It was a posh affair, mainly attended by citizens of Sombra, North Central Positronics, and LaMerk.
A tongue of red carpet rolled to the curb where buckas, monorails, atomic slug robots, limousines, giant mythological beasts, and a rocket ship disgorged contestants and the glitterati of high society. On occasion todash bells pealed and an incandescent rectangle sketched itself into a ghostwood door secreting cloaked Manni swinging bobs or corporate presidents with decadent drinks in one hand and the ample bottoms of beautiful women in the other. They passed along the carpet through a gauntlet of paparazzi and rabid fans towards a black skyscraper. Its height was spangled with window lights like so much rhinestones. Thunderclap cumuli gathered and roiled around the tower, purple bolts of energy dancing on the tower’s apex.
Laughter wafted from below.
Storied guests from many worlds were in attendance, from a thousand one nights of fables to tales of the Brothers Grimm, tragedies to comedies, a veritable plethora of memorable characters from the Rolodex of Genres. They were ushered into a massive stadium whose seats seemed to recede into infinity. Above the large but simply decorated stage bristled an array of photo recording and audio amplification equipment.
Excitement ran its musk through the air and on its surface babbled a throng of voices.
Bill Denbrough took his seat, Beverly Marsh disengaging from his arm to sit daintily. She nudged Bill, said in the direction of her pointing finger, “Hey… doesn’t that fella look familiar?” The man in question, Bob Gray, who was at the moment absently rubbing at a patch of stage makeup on his cheek, was engaged in busy conversation with one Joe Collins. They laughed, and chilled the scalps of nearby guests, especially that of little Alice stroking her twinkling pussy.
A few rows behind them was seated a massive man with his scalp peeled onto his cheek. He had removed the armrest between two seats to fit himself, squeezing next to a grime streaked gent who made inarticulate sounds of reverent delight as his steel lighter sparked up flames.
Near the front row, a man with a scar on his forehead cut in the shape of a cross stared with grave concern as John Cullum spoke slowly into his ear. The Three Muskeeters eavesdropped onto Moses Carver and Aaron Deepneau, who were in deep conversation, perhaps discussing counter-espionage maneuvers.
Dennis and Thomas of Delain strode in, their eyes burning with murderous anger, but their weapons were checked at the door. They found their seats near Claudia y Inez Bachman who was oblivious to the excitement, intent instead on sketches of a choo-choo train. Engineer Bob smiled when he read what she wrote over her shoulder, nodding. It was true, all of it.
The Breakers occupied a large section of the stadium, basking in their Good Mind. Nobody but Ted Brautigan and Dinky Earnshaw really appreciated the irony of their presence. Buttplug baby Jesus gurgled in someone’s gunna sack. Captain Jack Sparrow dozed nearby, finding something better than rum for once.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstearns stood guard at a door before security shooed them to their seats. John Galt was earnestly exemplifying the merits of free enterprise to a bored, chain smoking Ayn Rand whose expression plainly revealed she thought she wrote the book on the subject. A scruffy tramp with a toothbrush moustache expressed his outrage with pantomime, repeatedly smacking a grunting Adolf Hitler with his bamboo cane as nearby spectators roared laughter.
The lights dimmed. All commotion ceased. A murmur of anticipation rippled through the congregation. A dulcet tone rang out, long and sweet.
A ring of light grew on stage.
A voice announced, “The Kas’ ka Gan!”
To the sound of an eternity of hands clapping, a slick and dapper fellow in a tuxedo stepped into the light. His smoothed back hair gleamed above saturnine features. His smile was immaculate, all encompassing.
He flicked his collar and strode to the edge of the stage where he bowed deeply, milking the wild applause for a moment before saying, “Hey, hey, I’m just a mouthpiece. It’s not like I’m Mister Gan himself!” There was laughter at this. “I’m your Master of Ceremonies tonight. Some of you might know me by one or two of my many names, but I like to be called Walter O’Dim.” His voice lowered into a conspiratorial whisper. “It’s why it’s so bright in here. I’m often dim to the point of translucence.” There was polite applause.
“A tough crowd, huh? Jokes were never my forte. I can see you’re eager to get on with it.” Walter did a little jig, spun on his heels, his coattails flaring dramatically. His arms spread wide.
“We’re well met here.” His manner became solemn, and his hands folded against his heart. “Friends and enemies alike, we put aside our differences to celebrate a pivotal point in the history of all worlds. We’re well met here!” Walter crossed his arms and chinned a hand. “I suspect when the day is over, we will awake as if from a strange dream…”
His mood became genial, and good cheer animated his movements.
“Well, now, folks, as we all know construction on the Beams,”—the stadium erupted with the sound of palms beating against palms—”this ambitious project to replace magic with rationality, is almost completed”—if it were at possible, the applause grew louder—”but… they need names.”
Walter camped across stage on exaggerated strides.
“They need souls. Twelve of ’em! Our sponsors Sombra, LaMerk, and North Central Positronics have been generous in allowing the public to choose from the beasts of earth!”
He spread his arm as wide as his smile.
“Let the contest begin!”
The first contestant was the Emperor Tamarin who strode regal to center stage and commenced grooming his impressive facial hair. When he exited stage left, careful not to trip over his mustache, the audience pulled out their telecommunications device to call in a vote.
Toad croaked a love ballad about earthworms and flies on hot, steamy nights. Cricket played the sawtooth with his back legs (sounds almost Hawaiian, don’t it?). Rat was debonair in a waltz with Bat as his sexy, shimmering dance partner. Hare boasted his virility on stage with nineteen satin-lashed angoras. Turtle expressed deep wisdom, his languid tones recalling a contest between himself and the Hare. Fish, in a bowl, pointed out on a chart the many delicacies made possible by his very flesh.
And the contest went on, calling upon the stage Lion, Eagle, Wombat, Salmonella, Elephant, Snake, Mosquito, Yeti, Squirrel, Horse, Platypus, Monkey, Wolf, Beetle, Bear, Dodo, Dog, Skunk, Candiru, Lemur, Hummingbird, Armadillo, Sloth, Cuttlefish, Tarantula, Whipoorwill, Rook, Cat, Reindeer, Honeybee, Cockatoo, and then some. A great time was had by all, the crowd roaring with jeers and cheers, and the folken down home who couldn’t afford todash did the same from their living rooms.
