The City of Self II

Author’s Note: The City of Self is a self-exploratory series (it just became a series by virtue of this second installment, as it were). You can see the first installment here if you so wish.

This post has seen some revisions since its initial publishing, but this is the final version of it. So, if you have read it in the past days, give it another go and see if you like it.

This is dedicated to a woman whom I love dearly – great understatement, that. I hope that one day she is happy and fulfilled, and that she knows she is always welcome in my city. If luck would have it, I would, too.

 

“Oh, Beauregard, must we really do this now?” said Nancy to herself, speaking to no one at all but to the voices inside her own mind; no one, indeed.  It was busywork, this tidying up of a city after the passing of such a momentous event. Busywork, menial, but not banal. It was wrought with feeling, with meaning, with emotion.

 

Wearing a neon pink hazmat suit was no way to offset the nigh-unbearable discomfort of the cumbersome indumentary, well-intentioned though the gesture was; the heat, the sweat, the limited movement, the humid micro-environment that was Nancy’s body, these were all an extension of how she felt within. It was sloppy, it was disgusting, and it was even painful.

 

Rais showed up to help after a few minutes. His company was very welcome, but it wasn’t enough to lessen the brunt of the work ahead. Rais was short for Raisonnement, and his name was as fitting as any name could be. Where Nancy lacked in clarity and scope of vision, Rais was able to extrapolate and wind through strands of thought where she would have been lost. Curiously, however, he could easily get so deep into such fugues that it had to be Nancy – or Loge, who had yet to show up today – who would need to throw Rais a life-line and bring him back to the moment.

 

“Hey there, Nan. How’re we holding up?” he effected a wan smile that belied the worry in his eyes.

 

“Well, I’ve been worse, I think,” she replied with a sigh. “There’s just so much to clean up… How the hell did it get so messy so fast?” they were fucked and they both knew it.

 

“It’s the Heart,” he said with a disdainful shrug. “The City, it knows not how to filter. But that’s why we’re here, right?”

 

Nancy repeated but that’s why we’re here in a high-pitched, mocking voice, screwing her face up in a grimace. She knew Rais was right, but she didn’t have to like it. Rais seemed to smile genuinely for the first time in a good while, moved to get his own hazmat suit on from the pile a few meters away, and joined Nancy in spraying the area.

 

It seemed desolate, the City’s central plaza. For all its verdant, surrounding foresta, it appeared to be submerged in a gossamer gloom. A grave, austere foreboding hung in the air and it reeked of despondency. Nancy kept spraying the area with her thin hose, which was connected to a large cistern truck about 50 meters away, on the edge of the plaza. She really wished they had tools like a fire hose rather than the paltry garden hose thing in her hands. At this pace they wouldn’t be finished for weeks, at least. And that was just thinking about the center’s edges. They still had to work their way into the City of Self’s core, the Heart, and they could only do it by finding the veins and arteries that had been filled with the guest’s influence.

 

The guest, in this case, had been the lovely Siqvaruli – pronounced seekooahroolee – and she had been a wonderful guest, at that. She had come in, insistent at first despite Nancy’s reluctance to welcome another ambassador into the City, and had eased Nancy’s fears and misgivings – for the most part. She had come into the City of Self, an honored guest, and tenderly laid bare every single bit of the City that Nancy had curated and maintained. Every nook and cranny. Every secret area. Every shortcut…

 

It had been a wonderful change, despite the tell-tale signs of patterns that pointed southward, those in the City and in this ambassador. And Nancy had been wooed and charmed and decided this was the guest that should remain, the one that should be a permanent fixture of the City of Self. She really had.

 

Well, at least this time they didn’t have to remove an infection. One couldn’t call this type of invasion – and invasion only by the loosest of definitions – something as pejorative, as derogatory as an infection. It had been a mythical event, something that had to be experienced or it would otherwise not be believed. Its effects, the residual patina and changes to the infrastructure, were nevertheless as difficult to quantify, contain, and manage.

 

The previous invasion, from infamous guest Ai – persona non grata, most definitely – had nearly killed all three of them. It had been a bloody affair…

 

Where the hell was Loge, she thought, cutting her reverie short. It wasn’t like her to be late. “Rais, when was the last time you saw Loge?”

 

Rais stopped spraying for a moment and frowned, clearly considering her question. “You know, I don’t think I’ve seen her in a while,” he said, looking at her with dawning worry on his face. After minute’s contemplation, Nancy dropped her hose and ran out of the plaza, in the direction of the core. It was the Heart. It had to be the Heart.

 

She ran like the devil’s own wind. She ran until her lungs burned, her legs felt nearly numb, and her heart threatened to burst out of her chest.

 

When she reached the inner sanctum of the core, Loge was doing something she had never seen her do. Loge was caressing the Heart, crooning to it in a low bass voice. Nancy was struck by a memory, as if from a parental figure singing to her in that exact same manner. The croon was an earthly, warm drone that set her at ease.

