28 Oct 2005
26 Oct 2005
Tommy doesn’t know how old he is anymore. He thinks maybe twenty-two but he’s not sure. At least four winters have passed, give or take a few. He thinks maybe he could be immortal in this forest. If he’s aged he hasn’t noticed. But it might be that his thoughts are aging. And it might be that he’s dreaming of home more often, the novelty of the memory of perverse humanity. The terrain is changing, sloping downward. The trees have turned deciduous and the forest veins are getting wider like the mouths of large rivers. They begin to resemble regular, human-beaten paths again. And Candie is away more often.
Shortly before the great change that is to come, Candie returns to offers him a prophecy that sounds like a prelude to permanent departure.
"The fairies will help you," she says.
"You may need their help in the future and if you seek it you will find it. I know because you have the manna."
"You had Scuffy, that is a mark of the manna. We now have Scuffy but you still have the manna."
A stinging cocktail of emotions pulse through him when the sprite mentions Scuffy. "Hey, do you think I could get a look at him again? It’s been a while."
"Scuffy is far away," Candie says. "And your journey is almost at an end."
"It is?" But there’s no point in questioning this, he’s sensed it for days. He might not have before starting on the forest trek but now he’s attuned to such things.
Night falls twice before Tommy finally reaches the edge of the forest. A warm summer morning. The trees have thinned. The lack of density makes Tommy uneasy but he’s driven on by his journey’s momentum. Here the ground is deep soil with sparse brush and the occasional flower patch. Brilliant sunlight streams through the edge, the EDGE! Could it really be the edge? After all this time? And what’s on the other side? Candie has accompanied him so far but she won’t leave the forest. Tommy isn’t the least bit surprised but his heart sinks anyway. He’s out of the network now.
"It is time for me to go," Candie says. "I have fulfilled my end of the bargain and you have fulfilled yours. I must spend more time with my family."
"Could you play me a song before you leave?"
"Sure," she says as if she’d been expecting the request. She grabs her pipe and plays. It turns out to be a variation on the Princess theme. She turns it into a haunting adagio and stretches it out for ten minutes as Tommy tears up. When the song is over Tommy notices that Candie’s ears and wings are twitching. It’s time. No more words are necessary, except:
"Goodbye Tomilin," she says. "Safe journey."
Candie flies away, an abrupt exit. The edge of the forest with its streaming sunrays remains but the universe seems to have shifted. Tommy sits on a log and tries to meditate but grows restless. He wants to see what’s on the other side.
Turns out the forest empties into a valley. He’s in a meadow of tall grass with stubby mountains on either side. The sun is setting. Tommy is blown away by the scene, especially the sun. He hasn’t seen it like this in years – how did he survive direct sunlight before? It feels like it’s frying his skin. But strangely enough, it feels good. A long-forgotten word pops into his head: Sunbathe. Yes, people can bathe in the sun. It’s okay. Tommy basks in the light. Outer light, but it feels so good. Who needs inner light when the sun is so good?
There is more forest ahead but as he draws closer it appears to be a strange sort of forest. Almost a grid of trees, all similar in height. Then he sees the sign, nailed to the tops of two tall wooden poles:
Tommy stops to ponder this. The lettering is black and hand-painted. There is definitely an orchard ahead. Looks like cherry trees. Cultivation. The first human artifact encountered since the runaway rupture. Tommy looks around the valley. He sees no other sign of human habitation. He hears nothing but birds, crickets, and a soft wind. He walks directly under the sign and into the orchard.
The next sign of human habitation is a jolt: thin plastic hoses under the rows of trees on either side. Irrigation. Now it dawns on him that he is probably trespassing on private land. The grid is getting to him. He’s not in the forest anymore and there is no sprite to guide him. Vague fascist terrors roam his mind, images of helicopters and police ambush. But all is quiet. Almost hyper-serene. There are calls of bugs and birds and distant mammals but this orchard is sonically sparse compared to the forest.
The cherry orchard is vast. Tommy emerges on the other side to more valley and the next several signs of human habitation: fences stretching to either side of the valley and a house to his right, nearly buried in maples. Further ahead are more trees in grids, open land, what could be crops, and just barely visible, creeping out of the atmospheric haze, a mansion on top of the highest hill, also largely hidden in trees.
Tommy ventures onward. Both the mansion and the house have purple roofs and trim, but as he passes the house, he sees it is dilapidated and uninhabited. It’s a frail-looking two-story structure, Victorian-era. He keeps going, walking parallel to a wire fence with wooden pegs. Sometimes he catches sight of buildings but they disappear in the trees and hills before he can make out any details.
