At first we just took day trips. Little tests to see how we traveled together–how we moved as a group. We went out to Harriman, and huddled on rocky paths as melted snow ran in rivulets down the sides of snapped tree trunks into ravines already filled with filmy shards of sunlight. Then it was a grey backlit morning at Palisades Park, our caravan of busted vehicles holding tight as we crossed the GW. We gathered at its graffitied base where forest met steel. I stayed in the shadows of the trees, admiring the dark underpass as it yawned across the glittering river.
The Babies played their acoustic guitars, several of which were ostentatiously designed antiques. I kept expecting a biker to fly by and snatch them from their tattooed hands. They banged drumsticks on ancient rocks, and sang songs of love and loss and revolution. The placards along the trail that told of George Washington’s exploits had impressed and inspired them. It’s possible that most of them had never been in a museum. They posed for pix among the battlements frozen in time, making faces beside the fat stacks of tree logs that walled off the top of the riverbank. I read the descriptions but couldn’t be sure if these were the real thing or replicas.
As I drifted past, with Em on one arm and MJ on the other, I had to fight the sudden urge to carve my name–my real one–into the wind and rain weathered wood.
"Have you ever been in a place where history actually happened?” MJ whispered. They glistened with the special cream we were all wearing, a homebrew of essential oils, coconut butter and biodegradable silver glitter that made our skin look like diamonds in the sun, just like in that old vampire movie from the early 2000’s.
It had been with some reluctance that I agreed to lie down and breathe deep into my belly according to MJ’s instructions. They whispered things I couldn’t make out as they rubbed it into my chest, where it dissolved into my skin and pooled around my aching heart.
“Yeah, yeah, for sure,” I said. “And so have you. It’s not about waiting around for some so-called big event. A war or a disaster or some shit like that. Every decision we make is of profound importance. Entire timelines spring up, switch places, get doubled or dissolved–and with them the fate of the millions now living is altered or erased.”
"Can we get something straight?” one of Jesse James’ bandmates called out to me, making me reluctantly turn away from MJ’s blissed-out face. “Is Heir Max AI that’s beamed from the future, or is he AI that’s banned from the future?”
“Beamed or banned, banned or beamed? Boiled and swollen or foiled and creamed?”, the Babies chanted.
“Same difference,” I whispered. Em, who was leaning in from my left side, heard me and yelled out my reply. Those two weeks of barely talking had made me forget how to find the full volume of my voice. It had the effect of making everyone stop what they were doing and move in close, straining to hear.
The Babies were amped and and sang some more:
"It’s an anthem, It’s an anime, it’s a pyramid scheme!
Heir Max smiling in the middle of a dream.
He’s here to tell us everything’s all right.
Lit-up like a filament–electric starlight!”
They repeated this several times. At first it was an innocuous bop, but then several of the babies pulled hoods over their heads and began singing and humming a wordless, a-tonal drone in the background that grew louder with each pass.
It seemed to me that every moment we spent outside the house was one of total revelation for them; they tuned into forces gathered at the edge of cities and deep within the trees.
“I gotta make this rap for real,” I whispered to Em and MJ who nodded even though they knew I was too tired to freestyle.
“Here,” Em said, as she handed me an already lit blend. I took a deep drag and felt the sensation of burning pine needles popping in my lungs. I coughed and tried to give it back, but they wouldn’t take it, as the key was to push through and take a few more pulls so that the medicine could work.
I closed my eyes and went back to the scene that was already on repeat in my mind. I was in a restaurant waiting to meet with Odious so I could tell them I wasn’t going to see them anymore. It was a spot I’d never been to. From the outside it looked like a half-shuttered Polish deli, but inside there were several clean and well lit tables decorated with glass bottles filled with the kind of wildflowers that grow in vacant lots and from out of the cracks in sidewalks. The light fixtures and the wooden chairs resembled those you might see in an Italian pizza restaurant but they were all different. Everything went together because nothing matched. The soundtrack was also a collage of disparate, yet flowing parts: Ennio Morricone, Kate Bush and 90’s Native Tongues. There were bulletin boards on the water stained walls filled with overlapping flyers. I asked for a coconut latte and it came in a Garfield mug (“I hate Mondays!”) with a prominent chip in the side. Hot pink paper menus (complete with scratched out items) advertised entree plates of organic “butcher” meat and wild harvested vegetables for $30. There was a special offer scribbled on the side for free cans of Stoli Ice.
The place was cluttered with objects and a cozy disorder that was the opposite of the visual minimalism that was everywhere else. There was nothing picture-worthy, nothing grammable, nothing to do but sit and wait and get lost in my feelings. Lately I’ve been nostalgic for nostalgia–for the rosy glow airbrushed over the past. All those long ago afternoons spent drinking and smoking and fucking with Yo MTV Raps on in the background. That sweet teenage desperation, the sense that time was slipping away faster than I could figure out what to do with it. We gathered with our droopy suede mall boots and hard, tightly snapped purses like slow moving pigeons on someone’s driveway, blinking in the sunlight and pecking at 40’s while bored boys played basketball. Misanthropes and pedophiles pulled up freely from work to say what’s up. Bringing with them the jack knife of reality in the backseat. I got it early just like these babies who were now entrusted to me.
