Beatrice reached Maggie Walsh's within a few minutes, turning up the road to Hell Mountain, passing a number of small stone and adobe structures, some abandoned. Old trucks, cars, pieces of rusting metal and unidentifiable junk littered the areas around the houses--one couldn't call those areas yards, even though one or two stone walls fronted the road pointlessly. Then she found the house that had to be Maggie's, the word Walsh on a large sign above the mailbox, the house behind them a two-story stone building much larger than any house she had seen so far. The house was solid, it seemed to have history, it was not just another lean-to nightmare thrown together on absurdity, as the rest of the town seemed to be.
Maybe we never confront what scares us, Beatrice thought, and our fears wind endlessly ahead of us like some tricky, laughing double, wandering through the distorted mirrors in which we think we see the world. All the stories said there was a moment when everything converged, when people struck back at what they knew of themselves and broke those mirrors, stepping into daylight and a future in which they knew why they lived their lives like they did. But maybe that convergence didn't happen, maybe the doors kept folding back onto other rooms of mirrors, other fears that took the place of earlier ones but kept the memory of their features. "I've come here because I expected something to happen," Beatrice thought. Happen, she wondered, what does that mean? Don't I mean something that takes place in such a way that it transforms me, proving I'm alive, and that I want it to do that because I've felt so long now like I was dead? But nothing outside can do that, she thought, it's all inside, all here, and nothing in this town can change me anymore than I'm willing to recognize and do something with, and what has to change is me. But this town is me, too, isn't it, she thought. That's why I'm here--this town is my funhouse. "They'll fuck you to death with your nightmares"--isn't that what the man at the gas station had said? "The death I carry with me is my own mind," Beatrice had spoken the words out loud without knowing she was going to say them. They hung in the air palpable as heat.
Going into the carnival, what's the first clang you will hear on the staircase, circling down? Through the cobwebbed doors the dance continues, bony cheek against decayed finger, whispers of devotion, secret poisons inhaled, necessary revenge floating unfulfilled through the room like the stink of putrefaction. Let me take your arm of chances lost, cracking like the walls.
"Yes, poetry is fun, I like to write sometimes but these days I have so much else to do, I haven't done any writing in awhile, I used to write, once many years ago I wanted to be a writer but things intervened and now I'm sure my talent is gone."
Who did you torture yesterday, how severely or mildly? What did it feel like? Did the person you were torturing know they were being tortured? Did you know you were torturing them? Was there anybody around, yourself included, who knew what happened or why?
It's not that life remains a mystery, he said, looking out the window at the city where people hurried to their business. It's that too often one knows exactly what to do and doesn't do it, that we embrace like our dearest friend the thing that destroys us.
Where are you... the hallways are too long for insight, the lost voices and shadows.
"Do come in dear, everything is already set for you." Maggie was a strong woman, probably in her early fifties Beatrice guessed, long hair white, dress faded, hands when she touched Beatrice's arm calloused and firm.
"There's some sort of mistake," Beatrice said. "I didn't let anyone know I was coming. So you've set things up for somebody else."
"Whatever you say, dear," Maggie Walsh smiled. "There's plenty of room for everyone. Will you be taking meals with the others?"
"What? Oh, yes, that would be nice, thank you. You mean to say there are really other people staying here?"
"There are always people staying here."
"But this town is in the middle of nowhere," Beatrice saw Maggie look at her curiously, and realized that what she had said could obviously be taken as insulting.
"Isn't that why you're here?" Maggie said
"Yes," Beatrice said slowly. "I guess it is."
I wasn't going to be like the others. I was determined to be free, radical, open to everything, there were no hierarchies in my mind, I was going to beat the system...
How many things have you dreamed of changing into? I imagined myself with wings, with claws, with three heads, with rows of teeth, with eyes that shone with the murders of centuries, I was the little graceful goblin who welcomed you to the cathedral of your longing.
The price of bitterness is always too high, although at first it seems like protection. She wanted her world to be safe, and found she'd filled it with demons. In his adventures, he proved to himself he was never in danger, and discovered he had wasted his life.
According to many people, the highest sin an author can commit is not knowing. Beyond ambiguity, it suggests that the words remain out of control, as if the author doesn't know what has been said. Yet what new worlds are hiding in the unknown? And not existing, how could they be sinful?
