“He is a prisoner in the midst of what is the freest, the openest of routes: bound fast at the infinite crossroads.”
-Michel Foucault, 1964
1 Fortunately, Not Everything Is Bad All of the Time
The room was stuffy and it was difficult to breathe, even for a third person omniscient narrator. “Alright, come on now. Ten? Take fifteen at least, you bloody weasel. Silver, do you have any idea just how hard I slaved over harvesting this one?” Deftly produced from his coat pocket, the small crystal prism containing the Wizard’s immaterial soul had a faint purple glow to it, a sheen of energy coursing over it in waves as it laid on West’s black glove. And he certainly had slaved, in getting it. Only recently returning from the Above, West was really starting to feel his nerves tighten from the stress of the work load. Things had gotten hairy towards the end. He was just a bit more belligerent, more irritable of late. “Yes.. Well, yeah, you know.. But, at the end of the day, you know… A fellas gotta make a profit.” The dealer became resolute as he so often had in the back room. “Soul sales are down sixteen percent from last quarter, eighteen the one before that. Collectors just aren’t buying like they used to.” He glanced towards the corner, where the swimsuit calendar hung next to the bookshelf. He began flittering his fingers together anxiously, as if in anticipation of his business partner’s displeasure. Silver had a slow, drawling way of communication. His speech was unassuming, unimpressive, his facial features neurotic and a little obsessive in the way they twitched sometimes. West attributed a great part of Silver’s long term success as a dealer to this air of impassivity; the tough guys usually burnt out fast down here. When you first meet him you’d just about have him figured out as uncharismatic, an inexplicable yet faint Scot’s accent touched his words. And while that wouldn’t be exactly what he would want you to think, his non aggressive way of handling things kept him from any sort of confrontation. So, the caricatured version of himself stuck with most people. Typically, when treated with derision or indifference, he would instinctively assume an air of unknowing; he would feign ignorance while his unquiet mind thought up clever remarks.. Words he would probably never say sober. And yet West knew him more precisely for who he actually was; incredibly lucky, surprisingly resolute in business dealings, a functional neurotic whose ideas regarding anything or anyone outside his enterprise were usually as implausible as they were amusing. His eyes darted around the grey backroom. His fingers tapped out an irregular rhythm on the table he so often bartered from across it in the Money House. West had been a frequent over the years in that “office” that in reality functioned for negotiation during business hours and as an interrogation room after them. As one of the co-owners of the entire enterprise, Silver enjoyed limitless access to the firm that was founded all those years ago. The two were relatively cordial that day considering the strain both were under; though it was apparent to most that the relationship was really more of a symbiotic one, a calculated business partnership. While neither cared for the other’s tactics when it meant less coin in a negotiation, they admired one other’s virtuosic ability (that often bordered on depravity, such can be necessities of the sales world) on the House floor or in the Above fields, partly because THAT typically meant more coin in total, (at the very least it meant an increased likelihood of buying a round) and partly due simply to the sheer mutual acknowledgement of talent. The two were nearly friends, and gotten a bit drunk at the Waterloo (the town’s local intoxication station) as they were wont to do on occasion the duo became just about unstoppable, feeding off a reciprocal energy that was equal parts gleeful chaos and spiteful humor. Just last cycle they’d been indicted, ticketed, and given a nearly universal scolding by the residents for what most considered in outrage to be a truly offensive joke about Pam’s partner’s disability (he had a hop toad limp). Still, the seeds of contempt and disgust towards the duo had been sewn, there was a constant feeling they were always one step from going over the line. “You sell to complete idiots and we both know it. Turning a sale has never been your issue..” “Yes, yes, well.. But, that’s marketing,” Max replied in the only way he knew how, with that fragile, nervous sounding voice of his. “Oh don’t give me that, Max. You and I both know full well what that means. So, will you give me a fair price, or will I have to salvage like last time? Listen, this one’s top tier, a real shiner, this one… Just get a look at that odometer reading, energy numbers don’t lie Max. Successful and creative, that one. I mean, there was that look he had, and the adoration! The innovation, the music, the glory, man… ” West had been gone for what felt like a long time. He was hungry and craving a fix, tired of the salesman talk and longing for the isolation of his flat. “Sh, yes, I get it. I’ll pay 15, that’s fine, yes… Just know that I can’t sell the thing for more than… 20, 21 ledt (the currency around here), old and worn, way it is. Take your bloody coin, West, but don’t expect this kind of flippancy every time. We all have bills to pay, addictions to fuel.” “Fine.” “Fine.” Abruptly standing, ending the conversation and grabbing the outstretched hand full of currency in a turning rush, West noticed for the first time just how nervous Silver looked in his assumed get up of worn patterned velvet and tacky brown corduroy. Given the opportunity, as he almost certainly is nearly every cycle, Max never outwardly changed, still opting for the same off-putting, unappealing look even as he made money with ease. In this way he was somewhat like an greasy eighties American shyster. He maintained a ravenous addiction to cocaine.
