43756265: ERROR

The Programmer’s stomach was in knots. His fingers danced feverishly about his keyboard. He came to a stop, finished with coding the most recent history. Finally he came to a point where he need only sit and watch as his world carried on. He watched it speed along to what was current.

He watched himself do as he did. The Programmer was livid. He watched himself carry on day by day. Then everything seemed to slow. It had caught up, and apprehension gripped him.

/?
___..,-;:]})\/#@%$<2027.10.15;19.33.22.245>
\&

He watched himself fail. The failure was visceral. It hurt. It maddened. He wanted to die. Everything seemed to close in around him. Was it the end? Was it all just going to speed up and rip apart? Was it all going to be dark? Would he not be?

That’s what he had just watched. But it didn’t happen. Maybe there was hope. He returned to the moment of failure and re-ran it. No matter what, it all just falls apart. His work just ends. He ends. He ended himself.

His desperation caused him to go into a state of utter madness. He destroyed himself.

\&
/?

He watched himself fail and go into a fit. He screamed and yelled. He punched the window, earning a massive gash in his arm. He watched himself perform this. The knots in his stomach twisted further, bile rising in his throat. Was this also a failure?

He bolted up from his seat, and felt desperate. No. Was he doomed, too? He felt as if tearing his eyes from the screen would only ensure his demise. His heart has racing. He collapsed to the floor and started crying. His mind hurt. He was doing it all to himself and he couldn’t stop it. Tears streamed down his face. His sobbing stuttered and devolved into coughing and retching. He vomited on the floor.

Hearing the cries of a broken animal, his other half tore into the room and came to his aid. He pulled the Programmer from the puddle of his sick, cradled him in his arms, and carried him into the bathroom. The other half drew the bath, and he settled into it with the Programmer still in his arms. The poor boy shook violently.

After the bath, the Programmer’s other half took him into the living room and settled him on the couch, then he cleaned up the vomit.

The Programmer returned to his room and showed his partner what he had seen.

/?
\&

The other half bolted into the room to find the Programmer sitting on the floor bleeding. He fetched the first aid kit and cleaned the wound before stapling it shut. He dressed it and carried the Programmer to bed.

\&
/?

The two watched the show in silence. They needn’t speak. They went to bed, hoping there was something brighter to come

The next day, the Programmer returned to himself and watched as he sat before his desk typing. He examined what he was writing and discovered them to be the sort of disjointed notes strung together by a sort of narrative pseudocode that was his way of outlining a story.

He watched himself cobble the pieces of his work together. Day after day, he watched himself work on what would turn out to be a video game. Within the game, he was coding a secret riddle woven within the narrative and mechanics. It was the sort of riddle only somebody of his other half’s and his level of intelligence could even spot, let alone figure out. It was the riddle of everything.

/?
\&

The game was eventually released and the programmer and his partner spent the days relaxing and working intermittently on their main project.

Eventually, the Programmer was contacted by two individuals at relatively the same time with the answer to the riddle. The game had only been available to the public for two weeks. Two individuals were named Adam Linn and Adam Null. The programmer arranged for the two men to meet.

The two Adams met with the Programmer and his partner, who were both surprised to find that the riddle-solvers closely resembled themselves: young, lithe blond men in their twenties.

When they met, Linn introduced himself to Null. Breathless and apprehensive, Null didn’t speak, only lifting his shirt to reveal a QR code on his left hip. Linn pulled out his phone, scanned it, and was greeted with Null’s e-portfolio. The featured image was artwork of a man resembling Null wearing dragon scale pants and leather gloves. His eyes were red and his hair was white. The other three recognized the character to be from a 2017 game they had enjoyed.

Null’s eyes welled with tears and Linn took him into his arms.

\&
/?

The Programmer watched as everything around Linn and Null seemed to speed up. The two were inseparable. Null clung to Linn most hours of the day, never leaving his side. Linn did all the talking and Null mostly ever spoke to Linn.

The Programmer watched himself and his other half speed along with the work on their main project.

After a few days, the Programmer returned to find the project was speeding along at a break-neck pace around Linn and Null as they guided the Six, the project fast-forwarding on its own.

Eventually, the programmer watched as it all came to fruition and they were victorious. Their vision had been achieved, and Linn and Null were at the heart of it.

Everything sped up. The Programmer watched as the society Linn and Null built allowed them to achieve singularity. Their minds merged and from them was born a god.

The Programmer was speechless. He couldn’t breathe. The being turned his gaze up at the Programmer and spoke.

“Hello, friend!”

The Gland Incoherence

Has it been long enough to write this? It’s only taken me what, a year?

In all seriousness, there have been a mix of things keeping me away from the keyboard, from the unacceptable excuse of  laziness to an increased quality of my life (such an increase, in fact, that there have been no gripes to catalog). That said, one of the chief reasons is that this story is unpleasant; yes, most of my stories are unpleasant, but this one is worse. Sure, one could suggest avoiding it for the time being, but not only have I already postponed too many Gripes (don’t worry, Fini – we’ll complete your tale someday), there is an importance in getting this one out of the way early.

Because it’s nasty.

Whatever, enough build-up. On we go:

The Gland Incoherence

After a somewhat bizarre trip across the state of Oregon (we’ll get to this another time), fellow writer Funky and I found a temporary home in the apartment of our friend, Garrett. He was living on the second story of a popular downtown complex, splitting rent with a friendly middle-eastern man named Abdul (who soon, from a mixture of general discomfort and strange American antics, would be moving out). There we cooked slabs of fish in whiskey, slept in a sweaty pile atop randomly assembled mattresses, and chain-smoked enough cigarettes to personally incite climate change. In a simultaneously fun and impossibly bleak way, it was a perfectly enacted stereotype of the urban, white, twenty-something lifestyle –  communal, loud, directionless, indulgent, and somehow still quite lonely. Jolly Oswald was there, too.

On the second night of our stay, a tragically misinterpreted light appeared, something I took as a lifeboat to fight my grubby first-world emptiness with; this light was a young woman. Yeah, that’s where this grease-stain of a story goes. Good old unreliable Mack fucks it up again, combining his classic weakness with impossible ignorance and desperation that is (admittedly) often seen, though not usually implemented in such a catastrophic way.

