The Inquisitor

Down, down, down.
Down they went, down the narrow spiral starecase, spelled that way because it was hewn from living eyes staring at them as they went, two guards in front, then the prisoner, then a bunch more guards in back since if a prisoner gets away and tries to escape they generally head back the way they came cause what could be down a freaky starecase? You don’t want to know.
The sounds of the city faded quickly and were replaced by water dripping, distant screams, whips cracking, like that.
Sort of like the beginning of a guided meditation, only way scarier.
The prisoner didn’t remember much after that. They tied him up and started torturing him, that much he knew, but after that things grew fuzzy cause he did what any intelligent person would do, he passed out immediately. One twist of a thumbscrew and that was it, over and out.
He regained consciousness. Someone had tossed a bucket of water in his face. He heard the sounds of boots on the stone floor, hewn from the living rock.
“He’s one tough customer, I’ll grant him that, your Lordship,” said a guard to the boots.
The prisoner spat water, pfff!
The prisoner’s name was Mark.
“No information at all?” said the boots.
The guard shook his head. “Nothing. Thumbscrews, rack, Iron Maiden. Quiet as a judge.”
“Which Iron Maiden?”
“2 Minutes to Midnight.”
“We’ll have to up the ante,” said the boots.
It was easy for Mark not to reveal anything. He was passed out and didn’t have a clue what they wanted anyway, or he would have told them, but they weren’t interested in his explanations.
“The Inquisitor will loosen his tongue,” said the boots, who then left the room amidst the chuckles of the guards (evil chuckles).
Mark didn’t have long to wait and worry about what the fellow had meant. The Inquisitor must have been waiting right outside the door, cause there he was, quiet on his feet, cheerful. A small man, but wearing black. Black boots, black cape, black hood.
“Okay let’s get started,” said the Inquisitor.
“Okay,” said Mark.
“Get-rich-quick ideas. Those have driven stronger men mad than you. Think up three get-rich-quick ideas. Now. On the spot.” He waved a red-hot poker in Mark’s face.
“Artisinal honey, e-books that you actually buy, mobile phones that protect your privacy, manly baby equipment bags for fathers, reasonably-priced wet plate cameras, software that comes on a DVD and installs itself and doesn’t require a month of back-and-forth with customer service to register.”
“He’s good,” said a guard.
“Silence!” said the Inquisitor, who was losing his temper, because normally thinking up three get-rich-quick ideas on the spot like that drove prisoners mad.
“NANOWRIMO is coming up,” said the Inquisitor. “Give me a plot that won’t make you sick after a month. Right now.”
“I, uh,” stammered Mark.
“Now we’re cooking with fire,” said the Inquisitor to a guard. “See? Everyone has a weakness.”
“What sort of book?” said Mark.
“Any sort,” said the Inquisitor, because what was harder than coming up with an idea when you had total freedom?
“That’s a tough one,” admitted Mark. “Do you ever wonder, when things are slow, down, down here, what book the world really needs?”
“What?” said the Inquisitor.
“I mean, life is finite. We can only read so much, all of us. Different people need different books, naturally, but for you, from your point of view, what is the book that is lacking when you go into a bookstore and leave unfulfilled, even if you leave with an armload of Staff Picks?”
“You mean, like, genre?”
“I mean everything. The exact book. I can see mine. Hardbound, ornate cover, of medium size and thickness. Containing all I need. A book smarter than me so I feel uplifted, yet not so clever as to be irritating. Frightening and reassuring in turns, a book that purifies both by example and by fire, so to speak, annealing the reader, and which leaves one back in love with language, thought, perception and humanity. You know what I mean?”
“No, actually,” said the Inquisitor, but he was starting to wonder, although he hadn’t read many books lately. He was so busy! But he had read a lot as a kid.
“Maybe someone can fly,” said the Inquisitor. “Maybe. But it seems realistic.”
“A book like a secret life. A book that reconciles us with our secret lives, the secret lives we all lead but cannot express or share, as much as we may try. A book that rewards us for them!” said Mark.
“Perhaps with dragons,” said the Inquisitor. “Or at least dragon eggs. Or even dinosaur eggs.”
The Inquisitor stared at Mark. Mark looked at him. The guards watched the two of them. The eyes of the starecase beheld the whole group.
“Perhaps with a whale. Perhaps a library or a linguist. Perhaps crows cawing in the fog in a forest the color of autumn. Perhaps a man hiding in a fisherman’s hut on the bank of a river, under a large willow. Perhaps a couple kneeling at the edge of a deep hole in the woods, freshly dug, with another man standing behind them with a Saturday Night Special in a gloved hand. Perhaps a child. Perhaps someone standing in a field in winter, watching their breath and the long grass, turned white with ice crystals in the night.”
“Perhaps,” said the Inquisitor.

