Time Drafts

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Back up beepers and the long roars of an engine hectored me through my earplugs out of a sound sleep at quarter to seven, watery late November sunlight in the curtain folds.  Alone in bed after losing a girlfriendargument aloud I curse streets that can’t go a week without being torn up, houses and apartment buildings scraped and gutted so many times they’re turning transparent and thin like grease-spotty paper bags.  The noise abated within an hour or so, about the time my neighbor’s little white dog started yapping.

I ate my breakfast and took a car to the airport, temples wreathed in scarves of cold metal.  My seat on the plane was right next to the galley.  It stank of overcooked eggs and boiling newspaper.

I turn my head and see the planet.  Through the window, heaven and earth.  The high indigo melting into black.  Reading magazines we hurtle into the world’s shadow while I hold myself literary, if only I knew how many others on this plane were doing the same, and if I could only collect their mental sketches all in a jumble, like a bouquet of incomplete ham radio transmissions.  Write them down just as they are.

The plane is descending.  Shadow hills haphazardly sequined with lights roll under the floor, the stars are standing up again, the airport swings our way like a luminous cape.  There’s a long wait in jammed aisles until the plane is uncorked and passengers swill out into another airport and causeways and ramps and staircases and escalators and moving sidewalks.  Finally outside, I can almost smell the ocean through the diesel.  Hale a cab.  Now I’m on the highway, a trench cut across the conurbation, air blundering in over the top of the window I lowered a little, dry desert, dust, herbs, smell of snakes and beetles.  The eastern horizon reradiates the glow of the Roseate Lamina like a countersunset …

*

… There’s a big washer, like a blank, punctured coin, lying in the middle of the street.  I look down at it, white metal against the blacktop, and then up again, and the sky above this tree-lined suburban street has turned into the sky above a cemetery at dusk when the gates are closing and you realize you’re being shut in tombs and graves, the wiry nerve lace of bare branches turns black against the blanching peach.  The washer’s an obol, leave it there and walk on with the street as it rises into that soothing, cold sky the color of undead flame like a ghost lantern and the high steady wan cool piccolo note of the idea of death accompanies me at the zenith.  I don’t know how to talk it any more — the magic left, the magic came back, or what the magic is or if it is, I don’t know, I don’t know.  I don’t know, I don’t know, I know you though, I know you, leaf raker, you, you’re a spoiler, you’re a spoiler, I know you for what you are, you’re one of those … ruiners … sent to tamper.  With this label I escape you, you don’t even know it yourself you blind, you … No I don’t know, I only know how I feel in the cold street under the graveyard heaven with the trembling, shaking silhouetted nerve trees bystanding all around.  The lights are coming on in some of the houses but not many, and most of the windows still have that smokey darkness that is so grimly menacing, like the house wants to puke.  Puke grey lint, and lunge the walls to and fro across the street.  I don’t know what I mean;  there’s no point in recording these impressions.  Blue twilight on my hands and face like cold clay I walk on to the car dealership …

*

… I spent the night at the motel.  Now I’m at the right address, a shining crystal cube on a broad, palm-lined, empty, avenue boulevard street.  I’ve been sent here to attend a “professional development seminar,” but at the last moment I turn aside from the gleaming doors and make my way around to the back, through the parking lot and a planter with tall, thin white tree trunks high rattling weeds and through another, considerably less well-maintained parking lot, in among a herd of dilapidated bungalows stirring with sluggish activity.  I register for a class with the school’s proprietor, who has a way of gesturing with his right hand, index finger up and striking an invisible bell with the heel.  He is unctuous with a smooth masklike face, but our instructor is a disheveled elf who strides into the classroom with his eyes on the floor, not so much as a glance in our direction, scratching his head and heedlessly dropping a cubist surf of white pages from an ivory folder.  I saw him earlier in the parking lot, pacing up and down at the verge of the blacktop muttering to himself and craning his ear to a cell phone that leaked tinny music, eyes screwed shut, the desperate head churning up and down to the rhythm.  He sits at his desk.  His irises are large, the color of forest canopy as the leaves just begin to turn, but there are bags under the eyes and indigo rings around them in the albuminous flesh.  Looking into his eyes I saw again the dead faces, all blue, bleached, actinic, and grey, standing beside their headstones like dim sentries at the end of dusk.  The classroom is chilly and there are no lights, only a wall of glass louvers.

After mellifluously calling the roll and taking a moment to gather strength by pinching the bridge of his nose —

“All right,” he sighs theatrically, steepling his fingers.  “The subject of this class is time.  In the course of this seminar you will learn (hope springs eternal) the difference between duration and metric time, how to decouple yourself with the aforementioned metric time, how to censor, how to remote, how to bend, and how to finish.  That is, to die.”

He opens both his hands to emphasize this last word and the baffled silence that answers him proves we really are a class.

“We begin with a diagnostic.”

Each student — and the others here are literally indescribable — gets a topic to look up in the school librarian [sic].  I got “remoting dead.”