Her name was Ysabelle. I mean it wasn’t; she went by Jasper, then revoked it (“call me by my real name,” she once asked me soulfully), then took back revoking it because fuck it. So we’re calling her Ysabelle. Just let that one slide.

She was an on-and-off nonbinary, hetero-but-sometimes-bisexual-polyamorous, semisexual nymphomaniac who was in love with two other people upon the time of meeting me (one of them being a trans woman who had recently reverted to identifying as male again, because they had just completed a stint in prison and wanted to fight for custody of their alienated children). Also, she was pretty nice. Also also, she had cervical cancer (this is important and you should remember it). Also also also, I’ve been thinking about giving up on this story ever since beginning this awful paragraph, but I won’t because it’s literally been a year since I’ve contributed anything to this literary pile of refuse.

The first night we met, she sat down on Garrett’s couch and told me that she had fallen madly in love with me. I asked her what made her so sure about this (we’d been talking to each other for about an hour, now), and she kissed me instead of answering my question, because it was both easier than improvising reasons behind a falsely proclaimed emotion, and I was too much of a shithead to ask for anything beyond spontaneous and rudimentary sensual gratification. That night, we slept in the same bed, but there was virtually no touching – though this detail may seem a little arbitrary, it left an incredible impact, as we were so immediately close and yet without a shred of intimacy. Beyond that first kiss, there was nothing.

Fast-forward a handful of days, and all of that would go tits-up.

See, roughly around the time of meeting her, I reacquainted with another young woman (don’t worry, she had a weird older boyfriend at the time, so this doesn’t quite go the predictable route, at least not immediately). Her name was/is/will likely remain Sofia, and I very much liked/like/will continue to like her. By like, I mean feel gross romantic things (I like her more than I dislike cherry candy, which is a really big deal if you understand how much I truly despise cherry candy, and also this is another thing you should keep in mind for later). When Funky and Oswald proposed we go and see Sofia, I was on-board in a way that lacked all subtlety and grace; witnessing the activation of my Attention-Seeking Vacuum, hindsight provides the understanding that Ysabelle was probably made nervous by this pitiful display of need, and opted to come along as a chastity belt rather than a guest. I was too dense to see this, as my empathetic skills had crash-landed at an record low, and I honestly believed it would be a wise idea to bring her along. It wasn’t.

Shortly after we reached Sofia’s house, it was painfully obvious where my attention would be for the remainder of our visit. Within minutes, Ysabelle had spread herself on Sofia’s living room couch, telling me that she was tired and wanted to take a break from all of the socializing. When I attempted to rejoin said socializing, she grabbed my pant-leg and drew me back to where she was lying, showing me a tattoo that ran the extent of her forearm. Terribly paraphrased by my garbage memory, it said “I was birthed from the rot and the flowers, and when I die I will at last rejoin them.” She told me the words bore great significance, but wouldn’t reveal what significance that was; when I asked again, she demanded that I admit my mutual love for her, and after I responded by saying nothing, it was her turn to repeat a question. I choked out something along the lines of “I don’t think so,” doubtlessly sounding like an intoxicated Muppet doing an impression of a deaf person trying to whisper across a stadium (this analogy solely exists to communicate my inability with tact, please don’t read into it).  The response I gave upset her, but I couldn’t really tell (refer back to that Muppet thing I just apologized for), so I went out with the rest of the squad to drink water that tasted like runny mud and was also a muscle relaxant. Jump to a couple of hours later, and we were back at the house, loosened up and acting like a bunch of assholes.

“I want to go back to the apartment,” Ysabelle said.

Feeling genuinely terrible, the cruelty of the situation hit me like Ron Jeremy’s wrecking ball. Though not enough, I was very remorseful, and offered to ride back on the bus with her (none of us drove at the time). On the way home, she shared much of her life with me, some stories truthful and others clearly fabricated, and all I could think was “I have ruined this person’s life,” which was admittedly an amazingly dramatic thing to be thinking, but it gets worse so hold on a second.

The events took place as follows:

We arrived at Garrett’s apartment, and nobody we knew was home. Abdul had some friends over, and they were playing a game in the living room, dance music pounding from a speaker near the balcony.  A sinking feeling filled my gut, sickening but difficult to explain, and I couldn’t keep my sight from locking onto my own feet.

Once we retreated into the bedroom, Ysabelle shut the door behind us and threw me a small bottle of lubricant. I almost dropped it, and when my eyes unlatched from what she had given me (I swear to God, I thought it was lip balm at first), she began to tear her clothes off like they were on fire. It looked like a bad eighties commercial, where a glam-rock girl with a pixie haircut and Member’s Only jacket is knocking shit off the shelf like it’s going out of style, and apparently this is supposed to be selling you Levi’s jeans. Only I didn’t want the Levi’s jeans that Ysabelle was selling me, so I stood there like a scarecrow and watched as my reality became a hilarious nightmare.

“I want you to fuck me,” she hissed, trying to tear my shirt off and scratching my back. Her nails reminded me of a movie poster I saw once, where a werewolf was ripping his claws through the screen, making this face like “I don’t give a shit, I’m breaking the fourth wall!” However, in this case, the fourth wall was the skin between my shoulder blades, and it wasn’t a Joe Dante film.

Soon enough, we were on the floor. “Put on the lube,” she was snapping at me. “Put on the lube.” I had never used lubricant before, and this whole ordeal was ludicrously weird, but I did my best to comply. Uncapping the container, I spilled way too much into my palm, and began mashing it inelegantly against my partially flaccid penis, the liquid far colder than I had anticipated, dripping onto the carpet and sheets beneath us. The scent of artificial cherry flooded into my nostrils, and I began to wretch, trying to pretend like I was stifling a cough as vomit threatened to eject from the back of my throat.

“Is it on?” she asked.

I tried to nod, propping the balance of my body onto one elbow and hurling the lube angrily across the room, the frigid sensation that once coated my balls transitioning into one of heat, awful stinging heat, as though the substance was attempting to drill into the follicles of my testicle hair. My thighs trembled and I began to sweat, but the combined tension and extremity of the moment prevented me from articulating this pain, so I said nothing.

