No end of strange things have happened to me since I have moved to this new town, started this new job, moved into this new house. I was in a town of strangers, thousands of miles from the town where I grew up, yet I was haunted by strange feelings that I was surrounded by familiar faces. My landlady looked at me as if she recognized me, and we had long conversations together where we revealed intimate facts about each other that we had in our knowledge, yet each conversation was broken off, or ended strangely.
I was sure that I had known her from somewhere. The same was true with the mayoral candidates, whose smiling portraits were scattered about the city, printed on posters above slogans that promised various fiscal miracles, a new zoo for the town, the creation of other various tourist attractions that would put the town on the map, and an agreeable solution of what to do with the refugee camp for Southeast Asian refugees that was built on the edge of town, and where I was employed as a translator.
It was a town of old people, the mean age of the town's small population (1057) was probably over 45, the average age somewhat above that. It didn't disturb me too much that there were so few people close to my own age, since that was one of the things that had repulsed me about the university towns where I had been educated until recently; the hooliganism of those my own age... the sophomore pranks... and the poorly formulated or naive opinions so often held by my peers... and other things. The elderly people of that town treated me kindly, and I threw myself into my work. Often, I'd come home late at night from my work, and I'd either read, work on a my novel in progress (a twisted detective story that was growing into reality out of the mad mind of a paranoid university professor) or I'd fall into a deep sleep.
Things were going quit well, and I had just begun a casual romance with one of the waitresses at the local diner, a woman ten or twelve years my senior (she wouldn't reveal to me her true age) when I began to suffer from strange dreams. Although I could never remember any details of anything that I had dreamt, I often awoke with the recollection that the identity of someone living close to me was revealed to be a bitter enemy in disguise. Or at least something to that effect.
Then, then... then all of a sudden, at a time when my strange feelings of recognition had been fading, I began to feel them again. This time, however, I was feeling them from the refugees in the refugee camp. These were the people that I spent most of my days with, and I couldn't just blot the feelings out of my mind. As much as I tried to focus past the absurd notion that I could somehow actually know personally any of these people who had come from deep in the interior of a half-dozen war-torn nations (most of which I had never even visited...), and as much as I tried to focus past these peculiarities - I couldn't help feeling rather nervous about certain individuals that I found myself dealing with. Many of these refugees were among the most grateful people I had ever dealt with, and although they were so very appreciative of the time I spent helping them and sorting out their details, I still couldn't understand why I was becoming so wary of them. I could tell that some of them had noticed the change in my behavior, and there was a certain amount of whispering going on; I believe some of the talk was about me, although I never confided my worries in anyone for fear of being reassured in the condescending emotional tone most common to psychotherapists, or the friends who want to be helpful by pointing out the obvious.
Despite the care that I exercised, however, I believe that my nervousness began to shine through in some of my reports, despite my conspicuous proofreading to remove any bias, and one day my superior sat down with me for a talk.
"John, I've begun to notice that some of your reports have a bit of nervousness too them, a bit of... tenseness to them."
"Really," I said, not quite genuinely surprised. "What do you mean. I'm not tense." I laughed nervously.
"Well, it's just that you've advised against landed immigrant status for all of the last 20 people you've interviewed. I realize that we've got quotas and all, but you've never been this tight-fisted."
"Well, my reports are just a reflection of my objective opinions, however I just represent one part of the screening process, and my recommendation is not the deciding factor," I said, hesitantly, trying to justify my decisions, decisions that shouldn't have to be justified.
"And what exactly did you mean in your report on Mr. Jnw when you said...," he paused to look into a binder, "that Mr. Jnw is 'obviously lying about his past. His eyes move constantly, and he has the composure of a fox: foxes are considered shapeshifting devils in his culture, and his family name in his native language is fox. The way that he holds his pencil when signing his name gives me the impression that he knows how to use a gun, and that he has used one many times - to kill." Or Mrs. Jlx, when you wrote 'She and her twelve-year-old son strike me as having a more mature relationship than mother and daughter, and by the way that she holds his hand, I doubt that she is not actually her lover passed off as her "son." Her eyes possess the savvy of a woman who has killed her husband, or even of a transsexual who has killed her (or his) former wife... for the sake of an invigorating sexual relationship with a younger body,' or that you can't trust Mr. Xyth's appearance, since he 'has got two pupils in his left eye, and no pupils in his right eye.' What is all this supposed to mean, John?"
I had to think about this for a minute. For a moment, the things that he had read to me seemed to be unfamiliar, as if they were written in a dream, or by somebody else. But then I slowly realized that those were words that I had chosen - indeed, struggled over - myself.
"Well..." I began slowly, "I... guess... you... could... say... that I haven't been feeling like myself lately... that I've allowed a few things about my daily life interfere with my work... and that perhaps my accounts of some of the people I've been interviewing are not entirely accurate. Or, if they're accurate, they're not written in a way that they completely make sense. Sorry, Gus, I don't know what to say."
There was a long pause, where I looked at the wrinkles on the front and back of my hands for a very long time, thinking about what I had said, and speculating about what the consequences of it might be. Until finally Gus spoke up.
