Day Thirty-Four – The Mysterious Flamingo of the Tundra

y22

They say space ruins relationships. I believe it.

I’m not talking about personal space, even though they might be. I don’t mean that his demand for guy time away from her coupon clipping is the spark or spur to the inevitable divide. I don’t suggest that two people perpetually intertwined for twenty-four hours out of every day is the key to a successful relationship either.

What I am saying is that beyond the influence of the beautiful blue orb beneath us, there is a siren call that will always pull man from woman, son from mother, brother from sister, casual acquaintance from casual acquaintance.

In the early days, I’m sure it wasn’t noticeable. I mean how far were the astronauts and cosmonauts really away from the Earth. There were always eyes on them, always a tether leading back to a vast complex of supercomputers and supergeeks, military installations and generals, news anchors and other assorted talking heads. You were never truly alone.

Even those poor guys locked aboard an orbiting station for months with no contact were still bound to the Earth by necessity. Mankind is not oblivious to his sanity or lack thereof in the extended absence of social interaction.

No, it was later in the human space race that man first felt the detachment. Once the Earth was no longer hanging there, fat and happy in the field of stars, always in view–once it was no longer discernible among the other dots of light–the connection failed, and the siren song began to play.

I suppose at first, we probably mistook the lost ships as the victims of accidents. The solar system is a constant five hundred mile an hour burn down a dusty highway behind a rock truck. We felt it was inevitable that accidents would occur, and we did not question the occasional loss of communication, especially once the private space race opened up unregulated access to the stars.

When the numbers ranged into double digits each month, we started to take notice. The first time it hit us that something might be out there was when the cargo ship Erasmus IV ejected its synthetic assistants on its way to Titan. Traffic through that sector of space at that time has heavy–treasure hunters were convinced that some of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons might have diamond core, which is ridiculous. So, it wasn’t too long after Erasmus IV went missing that an explorer ship happened upon a cluster of disabled droids floating alone in space.

Reactivated, they spilled the story.

The crew of seventeen had, without explanation, shut the droids down one by one. They displayed no symptoms of mental distress, but all had ceased their daily duties two days before they ejected the droids. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may soon be seen to be, the last droid shut down happened to record within its memory banks a heading that was programmed into the navigational computer.

The first five ships we sent on that heading disappeared.

The first ship fully “manned” by droids found a whole lot of nothing.

The first ship of droids that followed a ship of humans in that direction was destroyed by unknown means.

Double digits turned to triple digits on the list of the missing, and people stopped going beyond the asteroid belt.

Thrill seekers found a new deep dive.

It happened slow for me, I could still see Mars quarter-sized in the distance, and I felt it, a soft suggestion at first, but increasing in intensity with each second. I didn’t have the specific heading memorized–hell, space is always moving, so its not like it would be the same heading the droid had seen on the Erasmus IV.

Without knowing why, I put the heading in, and, like those before me, I ejected my droid assistant out the airlock.

By the time I passed Titan, I had no need for sustenance, I was running on a thread of energy invisible in the void.

Alone in my ship, the feeling was a symphony in my head, the deep caress of a mother’s hand, the press of breast. Life stretched out to eternity on that journey, and though I couldn’t see the siren mother, I could feel the umbilical cord of the soul regrowing, entwining, reaching out.

The Oort Cloud hides many things, some dark, some glowing.

But out there, surrounded by a black cloud, a mass of flesh pulsates, human bodies separated from their ships and mutating together into the massive body of an elder god, its eye turned ever toward the sun where it eternally calls to Earth’s children, like Baba Yaga, like the Pied Piper.

I float in space, naked, waiting to feel the final touch that is death and life as I become part of the god of all death and all life.

Space ruins relationships–husband from wife, brother from sister, man from Mother Earth.

Day Thirty-Three – The Mysteries of Porcine Aeronautics and You

kaks

I’ve not written an Inner Wild piece in a while. I’m not sure where this fits, or what planet this is on, or who Meretricious Mandy really is. I just know she’s a Solarian, and I know why they call her Meretricious Mandy.

Not bad for an hour worth of work, eh?

Limping back from a long day on the hunt, Meretricious Mandy made a pit stop at the old laundromat, hoping against hope that perhaps a rodent or two had set up a home there and would be caught off guard by a stealthy approach.

