inhaling a staircase: oneiric monsters.

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Christopher Goodman.

 

“Now I could eat a piano, shoot a table, inhale a staircase. All the extremities of my body have orifices out of which come the skeletons of the piano…” – Gherasim Luca, The Passive Vampire.

* * *

I have grown up from the rubbish tips that line the town. I have two dripping piss-holes for eyes and a tail that drags along behind me, sucking filth from the earth and pushing it upwards towards my head, and gathering it there, so that it grows bigger and bigger, fouler and fouler. My tail is made from fish-bones and aluminum tins and the scum that accretes around drains. I hold up my head with my right arm, which is bigger than the left. I leave the left to hold my cane, which is just the post removed from a stop sign. My legs are always in motion, even when they are still.

I like to stagger along behind the fences of yards at night, so that anyone looking out their windows or smoking on their porches can see my radiantly sour head bobbing along above the fence line. Anyone that walks along the hypnotic streets during my hours will hear me whispering poetry in the mush-mouthed voices of bees.

If you listen, I will tell you of beds of roses vomiting in the pale psalm of morning. I will tell you of my daughter, who lives in the patterns of the carpet in the house of a retired philosopher in Brussels. I will tell you about sex, which for me is a solitary act, the melting of matter into other matter, the mutual decay of various ragpicked pieces of flesh and refuse, their slow tantalizingly putrescent cohesion into a one. I will tell you of meadows that hide satanic poetry in their skin, and exude it from their pores on nights with the coldness of bruises.

If you take my hand, my cold hand, my dead and moving hand, I will tell you how to write such poetry yourself.

* * *

It comes across the hall with the sound of little feet pattering, sounding like a vulnerable and frightened child. It is not a child though, but a creature called the Patterfoot. The Patterfoot is a dress-suit-black, umbrella shaped being that hovers in the air through a triad of tiny wings set behind its ‘head’ that vibrate with the speed of a hummingbird’s. (From a distance these wings are designed to merely sound like the comforting hum of a radiator.) It trails two hanging appendages from its body that swing down to the ground, and have attached to their ends small enamel hooves. These hooves are not used for mobility, but are instead manipulated by the appendages, like marionettes from a wire, to clomp along the floor in a manner similar to an excitable, if uncertain, human child.

When a concerned adult steps out into the hall, the Patterfoot propels itself towards them with uncanny speed, like a video that has been sped up, and ejects a noxious gas from a hole in the faceless hood that is its body. This gas at first chokes the air from the lungs like a fist squeezing dry a wet rag, and then slowly, over the period of an hour, deliquesces the body so that what was once a concerned adult named Steve (known to his intimates as Stevie) becomes a stinking puddle of melted matter.

The Patterfoot, being a concerned citizen, looks over this biological hazard and, unsheathing its lures – the hooves – reveals them to be mouths, which it hoovers up the unfortunate waste with.

* * *

The warmness rippled as I huddled against the father-bones. The father-bones were old and feeble but they still held me, still protected me from the dryness and death heat outside. I sent out all my tongues and shadows in greeting to the father-bones after my sleeping time.

It was my duty to protect the father-bones from visitors, the uglyodd and noisy things with their strange waving limbs and sounding holes and clumps of foul-smelling cloth on top. The little things wanted to destroy the father-bones, to erect new child-bones over them and fill them with more things. I had dealt with these thing-beings before. They always brought in their tubes of destructive fire that shot out rays that killed my tongues and shadows and they sometimes stole parts of the father-bones and took them back to their hell with them, their hell of deathlight.

The father-bones had stood here for many sleeping-times, and it was evil to disturb them in their peace. The father-bones held many spirits, held time like water in a carafe, and to evict those spirits or to dry that water was evil. The last time the thing-beings came they brought their tubes of fire and their hot scorching bodies clumped with cloth and began to take things from the father-bones. The father-bones’ tattoo of a stone moon, they wrenched down with their small idiot violence. It was a beautiful tattoo, cracked in places yes, but such lovely cracks, and such a wise old moon. You could tell it held many learned shadows in itself, was plentiful with the wisdom of tongues. It was a gentle coldness that emanated from it, and the thing-beings were going to take it with them.

Though I was afraid, I peered out from my corner and watched them, waiting for the right moment. One of them pulled out a long, hard looking object with a bluntness at the tip and began beating the father-bones with it! At the same time, another thing-being reached out with a hook to pull down one of the father-bones’ beautiful gold earrings. It hung on a silver chain from high up and the stupid thing-being began to tug it down. I had enough. I could hear the spirits screeching in fright in the thick marrow of the father-bones.

