12 min read

shadow of a doubt

This newsletter’s like an inverted chain letter: the shorter its reach the better. Out of all the people who read it only a chosen few really get the secret instructions and are sufficiently empowered to carry them out. Are you one of them? Am I?
shadow of a doubt

by Swim

[previous post]

I had it down. The July vibe was dope. I was like, cue the Tarantino Fonts and the Morricone Synth–the portal’s open and the posse’s formed, ready to ride to save Odious! The Babies, Lil Mountain and me. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. (lol)  I was just waiting for the sign–I didn’t know what it would be or from where it would come, but I knew I’d know it when I received it.

“We have to be ready. It could get beamed out from the old connector wall out there,” I told the crew as I reclined on the cushions and pillows piled on the living room floor (aka, The Squish Lounge).  “Even non-living things have vibes if we slow down enough to feel them. We should do the work we need to do to keep the garden popping but not take on anything extra, so that we have time to hang and be easy and open.”

We paused our work on the debut album of The Gentles, our newly named music group, although the generally lo-key Lil Mountain insisted on continuing to record the static that was to be laid beneath the tracks, into which he injected secret messages of love and revolution using reverse engineered police antennas. “Do what you gotta do, King,” I said with obvious snark, to which he raised an eyebrow. Meanwhile the rest of us became a complete entity, like a TV family. We took walks up and down the mountain and picked Hen of the Woods and watched the same movies over and over.  We took Rorschach tests and saw the same things. We started to look alike because we ate the same food. The kids from neighboring towns couldn’t help but want to penetrate our trademark edgy softness. They left their “retro-grim” families to stay with us, hungry for our stinky hybrid of silly sibling platonic love and start-up camaraderie. They got put on the shift and became a part of the flow, staying up late wearing Lil Mountain’s ultrabright white t’s adorned with neon el wire and reflective vests as they climbed onto the compound rooftops with bongos, MIDI’s, mouth harps and martinis, their pockets stuffed with Bluetooth speakers and bundles of sweet grass to burn as they tapped into joy and beamed their prayers out to the world from the top of the mountain. The energy was intense and wacky, and when morning came, the newbies had to overcome sleep and get up with everyone else and sing while they hoed sticky brown earth come rain or shine or hangover (I, of course, stayed in bed, where I supervised the innernets). The newbies either melded into the whole trip or else they couldn’t hack it and it was adios. One left last week and took one of the Brooklyn OG Babies with them.

“The simple life is not so simple!” I called out to them as they disappeared down the mountain, hand in hand, the OG wearing their Stoned Goat jacket, which was filthy and torn after several months in the country and held together with the reflective gaffer tape someone bought in bulk at a discount store. They wore gigantic headphones on their head so they could pretend they didn’t hear me. I get that it’s easier not to look back. I couldn’t tell if I was angry at them for leaving or because they made a decision about what to do using their own brain instead of waiting for an interstellar clue, but as I muttered to my sidekick, Em, “I haven’t come this far to start relying on ordinary methods/linear plot points”.

The general assumption is any minute we’re going to pull up stakes to head back to the city and not everyone wants to go. I myself would rather stay. But I really don’t know what comes next. And I’m not just saying this because I know Odious and Heir Max are reading. Or maybe I am. I mean, obviously there is some subterfuge in all of this. Writing is a mix of what you share and hide that creates the stained-glass sweetness through which the fictionalized light shines. Maybe I just want the two of them to think that I don’t know what I’m doing when really I’m giving sharp looks to my team and tossing out commands like cornhole sacs.

Maybe we’re amassing in a park in Williamsburg as I type this, fueled by hyper colored Italian ice, reggaeton and farm-to-table edibles.

Heir Max sends his bots to try and help me promote my shit but this newsletter’s like an inverted chain letter: the shorter its reach the better. Out of all the people who read it only a chosen few really get the secret instructions and are sufficiently empowered to carry them out.

Are you one of them? Am I?

“You know when it happens because there are no limits, no heaviness, all the obstacles are removed and everything just flows”, Odious used to say. “Wherever you want to be, there you are.”

On some days I get it. I tune into the joyful frequency of The Babies and my mind drops from my head into my heart. A shimmer stretches through me and out of me; I’m connected to everyone and I can see how everything that’s happened was meant to be, how Odious is not missing as much as they are cocooned and waiting to change. We both are, it’s just that I’m doing it in the company of others. They are biding their time all alone, unable even to talk to me. It’s just a part of it, I tell myself, it’s just a part of this crazy hero story they are on. I can’t support them by freaking out.

