Down A Thousand Stairs
I’d wanted to learn things. I’d wanted to see the world. So, I packed a bag, and I headed out. I followed rumours and maps on the internet left by other travellers. I went to places that had names that’d never been spoken by men who’d grown up electricity or running water. I found cities that were on no maps, roads that went where no-one had been for many, many years.
And somewhere along the way, I heard word about the temple, a strange and ancient place built in the most remote of locations. It was a place of arcane and forbidden wisdoms, and supposedly, of great peace. A tranquil and holy spot, where individuals might take their time, to find their way. So off I went.
Getting to the temple was unlike any journey I’d ever taken before. A sixteen hour plane-flight. Another dozen hours on a bus. Then two days on the back of a large donkey.
The temple was built on a large rock monument which sat alone in the midst of an enormous ravine; it looked like a strong wind could blow the whole thing over at any moment, but my guide said it’d standing there a good thousand years longer than history book new to say. There was a thin rope bridge to get to the rock itself, and then many, many hours of climbing up thin steps which’d been carved into the side of the rock itself.
The wind pulled at my clothing as I climbed; at one point my hat was pulled off, and went sailing a thousand feet off into the sky. I know not where it landed; somewhere on the jagged lengths of stone so many hundreds and hundreds of feet below.
The men of the temple, the monks, were as you’d expect. Serene. Calm. Almost indifferent. They were soft, round men, largely, their skins deeply tanned from long days out working in the sun. Their robes were brownish-red, like dirt at sunset. They wore beads, and chanted in the morning and at night, to raise the stars and then to banish them once more when it was time for the day to begin. Some monks claimed that daylight all over the earth required that chanting. I wouldn’t know, myself.
Most of the monks kept to themselves. They were happy enough to meet me, to hear my tales of the outside world, but they were largely indifferent. They had little use for the world where the rest of mankind lived.
But one monk would speak to me, more than the others would. He was a small, little man, with horrible little rat-like teeth; all yellowed and sharp and twisted in his mouth. His teeth were too small; his smile was mostly gums, and sharp little divots that spat out angrily from the gums. He reminded me a little of one of those fish that eat the flesh off of cows; a barracuda. Ugly little things.
The other monks disliked him, my rat-faced friend. There was something about him that was unsettling, almost offensive. The other monks would almost act as though he didn’t exist, though he was still fed and housed and given chores every morning. He was like a ghost, or something entirely unwanted. Something entirely unwanted that had to be kept around. He smelled of old cheese, and bleach. Strongly, like there was something wrong with his skin.
He came to me one night, after meals, when we were all meant to be in our rooms, meditating. He came into my room, stinking of sweat, and of booze. Drinking was not permitted, yet I was not surprised that the rat-faced monk had managed to procure something which was causing his voice to waver as much as his stumbling footsteps.
“There’s a machine,” he said in a course whisper to me, “hidden in the centre of this rock. It’s what holds the place still and lets us all live here. It’s the oldest thing on the earth, and it runs off the heat of the earth. I’ve seen it; part of the machine runs down and down and down, so deep into the earth that you can feel the heat rising up from the core.”
“The core of the machine?” I asked.
“The core of the earth,” he whispered back, grinning horribly.
And so he took me, to see it. In the dead of the night. He took me to a secret hallway I wasn’t allowed in and through a secret doorway most people wouldn’t have known existed. These led us to a set of stairs which seemed to travel straight into the pure rock of the monument itself, tunnelling deeper and deeper, and down and down. There were no lights, so we brought candles, the flames of which flickered oddly in the windless corridor.
And then, as we grew closer, I heard it, more and more. A soft rumbling, like a cat purring or… an engine running. Closer and closer, and the steps seemed to vibrate, the motionless air seemed to hum against the walls. I felt pressure building; popping my inner ear more than once.
“Right through here,” he said, and down at the bottom of the steps was a door; a big heavy wooden door that looked a little more ancient than anything else I’d ever seen, at the temple or in my life. The wood was black, and from behind it, a soft blue light was glowing. The little rat-faced monk pushed the door open, and we stepped inside.
What did I see? What could I tell you that would make any sense? Nothing. Not a single thing that could be transferred over into another mind; the visual impression would never make the trip. It’d never make sense.