I jumped down, although I was still a small girl, and smothered the first thing-being. I put out its heat while it struggled and burned against me, singeing my shadows. I poured cold jelly onto its stench, I breathed water over it, I held it in its burning and smoking till it was still. My body ached with pain. I looked around and saw that the other thing-beings had fled. They were foolish and full of cowardice and greed.

They have not come back since then, but I hear them outside, outside the walls of the father-bones, scurrying and whining and scratching around. I heal for their return, and I wait for them so I can protect the father-bones. I will be ready next time.

Anatoly Timofeevich Fomenko.

Anatoly Timofeevich Fomenko.

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short note on m.p. shiel’s “the bride.”

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Hans Bellmer, Les Quartres Filles.

Here is what M.P. Shiel has to say about love in his 1911 tale, “The Bride,” written in his florid, fin de siecle influenced style:

“It was a lunacy, its name was Legion, it was possession by the furies; it was a spasm in the throat, and a sickness of the limbs, and a yearning of the eye-whites, and a fire in the marrow; it was catalepsy, trance, apocalypse; it was high as the galaxy, it was addicted to the gutter; it was Vesuvius, borealis, the sunset; it was the rainbow in a cesspool, St John plus Heliogabalus, Beatrice plus Messalina; it was a transfiguration, and a leprosy, and a metempsychosis, and a neurosis; it was the dance of the maenads, and the bite of the tarantula, and baptism in a sun.”

“The Bride” is an engaging tale, but one with a confusing and muddled end, and not in the good way. However, I found it much more successful than “Xelucha,” the tale Lovecraft glowingly referred to as a “noxiously hideous fragment,” but which I felt was baldly pretentious and successful less in discomfiting the reader than in boring her with the names of minor Egyptian gods. In that tale, the fin de siecle theatricality turns into a pathetic marionette parody of itself. Nonetheless, Shiel can on occasion marshal a splendid set of images, and this was the best passage from “The Bride.” Good horror, I think, depends more on the manufacturing of startling imagery than perhaps any other form of fiction, and this excerpt has it.

(I read this piece in Peter Haining’s Great Irish Tales of Horror, which was uneven but contained some solid work here and there.)

the city beneath the city.

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Roland Topor, illustration for “The Tenant.”

 

Where is the city beneath the city, the kiss beneath the kiss? There is no depth, only a limitless series of excavated surfaces. It’s surfaces all the way down; there is no primordial foundation, no ultimate point of tactility. You grope and scratch the skin of your partner, hoping to paw down into something more real – the substrate of existence, of love – but you never find it, it is always like a dream that has fled the scene of the crime when you awake.

We look for an embrace beneath the embrace, a truer embrace buried beneath the real one, like an ancient city interred beneath the ground of a mundane strip of tract housing. Everything is too much, Sartre said, but neither is it quite enough. Life is like a corpse, which, if you attempt to cut it open like a mortician to perform an autopsy, reveals nothing but an endless succession of dermal layers. The muscles and organs, “the real stuff” of life, are a constantly-vanishing point, always winking off into a distance that never gets closer.

The only solidity is pain, and it could be said, to borrow from Marx, that all that is solid melts into pain. There is no solidity in pleasure, no bone-structure in it from which to stitch together the days into a scarecrow semblance of a life. But pain is a pin to stick a butterfly against a cork board, in pain there is a foretaste of the city beneath the city, the kiss beneath the kiss. Pleasure is a mean, little thing, measured out by the centimeter; pain is measured by the foot, doled out across the days with astonishing consistency.

(A stuttering, slurring inarticulacy spreads over the days like a film over the mouth after many hours’ sleep. What is a day but a thing that leaves, and whose leaving is never really apprehended as it happens, as it is happening? One wishes the other’s body near yours, its own wetly humming silence softened by its sub-cutaneous eloquence. It says nothing, other than that it is here, here – while the day pushes forward its leaving.)

* * *

One can stand on a staircase leading out into an emptied living room after a party and hear a solitary note sounding from the upright piano, even though everyone has left. This will not be the work of inventive gusts of wind or malignant, malingering spirits, but a sprite-like creature that lives inside the tangles of piano wire.

