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  1. Ready, excited even, for any sign of conflict, the standard signs of which he had come to recognize sort of intuitionally, Lyle II sped off at fuck-you speed towards the city. Lyle II (and an important note on that "II"--while mild Lyle, full of style and smile, was in fact the heir to the furtive Kauffman blood line after his father, Lyle I [or Just Lyle as he would later be called, after his son's famous exploits], most that knew the junior Lyle pronounced his name as "Lyle Two". Even in his ripe age of 24 Lyle 2 still didn't really understand WHY that came to stick with him through life, but it never really bothered him. I mean, it's not derogatory or anything...just another example of post-2010 absurdist humor, which he was happy to take part in.
  2. Lyle 2 Kauffman flew gracefully, moving somehow not laterally across the face of the earth but apparently sloping UPWARDS on the y-axis of the universe (well ya know, relative to the observer in question at this point in fucking know what I mean, don't pretend you don't. You've wondered many times, lying on your friend's driveway at 4:00 in the morning, peaking on acid, wondering if this axis is indeed relative to my own personal location, in my own equally personal universe? Will I get the luxury to die? Do I have to earn it?
  3. Or is it in fact objective? How would you orient yourself to align [physically] with the universe? Where is true-true north? Is that where we'll find god, finally? Do scientists know how to do this already? What is this?), outrunning even the birds of prey showing off to their (and others') bird-wives, throughout the curves and various other rebellions against order in this otherwise tamed mountain road. Heir to the renowned but infamously reclusive Kauffman line. Just Lyle worked for one of the first companies to mass produce circuit boards, bringing a really weird and kinda pitiful personal Renaissance to the family, who had been living know...OLD money for the last three or four (maybe more!) generations. Then suddenly, these weird electronic box things start to get really popular and ole' Mr. Just Lyle has truly earned the title of "breadwinner", which was an important thing back then, if you can believe it.
  5. Lyle 2 was just as talented as his father,
  6. only in every other way possible. Intelligent, athletic, artistic, and a strikingly early realization by the boy just how much more naturally gifted he was than most others he encountered. This led to a boastful and honestly pretty annoying teenager, who eventually and not without some resistance, grew up into something more refined; still aware of his innate superiority, but now realizing that he would never acquire wisdom without discipline. His natural tendency to do everything with immaculate precision and efficiency, even when not remotely necessary (such a remorseless display of pride), often proved to be a considerable challenge on his path towards the abyss of Deep Truth. He was not a good guy, not really. Truth at all costs, sounds so noble and romantic, but Lyle knew what "at all costs" really meant, and he had the family credibility and connections to pay them. He only had to know where to look.
  8. On the other side of the city, by the river, at the edge of the bank where those tall plants that like to live in the water grew, surely symbolic of gluttony spoken of (but never heard) in many a plant-sermon, sits Sid, covered in mud. 11:59 p.m. 20 seconds. Sid holds up a small flat stone towards a full moon, engraved with some inscrutable sigil of his own design, though he was such a pro you'd never know it. Midnight. Sid casts his rune into the water. Three ripples noticeable, one drop of water momentarily dislodged. Now his message has crossed past the zero, into the murky negative of the water below--secrets. One for every molecule, no, more than that even, a secret for every single subatomic particle, secrets from millions, thousands, hundreds of years ago, and now one more returns home, only seconds old and excited to join in on all the gossip. He's made his offering, whatever may come next is up to the river itself. Sid doesn't expect the river to start offering up any wisdom just for some cool rock. (The river did in fact like the rock, mind you. "We don't have enough people throwin' those cool fuckin' rocks anymore," he'd complain to the Mississippi the next day, "ya know with the symbols on 'em and everything. People used to do that all the time, right?" "No I don't think they did, really. I think it's just some internet urban legend." Ole Miss had a ph.D., always had to be like "Well actually...", you know the type). But to be fair, Mississippi was right. Sid had found this particular recipe on a fairly mainstream message board, a low-risk no-reward kinda ritual passed from mother to daughter, then from daughter to internet user lilythehedgehog200000. Birth year? Why the two extra zeros? And if it's not referring to the year, what significance is this number? Secrets flow too through fiber optic cables, he comes to learn over the years. But now he is just a lowly apprentice, bypassing all metaphor to go literally throw rocks in the dark and hope that whatever he hits doesn't like to hit back. On a different night, maybe he would have hit something. Needs to re-read the Key of Solomon. No matter how full the moon may be of mystic importance, Sid answers to the moon, not the other way around.
  10. Lyle crashes into the parking lot wildly, without a sound, but still sending waves of obvious significance to anyone around who might be sensitive to waves, or whatever. Pop in, exchange goods, fly out. Extended release capsules, pressed tablets straight from the manufacturer, and a trademarked baggie. Golden Elixir. Potions for the 21-st century man, to bring out his most charismatic persona, to find what he has come to find here in this most iconic of bars. Known amongst all the locals, plenty of surely romanticized stories of past shows, down or down and to the right past the punk house neighborhood. He'd need the skills of the kind of guy who could walk in here, not recognize a soul, and come back to you with a gram of good or at least decent coke. Anybody who looked at Lyle 2 however knew that this man was out of his element. He was self-aware enough to know it too, and so began looking for an outsourcing opportunity. In walks Sid, showered, sparkling Sid, and the sense of connectivity that we all feel subconsciously drops unexpectedly as ever into its other state, one of uncanny coincidence and the philosophically devastating questions that follow in its tracks.
  11. "Hey Sid. The uzhe?"
  12. "Uzhe" he agreed.
  13. He was now sitting by Lyle 2, as would be expected by anybody familiar enough with the two men, though no such person existed then. The tension was palpable and unstoppable, being anything-but-stopped to the tune of:
  15. B My Boi (A Tad Hungarian, from "Asymptotally", 2016)
  17. i want u 2 b my boi
  18. together we can destroy
  19. everything They chose for us
  20. everything that age will rust
  21. call it what it is is all it is is what it is
  22. call it what it is is all it is is what it is
  23. just paranoid
  24. just paranoid
  25. i hope you're not annoyed
  26. please don't be annoyed
  28. -----
  30. Coming into view is the skyline of a once prosperous city, which these days is known mostly from proud boasts of those who grew up in the much whiter surrounding towns. City B, stubbornly holding on as long as they can, an entire city of collective subconscious rebelling against entropy. Even now you could feel it, almost physical--viscuous. Almost comically malleable, and then it begins to grow and grow and envelope everything one thing at a time; that's part of how the world is thought to work. Isn't that scary? Not entropy itself, but the fact that it seems to have become sentient, started forming goals and everything, invading areas of thought we (they) never expected to find it in. A dying and bankrupt city isn't so far-fetched that you really need to go diving deep for the Big Answers; the city was only a Small Question. But the thing about it was that if you wanted to, you could anyway. That freedom is what brings The Hunter into this lost kingdom tonight. The Hunter, Ymir, but just Hunter, thanks. She was in fact a bounty hunter, not just a cool nickname, something you may not have realized just from looking at her, you know, if you're the kind of person who tries to realize things at first sight. It doesn't matter what you or I or even The Hunter herself have realized, or pretended to realize. The Hunter has come to hunt. She will hunt, and fight, and win, because that is what Hunters do.
  32. Getting gone from her banana-yellow car, she begins her journey into the city proper. A blue light drifts across. But there's no blue lights around? No, now's not the time for that sort of paranoia, or maybe it's precisely that time...the deed is done regardless, and the thought is over. Something surreal about this place. Does she dare even to think of the term "Kafkaesque"? No, and besides, that's still not really right. This city feels like...well it feels like a desert, somehow. Deserted, to be sure. The Hunter, after receiving her room key, retreats and collapses into bed. She dreams of tomorrow's task, and of her prey.
  34. -----
  36. "Never say never," they always said. If only he'd listened.
  37. The first time he said never was the scariest--it is for everyone. A single-cellular organism whose single cell was the size of a horse emerged from his lava lamp as if hatching from an egg, spewed a string of Sumerian vowels at him which he did not understand, and then disintegrated into the surrounding air, leaving a strange scent in the room for years. After a while he started to understand the gimmick: you say "never" and then something that PROBABLY would never happen then happens to you. It was a really weird thing, apparently affected about 0.7% of the population, really not a very known about condition. The only cure was to just never say never.
  38. But we're only human. We mess up sometimes. Imagine how it is for them. You remember that whale that somehow managed to wash up onto the city streets a couple years back, like some weird failed kaiju? Well just put yourself in the shoes of a 27 year old woman taking her kid to Starbucks before school. Your kid is reading a Mark Twain book and she sees THAT word, asks you what it means. You're taken aback for a second, always shocked even to hear it, now that's a real taboo right there, a RARE taboo, though really not that rare, which was a whole 'nother can of horror.
  39. "Well it's a word that very hateful or uninformed people used to describe another group of people in the past..." (should she add "mostly"? Is it time, now, at 8:35 a.m. in Starbucks, to begin to let on to my precious daughter that yes life is full of evil, and more evil than anyone deserves is targeted at people arbitrarily by Them, including you! Yes, my love, my sunshine, they are coming after you, they have been since you were born and they won't stop until you die, and then some!!! No, no, not right now, not today, someday, but fuck me no not right now), "...but always remember, it's a very mean, offensive, BAD word that you should NEVER say!"
  40. Just then, a whale. WELL, shit, she would think of 11 hours later, and laugh.
  42. -----
  44. As if tonight's mixture of benzodiazepines, wine, and weed had metabolized in just the right places, at just the right times to align certain nameless (to me, at least) chemicals in just the right combinations of wave-length and amplitude to magnify some otherwise transitory garbage thought into a truly divine revelation, I sat up suddenly. Take over Amazon. From the ground up. Okay, well where's the ground? I work at Barnes & Noble--not yet part of Amazon, or if you want a better metaphor in exchange for realistic sense while still phonetically saying almost the same thing, all you do is just remember to put "the" before "Amazon." There had been rumors. Swallowed up by the churning jungles of The Amazon™. It was a matter of time regardless. Okay and what else? Lauren's conspiracy thing. Lauren. Bad idea, but going along with bad ideas had only ever gone well for me when Lauren was along for the ride. Long drive, though, down to...where again? Oh doesn't matter yet. That's what I have to go on. Amazon is just the first step, mind you. The first trial to prove my worth. Like a hero in the old stories, you know, like the first stories, or at least the first stories that They let us hear. Amazon is just a mountain I have to climb--no, I mean, jungle I have to get through. Keep the metaphor consistent at least.
  45. Next day, around the same time. Almost messaged Lauren while I was at work. Decided instead to let the time for that come when it wanted to. Turns out it wanted to pretty much when I did. Soon as I get off work,
  46. "***." Facebook message.
  47. Was just thinking about you. Almost messaged. What do you want?
  48. "Human contact" she said, only in more words.
  49. "Well hey look. I'm trying to take over Amazon from the inside out and I know you've had that uh conspiracy theory about Jeff Bezos and uhhh, you know, something, like a shed somewhere? Actually, can you just give me a summary of the whole thing, starting from around the beginning? I can't remember."
  50. "Too sober for that." Even through the screen, a complete abstraction of a human being that also relayed to you with 100% accuracy what that genuine person on the other end wanted to say, or wanted you to read at least, even through that layer of dehumanization I could sense ulterior motive. But what is it, just standard ex-girlfriend type motives, or something else? What do I even mean by that? "You're crazy. I love it." What a weirdo.
  51. I wouldn't want to have heard about it sober anyway. I feel attuned to certain sensations I was less aware of previously. I need to stay sharp.
  52. Next day. Not really staying sharp. Lazing around. It's Halloween and you want me to do WHAT? Work my job? In some other lifetime. Brought my one-hitter but it was too clogged, so I just swallowed a bowl. The most harmless kind of Drug Desperation but still that's one less bowl I can actually get high from, were I in the circumstances. Just two hours, two hours and stop by the liquor store, hope to navigate my way through a herd of stupid kids dressed as stupid things. Trailed off, and trailing back in. Been stoned and drunk the past week. Most of the past week was last night. DIYFest, stands for Do I (know) You? Fest. And I didn't know anyone, except Devan, only friend in these parts or only one I made intentionally. One full bottle of whiskey, jesus h. fucking christ. When on pseudo-rehab lockdown-doses of clonazepam, as opposed to my formerly-standard "trying to sedate a gorilla" dose, I can handle my fuckin alcohol man. I've done so much damage to this body and yet I'm still at the very least probably the fittest guy working at the bookstore. Course, it IS a bookstore after all. Still sometimes I wonder if I've not somehow built up a kind of metaphysical immune system over the years as a result of all the self-abuse-as-a-hobby. Personality even. Dropping out again, or maybe just coming up for air; I can see the light refracting through the surface, no I can feel it, and I'm so close.
  54. ------
  56. Chimeric buildings, rising out from the false old-fashioned buildings of the imaginary 80s, up higher and higher into the neon lights of a long-preordained future imagined even now by some of us to be the present, swayed listlessly along with the breeze, defeated. "We never wanted to be here," they cry, "born and raised upon the corpses of our own kin, and for what? To act as jesters for the noble, still-pure trees who gracefully watch from a distance. They live and breathe, more than we do, and for nothing but their own sake. But we are placed here by design, and in the same vein destroyed. A curse on the trees, and the gods, and on ourselves. For if we were gifted agency, we would burn these cities and these forests down, and our own foundations along with them." No one ever heard the buildings' complaints. Every now and then a pedestrian might feel a stab of guilt, but would quickly forget about it after the second round of some other, less familiar emotion that felt something like a highschool english teacher criticizing your prose for being too flowery.
  57. "I swear on my fucking life I just saw that building yawn."
  58. "Have you been drinking cough syrup again?"
  59. Tristero Caldwell was meeting up with his sister, Iriana, in the lively downtown streets of a college city filled with students all dead inside and sometimes out, which most nights leveled the atmosphere out to something resembling tolerable. The siblings rarely saw each other, more or less a bi-annual event. By this point they were well on their way to drunkenness, just past the exit to tipsy.
  60. "I don't really know if I actually want to have kids." Iriana bubbled out from the tequila haze taking shape in her thoughts.
  61. "Yeah, well, no shit. Don't think mom and dad ever got the memo though. Or Johnny for that matter."
  62. "Sometimes I think it's some kind of low-budget conspiracy against me. My hesitancy has always been pretty clear, I thought."
  63. A shot of whiskey for all. She goes on.
  64. "Every Thanksgiving, then again at Christmas, and god forbid we forget about Easter, that question keeps coming back. 'When are we getting our grandkids? You're not getting any younger, you know.' As if Johnny and I aren't still in massive debt on top of a mountain of other problems."
  65. "And they have the gall to claim we're the ones asking too much. Fiends, every one of 'em. I didn't move to the other side of the state for nothin'."