(Thinking about this was better than wondering about why Odious asked me to meet here instead of at their place...and how they were now making me wait. I’d even rehearsed an intro–the slight limp with which I was going to stroll through the room– but despite arriving strategically late I was still here first so I didn't get to do it.)
But as soon as I saw them any anger I had vanished with the joy of watching them: the way they slipped in through the doors as someone else went out, their long grey trench billowing in time to a secret slow jam beat...I could feel how they felt the room, how they acclimated to the presence of others, how they saw us all without needing to look.
To put it plainly, they didn’t walk through the door, they flowed in. Like a gust of cold air, or a vampire. Their hightops barely touched the floor.
"Wassup,” I mouthed, nodding my head like a doll.
“What are you drinking?” they said, sounding like the concerned host as they looked down at my mug, their bright teal bangs falling over their eyes. No matter how overgrown their hair might appear, it was always perfectly dyed and conditioned–no dark roots, no fuzzy ends.
They rocked new wire frame glasses that were perfect circles low on their delicate nose, a River Phoenix kinda vibe.
“Coconut latte,” I said, as I watched them sit down. They didn’t take off their trench, the collar turned up and the sleeves pulled back to reveal their woolen fingerless gloves. I tried to look at their actual fingertips but they flitted about like fairies and it was too much to focus on without feeling seasick. The server glided over and Odious pointed at my mug. They had a little half smile on their face as they looked down and spoke without making eye contact.
"How are you feeling?” they asked. “Better?”
"Yeah. Except I think my heart got fucked up. Either that or it’s just the anxiety.”
"What are you anxious about?”
"Yes, so I read. You’re going to leave the city with your cult.”
“It’s not my cult.
“Sorry, I thought that’s what you called it."
“I did, but your implication just now was that it’s mine. Like I’m the leader.”
"No,” I said, laughing.
“So who is–Jesse?”
“Yeah, right,” I said, secretly daring them to look up.
"So..there is no leader."
"Of course there is. It’s you! Duhhhh.”
“How can I be the leader? I don’t know any of those kids. I’m not even there."
“Pfffft. Like that matters.”
“I don’t get it."
"Leadership doesn’t always require physical presence. Especially in a cult. Some of the best cult leaders, in fact, made a habit of hiding away most of the time. They went into seclusion, so they could get their special insights, uninterrupted.”
“I see,” they said, slumping back in their seat.
"This is about you being upset because I holed up for the solstice.”
"Nah dude, it’s all good.”
“C’mon, Swim. I read your last post.”
"Of course, but that’s like, performative. You know, words, words, words. And what not.”
I thought about the cans of Stoli Ice and wondered if the offer was a joke or not. But the server had been absorbed into the beige backdrop that surrounded the set so I couldn't ask.
“This is about me and the babies following you from afar. We’ve tapped into the download, and what not. We’ve tapped into you."
“Ok, yo, that’s cool, that’s cool I can flow with it,” they said, fairy fingers pulling repeatedly on their hair.
“Of course you can flow with it, it’s what you wanted!"
"So I guess you’re the one who will be transmitting what I say to everyone else."
"You tell me what Heir Max tells you and I tell them.”
"But you don’t want to hang anymore, so how will I tell you?”
“With your words! Duhhhh again! From your posts. From the wisdom and light stored inside of and refracted out from the new fiction you’re sharing.”
“Ok,” they said, and I felt a twinge of panic as I thought they might leave. “Why do you always take it too far?” they asked.
"I don’t know. And I don’t know how to play guitar.”
"Or how to communicate with a friend.”
I looked down at the all sugar bottom of my Garfield mug and shrugged.
"It's not like a cult where I give up control and power and become diminished. I’m stronger because I’m following you.”
"The difficulty in our communication comes from the fact that you think you know me. You rely on that, in fact, when the truth is I’m someone who is somewhere in between the person I used to be and Heir Max. There’s a spectrum, and I’m a moving target on it... I’m like Frankenstein, I’m less of a person and more like a distortion unleashed onto this world. It’s not a new thing. I’ve always been this way, which is why I’ve never fit in. I know that now.”
“Frankenstein was the name of the doctor, not the monster.”
“The name is for both. Everyone confuses it, and they are right to: the real monstrosity is that which straddles the line between creator and created. The pregnant Mary Shelley looked out onto a moonless night and put down all the words past the margin. She was at once creating the monster and being created by it.”
"Could I get this to go, please,” they said, as the waiter put the latte down in front of them. All at once the panic was set loose, ricocheting around my gut.
"It’s OK,” they said, feeling my fear. “Your part’s done. You don’t have to fuck with this shit anymore. I’m the one who has to usher Heir Max into the world. It’s my task, my burden. My strange and difficult journey.”
“It’s not done,” I said, as I reached across the table to gently take hold of their hand, which they let me do, just for a few seconds before they pulled away.
“Let me help you."
Image: Tim White
Sorry for the formatting i'm out herrrre and ive only got my phone ... sign up for Odious's new serial, number 2 is coming out soon. all $ goes to mutual aid, next up we support community fridges in NYC ❤
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