 

Rais caught up to her a couple of minutes later, sweating, breathing heavily, and after cursing a few times under his belabored breath, remarked about Loge’s strange behavior. Nancy didn’t answer. She just looked on and let the scene playing out before them be the eloquence she lacked to describe the odd beauty of Loge tending with care to the Heart.

 

There were tears streaming down Loge’s face. Logique was her full name, and she had never once shed a tear, never once sung, and not even once caressed anything. She had always been cold, calculating, efficient and direct. Yet now, before them, in the most uncharacteristic display of empathy and compassion, she was the polar opposite, or so Nancy thought.

 

The rivulets cascaded down Loge’s face, flowing freely down her neck and her collarbones, pooling in her suprasternal notch, that alluring hollow of the throat as it vibrated visibly with the power of her oddly subtle voice. There had been a movie where that particular oddity of anatomy had played an important role… The English Patient, Nancy recalled, with a lump forming in her own throat.

 

Loge suddenly collapsed onto her knees, hands down on the ground, and Nancy ran to her. She put a hand lightly on the middle of Loge’s back and asked her in a whisper, as if speaking any louder would break the poignancy of that divine moment. “What is it?”

 

“It doesn’t want to heal, it won’t let me,” Loge replied, her voice unexpectedly hoarse and tense with frustration. “It doesn’t want to.”

 

“What?” said Rais far louder than expected, startling Nancy. She looked back at him reproachfully. “Why?” Rais went on regardless.

 

Loge lowered her head, shaking it in slow denial. “Because it wants the scars… because it feels that if it heals completely it will lose what is left of Siqvaruli’s presence.”

 

Nancy stared at her in silence, caressing her back slowly, gently. Rais’ eyes were now open wide, almost exaggeratedly so, as he looked at the Heart of the City of Self. Nancy knew then that he was lost in one of his incredible fugue states, going down ramifications and pathways, scenarios and situations, the future unfolding before his inscrutable mindscape. She had an inkling, however, of what the panoramas he was envisioning held.

 

She understood, and in her comprehension she could not fault the Heart. They were the keepers of it, responsible for its well-being. In a way, they had failed it by letting all of what had transpired happen, but then, hadn’t it all been so beautiful and wonderful and worth every ounce of pain and discomfort that came in the wake of its crumbling?

 

Siqvaruli had been a boon to the City, but in the latter days of her stay she had appeared forlorn, lost in activities that appeared to be centered elsewhere, as if planning her move but not wanting to go ahead for fear of damaging the City of Self, of hurting Nancy, even.

 

In the end, Nancy had recognized these changes, the patterns, the age-old routines, and had found herself not knowing how to proceed. She had found herself a stranger in her own City, in her own world. As if walking through molasses, a fish in coagulating gel, she had eventually managed to reach Siqvaruli and spoken with her. They negotiated the terms of her departure, with Nancy, as the City’s representative, conceding all but what little dignity she might still hold. No terse words were spoken, only truths with underlying love.

 

Nancy could see that there was pain in her eyes, and she felt regret that her City was not the home she thought it could be for Siqvaruli. She deeply, profoundly regretted it. A part of her even now thought – hoped – that perhaps one day it would be. That Siqvaruli would find some long, winding road back to her City, and that the City in turn would be a better host then to receive her. She knew this hope could be the cause of deep pain for many years to come, but she dared not stop hoping for fear of losing the memory all together. In this, she understood the Heart. In this, she knew the Heart was not completely foolish. Perhaps it was foolish, but Nancy didn’t know how else to cope.

 

She knew things would eventually heal for the Heart, even if the scars grew calloused and keloid. There would be healing and strength because of them, but callous tissue isn’t ideal, and the City had already scarred so many times…

 

It dawned on her, that Loge was being as cold as ever, but that for the sake of the survival of the City’s Heart, and their own in turn, the logical thing to do was to attempt to heal the Heart by any means possible.

 

It felt like an exercise in futility. It felt like the very foundations of the City had been compromised and that only catastrophe could follow.

 

She considered an appeal to Siqvaruli, a call for her to return… But no, that very notion, that of her presence becoming a pillar of the City had been one of the causes of her departure. The City had already been weakened, product of Nancy, Loge, and Rais’ underperforming upkeep. It was then utter stupidity to consider depending unfairly on Siqvaruli to somehow stave off what must surely happen now. The City would either succumb and be rebuilt anew, or it would remain nothing more than debris.

 

As Nancy knelt beside Loge, and Rais simply looked on in near-catatonic, purposeless eye movement, she resolved not to let the City fall. She vowed to keep it alive even if it took everything that she was. Her fate appeared dire, but hadn’t the City withstood so much only to come this far?

