Thursday, April 27, 2006

30: Interlude 15

Clenched fist holds pumping heart hostage. I want a robotic pet. I want to forget to feed it and watch it not starve. I want not to put its stiff corpse in a ziplock and toss it in the dumpster behind the building. As though it were a sofa.

I want to get home from a hard day's struggle and be greeted by my robotic pet holding my slippers and a plan for world domination. I smoke a pipe while I read the newspaper and prop my feet on my robotic pet.

When I have a bone to pick. When I want to chew the fat. When I droop the lean. Coiled around the trunk in the garden, my robotic pet breathes. Too obvious? Get your own goddamn robotic pet.

On Saturdays, I shave my robotic pet. I take the trimmings and make a forthright virgin. The underbelly seams. Clicking and squirming in clockwork synchronicity, my robotic pet slathers its chops and glistens like the path not taken.

It wags its tail with the force of an exploding refrigerator. It freezes the sun with its glass-eyed biological jellybean stare. It goes walkies at the crack of dawn. It howls at the moon with the voice of ten thousand years. While you sleep, it waits.

Monday, April 24, 2006

29: Storyline 2.7

The trip across the Bridge of Time was surprisingly mundane, if a little unnerving. The span was narrow enough that the riders had to go in single file. From the foot of the bridge, the steepness and height appeared moderate but manageable. From the back of the king's go-cart on the bridge itself, the steepness was alarming, the height dizzying. Robert clung to the go-cart for dear life and was quite unable to enjoy the excellent view and the cool, bracing air. But it was soon over, and the bridge deposited Robert and the Perpetually Eleven in the street in front of Robert's house.

The king slowed enough that Robert could jump off and then sped off with the rest of the riders. "Guard your back, Robert Wilson," called the king over his shoulder. Robert ran to find a place where he could do just that.

Robert had a place in mind. In the back of his house, where the house joined the garage, there was a corner he could stand in that would protect him from rear and flank attacks. Robert ran there, wedged his back in the corner, and waited for the signal.

Robert had asked what the signal would be. "You'll know it when you hear it, I suspect," the king had said. "Crutchford's attack has a distinctive sound, as I'm sure you're aware. What's more, the sound carries for miles. When you hear it, you'll know that we have engaged the fiend. You can then find us and use the dismantler drone to dispatch him."

"But what if he finds me before you find him?" Robert asked.

"Then you will have to be quick with the drone."

Remembering those words, Robert held the drone in shaking hands and nervously fingered the controls. He went over in his head once more the king's instructions on how to use it. He was resolved in what he felt was his duty to destroy Crutchford, but he feared his abilities would fail him.

It was with these troubling thoughts that he waited. He did not have long to ponder them, however, for after a few minutes, he heard the shrill roar of Crutchford's attack. It seemed to be just a few blocks away. All thoughts of hesitation or apprehension were shed from Robert like water. He knew what he had to do, and he was going to do it. For Rebecca. For the king. For the world. He headed out from his fortified position at a run.

Thrice more came the sound of Crutchford's attack, and thrice was Robert able to make course corrections as he careened through yards, over fences, and across ditches and flower beds in his pursuit.

At last, as he came out from between two houses, he saw them. Crutchford stood in the middle of the street with his back to Robert, turning menacingly this way and that as the remaining riders of the Perpetually Eleven harried him. Four of the riders were frozen in frosty blocks of ice. As Robert watched, Crutchford attacked again and imprisoned a fifth.

"Bastard," Robert muttered under his breath. "Take this." So saying, he activated the device. A green beam shot out from the black metal sphere in Robert's hand. Robert trained the beam on Crutchford, and released the button. Crutchford was tagged. The dismantler drone hummed to life in Robert's hand and then flew from him and straight towards Crutchford.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

28: Interlude 14

Tribe. Association of individuals. Familial. Ideological. Geographical. Propinquant. There is a universal longing for brethren near to hand. To huddle close for warmth and to face the long dark night together. To create community with one's very hands. In toil with one another we grow horizontally and vertically until our colors blanket the globe. It is inevitable.

I can craft a thousand soldiers from the dirt. I can call forth the thundercloud in the summer night. With these arms, I can gather a bouquet of mighty oaks a thousand generations grown. I can court the goddess of the winter.

But I cannot die alone.

Monday, April 17, 2006

27: Storyline 2.6

The instant Robert was securely aboard the go-cart, the King took off at terrible speed. It was all Robert could do to hang on as the go-cart careened down the street with Robert perched on the back like a monkey, his eyes streaming in the wind.

Such was their pace that soon they drew even with the rest of the Perpetually Eleven (save Armstrong and Liddle). Once reunited, the pack stayed together for the remainder of the journey.

They kept mainly to the streets, with the occasional shortcut through an alley or parking lot. Robert soon lost all sense of direction as they made their way through the abandoned streets and buildings of the Go-cart King's realm.