Relationship tips from Erwin Schrödinger

Dear Erwin,
My wife says I must clean up the hedgehog poo from behind the storage shelves in the cellar because the plumber is coming and will be appalled if he looks and sees it. I say if the plumber moves aside the heavily-loaded shelves to check if there is hedgehog poo underneath then he is a PSYCHO FREAK whose opinion is of no consequence and that we should wait until we are moving the shelves anyway and chisel away the excrement then. Who is right?

Dear Sleepless,
You were BOTH right until you asked. For a fastidious Austrian woman, it is correct to unload the shelves, move them aside, and chisel away the hardened coprolites, no matter whether she is the one who has to do it, or someone else gets told to. For a lazy American male who has seen too much hedgehog poo for one lifetime, it is correct to wait until the shelves are moved for another reason especially when they hide the poo and it doesn’t stink anyhow. Until the situation is examined, your mutual rightness coexisted in a non-determinate manner.
But then you asked, so I will tell you: your wife is right.
Yrs, Erwin Schrödinger

Guitar. Slingshot. Wonder. French toast.

Odin needs a new bag because his old one smells suspiciously of cat pee. Also, it’s old. So Odin could be said to be ‘looking for a bag,’ but not actively. He’s keeping his eyes open, is all.
It was dark, when he got up, and cold. Then, when he drove to work it was grey and murky and the woods were full of fog and he and his kid talked, again, about how ‘we really have to get up early one morning and take pictures. For real this time.’
By lunch it had warmed up into a crisp fall day and the sky was blue and colors were clear.
Huginn accosted him on his way to buy sandwiches.
He got a roll with baloney and whole wheat with ham.
Huginn walked beside him up the sidewalk the last block to the bench, waddling like a duck.
Odin tossed Huginn a piece of the roll with ham, but Muninn swooped down and took it. Odin tossed Huginn a second piece and watched him take it apart into its components, arranging the bread, ham and lettuce next to each other like a man taking apart an antique watch.
Huginn ate the ham, and buried the bread under leaves in the gutter. He ignored the lettuce entirely.
Muninn flew out of sight with his meal.
Then the birds came back for some ham on whole wheat, and repeated everything. Odin noticed they were coming significantly closer than they had at first. He wondered if they would eat out of his hand, but no dice; this turned out to be okay by Odin, because the closer a crow comes, the sharper its beak looks.
Muninn did hop up onto the bench where Odin sat to snag a piece of ham sandwich, though. He did it twice.
Then he flew out of sight again, and Huginn moved to the roof of the blue Skoda, where he again disassembled his sandwich.
What say the slain, asked Odin.
Ah, isn’t it a beautiful day, the air buoys you and you weigh not a thing at all.
Ah, this moment.
This lightness.
This light.
There is a place without signifiers, where when the sun shines, it’s you shining.
No words here to divide things up: no guitar, no slingshot, no wonder, no French toast.
Where when you kiss someone, the sun is kissing.
When you stand on the highest branch of the tallest tree in the woods and see the horizon, the tree is seeing.
And you bury your dinner under leaves you yourself have shed, and it is yourself you are burying.

Pitch dark

Odin whispers on the phone to his wife, and lulz.
She asks him where he is.
He tells her the name of the street. I’m taking a back route to the store to get a sandwich to split with the crows, he says.
He tells her he is avoiding them until he has food because their disappointed faces make him feel bad. He is perceiving emotional pressure from wild crows, Corvus corax, even while realizing they are likely incapable of exerting it intentionally. (Note: Huginn looks more like a Corvus dauuricus.)
He knows this is all homemade. But she is laughing too much to listen closely.
You have the gift of thinking like animals, she says.
I was thinking, he said, awesome how they fly right up now and stare at me until I give them a sandwich. I was thinking, look how I have trained them to eat!
When, in fact, etc etc, he says. Less a gift of thinking like animals, he said, more like a vulnerability to being pushed around by them. Look where our cats have trained me to let them snooze.
Odin tries to select a sandwich and write a text message to his daughter simultaneously but finds it really disorienting.
Sandwich selection requires too much concentration. The crows didn’t like the salami. They like the turkey breast, but not the arugula it contains. The curry chicken gives Odin food poisoning half the time (literally). He is not in the mood for ham, so salmon is about all that is left, if one is boycotting tuna (is that still a thing?), suspicious of bologna, and whatever whatever that last kind.
So salmon it is. And a turkey breast / curry wrap, to see how the crows react to that.
And some honey roasted peanuts, just because.
The crows accompany Odin the last block to their bench.
They like the salmon. They eat the filling and bury the bread under leaves.
Muninn flies his piece of the wrap fifteen meters away to eat it in peace, Huginn flies his to the roof of a nearby Skoda and eats it there, carefully.
Then he comes back, Huginn.
What say the hanged? Odin asks.
The little boy rides his trike around the abandoned, haunted lodge. Playing with his toys before bed: PITCH DARK PITCH DARK PITCH DARK.
He writes it on a door in lipstick.
Why does his mom wear lipstick in an abandoned hotel? Who is she longing to impress, her insane husband or the external evil that has invaded him?
She closes the door and glances in the mirror.
(Only, mirror-reversed too.)
Russian for what McNuggets are made of.
Like a chupacabra.
Like an insane asylum in a cement mixer in a paint mixer, those shakey robot things your dad used to have paint mixed in at the paint store when you were little.
Like a Republican congressman tapping his foot in the men’s room in a Mormon airport.
Morse code for: They have discovered my true identity, Control, pick me up. Retrieve me. Fetch me back to home planet. But Control is busy announcing alien dominion over their Earthen subjects, calling for subjugation via train station loudspeakers in two hundred Earth languages: ‘Bow down before our superior alien might!’ But no one understands train station announcements, and this is no exception, so the alien takeover fails.
Like that.

