Mortimer thought the bar looked like a black reflection-pool. Everything shimmered. Walls seemed to drip like burning sulfur. Faces floated around him like mephitic sea creatures. The girl seated next to him was a mermaid consumed in slow flames. Her name was Kimberly. She was a hooker. Mortimer had known her for several months. They never went to bed together. Mortimer wanted her too much to risk rejection; besides, he had no money to bargain with. They became friends who occasionally met at The Star Hound for a drink.
Kimberly was small and loud; she commanded respect. She had red hair that snapped with static electricity and green eyes that sank holes into a man’s brain. Her body was beautifully rendered like a painting by Caravaggio. She wore orange satin shorts and a lace halter.
“A person has a responsibility to experience all that life has to offer,” she said with brassy authority.
Mortimer responded, “you’re right, only some things are more important than others. All I’m saying is that a person’s got to make choices. No one-person can possibly experience everything.”
“A person doesn’t have to say no to anything that comes along,” she said, “in the end your experience is all that counts.”
“What about the results of your experience, the products and consequences of experience — that’s something isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. Nothing lasts forever. I like to live in the present.”
“Kimberly,” Mortimer sighed like a love sick child, “you’re beautiful.”
“Yeah, I know; and the world is a garden of eternal joy.” Her face twitched. “Oh fuck. Philosophy is bullshit. I suck cock for a living — that’s what really counts.”
The bar seemed to tremble as Mortimer sipped amber fluid from a glass that was surgically attached to his right hand. A warthog in a charcoal-gray suit walked up to the bar to order a drink. For a moment Mortimer saw Kimberly as she really looked: a sagging middle-aged prostitute trying to appear young with dyed hair and thick makeup. Dark mascara dripped like smudged blue-wax around red eyes. Her body puffed over the edges of satin and lace.
Suddenly she clasped his hand and drew it to her flaccid breasts. “I am the Dark Lady,” she whispered.
Mortimer gasped. The bar gleamed like melted silver. The naked bartender smiled with lizard teeth. Mortimer understood. He was inside the painting, the one he was currently working on. He was stuck beneath splotches of magenta and ocher, beneath a torn label from a Heineken Beer. He could feel Kimberly vibrate beneath his hand like something mechanical. Her skin had turned green and cold. She smiled as she spoke, “there is something behind all this, something absolute and permanent. There is something at the heart of chaos. Cluck… Cluck… Cluck!”
Mortimer withdrew his hand as if he’d touched molten lead. Kimberly collapsed to the floor. She shattered like thin crystal. Pieces struck Mortimer like razor blades, embedding themselves into his skin. The bartender bared his pointy teeth.
Mortimer pushed himself through the mob of drunken predators. They stank of swamp and their skins were bejeweled with fungus. He crashed into the barroom door. It was difficult pushing through the opening. He was met with a wall of resistance. He soon realized the barrier he faced was the painting, a barricade of jet-black oil paint — and it was impenetrable.
Milton Farbin dreamt he was “the Fast-moving Man.” It was a recurring dream, part of a campaign to promote particular products and services. The Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman were cultural icons, pop stars with the highest appeal-rating according to the new, Trump Index. They were loved and adored. They slipped into people’s dreams by means of a new phone app given out for free. The glorious couple demonstrated new, American-made merchandise that was on sale for bargain prices.
In the dream, Milton was a charismatic leader with blistering eyes and orange hair, a man of wealth and power. When he awoke he was penniless and depressed having spent all his money on goods and services he did not need or want. Once he left the Virtual Dream, Milton was a rag man, no longer capable of keeping a regular job. In the past he was a beautician. He was in high demand and he loved his work, but everything changed once he fell in love with the Alluring Woman. Milton wanted to please her so he bought whatever she sold. He became desperate and sought the services of surgeons and therapists to gain the looks and appeal of the Fast-moving Man.
Corporations invested in the business of “Addictive Proprieties” whereby individuals were subliminally seduced to become the Pop Icons they worshiped. Lots of people desired to be the Fast-moving Man. Other consumer apps were developed to hound consumers with ads targeting individuals based on their past choices and personal histories (privacy no longer existed). The Hounds-of-consumption were let loose regularly and continually. There were Hounds for cosmetics, fashion, and real estate — emulating the lifestyle of the Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman who lived together in perfect bliss. Face creams and fast-food promised the consumer a better life. New cars and luxury apartments were the ingredients for true happiness.
Milton Farbin lived in an abandoned bookstore. He couldn’t break the cycle of desire. He was tormented by dreams. The Hounds were relentless, barking like banshees, wailing like sirens. The Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman lived with Milton in the bookstore. They were everywhere, wrapped in each other’s arms, trying out the newest deodorant or the best hair depilatory. They had sex in front of Milton just to torment him with their obvious bliss.
