Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna ,tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UfOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not iSSUE ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what 10/13/00 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in SiXTY-SiX ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
In three days I turn 25. Drawn and quartered, indeed. Today at work, a lady snapped and had to be escorted out of the building by security. Apparently, she had accused one of the people in the QA department where I work of threatening her. When asked if he had physically or verbally assaulted her, she replied that he hadn't. She stated that he had worked at her previous office with another man she knew, and they were conspiring to get her fired from this job. Of course, the accused never worked at her old office, and he didn't know this other evil man. She was yelling the whole time. When I told my roommate what had happened, he remarked that it was amazing what lies we can tell ourselves and believe.
Sometimes I wonder if I'll go off the deep end -- have that mental break, sever the connection with reality, and live in some fantasy world. Sometimes I think I've already done that, but I usually get this way when the old birthday rolls around. Another coworker was relating more stories of his psycho roommate who torments him to no end for minor things like being alive. He says he can't wait until his lease is up. When I asked how long that will be, he said in May. Luckily, I only have three more days, and if I survive whatever my coworkers are planning (the dreaded words 'Oh, it's your birthday, we have to DO SOMETHING FOR YOU' reared their ugly heads today), I'll be a happy camper again.
At least I can look forward to another day of voting for candidates that will not win. My track record is clean so far, although this time I may actually vote for a presidential candidate who is on the ballot and not a write-in. Having that nervous breakdown would be nice right about now -- a conspiratorial-filled reality tunnel would be vastly more interesting that the paper pushing I do every day.
So, I sit here, in my Dr. Smithereens scrubs, fingernails still painted a stylish 'gun metal' color, electric drill nearby, and I have to stop for a moment and think about what it might be like to trepane myself, to actually drill a hole in my skull. I doubt it would make me feel any better, but I've always been intrigued by the sounds the drill would make as it bores through the cranium, how the drill would lurch forward upon breaking through. "How are you feeling today? Would you like a hole in your head?"
Halloween, when everybody becomes something somebody else. Of course, it is happening all the time, and when that birthday rolls around, the attention is focused on you, and the question of who you are bites you in the ass. Underneath the clown wig and nose, inside the stolen doctor outfit from the hospital, who wears your skin?
If I survive being skinned, I'll get back to you with what lies beneath the epidermis. Note to self: it'll be messy, so lay out the linoleum.
From: Mister G To: email@example.com Subject: add me to the list please Kilgore, Please add me to to the SoB mailing list if such a beast still exists... I've been very bad and not given you my new email address when the old domain got abandoned :( thanks, Mister G btw, Gopher 25 is out if you express interest in reading it thanks again
[the beast still exists -- it's just a bit tamer these days. and you folks can go check out Gopher, which was 'inspired in part by that esteemed-of-esteemed literary gorilla State of unBeing' at http://www.trianglepants.com/gopher/. as for us being a literary gorilla, well, i dunno. i always kinda thought about the zine as a gojira. we hibernate or get annihilated enough to qualify, and we always keep coming back for sequels, no matter how improbable the plotting might be.]
From: Capitalism Monster To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: SoB plug in the Capitalist. Yes, the State of unBeing has been mentioned, yes even advertized in the most recent issue of the Weekly Capitalist. That is just a little something to let you know. Sure, you owe me for it and are eternally grateful, but hey, that's ok. If we can just share this moment for a moment then it will be reward enough... while it lasts. I love you. Sincerely, Capitalism
[whee. naturally, we're happy to be a part of the ever-growing textfile scene that is third in popularity only to napster and pr0n. we're also extremely grateful to be lauded with your capitalist of the week award. we'll do our best to turn some sort of profit within the next three millennia. you have our promise. in the meantime, everybody else can go to http://members.home.com/comintern and see how the other half lives. i love you too, you greedy bastard.]
From: Sargeant Zeno To: 'email@example.com' Subject: RE: Medium White T-Shirts By the way, you'll be happy to know that I printed out a quick sample of your SoB and dropped copies at random restaurants during the summer on their outdoor tables in Rossly, Arlington and DC. I am, -Zeno.
[more people should be like you. really. we'd also like to actively recruit some slave labor for an upcoming building project, the Tower of Babel 2000, so if anyone has some good underground contacts or doesn't mind being a slave themself, email me. if you haven't heard about the Tower of Babel 2000 project, well, I suggest you get on board before this fad boat sails right on by. think about it. if we all build another Tower of Babel, what can God do this time? He's not gonna wipe us out. He's not going to make us speak different languages. What's He gonna do? That's what we want to find out. Each brick put in place will get us one step closer to divine wrath. It's, um, mortifying. Hah. ]
KT, Although this in no way relates to the main focus of this letter, I would like to clear up a little misconception I've run into now a couple of times. I am, in fact, one of the founding members of this publication, although a minor one, to be sure. I was with you, Kilgore Trout, when you were typing up the first issue. So, there. Now for the major point. I am currently in the process of putting together a little film project. I will be finding a way to put the project on the web and possibly distribute hard copy. It will be related to SoB in some manner, although how much is still being worked out. At any rate, the only thing I need from the people connected to this literary zeppelin, is a show of hands for interest and possible ideas as to where and how this should be distributed. Clock, who handles the web site, has expressed interest a while back about hosting it but there's not enough web space currently to manifest my vision. Or something. So there more than likely will be an alternative site. With some sort of format that will generate the most viewings, depending on the response. And if you're in the Austin, Texas area and would like to be affiliated, contact me. The email for general responses and ideas is firstname.lastname@example.org. This email has been created specifically for this purpose, so anything else sent will get deleted or unread or ignored or something. Anyway, look for it within the next three to four months, but don't expect the quality to reflect three or four months worth of planning and filming and editing. Actually, don't expect it to come out. Now, enjoy the rest of the 'zine. -Griphon
[I can attest to the fact that Griphon was there when I was typing up the first issue. I hope that statement wins him a free drink or something. As for the video project, well, just remember that we actually did come through with those audio projects of ours, so this isn't some fly-by-night operation. Okay, so it is, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. And it just might make you famous. Like me. Somebody recognized me once, you know. A little boy at Fiesta, Texas, said, 'I thought you were somebody else.' But he knew. He just didn't want to blow my cover. Then I got on the log ride, and my pants got soaked. Being famous isn't about being dry, you know.]
From: Elizabeth G. To: email@example.com Subject: STORIES! My ex-romodel, What happened to all of your fiction? It used to be what got me out of bed in the morning.....in fact the only thing. Now that they are gone from my life I lie here under the blankets and think about how nice it would be to move before realizing there is no point. Please bring them back? ~Liz
[well, it didn't happen this issue. this time i blame being sick and not being able to lean forward to write without having my nose drip like a vomiting frat boy. once, a fraternal brother told me, in between draining cans of bud light, that if a cat was hissing at you, the best way to get it to stop was to piss on it. urinating on things (and people) is a pretty good way to get them to leave. i promise i'll never use that in a story, if that makes you feel any better. perhaps you could just imagine what my stories would be like. judging from the things i haven't published, they're probably better.]
I will first immediately state that I have not read any of Jung's work on synchronicity apart from quoted passages in various non-fiction volumes. (Doing so would of course most likely provide incredible insight, and I have recently, in the midst of this writing, acquired a used copy of Jung's Synchronicity in a meta-synchronous bout unto itself -- though as of yet I have not tackled it.) As this is so, I do partly feel as though I should not speak on the topic. However, before I continue to do so anyway, and before I get flanked and walloped upon by numerous folk, I shall further reiterate the words contained in the title of this of this piece, specifically "partial," "informal," and "speculation." For that is what this elucidation is presented as, not a formal presentation on the topic. Though, I encourage any walloping for those who feel up to it.
And thus, I will allow myself to be analytical, overly so perhaps, and propose the question: what is the meaning of synchronicity? Not necessarily where synchronicity originates from, or what the origin of synchronicity may be, although these questions are certainly interesting and may even lead one to meaningful answers (though more likely will bring about a cascading hierarchy of further questions) -- but, specifically, if one is involved in, experiences, or otherwise observes (all three arguably synonymous) a synchronous event, what does that symbolize for that individual?
It seems to often be the case that individual A will recognize, and encounter synchronicity on a daily basis, while individual B encounters such things once every few months. Is this a reflection of that individual? Is this a reflection of something "external" to the individual? Is this a reflection of nothing?
