He approached the other bush cautiously. “Are you my son?” He waited. “I’m looking for my son.”
The wind continued to blow.
“I should be finished with journal 9 in 2 weeks or less, Robert Drake Johns. Then we will reassess the situation.”
“That’s great, Older Mabel,” spoke the tall, lime green robot seated beside her. His voice was nasal compared to most mechanoids of his type — Mabel designed him this way to appear slightly comical to her and help lighten the mood sometimes. Because the mood was dire in many instances. The Wastelands held nothing back.
“I’m wondering when The Monster will return,” started RDJ again. “Sally lives on the edge of the Deep Dunes but hasn’t seen or smelled anything in 2 weeks or more. The Axis powers may have won the war, but they haven’t been especially active conquerors… let us do what we please, when we please.”
“Oh they’re around.” She scribbles quickly once more. “Right now I’m seeing a narrow boat, mired deep in the high sands. Two children — no, a child and a man, actually an older man. Then another, observing man. No, sorry again, a woman but with many eyes, some which could be masculine. Actors and Observers again, Robert Drake Johns.”
“I miss my cousin,” said RDJ out of the blue. “I miss Cardboard. The character and not the substance, although that has disappeared too. All metal and rust now; little plastic as well.”
“And parchment,” added Mabel brightly. “Thank Gods for parchment.”
She was leaning so far over that I’m surprised her head wasn’t hitting the window pane in the back. But Nataly was doing a good job explaining the story so far. Let’s take a listen…
“Pen is the evolution of The Pencil, Dear Reader. And so our saga continues, just 4 long, long years later. New Island has become post-apocalyptic. What is the disaster that caused this? you should ask. Increase of sand, increase of terrain and elevation; increase of *The Wastelands*. The Tilers moved in first, took over the Fries with Cheese property downtown and destroyed the church. Hopefully we’ll get to the continuing challenges of basement dwellers Mrs. Fogg and Ms. Frame soon, thrown together for protection, food, and liberty. Young Shirley Boot ceases to be 12, but has progressed no further than the first day of her 13th year, frozen in time because of the… catastrophe — we’ll certainly get to that shortly. Not-so-young Ruby also remains middle-of-15, unable to transverse the ages 16 17 18 to reach the 19 she should be by this point. And Mabel: Mabel remains old but child-like. She’s taken to wearing her Hannah Montana outfit 24/7, and this is most likely the effects of the radiation as well — affecting her brains and not what. She’s remodeled Robot Derak Jones to become Robert Drake Johns, probably another symptom since he’s as lime green as her now. Ahh, now we get to Sally. For Sally is perhaps an even stranger one. Founder of New Yd, evolution of the Tilers, she now keeps watch on the Deep Dunes for sign of The Monster, who continues to roam New Island and where aging *is* effected. The Man in the High Castle makes sure of that. Perhaps we should join him and his current crew next for more answers. Thank you for listening, and have a super night!”
Nataly removed the mike from her long, long neck and stood up. “How was that David?”
“How long has it been, Tessa?” an older Grandpa wheezed. He was the more valuable platinum through and through now.”
“4 years. You’re old, Grandpa. You need to rest here a while.”
“Is my tie on straight? Can you tell my teeth from my face still?”
“You look great,” his grand niece lied.
“Send her in, then. We must get the pricing over with.”
Liana the owner enters her heavily windowed coffee shop and immediately begins hanging tapestry. This was not who they were expecting. Where’s Sally?
Looks like Grandpa will live to see another day.
“Who are you?”
Tessa suddenly understood. “Um. This is not good, Grandpa.”
“Don’t get up sir.”
Angus Nuffin was happy. He knew this would be his last night as a chef at Perch Restaurant. Last piece of tuna in the fridge — everything was set up. Yes, there’s his supervisor Dwayne coming round the corner after taking The Bill’s order.
“Nuffin, this is a *very* special customer. One grilled tuna for the new queen of Collagesity, *lightly* cooked.”
“Coming up boss.”
“And *don’t* sit around on the appliances if you’re not cooking. *Clean* or something.”