After perhaps twenty minutes, they arrived at what can only be described as a fairy tale bridge. It was a delicate span of white marble with gold railings and trim. Wreathed here and there in translucent mist, it rose in a smooth arch up over the surrounding houses to descend perhaps a football field's distance away. It spanned no gap that Robert could see; it simply rose from the street and over the rooftops. Robert knew that it could only be the Bridge of Time.

Climbing off of the king's go-cart, Robert moved closer to the foot of the bridge to investigate. "Step not upon it," the king warned. Robert nodded his acknowledgement. As he drew nearer, he was impressed anew by the lure of the bridge. It was achingly beautiful, and he longed to touch it. Indeed, his hand seemingly of its own volition moved towards the golden railing. Robert felt like a spectator in his own body as he reached to grasp the bridge. Just in the nick of time, the Go-cart King snatched his arm and carried his hand away. The spell broken, Robert shook himself and backed away warily from the bridge.

The king regarded Robert with grim amusement. "Many have been lured by the spell of the Bridge of Time," he said. "They traverse its span and find themselves lost. Once crossed, the Bridge never leads back to the same place. These lost souls are doomed to wander the endless corridors of time, nevermore to find their home timeline.

"Fortunately, we of the Perpetually Eleven are not so easily swayed from the path of our destiny. We have the means to cross the Bridge of Time safely. If you could just enter your address over there."

The king pointed, and for the first time Robert noticed a computer kiosk next to the bridge. It looked extraordinarily out of place. Approaching the computer, Robert could see on the monochrome screen a rudimentary interface for entering one's mailing address. Bemused, Robert did so. As he pressed "Enter," the bridge seemed to ripple and shimmer for a moment. Then it was still again.

"Excellent," said the king, rubbing his hands together. "With your address entered, the Bridge will take us directly to it, and hopefully there we will find Crutchford."

Just then, the sound of approaching go-carts was heard. "Excellent," the king said again. "Armstrong and Liddle have returned with the device." Soon the two riders surged into view and came tearing down the street towards the others. At the last moment they slammed on the breaks, spun out, and came to a screeching halt before the king. One of them held aloft a gleaming black metal sphere slightly larger than a softball. The king took it, clapping the rider on the shoulder. "Well done, my knights."

Then he turned to Robert. "Know you the workings of a dismantler drone?"

Robert shook his head. "I've heard of them, but I've never actually seen one. They're highly illegal where I'm from."

"And here as well, as the place you are from is the same place we are from," returned the king. "But that's as may be. Attend, and I'll show you how it works."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

26: Interlude 13

I can explain everything. I can eat an entire raw cow in one sitting. I can stretch my fingers into a rudimentary sling with which to cradle the next incarnation of Christ. My teeth will turn into birds and fly to freedom of a morning.

I'm married to Serendipity, but I'm fucking Pretense on the side.

I eat black coffee three meals a day. When I play games, I win. When I teach bricks to fly, the sky is thick with masonry.

I walk in borrowed shoes. I keep my debt at the red line at all times; it's the only way I have to define my boundless success.

I am hardly ever ashamed or afraid. When it does happen, that's how I know it's time to get puking drunk. In the morning, I wake up screaming from a dream I can't remember.

Monday, April 10, 2006

25: Storyline 2.5

Of course Robert had heard legends about the Go-cart King, but he had never given them any credence until now. The legends spoke of a ghost suburb tucked in amongst the countless neighborhoods that surrounded the city proper. The ghost suburb was home to many strange and wondrous flora and fauna, and it was roved by a gang of perpetually young boys who toured the ruins on go-carts of great wonder. It was said that these go-carts never needed refueling and could reach speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. Which, as everyone knows, is particularly fast for a go-cart. They called themselves the Perpetually Eleven, which referred to both their age and their number, and were led by the Go-cart King. Many and varied were the stories of their exploits and adventures.

Now, standing in the presence of these legendary characters, Robert found himself speechless. He opened and closed his mouth a few times but failed to formulate any meaningful syllable. After a few seconds of this, the king's right-hand man spoke again.

"Speak, mortal," he demanded. "What brings you to our domain?"

At last Robert found his powers of speech. On impulse, he went to one knee before the king. "Forgive my trespassing, your majesty," he said. "I was fleeing a deadly peril. In truth, I know not how I come to be in your domain."

The king's right-hand man was about to speak again when the king silenced him with a gesture. "Few who tread the path to this land do so knowingly," said the king. He appraised Robert coolly for a few moments before speaking again. Robert waited with his head slightly bowed. "Your bearing is noble, sir," said the King at last. "Rise and tell us your name if you will, and recount your tale of peril."

At this, the engines of the go-carts roared to life as the riders repositioned their vehicles to allow Robert freedom of movement and to address the eleven of them as a group. With this done, Robert quickly recounted the events of the afternoon. As he did so, the king's face grew troubled.

When Robert had finished, the king spoke. "Your tale is indeed an unfortunate one, Robert Wilson. But know this: the creature that hunts you even now is not unknown to us. His name is Crutchford, and he is a plague upon the lands of the Go-cart King." There were nods and murmurs of assent amongst the other boys at these words.

