Jozef

He was a tall man. Thick. Dressed completely in black pinstripes. He looked like a circus freak. A dark one. A circus freak in chains. The clown perhaps. But the clown who dares you to keep on looking. To take a step closer. Entrances you with his invitation  to heavy burdens and to sorrow. The clown who laughs and makes you feel clattering inside.

He played the lute. An electric lute. How contemporary. In case you’re wondering, a lute is a rather large instrument. Larger than you’re imagining. Especially when it has about 24 strings. It looks more like a guitar than you’ve been led to believe and it is not a guitar. It is a moaning instrument. A lute suffers at its players hand. It is a strange and evil instrument. It is on fire. Rome is burning.

The name lute is an etymological derivation from an Arabic word. I didn’t have to look that one up. I remembered it from a few years ago when I first discovered the musical tradition of the oud. Yes I’m bragging but I’ll stop right now. The oud is a guitar-like instrument that predates the guitar. It has a shapely bodice like a pear or a pear shaped woman. I am not a musicologist but I gather that the oud has more strings than a modern day guitar and never had any frets. As an instrument, the oud  was open to interpretation, as any pear shaped thing should be. Half steps break what you think you know about music. Then come the fourth steps. Then eighth steps. All the sorrowful, undeclared, unresolved feelings that the string of a heart contains but never materializes in those “four-to-the-floor” beats and lurid pop songs about pussy shanking or whatever is in vogue these days for bankrupt western audiences.

So the oud. What does it sound like? It sounds like you’re by the ocean. It doesn’t have to be a pleasant day by the ocean. It is perhaps windy and rocky. Five centuries ago, a ship broke into a million pieces on that particular rock over there. Do you see it? The great black one with white crustacea foaming on its brittle back. If you listen closely you can hear the dead of the wreck singing their favorite love songs. They may be dead but they are singing if your oud player is skilled enough.

So, al-oud takes a little trip, she does. Pear shaped and all, across the abbreviated Mediterranean. Do you see where this is heading? Why Spain, of course. Al-oud to el oud to l’oud to –aha!– our lute in question. It’s a rather quick dissolve of salt in water. Could have happened over the course of a single port deal. Hands shaken, blessings said, mi casa es al-oud.

Fast forward only about 500 years. A few more ships have crashed. Planes were invented. Those crashed too, incidentally. Near the same rock. Can you believe it? A very strange chorus has erupted in that exact spot of the double ship wreck and plane crash. It’s difficult to categorize the genre exactly. Sort of a dirge meets rock opera ballad. In any event, I went to a concert in Los Angeles a few weekends ago.

There he was. The Dutchman. Sitting cross legged in his black, pinstriped clown suit. His lank hair falling in his face. Everything about him looked so greasy. His hair, his pants, his slick and beautiful red lute. You couldn’t look away. You wondered, is this guy for real? And then he started playing.

He’s playing the lute. The electric lute. A gross contradiction in terms if you’re just reading about it. And yet. Is painful feeling — when it’s truly felt — dulled in its magnification? Or is it simply louder? Louder than all the plane crashes. Louder than pop songs raging their insolent substitution for substance. Louder than Spain. Louder than al-oud. Loud. Loud. Loud as we want to feel about our own private, drowning love songs.

 

brine

Sit in your house. Sweat. Come on now, sweat it out. Droplets form all over your skin in the oppressive heat of your un-aired room. The laundry gently bakes at the low grade convection of 75 degrees and the natural humidity of you and your other housemates. There may be sourdough naturally occurring in all the peripheries of your room.

Sit down harder. Sweat it out. Think out loud. Harder. Yes, that’s it. Now you’re getting it. You’re a concentrate. You’re stewing in and of yourself.  You’re in brine.

What ingredients are you adding to your brine? Everyone’s different. Me? I like a little garlic. Not too much. I know some people spoil for garlic. If given half a chance they would whip up toxically garlicky mascarpone to slather everywhere, all over their bodies, laying down scent trails to attract every other garlic nut for miles around for an indulgent orgy of pungency. Now, I wouldn’t say no to a morsel from the garlic of earthly delights but I’m not about to hand over my golden apple either. Sorry, where were we. I hope I haven’t lost you yet? At least, not on account of the garlic?

I like peppercorns in my brine. The jagged little black spheres always remind me of asteroids. Like space rocks collecting and spacing themselves out in an elegant ring around Saturn. A crackling spice loud enough to be tasted in the vacuous dark. So, a half dozen whole peppercorns into the boil.

