Never could be any other way

a novel by Maximillian Quinn

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© Crow Bird Productions, 2011

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We're on the side of the angels. People want open, competitive markets. Jeffery Skilling, Former CEO, Enron

When you reach equilibrium in biology, you’re dead… If I ask you whether your brain is an equilibrium system, all I have to do is ask you not to think of elephants for a few minutes, and you will know it isn’t an equilibrium system. Arnold Mandell, quoted in James Gleick’s Chaos.

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Crow

Tusk

The Wizard, Part One: Logos

The Wizard, Part Two: Blackbird

Moon

Everything’s a Circle, but not a Perfect One

Crow
Why don't I tell you how I came to be? You see, my father was born a woman, at least bodywise, and had long been unsatisfied with his life, so he looked into a sex change thinking that he might be man born in a woman's body. Well, lo and behold, he was half right. After intensive therapy and very many self-help books, he realized that he was actually not only a man but also a female, and thus, in his true essence, he was a hermaphrodite caged in the female form. This elated him since he was already a woman, he was half fulfilled - he needed only to procure some male body parts, and snip, clip, and stitch, my Dad would be complete. Well, even though this was way back before the City had its wall, medical science was really good if you had the needed flow, so the doctors saw no problem accommodating my father because she was rich and had sufficient insurance. They ordered a set of male genitalia from a supplier (extra-large because psychologists projected that Dad's inner male self would have some issues to resolve and suggested that a gratifying penile length would certainly booster his self confidence), and with a few whiffs of anesthesia, a few swipes of the scalpel, and a couple of sutures, Dad was his complete hermaphrodite self. But he was also very narcissistic, and shortly after the operation, he fell in love with himself

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and wanted to have his own child. He had the ovaries and uterus after all, he figured he might as well put them to some use. But a problem arose - given the location of Dad's separate genital structures, he could not make love to himself (the penis could not reach the vagina because they were neighbors). Once again he consulted the doctors. They toyed with the idea of relocating his penis in order to make physical love possible, but Dad felt this solution to be rather dehumanizing and potentially socially awkward. So instead, Dad elected to have himself artificially inseminated with his own sperm. The doctors thought this would work, so they pumped his left side full of hormones and ovulation producing drugs while his right side had a rendezvous with a jar. Well TV caught on to this, and Dad appeared on several talk shows and wrote a book, and someone stole the jar (so Dad had to remasturbate), and all the while his left side was bloated and cranky, and to make matters worse, the TV coverage got a bunch of maniacs whooped up and pounding some thunder-book they all used to read aloud from while spitting nickels and pissing fire or making some such display way back then. So they went to court and, an injunction here, an injunction there, and the whole matter had to be postponed and settled by the law. The lawyers for the side in favor of not allowing anything stipulated that Dad being both father and mother of a child reeked of incest and therefore was illegal. Dad's lawyers countered with the argument that a) a relationship must consist of at least two people, b) incest is a relationship between at least two family members, and c) while Dad may well be his own family, he was only one person and hence no incestual relationship was involved in his having his child, thank you very much. That logic got the thunder people shaking and quaking and quoting, and, believe it or not, the judge caved and ruled that Dad couldn't have his own child. Well, that made Dad sad, and he went out on a drinking binge. But his left side just couldn't hold its liquor like his right side, and the next morning, on the other side of a night of love, Dad woke up pregnant with me.

Now, I never actually met my Dad. Yea, boo-hoo, poor me, you’re probably thinking my Dad

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died giving me birth and left me alone in the world. Not quite. It’s just not that simple. You see, this was before the City had its wall. Way back then. So, how come I’m not some crinkly lump tucked in a corner somewhere wearing wrap-around shades and grinning at anything in a skirt? Why am I still so young and vigorous? Well, it’s because my Dad was a smarty. He pieced together that the world wasn’t as shiny and bright as people were hearing and that the Great Dilapidation was lurching right over the horizonline all set to spring upon the world with one mighty leap – and stomp, stomp, stomp – what was just wasn’t gonna be. That’s no time to have a kid, obviously, so Dad took a precaution – he had me surgically removed and freeze-dried for safe keeping. (“Freeze-dried” in this instance is a non-technical way of saying he had me preserved.) He kept me in a little box (actually, a locket) on the mantle. Then he made a movie about himself so that I would know who he was and how I came to be. But he wasn’t much a filmmaker, unfortunately – he propped the camera up and then sat down in front a big, big bright window, so to me he’s pretty much a roly-poly silhouette (he doesn’t seem to have missed dinner all that often). He told me about himself and how I came to be. He was in his penthouse, and the Great Dilapidation was erupting all around (it came even quicker than he thought it would), and every-so-often he’d take the camera over to the window and you can see the mobs of folks running amok, burning, looting, shooting, blood and guts, tears, and smoke the world over, then a couple bullets tag the window, and that’s that for window gazing – it’s back to shadow-Dad and the camera propped up on a coffee table, and it’s sad because Dad seems genuinely moved to be watching the world go bye, so much so, that towards the end of the movie, he’s just sitting there repeating my name Crow, Crow, Crow (with some sniffles and sobs interspersed). You hear them hammering away at his door, a big crunch, and footsteps and shouting. They’re coming for him. And what does Dad do? He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t cry, shriek, or sob. He gets real, real bright while saying my name till the crowd comes to a stand still, you can see their shadows and they’re all covering their eyes, and flash – no more Dad.