Is there no line that one crosses into anger, or into madness? Is it a distinction for towers and boardrooms and the bloody hands of generals?
If I imagined a world where you and I could live together, I am paying for it now.*
"I bought this house from a man who claimed to be a Russian count," Maggie told Beatrice as the two of them sat in the living room. "He said he escaped with his wife in 1922, just a day or two before a firing squad murdered the rest of the family. He and his wife had thick accents sure enough, Russian for all I could tell, but I don't think he was ever any sort of count. I think he made it up so local people would figure the strange goings on here were due to his being royalty. But between you and me, some of the things that happened here didn't have anything to do with being royalty, but just with... well, weirdness."
"Weirdness?" Beatrice asked.
"From what I heard, he liked to think he was some sort of scientist, did lots of experiments mostly on animals, but some on people too--drunks and transients, retards, anyone who didn't know better."
"What kinds of experiments?"
"Can't really say--it was rumor much as anything anybody knew about for sure. And a lot of rumors have no truth to them. But these rumors, well, I think something was going on, hard to say what, now. Tom's got some awful strange stuff down at the museum."
Beatrice nodded, leaned back on the couch a moment, letting sunlight from the window next to her hit her full in the face. She had already met the two other guests currently staying at Maggie's, an old man named Mr. Whitaker who seemed to spend most of his time sitting in the kitchen not moving, staring at nothing, and a younger man. Mr. Thompson was how Maggie had introduced him, but he had leaned forward with an unpleasant leer, saying "Call me Jimmy" in a voice meant to be seductively soothing but which made her shiver, his big belt buckle glinting from the sun through the window, his red lips too puffy and large, his cowboy boots overdecorated and fake, a dimestore cowboy if there ever was one. "So you weren't afraid to buy this house, with everything you'd heard about the count?" Beatrice said.
"People around here used to call him the no-count," Maggie laughed. "But my family had been from this town, though they'd been disappeared for awhile, and there was a time when I didn't want much to do with the world anymore, so coming back here seemed right. The count was old, his wife had long since died, and you'd think he would have been content to die out here himself, but there was somewhere he had to go, he said, and he was willing to sell cheap."
"What did he look like?" Beatrice asked, curious.
"Tall and thin, with long arms and long bony fingers. Always dressed in black, with these high starched white collars that hid his throat. But what I remember most is his eyes--he had very small eyes, and they were always red--I mean they were bloodshot, and his eyelids were sort of red too."
Beatrice nodded, slowly, inwardly startled but trying not to show it--was he the man from her dream? "And people said he did experiments?"
"Well, there were orgies, if you listen to what folks say," Maggie said. "People would visit him all the time--and you know it's not a short trip out here from anywhere. Young men mostly, but it was said there were women too. There's a big basement to this house--I'll have to show it to you later--that winds around and around like a maze, and if you're not familiar with it like I am, it can be easy to get lost. Rumor has it all sorts of stuff happened down in that basement."
"But you don't know how much of it is true?"
"Nobody does; it's mainly talk. But some things did go on here, I'm pretty sure of it."
"What happened to the count, after he sold you the house."
"Well, for awhile he was gone, but then he moved into another stone house up on the ridge for several years, and the stories about him only grew. It's that stone house up on the ridge that people, now, most associate with his legend. And then one day he left there too."
"For where? Does anybody know?"
"No," Maggie said. "I have no idea where he went after that. Probably he's been dead for twenty years. But no one around here ever heard anything about his death, far as I know. There's talk sometimes that he's still living up there, though of course that doesn't mean anything. He'd have to be a hundred years old."*
In that country, these are legal forms of torture.
Chosen randomly, a number of people are taken from their homes and placed in rooms full of mirrors, then are given certain kinds of drugs that repress their ability to know that they are looking at mirrors. Every day, along with their food, these people receive a message on a piece of paper which reads "You have two choices. You can love the people around you, or you can kill them." The long term isolation (although it does not appear that way to the people themselves, since they feel surrounded by others who to them look all alike) usually manages to lead these people to the point that they long, endlessly, for the love of the people in the mirrors, or become determined, endlessly, to murder the people in the mirrors. If they do not reach one of these points, they are left in the room of mirrors until they either do reach one of these points or they die. If they do reach one of these points, however, they are immediately freed, at which point they often spend the rest of their lives pursuing their newly developed obsession.