The old glass doors were nothing but metal frames, bent by force, blackened by fire. Most of the building was scorched, and Meretricious Mandy didn’t have the sort of knowledge one would need to be able to delineate whether or not the fire that licked this building was from one of the ground blazes sparked by ordnance, or perhaps arson. To Mandy, it didn’t matter anyway. She carefully stooped and stepped through one of the door frames, careful not to crunch the brittle glass beneath her feet.

At first glance, the place looked untouched. Being a laundromat, there wouldn’t be much to salvage. The region wasn’t known for the presence of some of the more inventive raider gangs, or the place might have been stripped down to nothing. As it was, the walls were still lined with dryers, starved of power. In the center of the long main room, the lines of washing machines were off kilter; some had tipped over, other were crumpled mounds of metal, scorched and twisted. Judging from the angles interrupting the arrangement of the washers, it looked like the chaos was a result of a blast coming through the front window.

Too open, Meretricious Many thought to herself. Nothing would hole up here, not with that gaping front window, no doors.

She took a good long pull at the scent of the place, flaring her nostrils and trying to filter out the musty stench of disuse and decay. There was something there, hiding just behind the mildew, masquerading as the delicate fragrance of spring flowers, but most definitely the bouquet of death, sweet and only days old. That alone wouldn’t mean much, but behind it, there lurked something more sinister. Metal. Heat. Oil.

Mandy’s fists clenched at her sides. With painful slowness, she raised both arms and unsheathed the twin blades from their scabbards crisscrossed on her back underneath her pack. That first tickle of sweat seeping out of her pores was difficult to discern against the constant irritation of salvage rash she sported. What really gave away her growing fear was the way her hands trembled slightly, causing the swords to waver in that silly look-it’s-a-rubber-pencil way. She knew what that smell might mean, and she knew the subtle nuances of it enough to be able to differentiate between a dead animal in repose among machinery and something worse.

Stepping carefully through the center of the main room, she moved with precision through the carcasses of washing machines. Occasionally, she allowed herself a glance inside the dark maws of those machines, but found only darkness alone. Likewise, the dryers were all empty as well, but her assessment of this fact was mostly the result of her attempt to convince herself that this was still a normal salvage scouting. A closer look at one of the dryers put that fallacy to rest.

The dryer had been stripped of all vital components. There was nothing but a shell left. The work was neat and methodical, the dryers had been disassembled and reassembled with precision.

Sweat began to drip from the tip of Meretricious Mandy’s nose. A barely perceptible tremor had begun at the base of her spine, and it slowly spread throughout her body.

Stupid, stupid stupid! she reprimanded. No way out!

She waited for it, that killing blow. She wanted it, not having the stomach for what was more likely. She froze, her feet crunching against the glass as her body turned to stone. Death was there, around the corner, beyond the next washer corpse, just beyond that wall, waiting.

Her breathing fell in line with the tempo of her heart, and this cadence of bodily processes reminded her of what exactly it was that she was likely to face in the next few moments. Hands down, she had no chance of surviving. She’d battled raiders six against her one, fought off the worst of the deadland predators, and survived in this hell she was forced to suffer through every day. But, this was worse, this was different, this was fatal.

Why do they call you Meretricious Mandy?

Her foot moved, a jerky start at first, but then with the fluid movement of a predator as she resumed her course. Fuck it, she mused. Might as well go down doing what I do best.

The press of silence was tangible, like the stifling suffocation of a thick cloth soaked in tar. Mandy could barely even hear her heartbeat anymore. With her swords poised for offense, one at an angle over her head parallel to the other in her other outstretched arm, she stepped over to the counter where the tatters of someone’s finest suit still hung from a hanger, as if the customer and clerk had just stepped away for a moment, for a drink, for a bathroom break, for an apocalypse.

Rounding the corner of the counter, Mandy spied human bones, long since gnawed to white beneath the blackened surface suggesting a fiery death. Old news, she surmised. A door stood slightly ajar just beyond an overturned cash register, and through the filthy porthole glass at its center, she thought she could make out machinery–automated dry cleaning?