"It has been many centuries since last we heard news of Crutchford," the King continued. "Now it would seem that he has infiltrated the mortal realm where time flows freely. This I will not have." He turned to regard his retinue. "Gentlemen, it was surely our duty to deal with Crutchford in our own domains. We failed to do so, and now he besmirches the home of Robert Wilson with his foul brand of evil. As the blame is ours, the responsibility is ours as well. We are honor-bound to come to the aid of Robert Wilson. Are you with me?"

"Yes!" cried the rest of the Perpetually Eleven in unison.

"Then it's settled." The king turned to Robert. "We will assist you. We have the means, I think, to deal with Crutchford." He turned again to address the other riders. "Armstrong and Liddle will go to the fortress and bring the dismantler drone. We will rendezvous at the Bridge of Time. Ride!" The last word was shouted. With a deafening roar, the go-carts sped away leaving the king and Robert alone in the street. The larger group went down the road; two of the boys, presumably Armstrong and Liddle, broke away from the main group and disappeared between two houses.

The king turned to Robert. "Robert Wilson, you're with me," he said. He gestured with his head to the back of his go-cart. Robert noticed for the first time that the back of the cart sported a small platform for each foot and a handle on each side. If one were very foolish, one could cling to the back of the vehicle as a passenger. Shrugging, Robert jumped aboard. It was a day for foolishness.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

24: Interlude 12

The silence is tragic and soul-destroying. It's like reading Henry James.

Where are all the thieves? They have sprouted wings of your creation and flown. Now they soar while you trudge. The moral? Don't give. Make yourself available for exploitation and rail against the exploiters. Then blame yourself.

It's your fault the poison burns. Your fault the children are afraid. Your fault the birthing mother growls. Your fault the bullets tear open the bellies of the innocent. Your fault the revelers tickle the genitals of complacency. Your fault the sun sets and plunges the world into darkness.

I've taken steps, like anyone else, but I don't expect you to know. If I can wring a squeak from this damp rag of souls, there will be food in the morning. Oh, glorious morning! It's for the sunrise that we strive. Vitamin D and essential parts of this balanced breakfast. When I was young, I stared at the sun. I can't do it anymore.

Can you make a difference? Of course. Ask the fuckers who are stealing your wings. Never mind; it won't last. Even immortality dies eventually. Swipe what comfort you can, cram it into your pockets, and make for the door. It's not your fault.

Monday, April 03, 2006

23: Storyline 2.4

Before exiting the Portmans' house, Robert made certain that the refrigerator was nowhere in evidence. Then he hit the ground running, pelting across the street and between two houses. He knew there was a ravine and a stream back there somewhere, and he was almost certain that the refrigerator would have to take the long way around to get to him.

As he was about to go among some trees behind the houses, he heard the refrigerator screaming at him.

"I see where you're going, Robert Wilson! You cannot escape me!" Then there was a shrill roar.

Robert dove, and a blast of unearthly chill sailed over him and encased a nearby bush in an icy prison. Robert somersaulted to his feet and kept running. Within seconds, he had reached the ravine. He clambered down it, jumped the narrow creek, and went up the other side. He found himself in the back yard of another row of houses. He ran around to the front and looked for a street sign in order to get his bearings.

But there was no street sign.

Every house on the street was clearly abandoned. Here and there, a window was broken or boarded closed. A screen door banged gently in the wafting breeze. Lawns were knee high. Yellowed newspapers drifted lazily down the sidewalks. No bird chirped. Robert made his way into the middle of the street, making a survey of the derelict buildings that surrounded him. "What the hell?" he muttered.

Almost the moment these words were uttered, Robert heard a faint buzzing sound. It seemed to be coming from every direction. Not knowing which direction to run, Robert could do nothing but wait and see what developed. He didn't have to wait long. The noise grew steadily louder and was soon recognizable as small motors. Specifically, internal combustion engines.

Then they appeared. From behind eleven different houses all around Robert, eleven go-carts tore through yards, down sidewalks, and over devil strips. They made straight for him from every direction, and he became concerned that they were going to crash into him. But almost as one the drivers slammed on their brakes, and amid smoking tires encircled Robert completely.

Robert could see now that the go-cart drivers were all boys of unidentifiable ethnicity, and that they all seemed to be about eleven years old. A closer inspection revealed that they were all somewhat unkempt and dirty, and that the word "rogue" suited them perfectly. One of their number wore an ornate crown, which should have looked ridiculous but didn't. The wearer had an unmistakably noble bearing.

As Robert regarded this motley bunch, they regarded him in turn. The only sound for some moments was the grumble of the idling go-cart engines. Then, the boy on the crown wearer's right spoke. "We are the riders of the Perpetually Eleven," he said. "You are a trespasser. You find yourself in the realm, and indeed the presence, of the Go-cart King. State your business here."