Black dog

Odin is taking a walk on his lunch break. He’s skipping lunch today, so he tries to avoid crows as he walks to the tobacco shop to buy lottery tickets, because he doesn’t want to disappoint them, or make them feel rejected, talking on his mobile phone to his wife, mostly about how hard he is to hear when there’s wind, and something about their daughters.
He sees no crows on his way to buy lottery tickets. On the street that goes downhill past a guarded embassy and a school, he begins to think about something he thinks about a lot. He thinks about the phenomenon of misunderstanding one’s situation, of overestimating one’s success or good fortune. He wonders if he overestimates himself, or if he cripples himself by fearing he might be overestimating himself. He wonders if there is a name for this; how this relates to imposter syndrome; and if this misunderstanding of what is going on is limited to him, or rare, or common. On the one hand, Odin supposes not even George Clooney is as suave as George Clooney believes. On the other hand, Odin has to think about the black dog in a photo his parents took of him as a child. In the photo, a grinning Odin is holding up his arms. He thought the dog was dancing with him. What a clever dog!
Odin’s parents thought it was so funny they took a picture instead of shooing away the strange dog that was trying to fuck their child.
Odin thinks about that situation a lot.
Odin always asks himself, what is the black dog now?
Now what is the black dog?
There is a long line at the tobacco shop. They run Odin’s tickets through the machine, nothing. He buys two more for the next drawings and goes back out into the wind.
The black dog is not imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is, you think others think you’re better than you really are. The black dog is, you think you’re not as great as you think you are.
Odin can’t decide if it’s better or worse.
On the way back to the office Huginn, the grey one, lands on the grass strip between sidewalk and street and regards Odin.
Sorry, Odin says. Tomorrow. Then he says it in German, just to be sure.
But Huginn follows him for a while.
Odin wonders what sort of structure would make the best hideout.
Any structure where you’re not expected, he figures.
Odin is dizzy from not eating.
Tomorrow, he promises the crow.

Everyone needs a secret life

It’s not raining but Odin needs an umbrella anyway because the leaves are wet and they drip when the wind gusts. It’s cold too so he is not expecting the crows when he walks back to the bench from the deli with a ham and cheese sandwich, but there Muninn is on the roof of a yellow Volvo. Then he sees Huginn eyeing him from the gutter. The crows just appear, like one of those pictures you stare at until crows appear.
Odin is not very hungry so the crows do well. Muninn hops up the grass strip between sidewalk and street and hides some of his sandwich under leaves. Huginn buries his under leaves in the gutter. Do they find this stuff again? Odin wonders. Do they remember where they hide everything?
Odin watches them eat. They don’t like tomato, and they look at the arugula like, are you trying to poison us or something?
I am the man who has lunch with the crows, thinks Odin. This is the sharp tip of a secret life poking into my regular life.
What say the hanged?
Huginn tells him.
So this is what it comes to.
Why was not part of the equation.
It’s about time.
Huginn goes on for a while. Odin doesn’t even notice him stop, he finally sees him poking around in the gutter a ways up the street.
What say the slain?
It was a good, round life, they say.
My only wish is to feel the soft muzzle of a horse one last time. That velvet and the smell of horse.
Muninn looks at Odin.
Everyone needs a secret life. A great, abandoned room with a bed in the middle that no one knows about. A table to write and a view of water. A rusty lock with a secret key. A shower.
A place to go sometimes when everyone thinks you’re somewhere else.
When in fact you’re someone else.
Odin gives the birds the rest of the sandwich and goes back to the office.
Getting cool, he says to the receptionist.
Cold, she agrees.

Bug Book Blurb request

There is a very good chance I will be publishing the old Bug comix that originally appeared on this blog in book form very soon. If any of you would like to contribute a “blurb” for the jacket, please contact me at metamorphosist (at) gmail (dot) com. (Can’t guarantee they will be used, depends on space, but I will do my best).