Friday, March 12, 2010

The Perpendiculars, Book one, Part one -- excerpt

“Char me the trunk of a giant redwood, give me pages of white cliffs to write upon, magnify me thousands of times and replace my trifling immodesties with a titanic megalomania… then I might write large enough for our subjects.”
-- Charles Hoy Fort, the Book of the Damned


A late October morning, see-your-breath cold. Frost on the ground and the dirt track feeling stiff underfoot. A morning for quiet contemplation of the coming winter, for watching the pinking east through a cloud of coffee-steam… or for staying in bed, cozy, until the sun softened things, chased off the frost.

Without coffee and without a bed – I’d rolled up my rim about twenty kilometers back on the highway, and my blankets were two chilly hours behind that – all I had on that country morning was a mission and a message, a bagful of mojo dynamite. I fingered the battered satchel at my side, feeling my own flimsy hocus-pocus over and around the dark and ancient secrets within. It felt transparent; only a lazy idiot could fall for this gimmick. Lucky for me, I guess, that laziness and idiocy are powerful constants in this unpredictable world. What else can you count on?

The house itself was unremarkable. Hardly the pulp-novel image of a wretched hive or a royal refuge, which was of course the whole point, since it was both. Vinyl siding, cedar deck, tar shingles… just another ranch-style farmhouse on a medium-sized acreage in a typically pretty chunk of some run-of-the-mill geography. A retirement plot, exactly.

Except this particular piece of Freedom 55 – Freedom 5,500, if you want to get cute – was a long way from country-kitchen fantasies of thanksgiving with the grandkids. I could smell it from the foot of the drive, mystic stink overpowering the molecular diesel aroma of Addy’s idling Rabbit, the Brave Bunny. Scent of decay, mouldering mansion… something majestic gone sick and wrong. Piss in the corner of a palace, a cathedral repurposed as a dungheap, and through it all a whiff of incense, of camphor, of clean reeds from my bag. I pumped as much will as I dared into my metaphysical odor-eater; I didn’t want the shitdwellers scenting the disinfectant. Not yet.


I started up toward the place, heard Addy rattle and backfire away. Crossing an invisible line, a crude gouge in the network of other, subtler invisible lines that lay dormant all around, I watched a couple of dark lumps detach themselves from their stations in the shadows of the deck, lumbering their way down to meet me. Cheap thugs. First and probably only line of defense for an indefensible fortress.

“The fuck you want?” Alpha thug, a sleek slab in tacky black fashion leather, awake way too early. Or never gone to sleep? Probably the latter; his eyes were nasty pits of empty overstimulation. His counterpart, tank-top and tattoos in frosty pre-winter, was a zombie. Maybe literally. I didn’t dare open my third eye to check, and my third hand was busy holding my third nose. Corrupted beyond humanity, filthy, wrong. I hoped my cargo could behave itself in his presence.

“Delivery for Shafiq,” I said, right arm hugging fake leather closer.

“Oh, yeah?” He squinted over my shoulder to where the Bunny had been, with a vague interest that wasn’t quite curiosity, before focusing on the bag, reaching for it with one of his massive violence vectors. “What’cha got?”

I swiveled the bag protectively behind me. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! You want to lose that nasty mitt? This shit’s eyes-only, Jack; dust it and learn.” .

After the requisite threatening pause-and-glare – do these assholes all mail away for the same Teach Yourself Goonery manual? – alpha thug pulled his tenderizer back, plunged it into the interior of his $199 Monsieur Antoine special, and after some rummaging produced a battered baggie bulging with about an ounce of ashy powder. I presented the parcel.

With exaggerated care, comical daintiness, the goon sprinkled his precious pixiedust over the bag. I tried not to hold my breath as we watched for the results while beta thug glared crosseyed at nothing to our left. The dull dust began to sparkle.

I almost broke and ran when I saw the seal resolving on the ratty surface of my old camera case. Channels of enchantment whole half-modes out of phase, zigs where there ought to be zags, anchor lines that should have been a bright net fading off at their tips… an obvious counterfeit, a mimeographed sawbuck, a twelve-year-old’s fake ID. Stupid. I was out of practice, out of conviction, and out of my mind for thinking this lobot lackey might be fooled by that weak piece of shit.

I figured I had about two seconds to live. Ten, if alpha thug was the type for Hollywood one-liners. Who’d have thought the end of my road would be the driveway of a suburban hobby farm?

Then came the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard: the goon gasping like a girl. I looked up from my pathetic handiwork to see him shuffle-stepping backward, making warding signs, dead eyes brought to brief life with fear.

Well, holy shit. These losers were even lamer than I’d thought; I might as well have shown up draped in a spooky sheet and scared them off Scooby-Doo style. They were almost too dumb to deserve that which lay a few minutes in their future. Almost.

“Damn right, buddy,” I said, keeping an adrenaline giggle out of my voice as I blew past the panicked heavy and his oblivious partner, double-stepped up to the deck. With a hoarse whisper of underlubricated patio doors, without a look back, I slipped into the defiled sanctum of the pharaoh Sekhemkhet, August Hand of Amun, Dread Lord of the Nile.

[Part two HERE]

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