A Man Appears (3i)
Closing time. A man drifts over to the bar, shaking and pale, his suit grubby and stinking of fumes.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Zara exclaims.
“If only I were so lucky,” the man stammers. Zara buys him a whisky, the man throws it back. Zara buys him a bottle, the man begins to settle down.
“I was reporting on some strange stories I’d heard about disappearances across the East of the city. There was an old man — a madman! A madman!” He gulps deep from the glass, his hands bruised and bloody and trembling.
“You’re a journalist.”
The man nods and begins to recollect the preceding hours.
A Technocratic Phantasm (3ii)
My editor sent me to the address of the old man. He lived in the ground floor of what had become a derelict squat. His neighbours had no idea anyone lived there until they heard strange noises coming from inside. The old man was welcoming. He invited me in and was desperate to show me his “ground-breaking discovery.” I needed the money; I needed the story.
He lived in a single room. How many years was the old man locked in this room? No windows, no sunlight; no sunlight, no sense of time. I supposed the old man had lived here for decades. The room stank of excrement. A great machine loomed over me, taking up the entire wall. It was split into two parts, the newer part the old man was anxious to touch. In the corner was a small padlocked cellar door just wide enough for the old man to crawl through. The room was littered with towering stacks of spreadsheets and readouts (presumably from the machine). A walkway was cleared to the cellar door and wires from the machine lead under the door.
“The data is undeniable,” the old man began, “positively incontestable!” Clawed hands turned page upon page of symbols. He looked loving into his machine — he had spent the best part of his life in the invention of it. I scrutinised the machine but could make no guess to the complexity of its operation. I never asked for an explanation of its working because the old man was so engrossed in his papers. “The Immortaliser,” he announced. “Quite a ring to it, eh boy?” The old man smiled at me, running his fingers though his thinning silver hair. A twinge of pity shot through me. This machine must be keeping the old man alive I thought. It couldn’t be anything more than a madman’s comforting delusion. He gestured to a chair. I sat down and took out my notebook.
The machine rumbled and groaned in agony. Was this was the noise the neighbours complained about? When I listened more intently it sounded as though the groaning was coming from underneath the floor. It was difficult to make out precisely where the noise was coming from. That noise… I squirmed in my seat. A glass box, large enough to fit an adult male, was connected to the newer half of the machine.
“Why did you build such a machine?” I asked with my pen hovering over my pad. The old man leapt up and cleared his throat.
“Demand, my boy!” he laughed. “The first stage of the machine tells you exactly what you demand! Of course the government would be delighted to finally calculate the exact demand of consumers, that is, voters.” He snatched a file from a stack and tapped it with his finger. “What the people really desire is right here! The jobs they desire, the food they desire, the women they desire,” he winked at me and laughed to himself. The old man waved his hands excitedly, “Boy! Boy! I want to run you through the Immortaliser!”
The old man lead me to the older half of the machine. “Now place your hand on the pad as so and let the machine read your hand.” The machine erupted in flashing lights and a hurdy-gurdy of noises — it belonged to some kind of demonic carnival! The old man threw himself into his machine, adjusting knobs and dials with learned precision. The machine spewed reams of paper at him and, after several seconds, wound down again.
“So, what is it I desire?” I asked.
“The results are… ambiguous… with you,” the old man weakly replied. Of course! Just another old crank living in his delusions. I had been lead on another fool’s errand. How can I make it as a journalist if all I do is chase stories from quacks, conspiracy theorists, and UFO hunters? “Could you show me the second half of the machine?” I humoured the old man. Hearing him blither on about the machine would at least distract from the groaning noise. Was the old man oblivious to the noise? Perhaps he was used to it.
“It’s a work in progress. I’m yet to iron-out the kinks,” said the old man solemnly.
“What is it?”
“The answer to mortality. This is why I’ve christened it the Immortaliser, you see.” He cleared his throat again and began speaking to an imagined audience.