And the Guardians of the Beam were chosen, say thankya
Walter Padick gathered his gunna into a coarse weave sack and slung it over his shoulders, wincing as the welts his father laid on his back stung. The Huntress Moon slatted the beaten earth of the Padick residence with cold light. It was in this light that Walter paused to look over his shoulders at the drunken lumps that were his kin. Wouldst thee leave us penniless and starving? his mother’s voice sounded in his mind. He saw her toothless mouth very clearly. He would. A pox on you! hissed the voice. He slipped from the crooked cottage and ran down the road, purloined coins tinkling in his gunna against the bread and dried meat he had also stolen.
He found jobs swabbing after drunkards in inns or shoveling shit in farms along his ceaseless wanderings. Something called him forward on the road, always urging his hands to lace up his dusty boots and move on whenever he stayed in one place too long. One night in the seedy dive Hung Crooked, dodging the blows of drunk blind patron, ka flung his soul to the winds. From a dark corner extended a hand glittering with doubloons, a scimitar glittering from the shadows. His laughter seemed to slice through the ragtime tune the weedstalk pianist thrashed from his piano. “Fix up my horse for me?”
Walter lay in the foul smelling straw, fighting to choke back the sobs threatening to rip through him. The hot splat of spent seed on his back had turned cold, like his heart. The man had stolen something from him, that spark of goodness that remained despite his father’s drunken beatings and his mother’s insults. That chance for a life not exactly love and light but something close was shattered by an act of violence and theft. The eyes that burned out of the head that turned against the shit crusted straw to look upon his violator was full of hate. The rapist curled his lips into a sensual grin and ran the back of a hand along it.
But, of course, ka is a wheel.
Walter Padick was not to know it at the time, and would never know for the memory was driven to the deepest recesses of his dogan, never to resurface, the face that leered above was the very same as the one which provoked a certain apprentice gunslinger into an early rite of passage.
Walter, always damned, as ka wills it, was not to know that he was to poison his very own soul. Many-faced Marten drew his hood over his cruel features and fled cackling into the night. The boy lay there for a long time, not caring that his pants were pulled to his ankles, not caring about the cold that swirled in with the season’s first snowflakes. Then he slowly drew himself up, pulling at his clothes with leaden fingers and stood shivering against the barn door as the horizon grew pink with dawn.
Walter started laughing, very well remembering the laughter of his assailant as he took and took, filling and filled with a blackness that would reverberate within his soul to the grave.
Why do I always wait until the last minute? Because I do my best during a cramfest. At least I like to tell myself that. So I had less than a week to complete this sketchbook. I chose to do a graphic novella based on my sketchbook’s theme — Time Traveler. The Time Traveller is also a frequent guest of my vignettes, in small and strange stories exploiting the temporal possibilities of such a lifestyle.
This is explored further in this graphic novella. The majority of it was done within a ten hour period. Please read and comment. Disregard any errors you might find, and don’t mind the sloppy last-minute artwork. Or do. Tell me what you think. Insults, solicitations, questions, advice, psychic readings, and then some are welcome.
The pdf version of my sketchbook — Man of the Multiverse: The Ballad of the Time Traveller
So I wanted the kid to sleep. As any parent knows, the car is a powerful tool for soothing the beast that is your child. We were already in the car, so… it’s not bad parenting if you took a little longer than usual to drive from point A to B (never mind if you traverse the entire alphabet twice before finally arriving at B).
Tooling down the street, curling around roundabouts, I found myself settling into the routes of my childhood like a wheel locking into a well-worn rut. Not the exact routes, mind ya, because that would finish quite badly, with chain link wrapped around my fender, along with various bits of backyard paraphernalia which might or might not include bits of bloody dog hair.
My old stomping grounds were illuminated, long dormant neural pathways superimposing the subdivisions, the shards of maze-like suburbia with memory’s clarity. There the cornfield I was afraid to go too far into, content to pitter and patter at its edge; bright constellation of activity there—a nail punctured rubber sole to flesh sole causing me to limp home. Across the street there was the cauldron of Osage orange trees surrounding the recessed foundation of a silo. There was no light pollution.
Then the bicycle dashes across the cracked sidewalks, the destination often suspect. The squeak of wheel, the fading pink paint of my sister’s “borrowed” bike so my friend could take mine. Hot and cold, your hands burned, your face burned. Forcibly forgetting the brakes down the town’s steep rolling hills. Cooling down at the local Dillon’s, twenty five cent generic sodas from the machine outside and stolen candy whose wrappers were hidden between the folds of magazines. VHS tapes from the video department. The movies were so great back then. A Family Circusesque montage stipples our routes across town, which are just as circuitous.
The heat wave making waves across the concrete. My grandparents were in town and everyone was off to the City of Fountains but I elected to stay behind. I don’t know why, but there I was, with some pocket change and not enough water in my body, walking the couple miles to the local comic book store where I woke on the floor surrounded by concerned faces right after buying a candy bar at the 7-11 (which has long since been converted to a pawn shop and its barricaded windows, to add an element of seediness). When I got home I found that the candy bar had melted in my pocket, and the packaging made a teardrop shape as all the chocolate rushed to the bottom.
Turning the car down a forgotten street, the flash in the mirror showing the kid’s nodding off, but not at the finish line. The pond slides past. Me and a friend on a bench, my shoulder blades perched on the 2 by 4 backing, tripping balls off on sticks of honey sunken amanita muscaria. Benevolent columns of cloud in the blistering blue sky, twirling to pause and cast bashful smiles before twirling the opposite way. His trip something else, but the muscles in our face were drawn up. The water, like Joyce put it, millioncandled. Then we went down behind the hill to the runoff pool which used to be a fish hatchery to smoke a joint or two.
Park after park, clandestine conventions of illegality, slouched on armatures belonging the children of the day (I imagine if we could hear, the ghosts of these whoops and cries linger on the wind)—during the night, a different sort of child comes sneaking out of back doors, across low wet grass, footprinting the asphalt until they reach the pre-arranged destination, eyes glittering, hands snaking into pockets to grasp moist leafy fragrances.
Then somewhere between that and now, things happened. Some things got better, some good things got lost, and some things hit the fan. It’s hard to reconcile the kid with the large wire-frame glasses pervasive in the 90’s to a tall father sodden with exhaustion myself. Illusions were shattered, of course, and along with the pieces fell the innocent versatility of naivete, belief. Now a cynic cashing in doubts, the trip fades (wire-frame unrendering of memory) to leave behind mellow nostalgia but not the despair of the absent. It is a gift, something we should give to ourselves once in a while, to remember our origins, to remember it wasn’t always like this. We can reacquire the pieces of self that made us in thrall of the world, if only indefinitely. A fine vintage to be enjoyed on special occasions.
