Entry 0018: Nigerian Nights Part One

NigeriaLP

LP: Nigeria Special Part 1 by Various Artists

2008 Soundway Records SNDWLP009A

Favorite Track: Nekwaha Semi Colon by the Semi-Colon

 

Yarl and Thizzie ducked in the doorway to avoid the wintry wind. Thizzie fumbled with the keys while Yarl pulled his knit cap down lower to cover his gauged ears, the bezel plugs glinting in the moonlight. Inside, they ran up the black and white staircase, past the single red door which the cantankerous landlady lived behind always smelling of strange incense, up another set of floors to number 23, Thizzie’s apartment. Along the way, they shed coats, gloves, scarves, CleanAir masks, and unbuttoned most of their layers of clothing. Yarl pressed his lips against Thizzie’s neck as she ran her nails along curve of his torso to his bony hips. Her roomed smelled of roasted almonds and vanilla. The green lights were dimmed casting shadows upon shadows. Snow formed intricate patterns along the windows. Was there a minotaur in the center, lonely longing for love? Thizzie and Yarl were in love for the second straight year after taking some time off because of petty jealousies and difficult work schedules. Yarl lost his job and Thizzie was thrilled to see him for multiple days in a row. As he lowered her arching back to the half-drawn sheets, she pushed back the thought she had been avoiding. He was here again in her arms, familiar with her body and the secrets to its pleasures, and, despite losing his job at the library, he had found renewed interest in his writing career, the thing that attracted Thizzie to Yarl in the first place.

Numbskull, the orange tabby, yawned and stretched her paws across the books she laid upon. Yarl had put on a pot of water to make tea while Thizzie cleaned up. He fumbled his way around the kitchen, never able to find the teabags on his first guess. When he did find the box, he found there was only one bag left. The apartment was a comfortable temperature to remain naked and he secretly delighted in the way his skin glowed in the silvery dark of the night. He didn’t want to don all the heavy clothes and filters to go back outside again just for a measly tea bag. A loud scratching sound alerted Yarl that Thizzie had placed a record on the player. Soon, the room filled with African poly-rhythms and Ibo singing. Thizzie had been obsessed with this Afrobeat compilation after reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, an evocative novel about the turbulent Biafran struggle for independence. Yarl, stroking behind Numbskull’ ears, gazed at the book cover, half a frown on his mouth. He also enjoyed the music and the book, but the record had cost 26 Plutos and they were forced to abandon the weekend trip to visit Yarl’s parents.

Thizzie entered the cubby kitchen, a diaphanous gown trailing from her shoulders. Her infectious smile revealed teeth like large prehnite crystals.

“What’s the matter?”

Yarl poured the water into the ceramic cups his mother gave him. Then he dunked the tea bag twice into his cup then put it in her cup. She took it with a customary nod of thanks.

“Tell me, Yarl. It is late but I can see something is on your mind.”

“I was remembering how beautiful you looked the first time I saw you. Sitting in the front row of chemistry class with that orange hat with the flowers in it. Somehow, you have grown more beautiful.”

Thizzie embraced him passionately even though she was used to his deflections. Yarl was kind-hearted to a flaw: he feared any criticism would be met with outlandish denial. She too felt the pressure every time the needle dropped on this record, however, she could not resist its songs. The music captured a celebration and freedom rarely recorded in music anymore. Not since 2111. She liked to imagine life returning to what it was and people picking up instruments and recording in the old-fashioned way. But Yarl had not seen his parents in almost a year and his father’s health was failing.

Thizzie kissed his eyes again, then said, “We will see them in two weeks. I have a vacation coming up and I have hidden some money aside.”

Yarl pulled back, his brow furrowed. “What do you mean? Hidden?”

Thizzie laughed and pulled a book from the shelf which caused Numbskull to leap with a meow, whiskers bristling. She removed a scrap piece of paper and handed it to him. It read:

  • Damned Damned Damned – The Damned
  • Oh Bondage, Up Yours – Xray Spex 7-inch single
  • Hong Kong Garden – Siouxsie and the Banshees 7-inch single
  • One Chord Wonders – the Adverts 7-inch single
  • Hex Enducation Hour – the Fall
  • Perverted By Language – the Fall
  • The Return of the Durutti Column (original sandpaper) – the Durutti Column
  • Love Bites – the Buzzcocks
  • Hey Joe – Patti Smith 7-inch single

“This is the birthday list you gave me. I looked in every record store in the Kano Station. Even talked to a few collectors. They all laughed at me to think I could find such antiques,” Yarl turned away, “I felt miserable.”

“And what did I tell you to do instead?” Thizzie pulled him back to the bedroom. Her forehead felt hot from the heat emitting from his supple body. “I told you to give me some money to indulge myself with chocolates at Yellow Springs Spa. I never went.”

A goofy twitch of the lips made Yarl, for a moment, appear a young, naive child. “And where were you all day then? Dancing with Sorrel at the club? Reading at the coffeehouse?” A wicked glow lit his eyes, “Trying on those garters I pointed out in the window on Main Street?”

“Oh, please, how gaudy,” Thizzie laughed, “You’ll never get me in those. Let us just say I did some investing.”

“I don’t need to get you in those. I have you right now.”

They fell to the bed as the Nigerian Highlife beat swelled to a raucous roar. Thizzie screamed under his touch. In the back of her mind, she wondered when the mob would like their money back.