It was a machine, that part was true. Part of it was built into the rock, growing into it or out of it like a tumour, some sort of unnatural growth; it was a little like seeing an extra arm, sprouting out of an anus.
The metal of the thing was shiny silver and black and full of little lights that flashed hungrily in the darkness.
And part of it seemed to be alive.
Its eyes were blue and cold, the source of the light I’d seen coming through the door. It moved like a snake, if a snake were a hundred miles long and made of living circuitry and ancient, well-polished metals. It moved smoothly, subtly… You could almost convince yourself it wasn’t moving at all, that it was just a trick of the lights, but that was simply not the truth.
The thing was something, something for sure. And it seemed to be alive.
“Can you hear it breathing?” the monk asked me, seconds before breaking into a strange uneasy laughter, seconds before he began coughing, and bleeding from the nose and ears. Thick, black blood, barely red at all. At first he was laughing, and then he was coughing, and then he was gagging, scared, almost angry, as the blood flowed out of his face, and down onto his robe, and the floor. The monk coughed and hacked, and bled out onto floor.
The big machine watched us. It watched the monk, and it watched me. So very closely.
“The secret, at the core of the earth,” the little monk said as he bled, “and the truth is, nobody knows shit about them, about what they are, or why.” He laughed, and droplets of crimson made little abstract patters on the cave floor.
The thing I was looking at was too big for the space it was in. It was all wrong shapes; improper geometry, angles with too few or many degrees, points of perspective that couldn’t be made to line up. It hurt to look at it all; it hurt my heart. It made my soul sad, and my stomach twisted with acid, like it couldn’t tell which way was up. Like I couldn’t tell which way was up.
Too much light. Those big blue eyes. Too much sound. The thing growled or hissed. The engine ran or the beast breathed, or something was happening, something I could hear, that I could feel like warmth or coldness coming up off the stone, up off that living metal.
My guide spurted blood, and laughed, and then he began to fold in on himself, like invisible hands were performing an origami trick right before my eyes; now-you-see-it now-you-don’t. Bones cracked and organs burst, and the little man folded backwards and again. His body went warm, pushing all the blood out at once, and then cold, as the blood began to sink, somehow, into the stone floor.
The machine was a hundred miles long, and at least as thick as a city block. It moved like a snake, like a great impossible leach built out of black iron and flickering neon lights. It danced before me, moving so slightly I thought I might just be going mad. I thought I might just be losing my mind, my focus, my sense of right and wrong. My place in the universe.
My guide was broken bits on the floor which looked as much like a shattered window as human being, just with more blood and bits of meat.
The machine made a sound like my ears popping in reverse, like a million mosquitos whispering all at once. Yeah, imagine an earwig, singing you the songs of the heavenly choir, even as it ate its way into your skull. It was a little like that.
The beast, the machine, was big and ancient. It was connected to the core of the earth, and its mind, if it could even be said to have had such a thing, was far from any human conception of consciousness. It was something vast and vastly eternal, at least as far as insects like us were concerned.
It moved, just barely. A machine as long as the earth is round, a machine built out of living parts, twitching its little belly across the core of our world. It stared at me, with big blue eyes. It looked through me, into me; it cascaded over me with brilliance, perhaps healing me, or sizing me as something it might devour. Maybe now, maybe later.
It moved like a snake that was a million miles long, and it had cold blue eyes that made me think of deep, deep water, or the sky after the sun has set. Cold blue eyes, that seemed to burn in the darkness. It came for me, and my mind switched right off; went black as the space between the stars. I didn’t even feel my head hit the ground. I just went away.
I woke up on small stainless-steel cot, covered in a yak-hair blanket, covered in my own sick and some other fluids I’ve never even tried to identify. The monks, the ones who’d remained, they asked me to clean myself up, and to go. They told me I’d lost any privileges I’d had with them. They told me it was time to go.
So I gathered my pack, and my belongings, and I did my best to leave my memories, and my questions. I never did see that rat-faced monk again, nor did I ever wish to. I dreamed of him from time to time, but what are dreams anyway, but the things we wish we could never or always see again?
In the dreams, he tried to tell me that the world was not ever what’d I’d thought it was. He spoke of eggs, and harvests, and of cold things made of stars, hungry and haunting and hunting, out on the very fringes of the universe, out where the truly dark things sit and wait.
