A Much Updated Ruin

Still we must take chances, choose our next minute, stutter earthly acts and words to them, signals from simpler but more fatal galaxies, little truths to their taste that will just suffice to lose us, and hours and hours that will tunnel into us and bring us back to a confused beginning, to a slow building up towards never, towards afterwards, towards burning out.
Homero Aridjis/Persephone

In an overly illuminated lab in montreal wilder/penfield works late mapping the lobes of digital advertising onto a sedated mcluhan. The marshal waits alone in a sensory deprivation chamber, his skin pasted with a chemical compound consisting of, amongst other poisons, peanut butter and german diesel fluid. On the screen of his mind flickers the blankness of uninterrupted black leader. He coheres with the avant garde.

Carmen watches fare-scoffing anorexics in hot pinks and green, all grunge, all butchered hair and uncaring. A man, his light brown pants too long, stepped on, wet and torn and ripped, a pea green suit jacket old, worn, too small, and a black and grey toque even though this was may. You wouldn't notice at first that he wasn't wearing shoes or socks because his feet were such a dark brown, an urban mud which totally enveloped the ruralness of bare feet. He ordered cappuccino with cinnamon, telling the proprietor after it arrived that he would pay next time. The proprietor shrugged a helpless damascus shrug: sure, pay me next time.

And I, and tomorrow. And then the next day launches ahead with little more regard than the littlest wave on a smaller pond than the icy patch outside my front door. I step but cautiously, curiously awakened to the sound of birds chirping in flat tones somewhere above my head, somewhere entrenched, ensconced in the cavities of my garage. The products of their waste lay in delicate impressionistic patterns upon the cold hood of my jetta. I smile at their attempts at art, amused by the encroachment of nature into the domain of humanity.

And then nietzsche, her clinging claws pulling at and unravelling the threads of my birthday sweater, dares to rub her infested little neck against mine with a purring sound so fake I can only imagine the years of method acting she has had to endure to reach this stage. I am horrified by the smell she exudes, so late night and brutal. So down right bestial! If it wasn't for that family of rodents which moved in somewhere behind the kitchen cupboards I would have rid myself of her long ago. Felines, someone said, are an alien race sent from beyond alpha centauri and entrusted with the mission of sucking us free of love and compassion. Sucking out our love wallets.

I let nietzsche outside, her whiskers twitching tentatively in the rock bottom temperature of the december morning, her racoon markings offering no camouflage against the thin layers of ice and snow which decorate the neighbourhood. Wondering as I start the engine: are birds as alien as their feline predators? I bandy around the various possibilities and speculative permutations of this intriguing thesis as I whisk in and out of traffic with the expertise of a go-cart enthusiast. The radio announces another political assassination in burundi, another plague of wild locusts in somalia (are there plagues of tame locusts?), a film shooting in new/baghdad with saul/rubinek as saddam/hussain. The weather reporter, her voice cutting in and out through the rotor blades of the helicopter, calls for more snow.

How mortified the morphology, the remainders of the day. His computer image swirls into new topologies, enhanced patterns of psychometerological systems. Heidegger injects the syringe with a roaring cry, his head tilts upwards, eyes piercing through the cracked dome ceiling. His snorting breath inhales the melange of overhanging circuits and charge-coupled devices. There are no tears, no words of forgiveness. No god to save him.

He was lying in a burnt-out basement --or was it the war?
    I was kneeling in a broken down relic, a coffee-stained percolator relic barely old enough to be on the shelf. Waiting. The long forgotten waiting.
    And you, with mouth so tory with eyes deeper than my grandfather's mattress, sinking into mine; no, sliding away from mine with nowhere to go. Nowhere but the imagination and there I find the clutter so filling that years of attica plunder still fails to discern, to distinguish, one reality from one fatal plunge. And I, plunging from here to the abyss there.
    I was lying in a burnt out basement holding on to the memory of hands pulling, tunics ripping, insignias falling into murky puddles, so ice cold fresh. Diving for insignias, someone, away from the bullets which wait behind boulders so hidden by the rain, by the single-file movement of us, the one before me and the one after, the one seen and the other heard, and nothing really heard but my mind wandering as my feet trudge the course on automatic, my eyes on their own, wary of the tipping of wings, the sudden avian signal of incoming obstacles or enemies.

