David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
A Second Coming

 

 

                  

                                                                            Swartz

 

 

 

"Just be glad I'm not a Jainist, old buddy."

     "Why's that?"

     "Look at the frigging windshield.  Look at your work of art."

     "I've seen worse."

     "That shit out there? . . . We've been on the road 20 minutes.  And that's max."

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     Insect smashed.  But there are components.  The body has adhered to the wiper blade which rests on the window's rubber seal.  Fine hair, perhaps the portion of a leg, certainly a wing, are visible.  The contents, the juice, are elsewhere.  Where the wiper has descended, in the lower right segment of the arc, is the stain, a heavy film in the pattern of a fetus, the borders smeared right in lighter film for several inches, nearly an inch from the termination of the wiper's pattern.  One is tempted to see the film as yellow, but it could be a trick of the headlights, which flare partially on asphalt, partially on deep space.  There are, nevertheless, other particulars.  Portions of the insect's extremities, legs, antennae, are seen throughout the wiper's pattern.  The second wiper, if one shifts focus, has rendered its own portion of the windshield similarly picturesque.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     One must ignore the over-all carnage.  There are likely 35 pulps on the glass.  Hair, extremities, ooze, guts, a technicolored blend of end-stop, insectile certainly, but Death.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     "Just be glad."

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     There are two passengers in the automobile.  The passenger to the right lights a cigarette.  He reflects briefly on the windshield's carnage.  As time passes he lights another cigarette.

     "Let me out just to the other side.  Here, that's good."

     "Good picking.  I'll be back in 45 minutes."

     "That's right."

     There was nothing unusual about the progress down the slope.  Nor across the gully.  The railroad tracks were up an embankment to the right.  To the left were corn fields.

     The top of the plant was a darker gray against the gray of his wrist, darker against the gray of his fingers.  The leaves flared out toward the end to surround the flower and seeds.  Beyond the wrist and top were groups of leaves in the shape of hands, narrow and serrated, 5 to a stem.  Wrist and top, leaves and stems, were gray, silhouetted against the sky.

     He felt the resin sticky against his hand as he stripped the top.  The canvas was then coarse along his forearm.

     He lay on his back in the gully, his head against the duffel bag, and listened to the cars decelerate on the curve and wind past, their headlights stabbing the darkness.  At last he could recognize the Volkswagen, the headlights dimming twice to cancel in the last 30 yards.  He was on his feet and running.

     He pulled open a V on the can of Hamm's and handed it to the driver.  He pulled open a V on a second can of Hamm's.

     "You sure you need all that?"

     "It won't amount to much after it's strained."

     The Hamm's was bitter and cold in the August night.  He noticed that the windshield was clean except for a moth struggling in a stain at the center.  The Hamm's was bitter and cold.

     "You got gasoline."

     "Yes.  Isn't this the way to Jeff's?"

     "Left at the crossroads."

     "How's the novel coming?"

     "Slow.  I'm afraid there isn't going to be enough sex in it."

     "That could be bad.  Well now you'll be able to write."

     "Yes."

     Justin Price, the passenger to the right, reflected on leaving graduate school to take a job in Wisconsin.  He reflected on his wife's suicide attempt that winter.  It would be hard to leave Iowa.  A recurrent image assailed his mind—lying on the floor with Manfred and reaching his hand out to Manfred's, touching it, seeing it withdraw.  He reflected on leaving graduate school to take a job in Wisconsin.  He reflected on his wife's suicide attempt that winter.  Even so, it would be hard to leave Iowa.

     "Whatever happened to Manfred?"

     "I think he's in school now."

     "He was a strange dude."

     "Very strange.  But very beautiful."

     "In a weird sort of way.  He never got stoned."

     "Yes.  I wasted a lot of grass on him."

     "Remember the parties at the apartment?"

     "Yes."

     "You'll have to come over before you leave."

     "Yes."

     He remembered the hotel room in Frankfurt and June stripping her upper body after he suggested that the 3 of them sleep together.  He remembered Manfred's anger.

     They were entering Iowa City past the neon-lit desolation that preceded the river drive.  They were holding the cans low now, leaning down to sip.  Justin Price remembered sitting on the rooftop of their Quonset hut that spring and skipping their beer cans off the neighboring huts until a graduate student in physics came out with a shotgun and fired 2 blasts, scaring them so badly they nearly rolled off the roof.  He held his can low to sip.  They were past the desolation, waiting at a stoplight.  Up the hill and to the left the Morgans, former bridge partners, had lived in another development of huts.  Three weeks ago they had moved to Rockford.

     They turned right at the park and then left among long low domes of crenellated steel.

     The headlights shone on Art's patio, overgrown with weeds.  He had shaped it with rocks from the river.  On torch-lit evenings they had sat there drinking home brewed beer.  Now Art lived in the apartment house across the river with all the young people gathered there crisp from advertisements.  Art, the driver of the car, tossed his empty can on the asphalt and reached right to the carton for another.  When Justin Price shook his hand in the freak's grip, he felt the cool and the moisture.  Price was standing to the right of the car, the canvas strap over his shoulder.  The moisture lingered on his hand.

     "It'll be ready in a few days.  I'll let you know."

     "If it doesn't work maybe we can drink some ether."

     "Yes.  Maybe."

     "Give my regards to Christa."

     "Certainly.  Good night, Art."

     "Good night."

 

 

She was sitting in a stuffed chair with wooden armrests, her feet tucked up underneath, the cotton nightgown draping down below her legs.  Her hair was brown, long and straight, a few threads of premature gray.  Closed on one finger was a book of German fairy tales.  She set it aside on the table and stood and embraced him.  He felt her breasts through the cotton.  He glanced toward his daughter's bedroom and looked back down at his wife's liquid brown eyes through the oval frames.  She nodded.  Anna was asleep.

     "Were you worried?"

     She nodded.

     "Are you hungry?"

     She nodded.

     "I'm too uptight to do anything."

     "Come to bed."

     "I have to dry it first."

     In the undulations of the aluminum tray he had 2 noses.  Otherwise the duplication of his features was not evident.  Beyond the face-pink and polo shirt-green the reflection was a haze.  There were lines in the tray, scratches brighter than the surface and radiating from an uncertain center.  The borders were stained with patches of brown.  The hands there were long and slender, scarred at the base of each thumb.  One would assess the tray as ordinary.  Not the hands.  Justin Price was very conscious of his hands, ever since a homosexual friend had admired them.

     He spread out the plant, shoved the tray in the oven, and closed the doors.  He set the temperature to 200 degrees.

     He spread out the plant, shoved the tray in the oven, and closed the doors.  He set the temperature to 200 degrees.

     He repeated this sequence 11 times.

     "Justin, aren't you coming to bed?"

     "Not till I'm finished."

     On the table was a bottle of petroleum ether.  There was a bottle of nothing, an empty gallon jug.  He lifted handfuls of dried plant into the mouth of the jug, pausing now and then to take a drag off his cigarette.  He wished it was a joint.

     "Justin, are you still up?"

     "I'm almost finished."

     The table was somewhat interesting.  It was oval.  The surface was gray vinyl, the sides and frame aluminum.  It was interesting because it was ugly.  Tables, he thought, should be made of wood.

     "Justin, come to bed."

     "I'm finished.  Be right with you."

     The jug was full.  Marijuana in the lower half, ether to the top.  Light from a cluster of bulbs in the ceiling reflected off the smooth cold glass.  The smell of ether was heavy in the room.  There was a cup of marijuana still left on the table.

     In the bedroom Justin Price rested his head on a smooth taut belly.  He slid down to kiss the few traces of maidenhair.  He ran his hand along the thighs, over the buttocks, as she arched her back, up to the cleft, feeling it coming moist.

     "Promise me something, Justin."

     "What's that?"

     "That you won't smoke it every day."

     His face between her breasts, to the nape of her neck, nuzzling against her as he penetrated ever so slowly and withdrew, came in hard and withdrew, gently and withdrew.  He lay on her with it in her, feeling it clench his manhood.  He lay there and forced his mind to cancel, all but a few images connected with his novel, finally nothing.  He was moving again but involuntarily, and he hadn't addressed her remark.

 

 

On the sides of the Pyrex tray, midway to the base, was a yellow rim.  At intervals of perhaps a millimeter were lines of thicker yellow parallel to the base.  The lines and film shaded into dark green as they thickened on their descent, finally into black when they reached the base, for there, was the liquid in no small quantity casting a green reflection where the light hit it.  The liquid was not spread evenly across the glass.  There were portions of yellow and dark green visible.  Noticeable were insects and portions of insects trapped in the viscous substance.  No fewer than 3 flies, their black bodies sodden.  A moth to its side, the right wing extending transparent, yellow streaks through to the glass as witness to its death struggle.

     A stainless steel teaspoon entered the liquid and emerged with an insect cadaver.  This act was repeated.  And repeated.  Bodies surrounded by blotches of yellow littered the sections of a plain paper towel.  The act was repeated.  And repeated.

     Hands worked marijuana into the dark liquid.  In time the surface of the tray was a uniform yellow surrounding black clots.

     Item: 2 slender chocolate brown cigarettes on the table.  Item: The tray gone.  Item: 2 plastic Bayer aspirin bottles filled with the clots just at the edge of a dark blue mat, their reflection vague on the vinyl.  Item:

     There was an inhalation, caught breath, a thin trail of smoke upward from the spent match, a thicker trail from the cigarette.  The coal was an apparent cone, muted slightly by the ash.

     "Jesus."

     A 2nd inhalation.  And a 3rd.

     "Jesus."

     The vision was somewhat occluded.  The left eye was into the nap and closed.  The right took in immediately a small portion of the rug, peripherally a row of record albums framed by slender table legs.  The rug was red and green.  There were jagged rectangles of color.  There was a fleck of cigarette ash.  The ash was gray and white.  It was particularly attractive to the eyes, which brought it into sharp focus with its fine and delicate contact with the nap of the rug.  It was impossible to exhaust, although there was no train of associations brought to bear on it, no imagery, no metaphor, no verbal content.  The mind was free of all but the ash.  The body was free.  It was almost as if invisible fibers or phlegm, living cords, connected the observer and the flake of spent paper.  Justin Price had smoked both joints of the processed marijuana, the highly concentrated resin.  He was feeling absolutely no pain.  Even the cramp in his left leg had become pleasurable.  He couldn't hear his wife's knocking at the door.  He could barely hear her voice.

     "Justin, would you please open up?"

     The Mamas and the Papas.  He had heard them first at Jeff's.  Jeff was passing the glass pipe with the pale yellow mouthpiece, and he heard it clearly, the final cut on side A.  Somehow this didn't quite explain why the record was so very consequential.  Someone, he thought, had better let his wife in.  They had had roast pork back then, for dinner, and Jeff had called it elephant cock.  Nora, his wife, had laughed loudest.  Resting his chin against the heel of his hand, Justin felt suddenly more comfortable now that his mind was finally active.

     "Justin, come on.  I'm tired."

     She was wearing a Howard Johnson's waitress uniform.  Somehow he found that irrepressibly humorous.  The turquoise skirt and red trimmed white blouse, the turquoise collar and sleeves—all contrasted so strangely with the paint-flecked door and the annoyance on her face.  There were peculiar stains on her apron.  He traced his finger across something dark red and again something yellow.  When he finally looked up she was smiling.

     "It seems to have been a success."

     "I have enough here to last me 3 years.  It's fairly well pure THC."

     "Not if you smoke it every day."

     "Even if I give it away.  There must be 4 ounces."

     "I brought you something."

     She held out a white bag with a Howard Johnson's trademark.

     "An orange freeze."

     "Yes."

     "God bless your little sweet body."

 

 

Altogether Art Spellman looked like a successful golfer.  There was a small green alligator on his jersey.  His hair, closely cropped, had been recently trimmed.  His face was well-tanned.  The long biceps flexed as he held a pipe and match to his lips.  The pipe, long bamboo stem, brass bowl and mouthpiece, could just as well have been a rather ornate putter.  Art gagged on a gust of smoke.  The small green alligator creased and relaxed.  He had passed the pipe and matches to Justin Price, who was staring fascinated at the glossy cover of a book on the shelf below the window, who inhaled deeply and passed the pipe back, who again accepted the pipe and inhaled deeply, his eyes on the glossy red book cover, who again passed the pipe back and accepted it to inhale.

     "What do you think?"

     "Where's your wife.  I want to breed her."

     "Christa?  He wants to fuck you."

     "Tell him I get enough from you."

     "She gets enough from me."

     She appeared in the doorway smiling.  Art stood and made as if to open his pants.  Everyone laughed.  Art sat, grazing the armrest, nearly missing the chair.  Everyone laughed.

     "The job is secondary.  I'll be able to finish the novel.  It comes first.  I'm into my 3rd chapter, and it's going well.  Jesus.  Aren't you finding it hard to talk?"

     "Yes."

     "That should be spent.  Here, take the bottle.  The teaching load will be twice what I have here.  But I won't be taking courses.  Just stick the pipe in.  That's it.  I figure I'll be able to do it all during the day and have my evenings free."

     "I'm going to miss you 2."

     "It's not that far to visit.  Christa?  Here."

     "I have to wash my hair."

     "Here."

     "No thanks.  I'm fine."

     Art sank further down into the chair, his legs stretched out toward the stove.  After another bowl he was leaning back against the seat.  Then he was all the way on his back, his legs on the gray floor, straddling the stove, pale skin showing above his stockings.  Justin turned the music up in steps.

     "You're fucking my head."

     Art gathered himself up and staggered toward the kitchen.  He stood swaying, his head fixed and staring at the wall, at a bottle of nutmeg on the spice rack, locked into its slick glass and white label, locked in, staring at the bottle through the rest of the cut.  When he turned back he was drooling.

     "You sure there's not some ether left in this?"

     "There might be a little.  I boiled it all out."

     "I don't know what the fuck this is but it's something else."

     "Art?"

     "Yes."

     "Let's roll down the hill."

     Justin was staggering, swaying, the whole way up the slope, his eyes focusing and holding every few steps, pulling him back while his legs advanced, feeling the cool of the air after rain.  Art had somehow made it to the top and was preparing to take the plunge, elaborately, as if a ritual wind-up were in progress.  Then he was on his way down past Price, screaming and giggling, arms flailing and thrashing until he finally hit a stump just short of the river.  Justin followed him, stars, earth, stars, earth, stars, earth, moon, earth, finally moon, full moon staring down at him as he felt his head go off and time ceased.  Then something huge and gray interrupted the light that was pouring through his eyes, liquid in his brain, intruded itself drooling.  Art was standing there swaying, reaching down to his shoulder to pull him up by the shirt.  Justin was on his knees, his head against the cloth below Art's belt, trying to stand the rest of the way.

     "Blow me.  Give me a suck.  Come on, give me a suck."

     "Gave that up for Lent.  How'd I make out?"

     "I beat you by 20 yards.  Lick my armpit.  Come on."

     "Kiss ass, Art baby.  Come on, help me up."

     "You're really leaving, aren't you?"

     "Sorry, old buddy.  You have it straight."

 

 

The water spattered on the coals, leaving gray stains that disappeared rapidly inward from the edges.  Steam rose toward the ceiling.  The body was naked.  The skin glistened with sweat.  The hair of the chest glistened in moist curls.  Leaning down for another cup of water, the body presented lean moist buttocks free of hair.  The left arm was missing below the elbow, the termination shaped like the head of the penis which swayed outward as the figure turned.  Justin Price, on the uppermost platform, watched the body ascend to just below and to his right, watched the lean belly crease as the figure sat and extended one leg to prod another man just below him.  For an instant Justin had the image of his face there sliding down the slick flesh toward a gaining erection.  Art watched him and seemed to understand in his seriousness.  He was wearing a pink plastic cape and hood over his bare torso.  He was wearing yellow and pink floral trunks.

     "What?"

     "I said have you had enough heat."

     "I'm so stoned out of my ass I can't feel it."

     "Let's hit the pool."

     There was a considerable swell of flesh at Art's groin distending the swimming trunks.  The cape and hood were fastened at the neck by a chain.  Art drove backwards, shrieking, the abdomen stretching outward to disappear beyond the groin and legs as he entered the water.  Justin Price leaned over the edge in a tattered field jacket and trunks and watched the body, coiled like a fetus, sink down toward the bottom.  Several persons beyond the further border of the pool stood languid and bored, disinterested in the spectacle of cape and field jacket, languid and bored as if posed for a Salem advertisement.  Art hung there at the bottom, suspended in the blue rippling water, a thin trail of bubbles ascending from his nose, coiled and rippling with the water, the bubbles ascending, coiled and rippling for what seemed an unbearable time until Justin Price dove down to touch him, to shake his shoulder and motion him to come up for air.  Price broke surface and treaded water, and the fetus lay on the bottom, bubbles trailing upward.  After another eternity it uncoiled and shoved up from the bottom, arms extended and joined, the cape trailing, rippling, giving the figure the aspect of a comic book superman.

     "Did you time me?"

     "I'm sorry.  I forgot.  It seemed like forever."

     "Jesus, you didn't time me?"

     "I'm sorry.  You may have set a record."

     "It's that shit you made.  It suspends you in some kind of super-world where you don't need things like air.  You don't need anything, just the water against you and the cape and trunks."

     "You're starting to sound like me."

     "We all sound alike."

     "Why don't we go back upstairs?"

     "I need a malt.  A peanut butter malt."

     "Just give me the key and I'll wait for you."

     "Justin?"

     "Yes."

     "I saw you in there.  You wanted to suck him."

     "Who's that?"

     "The guy with the stump.  You wanted to suck on the stump."

     "Christ, Art."

     "You wanted his body.  I could tell."

     "Maybe."

     "I knew I was right.  You could have too.  All those guys in there are queer.  Every night I come down here for a swim they're in there talking funny.  They were watching you."

     "You're the guy with the equipment."

     "But they liked you."

     "What can I say?  Give me the key."

     "You really wanted the stump.  It was totally oral."

     "Go get your malt."

 

 

A fine line of hair descending from the navel.  Luxuriant growth above the genitals.  Muscles apparent through the skin of the thighs.  An old scar visible to the inner side of the right knee.  The penis is long and full, carefully circumcised, wider in the shaft than in the head.  There is a purple mark near the ureter.

     The figure sways.  Art sways.  The figure makes obscure V motions with the forearm and hands, the fingers extended and joined.  The penis sways and undulates like a great pink snake.  Perhaps there is music.  It would seem that way.  Art.  Art.  Art.  It would seem that way.  Perhaps SER-GEANT PEPPER.

      On the wall is the portrait of an old woman by a primitive hand.  There are assorted posters.  Onassis particularly interesting.  Blond woman seated, legs outstretched, pelican hiding her groin.  The figure swaying and the seated blond partake of the same irrepressible vitality, an animal presence which fills the room with the odor of secret places.

     "I get by with a little help from my friends"—the penis dangling and vibrating to the same approximate rhythm.

     Justin Price remembers the first time he saw Art.  He was bending down over his patio in front of the Quonset hut and pulling grass from the crevices between the stones.  Justin remembers Art's wife, Jo.  She was sitting on a canvas lawn chair, emphasizing her breasts in a black one-piece swimming suit.  Their daughter Muffin was playing in a sand box.

     "I get high with a little help from my friends"—the penis dangling and vibrating to the same approximate rhythm.

     They had showed him inside.  The stove painted orange, the pipe ascending in yellow and green, the bookshelves filled with bestsellers, the record rack crowded with Mantovani and Sinatra.  There had been a pink gauze canopy over their bed.

     "Do you need anybody?"—the penis dangling and vibrating.

     And Art had shown him his home-brewed beer.

     "Art, would you sit down?"

     "How soon are you leaving?"

     "Wednesday."

     Art sat down cross-legged, his penis draping on the rug.  He leaned left and picked up the pipe from the ashtray, opened the aspirin bottle, and scraped some of the concentrate into the bowl.  He leaned back against the wall and pulled flame down into the bowl, pulled air down after it, caught his breath at a gust of smoke, pulled down more flame, then passed the pipe.  The old woman in the painting seemed to disapprove of her surroundings.  As Justin inhaled, the eyes seemed to narrow into slits and the mouth to set in a grim line.  He looked at the pelican.

     "How'd you get the stones up for your patio?"

     "I hauled them up in Muffin's wagon."

     "Where's Jo now?"

     "In Cedar Rapids."

     "Why don't you play some Frank Sinatra?"

     The smoke came gusting out in a series of high-pitched giggles.  Art was wasting the concentrate.  Justin constructed a scene with the girl and her pelican, of Art sucking the pelican's penis.  He drew in deeply and let the series of images play on the surface of his closed eyelids.  It was a cartoon scene, the figures awkwardly drawn.  Art would have enjoyed it perhaps.

     "What are your plans?"

     "Mine?"
     "Yes.  What are you going to be doing?"

     "I'll stay on to finish my Master's.  I plan to get into social work perhaps, or teaching.  I plan to do some drugs.  I plan to visit you.  And I plan to do some drugs."

     "Acid?"

     "Not me.  No, this stuff is strong enough for me."

     "I don't think I'll chance acid."

     "Me neither.  Justin?"

     "Yes?"

     "Are you really queer?"

     "That's hard to say.  It lasted about 3 years.  Started before I met Christa.  Ran straight at her from it.  We married.  It hung on, started to wreck our marriage.  I went through therapy.  Learned to control it.  It was a lot of guilt for me.  The drive's still there, but the guilt is gone.  That's about it."

     "If the chance came up really strong, would you go for it?"

     "Maybe."

     "Suck me off."

     "Art, I wouldn't even bang you in the ass."

     "Well, I'm glad of that."

 

 

 

Meaty concave disks glistening with oil.  Yellow film turning to brown at raised portions.  The sauce a deep red appearing in rivulets and lakes, uniform strip at the border.  Cut in wedges.  One is raised to the lips, creased through the center, dripping yellow in strings, some red cresting the tip.  There is satisfaction of a sort.  The cheeks are distended, the fingers oily.  Art looks up past the wedge at Justin Price and beyond him to the bar.  He sees the usual display of bottles, the Slim Jims, the pickled eggs and sausages, the aluminum oven.  But particularly he sees the glass doors of the display case streaked with dust, spattered with grease.  And he sees the bottles, the decorative whiskey bottles on display, in particular a deep-red bull, the cork opening over the arched back, the horns low, the buttocks prominent.  There is a dark crease between the buttocks.  He finds it both amusing and provocative.  He lifts another wedge of pizza and imagines Justin Price inserting his erection between the deep-red buttocks, his orgasm blowing the cork top and cascading down the sides.  He feels particular pleasure in this reverie.

     "That's your 3rd pizza, Art."

     "Yes, and I'm going to show you something."

     "Take your time."

     "More beer?"

     "I can't handle any more.  Here, let me fill your mug."

     There was a boxing match on the color television at the end of the bar.  There was a telephone booth.  Two black fighters, probably middleweights, were having a hard time with each other.  Justin watched the fight over his shoulder and turned back to see Art finish the last slice of pizza.  He watched Art lick his fingers and drain his mug of beer.  He watched him pour another from the pitcher and drain it quickly.

     "What are you going to show me?"

     "Go over and thank Alfred for all the free stuff."

    Alfred was very corpulent.

     "Thanks, Alfred."

     "That's all right.  Have enough to eat?"

     "Plenty.  We'll see you.  Well Art will.  I'm on my way to Wisconsin on Wednesday.  I'll be back to visit though."

     "You take care now.  Better not let Art drive."

     "Okay."

     Alfred turned back toward the television.  His breasts hung out in flab under the jersey and white starched shirt.  Justin caught up with Art at the rear entrance.  They went on out into the alleyway, entering the pool of light cast from an over-sized fixture attached to the tavern wall.  Art leaned against the wall and motioned with his free arm for Price to move aside.

     "I want you to watch this.  Just stand back."

     Art Spellman stuck his finger down his throat and gagged.  He licked his finger off and pushed in his stomach with both hands.

     "Aaaaauuuulllllggggghhhhh."

     A bifurcated column of vomit emerged, exploded from his mouth, laced with pepperoni and bits of crust.  It looped forward in an arc toward the asphalt and splattered, trailing back toward Art's feet.  Art gagged again several times and then looked up, smiling.  He paced off the distance heel to toe, heel to toe.

     "6 and a half feet.  I've done better."

     "That was really something, Art.  Really something."

     "Now I'm going to show you something else."

     "I'd rather not see it."

     "Bullshit.  Stand over there."

     The vomit glistened in the pool of light.  Art stepped back and opened his pants zipper.  He pulled out his penis and tilted it upward and toward the end of the alleyway.  Urine arced forward in two long spurts, draining right, toward a depression in the asphalt.  Art shook his penis thoroughly, reeling back once toward the tavern wall, and closed the zipper.  He paced off the spattered surface, heel to toe, heel to toe, losing his balance several times and retracing his progress.  At last he looked back and smiled.  With some justice, Justin thought.  He had counted the paces silently.  He was visibly impressed.

     "25 feet.  I didn't think that was possible."

     "I've done 33.  I shit you not."

     "I believe you."

     "When did you say you were leaving?"

     "Wednesday.  There's a party at Jeff's Tuesday night."

.    "Did you ask him if I could come?"

     "Of course."

 

 

Party at Jeff's.  One entered by the rear door, through the wash room, into the kitchen.  From there through the dining room to the living room.  The house was old.  There were 7 dogs in the yard of uncertain breed.  There were toads near the fishpond.  There were cats.  There were 17 people.  One could find them on sofas, chairs, and rugs around a low oval table, all but Art, who was watching television in the corner.  Jeff was punning.  The puns were outrageous.  They pulled everything together into a small point and released it.  Tensions arose to be dissolved.

     "What do brave sheep and Alexander Pope have in common?"

     "Tell us, Jeff."

     "Heroic cutlets."

     Everyone participated but Art, who was watching a bowling match.

     Most liked Jeff's pipe.  It made of smoking a laboratory experiment.  The body was a glass tube plugged by a stopper at the bottom.  A more slender tube angled from near the base forward and then upward to flare at the top for the bowl.  There was a disk of brass mesh in the bowl.  Every time it emptied, Jeff filled it from a tin box and sprinkled some powder over the top.

     Justin found himself lying on his back, staring up at his wife through a corrugated tunnel.  The music seemed impossibly loud.  He had not felt this way on marijuana before.  Art Spellman continued to watch the bowling match in the corner.

     "Art, who's going to win?"

     "Des Moines."

     "Who are they playing?"

     "Cedar Rapids."

     "Cedar Rapids is going to win."

     "Who made you the psychic?"

     "I'll bet you."

     "Forget it."

     "No, I'll bet you.  The women from Cedar Rapids are going to win.  Just name the amount.  Put your money where your mouth is."

     "Whoever loses licks an armpit."

     "No, bullshit.  Just name it."

     "I tell you what.  I'll eat one of those toads out there."

     "What'll I do?"

     "That's up to you."

     "I'll drink a glass of my own urine."

     "You're on.  Now let me watch the match."

     The pipe passed.  Everything seemed very clear and interrelated.  It was as if Justin were looking through a 3-dimensional viewer at slides or as if everything were sprayed with a sort of lacquer to make the colors stand out.  The table seemed impossibly massive, as if it might crash through the floor, then light enough to float toward the ceiling.  Then he noticed that the TV was still running but that Art was absent from the room.  The announcer was repeating the results.  Cedar Rapids had won.  It seemed a long way to stand and that he was looking down from a great distance.  The words were unnaturally long in coming.

     "Where'd he go?  Where'd Art go?"

     "He's out back, I think."

     "He lost.  He has to eat a toad."

     "Come on.  Sit down, Justin."

     "He lost.  Who's going to help me?"

     They found him in the pine tree behind the tool shed.  He threatened to urinate on them if they came on up after him.  He had his penis out when they finally caught his legs and dragged him down, struggling, to the base of the tree and pinned him back by his neck and shoulders.  They could hear the toads by the pond, and they could hear the laughter coming from the kitchen and then the wash room, as the others emerged to watch.  Jeff Richards went for the toad.  They could see his silhouette against the gloss of the water, see it bending and straightening out and then coming on larger until they could make out the pink of his hand extended and the dark squirming creature trapped in his fingers.

     "I ain't going to do it.  Come on, Price."

     "Force his mouth open."

     "This is disgusting.  Let the poor thing go."

     "I'm not going to do it."

     "Hold his nose.  He'll have to open up to breathe."

     "Jeffrey Richards, you let that toad go."

     They had his nose.  Justin had it.  He could feel the mucus.  They were pulling down on Art's jaw, and then the toad was between his teeth, the legs sticking out of both corners, and they were forcing his teeth together while Justin had the nose pressed shut, and Art had to swallow to breathe.  They let him go and stood back, and he rolled over on his stomach and vomited.

     "This is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen."

     "Jeffrey Richards, how could you be so cruel?"

     "He made a bet, didn't he?"

     Then they were all laughing, giggling, even Art.

 

 

The side of the bookshelf was a flat black plane angling upward from his hands to somewhere near her shoulder at the top of the stairs.  Beyond her velvet shoulder were the yellow kitchen wall and dark cabinets, the table long and green.  Anna held the screen door.  Her belly was slightly distended in the striped jersey, a strip of soft pink showing through above the waist.  They entered over the tan speckled tile and headed right, through the living room, across the braided rug to the far wall.  They set the bookshelf down beside a striped chair and footrest and Justin opened a box of books on the floor, a Modern Library edition of ULYSSES the first his hand met, filling the uppermost shelf.  He leaned back on the chair and lit a cigarette, looking up at the overhead paneling.  Something indefinite seemed imprisoned there in the knotty pine, perhaps a former owner, perhaps everything dead looking on, but with warmth.  He was very pleased with his new home.  And Christa, she was glowing.  He would have to drive the trailer back to town, but that was no problem.  There were 36 acres of woodland to explore before Monday.

     "Where are you going to put your mixture?"

     "I'm going to hollow out WRITER'S MARKET."

     He leaned back and filled the shelves.
     "Where's my blue suit?"

     "In the upstairs closet."

     "My briefcase?"

     "Over there under the cot."

     "Are you happy?"

     "So happy.  It's going to be good for you, earning a living.  Working.  Writing.  And don't you think it will be good to be away from Art?  I mean, be honest.  Don't you think?"

     "You mean last night with the toad?"

     "Every night.  He brings out the worst in you."

     "I don't know.  I like Art.  He's a lot of fun."

     She was in the doorway to the kitchen.  To the left was an oil painting of a woman with bright teats and goat with bright udders.  Objects were paired throughout the painting.

     "Won't you be lonely here during the day?"

     "I'll read.  In the spring I'll plant a garden.  It won't be bad.  Do you think we could get a pet?"

     "Yes, Daddy.  Let's have a pet.  Come on, please."

     "We'll find a cat.  And we'll call him Edmund.  Or Lucifer."

     "Oh, wonderful.  You're a wonderful daddy."

     Below the painting was a cot with an Indian spread, vaguely sexual in design.  There was a striped sofa on the adjacent wall framed by windows with white knit curtains.  He could see the front of the trailer beyond the curtains.  When he looked back toward the kitchen his wife was gone

from the doorway.  She appeared briefly at the trailer, then reappeared, carrying a mop and pail.  Anna was standing on a kitchen chair, hanging her jacket on the clothes rack, her hair in long blond braids.  Then there was Christa in the doorway, smiling tenderly.

     "Let's have a picnic, Justin."

     "Oh, let's have a picnic.  Come on, please."

     "When?"

     "Tomorrow.  There's a hill across the road.  It's all grass and shade trees.  I could pack a basket.  Let's do it."

     "Come on, Daddy.  Please?"

     "All right."

     "Yay."

     "I have to take the trailer back."

     "It's almost empty.  Just the TV and stereo."

     "Where should we put them?"    

     "On the stand in the corner."

     At the bottom of the box of books were the 2 aspirin bottles and 3 long hashish pipes with bamboo stems.  He lifted those out and sat down on the sofa.  He leaned forward to the card table centered on the braided rug and set the pipes and bottles down on the gray fabric top.  Scraping some of the contents into a bowl, he lifted the pipe to his mouth and drew flame down into the pipe.  Immediately the room seemed clearer, more precise.  Time was nearly suspended.

     "Why don't you empty the trailer, Justin?"