“The question that has plagued mankind for centuries: How can we live forever? How can we escape the iced grasp of nothingness and live eternally? Gentlemen, the answer is before us, in plain sight! Here all along! My machine can immortalise any man that so wishes it. Now, before I promulgate any further, let me explain that there are many shades of immortality. The first general colour is Material. Are you writing this down? Good, good. The mother is immortalised through the child, the child is immortalised through the grandchild. This is the process of naturalistic immortalisation whereby the medium of immortalisation is not the subject themself, rather, their genes. Those parasites that live in each of us have one function: to replicate themselves. They are viruses, that is, they are not alive in their own right. The grandmother is satisfied on her death bed because she is immortal! You see, she is surrounded by her offspring and so a part of her lives: her genes. She has become immortalised through her family. Now, the second colour is abstract immortalisation. A man becomes immortal once he becomes absorbed in a greater whole external to himself. In this process he loses himself. Now ideology is the medium. The communist is immortalised by the words: ‘I am a communist,’ the Islamist is immortalised by the words: ‘I am an Islamist,’ the Nationalist is immortalised by the words: ‘I am a Nationalist,’ and so forth. This is why they are so quick to throw away their lives! Because they have no lives to sacrifice! The Nationalist says: ‘the individual is the state and the state is the individual. So long as my people and my country live I can never die.’ Such honest words, and how hollow then their sacrifice. Mussolini believed the dead were always presente but now you can see the absurdity; they had never even died. Now, the Immortaliser is quite genius. It fuses the material with the abstract. It brings together the natural and abstract so that man can become the abstract in flesh.”
The machine became quite animated and the tapes clacked in applause. “If you step into the box there, you will become part of the machine’s collective unconscious — your body will then be added, along with your mind, to my physical collective! You can live for ever by giving yourself up. Live though the masses!”
I rose from my seat. The old man lit up. “So, you want to try? Good! Good! Simply stand in the glass box, yes, yes, in the glass box and when you do, you must say the words: ‘I am,’ followed by whatsoever you wish to be immortalised into.” The old man was oblivious to the banging and groaning from beneath the floor. “As I said, there are many shades of immortalisation. You can become immortalised however you choose. Most of my subjects have chosen noble ideals.” He tried to hold back the laughter, but he burst and great bellows gushed out of his mouth. “One young lad,” he began, “asked to be immortalised into honour. Honour, can you imagine that? It was honourable of him to suggest it though I suppose.” The old man exploded with laughter again throwing open his mouth to reveal black and jagged teeth. Was the groaning coming from the machine? It was torturous. Had it driven the old man mad? I had to destroy the machine to stop the noise. Or was the noise in my head? Madness! Am I going mad?
I leapt at the machine, ripping out wires and smashing the console with my hands. “NO NO NO,” shrieked the old man, “YOU MONSTER! YOU MONSTER!” The old man was frail, powerless to prevent the destruction of his machine. In a moment of fury the machine was ruined. The old man howled and wept for his machine, cradling its limb in his arms. The groaning became louder. It was from downstairs! It must be!
I demanded the key to the cellar door. The old man cowered from the words, fumbled in his pocket and placed the key on the ground. The pathetic creature crawled into a clearing between stacks of paper.
The door swung open and I gazed into the abyss. With some difficulty I crawled through and followed the wires down into the cellar. I could barely breath for the stench. There were flickers of light through the smoke. I heard again that agonising groan. My eyes followed the wires on the ground. Through the smoke I could make out another glass box. The groans became louder, and closer! The wires lead my eyes away from the glass box and — there I saw it — emerging from the smoke!
“The horror! the horror!” I cried. Contorted limbs melted into each other. Faces locked in permanent screams. Dozens of men fused into one writhing hive. Its eyeballs melted like Dali’s clocks. Bloated and covered in squirming maggots. I stumbled on the wire and collapsed back onto the stairs. It oozed excrement and black sludge before disappearing back into the smoke. I ran up the stairs, past the old man, and out into the night.
How much humanity was left in that monster? I can still hear it! This is the old man’s immortality! Madness! Madness!
Auf Dem Gletscher / Gefahrvolle Augenblicke (4)
Zara treads the ghostly steps through his demesne, brooding on the madman’s words. A thin strip of neon cut Victorian stone. A society of triumphant classification, that scrutinised all exotic things but themselves. Ionic legs to make the mightiest despair, but each facade marked with weakness and woe — marked with doubt in themselves! Time slows now as this great structure collapses toward us, but how to pass the intervening time?
Sucked through the doors and back up Ozymandias’ great saphenous vein.