These classes went on for months, but they were considerably cheaper and less horrible than the “professional development seminar,” so I was able to keep up with the work by making a few economies, come fasting to school.  We began with Bergson, all very plausible and clear.  The mistake has been to think of time the same way we think of space, and this gives rise to flim-flams like Zeno’s.  Metrical time, divided in seconds, is handy, but duration, which is time as experienced by conscious beings, is indivisible, the cosmos is antics without beginning or end.  The pain of waking up at 6:45 AM is the pain of bolting duration onto the rack of metrical time.  Now Bergson says duration is “our” element, which is why time seems to pass at varying speeds for us but not for clocks.  But, according to the haggard wight who never gives us his name and thus is known only as “teacher” to us, thanks to recently discovered calendrical shamanic inscriptions of the Inca Tajiks and breakthroughs in deciphering Dero rock books the secrets of retrograde time-censoring are becoming known.  He pauses and turns to look at the class, the tip of his chalk still pressed to the end of a spiral on a green blackboard.

“You can go back,” he says.

He harps on about the dangers.  Going back and making changes could return us to unrecognizeably altered present times.

“Then why teach us something so dangerous?”

“Everything’s fizzling,” the teacher answers.  “There aren’t enough frontiers.”

He holds out his palm toward the louvers, allowing the pale daylight to cross it.

“Hardly the same sun that lit Odysseus the way to Ithaca and Persephone is it?”

“Wasn’t Penelope his wife?”

“P-Penelope,” the teacher stutters hastily, lowering his eyes.

The technique is pretty simple but it takes constant practice to make it work.  No breakthrough, just constant effort and the results form a kind of fog of happenings.  You begin with a series of computations performed by the moon, which is doubly important both as a calculator and as a focus, because, when it is a bright moonlit night here, that moonlight is the light of the lunar day;  day and night at once, exploit uncertainty of time categories is a permeable seam.  So there are the lunar calculations, and then the dragon.  Sometimes it’s a far eastern dragon, other times it’s western, and other times it’s a snake, or serpent rather, who once was an eel that sprouted legs and came out on land, then dove into the earth as if it were water and went back to not having legs again.

You have to make yourself light enough to travel.  You go back fasting, no problem for me there, but you have to unburden yourself of memories yearnings fantasies, all of it must go.  If you don’t forget it all, and that includes forgetting your purpose in going back, you won’t budge.  However, so as not to arrive in the past moment without the faintest idea what you’re supposed to do once you’re there, first you have to fashion your time release capsule:  a cache of instructions insulated by an ablative coating that dissolves at an absolute rate.  You drag that with you as you first begin to go, then, at exactly the right moment, you slingshot it ahead of you so it will be there waiting when you arrive.  Then you get lighter and lighter, opening up like a cape of empty pigeonholes and you’ll be bright, fired up, and ready to censor.  Meanwhile that TRC is waiting there for you, dissolving in time, and when you arrive the capsule will crack and those memories will spring up again before you like a spy briefing out of a microdot.

You go back body and all, although the body changes, becomes like a cartoon body, during the trip.  You feel the tug of the present as you whirl out from it in all directions like retreating back up a cone toward the wider end with a merry-go-round whose center is inside you.  You swarm together over your own life;  it’s like cradling an infant or a cat or a water balloon, always in danger of oozing out of your arms and impossible to hold.  You stare in awe at the panoply of your own life, laid out like a strip of landscape below you, too terrified to think of making any changes.  You can’t tell yourself “it’s just my life,” trying to adopt an outsider’s point of view, unmoved and unawed, no matter how detestable it is.  You arrive on time, you relive your moment of choice not daring to change a thing, then it’s time to go, you swarm up out of the past again having carefully kept shut your bag of untouched spoilers, vibrating flocks of pink cotton candy cunts engulf you and wing you on rejoicing;  the way forward is a cinch, a cinch, you come home in a dance.

Then you get your first preshock.  After my first trip it took me weeks to get used to the sight of my hands, which now were black, as was the rest of me.  Everyone takes me for a Brazilian, as if a Brazilian would waste his time in a hole like this.  I’m sure they can afford their own quack seminars in Brazil.  I had gone back to find, was it Carla?  Her name is one of the things that the trip has blurred for me.  What about her do I remember?  She gave me an amulet that would show me how much she loved me that day.  It had a place for three digits, which I guess switched and changed as the thing was tossed around on the lanyard about my neck.  She said 060 was the middle.

“The middle of what?”  I asked.

“I love you in the middle,” she answered, and explained it was read hieroglyphically, two circles balanced by the 6.

“Wouldn’t the balance be shown better by number 1?”  I asked unseriously.  “010?  So the straight line is the balance?”

“No you need a lopsided number there!  If it’s straight it has no reason to shift one way or the other way!”

What had I done with it?  Carla, Carolyn?  I had fooled around with her friend Denise behind her back, then left her, without any explanation.  The day she found out I’d moved in with Denise, she was humiliated, and later that same day she was badly injured in a car accident.  I’d had a good thing with Denise, but the accident, the hospital bed, that awful scar, followed us wherever we went.  So, to head off that whole debacle, I will have gone back to break off with Carla well in advance of the day I first kissed Denise.  Denise and I would then will have gotten together in the clear and Carolyn would have been come out of it more intact for not having will been betrayed.

