The Murder of Harlin Coke

“It can be done.”  A voice came from the moss and earth behind the cricket.  The cricket popped away from its place on the knot of a root, then dangled on a wire.  Its eyes flashed and went dark, like small lenses lit up from behind.  Earth and bits of moss began to fall away from the hole where the wire came through beside the root.  Pink, living fingers poked through, stunningly large and soft next to the dangling electronic cricket.

A tuxedoed arm plunged through the earthen ceiling.  Rocks and soil and bits of debris rained down into the dry grass.  Sailor and I scuffled quickly out of the way.  A whole man came through the ceiling, dropped onto the floor.  He landed lightly on his feet and stood still for a moment, facing us.  Earth and loam covered his tuxedo.  A sheaf of heavily inked, rough-edged notebook papers protruded from one of his trouser pockets.  One hand gripped some sort of remote control, wired to the cricket.  With a soft click, the wire popped off the cricket’s body and whipped back into the box of the remote.  A little electronic door snapped shut behind the wire.  The remote had a handle and a screen packed with incredibly detailed visual information.

“I love this thing,” said Epson, smiling slightly, jamming the remote into the inside pocket of his tuxedo, where it created an ungainly bulge.  He stooped down, pinched the robot cricket between his thumb and forefinger, and motioned for me to put my hand out.  I did.  He placed the insect, a tiny, elaborately engineered robot, at the center of my outstretched palm.  I heard a tick.  The cricket hopped once and then tipped over onto one side and was motionless.  I handed it back to him.

“Some toy,” Sailor said sarcastically, covering her shock.

Epson ignored her with some effort.  He pulled a fountain pen from another inside jacket pocket, and a piece of paper from one of his sleeves.  A cuff link fell off and disappeared into the soft floor of the hollow. He muttered something about blasted cuff links and cultural decay.  Then he looked up quickly.  While his eyes had heavy bags and his face four days or so of stubble, his movements were bright, energized.  He scratched at his tousled hair with his pen, licked its tip, and began scrawling notes, still standing on the pile of earth and debris he’d created when he’d plunged through the ceiling.

“Somewhat off script,” he said, still scrawling, “but well-played.  The erotic sex scene was marvelous…my Bob-Martin nearly shot its cream…although I wouldn’t have written it in when you did it.”  Then, a bit more quietly, he said, “That’s a beastly looking cock you have there, N.  Err, no offense, all very erotic, but my goodness…the poor fellow’s ugly as sin.  We could’ve given him a screen-test, you know, gotten a good wax penis to stand in for him.”

“It’s about sensation, not looks.”

“Err, right.”  Epson went back to his notes.  “Anyway, the drama between you, and all of that…again, the wishes were about getting out of the labyrinth, not about your relationship…which was a bit of a tangent…but, like I said, well-played, well-played.”

He finished up with his notes and stuffed them into his pocket with others.  He capped his pen, put it behind his ear, and slowly took a seat in the dried grass.  He blinked at us for a moment, sizing us up emotionally, then spoke again.

“Oh! And you did know that fellow Upi took a machine gun to Harlin Coke, did you not?  Totally off-script as well, shot him in his Buick while he was standing at a red light up in Seattle, somewhere off Denny Way, dead of night, horrible scene, Bonny-and-Clyde sort of stuff, body jumping from the gunshots, whole car riddled with holes, shattered glass everywhere, blood dripping from under the car door, godawful stuff…though I suppose that’s child’s play to you Americans…”  Epson trailed off, then cleared his throat and looked at us from under arched eyebrows.

“Anyway…you’re wearing condoms for the sex scenes, no?  I mean, we don’t have hazard pay for that…if one of you catches the clap from all that ejaculating that’s going on?  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious, it’s just, well, you know…safety first!”

Sailor and I sat stock still and stared.

 

(Back Door: Enter Harlin Coke into the search bar.)

 

 

 

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Then again I was screaming

Then again I was screaming.  Fear was pouring up through my throat, up through my mouth and eyes, pouring out of me; it was a white-light fire, streaming across the dark corridor, out of me and into the eye-holes of the ghoul, rending it, destroying it.

N?

I lurched forward and gasped for breath. Sailor sat with me, close to me; she looked into my eyes.  We sat on the dry grass in the warm hollow we had entered to take shelter from the rain.

(Back door: Go back one post to Sideways, or back two posts to We turned.)

Warped, keening sound

The thrill of forward motion poured through my limbs and spine, but as we sped down the corridor the thrill became fear…a vile, animal fear that something behind us, more terrible than any monster, would overcome us.  Now we ran in terror.  The warped, keening sound of the cricket filled our ears once more.

At this precise moment I realized I could hear Sailor’s thoughts inside my mind.

I’m afraid.

Me too, I thought.

Are we going to die?

Hold my hand.

We held hands.

Be brave, I thought.

The distant core of the tunnel was a pitch black hole.  We ran toward that core, with two bright streams of light speeding past us, terrified of what lay behind.

 

 

 

Cricket and Crow

The sound of wing beats filled the corridor.  A chaotic black shape sped toward us, covering and uncovering the caged lights as it flew.  In a burst of flapping wings, a crow alighted on the floor of the corridor, just short of where the cricket walked ahead of us.  The crow spread its wings low along the floor.  The bright red cricket took hold of a wingtip with its tiny feet, and crawled to the crown of the crow’s head.  The crow took off in a deafening chaos of wing beats, and vanished down the corridor.

“Follow them!” I cried.

We ran.

Just as we had been impelled by the cricket’s song to run up the side of the mountain through inky blackness…now we rushed headlong down the corridor, the lights racing past our eyes, blurring into a bright stream.  Our speed transcended human speed; the tempo of our feet on the concrete became so light and rapid we felt that we could have flown.

