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Big D removed the grate from the air return shaft on the wall in the ladies’ room, propped it against wall and floor, and shinnied his skinny ass head first into the vent. On the wall atop the vent where his legs kicked his way in, he had directed Van Gogh, one of the gang members, to paint the following characters, without the quotation marks and period: “Del-Φ.” Van Gogh had earned his name when he’d had most of his right ear sliced off in a rumble, some years back. Big D had given Van Gogh the painting assignment on a sardonic whim, on account of his nickname, but it turns out that in executing the lettering, Van Gogh exhibited sufficient enough artistic talent for Big D to decide that Death’s Head Enterprises would start a correspondence art school, with Van Gogh as its charter instructor. Other instructors would soon follow, and the school would flourish. Go figure. Big D had told his gang that the character “Φ” was pronounced “fi”, as in hi-fi (in those days, the latest in authentic sound reproduction), but was spelled “phi.” He had also told them, more-or-less truthfully, that he was getting advice from Moanique, whom he called “our Mother Superior Down The Hole,” when it came to making business decisions for The Death’s Head Financial Empire. No one objected to this insane arrangement, since every one of the choices so far had already been such demonstrable money-makers. Big D also referred to Moanique as “Oracle,” which—to a person—the gang invariably mispronounced as “Oralcle.” The “Del-Φ” lettering he’d had Van Gogh paint atop the vent was a pun involving Big D’s birth name, his knowledge of Greek history, and Moanique’s function in the gang’s business-decision making. That Moanique was consulted was true: Big D never made a move without first getting
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Moanique’s tacit approval. In fact, he was now on his way to receive more sage business advice from The Oracle. Having kicked himself inside the sheet-metal vent, he curled up into a near-fetal position and rotated on his side to face back towards the bathroom. As a humorous, albeit serious, signal to his gang, from inside the hole in the wall he affixed across it the Yellow Police Line Tape which a newly-incorporated subsidiary of his burgeoning Death’s Head Financial Empire had recently begun distributing nationally. The tape would signal two things to any of the Death’s Heads coming into the bathroom. First, they would know that Big D had “gone down the hole,” a term commonly used among the gang to describe an experience shared only by Big D, Pirate, and Puzzle. (Only Big D would ever repeat the experience, which no one else wanted, especially Pirate and Puzzle.) And second, whoever saw the Police Line tape knew not to replace the grate until Big D had reappeared. Since Moanique had been permitted by Big D to take up residence in her subterranean refuge under the Death’s Head, Big D had been down the shaft to visit her on three previous occasions. The first time, she’d already been in the hole for five days, and—notwithstanding Moanique’s explicit instructions to wait for two weeks before visiting her—Big D had wanted to make sure she wasn’t ailing: Moanique had taken no provisions, except for a roll of toilet paper; furthermore she’d insisted she needed no food and could drink the water in the cave just fine. Big D was worried she’d be weak from hunger, and had brought some Joe Weider nutrition bars along. And he’d found her, all right. Negotiating the labyrinth of the cave was relatively easy for him; the trickiest part of meeting her turned out to have been working his way through the maze of bridges over
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the islands, until he reached the one upon which she was sitting, cross-legged. (The blob that had propelled him directly to Moanique had moved on to other environs, as it no longer had Big D’s fear to feed on.) Big D had found Moanique in good shape: alert and observant, but not particularly talkative. She appeared thinner, but neither faint from hunger nor dehydrated. From the looks of the cobwebs that had begun forming on the roll of toilet paper, it looked to Big D like she hadn’t been using it for a few days. That made sense to Big D: nothing going in, nothing coming out. On that visit, without her having even hinted at it with any words, Big D managed to understand that Moanique had emphatically conveyed to him that he needn’t visit again for another two weeks. He’d come back down the shaft at two-week-intervals two more times since then, each time finding Moanique less talkative and more thin than before, but increasingly willing to let Big D sit quietly with her for long stretches of time. After his visits, Big D would return topside, relaying instructions to the gang thus: “Mother Superior tells me we’re to . . ,” or “Oracle says . . .” How he knew the proper course of action was a mystery to Big D, for as he sat in the cave near Moanique, Big D would feel the thoughts in his mind becoming numb, then falling away altogether. He figured Moanique was doing that to him. When his thoughts had fallen off like that during his last visit, Big D understood that whatever was happening now to Moanique, as well as whatever would happen in the future to her, was her own doing and well within her own control. Having sat there with her, understanding that, Big D was more than happy with that aspect of Moanique’s troglodytic existence.