It spends its time skittering across the steel wires when they are in use, plangent and violent and enormous, hooting and hollering manically in a frenzy, unheard by anyone above the racket. When the instrument, (the voice of its god, the ruler of its steel and wood cosmos) is silent, and it senses that only one or two people are around, at a certain remove of distance, it will gather all of the strength in its tiny frame and make a note. If one notates the notes played over a period of time, in those muted evening hours, it will be observed that a sonata is being formed, slowly spooling out over the months, fitfully brought to existence. (Or maybe an adagio or an allegro.)

These are the life’s work of these creatures, the individual prayers sent up to their strange god with its mechanical tongues; their strange god of dark corners and a silence that wheezes with former blasts that continue to ring in their pin-sized ears. Once completed, they die, whether or not their work is observed by those in alleged possession of their god.

When they die, they shrivel grayly into a corner and appear to be nothing more than squashed flies or pillbugs.

It remains uncertain, however, what they think of their listeners who stand by themselves in odd moments of the night, out in the vast universe of the house which the piano sprites cannot even conceive of. For they cannot imagine anything other than the body of their god, and its sound which nourishes their bodies like food. What do they think of these visitors they play for, do they think of them as the tatterdemalion ghosts of angels? Perhaps they are simply symbolic points of contact with their god, like splinters of light or crucifixes. Vessels or vehicles for communion.

Are there those pessimists and materialists of the species that conjecture that the listeners have nothing whatever to do with them or their god, and are perhaps not even aware of their existence? More than this though, how would they feel if they knew these visitors were the ones that brought their inert god to life – that without them it is nothing but a hulking fallowness?

figurines in a barren landscape.

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Ivan Marchuk, Silenced Strings.

 ‘apologists for domination.’

Some of the more conservative proponents of evolutionary psychology seem to wield evolution like a truncheon for the current state of things, the implicit assumption being that we must all show fealty to and obey yet another Great Authority. Men are naturally this way, women naturally that way, rape is hardwired into male brains, and we have the study to prove it etc. And not only must we obey this authority, we can’t even rebel against it, elide it, elude it, or fight against it because we are already under its dominion whether or not we even know it.

neoliberal love.

When someone rejects you for some particular reason, and your reaction is to suspect others of that same rejection, to anticipate it as if inevitable. This, I think, is at least partially attributable to the toxin of monogamous exclusivity, which wounds us by bloodily carving out a hole in our erotic and romantic being and then telling us that there is one special person out there who can fill that hole. When someone who appeared to fit the shape of that hole rejects you, everyone else who comes into your life in this way, and thereby comes to resemble the shape in their own turn, is assumed potentially guilty of the same “sin” by a kind of structural law or reflex. The old true love did this; therefore the new true love must do the same. In this way, we are not only initially wounded by the person doing the rejecting, we choose to wound ourselves further of our own will – and, in all likelihood, will wound others with our preemptive suspicions and the hard surfaces of our scar tissues. To re-employ a popular line: this exclusivity ultimately teaches us to privatize pleasure and socialize pain.

overthrow the self.

The monster of one’s own body as the great mass of people. Its hidden interior, its quiet operations and insurrectionist trade unions, its eventual betrayal and rebellion against the autocracy of its owner. The eventual transformation into a more diffuse form of life, the state of governance known as decomposition, wherein the power is distributed amongst the soot-handed bacilli, the humble beer-brewing atoms, and hack-driving molecules, and the monarchical structure dissolves into the anarchy of fertilization.

an airborne disease.

Ideology is a spore in your brain awaiting activation at the right moment, at which point you exhale it out into the air, unaware, so that it may find another host.

“a beautiful thing that never happened.”

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Andrew Wyeth, Christmas Morning. 1944.

(This is the first, rough draft of a story written as a whimsical flight of fancy based off a hypothetical could-have-been from writer and painter Denton Welch’s life, as mentioned in his journals. He said, nostalgically reflecting on a cross-England walking tour he took at the age of 18: “I suddenly wanted to be hiking and hearty and pre-war and pre-accident, everything young and careless. I wished that Eric and I had known each other when we were both eighteen and that we had walked miles together every day and slept every night in haystacks. I longed for it quite bitterly.”

