Not Everyone Can Carry the Weight of the World--
Someone was coming, I could hear them whistling on the stairs. A tuneless little tune. From the way the wood creaked it was either Lil Mountain or a holographic illusion of him. I took a deep breath and looked out the window again, wishing super hard that I could see The Babies, even just one or two of them, but the light was too bright. There were shadows stretched across the ground, the abstraction of an audience huddled together in the cold. It was such a Babies thing to do–watching movies in the forest in the winter. WTF. Could they see me up here? Would they be able to help? But then I reminded myself I was here to help them. Save them even. Plus they had no reason to expect me. If they happened to look up here it would be by “accident.” How much of my life have I counted on such a thing? The universe reaching out to save me with its cold, slimy hand. I remembered the times I stepped out of Bruce’s studio for a bit of sun and although I couldn’t see them, I could feel The Babies watching me from the house. As awful as it is I will admit I felt relieved, having momentarily escaped the machine while they were stuck inside. Now it was the reverse. I was swallowed whole, on the inside looking out from the dormer windows that were like eyes. Post-Poe, it’s not unusual to imagine a dwelling place having a kind of diffused sentience (note the similarity between the words face and facade) but despite the obvious visual, it never appeared that way to me until earlier when I walked with Bruce across the flat hard field and shuddered under the weight of an inhuman glare.
The whistling stopped. How long had I been standing there? A few minutes? A half hour, or more? Checking my phone was useless, as I had no memory of what time it was when I arrived. The hand-rolled cigarette went out in my fingers as I thought about how I wanted to dress differently. I hated my clothes, for years I’d fooled myself into thinking it doesn’t matter when it does. Nice clothes are like the frame around a photograph. If I wanted to be a real person–someone who inspired others, others, I’d have to switch it up and start giving a shit, shelling out the cash for one of those places where they measure the shit out of you and part of what you’re paying for is to bask in the kindness of the people who work there…
This! (I shook my head). Why was I thinking about clothes? While I stood here in imminent danger. A sitting duck-tailed duck. But this is what Behemoth did. He sent energetic pulses that made thoughts explode and multiply like a screen full of static. Distractions on top of distractions like a labyrinth of endless forking paths. Although it seemed counter-intuitive, the key was to not try and focus but to let the thoughts flow, appearing and then disappearing from my conscious mind. That had been my mistake in the basement. I stared too hard at individual black and white flashing pixels, which made them freeze and along with it, my entire experience of time and space.
And so, despite my initial surprise, I let the thoughts of trenches and handmade boots continue unabated while I considered The Babies and their movies. I remember an excited Em telling me before I took off that they had found a projectionist, someone skilled in the ancient art. She had kept her face down while she spoke to me, as she had been there when I screamed at other Babies for staring at me with those searching looks. This started happening after Lil Mountain declared that Odious didn’t exist and got worse after they saw Bruce carry me out of the basement. I noticed that others agreed with whatever I said only to shoot one another side glances filled with concern/pity.
“Don’t you fucking dare!” I yelled. “Who the fuck are you to look at me that way!”
Just then a greater brightness filled the forest–a flash or an explosion on screen. I closed my eyes and when I opened them Lil Mountain was in the room, quoting me in his stuffed up, narcotic drawl:
“There are some films that work best as background art. This is not to diminish them, quite the contrary. The plot of Blade Runner is OK but it’s even better if you just leave it on while you get high and make art. That way the important parts seep into whatever you’re doing, unfiltered by consciousness.” If it wasn’t really Lil Mountain it was a helluva copy, dressed in a military sweater that resembled a bullet proof vest that may or may not have been real. His greasy black hair had grown sufficiently to compliment his latest face tattoo: a black swath that went across his forehead, resembling sharply cut, low hanging bangs.
“Right on, homes, you got me word for word, just like a good machine.”
“I’m glad you remember. It was just this summer but it seems so long ago–all those stoner kids listening so hard to whatever you said. Some of them taking fucking notes! Too bad no one gives a shit about the BS you spout anymore.”
As always, it pissed me off to hear the disparaging tone he used for The Babies. He was one of those snobby hard drug addicts who put down weed smoking as being childlike and silly.
“Is that so? Well I guess if no one cares that means the billionaire’s no longer paying you to narc me out?”
He smiled an ugly, angry smile that made me take a step back, despite myself. I relit my smoke and regained composure. The tobacco blasts the throat and lungs, cleaning me from the inside out. I knew, after all that he’d show up. Lil Mountain or a version of him. The whistling had been uncharacteristic, but everything else was on point.
“It’s good to see you,” he said, his throat filled with phlegm and drugs.
I nodded and looked away. I still wasn’t sure, there seemed to be no way to really know. One of the things that trips peeps up is how, if someone isn’t real, they can still make you feel actual emotions. I brought this up to Bruce, certain that there would be a bracketing off–a line of demarcation that indicated the inauthenticity of the feelings being felt.
“The feelings are real, why shouldn’t they be? Remember, Behemoth is a TV. He knows how to make you jump in surprise, laugh…even cry. Just because you’re watching something made up doesn’t mean that you aren’t having real feelings about it.”
Seeing Lil Mountain again made me feel so many things, fractals of something, a way of being I could remember but no longer access.
“It’s cold. Why are they watching movies outside?” I asked.
