Liz is somewhere here, thinks Keith B., spying the guts of the place from a high point in one of its vineyards.
“Did you hear that??”
“Sounded like an explosion!”
A new cube appeared down at the beach. Ready for transport.
“So when you said you disappeared behind the bar, you meant you worked there — behind the bar…”
“… as a black horse, yeah. I’m not ashamed of it (she was). I just didn’t want you to… look down on me.” She could read disappointment in his eyes by now. How to recoup from this? Could she espouse any redeeming qualities without giving too much away? She let him just unwind his theories. Check check check, she assumed.
“Black Horse is not code for Black Hole. Black Horse is more, let’s say, Black Ho, reduced from the obvious. The two go hand in hand, or, in this case, hoof in hoof.”
She made a check mark with her
“You were working for The Void.”
“The same Void that Marilyn had already rejected, the same Void that had her dress up as a white horse before she found the clean and sobered up job at Pink Think here in Gemini.
“You took her place.”
Hesitation, then another check mark.
“Do you keep in contact? I mean, you’re both here, in the same sim. Is it too painful to do this?”
Check mark. This guy is good! Liz thinks. He’s earned all the answers he desires. Not like her regular clientelle, where she doesn’t like to say very much. This was different. This was *clean* fun. Yes, she was having fun, unburdening herself. But she had one big secret stashed away still. George. Keith B. didn’t need to know about The Musician and their true relationship through her parents. George was a bad person and deserved what he got. Same for Albert and Biff, she thought here. For she knew of them as well: the Beastly triad. She knew that much from Marilyn. Yeah, they talk. But only on Mundays they agreed, the hardest day of the week to get in contact with someone. It was a window, tall yet narrow, so much so that they couldn’t see eye to eye. But the exchanges had depth still, black to white. At some junctures it was almost as if they could agree to disagree. It never came to that, but she sensed the possibility. A lost friend, a lost sister even. That could make up for *everything*.
(to be continued)
“So they have no records of you attending the University of Life, which is why most people stay in 1000 City.”
“No need,” she replied. “I knew everything I had to know by that time.”
“So you just broke away from the exploratory team — hid in that darkened alley you mentioned before.”
“I hid behind the bar,” she specified to the questioner. “The black hole. Like I said.”
“You called it a black horse before.”
“Did I?” she said innocently, bracelet sparkling once again. It detected brilliance in its brilliance. Plus a photo was being shot. At us; recorded becomes recorder.
“Why did you send those postcards from the city back to your parents?”
Weary of the grilling, she looked down at the table before answering. Real metal coins! she thought. Hadn’t seen the round stuff in a while. This guy must be lit. “I had to,” she decided to phrase it, encouraged once more. “Because of them.”
“You know.” She didn’t elaborate. Keith B. obviously though of The Void and the powers that hid there. What little he knew about the place.
“I came to you for answers.”
“You will leave me with more questions,” she shot back. “Trust me.” But she’ll give enough to earn the coin.
“You… didn’t stay here,” he guessed after a pause. “This… Gemini.”
“Of course not. I encapsulate realities. I can go wherever I want through them. Down at the beach. Remember?”
“You engineered all of this,” he then speculated, knowing he was right. Liz was, how you say, a Goddess.
FLASH. The world turned inside out.
On her break, she liked to come to this park in the middle of it all to read her latest red book, this Lorsters Worst lady of the night. No sex in the book, since she needed to get away from all that which surrounded her like stardust glitter. Here: good solid plants. Earth. Grounded, she was. But break’s about over and the man with the big blue RAM truck with the souped up engine she didn’t quite understand the workings of had just killed his current adversary, the one who kidnapped his Damsel in Distress who was the same as his wife. These were no swingers. Really. That phony lifestyle got them in trouble but there was no sex involved in their interactions with the Charlotte club. Why would he allow that? she thinks for the character, the retired policeman who was now a private dick. That would be his, ahem, *unit* thinking for him, which needed to remain private.
I think back to when I met the guy, in a Cassandra City establishment called Big Dick’s Halfway Inn.
He sat in relative darkness in the corner of the lobby, waiting for me it seemed. Probably was. I was an older man at the time, which means the same age as currently down to the month, day, minute. I asked him if he was the name on the establishment. He scooted forward, removed his crossed hands and revealed himself, said he was that in the flesh. I turned away, having seen enough. Biff Carter was his name. I remember that clearly. I also recall the hotel was full that evening, and I ended up sleeping in the chair opposite him in the lobby. He removed himself sometime — I don’t recollect when. Gabby (clerk) returned about midnight from his looong long lunch break, as he called it (another break!), woke me up, and after gabbing quite a bit about unrelated topics said I couldn’t stay here. Then he recognized me from the band — we were playing at Shenanigans at the time — and changed his mind, said it was okay instead. He later wrote me, after I had acquired much greater fame and also fortune, that he regretted that night with all his soul. Should have kicked someone out and given you their room, he said, but still didn’t say who.