I believe I would be safe in stating "coincidence" is essentially equal to "synchronicity," with the only difference being one of perception. One who is not aware of the concept of synchronicity, or has not encountered even the term, is more likely to ascribe an experience as coincidence. Though, under their own faculties, they may speculate an underlying connection or cause does exist. "Coincidence," it seems, is a case in which two events, small or large, coincide, intersect, seem to connect in some manner, and the cause is determined to be chance and nothing more. Whereas, "synchronicity" is a case in which two events coincide, interact, seem to connect in some manner, and a cause, outside the realm of chance, does in fact exist. One's belief system, perception of reality, etc., will determine whether that person believes there is or is not a cause behind such events, leading us to a small number of possibilities:
[NOTE: In all loose, informal, models below, [event-x] and [event-y] represent events in question, (p) represents the individual in question, dashed lines represent the actual path being described, and dotted lines represent the perceived path being described.]
a) All such events have no causal relationship, and are correctly defined and thought of as "coincidence." Each event independently happens to the individual. Any causal relationship is attached only by an individual's perception of the event, i.e., belief in causality. Modeled as:
[event-x]----->----(p)----<-----[event-y] . . . . . . .........................
b) All such events have a causal relationship, and are correctly defined as "synchronicity." The events do not occur to the individual independently off each other. Any denial of connection occurs only through an individual's perception of the event, i.e., belief in chance. Modeled as:
[event-x]-----------------------[event-y] . | . . | . ......>....(p)....<......
c) A combination of A and B: some events are coincidence, some events synchronicity.
[event-x]-----------------------[event-y] | | | | | | ------>----(p)----<------
d) None of the above. Events do not interact or connect with each other. "Coincidence" and "synchronicity" do not exist. All events, or objects, are independent of all other objects with no coincidental or synchronous cause. Perhaps along the lines of Hume's critique regarding causal connections being unobservable and not justifiable.
[event-x] (p) [event-y] ?
It can not be denied that events do coincide with each other. Whether the interaction has a coincidental cause or synchronous cause is not determined. It may be argued that those instances do occur based on the existence of the terms "coincidence" and "synchronicity." However, this does fall along the lines of "we possess the concept of God, and therefore, God must exist."
(For a moment, my mind skipped off on its own, and I began to equate God with the force of gravity -- a "god force," oneness, existing in every element of the universe, with the tending to go back to its oneness. The larger the mass of an object, the more force it contains, the larger the gravitational pull, etc. Obviously a digression....)
What is the difference between a coincidental cause and synchronous cause?
Is a sequence of events, easily connected, a coincidence? A synchronicity? Or, is it two events, similar in content? Similar in form? Cause? Must the cause or content be recognized?
It is my assumption that many people who have thrown themselves into counterculture literature over the past twenty years have come across the works of Robert Anton Wilson. And, more specifically, have come across his monstrosity of an opus, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, authored with Robert Shea.
I will not attempt to tackle any commentary on the 800+ page book, but merely state it is a fine gift to any man or woman. Nonetheless, this is where I personally first encountered that which is called the Law of Fives, which simply states that all things happen in fives, or are divisible by five, multiples of five, or somehow directly or indirectly related to five. And, that the Law of Fives is never wrong. Although its origins lie in the lands of Discordia, and it was perhaps not originally meant hold a literal meaning, it does in fact manifest itself quite often in peculiar ways. Of course, this would occur most often in permutations of the number five, such as the occurrence of the number 23 -- the two digits added together result in 5. One can take this to extraordinary levels: 8 is 2 to the 3rd power, 6 is 2 multiplied by 3, 28 is 23 added to 5, 1.5 is 3/2, etc. Such things can be translated from non-numerical elements, such as E being the 5th letter in the English alphabet, W the 23rd, H the 8th, and so on.
Once one encounters this explanation, or even explication, of this phenomenon, it becomes astoundingly apparent how many things fall into this category: 23 chromosomes, 5 fingers on each hand, 5 toes on each foot, 23.5 degrees is the earth's axis, 28 days in both a lunar cycle and menstrual cycle, 2/3 is 666..., 23 is the first prime number in which both digits are prime numbers and add up to another prime number, Shakespeare reportedly was born on and died on April 23rd, the Pentagon is a five-sided building, and so on, and so on, as one can easily discover with little research.
Further, one will most certainly begin to encounter literal, real-world examples of this: 23 in a license plate, an address, a phone number, a movie, a clock.
Perhaps all within a 23 minute period. The result of this, of course, is paranoia, accompanying the affirmation of the Illuminati's immense power over the world. Or at least power over you.
The question naturally comes: what allows this to work the way it works? And, naturally, I have additional speculation regarding this.
One initial explanation by many may be classified as the "pink elephant" explanation: If I advise you to not think of pink elephants, you are sure to think of pink elephants. This seemingly occurs due to the introduction of the concept of "pink elephants" to the listener -- whether one may say "think" or "do not think," and the fact that pink elephants do not exist, nevertheless, the concept of pink elephants is still introduced. My assumption would be that this is strongest when the concept presented is a visual picture. A further example of this would be the use of the phrase "your parents having sex." In whatever form, context, or content this may occur in, many people react strongly to the concept, visual image, of their parents having sex. All in all, this seems to essentially be a form of mind control or mind influence. [Yes, many cases could be, and are, presented citing every and all things encountered control, and influence the mind in some manner, and at this moment I will have to basically agree with such statements, but will not elucidate, elaborate, or otherwise defend myself, for the results would be full of tangent.]
And so, this could easily be applied as an explanation for the Law of Fives. As the definition of the phenomenon is explained to a reader or listener, it sits ready and available in the mind -- it is then further supported by examples of this law, making the concept a bit more concrete, and ready to be applied. From that moment, for at least a short period of time while the concept remains fresh and apparent, all things encountered by the reader or listener are translated through this "Law of Five filter" -- the individual looks for further examples of this concept to add to the "truth" of the idea.
Because this filter is constructed, it is reasonable to see how examples are "discovered" -- like one continually thinks of pink elephants, one continually thinks of the Law of Fives, which makes any and all examples that could be applied seem to leap out at this person.
Another example could provided in the experience of buying a car, or even looking for a car. As soon as one focuses in on, even perhaps decides upon, a specific make or model of vehicle, without a doubt one will encounter this same make or model everywhere one goes. As if, very suddenly, everyone owns this same type of vehicle.
Prior to focusing in on, deciding upon, this specific vehicle, one never noticed the vehicle elsewhere. Once the idea of this specific vehicle became readily available and present in one's mind, the vehicle is then immediately noticed in all circumstances.
This could be explained in a very broad, general statement: if one wishes to see something, one will. If I wish to see pink elephants, I will. If I wish to see a silver Volvo, I will. If I wish to see the number five, I will.
However, this explanation of course relies upon the prior existence, in the present reality, of the concept in question. For this explanation to be true for silver Volvos, it must be true that silver Volvos were in fact present in reality before the idea of silver Volvos was presented to the individual. It does not seem possible for the individual to truly determine whether this was the case or not, because the individual did not notice the existence of silver Volvos. Meaning, the individual did not notice the existence of silver Volvos until the idea was presented to them, and so could make no valid statements regarding their existence prior to that time.
[Many questions could easily be presented here: is it possible for anyone to truly determine the existence of silver Volvos prior to the introduction of the idea? Perhaps prior to the first individual, yes, but then we encounter a seemingly endless, recursive loop: individual A notices an abundance of silver Volvos after the idea of silver Volvos is presented to him. To verify that an abundance of silver Volvos existed prior to individual A's introduction to the idea of silver Volvos, one asks individual B. Individual B has noticed an abundance of silver Volvos for some time. This began when individual B was introduced to the idea of silver Volvos. To prove the existence of silver Volvos, we must proceed to individual C...and so on. This could perhaps be described as exponential hearsay. Another question could be presented: could not the prior existence of an abundance of silver Volvos be the origin of the introduction of the concept of silver Volvos to the individual? Yes, this could be the case. However, again, it seems to be exceedingly difficult to prove this. One must prove that the individual encountered silver Volvos before the introduction of the idea, and this again tips into the recursive world shown previously.]
Does this type of explanation suffice, however, for concepts involving rare, strange, unique things -- perhaps things that do not have a readily finite time on the earth. In the case of silver Volvos, it may seem somewhat easy to track the object back to the time when the first was created by man. Do events involving rare, strange, unique things have more meaning, or could provide more of a basis as to determine the existence of synchronicity, and it's meaning as directed to the individual?
Silver Volvos, as stated, are one thing, perhaps a common thing, that may be encountered in everyday life. Events involving multiple silver Volvos may be easily regarded as chance. However, what of events involving something such as plaid Volvos? Would multiple events with plaid Volvos hold more importance? What of these seemingly "rare" events that push the realms of chance and statistics? If I had read a passage in the morning about snowballs, and then, upon leaving my home, a snowball was thrown onto my porch, and then, not thirty minutes later, I overhear a conversation at a coffee shop concerning the correct way to make snowballs, and while later walking back home hear a gentleman call their dog Snowball -- does this not seem to push the envelope of chance? One may at once state that such events do not occur, and that this is simply a fictional situation. However, I am certain, if you would examine events that have occurred to and around you, you will encounter something similar to the above. And these are the things we have yet to undertake.