The first time I set eyes on Carla for the second time I was completely unprepared.  I never got out of the astral boundary, paralyzed by the sight of her, like an actor with terminal stage fright frozen in the wings, staring glassy-eyed at the stage.  Brilliant daylight flung its javelins over me in a den of thick hedges and shimmering grass and blue and white hellparadise sky.  She wasn’t as pretty as I remembered, and more pretty, different and the same;  her face was a succession of gestures tied to bricked-up memories and taking them in was like having a heart attack, that way of flexing the lips around a crashing word, the quick push-up to the bridge of her glasses, the fragrances.  I couldn’t do anything.  I was staring at this woman I’d betrayed and left behind without a second thought, and now she stood within reach of my arms, seeming like an incarnation of God.

I came back to the present and let my head fall in black hands.  The vision knocked her name loose like a bar of wet soap I couldn’t get hold of — got to go back again.  I should censor Denise, stick with Carmen.  Try it.  Outside my window, a voiceless Theem wafts by on its long, stalklike legs, trawling among the clouds its web, a plume of black smoke.

The circular communicator dish blinks at me.  I thumb it off.  I can’t talk to her.

The people here are all afflicted now, sensitive tulip-like growths sprout from their faces and open at a touch.  I can feel the flat, coin-like buds now in my own face.  Outside, on the pathways, they stop in pairs or glide along as light as phantoms, their perfume, so quiet I can’t smell it even with the window open, rises from them in trembling manes of hot breath around their heads.  Heads like comets, charred and pitted and oozing icy, glabrous vapor.  A vast shadow sweeps across the landscape, like the shadow of a hand near the lens of the slide projector, and the sky color changes to bottle green, long shredded wheat clouds splintering apart into fibers against a Brazilian horizon.

Back.

Concentration.

The moon.

The numbers.

Dragon.

Capsule.

Back to the night we met.  Whatsername and I.

School night.  I resolve out of rags of fast-moving salmon clouds under a higher cover, torn here and there to expose the oceanic blackness of the sky above that, raw cold of a rain-blustered day, wind tossing all around.  I will have had met her here, at school, introduced by a mutual friend.  I have to see her as she was have been and above all I will had to see how she would will have seen me, what she will would have saw.  They’re in there now, the recital has have began in the hall covered in golden lanterns;  I stand just outside the ring of light, hidden among the scaly trunks of the palm trees.  The campanile rings, I go in now.  Now.

I stay right where I am.  I watch from the shadows.

Let the moment go.  Don’t go inside, don’t meet her.  I will have never been entering the hall, and she never had will met me at all.

I can’t resist the temptation, now that I have the power to unravel my whole future, my actions tell me why I would have will come here …

*

… One by one, the lamps are put out.  She has gone home, without ever will would having had met me.  Neither of them have will.  I thrill to the absence of their names in my diminished soul.  My soul is smaller, emptier.  That’s both of them censored, all neat and tidy, and the whole mess diverted into unlife.

I am readying myself to go to a new present again when I will caught sight of him, there in the gap between the hall and the library, where the shadow lies reflecting the black sky like a polished blackboard on the wet, ice-cold grass.  But it’s not there;  not in anything or on anything.  It’s an astral vent opening in coils, the spiral the teacher with dire warnings drew on the green blackboard, the image striking my eyes with the feeling of light, but without light.  In the middle, the serpent, old tempter, transparent, and edged with a sinuous force that is neither strength nor weakness, not motion or immobility, but a pure power of relating.

Down in there is the gateway to earlier still, and earlier and earlier censor opportunities remoter and remoter, down the cone toward the apex which was a fundamental, organic decision causing me to be, the moment of birth, of conception, of the conception of my parents.  The serpent shows me the golden, final apple of censorship, and out of rainswept childhood skies and wild electrical nights I plunge earlier and remoter to collect that primary opportunity.

***

 

 

 

 

New Draft

“I’m just a bad person, I guess,” the man in the corner says, lighting his pipe in defiance of a mildly disapproving look from the woman behind the bar as I step through the open glass door and onto the beach, the wind snapping in my face and a shower of daylight.

Later, the voice comes back to me, did it say person or version?  She is waving for me in sunbillows, her mouth like a dark V.  (As you die, someone will breathe it into your dying ear, whisper … what?  what?  You of noble birth … then what?)  We spent the day on the beach, the sun blowing glass bubbles around the two of us.  She swam, I didn’t.  I sat on the beach reading, glancing up at her from time to time through the smouldering pink.

That night, she telephones somebody and I step out through the glass doors for a moment.  The pipe smoker is sitting on a bench by the door, black cap on his head like a huge period.  He mutters something, his voice thick with smoke, to get my attention, a word like “mincore,” as if I should know it, like a code word.  I’m surprised, confused.  Still without lifting his head, he repeats the word, mumbling blobs of smoke.  He’s all black except for his hands and face, and the pipe is orange with a cream colored stem.  The bill of his cap blocks my view of his face in the gloom.