     "I'm sorry.  I thought you would."

 

 

Small Anna packed the basket.  There were jelly beans and cookies and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  There were a checkered tablecloth and yellow paper napkins.  There were two thin chocolate brown cigarettes which Justin had included.  Anna carried the basket, skipping on ahead down the slope past the Buick to the broken asphalt road, and was lost past the fence post and trees until they reached the road and saw her ahead, swinging the basket, a corner of the tablecloth, red and white, flashing in the sunlight.  The crest of her hair was bright against the ascending road, her sleeveless sweater and skirt purple, the blouse crisp and tan, all of it in movement over the asphalt.  Then there was the hill to the left beyond a barbed wire fence, the posts rotting, gaps in the rusted wire.  There were several trees on the slope, the shade dappling their arms as they passed underneath, but the crest of the hill was long blond sun-warmed matted grass, clear and tranquil, splashed in moments by the red and white checkered cloth where they knelt to their picnic dinner.

     "Everyone gets 5 jelly beans."

     "How many sandwiches?"

     "2 for you.  One for Mommy and me.  And we all get 3 cookies.  Oh darn, I forgot something to drink.  I was going to make Kool-Aid, and then I forgot.  Is that all right, Mommy?"

     "It's all right."

     Justin leaned over past Anna and reached in the basket for one of the cigarettes.  He lit up and inhaled, holding the match for a few moments and then testing the head before tossing it to the grass.  He passed the cigarette to Christa.

     "Can we take our clothes off, Mommy?"

     "Go ahead.  I don't want to."

     "Oh, come on, Mommy."

     "All right."

     Justin Price watched her stand and pull the light blue sweater over her shoulders, reach back to unclasp the brassiere, and then her breasts bare in the sunlight.  He stood and focused his eyes on the long blond grass, and then up from the pile of clothes at his feet at his wife there naked, undulations of sunlight and shadow, his plump young daughter with the long slender legs.  They knelt at the tablecloth and the sandwiches, and he felt the processed hemp oil through the heat on his body, warm liquid filling him up evenly and gently with subtle vibrations, even to the grass at his knees, where the sensation of grass was also liquid.

     "I'm sorry, Justin."

     "For what?"

     "I'm sorry for what I did this winter.  Do you want me to say it?"

     "What's that, Mommy?"

     "It's not your business.  Daddy and I are talking.  No, I feel so really fine and alive today.  Just one more.  One more hit.  That's right.  Thank you.  I feel so very alive I just can't do anything but apologize for wanting anything like this to ever go away."

     "Apologize to the grass.  LEAVES of grass.  By the biggest head of all?"

     "Mommy?  What's Daddy talking about?"

     "Nothing important.  Come here."

     They lay together on the earth, Anna held between them, to her breasts, to his chest, to the lengths of them, sharing the cigarette through their feeling, and suddenly he had the sense of genuine equality, the liquid in his body suddenly equal in presence throughout and equal to the fluid in their bodies, equally present and vital.  He closed his eyes to the sunlight, the rose warmth through the lids, and eased the images and thoughts until there was only the rose and the grass and flesh and the liquid omnipresent, until they were 3 in one with all boundaries dissolved, and he couldn't trace where he ended and they began.  It was too pure to be erotic.

     "Mommy, I'm getting all squishy."

     "All right, dear."

     "Mommy?"

     "Yes, dear."

     "Is that what you do when you do sex?"

     "Maybe.  Something like that."

     "Mommy?"

     "Yes."

     "We should have brought a Frisbee."

 

 

Against the chevrons of the braided rug was the delicate soft fluff of a tiny cat, a kitten gray and white, tiny green eyes sensing the kaleidoscope of color in the cloth at its feet, the rich brown and gloss of the paneling, the paler wood of the floor.  Feeling at its fur the child which knelt to stroke its ears delightedly.  The legs spread and the soft underbelly rubbed the rug, feeling the chevrons, feeling the light.  It flopped to its side and stretched, slight tearing sounds like static as its little claws felt the fabric.  Anna stroked its belly, the sparse white hair and the pink showing through.  It arched to surround her hand, feeling the pink of her flesh, feeling the light, alive to her smile, the dark glossy lips and white teeth.

     "Little Edmund.  Little Edmund wants to play."

     "Is he purring?"

     "Let me see, Mom.  I thought so.  I could feel it on his belly.  Let me put my head there, Edmund.  Now don't scratch.  Oh, he's tickling my ear with his tongue.  His nose is cold."

     "I met Tapholski this morning on the elevator.  I asked him if he was going down, and he said that depends on what I mean?  He took me out to his house this afternoon.  It's the pink one on the main highway just the other side of that big farm.  I told him I wanted a kitten, and his wife gave me Edmund.  There were 3 others we could have had, but this was the only male."

     "And they play bridge?"

     "Yes.  I invited them for Saturday."

     "Do they smoke?"

     "No.  I asked him if he was interested, and he said maybe."

     "And he looks like John Updike?"

     "The mirror image."

     "Do you think he's homosexual?"

     "Maybe.  I don't think it matters though.  His wife is certainly a hot piece.  They used to teach at Parson's College."

     "Were you attracted to her?"

     "No."

     "How did classes go?"

     "Okay.  I'm teaching THE GINGER MAN."

     "How about YOUR novel?"

     "Very slow.  I'm going to try smoking with it.  Just a hit a page.  I need something to open up."

     Justin turned to the bookshelf  and pulled out a copy of Spiller's LITERARY HISTORY.  In the flat black gap were the 2 aspirin bottles.  He opened one and took his pipe from the top of the shelf and scraped the dark concentrate into the bowl.

     "Did you see Estling today?"

     "Yes.  He kind of scares me.  There's something so forced in his cordiality, something cerebral, detached.  He's very guarded about whether he uses drugs or not.  I think he does when they're around, otherwise not.  I think so.  Are you going to join me?"

     "No.  And I wish you would smoke less.  Can't you enjoy yourself without it anymore?  I'm sorry.  No, please.  I'm sorry.  Forget it."

     With the first hit the kitten seemed more immediate, his daughter's joy less forced.  The 2 together on the oval braided rug, the spiraling chevrons, their contact beyond the table legs.  He exhaled tattered smoke.  It seemed so much more real.  The stripes on his daughter's jersey were clarified.  It was almost as if a whole metaphysics could be gleaned from the crease in her neck, from the swell of her rump, from the least excited giggle.  And the intensity he was feeling in these moments was beginning to carry over even into the long hours he was away from his supply, as if he could nearly swear it was working a change in him.  He lay down and put his head on his daughter's shoulders.

     "Don't, Daddy.  You're too heavy."

     "Do you like the cat?"

     "Why can't we call him Frisky?"

     "Because he's Edmund, the brother of Edgar."

     "I don't understand.  Who was Edgar?"

     "The one with the big wart.  He had a beauty."

     "Oh Daddy.  He did not."

     "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

     "Daddy, would you take your head off my back?"

     "Certainly.  I wouldn't want you to feel squishy."

     "Thank you, Daddy. And thank you for Frisky."

     "Edmund.  You mean Edmund."

     "All right.  For Edmund."

 

 

Cards appeared at 4 locations on the gray cloth table top.  The figures adjacent to the cards were dressed casually.  To the right of the dealer was a face in the likeness of John Updike.  To the left was Updike's wife, her breasts full in a gray sweater.  Updike and wife were forming words of no particular consequence, Updike smiling with much of his teeth, nervously cordial, his wife smiling briefly, intermittently at several comments.  Picking up her cards, she stretched languidly, emphasizing her breasts.  She fanned the cards.  All hands fanned their cards.  The dealer counted his ace, two kings, queen, and singleton—enough for a one club opening.  To his left—pass.  Across—one diamond.  Right—pass.  And the dealer passed.  He spread his cards on the table.

     "I think you'll like Burton.  He's a gentle man."

     "I met him briefly.  How about Forest?"

     "He's quite charming.  Isn't he, Sarah?"

     Sarah leads with a spade and says nothing.  The first trick goes to the board.  Trump is led.  There is nothing particularly unusual about the bridge game.  Trump is led.  Trump is led.

     "I don't like Evelyn.  He's too obvious."

     There are 4 squat colored glasses on the table, filled with a dark red liquid.  There is a bottle of Hungarian red wine at the right rear leg of the dealer's chair.  The dealer, Justin, lifts the bottle and pours into his glass.  He sets the bottle down by a table leg.  Where his wrist rests on the cloth top are 4 thin chocolate brown cigarettes and a brass ashtray.  There is a package of Lucky Strikes and a folder of matches.  He lights one brown cigarette and inhales deeply, passing it to Updike's wife.  Her lips are sensuous on the chocolate brown tip.  She feels his moisture.  She imitates his inhalation but releases the smoke.

     "How do I do this?"

     "Just suck it down and hold it as long as you can."

     "Sarah?"

     "What, dear?"

     "Your lead."

      Updike, Nathan Tapholski, has trouble holding the smoke down.  He seems particularly uncomfortable and sits rigid in his straight chair.  He waves the cigarette with an attempt at a flourish and passes it to Justin, who feels the moist tip indent his lips.  6 tricks lie spread before Christa, 3 before Tapholski.

     "The board's good.  Okay?"

     "You're underbid."

     "I should have bid 2 diamonds to indicate I had some count."

     Sarah gathers the cards, pausing to inhale.  She passes them to Tapholski, who shuffles.  Justin cuts.  The game progresses no further than Sarah's right hand reaching to close the deck.  The act is never completed.  Her hand lifts from the cards to the cigarette.  She inhales, passes it left, leans back and stretches, emphasizing her breasts.  She glances right, toward Justin, perhaps longingly.  Tapholski frowns over his smiling teeth.  With each inhalation his wife has become more relaxed and sensual, while he has grown irritable and nervous, finding it increasingly difficult to convey his practiced charm.  Sarah glances toward Justin.  She pulls at her right thumb and then folds her hands.

     "I'm afraid I'm getting a headache."

     "That happens sometimes.  When you resist it.  We had a couple over one time in Iowa City, and the only effect registered on the husband was a headache and a broken cheese knife."

     "Yes.  He cut the cheese so hard he broke the knife."

     "Don't you feel it at all?"

     "Just the headache, and I'm getting . . . "

     Updike stood up, spilling several glasses, and walked unsteadily toward the bathroom.  They saw the door close behind him and heard the water running and then the sounds of his vomiting.  Christa went out to the kitchen for some paper towels, and Sarah gathered the cards.  Even through the running water they could hear him retching and moaning, his stomach empty perhaps, no sounds of contents spraying the toilet bowel.  The cards were in a neat stack, the wine wiped up, when Tapholski returned unsteadily from the bathroom.  Sarah reached over to Justin's hand and lifted it, then picked out a second cigarette, lighting it from the book of matches and inhaling deeply, passing it left and stroking her lips with her forefinger.  Her hand closed on a wine glass.

     "When they did that in the fraternity, we used to gather around and cheer.  Do you feel any better, Nathan?"

     "I don't think I want any more."

     "There's plenty left.  Look over here."

     He led Tapholski to the bookshelf and pulled out WRITER'S MARKET, his hand pale on the red binding.  He opened it up to 2 aspirin bottles and a plastic cylinder filled with cigarettes.  When he looked up Tapholski was still trying to smile.

     "I've got about a lifetime's here.  You're welcome to come over any time to smoke with us.  We'll never run out.  It takes a while sometimes before you appreciate it."

     "Oh, I think I'm getting stoned.  Really I do."

     "Why don't we quit now and play some more bridge?"

     "I think we'd better be getting back.  We didn't plan to stay that long, did we, Sarah?  We're going to Mass tomorrow."

     "It's too bad we didn't get more bridge in."

     "Well, you must visit us.  Could I get my jacket?"

     "Maybe you'd like to have some to take home."

     "What's that, Justin?"

     "Some of the stuff you were smoking."

     "No thank you.  Are you coming, Sarah?"

     Sarah Tapholski was stroking her wine glass between her thumb and forefinger, then lifting it to drink.  There was a dark stain on the inner surface of her full tight lips.  She looked up at her husband and then over at Justin, stood and stepped into her jacket.  On the way toward the kitchen door, her movements took up the whole room, each undulation full and significant as if she had total sense of her whole body, each curvature equally present and immediate.  On the other hand, Tapholski, the likeness of Updike, walked as if dangling from his chest.  The lower part of his body seemed severed and disconnected, not wholly there.  As he turned he had his smile back, radiant over his emphasized chest.  Vibrant over the white of the teeth were his lips, somehow formed of acrylic, forming words of no consequence.

     "Yes, I agree with you.  It's not for everyone."

     "That doesn't mean I won't try it again.  I'll have to make my mind up on that.  Anyway, thanks.  Thanks an awful lot."

    

 

"I felt the book was very good when it showed how one man can be eaten up by his desires.  How, in other words, he can go after life and eat it up, drink it up, and how he is eaten at the end by death just like in the story about the gingerbread man.  Sebastian Dangerfield is a prideful dangerous man who consumes all his friends, everyone who tries to help him.  That's what I mean."

     Justin Price turned the sheet of composition paper over and wrote a B- under the cramped signature.  He slid the sheet under the bottom of the stack and leaned forward, his forearms a bridge to his head, the slender fingers thrust up through his hair to the scalp.  Then he heard the knocking, light and tentative.  In the narrow window to the left of the door was the segment of a body, clothed in a beige suit, blue and white fabric visible below one cuff, and higher, blue and white eyes protruding slightly above smiling teeth.  Justin stood and released the lock.  He held his hand out to Nathan Tapholski.

     "I just wanted to stop by and thank you for Saturday night."

     "I wasn't aware that you enjoyed yourself."

     "Well, it certainly was interesting.  Yes, I'd call it interesting.  As an experience.  I don't know if you know, you probably could tell, but it was my first experience with an illegal substance."  He dropped his voice and looked around as he completed the sentence.  "But I want you to know it's my last.  I'll not try it again.  So while you're welcome to play bridge with us, and we SHOULD get together, I think it had better be at our home.  With the laws and everything.  Do I make myself clear?"

     "Yes, I think so.  I don't blame you really.  Anything that would make ME puke, I doubt if I'd want to try it again."

     "It wasn't just that.  Oh, I got high all right.  I just don't want to do it again.  It was an experience, and I tried it and broadened myself, and I choose not to try it again."

     "Didn't you come here for something else?"

     "You're just too observant.  And very direct.  Yes, we talked about Evelyn?  Well, I want you to meet him."

     "Because we have something in common?"

     "Well, you have many things."

     "But in particular?"

     "Well, you both smoke pot.  And he needs some."

     "I'm not a dealer."

     "Well, you tried to sell ME some."

     "That was hashish oil.  And I offered to give it to you."

     "Well, I'm sorry.  It's a misunderstanding.  But I would like you to meet him.  He's wanted to meet you."

     "Okay, fine.  I'll meet him."

     The white teeth and beige cloth disappeared beyond the door, flickered briefly past the adjacent window, were lost along the corridor.  Justin went back to the stack of compositions on the gray vinyl desk top, the mahogany tray which held his pens.  He looked up at the drawings on plain white paper, his daughter's, adhered to the wall with loops of Scotch transparent tape.  In one drawing a girl with curly orange hair rode a gigantic bird through a forest of purple trees.  There was a coffee ring in the upper right corner.  He remembered her setting it in front of him at breakfast.  He remembered the breakfast—sausage and waffles.

     "May I come in?"

     The face was long and patrician, the hair in bangs around the ear lobes, black hair, straight, the eyes framed by aviator glasses with light pink lenses.  The jacket was a tan tweed with wide lapels, the shoes glossy brown soft leather pumps, tasseled.  But most of all the hands—slender, long, and slightly fringed with hair.  The nails were long and glossy, impeccably manicured.

     "Nathan directed me over.  Awfully pleased to meet you."

     "Someone had the wrong idea."

     "That you deal?  I told him you didn't."

     "But you needed a contact?"

     "Oh no, not necessarily.  Ah, I haven't taken your hand.  I'm Evelyn Forest, and you're Justin Price.  I have that right?"

     "Evelyn, you're welcome to visit with us and share what we have, but I'm not going to sell any of it, not to anyone."

     The smooth dry tug of the fingers remained against the edge of Justin's palm after the hand had retreated, having lingered almost too long.  Justin lifted his hand to his face.

     "Why don't you come over to my place first?"

     The presence of the fingers lingered.  Justin looked back at the stack of compositions and the mahogany tray.

     "All right, fine.  That's fine."

     "Saturday all right?  Nine-ish?"

     "Fine."

     "I'll let you alone now."

     "Thank you.  That's just fine."

 

 

On the red and white checkered table cloth was a small dark dish filled with apple sauce.  There was a brown paper bag the size of a record jacket, colors showing faintly through.  There was his WRITER'S MARKET opened up to the hollowed out center and 2 aspirin bottles filled with the concentrate.  Slender hands, scarred at the base of each thumb, lifted a bottle and teaspoon, opened the brown cap, and filled the spoon level with the viscous substance, with the oil, the THC, the black liquid.  The latter was transferred to the apple sauce and mixed together thoroughly.  The darkened sauce was eaten.  The hands closed the red-bound book on the bottles and lifted the brown paper bag.  They tore the stapled top and slid out the contents, MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR crisp through the cellophane wrapper, arc of bright red letters against white, against orange, against pink and blue and green, the figures strange and yet familiar, hands raised from their costumes.

     "It should take about a half hour.  Give me that much time and then put it on.  I'm going to lie down and wait for it."

     He was against the blue and white Indian print below the oil painting, below the goat with bright udders, woman with bright red teats.  He lay there with his face into the pattern, his eyes focused on the hatch-work of fibers and the swirls of blue and white, watching, waiting, until the colors became more intense, the hatch-work more vital, more present, more immediate, more alive, more of itself than he could have ever conceived, bound as he was by the force of discrimination.  And he heard the opening strains, presently, his mind aware of all the instruments simultaneously as if each were playing solo and separate from the others, liquid in his ear, playing against liquid, a rhapsody of perception, the voices and sounds full and complete in themselves, equally present and distinct.  As he saw the light spill from the overhead Coca-Cola Japanese lantern across the end table and the telephone's glossy black.  He closed his eyes to the presence of the room and focused on the presence of his body and the spread against it as the drug pushed him further into distinct and universal knowledge of the contact between the being of his body and the being of the spread.  And he closed his eyes and went further.

     "Christa, I can't move.  Could you do something?"

     "Just a minute.  I'm out here."

     "Could you take something down?  I'm not sure what it's worth."

     "You mean write it?"

     "Yes, please.  Otherwise I'll lose it."

     "Just a minute.  Okay.  Do you want the music off?"

     "No.  Leave it on.  But take this down."

     "Okay, go ahead.  But take your time."

     "The total . . . fabric of human confrontation . . . and escape is what we have managed to contribute to the existence of our Creator . . . and yet He always subsists without us, both as . . . primal cause and primal target."

     "Your voice is so strange.  It's deeper."

     "Outside our experience cause and target fuse . . . In a real sense, all we have ever been is . . . a concretization of a texture premeditated and resolved in the very . . . existence of the God we seek to define . . . We are God's self-definition . . . In this life we are imprisoned within it . . . Without us He could never experience  predicament . . . In this very real sense, the Cosmos is a necessary evil, a rounding out of the Ultimate's experience of Himself."

     "Justin, I don't like your voice.  Your voice is deeper, peculiar.  I don't like it."

     "The very act of utterance is the culmination of a necessity both desperate and supremely affirmative . . . Even murder is an attempt to define God."

     "I don't like this, Justin."

     "Just lie there.  Put your arms around me."

     The contact with her body through the clothing.  The contact with her body through the clothing.  The contact with her body through the clothing.   And her body through the clothing.

     "God has given us the opportunity to deny his existence . . . We must permit Him the opportunity . . . to deny ours just as well."

     Justin is fully imbedded in his wife.

     "To rest in confusion is to experience Buddha . . . To proceed . . . in certainty is to murder Christ."

     "Where are these things coming from, Justin?  Justin, I'm frightened."

     "Prayer is the only resolution of discord one can ever take for granted . . . One is never less . . . than one's prayers."

     "Just rest now, Justin.  Just rest.  Try to rest."

     "There is no greater nuisance than the genius who has rediscovered the human condition . . . Intelligence is an enormous handicap to the genius . . . The truly bright are never confused long enough to learn anything  . . . Sheer force of will is the only contribution the brain can make to insight . . . The greatest wits are only textured by their limitations . . . "

     He was nearly shouting the last.  Her hand was on his mouth.  It felt like 10,000 hands, their presence distilled into the substance of the one hand which stilled his rambling.  He kissed the hand and felt the presence of the contact with his lips so intensely he lost the sense of borders or boundaries, just as he felt the suchness, the tathata, the very thereness of the spread and her body.

     "Please stop now, Justin.  Just enjoy what you feel."

     "That's the whole problem.  I can't really touch what I feel."

     "Liebchen.  Schatz.  Do you love me?"

     "Endlessly."

 

 

The thickness of the coffee table above its slender legs, brown, rich brown, varnished but un-lacquered, containing a fanned stack of literary journals, a brass paperweight, a slender vase, cobalt blue, containing flowers, roses, five red buds and delicate accompanying fronds, pale green.  Containing a cobalt blue hookah with white porcelain bowl, stained at the center above the brass mesh screen and marijuana.  Encased in fabric, blue with threads of silver and gold, the tube passed from the long-nailed, long-fingered hands with the fringe of hair, to slender scarred hands with the suggestion of veins, to smaller, feminine hands, delicate, with an enameled ring on the left smallest finger.  The tip of the tube was black wood slightly moist from the lips, the delicate lips of Evelyn, of Justin, of Christa, the 3 relaxed on plush red velvet chairs, their feet on a lamb's wool carpet.  A stretch of hardwood floor extended beyond to the dining room through the alcove, Danish modern chairs visible in fragments past the extensions of an umbrella plant in a burnished brass pot.

     "At first it was just a game.  And we played with it.  Rolling down hills stoned.  A quart of sherbet stoned.  Sex stoned.  The latter probably introduced me to the other side of drugs.  The potentially spiritual.  With the orgasm stretched in time toward hours suspended in pleasure magnified inconceivably, sex anywhere, in the bathtub, a chair, on the living room carpet with burn marks left on your knees when you couldn't feel the pain for the pleasure, stoned sex, spiritual sex, where you lost the definition of your body and experienced penetration of the other person's body with your own, your whole being, not just your sex, not the penis, this is what I'm getting at."

     "I've had these things happen to me."

     "Yes.  We all have.  But it's an intensification of presence.  The spiritual reality of all things manifests itself through presence.  I discovered that only recently. Presence, suchness, through equality of presence the spiritual shines forth, transforms that which is held utterly equal.  Try something.  Here, hold your hand up.  Across from me."

     "This way?"

     "That's it.  Now place it in opposition to my hand."

     "I've done that.  Now what?"

     "Make it equal to the presence in my hand.  Concentrate on that."

     "I think I feel something."

     "Let it grow."

     "I can feel your hand.  Even over here."

     "Let it grow."

     "I can feel your hand."

     "There's no real limit.  Presence is felt in the condition of equality.  We hold our hands opposed.  We can do this with our bodies, with each component of our bodies, and generate presence between even greater masses.  Spiritual reality shines forth.  The body itself can generate its own presence if its components are held equal in presence and the equality enhances those components in presence. This builds in an ever-increasing spiral until the juxtaposed components reach the plane of divinity, pure spiritual reality.  The whole being can thus be raised up by maintaining relentless vigil over the equality of presence within it.  To raise another person in spiritual reality we must reduce his presence to match the individual juxtaposed to him so that they can both grow in harmony.  If all components within the witness of sentient being are held in utter equality of presence, everything within witness will ascend to the level of purified spiritual reality."

     "Evelyn, will you pass me a cigarette?"

     "Sure.  Justin, I'm not sure I follow you."

     "I'm suggesting a means to transform the world."

     "Why don't you relax and enjoy the music first."

     "What's that playing?"

     "THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES' REQUEST."

     "We have much in common."

     Evelyn leaned back in his chair and stretched voluptuously.  He pulled out on his hair and let it fall below his ears.  There was something very masculine in his delicacy, something un-nameable which was more of Whitman than of Wilde, although like neither he didn't write.  In fact, aside from his teaching, he did nothing but take of life, the fullest, richest delicacies.  The sybarite was written in his face.

     "Justin, you're going to spend more time with me, and you're going to learn to talk less.  Life is meant to be enjoyed, not dissected.  Would you like some good wine, something to eat?"

     "We would both like some cheese, Evelyn."

     "And some wine?"

     "Yes, some wine."

     "I felt your hand from across the table.  The world isn't going to change because of it.  The wine will remain the same.  Other people will come to produce and enjoy it.  It's a sad but lovely reality.  The world is here because it was made this way."

     The long capable hands were pulling the cork from a bottle.  3 clear wine glasses reflected the dark wood surface of the coffee table.  Above the porcelain of the hookah, above the white bowl, smoke spiraled into shreds and fragments.

     "Somehow I feel destined to change it."

     "You'll be glass on stone."

     Justin heard the wine sound.  Evelyn broke bread and sliced cheese with an ornate blade.  They could hear a car backing out of a driveway into the street.

     "The right sort of individual could do it in a day.  Less than a day."

     "The right sort of individual could enjoy this cheese."

     "How old are you, Evelyn?"

     "40."

     "How does it feel?" 

     "Like a Rembrandt.  Like an early self-portrait."

     "Well, I like your cheese."

     "Ah yes, Rembrandt's cheese."

 

 

From the planes of tan, muted yellow, and orange of Emil Nolde to the splashes of color about a slender black vase, possibly Jawlenski, a still-life—Christa was turning over a leaf in the calendar.  Out of the aspirin bottle Justin took a level teaspoon of the dark concentrate.  He mixed it with the apple sauce.  Christa was a glitter of red and gray plaid apron and straight brown hair gathered back by a slender bright ribbon.  She transferred dishes to the cupboard and sprayed detergent, a fine pink trail, into the blue plastic basin.  Anna sat beyond the length of the table at a stuffed chair under the window.  Through the glass was the autumn turning foliage of an oak tree, two strands of rope descending from a heavy black branch and matching in blond her hair.  In the uppermost pane was a film of ice softening in texture a corner.  He ate the applesauce down to the last shred.  There were thicknesses, ribs of glass, in the pane, which distorted the lines of the oak tree.  He saw those very clearly.

     "Christa?  Could you put it on now?"

     "Just a minute.  Okay, here."

     She tore the stapled top.  Glossy purple emerged, purple muted through the bag, now a bright background to bright red letters, Country Joe & the Fish, blue letters, Vanguard, red letters framed in yellow, ELECTRIC MUSIC  FOR THE MIND AND BODY.  She slit the cellophane with her thumbnail and removed the record, firm and substantial through the sleeve.  He saw her body bend over the footrest to the GE portable on the floor.  The act was greatly prolonged by the drug and his concentration.

     "Did you want me to take it down?"

     "I think it's coming."

     "Let me get an extra pen.  Just in case."

     He sank into himself, into the presence of the chair at his lower body, his hands against his knees, the warmth through his spine in waves of energy.  As she reentered his field of vision he heard his voice emerge, disembodied, frenzied, while his mind and body became strangely calm, one with the music, and the words kept coming.

     "It is impossible to lie concerning the human condition . . . yet utterance itself is a nervous discharge, a tic, a symptom . . . The urgency of speech is all the message it can ever contain . . . One need not look back to its beginnings to feel its import . . . A child's first syllables are its deliverance over to the countenanced entrapment . . . even our present nostalgia for a life beyond words . . . How curious the midwife's duty that we call it deliverance . . . The only gestation one can ever realize beyond the age of 3 is death itself."

     "Justin, you'll have to slow this down.  I can't keep up"

     "Essentially, we wish to murder our children by trapping them in our limitations, and yet there is perhaps nothing more detrimental to a child's development than an understanding parent . . .The trap is all the more complete when it is lovingly imposed . . . The only forgivable trait in Hitler is his character . . . The only unforgivable trait in his functionaries is their lack of it . . . Only an entrenched normalcy can support a Hitler . . . Rather a rampant perversity than an uncompromising acquiescence in the status quo . . .  An idea entertained is loveliness itself . . . An idea embraced is the very warp of Creation . . .The most loving gift any parent can confer upon a child is a full blown neurosis."

     "Your voice, Justin.  That is simply not your voice."

     "Suffering is God's struggle to complete himself . . . Only on human terms is it ever unfortunate."

     "That's better.  That's easier to keep up with."

     "There is nothing more pitiable than the curse of excessive intelligence trying to move beyond itself by virtue of its own tools . . . There is none of us that does not aspire to the condition of God, and yet, there is nothing in the realm of human experience that is more absolute, that we are God and yet a God diminished, a God entrapped . . . The strain and terror of intelligence is the refusal to accept the conditional in our Godhead . . . One cannot avoid God even while trying to become God . . . One cannot avoid oneself even when trying to become oneself . . . There is nothing more certain than an impossibility . . . The total achievement of self is the achievement of God . . . What must first appear as flaws become in time the most conspicuous virtues of an achieved thing."

     "Justin, I'm having trouble keeping up.  Your voice is so strange.  Justin, I'm frightened.  Justin, slow down.  Maybe you'd better stop."

     "Whatever we utter or define is the God we posit, somewhere out there in front of us, soliciting His existence . . . We live and die toward Him . . . He lives and dies within us toward Himself . . . To speak of dark extremes, a wielded knife can cut a path through to the Other . . . In time one apprehends that the very limitations of human experience are its absolute . . . Only by living through the context from which we cannot depart can we for all purposes transcend it . . . Human freedom is thus the totally experienced limitation . . . It exists at that existential moment where limitation beyond the possibility of ever bearing is utterly embraced . . . One leaps toward the existence one flees . . . In this very human, only human crossroads, leap and flight are one."

     "Justin, I think you should stop now."

     "It's all right.  I'm finished."

     "No, I think you should stop the whole thing."

     "What whole thing?"

     "Eating that terrible oil you made.  Eating, meditating.  Going on like this.  It used to be such fun with you, and now it's all serious.  And these ideas—where are they coming from?  It's not even your voice.  Justin, I'm going to leave you.  You stop this or I'll leave you."

     "Christa.  Christa.  Come here.  My good good girl."

     He held her in his arms and whispered nonsense, and she finally stopped trembling.

 

 

When Evelyn laughed it was fully.  The velvet vest shuddered, the bold print shirt undulated, the groin of his tailored slacks vibrated.  The whole form grew vibrant, laughter throughout.  And he reached for the hookah fully, each element part of the determined, yet even fragile, motion, reaching and lifting the black wood piece to his mouth, his fastidious mouth, more masculine than feminine, yet practiced, sensual, closing on the black wood tip.  The whole figure in its vibrant delicate aspect seemed a vortex of energy, a sucking hole for the vibrations from Christa, from Anna in the adjacent room's cot, from Justin, who lifted wine to his lips, sherbet to his lips, felt the fugue of flavors with the lingering taste of hemp, fine ganja from Pakistan.  And he watched Evelyn, trying to fathom the power he exerted from his passivity, feeling his energy pulled toward the bold print shirt, the velvet vest, the groin of the tailored slacks, the fingers on the long mouthpiece of the cobalt blue hookah.

     "I have noticed that there are disturbing centers in every potentially redeemable environment, pockets of negative energy or presence which do not respond to one's efforts at harmony."

     Evelyn leaned back on the velvet chair and laughed long and deeply, heartily, full of the laughter.

     "Justin, Justin, you do carry on."

     "He makes me write that kind of stuff every evening."

     "For instance your person.  You're literally sweeping this room of all presence.  There is a hole created by your body, a vacuum into which all the spiritual energy is being sucked."

     Evelyn doubled up in laughter.

     "May I embrace you?"

     "You'd better ask your wife."

     "Christa, may I embrace Evelyn?"

     "Not too long, or I'll get jealous."

     Justin rounded the coffee table and leaned down over Evelyn, pulling his torso up against him.  He could smell the ganja and a light cologne, but he was most aware of the void beneath the surface of the bold print shirt, the velvet vest, the groin of the tailored slacks, the flesh beneath, warm, lean, and yet soft, unnaturally soft.  Feeling the void withdraw his own presence until he lowered it to match the void.

