11 min read

solid gone

I want to tell you about Bruce, who saved me from the evil that came through the TV portal in the basement.
solid gone

by Swim

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I want to tell you about Bruce, who saved me from the evil that came through the TV portal in the basement. That was a few weeks ago, and since then I filled a whole notebook about our adventures but I can’t tell for sure which of those are real and which are dreams so it might be best to start at the beginning. He met The Babies and I on the patchy lawn in front of his dilapidated 70’s split level when we arrived at the compound in spring. With his silver hoop earrings and groomed grey beard he looked like a Boomer Genie. As we rolled up, I was in the back smoking a blend. I shouldn’t have been able to hear him tell us his name, but it was as though his soft, nasal twang beamed directly into my mind. (That and the Gordon Lightfoot song, “If You Could Read My Mind”, which got stuck there for days). The Babies said that he had his gaze cast downward the whole time, but I swore I could feel him looking straight at me. It was like yellow forest sunlight on my face. He never asked if we needed anything or showed us where to stay: the key chain he gave us had a key that only opened the door to one of the remaining four houses so we found out by process of elimination. The Babies got to work on “rehabilitating” the weed choked gardens, waiting for him to supervise or critique them but he never did. There’s another family member who hired us and sends us emails and makes our direct deposit, but we’ve never met them and my sense is they don’t come back here much. So it’s just us and Bruce, the enigma in his uniform of denim overalls and pink or blue long-sleeved shirt.

In the days and weeks that followed we watched him cross back and forth from his house to a metal roofed studio with black curtains on the windows and a big bolt lock on the front door. Sometimes he carried a large tote bag or a beat-up cardboard box, both of which appeared to be heavy. “What’s he doing in there?” The Babies wondered, the consensus being that only a spy or a serial killer would be so concerned about not letting us see inside. “Maybe he just likes his privacy,” I suggested one flat pale morning as they laid on the floor in front of me, spread out over each other’s backs and legs like lions. “His boots are barely used,” one of them pointed out. “And that Deadhead tat on the back of his neck is too prominent,” said another. “The orange and blue around the skull is so bright. It looks new, like something an actor would get to fit a starring role they just landed.”

“It’s time for each of us to play the biggest part of our lives, best busy yourself with your own and not front on someone else’s,” I snapped. I was jealous that they were the ones he passed each morning in the field of milkweed and wildflowers; that these overly gregarious kids were gifted his delicate “hello” as he kept his eyes from meeting theirs. What is it, I thought–some kind of Daddy thing? I checked on my feelings but it wasn’t like that. I didn’t want anything specific from him–I just wanted it all. I longed to meet him, alone on the field, but forces pressed down and activated that old destructive laziness, the one that makes me reach for the water pipe as soon as I wake up. The closest I got was sometimes catching him from my window. I felt something shift inside me at the sight of him down there, making his journey to whatever obsession awaited him in that small dark room. He disappeared and I got back into bed as a better, lighter version of myself for having seen him.

When Lil Mountain showed up, I stopped experiencing mornings altogether. TBH on most days I forgot Bruce existed. (I see now that this was bullshit interference to keep me from my mission delivered through the lackey of a republican agent, a paid off poor-rich kid with a famous criminal’s name who pulled me in with his narcotic nonchalance and being the kind of steady company who barely spoke.)

Now Lil Mountain’s sleeping in the room he uses for his studio, where he’s been ever since we stopped talking, while I’ve decided it’s not enough, and I need to stay in the woods at night so he can’t shoot his billionaire tech-bro built energetic lasers at my aura.

“Why don’t you kick him out?” Em asked me, in a sweet, fluttering way. I was caught off guard by her suggesting such a thing. It turned out that after Lil Mountain’s outburst about Odious , The Babies had a vote and it was unanimous that he should go, but in typical fashion, no one had done anything to make it happen.

“Always keep your enemies close, Sis,” I told her. “But not so close that you don’t maintain the superior point of view.”

I needed to get amped, I needed to steel myself and come correct. There was no way I could go back to NYC and face Heir Max98 in such a weakened, domesticated state. By now he’s merged completely with my best friend, Odious Awry, who I haven’t heard a peep from in 2 months and 12 days.