Next, red pepper flakes. Mostly for color. They are just so darn autumnal. And how like leaves they are, drifting lazily to the bottom of the mason jar. Like a salty, spicy snow globe, enveloping an untouched little domicile.

Of course there’s other things you could put in: Bay leaf, coriander, a hot chili or two. But what are you pickling? Is it cucumbers? Is it mushrooms? Is it a vegetable that shares your name which contains multitudes? That’s interesting. A vegetable with unknown properties. Untested mettle. One that has never had to stew so long in its own juices, in such a tight and compacted space as this one? Hmmm. What will we be at the end of our brining?

Human person. Beautiful and strange. Combine with several heaping tablespoons of coarse or Kosher salt. Lightly boil and seal it all inside. We shall see in 18 months.

Eggs Neptune with salt on the side

“That’s the way Rick Royal eats ’em so that’s the way we serve it,” the fat, cheerless waiter explained to the tiny man. The waiter plugged his short pencil behind his ear and crossed his arms, waiting impatiently for the man to order.

Goosemander, the tiny man, was seated in the blinding vinyl yellow of the booth which was several feet too tall and also too wide to comfortably accommodate him. He quivered slightly, under the haughty gaze of the waiter and his trembling energy migrated up and through the enormous, laminated menu so that it wobbled a great deal in his hands.

“But what’s Neptune got to do with it?” Goosemander ventured. He fixed the waiter with a look, pushing up his glasses with the knuckles of his right hand. “Is Ricky Royal from Neptune or something?”

“It’s Rick Royal. Not Ricky. Come on, hurry up. I’ve got tables to charge.”

Goosemander licked his thin lips and looked out the megadex windows of the diner immediately adjacent to the parking flats. Beyond the parking flats was the horizon of the planet with an astonishing view of outer space including three attractive planets with their attractive magenta sun, a pirouetting refueling structure, and all around, the streak of travelers burrowing their ways through the unknown.

Goosemander could see his maroon vehicle still sitting in the parking flat. Space #26-J. He nervously bobbed his head around, checking the flats.

“If you’re looking for flat weevils, we don’t have that kind of problem around here.”

“What’s that?” Goosemander turned back to the waiter, knitting his brow.

“We’re a clean and family friendly establishment.”

“Such a relief.”

“So quit lookin’ out the window like that.”

Goosemander shoved his hands under his arms and scowled at the waiter. “I’ll look out the window however I want! I’ll do it backwards if I like!”

“What are you ordering?”

“I don’t care. Eggs Neptune. No salt.”

“It comes with salt on the side.”

“I don’t care!” Goosemander threw the menu down feebly on the floor. He tucked his head into his arms and began sobbing.

The waiter rolled his eyes and the enormity of his body rolled with them. With crucial force, he bent down his knees and picked up the menu.

“Eggs Neptune with salt on the side, no salt, coming up.”

Once the waiter had lumbered away, Goosemander stopped crying and looked around the restaurant.

His peevish face lit up as he examined the diners. Most were families clearly on their way to vacation spots. Ravenous fathers and pissed off wives with their space sick children. A few business people eating efficient meals of protein slips and caffeine cake were also present. In the middle of the restaurant, at the very long table, was a freight crew enjoying some R&R from some kind of dirty mining operation. They wore blue and yellow jumpsuits, ate loudly, and kept smacking each others’ heads in good humor. Their tremendous blast of a ship took up several spaces out in the parking flats.

Goosemander looked out over the top of his booth. He was on tippy toes. Like a peeping Tom with only his eyes and the top of his head showing, he scanned the restaurant. He was still licking his lips.

A touristy family got up to leave, touting their screaming brats like luggage.

“I won’t go! I won’t go!” one of their numerous children screamed. The father took the struggling child by the shoulders and began stuffing him into a child cooler. Overpowering his offspring, he pressed the child down by the head and zipped him up. Then the father put an arm around his wife. They both breathed a sigh of relief and heaved the rest of their children back out to the parking flats.

As this group passed by Goosemander’s table, he swiftly turned, slid down, and reclined back into a sitting position. Goosemander’s eyebrows bristled as he watched the family exit.

Once they were gone, Goosemander rose from his table like a breeze. With a gait that was neither fast nor slow, he made his way over to the table where the family had been eating. With glancing attention, he pulled the tip money off the table and pocketed it. He made a slow circle back to his own booth. Nobody noticed him.

Inside the booth, he furtively produced the money from his pocket and began counting it. He counted faster than a banking bot. It was two and 6-thirteenths credit.

