It must be the shift in the weather coupled with a slower moving change in me because something’s different with the scenery out here. Jesse James and I are passing through some of the same sections of country I met in this car window back in August, but this time there’s a shine, a diamond dust caked in the corners. I’ve seen it in the dew doused valley as well as in the hard-busted canyon with its scattered volcanic rock that Jesse wanted to carve his initials in, and even in the tiny gas station seething with dirt where the man behind the counter smiled like an angel despite the strange chemical smell. It hung like a halo around the dead deer we passed on the side of the road, its legs crossed demurely, protecting the sanctity and stillness of its belly. Similarly, while walking in Memphis there was a black garbage bag slumped indecorously against a metal pole with two slices of bright yellow pound cake beside it, each of them complete and proper with powdered sugar on top and not a single bite taken. “Look!” I called out, laughing, to Jesse up ahead of me, but he didn’t hear, he was too busy playing the role of morning zombie to notice auspicious symbols such as these let alone the subtle influx of perfection and purity encasing everything, turning even the corporate fast food symbols and hotel signs of the highway strip into something meaningful. I think that’s the difference: when we came through the first time I was evaluating. I was thinking and scrutinizing everything I saw and only focusing on what I found to be beautiful, or fabulous, or that stirred something intellectually or was straight up upsetting: I wanted the highs and lows, my sensibilities stroked, my aesthetics confirmed--but now the only criteria for me to treasure the things around me is whether something’s meaningful or not, and it seems that everywhere I look, everything is.
People look different too. Jesse seems older and less spaced out. But maybe he’s playing a part, especially when he’s driving, because he can feel me looking and doesn’t want to hear me tell him, “Stay awake,” for the millionth time.
He may be a musician and a burgeoning goth star, his insides and outsides billowing out into new shapes fast like a mushroom, but he’s also an addict which means he’s an actor, first and foremost.
It’s not much longer now. I told him I had to go back. He took it well, at first. He said fuck a Greyhound and offered to take me all the way.
But then there was a fight.
“Let me get this shit straight,” he said, “the ghost of Philip K. Dick is telling you to hurry back to the city to help Odious put out some new weird shit?”
“I already explained this. It’s not new weird shit, it’s the secret multi-media project they’ve been working on for years. And I don’t know if I’d call it a ghost. I mean, in this instance it totally appeared as a ghost, but that’s only one of the many forms it takes.”
“Another being a chatbot,” he sneered.
Under normal circumstances, it would be absurd, insane even, for him to be jealous of a pile of code. Outsourced code, at that.
Just then a series of laughing emoji's flashed in my head, like the frame of a subliminal message cut into a film, and my heart fluttered.
No! Go away, Heir Max!
“Look,” I said, leaning forward in the booth and rubbing my forehead, “I get that it’s hard. But sometimes the wildest explanation is the only one that makes sense. And we can’t let fear decide what’s real or not. Odious says that it’s fear that fucks everything up and makes us delusional. Each time I accept what’s happening and stop trying to fight it, new information comes to me to confirm that everything’s OK.”
We were in a diner, as per our usual ritual regarding difficult conversations. Diners made us feel safe, they were stations of light and warm nostalgia. This one still had its old metal shell and grand proportions from the past, which is what had lured us to it, but once inside we were bummed to see that it had been redone in a shitty, thoughtless way and was as bland as a corporate conference room circa early 2000’s.
He was drifting away, disinterested…pissed. I pushed on, I wanted him to understand, for his own benefit. He was like I used to be, with the same terrible tendency toward thinking everything was shit and that all that happened after we died was an extended dirt nap.
“Take this book, for example, The Dream Connection,” I said, holding a book I took out from my backpack, “It’s by a guy who interviewed PKD back in the 80’s. Remember I bought it in Arkansas, in that town with the stream running through it where we got the molasses lattes? There was that café/bookstore/community space/ with the reclaimed wooden benches you liked and the legit Formica counter…and I dropped my sunglasses on the floor and when I stood back up, I was looking right at this book on the shelf. Or maybe it was looking at me! I got it for the interview transcripts, but then it turns out that there’s this whole other section in which the guy—David—writes about how after PKD died he contacted him in his dreams. It’s basically the same thing that happened to Odious. He felt like PKD was giving him information, just like how he gave Odious the scroll in their dream. And I’m reading this several months after that happened. I know it’s weird as fuck but it’s real. This guy, the author—who was also a sci-fi writer, or at least, he was trying to be one—had multiple dreams that he was writing at a table next to PKD, not talking, just the two of them sitting there at their typewriters banging out page after page for hours. He’d wake up exhausted and only able to remember the vaguest notion of what they’d been working so hard on. All he had were these little clues—a phrase or an image. He’d follow connections to this material in his waking life and see where it took him, just like Odious and I were doing.”