“I shaved my pussy,” she gasped, her speech greatly worsening the sense of impending sick. “Put it in.”

Biting my lip, I began to enter her, but like all other happenings within this story, such an act did not go as planned. There was something inside of her, something bulbous and fleshy that was so large in size, it seemingly left a bulge in the skin above her groin. The sight and feel of it shocked me, and my mind returned instantly to her cervical cancer, my hand brushing over her skin in attempts to recognize what I was dealing with, the rough hairs of her shaved vagina scratching my open palm as I resisted the urge to break my own neck.  There was something wrong here, and although I was worlds away from being a sexual expert, it was all too apparent that this was a special sort of case.

Pulling back from her, I stood up, grabbing my underpants and sliding them on at lightning speed. Our gazes connected, and she too shot up, whipping a blanket like a cape about her shoulders and sprinting into the bathroom. Upon Garrett’s mattress, I sat alone, sliding back into my clothing and doing my best to ignore the stench which now filled his room.

When she returned, she was weeping. “I don’t know what you did to me,” she cried, holding out her bloody hands, squeezing her legs together with a tuft of toilet paper jutting out the front. “Do you have something?”

“Something?”

“An STD, do you have an STD?”

“No,” I scrambled for the right thing to say, fidgeting awkwardly in place. “I don’t. For sure I don’t.”

“Then,” she tilted her head down, shadows casting dramatically across her face in the shitty lamplight, “I think you found it. The cancer; you found the cancer.”

Although I have no clue how such a thing works, or if one is actually capable of “finding” cervical cancer with their botched erection, there was no doubt in my mind that whatever had just transpired was deeply wrong.

That night, once Garrett and Funky had returned, we all laid down together and watched an animated movie. After she had fallen asleep, I brought Garrett into the hallway and told him about what happened. He had been drinking something at the time, and upon gaining this information, pitched his cup against the plaster wall, glass shards and extra-pulp orange juice cascading through the air. “I care very much about her,” he said, stepping about the glass (we were both barefoot). “I haven’t told you this before, but when we first met, she told me that she loved me, and we also had sex too, and I also found the cancer.”

“What?”

He spoke frantically – “I mean I found it, the cancer. I found it, too. I touched it with my penis.”

I shook my head and he disappeared through a nearby doorway, quickly returning with some traffic cones he’d allegedly stolen. Setting them on either side of the mess, he clapped his hands together as though dusting them off, then headed back into the apartment. The cones, along with everything else, remained there unattended for days.

The following morning, we made coffee and sat out on the balcony. She was leaving to see her doctor soon, to discern if anything new and/or horrible had occurred inside of her body. I dumped a comical amount of Funky Mannequin’s raw tobacco into a rolling paper and nodded along, beginning the second stint of chain-smoking that would prove to rival the first. About halfway through my massive smoke, she proposed to me.

“Let’s just get married,” she said. “We love each other, we can just get married and go wherever we want to.”

Politely as I could, I declined, so she took a bus to Vancouver and asked the no-longer transgender parolee if he would like to marry her instead. He also declined, so she stayed in Portland and drank the baby to death.

Oh, you thought I was going to end on a funny line. No, that’s seriously it, that’s how this story ends.

Sorry, folks.

A drawing of Ysabelle, made shortly after our unfortunate encounter. Yeah, I know I’m an edge-lord, sorry.

 

Next Up: Seven Sinks And The Bridge Of Despair
And Maybe Then: The Unplanned Interference
And Eventually Someday: Acid-Master Reverend Stu’s Californian Romp
And Then Eventually Someday Somehow After All That: 260 Miles: The Borderline Homoerotic Tales Of Traveling Way Too Far On Foot And Getting Ticks On Your Nutsack

The Grand (and somewhat bland) Appearance

On the 9th of June, fellow writer Funky Mannequin and I left our home in La Grande, Oregon. The goal was to travel the length of the state and return to Portland (where we first met), and travel we did; through incredible heat, scrotal ticks, the corpses of decaying roadside house-cats, and the backs of vans owned by religious meth-head couples, we pressed onward. However, this story is about none of those things (though you can bet there will be more on such escapades later).

For now, let’s focus on The Grand (and somewhat bland) Appearance.

Upon reentering Portland, Funky and I were greeted by a typhoon of litter and profoundly retarded transit system. The destination was across town (the apartment of a dear friend Garrett), so we got change from a local barkeep and his transvestite girlfriend, seating ourselves at the nearest stop and checking the schedule. It read eight minutes – five minutes later, it read nine.

When the vehicle at last greeted us, it did so with an overweight woman screeching into a speaker-phone and a coughing man who would have shamed victims of the bubonic plague.

We were up to our taints in boozy broads and gutter condoms. We were home indeed.

Once freed of the public access vehicle, we promptly located Garrett’s building and illegally tailed a resident through the safety-locked doors. Instead of the stairs, we took a dangerous-looking elevator up a single story and reached the room in minutes, ushered in by a middle-eastern man bearing a plate of assorted fruits. “For you,” he spoke smoothly, presenting the organized dish of succulent offerings.

We took the juicy gift and rested upon a crimson sofa, breathing in the sheer emptiness of the apartment’s space. “Where’s Garrett?” we asked, slightly unnerved.

“He went to get you,” the man responded, producing a smoke and heading for the balcony.

“Of course.”

Eerie music filled the air. No, there is truly no joke or metaphor to be found here; there was suspenseful music quite literally flooding the room around us, echoing from somewhere within the walls (from which room we did not yet know).

On the coffee table before the couch, a sculpture of a pirate skull glowered at our knees (“I dug that out of the trash!” our friend would soon proclaim with an appropriately dramatic gesture).

When Garrett finally did arrive, he did so with a homeless companion named Jeremy (known to Garrett as “Gregory” for absolutely no reason at all). Jeremy talked about an ideal world on acid, grew offended when asked to play a love song, refused to shower, then gave everybody his filthy, filthy lice (they filled all of the hand towels, so cleaning oneself was deeply counter-productive). Levi cooked us delicious salmon to rectify these things.