Actually, now I’m recalling an earlier incarnation, involving another red door ta boot. Wendell “Biff” Carter yes. Just retired from the police force, check (after the Oakley Annie debacle: see case-file 37-QZ). Returned to the force briefly when former fellow cop Philburt got sick on pill, but the debacle that caused him trouble in the first place resurfaced in an unexpected guise (Orkley Andy: see follow-up case-file 38-AP). It was as if he was circling back on himself in an endless loop. He needed to break out. Buying half of a small hotel in the Queen City of the South seemed a recipe for success. But then came the swingers.
Could have been recently deceased Jer Ronamy from Starfish Lake Gabby wanted to kick out but I’m not entirely sure. Have to check the old hotel registers sometime if possible.
(to be continued)
More wind. Cold.
Jen reviewed how she got to this God forsaken place on the very western edge of Nautilus, almost disconnected from the continent. If only it weren’t for Vavra, who led her here. She use to blame it on someone named Jim, but then realized that was only a masculine projection of herself, a double created as a dark, oppositely sexed companion. He probably still exists somewhere. On the Mainland. Here, though? Nautilus but not Nautilus. Mainland but not Mainland. Different, an In-between World, ‘nother one. If only Vavra didn’t have that barely Linden water sailable boat, that Annoying ZZ Mat I think she called it, whatever that means. What-ever (Vavra-speak; I think she may also go by Marilyn).
She looked around even though she didn’t want to. Although certainly not the mountains of the Omega continent, it still was cold this time of year this far up the coast. Too close to Corsica to be temperate. None of the sim’s neighbors liked this place — didn’t consider it to be their “downtown” in any way. They too were isolated from the rest.
She needed to get out of this dress and into some real winter clothes but that would mean removing and rearranging the underneath pillows and she couldn’t make the effort, brrr. She hadn’t eaten in what felt like almost 3 hours.
Oh there were enough people here at any one time, it seemed. She’s counting 7 on her inworld screen besides herself. But where was Bert? Jim? No: Bert. Former police officer turned gigolo. Or pimp — she can’t recall; just as bad anyway, although she assumes the money is better with the latter since several of his ilk work for him instead of visa versa. She was the bookkeeper of the place. Kept tabs on the ledgers, made sure they balanced out each month. Numbers were her bag but figures were too. She oft times had to beat them off with a big black stick she kept handy for the matter. She thought of changing her name from Jen to Gen but didn’t want to lose full contact with Jim back on the Mainland, however imaginary he actually was. She could dream still, then. Her apartment? She wished it was the attic of the town’s Brownstone so she’d have a better view of the goings on of the place, but it was instead the 2nd. Vavra had the third, and always seemed to be bathed in dust-ridden light when she went up there to check on her or to socialize with her or to gather her up for one of those nights on the town. Like tonight. Big girls night out, but not too big. Vavra was on a weight plan. And herself? She started putting small pillows under her antiquated clothing to disguise her talent with figures as well as numbers. Some thought she had been knocked up, therefore, by
Bud the grocery store manager Bert she was known to hang around with, but that was just because of the maths. They use to count the town residents one by one by one, as the green lights lit up on the map come din din time, as they called it. It was like a bell went off, a ding dong, and they came. Poor Mama had it right. The tiles were falling off the wall, red green yellow blue. If the camouflaged zebras start to show their true colors, then… trou-ble.
She wore strange makeup like an android: stars, rings like big red spots marked by a pin. She started out as a demo but she was more than that now. She was a real life girl. She decided at a certain point that she would pretend to create Jim instead of visa versa, and turn Bert into a gigolo with a corresponding loss of power. Because this was a woman’s world from now on. Adam, I’m Madam, nice to greet you. 2 + 2 can equal 5 if she wanted it to. Aloha can mean goodbye as well as hello. Inflammable can mean flammable, and so on. She was a mixed up boy-girl because her one head had turned into two with the schism. Mainland over there, [delete name] over here. The Wild West moniker had it right. Dodge, she decided, this is Dodge. Because she’s trying to, she *had* to. Jim had to remain real.
(to be continued?)
“I’m just saying you haven’t been the same, since… since…”
“Cincinnati. Just say it.”
“I know,” he interrupted again, knowing the story all too well.
“It was a lot of lumber!”
“He deserved it.” Silence for a bit, then: “I guess we’re going to talk about Rose next. The *ul-timate* Red.”
She shook her head. “No. No, I’m just saying…”
“It was the frigg’n Metz!” he exclaimed, finally raising his voice on the subject, as he almost always does. “How would I know, a MIRACLE would occur?”