“Right you are boss.” Nuffin nimbly hops off the dishwasher and heads to the fridge.
“All right Dwayne you bastard,” Angus mutters under his breath. “Just move along so that I can burn this baby to an utter crisp.”
“I recognized him immediately, The Bill.”
“Bill will do. We’ll think about the royal appellation later.”
There you go.
“Okay. But it was definitely Smelly Santy. You remember — from the Mission. The eggs, Bill. They must have killed him (!). The Bennington experiments.”
“Nasty place. Even I would admit that.”
“Dwayne, a complaint from the customer at Table D.”
An invisible cartoon boy, Martha Lamb thinks, studying Falmouth 36 once more on the 4th floor of the Fal Mouth Moon gallery. Hugged and loved by a visible cartoon girl with red shoes. Perhaps they are future lovers, or perhaps brother and sister. Maybe he has a defect that hides him from view — a malady — but is loved by his sister still. Odd that I think this, she ruminates.
Then over here, further away in a field, the inversion: girl invisible and boy visible. The “E” on the next collage over blinks on and off. This *is* love; mutual exchanging.
If I could just *reach* into the collage… somewhere about… here.
Or is it here?
So close yet so far. How to get from there…
… to here. Swish away the pain into the ice and snow and make it all go away. Football successfully kicked. Or: unkicked.
“‘Copyright Protected Image’,” she read from the picture in front of her. “And to think I was going to get rid of all this in Collagesity, Sid my dearest. But now I think it is a gateway to the Great Beyond, fries and liquor be damned.”
“You shouldn’t say that about your church,” Sid offered. “You were so devoted to it before.”
She turned to him. “The Diagonal changed me, made me into a true woman. I was like two-dimensional before. *You* changed me.”
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that…”
“All that’s left is the hand and how to break through. Without pain. They say that there’s no gain without pain, but I’m thinking of something else.”
“Yeah, Martha. I need you to listen tonight.”
She went on. “It’s the 36th collage of this series all right. I’ve been studying it nightly for going on half a week now. The Diagonal is giving me energy to understand.”
Sid grabbed her hand in order to stop her. “Listen, Martha. We need to talk. About The Diagonal.” He let go of her hand. “We can’t use it in that way any more.”
“No?” Her voice was suddenly far away, as across a field.
“No,” he said firmly. “I need to tell you the story of who I really am, how I really got here. It all started with the firing.”
“Firing?” Tears formed in her eyes despite her efforts. “What firing?”
In the middle of the night, Rabbid Baumbeer types up his report on the unfortunate blue bird-man sprawled out on the table behind him. It took the wannabe doctor most of yesterday to sew the head back on, plus extract all the fluid he could. Precious bodily fluid, he thinks. One day my study of it will take me far away from here and such poor, pitiful creatures.
“Ooh,” he says, studying the data in front of him. “Says here there’s formaldehyde in there already. Looks like this big red dude was planning on keeping him well preserved, perhaps for future rituals. What a sicky!” Yes… far away from here.
Adelaide crawled around and crawled around, but still was unable to find New Island under this bed. Maybe the others would know more, she realized happily. I haven’t *thought* about asking them yet (!).
But in truth she had asked the other patients at Baumbeer Mental Hospital in the Tethia sim of Heterocera’s Pond District over and over this same line of questioning: Where is New Island? What happened to my art colony? Where are my *paintings*? She couldn’t face the fact that it was all gone, as if in a poof. Mid Hazel was the culprit. She grew tired of watching energy grow in that direction and put a quick halt to it. The catastrophe. Radiation in a lime green kiln. BOOM! But strangely, no harm to the involved buildings, and, outwardly at least, to the people either. Until they started dropping to the ground 4, 5, 6 days later. Not the people, the *art*. On display no more, and soon to derezz away into nothingness as creative energy continued to be drained.
Ground Zero?: the chair that the Tronesisia robot sculpture currently occupies at the Artist Point Interactive gallery, former location of the kiln where sculptress Tennessee Nuffin Butler fired her male parts in. It was a particular Red bit that Mid Hazel had chosen for the nascent seed. And it came from the future and had something to do directly with Bill and cheese.