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Still, seeing her this fourth time—nearly two months into her isolation—Big D was shocked by how ghastly-looking Moanique had become. Big D was certain she had died, she was so gaunt. Her hair and fingernails had grown, just like they reputedly continue to grow on corpses. And Big D had read somewhere that the lotus position Moanique had her legs in kept a person from falling over, if she were to fall asleep. So he figured that maybe if a person died in that position, she mightn’t fall over, either. But when Moaniqe slowly patted the ground beside her with the palm of her hand—her signal for Big D to sit—he was startled, but relieved that she was still alive. He briefly considered picking her up and carrying her back topside, but Big D was afraid Moanique’s bones might come unfastened from each other, should he do that. She looked that frail. As the ghastly image of Moanique falling apart liked so much overcooked chicken flashed in Big D’s mind, he again heard the eerie laughter Moanique had emitted several weeks earlier, topside, when they’d negotiated her possible return to the cave. Except this time the sound was not getting into Big D’s brain through his ears; Moanique was directly evoking his memory of it herself. Big D deduced from that that Moanique had been reading his thoughts and had actually enjoyed the image of her body breaking up. He considered this disregard for her personal well-being alarmingly appalling. And Big D was a true connoisseur of “appalling”—he’d been with the Death’s Heads plenty long enough for that. Ghastly or no, Big D took his place on the ground beside Moanique, and for the short amount of time it took for his mind to numb so that Moanique’s consciousness could enter his, Big D sensed two things that were new to him. One was that his throat
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seemed alive. It felt that way because Moanique was no longer eating; she was managing to take in nourishment directly from free photons, and she did this by directing her consciousness so that much of it passed through her throat, where the Hindus say the Fifth Chakra is located. The other thing Big D sensed was that he felt froglike. And he felt thus because Moanique had changed her skin so that water could pass through it easily, much like an amphibian. The cave was damp enough that Moanique was able to get all the water she needed through her skin, provided it was porous enough. Clearly, Moanique was delving deeply into processes of body and consciousness, but to just what effect or purpose was difficult for Big D to ascertain. All that notwithstanding, she really didn’t want Big D to pick up on much of this, especially the throat business. The Fifth Chakra was notoriously capricious, even if you were disciplined and knew what you were doing. And although she worked hard at hiding her efforts from Big D as best she could, some of what Moanique was doing very near the core of her being still seeped its way out to Big D, if only for a few moments. As he sat next to Moanique, her thoughts now inside him, Big D forgot about feeling froglike, or having an alive throat. He realized that he had misunderstood when Moanique had planted the memory of her eerie laughter in his auditory cortex. She had not been laughing at the image of her body falling apart: she was laughing at the violence of a mind that would conjure up such an image. Big D began to appreciate the subtlety of her thought, something that had been seriously lacking from his life since he’d gone awol from The Institute. For several hours he sat quietly, beside her, emptied of all thoughts. Then she broke the bond, and Big D stood up, stomped the sleep out of his legs, nodded a respectful parting salutation to her, and worked his way like a monk in a Chinese
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landscape painting through the maze of bridges connecting the islands, until he reached the labyrinth of the cave, then the ventilation shaft topside. “Fire in the hole!” he bellowed into the cave-end of the sheet metal shaft as he prepared to climb into it. That was his signal to any woman who might be in the bathroom to finish her business and get out of there, if she didn’t want to be caught with her pants down. “Fire in the hole,” Big D kept bellowing, as he shinnied his way through the shaft. Big D got to near the tape, then turned himself, so he could climb out feet first. He dropped out of the hole in the wall, breaking the tape, and was met with the sound of the toilet tank still filling, as well as a very foul smell. “Jeeziz!” Big D exclaimed. “Some bitch really dropped a bomb!” The world Big D inhabited was sure a different one