Welch, of course, was hit by a car not long after this walking tour, and ultimately died of complications resulting from it in his early 30’s. He wrote that (emetically sentimental, wrenchingly wistful) desire from the crooked perspective of injury and damaged youth. As a statement, it interests me in that it comes from a literalized version of that perennial fantasy of the old: the wasted and damaged youth. For Welch, this fantasy was a reality, and the desire to have it undone, to pull back the cheap threads of time was more violent and truly spoken than the common bad-faith regret of the old. Although, a voice (through a cloud?) whispers into my ear with the warmth of seduction, “We all waste our youth. At least he had a real excuse; you certainly do not.”

This story then, is a representation of the impossibility of that bad-faith wistfulness of the old person, rendered literally. It should be no surprise then, that the attempt to go back and have things differently, does not work.

This is the first part; the second will be posted not long after.)

* * *

My leg was healed and clean. The knee was back in its right place too, and moved in joyful unison with my other bones. But more than anything else, my back felt strong and straight for the first in a long time. Walking again without a crutch was a revelation. I paced back and forth over the dull carpet with a frightening level of excitement, torturing myself with the desire to leave, to get going.

Myself and Peter left the damp warping fog of our home and penetrated into a warm and greenly wet valley. The strange whining noise that always nagged in our ears left us at last. As the beginning to our walking tour it seemed to bode well, and Peter’s face formed the charming smirk which passed for a smile with him on seeing the landscape before us. We had little money, and nothing really but our packs filled with bread and cheese and canteens of water. We were both about eighteen and on the edge, the cusp of our lives. We had been sleeping before, but now we were awake, and much was going to happen to us, we were sure.

We passed through a small wood whose packed earth was knotted about with vines like strands of thick dark hair, smelling somehow of cardamom but leaving a taste in the mouth like chocolate. We talked about coming across ruined holdfasts and stave-churches, but the wood was suffused with a brisk and unconscious health and anything like that would not have made sense there. Birds glimmered in between the foliage, puckered red moss glowed against the homely bark, leaves lay about the ground like carpets of melted-down bronze. Peter ran his hand across every patch of moss, his strong wrist leading it across the red fur as if it were braille.

There was an openness all around us. We were passing through a portico into another realm.

The woods sloped downwards into a hollow that leveled out and opened up again into the verdant valley, now strewn with cowslip and honeysuckle. My loose and springing legs carried me down the grade and I shouted with exuberance on the way. Peter was too caught up in that exuberance to roll his eyes or make dry remarks at me, and he came down smirking.

“Sourmeath looks a lot closer than ten miles ahead,” Peter said, gazing ahead in his focused way, oblivious to anything else. I don’t know what came over me – the getting over the awful injury, the rhubarb tint to his cheeks, the firm, warm wind coursing across and animating the landscape like blood filling an artery – but I leaned over and kissed him, right on the cheekbone. He stepped back a little bit, at first amused, then a look of hurt puzzlement came over his face and he muttered something indistinct. I looked down at my shoes, my fresh pair of boots, and wished I hadn’t done it.

“Come on,” he said. “Sourmeath will be the first stopping point on our journey, and I want to get there before evening.” Then he laughed, gestured forward with his head, and began walking through the scrubbed and glistening land. I sighed, looking up from my shoes to the sky, and saw that its former pristine blue had become chalky and calcified, incongruous with the scene below. Yet if anything, this just intensified the beauty of everything else.

A fire was in me to see everything around. The millipedes pouring themselves across the ground like living licorice, the timid mice excusing themselves into their dim burrows, the stilt-legged grasshoppers hurling themselves like missiles from their own trebuchet. I felt, with Peter’s body near me, flooded with its own churning blood and life, that I was enclosed by a history written with invisible ink all around me. A micro-history of unrecorded life, the histories and chronicles of storm-ponds, of the nests of spiders and the rise and fall of their heraldic woven arms, the furtive couplings shuddering in the quiet dark and damp of the beautiful unearthly countryside.

“It’s usually only this nice out when you’re stuck inside,” Peter said, grabbing hold of a tuberous purple foxglove hanging downwards into the path.

“That’s poisonous,” I told him. “Wash your hand before you put it back in your mouth.”

“Oh,” he said, looking somehow both crestfallen and detached at the same time. “Well, I guess some things have to be.” Then he smiled again and continued on ahead of me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen him so weightless, so unconcerned with making incisive remarks. He yelled something back to me about a cottage.

It turned out not to be a cottage, but an elevated hunting blind set off from the path about ten yards. It was built with plywood and looked extremely old. Worn cloth was set over the windows instead of glass, and it flapped against the sill in that same, seductive wind we could still feel even off the road. A mangled old bicycle lay against its raised posts in a heap.

