These days what’s the most we can realistically hope for but some form of ideal dystopia.
Perhaps an isolated bunker in a distant land deep beneath the surface fitted with all the conveniences that seem so essential, naturally.
We could sleep safe and soundly there and dream plastic dreams of our synthetic future as we transform into angelic androids, with our skins like vinyl that hisses and crackles when we touch, superficially smooth yet as we press harder we discover contours and grooves that activate sensations far forgotten within the soul.
We long for a fine and private place but there is none to speak of so we sneak into what passes for a sacred grove, dedicated to some degenerate local deity with one glass eye and undoubtedly an unappeasable taste for tidy hookers and neat gin.
In this dimly lit ersatz arbour made of rusting metal and fake bamboo hemmed in by tarnished mirrors we talk:
of organisms that ceaselessly duplicate;
of the next eagerly anticipated catastrophe;
of death and destruction as the ultimate spectator sport;
of the serenity to be found in surrendering to the spooked spiralling logic of paranoia;
of nightclubbing and nightcrawling;
of nocturnal emissions;
of the vicious inanity of Incubi and Succubi;
of the Latter Days of the Fourth Decadency;
of a corrosive inertia;
of ennui and entrophy;
of containment and contagion;
of chance encounters and happy accidents that lead to inevitable happy endings;
of the cellar door in The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel;
of protean cult leaders;
of clairvoyant photographers;
of a vanishing star of stage and screen;
of wandering infra dig soldiers lost in the twilighting border zone;
of standing on the threshold of a room;
of skipping a vital slowed down sleazy beat;
of nonsensical impulses and randomly compelling whims;
of waylaid emotion and contaminated intimacy;
of perverse attractions;
of dream homes and heartache;
of love and sleep.
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.”
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.)
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.
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 Territory, Eden Falls, Uneasy City & X Marks the Spot.)