After the Falls

Grosz-Ecce-Homo
Grosz-Ecce-Homo

After, (for there is always an after, the story goes on, there is neither resolution or finality, even death is only a pause, a quick breather in-between, a brief respite, a stage), the unstable reality of Eden Falls had been snuffed out like a candle-flame, the Melancholy Lieutenant had found himself, in a certain sense only because he knew that he was well and truly lost, on the streets of some Northern city in winter. He didn’t look at all out of place though, the avenues and boulevards were crowded with shell-shocked and war-wounded soldiers just returned from some calamitous battle; hungry, cold and bitter their talk was all of sedition, revolution, uprisings and coup d’états.
After the third night of rioting the authorities had cracked down and began to round up suspected trouble-makers and imposed a curfew at nightfall. The Melancholy Lieutenant was caught up in the dragnet and taken to a grim faux Gothic government building that had been converted into a temporary prison to deal with the influx of detainees. He was put inside a small room along with four other morose veterans.
Time passed by slowly, nobody spoke or moved, apart for the times somebody had to relieve themselves in the bucket wedged into the corner. Occasionally a guard would open the door, point toward someone and signal for them to follow. The person never returned to the room, instead a new inmate would take their place.
After three others had left the room with the guard it was his turn. He walked a short distance behind the guard, up narrow stairs and through dusty corridors that contained numerous offices. The guard stopped before a wooden door that had been painted a dim shade of burgundy sometime in the last century and searched through the numerous keys on the ring attached to his belt. He opened the door for the Melancholy Lieutenant and closed it immediately behind him.
He was alone, though he guessed this is where he would be questioned, perhaps interrogated. There were no windows, naturally, and the bare room was devoid of furniture apart from a flimsy trestle table and three rickety looking wooden chairs. The only light source was an old fashioned lamp, without a shade, that rested on the floor. Somehow the dull light emitted seemed to intensify the sombre gloom rather than dispelling it, which was obviously the intention of the police or the secret services or whoever was running the show here.
Though he doubted that a cat could find comfort in this derelict hole he was truly exhausted so he sat himself down in one of the two chairs facing the door. Obviously the single chair facing the wall was where he was meant to sit, but the hell with that. Sleeping with his eyes wide open he waited for his accusers to make their grand entry.

(This is the further adventures of The Melancholy Lieutenant, a recurring figure in my fiction. The previous installments are Eden Falls and X Marks the Spot. To make matters even more confusing these are just part of a larger series of loosely linked experimental surrealistic science fiction noirs starting with Showtime, though there can be read in any order.)