 

She earnestly hoped she could rebuild as she envisioned, and would even allow herself the conceit of leaving Siqvaruli’s abode in the Heart’s chamber, the place she had made her home during her stay, exactly as the guest had left it. It mattered not if the Siqvaruli  ever returned… In a way, Siqvaruli had never left.

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Low Enough

“The reason modern people can’t find God is that they aren’t looking low enough.”

Professor Jordan B. Peterson on Carl Gustav Jung

The devil is in the details. That’s what they always say, isn’t it? There’s also something about idle hands and whatnot, but that doesn’t seem to stem from the same branch of adage wisdom as the former saying, thought Eve. Devil. Details. Fuck it.

She had spent the better part of her day picking away at the trash behind St. Jude’s cathedral and the adjoining youth center. She did just that every other day around various trash containers in the city that she had, through extensive trial and error, identified as being the best for salvaging useful junk to repurpose. It was never fun, but it was entertaining. Or rather, it was busywork, the kind of menial task that nevertheless required great attention and presence of mind; garbage salvage could be dangerous for the unwary. Bottom line for her: it was the part of what she did the she least cared for.

What she really would rather be doing is be back at the workshop, tinkering with the different parts and useful junk she managed to procure. Affixing one seemingly incongruous part to another until some contraption came to be, like a musician improvising a complete symphony from just a few disjointed notes. Well, perhaps not a symphony, Eve considered, but a catchy song the likes of which one hears on the radio. A summer hit; nothing too complex or high-brow, but pleasant and easy to whistle or hum along to. She was still looking to make her own symphony of contraptions, her magnum opus.

Cutting her reverie short, Eve shut the lid on the large, blue metal trash container and dropped down from atop it. She hit the ground with a soft thud, swore under her breath as the familiar painful jolt hit her knees, then walked a few steps with an odd gait that was less a limp and more a sustained motion of falling forward before resuming a somewhat normal cadence. Her green and khaki oversized jacket, which she had made herself, was a study in pockets and practicality. Buttons, zippers, and Velcro accounted for a good thirty per cent of its confection, with the remaining being water-proof materials she had scavenged from an old army-surplus store’s garbage bin.

She mapped the layout of the city in her head and made mental notes about what bins – outliers mainly – she might still consider picking through. These were always a gamble, but sometimes they paid off big time. She considered for a minute before deciding on one; she would hit the bin on 3rd and Oak, where the old video arcade had been until a few weeks back. The city had cleaned out much of what had been put outside the arcade after the owners had disappeared – skipped this dying town, most likely –, but she figured there was a good chance something worthwhile might still be there, waiting for her discerning eyes.

Ten city blocks and a half hour later, at a leisurely pace, Eve was standing on the corner of 3rd and Oak, taking in the dilapidated beauty of what had once been a mecca for the very young, the tweeners and the teens, the soon-to-be adults, and the odd man-child and even rarer woman-child – so often recluses unwilling to show themselves for who they are in public. Not a decade had gone by since Eve herself had been a happy-go-lucky thirteen-year-old who frequented the very arcade she was now planning on pillaging, spending her allowance in the form of quarters and tokens, finding joy and personal triumphs in the myriad screens of the arcade cabinets where fantasy and science fiction adventure lay bare for her. In the days before she discovered her true passion and calling in life, video games had been king.

Memories flooded her mind as she recalled being the butt-end of jokes and jabs by other girls her age. They were mostly interested in the older boys, and spent what Eve considered an inordinate amount of time on finding ways to be noticed by those who they fancied. She never much cared for any boy, or any girl for that matter. No, all Eve ever really wanted was to draw out more and more satisfaction from playing, from exploring. Once the hobby shop opened next to the arcade, tinkering and mechanical endeavors became her world, the source from which she derived meaning and happiness.

She dispelled these wistful memories and walked along the sidewalk, bituminous and dirty with the grime of countless years of traffic. She couldn’t help but draw comparisons in her mind between what had once been and what now was, the concrete and steel carcasses of juggernauts, where thousands upon thousands had gathered to worship at the altars of technology and consumerism. Yet, there was something nagging at her, an itch in the back of her head, beneath her skull, unreachable, un-scratchable… There was something off about the place, as much as that can be said about an abandoned building without touching upon the obvious.

She came upon the double doors of the abandoned arcade, their neon pink and blue designs, all sharp lines with stylized thunder in neon yellow dating what had already been a relic of a different era when Eve had been one of the place’s patrons. It struck her as humorous, that she would now break into and enter a place that had welcomed her with open doors, where she had willingly given all her scant earthly riches but was now about to take with unabashed abandon.

She stopped, frozen solid as she put her hand on one of the doors, and darted a look to her right. She thought she had seen movement out of the corner of her eye. Nothing. It had been nothing. She set back to the task ahead and took out a pair of lock-picking tools with which to undo the pesky padlock the city had slapped on the doors. Vandals and scoundrels would be kept out, but not the resourceful urchin, no sir. She needed no more than a minute and the lock clicked open. She removed the chains, pushed the double doors open and walked into the arcade.