I look in the mirror. Out like a light.
Ave Mech gratia plena
Benedicta tu in androidus
fructus cerebum tui, Bot
Sancta Mech, Mater Robo
ora pro nobis machinus,
nunc, et in hora reboot nostrae
“Khoo groo too voo goo!” Joe Psilocybe held the khoo, massaging its belly with his thumbs. The khoo was the size and shape of a crystal ball, its hominid feature of limbs limp and elastic at its side. Its cartoonish face wore an expression of delight. Khoos came in a variety of colors, and Joe’s was blue.
The khoo giggled and jiggled in Joe’s fingers, a protuberance slowly rising from its lower regions. “Oooo groo roo khoo!” crooned Joe, taking the engorged member into his mouth. He suckled. The khoo squirmed pleasurably.
The khoo is named for the sound it makes upon the emission of its intoxicating essence. The khoo spasmed, squealing. “Khoo khoo khooooooooo!” An expression of bliss rainbowed across Joe’s face. The khoo twitched, ripples running from one pole to another of its circumference.
“Hey, d’ya wanna a hit?” slurred Joe Psilocybe, holding out the khoo.
“You bet your khoo I do!” I said. The khoo rolled into my hand like a ball of goo.
Later, Joe Psilocybe took me to the arboretum where he grew rare variations of flora. Joe ducked under the dome of thin throbbing leaves of a tree very similar to the earth’s willows. Large purple fruit pulsed in its shade, drawn by sugary vines. They looked like plums with a heartbeat. Joe took one in hand. “This is from the khoo’s native planet and is a staple of the khoo diet.” He bit into it, and juice coursed down his chin. He offered the fruit to me. “Although very tasty, by itself it does nothing, but combined with the khoo’s unique digestive system, well, you dug it for yourself.”
I nodded, a texture of flavor flooding my mouth. Joe beckoned me to follow. We meandered through the forest, passing through zones of shade and bright sunlight. A riot of color and scent that soothed and excited the senses. “The khoo diet is paramount to the experience,” Joe was saying. “What I have done here is discover the possibilities inherent inside the khoo metabolism.” He fingered an alien orchid; it mewled and enclosed his finger, dewy.
Joe was a khoodict. He was also the known universe’s most reputable supplier of khoo. He had a khoo zoo and his khoos were the happiest you would ever see. The khoos were relatively costy, but the real profit came from khoo feed. Joe’s Khoo Eatery boasted a wide range of Experiences. The Third Eye. Tambourines in the Night. Comet Dreams. Still Life in Rouge. “The khoo diet influences the trip, so what I have done here is to create a consistent formula for the type of high,” Joe continued. “This arboretum, it allows me to explore the possibilities.”
We stepped into the khoo zoo. Joe plucked a purple khoo the size of a bowling ball from the ground. It was very happy to see Joe. “This is a female. Very rare. For some reason there is always one female per group of males. If the female leaves or expires, a male spontaneously becomes a female.”
Joe kissed the khoo and returned it to the ground. “Worthless though, for business.” Joe shook his head. The female khoo, instead of eliciting unique varieties of pleasure, drenched the user’s tongues with concentrated despair. Users often committed suicide or became ascetics. The blues in a khoo. It was not for the uninitiated. Joe said he took the bad trip once every blue moon. “It’s important to have perspective,” he said, showcasing three she-khoo blends: Jazz Greats, Yellow Raincoat in Rainy Morning, and Anti-Xanax.
I thanked Joe profusely and left Joe’s Planet with a bright red khoo and a pound of Mellow Moan and half a pound of Rocket Lust.
When the Space Burial Bill was passed, cryogenic suspension became a passing fad. The wealthy filled and invigorated Wallops Island and its outlying municipalities. Paying respect to the dead became a celebration where mourners screamed shrilly in space themed amusement parks and gorged themselves during private bacchanals inside world class hotels. The mourning period, if it could be called that anymore, culminated with the remains being blasted into space.
The options were almost endless. Body parts could be distributed into different tracts of sky for exorbitant prices. Ashes were blasted into the stratosphere to be caught up and scattered by the jetstream. Or a combination thereof could be employed. One poet philosopher had his skull sent in a collision course with Halley’s Comet. A professional basketball player, who has yet to die, has willed his hands be sent towards the sun. The fact it had governmental funding made it weirder.
But there wasn’t a lack of competition. Houston, the original coffin slinger, was bought out by corporate conglomerates who revamped its infrastructure. It soon became a hotbed of neon sizzle decadence which earned it the nickname “The Vegas away from Vegas.” Corpses were ejected from the earthly body in a ten kilometer long rail gun. The rags to riches story of rock star Axon Storm, the macguffin of which was enough wealth to be launched alive into space, culminated in a live video feed that broke the world record of most viewers of a live televised event.
Eventually it became affordable, even feasible, for the middle class. The satellites of Earth orbit mingled with coffins, urns, ashes, and in some macabre cases, whole body parts. There were three competitors in the industry. Chain locations sprang across the world. Houston became seedy like Reno, and Wallops Island absorbed the ambience of Coney Island during its last days.
The first visitors to the solar system paused at the Kuiper Belt. They were a race of near immortals for whom death was the apogee of life; a combination of half-forgotten nanotechnology and natural biology made them impervious to the various forms of death. During the youth of their species they experimented relentlessly and recklessly with their life and were rewarded with near eternity. They danced within stars, their bodies repairing themselves from the abundance of hydrogen. It wasn’t a painless enterprise. They tried long epochs in vacuum, immersion in exotic compounds, centuries of starvation, and just about anything they could imagine. It took them a long time to come to terms with their mode of existence and they began to cultivate their lives as the Japanese did their bonsai. They trained to master skill sets. They hoarded experiences in all its minutiae, so they could be freed from the sheer baggage of accumulated existence when death did come.
Imagine their astonishment upon observing a culture flaunting death as freely as did the homo sapiens. The visitors came bearing gifts of faster than light travel, portal ships, quantum particle printers, and near-immortality, all the things that mankind would need to arrest starvation and death and gradually transcend the solar system. The otherworlders were repulsed and quietly left.