Bespeckled Dr. Spectre relaxes on the bordello balcony exhaling mushroom clouds into the air, memories of god and country fading away, the encompassing gloom distorting with silence the agonies of her incoming cries. The radio at his feet plays a static sonata, the tv monitors overhead storm down in a white-noise waterfall. The good doctor is at peace. He ignores the burning red and blue warning lights transmitted to his dry, withered eyes by optical wireless -- the familiar tale of another barbarian at the gates. With rolled eyes and bored sigh he throws down the stock reports and heads within.

On the screen the u.s. government displays its latest advance in peaceware: an orbiting satellite of neuroadvertising. The technological innovations are explained to the public via a sampled jack/kerouac in conversation with Data. Heidegger lurks in the background holding a shaky cappuccino in both hands.
    Forgetting that the terminal is set to random, Duncan watches the images cut away along the preselected channels: an al/pacino film, a middle eastern war or war movie, a soccer game, a live kidnapping, a Thunderbirds rerun, the new twin/peaks series, andrew/mccarthy as johnny/quest, nuclear explosions, revolutions in pakistan, magicians in alaska, a cooking class, a cryptology class, a neuro-mapping class, a reading by thomas/pynchon, interactive woodstock, a live version of Doom, jethro/tull in concert, current trends in tuberculosis or radiation sickness, leos/carax in conversation, a raoul/ruiz festival, the falling tower of pisa, sex among grown pygmies, sex between consenting nuns, theological arguments against the conspiracy of swallows, a theatrical version of Skikasta, a musical version of Being and Nothingness, a literary debate between samuel/r/delany and marilyn/hacker, the latest update on the holocaust, a live version of American Psycho starring bret/easton/ellis, william/s/burroughs on pet and gun control, pee/wee/herman on onto-theology, kathy/acker on babysitting, a brazillian hanging, a russian crime syndicate, a los/vegas wedding, a mexican divorce, a hollywood ending, the end of the world as we know it, and a baby's arm holding an apple.
    As the u.s. government returns, the station cuts to a commercial.

The coldness of my heart is now immune to the dissolution of friendships. The comings and goings of those whom I loved in my idealism have been replaced by a quantifiable algorithm which takes into consideration aspects of moral, ethical, and epistemological perspectives. The weltanschauung of others are carefully sifted and analyzed in advance for their degrees of compatibility with my own. Each friday I consult the on-line advice of my ideo-astrologist for designing the course of my following week, and invariably I tailor my thinking in accordance with maximum sociability and minimum argumentation.
    On my calendar, the days outlined in red represent my periods of idiosyncratic philosophizing. I connect with those of my radioactive wavelength for round table discussions of current events and gaming trends, sniffing around the dregs of the ethernet for the titillation of unstable prose and disrupted narratives.

Who is it who hides within the noted cloak? The narrative cloak with the cagian soundtrack outside where I should be. If only I could relinquish the last spikes pounded through my feet which hold me down for a tomorrow which my lack of rsvp suggests I don't believe in.

Dr. Spectre addresses the u.n. with a laser baton in his belt and a cat in his arms. He orders everyone out of the global village by sundown last. Undiplomatic laughter ensues, but the doctor can only smile.

Memories of an alaskan warehouse grip Carmen with the relentlessness of a commercial espresso machine. She performs a sleight-of-hand dusting along fireplace objects held in extreme close-up: a photograph of a young girl, a couple at dinner, copies of the Qur'an and I Ching, a ceramic jar with japanese characters.
    She dreams awake of squealing tires in old movies.

The darkness of twilight at the last pole, the last pole of daylight when love overcomes my mind, a sink hole of desire of despair of anger and delight when there's nothing else to hold onto but love and love is so far away its dim incandescence bleeds towards me only half-heartedly. Why is this the only way? Where is the last salvation of tomorrow's deadline. And the next day? What pieces of filth will drip down, awaiting, hung in suspense until I take the fatal step that lands me in the water scum. These days shall never come again. I am the last one to even want to come this way. Never again shall I consent to such a procedure. The hours which drift by like the scudding clouds of a tangier nightfall awaken me to reveries even the blandest dreams cannot dissipate. And to think of what I have had to undergo to come out here, here where stories can be told in all their pristine dishonesty! For truth is the banal essence of the wonder of an experience which still remains beyond the pale of language. And tomorrow's language? Still a day away. A long day when the sun refuses to go gently into the emptying night; the day when death burns out the sun with a whimpering bang. This is the day I long for. This is the last moment of my belief system.