"I gave up on new poetry myself 30 years ago when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens in a hostile world."
she peers deep
into the mirror
trying to see
through his eyes
how her face
and its expressions
The silence between them was impenetrable, unbearable, interminable. There, in that silence, a silence that was perhaps meant only for him, he waited for her to speak. He heard her voice, not her true voice but the memory of her voice. The memory of her voice was there among no others, its sound filling in time, ahead of and behind itself, sometimes soft, sometimes loud. He could neither erase the silence nor the voice of the memory of her voice. Moment after moment he listened. Then he said to himself, with a force that rendered truth present: "Now we have taken something from one another." And again: "Is this the thought she, too, is thinking?" Before he could answer himself, everything before his eyes started spinning: he had lost that center from which words radiate, the center which always knows the first word, the word that says everything without saying anything. He thought of his own words. He did not doubt their truth. Seeing her without hearing her, he asked himself: "What she does not say, the unspoken secret she keeps and collects and transcribes only to herself, leads toward a silence that cannot be heard together. Has it always been like this?" He experienced a vague feeling of despair. He wanted to reach out and touch her. The desire decayed in the stagnant anguish of the room. In silence, the desire dispersed itself by turning inward and desiring its own negation. Left with the negation of desire, he was overcome by that weakness which consists of willingly setting aside strength.
She was comfortable with the silence. She understood quite well that he had forgotten how to speak. It was a necessary forgetting, because he could not bear seeing her in pain. She knew it was a forgetting he would never forget. She murmured to herself: "Be strong so that I can speak to you. Acknowledge the power you have." The words spoken to herself were a struggle, a silence through which she asked for and gave herself to him. She grew tired of waiting for his voice. She thought of continuing to punish herself. She thought it might convince herself she was real. She cried out, but her voice was inaudible. Her voice rang out into the empty silence of the room, the emptiness of the silence engulfing them. She murmured to herself: "When I speak there is an entire part of me that is uncovered, abandoned, made weak. The words turn against me. The refusal of either of us to speak finds its meaning here, in the motionlessness of the words we cannot enunciate. We are present to one another as breath is present to life: one moment there, one moment gone, one moment there, one moment gone, then gone, gone forever." With sadness, she looked at him. She did not regret the tranquil reality of the situation. The thread of their relations had been undone, but everything remained the same. He could leave, she thought to herself. Such is solitude, a word that neither resembles a request nor an order nor a neutral wish nor a decision. That he could leave, of this she was certain. She murmured to herself, again: "Don't you want to leave me?" She waited. As space is equal in all its points, her waiting was equal in all its moments. It was a familiar waiting, a solitary waiting emanating from within. At first it was intimate, touching, a concerned waiting. Then it was a waiting that knew itself as waiting for the end of waiting.
He knew there was a void that could not be crossed. It was a void to difficult to think through. Even if he patiently questioned it he knew it would remain an enigma. Even if he described it entirely, meticulously uncovered its meaning, it would remain a missing presence, an ancient ambient fluid synonymous with the silence between them. He thought he understood patience. He learned that he did not. He was without patience, neither consenting nor refusing nor leaving nor staying. He was moving in a field of immobility. We, he thought, are no longer present to one another. He could not find the words to make himself present. Yet throughout he was with her, in the same room, surrounded by the same suffocating silence. Motionless, he knew he was not alone. She was there, that he knew to be true, and he kept her under watch and tried to gather her into himself, but failed. He wondered if he could endure any longer. He withstood the silence, and within him there was an awareness of what must be done. He imagined himself reaching out and touching her. He knew she would consent. And there would be a mystery to it. But he waited. The room was filled with empty time, with no project and no meaning other than what he gave to it. He did not give it anything. He cruelly abandoned it to the meaninglessness of uncharted space and its infinite capacity to absorb time which is not inscribed with purposeful movement. All at once, unable to speak, he walked toward her and picked up her left wrist and lightly kissed it. He did the same to her right wrist. She said nothing. He bent to his knees and put his head in her lap and wrapped his arms around her legs. She ran her fingers through his hair. Both placed their faith into that moment, into the restlessness of hope having overcome the anxiety of waiting. They had endured, together. The silence between them was impenetrable, unbearable, interminable, again.
It is an ordinary day. Nothing more. And yet, I slip across the invisible boundary. I see things! My body shakes as tender violent images of things rush slowly through my confused brain. I see things! My visions are clear and easy, existing somewhere between Reality and the Dream. Nothing particular happens.
Just regular stuff. But I know.
It is everywhere. No matter. The others rise and do whatever they have to do. At night, they go to sleep. I can't sleep. Haven't slept in days and maybe I'll stay awake for years. Can't sleep! Once you know, how can you?
Now, I drift off to the Riviera. I need to be under a faraway sun near somebody's soul. I need to be a voyeur, tasting the transient sensuality of naked women.
I see dream girls in topless bikinis nothing more than G strings.
Why are they naked? To seduce? To tease? To torture?
Of course, there are nude beaches where humans seek health. So why do I think of poisonous rays which produce sun cancer?
Nudes! Magnificent nudes by the Masters. And the nudes of Auschwitz! Must I remember the nudes of Auschwitz and the bones and the human soap? Must I? Please let me forget.
I need to drift off to the Riviera and exist under a faraway sun near a soul. I need to look at naked women and girls.
Why are they naked? To arouse? Perhaps, to awaken? To subdue? To kill.
Yesterday, I met an elderly couple. Yesterday (or was it just a few minutes ago, or tomorrow which slips back into now?) I had the pleasure of meeting them. (Actually, they were not elderly. They were in their early 60's. And although they seemed pleasant, I felt I was dying in their presence. They were killing me with their thoughts and feelings. They had this contagious disease of doom and I was catching it.)
I met the couple on a boat ride around the city. It was a dog day afternoon, and I had been enjoying the view until they joined me. Unexpectedly, they approached me and introduced themselves.
Soon the old lady made her confession. (People always confess to me. I have this forgiving face which attracts them.)
The woman had had two mastectomies. She said that the doctors got all the cancer out. "Nothing left!" she reassured me. But after the operations, her brain was damaged. Forever!
The woman was depressed and took antidepressants. She saw a psychologist every week for therapy and a psychiatrist once a month for medication. They couldn't help her. No one could. She was hopeless and had contemplated suicide. Both shrinks recommended shock treatment. But she refused.
Then, she entered a living room and was cured.
"Cured?" I asked.
"Yes. It's a miracle! It happened in a living room." She smiled seductively at me as she told me about the living room.
Her cousin, who had been preoccupied with death, did not want her children to be troubled by the hassles of finding a plot for their beloved mother. And she did not want to go six feet under. Never! Graves and tombstones get ruined by rain and snow. She wanted eternal comfort and protection. Luxury living in the afterlife.
One day, her cousin visited mausoleums out in the countryside. And when she saw the living room, she found eternal peace right on earth.
"She bought a slot in the wall for $30,000," the woman informed me, wearing a sardonic smile.
"Well, the coffin fits into the slot in the wall."
"The room's beautiful!" said the quiet husband, almost invisible until now. "Looks like a living room for the rich and famous. And while we were there, no one visited."
"Maybe these dead don't need visitors," I suggested.
"They live better than us!" the woman said. And suddenly, she laughed uncontrollably.
"Can you imagine my wife's cousin spent $30,000 on Death?" the ghostly man said. "For $50,000 you can buy a cheap condo!"
The husband looked quizzically at me and the wife laughed uncontrollably.
I drifted off to the Riviera and saw topless women in bikinis. In the distance, the woman who had had two mastectomies approached me in her topless bikini.
Why is she naked?
Many years later, in the closing hours of a cold day, aged and unable to lift himself from a metal, white-enamel hospital bed whose stale sheets smelled of sterility, and thinking of those moments in his life when he yielded to anguish as one might yield to physical pain-lying down, motionless, without will -- Isaac knew that in the spring of that faraway year he had been summoned. The letter, the summons, arrived in early March. It was brief and to the point, typed on virgin white paper, and signed in black ink by the head of the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The scholarship covered tuition and health care and there was just enough left over to meet living expenses. The department expected a decision by mid-April.
"Choices are consequences," said Isaac to himself as soon as he had finished reading the letter, and that night, wanting to see his father, he drove several hundred miles, from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Rowley, Iowa. Once there, Isaac stayed up all night thinking, sitting on the sagging wood steps of his childhood home. The crickets were loud and the barns quiet, and there was a slight wind that rustled lightly the stalks of silky corn leaves, and for a few brief moments he stopped thinking of the letter and remembered calloused hands and summer sunburns and long days of picking rock and pulling corn tassels, but choices are consequences and soon the heavy thoughts surrounding the summons returned.