Church of Love & Wrath

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The possessor of the violently violet aura glided past the mirror towards the dim booths in the dark, escorted by a well dressed man and a couple of standard issue heavies. Agent Lee was assaulted by the smell of brown paper envelopes bulging with notes of a large denomination. The kind of money paid to those that had access to power and who sat in secret council meetings to decide the fate of billions who didn’t even suspect that such forces existed. Agent Lee realised that all his caution and unique talents would have to utilised if he wanted to emerge out of this subterranean realm still breathing.
It was going to be difficult in the extreme to approach violet aura, who he had a perception was named Vivienne, surrounded by such company. It would surely alert one of the warring factions or The Angle, maybe even the controlling authorities who would in turn report  higher up to command. He could guess what view they would take if he blew deep cover.
Agent Lee turned over the case in his mind as he downed his drink and signalled to the dead-eyed blonde for another. Every aspect was ambiguous verging on mindfuckery. Nothing was certain and hinted darkly that somewhere someone was being played.
Well at any given moment someone somewhere was getting played, just as long as it wasn’t him. If it was then he would make sure of a sizeable body count before he was put into the bag himself.
What did he know, Agent Lee thought, nothing really, in fact less than nothing.
Al the Angle, real name unknown, as was his date of birth, age, nationality and profession. He was either from Birmingham UK or perhaps Birmingham AL, though some sources suggested his origins could in fact be Black Irish or even Argentinean. It seemed relatively certain that he probably worked for a time as a croupier in The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel by Hilton-Tetragrammaton ™, Paradise, NV, before becoming a small time grifter and pimp in various European countries. But how much credence could be granted to claims that he had also been a mesmerist, a psychologist, as well as a stage illusionist?
Even more perplexing was how he made the jump from petty conman to being involved in the manufacture and distribution of both Black Acid and Nu-Phoria, which led to expansion of his activities into Centralia and other territories? Even murkier was his apparent involvement with the Selenites and other factions sympathetic to the aims of the Rapturous Ascendancy. Did he really pioneer the hype-gnosis technique and found the Church of Love & Wrath?
Of course the massive elephant in the rather bijou room was how on earth had he circumvented the controlling authorities and set up operations in Agartha itself?
Unsurprisingly given the mass of contradictory evidence rogue elements had suggested that no such person as The Angle ever existed, he was a conflation of ne’er do wells, bugbears and hobgoblins. One agent had remarked to Lee that The Angle was nothing more than a character dreamed up by Special Agent Red who was currently residing in a private clinic outside of Trondheim, Norway. He had written a report which was taken as factual and then through bureaucratic accumulations the nebulous figure had acquired an actuality to the authorities.
He had to get to Vivienne to get to The Angle. But he couldn’t get to her here; he had to get her alone. And for that he would have to rely on patience and chance, only then he could use his magic to get the necessary information and perhaps, just perhaps, even more. The best approach, Lee decided,  was to track her leaving the bar from the hotel across the street. Nobody noticed his departure and five minutes after he had checked into a shabby room with a view of the entrance of the Cafe Rouge et Noir the strung out receptionist had forgotten his existence. Looking out of the grubby window Agent Lee watched and waited.

Rapturous Ascendancy

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Agent Lee sat at the bar of the Cafe Rouge et Noir and listened to the convoluted whispered conspiracies about the collapse of the Fourth Decadency and the potentially terrifying rise of the Rapturous Ascendancy that eddied through the crushed velvet atmosphere. As he sipped glass after glass of whiskey he kept one eye on the variously coloured images of the passing trade reflected in the wraparound mirror behind the two bar-tenders. He had mastered several techniques over the years in revealing auras and mirrors were an invaluable aid, though of course it was an art, not a science, and the conditions had to be just so for him to get an accurate read.

Conditions in Agartha necessitated that Agent Lee always be on his guard. Not only was there the possibility that an informer might be a double agent for The Angle aka Al the Angle aka Alabama Al aka Birmingham Al, there was the indisputable fact that the controlling authorities and the forces they in turn answered to would be keeping a very close eye on his every manoeuvre and movement. Besides, as the major industries (apart from the administration of interstellar bureaucracies) in Agartha was the production of illusion, maintenance of egregores and the distribution of deception he couldn’t absolutely trust the evidence of his own senses. Beneath his breath he muttered garbled charms and counter-spells while his finger traced sigils with the drops of spilled whiskey on the wooden counter top. For more flesh and blood enemies he had full confidence in the heat nestling snugly in his shoulder holster.

He had just ordered another whiskey from the dead-eyed blonde barmaid when he saw a violently violet aura glowing incandescently in the mirror. It had to be her, his only lead to The Angle.

(Although the above can be read as a miniature stand-alone story, it is a direct follow on from Oblique Angle, which in turn is part of a larger series of loosely connected fictions, starting with Showtime, (though several characters and locations had made prior appearances) and carrying through TerritoryEden FallsUneasy City & X Marks the Spot.)