     "I'm getting an erection.  Would you stop it?"

     It was Christa's turn to giggle, fragments of smoke gusting out with each high pitched catch of her lungs, tears in her eyes as she lifted a wine glass and swallowed.

     "That isn't the point of the experiment.  I brought my presence down to match yours, and we grew in mutual presence.  That you found it sexual doesn't interest me.  The point is that these centers of discord, these holes in reality, can be rendered harmless.  There is a womb created which must in turn be enclosed by a womb, by equality of presence until the vibrations increase in harmony.  Perhaps that's why you became excited."

     "Justin, I was only joking."

     "Everything uttered has consequence.  Even your denial."

     "You know, I never know how to take him, Christa."

     "Without reserve.  Here, take the pipe."

     "Your tree for instance.  Your umbrella plant.  It is as if a malignant spirit or energy concentration were present."

     "It IS dying."

     "Can I embrace your plant?"

     "Go right ahead.  Jesus, Christa.  Is he always like this?"

     "More so every day."

     The leaves were smooth and rubber-like.

     "There, that's better."

     "It's not draining anymore."

     "No."

     "How are the vibrations?"

     "Things are quite calm."

     "I haven't laughed so much in years.  Does anyone care for more wine?  Christa, your glass is empty."

     "No thank you.  No, I'm fine."

     "Music?  Any preferences."

     "No.  We're fine."

     "Good.  All right then.  Everybody's fine."

 

 

There were traces of darkened apple sauce left in the dish.  He licked it dry.  On the footrest before his crossed legs was the cloudy dark blue border, the psychedelic temple and landscape, the figures of the Rolling Stones.  It was THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES' REQUEST, and he was hearing clearly for the first time SHE'S A RAINBOW.  He was hearing it through the drug and his concentration, his yogic breathing pattern, his stilled thoughts.  Christa was at the couch knitting.  She was knitting through suspended time.  She had appeared there suddenly without warning, as if there was no sequence to her appearance.  She had been suddenly there just as the record jacket was suddenly there as he focused on it.  There was no sequence of events, no sequence to the music, just individual chords, notes, lyrics, which presented themselves randomly.  It was as if he was looking at a series of slides, each one lingering, juxtaposed on its successor, but each one present for its slice of time to be replaced in a progression disconnected by the very strength of presence or suchness of each slide or slice.  All slices, slides, generated great energy.

     "Just this time yet.  Please, Christa.  You have to help me."

     "Did you meet your classes?"

     "I met the 9 o'clock."

     "Justin, you have to meet them all.  They'll fire you."

     "I will meet my classes.  Take it down and I'll meet my classes."

     "Promise?"

     "Promise."

     "All right.  But a promise is a promise.  And we do love you."

     There was a pause that was several seconds but seemed like a thousand years.

     "Utterance is humanly everything, even its own futility . . . Existence is the human fact . . . Predicament is essentially the yearning on the part of conditioned being to resolve itself in absence, a resolution only humanly experienced, humanly possible . . . That the resolution itself is merely fleeting is not the full weight of the human predicament . . . The weight is rather that utterance is simply predicament accruing with further utterance . . . Every clarity that would proceed from human experience is simply a larger ambiguity realized in its own expression . . . One cannot state without imbedding oneself in the very perplexity one would wish to flee, a confusion which is all the more complex for the very statement which would seek to deliver us."

     "Slow down, Justin.  I can't keep up."

     "In a real sense, the human experience is a flight toward horror . . . With time the individual comes to apprehend only further ranges of the paradox implicit in his very existence . . . His only comfort is the small resolutions of the past, which, if honestly apprehended, would merely subsist to aggravate the very lack of resolution which, ongoing, ever-accruing, is the very fear of future, the despair of all resolution . . . Strangely enough, no other reality could equal this dignity, the tension of human existence . . . Without God no conditioned being can ever be sufficiently human to be God . . . Without man no God can be sufficiently God to be human . . . The very tension that would create us is the Deity we create in flight ever toward Him and, necessarily, ever shrieking from his presence . . . We are caught in God . . . We must earn Him, just as we earn ourselves . . . Calvary is the Smile even God must pursue to earn His children."

     "That's better.  So far I'm keeping up.  And your voice is more natural."

     "There at the extreme polarization of assertion and counter-assertion, only there can exist the very flash across abyss which is resolution in process, the emergent Deity we would hope to grasp if just for an instant, from that height dizzily to lapse, to speak, God-dazed, God-blinded, God-broken . . . This instant, this eternal condition, is the womb of God, the very human darkness from which all gestation proceeds . . . We are the lack of God which provides for Him . . . As we give Him birth He gives us definition, for there, beyond our striving, He alone can see the utter substance of striving, of that process which He has chosen us to endure that He might be fashioned into existence  for Himself alone, that Him which is us . . . There is no growth that is not toward Him . . . There is no agony that is not for Him . . . There is no bliss that is not of Him . . . God is the total partial waiting only for our apprehension to complete Himself . . . There could be nothing less relevant than a Godhead without struggle, without violence, hatred, pain . . . There is no God that is not lessened by an absence of the very carnage staining His birth . . . Only the most pitiable of Creators can emerge without human lapse and imperfection in the grounding . . . Deity is that only human fabrication whose tears are no less copious for Judas than for Christ . . . Without the children of Cain there is only Void . . . Even primordial slaughter is a texturing of God."

     "That's enough, Justin.  Your voice is awful now.  Simply awful.  Try to stop."

     "One more, Christa.  Just one more.  One more and I'll quit."

     "But I hate that voice.  I hate the sound of it."

     "Just one more and I'll quit."

     "You're saying things, such things . . . I don't know.  All right, one more."

     "Within experience all action is productive of release . . . This much assures us of the fusion of good and evil . . . There is no event, no increment of human yearning, that is not inextricably related to all events . . . There is no event that does not exist in total isolation . . . Therefore, while I choose life I have created God totally as life . . . Each act is the total determination of Godhead . . . It is felt by the Cosmos, and yet it exists in an utterly sequestered relationship to the God it creates . . . There cannot exist bliss without agony . . . Each creates the other in a process of utter connectedness . . . Just as well no bliss can endure the condition of agony, no agony the condition of bliss, for what is utterly connected is by necessity totally sequestered . . . In the utter mesh of interrelatedness everything given is totally alone . . . In this latter sense, bliss can create solely bliss, agony solely agony . . . Each of us is guiltless either in the production of Godhead or in the production of the universe which grounds Him . . . Each of us is total guilt in the same process . . . We cannot avoid that clash of existence which alone is generative of resolution, and yet we are totally alone with the God we effect . . . There is the God we share and the God we cannot share, whether we shrink from the first and embrace the latter, whether we embrace the first and run shrieking from the latter, whether we come in an instant of grace to float in a world that is just as well of our making, that glimpse of freedom, that epiphany that is had when the production of God is final, that moment of tenderness, that aesthetic moment when all poles fuse . . . Our God is the God of murder just as He is the God of love . . . One can never avoid creating Him."

     "I can't go on with this.  Justin, we have to stop."

     "I'm finished.  For now I'm finished."

     "Well you'd better be.  I fear for you.  You'd better be.  Go where you wish.  I won't follow."

     "We're not going anywhere.  Not now.  Not ever."

     "But you'll meet your classes.  You will meet your classes."

     "Yes.  Most assuredly, I will meet my classes."

     "Because if you don't I'll leave you."

     "Christa, we're stuck with each other.  And I will meet my classes."

 

 

The inner circle was gathered around a porcelain white marijuana pipe, the texture of parchment, tiny veins of brown scarcely visible in the light.  Justin noticed the pipe's path, lips to lips, the shifting color of the clothing and flesh and hair.  He noticed the worn red cushions on the sofa, the broken armrest, the wall above, pale green streaked with crayons, containing water colors and chalk drawings, one quite vivid of a vase and flowers.  In the upper left corner above the doorway was a poster of Dylan, a profile in bold colors.  There was a portrait of an old woman, a poster in black and white.  She was leaning back contentedly, a joint clutched in her gnarled hand, her wire-rimmed glasses together with the makings of a cigarette lying on her old woman's lap.  The hand at her breast seemed massive, out of proportion, was heavily veined.  Justin looked back at the passing pipe and the shifting color.

     "Have you read him yet?'

     "I can't say as I have."

     "Justin, have you read him?'

     "No, I haven't."

     "Well it's mostly about the potential of a coming together on the spiritual plane of the entire globe within the next few decades.  He isn't definite, but he talks of an Omega Point and Christogenesis.  I don't follow him entirely, but I believe he means that the 2nd Coming of Christ is immanent because of the increasing density of psychic awareness, that it may be an historical figure and again it may be a movement, or even a spontaneous eruption into spirituality, the culmination of evolution.  We're going to leave the Age of Reason, that's for sure."

     "Whom are you talking about, Norm?"

     "Teilhard.  Teilhard de Chardin."

     "What's the book?"

     "THE PHENOMENON OF MAN."

     "He's a Catholic, isn't he?"

     "And what a Catholic."

     "The whole thing seems to make sense when you look at what young people are turning to just in the last 10 years.  Drug experimentation, yoga, transcendental meditation, the occult, Zen Buddhism.  Look at all the spiritual leaders who have sprung up over the last decade.  Look at Timothy Leary, what he's done.  Have you read THE PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE?

     "I don't take that man very seriously."

     "But you have to.  He's one of the greatest minds of our times.  Just read HIGH PRIEST.  Read THE PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE.

      "He's burned his brain out from all that LSD."

     Norm Estling was a large-boned giant with a blond beard.  He was not over 6 feet, but he was massive in sheer presence.  There was something vaguely sinister about the energy he conveyed, his short blunt gestures with the roughness of animal strength.  Looking, watching, Justin saw Estling's face shift back and forth toward someone very familiar.  At last he recognized the historical personality of George Bernard Shaw.  To the left of Estling was Ralph Hils, dark-faced and delicate.  His features too seemed to blur and return, the face taking on briefly the presence of Descartes.  Perhaps it was the drug.  Or the concentration Justin had been imposing on himself between turns at the pipe.  The conversation seemed to have a meaning apart and above its apparent content.  Factions were forming, agents of ideas and personalities.  Soon he could recognize other historical figures, Whitman in Forest, Zola in Parancio, Henry James in Clyde Bowers.  The other figures receded before the presence of these key people, all but Christa, whom he had trouble placing.  Perhaps it was because she had the aura of a masculine figure, even possibly Christ.  Indeed it was, suffering mockery, Jesus, Christ of the Virgin Mother, historical Jesus, the consequence of his castrated manhood, his distorted worldly sojourn.  Justin shrieked.

     "Jesus, take it easy."

     "Calm down, man.  Are you all right?"

     "He's been smoking too much.  It's all right."

     "Teilhard wants to overcome such figures as you.  But it's all right.  I just saw you as agents, but it's all right.  Only you shouldn't take on the roles of historical personages.  You cause great pain."

     "Why don't you take him upstairs, Christa?  Maybe he needs a nap."

     "Come on, Justin."

     "No, I think we'll leave.  My nerves are bad."

     "Hey man, don't you ever do acid.  You'll never come down."

     "We were glad to have you.  Weren't we, Shirley?"

     "But I leave you with something."

     "What's that, Justin?"

     "A poem."

     "Let's hear it."

     "Yeah, let's hear it."

     "When Jesus was a sacrifice 

       to Mother Mary full of ice,

       we lost terrain from Paradise

       and learned to pay for rigid thighs."

     "Sounds like Blake."

     "And you sound like Shaw.  And you, Evelyn, sound like Whitman.  And you, Parancio, sound like Zola.  And so forth.  I saw your faces, and they were changing.  Changing faces.  Changing faces.  Just like that."

     "Heavy trip.  Heavy heavy trip."

     The moonlight and bitter cold air, the scrape of gravel as his feet crossed the drive, the thump of the car door and the start of the engine.  Pulling out.  Winding down toward the highway among trees.  Flare of light on the asphalt.  These things calmed him.  When he stopped at the crossroads, he looked at Christa for the first time since he had cried out at the party.  There was nothing there but her delicate beauty, nothing of the false messiah.

     "You're going to stop altogether now, Justin.  No more drugs."

     "I've just started."

     "You stop now or I'll leave you."

     "Think of what we've been through.  You'll never leave me"

 

 

On the other hand, as soon as he saw her in the light of the kitchen, his mind was made up.  There was something perverse about her, something evil, certainly wayward, malign.  She was looking devious just since returning from the Buick, just since that brief disagreement, as if again fallen, a pawn of the false messiah.  He would purge her of the grip it had on her being.  There was more than one way to prevail, even over one so powerful, so in touch with his karma.  He would reach directly into her unconscious regions, burn out the darkness, render her worthy of this sacred yellow house, this bulwark, this keelson of Creation.  He would fuse with her very soul.

     "Christa, look at me."

     Her head was framed by the yellow wall, by the cupboards above, by a burlap wall hanging with pale blue flowers.  She was directly across the kitchen table, her hands extended to join his, their fingers touching firmly.  Her face was preternaturally clear.

     "Not just my face.  My eyes.  Look directly into my eyes.  But don't you see, you keep shifting focus all over my face."

     "I'm afraid of your eyes.  I want to see what you think of me, so I look all around them, particularly down to your lips."

     "Can't you tell just from my eyes?"

     "No.  I need to see your face."

     "Would you smoke a pipe with me?"

     "You know how I feel about that.  You had enough at the party.  More than enough.  I want you to stop.  Justin, you're ruining our lives.  It's not just you and me.  Think of Anna.  You have to promise me.  You have to show me.  It's not just your intentions.  It's that chemical of yours.  It's bending your mind."

     "Just one bowl."

     "But this is the end.  The very end.  Nothing after tonight."

     He returned from the living room with the WRITER'S MARKET and a bamboo and brass hashish pipe.  He opened the book to the aspirin bottles and filled the pipe with concentrate.  He sucked flame down into the bowl and passed the slender pipe to Christa.

     "I don't want any more.  I've had enough."  After the slightest toke.

     "Just this one bowl."

     He cleared his lungs completely before each hit and held it in long, so long that he gasped for air without exhaling when he had it all collected in his lungs.  By contrast, her inhalations were shallow and guarded, and this somehow angered him.  At last there were only the smoke from the match and the taste of brass.

     "Now, just my eyes.  The pupils.  Relax your breathing."

     "Should I take my glasses off?"

     "Yes, that might be better.  Can you see me?"

     "Well enough."

     The eyes were large for her face and perfectly formed.  He had no trouble looking into them, but she had difficulty focusing on his pupils.  Her eyes fluttered to each corner and up and down to the lashes.  He breathed slowly and deeply and concentrated on their equality as he felt her presence build.

     "Feel equal to me.  Your eyes seem clearer, stronger, softer, sadder, more joyful, more you.  I'm seeing you for the first time."

     "And I'm seeing you.  Do you love me?"

     "Yes.  Very much.  Very very much."

     After a time he was able to focus on her pupils and see her whole face, the face clearer, the eyes more precise than if he had been looking through a 3-dimensional viewer at two super-imposed photographs.  And they became clearer, more precise, more immediate.  They became more present with his gaining sense of his own body, the sense of thereness, of presence in his body, of his body, his whole body vibrating with gaining energy as the space between their eyes became alive with 2 columns of energy, energy he could presently see, light, bright and clear, twin columns of light from their joined pupils.  And it was as if her soul had climbed out from some deep and inner recess of her brain to peer out through the apertures of her eyes to see his soul, which had likewise crept up.  And he felt his eyes as 2 breasts being suckled for their light by 2 breasts being suckled for their light, and he wept, the tears raining down over his cheeks as spontaneously and so disconnected from everything but joy as to be spiritual in themselves.  And she wept.  And she glowed with a bright clear aura of the same substance as the columns, and he knew she had seen it, the 2 of one presence building, building until at last they fell apart and looked at the preternaturally light bright ceiling, soon to fade, soon to return to the yellow he had known in the months they had been there.  He saw the yellow and was afraid to look back at her.

     "I saw you as something tonight, and I'm ashamed to recall it.  It was at the party.  I saw you as Christ."

     "But we are all Christ, right?"

     "No, it wasn't that sort of Christ.  What I saw now assures me that I was sick for a moment, that what you are is incredibly pure and holy.  Yes, even holy.  I was reminded of when I was very young and used to look up at the altar.  I felt something holy, its presence, its purity, its divinity, then in my momentary innocence.  I was returned to that time."

     "I know what you mean, Justin.  I saw the same."

     "And I know that no matter what we are we are pure."

     "Yes, I know that.  I think I know that.  Justin, take me to bed."

     "It won't be the same."

     "I don't care.  Take me anyway.  We've had far too much this night.  You take me to bed now and then we'll sleep.  We'll sleep simply forever."

 

 

In the alcove above his desk he attached 4 loops of tape to the backs of 4 photographs of the Beatles and placed the open-eyed faces where they would stare at him as he worked.  Below on the dark leather center of the desk was a tan dish coated with the remnants of apple sauce.  The album was into its 4th side on the portable.  The previous albums, SERGEANT PEPPER and THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, had seemed so metaphysical, so coordinated in concept.  He was quite disappointed with the White Album, but then he hadn't reached the moment when the drug took effect.  Perhaps if he were to listen to it again once he was tripping—he would ask her to turn it over.  Beyond the 4 quadrants of window pane was snow lightly falling.  The light undulated through the white gauze curtains.  He was conscious of the bookshelf, the cot under the window draped with an Indian print, the paper lantern suspended from the knotty pine ceiling.  He turned back into the living room and took up the lotus on the cot below the painting.  He breathed deeply and slowly, waiting for the drug, waiting for the sensation of equality among his surroundings and the vibrations and warmth of his body, up through his spinal cord and out through his brain.  He concentrated on nothing, on the clear void.

     Justin felt it coming, felt the warmth, just as the next to final cut emerged from the stereo, REVOLUTION NUMBER NINE.  Suddenly he could understand the album.  The songs had been a trip through all the aspects of reality lodged in the brain, this next to final cut the merging of all those aspects as if in a dream and connected, merged themselves into the mystic number 9.  As he listened to the album he transposed a 9 on his brain, the tail down the spinal cord, and felt it suddenly glow with intensity.  As he opened his eyes the Coca-Cola lantern was a preternatural red and yellow, glowing, radiating, so bright as to form tears in his eyes.  He stared at the lantern, assumed equality with it, while holding the number firm in his consciousness.  He transferred the number to the lantern, held the number equal in presence, size, and configuration.  At length he could see the 9 in the lantern among the red and yellow.  It was of the light he had seen in his wife's aura, in the columns between their eyes.  He held it there with the sound from the album until he was one with the lantern and the sound, until the whole room was as one.  And then he saw it move.  The lantern moved ever so slightly, just as he had moved the 9 in the lantern by chance, simultaneously, slightly, ever so slightly.  And then he closed his eyes.

     When he opened them he was lying on the Indian spread, facing the oval carpet.  Edmund, still very much a kitten, was playing with a bit of fluff just to the edge of the chevrons and against the hardwood.  He watched the cat, fixed on the cat, stared long and hard at the motion of soft felinity.  And he focused the number on the cat, the number from his brain.  He held it there while the equality of presence built between him and the animal, until the cat assumed an aura and the path between them was illuminated by a clear white light.  He held the number 9 while the sound merged with them from the stereo, and then he spun the number over the brain and spinal cord of the cat, spun it violently to watch the cat drop flat to the hardwood, legs extended, belly soft on the floor, head down to the hardwood.  The spinning ceased.  The cat resumed its play.  He spun it again.  The cat fell stone fixed and immobile.  Justin closed his eyes and felt the number in the plane bisecting his head and spinal cord.  The album had communicated a great profundity.   He had found at last the vehicle of his mission.  Suddenly he was bathed with a clear white light throughout his brain that softened all borders, melted them, rendered him one with all he felt, all that he sensed, and, in consequence, all that was sentient and real.  He experienced indescribable joy and peace.  The time it lasted was length-less, perhaps a second, a minute, but without length, infinite, the length of the remaining cut.

     "Christa, come here.  I moved the lantern."

     "I was wondering when you'd try that."

     "But I did.  With my mind.  And I mesmerized the cat."

     "How could you tell?  It might have been the drug."

     "But I know I did.  If I weren't so exhausted I'd show you."

     "If I weren't so exhausted I'd take you to see a psychiatrist.  Just promise me one thing.  Just one little thing."

     "What's that?'

     "Don't tell anyone.  And one more thing."

     "What's that?"

     "Help me with the dishes."

     "Jesus."

     "That's not your name, you know."

     "Sometimes I think it's yours."

     "When you really think so just let me know and we'll go see someone in Madison.  Just let me know.  Okay?"

     "I'll let you know . . . Christa."

 

 

With the tile floor visible below the stall door, the light blue panel of painted steel, recently painted for the graffiti were not visible, the panel attached to further panels of light blue, narrow and vertical, attached by stainless steel hinges and a sliding latch, in this very stall he sat on the toilet, feeling the seat smooth and cool on his buttocks and legs, cool on his penis, which rested on the front inner edge of the seat, feeling the chill of his spine, the push of his abdominal muscles.  It was all very satisfactory.  Wiping himself, he inspected each fold of paper.  All very satisfactory.  Then he lifted his trousers and shorts and secured his belt and then sat back down and pulled the joint from his shirt pocket together with a folder of matches.  He fired up and inhaled, watching the panel and the tile underneath, looking up to the incandescent light in a rounded square bowl and wire mesh cage.

     When he finally flushed the toilet the sound was a magnificent torrent like Niagara, reminding him of a visit there when he was very young.  The door was bright, glossy, more of a door than before, very door-like as he slid the latch.  The water at the sink also cascaded violently and was unimaginably cool to his hands.  He remembered not flushing the toilet and then that that sound he had heard was indeed the toilet flushing, more of toilet flushing than possibly conceivable.  And the time was distorted.  He stood there for possibly hours at the sink with the powdered soap congealing to viscous clots and the water running.  And the movement toward the door was prolonged, the movement to the hallway past the trophy case and the exhibition of African art, the movement which was more of movement than quite possible.  He turned into the student lounge and snack bar and passed round tables filled with students, passed them interminably slowly, the impression of each table lingering in a precise image superimposed upon the next table or group of tables his eyes met.  At last he reached the jukebox and his coat and briefcase alone against the wall.  He sat down, more of sitting down, and clasped his hands over the briefcase, feeling their equality, feeling them build in presence as the drug and his concentration increased his total presence or suchness and froze the time, the time which  was measured by each single on the jukebox, taking nearly forever.

     There was conversation and much movement, sounds of eating and drinking, sounds magnified by the drug and his concentration.  He focused the number 9 in his brain, the tail down his spinal cord, and superimposed it on the room, a vast number 9 which found its tail out the door to the terrace, the juncture of tail and circle precisely where he sat.  The 9 existed at first only in his imagination but eventually became a great white light that circled the room and exited at the terrace door.  There was such movement and energy as he concentrated on the energy flow through his body at the juncture, feeling the energy flow through his body from the circular movement along the path of the number.  He slowed his breath and freed his mind of all but the configuration he had superimposed on the students, all but the energy flow and the 9 in his brain which joined that flow as equal in mounting presence.  He had not been sure of his intentions, but now the thought broke through his concentration that shortly they would recognize him as the primal cause and hence master.

     Peripherally he noticed that the tables closest had ceased talking, ceased eating, ceased gesturing and scraping their chairs.  He expected the cessation to spread to other tables, in fact was convinced that it already had.  The room was a flow of balanced, coordinated psychic energy, unified by the mystic number.  They seemed to be staring at him.  Perhaps they recognized him even through their trance.  He was waiting for them to come to him, to kneel at his feet, to kiss his clenched hands above the briefcase, to go out from this sacred snack bar and convert others, perhaps thousands, to the mystic configuration and his leadership.  Here was a genuine revolutionary movement.  And it was only within minutes that they would experience the clear white light, for it was pouring through them and out the terrace door.  He felt the air in the room stir, a breeze, gentle at first and then a torrent through the path of the configuration, whirling as a tornado's vortex through the central circle.  The faces at the adjacent tables expressed curiosity, interest, perhaps surprise, as they looked at him, stared at him.  But then one was standing, impossible, standing, not possible, and moving toward him as if through a primordial ether that slowed his progress indefinitely.  But he was advancing, nearing Justin's table, the briefcase, Justin's coat, himself, forming words, words superimposed upon each other, for each one lingered.

     "Professor Price.  Are you all right, sir?"

     The configuration dissipated, the time returned to normal, the hand on his shoulder faded in presence to ordinary contact, the sounds of the students in the long low lounge returned, the conversation, the scraping, pounding of fists on the tables, laughter, human sounds, sounds of the trapped creatures enjoying their imprisonment.  And he had wished to release them.  He looked up at the student's eyes.  There was genuine concern there, nothing cosmic or final, just human, very human concern.  He tried smiling into the eyes but found he had lost the capacity.  There was nothing but the concern of the student.

     "Barry?  Yes?  I hadn't recognized you."

     "You were just sitting there staring for nearly 20 minutes, and someone suggested I come over here.  You seemed so forlorn.  You haven't run into trouble at home, have you?"

     "No.  No.  I was just abstracted.  Meditating."

     "Well you take care.  Hear?"

     "Maybe I could join you."

     "We're only your average student, Professor."

     "And you think I'm anything special?"

     "There's no question about that."

 

 

On the white cardboard box of felt pens is a smiling cellophane mouth open to the colored plastic cylinders.  On the footrest beside the box is a brass ashtray, the center stained dark from use.  There is an aspirin bottle and a hashish pipe, the latter filled with the concentrate turned gray at the center of the bowl.  There is the White Album, glossy, and a plain sheet of white paper dull against its surface.  The album and paper rest on Justin's crossed legs, the trousers' faded blue denim.  Justin lifts the hashish pipe and sucks flame down into the bowl.  He sets the pipe down and lifts the box of felt pens, choosing the color red.  He sets down a spiral on the white paper toward the upper left corner, a spiral expanding clockwise.  A 2nd spiral toward the upper right corner, expanding counter clockwise.  A 3rd toward the bottom expanding counter clockwise.  The spirals join as they expand and disappear from sight at the borders of the paper.  He takes a yellow pen and sets down spirals to each side of the lines, spirals paralleling the original.  He continues with orange, brown, green, purple, and blue to fill in the original spirals, tracing the original pattern so that the 3 original spirals take on thickness with each succeeding color.  The remaining white spaces are filled in with black.

     As he refilled the pipe and continued to smoke, the spirals took on the aspect of 3 eyes staring at him from a black background.  As he smoked further and concentrated on the pattern, the spirals assumed the aspect of 2 breasts and a navel.  As he smoked and concentrated further, blanking his mind of all but the spirals, the pattern began to suggest something more primal, something archetypal, a key to existence.  Between each space of totally thought-free meditation, a flood of interpretation entered his mind.  The upper left spiral was the Father, Creation.  The upper right spiral was the Mother, Preservation.  The lower spiral was the Son, Transformation.  It was the key to evolution, the 3 forces working in harmony or discord to produce the advancing world.  Furthermore, the spirals in the same order were thesis, antithesis, synthesis. They were Joseph, Mary, Christ.  They were all the trinal patterns evidenced by the birth of what Estling had described as Omega Points, the loci of gathering up, gathering up of evolution to release it on a different path.  The 3, Father, Mother, Son, were the key to all Creation and the key to suffering, for he noticed that whereas the upper left and upper right spirals, the upper left and lower spirals, these 2 pairs were complementary (clockwise and counter clockwise, clockwise and counter clockwise) the upper right and lower spirals were not (counter clockwise and counter clockwise).  There was a point of discord where the upper right and lower spirals met, a point which in a spasm of inspiration he recognized as the center of discord of evolution.  If all 3 spirals had been complementary from the beginning of time, there would have been no suffering, no disease, no pain, no death.  The knife edge of evolution would have been a pleasant lulling wave.  But there was a center among the 3 spirals, the center of the pattern, where the 3 spirals met in their expansion, the calm center of evolution, a triangle created by three curving lines.

     And he knew suddenly that to meditate on the calm center would be to shift the focus of evolution from the center of discord to the center of harmony.  He needed only to meditate on the trinal spirals, holding the upper spirals at his 2 eyes, the 2 halves of his brain, and the lower spiral at his pineal gland, to meditate, concentrate, to hold the spirals while shifting the focus of his meditation from the center of discord to the center of harmony, to do this, and he would no longer feel suffering, no longer feel pain.  And indeed perhaps this was the key to transforming all Creation.  Perhaps someone, anyone, with such a secret, who maintained the 3 spirals and the center with great vigilance, would overcome the knife edge of evolution and transform it into a calm wave.  Such a person would indeed become an Omega Point and in this solitary particular case a genuine Omega Point.  He would become a focus for evolution just as the others, but when he gathered up the universe to again release it, it would explode into the future free of discord, of pain, of suffering, of death.

     "Justin, soup's on.  Time to eat.  Oh, that's attractive."

     "Does it pull you in?"

     "It's attractive."

 

 

The Christmas tree is decorated almost too precisely, with the luminous white star at the apex, the ornaments arranged at an equal spiral interval down from the star, the lights filling in the spaces and arranged so that individual colors are the same distance apart and complementary with the ornaments.  There is no tinsel.  The tree itself is almost too precise in balance, as if it were synthetic.  The presents below are arranged with the same attention to color and configuration.  They spiral the base of the lower limbs on a red and black checkered cloth.  Justin Price sees the tree, however, as warm, the room as warm, the striped chair and sofa, the Indian print over the cot, the spiraling chevrons over the braided rug where Anna sits as a splash of color at a puzzle, the glossy pine paneling and green walls.  All warm.  He sits with Evelyn and Christa on the sofa, passing the hashish pipe, filling it, lighting and passing it, resting it on the gray cloth of the card table beside the brass ashtray.  All is warm.

     "Don't you think they'll notice I'm stoned?'

     "No, they'll just think you're happy."

     "All right.  How do you work it?"

     "Just press this button and speak into the microphone."

     "Hello, Mother?  This is Christa.  We're sitting around here, and it's Christmas Eve.  Anna is playing with a puzzle, and Justin is just sitting here beside me.  A friend brought a tape recorder over.  It's a very wonderful time, Mother."

     Evelyn leaned over and pressed an adjacent button.

     "I can't think of anything else to say.  Anna, would you come over here and say something to your grandmother?"

     Anna stood and crossed to her mother's lap.  Her eyes were shining as she wriggled into a comfortable position.

     "Hello, Grandmother.  This is Anna.  I wish you were here.  There's a lot of presents, and Daddy decorated the tree.  He wouldn't let me put any tinsel on it.  Evelyn is here with us.  And Edmund.  He's in the kitchen sleeping.  Goodbye."

     Evelyn leaned over and pressed an adjacent button.

     "Hello, Grandmother.  This is Justin.  We're having a fine time here, and the world is tranquil.  Nothing is wrong.  Nothing could be wrong.  The world is tranquil, very beautiful.  We received your package, but we haven't opened the presents.  This is a very sacred time, and we wish the best for you."

     "Justin, you called her grandmother.  And everything you said.  The world is tranquil.  The time is sacred.  She's going to think you've lost your mind.  Evelyn, erase that."

     "Why don't we just give up the whole idea?"

     "Maybe you're right.  We'll call her tomorrow."

     "You mind if I record something on there?"

     "Anything you want."

     "Anna, I'm going to read from BEOWULF."

     "Oh, wonderful, Daddy."

     "She used to love to listen to me read it.  Of course, she doesn't understand a word.  But she loves the sound of it."

     There were bright vertical colors against the flat black of the bookshelf.  Klaeber's BEOWULF was on the second row.  It was a dull purple binding, heavy in the hand for its size.  The book fell open to the first page of text and marginal notations.  He was reading, oblivious to the microphone, intent on the text and the words so liquid as they flowed from his inner self.  He was reading in the academic pronunciation for the first dozen lines and then in a pronunciation he hadn't heard before but one which seemed more natural.  And he was one with the words, with the drug and his concentration merging him with the text.  And he was understanding the text as he hadn't before, the nuances of feeling.  He began to chant the words in a wholly new pronunciation and rhythm and yet another until he felt that something had taken possession of him and was forcing the words through him in the manner in which the poem had been recited at the time of its conception.  He began to cry with joy at the incredible strength and beauty of the text and of the spirit, poet or poets, which moved him to his recitation.  And he was singing the poem with a clear and melodious tenor when for years prior to this he had never sung well, never been able to hold a tune.  He went on in this fashion for several verse paragraphs, when an old man broke through and made him recite in a wholly new pronunciation, and he knew that he was possessed by a wholly new personality which had gone into the composition of the poem over the centuries it had developed, possibly the original author, who was making his whole body quiver with the emotion of the reading.  He was singing in an Oriental inflection.  He was chanting, singing, shouting, screaming the poem, a vehicle of spirit forces.

