbling in the stomach. The abrupt awakening. But to what? To another dreamscape composed of a descending stairwell and hands and bug-eyed masks.
Icy submersion. No compass to orient. No circadian clock to block out an infinite regress. Elsewhere there. No point of light and so no depature.
No singularity. No idiosyncrasy.
Collective consciousness a hall.
Masks of men, like dead animals.
Plucks one person from them all.
Enters a doorway, changes souls.
The bus of being, hiccuping, up.
The faceless driver driving faceless passengers over a bridge which spanned The Animus River. The River Of Souls. The bus careened across the bridge and skidded sideways, rolling now over the wall, then down the drop. Fifty faceless passengers plunged into the icy waters. Inside perspective of a Ferruginous Hawk scanning the scene with vectored ticks like at hunt until the man was no man. Driver, where’d you take us? Elsewhere. Nowhere. Richard Roe if Richard Roe it was stood at a crossroads. Now a Joe Nobody. A John Doe. His eyes in the headlights oncoming. The bus careened across...
High above the world from a tiny square window Joan Roe sat with a People magazine spread across her lap. She looked out. Freckled face fogging the window. She remembered her Father, Richard, saying, he was told, somewhere in space sailed a Golden Record. She strapped into virtuality visors provided by Outer Atmosphere Airline 1. An empty desk with 874 burnt into the beveled edge. Then the interruption. We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Your regular programming has stopped. Stay tuned. HERE, WE’RE DREAMSCAPE...
Unlike our competitors we seek to create a sanctuary for the mind. A peace.
We can bring spirituality, not from the pulpit but from inside gray matter. The first step is stripping companies, like SleepSoc, of their slumberers. Thence will we sever the old mainstays of virtuality as mere entertainment.
The first step is stripping slumberers from such toxically drugged reality.
What we are selling is nothing. And nothing will always be in an abundance.
Instead of working from the outside-in, we strived to work from inside-out.
-The Institution of Mental Wellness
The eponymous 12-Fingered Typist hovered his hands over the keyboard, then he chickenpecked: Do dreamers dream dreams or do dreams dream dreamers?
The Typist, poised for preposition and proposition, paused. His threelegged dog ambled in through the chinked doorway. Realize the clock? It barked, Feed me, Hand. It’s Feeding time. Feed me, Hand.
Shut yer grocery hole a sec, Luck, said The Typist, turning a blind backhand. I’m on to sumpthin. He settled his hands prone.
Lucky moaned and groaned and pranced cutely in a circle. Beige ears drooping he scuttled prostrate, ass-dragging, to his owner’s highback swivelchair and laid prostrate in a despondent dogday doldrum. Lucky licked and nipped at his neutered crotch as if a gluttonous tick tacked its spurs to his furry underbelly.
The Typist spun, his thought-train gone off the rails: Aright then. He levered the chair and put his palms on his knees and lurched up and went to the kitchen and poured DOG BITES into Lucky’s pawprint bowl and microwaved more coffee then returned to writing. His marble eyes reread forwards and backwards the dream inquiry. Fingers situated spiderish on the keypanel he typed at an adagio, crescendoed to an acrimonious allegro and stopped, sipping his cold coffee down to the speckled dregs. Mmm. Mhmm.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to Man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
–William Blake, ’The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’
© 2016 Eldon Arsenaux