Adelaide waves her hands in the air, trying to decide, once more, which way the wind blows.
one more there
“Mt. Pond, Ms. Sheila,” Adelaide says while staring out the window at the green landscape protrusion. “I *must* paint *that* soon.”
“How about July 11, 1922,” the strait jacketed lady mumbles, confusing the lot of ’em.
“You see, it’s so peaceful in here compared to your church.”
“My *former* church. I’m with you all the way, Pitch darling,” Mary whispered back to her vampire husband. “Martha Lamb’s just gone plain *loco* with these urges of hers…. exposed for what she really is if you ask me.”
“Precisely. The Cult of Oo’d always admits such urges and encourages their uses. Cheese blocks them out. But cheese *is* the urges.”
“Can’t see what’s right in front of you.”
Bill, the Queen of Collagesity, finished up her rant and turned toward the victim. It was always the same ritual.
“Don’t kill me, sir, er, ma’am,” the bound clown begged. “I have so much to live for!”
“Oops! That was really a squirter, Pitch, haha!”
But then suddenly loud talking Mary, all eyes upon them, turned red herself from embarrassment.
If I could just block out Linden — Philip Linden – and make Tronesisia whole(some?) again, she could come back to life and reestablish lemony goodness over blimey lime at New Island. Sight returned, *smell* returned. But while the kiln exists, the firing could happen again. Over and over. Female receptacle.
Mr. Matrix, equipped with his own ratmobile, had laid the bait several months back in the Pond District’s Rodentia. Cheese for the rat, but also carrot for the rabbit. Rat bit. But then he determined that he was probably the rat (bit) himself he did seek. Another wacky loop.
So that’s it. I must return to the Pond District and follow up on the story of Mr. Matrix and also Wheeler’s presence there. Mt. Pond outside a window. Paint bait. The wackies look on and get organized and in line behind her. “Paint paint paint!” they shout in unison. “Art art art!”
She must return to the point of it all.
She imagines dreaming on its top.
Shirley Boot approached the ice cream truck cautiously. “You’re not Lavern,” she says while walking up.
“And you’re not Shirley.” Shirley Boot looks down.
Dr. Ice Cream, as the many eyed being is calling herself now, serves Bendy a triple dip chocolate twirl. “So, there you go (!)”
Bendy gently but firmly grasps the loaded down cone with his metal claw and begins to gobble up. Soon he’ll have an ice cream headache, but that’s a worry for later. Cool, delicious triple dip twirl for now! Yum yum yum, nom nom nom.
“Heard you had quite the scare the other night,” the doctor says conversationally. “Thought Fisher ran off with a younger man on ya.”
“Woman, actually,” he manages between gobbles. “Yellow.”
Dr. I.C. stares at Bendy. “Racist?” she questions about him aloud.
“No… Lisa?” Dr. I.C. continues to stare, as if she can see his insides. Bendy then realizes she’s talking about him. “No, no, no,” he defends between nom nom noms. “*Actual* color. Cartoon color. And she’s got a missing yellow brother that I know on good word is still here… on the island. Just invisible to the eye unless you know *exactly* where to look.”
“Then he’s a butthole, an anus,” Dr. I.C. declares, thinking of the planet Uranus.
“He does have the degenerative male Smipsons gene,” Bendy offers, trying to excuse Bartholomew’s natural bastardliness a bit. Another delicious gob of triple dip slides down his gullet.
“Oh I think he has a choice,” counters Dr. I.C, wiping down the counter. “I see a lot. I know the ins and outs of people around here… people everywhere. He’s invisible because he’s a menace to societal law. Refuge. As bad as Big Red Butler if you ask me. Go ahead… ask me.”
Bendy takes 2 quick licks and does what Dr. I.C. requests. “Um, *is* he as bad as, er, Big Red Butler?”
“Yes. Now ask me something else. I have the answers to most everything if you pries around my corners.” Oh look, she then thought evily. What’s that just around the corner of my truck? Beyond the kiln mysteriously placed just in the way.