from the world Moanique lived in. Whatever that was. Back inside the cave, Moanique remained seated, seemingly serene. Seemingly, there being a downside to her meditating. For Moanique, the worst part of sitting thoughtlessly wasn’t her inability to ascribe any specific physical location to wherever in hell her consciousness had wafted her: the desolation she’d witnessed in Nagasaki had jolted her from the bonds of affection that most of us feel for the familiar, so being in a strange and scary place—as she often found herself to be, when she meditated—was just another day on the job, so far as she was concerned. What really bothered her in her astral/causal sojourns was the utter and desolate isolation she endured. It’s lonely out there, in The Void, at the fringes of the time’s center, where she touched upon what had always would be, what will always had been, what in its never-ness always was, nearly outside the field of time. So she was understandably relieved when, in her cave time, she
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tentatively encountered a few other “out-of-timers,” whom she sensed to be living in Big City. Her stumbling upon her fellow Big City Spiritual Sojourners started sporadically, as well as suspiciously, for all parties involved. You really couldn’t trust anything else you might run across Out There, on account of Rule Number One, which is this: The Universe Eats Its Own Children. Die Welt ist alles, das der Fall ist. But after a while, she and the few entities she had been bumping into sensed no malice in each other beyond that which inescapably accompanied the need to know, and within several weeks Moanique found herself joined by a respectable number of other, similarly-searching spirits. She sensed all of them were disciplined, but much differently than she was: despite their vastly varying personalities, they all seemed to be entering The Void in exactly the same way, and once there, knocking around in it without much of a clue regarding where they were and what they were doing. Something seemed dimly familiar to her in the way these interlopers were finding their ways into the fringes of time’s center, where they would then hook up with her, to gaze with her at as much of the incomprehensibly immense spectacle as they could bear. It took a few weeks for Moanique to remember what in her experience was similar to that which was driving her astral companions into The Void: she recalled the same feeling of pulling something deep out of herself while typing her Philosophy 101 paper in junior college. All these fellow travelers of hers were entering The Void while . . . . typing! Well, whatever floats your boat. But when Moanique reflected upon the possibility of that many people being able to meditate that deeply via typing, something didn’t jibe—hell, it’d take disciples, adepts from an entire, active school of thought, like
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Hatha yoga, or Kria yoga, for the numbers to add up. And what would you call that discipline, anyway? Keystroke yoga?! She wasn’t aware of anything like that, and she kept her ear to the ground for that sort of thing, which would have been pretty damn absurd, when you come to think of it. Moanique began to suspect that maybe what she was encountering was just a few people, each of whose moods varied widely enough that she was misreading each one as several persons. She began categorizing her causal companions, then comparing the specifics of what she could read of their entry modes, and sure enough her thesis held: she was dealing with five typists, each with four or five distinct personalities. But as she zeroed in on each of the five multiple-personality typists, Moanique began to realize that even they were all the same person! All of Moanique’s astral playmates were the same individual, who was suffering from multiple-personality disorder and god-knows-what else. “Holy shit!” she thought, her mind dwelling upon this discovery. “We’re dealing with somebody who gets so far into The Void, he’d be considered a friggin’ saint in other cultures, and that despite the fact he’s a certifiable whacko!” Who was this guy? Even with her misgivings, Moanique kept on communicating with him, or them, not realizing something very important. Despite having been a married adult for a few years, the person on the other end was very repressed, sexually. Moanique’s uninhibited libido was inadvertently rubbing off on him, so that he was slowly becoming much more open with his wife, when it came to his wanting sex. You’d think that would be a good thing, but there were complications. There’s always something gumming up the works.
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