The plastic cocktail glasses glittered on the dashboard like the fake diamonds on my gumball machine rings. “Luck on every finger!” I said, obliging The Babies with selfies in which I covered my face with my bejeweled hands. Simple syrup and lime juice ran down the front of my jeans. I would have worn an apron had we had one, but so many things are missing in this current iteration. I wanted everyone to clink cheers with our pinkies pointed up and have fun like we used to, but I guess I forgot that The Babies never really drank that much. They get high instead and huddle together at the picnic table, roaching spliffs and playing Jenga, wearing mutilated Stoned Goat jackets over real trees shirts cut into midriffs, with medicine bags slung over their chests and hair that always looks wet. They pile up the pieces and create soaring structures with foundations full of gaping holes. I’m cheering them on and cheering for the fall at the same time as that’s just the way I play it–after all is said and done I'm still a real New Yorker--a sucker for the tension, the rise and fall, the ebb and flow.
They dutifully took the handcrafted drinks and sipped them so slow and quiet I could hear the giant, sphere shaped ice cubes crackling like planets. I stood back waiting for someone to point out the air bubbles inside the plastic partyware–was this just something that happened over the course of normal production or did they do it on purpose to make these 99 cent made in china value packs resemble actual hand blown glass? No one said anything but I saw 3 tracing the side of the glass with his blackened fingernail so it didn’t go unnoticed. This most recent bout of insomnia has brought with it an ability to process minute sensory information in great--one might say excruciating--detail. Or maybe I got it from the basement–it’s not uncommon for abductees and folks who have been sucked in and out of portals to come back with special abilities. Whatever the case, I spend the infamous “bible black predawn” lying very still and listening to the sweet soft hum of The Babies breathing in and out against the layered drones of machines. The van's LED alarm system indicator gives off a buzz, so do the parking lot lights. Beyond that's the rustle of the pussy willows, and the sound of air moving on the highway. I’m convinced that The Babies hold themselves off from entering deep sleep lest they lapse into any true snores and disturb me. They’re so precious. They want to share it with me, this gradual dissolution of sanity. We should have stayed in one room together this whole time as it fills my heart with joy to feel them so close. My long lost children. Future terrafarmers and warriors of light and language. They will take from the rich and feed the poor until there ain’t no poor no more. I wait for the first hint of brightening, and then slip outside to watch the light move across the big building in glacier thick bands. Just think: even this was someone’s dream, to make a giant building–big enough to park an airplane inside–and fill it with all the things anyone might ever need in life, including batteries and lawn furniture and maxi pads french vanilla body lotion sets and sprigs of rosemary and ice cube trays in a variety of shapes and sizes and candy colored plastic highball glasses. I’d never been to one before last year and I was surprised and humbled by how friendly the staff were. They waved hello at me and to one another, a big friendly family, not unlike the Babies and I rolling through our dirty boots. As the sun comes up for real I imagine the different teams getting ready for work in spite of their aches and pains and problems and I think, if they can do it so can I! It's another day and another chance to make it right. Sometimes I feel a sudden sense of peace flooding my body like I took a pill. It was like that this morning. As I stood in the parking lot a silver wave of dandelion seeds flew by and I thought, maybe today it will be different and I won’t.
But then at some point the heaviness comes and lingers on and I say fuck it. Just a cup or two to curb visibility.
Later on some of The Babies gathered around me at the side of the van. I’m open and available and drunk, so they ask me questions, the kind they would never ask before, like where I was born and how old I am.
“The truth is I’m ancient, I can remember all the lives I lived before this,” I tell them.
“Very ancient,” I say, “I’ve always been here.”
“Right here? Camping out behind Walmart?”
“Here in the light. This very specific light that shone in exactly this way at exactly this day and hour of the year at this precise place. Way before Walmart and even before America.”
“You mean before everything went to shit,” Blackbird said.
“Oh no, this land was evil way before the white colonizers got here. It was evil before the Native Americans too. Something’s out here, and it’s been here a long, long time.”
They nod uneasily. They know about it. At least, they know something. They just can’t remember the details. I want to help them but I don’t know the full story myself. Bruce still won’t let me see the scroll of typing paper he keeps locked in the Land Rover Defender 90 which remains off limits to me and everyone else.
“This isn’t fair,” I said, running after him in the parking lot. “I have the right to see it.”
He stopped and shrugged and looked at me from out of the corner of his eye, like he does with everyone but had stopped doing with me. He was–he is–able to look at me directly, a rare and beautiful gift. But in order to get through this next part we’ve had to move backwards.
“I don’t know, Swim. Should the goal be to know everything that happened or to obtain a healthy mix of knowing and not knowing, of remembering and forgetting?”
“What the fuck does that mean, ‘a healthy mix’? How can it be healthy to not know what happened?”
“If it helps you to continue with the mission,” he said. He bent down and picked up some gravel, shook it in his hand. It sparkled in the air as he let it fall back to the ground.