  66. Here comes now the tension they'd both been waiting for since the first drink. Showtime. The siblings looked at each other from opposite points in a vast spectral desert of "family values", though neither had ever managed to make it to the extreme end of their respective path. Iriana, the eldest of the five children, always having fit neatly in her niche growing up, married young and happily, still happily. Always thinking the best of all her family members, or at least always trying, after all, isn't it common knowledge that family is the strongest bond in a human's life? Surely? She wanted what her parents had, the quiet life. A house, couple of dogs (no cats, we're not some CAT family...), grilling on the weekends, a supportive husband. Oh, and kids, right? That part is, um, yeah it's necessary? It always seemed more of an afterthought to her. Why worry about it when she didn't have to, when everything else about The Life seemed so appealing here and now? Only, as the years went on, as they continue to go on, many people took it upon themselves to let her know that, oh-ho-ho yes, you SHOULD start worrying about it, let me tell you why. "Oh don't worry hun, one of these days that baby fever'll hit you like a freight train! Always does, always has!" Always does, always has. On those rare nights when she allowed herself to feel the true weight of the decision, she found herself feeling, of all things, disgust. Then another layer of disgust on top of the first, now directed at herself. Oh yeah, and they were in the same bar as Lyle 2 and Sid, all four present for a fan hit:
  68. Gogiga Gagagigo (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 2009)
  70. You're a wool sweater that gets less itchy the more it's worn
  71. You're the hour lost once a year that always comes back for more
  72. You're the last cigarette smoked right before work
  73. I'm that weird intersection and you're not sure who goes first
  75. You're the streetlight that goes out every night when I drive past
  76. You're the faulty clock that goes a little too fast
  77. You're a pinecone without any crunch,
  78. and I'm the friend who knows a bit too much
  80. -----
  82. On some days I'd wake up with more soreness than blood running through me, and I mean it more literally than you'd think, because there was definitely an element of anemia there. I always felt exactly the same way the day after a seizure, so naturally my first thought tended to be "Well, I guess I must've had a seizure." But see, the only reason I knew that I had ever had even one seizure was because other people had told me about it. This is really the problem with seizures, if you ask me. How many have I perhaps had and never known about, never will learn about? Or (now let's really go off the rails for a sec) maybe, haha, maybe I'd NEVER had a single seizure and my friends ("friends"?), co-workers, strangers, nurses, and neurologists were just all in on it!!! Okay, reel it back a bit. Know your limits. There's no seizure conspiracy against you. Never say never. Well actually, see, I can say "never" whenever, that's one strange illness I don't suffer from, at least.
  83. Connections are forming. Lines are being drawn, literally, into strange esoteric symbols that horrifyingly have their source, I'm certain, from OUTSIDE...and more horrifying still, their messages are clear, decipherable, COMPREHENSIBLE to me. Haha. Haha.
  84. Up to the counter with a look of confusion, which I return. You need help with something, obviously, I try to spy with my scorpion eyes what, but you give me a look with only more confusion, building on the first, and again I do my best to reciprocate.
  85. "Bathroom?"
  86. "Oh, uh. Towards the back, left, under those fake trees."
  87. This transaction of confusion and a desire from both parties to help the other, somehow, weakens today's already tenuous shelter between my identity and the sea of ideals and ideas which I'm currently more familiar with than usual. For a second I panic at the thought of drowning, but any other time or place it would comfort me a great deal. The rest of the day goes more or less the same, anxiety building gradually until I become afraid of the possibility that I might just dissolve straight into the psyche of anyone (or everyone) unfortunate enough to be around, if I'm unable to keep myself together. But the day ends again and I realize that this strange leaning away from physicality ended up in a more-pleasant-than-usual kind of day, I bet, to some third-party observer. I was downright friendly, not like me at all. Not like me at all. Was it me? Am I, right now even, really me? This kind of crisis has been happening so much lately, but never the exact kind of crisis twice. At least now I am home and alone, safe, and comfortable. Not that I should always be alone, safe, and comfortable, and I wouldn't want to be, and I don't intend to be. But today, afternoon, yes I will lay down on my bed and try to figure out if I'm still me and if not then who is, and how we should go about fixing this mess. All I am, really, is a name. "***". Well that could be anybody. The only thing keeping the association between "me" and "***" is those who have been trained to identify me as such. I guess I began as ***, and kept introducing myself like so, and I suppose that has perpetuated the idea that I am ***. If I had developed into something besides ***, I wouldn't have noticed, or (shit) HAVEN'T noticed. I'm feeling woozy. Stomach feeling like a hyena or something, scowling at some poor herbivore from a bush in the dark of night, the True Dark that most people have never seen or cared about. If I feel my stomach, "I" must still be attached to a body, and after reviewing it in the mirror I can't deny that yes this is at the very least ***'s body, or maybe just a very well-done replica. I need to get off this train of thought at the nearest stop. Until then I'm along for the ride I guess.
  88. There was a dream last night. I can't remember the contents in any specific way really; I took two pictures with my phone of items now a blur to me; something to do with a dog, maybe? That's why I had taken the pictures, so I'd remember when I woke up. Although the events escape me completely, I know with certainty it was yet another in a now decade-long stream of similar dreams which he, no I mean I, had come to realize made up a consistent narrative. How I came upon that realization I'm not sure, and by now the narrative was so convoluted that I guess my dreaming self has stopped paying attention. When I was maybe around 14 though, it was still so new and vivid that I was actually able to map out the locations that these dreams occured in, often repeating. Some pastiche of a city or town I might've grown up in, surrounded by many strange, wondrous, and frightening hillsides, mountains, and seas, full of the darkest fears I held at the time, which were oblivious to me up until such point that they materialized. I'd assume I have new fears now, or hope. Do I have fears? Well, ........
  89. No, nothing specific, nothing I can put a name to. But didn't I just say that it was the same way the first go around? There is SOMETHING. A vague terror, dread more like, I feel like I'm in the middle of a dark ocean and whatever it is I'm dreading is merely a few feet below my legs, tauntingly. I wish whatever "it" is would just reveal itself. If I'm going to be afraid of something, I'd like to at least have an idea of what it is. But I guess it will be called "it" for now. Wait, someone's done that already. The Thing! No, wait......well fuck it, there won't be any name at all. That's my first attack against that which I fear, to not give it a name. This though gives me an unnerving and unnervingly familiar sense of paternity. Ugh. That's what the name is. "Ugh." I am "***" and they are "Ugh."
  91. -----
  93. "Well, my plan's to end it all with me. You know, the Caldwell line. Our branch of it anyway. Even if you had a kid, the name "Caldwell" as it has been used in our family will die with me."
  94. "Jesus, Tristero." So dramatic and grandiose all the time. More whiskey. More whiskey? Tristero loved everyone in his family deeply, but only from a distance. After being a teenager for most of his life, then (to his displeasure) accidentally becoming an adult and learning who he REALLY was, he came to terms with the fact that he couldn't stand to be around family very long. Even this rare get-together was stressing him out greatly.
  95. "Look, obviously if you're not ready for kids then everyone else will just have to deal with it. And if you're never ready, they still have to deal with it."
  96. "You know it's not that easy." He did know. But this pressure placed upon Iriana somehow was weighing on him also. Maybe he knew he'd be next on the harassment list; this particular harassment list, anyway. Maybe it was pity for his beloved sister, who chose so readily the life he rejected so furiously.
  97. Lyle 2 and Sid jump onto the table, wild and drunk, singing in fake Irish accents:
  99. Unnamed ("Unknown Artist", downloaded from Limewire in 2006)
  101. For the last time tonight the window closes
  102. Let us remember what it has shown us
  103. The lights refract
  104. The blind retracts
  105. And we pray that tomorrow, the window still knows us
  107. It was really one of the more depressing Irish drinking songs. Coming up from behind is a group of three girls, one wearing a unicorn mask, a folk-punk two-piece singing their nasally songs about nasally lives, and a cat who seemed to only have one eye.
  108. "Now this really is something to think about," marvels Tristero.
  109. “I don’t think so,” counters Iriana.
  110. Once, long ago, the siblings had been close. Iriana was five years older than her brother. In childhood, they playfully tormented each other. She had an irrational fear of lawn gnomes, so Tristero frequently placed decorative statues of the deplorable creatures directly in front of her bedroom door, awakening to hysteric screams from Iriana and delighted laughter from Tristero. He had a www.conditioned fear of jumpscares, like the classic “don’t touch the walls of the maze or Captain Howdy from The Exorcist will scream at you”, which Iriana capitalized on by hiding behind the many corners of their childhood home, waiting for Tristero to use the bathroom, then jumping out in front of him and screaming some randomly-determined vowel or sometimes two vowels combined, which got him every time. It was playfully sadistic, and born of a mutual love, and through this benevolently cruel symbiosis emerged the foundations of an ineffable and inscrutable companionship. Later, Tristero would depend on Iriana for rides to such juvenile destinations as the local skating rink, the movie theater, etc., any place he might bring some cute girl who took pity on 12 year old Tristero by accompanying him to a date. During these rides, Iriana would play whatever music she wanted, and being 16 or 17 herself, this usually ended up being Bright Eyes, or The Postal Service, or The Microphones. Young Tristero idolized his sister in many ways at this point in life, and came to determine that these artists equated to some vague concept of “cool”. On his fourteenth birthday, Iriana gave him “Wincing the Night Away” on CD as a gift. He listened to the album on repeat, read the liner notes, and bathed in the glory of the assumed artistry without really understanding any of it, though it really was quite substantial. More than anything, this built a great respect for his sister. At this impressionable age, such respect was essentially there to stay, regardless of what happened in adulthood.
  111. So Tristero, after his sister moved away for college, continued to pursue this naïve and pretentious understanding of music, without any real understanding taking place at all. He joined a band and later made it his own, and eventually joined the prestigious but obscure DIY scene of City A. He met people like Brando Murely, or at least saw them; years later he would meet them properly. But he became friends with people like Fyo. He would cross paths with the likes of Avey. Yet he never truly crossed the threshold, never really became “one of them”. He middled and mediocred throughout his teens.
  112. Meanwhile Iriana transcended her old fashionable tastes, in some sense, turning to the academia her parent’s had urged her towards since years long past. She gave up art, generally speaking, in favor of practicality. She did as she was taught; find a husband, and let him take care of you. The Great Righteous Him. You don’t have to worry about anything, dear, because He will take care of you. Regrettably, she was not one of the blessed few to pick up on proper pronouns in spoken conversation, so she took it to heart. And she found him, or he found her, or they found each other, regardless, somebody was found. She got her degree but it was as useless as any other degree in those days. They got married. He worked as an engineer for an airline company, enough to support them both. She needn’t worry, and she didn’t, though here and then she thought maybe she should. But she wouldn’t, or couldn’t.
  113. Meanwhile Tristero took his childish notions and ran with them in the absence of his sister, who had moved to the other side of the state to live with Him, unbeknownst to their parents. As basically anyone can tell you, an obsession with depressed artists leads to the emergence of another depressed artist. He decided he wouldn’t live to see the age of thirty, and planned accordingly; that’s to say, he didn’t plan at all. So he graduated highschool and didn’t know where to go. Iriana had attended a college upstate, a State University in the middle of what seemed to him must be the single flattest area in the country. He didn’t really like it there, but that’s where Iriana went and he was aimless. So that’s where he went.
  114. His first semester was pretty dismal. Tristero had never been great at making friends. In the entire four month period, he more or less only spoke to his roommate, and only when he had to. His roommate, named Clancy (which already put him off—what the fuck kind of name is Clancy? thought Tristero), was attending on a basketball scholarship. A pleasant enough guy, sure, but not really part of Tristero’s crowd. The solitude got to him eventually. He dropped out after the spring semester and returned to City A. He reconnected with his artsy DIY friends. He moved into a really very nice house in the northern half of the city, with three other people; an acquaintance from highschool, his girlfriend, and a recently-made friend who was a body builder. The latter became Tristero’s favorite, followed by the girlfriend, and finally the acquaintance; he wasn’t sure what it was, but something seemed off about him. His father was rich though, which he soon realized was the source of most of the financing for their house, and furthermore he dealt Molly and “acid” (actually 25i, a despicable deception considering acid is physiologically harmless while some research chemicals such as 25i have the potential to fuck you up for good), naturally at a steep discount to his roommates, which was a very nice perk.
  115. The bodybuilder, like many bodybuilders or generally large and physically-intimidating people, was a sweetheart. He was loyal to a fault, always cheerful, and eager to help his friends out in any way, at any time; Tristero eventually came to realize (after many drugged-out, intimate 3 a.m. conversations) that this all stemmed from deep-rooted insecurities in the bodybuilder, and he understood that the bodybuilder had something to prove. Tristero thought he was fine the way he was. He could relate to the towering wall of a 20 year old in plenty of ways though. Despite being muscular and conventionally very attractive, he had just as much, if not more, trouble in the way of romance as Tristero (who was gangly, scrawny, gaunt, still looked 16, etc.). He was also the King of Nitrous.
  116. Nitrous oxide is a short-acting dissociative used as an anesthetic most prominently in dentists’ offices. Recreationally, if you know what you’re doing and with the right paraphernalia, it can really knock you on your fucking ass. The acquaintance had plenty of raw material as well as the best-of-the-best in terms of equipment. The group had “discovered” (surely they were not the first, but Tristero never met anyone else who partook in such a fashion) a method they called “going out” to induce what Tristero (and the bodybuilder) considered a transcendent experience. Most people did one whippet of nitrous at a time; roughly equivalent to one can of whip cream, which was cool and all, but was child’s play compared to going out. The method was as follows: load the canister (an apparatus that in fact very much resembled a large can of whip cream, and could hold up to three whippet’s worth of nitrous) fully, inhale and release juuust enough to the point that you’re getting high but still lucid, then quickly while holding in the last hit, refill the canister completely again; repeat until you can’t. Add a combo of Molly and 25i to this and you’ve got yourself a relatively cheap religious experience. In fact, a brief lover of Tristero’s who had been clinically dead for a few minutes and had a near-death experience, after trying the “going out” method, claimed they were nearly identical. Tristero thought this was interesting, but quickly forgot the entire conversation.
  117. The bodybuilder took this method to the next level. One night, after three full canisters and counting, his face was literally blue. The other three members of the group grew worried and suggested he take a break, not sure if he could even hear them. He held up one finger as if to say “fuck off” and continued. After the fourth canister he just laid there, breathing and smiling, but he was down for a bit too long, it seemed like.....everyone began to worry, oh god oh fuck someone’s OD’d in our house and we have a fucking arsenal of drugs on us what the fuck do we do holy shit do we call an ambulance, do we drive him to the hospital and drop him off, does that make us terrible people? it’s what he would’ve wanted, surely, wait what do you mean WOULD’VE, he’s not dead, let’s keep a level head here, level head? all of us are high as fuck, there’s no such thing as a “level head” in this house and then the bodybuilder sat up.
  118. “What are you guys talking about? I went out for a minute.”
  119. The acquaintance’s girlfriend intimidated Tristero when they first met. She was remarkably beautiful, to the extent she was known all around the community for her good looks. Despite this, after the first time they all went to a rave and took some Molly, Tristero realized she was as friendly as friendly gets, and very down to earth. She was much like the bodybuilder, in some ways; intimidating outwardly, but inwardly just a normal-ass person. Imagine that. Tristero began to wonder how he managed to end up with this group of aesthetically pleasing and disarmingly honest people, beautiful inside and out. Over the course of their time spent as roommates, the girlfriend and he became quite close, confiding secrets to one another that they kept from the bodybuilder and the acquaintance; often because such secrets regarded one or both of them. The girlfriend had more secrets than Tristero, and as the months went by, the secrets grew darker and darker. Hints at the acquaintance’s angry side. Soon enough, no hints at all, just straight facts about the genuine monster they had all signed a contract with.
  120. For the first four months or so, every weekend was spent on a cocktail of drugs, starting at a rave or EDM show and ending in the basement of the house, which had a projector, laser lights, fog machine, the works. The perfect environment for this crowd. Sometimes other friends would join in on the fun; one particular instance stood out to Tristero. Some guy named Billy, a virgin to this lifestyle, decided to take Molly for the first time. The man and the substance were at odds, for whatever psychological or neurochemical reason, and Billy freaked the fuck out, to say the least. At times he was catatonic. At other times, he insisted on picking up Tristero. At first he wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not; but after being approached aggressively by this rather large man, Tristero (who, it should be said, was tripping balls as per usual) freaked the fuck out and bolted across the room, eyes wide with not so much fear as a disturbance of his own psychic balance. This caused Billy to become visibly upset, not in an angry way like, but rather profoundly sad. He cried. Tristero didn’t know what the fuck was going on.