That night, we watched a television of static. The channels wouldn’t change unless we were using the remote. When the remote eventually stopped working (no big deal, all of the channels were static anyway), Garrett opened the battery compartment and two small pieces of aluminum foil fell from the device. We were all dumbfounded.

On the television (or rather, within the static on the television), we saw intergalactic travel, spiraling serpents, parting seas, and a vigorously dancing man. The dancing man was so horrendously funny, we all laughed for a good five minutes (five minutes is an absurdly long and painful amount of time when you can only laugh). This television, like the pirate skull, was obtained from a dumpster.

The following day, Funky and Garrett made Jeremy the Louse King collect all of his shit and throw it into a sack, putting him on the bus and taking him to a tax-evading semi-cult otherwise known as The Boneyard (read: Road Trip Through PurgatoryMy Accidental Life As A Full-Time Meth Peddler: Part One, and Bags Of Flesh, Bottles Of Urine – all appropriately titled entries in the world of Boneyard lore).

“It’s a commune of artists,” they misinformed the Louse King.

He looked very worried, as he should have been. When they were traveling via the TriMet streetcar, he spent the ride face-down in his guitar. He knew they were stretching the truth.

When they reached the communal settlement of degenerate scum, the landowner was evicting a local junkie (Fini, Lord of Ice-Cold Milk). All of his greasy belongings had been tossed onto the lawn.

The Louse King was abandoned there, yet to be seen again.

So we made a safe return and lead normal lives, right?

Well, unbeknownst to my shitty little heart, this was but the beginning of a new breed of adventure – an adventure so lethargic, pasty, and unexciting that it would be a crime to shove it all into one post.

In stories to come: handguns, familial alienation, bloody intercourse, parolee sex-changes, cancer, long-lost siblings, and open relationships. Yeah, yeah, don’t get your hopes up.

Garrett, whose face is scribbled out because he doesn't want any photos on the internet because he's fucking insane.

Garrett, whose face is scribbled out because he doesn’t want any photos on the internet because he’s fucking insane.

Next Up: The Gland Incoherence
And Then: The Unplanned Interference
And Eventually Someday: Seven Sinks And The Bridge Of Despair
And Then Eventually Someday Somehow After All That: 260 Miles: The Borderline Homoerotic Tales Of Traveling Way Too Far On Foot And Getting Ticks On Your Nutsack

Chapter 2

White wash windows will give you the view you’ve been wanting to see. Turn your life into blank white canvas paper. Then you can draw the perfect world, a pristine paradise to turn your exalted gaze upon in wonderment. Magnificent beauty, leaving you so blissfully ignorant that the waking world is drowned out completely by a chorus of chirping birds, accompanied by an angelic harp arrangement with deep, soft cellos. Time has become irrelevant. Space is just an abstraction to be occupied in, and nothing more, so take a load off, and leave it off for a while.

Water streams from above, fading colors downward. I begin to get dizzy.

I corkscrew my eyes open, then wrench the sleepiness from them with tight fists, wiping out the fine dusting. Slowly, I lower my hands to a steady gleam of piercing purple-ish-white light beaming in from the front window. I sit for a moment, taking it all in. Reflecting on my dream; on the possible implications provided, but moreso the intensity of it. The surreal realism with its vibrant colors and mesmerizing narrative. In my current state, the bright light makes me feel nostalgic. It’s reminiscent of the early morning sun which had shone through lazy afternoons.

Courier shakes me violently, springing me to my feet, and I rustle away any leftover sleepiness. “Don’t get drawn in,” he says to me, calmly. I nod reassuringly as I don my jacket and fumble out a tube to inhale through deeply before returning it. Now that my senses are returning, I can faintly make out the shape of the Gork, who seems to be gesturing its appendages toward the light in incredible enthusiasm and with a strong hint of panic. I look only for a second before it starts to unnerve me. I need to relax now, to get through the long waiting period that accompanies these missions, as it is important to remain absolutely undeterred by any amount of anomalies that might raise too many questions.

You see, it’s the unnatural–the extraordinary–that demands rationality in the form of logically sound reasoning to explain an expansively deprecating reality in a way that one can bring their mind to terms with, as your brain won’t have room on its stove to cook up enough probability for such a tall order of unaccountable events. Given the event that one has taken on too many allowances to their definitions of the real world, one of two things will happen: 1. They’ll go insane, like a homeless person who spends every available penny on the most mind-boggling, brain-hazing drug they can get their hands on, wandering about until an open ear presents itself to have inane nonsense rambled into it with such a fiery passion that they might drag one down into the hellish pits of incoherence right along with them, or 2. Worse yet, their brain simply fries completely, leaving them not brain dead, but still sane enough to go on as if nothings wrong. But nothing will make sense anymore. They’ll find themselves watching the most low-brow family sit-com with the least inspired writing on television, and they don’t like it but they don’t care, either. They keep watching it anyways, their mouth drooping, legs shaking, and their metabolism will pull the plug on the whole operation, making it a race to see which organ fails first and their last saving moment of mortality when the throes of death finally arrive is choked down by liver failure; or a massive stroke. So you see now why it is so imperative to remain calm.

I lightly lift myself down into the kitchen, surveying the area quickly with purposefully not intense amounts of concentration. Though the entire area seems off, I can’t seem to put my finger on it. Dry5 is condensing her knees into hamburger buns over a pot on the floor, so I quickly turn away. Sliding into a chair, I lay out my cards on the table. Pulling and laying them out one by one, I notice that Jacks are Jills, and Queens are sheep dogs making an unruly face, not at me but past me, as if there is something threatening there. I look back, but I can’t tell what it’s so worked up about. No good. Why am I playing cards in the first place? I’ve got a job to do. There’s no time for this.

Speaking of hands: when I stood, both of mine plummeted thousands of feet below me, like a 3D model gone wrong. I use them to open the big red door into the engine room (which isn’t normally big or red, more like small and green) Dry5 somehow made her way past me to the center of the room, unless she never left, which is possible at this point. Courier takes long, brisk steps in behind me, making stride with his feet and his instructions, spoken in monotone loops to help consistently direct our focus. As we’re descending stairs on a clinking metal grated scaffolding to the engine below, Harrier breaks into the door behind us. She swoops onto the railing and slides past both of us, gaining great speeds at what looks to be terminal velocity, her backside becomes a streaming tail, much like a comet, but streaming spaghetti instead of fire. Meatballs and spaghetti sauce spring up from the force, sticking it all to the ceiling. Parmesan skids off the rail as she slides. I resist the urge to watch in awe, and instead shamble ahead.