I ask him if he’s introducing himself.

“That’s right,” he says, soft and flat.

I tell him I believe I saw him as I was leaving the cafe earlier and the cap nods and puffs smoke.

“And you will see me again.  And they will find you, sooner or later,” he says.

I tell him I’m not hard to find.  He found me, and I supposed anyone could if they wished.

“I understand you’ve taken a certain class,” he says.

I get his drift with a distinct snap.  The haggard wight.  Censoring time.

“Reincarnation in the same body,” the figure says.  The pipe in his teeth wiggles.  I see he is handling something indistinct, which could be dried roots, or vines, or unravelled rope.  He seems to be braiding them, or unbraiding.

But that “class” was just a daydream of mine.

“So’s this,” the figure says.  One eye crawls into view around the brim of his cap.  The eye is intolerably strange, like a fractured ice lake under sunset light but concentrated the way twilight never is, and looking at it I feel something like a felty black fingertip pressed against my heart, stopping it like a pendulum in midswing.  Recoiling, I look away and the sensation vanishes.

“They will find you, sooner or later …”

Is he repeating himself, is that something I read in his glance, or is my memory repeating the phrase on its own initiative?

“First the one axis, then the other.  I suppose now you think you know me — back.  Night across the transfer forks — well, all of us in time.  They’ll kill.  In the old days they wait and wait.  The class was censored into your past, and I am being censored into here.  You, and I.  Two distinct, living souls.  It’s the Moment that makes us one.  You’re already hours.  They will find, sooner or later.”

He looks up at Orion’s belt through the dead trees on the hill above and nods familiarly.

“Going to die anyhow … that way will get you something.”

The two windows, blank white in the black silhouette of the house up there.  His words become an internal chain of speculation, as though I were alone.

“Everyone dies constantly.  As you move through time you throw off deaths like a schooner dashing up sequins of foam.  You have countless deaths.  A finite, countless number.  All numbers, all kinds.  You die one death into another, cancel one and find another.  That’s what it means to live countless simultaneous timelines, living all possibilities no matter how incompossible, living in multiple time branches.  Every choice happens.  You die in the plane crash and you survive.  You throw your arms around your brother’s neck and you crush his windpipe in your hands, and he died before you were born.  Your life itself makes time branch, and all time branches have death twin branches.”

Puffs of smoke scatter in all directions.  His hands work, spreading what might be a fan of cards or a gill of fungus.  Under his massaging thumbs, slender twigs or wires are threading through the pale crescent and extending beyond its edge in a friable rake of kinked angles.

“When you travel in time, when you leave the present, there is only forward, no backward.  You live by constant reincarnative steps in the same body.  But folks don’t all move toward the future at the same rate;  some arrive before others and call back to them.  Some live in the future already — you arrive to find others have been there waiting for you.  Sometimes you find the traces, or even a trail.  It isn’t a question of being this or that person, or belonging to some organization.  Anyone can do it, and people do it more often than they know.  It’s a mistake to think you’re part of an elite.  Your classroom participation was censored in.  You learned how to move along one axis…”

He turns the white object in his hands ninety degrees, showing me a dully phosphorescent line in the gloom.

“… backwards and forwards.”

He holds out the thing to me and I take it in both hands.  A gill of fungus, cold and plastic, laced with twigs and root tendrils, in hands that suddenly seem black and rough and old.  Still mine, but black and rough and old.

“… Next step is transit in cross-section across all possible forks, and censor yourself across the screen and live multiply.  You’re going to start seeing gods.”

I look back but the bench is empty.

“Just thought I’d warn you,” the voice says in my ear.

She’s off the phone, and we go for a walk.  There’s no moon.  The stars slide by behind the trees.  Outer space is a forest I can wander off into.  The street has no sidewalk.  Out past the streetlights there are only the occasional outdoor lamps on the houses;  looking at them with my darkness dilated eyes gives me in the head a feeling I recognize from before, that chalk finger lightly pressing the heart.  We pass a huge mansion set back from the road in dead trees with tiny spectral lights in each window, like the funereal mansion of the night sky.  Groans of pain — the heavy front door draws silently back on darkness inside and the woman opening it, the front of her night gown open, the naked body dim in its long drapery — smiling faintly she admits the corpse, escorts it upstairs to the boudoir, casts off her nightgown and lies on the bed, the cadaver climbing stiffly on top of her, its sex is a brittle, dented little paper cone in a ragged crotch, it embraces her and works up and down as she caresses the cracked, leathery back and exposed bones.