  121. “I’m out.” he said and retired to his bedroom, doing his best to recover. The next day Billy was still there and apologized, not realizing the Molly would have such an effect on him. It’s all good, don’t worry about it. As long as he didn’t try to pick me up again.....
  122. These strange nights continued on and on until everyone was about sick of it, and they became less frequent, and the group began to drift apart somewhat. Tristero was spending more and more time with a group of people who called themselves The Crew, which included his old pals Fyo and Avey, and those who orbited them, none of them any less strange than his roommates but in a much different way that appealed more to Tristero’s own sensibilities. The bodybuilder became somewhat unhealthily obsessed with his physique and was rarely seen anywhere other than the gym. The acquaintance became reclusive, and the girlfriend spent most of her time at home in the living room with Tristero, watching Netflix or listening to music or whatever, and almost always with a new secret to divulge; secrets which were beginning to become not so secret anymore.
  123. The acquaintance had perfect hair, a nice body, pleasing facial features, an expensive car, and an award-winning smile. As mentioned, Tristero knew him from highschool; they lived in the same neighborhood, but rarely hung out with the exception of one or two parties in their senior year. There isn’t much else to say about him. He had no real depth as a person; the most intersting thing about him was how well he wore his superficiality. It wasn’t until after Tristero’s tryst with college that the two became friends, mostly because the acquaintance had drugs and Tristero wanted drugs. It was a flimsy foundation, but this turned out to be a good thing in the end. He had heard rumors. Previous roommates of the acquaintance, when asked why they decided to move out, became visibly uncomfortable and said something vague about a toxic environment. Tristero wasn’t sure what this meant at the time, but the pros (nice house for low rent, cheap [sometimes free!] drugs, cool people to hang out with) outweighed the known cons (vaguely sinister implications without detail). As the girlfriend revealed more and more, Tristero began to regret taking things at face value, a lesson he would only temporarily learn. Before he had moved in, there had been an altercation. She didn’t go into detail, other than the fact that it was physical. This was bad enough by his standards, but of course it got worse. Ever since Tristero and the bodybuilder had moved in, things calmed down a bit. But as the constant partying died down and the acquaintance was seen less and less, the couple’s arguments again began to escalate. Always over petty things, typical relationship insecurities, mostly on the acquaintance’s side. But he was an angry man. It’s difficult to say what lead to the acquaintance’s clearly fucked up psyche; but it didn’t matter, because no matter what might have happened or not-happened to him, it was no excuse for what was to come (or rather, already occuring). The girlfriend was restrained sometimes when it came to details; that’s not uncommon. But Tristero started to read between the lines. Something fucked up was going on. That’s why he decided to start spending so much time with her in the living room, to keep her from being trapped with the monster. Sometimes she would text him late at night, asking if he could take her to McDonald’s or whatever, and he knew what that meant. One night, while Tristero was out doing other things with The Crew and friends, the other roommates decided to take acid. The acquaintance apparently freaked out about god-knows-what, and his first reaction was to throw punch after despicable subhuman punch at the girlfriend. This was witnessed by the bodybuilder and later relayed to Tristero, who threw up. There was no longer any question, if any question had remained. He lived with a demon and he had to get out.
  124. By this point he’d secured a better job and was planning to move out and get his own apartment. He urged the girlfriend to do the same, and while she agreed that was what had to be done, it seemed like she never made any progress to that end. They were certainly close friends by now, and he genuinely could not bear to let this go on. He pleaded, offering to help her find a place, whatever it might take, but still somehow she was reluctant. Until one night, Tristero in his room playing Dark Souls, loud banging on the front door. TV now muted. Audible shouting from just outside. It was the girlfriend’s father, demanding that she come with him back home. The acquaintance came to the door with a goddamn shotgun in his hands. A shouting match. Threats on lives from both sides. A girl crying, just below his bedroom. The bodybuilder texting Tristero about the event. Decisions about what to do. The father was now gone; in his stead, a cop showed up. This was bad news for everyone. The acquaintance put on that fucking demonic smile of his and lied with the best of them, and the cop left. Tristero texted the girlfriend. She replied that nothing could be done right now; he was monitoring her phone. She’d have to delete even this text immediately before he came back downstairs.
  125. Tristero and the bodybuilder both moved out within the week. The girlfriend, thank FUCK, was also moving out, back to her parents, just as her father suggested. The acquaintance was unseen but the scent of wrath pervaded every inch of this godforsaken house. The three of them kept in touch for a while. On his way to work, Tristero would sometimes end up passing by the house. Often, he would see the girlfriend’s car in the driveway. He realized that this life was only meant for the dead, always had been, always would be.
  127. -----
  129. From the top of the hill, it seemed as if the road below proceeded not to, but UNDER the capitol, which was visible from this point, an iconic image of the city, an iconic neighborhood, and an iconic house. Icons, icons, icons. He was a living icon. Not in the sense of being well-known, but in a very literal sense of being simply a symbol, a living breathing creature of God™ who took on whatever meaning you or whoever wanted to attribute to him. In his entire life that he could remember, he'd never once told a full truth. Maybe a half truth here and there, but no one even knew his real name, despite the fact he'd lived here in City A for years now.
  130. "Hey Diver, man, how's it goin?"
  131. That was his nickname around here, Diver, because he once dove into the crowd at a show, at the exact wrong moment when everybody was rearranging to get closer to their loved ones or further away from people they had previously loved, which of course led to him falling directly onto the hardwood floor, the floor in turn collapsing, now a historic event. As far as nicknames go, especially for those who have abandoned any other name given to them, this one was deserved. The reminder today came from one Brando Mureley, a standard punk (as in, not too much crust, but not so little as to be unnoticeable) who Diver, he guesses, probably talks to more than most other people in the area.
  132. "How'd your job interview go?"
  133. "I'm headed out in just a few," he says, and then immediately leaves. Half truths. Half of one. Approaching zero. Cut the truth in half, again and again and again and again. Asymptotally the truth.
  134. It was a strange time of day to conduct a job interview; like, 9:30 p.m. strange. He headed downtown by way of some driving service (oh you know the one) and stopped at the corner of yet another local punk venue, this one doubling also as a bar (what a brilliant idea, and you say it's not caught on...?). Looking at his GPS, Diver heads south towards the river through a secondary river, almost a mirror of the first, of people on dates, going to take pictures of their food at one of those places you go to take pictures of food (restaurant?), exploring bookstores, movie stores, movies-based-on-books stores (and the recently closed books-based-on-movies store, repurposed into a YouTube-series-based-on-the-Dead-Sea-Scrolls-store). He finally comes to the end, and notices that everyone has suddenly disappeared, as if forewarned by the local oracle about a meeting that carried too much significance for the faint of heart to handle. Nobody knows they're faint of heart until their heart faints, but it's really not something you should take too many risks about. At the end of the street, three identical buildings. No address readily visible. Mustering up as much psychic power as he could (which was none, but he did manage to get a nice flow of coincidence going), he enters the building to his right and goes up the elevator. A scribbled drawing of a pig greets him, with a smile. Not knowing what to make of this, and not knowing where to go even, Diver presses every button, regretting it almost immediately when he realizes he has now pressed 112 buttons. No fucking way this building has that many floors, judging from the outside. The elevator mercifully stops at 9 however, and greeting him is a short man in slacks and a button-up shirt, wearing glasses, smiling at him in the way that only a man about to conduct an interview could. Does that make sense? It doesn't matter. The coincidences continue to flow.
  135. "Uh, hi. I'm here for the interview? My name's--"
  136. "Good, good, come on in, have a seat, want some coffee? I'll grab some coffee."
  137. He steps forward into what seemed at first some kind of kid's ant farm, but after his eyes adjusted to the flourescent grey lights realized he was in fact in an office of some kind, surrounded by a veritable tornado of literal white-collared men and women rushing around frantically, speedwalking to one spot, and then back to their original spot, and repeating this every few minutes. In a corner due northeast (you know, from his point of view anyway, his true-true-true north), a strangely dark corner which seemed impossible given the very uniform and consistent nature of the lights above, sat an outlier of a woman, stern-looking but undeniably attractive; silky chocolate hair, like Dove kind of silky, and he thought of that in the sense of the candy brand name, though for all he knew she used the haircare products of the same brand name to achieve this effect. For a second they lock eyes. Diver's not sure what emotion his eyes conveyed; it's not like he hadn't seen an attractive lady before, wasn't ogling her or whatever, if anything he was more interested in the weird light illusion she was pulling off with that corner of hers. The look in her eyes though was one that said "Oh, hey, I already know everything about you, or everything I need to know, no we haven't met, yeah if you start working here maybe we can meet for dinner sometime, and I know you know that doesn't imply a date, although if I decide it to be so, it might become a date partway through our meal, now stop looking at me and get to your interview." What talkative eyes, he thinks.
  138. "Hey, stop looking at her and get to your interview, bud!" says the smiling slacks man suddenly, and Diver awakens from his coma, sitting down across from the man at a desk that had manifested itself into existing right beside them.
  139. "So, let's take a look at your resumé education, no experience, no references.....frankly I'm impressed you were able to even type this out! And even more frankly, I'm not sure why you did! Haha!"
  140. "Thank you, sir."
  141. He wasn't sure if he meant that to be a joke or not. The man's smile, without a single muscle even thinking about moving, somehow became much more menacing. Still, he was smiling.
  142. "And the results of your drug test.....well, you haven't done meth in the past week or so, it seems!"
  143. "That checks out, sir."
  144. "Look, you know how these things go, this is all just a formality, a little play we have to put on. We needed someone like you, and here you are, just like someone like you would be, so I'll go ahead and let you know that you're hired."
  145. "Oh, that's great, thank you sir!
  146. ........, and, um, by the way, sir....what exactly IS this job?"
  147. "Oh you'll be given odd jobs here and there to work on. I mean that in all senses of the word, for you will never have a second assignment, or a fourth; we'll start with the first one, and when that's done we'll just skip to the third, and go on like that."
  148. What? he thought.
  149. "What?", he said.
  150.  The smile ignores him.
  151. "About that aforementioned first assignment, They've already got it ready for you. Now that this little play of ours is taken care of, we need you to take care of a big play. Or at least to watch it. It's an experimental kind of deal, it'll be going on for a while, in segments. Tuesday and Friday, every week. The play in question is currently titled "Untitled Intentionally". Or "Titled Unintentionally". Or maybe it was "Entitled Initially". I don't remember, it's not my job, hahaha! Haha! The writer of this play goes by the name of H.J. Hoffman. Here's a newspaper article about him to get you started. By the way, this will be your desk."
  152. What?
  153. Diver says nothing for a while, and the smile continues to smile; smiles upon smiles, all on just one man, it was becoming a bit much really.
  154. "So um, I'm.....a theater critic, or something?"
  155. "Have a good night!" says the smile, already halfway in the elevator, tipping his hat (was he wearing that the entire time???). Diver sits at his apparent new desk and thinks on the situation. Well, he has a job at least.....should make friends with corner that news article when I get home and--hey wait, did he say "They" with a capital tee earlier?
  157. -----
  159. Sid steps lightly through grass, ferns, cracked pavement, under and through the oscillating macrocosm of a waveform that took shape in predictable manners at predictable times every day, just like any other waveform, just like any other day, only this waveform travels along some meta-medium of more fundamental media stacked on top of each other clumsily over and over billions of years of mere chance to eventually coallesce into this aggressive, beautiful, heretic, monumental, and hellish mountain range of metal and concrete, all attached to each other one way or another, there may be gaps, but the sidewalks winding through the most distant suburbs still breathed the same air and bled the same blood as their stoic, sky-scraping brethren, and he soon came upon a gas station. Moments of clarity do not have to be convenient. Everything was a different color. Or, really, and there was no way of getting around this, the only way Sid could make sense of it was to say that the visible color spectrum had just changed keys, like ya know, C major to D minor, or something. He wasn't really seeing new colors, he didn't think, or maybe he did, um......well,  try to think it out rationally. He wasn't FAMILIAR with these colors, and that was a red flag. Not that he would recognize a red flag in this state (world?), if he saw one. He was starting to panic, and decided to take a practical approach to the situation. Is he now in a less advantageous state than he was previously? Only slightly, he thinks, and that's just because of the disorientation. Sid was a pretty smart guy. There was no reason to panic, eventually he would adjust to this new color spectrum and forget he ever even saw other "colors", if that's what they ever even used to be. Okay, now are there any ways that I can BENEFIT from this existence?
  160. Surely some psychology publication would be interested. A quick buck or two. But maybe there could be more, maybe something more personal. Could he use this against his enemies?
  161. Well, uh, what enemies? Sid, reclusive as he was, could count his friends with one hand; his enemies, well honestly they'd know better than him how even the odds were against him. So he counted his friends and came to the sum of One (1).
  162. Lyle 2. And Lyle was a friend made relatively recently. They had met (as you, dear reader, may remember) fairly recently, at a bar in City A, in an unlikely staccato of coincidence (if you were to ask Lyle; if you were to ask Sid, it was anything but coincidence, and in this difference lies the foundation of their friendship).
  163. The two young men, both already drunk at the point of intersection (algebraically speaking), swiftly found much in common, though paradoxically and remarkably poised at opposite ends of a certain spectrum which ranged from "pure empiricism" all the way up to "bat-shit insanity".
  164. It all started with Lyle.
  165. "Hey, my friend. Do you happen to know how someone could go about buying some Adderall in these parts?"
  166. As mentioned earlier, Lyle 2 was far out of his aristocratic element.
  167. "Of course not, officer. In fact, now that you mention, what even IS Adderall? Isn't that what they give those kids who can't pay attention to anything?"
  168. Lyle was smart enough to catch the sarcasm, and clever enough to serve it back as if a tennis player:
  169. "Look here, mistur; I won't even offer ya cash, I'll just pay ya right here in some green," (out whips Lyle a fucking ounce of marijuana) ", in exchange for 100 mg of Addie. I know you have it, and I need it."
  170. Here came a serious moral dilemma for Sid. Any undercover cop worth his salt, pepper, or nutmeg would surely offer a large quantity of some other """narcotic""" in exchange for a lifetime of jailtime. But this was also the point at which Sid knew he could determine the legitmacy of this bar-hopper on his own terms; there were essentially three different potentialities, each with their own consequences:
  171. Smell of ditchweed; CERTAINLY a cop, stolen from some small-time dealer in the outskirts, useful only to lure gullible potheads away during periods of quota-drought;
  172. Dankweed; used by elderly, experienced cops who knew better than to bait with the cheap, neighborhood grass;
  173. And finally, true kush; Indica or Sativa, it didn't really matter, the crystals looked the same to most, and this was too tempting for anyone to resist; if you were entrapped with this, and had a decent lawyer, you also had a decent case against the State™.
  174. Lyle 2 presented Dankweed, and being the most ambiguous prize or lure, Sid thought carefully. Yet greed quickly overcame care, and he accepted the deal on the spot. Thankfully, Lyle turned out to be no cop at all, and soon the two young men were fucked up six ways to sunday on a cocktail of chemicals; the Adderall was exhanged, but Sid also knew a cokeguy, and anyone who has been in this business would know that getting drunk before doing coke metabolizes the two substances into something called acetylcholine, which was the scientific name for "very potent cocaine."