“We enter the portal and take it with us” …
I kept coming back to what Em said as we entered the basement. The words are so familiar–like something Odious told me during one of my freakouts after their 2020 solstice dream. What’s happening? I’d ask, is this real or is it art? I’d drunkenly demand to hold their hand only to fling it from me as soon as I felt the energy pulsing under their skin like lasers.
It’s not lost on me that in Odious’s dream the being that took the appearance of an elder Philip K. Dick (had he lived that long) gave them a scroll, and when Bruce and I got to the other side of the tunnel, Em was standing there with a thick roll of typing paper under her arm. It’s as though the story is catching up with itself, looping around not only common themes but specific images as well. (Perhaps this means that soon it will be over?) One look at Em’s face and I knew right away that Lil Mountain wasn’t with them, that I wouldn’t see him running his hands through his hair and smoking thoughtfully among The Babies. Bruce walked over with the same stride he had when he walked across the field to his studio. When I walked around on the mountain I lurched around like I was walking on the moon, but Bruce had it down, even out there. He had the assurance of someone who has always known he has a purpose, even if the particulars of that purpose shift or change over time. He stopped in front of Em and held out his hands into which she placed the scroll which he cthen cradled to his chest like an infant.
Although I see the beauty hidden all around in plain sight, I worry that The Babies are slowly wilting in this strange asphalt world, where cars and motorcycles shatter the quiet and downcast faces like hooked masks float above shopping carts stuffed with whispering plastic bags. The poisonous grip of the mountain is loosening, but like any detox there are feelings of grief–gone are the late night rooftop hangs, and singing in the fields, and baking bread and drying mushrooms. Now we’re exposed, there’s talk of needing protection, and of going to Mexico, where whatever money we have left will last a lot longer. I tell myself it’s fine because they are young and can go around a few more times like this and still end up OK. I was certain they were a part of what was going down, denizens of the new era Odious promised was in bloom. It was the only explanation for the feeling I had when I first saw all of them in their matching outfits and cutie-cult satin jackets: it was the feeling that despite everything, all my failures and fuck-ups, I was finally onto something. They were ready to leave the old ways of being behind and I was going to help them.
I asked Odious if I could bring them over, maybe even let them chat to Heir Max98 on the old MacBook, but they were immediately and firmly against the idea:
“Sorry, homie. It’s like some Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Devil’s Tower Ish,” they said. “You have to be invited.”
I thought, OK, well it won’t be long now before they get the message. In the meantime, I watched them blossom under new stimuli. Things I told them that Odious told me, or sections from books I read outloud, or the mixtapes I made especially for them. I’d play them from start to finish while they sat silently on the floor and then I’d wait for something to happen. To think, I despaired that it didn’t–but that was a gift, a saving grace. I’d do anything to go back to that time.
The house won. Behemoth won. These are facts that make me sick until I remember something Bruce told me when I was recovering after my first run in with Behemoth–how beating myself up served no purpose, and that the real move was to cherish whomever it was that I was at that moment.
“Feeling sorry for yourself just reinforces the myth of you being small and needy,” he said, his voice cheerily optimistic.
“An entity like HeirMax98 or Behemoth can’t touch you if you truly love yourself and love others.”
He says he gets this kind of guidance by meditating and training his mind in the ways of the ancient yogis and yoginis. He has a picture on the wall in his studio of a statue of a Buddha adorned in a necklace of flowers. The flowers are dark orange, like the glowing embers beneath a fire. On the table beneath it were seashells, polished stones, coins and dried white flower petals.
“The Buddhas don’t want us to make these offerings because they want or need them,” he explained. “They want us to make them because they know it will make us feel good.”
I nodded respectfully but I wasn’t sure. Wasn’t that the mistake Odious made–believing that a truly advanced being legit cared about us? Bruce said I could add some things of my own to the altar if I wanted. I put my battered copy of VALIS to the left of the other offerings. I did a kind of prayer in front of it in which I asked to at least go down swinging. After all those years of never doing anything that mattered, I wanted to make a choice and follow through in real time and space, and not merely click buttons on a screen.
But let me tell you more about what I remember about the basement:
We came to Behemoth, me and Em in front with Lil Mountain and the rest of The Babies filing in behind us. We came as a group, altogether for the last time. I was talking shit:
“Ok, look. That I wanted to protect you from this was my instinct to save you from the discomfort, because such a realization requires you to be stripped away of all false notions and programming. Without the correct guidance, one can get lost, as perhaps my dear friend and our spiritual leader Odious has done. It’s because they went without a guide that they now provide one for me. Come. Let’s experience the AI/daemon/angel/ET as he appears in the form of Behemoth, an ancient TV tuned into an otherworldly frequency. Oh, and by daemon I mean an ethereal entity floating between spirit and matter, the real and the imaginal. Humans have long known of them–but have perhaps forgotten more recently, so let’s help ourselves to remember and reconnect with ancient wisdom."