. A group of boys are trained from adolescence to believe that sliding as fast as possible across a grass field on their bellies while pushing a large ball with their noses, without using either their arms or legs, is the highest goal a successful man can achieve. After this training has gone on for some years, they are all bribed to give up the endeavor permanently--they will be given riches, beautiful women, no restraints on how they want to behave, if only they will give up sliding across the field on their bellies. Only a tiny minority of them take the bribe, and are immediately killed. The rest devote their lives to belly sliding, and receive high honors from the community. Then, at a certain point, the now grown men are taken one at a time into a dark forest on the edge of the country, where each one is mocked relentlessly by a group of elders who tell him all the training has been a pointless joke and he has looked like a fool his whole life because, after all, he has spent years sliding across fields on his belly pushing balls with his nose. None of what you've learned has any value or reason, the elders say, we just wanted to see if we could make you do it. At this point, some of the men have nervous breakdowns, or commit suicide, or wander off into the wilderness, or even in some cases attack the elders, who are all heavily armed and inevitably kill their attackers. Those that survive the mockery and come to accept that their whole lives have been wasted on developing a ridiculous and worthless talent become new elders in the country.
"In our present system of schooling, punishment is used only as a last resort, when all methods of positive reinforcement have failed. Recalcitrant children are not physically harmed in any way, but are placed in a room by themselves, where they are asked to write an essay explaining why their behavior is improper. When they have written the essay, and revised it to meet acceptable standards, the children are then allowed to rejoin the group, and are given praise for their effort in writing the essay."*
At a certain point, everybody who writes probably realizes that nothing they say will ever make much difference, that the task of writing is futile.
The people who keep writing at that point are the ones who may write something of interest.
One of the basic problems of my writing has been that I've never been able to separate writing from the rest of my life. I don't say problem in the sense of something to overcome, but more in the way that anything written is a problem, and thankfully one that offers no solutions. Somebody, I no longer remember who, once wrote "my life is one thing, and my writing is another," but that's something I've never been able to understand. I have a terrible fear, yet also a great elation, that outside my writing, my life can't be lived, although clearly my writing can live outside my life. Which leads to another common fear of writers--that they don't exist. It's a fear that writing can't overcome--words have nothing in them that can convince anyone of their own reality.
I began to live my life only when I realized I didn't exist. I began to write only when I realized that words didn't exist either.
Because nothing exists, everything is possible.*
How long had I been running? Hard to tell, though it had been many hours and it wouldn't be long before morning. What did it matter, now, whether I was running from them or running from myself, whether there was anything I was running towards? For me, it could not matter. My hometown remained my only goal... maybe there was something I could do.
For the moment, I could go no further. I lay down under some trees, in a spot well hidden by bushes from any passing eyes on the road. Sleeping during the day, traveling at night--that was the only way. I couldn't risk being seen, and could hope only that something in my voice would be familiar enough that those who had loved me, but could no longer, would know who I was when I spoke to them from the shadows.
But dare I confess that my greatest fear was not that others would see me, but that I would see myself? What loathsome wretchedness would await my eyes if I glimpsed my face accidentally in a window, or while I drank from a stream? Even in darkness I wasn't safe--a stray bolt of moonlight at the wrong angle could doom me. What I could see of my body in the night was ordinary enough, though my skin had begun to flake and in several places harden with a scale-like roughness. But my face, and the nameless gaping absences in my neck, terrified me, simultaneously drew me towards and away from them. The need to look, the need never to look--both feelings pulled me again and again, until I felt like a puppet yanked by contradictory strings. Until there is something about yourself you don't want to see, you never realize how much of the world is a mirror.
I fell asleep briefly--only utter exhaustion could overcome my terror--but woke to the sounds of movement along the road. Day had dawned, the sky was clear, the air cool. I checked the bushes to make sure I was adequately covered. The sounds on the road grew louder. Obviously it was not one person approaching, but a group of people.
When I finally saw them, menace and horror shot through my violated body, leaving me prostrate. They had wrapped themselves in long coats, with hoods that hung down over their faces, so that no parts of their bodies were visible. They looked like monks on a pilgrimage--only someone who had seen them, like myself, knew exactly what their obscene rites involved. Though their bodies were not visible, their clothes could not hide their smell, a rank fishy odor of decay and death that brought me close to retching. They did not walk; instead they shuffled, side to side in a motion that swept their long coats across the dirt of the road. I could only imagine what strange protuberances passed for their legs and feet. Here at last was the spawn of the scientific rages I had witnessed... no, let me not disgrace the name of science with those foul grafts and molestations performed in pits of utter vileness and despair.
