Victim of the Avenues
by Zane Coker
part 1 of 3
The Doctor says: “You can squash a bug and it will always have the same look on its face, the same pain in its heart.”
And with this same strain in his veins, the Doctor resumes the same latex pose; but this time the gyrations of his hands are faster, streakier, and his eyes are of the hue of slate, stone-like and considerably rheumy looking.
“Either way,” continues the Doctor, “you’re dying.”
Dying?” Thirty-Eight feels his muscles wiggle like leeches in such a fashion as to want to stick to something; his magazine hinges slowly to his lap.
Death for me, Thirty-Eight reasons, is death to you. “What’s the difference?”
But the Doctor hasn’t the empathy to answer such a listless question; he’s only now indulging in mockery, sneering every single step of the way. He feels better in knowing how clean he is.
“Do come with me,” the Doctor says, outstretching a tawny hand. “Come take a stroll through my little house...”
Worry went out the door and there were many things to think, to know as much as not to know, the dreams of harem.
“What a place!”
But before Thirty-Eight can inhale another expensive breath, in front of him, an arm reaches over and comes to rest on the shoulder of a shorter Pleasure; more gather round this shorter man; meanwhile the shorter Pleasure has his waxy face wet into a wave of radiant light.
“We’ve come in contact with your kind before,” the shorter Pleasure says.
A taller Pleasure steps closer to Thirty-Eight in order to see for himself those blackened eyes.
“Yes,” offers another Pleasure with a cliquish rasp, “I see your point and will trust him to tell us just how he came here this day.”
Every eye snaps at Thirty Eight.
Thirty-Eight says nothing.
Then every eye clicks into focus.
“For it’s he who trespasses!” scorns a Pleasure with plastic hair implants. When this same man flaps back his white tippet, Thirty-Eight can hear those plastic hairs strumming. “When heard — that sound — know it as ‘dimes’ in the air.”
“What is your PURPOSE here!” breaks in another Pleasure. He lunges pointing his finger, “Don’t you know that the Payment Terminals are in the rear of the Central?”
“It’s a crime he commits,” interrupts a bowing Pleasure. “It’s a very vile crime and I dare say that he took the day off.”
Silence falls like a second coming and the only thing to behold is the price of Pleasures. Thirty-Eight, about to beg for forgiveness, instead peeks back down his narrow passage, down its soft lights, sees there the comforts and, now in turning to face his gaff, the glare of grace.
They hold him and offer him hope, travel his dreams and understand his fancies, his cravings, too. With livid claws they tap his Painmiser while he taps their Pleasuremisers: one blue, one white; and what with the avalanche of blue and white, only one color: he feels happy with these clean humans!
“Come,” says a drifty cheer, “let us show you our home.”
And the clean humans ever so emphatically maneuver his filth out into a breathtaking lobby where he sees the pearly white walls of the lobby. Leaning against these pearly white walls are many more of the same, pasty faces. It takes a while, in fact, for Thirty Eight to realize that the whole lobby is like a giant cylinder, spinning in its smooth bore, his eyes as pistons, up to its glowing point
“That’s our dome,” announces a proud Pleasure, “and if you look extra hard, you might even see our Sun.”
Pure light rains from the dome’s pinhole; it’s the hot polish on Thirty-Eight’s cheeks and inside his wide-open mouth. Suddenly a flock of birds alight on the neon-lit signs; he winks at them.
“What luck,” he whispers.
He bows his head and shuffles about the busy storefronts, all of which look like a long, bending machine. When he stops, he feels the gleeful rush of slippers tramping in and out the busy doorways. Inside the icy shops, a show of joints and lips — hands testing textures, lips fumbling modestly, then the clamor of children jumping about the Particle Stations. Gleefully; he sneaks a particle luncheon. Some look his way and let off a smile while others double take his uneasy presence. Everywhere he turns, he’s caught fast by some commotion or another; never before has happiness been so prominent.
Wandering over to a rack of tippets, he lifts the sheer threads to feel the stitch between his filthy fingers. He lets loose the tippet which taps the others. Wandering further, he soaks up the wealth: big moony rings and brand new absorption suits, right off the line Pleasuremisers that can get going as fast as thought, delightful toys with plastic overtones enabled to sell themselves, even an old magazine next to a plastic, frothy fountain...Everything’s racing for home...a human home.