The residents of that little blue planet were none the less wiser, and went on with their old ways of living, loving, hurting, and forgetting.
A gathering of desperation in the hottest place under the sun. They had come from all the points of the compass, stumbling in the white heat that divided ground from sky, reeking of ash and charred meat.
In small groups they stumbled towards the cruel illusion of the clapboard structures. A facade left behind by a long dissolved movie project, it depicted an old west township down to the very last detail. The saloon with batwings and busted windows, the general store whose sign hung and swung in the cauldron wind, the brothel with its sun-bleached satin drapes. It allowed very little shelter during the hottest point of the day and the chill of night. A water pump which curled above a battered trough was beaten to the sand in a moment of frustrated rage when it was found to be non-functional.
They sat in the shadows, disparate in age and race and sex, united in their thirst. The men would venture as far as they dared in search of water as the women comforted the children. Soon they became lethargic, slumped against the rough wood walls on the salt-water stains of their dried up sweat, dead eyes glittering from the shadows.
They saw her coming from the west, her hair a halo of white swirling in the constant wind. It was a toddler in diapers, ambling with the grace of someone learning to walk. Her eyes were the same searing cerulean of the sky that they might have as well been holes in her skull. A red-haired Barbie doll dangled from her hand. A pink bow fluttered in her hair.
There was a wrongness about her. Her fair skin did not burn in the sun, and her lips were not cracked. Delirious laughter seemed poised on her lips. They were frightened and cried out as she came closer. Precious moisture trickled away in the tears of the children.
“A child of the corn!”
“An Amity bitch!”
“God help us!”
She smiled indulgently without showing her teeth, cocking her head slightly. She gripped the doll by its sun-softened legs. It drooped towards the sand and sand and sand. She stepped forward, questing. The Barbie’s hair was a swirling flame as it dipped, lifted, dipped, lifted. As if it were sniffing the scorched air.
“What’s she doing?”
The threads of the doll’s hair were growing taut one by one, extending to a point several yards ahead. The girl was yanked forward and she flew on her toes until the Barbie stopped, taut and trembling, in front of the whorehouse. The thirsty gasped, their cracked hands clawing in an involuntary warding off gesture. The girl let her hands drop to her side then she was again just a lost child holding a doll.
“Dig here,” she lisped, pointing to the ground. She smiled with feeling at them. They waited for her to disappear into the horizon before leaping to the indicated spot and tearing at the ground.
It was cool and sweet but poisoned; several weeks later a traveler wearing a calfskin hat and serape passed, warily regarding the mummified corpses arranged in a halo around a pool of sparkling water. He was thirsty but he knew a deal with the devil when he saw it.
He is a wandering ascetic whose religion is death. He traded in lead for souls for salvation in the final reckoning. He wears a wide-brimmed calfskin hat tailored by someone who loved him even as he forgot how to love. A monochrome serape draped over his rail-thin frame hides his instruments of death, the cold and heavy descendants of the .45 Colt semi-automatic.
Seen against the low sun he is a frightful silhouette with a shadow that stretches for what seem like miles. He ambulates at a leisurely pace past the saguaros and clumps of sage, stopping occasionally to tear a button or two of peyote from the hardpan. These he places into his leather satchel as he walks towards the cooling horizon.
When the stars slide above, he hunkers down next to the charred husk of a 1953 El Dorado and builds a small fire with dry sage. He sits with his back against the passenger side, the raw hunger of his stomach broiling with the peyote he has just consumed. The smell of asphalt mingles with the smoke and resurrects a pandemonium of memories. He waits patiently until it passes then thinks of nothing.
The desert is cold and, despite the fire, it seeps into his bones as he awaits the visions which will show the way into the future.
Before the final draft of Hargarvard’s monumental masterpiece went to print, the author himself removed a single page from the manuscript. That page contained a passage of approximately six hundred words resolving the multiplicity of mysteries that plagued the Novel’s convoluted plot.
Hargarvard destroyed all the preceding drafts of the Novel along with that single page before committing suicide—an event of significance which would never be recognized by all but one of his admirers—in a most spectacular fashion which in itself was a clue to the enigma of the missing page.
The Novel gained notoriety for its dazzling prose, its wisdom, its intimate and tender understanding of the human condition, and, most profoundly, the legend of the circumstances surrounding its publication. The Novel was the subject of dozens of dissertations and cataclysmic debates among experts in the field.
The only person to unearth the truth of the missing page was an ancient scholar on the cusp of death. He was found with a copy of the Novel spread on his lap, with the Hargarvard’s obituary placed at the missing page’s location. The nurse tending to the scholar reported that his final words were obscured by laughter.
White doves rose from his breast in plaintive sheets. His fingers conjured rabbits, pungent blooms, captured coins, plucking the thin air itself to create.The blue hue of his unreliable features danced like surf crashing on a black beach. His limbs, stolen tree branches, curved into fragrant sickles. An ecstasy of alligators snapped at his toes. Whirling clouds orbited his golden temples, pouring salty rain. Sparks ran along his evil grin to set fields afire.
His eyes, perched low and beady on a wedged nose, supported the true eye, the all seeing eye. It nestled on his forehead, sending corkscrewing rays of sunheat from the blood red moat of an iris circling the blackest pupil, a student of evil thoughts.
Undecipherable secrets dripped from his movement and spattered on the ground, sizzling.
Buddy relaxed. He moved to the source of the voice, warily scanning the premises. He found a middle-aged man seated at a table with a pot of coffee, a pack of Farbolos, and some uneaten cake. The table afforded a good view of the intersection of Guppy St and Canary Blvd.
“It’s safe. Here, have a seat. I’m Nigel.” Gold-rimmed glasses flashed as the man leaned over the table, extending a hand.
Buddy took the hand and exclaimed,”Christ, you’re cold!”
“I’m afraid my constitution isn’t the same. Age and disease, you know.”
“I was dying of cancer before all this happened. Ball cancer!” Nigel made a face and laughed. It was a rueful sound. “Well, sit down, already! Coffee? Cake?”
Buddy nodded as he sat down. He was ravenous. Nigel poured another cup of coffee and pushed the cake at Buddy. He asked, “Who are you? What’s your story?” Buddy shrugged. He was new in town, fresh off the bus. He knew nobody here. He said so.
“Then it couldn’t have been as hard on you, this whole thing happening?” mused Nigel.