As they reached my hiding place among the bushes, they suddenly stopped, all of them--at once--in a perfect regimentation that needed no verbal command. If there was communication between them, it was on some hideous mental level, the telepathic communication of the damned, of the beast whose name cannot be spoken. Then, all together, their hoods turned in my direction... they hadn't seen me, that I was sure of, but had they somehow sensed my presence? Then, though my whole body was shivering with rage, disgust, and horror, there washed over me the strange, irrepressible desire to leap from the bushes and join them, and with it the overwhelming sense that doing so would bring me peace. To my hometown and former companions, I must be forever outcast. Did I not belong, now, with these hooded, shuffling monstrosities, was not their portion of God's wrath my portion also? Wasn't it possible for a monster to seek acceptance among his own outcast kind, shunned and wretched as he must otherwise remain, and to find among them some companionship to mitigate his cursed existence? Lying on the ground, I felt my body drag itself forward, my own conscious intention remaining separate, immobile as I nonetheless moved out of my hiding place. O God, what was I doing, would I lose my last shred of resistance and at last seek my own damnation, so that even a final forgiveness would be denied me? And yet the carnal pleasures to be had! Revolting perverted flesh against revolting perverted flesh, creating new horrors to howl their dooms at the righteous! Degraded, damned, yet not alone, not forever alone amidst the wreck and ruin of the body! Yes, I would let them have me; my mind exulted at the thought of the vile ecstasies there for the taking.
Then I was out of the bushes, and realized until that moment they had only vaguely felt my closeness, had not known what they were trying to discover. The weight of their evil struck me like a blow. I had forsaken myself to a simple deceit--there was no companionship here, only fear, loathing, and hatred, forever and ever, without end. They moved towards me faster than their shuffling should have been able to carry them. Only by leaping to my feet at the last possible moment did I escape their arms, and then I was running, oblivious to all but a terror so profound that nothing else had any meaning...*
The emaciated aristocrat leaned over the body of a boy strapped to a table, and ran his fingers lightly across the boy's smooth skin.
"We are all the slaves of Time, powerless against its meaningless scythe," he said to his disciple. "Do you wonder that I find pleasure only in pain, that my desire is to make others slaves, as I have been enslaved? The triteness of my victimization appalls me--do you not see that I am as doomed as this young boy who has no one to protect him from me? Let Time do its worst, I will match it blow for blow, I will refine its callous bludgeon into an instrument of the most sensitive and caring inflictions of agony. Do you know how I suffer, knowing I am already a cliche, already a narrative, a history, to be studied by so many pretentious children afraid of the thrills they pretend to seek? Listen to this child moan--whip him, damnit, he cries too much like me! Drown my metaphysical anguish in his physical shock, damn you, take this whip from my hands!"
His disciple, flushed with pleasure, yet driven also by fear of the aristocrat's growing paroxysm of anger, begins assaulting the boy as if to remove some goad from his own flesh.
"Oh yes, history," the aristocrat says, whispering now in a voice barely audible above the boy's cries. "It drives me like my desires are cattle. Have you ever returned to a place from your own past where some significant action--or perhaps better yet, some insignificant one--took place? Do you not begin to quiver at the thought of your own doubles, the versions of yourself that spread like tendrils but are lost forever? There I touched her, spoke her name... there I resolved to make him my enemy... there, disgusted with life, I defecated in the road... see how such moments return to you only to slip away, to leave you barren and vulnerable. To realize there is nothing to hold onto, that even if you desired to stay in place, all you can do is run, with Time forever behind you, telling you this is not your home, nor this, nor this--what pleasure can match its pit of unending despair? Do you understand? Does it not drive you to new heights of fury that the pain you are now inflicting on this boy cannot save you, cannot help you even for an instant, that you cannot hurt him enough to ever hurt yourself half as much as you dream of? What can match the glory of the self-hatred inflicted by Time, of your unending inability to hurt yourself as much as you are certain you deserve? Whip him, I say, whip him with all the hatred you feel for me and for yourself, whip him with all the despair whose pleasure you will never be rid of! O, devil seize me, whip him in the name of all History and Time!"*
Stephen: Even as a child, I could never understand why other children felt justified in doing what they pleased, no matter who it hurt. It was as if they were saying that the fact that they existed was all the justification they needed to do to me whatever they wanted. I never wanted to hurt anybody, never wanted to be hurt, and as a result they attacked me all the time. I didn't want to be different, yet there it was, I could never be part of their world and didn't want to be. I never felt like I was right--the problem was that they felt they were right without ever thinking. I came to the conclusion that it was necessary to question everything, to never accept your own desires as in any way clearly justified, and certainly not just because you had them. I don't know when I first realized that I was living in terror of hurting others.
