Friday, March 31, 2017

Swamp (excerpt 2)

The first stop was the Crypt, a room just inside the passageway to the rest of the caves. Three sides of sheer rock closed off with a brick wall about eight-yards long and more than a foot deep, the Crypt’s door had been torn out long ago. Having served as the sanctuary and hideaway for previous owners of the hotel, it was packed with what could have been props from a movie: trunks with straps and skeleton-key locks, labels marked with the spidery characters of cultured penmanship; airtight wooden crates built to last for centuries; various iron safes, open to anyone aware that all lock combinations were listed on the front desk’s blotter pad, and; a Porsche Boxter-sized maple desk – loose papers dropping from the top to appear as if it were wearing mullet wig – from which the rest of the room appeared to radiate.

“I’m not looking forward to going through all this crap but I can see this being a really nice space… once it’s cleaned out,” their father mused as his gaze darted around the room. "So… let’s see the rest of this junkyard!”

Outside the Crypt, the passageway grew warmer as it wound its way to the next cave, a much larger room encrusted with calcium and lime, green and white drips covering everything like guano. Gooch’s eyes widened at the series of ovate vats in the room, pumps he imagined as gigantic fossilized dinosaur eggs. Pipes large and small crisscrossed the ceiling, chattering and clanking with life, needle-like stalactites forming where mineral water dripped.

“The whole town’s geothermal heating system runs through this contraption. Old timers say Pogo used to cut the heat when he was mad, which I’m told was pretty often. If he did, it happened here.”
Next, an expansive room revealed what had been the employee cafeteria during Pogo’s reign. “Lights don’t work from hereon in,” their father muttered as everyone’s flashlight beams scissored madly through the darkness. “Someone took almost every slab of metal outta here and ripped the copper wiring out of the walls. After Pogo, the later owners didn’t appear to have much use for this place or anything after this. Kinda scary, the caves beyond this room.”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Swamp (excerpt 1)

“How many people do you think I am?
Pretend I am somebody else.
You can pretend I'm an old millionaire,
a millionaire washing his hands.”
                                         - Talking Heads

No time for grieving, for reeling and tumbling in Powerball’s effects. Authorities needed to be notified, not the idiots that passed as Pogo Springs cops but real pros: state police, Swinger County sheriffs, search-and-rescue folks.


A British accent announces band members over a cheering crowd then, “They’re called the Grateful Dead, the Grateful Dead,” followed by exuberant guitar strumming, piano, drums, “I had a hard run… running from your window…

The mud-crusted, gray rear wall of the laundromat shrouded the truck like a filthy fog bank. His rage rattled his bones. Emma dead, gone from him, left a universe-sized hole in his life.

He looked around seeking escape from the dirt lot behind the Johnny Cash, scooped into a hillside of shale and requiring grading after every mud season to slice out winter ruts. In one corner, a rusted metal tool shed scrunched from a previous year’s snow load, doors gaping open on a bent track, various implement handles poking out a pained maw as though the ugly beast had snapped at a giant porcupine. Next to it, a brown dumpster overflowed from trash deposited by neighbors who hadn’t bothered paying collection fees. Several torn and filthy mattresses were leaned against the laundromat’s wall, occasionally dropped to the ground for use by vagabonds or horny high school kids. The depressing character of the place added to his malaise, his yearning for escape from the dope’s effects, the confining space of the truck’s cab, and the consuming need to tell someone about Emma. The dream that stuck out: a medical chart on the wall, a cold metal box holding her pieces, serious people in serious clothes asking serious questions. Whispers in the corner about whether she jumped or was pushed.

Waves of annoyance and pain pulsed through his spine, from his tailbone into his brain’s blank spaces, “Taught me good, Lord, taught me all I know… taught me so well, I grabbed that gold… and I left his dead ass there by the side of the road,” lyrics hammering dimpled divots into the naked metal of his emotion.


Confusion. Soft violence. Hands touching his throat, eyes rolled to become the white bellies of whales. Trembling with loss, with being lost, with having no relation to the world he was in and the world he was lost within. Emma’s absence tore him open and tossed his innards across the ground, strewn like offal left from a kill site, shit stink mingled with the ascendant stench of decay. Circling vultures, cackling hyenas, flies and beetles, scurrying ants sending out messages to feed, an environment where time plodded past a death felt freshly; too recent for him to give it up to scavengers.

When they come to take you down… when they bring that wagon 'round… when they come to call on you and drag your poor body down…”
He wanted to explode.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

“Over the mountains, watching the watcher;
            Breaking the darkness, waking the grapevine…”
                                       - Pink Floyd

Looking past her toes to the shattered boulders several hundred feet below, Big-Legged Emma held out her arms as if she would lift off her perch and leap into the canyon.

On the middle, longest talon of the Claw, three rocks crooked over the edge of where the mountain had been cleaved deeply by water determined to go home. She turned her limbs to take in the sun’s rays, luxuriating her caramel skin in the warmth of summer light. Just beyond her, a middle-aged ponderosa pointed towards the falls that spread the mountain open like a wet labia, branches drooping towards the canyon floor as the tree gave itself to gravity.