Poking a blade against the warped wood of the door, she pressed it open, clenching her whole body against the possible shriek of disrepair. In silence, it swung back revealing a room full of hanging plastic, cloudy with dust, melted at times. Automated rails ran in curvy courses over head, still holding people’s Sunday best, moth-eaten or burned to a crisp.

The trembling started again as she picked up a nearly imperceptible noise further back in the room–a subtle sound of something rising up from the ground, of shifting against the wall of impatience and maneuvering. She braced herself for the attack, clenching both hilts with all her strength.

The smells were confusing for her in that room. The sweet death and metal scent was definitely there, but something else was in front of it, something closer.

Meretricious Mandy’s nostrils flared again, taking in the room, but not so much that her inhalation was audible. Sweat, blood, semen.

Something stupid, she cursed.

The sound again, this time definitely from two separate areas, registered in her head, and she quickly crouched and readied herself.

The two raiders lunged out from two separate clumps of hanging clothes and charged her with crude machetes. Between the two of them, Mandy spun, swinging her razor-edged blades in rising spirals, and both men received mortal wounds in their stomachs and necks. They fell dying on either side of her.

More trouble as the room erupted into a symphony of sound. At least six more raiders revealed themselves from behind machinery, underneath boxes, or swung down from perches in the high ceiling among the pipes and conduits.

Obviously blind, these idiots. And not just to my blades and the two dead bodies at my feet. They don’t even know what’s here; what’s worse than me.

The shot came from a pistol, and Mandy heard the slide of the trigger before the gun went off. Her blade was there when the bullet was only a foot away. The spark illuminated her wicked smile as she stared around the blade at the raider who had fired the shot.

Three more shots in quick succession, each one ricocheting off Mandy’s shining steel. After the fourth blocked bullet, the raider gave up and turned to run. With a quick lunge, Mandy closed the distance and insert both blades into his back.

Footsteps behind and to the side.

A flick of her wrist, and another raider staggered back holding a newly widened smile. The other attacker bowled over Mandy’s pack as she ducked and kicked out behind her. Before the man hit the ground, her blade had met him and bid the wasted life it extinguished farewell.

Not eight, more like twenty.

More raiders flooded into the room from doors leading out, some carried crude tools, and at least one had a gun.

Gun first.

Mandy vaulted over a folding station, and kicked out with her feet, meeting a raider as he charged at her. He stumbled back several steps, giving Mandy enough time to behead another raider who had followed her over the table.

A blade swung up to met a descending crowbar while the other jabbed at poorly wielded butcher knife. Still no gunfire. No bullets?

Boots hit Mandy hard on her shoulders as one raider swung down from the rails. She rolled with the impact and sliced through an assailant’s femur as she tumbled into a pile of clothes.

Trigger.

On one knee, Mandy deflected the well-placed shots, but quickly realized they were not as careless as the first shooter’s wasted blasts. More raiders circles her, but they kept their distance. The man behind the leveled gun was smiling. His wicked eyes were–

Fuck.

–glowing.

Three shots in rapid succession, stretching her abilities, timed and aimed to beat the speed of her arms and blades. Calculated.

Inhuman.

Blocked. Silence. The raiders stood there, waiting.

Drones, and some still-human cronies. But where’s the big daddy?

The first few thuds sounded like the first crackles of thunder, but then the rails began to shake overhead as each successive thud grew louder and closer. With an explosion of cinder blocks, the massive scavenger droid, nearly as tall as the high ceilings of the automation room, barreled through the wall, taking a good portion of the automated dry cleaning assembly with it. Most of it’s body was scavenged metal from cars and farm machinery in the area, but Mandy recognized a dryer motor in the mix.

The pseudo-raiders renewed their attack as the droid rolled on toward her. The drones meant nothing to it, it was after Solarian flesh and would happily crush its minions beneath it if need be.

In two moves, she had disabled three men and had just enough time to scramble on the folding station as the droid hit. Leaping away, Mandy narrowly avoided the hulking monstrosity’s charge. Grabbing a rail above, she managed to swing out and land atop one of the conveyors along the wall.

The droid spun and resumed it’s juggernaut onslaught, charging directly at her again. At its sides, the subjugated raiders charged forward like loyal soldiers.