“I worry about my parents, my sister back home. I don’t know if this is happening everywhere else too,” mumbled Buddy through a mouthful of cake. He rinsed his palate with a sip of coffee.”It’s unbelievable.”
Nigel nodded. “Hasn’t it occurred to you that we might be characters in a b-movie or a bad novel?”
“That’s a thought!” snorted Buddy. “But we’re real. Aren’t we?”
“Authors,” Nigel continued, “are the worst sort of people. They’re cruel to their characters to move the plot or garner the reader’s sympathies.”
Nigel took his cup of coffee and brought it to his lips in a long draught. Hot beverage streamed, steaming, from his chest cavity. Buddy yelped, launching himself backwards, seat and all. When he got up, hyperventilating, he had his gun out. Nigel perused the younger man with calm eyes.
“Y-you’re one, y-you–,” stammered Buddy.
“One of them, you mean?” finished Nigel.
“Yes!” Buddy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Why aren’t you trying to eat me?”
“Isn’t that what a civilized man does, restrain his urges for the betterment of self and others?” asked Nigel. He leaned back, folding his hands on his belly, what was left of it. Buddy could see the greenish tint of Nigel’s flesh, marveled he hadn’t smelled the mouldy stink earlier.
“In fact, the very idea repulses me, Buddy.” Nigel held out a placating hand. “Now please put that down. It’s not polite to point a gun at your host.”
Buddy was paralyzed with indecision. Each fiber of his being told him to pull the trigger, for the love of God, pull the fucking trigger.
“Come on, sit down. I’m not going to bite!” Nigel smiled at this. “Not chuckling? Oh well. Would you care for a cigarette?” He pushed the Farlboros across the table.
“I was never a smoker,” Buddy said, taking the pack with a trembling hand.
“People change with the times,” said Nigel. He saw a small dog carrying a human arm across Canary Street. “Everything changes.”
“How come you’re not like them? What use is drinking coffee if you can’t enjoy it?” Buddy asked, taking the lighter Nigel slid across the table and lit his cigarette. He coughed violently.
Nigel lit himself a cigarette too, and sat for a moment. “I don’t know. I was taking chemotherapy. That might have something to do with this.” He looked away from Buddy. “I smoke and drink coffee because I need something to remind me that I was–” He paused. Smoke purred from his ears. “–am human.”
Buddy inhaled. He was getting the hang of it. It was a time for vices, as it always is when death is around every corner. “What are you going to do?” he asked.
“What is there to do? I’m not sure which is the worse, dying or being like this.” Nigel ground out his cigarette on the table and took another cup of coffee. “I’m rotting from the inside out.
“Buddy. Whatever it is you need to do, first will you stay with me a while? Please.”
Buddy nodded and helped himself to another cigarette.
They sat in silence and watched the day go away.
The Fractal Rangers were intubating a transdermal flow to generate an echo as to increase the probability of a favorable event to occur (Perfesser Prof had been unsuccessfully courting a certain high-echelon female British politician he met during an explosive day at a Brighton hotel. With this operation, he hoped to artificially ramp up the local probability of her actually falling into love with him) in some n-level of a minor megaflow when they were accosted by fellow reality-trippers, raiders and plunderers of realities, Barracuda Jones and His Crew of Dirty and Rotten Pirates.
The Fractal Rangers escaped, but Perfesser Prof’s patiently and patently patented Incrediflummoxular Capacitor™ was stolen! The Capacitor was built in a closed loop in Time measuring an exact Earth century; the Perfesser stepped into that door in Time and returned in a blink, but in the loop, a hundred years of labyrinthe mathematics and high technology light years ahead of known norms had passed! It was the only one of its kind, allowing Prof’s astounding craft to move through hydra-headed time and space with ease. Barracuda Jones got his grimy hands on the Incrediflummoxular Capacitor™ and disappeared into the folds of worlds! Leaving Prof’s wonderful craft’s fractal shoaling capabilities severely impaired! The Perfesser jury-rigged a less adequate means of moving through the ether, and the Fractal Rangers spent relative eons searching for the Incrediflummoxular Capacitor™. Their search is now at an end, and this is where our tale begins.
“They’ve invaded a military planet.”
“Everyone’s got guns.”
“We’re gonna die!”
“No, Amigo, we are not going to die.” Perfesser Prof placed a liver spotted hand on Archetype Amigo’s shoulder. It was meant to be reassuring, but Amigo trembled nevertheless.
“I don’t wanna die, please don’t make me do it! Prof, please!”
Princess Pop rolled her eyes and said, “Don’t be such a Yossarian!”
Perfesser Prof looked into Amigo’s eyes. “You’re still alive, are not you? After all this time. Your inordinate luck will keep you.” He squeezed the shoulder. Archetype Amigo was the rare individual who was blessed with a sort of eternal luck, balanced with a perpetual bassline of minor bad luck which made him, in simpler terms, accident prone.
Perfesser Prof looked over at the princess. “Pop, you’ll be running interference, as usual, while Amigo does his thing. Due to the circumstances… you’ll be given full rein of the armory.” Princess Pop squealed, fists akimbo in the air, and launched herself at the prof, wrapping her arms around his birdlike neck.
“I’ll be at Communications, standing by for extraction,” continued Perfesser Prof, “and… we’re here. Happy hunting.”
Perfesser Prof’s marvelous ship, in a state of rest, despite its diminished nature, simultaneously occupied several thousand realities, its hull pulsing with vignettes of worlds. Sunlight warmed one patch, while another is abraded with high velocity sandstorms. Rain pattered along starboard, reflecting gliding alien avians. A green lizard scuttled, flickering into a cloud of gnats superimposed over dull grey steel. The ship is a quilt of realities, a throbbing thing of probability.
The force of Princess Pop’s kick embedded the ramp in the asphalt. Radiant light streamed past the silhouette form of Pop. Archetype Amigo lurked fearfully behind. The princess strode down the ramp in her jackboots, clutching in her hands the model Infinity Series no. 2, which housed a miniature teleportation device that fed a diversity of ammo from a planetoid wide warehouse facility several fractal years away. She faced an army of Barracuda Jones’ Dirty and Rotten Pirates. All sorts of technologies. Princess Pop giggled like a schoolgirl who has stumbled into the boys locker room. She fired the first shot.
