The Downtown Apocalypse Exchange was on the corner of Smoke Street and Mirror Avenue. Steel and glass rose out of the thoroughfare and knifed into the Paradise sky. Jim followed Rockefeller in through the revolving doors. Continue reading “Metadirt – Part 2 [Jim #15, Short Fiction]”
The Book of Jim: Agnostic Parables and Dick Jokes from Lucifer’s Paradise – finally published. Took me a few more months than I thought it would, but it was worth it. The paperback is slick as hell, the kindle works great, the illustrations are fantastic. Really happy with it. If you’re a nook-head, the nook version will be available as soon as I can get it to work. Epub is a nightmare when it comes to images. Anyway, here are the amazon links to the paperback and kindle editions:
The stories are still floating around on the blog, free as ever. Metadirt Part 2 coming soon.
Well, if you’ve been following these crazy stories at all, you’ll have noticed that there’s been a significant drop in the rate of posts lately. I finally got another story uploaded – if you didn’t see it on the main page it’s right here. It’s a two or three parter, so expect some more soon.
As for the novel, the manuscript is finished and the illustrations and cover are on the way, and all that’s left is the drudgery of formatting. The Book of Jim will be available in paperback, kindle, and nook real soon. For real this time. I promise. If it’s not, I’m either dead or insane or both, and you should probably look for something else to read.
The short film Limbo is finished. I’ve seen the final cut, and it’s hilarious. I love every second it. Fangso and Haines did a brilliant job on it. Most recently it’s been accepted to a film festival in Florida, and we’re waiting to hear from Tribeca. If you’re one of those amazing and intellectually disturbed people who put money into the kickstarter, hopefully you’ve gotten all the updates and goodies you were promised. If otherwise, get a message to me and we’ll make sure you get sorted. The film itself, you’ll have to wait a little while longer while it runs through the festivals. They can’t release it while it’s “on the circuit”. How big of a while I’m not sure. Probably a few months yet. And after that, it will be available for free online. Especially on this blog.
That’s it for now. Expect the book and some more stories soon.
There was a knock on the door. Jim opened it, expecting cake or tits or something else that was nice. Instead he got a face full of Billy Mays.
“Hey Jim! Remember me? We met at Lucy’s party. Well we didn’t really meet, you wore my head around for a while before you bashed everybody’s limbs off with a baseball bat. Of course you remember me. It’s the beard, everyone remembers the beard. You mind if I come in? I think I should come in. This is a lovely house! Wow! I love the couch! Is that Chenille?”
“Um, I don’t know. What are you doing here?” Jim wasn’t wearing pants.
Billy sniffed the coffee table. “Pine was a good choice,” he said. “Have you ever considered purchasing insurance against the eternal, Jim?” Continue reading “Metadirt – Part 1 [Jim #14, Short Fiction]”
If you’re following these Jim stories you might have noticed there haven’t been so many new ones lately. I’ve been exhausting most of my energy getting them into form for the short illustrated novel I hope to release before the year is out. Or at least by January. “From reddit comment to short film and novella in less than a year” – I like the sound of that.
The initial draft of the novella is complete, awaiting notes and a final rewrite. So far, my favorite blunder is the inclusion of Bridgette Bardot on Lay Lady Lane. Turns out she is very much alive and well. Sorry Bridgette. I heard your name in a Bob Dylan song and figured you were dead. I promise to do some research next time.
As for the short film, Limbo (here for more info), I’ve seen some preliminary cuts and they’re fucking slick. Congrats to Fangso and Haines and the cast and crew. And thanks again to everyone who contributed to the kickstarter. When the final cut is available online I’ll be posting all over this blog.
Also, when I release the novella, I plan to have the kindle version available for free for a few days. I’m doing a test run with my first novel Jarmo, and the kindle version of that book should be free on Oct. 1 and 2. This isn’t really a plug for it, I just want to make sure I know what I’m doing with this free promotion thing. But if you want to grab a free book, here’s the link. The promotion should run through Oct. 1 and 2. If you go there and it isn’t free, it’s because I’m an idiot.
Small Town, Paradise. Green yards and clean air and split-level houses. A post office, a police station, a grocery store, five bars and a set of stoplights. Autumn in the afternoon and summer in the evening, and every evening a new episode of Financially Stable and Moderately Happy Family.
Jim watched from up the road as a man mowed his lawn. The lawn was lush and smooth, already clipped to quarter-inch perfection, and still the man mowed over it. He marched back and forth over his square of grass for half an hour before cutting the engine, putting the mower in his garage, and entering his house.
Jim waited five minutes then knocked on the door. The man answered with a beer in his hand.
“I was wondering when you’d come around,” the man said. Continue reading “Cool Cogito, Bro [Jim #13, Short Fiction]”
I’m sitting with my back against the truth door. It’s a wooden green door without a handle and the Mexican that sold it to us parted with it easily. The U-Haul truck shakes at sixty and we’re doing sixty-five through eight lanes of traffic. I’m in the back on black rubber with the green door and the filing cabinets and discount drawers, holding the wire cage with one hand and wiping sweat from my eyes with the other. Through the cage – and it’s the kind a cage doomed puppies beg through – the Director is giving me a refresher on the Old Testament.