Stepping out onto the brimstone paved street in his tall black military style boots he hurriedly left Silver in a state of a bewilderment, 15 ledt poorer but as the new, somewhat reluctant possessor of a jagged though thoroughly indulgent piece of craft, universally known if not always adored, here and there, everywhere. Truthfully, he was glad to be rid of the thing, with the remnants of fatigue still wearing on the corners of his expansive mind. They’re rarely easy, that much is understood by all, even those who never have to deal with such things. The number of folk tales and cultural encoding done in direct reference to soul siphoning made sure public awareness on the matter rarely dwindled. American culture was particularly notorious. Expecting and being greeted with a bleak sky and a desolate landscape he stepped from the Money House into the paved street where geometric construction drew the onlooker’s attention away from the godforsaken backdrop where the red moon hung during the day cycle. Weather was hardly ever nice around here, except when they (the Council) had enough energy to power the atmosphere creation machine, and that rarely happened anymore. Despite it all, the place isn’t nearly as humorless as it might appear upon first glance. The Bazaar of course had a liveliness unique all in it’s own, both in the outdoor courts and inside the trading centers, emanating a tangible energy that gave back to the partaker with an ebullience that nearly matched it’s breathlessness, it’s vertigo inducing tendencies. The Web, (as the academy is commonly known) where youngster’s rival their ‘intellects’ underneath aging mentors brims with it’s own jagged, cynical laughter, it’s swelling, boundless optimism at the prospect of furthering the collective mentality or simply pulling off the perfect prank on the elders. There are the show rooms where one might see how the other half live (you know, outside of oblivion), the sound dens bursting with sonic creativity, the self schools where one might learn, for a fee, to take on another’s form, to pilot an avatar of choice and replay memories, weeks, sometimes even months if the pilot is skilled and wealthy enough.
Speeding up his pace to get over the Wall as quickly as he possibly could, night took on a newly menacing, claustrophobic and suffocating form, pressing into him the desire to smile ironically at the gradual notice in his mind of his own mounting paranoia. When you’re that old with an immense, marked mind wrinkled with nuance and detail like a surrealist cartographers dream, emotions and states of awareness begin to stretch out and become devoid of any sort of immediate impact. Something resembling a third person vantage point that comes with having ‘seen it all’ as they say replaces the visceral, raw and impacting sensations of immature youth and ignorance. There are obvious benefits and detriments to each, although having the steely nervous control of a dead eye seasoned poker vet certainly lends it’s benefits when dealing on the Floor or in the House. Ignoring much of his surroundings, he centered his mind’s aching focus in the thin bones of his hand, curling, tensing his grip, relaxing, tensing, and relaxing in side of his coat pocket. From the distance he was at, Maniah, the Gatewatch resembled an arching, ghastly white giant’s cane, and her sight filled him with a sense of perturbed ambivalence. He was nearly home, but he also nearly always felt obligated to converse with Maniah, whose position at the Gate was really more a gift of courtesy than anything earned through talent or hard work. Her age and longstanding in the community entitle her to a whole lot more than she’s worth in her advanced years; such can be the cost of a village style democratic socialism, he had often reflected. The first and likely only holder of an entirely unnecessary position since the installation of the autonomous system, (none of the other gates had keepers, those were entirely automatic these days since their installation by the Council) she was nevertheless a pitiable old creature with a balmy heart once you took the time to know her, and West, despite his foulest mood, had no real desire to spurn her attempts at connection. Compassion was something sorely missing in his life. Maniah was once