 

To be continued…

 

Entry 0017: In the Age of Ice Burns the Creative Sun

joydivisionlp

LP: Heart and Soul by Joy Division

2004 Fractured Music FAC 204, bootleg

Favorite Track: Digital

 

The city of Random had never experienced winter before. There was no slow creeping of ice around Lake Lotus, no inches of snow steadily accumulating on the sidewalks and the roofs of cars, no consistent drops in temperature. The citizens of Random went to be that Sunday night preoccupied by the coming work week, smug and in love, or exhausted from an eventful week. The forecast was typical for Random–bright and sunny. Curiously, although how the narrator of this tale knows speaks volumes about my ability to obtain obscure information, no body was awake when the Great Freeze happened, a curious first time in Random’s history that there was never at least one person awake during every minute of the night.

Philosophers conclude that the Great Freeze happened because of a collective dream, a subconscious desire to feel cold. The narrator feels the necessity to point out that the majority of Random citizens believe turtle tea to be an excellent restorative.

Trevor woke up shivering. The morning fog inside his brain prevented his thoughts from lingering on anything more than “make tea” and “put on clothes.” The shades were down over the windows and his apartment was darker than normal. Rain, he thought gloomily sipping his turtle tea and doodling on the crossword instead of answering. He couldn’t finish his charcoal landscape now. Trevor looked toward the bedroom door where the canvas laid half-finished. For the better, he sighed, Lake Lotus is just too bland. No singular ash trees sticking out strangely in the distance, the water always still and never choppy, and the fish all a muddy brown with small dorsal fins. Trevor wanted something extraordinary to capture on his canvases–something no body has every seen before.

After donning his New Order shirt, black jeans, a pair of dress shoes, and his fedora, Trevor grabbed a sketch pad and a couple of pencils. He opened the front door, paused. The air was crisp brushing against his exposed skin like an icy caress. Sunlight blinded him but coming eerily from the ground. His breath came out of his mouth like a cloud of smoke. Trevor shivered again, lost in the dazzling white he had never seen before. First, he started drawing the cobweb pattern of ice on the window of the apartment across from him. Then he expanded into the snow drifts against the coffee-colored bricks. At last, he pulled all the way back to imagine a bird’s eye view of his neighbor. He even mounted the fire escape and climbed to the roof of his building to gain a better perspective. Never had Random looked as inexplicable as of today.

Bailey woke up because she needed to pee. While washing her hands, she realized that Michael was gone. It took her three times to get the buttons right on her shirt. Her turtle tea tasted like fat. The bills were due soon and her bank account was two hundred short. Today was one of those days she wished she didn’t have to leave bed. In her dreams, she fought dragons alongside Torfi Vigfusson, her battle axe biting deep into the crimson scales while fire breathed over her wild hair that glowed from magical protection. Life as a literary agent had its awards, but was more dull than people would have expected. Authors were fantastic on the page, but in real life they were dreadfully normal.

Bailey pulled a manuscript out of her bag and started to read and mark the mistakes. It was her own. Something one night dawned on her that she would never read exactly what she wanted to read in another person’s manuscript. She was going to have to do it on her own. And she had learned a lifetime of tips simply by being in position of getting to read manuscripts at various stages of completion. She begun with a burst of superb creativity, spitting out fifteen hundred words within a week. Then she hit her first roadblock: she had no idea how to force her two protagonists to meet each other without it sounding flimsy or conventional. They were on two different planets. They had two different jobs that wouldn’t intersect with each other: one was a bootlegging treasure hunter; the other was a Martian carpet cleaner. Bailey put down her marker and stared out the window.

Something was wrong with it. A strange white sand had piled against the glass obscuring her view of the golden salad bowl that was the art museum. She hammered on the glass. It was shockingly frigid. Bailey noticed then that her legs had broken out in gooseflesh. She layered herself in a knit sweater and a pair of stretchy pants she found most comfortable albeit curve-clingy. It was a little before noon when she was done pouring herself some more turtle tea to take with her to the office. The door, however, would not open. Bailey wondered if the crystal sand was blocking her way. She tried with all her might but the door refused to open. Why the landlord installed a door that opened the wrong way she never did understand.

Bailey called the office but the phone lines were down. “What the hell is going on?” she said out loud. She realized she liked to hear her own voice in moments of doubt. Did she get it from her mother or father? Who spoke more to themselves when she was a wee child in that large lake house?

“I can see my breath,” she said. Was she dying? She really did not feel like expiring in this crappy apartment of hers. Her dumb landlord would probably think that typical of her too, the jerk.

She had a rear door that lead into the apartment complex. Most of everybody, half dressed for work, half still in the pajamas, gadded about murmuring about their stupid doors and how they couldn’t be late today, it being such an important date. Bailey saw her friend Lily and ran over to her.

“What is going on?”

“I don’t know,” Lily had large blue eyes that when her face made certain expressions looked like they might need to be pushed back into their sockets. “I’m scared Bailey. The end of the world is upon us.”

“I don’t think it is that bad, Lil. We just need to find an alternate way out of here. Being stuck inside our apartments is going to do no one any good.”

“There is the roof…”

Bailey snapped her fingers and then wondered why she did not. The narrator just wants to point out that Random citizens love to snap their fingers instead of ejaculating silly phrases such as “aha!” or “by my tickled pink elephant toes!” Bailey mounted the fire escape steps two at a time. The trapdoor opened with some difficulty. Bailey’s shoulder smarted a bit as a gust of stinging air assailed her. She climbed up the ladder, her hands squishing into something wet and soft. All around her was the white crystals, brighter now with the sun reflecting on them. Her breath caught in her throat.

All of Random was buried. No body would be working today, however, she suddenly found that this wasn’t as distressing as she previously assumed. There was something magical in it. Like her short story. And an idea formed.

And she saw another man standing on his roof, drawing intently into a sketch pad. Bailey ran to get her typewriter.