“The Bible is dirty, man. Genesis is dirty, Leviticus is dirty. Have you ever actually read through that thing? Yeah, of course you have. It isn’t Sodom and Gomorrah either, it’s the whole thing. It’s in the language and the obsessions. Circumcision and sister-fucking. Slaving. Two-dimensional characters. The stereotypes are true.”
“Are you religious?” That’s Production Design. She’s driving. The Director wanted a white truth door and she wanted a green one.
“No.” I’m loud and concise through the bouncing cage.
“You seem to know a lot about it. I mean, you’d have to.”
“It’s all interesting. I just never drank the cool-aid.”
“I’d be pretty surprised if he was religious.”
“Well you never know.”
The Director picks up where he left off, somewhere in Joshua maybe, and I close my eyes and lie down.
The Writer. It has a different meaning out here. There’s a wild and desperate energy in it, almost hopeless. Everybody is trying to get made. I think, Marketability is the god of all scripts in a city with nothing left to say – and I wonder what that means and whether it’s worth writing down.
Production Design swerves and the truth door bangs my shoulder. The cabinets rattle. She’s going to paint the cabinets black for the final scene.
“Are you okay back there?”
The Director is on his phone. There’s a problem with a dolly.
“I really like the door,” I say.
“I like the door. The green.”
“Jim’s color is blue.”
“Your character, his color is blue. He’s a really blue character. That’s why the door has to be green.”
She either doesn’t hear me or it’s a trade secret. I sit back down. The dolly problem is getting worse. I drink the last of my water.
We’re on the side of LA where it’s 5 am and the buildings are old. I’m shaking hands with DPs and PAs, the AD and the DIT, and accidentally somebody just walking through. The gate to the lot is closed and the Director has to climb it and push it open from the inside. The building looks like a loading dock.
Somebody asks me what we do for fun in Minnesota and I tell them about the airport.
Production Design pulls up in the U-Haul and parks it by the metal stairs. She’s the exhausted kind of pretty, I think, the kind that only eats not to die and only sleeps not to go insane. Maybe I should write that one down too.
“Are you excited?” she asks.
“Yeah. I mean, here we are. 1 Truth Road.”
“Is it how you imagined it?”
I look at the building that looks like a loading dock. It’s gray bricks and covered windows and smells like asphalt and farts. A black stair leading to the roof is barred by a gate and a sign that says NO HIGH HEELS.
“It’s perfect,” I say.
I help her unload the black cabinets and the table and some chairs, a lamp, scraps of wood. And finally the truth door, dirty and cracked and green, laying in the emptiness. I grab the bottom, she takes the top, and we carry it through the lot and up some stairs and into the gray building.
I’m shaking another hand.
“We’re glad you made it. I really love your story.”
The Producer is taller than he looks. He sounds like he just went to the mattresses and somebody big is about to die.
“You liking what you see?”
The set is a white floor and two white walls. The crew is taping windows and plugging in cords and setting up work stations. The DIT is on a dark stage above us with headphones and a laptop. The guy on the ladder hanging lights is a Gaffer.
“I don’t really know what I’m seeing.”
“It will make sense when it’s all set up and Talent gets here.” The Producer gestures at the whiteness. “I’m not sure, but I think a few shots for the Matrix were actually filmed here.”
“If you need anything, get it from me or the AD. Have you met the Assistant to the Director?”
“Great. Have some coffee, man. Settle in. We’re making your movie.”
There’s a problem with the door. Production Design is standing with a fist on her hip. She’s looking at the ceiling in frustration and I notice that it’s the same pale green as the door.
“Need a hand?”
“The door is too heavy,” she says.
I get a little chill up my back. The truth door is too heavy.
“Maybe – could you just hold this while I screw these in?”
We need a free standing frame and all we have is wood scraps. I hold the door flush and she drills in some hinges. When I let go the contraption leans with a strange gravity. The angles aren’t Euclidean.
“We just need something to hold it up,” she says. “Something on the bottom here. The corner. A block or something.”
I see what she means. The door is suspended and it’s falling away from the hinges. We find a suitable piece of wood and I hold the door up with my foot as she screws it in. We both take a step back. The truth door is standing.
The last shot of the day. They call it martini. We’re fourteen hours deep and a haggard excitement is going around. The Director, I can’t tell if he’s surfing or directing or just passing the time, and I get the feeling he could do all three simultaneously and everything would come out alright. The Gaffer and the Grippers work like dogs under the hot lights and they’re ready for the wrap. The PA’s and the 2nd AD are half dead and sweating on a couch and the beautiful girls responsible for Make-up and Costume are whispering in a corner. The DP rides the dolly and when X marks the spot Talent lopes in with his ancient threads and moldy beard.