Before going to bed, Isaac's father, tall and stooped and wrinkled, and possessed of a certain graceful awkwardness shared by all men in Isaac's family, stepped outside. The wood of the sagging steps groaned with each step. He sat down next to his son. He asked him why he had so unexpectedly driven home. Isaac took a long look his father. Years earlier, before the noise of the combine took his father's left ear and the sun scarred his face with a thousand and one interlacing lines, Isaac's mother often boasted he was the most handsome man in the county. But when Isaac looked at his father he never saw a tired old man. His father was an amphitheater containing and directing all possible vision, a mirror of all finite eyes seeing themselves reflected in the infinite cornea of one common eye with one common pupil, like a great ear of maximum audibility which holds all notes and vibrations within-listening, speaking, hearing -- at once ear and seashell held to ear.
"No reason," said Isaac.
"No one," said Isaac's father, "drives four hours for nothing."
"Is my world," asked Isaac, aware his father wouldn't understand the true meaning of his question, "that of pigs and plows or poets and philosophers?"
In a month Isaac was scheduled to finish his undergraduate degree. His mother and father assumed he'd return to the farm. Isaac told his father about the scholarship offer. He told him about graduate school and a career in the academy. Isaac was the only child, and if he did not farm the land then eventually it would be sold to developers. Long-armed cranes, smoke-exhaling bulldozers, and lean, sinewy men in heavy boots would cover the world's richest farmland, dark and moist and thick, with cement. From the soil would arise buildings casting shadows everywhere, like so many rows of over-sized tombstones, and then, as if the land and its space were a mere blackboard, the laborers would quickly erase their work, quickly build anew, and quickly erase again. The one constant through all the years, the land, would join the world of ceaseless human change, and the new, like termites burrowing into the foundation of a home, would obliterate everything, leaving behind empty, dark holes.
"How much more schooling is that?" asked Isaac's father.
"Five or six years. After two years a series of exams...and then a dissertation."
"Teach and write and publish," said Isaac. "Live the life of the university professor."
"So, you're asking me," said Isaac's father, "if you're a farmer or a philosopher? Maybe both, maybe neither. Honestly, I can't answer that for you. But what I will say is this: a true question pursued diligently is more illuminating than any answer. My father said that to me when I was your age. It was good advice then. Hopefully it is good advice now." His father looked up at the night sky. He was thinking and Isaac waited for the thought to come. Waiting, Isaac listened to the crickets and the silent barns and the wind rustling the silky cornstalks. Words come when they wish, thought Isaac, not when the mind wills them.
Finally his father spoke. After he finished, Isaac asked him what he thought of happiness. His father took a long think, closing and opening his eyes, bringing his hands to his face and letting his fingers run across his many wrinkles.
"Happiness is friendship," said Isaac's father, "weather that suits your disposition, hard work, love and community, pursuing what you value, crafting with your own hands something of quality. And also money, because only those who've never been poor think money isn't necessary for a good life. Most important, happiness is not asking for anything beyond what can be felt and seen and heard. And... after all these years, I came to realize that maybe we don't have souls given at birth but rather create them throughout the whole of our lives... ultimately life is a sketch -- you have to fill everything else in, including the soul. That's what I think." Isaac quietly disagreed, because life is not even a sketch, for each moment of time passed through him and was irretrievable, and, with only one life to lead, he could never know if he had pursued the right questions.
"I could say that my life stands before me," said Isaac. "I could say 'I could do this or that, and in that activity carve a bit of happiness from the this world.' But my life does not 'stand before me.' I want to know now, not after the fact... in the same way that immortality will become meaningless after death, the meaning of my life will become pointless when I am on my deathbed." Isaac's father said nothing. Isaac listened to the crickets and the silent barns and the wind rustling the silky cornstalks. Eventually it was time for his father to go to bed. His father said something about the Perseids. He felt he had to say something profound.
"What's the worst weather," asked Isaac's father, "for mice and cats?"
"I don't know... what?"
"When it's raining cats and dogs." They both had a good laugh, then his father's face grew serious and he said, "The moon is out tonight. Later the Perseids will show... Isaac, only our dogs bark at the uncertain." With that he got up, said goodnight, told Isaac not to stay up too late, walked across the sagging wood steps, and was quickly inside the front door, into the bathroom, and then into bed. Isaac stayed outside. Soon the wind died and the crickets fell asleep and a profound quiet filled entirely the immensity of physical space.
After his father went to bed, those last words, 'only our dogs bark at the uncertain,' echoed in Isaac's head, because even in silence thinking remains aural, like the words of a narrator speaking directly to a reader's inner ear. His father's words were warm and strong and good, and his was a voice Isaac would come out of the ground to hear. Direct and honest, there was a supple sureness there, because his father knew telling the truth means more than saying what is known. Telling the truth also means not saying more than what is known. And that is where most fail. They forget that silence is often the closest humans can come to truth. They forget that silence is always there -- steady, diligent, uncompromising.
Isaac knew the moon would set in another five hours. Then the dew would gather and quickly evaporate. Then the sound of a busy broom would fill the house. Then the animals would need tending. Then the traffic on the gravel roads would kick up dust and offer memories of calloused hands, and also memories of his father and grandfather, and also of his grandfather's father and his grandfather before him, all herding stubborn and noisy pigs across the way, for the land was tied to Isaac's family by name and sweat and good and bad fortune, but he those times were gone, because the incessant march of history, that violent, blood-stained dress on the floor of a brothel, has no need for nostalgia or memories or the useless relics of better days that never were. Sitting on the sagging wood steps of his childhood home, Isaac thought of the joke all Iowa farmers know by heart: If a farm family wins the lottery, what do they do with the money? They keep farming until it is gone.
Near 4 A.M. the Perseids started to show in the eastern sky, bright and big. Isaac's father often said female charm and beauty were tyrannical, but Isaac thought the charm and beauty of the Perseids equally tyrannical. So much is needed in the construction of a beautiful woman, yet just as much is needed to form a stone or a hibiscus flower or a meteor shower like the Perseids, and within the infinite quantity of matter that stirs incessantly it is impossible not to see within one woman or one stone, one flower or one meteor shower, all that populates the cosmos.
A hundred years ago the Perseids were so thick and many that it woke the country folk, mostly Protestants, in their beds. They thought it was the Lord come to destroy the world. When their Lord did not come, most knew He had died or never existed at all, even if they tried to believe otherwise. It was near 4 A.M., the Perseids were bright and big in the eastern sky, choices were consequences, only dogs barked at the unknown, and for reasons unknown to Isaac, he remembered a few lines from a Cummings poem:
him: he couldn't
believe it (jesus
told him; he
him, and general
told him: i told
him; we told him
(he didn't believe it, no
sir) it took...
Isaac forgot the rest: a nipponized bit of
the old sixth
el; in the top of his head: to tell
Isaac sat on the sagging wood steps of his childhood home until his parents, and then the sun, rose. He helped his mother with breakfast-boiled eggs and pork sausage, wheat toast and whole milk, and also orange juice. He helped his father feed the pigs and dogs and milk the cows. Then they walked through the cornfields together, shoulder to shoulder, saying little, looking for signs of silkworm, leaf beetles, and the burrowing marks of corn bores. Later they went into town and bought chicken-wire to keep the rabbits out of Isaac's mother's garden. Before putting up the fence, they ate a late lunch-tomato soup and saltine crackers and ham sandwiches. While working on the fence, they talked. Isaac asked about his mother, who hadn't said much to him the night before or that morning.
"Sometimes," said Isaac, "it seems as if her heart beats not because she is alive but merely because it can."
"She's just tired," said Isaac's father, "like we all are. But she is a sensitive soul. It shows on her more. She gets depressed, like you do, but much more so." Isaac's mother had withdrawn from their social life and spoke little. She moved about the house like a sleepwalker, with a blank, expressionless face. "Sometimes," added Isaac's father, "I think she wishes she hadn't married a farmer. But then sometimes I wish I hadn't become a farmer."
"Dad, it's not you," said Isaac, his hands still working with the soil. "She loves you more than anything, more than me... it's not you, Dad, so don't think that way." Isaac was right: his mother's depression had nothing to do with his father. What she suffered from was an active, positive anguish, a torment alien to normal life, a horror beyond words. Depression is a misnomer. Melancholia comes close, but words always fail, and even our greatest artists have been unable to express it. When they try, it becomes a caricature, something to laugh at. There is a passage in Job that comes close, especially when coupled with the thought of being locked in an overheated room slowly filling with water: "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came." Yet even that metaphor fails.
"I know," said Isaac's father, "but I start to doubt myself sometimes. I worry, about her, and also about you... how are you doing?" His father, one arm on his knee and his head tilted slightly downward, his mouth slightly open yet still tensed, his eyes narrow, had stopped working and was looking directly at Isaac.