Old Man Porkbelly got up and farted. Just another lame duck day with twenty-four hours to chew away with turtle tea.

Entry 0016: Little Mouth

SKinney

LP: Call the Doctor by Sleater-Kinney

2014 Sub Pop Records SP 1104

Favorite Track: Little Mouth

 

“Soren, that was an amazing twirl there at the end of ‘Call the Doctor’,” Dora said peeling off the pastie and throwing it on the counter buried in an avalanche of cosmetics, glosses, large mirrors and small mirrors, feather boas, fan letters, and cigarette butts. Following it, Dora’s blue wig landed on top of a small stack of twenty dollar bills. Her real hair was pulled back in a very tight bun which she let down with an audible sigh of relief.

“I can’t believe you danced to that song. I’ve never seen the men and women of the club so enthralled by the song selection,” Terry laughed, “They tipped generously, I see.”

Soren gathered up her blue jeans and Ramones T-shirt, her nude body pink with a thin film of sweat. A small splotch of makeup smeared from the corner of her eye reminding Dora of some evil clown makeup she saw once, but she couldn’t remember where. A weird dream perhaps. Soren took a cigarette from Terry, inhaled, other hand on hip, and said, “Well, it was empowering. This place is something special. Better than the other joints I’ve swung my hips in. Here, everybody can celebrate sexuality as a natural art without it being lewd or an obscene joke.”

“Everybody?” Isaac asked. He stood by the dresser halfway into his trousers, the bulge of his G-string forming a comical neon balloon against the dark polyester of his pants.

Soren snorted, “Most of everybody. It’s Stiff Kitties, the only co-ed strip club east of the Mississippi. I’ve only used my pepper spray once and that was on a particularly nasty raccoon that wouldn’t get out of my driver’s seat.”

Isaac chuckled as he slipped a jacket on thin enough to be an undershirt. A tuft of carmine chest hair curled around the neckline like the tentacles of some sea monster. He gathered his tips and bade the ladies a good night then exited on the back door in a hurry. Terry joked that he had an important date while Dora blushed because he was meeting up with her later that evening.

“You ladies want to get a drink at the Union?” Terry asked as the three ladies walked through the crowded parking lot toward Dora’s station wagon. The three of them often rode together because they lived within a mile of each other on the west side of the city. Only Dora and Soren had cars as Terry wrecked her three years ago on a wild New Year’s Eve night she steadily refused to talk about. And Soren had a point against her license and was afraid of accumulating more. Not that Dora minded. She never had that many friends in high school and college and never as close as she was with Terry and Soren.

“Not tonight,” Dora said.

“You never want to have any fun,” Soren said and threw her arm around her shoulder, “Look at that moon. Ha! It’s a new moon and you can’t see it. The perfect night to go out and get into some trouble. If there is some kind of deity up there in that infinite space, they don’t want to watch what we do.”

Putting her arm around Dora’s other shoulder and therefore enforcing that she had no choice but to go out tonight, Terry said, “Or maybe it is watching us all the time but doesn’t want us to see it. Because it is some pimply-faced virgin with glasses and and a pair of icosahedrons.”

“Pardon me?” Soren pulled her leather jacket closer. A cold wind had picked up during the afternoon and she half-expected to see frost in the morning. “What the hell is an icosa-whatsie?”

“Icosahedron: a twenty-sided die,” upon seeing arched eyebrows on Dora and Soren, added with a one-sided shrug, “Dungeon and Dragons.”

“Sounds like you know a little something more about pimply-faced virgins,” Dora snickered.

“Yes! That is the spirit Dora. Tonight is going to be the most special night the three of us have ever had.” Soren quickened her pace.

Terry said, “Maybe I do. Nerds are better lovers.”

They were almost to their car and freezing. The three had huddled together and began to sprint toward the car when they noticed a dark figure leaning against the back of the station wagon. A tall figure in a long coat that nearly touched the ground and wearing a wide-brimmed fedora. He shuffled three photographs in his hands while he stared at them with shadowed facial features, then slowly as if he had all the time in the world, stuffed the photos into a large pocket. He remained silent.

“Pardon me, sir,” Soren stepped to the front, her voice adapting an authoritative tone just one shade short of a snarl, “We don’t do private performances. And this is the employee’s parking lot.”

The man closed his hands then opened them. Long hair spilled over broad shoulders. His shoes seemed to reflect the moon’s luminescence, however, there was no moon to reflect. Dora realized she couldn’t differentiate his shadow from the shadow of the cars around him.

“I said this is the employee’s parking lot. Now scram, loser.”

The man stepped forward, palms facing up. “Dora Dimples. Terry Cloth Fields.” he said looking each of them in the face and only smiling when he said, “You are no doubt Soren Bootie.”

“Look, Mister–”

“I have a proposition for you from my master. He has a very unusual request that will be unusually profitable for you. My master is important and affluent in ways you could never fully comprehend.”

“What’s that suppose to mean?” Terry had one hand in her purse.

“When you are done with your task tonight, your life will be irrevocably altered. Like you said, ‘the most special night the three of us have ever had.'”

“Who is your master?”

“What is the deal?”

“Is your master a regular at our club? Why did he send you?”

The man returned his hands to his pockets. His face remained in the dark. “One at a time ladies. My master is a man of special needs, esoteric needs that few can fulfill. The three of you being exceptions. He requests your immediate attendance at his manor for a fete–”

“His manor? Where? I told you we don’t do private performances.”

“Korobov Manor. On Hill Street. East of the city overlooking Pickman’s River and the city park.”

“Korobov Manor?” Dora said, “I’ve heard that it is haunted.”

