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Walking the train tracks is tedious. The ties are not ever placed in an even walking stride, you have to half step or jump, it takes concentration best used for other, more interesting things. He thought that maybe the slaves so many years ago placed the ties for maximum discomfort of the ruling class who may one day be walking along them... a belated "fuck you and your life" from the unmarked grave. Mismuth smiled at that. He'd always been intuitively on the underdog side and it made him feel good that his discomfort might be the goal of some impoverished minority.

The feeling passed quickly as the snow covered Mismuth's field of vision again in a quick flurry. Behind him, the engineer, conductor and several porters were bleeding to death due to a mob mentality that he had, for a second, been whole-heartedly part of. No one wanted anyone who might be responsible for this mess in control of anything. Emotions ran high, things were said, then things were done. Anyone that knew anything about train operation was tried, sentenced and put to exsanguination. This left everyone with a gnawing question: why did they stop the train? the going hypothesis was that there was nothing ahead. Only the greed and lies of a few train based oligarchs caused them to make up a threat... but the new governing council needed to be sure. So they sent a scout down the train tracks to see if there was anything there.

Mismuth started shivering a bit more intensely. Shivering in the way you know you can't just calm down and stop. Still the same snow fell, ambivalent and smug. This here was the snow's terrain, Mismuth was merely a speck in the snow's demesne, a tiny living spark among a huge wasted terrain owned by frozen precipitation. "Barely worth noticing, really," Thought snow, "except it'll be fun when the other things get to him." Snow is so fucking SMUG.

Mismuth stopped and looked behind him. The wind made a strange sound, like a chuckle... he continued shivering till his vision became a dual paned window, angled sharply askew. His knuckles, even tucked into his armpits, started becoming ethereal, weightless, imperceptible. He had long ago given up on feeling his toes, but his fingers were harder to deal with. His shivering intensified till the landscape took on a perceived quaking with each breath.

Up ahead, on the train tracks, as Mismuth squinted, he thought he heard whisps of organ music, or maybe accordion. Then nothing, cold biting wind and shivering. He trundled on... ankles and wrists numb now... "If I'm this cold now how could I get..." he turned his head to look back down the tracks just as he heard a massive rumble. the ground itself had started moving and lurching under him shaking and thrusting... Mismuth barely regained his balance before he noticed that the undulation under his feet perfectly matched his trembling eyesight. the waves that had obliterated his capacity for sight and breathing and coherent thought were all of a sudden matched by opposite waves, canceling each other out so that Mismuth came to a sudden clarity, the railroad ties rose to meet his awkward footfalls, the landscape smoothed out into a beautiful barren blue-scented retreat... the earth below, owned by snow had come to accept him as its own, he was OK and a feeling of warmth spread from his feet (he had forgotten what having feet felt like) up through him... the snow parted, refusing to fall on him and he looked up and saw exactly what it was that had stopped the train, why the engineer and conductor had stopped, what was waiting for everyone that survived. Mismuth smiled as the paired oscillations grew slower, calming, slower. His breaths matched, no longer afraid, he just breathed when it felt right. He thought of cotton candy as he layed back into the pillow-like snow and released himself to fate.
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Closer The Ghost
qeox
The Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard wandered hither and thither around the parking lot he'd landed in for a long time... he tried talking to lamp posts and trash cans, haunting broken down cars and hitting on secretaries as they dug through over-full purses for keys, cursing to themselves for having too much crap in their bags. All of his attempts ended the same: complete ambivalence from the world around him. The closest he got to a reaction was rattling chains in the back of an executives Porsche as the executive backed out of his personal parking space... "fucking mechanic" was all he said. This elevated the Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's spirits immensely, it's really tough living in a world that won't talk back to you, so even an off the cuff admonition directed toward someone else but caused by you is a reason for celebration (To the executive's credit, his fan belt was loose and squealing a little, so really, he might not have heard the Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's rattling at all... but we'll let the Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard have his moment).