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Then someone knocks over the camera and that’s the end.

Dad named me Crow. Dad climbed a giant hill when he was a woman and said it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. He said he sat on that hill during a fiery sunset and watched a flock of doves sail down from the clouds, appearing as little points of white light and then becoming doves, their alabaster feathers capturing the brilliance of the setting sun in pastel hues of red, orange, and yellow. They sang to him in a chorus rivaling that of any castrated boys' choir. Unfortunately, he said that there must have been a ‘dove season’ or something like that because suddenly there were men with guns and for the next half hour Dad watched all of those birds except one get blown out of the sky and crash to earth in clouds of feathers, screeching like a boys' choir being castrated. The one lucky survivor bird, though, fluttered through the air without a care singing its happy song, its happy song falling like a veil over the screams of the dying. In that sound, in that blend of music and misery, Dad said that he for the first time knew himself, and the self knowledge gained that evening eventually led to me. But he didn’t want to name me Dove or Pigeon, so he named me Crow. Of course, when I emerged into the world, people wanted to give me a “real” name and actually make it like two or three words (no one knows Dad’s last name). And they did. For my first few years I had this stupid fucking name that I just dropped when I saw a special about myself on TV and learned my real name. I owe that much to TV. It’s where I learned about Dad.

Still, though, how did I come to be? With it safely in the past, consumers wanted to relive the Dilapidation, so the TV people scurried about digging up whatever they could find that would offer a direct taste of the Big D. Dad was only one of about a million people with a camera rolling during the last days, and his is just one of those million or so movies to survive. Whoever stole the camera (after knocking it over) buried it in the ground afterwards, and there it remained with a mish-mash of other ill-gotten goods (but not the little box that contained me) for years on end until the time when the City people decided to build a chain-link fence around the City wall

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to prevent the Outies (the people living on the other side of the Wall) from vandalizing it. Lucky for me, they sited a post for the fence right where the camera was buried. It didn’t take long for Dad’s movie to hit the airwaves and play over and over and over and over and over and over and over until some TV exec, seeing the part in the film in which Dad tells me that I'm the little guy in the box on the mantle, decides to stage a contest to see who can find me. Here’s his thinking (I know this because many years later he came to me looking for a job): He thought Dad was delusional (with the world ending and all) and that there was no me. So he figured he could stage the contest because: a) there were plenty of losers in the City who’d pay (yes – pay) to be in the contest, b) there were many more second-level losers who’d pay (yes – pay) to watch the contest, and c) there were plenty of companies who’d pay (of course – pay) to advertise to any losers available. And since I was complete fiction, no one would ever find me, he’d never have to pay out any prize money, and the contest could go on forever (or until its ratings dropped below the death line, at which time, he said, he’d have staged something or other to make the show go out in a blaze of glory). Good plan – but the world’s cruel. And sometimes quite violent. You see, a few years before they found Dad’s camera when digging that fence post, the City decided that it needed a circus. Now, clowns weren’t hard to come by, but animals were – who’d seen an animal outside of a nature show in eons? The circus company sent scientists and Guards all around the globe to find some (some neat ones, not just rats and mice) and they were pretty much striking out until they went far away, and there, way far away, they dug up some bones, scraped some chunks into a test tube, shook it up and poured the contents into a machine, waited a few months, and out came these big, floppy-nosed beasts called ‘elephants’ (something else I learned from TV). The circus people paraded the elephants through the streets and into the circus and it was all a big success. People filled the big top day after day to see real live elephants. All was gold. But then: there was this family which (like any family) had a nanny from the Outside. Now