"Well, John, I guess that you have been under a bit more stress here than I had anticipated. I guess some of it might come from having just moved here and not really being used to the town, and also having worked so many overtime hours probably hasn't helped too much either. Listen, I want you to take a week of mental health days to regain your composure. We need someone like you around here and we can't afford to lose you, so we want you feeling your best. For the next week, we can get someone to fill in for you. How does that sound?"
I wasn't sure how to answer. Acquiescence might be perceived as failure, but refusal might seem insubordinate. He didn't know what to say. Best to try a careful approach.
"Gee, Gus, I don't know if I can accept. I sure wouldn't want to let anybody down over here!"
"No, listen John. We'll be okay for a week. I can tell, you need some time off, you've overextended yourself, maybe you didn't realize it but you have. Take the week to go for drives in the country, or to get to know some of the people in town, or paint some pretty landscapes, or do something therapeutic. Look at your hands, John, you're shaking."
"My God, Gus, you're right."
And that was it, I had a whole week to spend as I liked to.
That night I phoned my lover and told her that I had better spend the night alone, since I had a lot to think about. She understood and said that she thought that it would be a good idea anyway since she was having her period anyway. I was surprised that she would be so frank with me, even over the phone, but it was good news to me. She was such a sweet person.
It was the first night off that I could remember having, and I wasn't really sure exactly what I should do: read, write, or sleep. I lay in bed for a long time, trying to decide which one of my options was best. I stared at the ceiling, stared stared stared at the ceiling. I stared hard at the ceiling, and I remembered all of the different ceilings that I had ever stared at over all of the years of ennui that I had experienced, the nights of sheer and utter boredom, the Zen-like emptiness that I would experience, NOT because I was a stupid person, rather because there were times that I couldn't be burdened with a thought.
Ceilings. There was the old chocolate factory that had been converted into a student residence, a residence that seemed to have a peculiarly high ratio of Student Madness Syndrome. I had lived there in a year where there had been a terrible series of murders. The high ceiling was crossed with a series of beams, that seemed almost to spell out the words HELP ME.
Another ceiling that I used to stare at was in Montreal, when I was working there one winter. That was the year that I needed to work three jobs - one in a Tartar (raw beef) restaurant as a waiter, one in a slaughterhouse slaughtering cattle, and another as a disk jockey in a strip bar - in order to pay off my brother's gambling debts to a gangster in Quebec City who owned all three establishments. I lived in a dungeon of a room under the slaughterhouse, rent free. The room stank of blood, and it destroyed my sense of smell; the ceiling was streaked with various mysterious stains. I spent many nights staring at the ceiling, too tired to sleep, biding my time for the few hours left before I had to report to another shift. I quit my jobs the day that the gangster was killed; an assassin had walked into the strip bar spraying the place with bullets, killing nearly everybody there including the gangster, the DJ, several strippers, and my brother. Luckily for myself, I was working a shift at the slaughterhouse at the time and escaped unharmed, even from the ensuing police raid and cattle stampede.
A third ceiling was at my parent's house, the house where I had lived in for my many formative years. The floor was blue, the walls white, the ceiling white. I would stare at that lily-white ceiling and imagine myself in various scenarios. I would stare for hours and fantasize: myself as an actor, an astronaut, an archaeologist, a builder, a communist, a dentist, an endocrinologist, a farmer, a gangster, a homosexual, an industrialist, a judge, a kommisar, a lawyer, a monogamist, a nuclear physicist, an oligarch, a patriarch, a quantum physicist, a rapist, a sex worker, a truant officer, an undercover agent, a vegetarian, a wine-taster, a xenophobe, a yellow-bellied bastard, or a zero. I saw myself losing my virginity in a number of different situations; some involved a large number of women, some involved exotic locales, some involved knives. It was my ceiling, and I needed it to understand me and to record myself in, in lieu of a diary.
My oddessey began to twist and mutate. It was turning red.
That night - I don't know when exactly I fell asleep - I began to dream strange and wonderful dreams. Horrible dreams. I dreamt that I found myself with a beautiful woman. I knew from talking to her that she very much wanted me to take her to my bed; I could tell by the way that she stared at my crotch and laughed so fetchingly, the strange smile etched permanently on her face. As I removed her clothing, I could see that her stomach had a vibrant sheen to it, her shoulders glistened majestically, and her legs had a wonderful glow about them. To remove her brazier, I could see that her skin, slightly paler underneath, shone with a twinkling intensity, as did the skin around her hips. Her black snatch of pubic hair was as black as the darkest jet. I climbed on top of her and began to jerk back and forth, twisting like a bent saw moving back and forth. Her head began to move with the motion, her smile as rigid as a junkie's grin. The motion swayed, then jerked, the head bobbing up uncontrollably, bobbing bobbing bobbing. A peal of thunder shook the room. I got up, and there she lay, a heap of plastic balloons jiggling around, smiling, quickly coming to a stop, sitting there drooping, limp. And smiling.
I awoke with a start. It was 12:00. I must have slept for 16 hours. I had to begin my long day on the town. I pulled at my face, caught a thread of something, and peeled a long strip of dried sweat and filth off of my body. I climbed into the shower, washed it all away. I pulled on a white shirt, black jeans, suspenders, red shoes, and a baseball cap. I was ready for my long day on the town.
The first place that I went, alone, was the diner. The same old crappy diner that is at the center of every other pissant little town that dots the vacuum between cities, this one offered no deliverances from the standard truck stop fare: strong coffee, greasy food, and a gaggle of bigots clustered around their cigarettes, talking shit and listening to country music.