“We’re learning how to make every moment a revolutionary one. We want to see the world without habit, or categories. To do so would be to live in a state of pure joy and bliss, even during the most so-called ordinary moments. Before we can take shit over we have to create new stories. We reframe ourselves in front of the screen. The actors’ faces rising like angels among the dark trees. We have to be careful to select works that have overcome plot. The last thing we want is to feel stuck in outdated notions of cause and effect. The only meaning is that they are there and so are you and so are we.”
“Yes. Me and The Babies. Maybe you’ve forgotten but we’re making an album together. The one you and I started in those wayward hotel rooms. Each song came so easily for you–you knew it was good at the time, awesome as fuck, actually–but later you discounted it. You had to, because all your life you’ve tried so hard at everything, and to have something succeed that you did on a whim, a lark as you called it, did not compute, and you’ve been spinning out ever since.”
“That’s really special that you think everything I’ve been going through is because I didn’t want to work on your stupid album anymore.”
Lil Mountain laughed and slapped his knee, an awkward, jerky movement that made it look for a moment like he’d fallen out of frame.
“I’ve already told you a million times: Capitulation is only pretending to be an album. It’s a front. It’s really the subliminal blueprint to a brave and fearless movement. The key to taking shit over is not knowing how to do it but letting yourself let go and feel it. We’re going to melt the metal shutters over the boutiques selling $200 tracksuit pants in So-ho. We’re going to sandblast corporate facades and claim new frontiers of gleaming marble lobbies. We’re going to take over the municipalities, starting with the zoos and highway patrol. We’re going to give presentations to the nerds in Silicon Valley, making them a captive audience as we play Capitulation and dance across their wood paneled conference rooms. A new age of beauty will arise from our systematic dismantling of this culture of degradation. Capitulation will initiate a joyous and optimistic celebration in its place. It won’t be easy but it also won’t be hard.”
“Sure. Why not? Look, we’ve talked about this before. People want a revolution. They’ll cheer you on because they’ll be psyched to finally have one. Even a half-ass success is a point of pride.”
“First we’re creating visuals. Not for other people, just for ourselves. We play the movies on a white sheet pulled tight between tree branches and dream a new world into being.”
“There you go again,” I said.
“We’re going to wake up America. Wake it up from the dream of Starbucks and getting things done.”
“You wake it up so I can stab it with my stake. I’ll let all the wood chip dust and waffle house syrup spill out before I chop off its head, just to be sure.”
It was summer. No, it was fall, nearly winter. A breeze shook the trees and gave me goose bumps (though I am inside, looking out). I think I see Em, a flock of starlings rise above her but then turn out to be bats, the way they move so erratically makes my heart pound.
She looks up at where I am but doesn’t see me, her expression is impassive.
“Look,” I say to Lil Mountain, “You haven’t asked me why, after all these weeks of staying the fuck away I’m back. So let me break it down. The Babies are in danger. You have to help me get them out of here. They’re broken into factions, for and against us. Team Swim and Team Lil Mountain. We have to join forces to get them out.”
“Get them out? Good luck with that, Hun. This is the sweetest gig ever. Now that it’s getting cold there’s hardly any work to do anymore, but they’re still getting paid.”
“Yes, that’s the plan,” I said. “Winter will come and they’ll be stuck inside with nothing to do. It’s only a matter of time before they go downstairs and, well, you know.”
I found I couldn’t say the specifics out loud. I could feel him down below, listening.
“Look,” I said, coughing a bit to steady my voice. “You can stay if you want, but you have to help me save them.”
“Save them? Wait, is this about what happened in the basement? When the old dude found you passed out on the floor?”
“In front of the TV.” I said, the word conjuring a flash of Behemoth. For a second, I saw the glowing screen, floating in front of me.
“OK, Swim, let me get this straight. You’re saying you still believe that the old TV downstairs–the one that doesn’t even work–was talking to you?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling the blood rush to my face.
“Oh wow, ok,” he said, “I thought these last few weeks you were resting. That the old dude was helping you get better.”
“He did. He helped me and thinks I’m completely healed.”
“OK,” he said.
“OK, what? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Hey, it’s OK, Swim. Here, maybe sit down.”
“I don’t want to sit down.”
“Everything’s ok, Swim.”
“Why do you keep saying my name? What, are you suddenly the boss here? Like you even know what healthy is, you druggie narc. How much is your culture warrior patron paying you to keep these kids trapped here? It’s because of you that I stayed out west so long. I might not have even gone if you hadn’t shown up. You showed up right in the nick of time, I never did know why. I was too freaked out to care, but now it all seems mighty fishy.”
“Now listen, Swim, let me just pop out and get the old dude, and the three of us can just chill…”
“No! You’re not going anywhere. It’s because of you that I left Odious alone for so long. It’s because of you that they got all fucked up and possessed by Heir Max. If I’d been there, it would have never happened. But you were sent to take me away. Well, I’m not going to let you do it again.”
I leapt forward–it was more than a jump, my whole body shot forward like a cat–and I fell upon him, taking us both down to the floor. My jaw smashed against the top of his head and blood immediately splashed around.
“I don’t even know if you’re real. You just showed back up on my windowsill that night. You might just be a bit of TV. I don’t think I’ve once seen you off this property in all the time you’ve been here. The furthest you go are those fields.”
He was gasping for air, his eyes half rolled back as I pressed on his collarbone with my hand, but I knew he could hear me.
“Help me get them out of here. Or I’ll make you pay.”
Thank you. All that matters is loving others and making art. I know that now.
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All $ goes to mutual aid. This month we donated to the author Tessa Dick, who needs funds to pay the bills and keep her house.