Mandy dodged to the side at the last minute, but the droid’s collision with the wall broke a large chunk of cinder blocks loose that held together, spinning it so that portion of the wall hit Mandy and threw her back into the machinery with force. A couple of raiders had followed her trajectory and pounced on her. One sword had been lost in the impact, and she just barely raised her remaining blade to parry a quickly descending lead pipe.

Too slow, need to move!

She kicked out with her legs and toppled one raider, but the move left her right side vulnerable. A machete blade bit deep to the bone at her shoulder. Screaming out in pain and rage, she stabbed the attacker through the eye.

Recovered, the droid bounded back in through the hole it had created. Seeing its prey down, it thudded over to her and swung down with a mighty patchwork arm of twisted metal. Mandy rolled out of the way and scrambled to her feet as the droid’s other arm swung in a wide arc sideways. The blow caught her shoulder and she flew away, spinning in the air. Her remaining blade clattered against one of the dry cleaning machines and disappeared behind it.

A claw descended to her crumpled body and grasped her by the neck. Raising her body so that her face was level with its optic sensors, the droid glowered at her as best it could. Having captured its prize, it methodically stepped over and around the dead bodies and machinery, now with the calculating steps of an artificial intelligence that saw no reason for disorder and disorganization once its primary directive had been satisfied. It carried her through the wall and out into the harsh sunlight of the deadland.

Old model, Mandy noted as the hot metal burned the skin of her neck. Pre-Reckoning, I’ll wager. It doesn’t know how far removed it is from what I had feared. Hope you like surprises, Tin Man.

The droid made a strange series of sounds as pieces of metal grated against each other deep within the warped metal of it’s chest. The shriek repeated, this time with slight harmonics, but definitely a different sound than just random metal against metal. And then, having mastered the movements and vibrations needed to communicate with what parts it had available, it spoke within those vibrations:

“Solarian. You have been apprehended and will face the maximum penalty of death for your crimes against the Hegemony of the Inner Wild”

Mandy smelled her own flesh burning, could see the cold visage of death looking out at her through the deadlight optics of her executioner, but, there was another scent growing in prominence. It reminded one of the biting fragrance of summer rain on hot asphalt, sparks off car batteries, plasma.

“Do you know why they call me Meretricious Mandy?” she choked out beneath its scorching embrace.

The robot did not answer.

Her hands extended in front of her, Mandy closed her eyes and focused inward to trigger the energy helices within her arms. The pinkish glow started just below her elbow, shining through her skin and illuminating her flesh so that one could see her bones. She felt the energy coursing through the center of her body and being routed to those helices, where the energy accumulated. The glow spread down to her hands, and Mandy opened her eyes.

She smiled.

The release of energy from Mandy’s hands blasted the droid’s body into ash and molten metal. The arms, without a body to be attached to, fell to the ground, taking Mandy with them. Still being choked by the robot’s final spastic grip, Mandy struggled to free herself. Light flashed in her eyes as her airways collapsed to pinholes. Her arms began to glow again and she grabbed the metal crushing her neck. Her own energy burned her worse than the hot metal of the droid and her skin blistered at her fingertips. The droid’s metal finally gave way, and she ripped it’s claw from her.

Gasping for breath, she forced herself onto her feet.

The droid lay in a smoldering heap, the metal still white hot in places. It’s blank optic sensors stared up at her as she walked over and stood looking down at it.

“Because you’ll get fucked,” Meretricious Mandy croaked, answering the riddle.

She spat, and her saliva sizzled on the dome of the droid’s head as the last flickering lights of the power than ran through it died out.

Mandy turned back to the laundromat where five raiders stood with wide eyes.

“You should be running,” she stated.

Less than fifteen minutes later, Meretricious Mandy was the only human left in the town proper.

That is if one can consider a Solarian a human.