Young Ruby looked far and wide for her missing friend Shirley Boot, starting with Yd Bay on the far side of New Island, hoping to hell she didn’t find another bobbing head there like she did before with Trashy the Clown’s (she didn’t).
Another place to visit was Faux Aunt Annie and Karl’s Gloomy Gus on the west coast. Now the last couple of times we checked in — well, actually throughout this *whole* novel, looking back — it seems that Annie was in a heap of trouble with all these pills and incessant dancing and, um, the other thing. And she was! But the death of Trashy the Clown, although extremely difficult to get over at first, was a blessing in disguise. She cleaned up, with aid from loving beau Karl — locked up in the Gloomy Gus for going on two weeks. She emerged exhausted and dehydrated and still a little nauseous, but ready to move forward into the future without drugs and the other, attached things. Karl was her focus now, her beacon of light. So we have a happy ending to that part of our story, and an important one it is. But no luck for Ruby this day — no sign of Shirley there.
Mrs. Fogg and Ms. Frame, now moved in together for mutual protection, food, and liberty, hadn’t seen her either. That basically took care of the whole northwest section of the island, so active these two women were with their sailing and beach running and frequent picnics to the top of Mt. Sondra where they had a commanding view of that part of New Island.
Blue Jay Wade was dead, and his former chum turned complete psychopath Big Red Butler remained incarcerated at the Gaston-Berry jail, at least for this week. But neighbor Zettie Lamont the zebra-ass, similar to Fogg and Frame, had a pretty good view of the lower western part of the island from his perch atop Pimushe Isle. He relayed to the disappointed Ruby that he hadn’t seen the young girl either.
How about one of the houseboats or yachts at the Diamond Sailing Club? Possibility, but since Lisa the Vegetarian Smipson left for Corsica, she has no contacts there.
No one lived at Artist Point in the southeast section of the island. The east was dominated by Mid Hazel’s compound of buildings. Ruby felt that if Shirley had somehow gotten stuck over there she was doomed anyway. Lost to a powerful witch.
Which left center: Mabel’s house (Mabel and roommates Fisher and Bendy had seen nothing), Eraserhead Man and his Rabbit Hole house (nada again), and Robot Derak Jones (who said, check with Eraserhead Man, which she’d just done). Hmm, she thought, standing in the middle of central Route 9 dividing the island almost cleanly in two. She looked down at the buildings: Elephant Club, Axis’ Castle, Flossie’s, a new place beside Bumpy’s Ice Cream Village. “*Wait*,” she suddenly exclaimed. “The Village! I could ask Lavern Glam. She has eyes everywhere.”
So we head back to the ice cream truck, the sole component of this so-called village. Use to be bigger in the day, as they say. But Mr. Glam sold part of his original land to the Elephant Club, who turned it into their western parking lot, and then part to Oranga Black who built the Arcade in back. He downsized from a double wide trailer with indoor seating to the small truck we’ve already seen in that last post, whose cab also doubled as his daughter’s bedroom for a while. She didn’t mind: she felt she remained in the center of it all that way.
Ruby approached the truck. “You’re not Lavern Glam.”
“Yet *you* remain oh-so-red Ruby Roo,” spoke the alien behind the counter. “Exactly 15 1/2 today, this minute, this, um, second actually. Your anti-birthday.”
The island blew up around them. To those on the outside, those who survived, they describe the sound it made as close if not the same as middle C on a piano. Queer, huh? Too queer? We’ll see…
“It’s just going to be you guys and me for a while, Curled Paper and 2nd Librarian. And Gus, of course. The Power.
4 long, long years. But we’ll be *seen* before then. Oh yes. Sally will make sure of that. And New Island’s south central Wastelands will be expanded beyond anything we dreamed before. Manifest destiny. In the meantime, we have Mabel’s fascinating journals to entertain us, 3 being the latest. More will follow. Perhaps 10 total? That would be nice; keep us busy. Librarian, pick one of your favorite passages and start for us. But read it *sloowly*. We need to stretch out time to the max.”
“Don’t you guys watch anything but MTV?” complained Bill/Wheeler good-naturedly.