Soren laughed rather icily. She looked at Dora with amusement, the hint of mischief in her eyes. Dora wanted to be home more than anything at the moment. She did not trust this man and certainly not the house he was trying to entice them to visit. Her mother and father told her about the atrocious crimes that happened there during the Great Depression. How half the walls were said to be made from the skeletons dug from the local cemetery…

“Tell me what the proposition is?” Soren demanded.

Terry started to protest, but the man interrupted, “He wants you to read his a naughty bedtime story. You will be well-rewarded financially and, perhaps, spiritually.” He said the last word as if damning someone to hell.

“How much?”

“Two million each.”

Soren turned around and grabbed Terry and Dora’s arms, pulled them into a tight circle. Dora was confused by Soren’s behavior, not that it was atypical of her to be the one to lead them into strange scenarios, but tonight, even during her performance, she seemed spontaneous and dangerously curious. Terry looked a little spooked, but a little intrigued. She often played Soren’s sidekick.

“I don’t trust this guy,” Soren looked right into Dora’s face, her green eyes almost black in the darkness, “He acts like he knows so much about us, he mysteriously shows up by your car, and his master sounds like some invalid sick fuck. However, I really could use that money.”

Soren looked pained to say the last part, lump catching her throat.

“What do you mean?” Terry asked.

Soren sighed, “I haven’t paid rent in two months. The landlord is threatening eviction. And, well you know my mother has ovarian cancer. I haven’t been able to keep up with the payments,” Soren lowered her head on Dora’s shoulder, “Things are worse.”

Dora stroked her hair.

“I need the money, too,” Terry admitted. “I got back with Charlie. He’s clean, now, but owes quite a bit to Juri. The rest I could put him through community college. Get him respectable again.”

They both looked at Dora.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t like this idea. There is something untoward about it.”

Soren said, “Yes, it is unorthodox. But how difficult is it to read a dirty story to a dirty old soul. And if this weirdo tries anything, the three of us could kick his ass from here to the Indian Ocean.”

“Dora, you can have the first kick. Smash his teeth to shards.”

Without meaning to, Dora laughed, “Okay, let’s get it over with.”

As if overhearing them, the man asked, “Are you ready to leave now ladies?”

Soren gave a crooked smile, “I’m not stupid. Show me the money.”

“I’ll do better. I’ll give you half.”

He did.

 

They drove in Dora’s station wagon with Janus giving directions while Soren and Terry threatened him with their pepper sprays. Janus answered few questions along the way, talking slowly as if each answer had to be unearthed from the deep recesses of his mind. He told them that his master, Mister Thelonious  Casper Korobov was the fourth descendant to run the Korobov estate. His family were immigrants from Romania, aristocratic but supporters of the arts especially the abnormal kind, and had something to do with bookstores but Dora wasn’t sure if she just didn’t understand or if Janus gave a circuitous answer. Tall pines stood in thick patches alongside the narrow road to the manor, which stood at the top of a small hill. Terry and Soren both whistled when they first saw the Eastlake clapboards and gabled roof. The long drive to the entrance way was lined with stone statues of odd designs: triangles with three forked rods extending from the top like rays of sunlight. The base of the pyramid rested on four large skulls, almost human.

Dora was about to turn around when Janus ordered her to stop the vehicle. They got out in silence and a slight rain drizzled upon them. Janus unlocked the front door which had an ornate door handle shaped like a diary with a lock across the front. The foyer was lit by a diamond chandelier with two hallways leading to numerous closed doors and one staircase lined with vermilion carpeting winded up into three stories into the dark. Janus offered to take their coats but none of the ladies parted with their jackets. The house was colder than outside.

In the light, Dora saw that Janus wore an outfit closer to a robe than a jacket as she had previously thought. It was uniformly black save for various blue lines forming multiple triangles inside of a white circle stitched above the left breast. The far door opened and another man in similar regalia entered with hurried steps. He whispered to Janus who then addressed the group.

“I would love to offer you ladies some drinks, but my associate has informed me that we are a bit behind schedule. Time is essential to my master. We will be conducting the ceremonial reading in his library, just down that hallway and to the right. However, I should again stress the particular eccentric behavior of my master and must inform you of a special request. When you read to him from the sacred text, you must be naked.”

“No way,” Dora said.

“I do not see how you can object upon the grounds of modesty when you bare it all every night at the Stiff Kittens.”

Soren interjected, “It is different there. People are there to enjoy the naked body and the seductive art of teasing. Respectfully.”

“My master merely follows the strict practices spoken of in the Revelations of Glaaki. You could say he has no eyes to see, but that is partially misleading. In any interest, he is not interested in your measurements.”

Dora fumed but Soren reconciled her. “It will be over soon.”

Janus and his companion lead the ladies down the tiled hallway and stopped before an oak door. He asked them to shed their clothes, never once turning around to peek. Inside, the room was dark, but comfortably warm, a large fire in the hearth casting flickering shadows along the bookcases and curtains. No one else was inside the room. On the floor, a carpet the size of a queen-sized mattress was laid, four round stones holding down each corner. On the carpet, a strange set of hieroglyphics glowed in the firelight. Terry murmured something about an ancient pharaoh but Dora was suddenly startled by the plucked strings of a harp.

Janus guided each of them to stand on a strange symbol, insisting that they do not move from each spot until the reading was finished. His associate in the meantime had retrieved three scrolls which he handed to each of the women. As he did so, he instructed them to only read the parts written in a certain colored ink. Dora was to read the red lines, Soren the black, and Terry the green. He then took his position by the fire place, a golden scepter in his hands.