Day Nine – Biggles Splits the Atom and Other Quaint Tales of Death

baron

Daphne rises out of bed, leaving it still occupied as she does so, and drags her toes in graceful steps towards the bathroom. The light was left on during the night, and she does not remember if it was the scotch-drunk male in her bed that had last visited the tiled closet. She kicks a pile of her own clothes and looks into the reflective surface of the mirror before her. Daphne scratches at her short red hair, then heaves her breasts upward with a sigh. He seemed not to care during the night that she was thirty-nine and an abuser. At this age, she thought to herself, abuse is more fun than gallantly declaring age is meaningless. Her breasts fall and jiggle slightly. Daphne sighs. The phone call had come around two o’clock, and the voice on the other end was one that formerly whispered sweet sexual commands in her – well before the self-abuse began. The caller, a former lover, had been a social dictator, much like herself. While she angled towards the spangled spires of the realms of advertising executives, he had casually let himself maneuver into a position as the premier literary agent of the late metropolis they had defiled by their presence. The last time they had spoken, he had given her instructions on preparing a perfect vindaloo. The sex that followed had been awkward as he had refused to remove the silver cross from around his neck. As Daphne had listened to his voice on the other end, she regarded the man she had chosen to sleep with that night. The unlucky drunk was in his late twenties, that age when the male species, if not already married, begins to doubt their worth, that age of mistakes and regrets. The funeral was in a small town far from the alleys and board rooms where Daphne sold people their own shit-stained greed back to them. The occasion called for proper attire, and, from a pile of filthy, wrinkled clothes, Daphne acquired a red Tubeway Army t-shirt and jeans she knew were too tight. Absently, she scratched at her red hair and dressed herself. The man in her bed would wake and leave as she expected him to. Without giving him another thought, she turns off the bathroom light and departs her townhouse apartment, pausing only momentarily to scratch her cat’s head on the way out. Once outside, she makes her way to her red Ford F-150, a gift from an ailing former fling, now in a coma somewhere in the Middle East. She recalls, standing there in the mist of the morning, the last time she had spoken to that particular man of the hour. He had just returned from Iraq, or Korea, or Assyria, carrying that deep glow that spoke of atrocities – APCs rolling over dead bodies, shivs in the streets, and, gods above and below, the golden stench of fallen despots. The coma had come on gradually. Daphne remembers seeing it in his eyes one night when he had requested they mimic random pornography and film it with outdated equipment. The coma was yellow in his pupils, a putrescence obtained deep in the jungles of a man’s fear of other men. He had killed many men by that time, all of them himself. Daphne reluctantly scratches at her red hair and enters the truck to depart. As she starts her vehicle, she looks up in time to see the blinds of her front window click shut. It may have been the cat, but it is possible that her guest has finally shaken off the gluey blanket of the scotch’s morning comforts. Rolling out of the parking lot, she angles her tire to crush a discarded plastic cup and begins her journey. The small town is well out of her familiarity and twice Daphne becomes lost. The first diversion ends at an Asian market an hour out of the city. Daphne rolls up in her red truck and exits the vehicle, scratching at her red hair, and rubbing at her green eyes. A couple of Apaches have landed on the roof of the strip mall and Vietnam vets patrol the parking lot, looking for tuna. Tongue is on sale, but Daphne is disappointed when she learns the market will not kill the soft-shelled turtles in front of her. She offers to perform the service herself, but she is quickly escorted from the noodles and tom yum crisp by a young marine, who then deposits her roughly onto the hood of her truck. The distraction over, Daphne continues on her way. Secondly, she stops at a fruit stand where she is offered a child to take with her, in addition to the pomegranates and kumquats she has already purchased. Daphne politely declines, but scratches at the child’s golden hair before she departs. The price is quickly lowered, but again Daphne refuses to take the child off their hands. Without warning, a young marine rises from the melons and escorts her to the hood of her red truck. Daphne departs. The cemetery is at the end of a serpentine dirt road. Daphne passes by several Cadillacs and APCs that have become mired in the ditches on either side of the treacherous road. She passes a van with blinds in the windows, and as she does so, the blinds click shut. Someone inside has been watching her, and Daphne nervously scratches at her red hair. Parking her truck at the gates of the cemetery, she is disappointed to see that the majority of the plots in the cemetery have been overrun with snakes and weasels. They bite and scratch at her as she makes her way to the open grave at the far end of the rolling graveyard. Daphne has forgotten to wear shoes, and she can feel the squish of mud up through her toes. Her former lover, the agent, is in the back row of folding chairs, holding a small terrier in his arms. He winks at her, scratching the terrier’s ears as he does so. She does not give him a moment of consideration as she passes by him and down the small aisle between the two groups of folding chairs arranged for the funeral. Pausing for a moment, Daphne scratches at her red hair. She feels she should say something to the people gathered there. Turning to face the crowd, she clears her throat and speaks: “There was a time when I loved myself. It had nothing to do with the number of ribs I could count, or the rarity of hanging skin on my face.” Daphne scratches at her red hair, which falls away in clumps,. “I apologize for obsessions and my eccentricities, but I ask you all, with malice, could you have done any better with the men this life provides to us?” Not hearing a response, Daphne turns and climbs into the open grave. The epitaph on the granite marker reads: Here truths a liar. As the spiders weep, the rain begins to fall in a torrent, and Daphne slips into the last warm embrace of mankind.