"So, so," said Isaac, his voice soft, his head turning away from his father, his hands growing busy with the work in front of him. Like his mother, Isaac didn't like to talk of his depression. Intellectually, he knew there were a number of factors -- chemistry and genetics the most important -- but deep down he thought himself weak and dependent. Each of us must be the riddle of history solved, thought Isaac, and know ourselves to be that solution, but Isaac felt that an impossible task, at least for himself, because he was convinced that the incipient dread which surrounded him and all his endeavors was symptomatic of an inexorable inner fault etched into his soul the way children carve their names into neighborhood trees.
"Are you sure?" said Isaac's father.
"I think so," said Isaac, and then added, without really thinking: "Don't worry, I wouldn't do anything drastic until you and Mom were gone." He laughed a little after he said it, and his father, not knowing what to say, laughed too, because it was either that or start crying, and he was of that school that said real men didn't cry, that masculine skin must repel all the world's poisonous arrows.
After the fence was done Isaac took a shower and went to bed, tired but certain of his decision. In the middle of the night he woke, wrote a brief note to his parents, left it on the kitchen table, said goodbye to the dogs, quickly made sure the chicken wire was working, and then drove back to Minneapolis.
"It's better than a murder mystery," I said.
And my lover was gone.
The night before it happened, I went to a discotheque. "Tomorrow," I'll be on the road. My buddy and I are headin' for Mexico.
Some things never happen. Some things happen again and again. I can always count on the way things are. I wish my magic was stronger than reality. I wish. Too bad.
J. L. B. wrote Three Versions of Judas. Who as Judas Iscariot? Who are you, Judas?
I loved Mother too much. We were One. So connected were we, I knew I'd die if she vanished.
One day she vanished. Not really. Mother moved into a wooden coffin.
Eternal Home Sweet Home!
Father made me kiss her goodbye. "Kiss her goodbye, son! You'll never see her again!"
I kissed her forehead. (Father was wrong. I often see her at night in a flash, in a dream.) Her forehead was cold.
In that anguished moment of unreality and unbearable separation, I was a boy and a very old man. Far, far away. I vanished too.
Mother and I vanished that day. The night before, I went to a discotheque. "Tomorrow" was the first day of a long trip to Mexico I'd never begin.
"Tomorrow" I vanished with Mother. The others never hired a P.I. to find me. They didn't know I was gone. It's Our Secret.
Mother died only once. Not really. Once. Twice. Thrice. Again and again and forever. it's hard to take. I'm really angry with you, Mother!
"And my lover was gone," I said. Again and again and forever. Why do they leave me?
"It's better than a murder mystery." Conrad's The Secret Sharer is a must read. Trust me.
I lied to you. And yet, in my allusions and clues (good clues and red herrings), I've led you to the Mysterious Labyrinth. Inside the Labyrinth, the lovers met. There were many trysts. (Only one. One eternal tryst.)
"It's better than a murder mystery," I said to my neighbor who is slowly dying of a fatal disease I can not reveal (Our Secret, you see).
"Of course," he said calmly. "More exciting than watching an action flick on HBO or MAX," he said dispassionately. "Better than eating popcorn, drinking a Coke, and watching an old war movie starring James Dean."
Smiling sardonically, he asked: "Do you doubt me?"
You see, the war in the Persian Gulf began last night. And tomorrow morning, my lover is flying off on Eastern Airlines. If she lives, she will arrive in Ontario, California after changing planes three times. If she lives... There are threats of terrorist attacks around the world.
But her father is dying. She must see him before he moves into a wooden coffin.
"Tomorrow," I vanished with my lover. No one hired a P.I. to find me. They didn't know I was gone. It's Our Secret.
I make a long distance call to California. The phone rings. Again and again. I let it ring.
It rings. Of course, it rings. I wait to hear my lover's voice. I "know" she's there at the other end.
"Tomorrow" I'm headin' off to Mexico. Our final (and eternal) tryst. Our Secret.
And "tomorrow," the phone rings. Again and again. And if she picks up the receiver, I will hear her voice.
Who was Judas Iscariot? Who are you, Judas?
If she is alive, I will say: "I am dead! Until you are my wife!" She is married to another man. (So was Mother!)
I am dead! The phone rings. Again and again. I am dead!
It rings. And I wait to hear my lover's voice.
In this anguished moment of unreality and unbearable separation, I am a boy and a very old man. Far, far away.
I vanish. And inside the Mysterious Labyrinth, the lovers meet.
NOTE: The setting and location of this story is based on Barksdale Air Force Base, where I was stationed for five years. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, however, except for the sole purpose of satire, is purely coincidental. All names and characterizations have been changed to protect the guilty. No, nothing like this actually happened.
The night began like any other. The day had been hot, the temperature made even worse by the humidity leaching through the soil from the high water table. The "Sportsman's Paradise," Louisiana, was currently far from it; fortunately, it was cooling down now that the sun was setting. Senior Airman Bishop, Charles M., was now more worried about the mosquitoes than the sun. He'd watched the solar disk shade from white to yellow that afternoon and watched now as it shifted from orange to red as it slipped below the trees. He tugged down the sleeves of his BDU shirt, hoping the toxic government-issue repellent he'd sprayed on earlier worked. He thought about putting on his mosquito net and realized he'd forgotten his boonie hat back in his dorm room.
He was glad that he'd gotten the swing shift -- at least now he didn't have to spend all day in the outdoor sauna. He looked around, and when he didn't see anyone, sat down in the office chair someone had brought out for his post. It looked fairly incongruous there on the loading pad, next to the plywood gate shack, but it was padded and comfortable, and right now all he wanted was to sit. Behind him, a cluster of Ammo troops were working on something, banging and laughing and getting yelled at. SrA Bishop watched the fence line, too bored to care. It almost made him wish something would happen.
"Viper Charlie, this is Viper Echo," Bishop heard the entry controller call the control center over the radio. "Permission to go direct with Viper Sierra?"
"Go ahead, Viper Echo," the control center replied. "Viper Sierra, this is Viper Echo. Be advised, we have a lone individual in the entrapment area who is ignoring verbal commands, how copy?"
"Viper Echo, this is Viper Sierra... say again?" The Entry Controller repeated the message. "Viper Echo, standby. I'm en route to your location," the area supervisor told them. Bishop looked in the direction of the Entry Control Point gate, but it was hidden behind a row of buildings. "Damn," Bishop muttered to himself, hoping a patrol would stop by his post so he could find out what was going on. He looked over toward the area again, hoping to see something.
"Hey, Gaetano, what's up with this guy?" Staff Sergeant Richards asked, looking over toward the pedestrian cage. "I dunno... I think he's hurt or something," Airman First Class Gaetano replied, gesturing toward the shabby figure. "It looks like he was in an accident... his face is all fucked up," A1C Gaetano continued, turning toward the cage. "He just walked in after we opened the gate, and he's been wandering around in there for five minutes. Smells bad, too," he told SSgt Richards.
"Excuse me, sir? Can I help you?" the tall black Staff Sergeant asked the man. Richards wasn't sure how to handle this; the man looked like he was injured, maybe seriously. "Gaetano, call the hospital, have them send out an ambulance," Richards told the airman.
"Already did, sir. They should be here any minute."
"Good... Sir, I need you to step out of the entrapment area, back the way you came..." Richards tried; the man continued to shuffle slowly around the narrow path. "Sir, do you speak English?" Gaetano tried. "Yo habla ingles?" Richards tried again. The man didn't appear to even hear them; at least, he wasn't acting like he did. "Well, shit," Richards muttered to himself. "We need to get him out of the entrapment area... Gaetano, Miller, go in there and see if you can get him out," Richards told the airmen.
Miller ducked back into the reinforced concrete Entry Control building, and the pedestrian gate into the vehicle area unlatched with a loud clang. The man inside the cage didn't seem to notice and was now staring down at his feet. Gaetano moved for the gate, but Richards stopped him before he could pass through. "Your weapon?" Richards said, lifting the airman's rifle off his shoulder by the strap. "Oh, sorry," Gaetano said, grinning sheepishly. Miller handed over his rifle as well, and they moved into the entrapment area slowly.
"Sir, are you injured?" Miller asked gently, sidestepping away from Gaetano. "Sir, are you injured? Were you in an accident?" Miller tried again; Gaetano circled around behind the man and reached back for his handcuffs. The man stood silently, his face turned to the ground. "Sir, we're trying to help you...." Miller assured the man, who didn't move a muscle. Gaetano crept up behind him, stopping momentarily when he noticed the head wound. "Jesus," he whispered, staring at the fist-sized hole in the man's skull that was only partly covered by blood-matted hair. "Hey, man, I think he's brain damaged," Gaetano told Miller. "He's got a big fucking hole in his skull."
Gaetano heard a siren approaching from the distance, and slipped his cuffs back into their pouch. "Sir, the paramedics will be here any minute now.... Just come with us, you'll be okay," Miler said, stepping toward the man. Gaetano stepped closer to the figure and noticed the stench coming off the guy in waves. Once, when he was 12, he rode past a dead dog lying on the side of the road, one that had probably been hit by a car. The smell coming from the guy was the same, a pungent, sickening smell of decay. His hand stopped halfway to the figure's shoulder as he realized that there was something very wrong about this man.