“Bazingo!” Goosemander whispered and then he quickly pocketed the money again.

A relaxed mood came over Goosemander. He stretched out in the booth. He breathed in the scent of freshly frying oil. He gazed out the window at the three attractive planets. His ears perked up at the sound of the angry waiter returning to the front of the restaurant. Without turning around, Goosemander followed the man’s every step in his mind’s eye.

When he heard the moment he waiting for, it aroused him.

“Junk munchers!” boomed the waiter. The din in the restaurant dulled for a moment. Everyone — except Goosemander — turned to look at the angry waiter who was huffily stacking plates and emanating a series of boondock expletives that the freight team would repeat to one another for years to come.

“Oh, sir?” Goosemander held out his tiny, quavering hand so it stuck out from the booth like a little flag. “Sir?”

The waiter stormed over to Goosemander.

“What.”

Goosemander’s head swirled around on his neck. “Do you have any champagne?”

Just then, out in the parking flats, a gleaming white spacecraft touched down in an empty spot.

“We do not serve champagne here you freakish, little rimmed-out nitwit. Bug juice or get the hell out of my restaurant.”

“Bug juice,” Goosemander repeated, as if it were his favorite card game.

Two persons stepped out of the white spacecraft. They wore reflective masks and carried long, roping, lassos. The stouter of the two produced a small silver box and began to make a pictorial survey of the parking flat.

Inside the diner, Goosemander was fixated on the waiter as he lumbered to the back bar and grabbed a wide ceramic mug from a collection of mugs on a shelf. He placed the mug under a gargantuan silver tank that stretched so far up that it may have touched the ceiling of the diner. The waiter pulled the tap and a jet stream of blue burbling liquid surged into the mug.

Outside, the masks with lassos were taking special interest in Goosemander’s vehicle parked in Space #26-J. They pointed at it. They pointed at each other. They pointed at the restaurant.

The waiter was coming back with Goosemander’s drink. Goosemander bounced up and down in his seat, his fists were balled up in silent, screaming anticipation. The waiter hesitated for just a moment at the booth, holding the bug juice and really seeing Goosemander for the first time. The excited little man was close to rollicking. The waiter decided he must be a mental case, slid the bug juice before him, and left again.

The masked persons entered the restaurant.

The bug juice steamed with sugary richness. Goosemander inhaled tremendously over the steam and then stuck a furtive, swirling finger into the bug juice. He stirred it thoroughly before downing the entire thing in a single gulp. 

When he was done with the beverage, he looked up to find two masked persons towering over him.

The masks did not have faces. So when they spoke, it was from an electronic voice box located on the right shoulder. The leaner of the masks said,  “Tiberius Ralpheinnes Goosemander, you are in violation of the 749 Time Travel Law of the Citadel. You are under arrest for crimes you have knowingly yet to commit.”

It was very loud, as if through a bull horn.

“No,” Goosemander surged out of the his booth and clambered over the heads of the people in the booth next to him, making them yelp out in pain.

“Stop,” voice boxed the stouter mask. “You will stop.”

But Goosemander did not stop. He raced and tumbled through the diner. The waiter, only too happy to assist, attempted to snag the tiny man and succeeded in catching him around the waist. Goosemander, however, was more muscular and frightened than the waiter had anticipated and he wriggled out of the larger man’s grip, causing the waiter to fall forward onto his stomach.

Goosemander sprinted for the door. He pushed it. The bell jangled. But just as he was heaving the mass of his small body against the weighted door, the stouter mask struck out, precisely, with their lasso. Goosemander was ensnared.

“Never! No! Not today! I’m innocent! Innocent I tell you!” Goosemander screeched and then he began jerking and hissing, baring his little white teeth.

“Your trial has been prescribed,” said the lassoer. “Guilty.”

The lasso lit up blue electric like a nebula.

Goosemander jerked and spat but this time without intention or control.

All over the restaurant people gasped. They dropped their forks and cups. Mothers covered up their children’s eyes.

Goosemander disintegrated into a pile of grey dust on the floor.

The lassoer retracted his lasso. With menacing slowness, the two masked persons calmly left the diner. The door’s bell jangled behind them. All present watched silently as they returned to their gleaming white vehicle, stepped inside, and jammed it directly out of there. Their white craft was visible for a few short moments as an arcing streak in the airless black of space. Then they were gone.

After a few moments of silence in focus, one of the freight crew absent mindedly slurped his bug juice. A few of his team nodded and they also began slurping their bug juice in solidarity.

