by Robert H. Prestridge
Part 3 appears|
in this issue.
At the fire, the women screamed and danced circles around me. One woman held my right arm, another, my left arm, another, my right leg, another, my left leg, another, my middle.
And before I knew it, they ripped the robe off of me and had ropes around my legs and were hoisting me feet-first up into the air. I yelled from surprise; something struck my ass, causing it to sting, and I yelled harder, this time from pain.
And before I knew it, I was being lowered to the ground. The women dragged me off to a dais, upon which was a bed, upon which lay a huge woman painted white like me. The woman held up a breast, and women forced me to suckle; I gagged.
“Christ,” I said, spitting out an engorged, rubbery nipple.
“No,” the huge woman said, forcing my head back towards her breast. “It isn’t time.”
So I was forced to suckle more while the women sang some sort of medieval-sounding song, and after a few more moments, the women dragged me to another part of the clearing.
Now a group of robe-wearing men entered the clearing, dancing in single file, their right hand on the shoulder of the man in front of them.
The ring of men circled the fire clockwise, and after the third pass around the fire, the men disrobed.
The women cheered in what sounded like Latin.
My head was about to explode; the cacophony was driving me towards my psychic edge.
Friedrichs fondled me. “Time to get you ready for Abandon,” she said.
The women screamed and cawed and dragged me on their shoulders towards the fire.
Around and around the fire in a counter-clockwise direction the women ran with me held over their shoulders, and after the third revolution, the women, like the men, disrobed.
The men cheered heartily. Cefalu pointed and guffawed.
“Abandon!” a woman yelled.
“Abandon!” a man yelled.
“Abandon! Abandon! Abandon!”
And then I saw her.
The meme appeared from the shadows of the rainforest, nude like the male and female dancers, and moving very gracefully towards me, thigh muscles flexing or relaxing with each step. Had she not been a meme, I would have taken her for a professional ballet dancer.
And behind her appeared two other memes, fugitives who had been roaming Earth for several hundred years in legal and illegal forms: Tom Tobacco and John Barleycorn. The former looked like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz (a film that was banned, used solely and strictly for MU training purposes, because of whatever negative connotations Bert Lahr, as the Cowardly Lion, had somehow brought to it) and the latter looked like an unwashed derelict you could find down at the docks.
Abandon, Tom Tobacco and John Barleycorn danced around me, linking arms and legs in a grotesque pas de trois.
My head was still swimming because of the assault against my hearing; I knew I had one chance and one chance only.
I plugged my ears with my index fingers, nudged Abandon aside, kicked Tom Tobacco in the nuts and tripped John Barleycorn.
I ran into the forest as fast as I could.
I heard women and men yelling behind me as they gave chase. I followed a path in the rainforest, stopping only momentarily to get moss that I used as makeshift earplugs.
It was Abandon; she was speaking to me in my mind.
Please! We don’t mean to harm you! We mean to liberate you!
Up yours, I thought, jumping over a fallen, moss-covered tree.
I’m going to enjoy blowing your brains out with a plasma gun, I told her. And when I do-
You’re one of us, Joe.
The hell I am, Abandon.
I ran parallel to a field within the forest; I felt twigs and sharp objects pricking the soles of my feet; I knew they were bleeding, but the adrenaline flowing within me kept me going.
And then, as if by magic, a cityscape appeared.
I stopped. I was no longer somewhere within a rainforest in the Cascades.
This was Manhattan, when Art Deco ruled. In fact, I saw Art Deco hanging by an arm and a leg from the Radio City Music Hall marquee.
“Welcome, Joe!” Art Deco yelled in a high-pitched voice, saluting me with a hand. “Here’s looking at you!”
A chorus line of bare-breasted women appeared from around the corner, kicking a high-step in unison and singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
I cringed, not because the singing was bad but because I knew what was happening; I needed my earplugs, not clumps of moss, to stop the assault against my hearing and ultimately my mind.
“Jesus,” I said, looking around for a way of escape.
I headed up 6th Avenue.
The writer William S. Burroughs appeared from an alley.
“Hey, kid, want some smack?”
“I thought they deconstructed you,” I replied, continuing on my way.
“I always find a way to get back, kid,” he said, appearing from another alley, holding up a syringe, its needle gleaming.
“If you happen to find my earplugs, let me know.”
“No earplugs around here!” I heard Burroughs call out behind me. “Only smack and illusions, kid!”
I heard angry-sounding women and men yelling as they chased after me. I continued to run, past grates that emitted blasts of steam and down empty streets.
I turned a corner onto Central Park South, and headed towards Columbus Circle.
There, Irving Berlin and Tiny Tim were sitting at a corner, singing “White Christmas.” Tiny Tim plucked a ukulele.
A light snow began to fall. I stopped, attempting to catch my breath.
“Glad you could make it,” Tiny Tim said.
“May your days be merry and bright,” Irving Berlin said. “Care to join us in a sing-along?”
“I would if you were Bob Dylan.”
Irving Berlin frowned.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” he replied. “Besides, Dylan’s hanging out in Spanish Harlem these days with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix.”
Nude men and women were coming from all directions at me; the only escape was Central Park.
I ran into it, hoping I could find a place to hide.
The snow began to fall harder. And though it would have been bitterly cold in any other reality, I wasn’t freezing, though I was becoming winded.
I neared the center of the park. A gale blew. I saw some trees. A few more feet, I told myself, and I would be safe.
I kept running.
“Please, Joe, look at me.”