It’s not long before, in this utter show of neon and happy faces, Thirty-Eight begins hearing strange voices:
“Between the chaparral, in a place that harbors ponies, there will come a stronger enemy to blast their pitiful miens into another world. Then there will be nothing left but the strongest and, in time, there shall become a moment when nothing will give worth its stream; then all will be as it was, the dirt...”
Thirty-Eight senses the same; he practically scourges himself across the lobby over to a counter. Here he looks at a whimsy man and feels the urge to express these voices.
But that won’t do them any good, he suddenly realizes, for it’s already upon them. If only they knew! And if I could only tell one, just one...
“Then a sort of flower might bloom...”
And out of its colorful expression it might weaken the hex.
“...Why out of the mere fact of cessation comes the wisdom of beauty.”
And Thirty-Eight doesn’t quite know if he heard that and makes it a point to ask, next time he visits the Central,” if there mightn’t be a special department that could help in such matters?”
“Nothing doing,” says the whimsy man. “But if you like, you can get with it. The Doctor can’t wait forever.”
Thirty-Eight elbows the counter, then plops his arms onto its sleek, plastic surface, “I’m here to sell myself out; just put me in a window.”
“But you’re likeable,” says the whimsy man. “You’re top priority because you’ve pagan breath.”
Backing farther than his normal line of sight, Thirty-Eight bumps his head on something.
“She’s mine. I found her. We went for a walk.”
The whimsy man pulls at his ear lobe while his other hand scuffles about his waxy scalp, “Are you sure you just went for a walk?”
Thirty-Eight bends over to get a closer look at the gleaming counter top, “I’m having a nice time in the Central because nobody is bothering me. Everyone seems to accept me as I am.”
“Which is?” asks the whimsy man.
“Why, a Pain,” answers Thirty-Eight.
“Who took the day off?”
“Oh, that’s nothing...”
“But to lose a day is to lose a life.”
“How so?” asks Thirty-Eight, bowing his head even more.
“Free will kills.”
“But I WILL pay.”
“How can you? Your Lifepulse is forever due!”
“There must be some way?”
“I don’t think so,” chuckles the Doctor.
“I love her,” swears Thirty-Eight, “and that’s free,” he adds. “Free!”
“Love?” The Doctor’s rheumy eyes begin whirling. “Such a splendid word, such a pretty peace, charming and commanding, and to think it goes on forever...”
“I know it does.”
“...And to think it free, free to soar, like a big Band-Aid...”
“It is FREE!”
When the Doctor’s eyes stop whirling he has to bat them to pat back a gooey film.
When Thirty-Eight feels a tap on his shoulder, he knows to feel the warmth of happiness. White as cotton the Pleasures fluff out kind hands and pull lightly upon his filthy absorption suit. Mouths open with teeth whiter than a full-house moon; tongues click while speaking about old days, new days, and in every way speaking about their old friend ‘mind.’
“It’s gone,” a mouth sings. “Tis nothing but a beam.”
“And if he gets one of ours,” says another Pleasure, “Who’ll pay?”
And then another, “You test us with your mess!”
But Thirty-Eight has to feel his purge, in going round the lobby; he knows to feel his pain. The neon around him is charging his time and his heart wants to explode. Hands caress his ugly body; hot breaths pat the back of his head, neck. He walks faster, his heels squeaking. If by choice he tries to turn, a hand or a foot nudge him instantly back in line. Where they’re steering him comes upright in full view, an oval airgate, seemingly made of old, flinty steel.
Just over the airgate are red flashing lights, like a calm pulse. The lights pulse into focus: TELECHAMBER MODE. But after he spins round to see for himself that girth of pride, he no more has the courage to face the opening airgate than a horse has to lose its life because of a broken leg.
Inside the Telechamber Thirty-Eight has to hunch, any higher and he bumps his head. In front of him, behind him, all around him, chasms of continuations, impossible glints. Outward the Telechamber, just over a parade of heads, and now through its half-moon opening, he can barely make out the glitter off the storefronts, or a wing-dip from a diving bird, or a girl, a smile...
Laughter compels him to sit; so he does. A rumbling from the floor, the roof or the walls — he hasn’t the slightest idea -then in broad view and hatchet-quick the airgate severs a happy world while he, the indolent body, quivers and quivers and quivers...
Now in this Telechamber he sees nothing but reflection. He looks at his face and starts counting his whiskers and his boils and sooner thinks to rub the glassy curves. His limbs come at him from every direction and meet at a single point. It’s as if he’s cut into by a transparency of sorts that slices his thoughts; it’s as if the Thirty-Eight on the other side were just as alive as the one he thinks is.