X Marks the Spot

Gerhard Richter-Grey House
Gerhard Richter-Grey House

It hadn’t stopped raining for a moment since his arrival in Eden Falls. The days (if the pale pearl grey light could be classified as day) and the white, starless nights were considerably longer than in most standard regions, clocking in around 36 hours, undoubtedly controlled by decanates and/or Janus-faced daemons. Looking out from one of the innumerable windows, the Melancholy  Lieutenant automatically defined the constant drizzle and mizzle as culchie soft rain, however in his attempts at surveying the territory he soon realised that the very sky looked to deceive. Drenched to the skin and bone he would beat a hasty retreat long before reaching the end of the drive that appeared to lead nowhere, crazy zig-zagging across the arsenic green fields to suddenly stop against a lone oak, a lookout for the massed ranks of its brethren in the faraway forest.

So the Melancholy Lieutenant would while away the time investigating Eden Falls. Up stairs and through corridors he walked, opening doors that led to rooms of angled mirrors or vast chandeliered ballrooms empty apart from a solitary upright piano, past endless colonnades interrupted by the regular statuary procession of mounted tyrants, down steps that finished in mid-air. Somewhere in this maze there must be a clue to the exit, he thought doggedly, determined to be re-united with the Ingénue.

He discovered a room full of globes and atlases, a Map Room of a Victorian gentleman. However the maps were just diagrams and architectural plans with a scale of 1:1, of no longer existing wings and hastily abandoned extensions of Eden Falls. The library seemed to contain a hint of promise, but most of the books were written in Chaldean or Etruscan or Babylonian, or even Agarthaen or Enochian or Lemurian.  The pop-up books contained only cleverly designed miniature 3D versions of rooms he had already trudged through.

That left the jigsaw puzzles that every drawer in the building (be it palace or sanatorium or mental asylum or hotel) seemed to contain. The picture on the outside of the box was always misleading, unsurprisingly enough, he thought.  It was never a street or circus scene, never a Cezanne or a Monet, it was forever the labyrinth of Eden Falls. He had almost given up hope when he found a puzzle that appeared to have a pattern on both sides, though the backside was just two-tone black & white. At least it won’t be another illustration of a prison, he thought, as he began to pierce the ten thousand and one pieces together.

With mounting excitement and dread he realised, as the pieces fall into place, that this was the message he had been waiting for. But what if he didn’t like what it had to say? Perhaps it was a trap set by Le Bateleur? No matter, he had to carry on.

As soon as the Melancholy Lieutenant triumphantly slotted the last tile into place and began to scan the writing, he heard a phone ring out. He hadn’t seen or heard a phone during the entire duration of his time in Eden Falls. Trying to quell his panic he decided to concentrate on the message contained in the puzzle, because something was definitely now happening and what other options did he have?

X marks the spot

You are here

X

But where you should be

Is the other side

Don’t pick up                                                                          Run run double quick

Abra-Xas

\\\\\3-6-5/////

That is that then, he decided, though he never had any intention of picking up the incessantly ringing phone anyway. The warning of the message posed further disturbing questions, but those could wait. It was time to go. He located and grabbed his kit-bag (always packed in case of emergencies and sudden departures) and ran out into the rain.

He kept on running until he had reached the oak that marked the end of the pointless driveway. Pausing for a moment he couldn’t resist a look back at the building, which flickered briefly out of focus, before fading away totally. That gig was up, the nixer nixed, Eden Falls was 86’ed.

The Melancholy Lieutenant, turning his collar to the cold and damned, headed towards the forest, searching for the deepest cover.

Oblique Angle

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Agent Lee, provided with the best cover, tailed the trade and talent in Agartha on the look-out for the word on Al the Angle. What was on the agenda today? Everyone has an agenda, naturally enough, and the Angle had the poise to exploit any number of situations to his advantage. The various reports circulating of the Angle moving his operations to Agartha was of the gravest concern to the controlling authorities and the forces they in turn answered to.

If the intelligence was to be believed somewhere in this twilight territory where reality itself appeared porous, the Angle had set up base, undoubtedly co-ordinating and triangulating, in an calculated effort to bisect previously untouched zones and sectors, to expand his sphere of influence. Agent Lee was the obvious choice to go under in this underworld, fading to grey to the point of invisibility. Besides he was the kind of talker that got others to talk while never giving anything away himself. He had that talent, though he had other gifts even more highly prized by the controlling authorities.