The atmosphere on this particular day, however, was quite pleasant, and I was almost the only one in there. I ordered a coffee from the jubilant waitress who came to the table, her old wrinkled face beaming with youthful energy, and I was struck again with the peculiar familiarity that had for so long been haunting me. My eyes narrowed. I looked at the morning paper, as I stirred sugar and milk into my coffee. I looked up again at the waitress as she bounced between tables asking customers if they wanted refills, down at the paper, then up at the waitress again.
The heading of "The Daily Herald" read: "TWO FOUND SLAIN", underneath was the byline "Brothers found knotted together." I looked up again at the waitress, and remembered why she seemed so familiar. There was the famous case of fifteen years ago where the tale of America's most notorious female serial killer, Linda Barrington, came to light in the national newspapers. Her name was carved into the backs of the victims, who were always found in pairs with their arms knotted together. The authorities knew who she was, and where she was from (Swampgrass, Arkansas) but nobody could find her. She had been missing from her hometown for fifteen years. When she was finally captured, she stood trial. She was found to be not criminally insane, and was sentenced to fifteen years in the country's most dangerous women's prison. My waitress, even though her name tag said "Sally", was Linda Barrington.
I was riveted. I couldn't read the newspaper, and my hands shook. I couldn't take my eyes off of her, and I watched her as she sat on a stool at the counter, smoking a cigarette, playing with the ashtray, staring off into space. She looked up and saw me staring at her, her mouth and eyes reflexively grew into a dopey grin, a grin that steadily narrowed into a cold mask as she slowly interpreted my look of astonished recognition as a dangerous threat of exposure. I threw some change onto the table, and left the diner.
I wandered around for a while in some confusion, not sure what to think. It was so strange that a case that I could barely remember reading about so many years ago should turn up in this small town where I happened to be assigned. I sat in the park, and watched the pigeons land on the grass and peck at whatever it is that pigeons peck at. Across from me, on another bench, I could see a drunken couple lounging on another bench, watching the pigeons just as I was. The man stumbled up to me. "Excuse me, kind sir, but could you spare some change for me and my woman to go buy some poison to feed the birds?" he asked me, chuckling.
"I'm sorry, no, I don't have any change," I said, not wanting to look at him.
"Say, aren't you that new interpreter guy?" he asked my, plopping his frame heavily next to me on the bench, the breeze he carried with him reeking of sweat, and alcohol. "Yeah, you are, I've seen you around." From the sound of his voice, the icy notion of familiarity swept over me again. I looked into his red and green eyes. It was Charlie Frank, convicted in 1962 of murdering a vacationing family of four in their cabin next to a lake, roasting their bodies over the barbecue, and being arrested at the hospital where he had checked himself in for food poisoning. Gave himself away in his delirium. Sentenced to 23 years in jail.
"Sorry, I think you've got the wrong guy," I said and stood up, walked away.
I went along the street. The posters of mayoral candidates jumped off of the printed pages out at me as I walked. Candidate John Derkins, former District Attorney, also known as Darryl Diefenbaker, accused of the murder of 29 men and women in a cult in New Mexico in 1972, acquitted despite overwhelming evidence because of a mistake by the arresting officer. Candidate Frank Maas, former high school principal, also known as Frank Lloyd Harvester, millionaire pantyhose tycoon from Chicago suspected of strangling his business associates with women's hosiery, three of his girlfriends died suspiciously after choking to death on over 100 yards each of silk leggings. Shamed into retirement after a humiliating insider stock scandal involving 30 F.B.I. agents who caught him celebrating a stock gain by chewing on hundreds of marked bills in the company of several expensive call girls.
I walked into the local convenience store to buy a pack of very strong cigarettes and a can of lighter fluid. I approached the counter and recognized Darryl, the elderly man from whom I had been buying bread almost every morning that I had lived in that town, as Homer Plato, the high school boy who in 1948 had taken every inhabitant of the town of 56 people that he lived in central Iowa, dried them, ground them into flour, mixed the results in with the flour that his family produced, and sold the batch to a large bakery in Central City. Over the six months that it took for him to do all this, not a single person noticed that that town of 56 had turned into a ghost town with only one living resident.
I left the store without buying anything. I walked back to my apartment, locked the door behind me, and lay down on my bed. I felt a lot better after the short walk, and a lot of things were beginning make sense. Gus, my supervisor, I now knew was Farley Fender, the insane man of North Dakota, who had buried every object on his property, and then began to bury anyone who came to visit him: real estate agents, salesmen, relatives, friends, lawmen, and finally television crews. He disappeared, and had never been seen since.
Then a few more things began to fall into place. I could think back to my days in university when I took current events courses, as well as some courses in contemporary South East Asian politics. I remembered Mr. Jnw, he had been in the news a lot as the horrible butcher of Hanoi, the man who personally beheaded entire neighborhoods of people based on what street addresses met at intersections in that neighborhood. Mrs. Jlx I remembered as the opportunistic former prostitute, former concubine, who eventually became the mistress of a powerful general who ordered the wives of lower level party members dismembered, the limbs dried, and added to a huge mannequin that she was constructing for her occult fashions. Mr. Yxth was her chief surgeon who used to collect the blood of the victims and paint huge frescoes on the interior walls of the legislative assembly.