Dry5 is hitting the engine with a wrench as if to awaken it with a violent Fonzian touch. Courier attempts to karate chops the inside of her elbow in order to disarm her and save the engine, but she counters and ripostes with her wrench, spinning it like a basketball into his stomach. I can tell that this isn’t normal behavior, although I’m beginning to slip myself, almost attempting to evaluate them like an apathetic psychiatrist who hasn’t thought about what to have for supper in 17 years. I slap myself. In doing so, I hit not my chin, but something else where my chin used to be. What is there now is not worth thinking about, so I slam my arm into an open crevice of the engine and pull any wire within reach, yanking out static all over the inside and my forearm. In a moment, electricity flows into my veins, pumping throughout my body until reaching my brain. And I’m in.

The space is entirely white, and for what I can tell, just infinite empty, white space. I see that Harrier is already deep within. She seems to be discussing something with Al, but from this distance I can not tell what. I can only assume it is nonsensical, because I don’t want to get my hopes up for the chance of normalcy. Turning around, I launch into a full sprint, escaping rapidly in the other direction. I can only hope that they will remember to do the same, or that Courier and Dyr5 could climb out of their eyelids and help the situation.

My strides start to tear holes in the air, ripping back folds of white like cheap saran wrap, crumpling it tightly behind me so that if I turn around or stop, I’ll be suffocated in an instant. Step after step, I begin to feel my mind break free, my pupils drifting up and back, then dilating the entire eyeball completely black. I can’t feel my extremities, and barely the rest of my body except for this tingling sensation, much like when the cold makes one’s body go numb. Fire ants cover me inside and out with relentless biting. My chest begins to feel heavier with every breath, pulling me back as I struggle to breath in the draining air supply. I open my mouth suddenly and widely, more than I believed humanly possible, my face stretching more than twice its original size.

I tear through, ripping out of the white space and with a thud I land smack back into reality. Standing up, dusting myself off, I see Courier, Al, Harrier, and Dry5 strewn about the room in disarray, except for Courier who approaches me to shake my hand. I take it receptively, and bow my head modestly in acceptance of his gratitude. The other three remain seated or splayed, groaning and mumbling and trying to relax.

I say, “let’s get something to eat.” and with that, me and Courier make our way back to the main control room.

 

Jack-o-Lantern Spaceship Enterprise

On board, most of the lighting melts into the natural orange of the interior hull. If you want to see out, then you’d peer through its jagged teeth, its triangle nose, or through one of its two eyes, preferably the left one which is cut less perfectly round and in such a way that might remind one that there’s comfort in the idea of an imperfect world.

I’m playing cards in the kitchen. As my hands fly dexterously across the table in a rousing game of solitaire, unfurling stress and clearing my mind, thoughts about my childhood flitter across my mind. I remember being taken to the skies back on the home world in my earliest memories. I had learned to fly at the young age of 7, which would turn out to be an important skill and become the pivotal starting point in a life of perceived importance from those who directly influenced my political escapades. As it turns out, the ability to fly was an important skill to be exploited in countless military ventures. I’m not complaining; I got the chance to meet a lot of interesting characters.

Across from me sits the Gork, who had just become the newest addition to the crew. It has the typical features of any other Gorker, but its eyebrows are a bit more bushy, its appendages more stale, and a stagnant mouth. It seems to be watching me with extreme intensity, accounting my every movement.

I can’t be bothered by it right now. My mind is preoccupied with the status of our current mission. The assignment is simple enough. A routine exploration and categorization of an extraneous anomaly, discovered weeks ago by an observation probe. It was ordered by the HENECI organization, which isn’t common but trustworthy enough, although the class is superficial and the location timers have been skewing for several weeks. Previously, our Enterprise was scheduled by HENECI to dock on an empty plate planet and await further instructions. We were supposed to find a communicator, two coins and a rubber soul. After spending a week there searching the place and waiting around, finding no trace of these items, they beamed down a small transport ship, paid us in full and left without saying a word. It was unpaid work, and with other business on the horizon, we hadn’t bothered to inquire in full.

There is a hiss of steam from behind me as Dry5 strolls in from the engine room. After stepping past the Gork, she steals a glance-or more of a glower-at it that left a dry taste in both of our mouths, she then turns and casually nods at me. I return the gesture as I promptly finish my game, swoop the cards into my hand and enclose them into my jacket. I walk to the stove and put the kettle on. Should we be more personable with the Gork? I wonder. After all, it’s not easy to read the trustworthiness of an unstudied and unobserved species without proper communication. Not until they prove themselves with their actions. After the fact of their betrayal, it will be too late to live without regretments. From another pocket of another side of my jacket, I pull out a short tube and inhale through its mouthpiece for a moment before returning it.

I turn to the Gork to realize that he’s motioning at me and attempting to speak to me, but my ears don’t pick up the frequency of its speech. I also realize that its presence might have to do with the current task we’ve been assigned. I take notice of its expressions and movements before passively disregarding it, as the Gork’s body language is indiscernible to me.

I leave the two in the kitchen and loft myself through an opening in the ceiling, leading into the main control room. Courier’s standing at the far end of the room with his hips slanted, adjacent to one of the sharp teeth pointing out of the mouth-shaped opening. His demeanor seemed thoughtful, so I inquired, “What are you thinking about, Courier?” He shifted his hips in response, slanting them to the opposite side and looking over at me through his peripherals. On a desk, I notice the mission documents and I begin to rifle through them as I tap my feet in rhythm. Papers strewn in hand, I walk over to Courier to press with him about the details.

“How likely is the deadline?” I ask.

“Untimely. I am betting on a quarter extra, ” he replies.

“Do you suppose they’ll be ready to punish our lack of punctuality? They’re not very timely themselves.”

“I will not wager on that.”