“I’m telling you, Queen Bill.”
“Bill, please. Or The Bill. Whichever.”
“You were sitting *right* there when you told me we had to move our trailer here to Rubi. Well, not in that chair, but the chair I use to have over in Obscure.”
Bill tested the springs again a little. “Yeah, I’m really sorry about this furniture — we’ll get you a better chair. And the toilet in the living room!
Unacceptable. I’ll get Clyde the town fixit man out here as early as I can. He’s working on the pipes of the Oo’d Church this weekend. But we’ll get him out here asap.”
“The dining room set is nice,” states Angus Nuffin, attempting to paint a brighter picture of their situation than Bill.
“No, this is my responsibility. I’m early in my rulership. I’ll right the wrong.”
“Okay, that’s great Bill. We really appreciate it. Now… back to that night you visited me in Obscure…”
“She just doesn’t remember it,” Angus complains to his daughter Ragdoll later on while sitting at the dining table. “And I don’t know how to jog her memory. She’s new at her job — *I’m* new at this. Indigo can *hypnotize* with the best, but unhypnotizing someone like Bill (he was going to say, “as stubborn as” but decided on “like” here) — not as easy as I, we, supposed.”
Ragdoll listened intently. “Then maybe The Diagonal itself should wake her up. Indigo could take her on a walk in the woods…” She paused, thinking of a better idea. “Or…”
“Obviously, Obscure is no good, since we moved the trailer from there because of the lowered energy.”
Ragdoll remained patient, knowing her beloved father was under a lot of pressure right now to bring back Bill’s memories. “What I was going to say,” she continued in her kind way, “is that we should take her to a particular place on The Diagonal. But not Obscure.”
“Right, right. Sorry I interrupted you there.” Distracted by a sound behind him, Angus looked at the clock. 2:01 in the morning. “We better get some sleep. Looks like Indigo is staying in the woods again tonight. Good for her! I couldn’t ask for 2 more dedicated daughters to the cause. Pot-D forever!”
“Pot-D forever!” echoed Ragdoll almost as enthusiastically.
“Before you turn in, sweetie, let’s take one more look at your brand new alternate self.”
“Okay, but only if you change in turn,” replied Ragdoll sweetly.
“Alright, Zero. On the count of 3, then. 1…2…”
“You look great, Ragdoll.”
“Shirley, please. When I’m in this form.”
“Of course.” Angus/Sid watched Ragdoll/Shirley scratch again. “But we have to give you something for those fleas, birthday girl.”
They changed back to their normal forms before hitting the hay. Angus never slept as Sid, and he didn’t want to set a bad example for Ragdoll. This was their *primary* form. The New Island alternate should be just that.
Ragdoll pondered later on in bed: He didn’t even ask me what part of The Diagonal I was thinking of. Poor father! He should go on a vacation after this. And he can! Now that he no longer works for the Perch restaurant as a chef. Bill came all the way out her to apologize for the firing, as we knew she would. She wants to round up as many townspeople as she can in her corner before Mabel’s return — ‘nother queen; War of the Queens. But the dehypnotizing or unhypnotizing or “waking up” didn’t proceed as planned. We assumed that we could just *talk* about that night and the memories would flood back. That’s what happened before with Frank and Alma.
Her thoughts turned back to that particular spot on The Diagonal as she turned in bed, trying really hard this time to get some sleep. “Hucka Doobie’s Bank of Despair,” she mumbled aloud. “That could do the trick.”
The next morning:
“Hucka Doobie’s Bank of *What*?”
So Ragdoll showed her sister Indigo the bank in question. Over in Tiretta, not 1000 meters from their trailer, she explained. “You see, if a bank like this began at the bottom of a sim — 0/0, say — and extended in a diagonal to the top of the sim — 256/256 — the whole Diagonal within the sim would become the master number. The point becomes a line. That’s the despair part: no single, pointilistic master number. Instead: the bank; the line.”
“Slow down, slow down,” offers Indigo. “I’ve seen the pictures you’re referring to.
And how it seems to resonate in that set of collages over in — where was it?”