It took quite a while before the Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard discovered that, not only could he inhabit the parking lot, but the industrial complex to which it was attached could also be wandered aimlessly through. Ghosts, as I've repeated before, are not bright, nor are they quick... but they are generally earnest and driven... and have a lot of time on their hands. So one day, following a buxom blonde, the Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard found himself in the lobby of Yoyodine Incorporated staring at another buxom blonde receptionist. He kept himself busy for a few days talking to lamps and trash cans since that's what he was used to in the parking lot. He regaled the items with tails from his childhood (like the time he found his daddy's dirty picture magazines under the mattress while he was playing monopoly with himself (as a child, he wasn't too terribly familiar with the rules of monopoly, just its basic thrust, if you will... which lead him to all sorts of non-traditional monopoly based territory). After he discovered that men have pictures of nekkid women under their beds, the Erstwhile Jr. Lundegard felt pretty ashamed that he had no such images residing beneath his place of slumber. He thought that, maybe all his maladies sprang from his not having these night-time talismans of manhood. To rectify this unmanly weakness, he endeavored to draw a life size nekkid girl but got stymied by the stubborn shapes of feet. Wavy hair, pert breasts, shapely necks, waists and calves all came naturally to him, but try as he might, again and again, the feet never looked real to him. How could a nekkid girl walk around with misshaped feet, her breasts didn't matter if she had to drag herself around by her hands... the image was useless. Finally, after weeks of trial and mostly error, the Erstwhile Jr. Lundegard folded up his drawing so only the ankles were showing and pleaded with the Erstwhile Sr. Lundegard to draw a pair of feet for him. the Erstwhile Sr. Lundegard obliged in a haze of herbal inhalants and apathy. This was the closest the Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard and his father ever came to having a heart to heart about sex). The objects were non-plussed, having heard much stranger stories before.

The Train has Stopped
qeox
Rumors fluttered rapidly down the length of the train and back again in reflected sine waves as imaginations wrapped around the problem now being faced. The train is stopped -- this was the only known value. Variables were all that remained: what or who had stopped it? why? where was the train? Was it a broken dynamo worn out but uninspected by lazy train yard laborers? Was this a heist perpetrated by cut-throats waiting to ravish the women? Was the coal so frozen that it could not be thawed for fuel? Could it be Gremlins, long thought to have been eradicated through prodigious use of DDT and harsh campaigns of brutal slaughter, hatched up here in the barren wilderness waiting for the day they could exact revenge. The train personnel were no more in the know than hapless passengers but felt the need to extol the virtues of calm keeping and head leveling.

Outside was darkness punctuated only by falling specks of snow reflecting the weak light escaping the train windows. It happens with the design of trains that no one can really see where they are going, only what they are passing. Often, passengers are comforted by the serene absence of city-scape, a zen-like feeling settles the soul as they pass through a flat parcel of land for a second and onto another different, but equally flat and worthless, parcel. But now, with the sudden termination of momentum, it seems that the comfort gleaned from looking out the windows at an open country-side bereft of ballyhoo has descended into panic. No one wants to stay in the wilds of Canadian hinterland for anything longer than a bemused half second, now they'd been here going on an hour with no answer inside the train and the only answer outside was a constant, relentless and, above all, smug, snowfall.

_______________________________________________________________________


"Look here! We can't turn into a riotous mob. Cooler heads must and will prevail if we are to extricate ourselves from this unpleasantness!" A tall carefully mustachioed man in a tasseled red band leader uniform announced, turning slowly so as to address everyone.

"We all agree on that much, you've made no proposition." Indeed, everyone had met in the dining car to decide exactly what the plan would be now that the train seemed marooned in a permanent night with no timetable or map.

"Well, a council should be set up... those with some background with authority, teachers, the engineer, maestros... leaders should convene and make some decisions."

"Elitism! You only call for a council like that so you can be on it. We should vote!"

"The hell with that, we should throw the train in reverse and get the hell out of here. Who knows what those vagabonds have in mind?! We'd be idiots to stay here."

At this point the Engineer stood and addressed the sweaty mass crowded into the dining car, "We don't have enough fuel to get back to any civilized areas to the south, our only bet is to conserve resources and hope we can continue on our scheduled journey soon. Till then we need some sort of operational agreement. As engineer, I know the ins and outs of this vessel better than any. I can ration our food and keep an eye on the situation better than any. I'll make the calls, here."