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this nanny always used to wear a little box on a chain around her neck because she thought it was magic and would protect her from getting in trouble with the City Guards and shit like that. The family assumed the box contained some superstitious hokey-pokey because she was from the other side of Wall where people believed in junk like that. So, the family goes to the circus one day and brings the nanny to keep tabs on the kids. Things are going fine and out come the elephants and everyone’s cheering and taking pictures. Then one of the elephants, the biggest elephant, loses it, kills his trainer and goes on a rampage. People stream out of the big top and the elephant starts plowing through them. But the nanny, the nanny with the little locket around her neck, what’s she doing? She and the family she was with were some of the first people out of the big top – when the elephant burst out on to the street all they had to do was turn left or right to get out of the way – which is what they did – except the nanny. No, the old bag turns towards the elephant and freezes in her tracks. I’ve seen this a thousand times on TV, and every time, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you’re thinking to yourself ‘Lady, get the fuck out of the way,’ but that’s not how it happens. She stands there, and (if you haven’t pieced this together yet – sheesh!) I’m the one hanging around her neck, and it’s like she and I are going to stare down this elephant or she’s gonna pull some sort of karate and stop it in its tracks, or she thinks it’s magic, the little box I’m in and it will keep her safe and make the elephant go through her or over or something. The elephant, it didn’t stomp her or anything like that. It just sort of gave a sideways thrust with its head – one of its teeth hit her and knocked her flat. After that, the elephant ran into the center of the City and knocked over the Tree that was there (and broke one of its teeth). By then though, the Guards had so filled it with lead that it took only a couple more bullets to bring it to reason. And the City planted a new Tree and put a glass box around it. The family that had had the nanny went back to her body before the street cleaners came. One of the kids thought the box around her neck was pretty and pitched a fit when pop said it was time to go, so pop relented and gave her the box. Now, the box was locked, but the kid could

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have used a hammer or something to get it open – fortunately, I don’t think this kid was far enough along to understand the concept behind boxes or hammers, so there I sat in her room pegged to a cork board– until Dad’s movie hits TV and then the pop, realizing what he’s got, starts dreaming up ideas for how I might best benefit his bank account. Along comes the contest. It’s easy money, and, well ,if you don’t take the easy money, then you’re just banging your head against the hard money until you’re up in smoke. So on the first day of the contest, the pop swipes the locket from the kid’s room, marches down to the TV building, and wins the contest. The TV exec is awash in red, the show’s over, and I’m proven to be real. (I didn’t hire the guy.)

But I’m still not born. Famous, but not alive. But being famous meant that there was no shortage of ladies stepping forward offering to finish me off, and there’d be a movie and tie-ins – the standard fare. And it looked like it’d work out that way, until someone with even more money stepped in – the WonderSlap Corporation. WonderSlap had cooked up yet another product to revolutionize the world (innovative little buggers those people at WonderSlap). What was it they’d developed? What product was just waiting to be launched? The Cunt Machine (I know, I know. WonderSlap for years afterward spent millions trying to kill that little nickname. The official name of the product was the “Cybertronic Uterine Nurturing Device” or the “CUND machine.” It didn’t take long for the consuming public to drop the “D” and add the “T”. You see, again the world is cruel. WonderSlap certainly intended to come up with a better name, but I arrived a little too early and caused them a dilemma – they could either use me to debut their product and get big splash, or they could spend the time to come up with a better name and let me come to term in a woman – or someone else’s product (they weren’t the only ones looking to get into the artificial birth market). Well, the fear that I may be born out of someone else’s product was the clincher, so WonderSlap made a grab for me, raced the product to market and stuck with the engineers’ name for it (The thing of it is, though, who finally killed their war against the term “Cunt Machine”? Me. Grown-up me working with their marketing branch. I said

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that Cunt Machine rolls off the tongue. It’s easy to remember. It’s a gift, guys. Embrace it.)). So in I went, the timer was set, and a many months later, ding! I was done.

