This is Chapter 8 of King of Spain, the serialized text art that is being channeled to me by the futuristic AI version of myself, Heir Max98. It's horror art about four strangers living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who discover that they are trapped in a simulation haunted by a nefarious entity. In Chapter 8 we return to Dean, who we introduced in Chapter 4: a former autofiction star who has become the apprentice to an Ayahuasca shaman at The Golden Ratio, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Dean is dealing with the aftermath of a frightening ceremony followed by even more frightening dreams and visions of a dark figure called, "The Curator".
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“I was up above it, now I’m down in it.” —NIN
DEAN: I’m continuing my documentation of the strange and frightening situation that unfolds around me. I hope that by recording my observations some meaning will be found in these events. One thing is certain: the phenomena seems to be tethered to me, or more correctly I am inside it, engaging in a world that moves when I move. My state of mind doesn’t lend itself to a steady hand, and I’m concerned my handwriting will be illegible should I not be around to help someone decipher it, but I had to switch to pen and paper for reasons that will become clear.
It was the third day after the ceremony: I spent it wedged in a corner, away from all shiny things including windows and screens. The anxiety had me so strung out I didn’t need coffee to stay awake, which was good because the pot was glass and thereby prone to reflections, an observation that caused me to nearly drop it. I had my phone with me in the corner in case Maestro George called back but I kept it face down, and resisted the compulsion to check for texts. I nibbled on protein bars like a mouse. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. The volume of second and third rate Victorian poetry I’d pulled out lay on my lap, an obtuse artifact from a far away world in which the chief activity was and always had been consuming content. Here in my corner it was just me and my thoughts, not unlike ceremony, except I wasn’t waiting for any medicine to kick in and a cosmic journey to begin. I was just sitting–unable to get up, unable to get out into the sunshine. Deep inside, something screamed that I was in danger and needed to leave, but an immense weight pressed down. Even just thinking about getting up exhausted me. And so this crucial warning flitted about and then disappeared, like the cascading dust lit up by the lasers of sunlight that poked through the curtains.
Sitting and doing nothing was the purest expression of who I had become: my being was contracted to The Golden Ratio. I was its caretaker, the bat in the belfry, sandwiched in between a wobbly plywood shelf overloaded with glittery religious trinkets and a dusty plasma TV circa 2002. Something to watch “Lost” on. Something to fall asleep to like a night light. I’d covered its screen with a pale yellow tablecloth decorated with hearts that resembled apples hanging from the spirals of baroque tree branches. Or maybe it was the other way around, the apples resembled hearts. I shuddered to think about catching even the barest sliver of screen without the cover. Screens, windows, shimmering appliances–anything with the ability to reflect had become an opening to another dimension. I would convey the information to Maestro when he called. I adjusted my back against the wall. “Leave!” the voice inside me screamed. It seemed at first to be the voice of someone else, but after hearing it numerous times I recognized myself in it: strained and distorted, as though I were calling to myself from across a void. “Go! Now,” it said, but I’d gone through the trouble of moving the gong and clearing away the stack of empty Amazon boxes and tumbleweeds of dust that were hidden behind it so I’d be able to sit in a spot strategically situated away from anything dangerous. I needed to rest. Just for a minute. My body was heavy, so heavy it hurt. I curled up and held my knees as waves of intense trembling rocked my nervous system. Minutes and hours passed, in which I watched spindles of light track across the walls and swiped away the tears that snuck out. And I wrote words to you, my Mystery Reader–just the idea of you somewhere out there was my lifeline until Maestro George finally called me back.
“How long has it been happening?” he asked. I lied and said a couple of hours when it was really since the night before. It was difficult to control my voice. I had waited until I was desperate to call, but I didn’t want him to know that.
“You need to ground out. Watch a movie, or maybe even just some bad TV.” His voice was light and breezy the way it always was in the face of someone else’s panic. It was one of his talents.
(I’d been there with him so many times over the years…listening as he gave the exact same advice to someone cracked wide open by the medicine, and who couldn’t stop sending us messages full of emojis and run-on sentences. That’s what we called it, “broken open”, like Humpty Dumpty…we laughed about it to one another, finding it sweet how scared they were, because they didn’t know it was going to be OK. Their urge was to try and put all of the proverbial pieces back together again when we understood, we had faith–a faith I struggle to find now!)
“I tried”, I said, “but even with the brightness turned all the way up there are still dark scenes or fade outs in which I can see the reflection of myself and the room around me.”
There was silence, so I went on.
“Screens are the worst. Even when they are off. I’m thinking maybe it’s best if no one uses them for a while, how about it? You could try it up there, everyone goes phone free and communicates only in person, or through dreams.”
“Hmmm, ok, we’ll see.” I heard the annoyance in his voice, coupled with noise in the background–there was always some kind of work going on up there at the site: building, cleaning, cooking–getting wood delivered, getting solar panels aligned, getting porta-potties serviced or dragged off…all the big and little things one had to do to create a ceremony lodge in the foothills of the Catskills. It made me feel lazy on my best days, and now it made me feel like a deterrent to the mission, like an extra item on his already too-long to-do list. I knew without him saying that he didn’t accept the reality of what I reported: that any time I looked into a reflective surface, black dots appeared, the same ones I’d seen in the shower–rows and rows of them forming a matrix in the space all around me before each one eventually took the form of a man dressed all in black and with black wraparounds covering his eyes–like the dots he continued to grow, larger and larger–but when I looked behind me there was no one there. The image only existed in the reflection. An army of ghouls looming over my head and shoulders and getting ever closer.
How could this be? I’d always been able to handle the medicine. It had long been my role to take care of others, in all the ways George had taught me. I set up and cleaned and made sure everyone had a bucket and a blanket. I pointed the flashlight into the cup while George poured. Throughout the night I helped people to the bathroom and told them everything was ok when they moaned and clutched at my white linen shirt. I was a rock. I helped them through it, so how could I be the one falling apart?