Having ascertained this, I felt greatly relieved, and fell into a pleasant sleep. Finding myself accidentally in the den of madness, I had no plans to ever wake up.
go to top:
It was finally time for another day to begin. And as I write these words, I can only think about the odd incidents of the last few days... Sitting in my room, I draw a picture of the muscles in my arm, and the picture has more life than my arm has; indeed the arm itself has shriveled and is almost useless, and with every picture that is taken of me, I feel energy being sapped out of my body. My nails grow, and seem to fall out, my bowels ache and bleed, and my stomach has turned into a hard little knot. This is only the prelude. There is more to come.
The setting is as familiar as that of the ants marching into the garbage in a column. It is autumn on our campus, and the students are flitting across the lawns and along the paths laconically, the leaves are spiraling through the air, and the sharp, musty odor of fall fills the lungs - brisk is the word. Several bicycles fly by, inches from the elbows and shoulders and backpacks members of a cross-section of the campus population: a lone professor, a lonely scholar of profanity, tweed-dressed and talking to himself, and a victim of his addictions; a pack of overseas students discussing the benefit of local traffic laws as opposed to the best dried fruit snacks available back home; a minor threat of sports fans/party animals, sharing half a joint and a six-pack, packed with testosterone and barely able to abstain from jumping into bed with the first reluctant teenage girl they pass - or each other; a group of clonish engineers discussing the volume and dimensions of cyberspace; or the lone wolves of the arts faculties brooding and contemplating the mysteries of life, the borders of the mind, or the fabric of murder, trying to emulate most perfectly their Dostoyevstic selves.
I weave through these people as I head down the paths of mature scholarship, trying to picture in one image that same panorama in the past month's colors, as well as in the next month's - white, white, white. I drop by the office of a colleague of mine who teaches in the Chinese Languages department. His office is on the third floor, and I run up and down the steps three or four times, always forgetting something on my bicycle or in my colleague's office. I head to the library for five hours to do my daily quota of research, planting myself somewhere in the midst of my school youngers, their young minds buzzing feverishly (whisperingly) with the aura of naive study, their bodies simultaneously digesting their foods, sweating, secreting inside and out, making me wonder less about the wonder of recorded words and more about the wonders of the human body, the young uncorrupted human body... One lad gets down on the floor and does forty pushups, in order to keep his mind on his studies, every time he feels sexual desire. I can think about it momentarily at least, whenever I can be distracted from my own true profession. The young (sentimentally) uncorrupted human body - it makes me wonder so much about my filthy, patched-together carcass; and I wonder about the moment of corruption... of the penetration of the corrupt element from outside... or perhaps the metamorphosis of corruptions from inside... or maybe the cessation of invulnerability from dire fear of aging.... A string of thoughts that leads to a dead end. I get no further for I have been daydreaming. Nevertheless, the requisite amount of time goes by, when evening finally comes to our part of the world, and I return to my home to spend time exploring Chinese calligraphy, for the amount of time that is needed to relax my body in that way, and then I sleep.
Another day comes, and new incidents arise, although they are not made significant to me until much later. I am a professor. I am teaching in this school that has become my new home. The source of my many loves and hates, of the drama of my life as I watch my colleagues create and destroy themselves and each other - I keep my distance. I wish no part in the phoenix-like generation and regeneration of the same old plots and sacrifices that I see so much of all around me. I feel like I am writing the old story over and over again, creating static and flux. A girl is in my mind, she won't get out of it. I sit and study. There she is smiling at me in the most unexpected of situations. Yet it is all like some bad movie.
The college itself is pleasant, yet I am often disturbed at the fact that the student body is a group of unfathomable strangers, people who may be desperate lunatics, at best curious villains. The people who will some day become captains of state and industry, who will succeed in fields we never attempted, or if we attempted we failed in. I look at them and regret time wasted in academics. I too was young once...
My daily schedule is incredibly boring, yet somehow it has kept me alive, this interest in my subject. At the moment, I am giving lectures and writing articles and collecting students and disciples. My lectures deal with my field of research, as do my articles. Besides several research articles I write for scholarly articles, at the moment I am also writing some short stories. One of them is about a detective who falls in love with the woman he is investigating. In the end it is discovered that she is innocent. I am also writing another one about a police detective who defends a woman he believes is falsely accused. He falls in lust with her, then the moment he clears her of the crime she tells him that she is guilty. Another one concerns a woman who commits crimes, but has no memory of them and certainly no conscience. As it turns out, each of the men she kills is a terrible person and no prosecutor has the heart to throw her in jail for what she had done to sit exposed among the merciless vindicators of dead scum. She falls in love with the prosecutors and draws them into the shadowy world of the vigilante, where they have dark nights of the soul and eventually become hardened criminals themselves. The D.A.'s office has an unusually high turnover rate, which naturally comes to the attention of the governor's office, the senator's office, the White House... I want to call it the Seductress of Liberty, but I don't want to draw too much attention in the pulp fiction press to my pseudonym.
