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Fiction by Kyle E. Miller

Hilarity

We were searching for the treasure chest / reliquary / suitcase / computer / man or woman / dragon / temple they called God’s Voicebox, rumored to contain… But that was the thing, wasn’t it. Every hunt begins with an albino hare and ends in a hole not every hunter enters willingly. It was said to contain (or hold hostage) something now lost. Something Pandoran and precious, absolutely essential. Necessity’s twin. Good shit, Cody said. He grinned, his teeth repulsively brown for reasons never addressed. Could alcohol alone cause such ruin? Regardless, you believed him when he said shit. He joined the four of us. Celyn, Reed, Prince. That was before the fall, some time in August, before the sandhill cranes made their move. Low flying contemporary pteradons. Voices like living wood twisted and bent into aerodynamic shapes, something to please us at last. Their fossils 2.5 million years old. At least. The end of the Pliocene. A garden of dream animals, one step removed from the expected. Twin-horned rhinoceroses and bugle lipped deer. Before the fall.

We’re iron creatures in an iron age. Metal sky, hammered out by Ilmarinen. We move on iron rails. Build iron furniture. Eat iron burgers. Every faery terrorized. Exodus from the garden. Subordinate to silver & gold. But iron was once worshiped. Consider meteors, aeroliths from heaven. Consider the scar of light between stars. Before the fall.

#

Cody went swimming in the Huron where it snaked through the city. Diving after a glimmer in the green dark. A chip of the sun, he said. Just mica flaking off a slab of granite. Emblematic of our katabasis. Celyn made fun of him: did he expect it to be that easy? It wasn’t even winter. The sky was still open. Cody expected everything to be easy. Lazy unless you were breaking into an abandoned asylum. Where he belonged, I thought. I opened my eyes underwater, Cody said, dripping, a circle of olive colored muck on his creased forehead. I saw a vault of light. It didn’t hurt, he said. But his left retina had soaked up three atoms of heavy metals. Always hurt. And the year still young.

#

Celyn, who taught me everything I know about music. Until I left his kingdom, rotting as it was under the throne. A feculent stench everyone could smell except for him. Fruit flies and roaches feeding on a forgotten haunch of herbed stag. Depression perforated his mind. He began to forget what everyone else remembered. But we had had a good run. We listened to The Stone Roses in your car that first winter, just before Christmas, because parents keep no private rooms. I fell in love with his cock. Phallic love at first sight. Hierodule in the shrine to Priapus. I didn’t always care to see his face. But his cock. I fed on it.

#

Why search for something you’ll be disappointed to find? Reed, the most bookish of us all. And they called me Professor. He dragged a hollow-eyed doll around in a red wagon. As if it were his child. Or a fetish, a voodoo doll, a changeling. He called it 3rd & 4th Eyes. He was always making magical connections between seemingly disparate things. Wrapped in a Mexican blanket, it was indistinguishable from a human child. If the Box exists, he said, then you’ll be disappointed to find it. If it doesn’t, you’ll keep looking. All dichotomies are false, I said. I once read that. Believed it. The Book of the New Sun, I think. What about life and death? Cody asked. Viruses. Not to mention the undead: wraiths, liches, and necrophages. Those don’t count. They’re made up, Cody said. Oh, are they?

#

Prince was the only straight man among us. (Cody tried and failed, to his chagrin. Got gayer as he aged.) I loved him, of course. And hid my longing and hid from my longing. I walked into the forest where it couldn’t find me. It padded among the trees like a lynx. I kept a fat trunk between us at all times. A chain around its neck. The other end in my hand. Oh. He was a white Jesus. An ex-Christian too. I loved that his mind could stretch like a plant toward the sun. I asked him to join us believing he wouldn’t. When he did, I hid my face. I played the role of the pathetic fag thwarted by the sociobiology of desire. When I call myself a faggot, some part of me lies down at the feet of that broken sphinx of a slur and exposes its throat. A little autodomination never hurt. Unfortunately. I got a little hard. His muscular hands tightening over my mouth. Kneel on my throat. Piss. Stomp. I would live inside his holy shoe.

#

I awaited the crystal blade of winter. The cold that cleans. The Mayqueen white mornings. The Inuit’s mythical 37 types of snow. It gets easier to breathe. More space. Everything exposed.

#

A circle of figures dressed in ochre robes. We were still looking for a map, still hadn’t found one. Reed knew one of the cultists (?). Had words. Prince stood near me, waiting for news. The tip of his foot covered the front of my boot. An accident. He withdrew, but my stomach contorted. I felt I might shit my pants. Like that time in New Orleans when I had to throw my underwear away and wander commando in the French Quarter. Wondering if it had gone through to my pants. A little bullseye on my ass. Reed came back to us. Brought news. All six of the elements essential to life had been discovered on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Something for the girl with everything, I guess, Celyn said. Lacking his own language, everything he said referenced something else. Somehow he made sense sometimes. We walked away no wiser.