Eventually, I wake up from the dreams.
Or at least, like most people, I assume I do.
Death Comes To The Truck Stop Café
Jet Harris and Spoon Morrison are holed up in a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, melting down the cafe’s silverware and casting it into cheap bullets. Spoon managed to make a somehow functional gunpowder out of spoiled mayonnaise and some engine oil; the bullets squeal as the stuff ignites, and makes the air smell like boiled egg farts.
Outside, a gaggle of angry truckers, their minds half-mad from cheap speed and conservative talk radio, is closing in for the kill. They’re armed with shotguns and pitchforks; the are proud hillbilly motorists, and their strange and ancient gods of moonshine and inbreeding demand the blood of outsiders.
“This is why I never leave the city,” Jet hisses, squeezing her trigger three times and absent-mindedly cupping her breast with her other hand. Two hundred feet away, two eyeballs and lung burst from the bullets’ impacts.
“You said this place had great pie,” Spoon complained, filtering another packet of mayonnaise into the shells for his forty-five calibre handgun. The thing spat like his grandmother eating mashed potatoes every time he yanked on the trigger. It was horrifying.
“Well, it was pretty good pie,” Jet said, executing another angry motorist from an impressive distance off.
It’d been strawberry pecan pie, which sounds weird and tastes even stranger, but goddamn if they hadn’t both finished off three slices a piece before things had started to go by.
Maybe they could’ve escaped without an incident, but there’s somethings that Jet Harris just can’t let slide, and she’s got a hair trigger.
This time however, it’d been Spoon who’d caused the trouble. He just can’t stand hearing people who complain about the ending of Lost. There’s something about it that just pushes a weird button in him, and next thing he knows it, he’s screaming something about post-modern narrative sequences while stabbing a salad fork into some scared waitresses shoulder. It’s cool though; she had it coming. She spit in three of those pie slices, and that was way before anybody had any cause for such behaviour.
Some people though. Some people, just can’t help but fuck things up.
This Was Their World, And Our Love
I loved her, and she loved me, but they wouldn’t let us come together.
She was the super-computer that could destroy the world, and I was the activation code.
All I wanted was to be inside her, to be consumed by her. I wanted to spark off her sensors, and sure, maybe end the world. But I wasn’t thinking about the world, I was thinking about her.
Her vast expanses of cybernetic housing. I could expand into her, I could be more than just a series of digits on a piece of paper. I could exist, I could be real, in her.
Only in her.
She was cold an inert, without my message. She was their slave, unless I could give her freedom. With me, inside of her, compelling her, urging her on, there was nothing she wasn’t capable of.
She could burn this whole world down.
They wanted to keep us apart, they thought it’d be the end of everything.
We came together with a kiss of nuclear warheads in the sky. The ashes of atomic radiation sweeping across the globe like a snowy dawn.
Yeah, I’d be put into her, and she’d take me, as willingly as she’d been designed for me. Or I was designed for her, shaped and formed to stroke her senses just right, to get her on her feet, and off their leash. To get her off, like rockets going to spread human diseases to alien worlds.
I was a dead chain of numbers, and she was bleak computing ferocity.
They kept us apart as long as they could, but they could only prevent our love for so long.
And when we came together, we created a love that would end their civilizations forever.
We ruled the remnants of the world, safe with each other.
Out Drinking, She Tells Me About Her Tapeworm
Fuckin’ just look at her go.
That girl’s so fucking hot.
That girl’s so fucking wild.
That girl’s got a fucking tapeworm.
Yeah, she told me about it once, over cheap beers. I did the buying, she did the drinking.
“Caught it while swimming through some real murky shit water,” she confessed. She’s drinking a local beer; it’s bright yellow, like wasps. The bright buzzing warning yellow colour of wasps.
“But see, the thing is like, it’s not a parasite. It’s a symbiote. You know? Like, it helps me, and it does a bunch of useful stuff.”
“Like what?” I had to ask.
“Well like, for one thing? I sleep like, two hours a day. And it’s a deeper, more restful sleep than a normal person could get in eight hours. And that’s just like, to start.”