Needless to say that I have more fun writing these stories than the dry research documents I am forced to turn in one after the other in order to stay afloat professionally. The stories at least I can people with my students and colleagues, former lovers, all under assumed names of course; or make up characters by renaming the players in famous motion pictures. It's exciting and the world of change and tribute is endless in its possibilities. Made up characters are usually people I wish I could have met, characters borrowed from real life are often people I miss or people I wish I could destroy. Yet somehow the world of my fiction writing and my world of scholarly study seem to reinforce each other and complement each other, otherwise I couldn't let them co-exist. My field of research is that of the works of the phantom poet some people believe is called "Alexander Void." It is my chosen profession, and one that I never regret having chosen. It involves a great deal of detective work, for some people don't believe that this person ever existed. He is said by some to have created the "Void School" or the Metamorphosis style of writing that would have been wildly unpopular had the establishment and the taste of the reading public allowed it to exist and flourish. An old story. Void him/herself is a legendary figure who came to New York in the Fifties, courted several influential publishers with the same project, then vanished from town. The project was of a book of metafictional terror that had something to do with the science fiction world. The manuscript has never been found. Obscure to the last, none of Void's work has never been published, and all information that is extant comes from secondary sources - colleagues of Void who had read his work and published comments on it. Void is the great mystery of the literary world.
Much of my writing is speculatory work - an attempt to recover the mystery of the intangible Void, whose thoughts and ideas may have never even existed but the very promise of which is delicious enough to command a lifetime of scholarly effort. Since I am an impatient man, however, I have enlisted the aid of my students. Those supreme young minds can fathom possibilities that I have grown too old to entertain, so I find assignments related obliquely yet substantially in concept to Void, so that they can explore computational possibilities for me. Some of the smarter students, the ones who turn in the better work, suspect me of my scholarly "laziness" (little do they know how daunting my mission is) but most turn in sincere work. Their minds are the computers of the literary age, helping me to explore theories and possibilities. In time I know that I will find a way to do what I intend, which is to establish a connection between literature (in any language) and relativistic astrophysics. Could a black hole appear in the middle of a soul? Or is a soul the only thing in the universe that won't become trapped in a black hole? It was all beyond my ability to prove or connect into, but I knew that there was possibility, and only I and one of two of my most excited students entertained the possibility. Somehow I knew that it would all fall together.
That's the story so far. But what happened is as simple as this. Among my students there's an interracial couple. A Caucasian man, an East Asian woman. He so handsome, she so elegant and simple-looking with fine bones and light, long hair. Something is interesting about them, and as I lecture my class and scan my students blank faces, something about their part of the room hooks my eye and makes me want to linger. I don't want to be conspicuous, but there is that fascination again. A vision of two people sharing as much as they can. Two people who are together, truly understand each other and share everything. Here in this room, east meets west, and never the twain shall part. Inevitably my thoughts always come back to them: I think about the robots of different types, two animal species mingling and producing a third, gene pools mixing and allowing mutated life forms to come forth... but this is an un-natural life.
My mind gets carried away. They have something I've never seen anywhere else. A gravity and importance to each other. I see them in the hall and sometimes I say hello, but they seem to never recognize me. Sometimes when I'm in the library I hear voices coming over the partition. Instead of being angry, after I have discovered it is them I become eased and I try to listen to their innocent talk. I try to find out which other professors teach them, to discern what they think of this inseparable yin-Yankee pair, but again I fear being conspicuous. It's an inspired lunacy, but it is the only one I have. I know that it is time to write some more, so I stretch, do a few sit-ups and pushups, and seat myself at the terminal. After a few minutes the computer comes alive and I'm ready to expand my story.
At some point I realize that I have become obsessed with them. I watch them out of the corner of my eye whenever I can, I follow them home to find out where they live - I find out that they live together in an apartment above a drug store. I try to catch them using a pay phone so I can listen in on their conversations by pretending to use the phone next to them (something I think I learned how to do in detective movies). I pay a detective to go around taking pictures of them, I tell the man that the boy is my son and I want to check out his new fling and how serious it is, hoping he is the type who has seen it all before and will be discreet. I break into the school computer to find out more about them, but am locked out. It is the only thing that foils me, and soon I know everything there is to know about their daily existences. I even know what type of music they like to listen to, what movies they prefer and what they think about them after they've seen them. At night they even people my odd dreams and nightmares...
After that, it seems like everywhere I go I begin to see groups of young Caucasian boys playing with young Asian girls, or handsome young men walking around with Asian model types, or young families pushing mixed children around in strollers. What's more, if there are two children the daughter looks more like the Caucasian father, while the son bears a strong resemblance to the Asian mother. I wonder what strange thoughts are going through my mind, and I bury myself in my work, in continuing my mad stories, in planning my lectures, and in drinking myself to death.
Life is long and strong and short and sometimes boring. I put music with a heavy programmed beat on and I eat a pill. My mind is coming unglued somewhat. I fear they're planning to kill me. This thought has crossed my mind a few times in the last few weeks. Surely they cannot love me, what else is there to deduce? Teaching the same class three times a week, teaching the same books that I have read a dozen times, teaching to the same mindless faces, including my own anonymous writing which I teach to support my theories. Without this self-created proof, how could anyone be convinced of my message? Hands are raised, but the students are not interested in my answers, or they are not convinced. Neither am I, truly. This is not on my mind. All of a sudden, all I can focus on is the morbid fantasy that someone is planning to kill me. It is not somebody in Budapest, it is not somebody in Moscow, it is not somebody in Gainesville, it is not somebody from my past. I look over at the students I suspect, and I let my looks linger now. I see them look at me, in their eyes are twin skulls, they do not have happy thoughts as I suspected earlier, but now I believe that they hate me. My lectures are hateful and make the students angry. Several drop out, but the couple I am looking at do not flinch. The boy writes poetry in class, the girl draws pictures, yet when I call on them for answers they always know how to say exactly what I want to hear. Their assignments are excellent, and I cannot help but want to give them top grades, for their ideas reflect mine in almost every way. Spitefully, I still give them mediocre grades, afraid perhaps that they will rise up and overcome me professionally as well as physically. As if they could read minds, they know always the right thing to say or write.