But where in this city, with its warren of streets and rapidly changing intersections, which no map could ever capture or even begin to convey the complexity of, was the Angle hiding? Traditional enquiries only lead to suburban cul-de-sacs or dangerous dead-ends. However Agent Lee had other methods at his disposal, methods only to be in the event of extreme emergency. After rolling the dice and shuffling the pack Agent Lee was persuaded that now was such a time. He set off to the Cafe Rouge et Noir on the corner of Fascination and Oblivion Streets where he was going to meet, by chance of course, a women with a violetly vivid aura. She would have the skinny on the Angle, now going under Alabama Al, though he wasn’t American. He would have to approach obliquely.

Uneasy City

Paul Delvaux-La Ville Inquiete 1941
Paul Delvaux-La Ville Inquiete 1941

Every nerve ending in her body told the Ingénue that she had to get the hell out of dodge. Time. To. Leave. Right quick in fact right now if not sooner like yesterday preferably. The vague anxiety that was the hallmark of life in Uneasy City had deepened into nothing less than sharply defined dread and terror. Terror and dread.
The clocks, never the fastest in Uneasy City, had slowed down to a crawl during the blistering summer of the Fourth Decadency. Although resistant to change the City couldn’t deny that something wicked was coming this way, the very air was charged with potent change. In the streets the horse’s hooves would shatter and grind down the already splintered bones and skulls that lined the cobblestones. Several virulent viruses had taken hold of the panicking populace, but even with the rampant mortality overcrowding was severe, as a constant swell from the war-torn provinces and drought stricken territories filled the Uneasy City to bursting point.
The sense of imminent catastrophe generated a sinister erotic tension that was evident everywhere. One of the few jobs the Ingénue had been offered lately was a bit part in a dubious movie about the orgies that were so fashionable during the period of the Black Death. Billed as a certain kind of historical fiction it could have been shot as a straightforward documentary during these uncertain times. She could this feel eroticising current coursing all throughout the City; in the hesitant country girls with their jaunty hats embracing each other in doorways, in the fleshy middle aged divorcees reclining naked in the lobbies of faded hotels, in the society ladies somnambulating at night through the arcades and alcoves of the station where the train never stops; but most of all in the calculating glances of be-suited men who could no longer be bothered to conceal their predatory inner selves.
Through a contact of a contact the Ingénue had heard about a train that would almost connect to a boat that could take her away from this whole benighted region of Centralia. She packed in a hurry, barely pausing to rifle through the medicine cabinets. Along with four days worth of outfits she concealed a little heat, just in case she had to put someone on ice to get where she was going.

Eden Falls

Joseph Cornell Rose Castle
Joseph Cornell-Rose Castle

Different day a different stage set, yet another illusion conjured up by Le Bateleur. Yet the Melancholy Lieutenant had to admit that there was something beguiling about the ersatz realm of Eden Falls, this vast pile comprised of the elements and detritus of his unconscious mind; dim memories, vague recollections, submerged dreams and hopeless longings.
Well maybe to others there was nothing to see hear there and would move on right away but as he lay in bed listening to the incessant rain beat against the windows and the gables or wandered through corridors that sometimes veered and forked unexpectedly, leading to previously undiscovered and undisturbed rooms that somehow seemed caught in flagrante before hastily re-assuming an innocent expression he would be soothed and think that this was maybe the home he had searched for so long, it seemed that it was what we dream of. But no, this couldn’t be the case, for where in the world was the Ingénue? At best this was a luxurious rest stop for the weary soul of the inter-dimensional adventurer, but more probably than not a trap, a monumental fur-lined prison to facilitate an eased institutionalisation.
The Melancholy Lieutenant knew he had to be on guard, always on the look-out for clues, searching for the way out of Eden Falls. Maybe he would find the key to escape in the jigsaw puzzles, pop-up books and illustrations in the volumes lining the infinite shelves?