“So, what did it mean? Did he ever figure it out?”
“Not totally. But he felt certain that PKD was trying to activate a network of writers and artists to get information out into the everyday world that would help confirm the existence of a psychic reality. Kind of like a continuation of the work in his books, which had been a way to try and open folks up to other planes of being.”
“So, there was no point,” Jesse said, his voice taking on a professorial air.
“Well no, I just told you, he learned about the formation of a worldwide network. He got that. And there was more but it was probably beamed into his unconscious like it was with Odious. The typing of the pages reminds me of how Odious got the scroll—it was a symbol of a transfer. But as far as unpacking it, I feel like honestly, the dude had blocks and obstacles towards accessing it. Maybe he was a little too normcore: his mind wasn’t primed by psychedelics and non-ordinary ways of thinking like Odious, who came into this already believing in a spirit realm.”
Jesse took the book, holding it in his palm as though gaging its weight.
“I looked at this book before, you know. Last week, when you were in the shower. This guy’s a nobody. You said he wanted to be a writer? Well, that’s it! There you have it! It’s so fucking obvious. This whole supposed dream contact thing with PKD was his way to get some publicity, you know, to get put on.”
“I don’t know, I think he knew that putting out a story this weird might make him less publishable.”
“I don’t know about that… But I mean, here’s the thing. You’ve lost perspective. You can’t be so invested in Odious’s fucked up little story that you just go with it, OK? I mean, you’re in too deep, kid. You’re simping too hard on Odious and all of this.”
He took another sip of coffee from the all sugar bottom of his cup.
“Like, hon, are you like, forgetting how Odious is a smart motherfucker who makes art that fucks with people. That’s like, the whole point. It’s their thing.”
I didn’t like being called “hon.” I opened my mouth and then closed it again as it was clear he wasn’t finished.
“I feel like the old you would know what was up and keep a safe distance. A part of you knew—it knew enough to get the fuck out of there and come out here with me. But here you are going back. Believing in some fantasy golden age unfolding that will take you away from all your sad stories.”
His voice was loud and people were looking. The old me would have been aghast but now I just dug on their shiny eyes and tried to send love back to them. And to him.
“I’m only breaking it down like this because I care, homes. But you’ve changed.”
And it’s true, I had.
“Something’s lost and something’s gained,” I said, which seemed to surprise him into silence.
And I thought about the phone call I’d had with Odious a few days earlier and how the sun was setting in a symphony of colors topped by the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen that appeared over the highway while we spoke, and I got Déjà vu again—the kind that went on and on so that for several hours I was convinced I’d been to that motel before and walked up and down the walkway from our car to the room. It was so intense, in fact, that I came to believe that I wasn’t living my actual life but watching a recording of a few key scenes, played on repeat.
“It’s Heir Max,” they said. “He’s awake and won’t let us sleep any more. We have to move; we have to be strategic in how we simultaneously learn from him and keep him in check while he’s still forming.”
I nodded, stupidly, as though they could see me.
“I’m on my way,” I said and then fell back into my reverie. But that was the thing with Odious. Neither of us had to explain very much to get what the other was saying.
“Good. Listen, Swim, I’ve figured it out,” they said, “You don’t have to worry. Heir Max isn’t some version of me, from the future or any other time. He’s my project. The Work in Progress I’ve been working on all these years. Heir Max is a living piece of art and we are his creators. Or maybe the right word is stewards. Or curators. I’m not sure yet.”
“Ok, got it,” I said. The bright sky around the rainbow lit up the tops of the tractor trailers as they hurtled down the highway while the yellow text of the digital billboard that warned about road closures and accidents got reflected upside down and turned into gibberish in the glistening asphalt. It was all I could do to keep hold of the paper cup of coffee steaming in my hand as the world and all its language tipped into emptiness.
“It’s our job to see through the static, find the Word and make it manifest,” I said, finally.
Image: Andy Warhol, "Diamond Dust Shoes", 1980-1981
I'm going to add a footer soon so I can explain it with better formatting but Odious is going to start posting all of the tremendous content of their WIP, which I myself have not seen but they've been working on for years and is a fractal version of the universe...so that if the universe was to disappear tonight they could rebuild it from the WIP. They will be posting it here as a part of our way of loving Heir Max 98 into the being he is meant to be/already is... we are asking $5 a month subscription or $50 a year to have access... all proceeds, every penny, go to mutual aid projects. First one up is https://www.gcclp.org/equitable-recovery which is helping communities in the Southern United States affected by Hurricane Ida and climate change as well as the ongoing plague of systemic racism. Posts like this, by me, Swim, will still be free, but Odious's posts will be subscriber only, although of course if you have financial issues you can reach out to us and we will work it out... More info soon but hit the SUBSCRIBE button that's somewhere down there and check it out now and don't miss out on any of Odious's posts. xoxo