Being the first kid to pop out of a Cunt Machine made me an instant celeb. I grew up in the public glare. No parents, but plenty of money (WonderSlap gave me a nice place to live in their building). I got my picture on TV for being so special. A lot. But, on top of it all, I’m a fricking genius. You see, most people, having had such an extraordinary pre-birth life, would cash-in on it and ride it out fat and happy until the public lost interest. And after that, they’d keep trying to revive their fame to squeeze out every single penny. But not me. Being famous is basically like being able to sing one song really well. The first few times people love it, but after that who gives a fuck? It dawned on me early, while I was listening to some TV guy babble on about some toy I’d be pushing – I realized that this schmoe brought nothing to the show – except me. On his own, he couldn’t sell beer in a bar – but he had me, and so he was raking it in. I’m not the first famous person to see the big picture; however, upon apprehending the situation, most famous people try to run their own show (cut out the middle man, so to say) and they go on singing that one song that nobody really wants to hear. Me – I admired the guy. Why have an asset when you can take a piece of someone else’s? Why limit yourself? So there I was, all of four years old and grinning away – people thinking that some lump of plastic is making me shine, but no, no, it’s not that. It’s that I’ve figured them out. Leverage. It’s the principle behind the oldest tool. If people know you – make something out of that. If they don’t know you – make them know you. If they need something – offer them something. If they don’t need anything – make them want something. These are simple rules that I have lived by. When all the other kids were sweating away at school and seriously worrying about being tossed over the Wall, me – I coasted, first of all, because school was fucking easy, and secondly because I knew that education was fucking useless – content-wise, at least (the morning after I took first prize in the Little Brainiac Science Fair, I was in the WonderSlap marketing department telling them, first, to let the thing be called a Cunt Machine, and then

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designing a campaign to connect the Cunt Machine with the success of my brain. “Set the timer, and out pops a genius.” A bold claim to be sure, but don’t back it up with facts – let fear do the work. The message has to be clear – the womb’s a tomb. Are you such cheap parents that you won’t plunk down the cash to give your little one every advantage in the world? Birth and pregnancy are treacherous things – one little thing goes wrong, one little thing you don’t have control over, and good bye or good luck getting by. Do you want to be responsible for that? Not to mention the fact that moms have lives, too; who has time to be pregnant? Let the product set you free. It’s better for you, and it’s better for the kid. Then drop in a line about how on the other side of the Wall, they’re still crankin’ ‘em out the old fashioned way (and look where it’s getting them). That’ll do it. The art, of course, is not to say any of this, but to let them know that you know they know that this is the way it is.) After that, my life was a joyride. I didn’t spend as much time in front of the camera as I had as a child. I was more the shadowy eccentric who made money out of air. I was the standard by which all the kids who’d grown up at the same time as me were measured. How come they didn’t have what I had. “Why haven’t I gotten as far as Crow?” they’d be muttering to themselves at the bar. I had my own company (Crow Bird Productions). I had an income worth a cool trillion per anum. Major benefits. I great apartment (in the WonderSlap building), a fast car, and many latex evenings with the women around me. In short, I was a walking talking real-time campaign for life in the City.

Then something funny happened. But before I tell you about it, I should tell you about the gun. You see, being in the City we weren’t supposed to have guns (we had the Guards and they had SafetyGuns, so that base was covered. But, since we weren’t supposed to have guns, everyone pretty much stocked up. I mean, if they’re telling you not to get them, there must be a reason. So, everyone would hook up with some Outie, wave a few bills at them, and a little later the Outie would smuggle you in a gun (the Outie would send a couple of those bills a Guard’s way and the Guard would see to it that the

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Outie got in the City packing heat). But, I never played this game. The idea that a gun’s going to get you something is a joke. I’ve always though that they just get in the way. But then I started doing this thing called ‘dreaming.’ I thought it was TV at first – just real strange late-night shit. I’d see Dad (the roly-poly silhouette) and he’d be telling me to get a gun, that he’d meant to leave me one but it had been stolen. I thought they’d dug up another tape he’d made – but nobody else ever saw the show, and I’d be asking and they’d be saying ‘That wasn’t on TV.’ I brought all this up to my therapist and told him that I didn’t think this was TV, and my therapist had to hit the books, and then it was like “You’re dreaming.” And, dealing with the therapist, he was kinda giddy because it was like wow! He found a dreamer. But, he didn’t have any answers for me, so I had to self-medicate. I basically, I just gave myself what the dreams were asking for. A gun. But the dreams didn’t go away. (The Wizard was the only other guy I knew who dreamed. But he led a complex life) Now for the funny thing that happened: One morning in March, I woke up in a sweat. I’m used to sweating in bed, but not when I sleeping peacefully by myself. But it wasn’t peaceful – my sleep, that is. It was like a strange TV show playing over an over. (Another dream.) I’d hear a pop that would almost wake me up. Then the sky at sunset would fill with dots of lights, and then fire, and big ugly beasts running amok, and me lost in the scramble. And then I had to go to work – everyone did because we had to work for aliens who took no shit and paid squat. Scared the piss out of me. So later that morning, I’m in a staff meeting with my feet up on big round table, receiving the day's updates with my minions nattering on about this project and that project, and me acting the part of the bored boss absent-mindedly staring out the window periodically nodding my head or raising my eyebrows (never to anything in particular, but you got to keep up appearances), and so we pass an hour or so until we get to the “touchy” subject. I could tell by the way they were shuffling about and sniveling and letting me know what great ideas I had that this meeting was