A few passengers traded suspicious looks and one in a bowler hat cautiously put forward what a few had been whispering in the rear of the car. "How do we even know that there are is any real trouble at all? You could be making all of this up as a power grab for all we know." A few other passengers then noted that uniformed porters were posted by the doors and several were very close to the engineer, perhaps signaling each other in secret code and waiting for the order to initiate martial law.

The Engineer continued, "What sort of power grab would this be? Who wants to be despot of a stranded train in the middle of a six year long winter? I only propose that I'm the only one who has been able to see what we're up against, I know the workings of this contraption. It only makes sense."

The crowd, as an organism, didn't seem to like his logic... now, logic seemed only to serve the needs of a power-hungry madman who may well have been responsible for stopping them in this hell hole.

Right now, Phenson kept quiet near the rear of the car and watched. There was going to be disorder, a few would probably die before anything got sorted out... right now was not the time to be a leader of anything. Right now was a good time to look out the window occasionally. Towards the end of the meeting, which ended badly, Phenson could swear he saw something move far away past the smug snow, past the drifts and past the hillocks, past the field of vision but just short of imperceptible.
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Timothy Discovers the Bad News
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Timothy stared at his office again. Nothing was amiss but something was wrong... different. He scanned again, the acrylic painting of a lesser Eastern sub-noble with what was supposed to be a mysterious smile. The frame centered perfectly between his designer Etherwyg file cabinet and Elk-bone desk. The oval rug was just a few inches off center to show a bit of jauntiness to prospective paranoids that were too worried about perfect arrangements. The incandescent in the ceiling giving off the right candle power, it hadn't been used since he had left yesterday. The papers scattered "haphazardly" on his desk still in the same geometric pattern he had left them in. It didn't matter, they were decoys. But, as he stepped into his office, something was different.

Timothy worked very, very hard on very, very important work. It seems as though someone has found out just how important before Timothy could capitalize on it. He kept scanning

There it was, there were several flakes of decoy dust dislodged from the drawer in his file cabinet and a hair glued to the window with spittle the night before was askance.

"Shit." Timothy shut and locked the door and rushed to his chair. "I'll have to go through all the fail safes... this'll take hours." He laid his head slowly on his desk and pulled the trash bag away from the sides of his bin, slowly reached between the bag and bin till he got purchase of his jug of UnPremium-GradeLow-QuickWhiskey. I'll have to cancel my appointments today.

His only appointment that morning was Terry Viscous. A reschedule would not likely cause any harm, Terry had only begun construction of his rib-removal device last week, the necessary ore and compounds couldn't have been procured. The fool wouldn't be capable of assembling and deploying his wife-maker. No one could sue.

Timothy didn't feel spry or enthusiastic anymore, not like he'd felt last week. His sleep must be interrupted, the damn child causing stress or something. Maybe the damn wife demanding, I don't know, whatever "Wife Monthly(tm) - A Modern Nag's Guide to Needling and Subtle Sabotage" tells her that she demands. He can't keep up this pace with work and home life. The girl was going to be his ticket out of here... one massive fraud, or extortion and he'd be set. Living on a vacation island where people torture those poorer than themselves just for fun. But before even looking, Timothy knew that the bandit had looked over his file on her. Knew her insight.

"Nothing's ever easy." Timothy sighed and took a long pull from his whiskey. He pulled the phone off of its cradle and began dialing Terry to tell him that psychotherapy would have to be put off for today but the very best care was going to be administered just as soon as god was willing.

Against the Hour
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Godfrey didn't like distractions. An undirected, or rather, omni-directional, sense of urgency had served as a Notus to his Argo, guiding him toward countless hazards to be bested -- villains to be vanquished while honing his skills in preparation for the ultimate battle. His mother called it neurosis and his pediatrician warned, frowning, that he'd keel over of stress induced cardiac-hyper-malfeasance by the age of 30. Godfrey had always known that, quite to the contrary, his low amplitude constant buzz of pre-panic was his best chance at getting ahead, his only tool in a world uninterested in him or his plans, let alone his well being.

"You have 2 messages, Godfrey." He brushed past Miss Simore without acknowledgment.