Gooch watched, wondering where she was in her head, what effect she was feeling after Powerball kicked in and swept her through the dope’s peculiar portal to God knows where. When he’d last seen her, the real her, she had passed him a hit while they both still sat in the shadow of a large boulder that listed skyward, like the bow of a sinking ship. There, silent but for birds hidden in the pines, she passed the piece to him, exhaling her smoke through a burst of her characteristic tic of “Ha!” and her trilled laugh. “I’ll see you on the other side!”

He inhaled, grimacing at the slightly vegetal, dog-shit taste (but with a minty hashish undertone). When he exhaled, what footing he held in the world dislodged and spun off into overlapping folds of the universe, everything around him collapsing into sizzling, bombinating vibrations. The earth moved to envelope his being, his self, roots, rocks, mountains and trees engulfing him with a deep embrace, all of it devolving into a singular darkness that soon revealed lights alive and dancing. The pounding of his heart and the cold sweat trickling down his skin matched the rhythm of the turning of the World.

He swam in a sea of stars, twinkling points in all directions to an infinitude. Lights appeared and disappeared like fireflies, evading him if he approached as though each was sentient, conscious, intentional. Soon after appearing, each playful light created a ripple in space where windows to another side unraveled, spiraled outwards and then faded away, leaving just an evanescent memory of what they’d revealed.

Things inside some windows appeared abstract, incomprehensible, characters from millions of alien languages lacking context or reference or meaning; others showed familiar things, oxygen-breathing, more like the reality he’d left when he’d sparked up the “powerful magic” (as Indian Leo called it), things from terra firma, The World, things like trees, oceans, mountains, farms, people doing things, crossing the street, brushing their hair. In one window, he saw a desert sky at night and there was where he entered. 

He landed feet first in the midst of a courtyard of a classic Spanish villa, a square plaza of outbuildings and apartments fronted by an imposing three-story Grand House. To his right, a fountain stood tiered with marble clam shell bowls that decreased in size as they neared the top, where a Cupid danced and aimed his arrow at the sky. Wings of the estate hemmed everything in and the casitas were fronted by a porch shadowing spaces beneath the wooden-slatted eaves, windows shuttered like the closed eyelids of large owls. The only sound was the clattering echo of the fountain’s falling water and beneath his feet, porcelain tiles were slick with spray, grout lines green with moss. It was humid near the fountain and his skin grew damp, goosebumps appearing as the desert’s night air chilled serein.

Still as his surroundings, he took in the sight, amazed, awed, the clarity of the moment an instance of remarkable beauty. The villa’s stucco skin breathed from the life within. Whorls and ridges filigreed into an intricate network of pavonine patterns, pulsing with lines intersecting and interacting.  Above the walls, ribs of coral-colored tiles rippled under the sky, respiring essence and bits of things that were contained within, an inexorable scrambling of spirits and elementary particles.

The stars were infinite, tiny diamonds strewn across a black scrim, their light softened behind the fulsome glow of an impossibly large moon that loomed behind the Great House. Ancient-looking but well-kept, built in the Spanish gothic style, the house was a palace in the midst of a Krazy Kat landscape. All was dark but for pale light of the night sky and one window on the third floor, a lambent glow where he could see someone standing in the room behind the window. Taking tentative steps toward the house, fearless and curious, he peered upwards through squinted lids. With his approach, it became apparent that there were actually two people standing in the room, one close to the window, a shadow of another gesturing and pacing. Almost directly beneath the window, he heard feminine voices, a collegial conversation, friendly and joyous. Unable to catch what they were saying, He could tell that one of the speakers was elderly but still possessing a firm, forceful voice along with the cool precision of schooled diction. The other voice broke in, much younger, bouncy and ebullient, almost singing it seemed. And then, a blast of a jovial “Ha!”

He erupted with laughter, his eyes clouded with mirth tears, his “Buddha laugh,”  as Emma called it (although he was nothing like the fat little man in Chinese restaurants, begging for a good-luck belly rub with raised arms and palms flattened) a starburst in his gut that rocked his body with its seismic force.

“Who are you talking to, Baby Sister?” he called and was immediately lifted above the villa, spinning and spiraling upwards on a tourbillion of galactic fireworks. A hissing rushed through his ears, increasing in pitch and volume. Vision was reduced to a mix of hues and tones that resulted in a blast of pure light, photons stripped of all spectral definition. In an instant, the speeding, screaming cacophony ceased and he was returned back to the where the trip began.

Just beyond the edge of the forest, Emma stood entranced on the Claw, swaying slightly, singing with the coloratura of the canyon’s winds. As she had done so many times before out on the Claw – arms stretched wide and face tilted back to the sun – she embraced the world, granting open and free access to her soul and her infinite well of love.

Aftershocks still trembling through him, he reclined on pine needles upholstering a slope, just watching Emma, drinking in the fact that they had not gone far from where they had first smoked, musing on where Powerball would take them next.

Adieu, mon ami! Il est temps de volet! It’s time!” Her voice splashed through the pine needles like water shattering on a stone, droplets of her words collecting on his skin like the spray from the villa’s fountain.

He watched her body tilt toward the opposite canyon wall and then fall forward into the chasm and toward the rocks below.