“The victory, the power, the struggle, what was it all for?” he laughs. “Imperial Prometheus the light of the world, now tormented by that American bird!” His room is cold and and smells of the old clothes stagnating in the sink basin. MTV runs on.
Ivy was sleeping on the Edwardian couch. The moonlight smothers her face. Zara turns off the television and sits by her side in silence. His eyes caressing Ivy’s soft face.
“What of her when she’s elderly? Will she be hidden away out of sight like the others? How can we bear to look at them when looking into their aged faces we see ourselves? ‘I am… I am…,’ the old man said. I am a wanderer, drifting from one distraction to another. My life a series of discords that long for resolution. Is my resolution death, surcease of being? How am I going to immortalise myself? Children? No, never with her. Perhaps I become one of many like the old man said. Melt into the masses, my soul immortalised in MTV and the Communist Manifesto. No! The masses mean nothing to me! Those undying mediocrities! That monster in the cellar! I won’t delude myself in their phantasm. Our lives are rounded by a sleep. We wake from this sleep in the wilderness only to be cast into the worms. Our voices no longer reverberate but melt into others as a multi-layered scream. We live in a mass of faceless bodies forced through inexorable hell and then still further sleep. The masses, the ‘I AMs,’ are logs matured only to serve as fuel in somebody else’s fire. Whose fire? His that has the strength to fell the tree and the will to heap the fuel into the fire he has prepared. Those fools look to quacks and madmen to save them. I can only immortalise myself, and only then become whole!”
Auf Dem Gipfel: Circuits I-VII (5)
The rumble of trams, generators, and people are the whitewash of a clean canvas. Atop the leg of filthy concrete Zara gazes out over his domain in darkness. He tucks a pistol in his NATO parka. Down the crumbling stairs, round the mulberry bush, and through a hole in the wall (liberated from its door). The city of Dis never sleeps. Whores parade around flowers left by the roadside. He followed himself past thirty story advertisements. Humming motor cars cut by distant sirens. Neon light blazes from all directions like inside a collapsing star. Past one of three brothels (always vacancies — apply within). Dance around the may pole for the jeering crowd, “the usual please,” hot words and cold hearts. Dull red light washed the unmarked phone hung by a graffiti covered door. Buzz and enter. He is driven back down into the subterranean cellar. He hurries past the dancers, the stag troop, the lines in the barmaid’s face, the rolling music and smoke. All of them Atreus’ children. No use to judge them now, or chastise them — their sins spring from revolutions past.
Noise shudders through the pit, the bodies pulse as one. One seething mass on the banks of the Acheron. Their voices now one unintelligible groan. Breaking through the crowd he licks the condensed sea spray. Through the black beads and gnashing jaws. Can HIV be spread through condensed sweat? Such thoughts are reserved for places like this.
Elbows and shoulders clash until the sea casts him into a corridor. The music now a throbbing march willing him forward. Divine ultraviolet illuminating that unseen in day. Quickened steps past Pollock walls, painted with fluids from within and without. His vision blurred, his breath sharp, his hand resting on his gun. No string to guide him back through the labyrinth, no white sails to mark his return; he had no intention of returning.
Past Red Stripes and white lines. Across MDMA, somatic amusements, and yellow eyed rags before collapsing into the office of Mr. Samael: Manager. The phosphoric bulb flickers in the manager’s implanted black shades.
“This is as rotten a place as any for a rotten man,” gasps Zara. The blinking becomes frenzied.
“But I am a worm and no man.” Gold ringed fingers fondle a cigar. His bloodshot eyes fixed on the barrel of Zara’s gun. “How much less man, that is a worm? And the son of man, which is a worm? You see, man is rottenness!” The bulb bursts. The wall is sprayed with digital sludge.
Zara’s hand trembles with orgasm.
Nacht Und Verklärung: Circuit VIII (6)
Midnight. He was alone on the pasture now, beneath the jewels of Indra’s net. Shattered smokestacks lay defeated under a gibbous moon. The barn returned to the Earth. He danced through the graveyard and out the other side. Across the bridge at the foot of the mountain, then, ascending through the pouring mist, melting into the cloud as the whisper:
“I am that which is. I am all that is, that was, and will be. No mortal man has lifted my veil.”
In memory of Jonathan Bowden