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.
The Melancholy Lieutenant woke up immediately when he registered the sound of a key being fitted into the lock and the scrape of the door as it grated against the cement floor. If they thought that the delay was going to make him sweat they were mistaken. He felt refreshed after his sleep and prepared for whatever fate they deigned to grant him.
Two men entered, both in plain clothes. Their superiors had probably decided to pair them up as a study in archetypal contrasts, which they had then made into their schtick, their routine. Naturally there was a squat, older harassed tough guy with the obligatory rumpled brown suit that he wore like a baggy second skin. The Melancholy Lieutenant felt he had read the script that this bad cop with the good heart beneath the gruff exterior was going to act out many times before. Of course the sleek, soft spoken and ambitious young detective, impeccably turned out in bold blue stripes would be all concern until he had found an angle into which best to turn the knife. Well let them play their little games, he thought, they will get nothing out of me because I’m keeping schtum, silent as the grave, his accent alone would give him away as a foreigner. Besides even to himself his story of parallel dimensions and vast inter-stellar conspiracies sounded like the incoherent ramblings of a deranged mind. But here he was, in this room where he shouldn’t be. But he doubted he could convince a pair of over-worked and cynical policemen the truth of the matter.
Seating himself in the chair the tough cop addressed the sleek guy who had decided to perch on the wooden table, all the better to lean over and presumably intimidate the Melancholy Lieutenant.
‘So who and what did we have here Boss?’
‘Dunno Boss, no papers, no ID card, no number, nada nowt and he’d decided to clam up whats more. We know nothing about nothing about him. Which is a little perturbing, both of us…and for himself there. I mean without any solid information we have to naturally assume the worse, don’t we Boss?’
‘Another fucking ghost then.’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Got a cigarette Boss?’
‘Sure Boss,’ said the good cop. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled a gold case which he presented to the older cop all in one smooth fluid motion. He took two cigarettes out, handed one over, and then rifled through his trouser and jacket pockets before finally finding a lighter. He lit his colleague’s cigarette first before lighting his own. Both of the policemen took deep drags before directing heavy clouds of smoke into his face. The Melancholy Lieutenant remained impassive.
‘So what are we gonna do with this guy? Obviously we need to process the fucker, but as what? As an agitator, subversive or just some poor bastard down on his luck? Or did he just lose his mind out west.’
‘Well he looks and holds himself like a soldier, and an officer at that. Maybe he was exposed to the Black Acid at the front. Maybe, maybe. I wouldn’t peg him as one of Red’s, and definitely not as a Wrather, but unless we find out more we can’t ever really be sure, can we Boss? What is your famous gut telling you?’
The bad cop studied the cigarette for a while before answering. ‘My gut is telling me that it’s hungry while my brain is telling me that I am tired. Are you not going to say anything there Sonny Jim? Huuh? What you say and do in this room could decide your entire future. So what’s it going to be, boy?’
The Melancholy Lieutenant didn’t move a muscle and kept staring into the middle distance, though he was worried that the gathering heavy silence would galvanise them into action. Although he was trained and held the necessary detachment to resist speaking out under torture, it was something he obviously wanted to avoid if at all possible.
‘So be it then, ‘the smooth operator said and stood up from the table, squaring himself up. ‘I think we need to show him who’s the boss, don’t we Boss?’
‘Ah hold on there Boss. Let’s not be too hasty. I got a feeling inside that we have to be careful, a wrong decision may come back to haunt us; bite us in the ass big time. We still have hundreds to process yet and of all the people we have seen so far this bastard looks most likely to have connections. He isn’t your run of the mill agitator anyway. Besides I think he realises who’s the boss.’
‘O.K Boss,’ he said relaxing and standing down.
‘So where are we going to process him then Boss?’
‘Chosher Fastness I suppose, the catatonic ward seems about right for this bleeding phantom.’
‘Yeah, a better class of loony up there.’
‘Officer class mental cases.’
‘Good monitoring as well.’
‘We can see how he responses to the presence of certain problematic inmates.’
‘Decided then boss.’
‘Yes no doubt. Call up the McNally boyos and get him loaded up into the van.’
‘Can’t wait to be shot of this one, let him become somebody else’s problem instead of ours.’
‘I’m with you on that Boss.’
‘Ah well, on to the next one.’
‘Never fucking stops does it?’
‘No and it never will either Boss.’
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.)
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
But where you should be
Is the other side
Don’t pick up Run run double quick
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.
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?