     "Oh stop, Justin.  Please stop.  It's too much."

     He clasped the book to his chest and fell back, face up toward the knotty pine ceiling and the souls imprisoned there, eyes through the knots, of the knots, jailed there, the spirits of all who had written, transcribed, interpreted, translated, recited the poem over the centuries the original had found its way, handed on with infinite care as something singular, precious, spiritual—handed on as his mind relaxed and the spirits faded from the glossy ceiling, all who had loved the poem.

     "That was more than I can possibly describe, Justin."

     "And it's on tape.  The proof of it is on that reel."

     "You were the poet.  You were the scribes, the translators."

     "And you know.  Don't you, Christa?"

     "I'm not sure what I know, but I love you."

     "What's wrong, Anna?"

     The little one had taken several pieces of the puzzle to the corner and was huddled over them crying.  Justin knelt in front of her and stroked her long blond hair.  He felt her cheek and the tears.

     "I want you to be my daddy."

     "But I am."

     "Sometimes I think you're someone else."

     "Who's that, my Anna?"

     "The man that brings the trouble."

 

 

The face is nearly without feature, so bland, so mildly fleshy.  But kindly, clear, undistinguished eyes through wire-rimmed glasses.  And the hair an indistinct color approaching blond, scant strands combed back from the balding crown, horizontal creases in the forehead.  The soft eyes, somewhat quizzical, look up from a facsimile edition of the SONGS OF INNOCENCE as Justin enters and hold him there, staring down into the bland face, the face of Harry Burton, prime mover of the English department.  Peripherally, Justin notices the tidy desk, the crammed shelves, the neat white lace curtains on the windows.  He sees the glass domed paperweight, a village scene with artificial snow.  But mostly he sees the guileless, moist, quizzical, soft brown eyes.  Through the lenses, the unimposing wire-rimmed glasses.

     "Can I help you, Justin?  Sit down.  Please."

     "It would just take a few minutes of your time.  My class is scheduled to start.  I have a recording of BEOWULF.  I thought you might care to listen in.  Just for a few minutes."

     "Surely.  Would you care for a cigarette?"

     "I've given them up."

     "I think we all should, but it's my only vice."

     The cigarettes were an indistinct brand, which disappeared all but one into the shirt pocket, a plain shirt, unadorned.

     "We've heard good reports of you, Justin."

     "Is that so?"

     "You're keeping your students interested.  Dr. Galwain was particularly satisfied with your treatment of FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, the emphasis you placed on the spiritual aspect of the encounter between Maria and Robert.  He said it was a fine lesson.  He said you're—I believe he said—a winner."

     "That was very nice of him."

     They went on out into the hallway and down toward the lounge, pausing at the water fountain, stopping at Justin's office for Evelyn's tape recorder, waiting at the elevator and descending.

     "Just what sort of recording is this, Justin?"

     "I'll let you judge that."

     The class was nearly filled.  Burton sat in the back corner, his legs crossed and pant leg raised to bare skin lightly graced with reddish hair.  Several more students entered as Justin was plugging in the recorder, quiet as they assumed their seats.

     "I have a recording of an ancient English poem you might all have heard of.  BEOWULF.  The authorship is uncertain.  Perhaps several poets contributed to the text.  It was memorized and recited in the mead halls during the long winters before it was finally copied down and passed on by scribes for many years after it could no longer even be read.  The language had changed so much it was indecipherable until modern times, when scholars reconstructed it.  The pronunciation of the poem is uncertain and based on theory.  Although you will not understand the poem, you will be able to appreciate the sound of the language."

     He turned on the recorder, listened with Burton and the students to the opening academic pronunciation, the chanting, the singing, the spiritual onslaught, the possession, the great overwhelming emotion of the lines that shattered the silence of the room and the students' composure, the composure of Burton, who began to shift about in his seat and lift his hand to his face to pull at his chin, his cheek, his ear.  And the sound lifted, sang, shouted, chanted, shrieked the poem in its fullest historical meaning from the obscure beginnings to its path upward through the centuries, even as it was known then in 1968 with the nearing termination of the 2nd millennium since the birth of a Messiah, even then as Justin himself was preparing to assume the role of Redeemer to the tortured souls assembled in that classroom, listening to his shrieking, chanting, shouting, singing voice.  And he wept at the beauty as he turned it off.

     "What you have heard is the voices of all who composed, recited, transcribed, edited, translated, interpreted, loved the poem.  The recording is a witness to spiritual possession."

     "You mean to say you were possessed, Professor Price?"

     "Each of us is possessed by forces beyond our wildest reckoning.  In this particular case I was possessed by many if not all the people dead and gone but omnipresent who went into the history of the poem over the centuries.  This recording is concrete evidence of possession.  I sing in a beautiful clear tenor voice.  I cannot sing.  I sing in a Latinate, in an Oriental, in a modern German inflection.  I know none of those languages.  I have brought Dr. Burton with me to witness this historical presentation, a man who is most familiar with the poem."

     He looked back at Burton, saw him moving about in his seat as if possessed himself, presently possessed and an agent of some divine or demonic power.  It was evident to Justin that the man was struggling to say something but was held prisoner by psychic forces.  Burton struggled to rise, sat down again, finally rose, and walked up to the desk, pausing before Justin, looking at him with those guileless quizzical eyes, moist eyes, clear sad eyes, trying to comprehend perhaps, perhaps moved by forces beyond his own reckoning, pausing for what seemed time enough for the world to shift on its foundations, reaching for the reel, lifting it from the recorder, and holding it for a moment, then handing it to Justin and shaking his head slowly, leaving without a word, the door closing soft behind.  There was an unnatural quiet in the room, a stillness of possible communion, as the students reflected on BEOWULF, on the recording, on Burton's silent withdrawal, on Professor Price himself, standing, eyes burning with conviction and tears of joy.

     "I don't think he understood, Professor Price."

     "You maybe shouldn't have played it to him."

     "I bet he'll say something to somebody.  About that tape."

     "You're the best darn teacher I ever had, Professor Price."

     "Me too."

     "Me too."

     And then they stood and they all applauded.

 

 

"Justin, I'm so glad for you.  That you stopped smoking that mixture."

     "I don't need it."

     "Are you going to meditate?"

     "Oh yes.  On the spirals.  On my mandala."

     "On the spirals?"

     "Yes."

     "What did the students think of the recording?"

     "They applauded."

     "And Dr. Burton?"

     "He was too moved to even speak.  He just stared at me, shook his head, and walked out.  Then the students stood and applauded."

     "Did you tell them about the spirits?"

     "Of course.  I told everyone."

     "I wish you hadn't.  How about this light?"

     "Yes.  And turn the music down."

     In the twilight the color of the walls was indistinct.  He was sitting in lotus on the Indian print, his back to the painting, to his front and right the paper Coca-Cola lantern, on his lower legs the 3 spiral mandala.  Above, the knotty pine paneling still glistened in the light from the kitchen, and the dust jackets of books in the flat black case were a glossy patch of color.  He fixed on the mandala and concentrated on the calm center.  On his Christmas present from Christa, the Denon stereo, were the beginning sounds of a classical raga, TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATIONS ON THE MYSTIQUE OF SPIRITUAL LOVE.  He remembered being attracted to the pink dust jacket with the elephant and the Indian instruments.  No other recording captured the capacity of man to rejoice in the midst of great suffering such as this with the pink dust jacket, the elephant, the instruments.  He had particularly liked the pink dust jacket, the Indian instruments.

     Justin pulled his legs free and stood and undressed, the clothes gathered at his feet.  He felt particularly like the recording now in his naked state, nothing masking his contact with the music and the mandala now again at his legs in the lotus.  He voided his mind and stared long and hard at the 3 spirals, at the calm clear center, but the music brought him always back to focus on the center of discord, back again to the calm center as it lifted in affirmation.  He focused the spirals in his brain, at the 2 hemispheres and the pineal gland, and eventually saw the columns of light joining the pattern in his brain and the pattern on the sheet of paper.  The columns of light were of 3 colors, red for the Father, yellow for the Mother, blue for the Son, Creation, Preservation, Transformation.  Voiding his mind of all but the 2 patterns and joining light, he began to feel the ascending warmth through his spinal cord and out through a patch at the top of his head, the tremors of animal warmth and wellbeing throughout his body, the beginnings of an indescribable joy.  He wept at the warmth and tremors, at the beauty of the spirals and light, at the suffering and joy in the recording as it moved so infinitely slow toward completion.

     Suddenly, strangely, unquestionably, he recognized in a flood of discursive awareness the significance of his own name.  His father had been David, and his father's father before him and so on back until Justin himself was the 5th of a line of Davids.  He was the 5th David, David Swartz V.  And David was the beloved one.  He was the beloved black man.  The beloved black man who was white.  He was the 5th in a line of beloved black men, David Swartz V.  And Jesus was of the house of David.  And there were five letters in David, the third or middle letter the Roman numeral V.  And Swartz meant Black.  And there were 5 letters in Black.  And the third letter was Alpha, the beginning.  He was.  He was David Black V.  He was 5.  And Plato's number for the unity of divisibility and indivisibility was 5.  He was the unity of divisibility and indivisibility, David Black V.  He was the black white man.  He was Adam, whose name meant red man, the synthesis of black and white.  His name, which he had never understood, took on great significance as he stared at the spirals.  David Black V, the synthesis Son.  The synthesis of Buddha and Christ, Satan and God, Good and Evil, up and down, left and right, suffering and joy, the Father and Mother, Creation and Preservation, the reconciliation of ALL opposites.

     He looked up at the Coca-Cola lantern and recognized it as an agent of some obscure power of darkness, of the bottling plant, of the corporation, of the primal idea and force behind the trademark.  He would superimpose the spirals and make the agent obey him, free it of its dependence on the satanic power.  The trinal spirals of his brain found themselves on the paper and pattern, the configuration of the lantern which represented some vast dark hole in the universe.  He held the spirals there until the columns of light formed, red, yellow, and blue.  He turned the lower spiral until it was horizontal, and the lantern began to spin, ever so slightly clockwise.  It spun for several inches and then returned to spin the other direction as he flipped the spiral over.  He returned the lower spiral to its vertical alignment and then turned the three spirals to face toward the left.  The lantern swung left.  He turned them around to face right, and the lantern swung right.  He returned the spirals to face him and concentrated greatly, and the lantern swung toward him.  He could feel air being pulled toward him with the lantern swinging, air he recognized as the correspondent breeze of the Romantics.  He turned the spirals to face away, and the lantern swung away from him.  He faced all spirals upward, and the lantern lifted.  He returned the spirals to face him and then cancelled them, returning his focus to the mandala within his brain and on the sheet of paper.  The lantern was cleansed of its dependence on the dark corporate power.

      He recognized the present lyrics on the album, the first cut on side 2, and marveled that while the time which passed in his manipulation of the object was infinite in length, only one side of the album had played out.   With the mandala in his brain and on the sheet of paper, time was infinitely extended, slowed, each interval receiving maximum focus and increasing in presence, until his sense of the total sum of intervals was vastly extended or prolonged.  And the colors, though indistinct in the twilight of the room, were vastly intensified.  They were much more there than previously, with the music and the time sense, the whole of it contributing to the experience of a life without barrier or boundary, infinite, glowing, holy, more of life in 3 seconds than one experienced in 10,000 years, given such a span of time and ordinary consciousness.  And he knew that he was at the center of the Universe, that wherever he was was the Center, the Omega Point, the point toward which all spiritual presence gravitated to find its primal locus.

     "Justin, I had the strangest feeling."

     "What was that, Christa?"

     The words took hours to complete themselves yet were totally undistorted.  Each sound or fragment of sound was so intensified, one's concentration on the fragment so intensified, that the whole was prolonged endlessly with the light from the spiral mandala.  The space between his question and her answer was a vast gulf or void filled only with the sheer presence of the room and the pattern in his brain.  He waited patiently.

     "I thought I saw the lantern move."

     "It might have been your imagination."

     "But you said once you had moved it before."

     "It might have been your imagination."

     "Just don't move it again.  Okay?  Promise?"

     "I promise."

 

 

The elevator shaft was a tunnel through space.  The hole it occupied was a testimony to the insidious inroads of the mechanico-monster force which threatened to strangle the soft, delicate, carefree advance of the vegetative life.  Or so it seemed to Justin Price, who stood on the gray tile floor and faced outward toward the twin sliding tan enamel-paint doors which had just closed.  Facing outwards and looking up at the stainless steel rectangle upon which were numbers present to signify the advance of the strange mechanico-box up the hole.  He had entered at the 2nd floor after climbing the broad stairway from the tile lobby, after passing the iron casting of Don Quixote at the face of the building, stamping his shoes on the rubber mats and then the tile as he progressed toward the mechanico-tube or hole or open column in space, the elevator shaft, as he progressed toward his destined cleansing of the world, the transformation of all evolution toward peace and harmony, bloodless natural growth.  He stood and watched the number 2 flicker off as the elevator hummed, moved by some primal force which found its explanation in charts and diagrams but in reality was a spiritual power transcending the mechanico-apparatus which was its instrument.  Thus all contrivance could be explained.  One considered the surface as the total reality behind which was the spiritual prime mover.  The surfaces, the apparatus behind the surfaces, all were instruments of that mover, that force, that presence.

     "Morfram said they wouldn't get away with it."

     "But he didn't have to bar them from the campus."

     "Otherwise there'd be riots.  That's what he said, and I believe him.  Whatever else he might be, he's an honest man."

     There was turmoil on campus.  Burton had been relieved of his office as department chairman, and several instructors barred from campus for leading the students in demonstrations.  To Justin Price, however, this was just the prelude to the coming of a genuine Leader, one who would supercede the Morframs and Burtons, in fact, all leaders, particularly the agents of the forces of darkness.  All this occupied his mind on the climb to the 3rd floor.  He watched the numbers flicker.

     With his breathing stilled, slowed, his mind cancelled, all but the trinal spirals, he felt the presence of the others in the shaft, the car, the instrument of the mechanico-powers.

     "He may be honest, but he's an honest fool."

     "Whatever you say I think he's a fine administrator."

     "So was Burton.  He stood up for the department."

     Even with the slowed breathing and the spiritual presence of the mandala there was discord along the shaft.  The ascending souls were not entirely in control of their destiny.  Somewhere among them was at least one agent, manipulating and manipulated, distorting their individual missions.   Justin glanced back and down at the floor.  One of the figures was wearing rubber galoshes, insulating himself from the floor.  Justin felt a rush of exhilaration at the discovery of the center of disturbance.  As the elevator stopped at the 4th floor and another figure entered, he felt the suck of energy from the figure with galoshes, the agent of darkness.  It was as if there was a dark hole located at the inner surface of the appearance of the man, as if the agent were a painted void which was sucking all the good vibrations dry.  The elevator ascended the mechanico-void.

     "He may have stood up for us, but he failed to keep in mind that the university as a whole is more important than the future of an individual department.  That's why he was replaced."

     There was a void within a void, the void of the agent within the void of the shaft.  The energy was imbalanced.

     "How has your attendance been?"

     "Good.  I haven't felt the difference."

     At last the elevator reached the termination of the hole in space, the 5th and final floor, Justin Price's floor, his number, his destiny.  There was a great influx of energy, a torrential breeze that filled the elevator, the box of nothing, as the doors rushed open and they entered the corridor.  Justin stood aside and watched the agent move slowly down the hall, drawing with him a vortex of energy that was fed by the walls, the ceiling, the floors, the figures in the hallway.  As the agent, who was flushed and pockmarked, massive of build, swung right, into another corridor, Justin knew he was sucked up by the void, for that corridor was not present and hence nonexistent.  Whatever disappeared from sight had no presence, no reality.  The walking hole, the vacuum, was eradicated.

     "I think mine has dropped off 20 percent."

 

 

There were at least a dozen figures in the English department lounge.  He saw no overshoes.  It was impossible to tell which were agents, which people.  The discussion of Burton's dismissal was quite heated.  The energy in the room was not entirely balanced.  There were some pockets of concentration, some holes.  He headed straight for the chromium coffee maker and was somewhat surprised, even delighted, at the black substance which formed in his Styrofoam cup.  He had been prepared to dismiss the squat chromium container and spout as ersatz, a production of some foreign intelligence, some cognizant force, which had made it appear on the table to tantalize the souls assembled.  The liquid was quite pleasant in his mouth, and he held it there without swallowing as he found a place for his coat on the clothes tree, a space for his body on a sofa.  He gathered his legs up in the lotus and focused his attention on the coffee, the disk of glossy darkness which shifted always toward horizontal by some magical means as his hands trembled and the cup tilted back and forth.  He noticed that he could move the liquid in counter clockwise and clockwise fashion with the spirals.

     "I tell you there's no other way.  We should burn it down."

     "You've been reading too much Cleaver."

     "How else do you deal with repression?"

     The hands of the clock above the door were fixed at 10:20.  They would remain there for all time as Justin captured evolution with the spirals in his brain and fixed the room, the reality, the universe, with the 13 figures alone left to existence.  He would freeze the course of evolution with the mandala, and the figures, agents and people, would fall prone at his feet.  He closed his eyes and imaged the red, yellow, blue spirals in a plane horizontal to the floor.  When he opened them he could see the swirling tri-colored light clearly, at one with the image in his brain.  He felt the wind stir through the room and the figures bathed in radiance, their conversation muted.

     "You've been reading too much Cleaver."

     "How else do you deal with repression?"

     The hands on the clock were fixed.  Soon they would lapse into silence.  The hands on the clock were fixed.

     "I don't care what happens.  I'm going to the teach-ins tonight.  We have to let the student body know what's happening."

     The hands on the clock were fixed.  Soon they would lapse into silence.  The hands on the clock were fixed.

     "I don't care what happens.  I'm going to the teach-ins tonight.  We have to let the student body know what's happening."

     The hands on the clock were fixed.  Soon they would lapse into silence.  The hands on the clock were fixed.

     With the language superimposed on itself, the sentences superimposed as in a fugue, he felt the movement toward eternal stillness with their all looking his way, the language muted and then silent as they looked at him with the hands on the clock frozen, locked into 10:20, the time of the Omega Point.  And then he felt a hand on his shoulder as he saw the agent from the corridor which was long faded into the void, the cancelled agent who had rounded the corner into nothingness, the agent rematerialized, flushed and pockmarked, massive of build, with the galoshes firm on the tile, insulating his energy and the hole he represented, sucking the energy of the room and the mandala, leeching the energy of Justin Price.  The Omega Point was dissolved with  the  pressure  of  the  agent's

hand on his shoulder.
     "Are you all right, Professor Price?"

     "Your asshole drains the correspondent breeze."

     The figure appeared to be stunned but was only playacting.  It smiled and shook its head and straightened up to look at the clock, the clock which was no longer frozen, locked into the climax of history.  The time was moving toward 10:30.

     "I beg your pardon."

     "Your asshole drains the correspondent breeze."

     "That's what I thought you said.'

     "And I'm correct."

     "I beg your pardon."

     "And I'm correct."

     "That's what I thought you said."

 

 

It was obvious to him that the only things real were those within the immediate range of his consciousness—the tile floor, the doorway, the corridor walls, the staircase he descended.  And they were real because they held back the void, were patterns painted on the void, their surfaces alone real and present.  Certainly on the other side of that yellow wall he glanced at on his path along the corridor tunnel in the void was the spirit life that exerted its influence on reality, possessed the people and rendered them agents, but it was that form of nonexistence which would disappear once he had gathered the world up and released it again to continue in the living present, governed by the trinal spiral mandala.  He was voyaging down a well-lighted corridor carved in the black maw of nothingness, descending steps which had no existence beyond their glossy surfaces, headed for no destination, for his goal did not yet exist.  It would materialize as the present reached it and suffer nonexistence until then.  Certainly it had a kind of existence as the unformed ether and once past would exist as a permanent art object, but strictly speaking there was no other reality than that space of banister he touched, that section of stairwell his eyes illuminated.  Yes, it was he alone that gave it life, for he alone was not governed by forces beyond in the void, the spirits of past Omega Points.

     "Hi, Professor Price.  How do you feel this morning?"

     "Perfect, Cindy.  I am perfect."

     "You sure gave everyone a shock with that recording."

     "They'll get over it, very shortly."

     The blond painted void disappeared ahead of him past the shoulders of other voids, figures, perhaps people, perhaps agents.  He reached the base of the steps and turned left through a doorway bordered in glass, illuminating a swath of corridor with his vision, extending the swath as he progressed inexorably like fate.  The students looked up as he entered the classroom and all speech ceased.  He went straight to the desk and assumed the lotus position on the glossy synthetic surface.  Several students, perhaps agents, seemed surprised, frightened perhaps, by the manner in which he began the formal lecture, a lecture even more frightening to those in thrall of the forces of darkness, a silent lecture he would deliver to cleanse their souls.

     As he stared forward, students appeared, figures certainly, perhaps agents.  They moved into range of vision.  Rather they appeared within vision, for there was no process which produced them.  Life was a series of slides projected on the void with no antecedents, no apparent sequence.  Figures appeared to find seats.  They appeared and reappeared at seats.  Movement was cancelled by the intensity of each segment of movement, which, focused on, obliterated progression.  The series of slides projected, if transferred to a motion picture film, would not be translated into action by screening.  Each slide was too intense to blend into the next.  Figures appeared and Justin stared ahead, focusing the entire energy of his being on the 3 spirals at his brain and pineal gland, focusing on the trinal column which emanated from the hemispheres and gland.  He sat there for an eternity, the particular eternity measured by 45 minutes, shifting focus from one uplifted face to another, fixing on one finally as the period dragged to conclusion.  The figure he pierced with his trinal mandala stared back defiantly.  It was apparently an agent.  At last defiance faded and tears ran down the cheeks.  The figure, once agent, was now person, possessed certainly, but free to move in a wider entrapment.

     The bell rang at last, but the students remained transfixed.  There was no sign from their professor that they should go.  He remained in the same position, shifting the focus of his eyes only slightly, those deep burning eyes that made them shift uncomfortably in their seats.  Certainly he had implied some message by the period of silence.  They anticipated an assignment to write about their experience.  They expected some word from Professor Price, perhaps a burst of humor to release them from the tension.  A few found the sudden urge to weep at the sight of those eyes and that staring conviction.  Several in fact were crying and trying to hide it from their fellow students.  One in particular was wiping tears from a radiant face.  He had seen something he could not recognize as holy because he didn't have the means to recognize such an emotion should it have ever occurred.  He alone stood and walked to the desk and placed his hand on the left hand of Justin Price.  The student turned and walked out.  The others gathered themselves up and went on out after him.  Few were talking.  Several were concerned for their professor.  Most of them were disappointed at having had to sit for 45 minutes to no apparent purpose.  Most wished for a conclusion more evident to a sequence in their lives that carried them nowhere.

     "I think he's losing it, John."

     "I don't know.  Maybe it was his way of ending the term."

     "I thought we'd have to hand in a paper."

     "No, I guess it's over.  It was a hell of a term."

     "One hell of a professor too."

     "Well, that's the way it goes."

     "Yeah.  I guess so.  We're not in high school anymore."

 

 

He was in the corridor which contained the presence of his office when he noticed several standing to one side, a swath of them which included their legs and midsections.  They had appeared there out of nowhere, had materialized, and it was difficult to tell whether they were agents or people.  As he looked up he could see that they had the appearance of Adam and Susan Lark, a married couple, relatively happy despite Adam's alcoholic propensities.  Justin could not be certain if it was indeed that faculty couple as crowded as reality was with pawns of the psychic forces.  Nevertheless, he smiled and nodded, centuries in each movement, and waited for the response.  The Larks were unprepared for the silence and the containment, the gaze that took them in as if they were no more than obstructions against the corridor wall.  Nevertheless, they smiled and nodded and Adam prepared to speak.  The words were long in coming from his chest cavity and to Justin seemed pregnant with meaning, metaphors which were composed by the dark forces, metaphors to which if he had the key there would be no more suffering, no pain, no death.

     "Would you like to join us?"

     A request to ally with these agents of darkness.

     "If you think it's the best thing to do."

     "That's a hell of an answer."

     He was being confused for the satanic forces.

     "Just what do you think of me?"

     "I think you're permanently spaced.  Where's your overcoat?"

     "It's gone now.  It no longer exists."

     "We're going over to the Union.  Would you like to join us?"

     "Something tells me I should."

     The path along the corridor was obstructed with figures of every description and mode of existence.  The stairwell was likewise crowded.  Justin was amazed at the bottom of the steps when the door opened on a far greater tunnel bounded by the sky and the surfaces of several buildings, painted backdrops with no existence apart from the facing planes.  Snow appeared, materialized out of nowhere to sparkle in the light from the painted disk above in the sprayed on blue.  They made their progress through the tunnel to the entrance of the Student Union, which assumed reality apart from its facing planes upon their entrance, an entrance into a further tunnel, the greater one they left no longer in existence.  Susan and Justin took a table while Adam disappeared.  A glance toward the counter found him rematerialized by the coffee urn.  A glance back toward Susan found her rematerialized across the sprayed on void she would call a table.  Her features moved for no apparent reason, totally disconnected from the interior, which could only be imagined, having no real presence, being void like the space beyond the surface of the table, the walls, the floor, the other figures.

     "I heard about your BEOWULF recording.  Dr. Burton told us that he visited your class and listened in for a while."

     "Dr. Burton has his own forces to contend with."

     "Did you hear they were going to reinstate him till after the term?  We just heard it on the way back from class."

     Justin nodded guardedly.  The metaphors were even more abstruse.  Perhaps he should examine each one separately before committing himself to a reply.  He was no longer sure she was an agent.

     "We talked to Evelyn.  He said you felt you were possessed.  That it accounts for the different voice patterns and pronunciations.  He said that at one point you sing and that ordinarily you can't hit a note.  Burton thought it all rather queer."

     He nodded guardedly.  Adam Lark suddenly rematerialized with a tray.  Lark smiled and Justin nodded.

     "You take cream, right?  And yours is black, Susan.  I thought I'd have some hot chocolate.  There, everyone is accounted for, even Professor Price.  I've got the worst cold."

     "You brought me here for something.  What is it?"

     "Just to chat, Justin.  That's all."

     "Perhaps you had a message for me."

     Lark set the tray down on a vacant table and handed Justin his change.  Justin stared at it glittering in a shaft of sunlight against his lean hand, then dropped it in his coffee.

     "No message.  What are you doing with the coins?"

     "They felt cool against my hand."

     "Just don't swallow them."

     They stared at Justin while he lifted the white plastic cup and sipped slowly the contaminated coffee with the spirals of milk and threads of amber converging at his lower lip.

     "You know what they say about you, Justin."

     "Yes.  I think so."

     "Justin's a hell of a nice guy.  Too bad he's so screwed up."

     It was certain that the pair across from Justin were agents.  They were trying to prod him toward the assumption that the events of the past months were the product of mental disturbance.  It was evident in the metaphor of the last pronouncement.  There was only one way to deal with them, render them helpless with metaphors to which there was no implied tenor.

     "I mean anyone who reads BEOWULF to a group of freshmen and tells them that the voice was inspired by spirits."

     "And puts dirty money in his coffee."

     He would reach into the interior of his consciousness for the words which would immobilize their attack.  He closed his eyes and concentrated on the mandala, voided his mind of all but the spirals, felt time slow down infinitely as the background noise of the other figures faded.  He stilled his breathing, lost in the undulations of energy up his spine, the time frozen into eternities between each breath.  When he opened his eyes the agents rematerialized, lost in conversation.  He focused his whole attention on the sunlight off the back of his inverted spoon, on his hand out to the cup, 10 years in traversing 30 inches, on leaning forward to drain it to the coins.  He drew a paper napkin from the stack Adam had brought and dried the quarter and the dime and several pennies.  Their presence was far less intimidating after soaking in the coffee cup.

     "Well, what do you think, Justin?"

     "God's asshole winks daily.  Nothing more."

     Adam and Susan Lark burst into nervous laughter.

 

 

The snow was appearing heavily below the dome of blue, the great wide cave in nothingness, and he felt its presence at his shoes as he descended the gradual slope past the tennis courts and the elementary school.  More reality appeared beyond Heidi Hall, a tree-lined street with impressions on the sidewalk of agents long gone to the void.  It was altogether a perfect day for the Omega Point.  All things were being transformed by the materializing snow to a uniform white, the white of the Beatle album, the clear white light of undifferentiated consciousness.  He closed his eyes and walked blindly up the white path, the flakes on his eyelids real only in so far as the impression he received of them, their cool soft presence, melting, trailing down his lashes.  Several times he wandered left to meet a tree and was gratified by the rough texture of the bark.  He wandered right, toward a building, toward a fence, toward a snowman, checking himself in each instance and returning to the path, the chosen path toward the salvation of all mankind, of all living creatures, of all being.  He was suddenly surprised to see his Buick materialize to his left along the curb and then remembered his searching for something very much like it, a conveyance through the tunnel.

     He felt very comfortable in the front seat behind the wheel but was convinced that there was something beyond the white plane and the sheet of glass directly above the dashboard.  Looking left, he saw the road in white with gray trails through to the asphalt turning white with the flurries.  He saw the sunlight off the snow and at last remembered that there was indeed a form of reality beyond the windshield, a reality he would penetrate with the conveyance.  There was only one recourse.  He would have to remove in some fashion the plane of glass and snow, the plane of glossy white which had no reality other than as a surface sprayed on a void.  Once he removed that surface there would be another surface, hence reality, visible.  He was sure of that from looking left through the translucent side window.  Certainly it followed.  Perhaps there were other screens or planes obscuring additional reality.  Perhaps if he removed the snow from the road there would be road there.  But he refused to speculate.  He would tackle the problem at hand.  He stared at the glass before him with the trinal spirals in his brain transferred to the glass and the snow beyond and held the 2 configurations equal.  At last the snow began to melt until there were 3 disks of clear glass through the windshield and he could see the road beyond.

     He was quite satisfied.  He possessed the proper conveyance.  Buick had 5 letters, unity of divisibility and indivisibility.  Manufactured in 1955.  A particularly proper conveyance.  But he had to initiate motion, and it was difficult to operate in the realm of cause and effect.  He knew that the machine was far too awkward, too heavy, to move with the amount of psychic energy he then possessed, although within hours or days he could expect to have grown in power so much that it would be child's play.  He had a key, and he remembered its function.  Insert and turn right, and there would be an explosion into energy.  Adjust the gear shift lever, and the machine would move forward.  Readjust and it would move backward.  He carried out the sequence and was amazed as the car moved out, a tunnel within a tunnel, a capsule of reality moving within a capsule of reality, corridor of snow and cave of automobile, moving one within the other toward the resolution of evil and good, Buddha and Christ, Satan and God, Shiva and Shakti, the final gathering up and release of evolution, the transformation of all sentient being into the calm lulling wave of the clear calm center of evolution.  He turned left at the corner.

     There were many agents on the street.  He could tell from the galoshes.  The surfaces were bright and clear, the outlines precise.  Faces contorted into smiles and grimaces, forming words of no particular consequence, since they could not be heard and therefore were absorbed by the void.  He was certain that if they were meant to be heard he would hear them above the roar of the motor and would gather to himself the tenor of the metaphors.  The path his car took was familiar.  He suddenly remembered a particular goal, in time to turn right at the tracks, the goal of his home, though he could not be certain that it was in fact in existence and was curious to arrive and to see his wife and daughter and Art and Sharon expected, to see if they were still there and still to arrive.  Certainly the only thing in real existence was this road through the 3 clear disks, and the surface which flashed by in his peripheral vision.