“It,” she tried to calm him down, “was… a long time ago.”
“Not in my nogg’n.” He knocked on his head. It made a hollow sound. Lumber again. Bench would get his revenge. “The whole *team*, was jinxed. Just look at their names. Rose, pheh. Bench, *huff*. Perez… well that one was kind of normal. But *Morgan*.”
“Now dearest, why don’t we wrap up some more presents,” she distracted again. “Then afterwards, afterwards…” She dangled her leg seductively. No need to think about 69 any longer. *That* 69. It was often the only way to get him to shut up about it once he started. Now the other leg joined the first: two danglers. Would he take the bait?
“Tom… SEEVER!” he said to end. Always the same.
She listened to Keith B.’s drumming, trying to determine whether it was ultimately soothing or just irritating. Somewhere in the middle, as a lot of stuff is, she thought. He hadn’t answered her earlier question about what he found out at the ranger’s station this morning; dodged the question in fact, it seemed to her. Just started drumming after lunch. Drumming and drumming. Her right hand wanted to clap, but her left hand wanted to slap.
“I — feel — so — *young*!” he called over.
Pheh, she thought, not noticing the difference while looking away. Might as well still be peeing in his outhouse.
Safe Zone — where had Keith B. heard that expression? Of course: *Marilyn*. He asked about it to Jim B., currently playing the role of Alvin Jr., son of Alvin Sr. who climbed that beanstalk in Wales all the way to… some say The Moon, others: Uranus. But, as stated, we happen to know it was Mars, an in-between compromise.
Alvin Jr. listened to the query, wishing that darn phone would ring for a change and interrupt this conversation, hopefully distract Keith B. to a different topic. And why did he come down here to the ranger station anyway this morning? Must be looking for more spots to hunt, Alvin mused. “Safe Zone?” he answered Keith B. “Oh, that’s just a map that came with the station. Has nothing to do with the actual park here. Just a generic map. I… haven’t even looked at it that closely.” He peers at the map he knows all too well, pretending to see it as with new eyes. “Echo, eh?” he says, pronouncing the map name below Safe Zone. “Overrun,” he continues in that vein. He thinks of the zombies here, the Germans, but also the Italians. Came in through the portal from the Great War. “Sounds like, eh, something from a game or something, dunno.” He shakes his head, convincingly he hopes. He’s surprised Keith B. hadn’t seen the map before but that was just part of the magic of the place, good and bad. You often see things when you’re suppose to, not when common sense tells you you should. Keith B. should have spotted this anomaly of a map long ago, inquired about the Safe Zone shortly after he arrived in Paper-Soap, say. But it was the same with Alvin. *Jr.*. People kept mixing him up with his dear old papa and it irritated the *hell* out of him. He’d stopped going to church because of it. But he’d heard there was new trouble brewing over there. He decides to ask Keith — a presented tangent after all.
“Heard Preacher Zoidboro knocked the congregation for a loop yesterday,” he frames it. He knew the power of the 4 would come in eventually and attempt to topple the totalitarianism of the 3. And he knew the Monolith would have something to do with it — just didn’t know the details. Until now.
“Ah, yes,” Keith B. said back, prying his eyes from the map to Alvin Jr.’s relief. He’s going to subtly alter that thing as soon as the man from Nautilus leaves. Take out mention of the Safe Zone first. There *is* no Safe Zone. Thanks to Keith, pheh.
Turns out the congregation of the Trinity Church is split down the middle on the subject of 3 vs. 4. It’s the beanstalk all over again, thinks Alvin.
5 years ago:
“You alright up there Pops!!”
“Listen to these words,” Preacher Zoidboro commands from his pulpit of power, shuffling the first page back to the top. He’d been reading it all afternoon and then one evening and then another afternoon after a morning break for contemplation. It had been slipped under the door to his parsonage out back at 7:15 on Tuesday by the blackest of hands, as dark as licorice candy. “‘Four’s Company, parentheses, Three’s a Crowd, close parentheses,'” he starts, reading the title first of course. “‘Let’s make this,’ ahem, ‘shit happen.'”
Gasps from the audience, but not from the pronouncement of the word shit, deemed a cuss word in this here neck of the woods. They couldn’t hear that part the preacher said it so low. Instead: the inferred defamation of the Holy Trinity. It was in the name of the church! What in Hell’s Bells was the Preacher thinking, doing this? they thought as one.
“‘Let’s begin with a,’ uherm, ‘joke, quote unquote,'” he continues to read from Sepisexton’s text on the mount. Sweat beads on his forehead. Dare he go through with it? Alvin would be pleased, though. He always liked Alvin. “‘A Spade walks into a bar with a Heart,'” he ventures forward into a brave new world. “‘The audience says nothing.'”
The audience says nothing.