For a second, Eve considered putting the chains back on to make it look like the place was still locked up, but thought better of it. It was already late in the afternoon and the area was mostly deserted. It was highly unlikely that anyone would pass by, much less notice anything out of place. People were good at obviating and not noticing the things around them, their surroundings and the subtle changes in them.

The air was dusty, and there was a strong hint of humidity building up that would surely mean the building would be condemned not too far in the future unless some serious conditioning and work were put into it. She expected it would be the former and that the city would tear it all down.

Movement again, this time a little more solid, easier to focus on, Eve thought. But she was inside. Before it had been outside, on the street. Likely rats, she thought, wanting to believe it in a way she realized bordered on irrational. She wondered what was wrong with her. Why the sudden eerie feeling? Why the fear?

She opted to move on, to boldly ignore her own childish fears and frank disgust for rodents – though she had to admit she held no ill-will toward the species; she thought highly of it conceptually, rat kind; she just didn’t like the smell of them –, and made a bee-line for where she remembered the employees-only areas and storage room had been.

Bingo.

Better yet, no one had bothered to lock any of the doors within the arcade. The city officials had likely thought it unnecessary to do so. Who would bother breaking in? Right.

As she walked into what appeared to be the employee break room, she noticed movement again and this time couldn’t help but jump, startled. Whatever that thing had been, it had been far bigger than any rat she had ever seen. Also, she didn’t recall ever hearing about rats running horizontally across a sheer wall.

She fished for her flashlight from out of her jacket – never leave home to scavenge without it! – and set about finding whatever that thing had been and where it had gotten off to. Her search led her down a hallway that, after a few too many steps, led Eve to wonder if it was geometrically possible for it to be as long as it appeared to be, given the building’s dimensions. By her calculations, which were generally accurate, the hallway was at least two times too long to fit within the arcade.

The hallway continued, whatever she thought about it, so she doggedly stayed on the path until she came upon a door with a painted sign that read The Pit. Funny, she thought, sarcastically. This door was also unlocked, so she entered the comically-named room to find what appeared to be a hydroponic plantation set-up. It wasn’t large, and it wasn’t for Cannabis – she could spot those in a second – but the PVC pipe structure before her was unmistakably a hydroponic garden.

This was decidedly weird. This kind of installation, clearly up-and-running, in the bowels of a seemingly abandoned building. Eve would have thought one of the city officials was running some kind of drug operation if it wasn’t for the fact that the plants – and what odd plants they appeared to be! – were not of the Sativa or Indica variety. Certainly not Ruderalis! Ostensibly, she considered, they might be some other kind of drug-related plant, but she thought it unlikely.

She inspected the plants closely and found them familiar, yet she couldn’t place where she might remember them from. There happened to be one plant, a yellow-purple flowering bush with small, yellow cherry-like fruits that appeared to have red spots, that caught her eye and commanded her attention. As she drew near it she noticed a label on the PVC casing that housed it. It read: ANGVIS.

She looked at the fruit it bore. It looked plump and moist, almost as if it would burst if it wasn’t picked off from the burdened branches soon. She felt her mouth water, flooding with saliva as if at the prospect of a fine meal.

Before she could check herself, Eve picked the one fruit that looked the plumpest. She drew in breath as if she had startled herself, and looked at the tiny blood-spotted cherry in her hand. What the hell! She thought, and bit into the tiny morsel.

Her taste buds were immediately overwhelmed, as if assaulted with such taste as no human had ever been treated to. Colors flooded her mind as strange musical notes drowned out all external sound. She recognized, with a small portion of conscious thought, that this was a synesthetic experience, and that something profound was taking place at a nervous and, somehow, neurological level within her.

After a few minutes, the waves of stimulation that washed over her senses diminished and finally abated, and she felt oddly revitalized, full of energy like she hadn’t felt since she had been a little girl.

Slowly, a growing realization began to dawn within her. She could see. She could see, but not like before. She could see.

And she could hear. She heard it when it spoke to her. It called to her by name, Eve. It told her things, it reminded her of things, it recalled things for her. Eve. It greeted her warmly, like an old acquaintance. The oldest of friends.

It found it curious, that she had come alone. Oh, she had not known? It wondered, aloud. Had she known beforehand, she might have brought along a male. Adam? Yes, like the little men like to think, to tell that old yarn. No, he would have died. Indeed. That is because there never had been an Adam to begin with. No. There was only ever Eve.
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The Last Things

These were terribly nefarious times. The world was constantly on the brink of war, despite the fact that the people of the world were mostly oblivious to what was going on around them, and the value of life was at an all time low, undermining all the social progress of decades prior.