What looks like one white floor and two white walls is really an infinite white space. I’m looking at it through the Script Supervisor’s iPad. The pale green door and the tired and ragged Talent are etched stark and surreal. Talent opens the door and walks through and the camera rides the dolly out, fading out, pulling away and getting small. Smaller. It’s quiet now. Momentous.
A sad knock from the other side.
“I fucked up.” The deadpan is so funny it hurts. “I fucked up real bad. How do I get back in? Is there a side entrance?”
“Cut! That’s a wrap!”
Jon Benjamin on the first day of shooting. Just a super cool guy. Low key and funny as hell.
Me and Katie Wallack in the smoky loft. She was perfect as Angel.
Me and Dan Mintz in the writer’s pen waiting to get fed.
On the left is Kate, and Aella on the right. They played Cherry and Blueberry. I think the whole cast and crew fell in love with them. Me too. Some of you redditors might know them from /r/gonewild.
A panorama of some of the crew, getting drunk after the wrap. I’m going to get some of this wrong but from left to right is: Producer, Director of Photography, Assistant to Director, Camera, DIT, Writer, Script Supervisor, Director, Random Guy in Background, PA, Camera/DP, 2nd AD.
Thanks to everyone involved. I can’t wait to see what Limbo looks like!
The Limbo kickstarter raised just over $31,000, a huge success. Thank you to everyone who either put in five bucks or a hundred bucks or even just helped us out with a facebook share. Because of your interest and your votes of confidence there will soon be a short film based on my Jim stories and with a crazy awesome cast and crew.
If you’re late to the party, you can find a whole bunch of info about the film on the kickstarter page:
and all of the Jim stories are right here:
Director – Fangso Liu
Producer – Haines Landry
Consulting Producer – Dan Mintz
Cinematographer – Ryan Griswold
Production Design – Francesca Marciano
Editor – Michael Schatz
Jim – Jon Benjamin
Lucy – Natasha Leggero
Angel – Katie Wallack
Man – Leonard Kelly-Young
Here’s an interview with Jon Benjamin. I watched this and I could just hear Jim’s lines falling out of his mouth:
And Natasha Leggero is the perfect Lucy. Here’s the sexy queen of Paradise getting shallow in her uptown hot tub:
Keep an eye out for more Jim stories. I think we’ll be meeting some of Jim’s family in the next one . . .
“I don’t dream anymore.”
“Nobody dreams anymore.”
“Is it still possible to dream? In this place?”
“Well, anything is possible. But no, not really.”
“I miss it.”
“You miss it?”
“They’re just dreams.”
“You don’t miss dreams?”
“When I was a kid I dreamed about the world series and hitting a homerun. You know, bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by a run, I’ve got a broken arm and I’m hitting into the wind – and then boom it’s out of the park. I march the bases, wave my hat, I stomp down at home. The crowd goes wild.”
“It’s a nice dream.”
“I think so.”
“You know, you can just do that now.”
“You’ve already done it?”
“Well there you go.”
“It wasn’t the same.”
“That’s because it was real.”
“I felt stupid.”
“It is stupid. Incredibly stupid.”
“You just said it was a nice dream.”
“A nice, stupid dream.”
“Well, I miss it.”
“I can’t give you your dreams back. Dreaming requires lacking and you lack nothing. Except for dreaming. Which is weird, but that’s just how it works. And if you try to dream about dreaming you’re in for a real headache. So don’t go doing anything like that.”
“Can you do anything for me? It doesn’t have to be the world series. Just a simple one maybe. I used to dream about driving down the highway. That’s it, just an open road and the engine and the sky. How about that one?”
“No dreams. Here’s what I can do for you though. I’m going to go ahead and diagnose you with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
“I don’t think that’s what I have.”
“Are you sure? It comes with a wagon full of dex.”
“It’s pretty much meth. Your teeth won’t fall out, but it will stimulate your psycho-activity.”
“I can’t dream anymore so you’re giving me a wagon full of meth?”
“To stimulate my psycho activity?”
“Take it or leave it.”
“Well, I mean, if that’s all you got.”
Jim pulled the wagon of dex along the top of the wall. It was like a little red wagon except it was big and blue. The pills were white and they rattled like teeth. The wall, forty feet high and ten feet thick, cut an erratic line through the Middle of Nowhere. Jim popped another pill and went back to stacking bricks.
Somebody called up to him from the ground.
“Hey! You! What’s the big idea?”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s a wall!” Jim said. “I’m building a wall! Eighteen million nine hundred thousand three hundred and sixteen bricks so far. You never knew how many bricks it took to make a wall!”
“Well who’s it keeping out?”
“Where’s it going?”
“Why you building it?”
“I was bummed out and unfocused because there aren’t any dreams anymore but then the doctor gave me all this dex and I started to build a wall. There’s an infinite number of bricks up here and I never even thought to build a wall before. Eighteen million nine hundred thousand three hundred and seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen. Just look at this beautiful fucking wall!”
“Say, come to think of it, I don’t dream anymore neither.”