Josephine: Yet all you ever talk to me about is how you are hurting people all the time, that you can't seem to stop. Of course, it doesn't seem that way to anybody else.
Stephen: Doesn't it? And yet I hurt you all the time.
Josephine: Sometimes. You've hurt me sometimes, but not as much as you think you have. And perhaps you have hurt me most when you have tried to stop me from feeling pain because you can't bear to watch it.
Stephen: I can't stand the thought of other people's pain. It hurts me so much I feel unable to move. But it's because I feel that way that so many people have tried to pretend their pain is my fault. And I believed them.
Josephine: You believe anything that puts you in pain. Don't you see your fear of pain has led you to seek it out constantly?
Stephen: And so we come full circle, and I'm inflicting pain again.
Josephine: But maybe what you don't understand is that inflicting some pain on others, and on yourself, is unavoidable. The fact that you try to avoid hurting others says something wonderful about you, but you have to understand that sometimes it can't be avoided.
Stephen: I would rather avoid life than inflict pain. Or maybe that's not true. But you're telling me that I have to learn to accept putting others in pain, that it's somehow a necessary thing and I should get on with my life.
Josephine: You don't have to accept it. But you may have to do it anyway.*
Mumble, pace, look out the windows, ask yourself why you ever started in the first place if the dream you are trying to achieve causes you more pain that anything you've ever done.
A young woman enters a room, the muscles of her face held so tightly that her jaw twitches. Around the room a number of people lounge, their faces masks of insolence, ignorance, indifference. The young woman approaches each one in turn. "Why are you doing this to me?" she says, face tightening. "Why do you make me hate you like this?" She gets no response; a few people wave her away as if swatting flies, others take no notice at all, the gruff idiocy of their faces barely moving. "Look at yourselves, why don't you?" the woman says.
Five people in a room all talk at once, each telling a detailed story of their own experiences to the others, who of course are not listening because they're busy telling their own stories. Each of the people becomes more frantic as they try to get the attention of the others; they begin talking faster, and louder, each trying to outdo the other, and all doomed to failure since no one will stop talking even for a moment.
A man walking down the street stops in front of each person he passes and says, "I'd like to help you, but I can't because I've had a horrible life." The people he says this to stare back at him confused; they've asked nothing of him, and clearly don't know him. As he walks on, he mutters to himself, "Why are they trying to make me feel guilty?"
A man in a room full of books and boxes is trying to put the books into the boxes, but each time he pulls a book from the shelf he stops and reads from it, sometimes for only a moment, other times for longer, and only regretfully puts it in a box at last. With so many books to pack up, who knows how long this will take him.
One by one, and one by one by one. Two by two, and two by two by two by two. Three. No wait a minute three. Excuse me three. If you'll just hold on three. Four. Not likely four. Who are you kidding four. Not much of a chance four. As if five. And then again five. Or very likely five. I can't believe he five. Well, unless a six. Or six. Or six. Have you seen six. Never more than you can do at a seven. Magic seven. Illustrious seven. Go ahead and roll it seven. An instructional seven. Dubious seven. Recalcitrant eight. I wouldn't want to admit eight. Until we have discovered eight. She looked very good in her eight. I used to think it was nine. Lots of other numbers nine. Numbers go on forever nine. When will we reach beyond nine. Does it start over nine. Always over nine. How much blood nine. Counting the losses until the end of time and nine. It begins again nine. Say it again nine. Now start over.
When did I first have radio waves in my head? They play me violence in my teeth saying kill. Do you know what they want me to do. I put netting in a bag on my head to keep the waves from coming through but they do anyway saying kill.*
Beatrice climbed the stairs to her room, on the second floor at the back of the house. Her conversation with Maggie had raised more questions than it had answered, but it had been a long time since a conversation had been any different. There were too many things on her mind to sort out now, and she was far too tired.