My Life Story, or Orphic Distraction (Revisited with a Mallet)

I wrote this a while back, and I change it every time something significant happens in my life – new clay, new vision. You won’t get the orphic reference until the end, but I insist the entire piece is merely a riff on inverted reflections of lyrical cubism in a variegated temporal dysphoria as seen through orange glass during a supernova hurricane of the soul.

Head of Orpheus on the Water or the Mystic - Odilon Redon - 1880

Dead.

I am…

punched in the back of the head on the track during off-season. I’m thirteen and running in a white t-shirt and light grey warm-ups and tears are streaming down my face. A cadre of ne’er-do-wells defends me from the attacks of the hillbilly fuck whose daddy beats him, but I disdainfully brush away their pity, and I run until my asthma attacks me and I collapse on the track. I can see my house just across the street and think to go home is even worse. And I am …

death on five horses. Blades descend. I live in tents and roaches crawl over my skin. The rats eat my pet spurns. I suffer and love the pain and I start to lean. I start to lean towards the hillbilly death machine. I intersect myself with returning soldiers, newly integrated into society with tales of atrocities. I politely decline a continuous stream of meth, but my resolve begins to break down. I catch my hand extending, but then a little boy tells me how he killed a guy he was in basic with and he pulls from the bottle of vodka, and i see blood flow back down the bottle neck. And I am …

a greaser – candy cigarettes under a tight hanes. A girl who will be a broken woman hangs on my shoulder for pictures that will be black and white and faded. Behind the shades I am eight years old and raucously addicted to the unending pursuit of being a god damned supergenius. And I am …

not yet me, but I am close. There are paths that must be taken, no matter what the cost. We see phantoms in our own shadows, vestiges of shades we once were and never will be again, but there is always the infinite. I am in love with the infinite, and I find the infinite in only myself these days. I am the companion that I now share my life with. I can see all that I had the potential to be, and all that society doesn’t want me to be. And I have been loved and worshiped. I have been supported and held back from being who I know I should be. And the column supports me, just as I tip back a glass, and scribble into my Moleskin. And I am …

no one in a sea of teenage angst – a face in a wall of brighter faces. At fourteen, I endure duct tape turbans and become intimate with the bottom of trash cans. I imagine the word “spurn” as a physical entity, an urchin-like creature used by the opposite sex to constantly remind me of who I am not worthy to consider myself a possible suitor for. I start to enjoy the spurn creature and let it feed off of me. And I am …

still eight years old, burdened with cheap glasses my parents cannot afford. The lens are heavy, a result of reading too much at a young age. The glasses wear me down until I’m groveling at the feet of humans desperately in need of someone to feel superior over. And my popularity wanes, and the candy cigarettes were eaten long ago, and later I’ll want that broken woman. And I am …

an adult by some standards. Eighteen, but not free to do as I please. I operate on a pinball table of things to do – ramps to climb even though I don’t have the momentum, bumpers to rattle my senses, and I’m paddled, and paddled, and paddled, and paddled, by the patterns of everyone else but me. The glasses are gone, but the scene is blurrier than before. Jesus is there for me, and so is vodka. And I am …

back in the real world at twenty-five. My friends are building families, smoking pot in the small yards of their cookie cutter houses, bragging about their Rangers tickets, and reciting the internet meme of the day to weed out the has-beens. They’ve lived the life and are quick to act shocked when they ask what I do these days and I say “I want to write forever”. I start a new collection of spurns. My phone becomes my glasses. I try to make friendly with the natives and it turns into the track again, and I’ve got an Apple logo-shaped bruise on my head. The message of the day is “this is what you could have had before it was too late” and it suddenly comes back to me that I used to have potential but these people beat it out of me to keep me below them. And I am …