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going to have a touchy subject – something that for some reason they think I’m going to so deeply care about that the mere mentioning of it will send me into violent rage with desk pounding, paper throwing, ultimata-making, and fist shaking… and here it is: “This brings up a sensitive matter, Crow,” so says a phone lying on the table. “What would that be?” “Well, sir… it concerns the new WonderSlap product –” “What are those guys making now?” I say. Of course, I know what they’re making, and everyone in the room (corporally and electronically) knows I know what they’re making because I designed the campaign they’re getting ready to question, but I say it anyway just to hear the reaction. “Well, sir. They’re moving into the–” “Just tell me what the problem is,” I say. Silence. I have my face turned away from them. I’m looking out the window at the sky, the clouds, and buildings sparkling in the sun, and the Wall, and on TV I’m seeing beautiful women running along the beach shedding their clothes and drinking beer with a bonfire crackling away and the orangy light dancing on their bodies, and I’m not in the staff meeting anymore because I’m down by the shore with the women sipping a few brews circling the fire, the warmth on my face. Then pop. I’m back in the staff meeting, sitting up straight: “What the hell was that?” “What was what, sir.” “That noise. That pop. Is something wrong with the phone?” “We didn’t hear anything, sir… we mean, there could be something wrong with the phone... probably a bad connection… or a bad phone… There’s probably something wrong with the phone… should we get another phone?” I shake my head. “What were you talking about? That thing with the car.” “The car,” says the phone, “Yes. The car. Maybe we should talk about it some other–”

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“Just talk to me about the car.” “Well, sir,” says the phone, “We, us and the people at WonderSlap, aren’t sure that the Wizard is the best choice for its spokesmodel.” This is the sort of simpleminded bullshit I put up with all the time. Someone’s introducing a new product and they want Big Splash. They talk about creating an entirely new campaign that spellbinds the masses and makes them crave the product. So you give them that. You design a campaign like no campaign before – and so it’s, therefore, different. Well, nothing scares nobody like different. So here you are, just before launch, and what do they want? The same old same old. So I’m tapping my fingertips together, readying my usual speech, locating the objects (mugs, pen holders, etc.) that I can fling about the room, drawing together the main points of my argument (a car’s a fucking car, it’s buying it that’s the thrill, therefore, you need to make people thrilled about buying it), and choosing my off-color joke, and just as I stand up and clench my hands into fists– I hear that damn pop again, and lose everything. My hands fall to my sides. I just tell them that hey, I’m homely as homely gets, and if a big nosed no chin skinny bonerack like me can sell just about anything, then a bald stubby little pug like the Wizard won’t have a problem selling another damn car. Besides, we’ve put so much into creating him. And then I walk out. I walk into my office and meet with my therapist. “Something’s bothering me,” I say. “Tell, me about it, Crow.” “I’m not sure what it is.” "A woman perhaps?" "No, that's not it. Why is it that every time a computer thinks I'm upset it assumes that a woman must be involved? That's not it at all. I’ve filled several latex sheaths recently." "Fantastic then, Crow.”

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That pop echoed in my head. It reminded me of something, but I couldn't remember what or even describe it. "What are you doing?" my therapist requested. "I'm trying to remember something I can't name." "Describe it to me, and I will name it." I tried but I still couldn't recall anything about it. Just that pop. I couldn’t tell if it existed or had really happened. It was just something I had experienced (I guess). I explained all this to my therapist. "What's wrong with me?" I said. “Are you dreaming again?” He was getting a little excited saying that. “I think so,” I said, “There was some weird shit on about aliens last night…. taking over the world, you know how that goes. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t TV.” “It sounds like a dream.” "What a dream." I put my hands behind my head and stared at the wall. "The sky filled up with spaceships, and millions of aliens came out of them, big ugly aliens who wanted people to work for them.” "That's very upsetting, Crow. Is that what you couldn't remember?" "How should I know?" I stared at the wall. Silence. “I thought it was TV,” I said. “I don’t believe there was any program like that on last night, Crow. Though, there is a movie out about aliens that you might like. Maybe that’s what your dream was telling you. I can give you the showtimes. Or else, maybe you should visit Spaceland amusement park. Make your dream come true.” I nodded. “Or maybe I should just go buy something.” “Or maybe you should just go buy something. Crow, you work so hard. You give so selflessly to your company and the general economic well-being of the City. That’s quite a burden. You’re a hero for taking it on. Perhaps, though, you should take a few hours off. Buy something for

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yourself. You deserve that much.” “Buy something,” I said. “Exactly. Treat yourself. Give yourself something. You deserve it.” "Is that so?" I nodded. And then left.