     Suddenly he crept up on an agent, a very powerful agent in a bright new Cadillac.  The Cadillac, metallic gray, looked much like a coffin in motion.  It had always seemed that way, and he was somehow reassured that he had had such insight before he became enlightened.  The General Motor's product, conceived in lechery and dedicated to callousness, cold, hard, air conditioned steel, insulated against the cries and moans of the suffering, the dying, insulated to carry in comfort the perfumed excrement, the upper classes, to some plush location from some plush location, pampered in the process, insulated against the disease of existence—and in particular this product, this Cadillac with the bumper sticker, NIXON'S THE ONE, not one's the one, no one's the one, Nixon, the agent of the forces of carnivorousness, the corporate powers, Nixon's the one—this General Motor's product and its occupants proclaiming in impudence from their traveling coffin.  And he focused the trinal spirals on the trunk of the Cadillac through the 3 clear disks on the windshield, focused it with all the force of the 3 bright colors, the columns between his brain and the trunk of the Cadillac.  And he focused, and he saw the gasoline tank explode into the clear bright air.  But the Cadillac reappeared, all the way out till he turned.  And then it was gone, swallowed up by the void.

     "Justin, you forgot your topcoat."

     "I'm not sure it exists anymore."

     "Did someone steal it?"

     "I left it behind in the tunnel."

     "Oh, my silly one.  Always speaking in metaphors."

     "I was afraid you might not be here."HeHe

 

     "Where would I go?"

     "I'm not sure.  Somewhere."

     "Come on in before you catch a cold."

     "I can't catch anything."

     "Well, come on in."

 

 

There was a peculiar attraction to the cathode rays from the blank channel.  It was as if he were tapping the primordial source of energy, as if the blank white glare was the sole message, a message of no-mind, no-idea, the void.  He could feel the rays absorbed by his body, bathe his body, infuse his presence with great energy, unmitigated by the discursive content that might be presented by a particular channel.  He was glad that he had not tuned into any of the specific stations and was rather watching the ultimate station, the clear void.  He settled back, legs in the lotus, against the striped chair and placed his hands on his knees, forefingers and thumbs joined in loops.  It was particularly peaceful there with the sounds of his wife and child, preparatory sounds for the arrival of Art and his bride from Iowa City.  He wondered if Iowa City still existed or his friends existed, if they would indeed materialize, for they were not evident to his senses, not present to his mind.

     "Could you give me a hand instead of staring at that empty channel?  Besides, Anna wants to watch the Flintstones."

     She was leaning there against the fabric of the card table.  She was holding a tattered T-shirt and mopping her perspiring forehead with the sleeve of a floral blouse.  Justin was mildly surprised to see her there suddenly at the periphery of his vision.  He had thought she accrued presence only through her sounds and apart from the sounds was certainly not in existence.

     "Justin, I'm talking to you.  Anna's in the kitchen drinking some hot chocolate.  She's going to want to watch Fred Flintstone.  We have exactly one hour before Art and Sharon arrive, and this house is a terrible mess.  Justin, listen to me."

     There was certainly some message in her words.  He was positive that he had the key if only he could focus his entire mind on the metaphor.  Perhaps he could answer with a metaphor to confuse her.  She was dealing with him unkindly, presenting messages with no clear meaning.  He sank into the spirals to seek for the proper statement to deal with her apparent perversity.

     "Your voice smells of death."

     "Your breath isn't so sweet all the time either.  Justin, get up please.  The least thing you could do is vacuum the rug."

     She leaned past him and turned the channel knob.  There was an advertisement for Ultrabrite, the sex appeal toothpaste.  He could tell from the white teeth flashing that many agents would respond to this message from the forces of carnivorousness.  As time moved on inexorably, he waited for further messages from this instrument of the collective unconscious.  Flintstone flashed on.  Even with Christa there with a hand on his shoulder, he could perceive hidden meanings from the brontosaurus steam shovel.  A hapless organism itself, it was consuming the equally hapless organisms of earth, swallowing them into the void of its belly, its inner self.  The spirals held the key to the metaphor.  Christa was giggling.  Perhaps she too understood.  He reached for her hand and held it against his cheek.  She was certainly no agent even through she evinced a peculiar attraction for the forces at work in this channel and might be found buying the products.  He cried at the greatness of Flintstone, no matter how perverse.  No matter how satanic, these productions were attractive.  He alone possessed in entirety the key to their significance.

     "Are you going to help me?  I made your favorite."

     "I smell it from the kitchen.  It is spaghetti."

     "Aren't you happy?"

     "I am very joyful."

     Just as the characters in the television cartoon were possessed of great meaning in themselves and in their actions, the presence of the television itself was pregnant with meaning, the construction of it, its effect, its presence in the room, the room itself, the wall beyond the set, the sofa, the bookshelf, the card table.  All had materialized there in harmony with his destiny.  To alter one infinitesimal part of the whole would be to create great discord and unbalance the process which was moving toward fruition—to create a messiah to alter the course of evolution.  The tears down his cheeks were not merely for the greatness of Flintstone.  They were for the mighty scope of Justin's understanding, that he was capable of sitting in the presence of a cartoon in a particular house at a given time in a given universe and know for certain that that cartoon, that house, every particle of being there, was predestined since the billions of years it took for all the suffering creatures to explode into existence.  He cried for all the tortured, the death, the pain, the discord in those billions of years which had laid the foundation for this culminating moment in history.  The world would continue after the Omega Point but would be released to advance further as a gentle lulling harmony, all because of the divinity of the mandala.  And he wept at Pebbles and Bambam.

     "Could you vacuum the rug?  Please?"

     "There's nothing better I'd like to do."

     "Why are you crying?"

     "I'm happy.  Very happy.  And sad."

     "Sometimes I feel that way.  I guess it's the way things are."

 

 

Justin Price feels the wooden edges of the card table as pulsing strips of awareness, sleek and cool to his palm as he sets it back in the L beside the desk.  The hardwood gleams in broad planks below the legs, and he knows that if he desires strongly enough to move them over the slick surface he will hear a particular squeal.  What the squeal might mean is uncertain.  Perhaps a joint voice from the surfaces, proclaiming their sentience.  He returns over the hardwood toward the spiral braided rug, lifts the vacuum tube, the tube cool and glistening.  He swings the round tank up over the edge of the rug by yanking on the plastic accordion hose.  The whine of the cleaner contends with the chatter of the television and the excited glee of his daughter.  He sweeps the suction carefully over the carpet to minimize the interference with the radiant spirals of woven color that ascend in a friendly haze.  He has no right to interfere with such noble configurations by fraying the slightest fiber.

     But there is something else, not at first noticed.  The chromium tube as it plays over the surface removes bits of fluff, shreds of paper, fragments of food, strands of hair.  It removes them from reality.  Where at first they lie there radiating their own form of energy, when the suction has passed there are only the chevrons of the carpet.  He focuses on one particular bit of fluff.  It is radiating, loving, feeling, sensing reality beyond itself, at one with that reality surrounding it, has been so for perhaps decades, centuries, when suddenly at the appearance of the chromium tube it is whisked into the void of the sweeper, lost forever to existence.  He weeps at the loss of these particles and glances back at the body of the sweeper, the source of this malicious power, and further back to the cord, the sweeper's source, to the wall socket, the cord's source, to the wall, the primal source, the radiant wall, the light green paint.  Perhaps, only perhaps, there are further sources, a prime mover at their termination, the wires of the past which find their way through the woodwork, the plaster, the innards of the house, and then even beyond to strands along telephone poles toward some indeterminate destination, perhaps the electric company, certainly some psychic power which has preordained the demise of the particles, condemned them to oblivion.  He feels suddenly afraid of this instrument, this agent of the satanic which is so capable of obliterating all trace of the fluff, the hair, the paper.  Here certainly is the agent or instrument of the strength of carnivorousness, a hole that is sucking reality into a void, nullifying existence.

     "Let me take that.  Just empty the trash."

     "There's something frightening about a vacuum."

     "What's so frightening about it?"

     "Suddenly a living thing can be drawn into it."

     "Are you worried about Edmund?  It isn't large enough."

     Suddenly Edmund materialized, licking his mouth.  It wasn't certain from where he came.  Perhaps the kitchen, for it was surely there.  He could see the yellow walls.  Perhaps the snow beyond the window.  That much surprised him.  He had been certain that the outside was no longer in existence.  Perhaps it had suddenly materialized when he chanced to look in its direction.  Certainly the cat had had some presence prior to its appearance.  It was a difficult puzzle to solve even with his intense concentration.  Was it licking its mouth?  He covered the vast distance to the gray furred beast and fondled its neck and ears.  Perhaps like the vacuum it had sucked being into its maw and voided its existence.  On its mouth were the last remaining particles.

     "Did you feed the cat?"

     "Yes.  It's pretty obvious, isn't it?"

     "Nothing is that obvious."

     "Don't forget to wash your hands for supper."

     The whine of the vacuum muted with the closing door and the lingering cool brass knob.  An agent had scattered the peripheral bags during the night.  He knelt on the concrete and scooped up garbage with an empty tomato soup can.  The brown paper addressed him with stains and red lettering to indicate the supermarket chain that fed its tentacles so far into his life and mission.  Soon he had most of it into the bags and was carrying them in an undetermined direction, carrying them in armloads of 3 out past an oak and a strange-looking swing.  He found himself dropping them at a hole he could swear he had dug that summer.  He crossed the snow again on a foot-worn path and emptied his arms on the drifted heap that reached a 3rd way up the sides.  Then he heard the siren.

 

 

Justin looked down at the 6 garbage bags, their contents partially scattered.  He looked up at the now clear sky, beyond to the distant trees reaching up for light.  The siren had come almost simultaneously when the last bags hit the heap, a phenomenon with no antecedent in his dim memory.  He climbed down into the hole and lifted a bag.  He dropped it.  There was no siren.  He would have to reach further into the profundity of existence to explain the sudden appearance of a siren under the dome of blue.  Certainly everything was dead, had passed into the void, everything but the cottage and himself, the trees and sky and snow.  He climbed up from the hole and descended the slope past the oak and swing.  Yes, his car was there, the '55 Buick conveyance, but behind it was a smaller automobile which looked unmistakably like a Volkswagen, but which was probably ersatz, a painted void which was occupying space, a representative of the mechanico-monster.  Yet there seemed to be occupants.  He could recognize them or their substitutes through the glass, one from a photograph just weeks ago.  It was Art and Sharon smiling, grinning, waving, or agents painted to look like his friends from Iowa.  He wasn't entirely certain.

     "Guess I scared the shit out of you."

     He couldn't remember having lost control of his sphincters.  The supposition there recorded for posterity was false, misleading.  There was no stain, no deposit on his underwear.  Of that much he was certain.

     "Is that really you, Art?"

     "What did you expect, my double?"

     They were communicating rather nicely.  Art threw his arm over Justin's shoulder and pulled his face into the full goatee.  It certainly was Art.  The body was warm, suggestive of flesh and blood.  Justin kissed Art on the cheek and held him there for a second.  Then Sharon approached past the front of the conveyance and embraced Justin.  She too was a real person, a sentient being.  Nevertheless, there was some discord which he tried to minimize by remaining always between them so that their imbalance in psychic energy would cancel itself.  This was made difficult by their constant movement, unloading the car, producing suitcases, 6 packs of beer, bottles of Ripple, a red plastic Frisbee.  At one point Justin had to climb up on the hood, at another in over the gear shift, always to remain between them.  He was particularly struck by the Frisbee.  It was obviously made for flight, that much he could recall, but it had taken on unusual significance, that of a hole in reality, a red plastic hole, perhaps the Father, Creation.  It was a vortex into which all living energy was being sucked.  It was strange that Art and Sharon had not noticed this.  It was odd that they could have traveled all the way from Iowa City, the source of their materialization, without being sucked dry by the disk, the hole, the red void he held, trembling, in his hand.  Christa and Anna suddenly appeared from the house.  He could see the door close.  Until then he had not been certain of their continued existence.  He handed Christa the Frisbee.

     "You be careful with this, my Christa."

     "What's the matter with your husband?"

     "I think he's been working too hard."

     "You seem so damned serious, Justin."

     Art offered Justin a bottle of Ripple.  Justin was reluctant to drink it.  Perhaps it had been tainted by the Frisbee.  Finally he tasted and drank.  It was obviously the product of some lower level of awareness.  Art Spellman drank.  He wiped his lips with the back of his hand.  The stain was visible.  It was uncertain whether the skin was affected, perhaps nullified.  Justin lifted a suitcase, was surprised it had weight, carried it up to the porch and set it beside the door.  Perhaps there would be presence beyond that plane of yellow wood, perhaps only a void.  They would open the door to a vast cavern, a hole, a vacuum, a void in existence, and it would suck them through into nothingness.  But surely there was the interior of the cottage.  He peered through an adjacent window and saw the yellow wall and brown cupboards, the sink, the long green table.  Indeed it was there, the source of Christa and Anna's materialization.  Yet when he looked back from the window to the door he had misgivings.  Perhaps the reality was there only when he glanced through the glass.  Perhaps it was afterwards cancelled.  Art came up to him from nowhere and put an arm on his shoulders.  He would let Art be the guinea pig.  The hand on the brass knob, turning, opening and . . . . . . . . the kitchen existed.

     "Where should we put everything?"

     "In the L behind the desk.  If it's still there."

     "Jesus, what kind of trip are you on?"

     "You have me confused with someone else."

     "I hope it's not the antichrist."

     "Here, Art.  Take this bag."

 

 

The red disk was there again or at least one like it.  It formed a red void in the counter beside the entrance.  When Justin lifted it the void was gone, but as he looked past it other reality was blocked from existence.  He tasted the disk.  It was merely red plastic.  Nevertheless, its passage through space nullified by obstructing vision, and it had to be somehow dealt with.  Perhaps he would find the answer in time.  Justin sat down at the soft chair under the window and stared down into the Frisbee, feeling one with the energy it was withdrawing, lowering his presence until he too became a void, a vacuum countering the red disk.  Between the 2 painted voids was a maelstrom of energy which faded finally as the 2 built in equality until neither was withdrawing energy from the room.  He remembered suddenly having dealt with a rubber plant somewhere back there before his mission, yes at the house of Evelyn Forest.  He wondered if Forest still had presence in some remote fashion in an island of reality such as this.  But that was impossible.  There were no further centers.

     "Are you hungry?  You might as well sit down.  Leave the end chair for Justin.  Anna, Justin, go wash your hands."

     Through the opening, left through another opening, was the bathroom, perhaps the center of reality.  He waited for Anna to suds her hands and then mysteriously wipe them clear with the translucent substance from the water tap.  There were shards of dry, and then all the hands were dry with the movement of a patch of cloth.  He followed her example, intent on the disappearance of the water and suds down the hole in the chromium drain and porcelain body of the sink.  The water, the fresh clear water, was forever obliterated from even memory by entering the vortex.  For a time he feared for his hands.

     "Smells like spaghetti.  Oh boy.  Sharon, you're about to get your first taste of this girl's cooking.  Out of sight."

     Art leaned back on the counter and reached his arms over the sink to embrace Christa as she drained the noodles and transferred them into a large yellow bowl.  Then he saw Justin standing in line with the Frisbee, standing immensely solemn.  Art leaned back and laughed heartily, then sobered.

     "Why don't you put that down, Justin?"

     "I'm not sure.  Maybe I don't want to."

     Christa left the sink with the spaghetti and meat sauce and returned to kneel at the stove and pull out some buttered garlic bread.  Justin adjusted the water to lukewarm and reached down to a cupboard under the porcelain and lifted a plastic bottle of detergent.  He squirted some on the red plastic and washed the Frisbee methodically, dried it on a tea towel, and carried it over to the table.  His expression was very intense.

     "What the hell are you up to, Justin?"

     Justin replaced his white plate with the Frisbee and carried the plate to the sink, where he shattered it against the stainless steel surrounding the drain.  He picked up the pieces and dropped them into a paper bag beside the stove.

     "Justin, you broke that plate."

     "You have plenty."

     "Did you see that?"

     "Yes.  What are you up to, Justin?"

     "I'm not all that certain."

     Magically the spaghetti disappeared from the red plastic hole in the table to the hole in Justin's mouth.  It was swallowed up by his hunger, lost to the forces of carnivorousness still controlling a large part of his nature.  Soon he would no longer eat, but at least he had created an opposition of holes here which nullified the process.  Out of one void into another, no spaghetti was lost.  He lifted the Frisbee from the table and licked off the last of the meat sauce from its concavity.  He set it down and poured in some Chianti from the basket bottle.  He swirled it about so that it crested the edge and trickled down to the red and white plastic of the tablecloth.  He lifted the Frisbee and drank.  Even with their looking at him strangely, there were no further malignant vibrations emanating from the disk.  He could feel the waves of energy ascend from the tablecloth and the dish of apple sauce he hadn't touched.  The garlic bread was also friendly, a husk of it under his elbow.

     "Art, in the living room.  I can see it from here.  The WRITER'S MARKET with the red binding.  Bring it here, please."

     Portions of Art that were lost beneath the table reemerged when he stood and walked, until Justin could see the whole man, the whole figure bend over the bookshelf and return with the book.

     "Is this your stash?"

     "If it's still there.  Open the book."

     "He made this stuff, Sharon.  Out of Iowa hemp.  How much did it cost you?  For the ether?  Can you remember?"

     "25 dollars and 55 cents."

     "And there's 600 dollars worth right here."

     "Justin, you're acting very strangely.  Don't start eating that.  You're liable to lose control of yourself and do something you might later regret.  I don't mind if Art has some.  After all, that's what it's there for."

     "A level teaspoon in the apple sauce.  Mix it together."

     "Will it do anything this way?"

     "You simply couldn't guess."

     "Are you going to have some?"

     "I am perfect.  Perfect just the way I am."

 

 

He lay back on the striped sofa and looked up at the ceiling, the cracks between planks stripes of void which held him imprisoned, which held the souls in the knotty pine imprisoned as they looked down jealously from the void to his entrapment in reality.  He wondered if their eyes, the knots in the wood, could see clearly, could see the holy light which emanated from each surface, could see the billion-fold increase in presence of all that contributed to reality.  Art Spellman in the striped chair, his arms limp on the armrests, his legs extended over the stripes, Justin wept at the beauty of Art, the source of hope.  Justin wondered what beauteous garments were contained in the luggage over behind the desk.  Certainly there were garments there.  He had felt the weight.  Just as if he was in communion with his thoughts, Art gathered himself heavily from the chair and walked back the great distance to the luggage.  Perhaps he was going to show him a ceremonial robe of a sort, perhaps a loin cloth.  Yes, Justin could hear him talking, could hear the Voice.

     "I have something you have to see.  God, am I stoned."

     A zipper skirted the edge of the case to reveal fabric.  Hands disappeared in the color to return with a record album.  Art was moving toward him, the album held behind his back and only partially in existence, moving slowly as if through the viscous threads of psychic energy that emanated from the wall, particularly from the bookshelf, the source of discord and false prophecy.  Art neared ever so slowly and pulled out the album for Justin to see.  It was an incredible host of demons, glaring, staring from the glossy surface, satanic forces or agents mocking the clear white light from the SERGEANT PEPPER album.

     "It's Zappa.  WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY.  Look at these bastards, Justin.  Did you ever see anything more evil?"

     The lurid colors blazed on the jacket, waved out and contaminated the room.  They were sucking energy, aligning with the bookshelf and THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES' REQUEST muted from the Denon speakers.  Justin had known that it was possible to control the bad energy from the Stones, that their mission on earth had a certain charm, even though perverse, but here was uncontained evil, a mockery of all he held sacred, aligning with the Stones and further perverting them, granting ascendancy to the mineral over the insectile, perverting the evolutionary scheme.  Justin raised up straight in the lotus and focused his whole psychic force on the hemispheres of Art Spellman's brain.  The latter had been hopelessly misled.  Art was a self-aware agent infecting the living room.  Justin would bring him to his knees.

     "Look here, Justin.  It's really a riot.  Look at Zappa."

     Art leaned back with the album and tossed it on the table, where it lay face up polluting the souls in the ceiling.  He started toward the kitchen when Justin stopped him with the spirals.  Red, yellow, blue on the hemispheres and pineal gland.  Art paused and shook his head as if to clear it.  Justin held them there in apposition to his brain and then spun them violently.  Art sank to his knees and there to the floor, to the spiraling chevrons of the rug, sank there unconscious, saliva forming at his lips.  Justin would purify this agent.  He would hold the spirals spinning until Art was free of satanic influence.  Justin held them there glowing long and hard.  He held them there until the bad energy was absorbed by the trinal mandala and released through the void behind Art's eyes, sucked into his inner being to pass out of space and reality.  Justin let the spirals dissolve and watched the purified agent curiously.

     "Jesus, Justin.  That stuff is dynamite."

      Art was sitting up, legs crossed, head lolling toward his shoulders.  His lips were still moist.  Saliva drooled from his mouth.  Art was staring uncertainly at something near Justin's knee, fixed there, immobile eyes, lolling head and neck.

     "I had to cleanse you, Art."

     "That stuff'll do it.  I had the strangest sensation lying there of spinning colors, and I couldn't tell if I was awake or dreaming.  I just blacked out, and then there were the colors."

     "How do you feel now?"

     "Okay, but I can't keep my head up."

     "Put the album back in the suitcase."

     "Didn't you get a real kick out of good old Zappa?"

     "Huge, Art.  Huge."

 

 

The kitchen, though bright and clean, was the source of the satanic in the house.  It was a yellow coated cell designed for the ingestion of consciousness, the preparation of consciousness for ingestion, the storing of utensils and preparation of utensils for that same purpose.  As Art Spellman stood at the refrigerator, preparing to remove some hapless organism, Justin Price reflected on the role of that mechanico-monster in reality.  He realized that the source of its power was the cord attached to the wall, that there were further sources or agents back along the path of further wires through the plaster, but he wasn't completely sure these agents or sources, these movers, were still in existence.  He was only positive of the existence of the cord which sucked life into the wall, the warm, pulsing life of the organisms, and rendered them cold, perhaps frozen, ready to be taken out and prepared for ingestion.  Sliced pig and cattle, ground cattle (horribly mutilated), unformed fetuses of chickens, ground and prepared sexual organs of wheat, liquid effusions of various beings (milk, juice), the list was unbearable.  A vast sampling of all the loving innocent creatures of this earth was present in that white enamel coffin, rendered senseless by the chill from the cord in the wall, ready to be sucked into the orifices of unfeeling agents or people.

     And there at the counter, at the sink, the cadavers were further sliced, mutilated, washed with liquid from the tap, placed in pans and transferred to the stove, the most invidious instrument.  Here one could see the sliced flesh broiled, stewed, fried, further mutilated, prepared for the orifices.  Justin imagined an egg fresh and warm from the chicken, plucked from beneath the soft feathers, washed and prepared for the refrigerator, seized at an untimely moment by an unfeeling being, smashed open, drained into a pan and held over fire to harden into hideous yellow and white, removed from the pan by an unfeeling instrument and laid to rest temporarily on a plate, to be finally sprinkled with further preparations and then torn apart by a utensil and ingested, sucked into a frightening orifice.  All this when the same ovum could have stirred beneath the warmth of the mother, quickened, been miraculously transmuted into a living, breathing chick to spend its days growing up, maturing, laying further eggs, quickening them, contributing to the life process.  Try as he might, tears ran from his eyes.

     Art was turning back from the white enamel coffin, holding an aluminum tray.  Justin recognized the configuration of the metal, knew that there was water in the tray, horribly stiffened by the forces of the enamel coffin.  The water had been fluid, living, but was now suspended in a dreamless sleep by the process of refrigeration.  Art's intent was certain.  He picked up a bottle of Ripple from the counter and carried the bottle and ice toward the stove.  There was a green colored glass there, fit for forcing the wine into yet another configuration, trapping the wine until ready for ingestion.  The ice was obviously to chill the Ripple, to dilute it, to mix its clear substance with the contaminated synthetic and lose its identity.  Justin heard the terrible wrenching of the ice as Art Spellman pulled an aluminum lever and began to lift the cubes into the glass.

     There was a way to stop him, to terrify him, to make him repent of his plan to suck into oblivion the water and synthetic.  A cube of ice fell on the enamel surface of the stove to be ignored—the glass was full.  As Art poured in the wine the gurgle called Justin to action.  He focused the trinal mandala on the cube and delivered the full force of his concentration.  The ice cube spun clockwise on the stove.  Art failed to notice.  It spun counter clockwise.  Art noticed.  He stared down at the ice cube, transfixed, stared at the cube of frozen water and its trace of liquid on the white enamel.  Justin spun the cube again, clockwise.  He slid the ice up toward the back of the stove and then again down.  Art stared on dumbfounded, perhaps frightened.  Art reached down and picked up  the cube and set it in the top of the glass.  He poured in more Ripple, lifted the glass and drank.  The liquid was gone, forever lost in the recesses of his being.  Justin wept.

     "Hey, Justin.  Hey, what the hell are you crying for?"

     "For nothing.  That's where it all goes."

     Art sat down across from Justin at the table, his long heavy-fingered hand wrapped around the hapless organisms in the glass.  The glass lifted, and he swallowed up all but a 3rd of its contents.  He traced a pattern on the mist of the glass, a figure 9.

     "Hey, Justin.  Could you tell me something?"

     "What's that, Art?"

     "Am I losing my mind?  I just saw a cube of ice move around on the stove, and I wasn't touching it.  It sure looked like it was moving.  This is the last time I'm eating that shit."

     "Maybe it did move, Art."

     "Yeah.  And I'm Lucifer's maiden aunt."

 

 

The music was the classical raga, TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATIONS, a hymn to joyful imprisonment, bliss in sorrow, ecstasy in deprivation.  And Art was of the music, Art across from Justin in lotus.  Sharon also.  She was lying below the goat with red udders and woman with bright teats, languid on the Indian print.  The thump of the tabla, the whine of the sitar, and silence, the total effect of silence before the void—inmates, agents gathered before the power of the original ether, undifferentiated consciousness, Brahman, God.  Christa was not present.  Anna was not present.  Justin had seen them dematerialize with the closing of the lacquered door, seen the last flash of color against the steps before the plane of wood, inexorable in its movement, cancelled their being.  They had not lived to see the rites of his passage.  Art and Sharon were the chosen ones, Sharon to observe passively while he entered with Art the chosen sanctuary.  Even now as he could see the stirring, the first furtive movements toward fulfillment when Art opened his legs to stretch them out beyond his knees, the feet pale below the green rayon trousers.

     "Jesus was the arch villain of humility.  And he deified suffering.  To be whole in this life one had to take up his cross and follow him.  Centuries of martyrs have been lost to his spiritual magnetism.  He is the first to be overcome in a search for transcendental power.  Nowhere in his teaching is his secret to be found.  It died with him to be resurrected in my consciousness.  And it is simple enough.  He centered the void directly over his head and became through intense meditation the focus for his cohorts and the following 20 centuries.  The halo was the churning light about the void, the vortex of psychic energy.  So powerful to be seen, it is the same light that unites us in our spiritual gaze beyond the vegetative eye."

     "Why do you keep feeding him all that bullshit, Justin?  He's so stoned on that garbage he ate he can't stop listening.  You'll warp his mind or something.  Art, get up off the floor."

     "I'm fine, Sharon.  Besides, it makes sense."

     "Christ."

     "Have you ever read Vonnegut?"

     "Never, Art."

     "He has these people in one of his books touch the soles of their feet together in a kind of spiritual rite called Bokononism."

     "There is much to be said for that."

     "Want to try it?"

     "I lift my feet."

     They touched the soles of their feet together, their torsos back on the floor, touched them long and hard while the psychic energy pulsed between them in waves through their spinal cords.

     "It wouldn't be so bad if I knew you weren't serious.  Art, honey.  I'm tired.  Why don't you fix the bedding?"

     "And the founder of this rite was Bokonon?"

     "That's right.  It feels kind of nice, doesn't it?"

     "Jesus."

     "Disregard her taunts, Art Spellman.  We are on the verge of perfect communion.  Jesus knew humility and proclaimed it untempered as virtue.  Bokonon evidently saw the joining of the feet as spiritual congress.  But there is a combination far beyond the humility either suggested.  To cleanse ourselves of messiahs both fact and fiction, for there is no distinction in the world of cosmic metaphor, we must perform the rite of foot bath."

     "Jesus."

     "Yes, Jesus found it humble to wash his disciples' feet.  Bokonon would have them join them as we on this floor.  The lowest part of mankind, even more than the sweet fertility of the anus, or of the cock and balls, this lowest part is the bared foot itself.  There is nothing so ill-shapen, so plagued with odors foul and intentions mean.  Take my foot, Art.  Take it in your mouth.  Lick the surface of the arch and the spaces between the toes.  And I take yours.  Now suck each piggy gently before it pollutes our sanctuary.   This is my body given for thee.  Ah, now I am yours, Art.  I suck your lowly toes."

     They alternated from the right to the left, with hesitation and then abandon, as Sharon stared over the edge of the Indian spread.  The tabla rattled against the exotic chant and whine of the raga, and their lust was consummated.  All desire ended.

     "Oh God, how degenerate.  How evil."

     She was laughing hysterically.

     "Don't knock it till you've tried it, honey.  I knew a man once who would eat a turd for a dollar.  There was something about it.  It's hard to describe.  I'd do it again probably."

     "Well, you ate a toad once.  Christa told me about that."

     "But it wasn't my choice."

     "Our Father which art in heaven."

     "Come on, let's go to bed.  Come on, dear.  Kiss your buddy good night."

 

 

As the broom swept across the snow, magically the asphalt appeared, gray swaths in the white.  Art Spellman was creating his own universe, extending the boundaries of space with straw and wood.  Justin Price watched him from the side of the road, his buttocks down into the powder cresting the lower ball of a snow man from earlier that winter whose torso and head had toppled off and drifted over.  What was left of the man was surely sentient.  He felt it through the trousers.  But in front of him was the movement of straw and wood—extended arms revealing gray, gray which he had formerly assumed had passed out of reality.  And the pattern of the swaths was certainly cosmic.  Justin traced letters but no obvious message.  Perhaps it was an ancient language known only to Art, who was afraid to reveal to a possible agent the contents of his consciousness.  At last the road was clear, a rectangular patch upon which was to take place the cosmic tournament, the contest between the agents of good and evil.

     "What are the measurements, Art?"

     "20 feet by 10.  See if you can find some stones."

     But there were no stones in reality.  All had been obliterated by the powder.  Nevertheless, Justin followed Art's example, leaning down and pawing aside the snow, finding to his surprise that there was further reality beneath the white, that not alone did Art possess the capability of extending being, finding in fact a stone, gray and hard and smooth, a real stone, with which he ran joyfully to Art, who set it down near a corner of the asphalt.  And Justin felt pain that there was no gratitude.

     "All right.  It can't go over your upraised hand or further than you can reach to the right and left.  Otherwise there's no point if you miss.  You can skip it once.  More and it doesn't count.  We'll go up to 10, and you have to win by 2."

     "What is required of the loser?"

     "Nothing.  It's not fair to you if I win because I've been doing this for about a year.  Have you ever thrown a Frisbee?"

     "Seldom."

     Justin looked at the red disk on the snow at the edge of the road.  It had reassumed its terrible nature, had blocked from vision the powder and hence its reality.  It was lying there, a red vortex or hole in existence, and horribly enough was about to assume flight, canceling everything in its path.  It was a terrible contest Art had devised, 2 forces, good and evil, thrusting between them a hole in existence for the very destiny of existence.  Whoever lost would pass out of life the very way of the hole.  He knew however the outcome.  Good would triumph.  And then unimpeded he would embrace evil, fuse with it, absorb it, emerge as the triumphant synthesis and deal with the hole.  The hole itself would pass out of existence like inverted flatulence.  There would be no more odor of the charnel house.

     "Okay.  One nothing.   One up.  Three 2.  Four 3."

     The game continued on the cosmic plane, a close contest between the 2 major forces in the universe.

     Okay, six 5.  Seven 5.  Screw you, Price."

     The game continued.

     "Eight 7.  My throw.  Ten 8.  You win, fucker."