The door to her room was open. She had kept insisting to Maggie that she could not be the person Maggie had expected, since she had not called anyone in advance about coming. And although Maggie had politely agreed with her, Beatrice could tell it was only out of politeness, and a desire to make Beatrice feel at home, that Maggie had agreed. Maggie clearly still believed that Beatrice was the woman who had called, and so put her in the room intended for that other woman, whoever she was.
She stepped in, leaving the door open, and went to the window, looking out at the darkness of the desert for a moment before snapping the blinds closed with a little too much finality. She turned back to shut the door so she could get ready for bed. The shadow of a man stood in the doorway, and she gasped.
"Already getting settled in I see," he said. It was Mr. Thompson's voice.
"Yes Mr. Thompson, I'm very tired," Beatrice said, trying to recover herself.
"I told you to call me Jimmy," and then he had stepped into the room, one hand on his belt buckle, the other behind his back. His boots looked newly shined. Though he was standing still, his body seemed to undulate slightly, and his mouth hung open in a grin supposed to be suggestive but that made him look like a fish. "Glad you finally got here," he said. "I was starting to think I was never going to see a pretty woman again. Gets awful lonely sometimes, nights. I was hoping you and I could be friends."
"I'm sure we can," Beatrice said cautiously. "But now's not a good time to start. I've been traveling for several days, and I need to get some rest. So if you'll excuse me..."
"How about a night cap," he pulled his hand from behind his back and in it was a bottle. "Nothing like a drink to relax you after a long drive."
Beatrice winced involuntarily. "I appreciate the offer, Mr. Thompson, but I'm really..."
"Jimmy. I said to call me Jimmy."
"I'm really tired, Jimmy. Some other time would be better."
"How about tomorrow night? I get off work early, and we could have a good carouse."
"Maybe," Beatrice said. "I just don't know now how I'm going to feel about anything. I've got to go to bed, that's all."
He muttered something she couldn't make out.
"I'm sorry, what?" she asked.
"This is a dangerous place, I said," his tone was irritated. "You're going to want all the friends you can get. I can be a good friend. A woman out here all by herself needs a good friend. Do you know where you are? Do you know what this place is?"
"I can take care of myself," Beatrice passed caution and was irritated too. "I'm happy to have your friendship, Mr... Jimmy, but right now is a bad time, that's all."
"I wouldn't go out of my way for everybody," he continued as if he hadn't heard her. "Some people come through here I don't even care where they go. I'm the only one maybe could help them, but I don't care where they go. But you're different. I like you--I can already tell I like you. What's a woman like you doing here? Maybe you're wrong about where you think you're going--maybe you've come here for me."
"What are you talking about?" she said. "Will you please leave?"
"A man like me, at a certain point, he wants someone. Maybe that's you. A nice little house, a family; maybe that's what we'll have. I'll see you tomorrow, I guess."
"Please. I need to get some rest."
"Well goodnight then," sullenly. "The way I figure it, you and I'll be having that drink soon enough. You seem like a smart woman, and you're sure as hell pretty. So you take care. Know who you're friends are, and your enemies. Like I said, this is a dangerous place."
"Thanks for the warning. Good night."
"Sleep well now," and then he was gone back into the shadows of the hallway.
Beatrice closed her door and bolted it quickly. "Know who your friends are..." At least she knew who they weren't. What was a man like that doing in this town? Weren't there other places where there were more women to bother? What, for that matter, was anybody doing here? What was she doing here, following some dream she couldn't even decipher to a town where everybody seemed to be giving her cryptic warnings? It would have been absurd if it wasn't frightening.
She undressed and got into bed. "Maybe I should just turn around," she said out loud to the walls. Then she thought again about the news. Maybe what she was trying to do was impossible. But going back was impossible too--however slim her chances, the odds were better here because they were better than none at all. I've been over this so many times before, she thought, why do I keep doing it?