“Climb aboard! I’ve got a wagon full of dex and bricks for days! Yaaachachachaka!”
The somebody climbed up and turned into a George, who swallowed a fistful of dex and started scraping mortar. Jim stacked the bricks. When they finished a section George carried the mortar and the bricks and Jim pulled the wagon of dex.
“This is just great!” George said.
“Nineteen million one hundred and thirty-two thousand three hundred and forty-two!” Jim said.
“All this time I was just kind of wandering around I didn’t really know what to do I mean there’s so many things you can do up here I was just a little lost I was overwhelmed and distracted there aren’t any directions around here. You know? But now it’s like I don’t even have to think the thinking is gone and I can just do and do and do and I don’t have to think for myself I can just fucking do.”
There were a lot of people like Jim and George. Everyone they ran into seemed to have dreams that didn’t work anymore. Pretty soon there were a hundred, then a thousand dreamless souls, all tweaking through the Middle of Nowhere and leaving a trail of bricks. Whole teams for mixing clay and mortar, excavating, rock-breaking and landscaping, brick-laying and brick-counting and bricking. They were very organized. A hundred new miles of wall went up every day.
The psychiatrists of Paradise discovered the wall and rallied around its cause and began recruiting every patient for its construction. Thousands more and tens of thousands were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and soon a million men and women roamed the wall. The dex came in trucks.
They sang a song.
Fuck your boring dreams, and fuck your boring soul –
All you need is Dexedrine off you fucking go!
A zillion bricks to stack, eternity to roll –
A wagon full of dex will build a wall to
Nobody really knows!
So heed this word from us, who build and build it high –
Fuck us living, fuck us dead – Let’s build it to the sky!
A googol miles to march, infinity to fly –
A wagon full of dex will take us all to
For about thirteen years they built the wall. Their numbers swelled to thirty million and the wall stretched on for a million miles. The dex mines of Paradise passed the infinity test and no dreamless builder built without the bumps of Adderall or Ritalin or Dexedrine. Thirty million tweakers united by a single purpose – to build a brick wall through the Middle of Nowhere.
And they made it. Jim and George led them right to it. The great impasse loomed and the building of the wall came to a stop.
“What is it?” said Jim.
“I think it’s a university,” said George. “That there looks like admissions.”
“Can we build through it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“It’s pretty big.”
Just then the gates of the university opened and a man rode out on a white horse.
“I am the Dean of the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and the Somewhere,” the man said. “What is your business here?”
“We just want to pass through,” Jim said. “We’re building a wall.”
“If you want to get to Somewhere, you have to go through the University. If you want to go through the University, you have to get a Diploma.”
“We don’t want Diplomas,” Jim said. “We just want to pass through.”
“Somewhere can only be reached by those who have Diplomas,” the Dean said. “And to receive a Diploma, you have to give me money.”
“What?! Like, how much money?”
“Lots of it.”
“Well fucking how much?”
The Dean of the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere held up his hands, about three feet apart.
“He wants three feet of money?” George said.
“Three feet per person,” the Dean said.
Jim counted on his fingers.
“So if we get you ninety million feet of money, you’ll give as all Diplomas and we can pass through your University and get to Somewhere?”
“The cost of books is not included,” the Dean said. “There are also administration and athletics fees. And technology fees. And living expenses, such as parking and food.”
“Goddammit how much?”
“Two hundred million feet of pure money,” the Dean said. “I expect it in full no later than two weeks after the day before the beginning of the fall semester.”
The Dean rode his white horse back through the gates and they closed. Jim and George watched and scratched their heads.
“Where we gonna find two hundred million feet of pure money?” George said.
The banker spun her pen and clicked it then spun it again and tapped it on her coffee mug. It was a plain coffee mug. She was a plain woman with glasses.
“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You and all your friends got doped up on amphetamines and built a wall that serves no purpose in the Middle of Nowhere. You crashed your wall into a university, and you want me to give you two hundred million feet of money for diplomas that you neither know how nor intend to use?”
“Pure money,” Jim said. “And the dean says the Diplomas will get us to Somewhere.”
“Okay.” She spun her pen and pressed it to the document, paused and looked at Jim over her glasses. “And I have your personal assurance that, following the catastrophic failure of all your ambitions, you will spend the remainder of eternity paying the interest on this loan, in a futile attempt to get back to where you were before you started?”
“Yep,” Jim said.
Thirty million people was too many to make the walk, so the University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere fired the Diplomas out of T-shirt cannons. The red-ribboned parcels flew through the air like grapeshot. Anthropology Diplomas, Philosophy Diplomas, Liberal Arts and Fine Arts and Commercial Arts and Graphic Design Diplomas. There were Diplomas for Physical Fitness and Taking Pictures. One of the red-ribboned parcels struck Jim in the face and he tore off the ribbon and as he read it his name appeared in black ink.
The University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere
The Board of The University of the Place Between the Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere, after verifying the purity of three full feet of his/her money, has conferred upon
The Degree of
BACHELOR OF ARTS
Together with all the Honors and Privileges belonging to that Degree.