Other, smaller houses now, as we climb the hill together quietly talking.  The night fuzzes them over with trembling blue lint.  The de-animalized house holders are wrapped up inside asleep at ten PM.  I cross through the fence to examine the old burial ground, the maroon stones are too crumbled and lichened to read.  She is anxious, doesn’t want me alarming any of the houses scattered around the graveyard.  And she gets chilly in no time.  We walk back down the hill to the bungalow, she so lovely in the star light, my sidelong glances at her are like flashes of memory, the way I will see her in a moment of sorrow and longing to come when I look back at her beauty in an agony of intervening time, to reach back with younger, stronger arms.  I can’t grab hold of her and keep her now, it isn’t the right time for that gesture, it would be all out of order, an autistic stubbornness won’t let me grab hold of her now, in the street, she happily baffled by my weird, spontaneous ardor, weird because I’m really acting on behalf of another self who can’t be here right now, but who transmits his feelings of love and anguish through me.

The greater starry sky up above a pebbled plaster ceiling like an inverted white sky with black stars.  She sleeps beside me and I don’t sleep, her images flashing across the multiply blue squares of the dreamfield as if I’d already lost her, and the woman sleeping beside me is some other.  Who sits outside the house now, smoking thoughtfully in the cold and the black dark?

She and I were arguing.  Same old soap opera.  Unmet needs on both sides.  Long silences full of pain.  A looming tall god came in through the door as we spoke at once and crossed the room.  He was invisible inside a heavy terrycloth bathrobe with a hood flung up completely covering his head.  Drawing a loop of beads smartly from a sacklike pocket he sat down on the divan and began counting them, gazing on vacancy, as we argued.  She didn’t notice him, and I, whenever I wasn’t actually looking at him, had no feeling of an additional presence in the room.  But he remained when she left, silently counting.  Loops of that kind have, I think, a sort of a longer bead to mark the beginning and ending of the count, but I didn’t see one on his.  For all that it was tempting to think of him as a symbolic figure, whenever I saw him, and I saw him more than once, he was simply himself, and his bead counting was always only bead counting, a simple task that was complete in itself and secreted no reward for interpretation.

The next day, the day room, I registered aloud that she was busy and told her I’d come back later.  I knew she would be too embarrassed to admit she wasn’t really busy.  Her uncertainty, and a basic inertia, would do the rest of the work.  The moment for telling me she wasn’t really busy, contradicting my cheerful assumption, would slip by, and that would become the truth.  This shitty maneuver prevented her from detaining me and concealed my own desire to get away, to be alone, at the same time.

All shitty every paltry day paltry shitty stratagems.  Dedicate yourself entirely to the time and get rid of these distractions.  I tell the bit of wind flapping by my face it’s over and I mean the whole thing is over, no more love-pretending with her or with anyone any more.  My happiness is no different from any other man’s and not worth thinking about even for a moment.  The only thing different I do is the time.  Looking around me now I see my life in flames, and rejoice;  the prospect causes me no more distress than the immolation of a fictional character.

Another god, through the glass door of another bungalow;  she was a squat, middle-aged woman with short, red brown hair done up in the kind of coif I associate with television, nearly doubled up perched inside a wooden desk chair, spinning round and round in place.  She had cigarettes in between the fingers of both hands and she clapped one or the other to her lips as she twisted the chair this way then that, sending angled arcs of smoke up around her in a fraying, punctuated coil.  Smoke gathered against the ceiling, forming an inner cloud that reached down below the upper edge of the door so that I could see a cross-section.

You were right the first time old boy, adult life is glittering bullshit.  The glitter sprinkles down onto you when you’re a child, but you have a beastial wariness about it like a suspicious animal.  Live multiply, across a simultaneous section of all possibilities, we having fought not having fought having died having broken up long ago having broken up and reunited and so on.  Taking a walk staying in being dead and rotting never having been born, is how radical it can become.  Why would I want anything so terrifyingly unknowable as that, and what would hold me back?  Considering I have already will might done it since.

Some subatomic particles are so small they can never be located with any assurance, because the means of detecting them will always cause them to move, so they can be localized only roughly.  They occupy zones, rather than positions, and the size and shape of these zones is determined by the activity of the particles.  Since the particle is equally likely to be at any position in the zone of its action at any time, this means the entire zone is more or less equivalent to the entire particle and will have the same shape.  A human being living multiply across the branches of the possibility spectrum would experience existence in the same way;  he would be impossible to locate except in probabilistic terms, but, since the overall shape formed by the activity of the human agent would correspond to the human body in the same way that the zone of activity of a subatomic particle would have the same shape as that particle, projected and diaphanized, the human agent would not suffer dispersal.  On a certain level, the human agent, consisting of countless dimensional extensions into all possibilities, would be itself a diaphanated titanic projection of the body.  Like the Brocken spectre.  My time image, the giant.  Get out into the wider switching yard of timelines and see the world like a wide-eyed draftee, not confined to this or that moment anymore, but in a Moment Image that spans the wider branchings.  Not just an atom, a dick, an asshole anymore, but getting a head, getting the whole, and a hard-on in every timeline at once, coming in every line.  A level of smart alec never dreamed of before, and a withering intensity of time’s sarcasm concentrated and focussed mercilessly on me until … what?  Something set free, something dies.  A change ensues.  I see my hand across the room, many rooms.  Reach out and take it by the hand, unmask gods.  Back.  Back from the beach to the apartment choking with unspoken smog.  Today on the subway I saw three musical instrument cases, and three strikingly beautiful women’s faces.  I see the two of us in silent conversation.  Life’s waters bear you away, you’re leaving me.  There’s nothing I can do about it, unless I decide otherwise.  I’m not tied up, watching helpless as you’re being dragged away, but will I do something?