"But where are you going, Beatrice?" she asked herself, exhausted but too nervous to sleep. "Where is it you think you're going?"*
That night I couldn't sleep. Around me I could hear the sounds of the old house, every groan and creak magnified suddenly into meaning. Only when one has challenged the universe does it come alive--until then, a man is a zombie of habit, sleepwalking through his days like a pale imitation of human hope. I lay in bed awhile, but sleep was impossible. I thought of returning to my experiment, but there was nothing to do but wait. Turning on a light, I picked up a book and sat in my favorite chair. The words meant nothing to me but I kept reading anyway. Outside, snow began to fall. I looked out the window across the fields and listened to the low wind. I thought about my colleagues, capitalist dupes finally, slobbering like hungry dogs over government scraps, their research guided not by the desire to test the limits of reality but to create guns or diseases in the name of peace and health. Slowly the pregnancy of the air diminished--I had worked myself up over nothing again, it was just a long cold empty night, and everyone had been right about me. I was the grand fool in a world of calculating dupes; there was nothing to discover in life but all the things one would never achieve.
A strange chill ran over me, and startled I looked at the darkness of the open door to my room. There was nothing there. But hadn't there been something, the moment before? Some sort of movement in the otherwise empty house? I got up from my chair, intending to investigate, but a wave of dizzy horror landed me back in my seat. What if I had done it after all? Might it be a mistake, a disaster of proportions beyond anything I could change... why was I weakening now, when success was practically in my grasp? Or was it?
I stood up again, shakily, unable to decide whether I was more afraid to succeed or fail. The rest of the house was dark, but I couldn't bring myself to turn on any other lights--what would I find?
I walked down the stairs onto the main hallway, my eyes slowly adjusting. The house was quiet, as quiet as it ever was, anyway--the wind seemed to have died. There was sudden movement... I looked... where? Nothing. Nothing.
Then, some moments before I knew what I was seeing, I was looking into another pair of eyes. They didn't move, but watched me from an open door at the end of the hallway.
"Hello," I said. The eyes didn't move, nor did the rest of the body. If it was only someone trying to rob me, wouldn't they have made some attempt to get away, or come at me?
"Hello," I said again.
The eyes watched me. They were without recognition other than dull animal agony. Then the body moved forward into the room, wobbly and stiff, each step uncertain. Drool hung below the open mouth.
How can I describe my sensations at that moment? Thinking about it now, I can barely remember. A great elation and a great terror, my heart pounding in my head. I had done it, but god, what had I done?
The body moved across the floor a few more feet, then one of the legs seemed to trip over the other and it--no, he--collapsed in a heap on the floor, legs still moving as if he believed he was walking. Was I simply watching mere motor activity without consciousness, or was there something more? A groan escaped its lips, incoherent grunting I thought at first. Could I be hearing syllables? I came close, leaned over the body that was still trying to walk, though it lay on its back. Its mouth was moving, drool on its chin, its eyes looked at me without recognition. Its mouth moved again.
"Pain," it said. Somewhat indistinctly, but clear enough to be no mistake.
I rolled away from it and laughed, my eyes welling with tears of release, tension leaving my body in waves I could not control, though I remained aware of how much was ahead of me. All that would come later. Now, I sat on the floor, my whole body quivering in a way not dissimilar from my companion. I had done it. I had raised the dead.*
As the carriage wheels run roughly over the ruts of the road, the old man stares. His son and his son's wife... he knows they are there, but cannot see them. The strange stretching figures have entered the car, their grimaces covering everything, arms and legs stretching out to take him.
"So this is death," he thought.
But it did not take him. Then, for the first time in many weeks, terror, completely unexpected, jolted through him. He had been so sure that the figures were beckoning him to his death. But what if they were something else? No harm could come to him, of course--he had long since stopped caring about anything that could happen to him in life. But what if the figures were there for the others, his son and his son's wife? They didn't seem to be taking him. What if they were there to take them, and he was simply close enough to death to see? Or what if they were some kind of warning he had ignored? His son had spoken of the danger, and the ole man knew it was real enough. Yet he had dismissed it, knowing his son's abilities, but also because he had been absorbed in what he thought he was facing. What were the figures trying to tell him?
The figures waver through the carriage, the walls mean nothing to them, their faces reform at every instant, expressions of agony, of pleasure beyond imagining, of who knows what awareness of what is waiting for anyone.
"Do you see anything in this carriage?" the old man turns to his son.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you see anything here besides the three of us?"
"Our baggage," the son says. "Why? Is there some problem?"
"You don't see any figures in this car moving like the pure spirit of material made visible?"
The son laughed, but his face tightened with concern. "Are you feeling well?"