The man spun, and before Gaetano could react, he had latched on to his outstretched arm with both hands. An inhuman, gurgling moan was followed by the intense, burning pain of the man biting into his forearm. "Jesus, get him off me!" Gaetano screamed, shoving against the sickeningly spongy, cool flesh of the man's face. "Fuckin' A!" Miller yelled, lunging toward the man and grabbing him around his chest. Gaetano twisted his arm and yanked it free of the man's grasp, stumbling backwards into the chain-link mesh. The man twisted around, writhing in Miller's hold like a snake, then arched his head forward and sank his teeth into Miller's neck. Miller started screaming, tripping over his own feet in an effort to break free, and landed solidly on the ground with the stinking man on top of him. Miller's screams suddenly became choked as the blood ran down his throat, and the man snatched a huge chunk of bleeding flesh from his neck.
"Get out of the way!" Richards yelled, unslinging his rifle. "Gaetano, get the fuck out of the way!" he yelled again, chambering a round and bringing the rifle to his shoulder. Gaetano scrambled for the pedestrian gate, staring in horror at the two figures on the ground. Richards pulled the trigger, but only heard a faint click. "Shit!" he yelled, flicking off the safety and aiming again. The rifle bucked, accompanied by three sharp cracks; two rounds went wild, but one hit home, taking a patch of flesh and cloth off the man's back. Miller was struggling only weakly now; Gaetano grabbed his rifle and started firing into the stranger's body. Miller's dark blue beret was laying next to him in a pool of blood, as unmoving as he was now.
Bishop heard the sirens approaching, and wondered what the hell was going on. "This is Viper Charlie to all patrols... be advised, we have a hostile individual at the E.C.P.... All patrols, respond immediately..." the control center radioed across the net. "What the hell...?" Bishop wondered again, his question cut short by a burst of gunfire. He unslung his rifle and hunkered down behind the sandbags of his fighting position, rooting around in his A-bag for his flak vest and helmet. "Viper Charlie, this is Falcon Charlie.... Give me a land-line," the flight line control center called. Bishop heard several more shots, then a burst of rifle fire from what sounded like multiple weapons. He snapped the chin strap of his helmet and was about to peek over the top of the sand bags when he heard a bullet whiz by. "Shit!" he exclaimed and realized someone was yelling at him.
"What the fuck is going on?" he heard Lopez yelling to him from the next position. "I don't know... I can't see shit," Bishop yelled back. "Hey, Smith!" Bishop yelled. "What's going on?"
"I think they're shooting at someone," Smith yelled back from the post on the other side. "No shit!" Bishop yelled. "Why?"
"I don't know.... I can't see too good from here," Smith replied. "Dammit," Bishop said to himself. Of course he'd be posted out on a Close Boundary Sentry position when something happened.
"He told us to close the gates," Airman Peters said, hanging up the direct line.
"What? No backup?" Airman Killinger replied, disgusted. "You want to do it?" Killinger asked after a moment.
"Fuck no," Peters said, glancing nervously at the doors.
"I'm not gonna do it," Killinger told his partner.
"Fuck it, I'll do it," Peters snapped, twisting the dead bolt on the door open. He stepped out into the humid air, looking around for anyone. He walked to the outbound gate, depressed the latch with his foot, and pushed it along its rail until it clicked home. He had almost gotten to the inbound gate when the figure that had been standing silently in the shadows lunged forward.
"Sir, I'm sorry to disturb you at this hour," the voice at the other end of the line sounded apologetic, but hurried. "It's okay... what is it?" Lieutenant Colonel DeVries asked tiredly. "Sir, we have a... situation. There seem to be a large number of people running around on base assaulting people." DeVries sat up and clicked on his bedside lamp. "What?"
"Well, sir, we thought they were protesters, but... and none of them appear to be armed..." the voice trailed off reluctantly. "I'll be over in 15 minutes," DeVries told the controller on the other end. "Sir, I think they may be zombies," the controller blurted; his outburst was followed by the sounds of a brief struggle.
"Sir, this is Lieutenant Moore. I'm really sorry about that, I think he's seen too many horror movies," the apologetic Lieutenant told him. "I think it's just a group of protesters, sir, with a few radicals who are responsible for the attacks," Moore continued. DeVries was pulling a clean uniform out of his closet while he listened but accidentally dropped the phone. "...biting and clawing," Moore was saying, "and we haven't heard any demands yet."
"Well, try to round them up, Lieutenant," DeVries said, pulling on his trousers. "I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Yes, sir," Moore replied, and DeVries hung up the phone. "This is a hell of a way to make a living," DeVries muttered to himself, looking over at his sleeping wife. He finished dressing, and went out to his garage. As he stepped through the door, he heard his radio chirp with an incoming call.
"Colonel DeVries," he said, switching over to the direct line.
"Sir, this is Falcon Charlie... we've lost contact with the west gate," the controller told him. "You might want to be careful; we're sending over a patrol to escort you to the squadron," the voice was saying. DeVries held the radio up to his ear, trying to hear it over the sound of his garage door opening. "Could you repeat your last?" DeVries said into the mic, fumbling in his pocket for his car keys. "Sir, we've got a Big Red at west gate... you might want to wait until the escort gets there," the voice repeated.
DeVries noticed movement out of the corner of his eye as he unlocked his car door. "Who's there?" he challenged, taking a step back. The figure shuffled forward at the sound of his voice, lurching into the garage. "Just stay where you are," the colonel said warningly; the figure just stepped closer. DeVries backed up, toward the door to his house, and reached out blindly for the light switch. The light went on, and DeVries got a better look at the gutted corpse shuffling toward him across his garage floor.
The Bronco screeched to a halt next to Bishop's post. "C'mon, get in!" Hughes waved frantically. "They're pulling everyone off the CB's to secure the base perimeter," Hughes explained as Bishop grabbed his gear.
"What the fuck is going on? Why aren't they recalling the backup force?" Bishop demanded as he slid into the back seat next to Lopez.
"No one knows... rumor is, it's a bunch of domestic terrorists trying to get on base, so they're closing off the gates," Hughes said, putting the truck into gear.
"Like a militia group?" Lopez asked. "I thought those guys were all a bunch of blowhard pendejos."
"Well, one of them bit Gaetano and mauled Miller up at the E.C.P.," Hughes told them, slamming on the brakes next to Smith's post.
"Fuck," Bishop mused. "Mauled, like how?"
"Mauled, like ripped out his fuckin' throat with his teeth," Hughes said, yelling at Smith to get in.
"So where are we going?" Lopez asked, as Smith slid into the passenger seat.
"The west gate. Apparently, a bunch of those assholes grabbed the gate guards and got on base through there," Hughes told them. He reached down and flicked on the lights and siren, startling Smith, who jumped in his seat.
"Relax, killer," Lopez taunted Smith, who was always a bundle of nerves.
"Fuck this," Smith muttered, staring out the passenger side window. "How the hell are we gonna deal with this without a backup or augmentation force?" The E.C.P. was wide open, and the gate guard who waved them through was standing at port arms. Bishop caught a glimpse of a large, dark stain on the cement of the pedestrian entrapment area as they rolled past.
"They're recalling everyone in the dorms, and everyone who lives on base," Hughes said.
"So, is Miller gonna live?" Smith asked nervously, reaching for the dashboard as Hughes floored the Bronco.
"No, he got his fuckin' throat ripped out," Hughes snapped, clenching his teeth and trying to hold the wheel through a tight curve. "Shit!" Hughes yelled, yanking the wheel to avoid the lone figure standing in the middle of the road. Bishop heard a loud thud as the figure bounced off the right front quarter panel and rolled into the culvert at the side of the road. Hughes fought for control of the sliding Bronco, and was able to bring it to a stop a few hundred feet down the road.
"I... I think you hit someone," Smith stammered, twisting around to look back down the road.
"Shit," Hughes stated, white-knuckling the steering wheel.
"We've gotta go check," Bishop said after a moment.
"Fuck that," Smith said. "What if it's one of the terrorists?"
"Then we bag a bad guy... no WAY anyone's gonna be up and around after that," Lopez said.
"Smith?" Bishop said, pushing at the back of the passenger seat.
"What? Oh, yeah, right," he said, slowly opening the door.
"Man, get the fuck out of the way," Lopez snapped, trying to climb over the terrified airman.
"Chill! I'm out... see?" Smith said, hopping from the Bronco. Bishop and Lopez piled out after him; Hughes was still staring straight ahead, looking like he was trying to break the steering wheel.
"Hey, let me know," he told Lopez quietly, looking over at his as he climbed out. "Yeah, okay," Lopez replied, not sure how to react to Hughes' shock.