“Um, I can’t remember the name of the sim. But it’s very near the Kerchal Woods.”
“Which could have another, smaller diagonal attached to it — just as a sidenote. But, if this Greenup series is so important, why isn’t it in Collagesity presently? Why did we have to go all the way over to the Sansara continent?”
“Our joint users are working on that. I suppose you heard—”
“Yes,” answered Indigo, guessing what her sister was going to say. “The house on The Diagonal where they were creating the new New Island story has been derezzed. Another magic typewriter — poof.” Indigo threw up her hands as if releasing a puff of smoke.
“Just like with New Island and the Troll Cave there.” Ragdoll then pointed to the ground. “But this is what father showed me and added to it. The name of the property, Indigo: Drongallia. Which contains the word Diagonal, along with an extra ‘r’. The Gods can’t be *too* obvious with these things. Need to leave some mysteries.”
Indigo saw the name too in the ‘About Land’ description. “Yes.” She had quickly calculated the odds of this happening by chance. ‘Astronomical’ came the answer.
She sat down on a green mushroom in a cluster of 5. Ragdoll joined her.
“49/50 for me, sister.”
“50/50 for me.” Ragdoll then admitted something to her sister. “I’m starting to get those urges, a bleed-through from the other side. My *new* self.”
“Right. Father warned me about that. Well…” Indigo deliberated where to begin with that talk, but decided now was not the time. Instead: just some encouragement. “Treat the flea itch first. Then you can work on that other itch.”
They were destined to become best of friends.
“So how did you get *here*?” Indigo asked.
“I don’t know. I suppose I died,” Ruby answered matter-of-factly. “Pain links the two dimensions, New Island over there, and then Collagesity and Heterocera as a whole here. It’s happened before. But I don’t think it’s going to happen again. Once you go through that door you don’t come back. I was standing too close to Ground Zero to survive. I may have *been* Ground Zero for all I know.”
“Zero is my sister.”
“Ahh,” Ruby exclaimed, light bulb going off over her head as she shifted her weight against the knitted ottoman. “That might explain it, yeah.” Ruby thinks back to what she saw around the corner of the doctor’s ice cream truck. Bound Shirley Boot. But then, at the same time, Ragdoll. Back and forth. Flickering, even. Just before… or maybe it was just *after*, confusingly. Time messed up.
“Maybe everyone on the island survived in their own way,” theorizes Indigo. “Just in their own, other dimensions. Mabel can come back and forth as well, after all. Here, and then there.”
“Maybe not any more,” the now eternally 15 1/2 year old answered. “I think she might be trapped over there. I’m pretty sure of it actually. Which means…”
“No Battle for Collagesity between Mabel and Bill coming up.” Indigo blew out a puff of air. “Well… *that’s* a relief anyway. I saw enough of war growing up in South Bennington. Blacks vs. Blues. Greens vs. Grays. Any color you like or could guess would wage battle against another given half a chance. The Multicolors saw to that.”
“Who are they?”
“The ones that stand above the fray and cause it.” Indigo halted her thinking in that direction, a long honed practice. Enough was enough: back to Ruby and the situation at hand. But, just then, she spotted the wolf and pointed out the window. “Look. A hound of some sort.”
Ruby saw it too, emerging from the dark void of the woods. As it continued to approach, the girls realized it was blue. It barked but the yelping seemed to say something. They couldn’t quite make it out yet.
“Did you hear it too?” asked Indigo to her new friend.
“Yes. Something like: ‘The Friend’.”
Indigo was sure that wasn’t it. “Dare we go out and speak to it directly?”
Ruby shrugged, indicating: what’s going to harm me *now* after what I’ve been through.
“Oh what a *beautiful* dog… wolf. Just what I needed to cheer me up! How are you boy? Girl?”
It yelped, repeating what it “said” before.
“Okay, that was clearer,” Indigo declared. “‘The End.'”
“Or is it…” Ruby opined, “just…”
The wolf howled, reinforcing the finality.
“No. It’s ‘The End’.”
END OF COLLAGESITY 2018 MIDDLE!