     Justin moved slowly, inexorably, over the surface of the asphalt toward Art Spellman.  Art backed off toward the edge of the cleared space, then lost his footing and fell back into the embankment.  Justin leaped on him, smothered him with love, forced snow down his throat, his eyes, his nose, covered him with the white canceling void of frozen water, the frozen tears of the thousands, billions, who had been trapped by the dark powers.  He held him there struggling and scooped the powder up over him, embraced him as an equal and fused with him, ensured the ultimate success of the Omega Point.  But there was turmoil.  Art shook loose and ascended, stood, threw snow back, cancelled in the haze of snow, and, spluttering, laughed uncontrollably.

     "You want to fuck me?  Take me inside."

     "Why not here in the snow, Art Spellman?"

     "Why not in hell itself?"

     "It's too cold out here for hell."

     All that remained, Justin felt, was that terrible terrible red void.

 

 

"We need other games to unite us.  Use your fantasy."

     "You're quite a hunter.  Think you can track me in the snow?"

     "Track you down and shoot you."

     "I tell you what.  Whoever loses—I'll give you 35 minutes, and if you can't get within shotgun range—has to do something gross like last night.  What do you suggest?"

     "Something you once wanted me to do, if I remember.  The armpits.  We'll lick the armpits.  For the purification."

     "How's that?"

     "Our preoccupation with body odors.  Think of all the space devoted to deodorants.  Think of how it pollutes the air waves.  Much of our surface level awareness is devoted to ridding ourselves of something essentially pure and wholesome."

     "Pure and wholesome?"

     "'Scent of my armpits aroma finer than prayer.'"

     "Price?  Is that Price?"

     "Whitman."

     "Okay, where's your gun?"

     Justin looked back at the house.  Only the surface was real.  The center was a void.  Yet he knew that there was once an interior and that interior housed his wife and child, possibly even Sharon.  And it contained a shotgun.

     "I think I can find it."

     Surely enough it was there under the bed together with a carton of shells.  He moved slowly over the glossy hardwood, down toward the living room, out through the kitchen and the yard to Art Spellman, miraculously still present.  Justin picked up the red Frisbee and set it up in the bare branches of a tree at eye level.  He turned majestically and stepped off 10 paces.

     "What's that for?"

     "I'm going to eliminate a hole."

     His shotgun was a 16 gauge Ithaca double barrel that he had inherited from his alcoholic uncle.  He raised it and sighted over the column of steel between the barrels, released the safe, and squeezed off the left rear trigger.  The Frisbee nearly exploded.  Art laughed nervously and squatted by the bumper of his Volkswagen while Justin went on up the path and entered the kitchen.  Then Art headed down the slope to the road.

     "Tell me when it's 35 minutes."

     "I hope you're not going to kill him."

     Christa was rinsing dishes from the sink and passing them to Sharon, who dried them with a checkered tea towel and stacked them on the table.  Justin blew imaginary smoke through the barrel and inserted another round.  He hoped it wouldn't be necessary.

     "Not unless it's part of the contract."

     "He said they would lick armpits.  How evil."

     "There is little enough we can enjoy within the limitations of human reality, Sharon.  Let him have my armpit."

     "Jesus."

     Justin had not hunted since the previous fall in Iowa City.  The last time out he had wounded a rabbit that had crawled into brush beyond his reach and lay there twitching until he had cleared a way for the barrels and had blown its head off.  The rabbit was doomed by the forces of carnivorousness, but as an agent of those powers Justin had failed to bring it home to the dinner plate.  He had rebelled in his own myopic way even back then from the agency of death and destruction.  Surely he had the evil taint, but that would be absorbed when the time and place arrived for his messiahship.

     He crossed the porch and descended the steps to packed snow.  Edmund was preening himself on Art's hood.  Justin turned right, up across the trail to the garbage heap, and halted at the edge of the hole.  It was still there.  There was no sign of Art.  Justin returned to the porch and descended the slope, turning right, on the road.  Edmund followed him.  His gray coat cast no shadow.  The forces told Justin that the road indeed existed and that Art had followed it.  There were no tracks.  Justin felt the cold barrels against his cheek as he climbed the slope past evergreens on the left and a steep mound to the right.  As he reached the end where it swung left, toward where the highway had been, he saw the footmark at the base of the gully and the clumsy attempt to erase it with a branch from a neighboring tree.  The tracks led up the side of the hill overlooking the void.  Halfway up he left them to skirt the slope above what was possibly traffic, perhaps ersatz, and climb more steeply over the surface.  He made the last 30 yards on all fours.

     Beyond the crest Art was leaning against a heavy sycamore, his back to Justin Price.  Art was surveying the woods below and the cottage roof.  At some movement among the trees, perhaps an agent's, he crouched behind the trunk and leaned his forehead against the bark.  Justin raised his shotgun.  He felt Edmund against his leg, and the head of Art became a red Frisbee dappled by shadows from the bare branches.  It glowed and vibrated over Art's fur collar as if to tell Justin that here indeed was the hole, the vortex which eliminated all within its suck.  It had indeed to be neutralized.  Justin Price took careful aim and squeezed off the front right trigger.  He felt the jolt and the bark spinning off and Art rolling on the ground and holding his head.  The Frisbee was gone.  No longer would it return to plague Justin's mission.

     "You son of a bitch.  You son of a bitch.  You could have killed me.  Jesus, look at the bark.  Christ, you scared me into shitting."

     Justin stripped off his field jacket, his shirt and T-shirt.  He approached, arm raised, tantalizing Art with the aroma.  He would cleanse Art of all satanic influence.  He would grant him the sacred effusions of his armpit.

     "You fucker.  You fucker you.  This is no joke."

     Rebuffed, Justin descended the slope.

 

 

For some reason, too mysterious to fathom, there comes a knock on the door.  For some reason, too mysterious to fathom, there enter several figures.  The one, tall and bearded, Justin recognizes as Norm Estling.  The other, straight brown hair and delicate face, he recognizes as Shirley Estling.  The two figures wear galoshes but leave them at the clothes tree along with their coats.  They sit down across from Justin, Sharon to their left, Art to their right, and begin speaking.  They share of the pipe.  They are not likely agents.  But where have they come from?  And where do the further figures find their previous existence, who knock, enter, assume places on the rug, share the pipe?  He recognizes Ralph Hils.  His face is dark, his hair black.  He recognizes Ralph's wife.  Her face is light, her hair blond.  Justin notices that they are free of overshoes by the time they reach the rug, that the brown-faced figures with them are also free of galoshes.  He has not met these figures before.  Ralph explains that they are friends.  Ralph explains several things, but it is difficult to follow his language.  It is so close to ordinary speech that the metaphors are hard to ferret out.  In fact, the language of all those assembled to drink of the wine and eat of the cheese is impossibly difficult to comprehend.  For instance, the expression:  "That sure was a heavy cat."  Was he talking of Edmund?  For instance: "That sure was a cool motherfucker."  Was it God or Satan?  The light was unbearably low in intensity so that there were pockets of shadow on the faces, places perhaps eaten by cancer, no longer in existence.  The light was so unbearably low that Justin could not feel the pulse from the walls, the ceiling, the floor.  From every surface there was no longer energy, but from the presence of these figures there was force beyond reckoning.  Perhaps they had gathered here to witness his final triumph.  It was difficult to judge from their pronouncements, their careless ease.

     "Did you come from a great distance?"

     "Whom are you talking to, Justin?"

     "To all of you.  I wasn't aware that anything existed out there.  I wasn't sure you existed.  I felt it was all swallowed up by the void to await rebirth at my coming."

     "Jesus.  How much have you been smoking?"

     "Man, your friend sure does talk some shit."

     It was true.  Words were shit.  He felt guilty at his pronouncements.  If only they wouldn't stare so hard.  He was sure they were friendly, but even their best intentions could suck his energy.  Perhaps they were feeling him out, testing him.

     "Don't you got some music here, man?"

     Art stood up and withdrew to the stereo.  He was busy for a time, leaning down over the apparatus, then grinning as the first chords signaled his return.  Justin was certain he had heard the piece before, a paean to the dark people who shared the rug.

     "What's that, Country Joe?"

     "That's ROCK AND SOUL MUSIC from TOGETHER."

     Several brown couples ascended to dance.  Their movements were suggestive, primitive.  Their spiritual energy seemed to be distributed throughout their bodies, throughout the void their surfaces encompassed.  Perhaps it was this distribution of psychic energy which had turned their surface brown.  Justin glanced at his own skin to see if it had yet darkened.  There was some red on the forearms.  Soon he would be all red, Adam the red man Son.  The title of the album seemed vastly appropriate.  The distribution of energy was lulling and calm.  Someone produced a strobe candle magically from his pocket and set it on a stand.  The light flickered in rhythm, alternately void and bright, flickered with the sound from the Denon stereo, the message of cosmic import.  The figures were caught in various attitudes, a series of images snared by the light and the intensity of the fragments of time in which they were held there before the void, before the next fragment of time.  Justin Price felt the energy of their dance.

     "The center of nothing

       is directly over your head;

       the last poor chap that knew this

       could raise the dead."

     There was no response.  They were too involved in the motion of the couples.  He lapsed into silence and held the spirals in his mind, held them on the group assembled, tried mightily to freeze the process into one flicker of the candle and then release it to continue without suffering.  But the process continued, the overlaid images progressing past the close of the cut and on to another song until they finally sat and faced inward, forming words of some great consequence, difficult to fathom, and drawing in smoke from the hashish pipe.  Art stood and returned with nutmeg and ginger to fill the pipe when empty.

     "The center of nothing

       is directly in front of your belly;

       the last old fool that knew this

       was fat like jelly."

     Still no response.  They were not prepared for his mission.  He would have to awaken them.  He stood, ascended toward the knotty pine ceiling, walked back toward the striped couch, stepped up on it, and posed majestically.  Still no response, not even a glance in his direction.  He turned back toward the bookshelf and lowered his trousers and shorts.  There were a few titters as he exposed himself, leaned down to show them the negative eye, even the sound of handclapping, scattered, unenthusiastic.  He would hold them there to stare at the center of their universe, would force their attention.  He squirmed about, trying mightily to defecate, to no avail.  Humiliation.  He climbed back down.

    

 

"You don't mean that table rapping sort of imbecility.  I've been through that any number of times with my aunt."

     "Something a tad more sophisticated.  Everyone but the reader of the mantra fills his mind with nothing and focuses on the central 2 figures.  The latter stare into each other's eyes in a try for union.  The periphery act as catalyst.  It's not just the mantra, not just looking on.  We have to participate.  There's a release in this that is nearly boundless."

     "I'm game."

     "Me too."

     "Let's try for it."

     Art took a hit from the nutmeg and ginger and felt his head go off in 3 directions.  The others inhaled from the pipe and felt Justin's concentrate grow clearer, sharper, more defined.  There was a terrible aspect about the assembled here at the brink of being thrust into the coming wave of evolution.  Perhaps there was terror, Justin thought, perhaps the nostalgia for their active role in evil.

     "Who's going to be the guinea pig?  I think you ought to volunteer, Ralphie boy.  You're the one that's anxious to screw around with our heads.  Go ahead, Ralph."

     "I'm too stoned.  And too cautious."

     "Shit man, I'll do it."

     One of Ralph's brown friends was speaking.  He was tall and thin with an immense Afro and beaded shirt.  Justin Price wondered what force he represented.  Certainly satanic.

     "Here, Art.  Take this."

     Justin pulled an index card from the bookshelf and handed it over.  It contained his type-written mantra.  He cleared a space at the center of the spiral carpet and sat knee to knee with Ralph's friend.  There was a certain defiance in the almond eyes, a will to stare Justin down and usurp his role as messiah.  Justin reflected on this but knew it was almost too easy.

     "Everyone else join hands in the adept's position.  A half lotus.  The way Christa's sitting.  Link hands and focus your attention on an imaginary column connecting the gaps between our eyes, the calm center.  Breathe slowly and deeply and quiet all thought.  Art, reject that record.  Thank you."

     TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATIONS on the Denon stereo and Harrison's WONDER-WALL on the GE portable.  The calm over the guests and fixing his eyes on the agent's pupils.  Time slowed with his sinking into trance.  Each note finally lasted a lifetime, each chord a billion years.  Tears of joy were streaming down Justin's face as he heard at last the chant.  Heard the chant and the forces united in the energy up his spine, through his eyes and out toward the brown man, the agent, whose eyes contracted with the words and then opened purely, surprisingly, clearly, to reveal his soul, the purity of his soul with the light between their eyes, and the aura over their heads, clear light, calm, the light of Platonic forms, light, sacred light of his mission.  He heard the chant.  Heard the words  of the mantra.

     "I am David Black V.  I accept no lesser mantra.  I am the unity of divisibility and indivisibility.  I am synthesis, Adam the Son.  I am Buddha and Christ, Satan and God, Shiva, Shakti.  I am David, the beloved white black man.  I accept no lesser mantra.  I am messiah, Antichrist.  I am Teilhard's Omega Point.  Thousands shall know within moments.  I am resolution.  I am the fusion of good and evil."

     The light emerged from the pupils that linked them and the space at the bridge of their nose.  The gap between their eyebrows was the calm center of evolution.  The light emerged in 3 columns as they wept at spiritual concord.  The chanting came on in waves throughout the assembled, and they felt the communion among them as one vast column of energy that whirled aloft from the spiraled rug and the circle of joined hands.  Suddenly almond eyes fell back jerking and moaning against the rug.  A brown girl bolted from the room.  The spell was broken.  All but Justin Price were irrevocably helpless pawns.  There was no other way for him to interpret what had taken place.  Again he was deprived of the Omega Point.  And how much longer, he thought, my dearest Lord?

     "Catherine, come on back here, honey.  What's the matter with you?"

     "George man, what was it?  Stop that moaning now this minute.  You have Catherine all upset.  What was it, man?  Come now, chill down.  Everything's cool."

     "I saw him.  I saw God.  Oh God, I saw my God."

     "What is he like, man?  What did you see?"

     "Did he have a beard?  Was he white?"

     "It was God.  It was like God.  Or something else.  Oh, let me look again.  I'm sorry, Professor Price.  Let me look again."

     "There's small hope for you, my friend.  Small hope indeed."

     "Just one more time."

     "You're damned.'

     Forest, the prime agent of the great Walt Whitman, gathered his cape to go.

 

 

On a bright clear day, the Lord's day, the first day, Sunday, Justin stirred from his trance to hear her call him, her voice from some remoteness down deep below him, below the hardwood and the bed, and he was comforted by the glass and frame, by the mirror, the dresser, the wall, and by her voice, her resonant voice which called him.  He found clothes and dressed slowly, pulling the garments over his regal skin, descending, pulling on his black turtleneck at the last, finding with the swing of the door on the hinges that the living room was indeed in reality, peopled by Christa, by Anna, by Art and Sharon.  Their luggage was there at the card table.  There was the lingering smell of food.  Art and Sharon were dressed for the world beyond the windows.  Yes, it was the day they were to pass out of his life and mission.  Justin went to each of them and embraced fondly and then stood back in his most majestic pose, feeling the energy of the surfaces in the bright light from the windows.  He knew that it was important they should receive the best final impression, for their goal was distant over paths uncertain, a tunnel through the void, vast and intricate, and they would wish to carry their message to the remaining creatures of this immensely curtailed universe.  And so he posed for them, regally, leg thrust out and hand on his hip, arm upraised to the trapped ceiling souls.

     "Well, we might as well get started."

     "Are you sure you know the way?"

     "It's no real hassle."

     They helped Sharon and Art carry their luggage down to the metallic blue conveyance and stood by while they slipped it in over the front seat and went through the final preparations of uncapping some Ripple for the trip.  Art offered Justin the bottle, and he took a small sip while the sunlight and shade mottled his hand against the dark green glass.  There was little discord among them.  The vibrations were long protracted undulations like the surf on a calm day.  It was difficult not to weep at the sunlight through the thin upraised imploring hands of the oaks, the draped decadence of the pines.

     "Lucky bastard.  Monday morning you'll be sitting around with your thumb up your ass getting wasted, and I'll be schlepping at A&W for the next semester.  How long does he have, Christa?"

     "Monday a week.  But the grades have to be in Thursday."

     "The Thursday they speak of will never come."

     "No, you'll be too damned tripped out to find it."

     "Why don't you let them grade themselves?"

     "It will never come.  Thursday will never come."

     "Well you better get to it.  We don't want a couple poor relatives on our backs.  I guess you know what you're doing.  Well, so long, Justin.  And don't freak the whole way out."

     There was something lacking in the ethereal presence of that morning.  Something necessary and urgent to settle all discord.  The lulling wave would last them throughout their voyage if only Justin could provide that element.  The car.  The conveyance.  It was a product of the mechanico-monster Volkswagen.  Certainly when they were swallowed  by its recesses it would take them astray to the darker regions.  There they would be severed, minced, horribly mutilated, cast in the role of agents of the carnivore force.  There needed to be a blessing of sorts, a kind of baptismal rite which would transform the vehicle into an innocuous form of transportation, a conveyance no longer dependent on the consumption of oil and gasoline for its motivating force.  He searched for the proper rite in the recesses of his inner void.  Time was running short.  He saw the helpless, hapless countenance of his friends, who were soon to be swallowed by the steel and glass and vinyl, never to return, never to share in the glory of his mission.  At last it became clear.  Justin edged over to the fender and reached into his fly to draw out his wrinkled penis.  He held it there, fondled it, while clouds of steam descended from his nostrils like tendrils of cosmic energy to join the purity of his organ.  The stream was a yellow track across the light powder and onto the metallic blue.  Justin stood there with it hanging out, proud of its proportions.  It felt cool against the foreskin.  There would be no accidence.

     "Jesus, you're evil."

     Sharon's face was flushed and averted as she climbed in behind the wheel.  Art's only comment was laughter and a track of Ripple on the snow.  Justin hoped his efforts would not be cancelled.  He was quite unsure.

     "So long, you all.  Love you."

     The Volkswagen backed out over the powder and packed snow and turned left on the bared space from the Frisbee contest.  Justin waved as they passed out of view, out of time and space, out of reality.  Their only hope was that the tunnel didn't lead to the maw of the mechanico-monster or the hunger-bellied void.  He reached down and squeezed his penis and felt somewhat more secure.  He turned slowly to Christa at the kitchen porch.

     "I don't know what I'm going to do without them."

     "You can start by stuffing that back in your pants."

     "Man's flesh?"

     "It's not pretty."

 

 

Within the house Anna was at the kitchen table, her face down into a comic book, infecting her soul with the frozen images of satanic figures clothed in innocent form.  Justin hoped it wasn't Casper this time, or Wendy the good little witch.  There was power enough in Anna without her being exposed to the fiendish machinations of those invidious tools, creations, agents, in the scheme to subvert the minds of children.  He left her there at the table and entered the living room.  It was time for him to present himself in full glory.  He dropped his trousers and shorts.  There was a dark urine stain where the shorts had slipped past his organ.  He knew that he hadn't gathered up his testicles when shaking off the last drops from the baptismal rite.  The trousers and shorts lay as a patch against the chevrons of the rug, mingled together in twin concertinas at the holes where his feet had been.  He dropped his field jacket and turtleneck beside them and walked proudly back and forth, tensing his thighs to show the majesty of each long leg.

     "That's the last time I want you to expose yourself.  It was bad enough at the party.  It was funny this time to Art, but I'm sure he was just as embarrassed."

     She collected his cast off garments and laid them on the Indian spread under the painting.

     "Would you like your robe?"

     It was a difficult question.  He felt his own nobility in the unclothed form, but the robe itself was a radiant garment, fit for his purpose and mission.

     "Maybe it's best."

     Justin leaned down to some felt pens scattered beside the striped chair and picked up one in violet.  She brought him the robe and held it while he slipped in his arms with dignity and bearing.  He stood straight while she buttoned the front.  Her vibrations were calm and lulling.  She was performing according to her capacity.  The robe was tan and black in ancient Aztec pattern, and he could feel the presence of its former owner, perhaps the husband of their landlady, certainly an august personage.  He strutted across the rug, thighs tensed and briefly visible below the buttons, entered the bathroom and stood at the sink.  Above in the mirror he felt his reflection.  It was hard to hold the distance with no central mark to guide him.  Raising the violet marker, he made a dot 3 widths of the tip on the mirror glass.  He matched it with one between his eyebrows.

     "Try to keep it clean in there."

     "Bathrooms are the essence of decadence.  There is nothing impure about our body wastes.  We emerge from childhood with a lost playfulness about our urine and excrement.  We should hope in our enlightened state to recapture it.  And even further back to when the first turd was a gift.  The ancients knew the value of excrement . . . "

     "What now, Justin?  Please be quiet, will you?

     Justin stared into the mirror, aligning the 3 dots of the glass, his face, and the reflection.  The energy coupled with it, and he could feel the waves of power build with the ascending presence of the reflection and his body.  Through the 3 dots a tendril of flesh emerged to link the 2 Justins, and along it coursed the blood of their cosmic mating.  Centuries passed as the room went out of focus.  Then tiny cracks appeared, radiating from the dot on the mirror surface.  He reached forward and rapped lightly.  The mirror exploded.  He stared down at the splinters on his knuckles.

     "Justin?  Oh Justin, what next?  Come here this instant."

     "It was the energy.  Our presence was too great for it."

     "Your knuckles.  Let me get you a Band-Aid."

     She swung back the broken mirror and pulled out a white canister.  With the water over his fingers, the splinters descended to the wreckage in the drain.  He was renewed with see-through plastic and white gauze pads.  The violence was finally sanctified.  He looked down at Christa bending over the shards and filling the waste basket.

     "Come.  Out now.  You can read the Sunday paper.  I'll fix you some coffee and a nice breakfast.  Come on, Justin.  I'll finish this later."

     "I have to relieve myself."

     "In the toilet, Justin.  In the toilet."

     "Whatever you say."

     "Thank you."

     She leaned her head back for a kiss, and he licked her lips.  She recoiled and wiped them on the back of her hand.  She leaned down again and cleared the sink of glass.  He noticed that her hands, in fact, her whole body, was trembling.

     "That was uncalled for.  I wonder if you even love me.  Look at this mess."

     "I love everything.  Everything equally."

     "Well, hurry up now."

     She ran a hand over his head and drew him down to her bosom.  Disappeared.

     The turd was long in coming with the enamel cool against his buttocks and hands when he leaned back, his lower torso naked against the sink.  Then he felt it emerge with his sphincter muscles relaxing, a cool chill up his back from the heat of the emerging stool.  There was no stain even on the first sheets of toilet paper, which he flushed after careful study.  The stool lay smooth and firm against the chromium drain.  He knew she would love this display.  By force of the miraculous he could detect not the slightest glass where it lay.  Their relationship would enter a new particular phase as the moment drew near for his messiahship.  Like all mothers she would show such delight.  He lowered his bathrobe and entered the living room regally, upright, each footstep a careful ritual.  All sacrifice was lost to the shards of glass on the floor and the throne of his relief now waiting her fond attentions.  No more sacrifice, no pain.  The turd lay in the drain.  Selah.

 

 

He knew it still existed, though while hunting it had his misgivings.  There under a stack of Anna's drawings was the primal, 3-spiral figure.  Through some force strange to him it curled as he pulled it out, and he had to hold it flat on his lap until the saw the Elmer's Glue.  Here was a substance which would fuse 2 beings and hold them together for eternity.  He chose the VERKLAERTE NACHT album for its flat black opposite surface, perfect for the figure, a means to make it live.  Carefully, each strand of glue a ritual, he spread the white substance over the white surface with the spirals showing through vaguely, then set the plastic bottle on the card table and adhered the drawing to the album back.  The 3 whirling forces held him there transfixed as he smoothed them down, and only with difficulty was he able to set the mandala and album, a joint being now, up on the stand beside the television, to turn the set to a blank channel, to ease himself back in the chair, his legs extended, feet spread in a V, feet spread and finally glowing with the rays from the tube and the V of the mandala as he held the spiral pattern in his brain equal to the television screen, to his feet, and to the pattern on the album back.  He held them there, the sole being now in existence, for his wife and daughter had been swallowed up by the conveyance, the Buick, and were on their way most likely to the Gardeners, a pocket of reality perhaps, but more likely a canceled pocket, lost to the void, no matter how earnest Christa's pathetic little note had been.

     Within minutes he was the force of evolutionary movement.  The calm center pulsed with primordial life.  He was Father Mother Son, Creation Preservation Transformation, the trinal fount of all discursive reality.  He was convinced they would not return.  With the energy mounting there would be a drain even on the pockets.  All life would cease to exist.  All movement would be an illusion.  He would freeze the world at the Omega Point and release it when cleansed to continue unhindered by dichotomies.  He was the calm center, the resolution of good and evil.

     Trinal light emanated from the screen.  The pattern had appeared on its surface.  He extended the mandala to his breasts and navel to complete the number 5.  His number.  Plato's number.  The unity of divisibility and indivisibility.  He was the black white man, Adam the red first man.  He could feel the color glowing on his shoulders, breasts, and belly.  It was the sign his mission was nearly completed.  Energy whirled and buffeted him from every configuration within the living room.  A cosmic battle was underway among every conceivable opposition.  The forces of darkness were contending with the forces of light.  The material world in cosmic travail.  It would soon settle at the Omega Point.  Harmony would radiate outwards from the 5 sources of the spirals, from his feet, from his breasts and navel, from his brain and pineal gland, from the television, from the pattern on the album back.  The winds would cease.  All Creation would breathe hosanna.  All Creation would breathe.

     Suddenly the spirals on the cathode tube melted into vague white and reemerged embodying an image.  German troops of the First World War were storming a trench.  The British were beaten back.  Incredible losses.  A standard bearer, pale face, thin clipped moustache, was dying on the threshold of safety.  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.  There was a close-up on the mustachioed face.  Something red and pulsing reminded Justin of his own identity but was gone before he could remember.  The screen was whirling again in the spirals, then blank, then covered with other images.  He knew at last that this was the symbolic content of the war among cosmic forces.  All men were agents involved in endless carnage.  He was viewing 10 billion years of strife in the series of flickering scenes, scenes transferred from his brain by means of the spiral mandala.

     The next scene he recognized at once.  SS men marching before a platform of officials.  The hand high Nazi salute.  A blond girl probably 19.  Her knit suit and black armband.  She was leaning over the reviewing stand and handing flowers to children.  Eva Mahler.  His former incarnation.  He felt yearning for her.  The equality among the 5 was lost, and the image finally faded.  He sat back overwhelmed.  He was yet unfit for Teilhard's Omega Point.  He had to suffer for loving Hitler above the Semite children.  She died in 1940 to be reborn Justin Price.  She left him frightening karma.  He had to burn the seeds irrevocably.

     He whirled like a dervish on the rug, the bleak pastels of the morning light merging with the spirals and the wood paneled ceiling.  The knots above were genitals, breasts and navels.  They burned down on him mercilessly, and he spun around and around, the walls drifting past, endlessly, as his soul received its proper nourishment.  He spun across the rug against the card table and felt it overturn.  He sucked on a table leg.  The wood purified his mouth.  He fondled the other 3.  So many emasculated and lost for sensual gratification.  Damned for eternity.

 

 

He lay there on the rug, his mind at last stilled and calm.  He felt the rays from the cathode tube together with the light from the windows, felt them play across his naked body offered up to the lacquered wood.  He rolled over in a vast calm lulling wave of time and lay face down into the chevrons, full of their force and significance, all the energy which had gone into providing this comfort to his feet and now his face, to his chest and belly, his genitals and thighs, his knees, to that whole expanse of living breathing being he constituted at last in his purified state.  There remained but one ritual.  He would lie in the grass in eternal spring, and the children would bring him presents.  There remained but one ritual, and he gathered up slowly, languidly, to his knees, gracefully to his feet, regally to stride across the chevrons, the hardwood, the tile of the bathroom floor.  To admire himself in what was left of the mirror and at last to look down.  Down to the sink, to the beautiful loving turd.

     There is a note:  "Please dispose of, Justin."  No hint when or where.  A note of encouragement from the cosmic forces aligned with his mission, those powers of light and of darkness who have chosen to side with his rebirth as Adam the red man Son.  The paper is crisp and fresh, the message loving.  He drops it carefully in the waste can and looks down again at the turd.  There is a slight line or indentation left from the note, but otherwise it is perfect in form and aspect, fresh and beautiful, just as it was when it slipped so pleasantly from his bowels.  He runs his index finger over the texture and lifts his hand and tastes.  It has a flavor finer than the armpits of Whitman, just the right hint of the Absolute, no more, no less than a thread of divinity.  He looks up again to the few shards left of the mirror.  The face is kindly, the eyes gentle in their intensity.  It is the face of a kind father, a loving God.  He touches his finger to the turd and lifts a smudge of excrement to his teeth to rub against them.  The effect is not unpleasing.  But he has delayed long enough.  Angels and Archangels await his rebirth, their patience long exhausted.  He lifts the turd in its entirety and works it into his groin, shuddering with delight as it squeezes through his fingers.  He lifts it to his hair, his lips, his eyes, and works it in, massaging the skin gently, subtly, covering every particle of his body with excrement, even to the spaces between his toes.  How lovely.  How beautifully peaceful.

     In the mirror at last he looks a spectacle, his hair twisted out in peaks, his skin uniformly brown.  Nevertheless there is a majesty in his appearance which he is quick to notice, in the pink lips pouting, the blue of the eyes, the darker open nostrils.  If only the forces of good and evil would grant him one wish it would be to approach the heavenly throne in this condition, as the brown man, Justin Price V.  He knows that it is wisest to leave the residue on for a period of time that it might enter the pores and contribute to a final purification.  He knows that the forces of light and darkness are contending at this moment to wrest the throne from his grasp, and he knows at the same time that as long as he is thus prepared and adorned no harm can come his way, no malignant spirit can possess his soul.

 

 

It was necessary to baptize all surfaces witnessing his rite.  He turned on the faucet and watched the clear white liquid descend the drain from a rippling pool over the chromium.  The pool expanded, and he dipped his brown hands into it, feeling the chill of the water.  It was consecrated, rendered holy by the dark of his skin.  All that remained was to lift the water out and scatter it in long arcs against the walls, the floor, the ceiling.  Shrieking with delight, he cast the water about, spinning, turning, adjusting to the correspondent waves of energy from the surfaces.  To have neglected this act would have been to have invited cancer, ugly invidious rays of cancer-producing energy from the trapped souls who had watched his performance.  At last the walls were saturated with holy water, the floor a rectangular puddle.  He entered the bathtub and closed the plastic curtain.  He was pleased with the stains his feet made on the porcelain.  No one could contest his magnificent presence.

     Under the shower he felt the pure needles stabbing him with blue white clarity, cleansing him of his ablutions.  There were voices in the water, trapped souls emerging from the nozzle.  Rippling down his body, the spirits sucked at every pore to take the last of the stain.  "Aren't you glad you use Dial?"—over and over like a sacred mantra.  He lathered the 3rd and final time and dropped to his knees to swing over back down on the slick enamel, the jets of water pumping his upraised belly.  The names for everything—shower stall, bathroom, toilet, towel rack—were misleading to the ordinary soul who saw them solely in terms of their mundane function.  To move the towel an inch to the left on the chromium bar could upset the energy patterns and bring disease from radiation.  Flushing the toilet in the middle of a thought could damage one's karma irrevocably.  Without a purified equal love for all these named things, the real source of their operation, the spiritual force that underlay the operation of any mechanico-apparatus such as a water closet, could send waves of death and disfiguration.  The day, the hour, was near at hand.  Suddenly the shower curtain opened.  He saw unmistakably a hand and face.  She was still alive.

     "I see you cleaned out the sink.  What's the water doing all over the place?"

     "The water is there to calm the influence from the void.  I acted quickly, and now I'm safe."

     "Justin, I hope you'll understand, but I think you're suffering from a major breakdown.  I suspected it for some time.  Maybe you charmed me so much I thought you were sane.  I hope you won't think badly of me, but I stopped off at Evelyn's.  He's concerned, Justin.  Ever since the party.  He said he's been through these things before.  He gave me the name of a doctor in Madison.  I think you'd better go."

     "I'm not going to Pavlov.  You can't trap me."

     "Well do as you see fit.  But if you get violent we leave."