Looking through the papers, searching for the source of distress which unfailingly affects Courier in every mission briefing, I eventually inquire, “…What are you worried about, here?”

Courier addresses me more directly, the light from the desk lamp illuminates his face, “This might be a setup.”

My brow furrows, “Are you sure?” I redress the papers again, scattering them in vain.

“It is a possibility. I am sure of it.”

Turning away, I retire my jacket and myself onto a chair. Releasing my breath, I prepare for work with a lengthy nap.

Road Trip Through Purgatory (or, My Accidental Life As A Full-Time Meth Peddler: Part Two)

Behind “The Boneyard” (a tax evading semi-cult, named after the unearthing of animal bones from below their back lawn), there is a massive hole in the ground.

Levi and I sat at the edge of this ditch, kicking loose dirt from its edge, earth and rock tumbling down to the pit’s bottom. The sun was hot and blinding, searing our backs through tee-shirts and thin jackets, drying the mud beneath our worn shoes.

“This is gonna be an underground greenhouse,” Levi told me, sipping from the brim of a black coffee, his long hair dangling over his face. “I’ve been doing all the fucking work though. Ripped a hole right down the ass of my favorite striped pants.”

“It looks like a mass grave,” I told him.

Rotating to look at me, Levi squinted through the blaring sunlight and shrugged, then nodded thoughtfully. “Huh. Fini should be here soon.”

As though waiting on a cue, the infamous Fini emerged from the cluttered house behind us, jarringly slender with the stature of a retarded hunchback. His smelly jacket blew in the late springtime breeze, eyes sunken to the back of his rotten brain and peering through inflamed rings of sleepless drug abuse. Slight winds carried trash and dust across the inconceivably filthy property, blowing against the legs of his undersized jeans, tight and childlike on his sickening chicken legs. Taking a long drag of a hand-rolled cigarette, he blew smoke into his own face and grunted, “Alright kids, let’s hit the road. Just a couple hours, right? I’ll get you the camping gear and we’ll all be set.”

Complying without question, my companion and I signed ourselves onto the most nightmarish trek that would ever grace our shitty lives.

“Garrett keeps asking about camping gear,” Levi informed me as we approached a small car. “He gave me a list and shit. Like, a color-coded document that’s all bulleted and fancy and shit. I don’t know, this guy says he’ll hook us up for free. He seems good for it, long as we come along and help him bring stuff back.”

Opening the hind-passenger door, Fini reached in for a small cooler, then shut the vehicle before we could enter it.

“Oh, not this car,” he told us. “We’re taking that one.” Pointing a scummy fingernail down the driveway, he drew our sight to a white, nearly windowless van, screws and nails jutting from its chipping sides. “You dudes can sit in the back on the way out. I rigged up some seats and shelves and all that, so you’ll have an alright time.” Laughing lightly under his breath, he wiped his nose with the side of a greasy fist.

Upon entering this automobile, the unfamiliar fellow slammed his cooler down and removed the plastic lid, hunger brewing in his beady little pupils. With shaking hands, he dipped his palms into the small box and produced a single bottle of milk, covered in frost and chilled water. With but one fluid motion, he wrenched the cap from its container and latched his mouth over the brim, sucking with famished aggression. “God damn,” he hooted as the flagon unlatched from his nasty lips. “There’s nothing better than ice-cold milk!”

Tossing it at Levi, he juddered with uncontrollable passion. “Ice-cold milk,” he announced again. “Really, you have to try it.”

Shrugging with absolute apathy, Levi lifted the frothy beverage and sipped a bit down. “Yeah, it’s pretty good,” he said.

“Pretty good?” Fini retrieved it, passing the drink to me. “Ice-cold milk,” he said.

“It’s lactose,” the words slipped almost nervously through my teeth. “I can’t drink milk, man.”

Deeply offended, Fini pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows, taking another hard swig before returning it to the cooler. “Whatever, dude.”

[Editor’s Addition: Mood Music for the ensuing smut-fest.]

Then, without warning, the world caved in on itself and we were cast into the proverbial fires of a very real Hell. It all happened so unbelievably fast – one moment, we were standing at the side of a crumbling-home-turned-cult-residence; the next moment, we were huddled down in the back of a strange junkie’s hazardous van, nail-riddled shelves lurching with every slight turn, tobacco smoke filling the airless space as we pressed a foam slate across the hind window to “prevent being seen.”

Emily (Fini’s girl) sat in the withered passenger seat, every inch and orifice of her body (visibly) perforated by some form of steel rod or ball, arguing with her partner over every line that oozed across his mindlessly flapping tongue. When we reached the toll-bridge into Washington, she had to take the wheel in his place, the crusty felon hiding in back with us because the entire state wanted him on charges of “avoiding a parking ticket” (widespread and repeated possession, production, and distribution of Class 1 Narcotics). Immediately after reaching our first destination (one of many, as we were soon to discover), we were forced to endure five hours in waiting while Fini dealt methamphetamines to a disabled woman and downloaded an unfathomably shitty phone application (“Asphalt 8” he boyishly chortled at us as he reentered the van, chucking his sticky smartphone into our laps). Emily had thrown us twenty bucks to spend on food, but not even delicious and pricey sandwiches could ease the discomfort of her boyfriend’s vile antics.

And as the North-Western rain came pouring down, my thoughts could only shift back to those frail few words, muttered so simply by Fini before we departed from The Boneyard. “A couple hours,” the putrid lie echoed like an ominous premonition through my aching head.

A couple hours. A couple hours. A couple hours.

A couple hours turned into five, which turned into eight, which turned into twelve-and-a-half. That’s right, over twelve fucking hours were we made to endure this travesty of a “road trip.”

And it only spiraled down from here.

Posing with one of Fini's hand-rolled cigarettes. Approximately two hours on the road.

Posing with one of Fini’s hand-rolled cigarettes. Approximately two hours on the road.

Next up: Seven Sinks And The Bridge Of Despair (My Accidental Life As A Full-Time Meth Peddler: Part Three)

My Accidental Life As A Full-Time Meth Peddler: Part One

After walking approximately seventy miles, I reached the Portland city limits. My legs were on fire and my conscience was beginning to fade, fourteen consecutive hours of travel weighing upon the many more spent without sleep. And yet, here I was at last, lost at the edge of my hometown with sixty dollars to my name and a ratty crust of hair plastered across my cheeks. Selecting a random block, my legs began to throb in its general direction, moving against all odds to keep me alive.