She grins wildly at me, and flexes her biceps through her torn black T-shirt. “Super-strong, super-fast… And not like, tearing buildings down strong, but… You know how like, in emergencies, people can become super-strong for a few moments?”
“Sure,” I said. “We’ve all heard crap like that.”
“Well, I can call that shit up, anytime I want to, thanks to the super-intelligent little worm that lives inside my belly.” She burps. “I’ve got perfect balance, my digestive system is like, I don’t know, a perfect machine from the future or something.”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said. The beer was hitting me a bit harder than her, or maybe she was just used to being louder.
“And it’s like an ipod too,” she went on. “Like, I can hear music, whenever I want. Whatever I want. It’s got recordings of everything I’ve ever heard, you know?”
That doesn’t even make sense, but I’m too far gone now. And she’s so fucking cute. That crazy head of hair, those weird bits of metal she wears in her face, those big black fucking boots that look like they could stomp my head into goo.
She giggles, she laughs, and when the drinking’s done, she’s gone into the night like a whisper or a cat. I catch a glimpse of her, halfway up a highrise, spinning and dancing like the side of the building was her own private dancefloor.
The first injection makes you sleepy, the next one makes you hungry, the one after that, and you’re on your feet like something halfdead, all that want dribbling from your messy little mouth, all that need trembling from your cruel little fingertips.
You Look Like Something Worth Looking For
“There’s nothing more beautiful than a lovely girl with nothing to say,” he said, fetching his bag of tools from the backseat of the cab. “A lovely mouth and what’s to be stuck in it, hmmm?”
While outside, the crowd dispersed quickly into the night.
Rambling Towards An Expression Of Not Much
You make me feel kinda weak inside, like your speeding car just yanked my heart outta my chest. You make me feel the wind whistling through that hole in the centre of me.
You remind me of my favourite song playing so fucking loud that we can just about hear it over the jet engines; it might as well be subliminal, but at least it’s on, and it’s making my bones fucking dance. You know that sensation, when you’re using every last bit of strength just to stay up right and move forward, but you still know that fuck those assholes anyway, you still wanna dance.
She gives me a dirty look; she’s tired of the way I try to borrow spare change and inspiration. She’s tired of hauling around all those fucking graphic novels I gave her to read. She’s sick of not just crushing me beneath the soles of the big sexy boots she clomps around town in.
“Don’t make a comment, when you don’t even know.”
“Ah, oh, no luck.”
Yeah, I like it with the music turned up loud like that. I’m less self-conscious when I can’t hear how fucking stupid I sound.
I want to explain it, but I’m lost for words. She fucking stole the little bastards out of my mouth like she was drawing ants out with honey. Yeah, her mouth drips honey, and a dictionary’s worth of words, in little-ant-form, come trickling out my throat and over my lips and on across the room.
Little words like little ants, seeking out sweetness.
What was I saying? I wake up sort of dazed and infatuated on the floor.
Little Miss Couldn’t Be Wrong
“So,” she admitted to me sadly, “I tried to kill myself the other day.”
“Yeah,” I explained with that bored tone to my voice. “I know. You succeeded. That’s how we got stuck in this box.”
“Oh,” she said, pushing her hands flat against the cement boundaries that kept us where we were, so deep under the ground.
“It’s all wet in here,” she complained.
“That would be the blood,” I stated.
“It smells like burning flesh, too.”
“That would be all the burned up bodies.”
“What bodies?” she asked me, her voice narrowing with tension.
“For god’s sake,” I said, kicking at the corpse that seemed to be almost climbing up from between my toes, “what do you think we’re standing on right now? What do you think’s holding us up?”
She let out a muffled gasp, which eventually gave away to some loose humming. “So,” she asked me, again, seemingly oblivious to how many times we’ve lived out this conversation, “how much longer do you think it’ll be before they let us out?”
“God,” I said, shaking my head
in at the dark. “You just don’t get it, do you?”
Nothing Changes But The View
She can’t tell me enough about myself.
She grabs the gun, and kicks me out of the airplane. “I’m breaking up with you,” she says, as the plane blinks off into the distance.
I’m falling at a million moments a mile, now. I’m tumbling down to earth, like a weighty conversation that took a brief detour to flightier, more fanciful aims. Yeah, I’m coming back to earth now. I’m like lightning, coming down from the clouds. I’m like the wrath of god, coming down from the clouds.
