This is Chapter 10 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 10 we return to Casper, a former writer and weed delivery guy who finds himself inexplicably lying by the river on the Williamsburg waterfront, unable to get back to his beloved bar, The Roses, until something happens that leads him to find the other three who are sharing this strange and nightmarish experience.
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All four of us are writing down our versions of what’s happening, the goal being to find commonalities and clues in our accounts, though I can’t help but to secretly hope against hope that these messages will find their way out past The Curator and his filters. Trust, that if such a miracle has indeed happened, and a real live human is reading this frantic missive, I promise that what follows is my best attempt to describe what went down as plainly as possible, leaving behind my former literary ambitions in favor of something real. Maybe the only real thing I’ve ever written–certainly the most important.
Check it: here’s the part about how I found the others. I was lying in the grass by the river on a beautiful sunny day. I must have woken up from a dream, but I didn’t remember going to sleep or being at the river. I didn’t remember waking up. I was just–there, all the way past the paved path, sprawled out, arms akimbo like a child or a fiend. Last thing I remembered I was at The Roses, but that was unclear. I hadn’t blacked it out–I just couldn’t tell what was real and what was a dream. It had something to do with the guy sitting next to me, the young shit-talking homie who eventually revealed his ghoulish, eyeless face. It was the same or similar face I’d seen in a dream I had months earlier on the night The Roses opened up again. So I was dealing with a dream that connected back to an earlier dream. An uncanny slippery thing.
I rubbed my eyes and looked around at happy, delirious, Brooklyn: joggers and bikes zoomed by while moms and babies rolled slowly past and dogs sniffed each other’s butts. But what was really tripped out were the millions of tiny waves in front of me flashing electric white. Was this what the river always looked like? Jesus Christ, it was like I’d been dropped out of the sky. As the shame of how hardcore wasted I must have been the night before filled me with dread, I took a panicky stock of my shit. Thank god the serv bag was there. I could feel the hard edge of the film canister inside and reassured myself that most, if not all, of the product would still be there when I checked later. I located my phone, keys and wallet. Upon inspection, my clothes were generally clean. My teeth were present and my nose wasn’t smashed or encrusted with drugs. My mouth was dry and my head hurt a little–but nothing beyond the usual morning hangover. A bigger one must still be on its way. How long had I been here?
I closed my eyes and tried to pull up what I could about the night of The Roses reopening, when I went home and first dreamt of the eyeless face. That too, had been a blurred out evening, in which dreams and reality seemed to overlap. At the time, I chalked it up to being wasted, but now I wasn’t sure. Anyway, here’s the thing: when I focused on the memory of the eyeless face it seemed that it was really there in the here and now–sitting and waiting for me in my thoughts. I could swear I saw its forehead twinge, as though a pair of invisible eyebrows raised in response to my questioning presence–my presence in my own thoughts! I snapped my eyes open and gripped the grass around me, my fingertips digging into the warm damp soil. The sky was reflected inside the dazzle of the river, a picture in picture, pulling me in. Each time I blinked there was darkness within which the face loomed. He was after me. I tried to keep my eyes open as much as possible. The feeling the face caused was so extreme it blanked out any sense of agency, making me wonder if I’d ever had any to begin with.
But I’m the one who lifts this arm, I declared to myself, with a nervous laugh. My heart pounded and my stomach clenched as I struggled for composure and instead fell into a void. It only lasted a few minutes, but seemed far longer. Reality was a vast, infinite space that shot off in every direction. Dear Reader, I must emphasize that my mind itself was steady. It observed with horror that suddenly there was nowhere and no one to be. There was nothing to hold on to. I was a nameless, shivering clump of flesh and hair and thoughts. The world slid past like a pixelated waterfall in a video game. I grasped at familiar, sturdy sights–people and children, asphalt and garbage cans. But everything looked too generic–too clean. Clothes were very plain and conspicuously free from logos. I didn’t see a single sports jersey or cap. It was like an indie movie set with copyright concerns. What’s more, bodies themselves were long, gangly–ears looked pointed and eyes were too shiny. Even my own hands looked familiar but then also not, like alien claws on a filthy alien body filled with mechanisms and microorganisms and vampire viruses competing for my blood.