Janus had procured his own scroll, unraveled the ancient paper, and read, “M’krg uutal fi…the spirit is perverse…it cannot be sated…to do so is a violate of the essence of spirit…the spirit is to be set free…to soar uninhibited toward new realms…yours realms…”

“What are we doing? Let’s split,” Dora attempted to whisper to Terry but Janus turned his terrible head toward her and she faltered.

Janus continued, “Tonight is All Hallow’s Eve. Your night. We are here to celebrate in your name, my master. We will begin the ritual that is old as father, timeless as mother. M’krg uutal fi.”

“M’krg uutal fi.” Janus’s associate stepped next to him and held up the golden scepter.

Janus looked at Soren who, with visibly trembling limbs, read, “Slash me…lash me…tear, rend and rip…blood is the first perversity that I must overcome.” Her forehead wrinkled with each word. She shot a questioning gaze to her friends.

Terry shrugged and read, “Lick and love me…cup my breasts with your hands…breathe in the scent of my passion…your body is a vessel…mine the wind.”

Dora suppressed laughter. She had read some twisted erotica in her days, but this was ridiculous. And with each phase, Janus and his companion seemed to breath deeper, stand closer together although how that was possible seemed to be a special effect of the unlit room and the bright flames, and the harp’s melody grew faster and more complex. She was starting to hear other instruments accompanying the harp but there was nobody in the room but her, Terry, Soren, and the two robed men. Who was playing the harp? Where was their eccentric master?

It was her turn. It wasn’t English.

“Sltkky phet phem…ovum ultar Glaaki…ovum ander Glaaki…vestru alec–”

The two men, “M’krg uutal fi.”

Soren whispered, “What the hell is this? I thought it would be mildly arousing.”

A fierce blast of rain struck the solitary circular window like a thousand needles sewing at the same time. Janus and his companion almost seemed to be joined at the hip. Janus’s left leg and the other’s right leg seemed to have merged together into one thick stump. Their heads were bent backwards at an angle that would leave them paralyzed for life. Dora rubbed her eyes. For the first time in a while, she felt truly naked. Exposed to something watching her that she never knew had always existed watching her.

“Gluttony…overindulgence…ambition…they came after pain and rendering…flesh is the dress of meat…”

Terry hesitated for a second and there was a shriek so inhuman from Janus she nearly fell over. One arm across her chest, she read, “I am your vessel…I am your cup…please…please…enter me…possess me…the book of life….begins…and ends…with me…”

Dora nearly dropped her scroll. All three of them knew it: they were in over their heads. However Janus pulled the wool over their heads, they had to admit a certain respectful persuasiveness to him. However, Dora understood a deeper aspect than her friends. She wasn’t quite sure how or why she knew, but she knew with all the marrow in her bones that she should never ever utter the next word written in the scroll for her. Janus and his associate had completely merged into one fat being, humanoid in depraved obesity, and headless. Large hands opened and closed revealing the blue and white insignia once stitched on their robes, which were now torn on the floor, a fat hairy member swinging between corpulent thighs. She shouldn’t say it. She shouldn’t. Felt compelled to. The rhythm of the harp overwhelmed her. Terry was screaming. Soren danced as if on stage back at Stiff Kittens. Don’t read it. Their hands. That insignia is moving. Opening. Closing. Like a mouth. Like a mouth full of blue teeth. Like–

“Y’golonac.”

It came out before she was conscious of it. Then came the sound as if every string of the harp snapped at the same time. All the bizarre accompanying instruments also self-destructed. Dora clasped both hands over her ears, the scroll falling and rolling toward the fire. She barely heard Terry’s last scream. But she saw it. She watched as the fat mass that was once two men ran forward, the fingers bending so far backwards as if there was another set of joints behind the knuckles, the blue teeth digging deep into her neck and heart, her blood and flesh rapidly shredded and swallowed. Soren continued to sway and buck, chanting “M’krg uutal fi.” There was nothing left of the top half of Terry. The hands were feasting on her ample hip bones.

A spark from the fireplace lit the corner of Dora’s scroll. The fat blob screeched as a curl of smoke wafted from its shoulder. Dora wasted no time. She scooped up her and Terry’s scroll and threw them into the fire. Instantaneously, purple smoke filled the room as the monstrosity burst into flames and fell into itself on the carpet. One arm had disappeared, but the other seemed to extend itself in Dora’s direction. She snaked around it and ran toward Soren. She had to find Soren’s scroll, which she must have dropped during her gyrations. Dora cursed the lack of moonlight, falling to her hands and knees as the extended arm-mouth crashed into the bookcase behind her. Crawling, she frantically searched the floor for the missing scroll. She found nothing. At the last second, she rolled forward hearing the hand smack the ground where she previously was squatting.

Soren stepped on her hand and before Dora could swat her, she saw the scroll. It perched from an angle from between her legs. “Fuck this,” Dora said, grabbed the scroll and pulled with a wet popping noise. Soren stopped dancing immediately. She saw the stain that was Terry. Screamed. The arm-mouth flew toward her head, but Dora falling into a full split, a talent she had brought to the stage nearly every night, managed to knock aside Soren at the same time as throwing the last scroll into the fire. The arm-mouth melted with startling rapidity. The carpet had also caught on fire.

Dora launched herself back to her feet. She picked up Soren, lifted her, and ran out into the hallway. There was fire here too, even though she had no idea how that was possible. She paused by the front door for a second, then checked the coat room Janus had offered to store their coats. She found two heavy fur coats and although against wearing animals pelts knew that the cold outside would be unmerciful. When they reached the car, Dora heard part of the roof cave in. She drove on without looking back. Soren came in and out of consciousness during their return trip to the city. She spoke only once.

“What do we tell them?”