failing miserably. I’m twenty and I follow my friends to college, but never enroll. I roll down hills in the nude and collect grass clippings to decorate my collection of spurns. My friends follow the directions, and I follow a plastic table and chairs off a second-story balcony into oblivion. Glass tables break underneath me, I swim in blue curacao and vomit fish and chips into someone’s lovely fern … err, wait … into someone’s face. My fingers are yellowed from the hanging butt, forgotten in between the middle and forefingers. I see many beds, and none are mine. Women ask me to smile, and I tell them to make me. I take what people give me to smoke, to eat, to swallow, to binge on, to devour, to imbibe, to dive into, to hit, to bleed over. I spin in crowds of knife-wielding college kids and we spin to the sound of heroin on guitars, pills played on Wurlitzers, a marijuana fucking hoedown on the frying street. And I wake up with people, and I wake up with guns, and I wake up with mustard mustaches and have to jump out windows to flee authority figures and angry boyfriends. I rip my flesh on chain link fences and cure the wounds by pouring Taddy Porter over them. I sit in apartment rooms for hours waiting for deliveries while wigged out hillbillies trade guns and play xbox on futons. The parties bleed into each other and my friends wean themselves off the vomit spirals, but I keep going. I’m backstage and commanding attention. I ride in a car and fall out the passenger side into traffic and I remember flying naked through a cul-de-sac with a rose in one hand and a flaming fucking dildo in the other. It’s a thousand degrees at festivals and I roll over people and suck my own brains from the parasites that feed off me in the grass, on the blankets we bought in San Antonio. And I wonder where my car is. And Austin beckons and I answer. And I am …

done with this shit. And I leave that place in a boat full of my belongings. I have nearly sunk too low to leave, but I make it. And I am …

done with this shit again. And I leave another place in a whirlwind of wasted time. I choose the nuclear option for the lovely glow, not the guilt. But guess which burns hotter? My ego is unaffected, but my heart withers, mutated and black. And I ascend. And I am …

holding up the bar. Thirty years old and I find a nice column to lean against and I begin to write. I smoke a pack a day and I love to smoke. I am “that guy”. My bar tab is named “Dude” and its perpetual. I am a regular and regularly beyond those that sit next to me in the dark. I find enemies and nemeses and allies and occasional bodily collisions, and I write everyone down in a little book. I become a writer. I see the chapters written on people’s faces. I see the stories in their wasted lives. Scotch is my friend. I wake up in my car at 4:00am and vomit fish and chips out my window. I am nostalgic. I daydream of running naked through laundromats, and china shops, and Christian bookstores. I am finally me again, but I am alone. And I am …

furious. I destroy a few lives and wreak havoc in the suburbanite warrens of lassitude. I crush them. I am an agent of chaos, operating on the sly, beneath the radar, and I ruin people’s futures with my strategies. The world has become a chessboard and I am undefeated and beyond the skill of anyone I meet. No one sees this in me, no one knows what I have allowed to grow inside. I breach security to write soliloquy on the inner chalkboard of people’s mind with sharpies. And I am …

waking up. I meet regret in my closet in the house that I share with my father. I commit one last crime against the suburbanites to free a caged bird whose song is no longer appealing. I start to realize that I am still not myself. I think I’ve locked myself away, deep down. I have lost that key. I wonder who the fuck I am. And I am …

five years old, or maybe six. I’m learning how to swim. I’m hanging off the end of the high platform over cold water. I’m seeing girls laugh at me. I’m scared. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. And I am …

happy at last. I start to think I’m halfway through my life, but I think instead, “fuck that … my life’s a third of the way over. I can live to be 102.” And I start to plan, but I need the old me, the old me I was supposed to be, to come out again. It’s harder to coax him out now that I am alone again.  And I am …

pulling my old self deep from the chasm within. I’ve found the key and rescued him, and cleaned him up, and given him a palette to work with. But he’s moving ahead of me – I’m distracted by couches, and good food, and beer. He’s at the gates and he looks back. And I am …

alive.