Always with the guns! Archetype Amigo ran, his hands sheltering his head. As ineffectual as that was, it made him feel a bit more safer. He hurled himself into an alley, going heads over heels across a clatter of garbage cans. He got to his feet blindly and careened from wall to wall. Pretty soon he was running as fast as he could, wrists flapping at his sides. A rotten raider tackled Amigo, and they went down in a tangle of limbs. A mist of blood sprayed Amigo’s face and he was rolling loose across a cratered face, his feet slipping on gore. “Geez, shave that a bit closer, Pop!” he yelled, pumping his legs. Her laughter answered him. That fucking demented kid! He slipped over a wrought iron fence (losing his boxers in the process) into the outdoors sitting area of an abandoned eatery, tripping and stumbling over the tables and chairs before shattering the wall length glass window. Hanging pots and pans banged his head in his mad flight through the gloom of the kitchen. He pushed through an emergency exit and dented the side of a rusted dumpster. Gunfire drummed on the steel box. Amigo coaxed more from his legs, and ran as if he were in free fall. A wooden fence loomed. As he vaulted into the air, hands outstretched, the fence became a wall of napalm, courtesy of his trigger happy partner, and then he was passing through, his eyebrows igniting, his scalp a mane of flame, his eyes widening with horror: there was no ground on the other side. “Aww, thanks a lot, Pop!”
Pop’s grinning face, smirking pixie nose passed through his field of vision like slow moving train scenery. She was running down the cliff face. She gave him a thumbs up. “Oh, go on, sweetcheeks!” she said and slapped him on his way. She tossed flashbang grenades at the sky and toppled away. Princess Pop had worked with Archetype Amigo long enough to know to let his luck do the work; it would narrow down the available choices, until there was only the inexorable conclusion. She killed a filthy raider from one mile away and gutted another using only the rotten raider’s own pinkie. All the choreography found in action movies was distilled within Princess Pop then executed with ballistic perfection. Besides toting a massive and powerful gun, she also augmented her constantly changing circumstances with agile versatility and acute instincts; she shed spent machine guns, bazookas, samurai swords, handguns, bolos, pocket knives, throwing knives, nunchuks, mini guns, and enough firearms to fill a weapons catalog. She was an artist of Death and the gates of Hell swelled with sinners.
For the rest of his life, a Proustian moment would visit itself upon Archetype Amigo every time he sat down to void his bowels, filling his nostrils and his gag reflex with an unforgettable violence of odor; as a result he was perpetually constipated. He hit the waste reclamation basin headfirst and then there was a drawn out WHUMMMMP! as Princess Pop bombed the opposite end. Archetype Amigo gasped and snorted, thrashing as he was drawn out of the ruined facility in a logjam of human and alien excrement. The stinking flood churned across the arable land that marked the south border of the city, subjecting our poor protagonist to a lesson in vertigo he would not readily forget. He washed up, a sore sack of shit, against the warm metal hatch of an idling spacecraft. The hatch opened, revealing leather boots. Amigo looked up, tracing the jodphurs on the too short legs to a massive barrel chest of purple spandex draped with a leather vest to a Lenoesque chin under an Elvis hairdo. “What the hell is going on?!” exclaimed purple spandex dude in falsetto, not quite recognizing the foul thing at his feet. A polka dot kerchief was knotted around his sinewy neck. Archetype Amigo drew himself up, a grin sketching itself, white and vehement, on the ubiquitous brown dripping and dropping, his hands curling into toxic claws. “I am having the worst day of my life,” said Archetype Amigo. “But it can’t get any worse. Barracuda Jones, you and I are having words!” With that, Archetype Amigo threw himself murderously at the larger man, and they tumbled into the ship, the hatch slamming after them.
“Pop, is everything all right?” crackled Perfesser Prof’s voice through Pop’s thoughts. “Having the time of my life!” she exulted, her dainty feet impossibly navigating the 500 RPM rotor of an ornithopter that twisted and weaved through the fractured city, her Infinity Series no. 2 hammering burning tracer fire into battalions of multi-billion dollar war weaponry. The ornithopter, yawing into the bilious smoke of flaming wreckages, began to climb, and Pop’s feet neared invisibility as she ramped up her speed. In the almost vertical orientation Pop was relentless, slinging the Swiss army knife of guns onto her shoulder and withdrawing a nanothin super carbon alloy wire which she slid into the rotor, before arching backwards into freefall. The ornithopter buckled, couplings tearing apart in a howl of tortured metal. It fell like a stone and Pop followed, her pink transparent raincoat streaming behind like the wings of an angel. She was smiling. The gun lay against her breasts. At the elevation of one thousand feet above sea level, she pointed the muzzle planetwards and fired a single shot.
Archetype Amigo fled, slipping and sliding out of the dirty and rotten pirate ship, clutching something against his belly. “I’ve got it!” his frantic voice echoed across the common thoughtband. He was running and weaving through the wreckage. The projectile from Pop’s gun rapidly expanded into a bluegreen sphere the size of an elephant. It struck the ground and trembled like a giant upended bowl of Jello. Princess Pop punched into it, its superdense composition absorbing the impact of terminal velocity by spreading the energies outward in effervescent reaction until Pop was kneeling in a halo of surging and twitching foam. She turned and ran easily along Amigo (who was doing his best huffing and puffing impression of a locomotive), skipping and hopping and tumbling and cartwheeling as Perfesser Prof’s fantabulous ship poured itself real, molasses slow, flickering with Lyapunov ball lightning. “Ooh, something stinks!” cried Pop as the ship swallowed them.
As the world folded into itself, Princess Pop had time to see the head of Barracuda Jones extrude from the open hatch of the naughty ship Funtimes Violator and wave his kerchief, “Fanks for the good time, amigo!”
“Hey, what’s all about,” she asked with a pointing thumb.
“Leave me alone.”
“Why are you walking funny?”
“I said, LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Perfesser Prof took the Incrediflummoxular Capacitor™ and inserted it into the recess above the Captain’s seat. He smiled benevolently at his two wards. “Great job, kids! Full fractal ahead!”
“Ka-pow!” Princess Pop flung fingerguns at unfolding eternity.
Barnacle Bob was roused from a dream of frisbees in the park with (dogs were wont to call their owners Master, but Bob’s relationship with his owner was much deeper than this) Friend and the geese by the pond that he liked to chase after and see take to the sky like flowers in the wind. Barnacle Bob was alerted to the fact that it was not a dream by his Friend’s teeth upon his fur, teeth that pressed down on his elastic skin with insistent and increasing force. He yelped and broke loose, a salvo of barks erupting in his wake. Friend unfolded himself from the floor and looked at the small Irish terrier. Shoals of thought, half-eroded memories and failing impulses, seemed to move uneasily across his rubbery face. Friend lurched forward, his hands drooping towards his little, spunky ward.