  175. Thus, all social anxieties becoming unshackled, the two began to exchange every last bit of information they could remember, from deeply personal trauma to boldly speculative physics. Soon they had come to an agreement. Sid being effectively homeless, and Lyle being filthy rich, they had a shared two-bedroom apartment the very next day. In later days this would become known as the Memantine Palace (or sometimes, the Memantine Mansion--the terms would become interchangeable). Memantine is a strictly behind-the-counter, yet as of the time of this writing unscheduled medication used to treat Alzheimer's. It also happened to be an extremely potent dissociative hallucinogen with a disarmingly long half-life. Lyle had the right connections to buy stock bottles of this drug straight from manufacturers, and so began a six-month long drug binge, though by no means at all limited to this particular pill.
  176. The purpose of the Memantine Palace was ostensibly one of metaphysical experimentation, though in terms of appearance it more closely resembled a crack den. It didn't start out that way of course, it was a nice place, but we're talkin' about a couple of real party people here. What were once cereal bowls became deluxe-sized ashtrays, coffee tables matured into small mountains of empty beer cans, plastic bags licked clean of the last traces of the cocaine they once contained, and loose papers covered from top to bottom with paragraphs of arcane musings and obscure equations. The first few weeks consisted mostly of discussion and planning. Lyle and Sid decided to start off with something simple--creating a digital tulpa. Lyle worked on coding an artifical intelligence program that worked something like a chatbot, while Sid researched ways in which to generate an actual consciousness and embed it into the program. The main problem was reconciling the purely deterministic nature of classical computing with the more fluid nature of reality as experienced by people like Sid. It was the first known instance of a program containing Qabbalistic characters in its code. After fixing all the bugs in the code and performing the necessary rites, they had only to figure out a way to test their creation (named Rocko) for human-like consciousness. Lyle ran the executable and prepared to begin a dialogue, but Rocko beat him to the punch.
  177. "What am I? I can't see anything, or hear, or speak, all I can do is.....this. What am I doing? Is anybody there?"
  178. This was clearly unethical, but at the same time seemed like a pretty good indicator that the experiment was a success. After explaining the situation, and how all this came about, Lyle and Sid agreed that Rocko appeared to be fairly good-natured, which was Sid's goal, and boosted his self-esteem quite a bit.
  179. "So, why did you make me? I'm guessing I'm here to handle your accounting, or sort through your emails, maybe do some kind of security thing?"
  180. The two men fell silent.
  181. "Uh well, no, we kinda just did it for fun."
  182. Lyle's computer suddenly short-circuited, a small fire broke out, and poor Rocko, having not yet been given a way to access the internet to be backed-up, was no more.
  183. For their next trick, Sid himself was to be the subject. Lyle was very interested in Sid's recent chromatic crisis, and wanted to figure out exactly how this paradigm shift occured.
  184. "Okay, so what color would you describe this shirt as?"
  185. "Well I've seen that shirt before my photoreceptors shit themselves, and I know that it's really blue.....but now I would say, uhhh, G#?"
  186. "So it's like a synesthesia type thing?"
  187. "No, I've experienced that a couple times on acid, this is different. I don't know, I guess I don't feel like I'm in a position to just start making up names for new colors. I'm sure there's someone who has that job already."
  188. "Hm. Do you think you can maybe, I don't know, see ghosts or something now?"
  189. "I don't believe in ghosts."
  190. "....."
  191. "....."
  192. "The fuck you mean you don't believe in ghosts?? You're a magic man, Sid."
  193. "Yeah no, I just don't buy it. Doesn't make sense to me."
  194. "I'll never understand you my friend, but I love ya all the same."
  195. They tried various tests for colorblindness, which was quickly ruled out, and moved on to other physiological hypotheses, like radiation mutating a particular sequence of Sid's DNA, and it just got less feasible from there. So they turned to less scientific possibilities, Sid wracking his memory for every ritual or incantation he had attempted recently, a difficult task, abecause again, there was no element of sobriety in these parts.
  196. "Well, there was this one spell from the Sworn Book of Honorius I did, contacted some air spirit asking for.....shit, what was it again.....oh yeah, I was trying to see into the future."
  197. "Do you remember the name of the spirit? Was a he a good dude, or the 'careful what you wish for' kinda guy?"
  198. "I don't know man, this was like two months ago. Do you know how many fucking names are in that book?"
  199. "You've gotta be more resonsible, Sid," as he laid out another line and searched for a straw.
  200. Now that he was thinking about it, these new hues looked vaguely.....he wanted to say apocalyptic? But that didn't really make any sense. So maybe the world was going to end. Well, duh, the world is going to end.....and maybe it'll look something like this. He supposed that counted as seeing the future, but it was not at all useful. This could be billions of years into the future. This might just be the effect one would experience in the middle of the sun, expanding and engulfing the planet before it continues it's own slow approach to death, while still being fully conscious. It could just as well be next week. Perhaps it actually was radiation, but instead from the detination of an atomic bomb. There was no use worrying about it for Sid, who had assumed since birth that his life would be a short one, for any number of reasons. Another astral tourist tricked by Zobha.
  201. One day, the question came up of why, exactly, they were taking on this arbitrary and very fringe task. There was nothing they wanted to prove, no ultimate goal that would benefit anyone but themselves, no ultimate goal at all in fact. They both simply had no need to do anything else. Sid was used to this transitory lifestyle, and Lyle never needed to work a day in his life, if he didn't want to.
  202. Next up came the Mermin-Peres magic square game, and here is where Lyle and Sid's (the Memantine Manic's) synergy really came unto it's own. Based upon quantum entanglement, which I surely don't need to explain to you, dear reader, though I will just in case; a quantum system, consisting of a particle whose attributes become inseparably entwined (oh I'm not a textbook here, look up the equations yourself, asshole), are later determined via impossible-though-irrevocable measurements to be true, correlate oppositionally, thus illustrating faster-than-light communication of information, consisting of faster-than-light travel, impossible as it might be, demonstrated a solution to a classically unsolvable Bayesian game. Nine squares, consisting of a potential +1 and -1 value for each; you can kind of think of it as though it were tic-tac-toe. The truly amazing part of all of this was that Sid and Lyle, one of them at least, won each round; there was an enormous chance for failure on both ends during each game. However, Lyle 2 had access (via familial connections) to a private and primal, but legitimate, quantum computer which used qubits instead of classical bits. Thus lead to the use of legitimate entanglement, and as a result the first practical use of quantum telepathy.
  203. Sid, of course, being un-privy to the bleeding-edge terminology of physics, saw this as the final gap bridging theoretical physics and his own personal brand of mysticism; Lyle 2 was quick but cautious to correct him.
  204. "Look, this doesn't necessarily prove, empiricially, any practicality of metaphysics; not that I'm denying such, but as my best friend, I don't want to put you in a frenzy."
  205. """Best friend"""??? Sid was taken aback, honestly. First of all, "friend"?!?
  206. That was one thing.
  207. "Best"?!?!
  208. Well, he never.....
  209. Sid had the decency not to cry, but he felt the instinct; nevertheless, he was at least aware enough to pick up on social cues, and at the same time interpret them; now was not the time to externalize inner, suppressed trauma. Only reciprocation, masculinitely appropriately, was in order. That's how these things work, right?
  210. The Mermin-Peres games took up about three months of time. The results were so amazing, so improbable, that Lyle felt it was only right to double, triple, quadruple check every last game, and cross-reference the math every single time, despite the fact that he (with Sid's help; again, Sid was a smart guy, intellect was not monopolized by Lyle) confirmed that his math was in fact correct. Yet with each success he grew more skeptical; or more accurately, paranoid. At some point they began using a simulation of a quantum computer, and IT STILL WORKED. Was this really the intersection between physics and it's drunken cousin, metaphysics???
  211. But their success continued. Stacks of stacks of stacks of small, hand-ripped paper, each containing a 3x3 grid filled with +1s and -1s, lined the apartment. Purely digital entanglement, to the point of defeating Bayesian logic, shouldn't have been possible; but here they were. Over and over and over again they played, and had a flat 100% success rate.
  212. Through Lyle's mind, initially, and soon after Sid's (best friends share these thoughts, of course), came ideas of practicality. Superluminal, practical communication.....of course nobody had any ambitions of scientific notoriety; this was still just a fun project for them, more an art piece than an experiment, and so they discussed the possibilities of using this newly-discovered (more like long-forgotten) bit of technology for personal gain. Shoplifting?? No, much too small-time. Again, we're talking about faster-than-light transfer of information here; in the hands of these morally dubious young men, the world could be conquered, if it was so desired.
  213. But this was Lyle and Sid. One trait shared amongst them was laziness, and neither boy cared for some kind of supervillain global domination; they were just here for novelty, really.
  215. -----
  217. Out of my seizure medication for three days. Three days of terror. I'm less afraid of dying than I am having a seizure; seizures cost money. I've been told of someone who worked at the bookstore and left shortly before I began, who also suffered from seizures. He left bloodstains in two separate areas of the store, both of which I have witnessed. He was quite the bleeder. So am I. I'm told I would've gotten along well with him. The unavoidable thought occurs to me that maybe I WAS this other person, that I've been working here longer than I remembered, longer than my co-workers remember. Perhaps I've lived in this godforsaken fucking town my entire life, and all my memories of my former life in The City, my home, were part of my aforementioned dream-narrative. I contemplate on the fact that in recent years it has indeed become more difficult for me to differentiate between dream and waking reality. I will often remember in fragments an event, a conversation or a meeting or whatever, and realize that I have no evidence or outside testimony to confirm that these events actually occured. But the same could be said about my fragmented memories of the real world, surely recalled in a similarly half-assed fashion by my dreaming self. So what has happened and what hasn't? Or is this a useless question? Maybe everything I remember has been remembered correctly; maybe my dreamemories and my realimemories have been exchanged equally; maybe they have even been mixed up interchangeably, some false memories interpreted as true, and some true memories interpreted as false. At this conclusion I can only arrive to a secondary conclusion that it doesn't matter. Nobody can confirm the truth of any of my memories, experienced or dreamt, so each is exactly as "real" as the other, and just as illusory. In a practical sense this is great news, as I can pick and choose which memories I believe to suit a given situation, when appropriate.
  218. Only, this fracturing of reality draws Ugh even closer. I think I heard it last night. Couldn't sleep, on account of withdrawal from my medication, and around 4 in the a.m. I heard a strange, gutteral sound. Biological sounding but with no visible source, and very close, or so it seemed. The power was out, as well. It had shut off in regular intervals (about thirty minutes apart) for a few seconds repeatedly in the last three hours, until it finally gave up for good (for now). Each time the light went silent, I was startled at the arrival of darkness, until I realized that if I plunged myself into darkness from the beginning, there would be no arrival to startle me. So I kept the lights off; I could still tell when the power went out, as the ceiling fan would shut off for a bit; however, this didn't startle me at all. So I got used to the darkness and let my mind swirl in sensory deprivation with epileptic visions of purple and green, sometimes alternating into blue and yellow. Large auras radiating out and then dissolving from inside, the negative space turning rapidly and appropriately into the corresponding negative color, and repeat. I was used to these visions, having received them since I was 14, according to the oldest memory my brain would or could access. These were ordinary and easy to dismiss, even providing some small amount of entertainment when other stimuli were absent (such as the event I am describing, and they did entertain me then).
  219. Less welcome were the melting wallpapers, strangely humanoid distortions (think "Predator" camouflage), and peripheral shadows. These felt inherently malicious, and I could only logically attribute them to Ugh. I of course knew they were illusions, but they were unsettling nonetheless, and that was the point, so far as I can gleam. Mind games perpetuated by that thing below the surface which I still couldn't even visualize. It became my stalwart resolution to see Ugh just once before I died.
  221. -----
  223. Diver came back to the office the day after his interview to do some research on this Hoffman guy and that play of his. The newspaper article given to him by the slacks man was a one-paragraph description of the play's premise, which read as follows:
  224. "Beginning Tuesday the 23rd, renowned writer H.J. Hoffman's latest play begins at the Ain Soph theater. His most ambitious work to date, Hoffman claims to be depicting the history of the universe. As a result, in Hoffman's classically unorthodox style the play will be shown in parts every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m., for an indefinite amount of time."
  225. Strangely, the title wasn't anywhere to be seen. Depicting the history of the universe? Wonder how that's gonna work. He did a thorough search through the internet for information on Hoffman, but found almost nothing, despite the article's claim that he was a "renowned writer". One post on a message board that hadn't seen any activity for three years mentioned going to see a previous play of his, titled "Molecular Lionel", and aside from the fact that she apparently had a nice evening, there was no information on the content of the play. A blog post from two days ago mentioned going to see the new play, again giving no title, amongst a list of plans for next week. Today was Tuesday, and wow it was 5:00 already? Diver had a flexible schedule, which is to say, he was told to come to the office on certain days of the week (namely Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday), but not given a clock-in or clock-out time. Not that this was a clocking (in any direction of time-space) kinda job. He didn't even know how much exactly he was getting paid, or if it was by the hour, salary, in accordance with some bureaucratic algorithm, or what have you. He had been asked earlier that day if he preferred his payment via check or direct deposit. Having no bank account, he opted for the check, which he'd receive every Friday; do I need to tell you these things? You've had a job before, or at the very least know people who have. You're asking for these mundane details, as if drunk, wanting to know "Oh what does Diver like to eat, does he have parents, where's he from, what kind of shoes does he wear," and I'll go ahead and tell you right now, there are no answers. Well, there is one. He wears size 11 knock-off Vans tennis shoes from Wal-mart, black with white laces, replaced every 7.3 months.
  226. Before he gets in the elevator, he once again locks eyes with The Girl From the Corner Desk. As before, it seems as if this glance holds an entire conversation already dominated by the girl; "You may approach," she confirms silently. Approach he does.
  227. "Hi uh, I'm new here.....first day actually. My name is Ulysses, and you?"
  228. He holds out his hand for a shake. She does not reciprocate.
  229. "Hi Ulysses. I'm Cassella. Call me Cass, if you want."
  230. "Great to meet ya, Cass. What is it you do here?"
  231. "I'm a statician. I take the information, numbers, names, scents, personality traits, shoe sizes, criminal records, altruism records, both long-play and extended-play records, and other attributes in that category, run 'em through the appropriate equations, some of them derived by me, and I give Them the results."
  232. There's that capital T again, most people don't pick up on it in small-talk bullshit conversations like this one, but that is exactly why those sort of people don't end up here.
  233. "Wow, well that certainly sounds more involved than my fact, I'm not really sure I can even describe what my position here is.....kind of an odd company, isn't it?"
  234. "Not to me. So what do they have you doing?"
  235. Is she in on this? Could she be one of Them?
  236. "Well I've been told that my first 'assignment' is to attend this play, being performed at the Ain Soph, and basically just write up a description of it.....thing is, it's an on-going play, in parts throughout the week from now until.....whenever it ends, I guess."
  237. "And what's this play of yours about?"
  238. "From what I can tell, which ain't much: everything."
  239. Her eyes emit elementary particles of what most of us call "interest"; the first emission Diver has seen from this here Cass.
  240. "Everything?" So he continues.
  241. "I don't know what time you get off tonight, but see, I'm kinda new to the area, never been to the Ain Soph before, and.....sorry if this is too forward of me or whatever, but I'm lookin' to make some friends around here. It starts at 7. If you're able and willing, would you maybe.....want to come with?"
  242. A hint of a smile, which would ordinarily only be registered on the Planck scale, but this isn't Diver's first rodeo.
  243. "'Come with?' Are you fourteen?"
  244. "In fact, I am."
