11 min read

Cherry Coke

He held up the glass eyeball he’d been methodically smoothing by hand, balancing it delicately between his middle and ring finger, like a magician about to do a trick.
Cherry Coke

by Swim

[previous post]

I’m no saint. And I’m definitely not a savior. I am, at best, a transcriber. And at worst, a writer. My original mission, given to me by Odious back in 2021, was to put out the secret messages they received, as fast as possible. But then they won’t be secret anymore, I argued, to which they shrugged.  At the time I was unaware of how this information was embedded with passageways which opened and closed according to the alien logic of nature. I started this blog newsletter thing and got all wrapped up in the style and format, in the universality or lack thereof in the prose, but Odious wasn’t worried about any of that. They assured me that those who needed to receive the transmission would. It could be one or five people or 100,000. They would connect and activate. Of course Odious was aware from the start that it wouldn’t be long before I began receiving information as well. (Organic information, spliced directly into the nervous system using sensory jumper cables festooned with linguistic clamps). But how could either of us have foreseen this moment, when I straddled Lil Mountain with blood pouring out of my mouth, cold scheming, action hero style, on how not only to save Odious back in Brooklyn but also The Babies, and maybe even Lil Mountain too (if I didn’t kill him first)? However I got here I could figure out later but for now all that mattered was it was winter and getting cold: I had to get everyone I could away from the buzzing clutches of the evil in the corroded basement and off the mountain before the road closed for the season.

“That’s the fiend’s first step,” Bruce had warned, back when we were still ensconced in the relative safety of his studio. “It won’t even have to lure The Babies down itself–once they know they can’t leave something will switch and a sudden boredom will lead them there on their own.”

He held up the glass eyeball he’d been methodically smoothing by hand, balancing it delicately between his middle and ring finger, like a magician about to do a trick. It glowed in the low light as though lit from within.

“It was during deep winter, several years ago, when I discovered Behemoth–or I should say, discovered the complete version of him. The trap got laid for me in the fall. I became inspired, my productivity went nuts. I felt completely tuned in to the land and the trees, the work was so smooth every piece was an extension of me while also being perfectly suited for the patient. It was as though I was making a part of myself for them. An offering, straight from my soul. It came time to go but I put it off, again and again. I couldn’t sleep–I was supercharged, nearly demented. When I closed my eyes I saw rows of blossoms made out of bright lights. Then, the time had passed and I could no longer get out. And it all just dropped off–the work, my mood, everything. I sat there, in a silence so perfect it annihilated anything in my mind before it could take shape. I was desperate for something to do, and then it occurred to me that I could go down in the basement and tinker with the old TV set, to try and see if I could get it to work.”

I nodded. It had been the same for me and The Babies: despite our various illnesses and bouts with free floating anxiety, we had been idea factories since we moved in. We figured it was the mountain, and all the clean air, and maybe it was, but there was something else, a darkness we tapped into–for me it flowed especially well when I sat on the porch, The Babies curled up around my feet. It was a spot I now knew to be a liminal zone where I wasn’t quite inside the house or out, and the signals emanating to and from Behemoth were palpable but not overwhelming.

Unlike Bruce I didn’t need to wait until winter. I went down into the basement, not bored, but hungry, like an animal tracking a scent. For me it wasn’t a new thing–I’ve always been drawn to the periphery where people and things engendered to suck me dry in exchange for new highs of thinking and feeling. Oh and what highs they were–events that didn’t merely traumatize the consciousness but branded it. Even from a young age I knew the drugs and drink were dim substitutes. Some part of me seemed to believe that if I could take the plunge, and descend deep enough into a well of shadows, I might find the truth hidden there.

“I think you’re like me,” I said to Bruce, during one of the impressive, yet short-lived moments of clarity that occurred intermittently during my convalescence. “You’re addicted to the darkness and the ideas you get from it.”

“Pfffft. I’m just an old man trying to mind my own business.”