Countless buildings passed before another human presence was identified, some young woman sitting on the curb outside of a convenience store, a frighteningly large cigar burning between her skeletal fingers. Seemingly oblivious to my disgustingly disheveled appearance, she glumly informed me that she was a clerk on break, imprisoned in a graveyard shift to pay for a trashy apartment. When asked where one could find a place to sleep, she haphazardly pointed her stogie and proposed we have sex together; greasy, pained, and filled to the brim with undischarged fecal matter, I declined. She then offered to sell me acid, ignoring my awkward dismissal. After declining once more, I bid her farewell and my travels continued.

Soon enough, a filthy motel crossed my path, something cheap enough to rob me of all cash and house me for the following six hours (it was made very clear that I had to vacate by eleven o’clock). Crumpling into a mattress that reeked of adultery and well-fed scabies, I plugged my cell phone into the nearest outlet and proceeded to sweat my body-weight overnight. In no time, the light of noon was upon me and I fell sprawling from the mattress, taking a two-minute shower and drying off with a hand towel (the full-sized towels provided were all stained in copious amounts of shit). Tugging my clothes back on, I gathered my meager belongings and hit the road again. Within hours, I had reunited with my friend Levi.

The plan was to stay a night at The Boneyard (a tax-evading, independently operated semi-cult), later gathering supplies from a disturbingly gaunt man named Fini (unbeknownst to us, a narcotics dealer) before setting out on a group expedition to Eastern Oregon.

“The guys are kind of weird,” he notified me on the bus ride there.

Upon entering the strangely inconspicuous residence, I was greeted by its homeowner, a middle-aged man with frazzled hair pulled into a frayed ponytail. He held a hand-rolled cigarette and discussed his life as a digital effects artist, voice becoming comically gruff when he spoke while exhaling. “What genres do you like?” he asked me.

“Just about anything,” I told him, “as long as it’s not too bogged down with action scenes. I usually like a little bit of meaning.”

“I find meaning in action movies,” he told me, slowly crushing his cigarette against the tabletop with smoke billowing out from his nose. “Meaning in the violence.”

As if on cue, a large man came lumbering into the room with a plastic cup of beer splashing about in his fist. Immediately, an argument sparked over whether or not Vikings adorned their helmets with horns. “I am a fucking Viking,” he boomed drunkenly. “I know this shit.”

After a wry and condescending remark, the homeowner grinned and exited to the kitchen, dismissing his friend entirely. Directly following this departure, the Viking threw his arms out to the sides, twisting them in random directions and stomping his feet, screeching indistinguishable sounds at the top of his lungs with eyeballs protruding and tongue flapping around outside of his mouth. Then, just as spontaneously as he had begun, he came to a sudden halt.

“You know what I mean?” he asked me.

“Yeah,” I told him, giving a thumbs-up.

“Alright,” he grinned, leaving the room.

Calmly turning to me, Levi lifted an empty mug. “Do you want some coffee?” he asked me, utterly unfazed by what we had just witnessed. “We can wait out back for Fini to get here. I’ve got to show you this hole they’ve been digging.”

Nothing could prepare me for the events that followed.

First week back in town with Jolly Oswald and Funky Mannequin.

First week back in town with Jolly Oswald and Funky Mannequin.

Bags Of Flesh, Bottles Of Urine

Many healthy concepts fall to the wayside when one is recovering from a traumatic event. The cutting of hair, the changing of clothes, the flushing of toilets, the taking of showers (or perhaps the exiting of showers, once three full hours have passed). When my elder brother’s marriage was decimated by insecurity and distrust, he abused hard drugs and became homeless. When my father lost his job, he curbed his livelihood and spent his accumulated retirement fund on scraping by atop a blue sofa.

When I survived the rupturing of my veins, I coped by devolving into a shitty person.

Within days, I had isolated myself from all trusting friends, broken up with my long-term significant other, and watched enough internet pornography to give myself handcrafted genital herpes. Though I had moved off-campus, I was still clinging to the notion of successfully completing my first college year. Every day, I would return to the dorms and insincerely discuss classes with my friends, all the while neglecting a majority of my homework. Every night, I would walk into my ex-girlfriend’s room and beg for her affection, always reducing my logic to some pathetic copout about “being good friends and loving one another but avoiding any real relationship.” Commitment, responsibility, confidence, and overall functionality had become utter strangers to me. I was a pitiful train wreck of weakness and dishonesty.

Yet, by some ugly miracle, an absurd solution came to me amidst the thick of my wretchedness. It was delivered to me whilst sitting at home, trying my best not to think of my most recent counselling appointment (something legally required of me, as long as I wanted to avoid the loony bin). My hands were set upon my keyboard and a good friend of mine (a young man by the name of Levi Nelson) was sitting at the other end of cyberspace. He had been informed of a strange and rare opportunity, something that could change the course of our lives as we knew them.

“Boot companies will sponsor you to walk across the country in their boots,” he wrote me. “We need to investigate this right now. We need to get out soon. I’m going to get ahold of [our friend] Garrett.”

That was all it took to stand me up and dust me off. I needed to travel back to Portland by whatever means necessary. In fact, the very words “by whatever means necessary” may have actually crossed my mind at some point throughout the abysmal, amateur process that we referred to as “plan-making,” an essential and preceding step in what would be the longest fourteen hours of my life.

The original strategy was to drive back to the big city, meet up, and walk across the country (just like that). However, the far-reaching expanse of America proved too daunting a starting goal; we needed something simpler first.

The second plan was then formed; my friends would be driven into La Grande before commencing with a group expedition to Portland. That way, we would be allowed a small taste of a greater adventure, to determine whether or not we had what it took. And yet the use of vehicles made things “too easy.”