Barnacle Bob had known something was wrong for days. There was a stink about Friend, the kind of stink he knew from dead birds and squirrels he found during their walks, but because Friend still moved about, not like those animals on the ground, which were hard and cold, he expected things to go on as they always had. Now Barnacle Bob had to admit to himself that something was righteously wrong, that the person he had regarded with much love and affection for the entirety of his life was no longer Friend. Gone was the person who had named him Barnacle Bob and took him home after he had doggedly pursued the cuffs of his jeans at a friend’s party. If dogs could cry, this was what Barnacle Bob would be doing.
Not Friend’s hand enclosed the furry frame of Barnacle Bob and, if his reflexes were not so diminished, would have grasped with a strangler’s ethic and brought the pup to yellowed teeth. But Barnacle Bob, occupied with a personal discourse, was able to come to a decision a split second before this occured. Barnacle Bob fled, rocketing under the queen size bed they shared. In the days ahead were a nightmare in which he scampered from his hiding place to pick what little sustenance that could be found from the trash can he had knocked over. He would also lure Not Friend to the far end of the apartment and scramble for the toilet where he drank thirstily before retreating once more. What kind of life was this, hiding in the apartment through the relentless cycle of day and night, the stink of his evacuations and Not Friend filling the place in equal parts with his despair?
Barnacle Bob was at the end of his life. Weak from hunger and thirst, he dared a final, kamizkaze venture for nourishment. He darted between the legs of Not Friend and headed for the kitchen, scrabbling on the polished linoleum. Not Friend made his strange not noises and pursued, bumping into walls and doorframes. Barnacle Bob, wheezing after a complete circuit of the small dwelling place, gave up. He padded to the living room and collapsed on his favorite blanket to wait. If dogs could cry, it is what Barnacle Bob would be doing. Not Friend shambled into the wall near the foyer, causing a deep dent in the plaster. With a semblance of a shout, he lurched forward.
The front door burst open, halved with a roar and gouts of smoke, and let in light, blinding light. A behemoth stepped in, his flesh a layer of matte black cloth, and his face was obscured by some kind of mask; a salt and pepper mane glistened on his scalp. The chainsaw in his hand proceeded to dismember Not Friend, beginning with the arm that veered towards the scent of fresh blood. The arm traced an arc to land on the carpet next to Barnacle Bob. The stranger brought the saw upward and slit Not Friend in half, spraying blood and jellied brain into the coat closet. The carpet soaked up the noxious brew that had been Barnacle Bob’s lifelong friend. Barnacle Bob managed to exert a weak bark.
The man in black turned his masked gaze upon the emaciated pup on the floor. He spoke: “This is a public service by the Zombinator, to exorcise by any means the demons in domiciles within thus ravaged zones and rescue the disadvantaged unfortunates such as yourself–” He saluted,”–and now, my little friend, you are free to fend for yourself, but heed me well, it’s a harsh world out there. Every man for himself, or, say, in your case, every dog for hisdogself. Now with this,” he revved the chainsaw and blue smoke pooled on the ceiling, “I bid you adieu!” The large man was gone as abruptly as he had appeared.
Unbeknowest to Barnacle Bob in his weakened state, during this one-sided dialogue, the dismembered hand of Not Friend had spread its fingers flat on the carpet and bunched its fingers into a claw. It was in this manner it approached the dog, in a progress slow and unsteady, as its previous incarnation as a living hand was unaccustomed to the practice of walking with its fingers. The hand crept onto the blanket and, finally, came in contact with the unwary dog’s fur. The moldy green hand, instantly transported into the realm of instinct, its muscles remembering the one often practiced gesture associated with the tactile impression of the dog’s fur. It curled and straightened its fingers on Barnacle Bob’s belly, slowly at first, and increased its speed as it somehow registered the hallmarks of canine physical pleasure, a trembling and the rapid cycling of leg. Barnacle Bob spasmed in joy. If dogs could cry, it is what Barnacle Bob would be doing. The hand slowed and felt the fur with long, slow strokes.
It was in this manner Barnacle Bob lay for a long time. The animal, finding his circumstances greatly changed, abandoned all thought of resignation. Hunger clamored within his belly like the packs of slavering dogs that undoubtedly roamed the world outside. Barnacle Bob, with great effort, drew himself up onto his stubby legs and stared at the rectangle of light that was freedom. He looked at the hand, which was now flailing about, if one didn’t know better, in a manner that could only be described as frantic. Barnacle Bob considered the hand for a long moment before reaching the crux of decision. He bent his head low and took carefully into his jaw the wrist formerly belonging to Friend.The hand seemed placated and rested against the dog’s teeth, if one dared to anthropomorphize a dismembered hand, happily.
Barnacle Bob trotted to the door and exited without a glance backwards.
Hank Hansom’s eyelids snapped open, as always, at 6:17 AM, exactly one minute before the alarm was set to ring. He drew the covers off his stout frame and pressed his feet onto the frigid floor. He padded towards the restroom, letting the cold seep from the balls of his feet to his stiffening nipples. He turned the shower on full heat and it took all of five minutes to attend to the ritualistic scrubbing of scalp to toe. He removed from the rod a towel draped at a mathematically precise configuration and proceeded to dry himself off with sharp, efficient strokes. The same methodology was applied to the removal of his facial hair, which took exactly three minutes, his ice chip blue eyes correlating the mean area of remaining bristles. He brushed his salt and pepper hair with a maximum of six strokes. He approached the closet and removed from it: a silk underwear, dress socks, khakis, navy blue suspenders, a white button shirt, a red and blue diagonal stripe tie, a navy blue blazer with tan patches sewn on the elbows, and a pair of leather shoes. Dressed, he descended the sixteen steps to the first floor and crossed the spartan living room to the small, clean kitchen. He poured himself freshly pressed orange juice and filled a bowl of heart healthy, fiber laden Cheer-Os with two percent milk. It took twenty spoonfuls and eleven sips to complete his wholesome breakfast. He deposited the paraphernalia of breakfast in their respective areas and took from the kitchen sink a toothbrush and a toothpaste: thirty strokes across each plane of the dental cavity, with a resultant of 360 strokes total completing the routine. Heaving a single, indulgent sigh, Hank Hansom took his leather briefcase from the foyer and opened the front door, illuminating the shuttered interior with the brilliance of a bright winter morning.