After a beat, he turned. "How many times do I have to tell you?" It was a morning ritual, "You can just call me God for short." They both chuckled and he left his messages as he hurried down his brightly lit hall. He had no time for messages, Today was an important day. The levers of power were well greased, networks of lackeys were at attention and ready to be deployed. Weapons were polished and aimed. Information, secret information, was flowing and Godfrey was in the center of it. It had taken months to amass the report he had lovingly tucked into his suit jacket that morning after coffee. Today, though, the trigger would be pulled, today he was going to deliver the world changing information to the one person on the planet that had more ruthless desire for power than Godfrey.

He rounded a corner at a brisk trot towards The Dictator's office when his scalp started itching. It was probably something subliminal. His brain had picked up, on a subconscious level, some particular frequency of voice behind a door as he passed. Someone he didn't recognize saying things not at all familiar. The buzz started in Godfrey's head. "Something is wrong."

"Godfrey." A strained whisper from office 48. "There's a problem."

"I know," he replied in an exasperated tone, "of course there's a problem."

Teddy waved Godfrey in and quickly shut the door. Teddy had always come to Godfrey in moments of stress, usually divulging more than he should about things he shouldn't even know about but he was uncharacteristically twitchy and scattered.

"Tell me what you know and I'll fill you in." Godfrey leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette. He kept cigarettes in his jacket for encounters with Teddy. Teddy hated them but never asserted himself, it distracted him enough for Godfrey to better read his body language.

"Phenson is gone."

Godfrey waited for the rest.

Teddy suppressed a cough and tried to find a pocket of air a little less saturated with smoke, waiting.

"Gone... ?" Godfrey let slip a smile that betrayed his lack of serious belief. For a second he was ready to tell Teddy to stop joking, but realized just in time if it were not a joke that it would be a severe restructuring of the power balance between them. Of course Godfrey knew what happened to The Dictator for Life, Godfrey was the fucking intelligence minister. Godfrey had thousands of spies in the capitol city alone, networks of trained informants, dead drops and the best equipment. How could Phenson have been killed? We had the best security, everything. It had to be someone in the inner circle. Who could have done it? Heurre? Bell? Nausea crept up Godfrey's ribs. Not today. Not now. Shit.

"Well, what can you tell me? I have 2 reports that need to be signed off on..." Teddy's voice was slowly subsumed by the rushing mix of panic, planning and outright anger in Godfrey's head. It was a pleasant white noise that Godfrey associated with the amniotic feeling that regular people must experience. Godfrey had always had a half-crazy personal mythology that panic, doubt and worry were his true mothers and that ruthless determination was his father. Shining platonic gods personifying fantastic ideals merging in a heavenly orgy to produce a mortal boy to become a beacon to the world. They smuggled him into the womb of his mother as she slept, leaving him with a rich, warm, nurturing mix of hyper-alert, calculating worry. Godfrey was destined for influence and unfettered access to world-bending control. Nothing, really, had dissuaded him of this belief (he didn't admit, even to himself, that he literally believed it). But, too coincidentally, his life had been just charmed enough for him to fight through to the top... "No, almost the top." He corrected himself. If The Dictator had been assassinated then the assassin's plan must be well underway. Time cannot be wasted. This may have buried all the work gone into the report in his jacket, but it may be an opportunity as well.

Teddy had still been talking and Godfrey was shocked back to tuning in with the words "Principals' meeting's been going on for an hour."

"What do you mean the principals' meeting's been going on for an hour? What room?"

"29."

The 2 messages he had ignored, of course. Godfrey rushed out of the room leaving his cigarette smoldering on Teddy's imported sprite-hair rug. Godfrey always believed that you have to leave the room before the other person has a chance to conclude anything. That, and if you aren't abusing them in some way, they'll feel a relaxed closeness, a kinship or at least a shared humanity -- and that way lies loss, compromise and betrayal. Teddy may be a halfwit, but Godfrey needed every member of this structure on his side and believing that he's on top.

Without breaking stride, Godfrey brushed the door to office 29 open as if it were a moth, quickly surveyed the "principals" and made immediate eye contact with Don Ritchee. "I just got the message. We need to find out who did this. I've got my spy network working out the details already, I'll catch the fucker." Godfrey was already setting up a few ways to frame some of the people in the room. "All of you can rest assured." After using "the reassuring look" on every individual. Godfrey began to settle into a chair when he noted the discomfort and sudden silence in the room.