Pyke strolls through a long memory of confused people, kicking through the leaves of thin white ash which congregate around his ankles. Autumn continues eternal.
    He runs the updated program on the computer, clicking his way through a swarm of digital landscapes, a morphed series of characters and scenarios. The room has adopted the odour of sulphur.
    He observes Carmen'90 pixel her way through a random sequence of enclosures, watches as she follows the sound of wind to a door on which she clicks, follows with her the trail of heavy breathing which serpentines down a long winding path to what appears to be a basement door. She clicks and they enter.
    Prostrated before the golden age of television is Duncan, a crown of thorns tattoo on his bald head and two small streams of blood escaping from his nostrils. As Carmen goes to click on the body Pyke tries ineffectually to stop her: Duncan leaps up with a 12-inch knife and begins repeatedly stabbing Pyke's body. Pyke falls to the ground, unbleeding, desperately wanting to wrestle control of the program from Carmen -- but to no avail.
    Death is not an issue.
    Duncan returns to the couch and sets the tv terminal on manual, clicking through a dozen or so programs before stopping at Slaughter 5000, the new comedy troupe from england. He masturbates during the commercials.

When I am sad and sit in my room in the dark listening to old records, growing more and more melancholy and depressed, I know this is actually a revitalization of my sanity. At those times when I am full of joy, or fear, or some other powerful emotion which fills me with the substance of life, I know that I am actually separated from my reality. My mind, when dispassionate, and capable of rational, objective consideration, views my situation in the three dimensions of the classically reproduced world: I see the blunt, quotidian nature of my reality, of my existence within the world. Emotions colour my world with artificial tints; they add to the unreality of my apprehension of my, and the world's, existence.
    I have no desire to exist primarily in false consciousness.
    Melancholy is the sign of my grasp on reality, it signals the removing of veils, the dispensing of illusions. Is this too grim a personal philosophy? Have I ignored the positive, constructive elements which attend the final dissolution of the psyche down to the raw core of the rational?
    Without doubt. But those considerations have no place here. They must of necessity be left to the sequel.

On Data's country estate, spot and nietzsche are busy forging themselves a new reality wherein they can be human. We watch them take off across the front field, noting their direction, thinking to ourselves that whichever reality they leave behind must be the one to which we belong.

On the beach Pyke waits for something other than shelter. Raised rifles hold him in their scopes of twisted destruction. The scene reminds him of an old film noir or a french film with bad subtitling. He rubs his hands across the stubble of his face to erase as many present memories as he can, but the voiced-over narration returns to remind him of questions unasked and emotions repressed.

Hot lights draw steam from Carmen's rebellious tattoos. The good doctor lights another cigarillo and blows green smoke into her tightly restrained face. He claps his hands and laughs at her heroic bravado, her incessant growling.
    "We will fight you on the seas and oceans, the hills and valleys, the moons and moonlets. We will never surrender."
    Behind the torrent of her rhetoric she is a bundle of frayed nerves, babbling like a towering automaton, her mind captivated by the horror of the good doctor's operating theatre and his displayed exhibition of serbian flags, british oars, chinese opium, french manifestos, american credit cards, russian ice picks, african racial laws, chilean billy clubs, italian condoms, israeli fences, iraqi posters, iranian veils, irish pulpits, canadian constitutions, german wanderlust, and u.n. neutrality.

More than slightly intoxicated, Duncan flips through the bordello pictodext and orders another: this one was east/indian, 22, with large beautiful lips and a degree in socio-genetics. "It's all so depressing."

The nose-ringed woman was cute but he kept going.
    Pyke poses in three-quarter shot, a thin smile under broad nose thick dark hair parted left and cut short. He's leaving, the car waiting, a white t-shirt hiding his chest under an open long-sleeved shirt; he exits on a roll, paper and pen tucked in pocket waiting. As the shutter clicks he smiles good/bye and we think: kerouac forgot to shave this morning, he forgot to sleep last night; we think: this is Pyke.