Lou had taken his job knowing full well that the job had in reality chosen him, in a manner of speaking. He just happened to have been born with the qualities necessary to undertake the assignment, one that for most donning his mantle before him, his predecessors, was never to end save for when their own lives came to a close. For him, however, in light of all the terrible goings on in the world, the assignment may very well end before his own life was exhausted.

It is not a good thing, the passing of a species, though it is most definitely a necessary one. An integral part of life, intrinsic, indivisible from it. We do not know why, as a people, but we accept it. This is no different for any living thing. Everything will eventually pass. Every living thing passes. Even inert things pass from this world in some way.

The tiny creatures which last were known by a now-extinct tribe as Iflig – roughly translated as the little ones that sing to the forests – were about to transition out of this existence themselves. There was one single specimen left, as whelp of the kind. It had only recently lost its mother in the same way it would soon meet its end. Its mother, like its entire little herd, had been inadvertently been poisoned by well-meaning yet careless explorers who’d come to that remote island to scope out the place for future studies. They had thought they were being careful, but their own supplies, specifically their “vitamin water”, contained a hidden, undisclosed chemical which just so happened to be highly toxic to certain types of organisms. The Iflig were especially vulnerable, having existed for centuries in isolation, without any environmental exposition to such chemicals, and soon their numbers dwindled to but a few groups. In the space of days they had succumbed to their bane, and so the last group, that of the tiny pup soon to expire, had remained as the last of their precious kind.

There it was, this tiny creature, a sweet rodent, from what Lou could ascertain, but having some trace of a creature-type the world had not seen for a long, long time. It was tragic, as were all the cases Lou attended to.

He concentrated on the specimen, picked the half-inch long ball of hair, its miniature legs barely kicking out in a weak fit of panic at being taken by the strange, seemingly gigantic man. He tried to provide the little thing some comfort. It was so cruel, this world. This wonderous little being, its liliputian heart beating to a drum many times the tempo of that of Lou’s, would not know the world, would not experience it as its forefathers had. All it knew was that it had lost the warmth and protection of its mother, and that now it was growing weak and scared. It likely knew finality was the only avenue left to it, Lou mused.

Had it grown to be an adult, it would have reached a maximum of two inches in length and about half that in girth. It would have become a creature integral to the ecosystem that maintained the forest of the island. The great trees, unique to this place, were part of a very complex and delicate system comprised of different forms of fungus, plant and animal life. Once this little guy died, he knew with absolute certainty only one such as he could possess, there would be a chain reaction across the space of the following weeks where most of the species comprising the island’s ecosystem would become extinct themselves. The trees would wither and die, while some minor species might be able to adapt. The foolish explorers who had brought this about unwittingly would realize that, perhaps without ever knowing exactly why, they had been the artificers of this extinction.

Lou felt the little one’s life force leave it, the energy passing on, moving off to where he did not know. It was still in this universe, but where it went and what it became, he could not say.

At that same time another manifestation of his own self, of Lou’s, was witnessing a similar event while making a mental catalog of it. There were many, many other manifestations either arriving, witness currently, or concluding their business in extinction. Lou was a most rare individual, capable of being present physically in countless places in the world at once. He had the unfathomable ability of polylocation, and this allowed him to bear witness to the end of all species without hindrance.

He had been with the Foundation – its name not really known to him despite his decades in employ – since he was nine years old. Approached by the one who would soon after become his mentor, he had been taken from his parents with their consent and sent to what they thought was a most prestigious educational program for gifted children. In a way, it had been exactly that. He had learned to control the abilities he had been recently discovering before his ninth birthday, and was soon put to task. By his fifteenth birthday, Lou had already seen thousands upon thousands of species of living things of all biological kingdoms cease to be as a whole. This had invariably marked his emotional development, burdening the boy that would become a man with a deep sense of sadness only those before him could have understood.

This particular representation of Lou would rejoin the stem shortly, as if it were some organelle dispatched, but he was technically already with the stem, the center of Lou’s being, despite the distance in a sense. There was no distance, everywhere was everywhere at once, forever. Except for the things that would be nevermore.

Lou was possibly the last of the watchers, the last of the catalogers of last things. This too shall end. This will never come again. He put the Iflig down on the ground. Perhaps one of the explorers would chance upon the miniature thing, but it would do little in the scheme of the world’s psyche.

Everywhere. Forever. Nevemore.

Mr. Leeds

Mr. Leeds was a melancholy sort of fellow. Dapper, certainly; courteous and gallant, of course, but ultimately a tenuously sorrowful man. He dressed out of the current of the times, not paying much heed to what passed for fashion these days, but managed not to seem too terribly anachronistic by staying close to rural areas. It was, after all, safer for the likes of him.

He had been the thirteenth child of one Deborah Leeds back in the 1800’s, the devil child, or so had his mother proclaimed upon learning of her being with child for the thirteenth time. She could not have known how right she was when exclaiming in such a fashion, though surely she had not meant it beyond the joke of having to go through labor and child-rearing yet again at her age.