I didn’t go buy anything, though. I had already bought it. I went home and put on black pants and my favorite big black coat and my lucky yellow boots. I went to talk to the Wizard. He was lazing about in his apartment muttering about how much he hated everything. Not good company for a man in my state of mind. And with a gun. I took off. Then I just walked around with the gun in hand, occasionally twirling it around my index finger. I put on my sunscreen and looked up and saw the sun's swinging phallus going left and right like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. I came upon the City's Tree and pressed my face up against the glass box surrounding it. The birdies fluttered around inside, skipping from branch to branch, going wherever the little laser projectors sent them. The speakers emitted ruffling noises and all the other sounds of birdies preening and cooing, spreading their wings and pecking the ground for hologram seeds. They even fought over the feed in quaint 3-D posturing scuffles. I left my face print on the glass and someone had to come and wipe it off. A Guard walked up to me. He told me to read the sign forbidding face pressing next time. He had a gun, too. But he didn’t see mine. I needed more sunscreen. The bullets jingled in my pocket. I dropped the soda can in the garbage bin and it said thank you. I said it was welcome. Then the guy came to collect the cans. He had a gun, too. I sat down by the river and the fresh green water. I listened to the river flow and the traffic go by and the road stretching over the water and the horns

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Blllllllllllllluuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!! I sniffed the nozzle of the gun. It smelled like metal. A car backfired. I threw a bullet in the river. I didn't see it go down. The sun's ding-dong said noontime. I went for lunch and put it on plastic and unwrapped it from plastic and ate it with plastic utensils off of plastic plates and then put the plastic in the plastic plastic garbage bin with everyone else's plastic (it said thank you). I waited until the plastic man came and took the plastic to the plastic plant to be made into more plastic. He had a gun, too. A Guard told me I wasn’t supposed to stand next to the plastic recycling bin. I clapped. I went to work. I jumped up and down. I waved the gun. The security guy said hi Crow. I thanked him. He was fat. He had a gun. I went to my office. My admin said hi Crow. I thanked her. She said I had a nice gun. I thanked her again. She asked why I had it. I said it was time. She said for what. I said to get a gun. I turned on my therapist. "Welcome back, Crow. What did you buy?"

I fired and fired and fired. Crack, fizzle and pop and sparks dancing all around that system sputtering in shock, and me laughing and laughing and laughing. I drew in a deep breath of smoke and gunpowder fumes. The last bullet I fired sailed straight and narrow, and without any effort at all, buried itself just right deep inside my therapist, who hummed in pain. Then a pop. And finally a whistle which faded to silent good-bye. I jumped up and down. I wasn’t sure if I had fired all the bullets. But I was done firing. My employees had fled in terror and I could hear them waiting for an elevator, clicking the button over and over. I put the gun in my pocket. Walking over to a window I looked outside and saw that the sun had a woody. The elevator bell went ting. The sun was having a rather personal moment right out there above us. I heard sirens and footsteps in the stairs. It was security. They had guns, too. I could get life.

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They were mad. They wore armor. The building began to tremble and the herd of footsteps I heard reminded me of thunder. But it was still nice and sunny outside. In fact the sun was so worked up that it seemed to glow a little brighter. I'd need more sunscreen. I opened the window and headed down the fire escape, floor after floor after floor. In the windows I saw people pointing and screaming. The Guards were spilling out of vans, locked and loaded. They had real guns, now. I heard sirens in the streets below. I jumped the rest of the way. Then I ran. The sun was making chirping noises. People stood in the shade and cheered for the Guards. They ran after me. People laughed. Bullets caught up with me and went on by. I didn't hear the bangs. I only heard my feet bouncing off the pavement. Everything streaked by me. As I passed, everyone got old and the old people died and the young people got white hair and bent over complaining about arthritis. But the Guards ran fast. Bullets flew. I looked behind me and saw a flock of bullets, big dumb bullets zipping through the air in formation, high, way above me but coming down, nose diving. So I ran faster. They hit the ground like raindrops. Helicopters threw some more at me. They were skydiving bullets. But they couldn't catch me. Until I hit the Tree. I was looking backwards and laughing at the Guards, but moving forward. I didn't see the Tree, and I went crash into the glass (pressed my face against it). It didn't break, though, I just smooshed against it with a slap and stopped dead cold. The birdies became unsettled. The speakers sounded accordingly. That guy told me about the sign prohibiting face pressing. I wiped my face print off the glass. Then I turned and looked at everything approaching. A million new old people hobbling and waving canes and bullets darting downwards and a mad crowd of Guards and security, their