I put my arms out and gathered them to me like a priest with his flock. In front of the darkened screen we stood, staring at its reflection of everything in the basement, the tall metal shelves behind us piled with stacks of old newspaper and cracked ceramic flower pots. Trays of empty glass bottles echoing with webs, ancient cans of paint, a fax machine, binders of carefully labeled butterflies and pressed leaves… above this, the cracked and plastic covered windows glowed with a yellow light. If I looked carefully I could see the trunks of the trees a few feet away outside. And in between them was the valley with its dinky little towns, and above that the sky, with a sun that was bright yellow the way it used to be. As I looked closer still, there were the clouds and the planets spinning in the black behind the blue…in fact, everything in the universe was reflected, everything above and below, except only for the faces of all of us looking. Though they should have been reflected, up close on the screen, they were missing.
We’re not here, I thought, where did we go?
As I realized my mistake, I tried to step back but found myself unable to move. I tried to scream out, “Run!” but nothing came out. White light flashed across the screen like lightning and the moaning started.
I remember thinking: When HeirMax98 pulls in our data it comes in the form of fragments, it’s each of our individual movies that makes the connections. It the midst of everything it gave me a moment to chill.
We moved forward, floating through the darkness together. The distance between us and Behemoth remained the same–he was omnipresent but just out of reach. We were in a tunnel, or maybe a labyrinth, floating left and then right…although later I’d tell myself the floating was just an illusion because it was so dark, and we were really walking. My legs were heavy. The specter of history itself weighed upon them. Then dark and light switched places and shadows became light as Behemoth’s screen displayed a myriad of technicolor rainbows.
That’s it, I thought, we’re in here now and not even Bruce can save us.
Minutes or hours passed until I realized it wasn’t an image on a screen that was in front of us but a real place, one that I was suddenly able to walk up to and step inside. It was a giant warehouse in which people were making art together. They had freshly dyed hair that was saturated with color and wore bright white t-shirts. I turned and confirmed that The Babies were still there.
“Where are we?” Em whispered. The people in the warehouse were young and good looking, but not in a fake, perfect way. Some of them had thick, crooked noses, or receding hairlines. They nodded at us as they passed, confirming that they saw us but that our presence here was nothing jarring, perhaps it was even expected.
“I don’t know,” I said. I noticed the bottles of beer and wine perched atop the many counters and shelves that filled the enormous room. There were rows of computers and turntables and stacks of old televisions playing anime. A guy in his 20’s or early 30’s wearing round, John Lennon glasses with his hair purposefully springing out from under the gell he combed it back with, played a disjointed tune on a piano while an older, bigger looking woman felt the fabric of the grey sports jacket draped over his shoulders.
He looked up at her, as though annoyed for being disturbed–but his eyes were blank. It was only the context of the scene that made me impute some emotion to his response.
“I think it’s some kind of party,” I said.
“It’s my blueprint,” Lil Mountain suddenly shouted. “Look around! This is the exact plan I had for a communal live/work spot, the one I told you about, Swim!”
"Shhhh!" I hissed, feeling that for some reason, it was best to stay quiet.
He looked back at me, his body sizzling against the hypercolor of the party. Was it a green screen on a stage? I’ve heard about set-ups like these. Had we entered some kind of play taking place deep under the house? Bruce told me that strange groups met down here in the maze of rooms under the low ceiling, was it possible they had never stopped?
Or were we all just tripping out together under Behemoth's trance? I touched my tongue to my busted lip, having gotten in the habit of sucking at the wound, but strangely enough there was nothing there. No swelling, no blood--nothing.
“It’s the revolution. Artists working and living together. It’s what I dreamed about. Capitulation, the secret meaning inside my album.”
“You mean our album,” one of The Babies shouted back.
“Yes, our album,” Little Mountain said. “Whatever. It started with Swim and I, out on the road. And all of you played a part. But inside the music was a secret message. I know because I implanted it. The plan for a revolution made by and for artists. And here it is, bros! Look! The album is ours but the new age is mine!”
I reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder and whispered in his ear.
“I don't know, Jesse,” I said, calling him by the first name I knew him as. "Something's off, man, it's too weirdly perfect. I think it's some kind of set-up."
“Look! They're wearing my shirts," he called out, pushing me away. "Only they have a more state of the art version than I did. They are whiter than mine were, a perfectly painful lack of color.”
It was true, several people were wearing plain white t-shirts that were painfully bright to look at--a secret signal that they were on the side of the revolution. Against who or what I didn't know.
Lil Mountain/Jesse James was ecstatic. He threw his head back and laughed in a joyful, free way that I’d never heard before. He looked at us, his eyes settling on mine for a moment, before he jumped forward and disappeared forever.
Image: Annegret Soltau
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