Here, the third plan was born; my friends would walk to me, stay for a week or two, then set out as originally intended. Levi knew members of a tax-evading, independently operated semi-cult known to the youth of Portland as “The Boneyard” (a name earned upon their discovery of animal skeletons, uprooted from beneath the soils of their backyard). A sunken-eyed man lived there with his profoundly pierced girlfriend, a fellow by the name of Fini, who dealt narcotics from a truck and proclaimed himself the group’s “acquirer of goods.” He would supply gear for their excursion, covering camping and general survivability altogether.

Nevertheless, Fini’s heroin-laced preparations took far too long and I became impatient. When visiting a friend’s family in southern Washington (and simultaneously contracting a terrible fever), I finally caved, spontaneously deciding the ultimate plan; from White Salmon to Portland, I would walk approximately seventy miles along the highway, stopping for nothing.

When the time came to return to La Grande, I broke the news to my friends and we drove back into Oregon, saying our goodbyes before I departed.

Within the first five hours, I had barely outrun two trains, stumbled into a homeless congregation in the woods, and discovered a garbage bag full of mysterious flesh.  There was dog shit on my hands and people shit on my shoes. The sun was setting rapidly and my nerves were quickly getting the better of me. After a certain point, I drew and unfolded a sizable pocket knife that had been supplied for my travels, shambling like some drunken rube down the side of the open road with a dark blade hanging visibly from my shaking fist. Two arm warmers (my inadequate substitutes for bandaging) shifted and began to itch beneath my sleeves, leading me to periodically scratch at my wrists and elbows as I shuffled alongside the speeding traffic. It would have been a feat to look more suspicious.

At one point, after the pinkish sun had at last disappeared behind the mountains, a sudden urge to urinate overcame me like a tsunami within my bladder. Bizarrely self-conscious about leaking onto the concrete road, my sleep-deprived brain informed me of a simple, indisputable alternative; relieve myself into the empty water bottle that I had finished off a short while back. Without questioning such logic for even a moment, I whipped my manhood out in the middle of the freeway and emptied my foul, dark, sickly piss into the frail plastic container. After that, all it took was a quick turn of the cap and I was on my way once more, piss-flagon secured at the side of my backpack and stance shaking like a junkie in the cold.

Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t until a good six hours past sundown that an Officer of the Law was called to investigate my undoubtedly frightening presence. When the alternating beams of blue and red began to wash across the road, I crawled up onto the highway’s median divider and tucked my knees into my chest, wracking my hazy brain for the best way to look like a “good guy” (thank Christ, I’m white).

“You alright?” the man called out to me, speaking quietly into his radio as he approached.

“Yeah,” I told him, greasy and heaving and coiled into a fetal position atop a slab of concrete. “I’m good.”

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

“Portland.”

“Oh. Whoa. Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you armed?”

I thought for a moment. “Yes.”

The Officer stared at me, hand near his hip. He didn’t speak.

“Wait, shit, no… I mean yes. But not really. There’s a knife in my pocket. Like a pocket knife. In my pocket. Also a wrench I found in the woods, but that’s actually in my backpack. Oh, and a giant screw from the train tracks. That’s also in my backpack.”

Miraculously enough, these words seemed to alleviate a small amount of the man’s tension, his hand now raised and bearing a bright light, scanning over me. “I’ll give you a ride,” he offered. “As long as you put the knife in your bag there.”

Keeping my movements slow, I lowered myself from the divider and unslung the rucksack, drawing the knife and storing it within. It was clear that he found me unfathomably shady, but any sense of intimidation had been shed over my cluelessness, and a break from eleven consecutive hours of walking sounded like a dream. Putting my hands up, I began to lurch toward him.

“What are you doing?” he asked me.

“Pat-down,” I said.

“You want me to give you a pat-down?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I mean yes. Only if you want to, though.”

Reluctantly, the Officer ran his hands down my body, a wildly concerned eye set upon my face. When he was done, he wiped his hands on his uniform and opened the back door of his car. “Alright,” he spoke firmly. “Get in. You can leave your bag up front with me.”

I did as he commanded, clambering into the cramped, plastic space and jamming my sore legs into the tight gap behind the passenger seat. He walked around front, entered the vehicle, and set my backpack with a heavy thud in the space beside him. “How far are you taking me?” I asked through the barrier of steel mesh and bulletproof glass.

“I can only go about a mile or so toward Portland from here, but I know where there’s a payphone that you can go to.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“I can give you a bus pass.”

“Awesome. Thank you.”

Turning his key in the ignition, the Officer muttered more words into his radio and stepped on the gas, the vehicle jerking slightly upon startup.

Almost immediately, an ungodly stench slapped me in the nose.

Wafting through the backseat, some rank odor had found its way into the vehicle, musty and sour all at once. My face puckered in disgust and I began to observe the front of the automobile, mumbling through sparse conversation whenever it arose.

“My son’s adopted, too,” the man said.

That’s when it hit me, my gaze landing wide and trembling upon the piss-flagon. Its cap had loosened and the rancid urine was splashing in turbulent synchronicity with every bump in the pavement, some leaking down the bottle’s edge and onto the dark leather. At one particular moment, upon approaching the border of Troutdale, the cap slipped off in full and landed in the crevice between seats, wet and foul and lodged into a cavity of the man’s car. Putrid froth splashed out in a thick, yellow glob, landing dangerously close to a small, indiscernible control panel beside the Officer’s right leg. Yet somehow, by some brilliant work of divine intervention, he saw nothing, smelled nothing, and said nothing (well, at least that last one).

Just after passing Troutdale, the Officer pulled over to the side of the road and asked me to exit the vehicle. As soon as my feet touched the ground, agony shot through my knees and thighs; with great effort, I staggered over to the passenger door and waited for the man to open it, speedily reclaiming my bag with a nervous smile.

“I forgot the busses aren’t running anymore,” he told me, handing me a pass regardless. “Good luck out there.”

“Thank you,” I said, taking a step back to watch him pull away.

As the dark shape disappeared down the road, I dumped the flagon out at my feet and watched it bleed slowly into the pebbly earth. The cap was still in the car.

Turning, I continued my journey into Portland.

(Next: My Life As An Accidental Drug Peddler)

Pre-haircut Mack, setting out for Portland on foot - April 5th, 2014

Pre-haircut Mack, setting out for Portland on foot – April 5th, 2014