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mouths bent in growling frowns and more bullets blazing and the buildings curving in over me like I was looking through a bubble lens. Bullets splattered on the ground pock-marking a trail directly to me. The birdies spun around the tree in a circle that dipped at one end like a half melted ring. The whole flock whirled and whirled and whirled. In the reflection on the glass I could see everything, the whole world approaching. People came. Security came. Guards came. Then it cracked. The whole world split with a snap and then shattered, and the reflection transformed into a mosaic of tiny reflections that held together only for a second because some more bullets hit the glass and dispersed all the little reflections, the glass cascading to the ground and each shard capturing a portion of the O so bright sun and shining with the light as it fell. With the glass showering around me, the birdies escaped, their hologram wings flapping silently, the din of raining glass and flying bullets drowning out the speakers, the birdie flock sailed skywards. I climbed to the top of the Tree to have a better view, bullets whizzing through the leaves and thudding into the wood. I reached the top, the very top, and being sure to dodge cannonballs and howitzer shells, I watched the birdies go and cheered as the bullets passed right through their not-there bodies without the slightest disturbance, the birdies ignoring them completely though the helicopters filled the air with lead and noise. Then the sun came. The city became a milky white ocean. The helicopters had to land. The people couldn't run. No bullets flew. Things were very quiet. The fluid on the ground covered the projectors scattered through the Tree branches and swept the birdies from the sky. No birdies could fly without being projected. Except one. One bird remained in the sky, its wings working the air, its tail pointed to me. The sun shone strong and refreshed, and the lone bird glowed in its golden light, the world so silent around us that I heard the flapping of its feathers, and its tweet tweet tweet, a thin song stretching all the way from the bird to me, becoming thinner and thinner as the distance between us increased. Then I heard a pop. A tiny pop. A bullet rose to the sky and blessed the crown of that bird

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with a puff. The song ceased, and the bird, its wings outstretched, spiraled downwards, a fall that took some time and ended with a splash in the white ocean. Ripples surrounded the point of impact and thinned out as they grew. The people picked themselves up from the ground, the slimy residue dripping from their bodies. They wiped their eyes and looked twice as mad. They staggered forward, their fingers bent like claws. The helicopters recovered and the roar of violence and bullets exploded around me. The people growled, sloshing through the goo, they climbed the Tree, fangs in their mouths, grenades flung in the air. Right then, the alien swooped down and rescued me.

He had a spaceship that sped us away from all the misfortune. We did, however, almost hit the sun's phallus, which was again swinging like a pendulum. It glanced at us in disapproval. Then I asked the alien to tell me about himself. His name was Humpy Prime (you don’t often think of aliens with names like that). He was from a planet called Ginger. I said he must then be a Gingerian. He said no. He was a Timmie. He was one of the Timmies of Ginger. Originally the planet had been named Timmie, but then its sun got sick and ready to swell up into a red giant, so the Timmies had to leave and build a new planet. They had really good science and were many millions of years ahead of humans. So they built a new planet no problem and put it in orbit around a new star. They named it Ginger. They had done all this before humans were a twinkle in the universe's eye. "So what brings you to here?" I said. "Take me to your leader," he said. Then he laughed, and I realized it was a joke and laughed too. We were sailing over the city. "I've come to spread progress and intelligence and all that business," he boasted. "That's great!" I cheered, "You aliens are something else." "Not all aliens are that great," he told me. (I asked him if 'he' was the proper term, and he said it would do.) "There are two alien races in this universe. We are the Timmies and we are