But I sense it in their eyes that they are plotting to kill me. I see them whispering in the halls and look at me. They say something to each other, then they look at me. Then they pause for a moment, then they whisper something else, then they both look at me at the same time. Now I am seeing them apart for the first time - once I see one in the library, then I see the other in the supermarket as I buy my groceries. I turn around at odd times, but I cannot seem to shake them or lost their tail. When I am in the parking lot I manage to drive my car into her car. I get out and apologize, but she won't step out. She knows I am her professor, she knows that she has been following me. I go back to the apartment, and instead of going into the house I sit in the car and stare at her car, parked across the road observing me. I know that she is wondering what I'm thinking, but I also don't know what she's thinking exactly.
I walk up the stairs carrying my groceries (mostly cheese and other dairy products) and I open the mailbox to get the morning paper. I see that the president of our school has been killed. This has just come at the same time that a radical student newspaper calls for a change in the president, that he should pay for the crimes he has committed to the future of the youths of the country and the absence of proper training that will shape their lives and contribute to their usefulness to society. Is it a Maoist journal or is it extreme right wing? The world is a mystery.
Since they have begun to follow me, and also the president (my only ally) is dead, I feel as if I were some sort of murder suspect in their world. They know I have committed some crime, or they know I will commit some crime. How can I say? Or perhaps it is they who have written the tract, perhaps they are the ones who killed the school president. Perhaps they meet together while training in martial arts, perhaps they belong to the same idealistic think group, perhaps they hate all authority in an authoritarian society. Perhaps they have made a pact with the devil to deliver corrupt souls. I know that mine is more corrupt than most, but how could they? My crime is inward and nobody else could suspect it. Yet somehow they seem to know everything. Again it is in the realm of speculative fiction, my specialty.
I see them sometimes in a car behind me. Dark clouds have covered the sun. There is scary music on the CD-changer. I see their faces in everyone I meet - the pizza delivery boy is him, so is the cab driver I'm stuck with for over an hour in traffic; the hat-check girl is her, so is the lap dancer who comes my way one evening. My dark thoughts grow darker. When I make telephone calls, I know that they are somewhere listening, somehow. I am afraid to look closely at the faces of the people standing next to me at the coin phones. I fear I am losing my mind, so after I stumble home I stretch out some, do some pushups and sit-ups, warm up the computer and sit down to do some writing.
Soon my nerves are frazzled with the apprehension of fearing the hidden motives of those well-versed with hiding in the shadows. I take a tranquilizer to calm myself down and I sit on the couch and meditate on the black hole hanging from the wall. There it is, the hole, and I am falling into it as if it were a real void and not an imagined one. I have become calm and I now know what it is time for. I call the police. This is the decision that I have come to and this is what I do.
I spend some time waiting on the telephone for the proper person to come on. I explain the fact that I am being followed and I believe I know who is following my although I don't know why. The sergeant on the line obviously doesn't believe that I am in any danger, and my situation is only the product of a fertile imagination, but the police are obliged by their duties to investigate my complaint. This is what I wanted at one point when the drugs were in full effect, but the truth is that they had worn off by the time the detective arrived and I was no longer so assured of my motives and desires. They send a detective, a certain Hammett Marlowe. I couldn't help thinking, what a ridiculous name for a police detective. Didn't this guy's mom ever watch the movies?
Hammett was a good fellow and he listened to my ideas patiently, keeping his wise cracks to a minimum. He decides to follow them himself and ask a few questions, although he wouldn't be on the case for very long if he didn't find anything. After this things began to happen fast. He came to my apartment the next day and told me that he had found evidence of a plot. He also told me he was just as fascinated with this couple as I had been. They definitely had mysterious ways. He confessed, shyly and only after the promise of confidentiality, that although he had previously been inclined to homosexuality, the Asian half of the couple under surveillance had stirred some sort of odd passion in him. A day later I got a phone call, telling me that he had to meet me again and gave me a time and a place. He hinted that he knew something important about them, but I knew that he had fallen for the girl, that heavenly fiend. I knew, for I saw her in my dreams after falling asleep drunk every night.
I went to the meeting place and waited for him to show up. It
was a plaza, a place where everybody could see each other. I looked
over at the tables and saw the couple sitting at a table under a shady
parasol, half-drained coups of ice-tea were sitting on the table, one of
them half in the sunlight. She had her head in her hands, she was
weeping and convulsing violently, he was trying to comfort her. I
knew that this was a bad place to meet the detective as we'd be seen.