#

There was much talk of spiritual development. Especially after Cody succumbed to his pollution. You’d think they were getting paid. You didn’t have to hear anyone talk about it to know it was there. In the air, like moisture. You don’t get soaked walking home. Everyone talked about opening up and healing, nourishing the planet, progress, self-improvement, self-care. But no one was smiling. They hated the world. Hypocrites and blackguards. Emotional suffering is a fear of reality.” I was weary of the imperatives of the age. The spirit of American culture died within me. Primal glands exuded an antidote. My blood clean.

#

I don’t know which is worse, working here or dying here. Reed. Born by the marsh. Sent across the water in a basket woven of himself. Born with a frog in his mouth. Full of shit. As long as I’ve known him, and by know I mean have met. I mean Biblically. But not who he is, which is always withheld. The wizard in the tower. You’ve heard he lives there. You’ve seen the tower and the windows bright with inner life. But not who lives inside. He hated being forced to work. He collected jobs as one collects wounds. Did everything he could to avoid employment. Begged and stole and recycled. Carried Bob Black’s tract in his back pocket. A sweet boy, or he was, once. He hardened, began to murmur in the dark. About transference, alchemy, alembics, crucibles. Exchanges.

#

The bowl of the hazel grove. Tackled by shadow. Leaf spice. A dour intellectual harvesting angst and decay from the dark soils and clays, inert and slug cold. The Golden Rose. We had heard about him somewhere, from a pamphlet or government-issued Health & Safety bulletin. Official bullshit, anyway. He sat on the bottom step of a temple that no longer stood. Its silhouette preserved in the spaces between the trees. He held a book in one outstretched hand, finger marked, its face opened to the ground. Paperback. The cover spray painted green and brown, camouflaged. The potential appearance of a genius haunts every democracy, he said. This is what happens, Prince said, looking away from the Rose’s dreary figure. Intellectuals are just repressed romantics. Posed like an anguished poet. I felt miserable in his proximity. What was the radius of his misery? 2.5 million meters? Enjoying life came too close to romanticizing it, so he avoided joy entirely. Just in case. Cody pushed him off the step. The book jumped across the grove. He was getting rough with him. I had to stop him, not for the first time. Cody’s eye was getting heavy by then. Soon it would fall out of the socket, pulled gravidly toward the ground on the trajectory of decay. We all looked at the Rose, sprawled and self-nebbished. My cheeks fired up. Mortified on another’s account. That’s what happens when a dog tries to become a cat because it was taught that dogs are dirty. Prince said it, not me.

#

In some ways we speak things into being. Manifestation, toxic tenet of positivity. The spiritual swamp of new agers delighting in prefab music hosted by bejeweled gurus. Tripping in the wild desert, praying to all the gods. Powdered rhino horn & snake oil charlatans. And yet. No info from the Golden Rose. Thus our mystagogue failed us. Every Jesus self-exiled to the wasteland. But Reed picked up his book. Read a few pages, learned something he couldn’t express. But the next thing we saw was a swollen-bellied Labrador lactating for kittens. Five or six tiny kittens, mostly black, one chocolate brown, a rarity. All ready to suckle the dog’s leaking tits. Some mothers are made.

#

Dead squash vines caught in the wheels of 3rd & 4th Eyes’ wagon. Celyn lagging behind. Cody a slime mold. Prince guilt-wracked. His head hung. My attention at the base of his neck. Two curls of hair. What had he done?

#

I remember the bright rump of a pumpkin above the vine. It must have been late in the fall then, when we lost Cody. Anxiety & panic. The physical violence. Alcoholism. Nihilism. His fractal theories of the self, iterating his personhood across all possible scenarios. There was no space left in his mind for anyone else. Then his eye fell out. I watched him try to put it back in and then snip the optic nerve with a pair of child’s Fiskers scissors, guided by his one good eye. I hated the way he did things. Stupid, irritating manboy. Couldn’t take care of himself. Couldn’t even swallow a pill. That’s probably why we fucked. Now he was hollowing himself out. Celyn slipped out his cock and I told him to put it away. Wrong story. It’s not about the eye, or the space left behind. He was mad at me for days. Later, Cody lost sight in his right eye. His hair fell out. He spat and gibbered. Drank, stayed up all night. Saw or thought he saw snakes. If you saw that anaconda–but which way are we going? His incoherence was a symptom of a larger problem. He ran himself to extinction.