Mr. Leeds had come into the world in the seemingly usual way, midwife assisting his mother through what was now rote for them both, and out had the babe come. Struck to elicit crying and dry breathing, the newborn Mr. Leeds had come brutally awake and aware to the world he had been born into and something in his nature sprung into action defensively. He transformed before the very eyes of his sweat-soaked mother and the wide-eyed midwife. Wings like those of a bat sprung from his infantile back, his hands drew claws and his feet turned like those of a horse. His face elongated in reptilian fashion and a more horrible wail came therefrom.

The midwife screamed, matching the wail’s pitch, which startled young, drake-like Mr. Leeds, who reacted on instinct dealing the terrified midwife a blow to the throat. His mother’s eyes grew wide as the full moon outside and, though her mouth opened wide and worked as if to vomit sound, nothing audible beyond muffled groans exited through her troubled windpipe.

The midwife was fast bleeding to her death out of the gash in her throat, his mother only stared, and the child-think that was Mr. Leeds leapt out the window, crashing through the wood and glass, to be lost to his family forevermore.

One could understand the moroseness that would build the character of Mr. Leeds, how having left his family was never given a formal name. It was only later that he learned of his family name, by piecing together bits of folklore and street rumor, and subsequently spying on his relatives, those descended over the years from his older brothers and sisters.

It was the XXI century, now, and despite now only recently reached what would be the outward appearance of middle age for a common human being, he was none the wiser about what he really was.

He had learned from the recovered diary of his mother, which he had only come by a few months ago, that she had been unfaithful to her husband, and that the man she had lain with had been Native American. However, after having learned the name of the man, he had only been able to gather strange yet ambiguous information about who and what he was.

Skinwalker, some of those he had contacted has said, thereafter refusing to speak more on the subject, those who didn’t hang up the phone right after he mentioned his possible father’s name. Email correspondence was rarely ever possible with those knowledgable enough about the man who went by the Navajo name Ooljee, which apparently was a female name meaning Moon, and when there was some address that could be reached, no replies were forthcoming.

He was beginning to lose a bit of hope. He had not had much of that, to begin with, but he was having too little success with his inquiries.

He would have to leave the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey, which had been his home since his strange birth, when he had fled the mother he had never truly met, his more animal side taking over his infant consciousness and ensuring his survival in the woods for years, allowing his child-mind to mature, taking the world in as a co-pilot in some vehicle.

He had time, however. Yes. Time. And if what he understood about these Skinwalkers was correct, that man – nay, the thing that might be his father, was still somewhere in the world, living, if living is what a Skinwalker did.

The Darnedest Things

(Overheard conversation at a bar)

What do I do? I’m a Gamekeeper.

Yeah, like a Park Ranger, yeah.

No, not government funded, no. It’s private funding, a foundation. I basically get to work with a bunch of weird species.

Weird, you know, weird.

Well, let’s see, what’s a good example…

Ok, I got a good one. You may recall a couple of films by one Steven Spielberg – you may have heard of the guy, pretty big deal in Hollywood – dealing with furry little creatures hailing from Asia with a rather silly set of rules for upkeep.

You do? Good. Well, these were loosely based on a real creature which is, sadly, now next to extinct.

Yeah, yeah, that’s right, I work with endangered species, but not like the WWF, no. Anyway, these gremlins, right? Though that’s not their real name and neither’s it that from the movie.

Yeah, no, they always get that shit wrong, you know. When they make movies about these weird critters from all over the place. For example, these little anthropomorphic beasties were more like lemures than their portrayal in the movies would have you believe, and they acted a little more like animals than smart little apes. None of that imitating human behaviors, that’s just to sell the movie and appeal to the kids.

Yeah, you remember those! Of course, of course; the rules they made up for them were pretty stupid and, honestly, terribly impractical.

No, no, it was no feeding them after midnight… I remember thinking about that after watching the movie and going, buddy, is that Eastern Standard Time or Greenwich? Pffff. And not getting them wet? The damned things are mostly water like us and every other carbonbased thing on this planet, and, coming from Asia, c’mon! The sheer amount of atmospheric humidity would have had them bubbling like nobody’s business.

What? No, yeah, that’s how they were supposed to reproduce. Nah, they do get it on, but that’s not quite how it goes. They’re not exactly mammals… ‘matter of fact, now that I think of it, I don’t think they fit into the usual subsets like oviparous and that crap.

Right, there was that last rule, the sunlight and bright lights thing. Though, that one is true; little buggers are nocturnal and their eyes aren’t good in the day. Light won’t kill them, though. That too would be stupid, seeing as even moonlight is nothing but sunlight reflected.

Yeah, exactly. Mostly, my job entails looking after the last specimens, documenting what I can about them before they pass out of this world, never to be seen again.