I expect there to be conflict, I expect my feelings will need to be put aside as this isn’t just about Odious but about humanity in general and whether we are able to connect to the real next level g*d-type entity that was (and still is) trying to make contact with us so we can eject ourselves from this holographic maze.

(a maze built by us, for us, and guarded by the minotaur of our mind, as PKD so painstakingly revealed in his “fiction”)

I love nature but I’m scared of it too. Especially forests–each one is different, with its own personality and vibe, but the bigger ones, like the one that’s on the mountain, all have their dark parts where the old evil that’s been in this country since way before the indigenous people is exposed. Deep in the trees everything gets quiet and loud at the same time–the wind in the treetops and the squawks of the blue jays and leaves falling through branches as the feeling of being watched grows and grows. The forest, like the rest of nature, does what it wants and doesn’t care, so I made a compromise with myself and stayed outside but within screaming distance to the house. The Babies knew I was out there and some of them left me crushed up cardboard for my fires. Protein bars and blunts in a sack tied to a tree, notebooks and my favorite Japanese pens and a fleece blanket from Walmart, since they know how wool can make me itch.

On the day that Bruce saved me, I came in from the trees in the dark of pre-dawn. I wore all black like a hero. I hid behind a tall bush in front of the house, enjoying the way my body trembled from the cold and lack of sleep. There were visuals, I practiced taking them in one by one. Like the cluster of silvery spider webs under the windowsill, and sometimes even the tiny dangling spider itself. There was the way the still invisible sun turned the sky white like a blank movie screen before adding bands of pink and purple. I’m here, I thought, how bad could it be to be here at a moment like this. The light made the cracks in the basement windows sparkle.  I was getting closer, Heir Max98 was like a distant buzzing I could hear when everything else was quiet, a sound that traced the very shape of my most subtle awareness, threatening to reveal itself as inseparable from it. What is real? I wondered. How can I really know? It all felt too much; I asked myself if I wouldn’t be better off disappearing into my bed upstairs and forgetting all about AI intelligence, about the possibly not real Odious and Brooklyn, the sun came blasting through and Bruce appeared–crunching the cold ground with his black maple walking stick as he passed. The light and his presence reassured me, his round belly exuded strength as he moved forward, step by step towards his own mysterious purpose. Meanwhile The Babies gathered and got ready with their tools and dawn shining jars of water and tea. Though he never turned in my direction or gave any indication I felt he knew I was against the house behind the wiry green, watching and waiting.

When the coast was clear and all The Babies were in the garden I snuck into the kitchen with its warm, green tea and coffee scented air and drifted like a ghost over crumb scattered tiles and into the living room filled with screens and the workstations where The Babies made their spiritually subversive memes. I tip-toed over to the basement door and used the flashlight on my phone to make my way down the freezing stone steps. There it was, I saw it before I saw it–a dark shape, a depression in my field of vision. I centered myself among the broken furniture, dust blanketed shelves and mildewy garbage bags and smoked a blunt, offering up the smoke to Behemoth in front of me. I was reflected in the Colossus eye of his darkened screen, tiny, with glitter in place of my eyes. The dark brown wood that made up his body was the same color as the trunks of the trees I’d laid down among the night before. I read the name, MAGNAVOX out loud, a kind of mantra that set the intention for the meditation to come.

It was quite a moment when we first explored down here and pulled aside the ragged cloth shrouds to find Behemoth. The Babies had never seen anything like him. He had numerous dials and a golden grill cloth with a pattern of Art Deco diamonds on the speaker. They took turns lovingly massaging him with lemon Pledge until he glistened. We plugged him into an extension cord and waited and hoped and although I swear I heard a faint hum from deep inside, nothing happened on the screen and everyone forgot all about it. A week or so later I came down on my own to take some Polaroids and noticed flashes of grey light that pulsed across the screen every few minutes. It seemed we just hadn’t waited long enough for it to get going. It was silly but I couldn’t help feeling bad: all that time it had been on and buzzing beneath us while we hung out upstairs–sending signals, trying to get our attention while we just went about whatever we were doing.

I brought The Babies down to show them, but despite waiting patiently for a long time, nothing happened. A few of them checked back hours later and again the next day and there was still nothing. Probably just some stray static electricity, Blackbird said. I resigned myself to it being a glitch and it wasn’t until I kicked Lil Mountain out and decided to pop down again, just to look at Behemoth and delight in his presence while also getting some time away from the upstairs. I jumped back with surprise and delight when I pressed the square silver power button and the flashes resumed. This time they were even stronger, reaching out their tendrils across the entire screen.