There’s the moon, the numbers, and the dragon, like before.  There’s no time, I have to go cross country tomorrow, I have to attend a professional development seminar.  I set my alarm.  All my life’s possibilities flash like landscapes past a bullet train, spotlit platforms whirl up and away again populated with figures, many of them familiar, who flit by in an effusion of discrete gestures, with each gesture the dancer is a new person.  I distinctly see a meadow bordered by a screen of trees, a black, felty figure in a cap detaches from the background like a distant passerby in a Munch painting and pads noiselessly off the canvas with electric swiftness. Across section whose edges are the Five Escapees.

Step off the carousel speeding train to Nan Madol.  The music of the Five Escapees each with its own repeating phrase one is a series of notes that descend like gifts or like the buttresses of the cathedral, one is a series of notes that ascend like desire or the lofty height of the cathedral, one is a continuous oscillating wailing like anguish or the various doors and screens of the cathedral, one is a different set of oscillating high pitches like language the sound of creatures joining themselves to luminosity above them in the air, stars and constellations or like the dappled colorful light through the stained glass windows of the cathedral, one is a violent beating like anger or the solid libationsaturated foundations and stone fabric of the cathedral.  Hectored out of

a) sound
b) troubled

sleep at

a) quarter to seven,
b) nine thirty, missed flight, went to church, became nun
c) eight exactly

a) watery
b) diamond

a) late November
b) June

sunlight in the folds of the

a) curtains.
b) blinds.

I

a) ate
b) skipped

my breakfast and

a) took a car to the airport,
    a) caught in traffic, missed flight, went to church, became nun
b) haled cab step into street run over by police car — returminus.
c) swam to the train station,

now the plane is descending.

a) too fast and crashes
    a) into mountain — returminus.
    b) into ocean
        a) and I drown — returminus.
        b) and I survive, swim to train station, adopted by dolphins.

The highway trench across the conurbation. I walk on to the car dealership.

a) Crossing street run over by police car — returminus.
b) I walk on to the car dealership.

I spent the night at the

a) monastery.
b) motel.

Now the

a) right
b) wrong

address, I

a) enter and attend a professional development seminar, return home afterwards, my profession
    a) develops
    b) does not develop
b) turn aside and our instructor is a disheveled elf. “The subject of this class is time.” These classes went on for months. The pain of waking up at 6:45 AM is the pain of bolting duration onto the rack of metrical time. He pauses and turns to look at the class, the tip of his chalk still pressed to the green blackboard. “You can go back,” he says. You begin with a series of

a) computations performed by the moon,
b) phases of illuminancy performed by an artificial intelligence,

then the

a) dragon.
b) tiger.

You have to make yourself light enough to travel. You go back fasting with a cache of instructions. You arrive

a) in the wrong place, run over by police motorcycle — returminus.
b) late, Carl is already married.
c) early, discover Carolyn being ravished by dragon.
d) on time,

you swarm up out of the past again having carefully kept shut your bag of spoilers, vibrating flocks of pink cotton candy cunts engulf you and wing you on rejoicing, then you get your first preshock. I will have gone back to break off with Carla well in advance of the day I first kissed Denise. The first time I set eyes on Carla for the second time I was completely unprepared. She was an incarnation of God. Go back again.

b) Don’t go back.

I should

b) not

censor Denise, stick with Carmen. Back. Concentration. The moon. The numbers. Dragon. Capsule. School night. I resolve I will have had met her here, see her as she was have been and above all I will had to see how she would will have seen me, what she would have saw.

b) Police car runs over Denise.
c) Carolyn arises before me in icy skirts of ether that wash over and engulf my legs in waves of freezing vapor, the vibrating cling of her hellpearl eyes holds me as the robed god enters the room, pulling the rope of beads smartly from his pocket.

That’s

a) both of them
b) myself

censored into unlife. There in the

a) gap, the serpent,
    a) the paragraph,
        a) the hellparagraph,
    b) the tiger behind the door.

b) barrier I crash into

the gateway to earlier still, earlier and earlier remoter and remoter, the final apple out of rainswept childhood and paradise sky of wild electricity I

a) plunge
b) crash

I

a) set my alarm.
b) don’t.
    c) I set my alarm for days in the past, awake in the past, get up, get dressed, put black cap on, call pipe down from hell-rafter-lair, load pipe with helltobacco and basiliskembers.
        a) Like making my way through a crowd I weave toward the backyard seat by the door behind the bungalow through constellations and solitary stars alike, step out from sky to night sit down by the door set my alarm.