     He could see her kneel on the floor with a bath towel, kneel through the undulations of plastic to mop the floor, to wring the water out in the toilet.  Visage of his daughter there—another agent.  Perhaps Mary, mother Mary full of ice.  Christa was Christ, the other one the Virgin.  They were conspiring to cheat him of the final resolution.  He reached up to the edge of the shower curtain and ripped it off.  He wrapped it carefully around him.  Christa was staring, crying.

     "We're taking the paper upstairs now.  Just leave us alone."

     "I would have given you everything."

     "Just leave us alone.  That's all I care about."

 

 

As he climbed the stairs he felt the rubber carpet in ribs against his yet damp feet.  The energy was building with each step.  He looked down at the patches of red on his forearms and shoulders and between his breasts.  There was a further patch above his navel, a sign of his spiritual progress.  It was going to be difficult, what he had prepared himself for, leaning back against the tile wall and breathing slowly in the proper ratio.  All his karma would militate against the rite of their purification.  They would appeal to his role as father.  As unwitting agents they would resist the metaphorical propriety of his act.  Only in the end would their eyes open to the beauty of their union.  He climbed slowly, setting his feet down in perfect harmony with the powers of light that crept up through the rubber ribs.  Each step was the thrust of his mission toward a destination into which they would all turn when they found him unassailable.  He placed his hand firmly on the white banister and turned across the hardwood.  They looked so much like Christa and Anna lying beyond the doorframe on the white ribbed lilac spread.

     "Leave us alone now, Justin.  Can't we have a minute's peace and quiet?  Don't you see?  You're scaring her."

     He stood naked against the edge of the double bed and stared down at the newsprint and cartoons against the lilac.  He would need the lamp on for the energy.  He circled the foot of the bed and turned the switch.  The ersatz Christ was looking at him over the edge of the Woman's Section.  She was Eve or Eve's agent and the pawn of the suffering Christ.  And Anna?  She was lost in the machinations of Mary Worth.  The Virgin Mother.  The cold unassailable Mary.  The incarnation of all that was rigid and pure.  He would mate them with a lock of his elbows.

     "Stop lying on me, Justin.  Take your arm off my neck."

     "Stop it, Daddy.  I'm getting all squishy."

     He had his whole weight on them, and their faces were red from the force of his arms that brought their heads together.  He breathed into them the pure air of his inviolate lungs and held a spiral over each scalp, 3 halos of churning light.  Christa was the Son, the giving one Christ who had made a virtue of self-sacrifice and was unable to receive the flow of love except as suffering, who had breathed love out in a gracious flow but had contracted horribly to suck it back in as pain.  There on the Cross she hung distorted, Christ the immortal sufferer who had sucked in thousands to follow her.

     And Anna was Mary the Virgin Mother, Mary the frozen wonder who could only receive love to trap it in her crystalline purity and let none out in return.  Christa the giver Christ.  Anna the receiver Mary.  The breath of Christ was foul from its entrapment in suffering.  Anna recoiled.  But he forced their lips together in a lock of iron until the energy passed between them.  The giver was receiving, the receiver giving.  Each of them was sucking in energy trapped by the other.

     "Release and accept.  Release and accept.  We are the holy union of the primordial 3.  I witness your transformation."

     Their appeal to his earthly role was hardest to resist, that he might be killing them.  If only they would stop struggling, his mission would be complete.  He felt the rays of warmth from the lamp beside the bed.  It fed him the energy he needed in 5 hours of frozen time, in billions of years, to subdue their final rebellion.  At last they lay limp in his arms, and the divine marriage was consummated. The turbulence between the spirals of the Mother and Son had calmed.  They were no longer helpless agents of 2 of the greatest malignant powers to influence the cosmic travail.  As they let him determine their fate, their faces ground into his own.  When the last tremors of fear and struggle had passed, he relaxed his grip and baptized the bedspread.  The urination felt final coming out.  He knew they would approve.  There were no more agents in the domicile Messiah.

 

 

He felt quite calm.  Infinitely relaxed.  Certainly he was prepared.  To ascend the throne.  The rites had been completed.  There was no more left of the universe.  Just this cottage.  He inhaled.  Savored a thought.  Held it.  Savored a thought.  Exhaled.  Savored a thought.  The striped chair felt indescribably comfortable.  The footrest was warm on his legs.  He inhaled.  There on the stand was the television.  Tuned to a blank station.  The mandala leaned against the wall.  His feet extended in a V.  He held it.  The images were not clear.  He exhaled.  Christa stood just to his right.   And behind him.  Figures appeared.  On the screen.  Imprecise.  He gave it his last effort.  To the mandala.  Through his feet and brain and belly.  To transfer it.  To the screen.  And the images emerged sharper and then disappeared.

     "It's a distant station, Justin."

     "But there were no commercials."

     He reached up to her and took her breasts to his face.  She was a purified Christ, but the forces were still there, however subtle, to twist her reason.  He would have to treat her gently to nurse her back to life from the terror of being a tool.  But there was time for that, infinite time.  They had the whole future of existence ahead to live in calm and propriety.  There would be innocent rites, hymns to Creation, to Preservation, to Transformation.  Their children would sing.  Anna Magdalena the first.  Timothy Leary the 2nd.  Stephanie Maria the 3rd.  Johann Sebastian the 4th.  Johnathan Edwards the 5th.  And the resolution, the 6th—Stefan Christ Lucifer.  They would gather at the calm center and scatter flowers.  Forever.

     "You will some day believe me, Christa."

     "Why don't you come to bed?  You just can't stay up like this."

     "I need neither sleep nor food.  Just these cathode rays.  Can't you feel their energy?"

     "You're tired, Justin.  I can see the lines in your face.  There's a rash on your body.  Come to bed.  Get some sleep.  In the morning I'll fix you a nice breakfast."

     "What's the noise up the staircase?"

     "She's grinding her teeth.  Play with her tomorrow.  Tell her you're sorry and maybe some of the damage will pass.  Good night, Justin.  And take care."

     She leaned past him to turn off the television, and he caught her wrist and bent it.  Tears formed in her eyes as he let go.  She went out to the kitchen and then disappeared up the stairs.

     He was soon up and whirling.  His arms out majestically, he went round and round on the spiral rug with the cathode light feeding him across the darkness.  All the surfaces were painted a ghostly white, which fell into tremors as his gaze swung by in his turning.  The knots in the ceiling fed him power as he spun the last to fall on the carpet, his hands outstretched in the figure of crucifixion.  He raised up to his knees and gathered up coins from the card table.  A penny between his eyebrows, dimes at his hands and feet, a quarter at his navel.  The metal distributed the coursing energy from the television.  He felt the focused energy prepare him for the onslaught of forces whirling without.  Past the windows were churning disks of fire, the saucers of the powers.  They passed close to the cottage, then spun off into the void.  A great battle had ensued over the privilege of destroying the upstart.  He held the mandala at every coin, felt the energy burning through them, felt them protect him from the saucers.  He searched for words that might ensure his salvation, his final triumph over the forces of darkness and light shrieking past the windows, a mantra which would preserve him from their cancerous rays.

     "I love everything.  I love everything.  I love everything."

     Nothing could destroy universal love.

     The saucers were thinning out.  The heat turned on from the bowels of the cellar.  The cottage was charged with the failing light from the defeated troops of Satan and God.

     But somehow they had entered the room.  He could feel the poisonous radiation from his shoulders to his knees.  He gathered himself up slowly and knelt on the carpet.  Needles of energy played across his chest and belly.  They would try to castrate him.  He grasped his genitals.  Within feet was the Christmas tree, silver pine devoid of ornaments.  He had wanted to throw it out days ago, but they had conspired to let it remain.  He would act quickly before it fried him to a crisp.

     "I love everything.  I love everything.  I love everything."

     He crouched low and then raised full length to throw himself against the bushy plague.  Needles stabbed him.  The energy melted away against his skin.  Repeating the mantra in an ascending chant, he gathered the tree against his naked body and walked out through the kitchen, the metal stand scraping on the rug and linoleum.  He had the door open.  The bright chill air and the moonlight struggled with his attempt to cleanse the house.  He reached the edge of the porch and fell forward onto packed snow against the tree, the needles digging in.  Rolling over in the cold and chanting.  At last the tree was still.  He sat on the chill concrete and plucked the needles from his skin.  There were flecks of blood scattered across his torso.  The last needle to leave was imbedded in an eyelid.

 

 

He returned to the only reality remaining in existence, the only pocket of glowing sentience in the void, returned to the kitchen, tensing each long leg, advancing with requisite majesty becoming his life and mission.  With one sure movement of the switch the kitchen blazed bright yellow.  With another movement it was plunged into blue-gray shadow.  He flicked the switch on and off, alternately creating life and death, giving and taking, just as it was his alone to give and take, the only living God.  He entered the living room and sat on the Indian spread.  The light from the cathode bathed his majestic form.  He recognized and blessed each small configuration, each segment of reality and its sentience.  Where he looked he imparted life.  Where he failed to look reality passed into nonexistence.  Each of the configurations was communing with him, sharing his lofty thought, responding with non-discursive approval.  A sweep of his eyes and life swept into being, to love and exist for eternity, the eternity of his gaze.  He looked down, down to the scars on his hands.  He was Christ, but he was the living loving Christ, and he would never have to suffer, never have to die a divine being on the throne of pain.  Only when God became a man, only then.

     The light began as a point in his inner brain, a bright piercing point, clear and white but bright with the intensity of a magnesium flare, light searing a point in his brain with unbearable intensity.  He glanced first at the television for the source of the radiance and then the bookshelf and then the empty space over the scattered pine needles.  He was certain there was a source of such brilliance, such unmitigated pain.  The point stabbing him with the heat of 10,000 candles, burning his brain, was so small, so tiny, so purely a locus as to be nonexistent.  And he sought again in the room for the source of his sudden agony.  While the point spread, the light increased, he staggered to his feet, attempted to spin, lost his balance, and fell to his knees, clutching his head.  The light was unbearable.  It consumed his skull.  His mind was exploding with the light of magnesium, of a thousand suns, engulfing his throat, his lungs, his belly, his genitals.  Engulfing his body with light, his whole body, the entire void within in shattering brilliance coupled with pain.

     He was feeling the presence of God.  He was feeling the unrelenting brilliance, the glory and majesty of the Creator.  He was being punished for his impudence.  Soon, very soon, the radiance would burn his body and soul to ash.  His wife would emerge from the stairwell in the morning to find him consumed by his own arrogance.  He had no right to approach the throne in his fallen condition.  The Omega Point was hopelessly distant.  He was alone in existence with none as shield from the relentless majesty of Jehovah.

     "Lord, I am not worthy.  Lord, I am not worthy."

     Crouching on the spread, he heard his voice explode into the awful presence, could hear it shatter the silence of the void, and with the sound of his voice came the first release from the light.  He knew then that he wasn't alone, that even God himself was following his mission, that he had chosen not to destroy him because, as the light receded and Justin looked down into the shadow and the surrounding scorched cloth, he was alone capable of altering the course of evolution, that as man he was indeed the resolution of good and evil, just as the God he moved toward to complete, to incorporate, to enclose.  After centuries of torment the light at last relented.  He turned toward the rocking chair and lowered his forearm.

     "You must sleep, Justin.  Tomorrow we'll call the doctor."

 

 

Leaning forward, elbows against her knees, her long brown hair flecked in gray.  Leaning forward all too innocently as if she were consumed by suffering.  Leaning forward in the mockery of grief, her back racked by sobbing.  But it was forced.  Here was an agent again just when he knew that the 5 hours he had held her on the bed had cleansed her from the grip of satanic forces.  She was wearing translucence, fiber of the Fall.  Embodiment of Eve who had brought it on.  Just when he was certain that he had garnered the sympathy of Jehovah, she had appeared to drive God's presence off, to leave him alone in his mission.  And now she was speaking of physicians, attempting to hand him on to Pavlov.  He could tell from her hideously distorted aspect that she was Eve the serpent eater.

     "You're all woman.  You're Eve.  You brought us to our knees to grovel in the blood of our carnage.  You ate of the apple and cursed us with good and evil.  It is my mission to merge the 2 and return to the blessed garden, and you tempt me again with your malignant instructions to lean on the tree of Pavlov."

     "Justin, please stop.  Please stop.  I'm not against you.  I love you.  I don't know what's been going on these last days.  I've examined it and examined it.  There's so much truth to what you've said, and I find it hard not to relinquish my will and let you continue.  But I have to think of Anna.  What you need is sleep.  You need rest and quiet.  Come to bed now."

     "Good and evil.  Eve the cancerous smother woman.  The castrater.  The vindictive one.  I hate you beyond all forces, for you are the most unforgivable.  Ancient one, get thee behind me.  You suck the cock of Satan."

     "Don't touch me.  Don't touch me."

     "I am Adam the red man.  I am first man Adam.  I am messiah.  I am Antichrist.  Incline your head and show me the proper reverence."

     "Please stop, Justin."

     He had her by the neck and was forcing it down to his buttocks, down to where the gray-flecked hair tickled his sensitive skin.  There was nothing forthcoming.  He threw her back against the rocking chair to watch her face age incredibly in a matter of seconds, eaten by the cancer-producing agents of the forbidden fruits.  The aged face was contorted by false grief.  He praised the forces of destiny that he would never die.  And she would have given him on to Pavlov, curse her soul.

     "Justin, please.  Please come to bed."

     "Billions of years of suffering.  Burning in fire.  Mashed by teeth.  Castrated, maimed.  Billions of children in this pulsing world of carnage.  All because of you, woman.  Woman.  Woman.  You are no better than the force itself.  As agent you are despicable.  Ask for forgiveness and perhaps you'll be released."

     "But I don't need forgiveness.  I need peace."

     "Let me take your head on my belly.  Come here, my daughter."

     He held her close and chanted nonsense syllables until the light from her brain mingled with the currents of his navel, until the poisons of her agent-hood were canceled by the coursings of purity.  He released her in silence, and she crossed to the kitchen and reached in a jar for some Christmas cookies she had baked for her family.  It was an act of incredible tenderness that she could think even then of his welfare, that he had hardly eaten in days, that perhaps she could tempt his appetite with a few simple treats, even through her fear, even through her bewilderment and grief, not knowing whether he was truly insane or in fact a kind of messiah, not knowing whether to call a doctor and have him examined or whether in fact it was her right to call anyone, to interfere.  Justin himself was unaware of her thoughts and unaware she was bringing him something to eat.  To him she had passed briefly out of sight and was lost to reality as he focused on the empty chair.  He saw her reenter and pause by the card table and re-ascend the steps.  He saw her climbing in the moonlight and then turned to the table.  There were magic cookies lying on the surface, a special mixture of cosmic ingredients which could cleanse his teeth of imperfection and make him further fit for his role.  He took them in his mouth and chewed for 7 hours.  The world lay still and sanctified in the moonlight.  All was forgiven.

 

 

"I've won.  5 spaces put me in Dr. Possum."

     "It's not fair.  Mommy, he always wins."

     "It's just a game, sweetheart.  Daddy doesn't feel badly about you.  Why don't you play with your plastic?"

     Anna reached beyond him to the box.

     "We'll make animals, Daddy.  Let's see who can make the prettiest.  I go first.  I think I'll take green."

     The liquid plastic oozed from the tube to the tip of the straw.  A thick globule of glistening cement.  She held it to her lips and blew.  Suddenly life emerged, pulsing consciousness embodied in plastic.  She had given the lifeless mass the breath of life.  There was much to be learned from this lovely child.  They would animate the world when the forces had died without.  With a red plastic straw the dead would rise and shout the messiah's hosanna.  He waited impatiently while she blew and shaped and cast it on the bed.  It lay there waiting to be named, like the first of Adam's creatures.  Tears welled in his awestruck eyes.

     "What do you think it is, Daddy?"

     "You give it name, my Anna."

     "Ah, come on.  Guess."

     "A rhinoceros?"

     "Close."

     "An elephant."

     "Almost.  It's a hippopotamus.  See the big mouth?"

     It was his turn.  He chose red plastic to match his Adam's hue.  It would be a chickadee.  Perhaps a lilac.  He would wait for the form to evolve of its own accord.  He puffed on the end and watched the pale bulbs form at the edges, some blossoming out the size of peas before they broke and shriveled up.  He was Adam giving breath to the first of sentient being, giving life, quickening the first of 10,000 creatures to worship him.  It was his turn now.  No one would deprive him.

     "That doesn't look like anything, Daddy."

     If only she wouldn't disturb him.

     "You keep breaking the bubbles."

     "There it is.  Can't you see it?"

     He tore off the plastic and rolled it together in his palm.

     "Can't you recognize it?"

     "It isn't anything.  If it is, you ruined it."

     "It's a brain.  It's giving them thought.  They will be able to think in paradise.  It's a brain, Anna.  Worship it."

     She was starting to back away, tears forming in her eyes. A few steps away and it would be over.  She was backing off terrified when the telephone rang.

     "Just a minute.  Justin, it's for you."

 

 

Could it be that God had called?  Called to offer him some small word of encouragement?  He had felt his presence, crouched there on the spread beside the telephone.  And then he had cleansed Christa.  He remembered the terror of his presence but was eager to now speak to him, to hear that the holy family would be provided for, that groceries would appear on the doorstep, that money would be deposited in their account, that all the tendrils tying them to the mundane machine were still there and secure although the machine itself had passed into the void.  Could it be that God had called?  He rushed down the steps to Christa holding the phone.  There was nothing in her features to suggest that she had just spoken to the divine majesty.  There was only worry and fear.  He had been sure she was cleansed, but now her aspect was that of a tool to satanic forces.  Perhaps there on the line was some instrument out of the void, an automaton, a representative of darkness.  One syllable from his lips, and the entire movement would be uprooted, thrust into the bowels of hell.  It was conceivable that that pitiful Timothy Leary would greet him, fried in his approach to the microscopic particles of existence with his voyage through the human brain, to sub-particles, to quanta, to packets of energy, the lowest form of sentient being.

     "It's a trap, Christa.  Tell it to go away."

     "It's the English department secretary.  Now come on."

     That they had taken up the inflection of living voices and were passing themselves off as people he once knew, that this voice would be familiar—he had not anticipated such deviousness.  He held the black receiver and listened to the breathing.  There was nothing he could tell from it, no sign.

     "Justin Price here.  I love you."

     "We love you too, Mr. Price.  This is Alice Tomkins from the English department.  We're just calling to remind everyone to get their grades in.  Also in your case Dr. Forest called and told us that he is coming out for a visit.  Perhaps you could send them in with him.  That's about it, Professor Price."

     "Whose agent are you?  Admit it."

     "Why Dr. Burton's.  Now what seems to be the problem?"

     Reaching out of the past with tendrils of pulsing wire the Bell System was connecting emissaries of evil through this black plastic receiver.  They were trying to entrap him.  To get him to admit that there was life beyond the cottage.  To recognize voices and roles as still having cosmic reality.  He would not be fooled.  He would exorcise this demon with the proper remark.

     "I can smell your breath.  It reeks of excrement."

     "Listen, I'm not going to sit here and take that sort of abuse.  Dr. Burton will hear of this.  And goodbye."

     Christa emerged from the bathroom, drying her hair.  Perhaps she had taken a bath in her faeces.  Perhaps she was trying to usurp his mission.  He leaned forward to smell for evidence.

     "It's about the grade reports, isn't it?"

     "You've used the phone."

     "Not for days."

     "A pseudo-man is coming.  You requested him.  Forest, the agent of Whitman.  He should be dead.  Perhaps he is living."

     "I didn't call Evelyn.  It has to be his own idea."

     "You're in league with him.  He derives his life from you."

     "Justin, perhaps it's good that he comes.  He can take you to Madison to see a physician.  Now don't distrust me.  Either me or Evelyn.  He's your friend.  Accept his judgment."

     "You're both contaminated.  I must eliminate you.  I must go it alone.  I hate this, but you must be sacrificed."

     He was moving slowly as if through viscous threads, the flush of his shoulders spreading across his belly and down to his thighs.  She was gathering Anna toward her, against her side, and moving back through the doorway to the kitchen.  There was death in the frozen world beyond.  He would give her no chance to be reborn.  They had made their last attempt on the messiah.  Not even the cat would be spared.  It was scratching there, right by the door.  It was scratching on the door.  The evil brother Edmund.  Trying to save them.

     "I baptize you in blood."

     He ran forward raining his fists down over their crouched forms by the yellow door.  Up and down and beating their backs and shoulders as they struggled to leave the house.  Eve and the girl god through the crack and out to the porch and beyond.  Into the snow and running down the hill.  Edmund with them.  He slammed the door and exulted.  There was no trace.  They were swallowed by the crystal purity of the snow, lost without hope of salvation.  There was no trace of anything, not even the agent Evelyn.  He leaped up in rapture and embraced himself.  Alone with the end of being.

 

 

While Anna and Christa huddled under a blanket in the subzero weather, Justin inside was convinced that they were gone, absorbed, dead, that what remained of the world would soon be plunged to the temperature of absolute zero to be thawed at his emergence after the Omega Point.  He danced about the house, fondling every surface, feeling the energy tugs from the television, the painting, the walls, feeling one with the configurations left in reality to witness his assumption.  He had to deal now only with the forces themselves, the chain of being from the highest celestial power to the lowest, from God to Satan, the angels of light to darkness.  He knew that in reality there was no distinction between good and evil, that there were only subtle gradations of evil, that all the forces envied the power of God and were waiting for a being strong enough to absorb that power.  It would have to be a corporeal entity who could embody that power, that brilliance, who could absorb the cosmic energy to let it shine through animated matter.  Secretly waiting for 10 billion years for a man-child to be born who incorporated all the relevant archetypes, who could in a flash of insight discover the key to evolution, who would hate God enough and his handiwork to wish to transform it, they were ready just at this moment to descend or ascend to the plane of his existence to help him win the battle.  But they were waiting for a sign.  This being had to hate God the most of all beings or powers.  He had to be the most evil of corporeal entities.  Even Hitler loved God.  Justin Price planted his feet wide on the central spiral of the carpet and raised his arms outwards palms up.  He spun about, his eyes on the knots above, and chanted triumphant blasphemy.

     "Our God is the asshole of Satan.  Our God is the asshole of Satan.  I defy the asshole of Lucifer.  The source of all evil is frozen Jehovah.  I defy the asshole of Lucifer.  Our God sucks Satan's cock."

     He felt them coming from billions of light years distant, felt the rush of wings, the impending doom.  They would try to destroy this upstart, to deny him his mission, to absorb him and his mission to become themselves the Omega Point.  He was merely mortal, and these were the most terrible powers in Creation.  They could quickly pick his brain for the spiral mandala, and there would be a new Adam, a new red man.  And they would deprive the cleansed ones of free will, render them robots.  He would have to prevail.  He would have to absolutely prevail.  He stumbled over to the chair and leaned across to the bookshelf, selecting John Barth's SOTWEED FACTOR at random.  He would confuse them with nonsense, with a nonsense mantra.  He split the book open at places and drew out 5 words, the first to arrest his gaze, 5 words that would repulse the strongest of the powers and bring them closer until the unity of his brain absorbed them.  No individual power would be able to penetrate, and the combined psychic energy whirling about would implode on the hemispheres of his brain and the pineal gland to be absorbed in the trinal spirals.  Then he would have the combined energy of all who had been attracted by his chant and would be ready to assault the ramparts of God himself.  Celestial bodies would wither and fall to the cold white snow to be resurrected at his final coming.  He switched the chant.

     "I am Adam.  I am Adam Christ.  I am Buddha.  I am Buddha Maitreya.  I am Siva Siva son.  I am red man.  I am Firstman.  I am Justin Price V.  I am Synthesis Transformation.  At last the Fortunate Fall.  I will absorb you, angry Jehovah.  I absorb the Son of God."

     He would look for a sign.  The television was his last link to the Creator.  He turned on the set to a traditional channel and settled back on the striped chair.  Soon an image appeared, of an old and distinguished man and his apparent daughter.  Could it be the cosmic throne?  There was a message apparent.  The husband had been unfaithful.  A child by another woman.  Should they adopt it?  The name was Joseph Allen.  The woman Mary Ann.  It was his son.  Justin Price's son.  They would all be his son.  He would impregnate the viewers.  He would fill them with his divinity, and the world would host his progeny.  It was certainly a simpler method than imbuing them with the breath of life, easier and more appropriate.  He wondered if the Virgin Mary had conceived by a similar process, thusly quickened her frozen loins.

     He walked on his knees to before the cathode tube.  The first born would come from his penis.  He masturbated into the glare from the tube and the figures of the afternoon drama.  As he mounted into the final orgasm, a prototype of the great 2nd Coming, a box of detergent flashed across the screen, and a housewife rejected all substitutes.  Tide the Washday Miracle.  Waves of the cosmic rush.  The world was racked by the first man's, Adam's orgasm.

     Cosmic rivulets down the screen.  Wrigglers baked in the blue-white light.

 

 

All was quiet on the packed snow as he descended to the road.  The wind had died with the plants and trees.  There was no sun through the overcast sky that brooded in slate through the patches of white.  The girl god and Jesus had disappeared.  If anything yet lived the message would lie in the yellow mailbox with his name in black letters.  He went naked over the powder and macadam down to the yellow enamel.  The flag was raised.  It was definitely a sign.  He reached in over corrugated tin and drew out a manila envelope.  Postmarked Germany.  A message sent late in November.  And here it was nearly January.  Only a time warp could account for it.  He marched majestically up the road and the incline to the cottage.  The door shut safely behind.  He leaned over the sink and sprinkled water on the envelope to purify it.  Addressed to Miss Anna Price.  Someone beyond this universe was concerned for her welfare.  The code in the words would tell him all there was to know.  But there was no message.  Only a sleigh, deer, and Santa Claus and the title FRÖHLICHE WEINACHTEN.  Embossed in shades of red and tan on a blue sky background.  Doors leading inward with numbers imprinted.  One to 24.  He would open them in sequence.  It was an ordinary Advent calendar greeting, but to Justin it held an ominous significance, particularly with the doors opening from dates, numbers which he construed as the sequence perhaps of his messiahship.  He was anxious, trembling to reach the end.

     Opening the first door revealed a bright red ball.  They knew his Adam's hue.  The 2nd a blue sled.  She had wanted such an instrument for Christmas.  The 3rd a snowman.  The carrot nose was the only sign of life.  The 4th a wreath of holly.  Perhaps they were trying to confuse him.  The 5th a black chimney sweep.  A testimony to his messiahship.  The days were drifting past with each opening of a window.  And it was HIS Christmas.  He would reach forward to the last.  The window of the 24th was dead center on the double sheet.  Justin lay back on the kitchen table and tore the tab off.  Infant so mild.  Lying in a manger. The cosmos had just now informed him of his emergence from the womb of God's rectum into the world of light.

     He straightened up on the table and flexed each long leg.  He descended to the floor and stood his whole length, tensing his thigh muscles, stepping out majestically toward the living room, toward the doorway, toward the Indian spread and the telephone.  He sat down on the spread and stretched his arms out in the most becoming fashion, then converged with his long slender fingers on the black receiver.  God would be there to tell him of the success of his mission, to congratulate him, to urge him to depart for the frozen without and animate all the dead vegetation, the dead souls, to cleanse the agents, to restore the pulsing beauty of life to the purity of God's mind before the Fall.  He was about to lift the receiver when it rang unmistakably, once, thrice, rang 5 times, 6, before he lifted it.  And he waited for the Voice from 10 billion light years distance, the commanding voice, perhaps polite, perhaps now subservient to the one true master.  Hello.  Hello.  Hello.  He could hear the breathing.  Hello.  Hello.  Hello.  Light years away and breathing.  Hello.  Hello.  Hello.

     Hello. Hello.

     "Is that you, Justin?"

     It was a human voice.  Agent or robot, there was life without.  Surely he would announce himself, clarify his intentions.  This was the first human voice he had heard in 10 billion years.  He waited for a sign, the first loving inflection.

     "Justin, are you there?  This is Evelyn."

     Evelyn, the agent of Whitman.  Of all the powers left, one of the mightiest.  One whom he had worshipped.  Terrifying.  He would need to absorb the Poet.  Perhaps if he could see him.

     "Justin, I'm coming out.  Can you hear me?"

     "How far is it?"

     "Just minutes.  Listen, Anna's here.  And Christa.  They're all right, Justin.  You cut Christa's lip, and they both have a number of nasty bruises.  But they're all right.  Upset, yes.  But all right.  They want me to come out.  I'm to take you to a doctor.  Is that all right with you, Justin?"

     "Is Pavlov still there?"

     "Pardon me?"

     "Is Pavlov with you?"

     "No, just Christa and Anna.  And I'm coming out alone."

     "From what galaxy?"

     "I'm in Whitewater, Justin.  You just stay there."

     "I will not be absorbed.  You understand that?"

     "No one's going to absorb you.  You'll be among friends."

     "I'm waiting."

 

 

Walt Whitman embracing him.  Cool fragrance of his garments.

     "You must be tired.  Just lie back there, and I'll get this coffee ready.  I brought you some sweet rolls.  Christa said you had hardly eaten for days.  Just lie back, Justin.  You're safe now."

     With the presence of Whitman the energy within Justin was building to frightening proportions. The 2 equal forces grew in presence at their configurations, and the only thing which could prevent their both exploding, fragmenting into the cosmic ether, was that one absorb the other.

     "There's something I must explain or you'll absorb me."

     "It's all right now.  Can you handle it?"

     He saw the dark liquid emerge from the receptacle into a blue plastic cup.  And he knew that Whitman was trying to poison him.

     "'I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents,

        I am afoot with my vision.'"

     "I'm not sure I follow you, Justin."

     "It's your song."

     "You're quoting Whitman."

     "'Distant and dead resuscitate,

        They show as the dial or move as the hands of me,

        I am the clock myself.'"

     "SONG OF MYSELF?"

     "Your song, Whitman.  I know who I'm dealing with."

     "Here, have some sweet rolls.  You must be famished.  Here, have some coffee."

     Whitman would have himself the lover of all Creation, male and female, the sexual partner of all who were infused with life beyond the Omega Point.  But time was speeding up.  The words were coming on, a wave, flooding him.  Perhaps the bisexual poet had in fact a grip on him.

     "Listen and pray that the time slows down, that the time slows, Lord, just for me.  Listen, dear Evelyn, who is Whitman."

     "I must say it pleases me to be thought of as Walt."

     "It was Pavlov who gathered this universe up to pulse again in the agony of predestination.  It was Pavlov who made us salivating dogs to drip at the ring of a bell.  The natural man can sin.  This whole cosmos will act as natural man, but in our case there will be no sin.  All is permitted, but while the Antichrist contains the archetype, no one will desire or enact anything destructive of another.  I am messiah.  I am Justin, the Antichrist.  I am beloved black white man.  I am the frozen fire of evolution.  Fall down at my knees and give thanks.  You cannot absorb me."

     "Just lie back and relax, Justin.  No one is going to disrupt your plans.  We want to take you somewhere where everyone will be interested in taking care of you, that you don't release your energy.  Everyone will understand.  Now try to sleep.  That's it.  Please calm down."

     He felt the light long fingers over his brow and down to his neck and massaging.  Somewhere sleep was waiting.  If only the door would be quiet.  It was as if a spirit were trying to enter.  There were voices beyond in the kitchen, so far distant, so many light years away.  He turned and opened his eyes.  Norm Estling, the agent of George Bernard Shaw.  The blond beard and devious eyes.  They were both in league to destroy him.  Whitman looking back.

     "It's all right, Justin.  Just go to sleep."

     "Make him go away."

     "Just that simple.  Norm, would you wait out in the car?"

     "Are you sure you're all right?"

     "No violence.  He's resting now.  Tell Ralph to stay out when he arrives.  I'll see after a while if I can get him dressed."

     It was a sign.  Whitman possessed the power left of the cosmos.  The others referred to and addressed were mere minions.

 

 

"Are you asleep, Justin?"

     He could feel the light touch of Evelyn's sensitive fingers on the hairs of his inner thighs.  There was a rosy finger of light through his eyelids that brushed his pupils with the rays of cosmic fire.  He felt the touch and the finger.

     "Not quite, Walt.  There is more I must tell you."

     "Let it wait, Justin.  You just rest there.  Perhaps I can give you something.  A glass of water, more of the coffee?"

     "You can listen before it's too late."

     "Let me help you, Justin.  It's useless to frighten yourself.  You're safe with me."