“General English?” Jim said.
“General! Well shit on me.” George stood at attention and saluted. “I got Parks and Recreation.”
“I think it means English in general.” Jim held the paper up to the sky, turned it this way and that, squinted, sniffed it. “I don’t get it. Shouldn’t everybody just have one of these?”
Disappointment and confusion were ubiquitous. Thirty million graduates built a Great Wall through the Middle of Nowhere, and there wasn’t an Engineer among them. No Scientists either. Just a bunch of philosophers and artists. They all seemed to understand at once that a mountain of dex would never bury their shame, and as broken individuals they stumbled off into Somewhere, clutching Diplomas in their anxious fists.
“Hey. Hey.” George jabbed Jim in the ribs. “You’re General Talking, I’m Private Walking. Get it? Parks and Recreation. Get it?”
“The drugs didn’t work.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I didn’t get anywhere.”
“It says here you got Somewhere.”
“Well, it turns out Somewhere isn’t any place in particular.”
“So why are you here?”
“I need more drugs.”
“I thought they didn’t work.”
“I owe the Bank of Paradise two hundred million feet of pure money. I couldn’t find any English work, but I’m pretty good at stacking bricks now. There’s a guy over on Cloud Fifty-seven with a brick fetish and he pays by the yard. So I need some more drugs.”
“I need at least a truck.”
“Not a problem. So, it says here you were missing your dreams? How are things on that score? Do you still miss them?”
“Well there you go. I can’t tell you the satisfaction that comes with helping a fellow soul in need. Here’s a prescription for an endless supply of any drug that keeps you productive, a flash-drive full of NBC sitcoms, and a bucket to scream in. And here’s my card for when it all falls apart again. Good luck to you, Jim.”
Shank rattled down the sidewalk. In some distant and huddled corner of consciousness he remembered what the inside of the city felt like, what it looked like. He looked at himself from that place: the jitter of his eyes, the disheveled clothes, the wild hair, the tweak in his walk. He was repulsive. Dangerous.
He bumped an old woman in furs. She made a noise of surprise, and on seeing him a face of fear and disgust. He barely recognized it as a face. It was more like a residual blur, an afterglow of some strange image he’d never understand. Her poodle yipped as she yanked on its leash and hurried away, and he started laughing. His laugh was insane, and he knew it, and he laughed harder.
People were looking. More faces. More disgust. How does a man fall so far? What did he used to be? Did he used to be anything? The thoughts were his own but seemed to come from elsewhere. The attack confused him, cut his laughter dead, sent him reeling forward.
An alley saved him from the faces and muffled the traffic. His nerves, tense to breaking, loosened. He breathed in the smell of rot and knew he was in the right place. A sign above a rusted door said “The Other Side” and he rapped the hollow metal. The clank of a bolt preceded a pale eye behind a crack and a chain.
“I haven’t seen you in a month.”
“I need to come in. Just let me in. You have to help me.”
“Did you clean the stain?”
“The stain. I am a fucking stain. You’re a paradox. The whole thing is absurdity and it followed me back. I can’t explain it through the cracks. Open the door. Open the door.”
“You don’t look so good.”
“Open the fucking door!”
The crack disappeared, the chain rattled, and the door came open. Shank entered and the hole closed behind him. Before him were the instruments of his madness. He had dreamed of them too. Monitors and grids and panels whose complexity and engineering were far beyond his understanding, they gave the room a strange glow that had once intoxicated him. Now it frightened him. He shuddered.
“I talked to Holly. She said you only made two sessions. Where the hell have you been? We gave you up for roasted.”
There was a parenthetic question mark behind the last. Am I roasted? he wondered.
“I zawned,” he said.
“You . . . zawned?” The incredulity in the voice was drowned in excitement. “It takes people years to – nobody like you has ever – are you sure?”
“It wasn’t a dream.” He turned to Nikolai. “I want to show you.”
The geek’s eyes were wide. “A zawning has never been graphed before. Fuck, Shank, people don’t even think it’s real. You think you copped an image?”
“It’s at least a gigapixel.”
“It ain’t about the damn pixels, man. Anybody can come back with ten gigapixels of foggy shit. You really think you zawned, and came back with a resolved image? I mean, spatially, radiometrically, resolved?”
“Just light me up. You’ve got questions, I’ve got questions, it’s shaking me loose. Just light me up. If it isn’t there, it isn’t there. Maybe it isn’t there. Maybe I’m not here. I’m gonna lose it. You watching this? The whole thing’s melting right the fuck out of my head. Ask me another question.”
Nikolai wasted no time with the apparatus. For what it did, the thing was pretty simple. Seven nodes attached to the head, they transmitted the data wirelessly to the networked drives. Nine of them, slinging bits and information on the order of a terabyte per nanosecond. It was the cooling that was the suck, and energy wasn’t cheap. Nikolai usually reminded him that every pull cost him a legal month of watts, but this time he just flipped the switch.