Peter got hold of the first step on the ladder and began climbing up to the opening set in under the blind. Not wanting to be left behind, though fearing the blind’s stability, I began climbing. I watched Peter from below as he pulled himself up and I tried not to fall.

Inside it was silent but for the flapping of the cloth. The air was close and grimy with dust. Peter peered at some yellowed posters on the walls of outdated information about hunting licenses, a few pin ups of large and curvy women, and a black and white print of an old car of some make I couldn’t discern. Dust had settled on it so thickly it looked like a pale fungus.

The remains of a fire lingered in a circular pit, the ash gone from gray to white so that it looked like polluted snow. I looked upwards and saw a hatch that opened out to the sky. A rusted dead bolt was over it. I could sense the sky seething above it.

“Would hunters make a fire while waiting for their prey?” Peter asked, fingering the ashes with an extended pinky.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “It’s been used as a shelter for wanderers, I’m sure.” I kicked at a rock from the pit and tried to imagine someone with a hunting rifle lying in wait here, piercing with lead any animal that passed by. It struck me as vulgar and out of place in this valley.

“What was once sordid is now quaint,” Peter said, apparently disagreeing. He threw open a cloth curtain and exclaimed something about a family of rabbits outside, then jumped down the ladder to the ground. He was moving back and forth between trenchant observation and thoughtless exclamation in a way I had not seen since we were boys, that bizarre capacity of his to shrug off existence and embrace it without question in the span of the same minute.

I stood there in that musty blind marveling at all of the things that must have happened just in this spot. But it seemed to me an ugly history and I did not want to think about it any more, so I climbed out of the blind and ran to catch up with Peter.

He was crouched in front of a hollowed out log. Behind the log was a group of four rabbits, all crouched down and staring at Peter with bright green eyes. They did not move. He made a motion to hush me.

“They were in a bush next to the blind and scattered when I came down,” he whispered. “I don’t know why they stopped running. They look out of their wits with terror.”

And they did. One appeared to be the mother or father rabbit, and the other three were under-grown, scrawny little things, all spine and fur. They all stared blankly ahead. A pendant of slaver hung down from the jaw of the oldest, suspended in the air with a stillness that was uncanny. They were all so motionless it was unclear if they were even breathing. They seemed separate from everything else around them. It was as if we were viewing them through a peep-hole in a penny view-machine on a boardwalk.

“Are they looking at us?” I asked.

“I thought they were,” Peter said.

We stood and watched but the animals remained completely still.

“I don’t think they are looking at us,” Peter said.

“What do you mean?” I was looking at the oldest one’s eyes, which did not blink or twitch in the slightest but which I could swear were aware of all going on around it.

“I think they’re looking at something behind us,” Peter said, and we turned around to look at the blind.

The blind had not changed in the slightest since we had left it, but where it was empty before, it was not empty now. How this was the case, I couldn’t say, and Peter probably couldn’t either. But just as I had felt the sky seething behind the hatch inside, I could feel some presence behind the plywood walls, just in back of the cloth curtains. It’s strange to say that I had no idea what kind of presence, but I didn’t. What I knew was that it was a vileness. It was the opposite, or the negative, of the brisk and healthy wood we had just gone through, a place or thing of dead birds and clotted vegetable decay.

But more than this I was certain that it was boring, tremendously boring. There was nothing in the world more boring and vile or emitting a stronger gravitational pull towards lethal, brain-deadening boredom. It was the cosmic boredom of pleasure-worn Greek gods or of certain old and entropic marriages of aunts and uncles.

I felt a vibration in my toes in reaction to it and knew instinctively if I did not step back I would have to steady myself or lose balance. It was drawing me towards it with a powerful inhalation. I looked over to Peter and he was rapt with wonder and fascination. He did not seem horrified in the least.

I grabbed his shoulder and he returned my gaze as if recovering from a stupor. I pulled the both of us backwards in the direction of the road.

“That’s a strange thing,” he said, and I could not find anything more interesting to say either. My mind was a bowl of rancid pudding and language was an undiscovered refrigeration. And I hadn’t even seen the damned thing. My mind would have stopped like a clock if I had glimpsed it.

We shambled away towards the road. As we reached its humble dirt outline, we turned back and saw the family of rabbits still frozen behind the log, looking at the blind.

* * * *