"Here," Smith said, handing them their weapons. Bishop took the lead, pulling out his flashlight and scanning the ditch ahead. After a moment, he spied a prone figure laying face down in the algae-choked water. It looked like a woman, and she seemed relatively intact.
"Ma'am? Can you hear me?" Bishop tried, moving toward her quickly. She started to move once he spoke, and he slowed his pace a little, Lopez flanking him on the right. Bishop noticed a smell, like something rotten, as he got closer to her. He stopped about ten feet from her, watching closely as she rolled over onto her back and sat up.
Bishop's flashlight beam glinted off of exposed bone and torn flesh of her bluish, mutilated face as she looked up at him. "Madre de Dios," Lopez said, crossing himself. "No WAY anyone's gonna be up and around after that," he repeated. A spear of bone had sliced through the rubbery-looking flesh of her thigh; Bishop realized with horror that there was almost no blood coming from any of her wounds.
"Uh, Lopez," Bishop said, the flashlight unsteady.
"Yeah, man, I know..." Lopez replied, readying his rifle. The woman tried to stand despite her shattered femur, and collapsed back to the ground.
"I think... I think she was already dead when we hit her," Bishop said, backing toward the Bronco. The woman had given up on trying to stand, and was crawling toward the pair slowly, her clawed fingers digging into the soft earth. Lopez raised the rifle to his shoulder and squeezed off two rounds into her head; the woman convulsed, then dropped unmoving back into the muddy water.
"What the fuck was that?" Smith yelled to him.
"Get back in the truck, Smith," Bishop said as they turned to go.
"Did you just shoot that guy?" Smith asked, almost hysterically.
"It wasn't a guy," Lopez told him blankly.
"You shot a woman? A fucking WOMAN?" Smith screamed.
"It wasn't a woman either," Bishop said, "at least, not any more." Bishop looked over at Hughes, who still had a death grip on the wheel. "Man, she was dead before you hit her," Bishop told him.
"What?" Hughes asked weakly.
"I said, she was dead before you hit her," Bishop snapped.
"Then what the fuck was she doing STANDING in the middle of the fucking ROAD?" Smith yelled.
"Smith, if you don't calm down and shut the fuck up right now, I'm gonna come over there and SHUT you up," Lopez said menacingly. Smith shut his mouth, looking furious and frightened.
Bishop moved over to the driver's side window. "Hughes, man, you cool?" he asked; the big guy looked like he was going to throw up. "Get out; I'll drive," Bishop told him, and Hughes opened the door and climbed into the back seat like a robot.
"Relax, man. She was already dead," Lopez told him, shoving Smith back so he could get into the passenger seat.
"Then why the fuck did you SHOOT her?" Smith blurted.
"Because, she was moving anyway," Bishop said, slamming the door.
"Airman, get over here," Lieutenant Moore told Connally.
"Sir," Connally said, stepping into the small office.
"Shut the door, Airman," Moore told him. Moore waited for the door to close, then started in on the younger man. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Sir?" Connally replied.
"Telling the commander there are zombies running around the base.... Are you on drugs?" the Lieutenant asked seriously, looking furious but obviously trying to hold his temper in check.
"Sir.... I think they are zombies...." Connally began, only to be cut short.
"You're relieved, Airman," Moore told him disgustedly.
"Have you seen them, sir?" Connally asked.
"I don't have to see them to know they're not zombies, for chrissakes. And I don't want to hear another word about the walking dead from you, not one, because if I do, I'll lock you in confinement myself. Understood?" Moore glared at the airman from behind his desk.
"Y-yes, sir," Connally stammered.
"Dismissed... and don't leave the building. I'm not through with you yet," Moore told him.
"Yes, sir," Connally replied, biting back what he wanted to say to the self-righteous prick. Connally had seen them, on the control center's E.C.P. camera monitors. He'd seen what they looked like and what they did, and it was something right out of a horror flick.
"Colonel? Are you in here?" SrA Marley looked around the garage cautiously. His commander's car was still there, but both the garage door and the door into the house were wide open, and there were signs that there'd been a struggle. "Colonel DeVries?" Marley asked again, drawing his pistol and gripping his flashlight with his supporting hand. He scanned the garage, but saw nothing, so he moved to the interior door. "Colonel? Mrs... DeVries? Anyone here?" Marley called out again, sweeping the room with his gun. The kitchen was a mess, utensils and appliances scattered across the linoleum. "If anyone's here, please answer me," Marley called out again.
"Up here!" Marley heard someone call from upstairs. "I've got... There's a... intruder," Marley heard DeVries' voice, sounding muffled as though it were coming from behind a door. "I think he's outside the bathroom up here," DeVries told him.
"I'm coming up, sir," Marley yelled.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," DeVries yelled back.
"I emptied 13 rounds into the bastard, but he didn't go down," Marley heard as he climbed up the stairs, noticing a spent Beretta lying on the carpet of the interim landing, its slide cocked back, and the odor of gunpowder lingering in the air. "He bit Cheryl, hurt her pretty bad.... I think she's in shock," DeVries continued.
Marley worked his way slowly up the stairs, pausing at the first landing to look around. He thought he could make out the silhouette of a man's head at the far end of the upstairs hall, framed by a dimly-lit window. The figure was weaving back and forth, and as he climbed higher, Marley could see the figure was facing away from the stairs.
Marley crept to the battered bathroom door and leaned in close. "Sir, he's at the end of the hall now... if you move quickly, I think we can get out," Marley whispered.
"But my wife's...." DeVries trailed off.
"Sir, I think we should try. I'll cover you," Marley tried again. He heard DeVries unlock the door, and the colonel backed out, dragging his wife's limp body out. He hefted her into a fireman's carry and turned for the stairs, Marley keeping close behind him. The figure at the end of the hall slammed into a wall, and turned slowly to face them. "GO!" Marley yelled, DeVries hurrying down the steps. The figure was shuffling toward Marley now as he backed down the stairs.
"Halt! Put your hands in the air! Spread your fingers, spread your feet!" Marley yelled at the figure.
"Airman, let's go!" DeVries yelled at him. "I told you, I already tried shooting him."
Marley turned and hurried to the ground floor, watching over his shoulder as the lurching assailant shambled down the hall.
The crowd of frantic people at the west gate was getting larger. They wanted to get in, behind the fence, to escape the mob of cannibals that were now apparently wandering around the city. Bishop watched the growing throng with unease; he didn't understand why the L.T. wouldn't let them in.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if you'll please return to your homes, the local police will handle the situation," Moore told the crowd with a patrol car's PA. "The cops can't handle SHIT!" one of the men yelled back, and that was followed by roar from the crowd.
"Sir, maybe we should let them in," SSgt Burkhamer suggested. "They'd probably be safer here."
"Sergeant, if I want your opinion, I'll give it to you," Moore spat back. "We have orders to secure the gates, so that's what we're going to do."
Bishop looked away from the two; he thought he'd heard screaming. His suspicions were confirmed a moment later when the roar of the crowd changed into frightened wails. "For the love of God, let us in!" he heard someone scream. "They're here! They're here!"
Moore looked toward the throng as they began to scatter. Toward the back of the group he could see another, smaller group attacking the civilians. He lifted a pair of binoculars and focused in on the back; he saw why the crowd was running in terror. "Open fire! All personnel, open fire!" he yelled, suddenly terrified. He realized that Connally may have been right.
"But sir, there are civilians out there! We can't just open fire!" Bishop yelled, echoing the sentiments of the rest of the troops.
"I said FIRE, GODDAMMIT!" Moore screamed, grabbing Burkhamer's rifle and opening up on the crowd. Bishop moved to shoot, but couldn't bring himself to do it.
"You heard the L.T.! Fire!" Burkhamer shouted; he saw that Bishop wasn't shooting, so he ran over and snatched his rifle away. "You're relieved!" Burkhamer told him, turning to shoot.
"You can't do this!" Bishop yelled. Moore looked over at him briefly, then dropped his rifle to the ground as he ran out of ammo.
The pavement outside the gate was littered with bodies, most of them unmoving; Moore strode over to Bishop and struck him across the jaw with the back of his fist. "You're through, Airman," Moore seethed. "Sergeant, cuff him and take him to confinement. He's under apprehension for disobeying a lawful order, misbehavior of a sentry, and disrespect to an officer."
"You really fucked up," Burkhamer said as he snapped the cuffs on Bishop.
"You're seriously going to arrest me for NOT shooting civilians?" Bishop asked incredulously. "This is bullshit! No WAY was that a lawful order."
"You maybe should shut up now," Burkhamer told him, shoving him roughly into the back seat of the patrol car.
"This is fucked up!" Bishop yelled.
"The man said to fire, and you didn't. You gotta do what he says," Burkhamer told Bishop.
"Not when it's illegal, you don't," Bishop snapped, Burkhamer slamming the door shut on his protests.