The lights flickered and dimmed. The hum of the cooling rods met the hum of the processors, pulsing in a low binaural beat. Shank closed his eyes and called up the image. This was what they called the magic minute. Anybody could dream, but only a few could bring one back, and only a few of the few could render it. And barely any of those could transmit. In the strange glow and invasive rhythm of the machinery, Shank viewed the still from his memory more clearly than his eyes could have seen it. Captured in a dream beyond a dream, enhanced through conscious processes, painted now physically across the synapses of his brain. All else faded away, thoughts became dim then mute then disappeared. The image shuddered once when his fear returned, but even the fear phased out. The world beyond the image dissipated, and the image was everything.
The sensation that occurred as the nodes kicked up their dust storm of neurons was surreal; and with every pull it was newly surreal. It was as if the world became unhinged, and tiny ghosts with stingers attacked from all sides at once. Unseen, unfelt, the prodding force could only be experienced beyond the senses. The assault seemed to last an age. When at last it ended Shank let the image fall and with it some of the memory. He opened his eyes.
Nikolai was at his panel, manipulating the figures on the screen with unconscious dexterity. It was all Greek to Shank. Splatter patterns and algorithms and all sorts of esoteric mathematical jargon bounced around in the display. If he hadn’t seen the results before, he might, like many others, think the whole thing was a parlor trick.
“Here it comes,” said Nikolai.
The back wall shimmered and became white. A wave of black light swept through it, leaving behind a faint pattern of black flecks. Another wave, and another. They came at faster intervals, filling the canvas with black. It was all black. Something was wrong. The image wasn’t coming through. The waves ripped until nothing remained but the deepness of the absence of color. Shank looked into the darkness, not understanding.
“Is this a joke?” said Nikolai. The edge in his voice was fear, and maybe anger.
“It was dark, but it wasn’t that dark. There was horror in the hole, but the disk was made of light. Every color you’ve ever seen. A curling bridge of dust and great storm of white fire, the shadow of the hand that found me. It was there. It’s here. I saw her face. My thoughts are made of color, not this darkness.”
Shank looked at Nikolai, not seeing him. “My thoughts are made of light,” he said. “My memories are masterpieces.”
“You’re fucking roasted,” Nikolai said. “Forget about the stain, you’re whole brain is fried, man. Who am I going to sell this to, huh? Who the fuck is going to buy an empty piece of fucking nothing?”
Shank replied, but it was an unintelligible mutter. He muttered all the way out the door, down the alley, back into the cracks of the city.
The Metroplex was a mountain of glass and metal, ravines and spires. Tar roads trickled through the pits, skyways hovered in the twilight zone, the Church of Man rose up over all, a lonely peak so high it made the tourists dizzy. And orbiting the edifice like a Saturn’s ring a ribbon of Heaven boasted the achievements of the flesh. It was a dreamscape projected onto a stream of particles, built and maintained by the church, the forty-second wonder of the world.
Shank knew the man who dreamed it, a man that used to have an eye for the world. Jon Newton had been among the pioneers of dreamscaping, turning the unknown realms of sleep into the next frontier of expression. He sculpted dreams of diamond oceans, floating cities, falling skies. But then a bishop from the Church of Man slipped a check in his pocket, and now he called himself Wazir and only dreamed of Heaven.
The Church of Man. It brought the bile up, thinking of it. The final resting place for the god of the gaps. The old religions had surrendered to science and reason and the deluge of secularism that came with the second Enlightenment, only to reemerge as a hybrid of humanism and new age mysticism. The clergy wore jeans, the songs had a backbeat, and Jesus was Muhammad was Buddha was Vishnu was the answer to the letter y. Physics, chemistry, biology – they had the how of it, but people still needed a place to go when their bodies gave up the ghost. Escape route, plan B, the way out. Consciousness was the last mystery on earth or in the stars, therefore god. And therefore heaven and Jon Newton’s billion dollar dreams.
Maybe god was in the cards, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was god’s hand reaching out of that darkness, curling its fingers around his mind, giving him this squeeze. Maybe it was the other guy.
Maybe it was me.
Holly and her zawners were on the fifth floor of the church. Through a silent door he found the ocean-blue lobby, pocked with dull-eyed baitfish. They came here to dream because dreaming was the only moral high. The holy LSD. There was a god in the cracks between sleep and death and a cure for existence. Whatever work they did was meaningless, whatever families they had were the same notch of mute. They came here for the numbness.
The receptionist recognized him.
“The artist returns to us,” she said. She had the mystic’s calm, a voice that crawled through time. “He brings a question.”
Heads turned. They knew him here.
“She makes the dream. Have some tea. The time will pass.”
“I need to see Holly.”
“The time will pass.”
“There isn’t any fucking time!” His fist on the counter was an alien violence. The intrigue of the faithers behind him smelled like plague. He took a breath, lowered his voice. “I have been where you pretend to go. I returned with an image, and the dreamscape was black. There’s a hole in my head and it’s sucking the life out of my eyes and I need to speak to Holly. Now.”