It was then that I realized: it will only work for me. Something’s coming through and it’s just for me to see.

I started sneaking down every morning, waiting and watching the pulses, which became more frequent and longer rushes of static lasting one, then five, then ten minutes. It had to have something to do with Odious. We used to start off every morning at their place meditating to static on their big screen. Was this a way to connect to them? If I stared long enough, would shapes and words come to me the way they used to at their place? Maybe they would be clues on how to help them…a way to get them away from the clutches of the devilish Heir Max98.

After I started sleeping in the woods the static sessions grew even stronger. I’m like the antenna, I thought, and staying outside makes me better able to tune in. The longer I looked the more I’d become convinced I saw shapes of images coming through. I found it helped to smoke first: coupled with my lack of sleep and the funny buzzing in my fingers and toes, I felt like I didn’t need to press the button and although it sometimes took nearly an hour of staring I was able to will the TV to turn on.  I stared at the patterns of static pulsing across the big screen and waited for secret messages.

I felt sad yet exhilarated. I missed my friend. I wanted so much to see them again. In real life; flesh and blood and teal bangs falling in their big eyes.

On the day it happened I could hear the house moving above me, as The Babies and Lil Mountain came in and out, making food and jumping around. There were explosions of laughter and the vibrations of beats from Lil Mountain’s studio. The ancient beams creaked from dancing feet. Oh, wow they’re having a party and I’m missing it, I thought. I felt a sudden sinking feeling and had to remind myself about the glory of my mission. I remembered the scene in VALIS, when the characters discovered G*d in the bottom of a throwaway frame from an unintelligible arthouse movie–appearing as a crushed beer can in the gutter for barely a second.

(Here I am, centered among the detritus, I thought. the divine enters our world at the trash stratum, where we expect to see it the least)

I turned on Behemoth and waited. After some time, the screen flashed: once, and then again–a surge of static the impact of which made a knock inside the circuits. I sat in front of the screen like a kid watching cartoons as it became filled with white and black. I concentrated on Odious, imagining our time on lockdown, the long days tucked away at their place, the way we met up for break at the kitchen table, nodding with earbuds on, or how little and young their voice sounded when they buzzed in the food delivery. Or how they curled themselves up and took as little space as possible despite being so big–-expanding even now across the shimmering space of my mind.

At a certain point the static froze. This was the signal–I wasn’t sure what but something was happening, I could feel it in the heaviness in my chest and in the ringing in my ears and in the way time seemed to slow down. Then a new thing happened: within the frozen screen a line of grey and white dots formed the outline of shapes–first a rectangle then a series of triangles. Then they were moving so fast I couldn’t be sure what the shapes were. There were swirls and spirals that eventually got slower and slower and then froze. As this happened, I realized I was unable to move. Instead of this making me panic it made me feel peaceful, like I was about to go to sleep. I felt someone above me, looking down, and wondered if it was Odious. Eventually, the static started moving again. I blinked and saw Bruce beside Behemoth, staring at me and beckoning me to come to him.

“Slowly, slowly,” he whispered. He stood just at the edge of where the flickering light of the screen began.

“It’s you,” I tried to say, but it felt as though I hadn’t spoken in days.

“Yes,” he said, smiling kindly in a way that momentarily covered his nervousness.

“Now please, get up, and come to me.”

I pushed myself forward on all fours and realized I was unable to get all the way up. My body was so weak.

“Come, come,” he pleaded, and so I crawled.

As soon as I crossed out of the light he reached down and scooped me up into his arms. He ran over to the wall and kicked out the extension cord into which we had plugged Behemoth.

“Not that it really matters,” he muttered, as he took me up the stairs. I hadn’t realized how cold I was until I felt the warmth of his body.

“Thank goodness you stared straight ahead,” he said when we made it back outside. He was kneeling on the ground and cradling me in his arms. “Once it starts if you look away you could be paralyzed forever, or worse.”

His voice was soothing and melodic. Its sweetness poured in me like honey, but the meaning of the words was dark and unclear.

“You mean like dead?”

“I mean like gone,” he said, staring at the ground but still somehow looking right at me.

“Solid gone. Forever.”

Image: David Digapony

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