a real go-getter, or so they say. He knew that she was once a sort of token jewel diplomat for the Court, sometimes genuinely aiding in public affairs, though more often than not her role was simply entertaining. It was told in a now half joking, back then in an entirely envious manner around lecture circles, c-hubs, working rooms and the like that her smiling glance alone could once stir about a sense of such overwhelming warmth in it’s recipient, swaddling the feminine sucubus’ willing and desperate victim in a blanket sewn of a sweet forget far surpassing that of even the stiffest draught concocted in this desolate desert corner of a place. He was unlikely to get such a look tonight. Better days behind, a smoggy, reeking, lingering stench of stale cigarette smoke long soaked into what passes for skin worn with senility wafted from the tiny cove of her toll chamber. Her cosmetically grafted and whorled face and ridiculously primped hair nest distracted from her inwardly drawn face and her flat expression. The ‘infants’ (though far from helpless) would often gather behind the corner spot that marked the end of the proportioned, geometrically concentric Bazaar, snickering amongst themselves in juvenile mockery at the way Lady Maniah (as she is sometimes more affectionately known) resembled something of a robot with a dead battery when she, thinking herself alone, allowed her worn smile and tired eyes to assume their natural, fatigued positions. She looked a ghastly figure cast in the night’s hazy ambiance, far removed from the piercing look of that cosmic Cleopatra that had once amazed the chieftains of the high Court with her quicksilver, subtle sense of sexuality, with those blissfully unknowing yet persuading green eyes. “Oh, good evening, a good day about the town, I do hope?” Her words had an asthmatic, wheezing quality to them as they laboredly drifted from her gnarled lips. “Not the worst, not the best either. Good night, Maniah.” In no mood for niceties and feeling quite depleted of vigor by the work cycle, West deftly produced and flashed the identification card that he had prepared for passage ahead of time by transferring it from the leather holder in which it normally resided into his left coat pocket. Traditionally hung around the neck on a uniformly drab lanyard, West, in satisfying his replete sense of aesthetic homogeneity had removed the card from the cord, in spite of the fact that doing so brought him in direct conflict with the residential director, whose half sincere penchant for protestant-like witticisms and efficient bureaucracy made him the passive aggressive pseudo-enemy of such an individualist character as West. On those rare confrontational occasions, Reg (short of course, for Reginald, The Laminator) had often marched past refusing to fully engage him, mumbling up a nearly silent whispery whirlwind of remarks on citations, mandates, and order, the tired old catechisms that gave familiar form to a bureaucrat. They were empty threats, especially considering the failed attempt at reprimand that had ended with the laughing suggestion of a duel from West, renowned across the universe as a brilliant combatant, causing the numbing cowardice of a desk jockey who was given, rather than earned, a position of titular authority with (debatably) no real power, to surface. Just what do citations mean in the wild? Truthfully, Reg was utterly terrified of West, a being with nearly double his years and yet only half of his phobias.. Still, there was something of a quiet revolution only now awkwardly beginning to stir in many of the residents since the Split, giving folk like Reg a big boost in his sense of importance as well as his role as chief bureaucrat, not his official title. Uniformity had it’s allure for the weak, he supposed, and he made no public show of his individuality as he once had, many a cycle ago. Pressing the laminated card onto the rectangular card reading platform and waiting only a fraction of a second for the affirmative ding before throwing open the now unlocked passage door separating the quarters, he put up a cordial wave of the hand as Maniah, with longing reproach watched the back of his black trench coat flutter cinematically as he strode down the long separating corridor. West was damned cool.
