This is Chapter 11 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 strange entity they call, "The Curator". Chapter 11 is told to us by Casper, who has been taken in by the others as they slowly realize that they are likely the only remaining human denizens of The Grid--the surreal zone they are confined to at the North Brooklyn waterfront. Casper has decided to travel back to the bar The Roses, on the hunch that things are normal there, risking memory loss and the possibility that he will "fall" into another dimension of reality and never make his way back, at least not as a full-fledged human.
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“It’s me, Casper,” I whispered to myself. I do this when I feel my thoughts flitting about, moving just out of reach. It’s a tool I learned from the others. They’re always repeating their own and one another’s names, often preceded by a pause as they struggle to pull it up in their hazy minds. It makes for some clunky conversations, but it’s important, a way to stave off forgetting. Our memory melts away a little more each time we go to sleep or accidentally fall off The Grid. It was just the other day when I witnessed the latter. We were at our usual spot at the river’s edge, sitting close together and practicing our lines when Eden got up to use the park bathroom, a thin slot of dingy darkness across the grass. She made it part way before she lurched to one side and then the other, the force of the movement nearly causing her to fall. I jumped up but Dean and Nada grabbed me.
“You could get pulled in as well!” Nada hissed. All we could do was keep an eye on Eden as she stumbled away, coughing and waving her hands, as though accosted by invisible bees. It was only a few minutes to us but to her it felt like forever. And maybe it was: one of our theories is that for whatever reason this place where we find ourselves–The Grid– is full of cracks: tiny infinities that open up suddenly between normal moments.
“Wherever that place is that we fall, one thing’s for certain–it’s not an escape route, it’s more like throwing a gutterball. Only in this case instead of the lane being straight, it actually curves in space and forms a circle.” That’s what Dean says, and he’s the one who got free first; he’s the one who knows.
The three of them called themselves The Last. They’ve got a lot of theories, a lot of hunches, but very few actual facts to explain our situation.
I only fell the one time, on the day I found the others. I was nameless and gasping, drifting untethered like a ghost over grass and pavement. That is, if what’s around us is actually grass or pavement or just clever fake versions of those things, like the concrete streams and styrofoam hills among the hay and sewer pipes of a zoo.
Or the cityscape across the river that fades into the flatness of what looks like painted backdrops. I stare and then take a break and stare again, but I can never tell what is real.
(And all the while he’s out there, looming even larger in his recent invisibility. That none of us see him anymore is at once great and terrible and beyond comprehension, like everything else)
“The other two think of it as a dream place,” Nada told me shortly after I arrived. “A nightmare, to be exact. But to me it’s the opposite. The world we came from was the dream, and the place we go to when we fall off The Grid is the swirling nothingness that’s the real reality, the one that’s usually hidden.”
“But what’s The Grid itself, Nada?” I asked. “Where are we right now? Some kind of in between zone like a movie or a fairytale? If so, who’s the audience? Is it whoever puts out the food that appears each morning in flimsy boxes decorated with crappy, hand drawn logos that we eat before we remember to think better of it?”
“I don’t know,” she said, switching her gaze from the river to the rocks in front of us and then back again. She never looked any of us in the eye.
“Look, I’m sorry I’m going off, Nada. But I feel like you can take it. I’m just so tired. I wish I could have a drink. I’ve got this whole bag of weed here that we’re too scared to smoke but a drink, now that would be fine. I mean, are we even sleeping at all, Nada? There’s no drifting off, no tossing and turning. I get more and more tired and then, the next thing I know, it’s morning. It’s like I’m being turned off with a switch. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t used to sleep so hard that I never got up. Not even once, even to piss. Just all of a sudden I’m up–awake.”
“I don’t know, Casper. I don’t have any answers to these questions. No one does, not even Dean. Is The Grid the remainder of what has already past? The reverberations of a lost world spinning out forever in a loop? Are we ourselves relics from another time?” she asked, ignoring the part about sleep, although perhaps the dark circles under her eyes were answer enough.