Both come together and do the same things, have the same thoughts and experiences; both sit on a cold floor counting the same whiskers and the same boils; both remember wild days of feverish sunshine; both live in pain and both transpose happiness and both have to tell each other that the stars are real.
Nothing of it makes everything of it, so real yet so unreal.
And to tell the other that he has a love is well and good because the other has the same, the exact same love, too; it’s as if he’s on one side but with a control of sorts, moving the other’s hands and arms, legs and toes, moving the other’s eyes to behold the other moving his own eyes, hands and arms, legs and toes. It’s as if he’s in a quiet space, clear and liquid, and no reality, however large, can ever topple its serenity, this quiet space, clear and liquid, like he can only imagine...
* * *
And the sudden visions that come to him in his mind in this Telechamber are his reckless sweats and back bent days of the hottest sun-flares, acid pools in gushers of the hottest steam, frantic screams from his hungry muscles, the bong of bells in the hollow hours of soapy mornings.
And then comes to him in his mind the curse of black sleep where the mind has about a second to adjust to the fact of going to sleep in the first place, only having to re-adjust to the fact of another soapy morning: that get-up time burnt by years of aches and pains and time forgotten during those years of aches and pains — but how silent the killer! — that moment when the face turns back on this very killer, face-to-face with an inevitable weakness, a sickening weariness...
Here at least is a soft, delicate light along with its softer, more delicate sounds and, over the arches from a vent, the billow-like whistle of the coolest air while, outside, the sun rakes the sky and the city’s towers gouge the gray-white clouds, everything in steamy, irrevocably snarly glints against the dewy, plastic pains.
Harm and fear are everywhere, between his ribs, over his head and under his feet where, if he were to look again, he just might see himself running half mad through some dense darkness, his arms wide and the brim of his nose at a sharp point, against his cheeks the soft tow of the wind and the pale blinks of the stars...
Openness sings and bugs are as small scrolls throughout the stream of this vision. But what if he were to see himself in another world, a world the same but as still and as quiet as he has always imagined?
He thinks alone about that same world, sees the stillness of time and feels the quiet whispers of love, happiness, those charming feelings that, somehow, give meaning and purpose to everything. If only he could capture just those feelings and hold them tighter against his worthless bosom, pronouncing himself, as it were, an immortal loser.
“But that would spoil things,” pronounces the Doctor.
“Damn rats,” mumbles Thirty-Eight.
“Did I tell you about mine, how it drinks my spit?”
Thirty-Eight feels his muscles again, like leeches.
“And this Telechamber, did I mention how much it cost?”
“To pay up — ‘bout natural enough!”
“The rats, Thirty-Eight, remember the rats, how warm they were in your gagging mouth and how quick they were in your humming stomach.”
“I ate three yesterday -”
“But did you pay for them?”
“And when I get out of here, three more!”
“But will you pay for them?
“I’ll last forever; you’ll see.”
“Ah, the sin,” warns the Doctor, “shall win the rats.
“You said it yourself: ‘to lose a day is to lose a life.’”
“Quite so,” says the Doctor. “One more look at her and she weans a sad flower.”
Thirty-Eight looks at the Doctor, hard, “But you’ll never know how it was.”
“Try me,” insists the Doctor.
And when Thirty-Eight looks again at the girl in the magazine his heart swells. He views the picture of a huge ocean; his tears sparkle, as do the blue knuckles of an immense sea. As if to entice the nest of some scorching anguish, a hot light rips across the jittery waters, sending aquatic bursts into the corners of the page.
The pier there becomes a sadness with its age set deeply into a defused sea bottom, while its length bears the heat; and with its span pointing into some dim concept of forever, its shell-white boards go on and on against the blue knuckles of the sea, and, as forever, she goes with the shell-white boards: he loves her and loves her the more because a trillion souls love her as much.
But what of her in this stillness so tame, time meaning nothing, this beauty of hers the more powerful, sea under her, blue sky over her and with the eyes of another world right through her?
What of her is for him that parasol, the shadow it makes near her small feet, the thunder he now hears between the double-spell of sky and sea; and then this prance of hers, how livid it is, her feet in motionless steps — he can almost see them moving, right this very moment; he can almost hear them, as he can now feel her weight, a weight which bears the burden of the boards to come but never does she step them.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Zane Coker