The voice was in his ear, the lips too close. He turned, and the face was pale with awe. Others came. Faces. Too many faces. They were all flat with wonder, glossed with the oblivion of belief. They surrounded him.
“What did you see?”
“Was there a light?”
“Did it feel like they say? Did it feel like flying?”
Lambs. The folds of the old testaments, dull and willing. He saw the emptiness that built this edifice, the absurdity that furnished and sustained it. All the monuments through the ages, from the Church of Man to the Parthenon, grown brick by brick from these seeds of wish and fear.
He was saved by another door. She stood within its frame, a feminine paradigm and a halo of blue light. The calm these faithers pretended was savage in her. She won through pain what they hoped to purchase through donation.
“Shank,” she said, “Please come inside.”
He followed her.
“You are lost.”
“Everybody’s lost. I’m off the plane.”
“You found your way here.”
“You did this to me. You, this place, those people. I came here to get the needle out of my brain, you replaced it with a knife and sent me screaming through the void. I just wanted a pill, something to pop. Something to clean the stain. I didn’t ask for this.”
“Zawning. Your out-of-body freak-show. I don’t believe in this nonsense, I don’t subscribe to magic, I don’t fuck around with prophets and voodoo. I dream, and I paint. There’s nothing mystical about it. I don’t chase angels through the ether. My dreamscapes were smeared, and came here, I found here. They said you’d done it before, gone inside and flushed the pipes. They didn’t say you’d shove a rocket up my ass and aim for the abyss.”
“You believe you’ve zawned?”
“It wasn’t a dream.”
“Can you describe it?”
“Ashes at Midnight. Coal in a Tar-pit. I copped the image and that’s what I pulled. Oblivion.”
“Don’t you get it? It’s impossible. You can’t pull nothing. You can’t pull what you can’t fathom, and nobody can fathom the darkness. Not if you’re blind from birth can you project full absence, because the mind itself is something.”
“And the dream?”
“It wasn’t a dream.”
“The zawn, then.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“I believe you’ve had a transformative experience.”
“I only asked you to describe it.”
“I can’t! It isn’t words. I’m no good with words. Can you describe Picasso? Can you describe a supernova?”
“I could try.”
“I’m not roasted.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You’re thinking it, you’re looking it. I can smell it. Shank’s hit the wall, too much time in lala land, brain-splat, game over. Didn’t come back this time, did I? Buried my soul and shit in the hole.”
“Do you think you’re roasted?”
“Then tell me what you saw.”
“Colors. Shapes. The shadow of a hand and the face of beauty. There it is. Picture it if you will.”
“Shank, I can only help you if you’re open.”
“I need to go back. I can’t get back. You have to get me back.”
“Back to what?”
“Back to the hand that found me and the eyes that knew me!”
“Shank – ”
“I was there! I can’t describe it and I can’t prove it and if we were reversed I’d never believe it, but I was there.”
“Shank. Shut up, look directly into my eyes, and do everything I tell you.”
Consciousness. Pure and unthinking and ablaze. In high movement above the city it burned with the unbridled positivity of existence without awareness. Then it blinked twice and became afraid.
The city was a gorgeous wound in the earth, its dream of heaven a solemn ring of infection. Around it the skin was flat and smooth until forests or mountains or rivers. The fear became wonder became fear again. A fall from this height was death, and there was a universe to go.
Another blink and Earth was a haloed sphere, wretchedly blue against the white glare of the distant sun. The bleakness of the distance was awful. Earth was a lonely and vulnerable thing, moving at terrible speed through darkness, held to its course by the weakest force in the universe.
A ring of orbiting rocks and mountains, some glistening like diamonds. Tumble weeds blowing through a ghost system. Beyond them the great mass of Jupiter stood like its namesake, its one eye a wandering threat.
Another blink and Saturn was a pale dot and the sun was cold. The Church of Man was a pin prick on a pin prick on a speck of light-stricken dust. The distances were coming in magnitudes and suddenly the sun was just a star. A star among a billion stars. Stars that went shooting past, balls of light that flashed white for a moment and cooled to red as they raced away to punch another hole in the shrinking expansion. Until the flashes became streaks, ribbons of energy bent through time and pointing home.
Then, as if it were the heart ripped out of his chest and dropped from a height, Shank watched the spiral of the galaxy fall away. The whole galaxy, with its legions of stars and men, became a faint glow in the stoic emptiness.
The fear fell with it and he realized he was looking backwards. He turned and discovered that journey had just begun. The void swallowed him. They weren’t stars but galaxies that went streaking past. Embers of the dying fire fighting against the cold and the dark.
And the great darkness loomed. The black disc dominated field and spectrum and sucked existence inwards. A trillion suns made wild orbit, their guts ripped out in whorling torrents and ringing the abyss with a dance of fire. Blue geysers of energy made a violent escape from the belly of the hole and etched a brilliant highway through the absence around it.
Here was the center of things. From this point all points arose.
