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.