He tried everything to escape. He starved himself hoping the Hounds would die from lack of sustenance, but they were invincible. Milton went on long hikes, trudging through the worst areas of the city where drug addicts and murderers hid from spying eyes. He was hoping he might be murdered… hoping the Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman would not follow him, but they never left his side.
Milton was driven to distraction. He knew the drugs he collected for the last five years were deadly. He sat down against the moldy wall at the back of the abandoned store. Looters found his body and proceeded to dismantle the corpse and recycle the parts.
Milton was dead. It was very dark. He could sense icy fingers caress his body. He felt peaceful and began to drift away like a cloud of dust. But, before the dust could disappear, Milton heard the shrill barking of the Hounds. He saw the neon glow of the Alluring Woman and the Fast-moving Man. They followed Milton Farbin into death and they would never leave.
In an alley off the boardwalk David noticed a light in the window of a small shop. Red letters on the sign above the door announced, “Krapes Emporium.” He thought there might be something familiar in the shop to bring him back to reality. So far whatever he experienced seemed so bizarre that he felt lost in a mad man’s dream.
Everything inside was covered in layers of dust. Glass cases crowded the floor leaving very little room to maneuver. In one corner there was a metal grate beneath a sign that said “pawnbroker.” David felt slightly reassured by the apparent normalcy of the place, but the more he looked at objects behind the glass the more his reassurance disappeared. Some items were labeled — he saw “unicorn horn” and “dragon wing.” There were small black-cubes labeled egglets and glowing objects identified as oospheres. He noticed several large jars under a sign that read, “glandular conditions.” He was relieved because the glass on the jars was so discolored and cloudy he couldn’t make out the contents. A tall purple crate stood in a cage near the back of the shop with a sign that read “Martian Mummy.”
David was about to leave when he was accosted by Captain Crunch — at least it sounded like the cartoon spokesman for the cereal by the same name. “How goes it, matey m’boy.”
David turned back and saw a cadaverous man in a red-striped jacket, wearing black lipstick and an Andy Warhol wig. He was smiling. There was a bad taste in David’s mouth, “I was just about to leave.”
“Nay, matey — stay. I’ll show you some wonders. Perchance we can strike a deal. What’s your pleasure?”
“Just looking — really. I need to get back to my room.”
“No fun in that. Perhaps you have something to sell. I’m a pawnbroker — best in town. Of course I only handle unusual items. If you have an ordinary ring to sell I don’t want it, but if you have a ‘power ring’ I’m your man. I pay the highest prices anywhere. Let me show you some of my precious cargo.”
“Not really interested in selling or buying anything.”
“Don’t be a spoil sport, m’boy. Come along.”
David found himself drawn toward the smiling cadaver as he wove his spell.
“That’s it lad. This way. I deal in Neoteric Dimensions. I sell a preparation called ‘mental slop’ — you might be interested. It is guaranteed to grow hair follicles inside the brain — quite an extraordinary experience. I keep a regular stock of Loomies, but sometimes I run out of Draco Nins. I personally authorize all virgin births in the area. I have a large collection of poly-globular eyeballs. Right this way. For a small price, I sell glimpses of the future — invariably accurate. Well, matey is there anything I can temp you with?”
David’s stomach was doing flip-flops. He was convinced that none of it was real, but didn’t know how to escape. “I have everything I need . . . Just want to get back.”
“Going somewhere so soon. We’ve hardly had time to get acquainted. Let me give you a parting gift to show there are no hard feelings.” The cadaver handed David a stone.
“Don’t worry dear boy — it won’t bite. It’s the eye of a Venusian Swort. The creature died in the arms of an astronaut — a tragic love affair. The astronaut sold the eye to me in prostrate destitution. Stare at it — it will help you see.”
Nothing happened when David looked at the stone, but when he looked up he was on the street outside the shop.
There were no reference points indicated by the sign that read, “Remember Me.” Who? I wondered. My mind digested the quixotic message and came up empty handed. Questions accumulated like overripe fruit, passed due and moldering on the ground. The sign was obviously important – it was an extremely expensive sign to erect at a busy intersection in the heart of the metropolis. But, what did it mean? Who was “Me?” The computer in my head started to back up, going nowhere with too little information. I was caught in a recursive loop. My head began to ring with angry voices and recriminations. It was the beginning of a total break down: the neurons in my brain began to separate and declare their independence. Suddenly there were too many loops, too many personalities clamoring for attention. Whose attention … I didn’t know. I was beginning to forget everything while I broke apart into new forms and new personalities. At that moment, it hit me: It was “Me” I had to remember. It was the first “Me” -the one who read the sign. But, now it was too late. I had forgotten how to remember.
One hundred hungry tigers twisted into a Gordian Knot somewhere on the other side of the continent. This puzzle stupefied scientists and wise men until, one day, a young scribe realized it was all an illusion — that’s when everything fell apart completely. The knot was holding it all together — then there was nothing. Time for new beginnings.