Territory

Caryn Drexl
Caryn Drexl

Drawing on his cigarette, Al the Angle, coolly poised, as per usual, pauses before re-commencing in his deep, slightly slurred (is something lost in its translation through time and space?) voice.
“As always, I think we need a more oblique approach, pursue a different tack. Although common sense dictates that the map is not the territory, you will find, on further investigation, that this is not actually the case. The map is the territory, I repeat, the map is the territory. In fact, I will go even further and deeper to suggest that the representation of reality is more important than the landscape depicted. The idea of Atlantis, Agartha or Shambhala is more concrete than Imperial Rome, Phararonic Egypt or Ptolemiac Alexandria. The street plan of Mysterious Kor has greater claims to actuality than the highways and byways of London. The marvel that is the architectural drawings for The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel reduces the MGM Grand Las Vegas to the vague and nebulous realms of fantasy.
“Which leads me to believe that your body, which is so self-evidently a map of Paradise, is the only trace of reality that I have so far encountered in this rather ersatz world. The promise of raptures that causes me to tremble on the threshold, (do I dare to enter the hidden hollows and crevices? Explore the valleys and scale the peaks? Brave the rushing rivers and flooding estuaries?), makes all the never-ending sunshine and low hanging fruit appear insipid and bland.
“So…I trust this has convinced you that we should begin to map out potentialities. Of course that may include us having a taste…a taste of the absolute Terra.”

Showtime

Sammy Slabbinck
Sammy Slabbinck

Al the Angle, poised, (as always, naturellement), high stylin’ but low ballin’, to strike, spiels his riff,
“Up, down, turn-around, edgeways or sidelined; every fucker has an angle to get the juices flowing until they flood. Do you feel me…?
“Yes? … I thought so. Very, very” (very is slowed to a hypnotic dragged down drawl, then a lull, an insinuating pause… …), “very good baby.
‘You know if you handle the cards that I deal right I might just let you, only might, mind you, I haven’t quite yet decided, come for me. Soooooo tell me my love, is it now time for that cunt to get eaten? I want to watch in the mirror every motion, absolution and devotion.”
SHOWTIME…the ever eager, devouring mouths merge momentarily before separating again, revolving and hovering in the absolute stillness until the lips shape the same word…SHOWTIME.
The Ingenue blinks on the stage trying to remember her lines. The audience can barely contain their restlessness. The words fail to form in the Ingenue’s mind and even worse she can’t for the life of her recall the part she is meant to play. Earlier in the dressing room mirror she had stared long and hard at her reflection before saying, “I know who I am, but who the fuck are you?”
The Melancholy Lieutenant, after travelling through a multidimensional shit-storm and worn down by horror zonal conflicts finds he is infra dig, even in Interzone, resorts to disembodiment; becomes the ghost in the machine, the flickering shadow at the intersection of alleys, the image fleetingly glimpsed in the corner of mirrors.

The Sun That Barely Casts A Shadow

DSC00462Do you* ever feel like you are living inside an old noir movie, where it is always night and always fucking raining? Are you haunted by false memories, existential nausea and an unbearable nostalgia for a home you have never visited?

If the above feelings sound familiar, the collection Motion No.69, to be released later this month if the auguries are correct and the stars above are aligned right, might be just the ticket**. After checking in to The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel and playing a quick game of Shangri-La, you could be one of the fortunate few to visit room 418 on the 4706th Floor, with its spectacular view of the Mariensbad (or is it the Carlsbad?) Palace. Over the immaculate formal gardens the sun never sets and barely ever casts a shadow.  You feel like you have been here before, was it last year, yesterday or tomorrow, you can’t quite recollect, but no matter, every amnesiac moment has a vivid freshness.

*The designated You is merely a rhetorical flourish. Any resemblance to any person living or dead, or indeed fictional, imaginary, legendary or mythical, is purely coincidental.

**Purchase of Motion No.69 is not guaranteed to alleviate sadness, angst, despair, night terrors, suicidal ideation or melancholy.