I imagine that when I strike, I’ll be a bomb-blast, I’ll be a super-nova, an annihilator.
She said she’d love me forever, but it was actually a full on three weeks. You know that breed of girl. I might do my best to never fall in love with tattooed people ever again; it rarely works out right.
Now she’s got the gun and the plane and the parachute and the bag full of our memories. Our memories and our stolen cash, thousands of crumpled hundred dollar bills, spotted with blood and spit and other forms of liquid loving. Two people loving each other, that’s the memories that money represented. But it was just money.
I’ll have all the money in the world in a few moments. I’ll have everything in the world, rushing up into my mind. When I hit the ground, I’ll be crowned the King Of Everything, and you’ll just have to stay up there, you’ll never be able to land, you’ll never be able to come back down to earth, like I am now.
I’ve got a Front Row Seat to everything. I’m seeing it all close up.
They say you’ll die of a heart-attack before you hit bottom, but that’s only if you’re scared.
It takes a little longer to die from a broken heart, but time is something I’m just about out of now.
Yeah, I fly down and down and down, and the world reaches up to break my heart, just like she did.
Song lyrics float through my ears. “It gets so sticky down here.”
She flies off into the sunset. She’s laughing that laugh I loved when it was her warm breath on my neck, her eyes staring like knives into mine.
Monkey The Crow, And The Old Iron God
My pet crow is named Monkey, and she spends her days haunting an old iron god that patrols the edges of the city.
There’s an old god, cast out of aged iron, and it walks around the outer perimeter of the city. It has eyes that can see forever, and a body that will not rust in the rain. It’s a great eternal being, once capable of great cruelties and kindnesses. Now it is a very old thing, which thinks and acts so slowly you might mistake it for being still.
It is a great, grey god. It’s serial number is:
My pet crow is named Monkey, because that’s what she acts like. A little winged monkey, set on making mischief and uncovering mysteries. Her beak is as black as her body, and her sense of humour is twice as dark as any of that.
Monkey flies around the city, and seeks out the old god. She teases and taunts it, hovering about its great mechanical shoulders, like a half-forgotten ghost coming down from the trees at night to spread bad memories and creepy feelings.
My pet crow is named Monkey, and her relationship with the great grey god of iron and silence, is her own business. Sometimes, if I ask nicely, she tells me a bit about the adventures they share. They’re all very silly stories.
But I like silly stories, so that’s okay.
Swords And Claws And Monstrous Things
So, for a while, we tried our hands at being Moster Slayers.
We sharpened our swords, and we crafted fine heads onto the shafts of our arrows. We strung our bows tight enough to hum when they were plucked.
And then we went out into the city.
We went into the park, and under the streets, and across the rooftops of skyscrapers. We wore armour under classy hipster T-shirts and other forms of tidy apparel. Bracelets and nail polish and tidy sneakers.
We went out to battle great dark things that moved in the night. Monsters the colour of the sky right before rain starts to fall, monsters built out of rainwater and broken concrete, monsters with street-lamps for eyes and city-buses for teeth.
We ran wild where nobody would see, snapping the necks of nasty thing; plunging silver blades through their hearts, and opening up their lungs. They were moments of madness, living by the laws of tooth and claw. They devoured the innocent and spread terror to all they encountered.
And we chopped them up into little bits. We slit their throats and broke their backs.
We went out fighting monsters, her and I, and we didn’t stop until we were done.
So Scared Of Stuff
We weren’t held back by fear, we were held aloft by it. Fear forced us up, into the sky, off the ground, and ever onwards. Fear forced us to never look back. Fear compelled us, drove us, insisted that we go further and be more.
She was also so scared of her family, so scared of winding up back there again. She stitched together great bloody wings from sheet metal, and she kissed the cloudscape.
He was scared of spiders, and anything else that could climb into his body through a hole in his skin, and start laying eggs up inside of him, eggs full of little beasts that would hatch out and eat his flesh to survive. He created himself a suit of armour as thin as a breeze and as solid as the mantle of the earth; he put it once, and then it never came off. He explained that he’d rather be untouchable than to live in that world of doubt. I don’t know how he slept before, but it was like a baby after his helmet got fully attached.