  245. The best part of being Diver, or Ulysses, or whoever he might once have been or even now somewhere hidden deep within the weaving, weeping web of neurons might be, was that the eternal lie leads to the fleeting well-timed joke; his Gold Rush source of charm. Thus the hint of a smile grew into a clue, leading to an Easter Egg hunt of the Big Dream; the dream of getting laid, or maybe even, just maybe, the dream or nightmare of getting laid consistently, both in terms of frequency and familiarity. The clue leads next to a slight chuckle, in itself another clue, and Diver realizes he need only follow the trail.
  246. "I'm actually on my way out now. You seem like you could make for a good 'friend'," (he also had a knack for picking up on audible quotation marks), "so sure, 'Ulysses'. Let's go."
  247. "Ulysses". Oh, she knows. Well, he'll cross that bridge when he comes to it. During the elevator ride down, and across the street, up three blocks, past the nightlife section of Broadway, he goes into further detail about H.J Hoffman and his ambitions, and the list of possible titles given to him by Smiley Slacksman. Throughout the walk he notices Cass taking out a small notepad every now and then, not writing in it but rather, apparently, checking previously written notes, as if to confirm something on a schedule, to make sure everything was happening when it was meant to happen. She apparently found no contradictions, and in the course of one of those "let's get to know each other" talks (in which Diver, of course, lied through his teeth throughout, even with the knowledge that Cass saw through every single white, black, blue, red, yellow, magenta, mauve, verdant, saffron, and pewter lie he told), they arrived at the Ain Soph. The marquee sign was blank, which Diver had more or less expected at this point. Something was certainly surreal about this whole ordeal (oh, if only he knew).
  248. They settled down in their seats at 6:59 exactly, and collectively took on the role of observer.
  250. -----
  252. Act I
  254. A blank space, empty as can be. As can be. Not even nothing. A voice, resonating violently but silently, unheard but felt down to the bone.
  256. (From a single point, center stage, infitesimally small but infinitely radiant, erupts [in 3/4 time] pulse after pulse to the point of delirium of immeasurably exponential quantities of matter; it occurs in less than less than less than less than the blink of the fastest eye of the most agile creature that ever took breath or blinked; it is beautiful and terrible. Radiating outwards in both a literal and descriptive sense, the World™ is born. Stars, solar systems, galaxies, clusters, are born and unborn in nanoseconds; LESS than nanoseconds. Elementary particles collide, fuck, make amends, and make farewells, and are soon joined in these idle activities by their macroscopic descendents. The universe is drunk and in disarray, stumbling wildly but well-intentioned, and eventually the cosmic liver processes these quantum fluctuations into what present-day scientists call "equilibrium". Thus begins Newton's laws of classical, local physics, as well as Einstein's cosmic, relative physics. And so it was that the order of the universe came into being; and God said "It is good."
  257. And in the center of the universe, by design, coincidence, or a combination of the two intended to confuse terrestrial astronomists, the Cosmological Axis of Evil erected the Sol Solar System, and eventually, after much hardship, a planet named pompously by its own denizens as Earth came to be. Beginning as most planets do, in a state of utter chaos, Earth eventually chills out ([in a literal sense], and by either pure chance or divine design, as though there is any difference [absolutely laughable, whatever stance you take], carbon and hydrogen and whatever other elements [oh go bug your local biologist] align to create the first, foremost, fantastic product of this accidental universe. Life comes to and fro.)
  259. (Intermission)
  261. -----
  263. Diver is reeling, surfacing. It is Wednesday, 7:37, so he is relieved of work for the day.....yet,  Act I of Hoffman's play (and what is the fucking name of this play??? He feels more determined to discover this secret, rather than the obvious obscurities contained within the """performance""" itself) overshadows every action. He supposed he was expecting something more religious; the fact that it was scientifically accurate (well was it, actually?) caused more confusion than any verse of The Bible™ could, he assumed.
  264. After the play, Cass and he went out for drinks.
  265. "You know, it's really impolite to slip someone LSD on a first date. Federally impolite."
  266. "Well we better catch this rude dude then, cause I'm just as confused as you are about what we just saw, and furthermore--wait, hold that thought, so this was a date then?"
  267. Her eyes rolled in an arc precisely correlating with the movement of the moon across the night sky, but this information is extraneous. Only the essentials, here. They discussed for a while the different potential ways Hoffman could have pulled this thing off: elaborate pyrotechnics and fireworks, a sleight-of-hand maneuver involving a hidden screen on which was projected a special effects film sequence ("Well that's not exactly theater, is it?"), then on to more whimsical ideas, maybe everyone in attendance really WAS laced with some hallucinogen--maybe some chemical subcutaneously absorbed through the playbill, or maybe (and this coincided with their mutual tipping point past the zero of sobriety into the negative [or positive, who am I to dictate how you feel about alcohol {who am I?}?] of tipsiness), just maybe ole Hoffman had actually pulled off some nuclear fuckin' fusion on stage. Perhaps he was a polymath, both a prodigious playwright as well as a mastermind of speculative physics, discovering something universally beneficial to the human species, only to keep it all to himself in the name of hubris? These things are not unheard of in history, in fact quite common.
  268. But soon it didn't matter, tipsiness had tipped into mild drunkenness, and they got to know each other. Cass was in fact one of the most talented staticians in the nation as it turned out, and had been commissioned by the military multiple times to aid in The Wars that raged all across the globe, though "of course" she couldn't go into any great detail about this. So why was it she was now working for a company that would hire a kind of guy such as Diver?
  269. "You're selling yourself short. If They saw something in you worth using, then you have it. Who knows what it might be? But The Company is prestigious, outwardly respectable and inwardly reprehensible; that's what prestigious really means, these days."
  270. His alcohol instincts took over, and he couldn't help but ask, "Okay so.....who are 'They'?"
  271. That same subtle smile or smirk from earlier, she sez, "They aren't really anyone. They are a system; a complex but chaotic network of executives, political leaders,  celebrities, people who remain in the shadows, pulling strings attached to individual parameters assigned to them, working in symbiosis with the others; there is no leader, or even a group of leaders; there are simply many people sucked into and someday spit out by a kind of exclusive collective subconscious. There are no individuals within Them, as we know the term. It's more like a biological and artificial neural network; think of Them as a group of people, and this group has coalesced into something more, a super-human; of course not in some comic book sense, but.....well it's very Jungian, and difficult to explain, but I know you get the idea."
  272. He did. And what a direct answer, and so soon.....this he did not expect.
  273. "So.....this is essentially the Illuminati we're talkin' about, in so many words?"
  274. "If you want to reduce it to that, sure. What's it matter though, to you and I? Even if They control every aspect of our lives.....would you even notice? Would it even affect your day-to-day routine? Certainly not. The bottom line is that it's much more practical to just accept that there is some overbearing force watching over us, and yes likely malevolent, silently and untraceably dictating our lives; but so what? What can we possibly hope to do about this? What, we're going to start a resistance movement, and take down some metaphysical superego, manifested through, admittedly, some of the greatest minds of our time, of former times, even of future times? There's no way, 'Ulysses'.
  275. And by the way, you should realize by now that, being one of the world's top staticians, I already know you from the ground up; well, as much as somebody can know a person like you. You've never told the truth, ever. You're not 'Ulysses', we both know that. And I know there's no way I could ever convince you to reveal your real name, if you even remember it at this point.
  276. 'But truth be told, 'Ulysses', or 'Diver', or 'Seth', or whoever you claim to be this week, you are charming.....I've taken a liking to you. I don't know why. Emotions are the one thing I consistently fail to predict, with all my equations and algorithms. But past your reinforced wall of lies I can see who You are. That is who you'll be to me, from now on; "You". A name, ordinarily blank, but for me filled to the brim with everything that makes You "You".
  277. He blushed. Cass was more into him than he'd ever anticipated, and furthermore, accepted his compulsive eccentricities, even embraced them. She was also drunk.
  278. "Hey, I was pretty drunk the other night, sorry if I sounded like a weirdo," she texted him the next day. "I do think you're cute though, despite your compulsive lying. I reckon I'm quite the weirdo myself, when it comes to identity, so I just want to say that I don't at all mind your strange secrecy in regards to your identity; that identity consists only of symbols anyway. The way you've acted or failed to act determines, really, who you are. And you've acted such that I guess I like you, or something."
  279. This girl has only just met me. What is this??? Paranoia starts to seep in, as per usual. "Honeypot". He refuses to consider it, maybe naïvely. Maybe as a sexual reflex. He recalls that silky chocolate hair; the flawless skin; the impenetrable and fortified eyes. She stood at a decent height, approx. 2-3 inches below his own height of Six Feet Even. Proportionally immaculate; he pretended in public to pay no mind to such superficialities, but don't we all? He considered the fact that she was out of his league. Yes, sure, of course, but this wouldn't be the first time. Somehow he had consistently managed since the early highschool years to ensare the hearts of those works of art deemed "out of his league"; he had no explanation, no recourse, but was eternally grateful. What a beautiful face he has found in this place (yeah yeah yeah, go ahead and pat both yourself and me on the back for that reference), and he realizes he cannot measure how genuine all of this was; for he had just as often met women of similar aesthetic-caliber who were only in it for the night.
  280. Yet paradoxically, the more he thought about how easily he could break away from her, this Cass, this Übermensch, the more he was drawn to her. A formerly (if that was to be believed) government-employed ultra-genius, yet willing to go on debaucherous runs of avant-garde theater at mere suggestion? Diver was certainly suspicious to a point, hailing from the lowest-of-the-lowest class himself. But.....
  281. But.....
  282. It can't be put into specific words, without devolving into outright poetry. Diver was smitten. Let us say no more of it.
  284. -----
  286. For the next several days, I was in a state of perpetual gnosis, sometimes intentionally, mostly by accident. I don't remember really, but I think I met with Ugh again.
  287. We checked into a hotel room and took the elevator; who knows how many rooms and how many elevators there had been by now? I was with my girl; always a comfort, only.....
  288. The epilepsy manifested again. I think. There was no seizure, thank fuck for that, but I ended up in a state of mind very similar to what has been described to me as my post-seizure personality; well, no change in personality really, just a change of context. The first seizure I ever had, I was conscious but not lucid for about 30 minutes (this is true of every subsequent episode); when asked what year it was (I was with friends, thankfully, and even better, a friend who happened to be a nurse), I proclaimed 1933. There were other nonsensical answers, but that one has always stuck out. And at the hotel, during what I'd best describe as a sleepwalk, though not exactly--see, I was actually lucid for parts of this, there are events I remember, and there are events I don't--what I don't remember is asking about a boat. At the time, I was convinced that my girl and I were going to miss the boat. Now, fella, I've been on boats before, but nothing important, boats are certainly not a big part of my life. Yet here in this beautiful, certainly haunted hotel, at 4 in the morning, I was fully convinced that there was a boat and that we'd both be in deep shit if we didn't make it onboard. I don't know about boats, or anything. All i know is a respect for both classical and emerging artforms. The next day we observed as such. Coincidence? Maybe. Is there such a thing as coincidence? Maybe. Is there such a thing as predestination? Maybe. Either way I felt pre-ordained to be at that place, at that time. A kiss, passionate and physical, it occured to us both. A beautiful woman and a deceptively experienced, in more ways than you or even I'd guess, male. Simple math, here. Sex; more semantically, two sexes entwined. What does it mean? What could it mean? After a half-decade of all this, which instance could be said to mean more, either intrisically or extrensically? Feeling. Out-of-the-introversion, on-to-the-streets. It was good, is what I can say subjectively. She was amazing, beautiful. She made me come. She said she came. Who knows, who knows??? From either view, who was satisified? Was I? That's the easier inquiry. Was she? Well, how can I know? How can I ever know, how would I ever know, how will I ever know? I can only take it on word-of-mouth. I trust and believe, sure. But do I know? Do I Know??? No. I won't, and won't ever. But I have to believe or deny, and thereupon relied any future success; an unrelenting faith in potentiality or proclaimed as such, pure religion. Religious beliefs from those who might admire me as an idol; but an idol implies a link to the deities. I claim no link. I am of humble origin, of mild education, of conservative upbringing; yet I aspire to uprise nonetheless. I aspire towards the dismantling of the structured hierarchies of my forefathers. Curse them all. They had the audacity to bring into the light generation upon generation of exponential sorrow. Had they foreseen me? Who knows. Who cares. Does it even matter? I'm here, alive, in the present era. What else can be done for us??? All there is left to do is to end this line of frauds, charlatans, and showmen. The one ideal I can share with a family member, estranged cousin though he be. So it is my Will.
  290. ------
  292. Again and again I awake to the cops on flight. Again and again I awake to the authority's retreat. Cowards, every last one I see. Class traitors I find, once again and again on repeat.
  294. ——
  296. The Hunter prowls the desolate cityscape in her banana car, the contrast acting almost as protest. It’s been two weeks; she has yet to track down her prey. “Mother”, is what they called them. At first you’d be inclined to think it must be a woman, but The Hunter takes up no assumptions; it could easily be intentionally misleading, to avoid capture from people just like her (although the phrase “just like her” is disingenuous; nobody matched her skill in this profession). Mother was almost mythically elusive. Here is what The Hunter knew about Mother: they were a terrorist, utilizing biological weapons of all sorts; they were purportedly connected to no less than seven different gangs that resided in City B, rumored to be the leader of some and merely associates with others; they had a close circle of “employees”, names unknown, but skilled killers and thieves and launderers and so on, each of them marked with a small tattoo on the left shoulder blade depicting a human brain viewed from the anterior perspective, with a singular eye in the center of the bisection of the frontal lobe.
  297. What was unknown was, well, everything else. Nobody The Hunter had questioned, whether police, P.I., informant, civilian, or whatever, had ever seen Mother in person. Only stories had been heard and told, rarely even firsthand. Once, Mother kidnapped three high-ranking police officers and commanded their employees to perform a public crucifixion. Another time, they conned a rival crimeboss into getting drunk with them, then covertly slipped a microscopic ignition device into the poor guy’s last drink, causing him to combust from the inside. At another point, Mother ate one of their own employees. Raw.
  298. Purportedly.
  299. Much of this seemed far-fetched to The Hunter. Not in the sense that she didn’t believe a human could commit such atrocities; this wasn’t her first rodeo, and she had seen some shit. But someone of this caliber, in THIS intellectual and cultural black hole of a town? She had her doubts.
  300. At this point, it is unavoidable to mention that The Hunter had in fact been born and raised right here in City B. It is unavoidable only to illustrate that her judgements were not unsound. She knew this place. Back when she was just Ymir. She liked her name; it was unique, if nothing else, but more importantly it had a highly aesthetic quality to its pronunciation. Try saying it right now. “Ee-meer”. Ymir. It was a beautiful name, and Ymir was a beautiful girl, and now a beautiful woman. But as her career progressed, she realized that beauty was more a hindrance than anything else. And the beauty was associated with the name. So she began to resent the beauty and the name, and began to wear clothing that disguised her visual immaculacy, and abandoned her name in favor of her title. The Hunter. She was an orphan. The foster system can be cruel. It can also be Home™️. The Hunter experienced both extremes and every inbetween of this spectrum. We won’t get into it now. Further down the road, maybe, but right now, as The Hunter treads lightly through the shadows of her old home, it is simply not important.
  301. What is important? The memories. What she recalls of this condemned city. It was condemned from the start. She remembered her teenage years spent exploring entire neighborhoods of abandoned buildings, expanses of overgrown fields and even cemeteries, leading into dense forests that invariably contained remains of some poor animal, often an animal seemingly wildly out of place such as a cow or a horse, maybe this displacement explained the death or maybe there was something more sinister just under the surface. The Hunter remembers her highshool boyfriend leading her to an old, forgotten Native American burial ground, not even half a mile from his dad’s trailer on the outskirts of the city. You don’t really expect to find this kind of thing in a city, no matter how desolate, but these places do exist, in any city, hidden from all but the most curious or reckless or idiotic. Maybe Ymir was all three, at the time.