I found a hidden spot where I could look and not be seen easily and waited
there. He never came. I looked around that square for hours,
and I swore that I could see armed guards in every window, ready to snipe
or assassinate. Was a raid being staged or planned? At one
point the girl looked up from her hands, suddenly, and stared directly
at me. I disappeared from the location and went back home and waited
by the phone. I was expecting it to ring at any time, since it had
been several hours since I had been stood up. When it did ring, I
waited to for the answering machine to check the voice of whoever was calling,
yet the lone caller didn't leave any message. I knew that something
had happened to Hammett. I could only speculate that he had been
killed. I decided to look into my mailbox. I found a note.
It's too late for me, the note read, I've become involved with her, I love
her like I've never loved a woman. I know some of her secrets.
Her boyfriend is fantastically jealous. He will kill me if he finds
out. If you never hear from me again, please show this note to the
detective who comes looking for me.
This was all I needed at this point - he was, after all, someone who was supposed to be helping me. She had been weeping, what was it about, why was she weeping? The detective had disappeared, she was upset, he felt like he wouldn't overcome, he was gay, she and the boy were involved in a plot to get me. None of it made sense. I wanted to call the police and ask about the detective, but wondered if that would implicate me. Maybe there was no record of my involvement. I had only met him twice after all and who knows who he's been together with these days while investigating, or what his previous cases had been. But none of this was any good. I knew he was dead. I put his note in a safe place and I went into the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet. I looked at my reflection in the mirror as the door closed like every time, but there was no fear in my eyes. I took the tablets, I did my stretches and sit-ups and pushups, I sat myself down at the computer, and I began to write...
It was in the news the next day, as it always is. The detective
Hammett Marlowe dies in fiery wreck. Arson is suspected. It
is not written that he has had his eyes pulled out, his tongue cut off,
and he has been castrated and his penis and testicles have been found in
his pocket. I can just see him running from his attackers, running
to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge with cars whizzing by all about him,
until he is cornered right in the middle of the bridge. Where is
there for him to go but down? His tormentors will not let him live
and he can't escape. He should end it himself and not give them the
pleasure. But he cannot do it. He is recaptured and taken to
the place where he is found, strapped into the wreck that is set on fire,
and left there to burn to death, asphyxiate, or die of his broken heart.
Soon after another detective comes to visit me. He is not as considerate as the first, and I refuse to help him in any way. He also isn't as intelligent as the first, which really isn't saying much. What he doesn't realize is that I am only protecting him. In the background I can hear a siren wailing. It must be driving in circles around the block, for it fades in and out but never disappears. I must appear uncomfortable, for there is a cruel smile on his lips, but eventual victory is mine and he is forced to leave cursing and threatening and intimidating me. I have not budged. I will protect him in any way I can.
The couple is still present in my life, for they are still my students. One term had ended and they have signed up for the continuation of the first course. They have become my students again. It is clear that they don't want to leave me. The thought crosses my mind that there is no plot, that there is no danger, that this couple is just an innocent pair of lovers who are genuinely interested in what I have to say. Student enrollment from the beginning of the first course to the mid-term of the second course had dropped off to less than a quarter of the starting enrollment, but this has not deterred them, nor have the mediocre grades I have unfairly punished them with. Perhaps with the dead detective there was someone else from a previous case or from his personal life who wanted him dead, or there were some nasty former associates who didn't like something he'd done. But that doesn't explain how he could have been involved with her. It was in the note, the note that was in a safe place but I hadn't shown anyone.
In this respect my life has not changed in the slightest way.
I am still writing and teaching and researching and fulfilling my office
duties with an empty mind, finishing the routine thinking, then returning
to my house and the drugs. that I now need more and more of, and the instability
and the madness and the danger. When I am at home there is no doubt
that there is a threat to my being, and that if the couple doesn't get
me, surely the second detective will. I swallow the tranquilizers,
one more than last time, and I sit down and stretch and do pushups and
sit-ups and begin to write in front of the glowing computer while soft
Another day begins and I wake up from in front of the computer where I had been writing until I fell asleep sometime early that morning. I turned off the computer and went downstairs, making myself the biggest breakfast I had ever made for myself, as much food as I could stuff into my stomach and then some. I had never done that before, and I started to wonder why. But a little need in my body had surely triggered this incredible hunger response. The day was sure to be remarkable.
I go to school again like I do every day, but this time I look into my classroom and I see that the girl is there alone, the boy is gone. I give her a worried look. I look over at her and she seems distracted and worried about something. She's frowning in a way that puzzled me, I've only ever seen her carefree. Other students begin to shuffle with my entrance and she notices that I am looking at her, giving her a worried look. She stares deeply into my eyes, and I know that she wants to tell me something. I teach the class, but the whole time I am wanting to reach out to her. I can stand it no longer, and I dismiss the class early. I want her to linger around after the class and talk to me. Suddenly, I am aware that a group of large men have come into the classroom, they are heading towards me.
Professor, one of them says, I'd like you to come with us, we have some questions for you.
I am surrounded by these big brutes, people I've never seen before. Why should I go with you, gentlemen, I don't know who you are or what you want with me. State your intentions.
Everything will be explained to you, please come with us.
I look over at the girl, I wrinkle my brows and try to indicate to her with my eyes that I want to talk to her. She holds my gaze for a few long seconds, giving me a worried look, then leaves the room. She is the last student to leave.
Who's she, one of the men asks.