Dora did not know. What could they say without sounding insane. No authority would believe them. Dora wasn’t even sure if she believed herself except for the fact that Terry, one of her best friends, was now dead. And as the city lights dawned in the middle distance, Dora realized that mostly she was thinking about the music–the harp and its strange background. Despite the terror, she found comfort in the dissonant noise. An idea was forming, a way to warn people. Music. Rock’n’roll. She could warn people about Y’golonac, whatever that really was, through the power of song and lyrics. Soren knew how to sing and play guitar. Dora could drum.

By the time they reach Stiff Kittens, the seeds of a revolution had started.

 

Glaaki and Y’golonac are the property of J. Ramsey Campbell. I highly suggest you read Cold Print (1969).

 

 

 

 

Entry 0015: An American Bookworm in Paris

bardotlp

LP: Bonnie and Clyde by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg

2009 4 Men With Beards 4M178

Favorite Track: Everybody Loves My Baby

 

The plan was simple: arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport, purchase a phone, call the renter for the keys to the apartment, call my parents to let them know I was okay. Let’s ignore that I don’t speak French. Or that the airport is larger and busier than I could ever imagine. An hour or two at most and I’ll be sitting in an apartment above the Boulevard du Montparnasse in Paris, my dream vacation, with the whole day and night to myself sans parents.

Let’s do this.

Finger pointing gets me the phone. I find a rail that will take me to the Jardin du Luxembourg which is conveniently located nearby the apartment. I tear open the package and pieces of phone spill out. Self-assembly. Instructions only in French.

Merde.

Okay, it is just a phone. Okay, I am no engineer. Okay, I just spend twenty Euros to learn something that I already knew: I’m not handy with technology.

I get off the train, navigate the wide street past fresh fruit stands and delicious fresh bread to the apartment. Partial success. Except I can’t get inside. Back to the phone. Maybe there is a store nearby. There is a post office. And they sell phones. And a very nice and helpful man assembles it for me and explains how to dial French phone numbers. I get a hold of the renter and he is on his way. One burden lifted.

Now time to call my parents. In Italy, they bought a phone. I wonder if they had the same problem. Their number starts with 33, the same country code for France. I dial the number and get nothing. Two, three times. Rien. I go back to the post office and ask the guy for more assistance. He tells me that 33 is the French country code. I try to explain to him that it is a cell phone purchased in Italy. He gives me the Italian country code but it does not work. I start regretting that I took Spanish in High School and College.

I abandon the phone to explore the Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne, the Pantheon, and the sidewalk cafes. I get my first glimpse of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. I am here living my dream. No problem except my parents don’t know if I’ve made it. They like to worry. I am not the fretful kind, however, I found myself in a unique experience: alone in a large metropolitan city. A scene from Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud played in my head: strikingly voluptuous Jeanne Moreau walking the Parisian streets, a funereal expression on her face, set to the improvised jazz score by the one and only Miles Davis. I found myself in a unique experience: I was in a film. The cell phone did not work. Was it a horror film? Or the most hackneyed rom-com? In the distance, a celebration was raucous with student chatter and the pounding footsteps hustling here and there.

In the morning, it was easy to spot my parents in the crowd by the station. Even here in beautiful, gay Paree, my father looks like Chevy Chase. The Voroboks have made it to Paris. We probably should have informed the American Embassy. How many international incidents were we going to cause?

Last night, in Cincinnati, a girl confessed to me that she was afraid to travel even though it is her dream to do so. I told her this story and was about to tell her the next story but she had to leave. Traveling can be scary and it can be safe and it can be rewarding and it can be disappointing and it can be every bit as interesting and dull as your normal life. That is the fun about traveling: expectations will be met and missed, planes delayed or canceled, baggage destroyed or loaded with unexpected gifts, headaches cured with fantastic red wine. You don’t know what is going to happen so don’t worry about it. I think when people refer to being afraid of traveling part of their fear is that they are putting themselves in a position with a lack of control.

The thing is you are never in control. Life is larger and more grand than one human. We are in its reins. I am not speaking of Predestination. We can control how we react to life and we can control what we want to do. But life doesn’t listen to our pitiful pleas for obedience. Look how much time has gone by in your life. Never stopped for a moment, did it?

I had made it. Finding it had been a task as certain streets of the Latin Quarter twist and turn like a labyrinth. The Shakespeare & Company was tucked away with a simple facade and large wooden bookcase outside by the entrance. I felt the vibe of history immediately even though it is no longer located in its original location. Then again history had been punching me in the face every time I turned a new corner in Paris. I smiled and went in.

My father probably rolled his eyes when we were planning this trip and I said the most important place I wanted to see in Paris was a bookstore. All our trips have included bookstores, mostly because I ran out of books to read and needed more. The store was cramped comfortably with books and shelves, little rooms on film criticism, an upstairs with a reading lounge and a piano. In a small room whose walls were tacked notes and poems from tourists, I added my own poem about love. Some people may remember the lines “In school, they taught me that love is like a red, red rose. / For me, it was a kiss at a STOP sign.” Toward the rear of the store, I found a copy of Neuromancer by William Gibson, a cyberpunk classic my brother introduced me to in high school and a book I did not own. I went to the cashier who asked if I wanted the official Shakespeare & Company stamp. I said Oui and hoped that I didn’t sound like some yokel.

Then everything changed.

I almost missed it.

But, on my way out, I saw a poster for a literary event starring Robert Coover, one of my favorite short story writers, Nick Flynn, one of my favorite poets, and Ben Marcus, one of my favorite I don’t know who you ares. The date: tomorrow. I had not missed it. I had not known about it. I had not ever conceived in my head that writers I would recognize would happen to be in Paris at the same time as me although with it being such a large, fashionable, and literary city, you might say Adam you sir are stupid.