I looked, and about fainted.
Brandy was running beside me.
“You’re dead,” I said between breaths. “I need to hide.”
“You’ve been hiding all of your life,” she said. “Now it’s time to face your reality.”
“You don’t understand, Brandy,” I said. “I’m losing my mind. They took my earplugs, you see.”
“You’re not losing your mind,” she said. “You’re losing your self. And once you lose that, you’ll find it again.”
“If only you were real,” I said, hearing the shouts of the women and men as they came closer. “But I know better. And I know better than to trust my senses right now.”
“Then how do you know those trees will protect you?”
“I don’t, but it’s a risk I’m going to have to take,” I said. “Too bad they won’t Resurrect you. You violated the law-”
“You almost destroyed Equilibrium and allowed Chaos to enter-”
“You were one of them. You never really did love me, did you?”
“I did, Joe, that’s the thing,” and now she was crying. “I did love you. I loved you enough to let you go.”
She’d abruptly broken off the engagement. A week later, MU agents had raided her cell and summarily executed her and all others at the meeting. Jennings, the Seattle Police Commissioner, had wanted to put me on trial, but after a thorough investigation conducted under the auspices of Captain Morgan, I was exonerated. In a private meeting, the captain had said that if I was ever lonely, to come to her and she would help me out.
Brandy and I entered the grove of trees; I stopped running.
“I don’t want to live in the past, Brandy-”
“That never was my real name, Joe.”
Of course, I thought. It was you all along, wasn’t it? Some things you simply cannot kill.
Abandon held out her hand. I took it, and she led me out from the grove of trees.
Now everything appeared in black and white, as if we were line cartoon-like drawings. Off nearby, Ira Gershwin led an orchestra while George Gershwin played the piano: it was “Rhapsody in Blue.”
I looked at myself; I was no longer nude, but wearing a 1920s-style suit. Abandon danced around me, dressed as a flapper, her hair bobbed and seemingly plastered to her skull.
As we danced the Charleston on a huge stage with a proscenium arch, Tom Tobacco, John Barleycorn and the others from the rainforest appeared, dancing behind us. Off to one side of the stage danced Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers.
And as “Rhapsody in Blue” continued, colors began to appear, dull at first, then bright, and we were no longer cartoon-like figures, but creatures of flesh and blood, creatures of passion.
Friedrichs, standing between Martha Graham and George Balanchine, winked at me.
“You know what to do next, Agent Farinelli.”
I didn’t care who was watching; I ripped off my clothes and the clothes on Abandon and took her then and there on the stage while the music continued.
“Hurry, Joe!” Abandon cried. “There’s not much time-”
“Do it, Joe! Come with me now!”
I did and she did, simultaneously, just as the music ended. The Gershwin brothers, Tom Tobacco, John Barleycorn, everyone: they all cheered.
“Freeze!” Jack yelled from somewhere in the distance. “This is the Seattle Meme Unit and you are all under arrest!”
I heard the shots of plasma guns and heard screaming. I rolled over onto my side on the stage. My vision blurred, then became black.
I saw clearly a few moments later.
I was lying in the clearing of the rainforest. Medics had placed a mask on me, and I was breathing in a special concoction that brought synesthetes on the verge of insanity back to common reality. And someone had also covered me with a heavy blanket, and had given me earplugs.
“He’s looking good,” a medic said to another.
I saw Jack finish reading the litany of constitutional rites to Tom Tobacco, John Barleycorn and nude women and men. After Jack finished, MU agents executed them all with blasts from plasma guns.
I turned my head and saw Wilma Friedrichs lying on the ground, face looking directly at me, mouth agape. And near her body, lying face down on the rainforest floor, was Cefalu’s corpse.
Jack knelt beside me.
“The medevac’s on its way,” he said, patting my shoulder. “Hang in there, Tiger.”
The medics carried me in a litter to another clearing. Jack spoke into his palmcom, popped open a canister that exhausted purple smoke and threw the canister into the center of the clearing.
A chopper making heavy, syrupy-tasting thuck-thuck sounds landed in the center of the clearing.
Crouching, Jack ran forward, carrying a bag in hand. Medics carried me to the chopper.
The open-bay chopper lifted up into the air. Jack sat near the bay and lit a Panama Red.
He winked at me and held up the pack. “This is a present for Captain Morgan,” he said loudly.
He opened the bag and removed the object inside of it by the hair: Abandon’s neatly severed head. Her lifeless cobalt-blue eyes looked into my own.
I turned my head.
“Didn’t mean to shock you, Farinelli,” Jack said. He paused, and I knew he was taking a hit off the joint. “Christ, I’m glad we got to you in time. You were almost a goner.”
I felt a tear at the corner of an eye.
“You know, Farinelli, I think we both deserve a vacation.”
I’m here, Joe. Don’t worry. I’m with you now. I’ll always be with you.
Jack giggled. “Too bad you don’t toke weed,” he said. “Hey, did I ever tell you how good it was to end a day with a Panama Red, Joe?”
Jack’s next, Abandon said. And then we’ll get the others.
“No, you never did, Jack,” I said, looking at him. “Mind if I have a hit?”
Jack raised his eyes in obvious surprise. Then he smiled and handed me the joint. Bellevue appeared on the horizon, and beyond it, across Lake Washington, Seattle.
I took a toke off the Panama Red, then handed the joint back to Jack and winked at him.
Yes, Abandon would always be with me. And soon, so would Jack and everyone else.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert H. Prestridge