Yeah, it’s a little grim, this business, but noble, I think. I mean… I’m the last person to bear witness to many of the world’s species, those forgotten or as yet undocumented. It’s a sweet job in the end, especially by comparison. You should see I have a co-worker, but he’s got the worst part of the gig.

Lou, his names is Lou. He… well, he gets to do the field work. His part of the job consists mostly of getting to the species, both crypto and regular that we simply are unable to “rescue”-

Crypto? That’s short fro Cryptozoological, you know, secret or hidden, species that are not recognized by mainline science and that sort of thing.

Yeah, in any case, he’s got to get to them and get as much of the details as he can right as they exit the world. He’s a regular ray of sunshine, Lou. But who can blame him, I mean, he gets to see some seriously grim stuff.

Well yeah, he is a bit weird. Also, he’s got a talent or something that makes him just right for his job, unlike me.

Yeah, no, I’m just a regular guy who got an interesting gig. Lou, though, he’s touched by something, and can tell when some species is going out.

Yeah, he just seems to know before it happens.

No, I have no idea. Now, I don’t get how he does it, but he seems able to be everywhere, what with so many species hypothetically going extinct all the time according to the world’s pertinent number crunchers.

Yeah, it’s pretty messed up, but I get the good part. I just tag ’em, feed ‘em, record them and then one day they croak naturally.

There’s some really odd ones, like there’s some that were there from way before I got the gig and, if the logs are to be believed, have been there for decades. They probably live as long as turtles or something.

Yeah, yeah.

Yup.

Right… anyways, where is it you say you live?

I was just wondering if you would like me to drop you off since I’m leaving soon.

Yeah, I would like to go in for a drink, ‘matter of fact.

Note: The fourth of the twelve shorts comes in shoddy prose! What the hell did I just write? Maybe even I don’t know…

 

Through the silent neutrino haze

Into the mind of Aleph’s maze

Out of the center of time and space

Straight to the heart of our incipient race

The mistrals carry it from coldest ice

Sweeping across the wastes so wild

Path sinistral, the road there lies

In the sparkling eyes of the feral child

Uptaken by the wily haste

Of newborn thought, the taste

Of stardust in the tongue

The windy blight that would here fall

The same as did before the call

Of demigods with lances long

For us to heed and lay all down

To salt the earth and raze the ground

In dark, convened the throng

To make it once again His place.

Dog Days

He had spent long enough trying to get it right, turning it over in his hands while scrutinizing it under the intensity of the magnifying glass propped on a mechanical arm and accompanying high intensity light, a necessity for the kind of work Mook earned his keep with.

This particular item was not the average piece of history he would often have to appraise for his callers; grave-robbers and unlicensed archaeologists – weren’t they all the same? – were the brunt of his clientele, but now and then he would get genuine requests from respectable establishments and individuals with private collections who would offer a considerable stipend for his services.

This latter was the case of the fine item he was currently inspecting, a strange metallic object that had been unearthed in Göbekli Tepe and procured by its current owner through means better not discussed. Its origin a mystery, for it did not belong to the place of its discovery, the ancient mysterious city which the Turkish government had sealed off from both the public and any researchers for reasons unknown; no one really thought their national security blanket statement held any water.

The object was most confounding. Mook had pored over its every minuscule detail, every millimeter of craftsmanship, analyzing every little hint at what its makers may have intended and who they were by extrapolation, only to come up with the strangest of notions. It would seem that, if he was reading all the information available to him correctly, the item was of alien origin. That is, it could be either extraterrestrial or extradimensional, but it was certainly not from this Earth, not in its actual state.

For one, there was the composition of the metal. It was rare enough, but there was one element he did not recognize from the lab analysis date that had been provided with the object by the person who commissioned his expertise. Second, there was the attention to detail, which was perhaps impossible even with current day’s laser technology; any such details would have had to have been made with either nanotechnology or something other that worked on a level the neither the human eye nor hand could possibly achieve on their own.

Mook understood little about the object, what its purpose might be. It was a simple circular plate, just about 7 centimeters wide, with the finest little lines of inlaid gold etched into its surface in elaborate designs that would put even the finest Celtic knot-work to shame. There was something odd about the designs, though, a pattern, it seemed, that he could not quite identify but intuitively perceived, and so he kept at it, tracing the myriad lines in hope of devising this pattern and thus find an inch of leeway in the mental knot that the object had put in his mind.

Mook thought about the debate surrounding Göbekli Tepe, about what it meant as an archaeological find, whether it was a temple or an observatory, or something else entirely. The much publicized theories of the late Klaus Schmidt, the German archaeologist who’d lead the team that worked there before it had been shut down, and of the strange theories the man had posited. He kept going back to Giuglio Magli’s proposition of it having been built to worship the Dog Star, Sirius. The Italian archaeoastronomer posited that the various structures marked the rising of the luminous body in different years, and as such held a connection to the religion of the area.