     He felt Evelyn's hand on his thighs.

     "You must let me absorb you.  For the sake of Creation."

     "I only know that I have loved you for a very long time.  Please believe me, Justin.  It only distresses me that you distrust me.  That you view this world in a way that can only cause you pain.  I want you to sleep now, to relax and forget about all your theories.  Lie back and feel the peace that's all around you.  Lie back, Justin.  I won't absorb you."

     He felt the lips of Whitman on his own.  The kiss of the greatest poet.  And the hand on his belly so smooth.  So smooth across his chest.  It was going dark in the late afternoon with the calm of the cottage surrounding.  Peaceful.  He would not succumb.  Now in his anger with the mouth on it.  He was losing the sense of his body.  Was he finally awake?  Had he ever been asleep?  He lay there with his eyes closed, feeling the peace of the moment, feeling his sex flaccid against his thigh, feeling the striped chair at the length of his body, knowing that there were no further worlds to conquer, no further forces to absorb, that the greatest force of existence had inclined to him, that Omega Point was reached.  But it seemed there was something amiss.  There were movement and sound to his right, unmistakable presence.  He opened his eyes and turned languidly to see the same figure which embodied Whitman now hosting a different force.  It was the man who had once fashioned his statue with lust for his own creation.  There, strutting, confident, clothed in contemporary garments, wearing the body of Evelyn Forest, there was Michelangelo.

     "Could you dress, Justin?  I'll be glad to get your clothes."

     "What were you doing in my kitchen?"

     "I thought you'd want a glass of water.  Why don't you come here?  Here, let me hold it.  Do you want it?  Here.  Now careful."

     "How many more are left?"

     "Billions, Justin.  Are you referring to the glass?"

     "Emissaries.  Forces.  How many forces are left?"

     "Just Norm and Ralph and myself.  Just me here with you.  And you're going to feel better when you have some clothes on.  I suppose they're upstairs."

     "You must dress me."

     "Certainly.  Where are your clothes?"

     "I'm not sure they still exist."

     "Well, where were they?"

     "My trousers were upstairs in the closet.  And my shirts.  There may be underwear somewhere else.  I'm not sure I want it."

     "Just as you wish."

     With the sound of Evelyn upstairs, he took a last drink from the glass and set it down on the linoleum below his groin.  He would demonstrate his strength.  With the footsteps descending, he called all the energy the yellow paint could summon in its link with the void without, called it forth to converge on his upraised fingers, to pour through his body and his other hand below.  He trained it on the glass.  Michelangelo's footsteps gaily approaching.  Then the glass shattered.  A large piece broke off and landed on the floor.

     "I didn't see that.  I didn't see that.  No, no, I didn't."

     Evelyn's shriek bent past him out through the kitchen door.

 

 

There was a flash of calm while he tripped the latch and bent backward on the kitchen table.  He urinated on the floor to celebrate his victory and to mark the spot where Michelangelo last appeared.  No one could cross the magic puddle.  He was safe now at the center of Creation.  Certainly there were to be no further trials.  Then he heard them coming up the incline, their footsteps on the porch.  They were knocking and then the doorframe splintered inward.  He wasn't prepared for such a flood of distinguished forces.  Their life-sakes Evelyn, Norm, and Ralph, they were Michelangelo, Shaw, and Descartes.  Certainly these were the 3 major deities left in Creation, and they had come to pay him a visit.  Their entrance was forceful indeed.

     "I'm sorry about this, but we have to take you to a doctor.  How long did you want us to wait out there?  Evelyn?  I'm freezing.  Oh shit, look there on the floor."

     "I'll clean it up.  Where's a rag?"

     "Take a look under the sink.  Here's his clothes."

     Their movement about him suggested disks of churning light.  There were tendrils of energy connecting them with the surface of the room.  It was impossible to face their eyes.  They whirled about like vacuum cleaner tubes sucking at his energy.  He felt them cold on his flesh as he stood as the statue of David and felt the clothes climb up his legs.  Michelangelo was over to his left wiping up the urine.  Shaw was zipping his fly.  Descartes was behind with the turtleneck, raising Justin's arms and slipping it on.  Their combined presence would be enough to absorb him if they hadn't spaced themselves in such a manner as to cancel each other out.  As a team they were trying to save his mission.  As individual forces they envied his messiahship and would attempt to absorb him separately.  Creation, Preservation, Transformation, and Michelangelo's David at the calm center.

     "Do you have to go to the bathroom?  I guess not."

     "No.  I never  thought I'd do this."

     Michelangelo washed the rag out in the sink and hung it over a chair.

     Justin was mildly flattered to be honored by such attentions, to be treated as the newborn king.  As he felt them working about him to adorn him properly with garments of this century, he invoked a gentle and compelling blessing on their activity, a further spurt of urine which was absorbed by the cotton twill slacks.  He felt quite comfortable.  Suddenly, however, they moved all to one side and began to suck at him with their unity.  Terror.  The fire would soon be depleted.  He was about to strike out with all his force, to thrust himself between them, when he heard the fly.  It was buzzing on the opposite side away from them, an emissary of carnivorousness.  They were protecting him from the buzzing sucking hole.  "I heard a fly buzz when I died."  It was the emissary and robot of Emily Dickinson.  At last the buzzing stopped.  He had absorbed its energy.

     "Space yourselves out evenly.  Get thee behind me, Shaw.  You're sucking my energy.  The fly is dead.  You're holes.  You're all holes.  Nullities, absence.  Shaw behind me and Descartes and Michelangelo to each side.  The fly is dead, I tell you."

     "Humor him.  Go on, space yourself out."

     At last the energy was balanced.  His terror subsided.

     "Can we leave you alone for a second?"

     "Will the fly return?"

     "No, you'll be safe."

     Their hands disappeared.  He had defeated all 3 mighty forces.  Closing his eyes, he danced about ecstatically, blessing every surface, content at last he had reached the end of his mission.  Their hands were gone, their bodies no longer evident.  He was finally alone.

     But suddenly there were voices from somewhere behind him.  From the distant living room.  New emissaries.  He whirled and faced back.  There were 3 again with the same distinct appearance.  Posing as his colleagues like Michelangelo, Descartes, and Shaw.  But these were the Beatles.  Where was Ringo Starr?  He saw John Lennon.  The blond beard of Norm Estling.  And Paul McCartney.  The swarthy sinister Ralph.  And Evelyn.  He was George Harrison, the Eastern monarch with leanings toward the occult.  WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU.  He recognized the pulsing of his energy.  But where was Ringo Starr?  Perhaps he had been eaten by the fly.  The Beatles in consort with the winged hordes, the agents of carnivorousness.  They would turn his pulsing splendor into maggot offspring.  Just as they had sucked thousands of children in with their records and concerts.  Millions, billions, worshipping them.  More powerful than Christ.  Shrieking in terror, he bolted for the door.

     "Stop him.  Don't let him get away.  After him."

     In the dark of the frozen without, his feet on the chill concrete.  Suddenly he was paralyzed by their energy.  They reached him before he could descend the porch steps.  Struggling on the concrete.  The snow fell from the great void above in flakes past his cheek that lay out over the edge and against a frozen bush.  They were pulling him up and back through the kitchen door when they surrounded him, their wicked teeth flashing.

     "It's okay, Justin.  It's all right.  Now settle down."

     "Someone find his coat.  It's cold as hell out there."

     "We're going to somewhere nice and quiet where they can take care of you.  Lakeland.  Just a short drive from Elkhorn."

     "And the beetles?  You would surrender me?"

     "There are no beetles, Justin.  You're among friends."

     He felt the stiff cotton of his field jacket and the lights turning off as they left the warmth and descended the final slope.

 

 

From the red plush leather seats, Lennon and McCartney to his left and right, he looked ahead past the black shoulders of George Harrison to the white hood of the Mercedes and the trinal emblem.  In the headlights the snow drifted down from the void above and settled on the white through twin flares.  All else was darkness.  The world was dead or asleep on this night of the Omega Point, the sun blotted out from the sky.  In fact, there was nothing left of the universe but this white conveyance and the flare into pitch black, a tunnel in the void which stabbed ahead with the progress up the incline, a road much like that which had once passed his cottage and emerged on ersatz Highway 12.  Their destination was programmed, created with their approach.  They would wind out in a spiral until they met the great good place that Harrison had called Lakeland, an island in the void being just that instant prepared by the forces left in existence.  The frozen water was thick in its crystalline purity, 2 arcs in it created by the wipers, which magically swept it aside.  Justin leaned back and held hands with his captors, sensing their trembling.  He would be safe from them only through love.

     "I can't see for beans.  You okay back there?"

     "Holding on and steady."

     "How about some music?"

     "It might disturb him."

     Justin knew there was no music.  All the stations were frozen in the final death before their resurrection.  Nothing was alive but this capsule in movement through the void, and Lakeland, their destination.  He tightened his grip on their hands.

     "There's not a soul on the road."

     Harrison had made a slip.  But then Justin saw the lights.

     "Truck up ahead.  Better keep to the right."

     "It's not a truck.  It's one of your masters."

     "Settle down, Justin.  There's nothing to fear."

     He could see the flare of lights, great twin whorls in the snow, the eyes of the insects which flared out ahead and trapped all life, mesmerized it until the mandibles could reach out and devour.  All hapless organisms left to the universe along this spiral tunnel were fit prey for these giant beetles.

     "It's one of the beetles winging down from the void.  And another behind.  They'll devour the car and deprive the world of salvation.  Pray for forgiveness, agents of darkness.  Ringo Starr is about to attack.  Carnivorousness.  The great mouth.  Oh God."

     "It's all right, Justin.  Just a truck.  And another behind.  See, they're passing.  No harm done.  Hold him back."

     He had his hands on Harrison's neck, choking him through the cape.  The Mercedes spun left and right again as they pulled him back to the seat and pressed in with their bodies.  He could feel their energy pulsing in terror.  The beetles were coming now in droves from up the tunnel along the spiral.  Spraying him with frozen phlegm.  Their mandibles open and flaring, eyes bright torment that burned the snow orange.

     "I thought you gave him some Valium.  Jesus, he's strong as an ox.  Take his other arm, Norm.  There now, settle back."

     "There was enough in that coffee to put a horse away.  I guess he's too aroused.  We make a right up here.  Keep your eyes open."

     Suddenly an ersatz village.  It had once been thriving Elkhorn.  No one on the streets but the shop lights burning.  Traffic lights still in operation.  Here and there a robot, emissary of the hordes, a few carrying parcels.  Viscera inside.  Guts and fluids to feed to the powers of darkness.  At last they were pulling into a long wide loop before bright lights.  Harrison left the conveyance.  White powder glistened on his black cape.  His progress was slow, infinitely slow along the loop, slow to the door of the great gray building, the Beetle's mouth.

     "You okay there, Ralph?"

     "Yeah.  I guess so."

     "I didn't think we were going to make it."

     Justin settled back and waited for his mission to unfold.

 

 

The elevator opened on a flat white hallway, a hatch-work of tile rising to stucco past his shoulders.  The floor was white terrazzo, speckled with multicolored stones that glinted as his feet swept past, an orderly at each arm.  They passed 4 doors and entered a 5th, a flat white room like the corridor, crisp white sheets on the single bunk.  As they undressed him he noticed the leather straps which would bind him, the cotton nightshirt which would yield propriety.  It was one of many cells in this great good place, an island in the vacant frozen cosmos where the false messiah Pavlov oversaw the birth pangs of all who would usurp his role.  Surely there were hapless others in the adjacent chambers.

     "We'll take these clothes now and put them in a safe place."

     The nightshirt over his arms and tied in back.

    "Just lie back there, Mr. Price.  That's a good fellow."

     They were strapping him into the birth machine.

     "Where are the beetles?"

     "They're all gone.  Just a few orderlies and yourself.  Frank, could you see if Dr. Everson's ready to look at him?"

     He tried to rise, but the straps held him back on the pillow.

     "There's a bedpan over there in the corner.  If you should have to go just give a holler and we'll slide it under."

     The tall wan man with the bifocals.  Tubes around his neck.  He leaned over the bed and held a metal disk to Justin's arm and chest.  One of the robots was taking his pulse.  Then there was something wound around his arm, and they were reading a gauge.

     "350 over 120.  Should I call in Clara?"

     "Yes, you might.  Tell her the usual with the sodium amytal intravenous and a hundred milligrams of Thorazine every four hours.  I'll take care of the progress notes."

     The ghostly figure of Everson brooded over his prostrate flesh, feeling here and there and tapping with his fingers.  Nameplates for all the agents dangled in front of Justin's eyes.  Curly black hair jutted out above a T-shirt.  They looked so human.  Perhaps it was the dignity of their role.

     "Your friends downstairs said you had been taking large quantities of LSD.  Of acid?"

     "I refuse to talk to you."

     "And what's this about nutmeg?  They said you were smoking it."

     "Let me speak to Pavlov."

     "He's dead, Mr. Price.  He's been dead a long time."

     "I know he's alive.  I know it."

     "His forearms seem all right.  Nothing suspicious."

     "Let me speak to your master."

     Then he saw her coming, entering through one of the tubes and leaning over him, her eyes whirling like fiery anuses and sucking his skin as they played across his body.  Each eye was a whirlpool of excrement sucking him.

     "See the flushed patches?"

     "Yes, doctor."

     "It's the blood pressure.  Phenomenal."

     "I saw the report."

     "Paranoid schizophrenic.  He's totally incoherent."

     The hypodermic, translucent glistening with a bright thin needle.  Squirting out fluid while the cool was on his arm and she bent over.  He tried to free himself, but one of the white suited robots held him back and quiet.  The sharp pain against the cool.  They were feeding him fluids to hasten his birth.

     "You can dim the lights in here.  Have a look in another hour.  He should be sleeping.  Pleasant dreams, Mr. Price."

     "The noblest vision is a hole in God."

     He would shatter the grip in the spirit bed and walls.

     "I am protected by everything I cannot understand."

     The spirits of the mechanical ovary would make their appearance.

     "I love God's cock in my asshole."

     He could feel the rumbling in the bed, the waves of energy stirring in the grids that separated the tiles.

     "Pavlov messiah is a painted void."

     They were angered by the latter.  He could feel the bed pulse tentacular and the ceiling answer with prayer.  The room ascended this side of the speed of light and moved left at intervals to mesh with the fragments of being.  They were trying to synchronize him with the spot in time best suited for his birth.  He shouted obscenities to prime the machine.  The great cosmic womb opened up to enclose him.  He was struggling with the viscous folds.  Drowning in placenta.  He kicked and thrashed against the leather straps, forcing his way through the vagina.  Released into light with the robots swung through the opening.

     "Draw the curtain.  The insects devour the fetus."

     They were clearing the stained white uterine mechanico-sheets.  Pulling him this way and that and sliding fresh under.

     "Don't let them eat me.  Please don't let them eat me."

     "Nobody's going to eat you."

     "Give me the void.  Give me the darkness."

     "Cut the light there.  That's better.  Now just lay back and relax.  You're all wound up.  I'll get him some water.  Would you like that, Justin?  I'll get him some water."

     In the darkness with the square of light.  White suited glow moving over him.  The lip of the cup.  He swallowed.  They would give him sleep after his final awakening.  A child new born and Pavlov the obstetrician.  Bethlehem in the night.  Lakeland the womb of the cosmos.  He was safe at last and alone with the door swinging shut.  Lulled by sleep.  Down, down, down into the darkness.  The wise and the lovely.  He would sleep this first night of his rebirth.  Sleep the innocent fetus.

     "Now there's a sorry son of a bitch."

     "Go easy now.  He might hear you."

     "Coffee?"

     "Yeah.  Coffee and a cigarette.  Now you're talking."

     Lulled by the womb of time.  Safe in the infinite now.

 

 

In the early dawn he tested the birth bed straps.  By lifting the right hand he could move the chamber right.  With the left he could control the vertical alignment.  The feet controlled movement parallel to his body.  A twist of the left foot would spin the room clockwise.  He was given the opportunity to seek his own alignment among the fragmentary spirits still left in absolute reality.  By a careful series of shifts he would lock into the puzzle left of Creation.  By careful movements the spirits could enter the gaps and the Omega Point be realized.

     But the robots.  They entered in the midst of a difficult maneuver and disrupted his well-laid plans.  The 2 strong ones that simulated masculinity were shifting him about and changing linen.  He could feel a cold wash cloth over his skin.  The blond nurse with the whirling eyes.  Leaning over the birth bed and taking an arm in hand.  Checking the skin.  A dab of moist cotton.  The sharp pain of the injection.  Perhaps they were aiding by chemical means the process of gestation.  But they looked so much like attendants.  Stationed at the cosmic asshole.  Where all the voids passed out.  Passed out of existence.  Doing penance for their allegiance to Pavlov.  He knew they would not speak.  The air was too oppressive, too foul and sulphurous.

     "Now how are you doing this fine morning, Mr. Price?  I hope that didn't hurt too much."

     The blond carnivore was mouthing.  Each word trailed smoke from her lungs.  Her smile was suddenly bare of lip flesh, her face melting into a cancerous mask.  She was dissolving into rot and bones before his eyes, her face a syphilitic sore.

     "Not saying much, huh?  Would you like a little instant breakfast?  Thomas, bring that over here please.  Thank you."

     Foul smell of diarrhea emanating from across the lip.  They were feeding him Pavlov's excrement.  By merely loving it he was safe from the poison.  He drank it greedily.  Her face returned.

     "There's a few questions I'd like to ask you, Mr. Price."

     The male robots were sidling past her broad rump toward the door.  Carrying his ruined linen.  Soiled by afterbirth.  Her face was no longer rotted but was shifting in and out of focus past the vacuum cleaner tubes that were her eyes.  He could feel their cool play across his skin.  They were sucking his energy.

     "Dr. Everson would like to know what drugs you were using."

     "His asshole winks thin like razor blades."

     "Now that's not so nice.  You'll have to be more appropriate.  Understand, this information will remain wholly private.  We need some idea of it just to proceed scientifically."

     "I want to speak to Pavlov."

     "He's not on the ward."

     "He's in charge here.  It's his machine.  I'll not divulge cosmic secrets to a set of flunkies.  And that includes Everson."

     "They said you were taking massive amounts of LSD."

     "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  Eat a dick."

     "Listen.  My name is Simkins.  Clara Simkins.  There's no reason why you shouldn't like me.  I'm a registered nurse.  Perhaps you'd rather talk to one of the other girls.  Or Dr. Reich when he comes in.  I'm going off duty shortly."

     "Listen.  I've been listening for 10 billion years.  My name.  My name is Justin Price V.  Simkins.  Akin to simians.  Clara.  Clarify yourself.  Simkins.  Akin to simians.  There's no.  That's what I've been trying to tell you.  Reason.  The cancer on the lip of faith.  Why.  Never ask it.  You shouldn't.  That's what I've been trying to tell you.  You speak in tongues.  Tongues.  Unfortunately for you and the winged hordes I possess all metaphors.  I am the living key.  Like me.  There is no means to being like the messiah.  I've broken your code.  I can take all your sentences and break them into meaningful fragments.  All with their place in my system.  It is the only system that explains this cosmos and the cancers that plague it in the guise of registered nurses and hospital orderlies.  This room is a birth machine.  I am not in a hospital ward.  I am at the end of Fallopian tubes that reach back toward the orifice illuminated by the eyes of the beetles.  The Beatles.  John Lennon.  Paul McCartney.  George Harrison.  Ringo Starr is dead.  Sucked dry by the carnivores.  Get thee behind me, Satan.  Robot.  Emissary.  Your Antichrist is misleading you to torture the radiant fetus."

     "I guess we're not going to get much out of you this morning."

     "Having a little trouble, Miss Simkins?"

     Tall gaunt cadaverous figure.  Pavlov himself.

     "Maybe you can make some sense out of him.  I'm going home."

     "Anything about drugs?"

     "Not a thing.  He's totally incoherent.  He keeps coming back to the same obsession.  He wants to talk to Pavlov."

     Bending over with tubes around his neck.  Steel disk on Justin's chest and belly.   Listening through the tubes.  Fingers at Justin's wrist.  Heavy rheumy breathing.  A bulb of yellow snot stuck to the right flaring nostril.  Pushing out and back with each completed breath.  Justin would have to hold his energy down, to render each beat of his heart a bulwark against absorption.  He slowed and quieted his heart.  The cold touch of Pavlov's hands, envying Justin's young vibrant body.  But Justin would not relent, would not give in to this final false messiah, this cancer in the cosmos.

     "Feeling better this morning?"

     "You fed me full of visions.  These straps."

     "Sorry about them.  They're for your own protection."

     Bony fingers prodding him.  Flesh of Pavlov's face wasting away to reveal a skeletal grin.  Eyes whirling inward, drawing cool columns of energy, blue-white ether from Justin's body.  Within minutes he would give up his spirit.  Send me the beetles.  Protect me from the constructor of machines, the ringer of bells.  Hosts of the night protect me.  That they would let this madman endure!

     "You're trembling.  Now what is the problem?"

     Suddenly he could feel them all in the bed.  Starr reincarnate.  All 4 carnivores feeding him strength through each strap.  They balanced the presence of Pavlov and began to pull his energy out and through him.  Through Justin Price.  Through the red fire frozen Christ.  The room whirled tendrils of blue-white light and exploded into multicolored fragments.  Justin heard the serious tone of Pavlov through the churning chaos, questions again and again and no answer forthcoming, only the suck of his energy into the body of Adam.  Taking Pavlov's current.  Justin closed his eyes against the bright splendor and sank into heavy trance.  When he opened them again Pavlov was gone.  Gone with the blue-white light and the Beatles in the birth bed.  The moment was at hand.  He had triumphed over the last of the false messiahs.

 

 

He was climbing the final mountain toward Jehovah, ascending through the wreckage of 10 billion years, through death, destruction, decay, through the accumulated suffering of all sentient being since the first pulse of Creation.  The rotted limbs of countless beasts littered the path.  Severed claws, fingers, clitorises, foreskins.  Baked brains, scorched viscera, mutilated mandibles, perforated penises.  Children staring through sightless eyes, impaled by thorns, gassed, fried, minced, broiled, torn apart, castrated, emasculated.  Bottles rammed up babies' vulvas and shattered.  Fetuses devoured by snakes, suffocating in the viscous warmth of serpent bellies.  Teeth tearing flesh, ingesting, digesting.  Excrement voided, laced with infant hair, indigestible bones, perhaps more teeth.  Tongues licking syphilitic sores, vomiting blood and bile.  Rot of leprosy fit for human consumption.  Electric needles inserted in penises, blood and pus-encrusted irises.  Maggots writhing through cadavers.  Minced eyeballs.

     It was necessary to ignore the carnage, the unbearable agony and grief, the rotted hands reaching out toward him, begging for comfort, a glass of water, an injection of morphine, Demerol, heroin, a bullet in the skull to end the agony, a kiss, an embrace, some small token of pity and understanding.  But he was messiah, and the whole of human suffering was his cross, the abstract notion of it, the message to the keepers of the temple.  He could see it ahead, silhouetted against the sky, the wall built of diamond and the temple of pure gold like polished glass.  The foundations of the wall faced with all kinds of polished stones.  He saw the temple of the Lord God Jehovah erected on the accumulation of all being's misery, erected on his own handiwork since the first spasm of Creation, when he ushered into being the differentiation of consciousness.  Justin made the last mile on his knees and fell unconscious on the temple floor.  Within moments he awoke and faced the keepers.

     What he saw was more terrifying than the journey itself.  It was a patent leather handbag with a great brass clasp, veined hands holding the shiny black strap.  A smooth wool skirt, jacket and matching vest where the belly and pelvis protruded, white lace blouse emerging between the gray.  His eyes widened as he swiveled his neck to view her head.  Her head.  Her graying light brown hair set tightly in wavelets.  The rhinestone frames and sad brown eyes.  The tight thin lips held in a weary smile.  Her face.  His mother's face.  Part of her head achingly off and the brains draining down her chin to the floor.   And beyond that utter nightmare the face of the master.  His father's face.  The smooth straight slicked jowls.  The brown bagged eyes.  Eyes eyeing the brains.  Trace of a smile.  The fear welling up in Justin.  A scream fought hard to emerge.  The sudden shift of his primal parents, terror of visages transformed to heads of flies.  Perhaps to devour his frozen form.  Flies in her corpse to eat him, mince his guilty flesh.  And the Father spoke:

     "Looks like you sure could use a trim."

     The shriek broke out, bursting toward the white tile walls.

 

 

"God is the Fly.  God is the Fly.  God is the Fly."

     Screaming over and over, shrieking and whimpering while they rushed in past his closed eyelids and took his arm.  The cool patch and the prick and a flood of energy draining from his veins.  Urging him to be quiet.  He did not look, for he knew them to be carnivores.  The only thing left between himself and his divine majesty was the jaws of the carnivorous Fly.

     "That should calm him down.  Just make sure you keep his parents out of here.  Draw that shade.  The sun's in his eyes.  Okay now, everybody out.  I've got the door, Frank."

     He opened his eyes at last and looked left and right at the grid between the white tiles.  Trapped in radiation, beyond the wall, were billions of lost souls, surrendered to cannibalism, eater and eaten.  The walls held them back from the Christ child, the messiah Buddha lying on the birth bed.  He could feel the poison, feel the burning cancerous rays slowly toasting his flesh.  He was snared between the mandibles of the great God Fly.  The walls waved in and out in deadly undulations, and he could see at last the hairy pink interior.  Sucking him of his last juice.  In moments he would be dead, his spirit sucked by the painted voids, the cancerous jaws of androgynous Jehovah.  It had been sucking him since his childhood.  Only through love could he survive.   He had to love everything, even that . . . even his parents.

     "I love everything.  I love everything.  I love everything."

     They were settling slowly into white tile.  Spirit power lessening.  He could feel the billions cheer his final redemption.

     "I love everything."

     They settled back impotent, the tile and cancerous grids.  At last he had vanquished them.  Down the white plaster and tile, the gentle surface now benevolent, came millions of coursing tears.  The trapped billions were weeping in joy at his beatification.  Released from the fire of carnivorousness, they praised his final birth.  At last the Omega Point.  He fell back exhausted.  All those on the mountainside were crying tears of liberation.  Evolution was finally cleansed.  No more death.  No more suffering.  Perfect creatures in a perfect world.

     Suddenly on the wall the cast of the SERGEANT PEPPER album.  Against a blue sky the onlookers.  Dylan, Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Oscar Wilde, dozens of others.  The band in resplendent uniforms.  In front,  the graves of their former selves, marked by floral letters.  SERGEANT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.  They were singing for all mankind, for their final liberation.  His cheeks were moist with gratitude as they finally addressed him.  Lennon, their spokesman.  Fullness of his voice.

     "Justin Price V.  The Fly has been vanquished.  You rule the universe."

     "But the sounds.  I can hear them.  Something remote like torn cloth or voices.  What of the discord in their pronouncements?"

     "You're hearing the gaps.  As your vision passes through them they sound their last death chant.  There are thousands of gaps left in an otherwise perfect cosmos.  Your vision is mopping up after the triumph.  It may take another eternity.  Don't worry.  They can harm no one.  Shall we play for you, cleansed Christ child?  Would you like to hear the orchestra?"

     "I have merely a question.  What role shall I play now that our world is perfect?  I am Omega Point.  What form shall I take?"

     "What role did you have in mind?"

     "I had wanted to be Michelangelo's David.  I have changed my mind."

     "And what now?"

     "Something less pretentious.  Something for children."

     "Name it.  Our desire is only to serve you."

     "I want to be a pull string doll.  A Popeye pull string doll.  Let the children of the coming eternity sit around and fondle their teacher.  Let them ask questions and pull my string.  I'll answer in metaphors beyond their understanding, wisdom from the central mandala.  From the trinal spirals.  I will answer in metaphors, and they will clap their hands in glee."

     "It is granted.  Anything further?"

     "How can I release my energy?  I am weary.  Let me free of the fire in my form."

     "Let it drift out into the cell.  In time you will seek it again.  Become a fetus.  The orderly Norbert is your father."

     The image faded, and he released his psychic energy.  Out into the walls and floor and ceiling.  Into the white birth bed.  He exploded out until his boundaries were mixed with all surfaces and out beyond, until he was in the surfaces looking at himself.  As his form grew indistinct, he voided his bowels and bladder.  Lulled by the cradle endlessly rocking, lost for eternities into the viscous folds of uterine being.  His mission was completed, and he sank into fetal bliss.  Through the quiet he could hear the last gaps end their lives.

 

 

After centuries the door swung inward, and the nameplate Norbert passed before his eyes.  He was bearing food for the Christ child.  For Popeye the pull string doll.  Holding it to his lips as he swallowed greedily.  Rich chocolate flavor.

     "Can I take your pulse?"

     The firm kind warmth of his smooth fingers.  Grasping his wrist.  He felt great love for this kindly man.

     "You are better.  Much better.  I tell you what.  I'll see if you can have a shower."

     Father Norbert left through the door.  Justin focused on his hands.  They were long and slender, delicate for the size of his body.  He could clench and turn them about with comparative ease.

     "It's okay.  Let's see if I can release those restraints."

     Soon he was free of the leather.

     "The bruises will go away.  Can I help you up?"

     They were out in the corridor.  He could hear the voices of other delivered agents.  The tubes had expanded into white tile and terrazzo.  A few doors up and they were entering the shower room.  A single light burned through a metal basket among the gleaming chromium pipes.  He luxuriated in the stinging steam from the phallic nozzle.

    No need for clothing.  It was the new Eden.

    Slender feet on the slick terrazzo.  His body erect and majestic along the birth factory corridor.

     "Somebody grab him.  Hey Norbert.  He's naked."

     The gentle firmness of Norbert's fatherly grip.

     "I didn't think there would be modesty."

     There were the fresh nightgown and the light gray and white striped cotton robe.  The latter reached only to his knees.

     In the lounge Fred Flintstone on the television.  Father Norbert stood to the right.  He pulled a cigarette from a pack of Kents and offered it to Justin.  A token of deepest affection.  Justin accepted.

     It was a gentle cigarette.  He had been abstinent for over a month.  It cleansed his lungs.  Energy surged in his veins.  He could feel the room feed through to him in settled waves.

     Norbert stepped out into the birth tube.  Justin settled back and watched the smoke curl up from his fingers.  It was comforting to know that the cancer they had once attributed to these tubes of joy had been in fact the result of the forces in contention.

     "I want to love you, Justin.  They want to stop us.  Even now.  They say it's adultery.  We know better, love."

     "I don't understand."

     "Follow me in a few minutes.  I'm in 353."

     He would enhance his masculinity by ingesting more of the sacred weed.  The puffs of smoke fed his veins like blood from the infant Christ.  Would Jesus himself be satisfied with such a minor role?

     At last he was fit and ready.

     "Hello, my beloved.  Come here to me."

     He was dropping his garments at his feet.  She sat on the bed, her legs in the adept's position, a band of rayon crossing her belly.  As he pushed her gently back he could see the blood stained napkin.

     "Hurry.  Hurry, Justin.  They're coming."

     "All right.  That's enough of that."

     Justin felt rough hands on his shoulders, pulling him back.  He lost his balance and went sprawling, his head against the radiator.  There was the presence of a specific element he had known was eliminated from the cosmos, the element of pain, the pain of countless billions.  He could feel it.  He could feel it distinctly.  It was unmistakably pain.

     "I hurt myself."

     "Sorry, son.  It was an accident."

     "There are accidents?"

     "Of course."

     "And pain?"                                                                                                                                   

     "Certainly."

     "But that can't be.  The suffering's over."

     "Justin, son, there's plenty of suffering.  Plenty to go around."

     "But I've been sick then.  I've been insane."

     "That's right."

     "And it's all the same.  Nothing changed."

     "You were ill.  I thought you knew."

     "I don't know.  I don't know anything.  Not now.  Not ever."

     Justin reached forward and gripped his knees, doubled fetal over on the tile with the press of impervious stone and the terrible pain in his head.  He would lie like that, fairly much every hour they let him for the next 7 months, would lie in a universe not of his own making.

     "All right.  Let's see if we can get just a bit more rest."

     "Rest?"

     "When you're tired you rest.  It's just that easy, Justin."

     "Let's rest then."

     And they headed back to his room.

 

                        

 

                                                                            THE END