Marley drove the patrol car to the emergency room door. The armed guard outside saluted the colonel and called for a nurse to bring a wheelchair when he saw they had a casualty. Marley called the Law Enforcement desk from the hospital and told them what had happened. "Just stand by with the colonel until he's ready to go," the controller told him, and hung up. Marley found a seat in the empty waiting room, wondering what was going on.
It seemed like everything had gone to hell in only a few hours -- even the commander had been assaulted -- and he was wondering if he would get in trouble for not getting there faster. He wished someone had told him that DeVries was really threatened, instead of just needing an escort. He hoped Mrs. DeVries -- Cheryl -- would be okay; he was afraid she wouldn't, by the look of her injuries. They'd seemed pretty severe, even fatal, and he wondered what kind of a person could do that to another human being.
Gaetano's arm throbbed under the tightly-wrapped bandages. "Damn, this hurts," he said, rubbing the skin around the bandages.
"Bite bothering you?" SSgt Richards asked, glancing over at him.
"Yeah... I think it's getting worse," Gaetano replied. He tugged the tape loose and unwrapped the bandage. The skin around the teeth marks was turning grayish, while the skin around that was red and swollen.
"This doesn't look right," Gaetano said, showing the wound to Richards.
"I think it's infected," Richards said. "I'd wash it out and change the bandage."
"Yeah... you know, I didn't think he broke the skin, though," Gaetano said, going into the bathroom. "I don't even think there was any blood, but maybe I'm wrong," he went on, holding his forearm under the water. If it was an infection, it was spreading faster than he'd ever seen. It was more like a spider bite, maybe a brown recluse.
"I don't know... from the look of it, I'd say he did," Richards said, watching him from the other side of the doorway.
Gaetano poked the raised skin around the margin of the bite, squeezing out a drop of yellowish pus. "Ugh," he said disgustedly, "that's nasty." He worked his way around the wound, squeezing the pus out under the stream of water. When he was finished, the throbbing had subsided, so he took another bandage from a first aid kit and wrapped his arm up again.
"So what are you in here for?" Bishop asked Connally.
"I told the commander that there were zombies attacking the base," Connally replied.
"No shit... you were thrown in here for that?" Bishop asked.
"Yeah. I thought I heard something, so I went outside to take a look around. Fucking Moore had me thrown in here because he said not to leave the building," Connally told him.
"He's the reason I'm in here too," Bishop told Connally. "He ordered us to shoot unarmed civilians who were being attacked by zombies, and I wouldn't do it."
"I think the L.T.'s lost it, man," Connally said disgustedly. "He's going to get us all killed, acting like an asshole." Connally sat on the edge of his bunk, swinging his feet.
"I think he's scared," Bishop mused. "Why else would he mow down a bunch of people... unless he really has lost it?"
"I hope this is over soon," Connally said after a moment. "I don't want to go to jail, and I don't want to be in here, but this is really fucked up."
Bishop nodded agreement.
"I wouldn't worry if I were you. I think you were right not to shoot. I think it's against the Geneva Conventions or something," Connally told Bishop. "I don't think it'll make it to court-martial. But me, on the other hand...."
"Neither of us will get in trouble, man. If you're right -- and I think you are -- and the L.T. has gone nuts, there won't be anyone to press charges," Bishop said. "You're in here for going outside; I'm in here for refusing to murder -- we'll be fine."
"Yeah, I suppose so," Connally conceded.
"Sir, we're almost out of ammo," SSgt Burkhamer told the lieutenant. "Maybe we should fall back."
Moore looked over at the fat sergeant with contempt. "We have orders to secure this gate, and we're going to secure it."
"But sir!" Burkhamer interrupted.
"Even if we have to fight them off with sticks! Got it, Sergeant?" the L.T. finished.
"Yes, sir." Burkhamer backed down, afraid to anger the man any more. He moved forward to the line and got everyone's attention. "Hey, listen up! If you run out of ammo, butt-stroke 'em with your rifles! The L.T. says we've got to hold the gate!"
"Hey, Sarge, that's nuts!" Lopez called back. "Why don't we just send someone back to the armory for more ammo?"
Burkhamer walked over to where Lopez was laying prone. "Because everyone needs to stay in position in case they try to break through again!" Burkhamer yelled.
"We won't be ABLE to hold this position without ammo!" Lopez shot back, rolling over and sitting up to face the sergeant.
"You'll be ABLE to do as you're TOLD!" the sergeant screamed back, his face turning red. "Just shut the fuck up and do as you're told!"
Lopez looked up at the sergeant in disbelief. "Right, got it," he said slowly. He waited for Burkhamer to get out of earshot, then moved over to Smith's position.
"I think someone pissed in belly-boy's Cheerios this morning," Smith said.
"So you heard that?" Lopez whispered back.
"Man, everyone heard it. I think he's scared shitless," Smith replied.
"And you're not?" Lopez asked amusedly.
"Yeah, but I'm not all freaky like he is," Smith answered defensively.
"Whatever. Look, I say when the shit hits the fan, we haul ass back to the squadron," Lopez told him.
"And leave everyone behind?" Smith asked incredulously.
"Hey, anyone who's smart is gonna fall back. There's no way I'm going mano y mano against those fuckers," Lopez said. "We head for the squadron, grab more ammo, and then come back and grease these fuckers."
The housing area was nearly evacuated. They'd started with the houses nearest the gates and worked their way back into the base. Hughes was tired and hungry, and too many of the evacuees didn't seem to want to go anywhere.
"Sergeant Jourgensson, that seems to be all of them from this block," Hughes said, after the last family was on the truck.
"Okay, we'll finish up here. I need you and Westerberg to do a sweep of the perimeter from the golf course club house to the O-club. And be careful," Jourgensson said.
"We're on it," Hughes replied, waving Westerberg over.
They drove down to the west gate, Westerberg looking at the prone Security Forces troops in disbelief. "They really think that'll make any difference?" he asked Hughes quietly.
"Guess so... I just hope it works," he replied.
"Well, let's do it."
They walked along the inside of the base perimeter, sweeping their flashlights back and forth along the fence line. Hughes stopped suddenly when he saw the man-sized gap in the chain link. "Oh, shit," he said, nudging Westerberg. They moved toward it slowly, rifles ready, checking for anything out of the ordinary.
"Falcon Charlie, this is Falcon Three... we just found a big hole in the base fence down by the intersection of Vandenberg and Bossier," Hughes transmitted.
"Falcon Three, This is Falcon Charlie... I copy, a hole in the fence? I need you to do an I.V.A. of the area. See if you can come in contact with any hostiles," the controller radioed back.
"Roger that. I'll keep you advised," Hughes returned.
"What'd they say? We getting backup?" Westerberg asked.
"Your radio broken? They want us to visually assess the area," Hughes said sarcastically.
"I thought we just did," Westerberg said.
"We gotta do something... you have any of those quick-cuffs?" Hughes asked, pulling some plastic strips from pouch on his belt.
"Uh, yeah, I think so... hang on," Westerberg replied, rooting around in an ammo pouch. Hughes moved over to the fence and pulled the chain link together. He looped the plastic strip around the chain link and cinched it, the loop pulling tight with a zipping sound. Westerberg handed Hughes two more strips, and Hughes used them to finish closing the gap in the fence.
"It ain't pretty, but it should hold," Hughes said. He radioed in and relayed their actions back to the control center. "Continue your sweep," he was told.
"You know, it makes me wonder. Did any of those things get in here through there?" Westerberg asked after they'd moved down the fence a bit.
Hughes stopped and looked back. "We've gotta assume the worst," Hughes said; both airmen chambered a round and clicked off their safeties. "Let's just hope we don't run in to any, okay?"
"Yeah... hey, isn't that the commander's house over there?" Westerberg asked, looking over at a single-occupancy house.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, her injuries were just too severe," the doctor was saying. DeVries barely heard the man and could only stare over his shoulder at his dead wife's body laying on a gurney in the makeshift ER. "We're not really set up for this sort of thing... at least, not for the kind of wounds your wife had sustained," the doctor continued.
"I understand," DeVries said emotionlessly. "Do you think I could... say goodbye to her?" he asked.
"Of course," the doctor replied, stepping aside. DeVries went to his wife's side, pushing the medical debris to the floor. Her eyes were closed, and her face had an almost serene expression. DeVries took her lifeless hand in his and held it tightly, wishing that he'd just moved a little faster, been able to do something, anything, to stop this. He was startled by a drop of water that appeared on her cheek, and realized that he was crying. "I'm sorry," was all he could thing of to say.
Marley watched from down the hall, feeling a little sick. He couldn't help but blame himself for this, even though he knew that there was nothing he could have done. For the dead woman, for his commander, for anyone else who'd lost something tonight. He swore he wouldn't let anything like this happen again, not if there was anything he could do to prevent it.
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 2000 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 2000 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: World Wide Web http://www.apoculpro.org irc the #unbeing channel on UnderNet Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The SoB distribution list may also be joined by sending email to Kilgore Trout. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--