And the wasteland grows. The remains of a sidewalk, cracked, dislevelled, the scattered morning papers already covering a block and still going. Scudding sections keep to the sidewalks, ignoring the road, the traffic.

Dr. Spectre gazes with approval at her mannequin features, the way her hair flows around the exposed nipples of her topless examination gown, a modernist picture of black on black. She just another misguided revolutionary filled with moralistic idealism, another misprogrammed child still battling parental tyranny.
    Carmen's eyes: purified fire; her smile: a sudden orgasm.
    Dr. Spectre listens with unusual patience to her fossil discourse, concocting his homemade brew, his special virus designed to unglitch her system and wipe the program clean in a blaring of midnight trumpets. Fuck Nature if she abhors the pure, the vacuum, the self-possessed; this world nothing but the hollow home which devours its occupants.
    The good doctor lectures her on the romanticism of tragic early ends, on the contrived nature of theologico-historical tales of being nailed to the didactic cross.
    To live means to give up the ghost, he says. Cold chills crawl along her black and blue veins.

Conspiracy relieves the night of witnesses. Snippets of dialogue. A roll of celluloid, 35mm, left hanging from a peg near the refrigerator. The exposed bulb dangling from the ceiling has too much wattage for the space. Their eyes cringe. She notices the wrinkles around his eyes.

Duncan boards the bus with only 20 or so others.
    Not a very large gene pool to repopulate the planet.
    Although most of the seats were empty he crowds in with a jewish or muslim man and his two sons, closing his eyes as the bus pulls out along bay street. Even with his eyes shut Duncan could see through his memory the exact path they were taking; each time the bus made a turn, so did his mental imaging. Now and then he would open his eyes and compare his memory with the road of reality: he found the map disturbingly perfect.
    An hour or so later, as Duncan began falling asleep, the bus driver cranked up the radio much to his displeasure; it was an ancient rush song which finally lulled him to other worlds:
    And the men who hold high places
    must be the ones to start
    to forge a new reality
    Closer to the Heart

The band strikes up a new tune, the drum rolls begin. Dr. Spectre cocks his eyebrows in a pre-arranged signal and sets the wheels of climax into motion.
    "We shall not be overcome!"
    The good doctor smiles a loving, devoted smile. He even fights back a tear as the dropped floor beneath Carmen's feet cuts short the historical moment of her final speech:
    You bast--

From the artists colony telescope, Pyke watches the starships preparing to leave, noting with some wry amusement that the armada is being headed by the uss/gilligan.

Back at the bordello Dr. Spectre is in a foul mood. Some child is running amok in the phoenica/room creating a fierce amount of noise and I'm afraid the good doctor is going to fire off a bolt and send the kid to damnation. As a preventative measure I aim a buffer beam in his direction and take off in search of the kid.
    The young boy runs towards me laughing and grabs my hand; he wants to show me how the pencil sharpener works on bic lighters. Oh, no, I think, this could be the final straw, and so I instinctively multiply the intensity of my counteracting beam to ward off the inevitability of the doctor's ballistic anger.
    Unfortunately, I miscalculate, and set the energy level too high, inadvertently destroying everyone in the world including the damned little boy.

When nothing remains. The passion dissipated, the heart worn down and out. Nothing left but nothing left but nothing left. And then the dregs. And the wasteland has nowhere to grow.

Dr. Spectre relaxes on the bordello balcony blowing cyclones into the corroded sunset.
    "A beautiful evening for a wake."
    His shrouded bride waits below, her white gown twisted around her body in a flattering style, her eyesockets decorated with a spectral camouflage of black circles. Carmen strains at her mental leash, her days rotating within a blinding expanse of black noise.
    Dr. Spectre orders more almonds and red wine for his wife and calls for her to join him on the balcony. They stand together in a strange silence, eyes skyward, watching as the sun heads for a much updated ruin. As they embrace in a kiss, the nuptial bed only metres away, they miss the final setting of the sun.
    The sun setting one last time before fizzling out forever.

       © J B Sclisizzi

Originally published in On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of Speculative Fiction Fall 1995

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