 

 

 

 

New Draft

Lap One

begins

(May is already in motion, having jogged to the track as usual)

when she passes the gate and steps directly to her lane, the second outermost.

She will mark a lap every time she passes this open gate. The same gate, the same track, the same lane, anticlockwise as usual.

Speed up, you’re at the track now.

No need to go that fast, don’t use it all.

Night sky, stars, Orion’s belt, clouds, very fast moving, drawn like the bow over a cello.

The alarm was set back at home, by the front door, during impatient preparations. Warm enough. Light enough to travel.

Coming around, the moon. Waxing. One edge still darkened by the world’s shadow. Run better the fuller it is, or easier. A bit more than two minutes a lap. Faster almost never. Should go faster, all out. The sprinters here, end up doubled up in two panting. Then go again. Not me.

Lap Two

Two minutes and twenty seconds. Stinks. Go faster.

The clock in the scoreboard used to run slow. Didn’t realize that at first. Led to an initial misconception, thinking I was surprisingly fast. Scoreboard is left off now. They started leaving it off. Actinic moonlight on tiger face of the mascot beside HOME and a black rectangle with black beads of unlit incandescents.

Keeping it up, good, one, two, three.

Don’t count. You’ll go crazy. Nearly empty, good. People are aggravating to weave around, pushing strollers. Not totally empty is better, no one around is dangerous. No one around means someone you can’t see.

Not paying attention to the music. Same music. Batteries.

Lap Three

Two minutes and eleven. Keep it up.

You’d think, after all these years – nine — it would be faster. Less time. Plateau’d. Healthier though. Running from death. Every step. Snatched from.

The center of the field is her dead body laid out on a table and she running placidly around and around her center of gravity, her body dead, her body not dead yet. So many steps in the same body, working hard.

Rushing up subway stairs she’d arrived panting at the top felt a pain in her chest and thought … Went out the next day and bought shoes, running clothes. A deep hood. Muffled up a haggard wight she’d begun sheepishly. Nine years around the track. The longer outer lane, but not the outermost, where chainlink claws could rip her clothes, snag her headphone line.

Lap Four

or was it? How many has it been? Already four, but not four done, three done. Now four. Not so much, not already. Disappointingly at just its time. Long way more. Agony of intervening time. Steady push and pull. Breath. Heroic slow motion image of long-striding runner. Legs flung deliberate like javelins, not that way with me. A horizontal tumble, rolling. Feet flung out to stop me plunging headlong. Repeated protofall.

Time I fell. Cracked, unsettled pavement, hidden in a treeshadow. Sprawling, wind knocked out. Groaned like a cow. Permanent blemishes on my knees.

Pass exercise stations. Pull up bars for younger, stronger arms. Sit up bench. Stretching beam. Bleachers. Sometimes smokers, fuckers. Blowing smoke where people gasp for breath.

Come on.

Working hard.

Older woman boogieing along in her cute yellow pastel tracksuit with white piping, weave around her on the outer lane with a wave of acknowledgement.

Lap Five

Five, five, five, two minutes nine seconds, under the double digit. nine. Nine seconds. Best time something like one fifty. That’s three minutes for two laps no not one point five one fifty ten seconds shy of two so two is twenty shy of four that’s that’s that’s shit forty three forty, two minutes one hundred seconds which is sixty that’s three and then forty right. Forty and sixty one hundred is fifty twice. Three forty for two that’s six eighty for four which is a mile, seven twenty a mile better than less than twice four minute mile, which is beyond the pale, beyond the pale, professional, Olympic.

Come on.

Working hard.

Faster.

Blanching peach of the moon descending in clouds. Sky like fractured ice lake of soaring floes. Stars over.

You’re easing up. Harder.

Lap Six

Two nine, no let up.

Angry. Wide open.

Gust dying away. Don’t drop down.

Counting. Mile and a half, not yet. After lap. Then mile and half. Better than a fifth, twenty percent above twenty percent. Two more than one, that’s four, and two is six, six out of five, which is four each, twenty. Fourteen left. Many. Not as many. Six twenties is half sixty percent is thirty, nearly a third. Seven is a third of twenty almost. Three tens, thirty percent, really? Yes.

Lap Seven

Two seven, is it seven or is it lap seven? Constantly counting the time. Drives you crazy. Time is impossible to think about. Always hated stories about time, never able to follow. Story about the time travel class. Turned into. Cosmic travel. One is all and all is one.

Still only one mile and a half, just finished that one. Now heading into a nothing number, three quarters. Less encouraging than half. Two seconds faster, that’s better. Working hard.

Working hard.

I’m dying.

Working hard. Come on.

Lap Eight

already lap eight? First time around was stars, cloud bow. Second was scoreboard. Dead body third. Fourth thinking about the time I fell. Fifth was moon second time. Sixth don’t know. It can’t have been only one lap between fifth moon lap and now. More time than that it’s been. Divide difference by average of two minutes a lap and there, must be eight. Halfway. It will be.