Canary street, a portion of a relatively upscale neighborhood, was in chaos. A Benz had wrapped itself around a light pole, and the doors of many a residence were left ajar. Hank surveyed the scene, his ice chip gaze moving left to right almost robotically across 180 degrees. Activity congested the northern end of the street. Hank observed: a young girl, perhaps nine years old pursued by a proliferation of diseased individuals in advanced states of decay. Hank’s heart hammered. He spotted with his keen eye teeth falling from the gnashing orifice belonging to the abomination leading the pack. Adrenaline filled white hot his pulmonary system. His fists trembled. The pack leader fell, snagging the golden locks of the fleeing girl to take her down. Hank was reminded of a childhood memory at a local lake where he and his family would go to feed carp at the docks. An unearthly cry, an ululation of joy, startled a murder of crows from their dark speculation. It had come from Hank Hansom’s throat, and see him, see him well, his middle-aged face an expression of sublime pleasure, pearls of sweat beading at the hair line, to trickle down a bulging vein, along the bridge of a blunt nose. His lifelong dream had come true.
Cloistered, in deep deception of personality, within the wooden cabinets of his humble adobe is an obsession. Shelf upon shelf of an alphabetically arrayed complete collection of Hollywood’s takes, from the worst to the best, of the undead phenomenon. Zombie literature filled another set of shelves. An unfinished novel whose protagonist, Hank Hansom, battled an unending scourge of viral life forms gathered dust in a cabinet. In the large kryptonite padlocked garage behind the house, where at this moment is headed Hank holds his greatest secret. His hands tremble uncharacteristically and it is a long moment before the lock opens. A profusion of raw material, professional tools, an arc welder, and a mechanical engineer’s reference book were the elements of Hank Hansom’s greatest obsession, upon which we gaze as he throws open the garage door: wholesale slaughter of undead elements.
It is a medieval torturer or an amoral riot control sergeant’s wet dream. Glistening in one corner is a flamethrower with multiple spray distribution settings, and next to it is a retrofitted lawnmower with aluminium bracings for ease of manuverability. An armored panic room on wheels, equipped with firing alcoves and a month’s supply of food for two. Chainsaws on a stick. Kevlar moon suits made from used bulletproof vests and suits bought at CDC scrimmage sales. A wheeled mechanism for rapidly unrolling electrified temporary borders of barbed wire and fishing hooks. Half a lifetime of technical expertise and dedication is crammed within, and despite its meticulously arranged layout, resembles a cavalcade of junk. At this point, Hank Hansom is weeping, for he has never thought this day would come, that it would be forever relegated within the confines of fiction. A growl shatters the protracted quiet of this chill blue morning.
Erupting from the pastel green garage of an upscale, relatively quiet neighborhood is a reinforced, retooled night black combine. On its sides are painted flaming skulls, the pirate insignia of a new age. Inside the bulletproof cab is Hank Hansom in a suit of centimeter thick kevlar. Out of all the fantastical creations in his garage, he has elected to bring with him a simple, honed machete and a handgun. He opens up the throttle, swerving onto Canary Street. The first gout of blood, diseased, virulent blood, sprays against the windshield. Hank Hansom laughs high and long, for despite all of his contingencies, he has forgotten to install windshield wipers!
The combine roars on.
From above an ink black teardrop trembles pendulously, surrounded by oopas of the same shade and varying sizes. It shivers once and detaches, collapsing into a small black dot. The oopas cheer, throwing exclamation marks throbbing into space like hats. A question mark flickers above the dot until it realizes it resembles the oopas! The oopas welcome it into their fold and make much merriment, revolving in the circular dance of sub-atomic particles.
The quintuple calumphs, extending from the upper surface of the eggshape membrane enclosing the oopas, are excited by the oompa romp. The calumphs convulse, whipping from side to side until they are tumescently taut and the quintuple meatuses irradiates the space within with a pointillistic exudation.
The oopas dart to and fro, absorbing the calumphs’ ejecta into themselves. The gorging oompas of various sizes increase their personal dimensions with each morsel they consume. As the frenzy of consumption gradually decreases, interrobangs erupt from the oompas. The largest oompa is sinking! It is frantic, and all the other oompas are frantic also, beseeching it to come back.
It sinks to the inky sludge that puddles at the bottom of the eggshape membrane enclosing the oopas and is consumed. The oopas mourn in soft, dizzy circles until exclamation marks whip into existence. From above an ink black teardrop trembles pendulously!
Zoom away from the eggshell membrane enclosing the oompas and note that either end is connected to another eggshell membrane enclosing quintuple calumphs, oopas of varying sizes, and an inky pool. Each eggshell membrane enclosing oompas are in turn connected to other eggshell membranes enclosing oopas.
Pan away far enough and observe that the chain of eggshell membranes enclosing oopas is, in fact, not a linear chain, but a curve along an oval path of eggshells enclosing oopas, to become the eggshell membrane enclosing quintuple calumphs, oopas, and an inky pool. This eggshell membrane enclosing oopas is then connected to other eggshell membranes enclosing oopas.
I remember the smell of my lunch box, the plastic ones with a companion thermos. The smell of sandwich in its ziploc bag and the futility of searching for morsels on the long bus ride. It was a long bus and I sat in the back with my too small coat. I would run up the gravel drive when the bus pulled up to my rural address in upstate New York.
I remember the birch trees in our rather large yard. How I liked pulling the silvery bark apart! It made me think of zebras. I also loved how its leaves looked like twirling coins during autumn. I remember, in the third person, myself running while wearing a brown coat, or maybe it was blue and grey? and pulling along a rainbow hued kite as my father looked on. His hair was jet black at the time and he didn’t have his belly. He looked like I do now, skin draped on bone by virtue of genetics. I remember a white window, and tunneling in the snow. My mother dug a cave in which I huddled.I think I fell out of my bunk bed that night. My mother remembers me smearing petroleum jelly on the old faux wood vinyl wall paneling of our trailer home.
I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to gather the clouds into a jar and hold it forever, captured within the glass, as I soared across the continental United States, leaving the only home I remembered. Now I don’t remember so much; my memory is a box of old photographs, of moments arrested in Time.