"Godfrey?" Heurre queried through his bloodshot jowls, "we didn't send for you. We can handle this ourselves."

Nathen jumped in, "What the hell do you mean 'find out who did this?' You know Phenson just as well as we do and the note was undeniably his."

Godfrey paused imperceptibly, and raised his head from unbuttoning his jacket (a signal that work is to be done). Note? Suicide note? That couldn't be. No one, NO ONE, abdicates the role of the commander of the most powerful nation-state on the planet. That's the supreme goal, the brass ring. For a moment, the buzzing and rushing in his head sputtered.

There was a quick titter around the room and Shannon Gameplay leaned over, a little embarrassed, and whispered "Our Great Prime Minister For Life, as he loves being called, has run away to join the circus. He is serious. There will be a special election." She almost moved back to her position and then added, "We don't need spies for an election." There was another round of suppressed nervous levity and Godfrey's view of the world cracked just a little.

The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard: a work in progress
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The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard had pictured his death in a very particular way since the age of 13 and 2/5ths (prior to that age his predictive death had come at the hands of robots, rabid yankee marauding carpetbaggers or a particularly vicious beating administered by his father (which at the point of The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's death, his father would be racked with guilt and beg forgiveness from his newly dead son and apologize for all the wrongs he had visited upon him (including denying The Erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's child persona access to the heaps of corn syrup so dearly desired))), it consisted of a few key points:

1: sunshine. The sun was reaching its apex, about an hour till high noon and the chariot of Apollo was nearing its full glory.

2: a sparse meadow. With a few pines, alders and redwoods surrounding the pastoral scene, it was devoid of city trappings. Pure. Green. Luscious. Ironically full of potential and life.

3: bevy of buxom blondes (As The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard aged past 13 and 2/5ths and became a little more broad minded, the mix included a few brunettes and a redhead during his more adventurous musings upon his mortality) wielding pillows.

The Bevy would advance, ready for battle with soft giggles and cooing. The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard would try to sooth them with speech "Violence is not the answer, ladies. We can come to a mutual agreement here." But, fools none of them, they all (The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard and girls alike) knew what was coming. Talk couldn't quiet the growing tempest before them. The pillows (goose down, 400 thread count) must meet their targets, whether the stress from swinging them caused the blondes' (and others) tight and altogether too small tops to slip aside and allow the full and pert breasts to be flung about with wild abandon, rippling and bouncing (when it comes to breast size, there is little broad mindedness with The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard, they are all, while not uniform, undeniably LARGE breasts) or not....

Their tenacity impresses the 13 and 2/5ths years old erstwhile Mr. Lundegard and he gives the battle his best. But there are too many of the nymphs. Whatever wrong he has visited upon them in the past is too grave to placate them with mere words. Nay. He is beaten savagely with silky, warm pillows in the midday sun in a grassy meadow with the smell of pine and wonder all around him. He is knocked to the plush meadow floor and pounced upon. OOPS! One of the girls accidentally knocks his pants off, and in the struggle The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard finds himself compromised by beautiful and vivacious females driven to do their will. He is helpless under their pressure and cannot make out any specific features other than swinging pillows, breasts, lips and thighs.

And then, The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's very soul is beaten out of him. It exits and is drawn out through his erect penis and his soul languishes in heaven, the captor of beautiful pillow-vixen and his body relaxes softly into death.

However,

Much to The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's chagrin, that's not actually how he died. He actually died by eating tainted genetically altered raccoon meat. The meat had chemical agents that (not nefariously, mind you, just on accident) caused a rather rapid liquification of the internal organs (esophagus, intestines, lungs, heart... eventually brain, but not quickly (well, 18.2 minutes, which any outside observer might find "quick," but, shit, when it happens to YOU, it is anything but quick). So presently, The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard floats, bored, above a large mass of cumulus clouds, today he is looking down.