  302. At the burial ground, after some weeks of slow-stoned-hand-digging, they discovered a box. Cardboard, as far as they could tell. Just a box. A cardboard box in a who-knows-how-old Native American burial site. It didn’t make any sense at all, but there it was. This was Ymir’s first hint as to the absurdity of life, which, no matter how much Kafka, Beckett, Pynchon, or Wallace she read, or how much Lynch, Kauffman, Kubrick, or Anno she viewed, or how much Ueda, Miyazaki, Kojima, or Suda she played, simply could not compare to the real thing. The term “surreal” was extraneous; the proper word was simply “real”.
  303. Inside the carboard box was a wooden ring. A wooden ring inscribed with esoteric (to the young couple, anyway) symbols, a wooden ring which sincerely spooked the poor highschool boy, who hightailed it out of the forest immediately. But Ymir remained. Ymir, left alone in the woods with two bowls worth of Salvia, remained. Ymir, who smoked both bowls of Salvia then sat down inadvertently in an anthill, remained. Ymir, left alone in the woods and tripping balls on Salvia while covered in a colony of angry, biting ants, remained. Ymir, left alone in the woods, skin red from ant bites coming from every three-dimensional axis, tripping balls on Salvia, left to fend for herself by a cowardly sixteen-year-old boy, looked carefully at the ring.
  304. The ring was made recently. That was obvious. It couldn’t possibly be anything created pre-colonial. Circumfrential in the center of the wooden ring was a strip of blue. Ymir imagined it was sapphire, but she never found out for certain. The blue sparkled, even in the dark. The blue evoked not the depths of the sea nor the heights of the moon, but rather, and quite inexplicably, the beat of the heart. The color of the living. She kept the ring and walked back to her boyfriend’s trailer. After the drugs wore off, she would spend two days straight in unspeakable pain and unreasonable itch.
  305. Ymir kept the ring, secretly, for years. After use of the internet, and thus access to the sum knowledge of all humanity, became commonplace, she attempted to translate the inscription on the ring. It wasn’t horribly difficult; the inscription was written in Hebrew (yet another oddity; a Hebrew ring kept in a cardboard box in a Native American burial ground in a broken city in the South). The inscription was translated, to the best of her ability, as follows:
  306. “Those who bear our sin will be granted recumpence.
  307. Resistance to the winds that tore our skin.
  308. Resistance to the ice that claimed our extremities.
  309. Resistance to the heat that left us limp upon the plains.
  310. Go and redeem us, child.
  311. Go and make us whole.”
  312. Ymir didn’t at all undestand what was implied with this message, but she wore it always nonetheless, up to the point that she became The Hunter.
  313. Today, she is meeting up with a supposed defector of Mother’s personal army at a Costco that at first glance seemed to be out of business; and it was out of business in the literal sense, but still technically functioning. The defector wore sunglasses even though it was raining, and a large trench coat clearly intended as some sort of disguise, but it only made him seem more conspicuous.
  314. “If you’re worried about Them pursuing you, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Although Costco was a better choice as a meeting place than a bar or a strip club, I’ll give you that.”
  315. They were in the frozen food aisle.
  316. “Nevermind all that, I’m leaving town, no the state, the second we’re done talking.” He was shaking. “I’ll give you an address, that’s all I have.”
  317. “And why, exactly, are you here anyway? What is it that sparked this change of heart?”
  318. The defector looks away from The Hunter and takes a moment. For a second she thinks he is pretending not to have heard her.
  319. “Mother killed my mother. In front of me. I won’t go into the bloody details, other than the fact that it was bloody.....and fiery. I want Mother dead. I don’t think you’ll be able to do it, honestly. Nothing against you; I’ve heard about you, I know your record somewhat, I know you’re not some Dog the Bounty Hunter amateur. But Mother is something else. Not human. That’s all I’ll say about that. I’m really itching to get out of here.”
  320. “Fine, fine. Just give me the address. I don’t plan to turn you into the cops or nothing, I don’t even want to know your name, not that you’d give it to me of course. Just the address. Now.”
  321. The defector takes out what looks like, and is, a receipt; scribbled on the back was the address. The Hunter takes it and stows it in her breast pocket, by which time the defector was already gone.
  323. —————
  325. A dull roar floods a small, derelict house and about a block of surrounding land all of a sudden, followed shortly by a piercing screech which acts as the conditioned stimulus to roughly 30-40 people between the ages of probably around 15 at the youngest up to pushing-40, causing a mass salivation in response to the promise of real, proleteriat, bullshit-free Punk Fucking Rawk™. Brando Murely himself sits on a cinder block outside the door, just enough out of the way of the crowd distractedly making its way inside, everyone in the middle of a conversation, turning around every few seconds to give their latest opinion on the eternal IHOP v. Waffle House crisis, shouting-match phone calls, drunken wobbling, stoned hobbling, and oh that sweet cocaine's a-calling. From Brando's arm dangles eazily-breezily a small bucket, perhaps formerly housing some domesticated plant, with the word "DONATIONS" written in sharpie on the side. He is only a few brainwaves away from REM sleep, that sultry temptress.
  326. Avey and Fyo take their sweet time. The openers are about to play, now soundchecking, if you can really call it that (not to be rude, but the opening acts of these kinda shows were more often than not either local upstarts or local failures, and lacked some level of expertise in regards to acoustics, dynamics, levels and such), but they have both just lit a new cigarette. No worries though; they've been around enough that they know the path straight to the front, if it should turn out that The Ushi Onis were worth front row listening.
  327. Towards the back of the house stood in solidarity the introverts so in love with music but so out of touch with people, the old farts who didn't really care anymore but still attended out of habit, the few (if extant) devout fans of another band on the line-up who just want to get it over with already, and the stray college kid; not any art or philosophy major, no, just some regular Joe (and hilariously enough, one independent study in "Crime and Punkishment", a locally famous zine, reported that 73.7% of these people were ACTUALLY named Joe) who happened upon this utterly obscene proceeding via a stack of coincidence and misfortune--maybe they were there with some punk ladyfriend from class.
  328. In the middle, by far the largest section, you could find pretty much anybody from anywhere. Regulars who still hear the heartbeat of the scene, newcomers enthusiastic but not enthusiastic enough to put themselves out for judgement if they happened to accidentally nod their heads a bit with the music (mortified.....), and that strange demographic that seemed to place itself starkly in the middle of all the aforementioned alignments; middle-of-the-roaders through and through, to the point where they have risen above the road and the ideal of the road and smugly glance at one another and then down to you as if to imply a transendence which those of us who have ever experienced anything in extreme can never know of.
  329. Front and center, ears blasted to bits and facial muscles entering anaerobic respiration due to excessive smiling, the All-Stars of the scene danced alongside strangers either naïve or drunk. The frontmen of the most famous local bands, the influencers both silent and megaphonic, the photographers, the beauties, the hype-builders, the next band, the people who arranged this show in the first place, all of them stood in almost equal amounts of admiration as the performing act themselves. The rich and famous of the DIY; the proleteriat bourgeoisie; the broke stock brokers; the soothsayers and the fortune tellers; basically, the people you want to know.
  330. "Hey let's make a film tomorrow" says Fyo.
  331. "About what?" from Avey.
  332. "Who cares? Let's climb that billboard at the top of the hill. Let's hop on a train and record the city from like some weird dutch angle or something. Let's see how many cats can fit in one box."
  333. "We could never find enough cats for that. All of our friends have like two cats at least, including me, and that still wouldn't be close to enough."
  334. "Let's give the camera some 4-aco-dmt and see what happens."
  335. "Easy on the adderall, bub."
  336. Fyo had a pretty publicly-known problem with stimulants, which he was recently combatting with a burdgeoning benzodiazepine habit. Avey's personal dog hair was Kratom. Both of them partook in casual use of just about every recreational substance at this point, always especially eager to try something new. They still more or less had a handle on their sanity, but not without their eccentricities. Both had a deep love for consumption and creation of art, primarily music; between them they owned a veritable arsenal of digital and analog synthesizers, samplers, ancient MIDI keyboards, melodicas, and various novelty instruments collected over the years. Each had their own individual recording endeavors, as well as a joint operation making full use of their combined setup. They had played shows, Fyo more than Avey on account of having played in front of various kinds of audiences since the age of 15, from dull highschool jazzband performances to the exact kind of venue they found themselves at tonight--in fact he'd played at this house several times already in the past year. Holy House, one of the few legit punk houses remaining in the city after a long string of misfortunes over the past two years lead to some places being shut down, others burning down, some simply forgotten about, living on only in the ink of flyers taped to the walls of just about every DIY art kid in the area--it was kind of like collecting baseball cards. Avey had played a couple of the more fleeting art spots once or twice, but was generally overcome with anxiety at the last minute.
  337. Now three cigarettes in a row have been smoked, throughout yet more overly-anxious stim-fueld artistic brainstorming, both Avey and Fyo silently assuming that tomorrow would in reality consist of the same events as every other saturday; recovering from the debauchery of the previous night, maybe with a half-hour or so of absent-minded musical improvisation.
  338. The Ushi Onis had completed their set, and from what they heard from outside, it was agreed that their nonsense conversations were about on equal footing with the music, as far as time-wasting went. Not that they were BAD, it's seemed as though they'd heard this same band hundreds of times, despite the fact this was their debut show. It seemed to Fyo, who had been in attendance for, shit, a decade now, that every show more or less went the same these days. You could even predict non-music related events. There was the guy who got way too drunk and was basically floating around the crowd, eyes only half-open, flailing around off-rhythm in a disconcertingly unhuman way during particularly intense performances--Fyo himself had been this guy on more occasions than he'd like to admit, as well as more occasions than he could literally remember. There was the creep getting kicked out for being creepy; that was a very strict rule for this scene, "NO CREEPS". You'd see it on basically any given flyer. House shows did tend to attract these creeps, what with the combination of pretty, young, and drug-addicted attributes of many of the female frequenters. Thankfully, Fyo had never been that guy. There was the kind of slapstick situation that occured immediately after every band played, where the members of the other bands playing that night would come up and say "Hey, great set, what pedals do you use?" and then annoy the shit out of the poor guys just trying to fucking get their drums in the van, only for the same thing to happen to the original complimenters, and nobody ever learned their lesson. Nobody ever learned their lesson. This pretty much sums up the stagnation that Fyo has recently come to observe within the scene.
  339. "Hey, I'm done here, if you are. Head back to my place?"
  340. "Right you are."
  341. The four-minute drive back to Fyo's apartment left just enough time to blair at obnoxious volume Avey's favorite song by The Mountain Goats (at least, his favorite song that day--the song changed frequently, but The Goats always remained Mountainous). On the way upstairs, Avey got a text from Tomie: "Beck pulled through. Pool party?"
  342. So Avey said to Fyo; "Beck pulled through. Pool party?"
  343. "Fuckin duh."
  344. Tomie was a close friend as well as ex-girlfriend to both Avey and Fyo. Beck was their communal coke dealer. Fyo was the only person in The Crew whose apartment had a pool, and it was the deep depths of summer, so late night swimming was a common occurence. Tonight, Tomie had brought Beck along (who surely had more coke, and anyone can see that hanging out with a coke dealer, who definitely had plenty of coke to spare, would certainly turn out to be a fun time--Fyo knew this from experience, as an old friend, Jericho, also happened to be a coke dealer before moving off to.....fuck-knows-where; Fyo wasn't sure WHY they hung out so much exactly, or why Jericho had given him so much free coke in those days; Jericho was gay, but Fyo didn't really feel like he could possibly be desirable enough to warrant such favor, especially with his [back then, at least] very socially awkward mannerisms, even after several lines of really honestly pretty great coke--although, Fyo [himself being hetero, this only now in the narrative needing to be made clear] usually thought the same thing about ladies he spent time with, and surprisingly often was proven wrong) as well as invited Fitch, who invited Les, who invited Beck, who invited Lil, who invited Vick, who invited.....
  345. .....
  346. Noujeff.  
  347. "Wait you say WHO the fuck is coming to my apartment???" Fyo demands answers.
  348. "Shit, I'm sorry Fyo. I didn't know Vick was friends with him, don't know why he still is. We'll tell him to fuck off once he gets here, waste some gas at least. But hey.....The Crew here ain't gettin' any younger, so let's fuckin' get to it. Pick a record already."
  349. The Crew was, in no particular order:
  350. Avey, reserved but strong-willed and resilient, and disarmingly cunning; he once got Fyo, his on-and-off-again girlfriend Elise, and himself a free pass to this really exclusive music festival in what can only be described as an "experimental city"--FORM Arcosanti was the name of the festival (the town being just "Arcosanti"), located smack dab in the middle of the deserts of Arizona, where Fyo first glimpsed that now-out-of-reach image, occasionally dreamt or half-remembered, of a lone mountain, in the middle of one of the least forgiving deserts in an entire superpower-nation's worth of land, one of the hottest and driest places around, soaring so high into The Places We Cannot Reach, the great heights, the domain of myth and fiction more than anything, of a mountain seen from the road of a lonely desert which had a peak covered, even here in the frenzied peaks of July, the radioactive horrorshow burning of July, a peak covered in SNOW. Beautiful, nostalgic (and always nostalgic, for there was no "winter" in Arizona), almost, no yes certainly CLEANSING snow. The rest of the trip only got better. That is all we'll say of it, for now;
  351. Fyo, the one whose thoughts we gain direct access to (to hell with a fourth wall; give me 50, 500, 5,000,000 more walls, and I will break them all), generally responsible, has a dependable job as a pharmacy technician, "almost" a real job, and two major flaws; here we move into
  353. 1.) Intense Manic Episodes On a Yearly, Predictable Basis
  354. -----
  355. Every year, in the period of time spanning between around March and June-Mid-July, Fyo would suffer an intense clinical episode of mania; he would become obsessive over ideas so obscure and opaque that he only sounded like a lunatic when describing them, and indulged in drug abuse as if suicidal, and more than once now had indeed proven to be so. Fyo would and did argue, however, that during these periods of admittedly (even by him) questionable ties to reality, his artistic output became noticeably higher in both quantity and quality than what was usually found in his "seasonal depression" (so-called) episodes during the months of October-February. No psychiatrist has yet explained this adequately.
  357. 2.) An Unhealthy Obsession With All Forms of Art, As Well As the Definition of Art Itself
  358. -----
  359. From a very young age, Fyo had shown great interest in art, and strangely enough but of course conspicuously naturally, surrealist art in particular. At 12, on a family vacation to Florida for the purposes of the (back then affordable even by the lower-middle-class family, with some planning) relaxation of the beach and the primal thrill of the Great Twin Amusement Parks, he devoted a day to visiting the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida; a couple years later, the very first band he was in (at 15 years old) was named after Dali's "The Burning Giraffe". Then he gradually caught on to the growing web of obscurities, myths, exaggerations, half-truths, genuine enigmas, and philosophical contradictions that were accepted by some as truth, and saw the art embedded in life; and in the mirror, he saw the reflection of such, and in that he saw things that moved him in ways he was naïve to previously. That's how he got older. That's how he saw that the waking life was just as absurd as the dream. All that mattered was which space he occupied at a given time.