Probably some student he's banging, another said. These professors are some sort of weird sex symbol to the brainy chicks.
I'm afraid that would be out of the question, sirs, I say after a short pause. I'm impotent and have been for years.
They take me to a room. They tell me that not an hour ago it was reported that the bodies of the young man and the detective had been found, both of them burned to death in a car wreck. They had died in exactly the same way as the other detective. They believe that there must be some connection to me, and they are building up a case against me, although they don't have enough evidence to arrest me yet. They are showing me their hand and believe it is enough to trap me into folding. They want me to confess to my involvement in the case, or they'll just be back when they have enough evidence. When I act dumb and tell them that I know nothing, that I am a simple professor teaching and doing research, they tell me more. They tell me that my colleague, a scholar of profanity, had come out and spoken against me, and they suspected that others would follow suit. I could come with them now, or I could come with them later. I told them that I would never come with them, and walked out of the door.
I know that a process is starting, like a supernova, something that grows and grows bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter before it collapses into itself, the force of the greatest destruction. I know that these men must be prevented from taking the path that they wish to. I know that I have to stop them, just as I have to stop the other things that have been set wrong.
The boyfriend dies was all that I could think. I went home to my apartment and stared at the walls. I considered the medicine cabinet, I thought about the stretching and the exercises and the computer that lay beckoning. Somehow it all had to be recorded, it had to contribute to my thesis. But I knew that I should not do that, I should not do that at all. I am about to be arrested after all. There is nothing to be done. Waiting around will not help me. I must go and confront the girl. I have to tell her what I know and what I fear. For the first time I feel that she is ready to talk to me truthfully about who she is and what her involvement with me is. I need to know, I need to know everything and I am sure I can force her to tell me what I crave to know. I am a scholar, after all, and the list of suspects is narrowing considerable. I am not afraid of jail or the shame that will go with it, I am not afraid or dying or even insanity for I am already a condemned man. But I need to know the truth. I visit my colleague the scholar of profanity first. I want to know what he has told the police, but I find his office door guarded by a pair of security agents. I turn the corner and walk out of the faculty office area. I am aware that I am being followed. It is a pair of uniformed police officers, a man and a woman, one Caucasian one East Asian!
I am chilled and need to stop to have a cool drink - a strong cool drink. I stretch out as much as I can in the lounge chair under the watchful eyes of my tails. They appear quite friendly, the two, and while they are rather conspicuously waiting for me, they seem to be having a good time with each other. How must I look to them?, a pathetic middle-aged professor sweating profusely in his chair like one who suspects that he is guilty and has limited time. I do have limited time, though, but not for the reasons they suspect. I grope in my pocket and find what I'm looking for - two pills I keep as a spare. I swallow them with a drink of water, then walk past the tails who have become too friendly to notice me walking past them.
My first stop after losing the tails is to stop at the apartment and get the note. I put it in my pocket and keep going. I meditate on it. It is too incredible. I pull in front of the apartment, not trying to hide my car at all. In my pocket I can feel the form of a gun I do not remember putting there. Perhaps I'll need it, though, I think, and I don't move it from where it is. I walk up to the stairs and ring the door.
She opens it, telling me that she has been waiting for me. Why is it necessary for her to tell me that she has been waiting for me when it is clear that she has been in the apartment for some time? What are her motives? I see that she is wearing nothing but a bathrobe. I become furious - who is this crazy bitch and what is she up to?
I confront her with what I know and tell her my fears and suspicions. I tell her that I suspect that she is the killer, and that the police should also. She looks at me and doesn't say anything, but she begins to weep. As she is hunched over, her bathrobe opens up, and I can see most of both of her breasts, her full nipples, and the hint of a tattoo coming around the left breast. I move over to her and put my arm around her. I rub her shoulders as she cries. I hold her tightly, but not too tightly. I reach around and lift up her chin and kiss her on the lips. At first she is willing to kiss me, but as the kiss becomes longer she panics and begins to struggle, eventually getting away from me.
Are you crazy, she asks, do you know what you're doing?
Or course I know what I'm doing, I say, I'm trying to kiss you. Have you never been kissed before?
After all that's happened? Don't you know who I am? Mister, you may think that you're just my teacher, but that's not all. Don't you know who I am? Don't you know who my mother is? Don't you know who my father is? It's you, you motherfucker, you're my father and I'm you're daughter. So get away from me, you've already done enough harm.
Shut up, you're not my daughter, I yell, after shaky moments in shock. I don't know who you are, I want to know who you are, but I know you aren't my daughter. How can I be your father, I've been impotent all of my life. Tell me now who you are and stop lying.
I am your daughter, you've got to know that. You can't stop denying it any longer.
Well, what about this note? What is it? Who is it, who's been killing all of these people? What's going on here? What do you have to do with it? The man who wrote this note, who is he? What did you do to him?
She stiffens when she sees the note. Read the note, she says, it's in your handwriting. That is why you haven't given it to the police yet, isn't it? Because you know it is in your handwriting and it is impossible for somebody to present evidence against themselves. Read the note.
I read the note.
Now read the other side, she tells me in a level voice.
I read the bold words. I confront the girl, find out that she is my daughter and I am the killer, since it has all been in my mind/an elaborate hoax for her to get close to me.
I loved them all, much more than I love you. Don't you understand now...?
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