"Why did I come up here, again?" Ghosts loose track of things easily, think of your great grandmother wandering into the kitchen at 3 am, turning on the lights, looking around confused, then shambling back to her room. It's like that all the time with ghosts (The truth is, that The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard had zipped out into the outer atmosphere because of a startling expierience in a Dairy King where a nubile young blonde, carrying a pillow and wearing pajamas (so closely resembling The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's ideal view of death) had ordered a midnight Lemon Ice-Slurp-Freezy-Goo after partying all night with her mostly blonde (with a few brunettes and one redhead) sorority. The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard (in ghost form) had followed her intently, hoping to entice her into thrashing him with her pillow, or even just frowning at him and calling him naughty. Ghosts tend to forget that they cannot affect the living very much, and despite his jumping, yelling and inappropriate actions, she refused (or was a little too tipsy) to notice. He had almost given up hope when The Goo that exited the machine operated by a very bored Pakistani had resembled so perfectly the goo that The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's brain had been transformed into (and he wasn't around to see it, but his entire body was also transformed) that he had an immediate psychological clash of ideal death and sad memory and had no choice but run away... To the planets exosphere).

The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard has been "chilling" in the exosphere for going on 2 years and only now is he wondering what the hell he's doing up here. Ghosts really do have it rough, mentally. But now he's decided to go back down to that weird little nonsensical chunk of orbit-trash (as the nebula refer to planets) and see what's been shaking.

"Goodbye Mr. Exosphere, hello Mr. Thermosphere, how's it hanging?

"Hello Ms. Mesosphere... whooo a little warm in here, huh?. Enough friction here for yah? Ha ha, if you can't take the heat, stay out of the.... whoops,

"Hey there Mr. Stratosphere, Hi aeroplane, hello ornithopter, watch where yer goin', Geeze!

"Hello cumulus clouds, brrrr a tad chilly, hello weather and normality and booze and despair and chalk outlines...

"And... I'm back." The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard looked around the place he had landed. It was a parking lot, not a tree or meadow or curvy girl in sight. Just a few cars and some litter. This was the corporate parking lot of Yoyodine genetics, but it was Helioday (the sabbath). Very few people were working. The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard wandered around and playfully walked through a few solid objects. "Hello Mr. 5 bazillion dollar car with a 2 bazillion dollar security system, watchya got in your glove compartment?" The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard playfully looked at all the top secret documents stored in the locked compartment and got bored very quickly (ghosts aren't big on numbers and charts).

"Why did I come down here, again?" The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard was having another senior moment, but really he didn't come to the Yoyodine parking lot through his own will at all, he was drawn here by some cosmic force that is as simple to in-the-know-cosmic-types as water flowing down hill. Ghosts just go to things that involve their death, the sky is blue. Yoyodine was the genetics corporation that made Timmy (the affectionate nickname given to the freak-of-not-even-nature raccoon that had caused The erstwhile Mr. Lundegard's liquification.) and was now in the middle of all sorts of morally (but financially anything but) bankrupt projects.

The keys, now, are polar bears, buxom blondes with pillows, a coming war and a giant man-slug devouring gardens all over the state.

Contortionist: work in progress
qeox
The Contortionist.

"My parents loved very strongly. They would peer into each others' eyes for weeks at a time, during which I'd make myself busy with dolls and burying trinkets in the yard with elaborate maps and mathematical formulae that should thwart the most stalwart and dedicated treasure hunters. After placing doll sentinels, I'd unearth maps I'd made a year before and try to decipher them, all the while dodging dolls. The cyphers got more elaborate and my self induced forgetfulness more entrenched till I finally outwitted the year younger me and find the baubles and stupid little notes I'd hidden from myself.

I'd play at these things and wander back inside to find them still imersed in each others' gaze. I'd fall asleep in the dining room (under the table), so that I wouldn't miss a meal if they happened to come out of their love-trance. I awoke to pain. Mostly in my stomach, but also in my ears a little, and the bright light of morning is something I always hated. Something about the outside world, it's sounds and intrusive lights injected directly into my psyche caused me pain. I worried that they must hurt much worse than I and might starve, so I made them sandwiches and brought them plates and fed them. They loved each other so much, but I loved them very much also. They'd wake up eventually and go back to work and talk and teach and everything parents are supposed to do.

