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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We reclined in the soft, dry grass

We reclined in the soft, dry grass, and looked up into the vaulted labyrinth of blonde roots, clustered with mushrooms, edged by emerald-colored moss, and packed with rich, dark earth.  The red cricket emerged from the earth, crawled to a prominent, knotty turn in one of the roots, and stopped, as if surveying us.

The cricket spoke.  Sailor and I lay frozen in awe.

“I shall grant you three questions,” the cricket said.  “What is it you would like to know?”

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.