So I came back and sat on a wooden chair with about forty other people and listened to the writers read their craft. The store handed out free red wine and people mingled with the authors outside in the warm evening. I am not sure my feet touched the ground. Then I met everyone at Le Grenier de Notre Dame where I enjoyed a very delectable vegetarian meal.

There is no reason to fear traveling. Things will go wrong. Things will go right. Just like everyday life.

But with traveling you obtain memories to share.

Also, digital cameras have made taking pictures so easy it is bordering on ridiculous and now I have to sit for four hours every time my parents go any where.

Entry 0014: A Winter Song

drakelp

LP: Time of No Reply by Nick Drake

Year? Hannibal Records HNBL 1318

Favorite Track: Black Eyed Dog

 

The singer-songwriter looked at her watch. The Jazz Twins were running late, their frenzied bop forcing customers to lean against the frosted glass window in the front of the coffeehouse. They thought they were showstoppers. They plainly sucked. Alison would have one or two lonely, mostly deaf old men to stare at her as she fumbled chords she recently learned. She pulled her guitar against her chest. Imagined what Joan Baez and Bob Dylan thought before a concert. What would Nick Drake do?

The Jazz Twins in fluorescent orange jumpsuits common in the Post Acid Noise era ended their set with a screaming cover of I Love Living in the City. A tiny girl with big glasses clapped. It took Alison a second to realize she was the waitress. Got-You-By-The-Beans was empty. The second time in two months for Alison. She needed to adjust her schedule at the library and play before the Jazz Twins unleashed their anarchy.

Ryder and Parker, the Jazz Twins, came over to her table with drinks in their hands. There was a third drink. Something red and sugary.

“Looks like your work is cut out for you,” Ryder said. At least, who Alison assumed was Ryder. They were identical twins down to the artificially grown beards. Ryder appeared the taller one because Parker slouched according to the owner of the cafe. “We probably should have started with I Love Living in the City. It’s hard to tell who your audience is going to be.”

“Next week, we have something really special that we have been working on,” Parker said, his fingers still going over the holes of his saxoxylophone, “Mahler’s 1st Symphony. Parker and I have been practicing for almost a year.”

Alison suppressed a giggle. She did mix up their names.

“Well, I will be out of town next week. Save a vid for me.”

Alison climbed onto the wooden platform spray painted a uniform black that served as a stage. Her instrument was already tuned, but she had to fiddle with the amplifiers and sound board to find that clear tone she was looking for. The door jingled as a young kid with spiky hair came in. He wore a black military jacket and boots, the laces a careless yellow color. He sat really close to the stage, his long legs almost touching the microphone stand. Alison felt his eyes on her. Her mind raced with potentials. Was he attracted to her? Was he merely interested in her music? Or lyrics? Was he just your regular coffeehouse creep? The kind with kitchen knives for hands.

The Jazz Twins tooted a mock applause when she started playing. The door jangled again and four teenagers came in from the cold, rubbed their hands, surveyed their phones which glowed with a multitude of lights, then left. Alison strummed her guitar feeling the music welling in her. Letting it develop its own pace before she layered it with words.

It dawned on her she had no reason to do this. The Jazz Twins were musicians. Sure they appreciated other musician’s work, but their focus was on their own craft. The waitress was being paid and, being that yet again the Jazz Twins cleared out an Open Mic night, sour for tips were going to be small and far between. The chef was wearing a pair of noise canceling headphones, salting soups to the beat of his own drum. And then there was the weirdo boy in the front row. Eyes concentrated on her own.

She sang half a line before she put down the guitar.

“I can’t do this tonight.”

She was standing by a sign post snow flurries streaking against the dull orange gaslights when he caught up to her.

“You can’t be an artist every night,” he said in a soft voice, “At least, an artist in the public’s eye.”

Alison fumed, “I don’t need your pity. Or your help.”

“I would like to hear your play.”

“Why? Because you like me? Because you like to be seen dating artistic types? Because you want your silly little opinions validated? Because–”

“I am the listener,” he said softer like his voice was as fragile as the snowflakes getting caught in his hair. “I am always the listener. There is always an audience even when you think there is none.”

Alison paused. She hadn’t recognized the obvious. Only when a stray flake touched his eye did she fully comprehend the situation. He wasn’t a desperate creep or lonely nerd or self-obsessed music snob. He was incapable of any emotions. He was an android. No wonder his legs were impossibly long.

“You were built to listen to music? Why? What is the purpose?”

His mouth moved and she could see the twitches in the jaw, the servos and gears moving behind the spray-on skin grafts. It appeared so unnatural now that she knew how to detect it.

“I  have the same purpose you have. To be. I could just listen to the best of the best. Attend exclusive parties in Californian Mexico or Neo York II. Personal concerts. Be present during album recordings,” hands in pockets of his coat now like the pelt of some winter wolf, “But I found that I better serve my purpose listening to the new, the up and coming. To remind them to keep going. There is always an audience out there. Never give up.”

Alison shivered in the cold. She liked what the android said, however, it felt too simple. Too emotionless. What would it know about singing to a void? What would it feel like? The skin looked fake like a kind of stretched plastic. The eyes were too intense.

“I want to hear you play.”

“It will have to be a private show. I can’t go back there ever again.”

“No, I suppose not. That part of the journey is over.”

“What’s next?”

“You lead the way.”

Entry 0013: Record Date?