Children are naive, but they are less powerful than adults.

My parents would dare each other to prove their love. It started with just cutting my hair. A harmless infraction upon a life outside of their love. I was happy to be included. But as games of love tend to go, they became accustomed (desensitized) to harmless performance, they demanded more symbols of infatuation.

They needed to prove to one another that nothing, not even their love child meant as much as each others' love. It changed suddenly. My mother was drunk, I think, she demanded an apology from Herzog (my father) and broke something, a plate maybe, on the wall over his work bench. I never knew what they fought about, it was just loud and screeching and I wanted it to stop. My father must have felt the same way, he dragged me out of my room and cut off my index finger, crying (him. Not me). He gave it to my mother on a purple pillow and promised that he would do anything for her. It was the first amazing show of devotion I have ever seen. Of course she forgave him imediately and while they made love I silently stole my finger back.

You get used to pain if it means that you are involved in love, you just do it. Love is great. You Grit your teeth and let them remove your forearms. You grit your teeth even while they are bloodily removed because you are a part of something greater. Love is the most important thing in the world (the universe) and they couldn't love each other without me and I was so special to them. I was special to love. I was close to 17 years old when they decapitated me. It was a very startling sensation - at first- The intensity of their love was so soothing and silent and otherworldly. I felt a cool calm and a retreat into pure waves of naive love for what seemed like weeks. I didn't have sensation of my body, needs like eating or breathing, just being and being one and nothing with everything (I know that doesn't make much sense, but you have to believe that it was perfection). I attributed this night of simple beauty with the outside forces of my parents longing and magical attraction. Something was special about them, they were gods locked in an ever widening circle of perfection, and I was a part of it. I was happy.

I awoke half assembled. My parts, out of an intuition physically learned over years of avulsion and reassemblage, had met themselves and retraced their steps. Hansel and Gretel were backtracking the dislocation of my body through bloody breadcrumbs and tendons. I awoke to a terrible pain. I needed breath again, I needed to eat, I saw my mother's arm dangling off the side of our sofa from under a blanket and my imediate assumption was that she had been torn apart and was now feeling the waves of beauty and perfect nothingness that I had just returned from. But I noticed the blankets moving over the waves of her effortless contented tidal breath. The loud rushing of a city awakening dinned outside and scraped the inside of my skull till my eyes oozed what I thought was blood. It should only be blood. My life essence struggling to get away from burning scars as my joints became reaccustomed to their sockets, trying to leave my body again to be a part of pure love and the river of the world. To be nothing again. My body should long to be torn apart again, I was a symbol of love and important and I needed to get away from this noise and light and angry hunger. I should long to be a part of love and apart, nothing again.

But I was just crying. Simple, salty stupid tears. I couldn't ever be that good again. The world is - I was - just simple. Creatures trying to survive and eat and retain a little joy for a moment or two. Moving ignorantly and randomly. But I tried to cling to that being nothing even as the world rushed back to me. That feeling was empty but so complex, everything filtered down to a nub, a pure unit of... not even life... just being. Thought. Concept. But the more I thought about it, the more I drifted away from it. Away and toward the ruinous knowledge that my parents' love didn't involve me at all. They scarcely knew I existed. Maybe they didn't know I existed in any real sense, anyway.

I left home with my parents dozing happily. I wanted to see what was out there that they had seen, that I was waiting for them to show me for so long. The neighbors' houses were mostly deserted and falling apart. The road was uneven and led directly to Hedgeworm's Carnival. All the rides were going at full pace but completely empty. The lights flashed and carnies shouted at no one at all. There was no one in it but me. I self consciously rode a ride or two before Hedgeworm approached me.

'My dear, I was beginning to think you'd never emancipate yourself. You know, you don't even have a name yet? What should we put on your marquis?'

Now I'm the contortionist and I get to feel complete only when I'm totally dissembled in the big ring. I don't hear the crowds, I don't feel hunger I don't smell the stale popcorn or sweat or hephalump shit. I sense nothing and everything. It is moments of bliss that I live the rest of my life for."


In the dark, over the quiet rythmic beats of the train cars, Phenson turned to her and said "I think you and I have something in common."