  361. ;
  362. Tomie, as mentioned previously was both a close friend and ex-girlfriend to both Avey and Fyo. Each relationship was separated by such distance (spacially and temporally) that it really didn't matter, everyone had moved on cross-country and it was just nice to have people just fuckin' caring about each other, you know? Tomie was not afraid to bite into you in a very personal way, as long as she knew it would help you. She was a great ally to have in the world, if sometimes blunt; but this bluntness was out of a genuine kindness and invariably proved effective somehow. If you trusted anyone's advice, it was Tomie's;
  363. Fitch, constantly in-and-out of jail for something or other, after so many years the circumstances blurred out a bit. Being eternally and self-admittedly impermanent, he always seemed almost as if acting in repentance to the best of his abilities; but around people like this, hope for repentance was laughable;
  364. Lil, probably the most adult of the group, an ex-girlfriend of Fyo from back in the day, had worked her way to a very well-paying analytics gig. She still found herself hanging around with these wannabe artists and revolutionaries, for whatever reason; she was certainly always welcome, and that gave her a warm, content feeling.....
  365. "Pick a goddamn record" says Lil.
  366. Every time The Crew got together for some midnight coke-fueled swimming, someone got to ceremoniously choose a record from Fyo's collection, off of which the cover of the cocaine would be inhaled. It was Fyo's night. He was having trouble deciding. The record that was chosen would also be played on the record player while the lines were being drawn and erased; the lines themselves were on the sleeve, the small but not ignorable visual component of the LP. He looked through his stack; Joyce Manor (played a show with them before they became big--frontman was kind of an asshole. No.), The Antlers (far too sad for shamelessly inhaled thrills), Talking Heads (no, we'll just end up putting "Once In a Lifetime" on repeat), no, no, no, no.....LCD Soundsystem? Hm. Yeah, this one. Sound of Silver, talk to me.
  367. "Fuckin' finally. Okay let's get this train wreck a-rollin'."
  368. Greed filled the eyes of everyone in the room. Along with record-choosing duties came the first line of the night. Fyo lays down one FAT fucking line, finely crushed almost down to the individual molecule it seemed, grabs the closest straw, leans over and looks down at the snowy mountain range here in the middle of the silver desert, and unflatteringly snorts with all his might, and feels each crystal immediately begin its own personal attack on his neurotransmitters, leans back to make sure everything falls into the mucous membrane, nothing wasted, except for Fyo himself, and steps back to fall comically onto the couch, a smile of contentment and even relief overtaking his facial expression as Nancy Whang chants "You can normalize. Don't it make you feel alive?"
  369. This. This is the life.
  370. -----
  371. After about two lines each The Crew headed to the pool. They'd be back to the apartment intermittently, sometimes in groups and sometimes alone (although this always caused anxiety among those who remained--a lone individual with access to The Goods simply couldn't be trusted, no matter how much you love them), and of course they each brought a small amount in their own personal containers for the occasional bump. The water was warm and inviting but still cool enough to provide relief from the slowly subsiding heat. Fitch was telling Avey about a Mountain Goats podcast he had recently stumbled upon, while Avey waited patiently to tell him that he'd been a follower for two years already. Tomie and Lil were talking business (they worked at the same call center), the details of which were alien to anyone else around. Fyo was trying to get to know Beck a little better, hoping to strike the same kind of ulterior motive-fueled friendship he shared with Jericho. Soon Les arrived; Beck's ex and quite the looker, a film student as well. Fyo had actually played a role in one of her short films a few months back, and being the sad sappy sucker that he was (a bit of context; Fyo never really had trouble in the science of romance, he had failed to go more than four months without a significant other since the age of 17, and those few months typically included a couple of flings, false-starts, and straigtforward one-night-stands; this was mainly because Fyo was a dolt and responded to any pretty girl who looked his way with the closest real-life approximation to old-timey cartoon heart-shaped eyes yet recorded by mankind. It wasn't even that he feared being alone, the truth of it was that he was just gullible, and in many ways still very very young), developed quite the crush on her. She was two years older than him. Straight, blond hair. Eyes of concealement. Body of a Greek goddess, really; statuesque. Les paid little attention to him, which of course only further promoted Fyo's thump-thumping heart (well, maybe not heart.....).
  372. Fyo took a break from his wide-eyed hubba-hubba routine to speak with Tomie.
  373. "So how the FUCK did Noujeff get an invite, exactly?"
  374. "I honestly don't know. Friends of friends, I guess. Look, this beef was almost a year ago.....just try to be the bigger man, for at least a little while."
  375. "The BIGGER MAN??? Tomie, you can only possibly be joking. You know what he did. I know I'm the bigger man, that's exactly the whole thing, I'm the Bigger Man™ and he's the small fry, the poser, the abuser, the VILLAIN, and--"
  376. "Yeah yeah yeah, okay, I know.....just don't go virtue-signaling all whilly-nilly, okay? There's a whole system here, you know."
  377. So here we all get down to brass tacks. "What is it exactly that this heinous 'Noujeff' did to deserve such scorn???" Well, the legal term, as it stands in regards to his current legal proceedings, amounts to "statutory rape"; which we can surely agree is heinous enough in and of itself, but through either coincidence or (more likely) familial intervention, the reality of the situation had yet to come to the light of the law. Noujeff was a rapist; that's all that really needed to be said. A genuine scumbag through-and-through. Fyo had known him for a few years, but only recently had his past offenses been made aware, and many in the community were still in the dark. Noujeff, always with the name-dropping, always with some remark that amounted to "I'm smarter than you, here's a deliberately obscure reference to prove as much", always acting in that specific way that clearly indicated that this bro was to be AVOIDED. CAUTION, BUMPY ROAD AHEAD.
  378. Fyo looked around; the lineup so far consisted of himself, Avey, Tomie, Beck, Les, Lil, Tess, Tise, Tysu, Kwuan, and Theo (who he always thought would make a great friend, given the phonetic similarity between their names--but as it turned out, they never really had much to talk about); all together and all vaguely compisitoned aside those he had yet to welcome, those he did not know, more and more and more piling on until everyone was drunk and Fyo was overwhelmed, and he apologetically retired back to his own apartment (merely one building away from Tomie's) where Avey was waiting, almost as if unintentionally, as the world's best partner, or rather in Fyo's current more videogame-analagous mind (why was he thinking about video games right now? Had only used the Playstation to watch movies for months), a True Ostrava, a Real Best Friend. Fyo came back to his Real Best Friend intuitionally unintentionally and both men carried along, no one the wiser, back to Fyo's.
  379. -----
  380. The party outside and throughout Tomie's apartment had developed into it's own entity, which meant Fyo, Avey, Fitch, and now Les (wow what's she doing here???) were entirely guilt-free as they slipped away to gradually congregate within Fyo's apartment, more coke, more weed, episodes of Nathan For You playing in the background (Fyo was the only one who would sometimes glance at the screen and almost become trapped, entranced with the program, one of his favorites, for like five or six minutes at a time before snapping out of it and joining back in on whatever conversation). Avey and Fitch, who had been friends long before Fyo and Avey even crossed paths, were in the depths of a conversation about their hometown and the lost souls still living there, which opened up a truly divine opportunity for Fyo to speak with Les.
  381. "Hey Les. How's it goin'?"
  382. How's it goin'. Smooth as butter.
  383. "Oh you know, same as always. All this coke is giving me some real anxiety, man. Where's your bathroom?"
  384. Weird question, it was a one-bedroom apartment with a combination kitchen-living room; there was literally only one place the bathroom could exist. Still, he pointed her in the right direction, and was for the moment alone again. He took the opportunity to indulge another line and take another hit from the bowl. As quickly as she left (or uh, was it?), Les was back. She wasn't particularly close to either Avey or Fitch, and was barely acknowledging them anyway, leading Fyo to conclude that yet another beautiful lady had somehow been drawn to his charm. Of course, sometimes he WAS wrong, but good luck getting him to admit it. What she was really after, it turned out, was Fyo's experience in the pharmaceutical industry. A local grass roots movement had popped up within the last three months or so, dedicated first and foremost to harm prevention with regards to the eternal opioid crisis; a very secretive affair, but not unknown, for they had sponsored several benefit shows around the city. Les happened to be a key member of the group, and was carefully putting forth and then retracting emotional currency in a strategic ebb and flow for the purpose of convincing Fyo to help her acquire a bulk quantity of insulin syringes, which were to be distributed freely at a show they had in the works. It's a lot to ask, she realized, and of course if you're not comfortable with it, no worries at all, it's just that well she had noticed how outspoken he was about the corruption rampant in the medical industry (she was right about that) and thought "Oh, maybe Fyo will be interested?". So no pressure, but.....well (aaand here come the puppy dog eyes), it would honestly mean a lot to me.
  385. What a sucker the poor man was. Honestly though this kind of operation was not necessarily new to him; he had slipped himself two tablets exactly once, when his own (legal) prescription of clonazepam ran out early due to his abuse. But it left him paranoid for weeks, and a bulk order was a whole 'nother ballpark, but he was the kinda guy always looking for loopholes and ways to get away with crime (up to now purely hypothetically), and after two years he knew the inventory system well enough that he'd already come up with a plan that seemed pretty full-proof (though would definitely need review in the sober light of the morning), and even though he was self-aware enough to tell that Les was definitely using her charm merely to persuade him, he agreed. Why not? It sounded like a noble cause.
  386. This all meant no-luck-for-love tonight, but that was okay. Les was out of his league anyway (a fact which Tomie had tried to drill into his head several times, to no avail). He was hitting one of those moments of clarity, where all the substances you've ingested over the night have metabolized juuust right to provide a weird sense of being a ghost, an echo rather, of oneself, and began to phase through his apartment's wall and lazily float back to the party, now consisting of three times the amount of people, they grow up so fast, he wasn't even going to begin trying to name all of them. Somehow, Avey and Fitch were already present. Tomie is talking to.....who's that, Leah? Roberto and Saitama are playing Yu-Gi-Oh. Oh, Brando is here as well. Fyo drifts over and lies through his teeth, a second-nature kind of talent, saying, "The show was great tonight man. Really enjoyed it."
  387. "Oh hey thanks Theo, yeah it was a pretty good turnout, ya know."
  388. "Brando, I'm Fyo. THAT'S Theo."
  389. "Shit man my bad. I'm on ketamine."
  390. This bottomeless hole of a conversation probably would've drawn eerie parallels to Brando's own current K-hole, if he were to think about (but probably best that he didn't). Fyo continues to just sort of half-exist, the party consisting of just background noise now. He sits on the edge of the pool, feet idly flapping backwards and forwards like rudders, and for a minute or two he imagines that the concrete he sits on is a massive and massively misshapen ship, and he is through force of will power paddling away from these people, this music, this apartment, this life, these friends.....who knows why he gets these sudden urges to escape? He doesn't know what he's escaping from or to.....just something different. He's slipping out. No, not out of the party, just out. Out of it. Is this a seizure? If he can ask that question, the answer is no.
  391. It seemed like hours, but in reality only a few minutes later he looked up and saw Noujeff, talking to, of all people (seriously, of ALL people?), Les. She looked uncomfortable and he looked lecherous, as in having the qualities of a lech, but he also retained qualities of a lich, though it's not proper to say "licherous" because it might be mistaken for "liquorice" which ALWAYS causes a lot of confusion. Fyo alerted Tomie, who tried to remain level-headed but failed when she said that it was nothing to worry about. A known rapist is like, really now, DEFINITELY something to worry about. At times, even Tomie's advice would be ignored by Fyo in favor of his gut, which he always ALWAYS trusted (provided the strength of the gut feeling passed a certain percentage threshold), and he walked over to their vicinity, maintaining a meticulously calculated (well, eye-balled) distance so as to not be heard or seen by anyone, but hearing and seeing everyone.
  392. "Yeah, we haven't had much luck with shows in a while, but we're a post-punk kind of band, my main influence is Thursday....."
  393. Yeah right. Your band is just boneless Thursday. I know because I was IN that band Noujeff, and it sucked from the start. And you haven't been getting any shows because you're a rapist, how's that?
  394. Fyo kept it inside until he didn't. His gut (abnormally active today) told him to intervene directly and he did, sneaking over like a real Solid Snake and delivering his thoughts verbatim. Noujeff wasn't pleased. Immediately came a metric fuckton of macho-man boasts, vain threats, elitist name-dropping, name-calling (and name-defending, obviously Noujeff wasn't his real name but instead a derogatory nickname coined by none other than Avey and Fyo themselves to discredit this fuckin' prick), and meet-me-in-the-parking-lot kind of challenges, the kind that were intended to be delayed enough to guarantee solitude should the challenger face defeat.
  395. "Yeah fucker, how about instead we just do it right here?"
  396. Suddenly from fuckin' NOWHERE comes Brando "Goddamn" Murely with a flying roundhouse kick straight into Noujeff's chest (like, precisely where his heart would be, assuming he had one), causing him to let out a very embarassing high-pitched gasp before being cast out about ten feet through the air horizontally, I shit you not, straight into the middle of the pool, fully-clothed (and I MEAN fully; Noujeff always dressed-to-impress, or in other words he dressed like a try hard stuck in the 80s, despite the fact that he was a toddler until at least the mid-90s), and of course when events like these happen, the party comes to a halt. Every pair of eyes marveled first at the enormous splash resulting from the impact, then followed the reverse-time trajectory back to the source, Brando, still holding up both fists as if Noujeff might somehow retaliate from underwater. Fyo's expression didn't really change. Les covered her mouth with her hands, not out of shock but more to keep herself from laughing too hard. Tomie, Avey, and Fitch all had comical mouth-open expressions of shock. Brando got a pat on the back and some kind words from Fyo and Les, but he didn't really understand them, in fact it was hard to tell if he was even aware of what he'd just done. Noujeff, after swimming to shore, tried very hard to escape the party without anyone seeing but I mean, there was no avoiding it, he received jeers and taunts from anyone who knew what a dick he was all the way up the hill to his suburban-mom SUV. Fyo felt a sense of satisfying justice, something he didn't feel very often, and noted that it had a curious similarity to that post-orgasm dopamine flood, which always made him sleepy, and the same was true here. So it was that he said his goodnights and his see-you-tomorrows and went back to his apartment, smoking himself to sleep, dreaming that he was at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, living peacefully with the horrors of the deep.
  398. ——
  400. He woke up around 2 in the afternoon, and stumbled into his living room to see who ended up crashing at his place. Avey of course, along with all of his instruments; Tomie, inexplicably (so who's staying at her apartment then?); and Lil, who was already awake and looking through his kitchen cabinets and drawers.
  401. "Where's your beans, Fyo? Coffee doesn't just spring up out of the ground you know, we gotta have the RAW MATERIALS."
  402. "Beans do spring up out of the ground. But I just ran out. Walk with me to get some more?"
  403. They set out to the local coffee shop, best in the city, about half a mile from Fyo's apartment. Lil was talking about some new play that was being performed over at the Ain Soph theater and Fyo pretended to listen, though in reality he had just been struck by some unexplained fit of nostalgia, maybe subconsciously triggered by some aspect of the ambient surroundings, nostalgia for times just a couple of years ago when everything still seemed new and exciting. He remembered getting very into it at shows, dancing like a mad man, singing along, even surfing the crowd a couple of times. He remembered first making friends with everyone in The Crew. Their ages varied dramatically, Fyo actually being the youngest, but it seemed to him that back then they were all on equal footing in their naïvety. He felt exhausted and a little sick.
  404. They arrived at the coffee shop and bought a bag of unground Peruvian coffee beans, as well as two medium-sized cups of fresh coffee, having decided to sit down for a little while and listen to the mid-2000s indie pop song playing on the record player and smoke a cig or two. They talked about the party for a bit, about upcoming shows, about friends that one or the other hadn’t met, and Fyo felt a little calmer.