The sun is sinking under the mountains when Tommy enters the large clearing at the foot of the steepest, highest hill. The mansion stands atop it. Its architecture is zany, exaggerated proportions, tall towers and arches, strange angles. For some reason the phrase gingerbread house pops into his head. Candie, who has become a voice in his head, says: What have folk tales taught you about gingerbread houses in the forest?
But it isn’t gingerbread. It seems to be concrete, brick, and siding. It has the same aesthetic as the abandoned house he’d left behind but it doesn’t look decrepit. And now he sees another modern artifact: a single power line cutting through the trees on the far right of the hill. So the mansion is electrified – if it’s still in use. But it’s still so quiet.
Eerie calm aside, the orchard feels inviting and wholly benign like some historical sweetspot, the surreality of the modern artifacts being the secret ingredient. Well he hasn’t been shot at yet, anyway.
He scans the forested hill for some sign of entrance. A little gap at the bottom draws his eyes and feet. It is in fact the beginning of a thin dirt path that winds up the hill. Tommy follows it to another, smaller clearing. Everything above this point is landscaped. The vegetation is deliberate and bright beds of flowers dot the ground. A gravel path winds up the rest of the way, bordered by finely carved stone pillars three feet tall. Tommy’s been in the forest a long time but he remembers what they called this: luxury.
A wall of sculpted red rock towers to the left of the swank path, bracing against the face of the hill. The mansion is still far above and only the rooftops can be seen. There is a sign perpendicular to the wall, hammered into the ground, and just enough light remains for Tommy to read it:
It’s in the same hand-painted lettering as the "Twigshire Orchard" sign. A curious grin spreads across Tommy’s face. A job?
He’s always wanted a job. It’s been a repressed fantasy since his falling out with Jimmy. But he used to dream about it all the time on dull days hanging out at the construction sites with nothing to do. They’d never give him a task like he couldn’t be trusted. Meanwhile, lucky Jimmy got to do everything. Probably owns the company by now, he thinks. Tommy would try and make his own jobs but they tended towards the useless and nonsensical. Once he decided he would count the cars that passed the site. He kept a tally. He would justify it later, the work was the important thing. But it was winter and it got cold. He gave up early.
Well someone here seems to want help, he thinks. If there’s actually anyone around. He’s learned to listen to his feet which compel him onward. But his brain compels him downward. It’s getting late and the forest has taught him to sleep after sunset. Tommy blunders down into the woods a little ways. No fractal veins here. He forages for natural bedding. He’ll camp out at the edge of the clearing and decide what to do in the morning.
It’s his first night cut off from the sprites and a deep sorrow settles in. He could go back to the forest and keep wandering there. But hasn’t that played out? It seems the only thing to do is go forward, maybe check out the mansion. If it turns out the place is just a ghost orchard, he can keep going and probably survive – he knows where the mushrooms are.
But the fear starts to gnaw at him too, fear of the unknown, the X factor. There are no barchivist entries for this place. Would he dare interact with humans again? This is further complicated by a flood of loneliness and longing for pink and brown skins, North American urbanized culture – and dread that this might be a possibility. But wherever this is, it’s far away from the math room, Jim Salekin, all the bullshit. All the bullshit he knows, anyway. Confusion. The forest seems unreal. His eyes droop and he lays down his head. He feels better as he drifts off and thinks of the "help wanted" sign. And Twigshire. This could be a good place, as good as the forest was. And there is a plan. Help wanted. He doesn’t know if anything will come of it but there is hope. For some kind of life.
Tommy dreams. The setting is a composite of the forest and the orchard, a benign patchwork. There is a whole village of purple-trimmed houses but they are inhabited by wood sprites. The orchard-forest is a thriving sprite settlement. Tommy has been hired to gather mushrooms, a career well-suited to his skills. The dream is interspliced with fragments of his life before the forest. There is a video arcade in the village square where sprites play Tetris and Mario Kart. Beyond the largest hill is a construction yard where humans and heavy machines dig earth, mix concrete, haul bricks.
On a mushroom gathering trip, Tommy looks to the construction site with yearning. Luxury condominiums rise from steel frames. At the top of the building is a penthouse with the neon outline of a curvaceous female nude. A bright red sports car pulls into the just-completed parking lot. Candace and Samantha exit the vehicle dressed in skimpy attire, light reflecting off their shades. They walk purposefully into the building through a blue-tinted revolving door. Tommy stares wildly, driven mad with lust for the whole scene.