"I already told you I want to die, and you ask if I'm feeling well?"
"Father, please don't be difficult. We're in enough danger already."
"Perhaps the danger is already here."
"Where?" the son looked quickly out the window of the carriage. "Do you see something?"
"You don't see anything?"
"I don't. What is it, father?"
"I don't know. I thought I did but now I'm not sure."
"I don't understand."
The old man looks on as the face of one of the figures puts itself in place of his son's, blotting out the young man's features.*
Sometime towards morning, Beatrice had a dream she had not had before. She was in the desert, but this time there was no town, just a flat desert valley across which a long line of people were walking. From where she was, she couldn't see to the back end of the line. More and more people came into view. It was hard to see them clearly--their faces were indistinct, scrambled, wavering. They were walking with great difficulty, some of them staggering.
Then she realized she could see the front end of the line; when had that happened? Only the line headed nowhere, or at least towards something that could not be seen, because as the people at the front of the line reached a certain spot, they disappeared, as if stepping out of the desert into some other dimension. There was nothing particular marking the spot where they disappeared, although it was close to a small pile of stones like many other similar piles throughout the valley. Simply, one moment they were there, the next gone.
What was equally odd was that she was the only person not in line, and there seemed no way for her to get in line, even if she had wanted to, something she was not sure of. She was an observer. Something profound was happening, that she was sure of, but she was not part of it and couldn't be part. And although she remained uncertain whether she would have wanted to be part even if she could, a great pain washed over her, a deep and lasting sense of separation so acute she cried out. The people continued forward, one by one, as far as she could see, walking in a pointless line in a pointless desert that ended in disappearance, and she was lacerated by not being part of it.*
Countless deceptions are buckets of possibility in the corridors of dubious family structures. Do you understand me?
We've brought you here because you're special, because your powers of divination make you able to see in a world where all is dark. We need you with us. You need us to give birth to you.
--I need you, and I'm giving birth.
It is a special honor to have ten faces. It is a special honor to be conducted by wolves to the pits of duplication. Your genitals have become the way to heaven. You won't forget?
--I won't. But I need to know. Is this the other side?
There is no other side. There's only here. There's only what you do with what you have. If being here has become intolerable, than that is what must be changed. Or you must be changed. Or both.
--But where is this then?
Between one thing and another. Not the same as before. Subject to renegotiation. Collapsible under subtle pressure. As different from what it can be. No longer.
--I'm afraid to leave.
But you know you can't stay. You know this is not here, which is what it has to be. We are not your friends, though we feel that sorrow deeply.*
In a world in which the social contract became nothing more than an obsessive act of violence repeated endlessly and without variation, being moral would be impossible. If a truly moral person were to appear in such a world, that person would seem intolerably immoral, disgusting beyond all reclaiming.
I told him I loved him, but still he can do anything he pleases. He can beat me, he can rape me, he can kill me. And I'm responsible, because I chose him.
For years, it had seemed easier not to want. Others were always there to want him, and that was enough. It occupied his time. The cold, when it came, was only momentary, an icy chill stinging the loins without warning as he walked into a store or got on the bus. It was better anyway than wanting, which could end only in despair. The rages, when they surged over him, or the weekends of drinking which began to creep more and more towards being weeks, had their dangers. But release was necessary, it was good, sick head and stomach a way of knowing himself, of keeping himself back from what would happen if the others ever got hold of him.
For a moment she stood up into the story, and it was like wind.
How does one survive for years, poised on the verge of dissolution? How does one put one foot in front of the other, get dressed, go to work, pretend that life has not been stolen and returned like a paper sack full of entrails and old bones? The city is thick with stick figures; old potatoes and rotting fruit stuck on poles and dressed in designer clothes, smiling marionettes with iron penises aching to be slammed against walls, sacks of shit held together by wires and diddling away hope by tapping fingers on a laptop computer.
Feel it, if there's anything left of you at all, feel the pounding in your chest and the energy surging in your hands and the delicious fire of your genitals and tell me that it's a question you can avoid, that you can go to work or to a party or walk on the street and not think even for a moment about what you are, about what you could be or can't be in a place where cant owns everything and willful ignorance is common as garbage. Is the human body something to be wasted, ignored, turned into a hanger for clothes and credentials and hate? What are you doing? Why are you not asking that question every moment of your life?
I am an enemy.