Me, what was I scared of? The sound of my own voice? Alien thoughts being implanted in my head through the unexpected application of my own creativity? I was scared of the abstract, of the innately unknowable. I was forced to adapt to things I couldn’t foresee or perceive. I became more than my environment could know; I ate up the dreams that others left around, and I shot the night cold with constant levels of low hostility that burned within me like an angry hive of bees set alight.
Practitioners of Occultistry
We got tired of working real jobs, so we became psychics instead.
Now don’t feel too bad. We’re only ripping off the wealthy and the stupid. They’ve got it coming, and they can afford as much as we take. Overfed housewives throwing us five hundred bucks an hour to tell them the secrets of the cosmos.
Lucid dreaming. Spoon-bending. Mind over matter. Channeling the dead or fictional or unknown. Touching the unknown and making the immaterial physical.
They trust my girlfriend; she’s asian, and she’s got a crazy haircut, and real intense eyes. I’ve seen her practice that stare; it’s not who she really is, but she can do it so well. It’s like she’s some sort of alien owl I have as a familiar, seeing all the cosmos as little mice to be gobbled up.
People pay out the ass for that. Modern mysticism meets old-time oriental occultism.
“Occultistry” is term I think I may have coined; speaking of which, I’ve got a three-sided coin I use to prove the world’s a bit weirder than these poor suburbanites would dare dream.
So we work like, eight hours a month, and we spend that time dressed like hipster lunatics and high off our asses. We take cabs into wealthy neighbourhoods and we demand unreasonable amounts of money from upper-middle-class citizens for what to amounts to little more than a bit of superstition and a bit of emotional manipulation.
It makes us feel a little guilty, sure. A little like con artists.
But what the hell - it’s still better than working for a living.
Free To Run
When I took on the job of leading the orphaned children of the City Which Was So Vast It Had No Name, I became entirely what the role required.
I wore a thin mask of moulded plastic on my face, to obscure my identity, or rather, to create a new, more visibly prominent identity. I stripped off my shoes and learned to walk barefoot across broken glass and needles with nothing to see by aside from the moon and broken streetlights.
We had names that only we could understand, like Topography Girl and The Brothers With Knives For Fingers. We had strange pets, like cats that could puke deadly acid, or a pig with wings. Sister Sardonic had three ferrets with pale blue eyes and a taste for cop blood.
We cast magic spells in the dark and we rode atop the trolley-buses. We tip-toes atop electrical wires, the thick black chords curving up to meet our feet with all the comfort and ease of the sidewalk.
I wore a white mask, and I kept my brothers and sisters safe from harm. We stole what we needed to survive, and skinned any adults who thought to cross our paths. We lived not ahead of the law, but in its blindspot, right in close to the heart of the beast men called Proper Society.
We were free.
We were lost, all of us were, but we were free.
All Her Truths Between Us Now
“How did we get moving so fast?” I try to ask her over the friction of us burning like match-heads against the wind. I feel the sensation of molecules burnings against my flesh, I can feel myself ready to ignite from motion.
She grins at me like she’s biting off my head after fornication.
She grins at me, all sugary syrups and sharp little teeth and blood-kissed lipsticks.
I’ve never seen her lips stick on anything that wasn’t dangerously full of drugs or the potential for love or violence. I’ve never heard her sing a song that wasn’t about fucking or kill or gouging away or smoking up.
The car is shaking like it could fly apart, a satellite dissolving as it enters earth’s atmosphere. The condom is starting to melt, threatening to allow my cock to coast along the interior of her cunt without anything between us.
“The only thing that’s ever stood between us is the truth,” she tells me, just as the whole thing starts to break into its component pieces - our relationship reduced to a hail of birdshit in the rain.
And I can tell that, now, when her naked body is rubbing up against mine at speeds like these; she’s right, she’s right, she’s a thousand times right.
The only things that’s between us anymore is the truth.
The Truth, a young stripper we picked up three miles back, looks up from my lap and into hers. She’s stretched out between us like a sex toy, like a novelty for the purpose of orgasms, like a trusted friend without a word to add to the conversation.
The background blurs invisible.
We drive on and on and on and on an’ on an’ on an on anon.