But sports cars and high rises are wrong! he thinks, they’re everything that’s wrong with the world! Then he looks back to the sprite village and a strange emotion pulls him in its direction. It’s a scene of goofy dignity – with sly paradox, it contains both extremes. Beyond Zen. A cold shiver rips through him, a shiver of delight. He sees how pathetic his niche is, picking mushrooms for the sprites, and loves it. The humility. He’s not even one of them. He isn’t even allowed at their meetings. He is a loser but he is content. Wrong but oh so righteous joy, the thrill of blaspheming the secular God, the secret method of rebellion. True rebel cool, the only cool there is any more, divinity of the anti-god which is formless and infinitely varied. Fractal hallucinations creep in from all sides, along with a feeling of dread. But the visuals are so beautiful! Dreadfully beautiful. A beckoning finger forms in the middle of them.
Suddenly Tommy is in one of the sprite homes and Candie is beckoning him to her bed. He is finally allowed, same height, he is a sprite, his birthright! But the dread swells even as Candie strips off her bark. Now that he is allowed he doesn’t feel worthy. What has he done? He’s relied on charity and Scuffy. He didn’t draw Scuffy. He’s not a creator. All he’s done is pencil in a bunch of crappy music while he was supposed to be learning algebra, a few songs, and a silly "manifesto". He gave up practicing, never honed his piano technique. Maybe one day he could have played for Candace but he didn’t even try. Never did anything of substance, charity case, basket case. Probably couldn’t even weave a basket to save his life. Candie is so beautiful and the sprite home is endearing but it’s so wrong. Even this contrition feels wrong. Stop being such a goody-goody, it’s saccharine and sick! he screams at himself. Be a natural rascal at least, be happy with something, something real! But he can’t be happy with anything, good is bad, all is wrong, all permutations of existence. This is hell, it must be! Life was a delusion for the purpose of allowing hell’s hellishness to be fully felt and now another aeon of immeasurable wrong – panic, horror, and then a voice cuts through it all: "TOMMY!"
Tommy wakes up with a gasp, the voice still ringing in his head. The voice was clarity itself: strong, stern, lucid, and the only thing that could have saved him from hell. He won’t call it the blank although that’s what it sounded like. Does he still believe he was in hell? No, just a dream, thank God. It’s pitch black and there are no stars in the sky. Some clouds must have moved in. He gets up shakily from his bed of leaves. Still camped on the hill, he’s relieved to find. Post-dream orientation is hard enough in a familiar place. Sight is near impossible.
The voice again. Tommy shudders. He knows he’s not dreaming but it’s the same damn voice. The dread is back, bile rising in his throat. The voice is a sadomasochistic beacon – he wants to run toward it and away from it at once. He knows there’s no escape.
Tommy stumbles upward through the brush. A few steps and he’s in the clearing. The voice is in his head but it also seems to have a direction associated with it. The lower clearing. Tommy can just barely make out the edges of the path and shuffles down it. The dread keeps rising, higher than he thought his specs would tolerate. Maybe he is still in hell. The voice continues to call his name at regular intervals, luring him like a moth to a flame. It’s like the beckoning finger in the dream except it isn’t in the middle of a hallucinogenic mandala. And finally Tommy identifies the feeling of saccharine hell that erupted at the end of the dream, that still lingers in unspeakable antiquity. It has a taste, a medicine taste.
Tommy reaches the end of the path and homes in on the center of the gently-sloping lower clearing. All is black. Except… there is something ahead. Something white and in possession of his will. He keeps walking.
It is the source of the voice and he doesn’t want to see but he does. It is internally luminescent, the only object visible in the dark. It is the clown.
He walks in terrified automation. Twenty paces from the figure, the resistance of his horror levels with the pull of the beacon creating hellish equilibrium. He stands before the clown.
"Don’t you know who I am?" it asks.
"No," Tommy breathes, horrified.
"You know who I am," says the clown with a toothy grin.
"No." He can’t admit it.
"Yes you do."
"Oh God no." But he knows it’s true. It’s been a long time. His mind stretches back like an elastic all the way to the cough syrup coma – eight ounces of Nyquil, the floor. The elastic snaps along with his sanity.
15 Oct 2005
5 Oct 2005
1 Oct 2005
purpose in this life
but i make a horrible sickly martyr
and she makes a better one, pretty hair
sunk in january, and who am i
to save anyone, while on that collision course
first against the wall
first against the wall
now i could lie
maybe convince myself
maybe make it a reality
that's how optimisim works
and i'm too busy being in love
not mining it for poetry
the real thing is better than anything
written about it
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