Lap Nine

Remember check time this time forgot last time. So can’t know how long it’s been. But you can know when you were at the gate I mean when you started. Started this lap. Necessary for counting for the next one.

I’m dying. Work hard. Can I quit, it’s like I couldn’t. Can’t imagine stopping. Can. Dropping pace down to jolting trot. Momentum clatters down around me like heavy juggling pins. No reason you can’t stop and start again. Have to stop if you get dizzy. A little dizzy.

Don’t slow down. Keep up this one lap you can ease up the next one.

Lap Ten

Two minutes one, that’s good! Good! Ten down, that’s half, it’s downhill now. Over the hill. The hump I mean. The crest. Crest of the wave. Now. No, later. Still time. After this one half. Finish this one. Stay at two minutes. Two miles and a half.

Ten laps to go come on.

Ten laps to go come on.

Eyes on feet. Big washer on the track, metal loop, loops of that kind. A little queasy, nauseated. Should stop. Weird breeze from the left. Cold on me like rubbing alcohol. Tingling. Something’s happening. Happening to me – it isn’t a breeze — my left side is numb.

The End

When May falls and lies where she fell, the jogger coming up and around rushes over and kneels beside her.

“You all right?” she pants. “Miss? Miss?”

Lap Seven

Two seven, is it seven or is it lap seven? Less encouraging than half. Two seconds faster. Working hard.

Working hard.

I’m dying.

Ten laps to go come on.

Ten laps to go come on.

Rubber top of the track reddish and pebbly like old blood clot the left side of her vision area explodes in basiliskembers twirl blend and pitch together drawing a luminous cape across the inside of her optic skull chamber, breath pounding steadily in and out.

Ten laps to go come on.

Ten laps to go come on.

The End

A small group, skinny men with their hands high on their hips, a pair of huge women walkers, pair of young girls all legs and long hair, a little knot of women in fiery Southeast Asian regalia, athletic young man with his head down against his phone.

“… She’s unconscious …”

“… On the track …”

“… She just fell …”

Lap Four

or was it? How many has it been? Not so much, not already. Disappointingly at just its time. Long way more. Agony of intervening time.

Ten laps to go come on.

Ten laps to go come on.

Time I fell, cracked, unsettled. Pavement hidden in a treeshadow.

The End

Older woman in a pastel yellow tracksuit with white piping kneeling over her tousled body, check eyes, pulse.

The ambulance.

The stretcher.

Young girls stand beside the older woman.

Unlock the wheels and roll the sheeted figure to the gate, the gaping ambulance. The driver spins the wheel, the wheels turn under and the ambulance creeps out of the park, rounding corners, lights spinning and flashing.

Lap Nine

ten laps to go come on

ten laps to go come on

ten laps to go come on

The End

The elevator doors part. The stretcher sweeps down hospital corridors, doors flash by, weave around a little knot of women in fiery Southeast Asian regalia, hands check eyes, pulse.

Lap Four

Time I fell. Weave past older woman in pastel yellow tracksuit with white piping boogieing along. Wave at her. Young girls keeping pace with me a moment on the other side of the chain link fence.

Ten laps to go come on. Come on. Come on.

Can’t feel my legs come on. Legs light as air my feet slam the ground like mallets. Ten laps. To go, come on. Come on. Baskets of verbs. Incomplete baskets. Something’s blocking the lane, a whole crowd, run around them. Ten laps. Come on. Come on. Come on. On. On. On. On. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Ten laps to go come on. Ten laps to go come on.

The End

Nothing to check. No pulse, no eyes. Empty hospital corridors, empty rooms flash by.

Lap Lap

When the surrounding complexities of the present contract into the mind in a single starlike focality, all desire all fear all rage all love all pain is there, the towering universe funneling into it, all around it the mechanically ordered processes of life, stripped naked to intensity that burns imagination, perception, understanding, intuition, memory, emotion together in faceless incandesence. The track is a perfectly straight strip to the horizon, striped like a guitar neck, she plants her feet one squarely before the other exactly down the centerline of her long lap, each lap is one rotation of the two feet on the long lap which is like a loop viewed edgewise not from above, it’s a line because it’s a circle.

Ten laps to go come on.

Ten laps to go come on.

Ten laps to go come on.

Flashing by the moon’s actinic light on the stylized face of the dragon mascot and the black rectangle of the scoreboard with its dead teeth of black incandescents, first flakes of summer snow twist golden in rippling heat of winter sun. Feet drumming the ground. Jolts each through her like a deep ripple across a sail. Legs, body, light, light, ten laps, come on. Ten laps. Ten, come on. You’re halfway there.

Michael Cisco (1970 – ) is an American writer best known for his first novel, The Divinity Student, which was published by Ann VanderMeer’s Buzzcity Press and won the International Horror Guild Award in 1999. Since then, Cisco has published The Traitor, The Tyrant, The Narrator, and most recently Animal Money. Taken together, his work represents perhaps the greatest oeuvre of any late twentieth/early twenty-first century writer of weird fiction—all the more remarkable because of the difficulty of sustaining the visionary quality of such narratives over the novel length.