- Poison Season, West
A half minute passed before the Gatekeeper seemed to resume her normal downcast expression and West made it to the entrance of the open, oval shaped cluster of dorms and houses nicknamed the Hive where most of them went for isolation or for rest. Though the maintenance crew had been through with their sweeping devices only a couple of days ago, rubbish had already begun to pile at the edges of the communal courtyard where the masses would like to congregate, enjoyably trading gossip or jokes or related banter amongst the carved obsidian statuettes, near the lone tall street lamp. Cigarette ends littered the gathering place. West paid little attention to these details as he actively strove to push the squalor from his awareness and he drifted past them, moving up the winding streets to his own flat, where he figured he just might find a brief respite in the familiar comforts of home. Producing his house key on the steps leading up to the door, he plunged it into the reader, turned the handle, and shouldered the door ajar only to be greeted with an awful, rotting stench that forced his expression sour and causing his engineered, mechanical stomach to churn. Gathering himself on the small rectangular porch West burst back into the drawing room and swiped at the light switch, his coat pulled up around his scent recognition device so that the horrible smell might be averted somewhat. A jarringly bright contrast to the smoky streets of town his small apartment’s hot fluorescent lights and incredibly busy, multitudinous, yet delicately arranged decorum sent a jolt of will into him. He whirled, seeking the origin of the scent. Cursing under his breath, he strode quickly to the kitchen, where a brat (a horrific accidental cross breed of a bat and a rat) was providing an undoubtedly excellent feast to a swarm of larvae, it’s small corpse sparse and thoroughly ravaged (you might rightly wonder how such a thing could exist here, but that’s a story for another day). Performing the necessary clean up with an immense, brimming feeling of irritation, West at last disposed of the whole mess and half leapt up the stairs in search of recharge, to tear from his tired mind the cares of today and yesterday in hope of some sort of inadequate preparation for tomorrow. He simply never got used to the strenuousness, the breathlessness that inevitably rises from those long, repetitive cycles of seduction and persuasion followed by the haggling that had come to characterize his occupation since the Split. Passing into his personal chamber, the familiar sights of vibrant Picasso prints (originals were nearly impossible to get, down here) and those lines of LP’s and books that had always brought a degree of comfort to the occasionally anxiety-ridden psyche that would force him for long hours into modes of sensory deprivation. Hardly consciously aware of what he was doing, he grabbed from out of the bin of music which he considered one of the nearest things he had to a real muse in this place an older, (if such an adjective is even fitting, with an expanded perception of time) favorite record, and with the dexterity of many years of routine slid from the envelope it’s package, placing the matte black circular object onto it’s desired resting place. With a few switch flicks and knob turns the device began to operate with a slight hum, and still fully clothed, West threw himself into his chair and let his head begin to tilt back. The weariness began to overtake him. Like some murky, black ocean’s waves whose opaque waters were gradually beginning to rise up with the tide more and more, his consciousness began to recede as the darkness of exhaustion and confusion further impressed upon the white sands of his mind. Just as his focus began to entirely lessen it’s grip on his own presence, his temporal awareness, the wild, chaotic strings of the complex music rose into a feverish crescendo, sending him spiraling upward towards an unseen mountain’s peak of madness which a Stravinsky or an Erich Zann undoubtedly claim as his eternal abode, the cacophony of confusion even further preventing him from any sort of escape into a mode of relaxation. Such avant-garde dissonance held little attraction for him now. In a whirl of complex emotions most nearly resembling dismay he quickly stood to his feet, causing yet another sense of physical as well as of psychical disorientation. Hurriedly striking a blow against the power switch of the audio system and then casting a glance towards the ornate yet kitsch golden colored full length mirror that leaned against his wall, the sight of his dark outer and white inner clothes restored a feeling of presence to what was beginning to feel like another out of control spiral. Debilitating break downs of self-awareness were happening with more and more frequency, the cracks were beginning to show in between those awfully contrasting alternations between the desire for the release of nothingness and the burning agony that came with the realization of a complete selfness that once only occasionally, yet more and more frequently plagued him. Usually his mind was located somewhere in between, where most would reside unknowingly. Yet these nervous fits as of late involving the extremities of conscious awareness still moved back and forth in his soul like some pendulum swinging from Within to Without, from Judas to Jesus, from a cage of selfness to complete selflessness’ bittersweet release. Beginning to power down the layers of elaborately arranged clothing and body parts, he stood in front of the mirror and saw for the millionth time his projected animal figure; despite his truer being vaguely forming something closely resembling a shadow, that immaterial spiritous body condensing and expanding like some gaseous vehicle changing form in order to fit whatever shape it’s possessor might deem appropriate, necessary, or appealing. His shape pulsated with a visible kinetic energy, and at last as he stripped the last of the apparel from his form, West began to recite familiarities to himself in order that he might calm and center his electricity charged mind. “I am here, present. I possess awareness of my self. This cycle is over, and I can now rest, for a time. My name is West Poeman, and I am a free lance used soul salesman. I currently reside in a suburb of Pandemonium, Hell. I am here, present.”