 

 

The Red Cricket

“Look,” she said.

At one end of the hollow space, a second door was visible, very similar to the one we’d used to climb into the tree: it was low-arched, wooden, with a large round doorknob.

I crawled toward it, pushing some of the grass aside as I did.  I took hold of the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the door open.  Light spilling out from the hollow revealed a dark tunnel marked by cage-like sconces containing darkened bulbs.

“Where are we?” asked Sailor.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but if feels familiar.”

I crawled in.  Sailor followed me.  Once clear of the door, we crawled along the tunnel, which opened up so that there was enough space for us to walk upright along a smooth concrete passageway.  The lights lining the corridor flickered on in their sconces.

It didn’t occur to me that someone knew we were there, and flipped a switch.  I felt oddly comfortable in the passageway, the same way one feels when visiting the home of an old friend.  It was then that I remembered Sailor’s family had vacationed in these mountains years before.  We walked slowly, side by side.

“Do you know anything about this tunnel,” I asked quietly as we walked, “Does local lore say anything about it?”

“An old story says one of these mountain peaks contains a hidden volcanic lake with a giant ship floating on it.   According to the story, a magician lives inside the ship…”

“Not by chance the same magician who built this..?”

I pointed.  The passageway plunged deep into the mountain.  As the lights grew further from us they appeared smaller, closer together, a strand of bright yellow points that vanished at an inestimable distance, deep inside the mountain.

“Look!”

Sailor pointed to the floor.  Perhaps fifteen feet ahead of us walked a cricket, inching its way along, as if acting as our guide. The cricket was a vivid, shiny red.   Enchanted, we walked faster to get a closer look.  We heard the click of the cricket’s feet on the concrete, and saw that it was in fact a tiny robot, its metal limbs painted with the smooth red enamel. The cricket jumped, keeping its position ahead of us, not letting us close too much distance.

Echoing sound gradually filled the corridor.  I recognized the same warped, high melody we’d heard in the forest just before the wind and the rain had drowned it out.  Sailor and I were astonished that the cricket’s body could produce music of such amplitude and detail.

 

Nest

Dried grass rustled beneath our feet as we stepped down into the hollow.  Overhead the blonde roots made a deep, vaulted ceiling, studded with mushrooms and textured with moss.  Still cold from the rain outside, we huddled.   The space was warm, and soon our shivers dissolved, and our clothes began to dry.  Although there was no torch or fire in sight, a golden light bathed the hollow.  The light seemed to come from the roots overhead. Nestled into the dried grass, we fell fast asleep, holding each other in a spooning embrace.

We slept for what seemed like hours.  I do not know whether we made love, or dreamed that we made love, or both…but I do know that my body became a rigid crescent, and that her body enfolded mine…and that her softness nourished me, and that my blood surged within that softness.

Later, Sailor’s body became hard…and she shuddered, and cried.  Afterwards we were both soft together, our cheeks hot, our bodies locked tight.

Then we were conscious, and our clothes were dry again, and soft against our skin.  We sat upright in the hollow, and stared into each other’s eyes.  As we did I felt an echo of the surge I’d felt before.  My body was hard again, and I knew that I had held my potency.

Sailor smiled.

Rift

I woke up, in a bed high above the floor.  A ladder led down from the bed, into deeper darkness.  The sound of a passing car came to me from across the room.  A grid of golden line segments moved at a diagonal path across the narrow band of wall before me.  I looked across the room.  I could smell dust.  There was a large window, shuttered.  The shutter’s ventilation holes let through hundreds of tiny ovals of golden light.

Where was I?

Was it morning?  Afternoon?

Rooms I had slept in flashed through my mind.  A foam mattress on a damp wood floor in a tenement in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  A cheap hotel in the red light district of Frankfurt.  A motel room rented as an apartment in Sacramento, California.

No.  No.  No.

None of them.

Then I heard a woman’s voice.  Calm.  Sensual.

“…you okay?”

It was my lover’s voice.

And this part is important:  It was sound which oriented me.  Not sight.  But a human voice.  I heard two words from her and I was home.  In an instant.  In the current year.

How long had I slept, I wondered.

“It’s the morning,” she said.  “I went down to start some water but I got worried and came back up.  You were starting to sit up, but it was weird.  You looked like something was wrong.”

I laid my head down again.  I looked at her.  She saw something in my eyes.

“I feel crazy.”

“Go back to sleep,” she said.

I closed my eyes, listened to her voice…

She told me about how it can happen, sometimes, during a time of change…

…A person’s short and long term memory will come to stand at equal distance. A single thought of here and now will have even odds with thoughts of all other places, all other moments.  In this state, a person will dream his way through his own biography, sorting everything…  Whatever his dream, it will correspond to a moment in his life, to the smell of a room, the warmth of a sunbeam, the glow of dust in the air.  His imagination will prepare him to waken in that room.  The feeling of that room will occupy his mind at dawn, at the instant he opens his eyes.  But the preparation will be false.  He will feel one thing, and see another.  And he will not know where he is.

This was how she explained it to me.

I wanted to right myself.  “Can I just go back to sleep?” I asked, “Are you gonna be here?”

“Yes,” she said, “You need rest.”

“I know…  I had a dream,” I said, my eyes still closed, “that I asked you something…You didn’t answer, and I asked again.”

She nodded.

“…and there was this bird, a crow, I think…”

I didn’t finish.

Sailor brushed the backs of her fingers across the side of my cheek.  Then she disappeared down the ladder, into deeper darkness.  I heard the roil of water on the stove.  I was not confused by this.  It is a sound I love.

By the time she was gone, I was asleep.

 

(Back Door:  Go to the tab above marked Entrances and choose your door.)

(Front Door: Enter Sideways or Then again I was screaming into the search bar.)