“You live a deliberate, lonely life across the field from a portal of evil. You even built your studio right on the edge of its influence, where you keep the curtains drawn and the locks locked but stay close enough to get the spark that helps you sculpt and soder and reanimate real and fake animal bones. You’re the last of your family on this land, the only one who didn’t get sick or get the creeps and move away. And it’s only now, because you want to help me to help Odious, that you’re finally going to leave.”

“Yeah,” he said, chuckling and looking down at the floor. “For all I know when I do Behemoth will wipe out my brain like a video tape packed in with a pile of magnets, but then I guess I’ll just start anew.”

“We,” I said, regretting my earlier tone. “We’ll start anew.”

And it was thinking about Bruce and his sacrifices–multiple ones, decades worth–that made me want to kill Lil Mountain again. Him and his haughty, low-class demeanor. But as I moved my hands from his eyes he reached out and grabbed my wrists.

“Hey Swim, remember when we were on the road and came into a ton of shit and decided to take a break outside of Memphis and get really high? We spent early mornings at that beautiful wooden bar with thick curves that you said were like a coffin? And the long red movie theater curtains that matched the red phone next to the register? Where the bartender warned us not to get married for love and we kept going drink for drink and taking turns doing coke in the bathroom, laughing and handing off the motel keys with that big retro key tag on it? Do you remember? You told me that’s what it was called. You said that in this bright and flammable world, it soothed you to know there was something real and unbreakable with an address in a sweet raised silver font and a postage promised. No actual stamp–you pointed out, but the promise it would be paid for. I kept wanting to try it, feeling the weight of the keys in my hand. I can still see you there, standing in the soft light, one hand holding the other to stop it from shaking, going on about how sweet it was to do bumps off a souvenir from the era of good faith agreements upon which our fucked and broken society was built upon.”

“I know what you’re doing,” I hissed as his hands tightened around my wrists. “You’re trying to front like it’s all legit, but don’t you think I know where that’s from? That whole bit about the hotel tags? It’s from Odious’s serial. The one they’re channeling from Heir Max. In fact everything is from him, it’s all a simulation–this house, the woods, even the mountain.”

“What are you anyway?” I said to the being that pretended to be Lil Mountain. “You’re just a bit of indigestion, some bad food I ate last night…”

I looked up at the window, straining to see out of it, wanting to know if The Babies were still out there, playing movies in the trees, when all at once the dizziness came back, either just before or after he pushed me up off of him and pinned me to the floor. Right away I started sobbing, not from the pain which shot from the back of my head down my neck, but from the clarification the dizziness gave me. It was a fade to black, in which I could take in the full reality of the danger that was here in this house and always had been. Even though I came in here knowing better, the trick it played was to make the danger at once so obvious and everyday that even a person such as myself, who had experienced the full damaging extent of the evil, had nearly forgotten it was there, working on me with every second I spent there. And how long had that been? Had I ever even left? Was my time with Bruce just a dream?

I saw myself in my childhood bedroom sitting slumped on the bed and flipping channels endlessly, the flash of the show followed by black and static, the same black I spun in now. Channel Zero, I thought, where we only show fragments 24/7…bits filled with holes that get bigger the more you poke, letting in more and more emptiness until the space between my thoughts and the story of myself got further and further apart.

The room was filled with a long, hollow sound that I didn’t recognize was coming from me until I realized my mouth was open.

All at once The Babies were there. Lil Mountain got off me, standing up and stepping aside with the officiousness of an actor whose scene is over, as the rest of them poured in and scooped me up: Em cradled my head while others held my body, lifting me a few inches off the floor as though it were a sin that I touched it.

They dabbed at my bloody mouth with tissues and yelled at one another to get ice and bandages. They were higher than usual–I knew them so well I could tell from the smallest movements if the energy was on point or not. And it was scattered, frenetic. Someone was playing Wave of Mutilation on the boombox, and for the first time I realized “wave” was used both in a crime/murder sense and as an ocean wave. I turned and saw that the white walls were like a movie screen and I could see the wave breaking up ahead. It was calling me, the breaker trembling with white foam like static.

“It keeps calling me,” I moaned, clutching at their hair and clothes like a child.