Bugmilk
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bugs again. Real ones. Biological. Not the .m.pi.bsorry, dvorak hotkey shenanigans emergency replacement ones made to recalibrate the ecosystem. There must have been a trove of them in the crevices between my floorboards. Knew I shouldn't have cleaned so thoroughly, all it does is dislodge the safety grit that holds the bad things in. But no, I had to get bored and... well... thorough.

Now I have bugs. Real ones. Crawling around all night (probably all day too, I sleep through it though (except when they get brazen enough to crawl over my eyeballs)), doing whatever it is biological bugs do, bugging their bug stuff I suppose. But not outside, I bet they're afraid of running face to face with their superior robot counterparts and finding that the world is a better place without them. They'd rather not face their existential dilemmas and concentrate on making my life much more exasperating than it already was.

I'll make the best of it though. I'll make a fortune on "Big Sweaty Tom's Organic Bug-Milk Self Improvement Tincture" as soon as I get Tom to lend his illustrious name to it. He's a busy guy. But Bug Milk is going to be the wave of the future-retro-hot-shit-trend. People will pay all sorts of things to get authentic "olden days" bug milk, just like your grampy had in ought six point five. It'll be like sepia tone and steam powered segways and flapper dresses. I'll finally rise up to the top of the meritocracy that is our fine invisible fisted market place.

The most recent Penultimate War: I
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No One Likes A Winner.


Due to the outlawing of history, there is little known about the recurring penultimate wars, except that there seems to be 2 or 3 world shattering and heart rending wars in the course of a lifetime. One can only assume that these things have been going on forever since the elder veterans will at one moment tell of the wars they participated in and the wars their grand-things told them about as children.

It is assumed by the scholarly that the term penultimate war was coined by the survivors of the Second Ultimate War. Once technology and hatred became so advanced that the entire planet could engage in wholesale slaughter, the first huge conflagration was unknown/unheard of... and it was assumed by whoever was there that it must be the worst thing ever to happen. Being the worst thing, the optimists called it: The Ultimate War. No one could ever want to wreak such havoc and horrid actions again, right? The second time it happened, the optimists started using the term Penultimate War, hoping that the next one would be the last. No one knows how many there have been, and few believe that they'll ever stop.

At the risk of being jailed (on suspicion of Histocriminasty - the teaching of the past so as to gain an advantage over those who don't know history), I'd like to share with you my take on the most recent explosion of hatred and genocide.

The Eastern Empire great name had always been big. The national character, however, tended to dwell on simple misery and hardships of life. The typical citizen spent her/his time working, complaining, dying and giving birth. Years of this activity saw no change until an heir to the throne took power, Emperor Tolnskev was known to be a greedy and petulant child, just like the other Emperors before him. The difference between him and the others before him was his mastery of optimism and pride. While most emperors kept their citizenry in line with threats, harangue, guilt and murder, Tolnskev started telling the citizenry that they should be proud of who they were, start exercising, learn a hobby (like target practice) and feel good about their hovels.

What was a wasteland, quickly became an anchor to self esteem. Rostolvik was a humble rock farmer by day, but by night he was a political firebrand expousing the angelic properties of the Empire's geological past. People who had no hope, whatsoever, began seeing hope in rocks and myths. Vinelk was a simple haberdasher by day but by night was an upstanding painwright, cleansing the malfeasance of Empire Haters (those who chose not to believe that The Eastern Empire was above any sort of humanity or law). Normal citizens like these became community leaders and gained a purpose.

Descending to the Muck
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Strange goings on. Sometimes one just has to hole up in a dark mineshaft long forgotten by the straight and narrow and imbibe whatever one finds there. It's a form of abusive meditation and many stand by it. Clues you into the weird things scratching at the soft white underbelly (SWUB) of the bedrock reality normally beneath one's boots.

Many times, these trips will take those intrepid enough into the horrifying subgenerate world of "mass culture," "commerce" and "compromise" with those suckling little vermin who live down there and seem to enjoy it. Strange... mystifying... many times hypnotizing and sparkly, it is important to afix your lifeline to a firm and sturdy reminder of why you hated these things from afar.

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