“Order up!” a fry cook bellowed from a subterranean kitchen, unaware of what had transpired topside. “Eggs Neptune with salt on the side, no salt,” the fry cook specified as the dish slid out onto the serving bench.

The waiter stood back up again. He drew himself to his full height. Everyone in the restaurant turned to him.

“Rick,” said the waiter, addressing himself to the slurping freight crew, “is never going to believe this one.”

The freight crew laughed and saluted the waiter as he retrieved a broom from the corner. Rolling his eyes, the waiter brushed up Goosemander into a dustpan. With the dustpan in one hand, he made an easy glide to the serving bench, scooped up the order of eggs in his other hand and headed towards the back door.

He stepped outside the back of the restaurant. Here too was an astonishing view of outer space, a moon, and a murky purple asteroid belt. He made his way to the dumpster and unceremoniously dumped out both Goosemander and the eggs into the bin.

Minifesto

A while ago, I laid X9 down gently into stasis, cooing over her delicate tendrils and beautiful iridescent scales even as I punched in the code that would freeze her brain activity and glass over her myriad eyes. I didn’t know if I would come back for her. If she would drift forever in undead sleep, nestled cozy in a single strand of wire.

I thought about x9 from time to time, her shallow breath lightly frosting the inner lens of this device. But now I think it’s time again to wake her. Time to play in our little Dreadspace.

New Dread’s Eve

But what really happened to Aamer when he fell into the Goonscape? We know what happened before and after. His work, his son, his suicide. But our cherished explorer and philologist never did reveal what he heard or saw during his long stay in that strange and far away place.

Far away only in a sense. Since, as any Goonscoptic physicist will explain to you, the Goonscape is right here. Right on top of us. A sympathetic vibration, unseen, unsmelled, untouched unless… Well, unless you run into a sweet spot. A place where corners meet, where systems jam, a slurping bog where you fall forever and ever –until, of course, you stop falling and you are simply somewhere else.

New research into Aamer’s private papers reveal a new possibility. Something overlooked. Maybe it’s nothing. Or maybe, there’s another object that came crashing through the boundaries of time and space along with Aamer on his journey home.

Epilogue

Welcome to the end of x9dread. I’m glad you could make it. Though this wordpress is no longer updating, I am in the process of transmogrifying many of its elements and characters into a novel. Maybe someday it’ll get published and you’ll find it in a bookstore. Wouldn’t that be delightful and unexpected?

If you have found your way here because of the zine I authored (Three Types of Tension) then I recommend reading on. I think you may like some of these posts. The written work here is strange, somewhat funny and, at times, bilious.

 

Thank you for being someone who reads.

Part II

Dear Reader,

I would first like to thank you for going on this journey with me. I had never been to the future before, nor to the Goonscape. What’s more, I am fairly certain I would never have gone to those places or met the people who live there if you hadn’t come along with me. I am sincerely grateful for your companionship.

I imagine that at times it was a bit tedious having me as your only translator for strange peoples and places so I do apologize for any plot lulls or poorly written sections. We all try to get it right the first time but I know I failed at it at least a few times. In spite of those errors, I have decided to push myself to do more challenging work with this story. I’ve been developing a new avenue for some time now (behind the scenes– although there were little breadcrumbs along the way) and I think it is fitting and appropriate to call it Part II.

The Monopoly Machine + Portage Park

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Dear Reader,

A long time ago in August, a monopoly machine fastened itself to the top of my apartment building. The weather was mild and I remember I was cooking onions when I heard its jittering joints as it crawled up the side of the building, mounted the roof and penetrated the brick walls with the spines of its legs. Then it was still and did nothing for many months. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry.

But three days ago the monopoly machine began squeezing. The steel bracing of my  apartment building wails all day and all night. The edifice is crumbling. Nightly, metallic claws have been probing all our units, searching for prizes.

So far I’ve managed to dodge the mechanical hydra but I am forced to flee my home. I am now headed to a strange new place on the far west side of Chicago called Portage Park. It seems really nice. There’s a creepy old movie theater, a grocery store and my new landlord is shaped like a refrigerator.

I am very excited to get back to work writing x9dread. There are currently 20+ entries queued up for later in the month but please give me a chance to stitch them all together. I do not have the brainspace or timemaneuvers to write these as I simultaneously paint, clean, move all my belongings, and unpack myself. No doubt, I will be inspired by these experiences to write more cramped, panicked entries for your entertainment.

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