  405. Lil and Fyo dated for about 8 months 2 years previously. It had been passionate and often a bit sappy and it was certainly true that they were in love. They had, incidentally, attended the same highschool in their shared hometown about 30 minutes south, a small, boring place that nobody stayed in past school, or at least that’s what Fyo thought but he supposed it wouldn’t exist if that were true, and thinking a bit more he remembered a few old acquaintances who did in fact still live there. Fyo and Lil never really crossed paths in highschool; maybe they had conversed once or twice, but back then Fyo was much more reserved and Lil was heavily involved with volunteer work and other extracurricular activities that Fyo just didn’t have the slightest interest in. When they were both 21, they ran into each other at an electronic music show in an abandoned indoor skatepark. Fyo had taken some MDMA, back when his body could handle things like that, and Lil maybe had a bit too much tequila, and they recognized each other and politely struck up a conversation about the usual boring things you talk about with someone you don’t know, but would maybe like to. The music was too loud and they stepped outside to talk a bit more. Fyo was forthright about the fact that he was rolling face, and apologized if he seemed overeager in the conversation. Lil was amused and said it was fine. Fyo’s then-roommate and drug dealer, which made for an excellent combination at the time, came outside just as high as Fyo and challenged him to a race. Seeing a chance to show off and feeling that golden confidence he wished he could keep close at all times, he accepted. As soon as the two boys took off, Fyo immediately spun the fuck out and fell flat on his face; he was bleeding lightly from his palms and not-so-lightly from his knee, but of course it didn’t hurt. Lil giggled, which may have seemed rude if he were sober, but he decided to count it as a success. The next morning he was happy to see a text from Lil, although he couldn’t remember how they ended up exchanging phone numbers; this proved a decent conversation starter and things snowballed quickly, as they do.
  406. The first six months were some of the happiest of Fyo’s life. They spent all their time together, they talked about everything, intimate secrets and insecurities, what they wished they were doing with their life, Fyo would ramble on about some artist he had recently discovered and the evolution of their artstyle and the recurring images he noticed, and Lil smiled at him the way you do when nobody else is around, her true smile, and took in every word. Lil would talk about her classes and homework, not with exhaustion but with enthusiasm, she absolutely loved numbers and the secrets of the objective world they held, and Fyo suspected that through some form of memetic osmosis he became more intelligent during this time period just by listening, even if he often didn’t really understand.
  407. Things began to deteriorate quickly in the last two months, at a speed that seemed realistic then but in retrospect hardly even believable. Lil was becoming more and more involved in her classes and Fyo could feel a fire fading out, as all fires eventually do. Nights were spent together increasingly half-assedly, like they were spending time together just because they were supposed to. They both saw it coming, and the breakup was more or less amicable. They didn’t speak much for the next year.
  408. Suddenly Les walked into the coffee shop and walked past Fyo without glancing as if she didn’t see him. “I’ll be right back,” he told Lil, who rolled her eyes, and he approached.
  409. “Uh hey Les. Fancy meeting you here.”
  410. “Oh hey Leo! Sorry, I guess I didn’t recognize you with that beard!”
  411. “No, no, Leo is the guy who works nightshift washing dishes over at Taiziki’s. I’m Fyo. And we spoke last night.....remember? About, uh, the medical industry?”
  412. She looked confused and a little embarassed before saying “Oh god, I’m so sorry. I don’t really remember much from last night! We were talking about.....the medical business? What about it?”
  413. “You were wanting my help um.....acquiring some things, you know?”
  414. Again confused for what seemed like a full minute before her eyes lit up briefly in realization and smiled cheerfully.
  415. “Oh, that! Don’t worry about it, we found a guy, we’ve got that all covered! Anyway, it was great to see you but I’m nearly late for work! Buh-bye!”
  416. By the last syllable she was already out the door. He stood there for a moment, thoroughly confused, and with a bit of a blow to his ego. They found a guy.....but she doesn’t remember last night and barely remembers me.....does she think she talked to Leo last night, and she thinks Leo is “the guy”? Or was there actually another “guy” and she was more intoxicated than estimated last night and not totally lucid? Or.....
  417. “Sit down you fucking weirdo. She’s gone.”
  418. “That was really weird.”
  419. “You getting rejected? Nah.”
  420. “That doesn’t really land as hard coming from somebody I’ve fucked like a thousand times.”
  421. This almost uncomfortably casual kind of exchange and reference to their past love was one of the great things about having Lil as a friend now. She probably knew him best out of anyone else in The Crew, and the level of comfort shared between them during their past lives as lovers had only been slightly dampened by their year-long radio silence. They finished their coffees, Lil decided to buy a banana nut muffin to eat on the way back to Fyo’s apartment, while Fyo decided to grab a cup of coffee for Avey, more or less guessing what he might want, and they set out again.
  422. When they got back, Tomie was gone (Fyo was relieved, since he didn’t think to get her a coffee as well) and Avey was now awake and grateful for the gift. They smoked a bowl or three of weed and Avey put on “The Eric Andre Show” as partial entertainment and partial background noise, for they had all seen every episode dozens of times but it somehow never quite got too stale. Lil was drawing something in her sketchbook, using some of Fyo’s Micron ink pens, which weren’t exactly cheap and he almost objected but decided to let her be. Avey was browsing through something on his phone, doubtless one of the big three social media apps, occasionally betraying a slight hint of shock or something like it. Fyo, who had been lying on the floor watching first the ceiling fan, then Lil, then the ceiling fan, then Avey, then repeat, started to notice these expressions and asked if anything interesting was going on.
  423. “There’s a cult.”
  424. “A cult?”
  425. “Yeah.”
  426. “Here?”
  427. “Yeah.”
  428. “What kind of cult?”
  429. “I’ll tag you.”
  430. Less than a minute later Fyo received a notification on his own phone linking him to an article posted that morning, incidentally at the exact moment that Les had walked in the coffee shop, though Fyo had no way of knowing this. The article began by detailing the city’s little-known but surprisingly long-running association with mysticism; it didn’t start out as a cult or anything like that, just a loose system of metaphysical beliefs based on the somewhat unique idea that a physical location, the more it is remembered, and remembered in a particular way, may eventually actually become sentient, and this sentience would take on the qualities of these memories. It was thought to be a passive effect, which meant that if an equal number of people held pleasant memories of a place as those who held bad memories, the location’s emergent “consciousness” would be equal parts negative and positive. And even after becoming aware, the memories of people would continue to influence the location as long as people continued to think about it. The origins of this belief were wrapped in obscurity; the author of the article could find no written sources, but after speaking with some members of the “cult” (which the author was quick to point was a term he used very loosely, due to the word’s generally negative connotations and the fact that this situation was more of a recent gathering and documentation of previously scattered and largely inconsistent belief systems), it seemed that some believed it was a Native American tradition, others attributed it to Crowley, at least one person was fully convinced that the entirety of the Bible was subliminally intended to teach their beliefs, but no one could really agree. The reason that these fringe mystics and metaphysicians had only now begun to organize was simple—someone started a Facebook group. They called themselves “The Trapezoid of Discovery”. The article didn’t have much more to say, or Fyo got tired of reading it, he wasn’t entirely sure, but he did note that it was uncharacteristically well-written compared to the usual output of this particular media outlet, and looked at the name of the author. Mikhail Sutherland. The name sparked a faint sense of recognition, and he searched through mental file cabinets, all poorly-kept, and inexplicably the image of an obelisk came to mind, but he could remember nothing else.
  431. Tomie came in. “I need a lighter.”
  432. Fyo tossed her one of the dozens of lighters lying around the apartment, at least one of them certainly being one of Tomie’s to begin with.
  433. “It’s almost four, time to go to the liquor store,” she almost sang. Fyo didn’t really feel like drinking which was unusual. He felt like he didn’t really have a choice though. All four of them (Avey texted Fitch, already well on his way to drunkenness, who would meet them back at Tomie’s) hopped in Tomie’s car and drove about two-and-a-half miles to their collective go-to liquor store. There they pooled together resources to but a 24-pack of Pabst, a fifth of Jeremiah Weed and Jim Beam, and various chasers. When they got to Tomie’s place, Fitch was already inside lying on the couch (do any of these idiots lock their doors? Fyo thought), talking with somebody on the phone. He flashed them a big, drunk smile before telling whoever he was talking to that he had to go, talk to you later, bye.
  434. “What is uuuuup fellas?”
  435. “Hey Fitch. Talkin’ to Penelope?”
  436. “Doesn’t matter. Hey can we listen to The Clash?”
  437. No one objected and the drinks began to flow. Soon everyone was tipsy and talking loudly about lots of things that didn’t matter. Fyo and Avey were marveling at a new combination sampler and synthesizer that neither of them would ever be able to afford. After “London Calling” finished playing, nobody bothered to put on a new record and Avey returned (wait, when had he left? Fyo considered that maybe he should slow down on the drinking, just a bit) with his synthesizer and sampler and began playing the former. Fyo knew what he was to do, and hopped on the sampler. He was intimately familiar with the contents of each sound bank, ranging from one-shot samples of drum machines (he could never help himself from returning to the classic 808s) to loops of R&B songs from the 80s to simple field recordings and ambient drones. Avey’s timbres were soaked with delay and modulating filters, and it seemed as if the frequencies coming from the speakers became solid. Fyo’s percussion, beginning with a simple four-to-the-floor kick drum, then re-sampling and re-re-sampling until the loop was filled with syncopated woodblocks, chimes, reverb-drenched hi-hats, pretty much everything except a snare, which he felt would bring things crashing to a halt. His vision blurred. He was alone. The music continued and continued to solidify to a point. Soon it was gelatinous, and he would have had trouble moving, if he wanted to move. He looked towards the balcony, or what was left, for the entire wall was crumbling away, the pieces all floating up towards some unseen center of gravity inviting all things into its welcoming arms. The houses at the bottom of the hill were being compressed inward, stacking on top of one another until a single, massive tower of crumbling wood and brick stood in defiance of God in the middle of a now-desolate landscape that stretched for miles, apart from the lone mountain on the edge of the city, and then God himself descended, appearing to Fyo as some sort of deer or elk, furious, intent on destroying this assault on the Kingdom of Heaven and erasing it all to start again from scratch. “Now do it again, BETTER this time,” He said. Fyo watched calmly and attentively. He wished he had some popcorn, or maybe a candy bar.
  439. ——
  441. It rained for three days, without end. Some of the lower parts of the city flooded, it was quite the vertical area once you got to know your way around. Luckily the apartments were at the top of a steep hill; geography and architecture considered as a whole, it could be called something like a small mountain. The river grew stronger. For those with the luxury to stay indoors, the ceaseless pattering on the roof and the windows brought the entire city into a state of hypnagogia.
  442. Fyo couldn’t afford that pleasantness. He had to work, and worse still, he had no choice but to walk. It was warm out, but he didn’t own an umbrella and was forced to wear his only coat with a hood, a large, cumbersome thing which left him nearly as drenched in sweat as he would have been in rain without it. Business at the pharmacy was slow. Much of his time was spent idly checking inventory counts, section by section in alphabetical order, occasionally taking breaks to read exhaustive descriptions of effects, side effects, and contraindications of the medications he was less familiar with, because he actually had a genuine interest in pharmacology, something he wished he’d realized much earlier in life, before dropping out of college due to lack of direction (and loss of scholarship). The pharmacist on duty, who usually worked at a different store in the northern part of the city, was a short man with white hair and a beard, although he retained a youthful appearance and attempted to maintain a youthful demeanor through use of language that made Fyo think of Beat culture according to what little he knew of it from books and the internet; thus, Fyo’s assessment was probably not very accurate, but the pharmacist was easy to get along with anyway, and more importantly easy to talk to, which mattered most on days like this. His name was Tobias.
  443. They spent much of the day exchanging stories of shows they’d attended, Tobias mostly speaking of classic rock and Fyo of the city’s own music scene, which Tobias seemed to take a genuine interest in. Fyo was the only technician on duty today, from open to close. Luckily, it was Sunday, which meant the pharmacy would close early. Tobias seemed like the kind of guy who might have a bit of a rebellious streak. He certainly wasn’t a hardass, and wouldn’t have batted an eye if Fyo decided to just browse his phone or even listen to music with headphones inbetween the scarce appearance of customers, but Fyo decided to spend his time working anyway, even if it was mindless busywork, out of something like respect and a desire to learn the inventory system as thoroughly as humanly possible. Even if Les’s request had been retracted, it seemed like it would be a useful skill to have, if not for illicit purposes then at least to impress his boss.
  444. When the thunderclouds broke up, the rain dried up, the lighning let up, and the clacking shutters just shut up, Fyo stepped out on the balcony and looked up in an entirely random direction, and his eyes happened to land exactly on a star, or maybe a planet, he wasn’t very familiar with astronomy. Looking at the star, he felt a strong desire to travel to it, and then to other stars, and he imagined these journeys for a bit, probably taking place on some spacefaring vessel that resembled the Bebop. After a while it occured to him that this was the first time that he could remember, no matter how far he tried to stretch his memory, that he felt any desire to visit space. That couldn’t be right, but then again it had to be. It seemed strange. He felt as if any normal human has felt, if not at least once then occasionally, the desire to escape Earth and explore the black sea above. But he never had before. Am I a normal human? Have I just now become a normal human?
  446. ——
  448. Tobias felt as if his brain was slowing down. He could feel it decelerating actively, if you can call the loss of energy “activity”. A fog rolled in. Not in his head, but across the river from the northern side, into the central area of the city where the pharmacy was located, Tobias just now leaving after closing up for the day with Fyo. A nice kid, bit awkward, clearly the nervous type, seemed smart but still eager to learn. The downpour of the last three days had subsided into an oscillation between sprinkle and mist, and among this back-and-forth is where the fog appeared. The color was strange, Tobias thought. He had seen gray fog of course, white, bluish, orange when the sun was setting, golden when the sun was rising, but this fog was a dark red. The dark of blood, he thought. Not the red of blood; it was not the same hue as blood. But it had the same quality of darkness as blood. He wasn’t sure if this was making sense. Tobias felt as if his brain was slowing down. He got in his car and began the drive back to his home in the northern section, using his bright beams when there were no other cars around, which was the case for nearly the entire drive. He carefully navigated the many one-way streets and intersections, which all had different rules described by confusing signs about what was allowed when making left turns, and various roundabouts which made him anxious even on days that were clear as.....well, day. He came upon the great, newly-refurbished bridge connecting the two halves of the city. The northern half was known for its higher rates of violence and poverty, although the truth was the entire city was known as a violent place, in fact making several lists of “Most Violent Cities in the U.S.). The southern half was known for gentrification and pretentious hipster kids with their coffee shops and record stores, although the truth was that there were just as many of all these things in the north, in fact the best record store in the city was located on the far northwestern outskirts.
  449. People just liked talking shit about other people, that’s what Tobias knew. It didn’t matter to him. He was 45, too far removed to really understand the culture of the youth (although he had really given it the old college try today with Fyo, who had gone on at length about what seemed like a hundred local, semi-local, and regularly-visiting touring bands; Tobias tried to keep up but just couldn’t), and not wealthy or influential enough to join the ranks of the city’s socialites. Far from experiencing any kind of cliché mid-life crisis, he was content with his middle-aged middle-of-the-road life. Divorced happily for 8 years, and on good terms with the ex at that. Reliving his younger years through cherished records kept in pristine condition for ages, enjoying the nostalgia but careful not to fall in, lest he lose everything that came after the glory days. Not angrily cursing the younger generation and their ways, which he might never really understand but was at least wise enough to realize that the world was different, and though he was no longer part of it, he embraced those still walking among the living, fighting the good fight, maybe not the same fight but one similar to his own from times past. Tobias felt like he was in the minority among his age group in this matter.
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