Mook wasn’t sure why he kept thinking of Sirius. He certainly didn’t give credence to the wild fringe speculation that had been thrown about in recent years about ancient little green men… er… grey men, that had somehow visited ancient man and taught them how to tie their shoes. Nevertheless, there was the matter of the object in his hands, its singular design a stark contrast to all that could have logically been fashioned in South Turkey around 10,000 B.C.

He was dumbfounded by this, his mind looking for any path leading away from the implications of the object’s possible origins. The dating analyses carried out at various institutions, according to the dossier he had been provided, said that the results of the tests were inconclusive. The reason for such a deliberation on the subject? The fact that the results indicated an absurd age that predated Homo Sapiens Sapiens by several hundreds of thousands of years. Of course the people reporting the results would state their conclusions as “inconclusive”; who would want to stake their reputations on such a wild find and all that it might entail? No one in their right mind would lend credit to such results, never mind that they had been corroborated by five different and unrelated institutions. In the presence of something so fantastic any expert would doubt their own procedures and be done with it, eager to sweep away that which challenged their long-held systems. Such an artefact should not be possible, it should not exist… and yet it did.

One word popped into Mook’s head: Lokabrenna. It was ancient Scandinavian for Loki’s Torch, or the burning that Loki wrought, and it was the name of Sirius for the Vikings. What a curious thought. He certainly didn’t ponder Scandinavian myth often, but the name had clearly stuck from whenever he had read it – he must have read it – and his mind deft enough to associate it with his current line of thought.

It was late enough, now. Mook knew he shouldn’t be burning the midnight oil quite so often any more, not at his age. 67 isn’t terribly old, but he was no spring chicken, certainly. It was now 2 in the morning and the old aches were in attendance. With some regret and not being able to continue his exploration of the artifact for the day, he put it down, back into its metallic box, built to protect it from anything up to a high speed crash. It was certainly invaluable.

 

***********************************

 

Mook woke up sweating profusely, his clothes damp as if he’d had a particularly generous bout of incontinence. It was still dark, so he couldn’t have been asleep for very long. He fumbled for the digital alarm clock on his bedside table; 3:33 read the digital green numbers.

Burning.

It smelled like something was burning.

He shot out of bed clad in nothing but his sleeping gown, like young man and not a creaky old geezer, the urgency of fire driving his body in uncharacteristic intensity.

He ran into the kitchen, nothing. He looked about the living room where he had just passed on his way to the kitchen, nothing. He checked his workshop, there it was.

The disk was propped on the table, balanced, and the table was burning as if being branded. No actual fire, just intense heat producing smoke.

Before he could question the veracity of what his senses informed him, he took his thick welder’s mitts from the wall where many tools, instruments and accoutrements hung and took the disk, quickly placing it inside its protective case once more and shutting it closed.

What the hell had just happened? He didn’t believe his own recollection of what had just taken place, but it had taken place, hadn’t it?

He only now remembered his soaked night gown, which clung uncomfortably to his think, reedy body. He would have to change now, since the sweat was cooling and at his age pneumonia was likely waiting at the turn of any corner.

Walking back to his room to get a different night gown, he almost failed to notice that there was someone now sitting in his couch in front of the television in his living room. He did a double take with his head and, panicked, ran to his room to retrieve a baseball bat he kept next to his bedside table for precisely such instances when an uninvited guest might turn up, though this would be the first time such a thing actually happened.

He returned to the living room and the man had not moved an in, but rather regarded him with a smile that seemed, after a moment, honest enough, jovial. Mook wasn’t sure what to make of it. He still held the bat aloft, his arms cocked like a batter’s at home plate, ready to deliver a blow at the slightest sign of danger.

Then the strange spoke. “Well met, man. Well met,” his voice was odd, like it wasn’t quite the sound a human windpipe was meant to produce; maybe the man had a deformity or accident which caused his voice to sound like that. “I want to thank you for welcoming me into your hold, friend. I did not mean to startle you too much, albeit it is an unavoidable effect for certain means of travel.”

“Wh- Who are you?” Mook was still shaken, but could still muster the right things to ask. “How did you get in here?”

“My name changes considerably depending on whom you inquire to about me, but for now you may call me Low,” there really was something unnerving about the voice’s quality, like a duality of sound in a spectrum that should be impossible for humans to sound, the way it rang within Mook’s head was almost like being drunk on a particularly heady wine. And the eyes, there was something about them, the iris, the shape of it, and the color was golden with a slightly fiery hue.

“Low,” Mook said, trying the name out without having intended to say it out loud. “How did you get in here and what do you want?” he said, regaining control of his own voice.

“I arrived by way of the curious object you have in your possession, for I was summoned through it. As to what the purpose of my visit is, well, that, like my name, is also fluid, mercurial, and if you wield your words with wit and insight, it may very well be beneficial to you.”