#

When I first met Prince, I thought he must be an idiot. A jock, insensitive as the macadam. I masturbated later. I imagined him stretched on the cross, his armpits opened like oysters. His feet pierced by an iron nail. A ring of thorns, pooled blood. We got to talking. I learned he has the heart of a philosopher. Or a poet. Stopped imagining his body. Hear that? he asked. Acute senses, perfect profile. Platonic man. I heard it. Strings in the distance. Like the opening bars of Cale’s Paris 1919.” She makes me so unsure of myself. Celyn was so far gone by then that he heard nothing. Reed was arguing with his doll. So much wanting to be seen. A cold tickle on my nose. It was too hot for snow, but there it was. Every season folded into one. Cauldron of weathers. The pumpkins rotted in the patch. Something was missing, but what? Birds? Or just their songs? You’re a ghost la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. You’re a ghost-

#

Sometimes I think Reed lives in the doll he wagons around. That he transferred his soul to the doll, and the doll’s emptiness filled his own body.

#

We ate a stew made from things on hand and said nothing to each other. Turtle feet, dark chocolate, hay (green second cutting; picked out the bugs) olives, lichens, and fish, tender and flakey. Marinated in buoyancy. We divided the soup according to hunger. No one ate much. Prince, divided against himself. Was it merely temptation? Every man is lonely. Every straight man is curious. No, he had done something terrible. Betrayed himself or cut the throat of his (virgin) mother. Had a momentary fetish for abortions or diddled an underage girl. I don’t care. Let me deliver you from heterosexuality. Indulge me, call me baby, let me show you the secret voice of your glans. It’s louder than you imagine. But I was silent, as usual. We slept. No one dreamed because we spent them all during the day.

#

Everyone looked at me like I was a freak. Two-headed calf or perverted hunchback. Pedophile. But I’m not finished yet. Unfinished things are often ugly. Look at babies, or insect nymphs. A tree’s bud in spring and a cicada fresh from the shell. Compare. Mark their mirrored ugliness. I’m still growing, a late bloomer.

#

Professor M! Prof! Reed’s smoke-darkened voice called me to battle. A few dozen ghouls blocked our way. A barricade. Black pants, white shirts, rusty chains, big tatts, shaven heads, pure radical noise from the boombox, telephone wire whips and scourges. Cops against re-enchantment. Your people? I asked Reed with a look. He shook his head. A bunch of punks who saw in the rape of meaning something solidly revolutionary. Said more about their minds. The architecture of meaning erected by our Brutalist masters is less than 1% of all things. There are 20 quadrillion ants on Earth at any given moment. What arrogance. They conflated the problem and the solution. Beguiled by language. Regardless, my words cleared the air, the street. Peace. Thankless task. But that’s why I’m here.

#

Meaning is a red herring. The word, I mean. The thing, it’s everywhere. Let me put it another way. A red herring is meaning. Or a blue one.

#

But meaning isn’t incompatible with incomprehension. They lay on each other like lovers. Meaning fucks the unknown and creates a child called human. A bunch of bullshit, that’s how it happened. Finally. A hedgehog crawled out of the earth. That was the tipping point. We found it. Celyn, Reed, Prince, and Cody’s ghosts. And me. I tried to recall the days those boys and men nourished my senses. Society, they blamed. The system eroded your sense organs. As if it were a kind of weather. Hurricane winds, hail. No, I sacrificed what I knew of civilization for freedom. Ferality trespassed on belonging. I knew the cold in my bones was the same that threatened to crush a cricket’s exoskeleton like an empty soda can. No, not my government. The law of Pan permits every perversion. Pustuled, snotty hedgehogs crept out of the earth in the gall-bombed maple orchard. A burrow too big to have been made by them. Mold breath like a weapon. Pestilence. Celyn afraid. We ran a little ways. Everyone was getting sick in those days. Reed abandoned his wagon and carried the doll in the crook of his arm. Prince outpaced us all, holy athlete. Back in the city. A courtyard of bricks as pale as a dead frog’s throat. The cobbled ground blown open. A supermassive hole. Ordnance or a meteor. And an anonymous fountain. No decorations except the words LIKE A WELL LOOKING AT A DONKEY graffitied around the rim. Otherwise, it could have been any fountain. Any courtyard. The water was uncontaminated by the 10 Plagues. We looked at our own faces for the first time in a while. We made cups of our hands and drank. We opened the water. Already, it was evaporating, spreading its fruit across the world. I watched Prince suck drops from his fingers. A strange look on Celyn’s face. Trying not to smile? A bubbling in my own throat. Old muscles waking up. A tap on my shoulder. Reed offering water from his hands. The sky holding snow trembled. I drank. They drank. We fed each other. And pretty soon we fell to the ground laughing and rolled into the hole and laughed through good and evil and through knowledge and couldn’t stop laughing, but by then there was no need.

Kyle E. Miller

Twiter: @templeoftheword

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