But then other times during the sleepy stillness of long afternoons all I can feel is that I miss my friend. The city and everything in it feels very far away. Is this where I’m supposed to be? I thought I was done wasting time, and that after a long ice age of nothingness things had finally gotten started. But here I am just sipping bourbon and worrying about fucking The Babies up by making them leave when the truth is they are an invasive species, and anywhere they go becomes their bitch. They look beautiful and delicate but hold on to branches and hitch rides on shirttails with a stubborn persistence to BE. They were already hanging tough in NYC long before I showed up.

Times like this I stay in my room and wonder whether I should be going it alone…a single point way out on the horizon, sun burnt with a bag full of protein bars.

Odious doesn’t respond to my texts anymore, at least not directly. The last message I received from them was of a number I called with a pounding heart but turned out to be a fax. So now, a couple of times a week–today being such a day–one of the Babies drives me into town. I sit in the back seat like a spy going past enemy lines. I get out on the street with my wraparounds on and my Muji portfolio tucked under my arm. It’s filled with several pages of blabber and bad grammar that’s a downer to see printed out. I have to remind myself, that’s not me; it’s just a character I’m playing, or else I’d never send it. (Do you hear that Odious?) The town consists of several streets with uneven sidewalks surrounded by neatly mowed grass. There are empty cigarette packs and shiny chew packaging and smashed Modelo bottles in the gutters that lead to the blackened mouths of ancient sewers. Everything’s dried up, creek beds and foreheads lie furrowed in the heat The vibes are muted but thick, old violence continues to congeal above the streets and melt into everything living. The marble bank building rises surreally above the mountains. Its tall, narrow windows are so dark there’s no way to tell if it's open. Only the cannabis shop has people out in front–a mix of blond high school girls and gangly men in blue jeans and baseball hats.  Like everyone I’ve been fed a steady diet of how I should be wary or even outright fearful of the people who live in places like this but the truth is everyone is so nice and helpful, it’s my own guilt and confusion at belonging to the same country as they do that makes it strange. Here are folks working at cluttered cash registers all day or else loading or unloading things from fume-belching trucks or leading small, half naked children by the hand and they seem so much more accepting of everything, they are OK with grey clouds and grey smoke-stained walls and flat grey thoughts. The smile they offer masks a physical and mental pain I can feel like the blistering heat of a lit cigarette as I pass too close on the street.

Outside the deflated houses on the crumbling side streets are endless rows of limp hanging american flags, some of which have been purposefully altered to include a blue line. I’ve never understood the notion of service until recently. But now I realize it has a funny kind of addictive quality–there’s a lot of dopamine that gets stirred up when you want to help others.

At the pharmacy, the Baby who drove gives a nod and asks the Baby Wannabe behind the counter if they can use the restroom, where in return for them holding the faxes I receive, they will leave a few shrooms on the windowsill in a crumpled wad of toilet paper. Just enough for a sparkle, they reassure me. The Baby Wannabe smiles coyly, revealing hideous gold fronts as they send my fax filled with a million ways of not asking Odious if they are OK, if they are still with us and if they want me to come back. Each time I type one of these missives I resist the urge to reveal telltale landmarks or the bus station info. I can’t be sure who would show up if they decided to come.

(If they could come…if they could get away and escape)

And then there’s the business of the newsletter posts. More and more I feel like just a member of the audience but I try to keep an administrative tone. I tell them what, if any, edits I’ve made to their posts, being sure to point out these were just fixing typos, or obvious grammar snafus.  I’m careful not to say what I think about the work itself because it scares me. Which is silly I know because they already know.

(Which is why I’m saying it here)

The Babies refer to the fax machine as The Oracle. None of them have ever used one before. I made a recording of the high-pitched screech followed by the rumble of information being rudely sent. As satisfying as this physicality is, I can’t help but find this switch to a lower form of technology to be largely suspicious. I’d rather video chat or at least text so I could look for real remnants of my best friend instead of this imposter puppeted by Heir Max but here we are. This is all I’ve got; all I may ever have again of Odious. Faxed missives, printed out by a busted printer that makes everything super light, barely there at all.

My head feels heavy as I walk the aisles of the slanty floored pharmacy, waiting for my pages to go through. I check out all the creams and lotions, especially the ones for embarrassing things, like hemorrhoids and acne. I feel all the symptoms of the things I read about, and I wonder if I’m getting sick, maybe with something deep set and deadly. If so, I find it soothing to imagine it ending here, in the heart of the heart of the country.