As before the hand reached out to him. He could feel the consciousness behind it. No other force would dare the demonstration. It was the fifth force, the eyes that made eternal observance and substantiated the others.
But the hand was made of light, and even light surrendered to infinity. The darkness bent it to breaking and swallowed.
When the face emerged it knew him. It moved to speak.
He was shaking. The eyes were Holly’s.
“Shank, are you there?” She snapped her fingers at him. “Say something.”
“I’m here.” He sat up. He was on the floor, drenched in sweat, and his whole body ached. Holly was frightened. He had never seen her frightened.
“You seized,” she said.
“I have to get to the Other Side,” he said. He tried to stand but his legs were weak and they failed him. “What happened?”
There were faithers in the room. They clutched the walls, afraid to approach, and they looked at him with terrible reverence.
“I’m sorry,” Holly said. “They just . . . came.”
“The Other Side,” he said. “I have the image, Holly. The face at the center of things, at the center of myself, the eyes of darkness and beauty. Nikolai – take me to Nikolai.”
Her hand on his cheek was cool. “You need to rest. Your body is tired.”
Holly. The ages could be traced in the lines of her skin and her voice echoed back from the halls beyond death.
He pushed her away. When he stood, his legs held him. But one of the faithers, tall and glazed, blocked the exit and held up a hand. The calm in him was dumb and the eyes were baked with borrowed dreams.
Shank grabbed a heavy bookend from Holly’s shelf and cracked his faither skull. He cracked it again. Blood ended the mystic playtime and a woman screamed. A final crack and the man fell and Shank stumbled and ran out the door.
The heavy thing, the white ivory in his grip, it was an angel, bowed sublimely with folded wings and splattered red.
“Nikolai!” His fist rattled the cheap metal. “Nikolai! I have it! The image is clear! Open the door!”
The bolt, the pale eye and the crack and the chain.
“You’re roasted. Get the fuck out of here.”
“You don’t understand,” Shank said. “I was there. I breathed it. I’m infused. These are the colors of life and the hole is black murder. I have it, Nikolai, and this time it’s real. You have to trust it. You have to risk it.”
“I scrapped a month of watts on your darkness,” Nikolai said. “It’s game over for you, Shank.”
Shank kicked the door. “Explain it then! The image wasn’t smeared, there wasn’t a stain. It was absence, fully resolved. It isn’t supposed to be possible.”
Nikolai said nothing.
“It’s something,” Shank said. He put his face to the crack. The metal was cool. “There’s more of it. I pulled this from the edge, Nikolai. I didn’t cop the lines, they’re seared across my brain. You just have to turn on the machine. This is it. This is the one, the one that puts me back on the map, the one that gets you out of this dive.”
The chain clicked and the door opened. Nikolai wielded two fingers like a dagger and jabbed Shank in the chest.
“You better not be fucking around.”
“Just turn it on. Turn it on, turn it on.”
Seven nodes attached to the head. The cooling and processing thrummed. Shank closed his eyes and brought the image forward and traced its lines with his mind. The magic minute came and the nodes kicked up their storm of neurons, ghosts, and stingers.
When he opened his eyes Nikolai was a blur at his panel. The jargon bounced around his screens like a coded game of pong and the clacking of keys was violent against the hum of the machines. A final clack and the black light began its sweep over the white wall. Patterns emerged, and colors. Colors from a dream that wasn’t a dream.
“What is it?” Nikolai asked.
“You’ll see. Everyone will see,” Shank said.
Every pass of light laid a million flecks. Lines became clear, and then shapes. Shapes that formed a face and the face was Shank’s and it screamed from a hole in the universe. Streams of light and dust shot through the particle miasma and wrapped the hole in a halo of agony and a hand reached out but never touched the stars.
“It’s brilliant,” said Nikolai.
“It wasn’t me,” Shank said. “Where is she? Milk and eyes, Nikolai! This isn’t what I saw. She was beautiful. You fucked it up. What is this? That isn’t me. Where is my masterpiece? What did you do you with my masterpiece?”
The rattling of the door, a thunder from the other side. Nikolai went and opened the crack and the voice came through it like a flood.
“Metroplex Police. Sheldon Banks is wanted for the murder of William Laughlin. We tracked him here. We have a warrant. You can open the door or we can break it down.”
“Open the door, put your hands on your head, and back away.”
Murder. The red splattered angel and the faither. The face in the hole with the eyes of fear without hope, an elbow against his spine and the taste of concrete and teeth and copper blood.
“My dreams are beautiful. You should have seen my dreams.”
“What the hell is this place?”
“Looks like dreamscaping. Black market, keeps the watts off the grid. You fucked up your friend real good with this back-alley rig, buddy. You’re going down for the juice, and accessory.”
“I barely know this guy! My watts are clean, check the logs!”
Shank had no resistance to give. He was limp as they dragged him.
“I dreamed of purple roses once,” he said. “I dreamed of purple roses that hung from a sheet of sky. The girl, she stood on a blade of grass – she had a face of milk and eyes.”
The officer made a note of it and pushed his head into the car.