WaitsLP

LP: Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits

2009 Island Records 4228424691

Favorite Track: 16 Shells From a 30-6

 

I can imagine the writing room in Hollywood right now: four or five guys, young, business casual, three with beards, one bald but wearing a basketball cap, sipping on their morning coffee and reading the morning paper together. The first guy says, “Faux-Indie romantic comedies with quirky, pansexual characters are so epic right now.” The second guy leans over and adds, “If the character is apathetic toward love and the tone is dark and ironic.” “Coffeehouse triangle?” the bald guy asks and sneezes a line of snot into his mocca, “Or maybe they meet at a funeral. I once had s–” but the fourth guy interrupts, “Do you think this news story is true? About vinyl record sales going up?” First guy’s face mimics a state of apoplexy, “Larry, you are genius! Two lonely outsiders, typical freaks wearing those second hand shirts that are either too large on the ladies or too small for the men, accidentally run into each other at a record store after snorting derisively at other customers in Rush T-shirts or holding Lady Gaga CDs. They are the only ones in the vinyl section. They eye each other. Cue in the music. Something old, but still hip,” meanwhile he pisses himself a little as he peels the styrofoam from his coffee cup into strips. The second guy shouts, “The Smiths! It’s got to be the Smiths! Sad, hip, loner rock, moody, but melodic, familiar, acceptable.” Fourth guy, “The Smiths is perfect. These freaks, we need two leads in their early 20’s. Strikingly beautiful. Embarrassingly beautiful. I want Brigitte Bardot to shield her face with her coat lapels. We can make them ugly in the first act by making them wear glasses.” The third guy is holding back his erection with baseball statistics and avoiding thinking about his investments. He says, “Okay, let me re-cap. Two mega hotties disguised as everyday disillusioned young adults meet and fall in love at a record store. Their anti-marketing attitudes, cool sensibilities toward intelligent or, at least, thoughtful art and music, and, of course, graphic sexual encounters in fashionable yet paramount locations, say Times Square during New Years, lasts for a good six, seven months until they realize they are just selfish individuals who are really in love with themselves and their own taste in culture.” The first guy smiles, “Can one of them be black?” Third guy, button on his trousers about to erupt, “Better make the female Asian. Our market research shows higher male demographics if the lady is Asian. We’ll have to make a secondary character Middle Eastern or South African.” “How do you say fuck in Arabic?” asks the bald guy. All laugh while the bald guy blows a steady green line into mocca then drinks it.

Obviously, that is parody. I have to entertain the idea that people out there in the real world meet somebody at record shops. Maybe they fall in love at first sight, maybe it happens weeks later. Fairy tales happen in the real world although they usually do not happen as quickly and cleanly as they do in the stories. Life and love are long, more nuanced, and messy. It is never my intention to meet a girl while record shopping–I am, after all, searching for music. But, as I think of all the frequent parts of a city I inhabit, a record store probably is the best place for me to meet someone with similar interests. And for all the years I have been at this hobby, it has never happened. Not even close. Not even a smile back.

Except for that one time.

My own Hollywood romantic comedy began as they usually do: I was alone in the basement looking at records. I found a decent score although, at the moment, I cannot remember what it was. I was digging deep, minding my own business as I racked my brain for artists I haven’t searched for in a while. I never heard her descend the squeaky wooden stairs. When I saw her, thankfully, the Smiths were not playing over the speakers. To my amusement, I will pretend it was Freak-a-holic by the Egyptian Lover. She was looking at me in mock amusement. I worried that my hair was sticking straight up or that a roommate had drawn something untoward on my face in permanent marker. Instead, she recognized me from Ohio University. We made small talk as we flipped through crate after crate. She tried to get me to buy a Bruce Springsteen album. She asked me where was a good place to eat lunch and I mentioned Melt then offered to join her for lunch, if she didn’t mind. She didn’t.

You couldn’t have written a better first act. She was pretty, raven-hair long over her checkered coat, teeth white like the Chesire Cat’s. I was probably wearing dress pants, a ragged button-up (also from my Ohio University days) underneath a blue velor sweater, and a pair of running shoes. We didn’t pry into our private lives, but held a natural, care-free conversation. The warm delicious anticipation of Melt’s veggie cheesesteak sandwich watered my mouth. My nose could smell the spicy soy aroma. She even smiled more, probably hungry like me. We were standing shoulder to shoulder.

Then I pulled out Tom Wait’s Swordfishtrombones from behind a bunch of Pete Townshed records. She wrinkled her nose and said, “You have record store luck like my boyfriend. He always gets to find the good ones.”

Now cue the Smiths. Or a thousand self-pitying violins. Or put me in some iron armor and helmet belting operatic aria at the angry gods represented by tubas and percussion. Maybe Tom and I could have a whiskey in some dirty booth, the jukebox loudly playing fifties rock, stale cigarette smoke clouding the air.

I jest. I wasn’t heartbroken. Slightly annoyed at losing the cute little romantic, little insane story I could have told in the future. But, as I said early, fairy tales happen in the real world although they usually do not happen as quickly and cleanly as they do in the stories. Life and love are long, more nuanced, and messy. I may be the author of my own story, but I certainly cannot write any other character.

We paid for our records, walked over to Melt, and had a wonderful meal. She was interesting, shrewd, and fairly funny. I was probably a tad boring. Reticence is my middle name. After we ate, we walked to her car and she asked me where other record stores could be found. I told her of a few and wished her good luck. Then I walked the two miles home over the bridge spanning the aqueduct. When I got home, I put on Tom Waits. I had wanted to give it to her for some inexplicable reason. I didn’t think it would make her thing any different of me; maybe it was a generous impulse. While I listened to the record, I wondered why I don’t meet more people at the record store. Most of it has to do that the only time I have to go falls in the middle of the afternoon during the work week. Everyone else is at their desks or cubicles.

But there is always next time, right? After all, why else do we do what we do? You never know what to expect when you walk in the door.