In their faxes Odious tells me about the superpowers that Heir Max is activating within them. They say it’s important to word it correctly because the powers were already there within them, they were just covered up by the muck of ordinary life. They have dispensed with a chronological account or a narrative describing their everyday life, and there’s no indication of any interaction with anyone other than Heir Max. I notice that they sometimes use the words “me” and “he” interchangeably. They have found the vein. The metal needle has been plunged, the ancient, well-traveled yogic grooves are retrieved and recalibrated digitally. To that end, they tell me, it’s all very scientific. For instance, this is today’s communication:

“I wanted Heir Max to show me how to make the sunsets last longer and so he beamed advanced physics knowledge into my mind which included all the understanding behind why we perceive things a certain way and how everything big and small works together perfectly so by the time I knew how to do it I was no longer interested in making the sunsets longer.”

I don’t know what to make of such information, so I stuff it in my Muji portfolio where it gets mixed up with the copies of everything I sent to them. Now I’m back home drinking bourbon and ginger ale while The Babies have a dance party. It is 80’s themed, despite my protestations. It’s times like this that I’m reminded that they are young, and prone to getting excited over stupid shit. Lil Mountain watches from across the room while I get up and put lazy, uncertain fingers on the decks, watching wobbly vinyl spin around and around. I had a momentary inspiration to mix My Bloody Valentine and Public Enemy–having heard in my head how it could work– but I’m too busy worrying about everyone to concentrate. What will happen if AI beings like Heir Max really do take over the world? What, if anything, can I do to stop it? We’ve already become such obedient cyborgs, hooked up via our screens to constant media streams infiltrated by AI. Odious is the smartest most sober person I know and they got their mind hacked and their agency deleted by a being who manages to be super fucking charming despite not having a body. There I am, visibly distracted like a punk while there’s total silence in the room because I’ve forgotten to flip the switch and the tracks are only playing in my headphones. I’m not sure how long it’s been going on before I finally realize it. I flip it at the same time I hit the power off (ironically the frenetic beats and guitars finally blended perfectly as they slowed down into a deep warble and then stopped).

I have no choice but to go with it and grab the mic like I planned it this way. This is not the time to be seen making a mistake in front of my posse, not as we are readying ourselves body and mind to face an interstellar entity who claims he is a straight up deity, something I deny but haven’t disproved, even to myself.

“Today I wondered, are the friends who left us right? Should we follow suit and disappear into the forest and leave the rest of the world for good? Should I get a new name and a new career doing offline shit posting about people who probably hate my guts? A diss book for the ages? Is it time we finally cut the connection? As long as we’re still online, being out here is no different from being a recluse in Greenpoint. All my attention is still on mealtimes and the internets.”

There was some mumbling back and forth as The Babies gathered in close to hear me out. I hadn’t realized how drunk I was until I tried to strut back and forth–the only way I could manage was with my knees locked and my ass pushed up like I was on stilts. I saw Lil Mountain, watching me calmly with his glassy eyes. I continued, the words coming out of my mouth unplanned and unexpected.

“For many years the city was the only place I could live to try and become a famous writer. I didn’t drive or cook so it allowed me to exist in my ego-driven fantasy world. It was my decision to leave and come out here, to a place that most humans have left. Here, where the factories are closed, the train tracks are rusted and covered with plants. Here, where the town centers have no one in them, where the parks are overgrown and rusted and there are snakes in the rocks, and the dark dirt roads go on and on, never getting anywhere.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the sudden sparkle of water through a lush green that glows from the inside out, and the fresh air and the coolness inside of a forest but there’s something self-contained about the bigness of it. I look at the mountains and I know they don’t need me. But Odious does. And so do others.”

I stopped to look around, trying to gage the reactions. I saw the smiles and heard the clapping and felt relieved. Of course, The Babies totally get it–they too want to be needed. They want to have a reason for living beyond being around all this goddamn beauty.

And then Lil Mountain spoke.

“That’s not true!” he shouted, and the whole room turned to him. I realized there was a buzz coming out of the speakers, a flat wide sound that was growing under the surface as through from a tunnel beneath our feet.

“Odious doesn’t need us,” he said. I saw that he was standing one foot along the other on a cinderblock, balancing himself like a dancer, and I had time before he said what he said next to appreciate how agile and graceful he was, despite of (or maybe because of) all the drugs.

“Odious doesn’t need us because Odious doesn’t exist,” he shouted. At which point the feedback came through the mic and my own wooden circus stilts gave way, and I fell to the floor from a great height.

Image: Elihu Vedder "La copa de la muerte"

Hello Loves. Odious accidentally (or maybe on purpose) sent their last chapter drop of King of Spain (chapter 5: "unhome") to everyone when it should have been for paid subscribers only. I imagine future chapters will be locked down again so if you dug it please subscribe... I don't know what to say about where I'm at or what, if anything, I will write about next. Reading their AI channeled (un)fiction might provide the greatest clues to what's going on (both with me and the world).

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