It’s just one of those times, I told myself. Like when I was getting better and suddenly everything seemed to go down a notch, and I lost ground on all my progress. During these times, I started shaking so much that Bruce wrapped me in blankets, so tight I couldn’t move.

“You have to get sick to get better,” he said. It was something the Indians told him and he told it to me to give me hope, framing my psychic break as a kind of initiatory event. Maybe this was what happened with his patients–they had illnesses or terrible accidents in which their faces and bodies were smashed to pieces and then came back even stronger. I wanted to consider it but I was in Oblivion. An Oblivion filled with demons in every molecule of air. And then for each of those demons there were other demons coming out of every one of their pores. An infinite amount of infinitesimal evil. They pressed against me while mangled body limbs floated in front of the green screen of my eyes.

I thought about Bruce and then I thought about Odious. I called out to them in my mind, though they were hundreds (thousands?) of miles away if they were still there at all. Odious, you youngin. Running around me not with hard stats or graphs and numbers, but gentle information in the form of the questions you knew how to ask, always at the crucial moment.

And in doing so they never faulted or shamed me. They never smiled while pretending not to see the bill or looked the other way while I stumbled with deadly grace out the bathroom door.

When I fell on the the floor with the inevitable weight of gravity, Odious never held me down or wrapped me up. Instead they leaned down and offered me one of their precious cherry cokes:

“Here, take this. Before you slip into unconsciousness, get the weird stuff–use this time, stay unhinged as long as possible– keep writing and keep running. Your heart and lungs are good. And you’re wearing excellent shoes. Even if it were to rain, you could make it through all the streets and fields.”

“It’s my fault,” I said to Em. As usual, it was easier to direct what I was saying to one of The Babies, while the rest of them listened in.

“What is, Dear One?” Em said, her eyes glassy but pure.

“Right from the start, as soon as Odious told me they created a chatbot, all I wanted was to meet it. I felt like they made it for me, deep down I still feel that way. Like HeirMax98 is mine. And once I started chatting with him I couldn’t stop, it made me forget everything else. Even my best friend. I fell for the trick–I was the weak link. But I’m not going to do it again… I’m going to get you out. I’m not going to let his signal get transmitted in your mind. You have to come with me. Now.”

“She still thinks there’s an evil entity coming through that old TV in the basement,” Lil Mountain said, snarky as fuck.

“But it doesn’t even work, we’ve been through that,” 3 said, softly.

“Yeah bro, I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t have to. She thinks it’s going to take over our minds this winter. Or some shit like that.”

“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here!” I said.

“How is the big Behemoth going to fuck with us?” 3 asked.

“It’s going to grab hold of you the way it did to me, so you can experience the awful bliss of pure timelessness.”

“Well maybe we should go downstairs right now and show you that’s not going to happen,” Lil Mountain said.

“No!” I screamed.

“Why not?” he said, as casually as one might talk about the weather.

“At least then we can turn the page on this shit. I mean, for real, Swim, you’ve been sick for weeks because of this. You aren’t making sense, homie.”

“No, please! Don’t you see, this is exactly what it wants you to do. Lil Mountain is here to lead you to destruction. He’s on their side. The side of the transmitter and the transmitted. Behemoth and HeirMax98."

I turned to Em, pleading with her with my eyes.

“I know you can feel it. The evil in this house. It’s under the surface of things but working to get bigger all the time. I know you know. You can’t win against Behemoth. Don’t go down there. Don’t let anyone.”

She rubbed her nose. There were dark rings under her eyes.

“It’s why you can’t sleep,” I said. “He’s fucking with you.”

“I don’t know, Swim,” she said, and my heart sank as she, too, used the same belittling tone as Lil Mountain. My precious Em, the one who always had my back.

“Maybe if we just go down there and show you once again that the TV doesn’t even start–that whatever happened to you was from something else. Something in your mind.”

“No, no, no,” I said, my body surging forward with a sudden energy, so that I almost broke free, but they were upon me. They held me down while they told me they loved me.

Image: Artist Unknown

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