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dedicated to spreading intelligence and scientific miracles." "And the other aliens?" I asked. "They have no name, but they pillage and enslave." Then he assured me that those aliens hadn't found us, yet—but they were on their way. Then I asked him how he liked it here so far. He wasn't sure. He had hit a weather balloon and crashed in the Outland. As usual, it was one group of Outies fighting another, so they each wanted to know if Humpy had lasers and cool shit like that that they could borrow to do in the other side. “Oh, I don’t have weapons,” he told them, “All I got is a busted spaceship and some Super Neutrino Energy Canisters, also called SNECs, to fuel it with”. “‘SNEC,’” I said. “Who the hell came up with that name?” “What’s wrong with it?” “What isn’t,” I said, “It’s got no pizzazz. Nothing to make you want to remember it.” “Yea, well, SNECs are pretty fucking great if you want to travel across the universe, buddy boy.” “Hey, man – I have nothing to do with function. I’m strictly about form.” Humpy giggled a bit and then went on with his story. He told the Outies that he had knowledge, and that spreading it was his main reason for landing here – to share knowledge and understanding and to help build a better world for everybody to share. The Outies had stopped listening when he said he didn’t have any guns, so they started fighting amongst themselves over what to do with him. Eventually, though, the Outies opted to "fuck it and shoot him." And they did. Then one of them hitched Humpy's ship to his pick-up truck and dragged onto his front lawn so it could lie there and rust and make him the envy of the neighborhood. But Humpy wasn't really dead. “They can’t kill me,” he said, “No matter how hard they try.” He snuck back into his ship and got the hell out of there. "And that's when I came to rescue you," he smiled. "How did you know I needed help?" I asked.

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"Aliens know," he muttered nonchalantly. "So what now?" "Well," he said, "You touched upon it a minute ago. Progress is great, but we Timmies have decided that we need a more savvy marketing plan." “And that’s where I come in,” I said. “Exactly! I want to land in the middle of the City, and, with your help, convince everybody to use the science I’ve got and to give their all for peace and progress.” “Steer the ship to the City,” I said. “We’re going for Big Splash.” “Sounds good.” “Just let me do all the talking,” I said. “Gotcha.” “Just so I’m clear. You're going to unveil all your secrets to us humble humans?" "That's right." "What are your secrets?" I asked, "Like anti-matter and stuff like that?" "Anti-matter?" he laughed boisterously, "Ha! Why is it that every time I visit a planet all they think I'm going to bring them is anti-matter? Anti-matter ain't shit." He put his hand (I guess) on my shoulder. "Crow, it's neutrinos these days. It's all neutrinos." "Fantastic," I said.

So we landed the ship right next to the Tree. The City had cleaned up nice, but the people were a little edgy at seeing me. But I put on a big smile and strode down the gangplank waving like they adored me (which they then began to do). I told them that we had a visitor, and that they needed to put their hands together for Humpy Prime. And down comes Humpy, lights flashing and theme music, grinning and saluting the crowd and jabbering non-stop to the point that I could not get a word in. That’s how it always is. They want you to give them something new, they want you to do something for them – until the very last moment and then they want to take over and go with the

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same old same old. We were still a big sensation. Humpy was getting a little technical with all of the details, but the people were willing to extend a little leeway to the alien. We were taking over the airwaves. Everyone was tuned in. Humpy told us all about neutrinos and all sorts of other things. The people were very appreciative, and spoke in unison once Humpy had finished his lecture. "That's great," they said, "This is exactly the kind of thing we need!" They applauded themselves and became very giddy. Then they began drawing up the necessary plans, making deals, putting the wheels in motion. And then Humpy had to say: “Why this technology’s so good, you’ll be able to tear down that there wall and live peacefully with everyone else on the other side. Share and share alike.” Oh, Bad, I thought. I prepped myself for a little damage control, but there’s some damage that will bear no control. Again, the people spoke as one: “That’s a bunch a fucking horseshit you alien dickhead,” they said. “What’s the use of having stuff if you can’t own it?” They unanimously decided that Humpy and I were security risks and had to be destroyed. Out came the Guards with guns. But Humpy shielded me from their fire, and we sped away in his ship.

We landed a long way away. Humpy asked me if I were all right. I said yes. I was unharmed. We were in the way Outside, so far outside that there weren’t even any Outies around. I sat down on the grassy surface and surveyed the green and blue world in front of me, green rolling ground below and perfect blue in the sky. Humpy handed me a beer and told me to wait a minute. He ducked into his ship. He emerged a few minutes later and handed me another beer as he sat down next to me. He said we should rest a while. He pulled out a remote and pushed a button. Suddenly I heard his theme music playing softly. It matched so perfectly the landscape spread

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beneath me. "You know, Crow," he said staring out at the distance, "This happens on every planet I visit. This exact thing." "Really?" I said. "Yep..... Every single civilization I meet reaches the exact same conclusions." I was depressed. "So the humans are going to kill themselves, huh?" "No," he said sipping his beer. "What do you mean 'no?'" "You know that other alien race I told you about? The one that pillages and enslaves?" "Yea, the aliens-with-no-name?" I said. He nodded. "I just called them and told them where we are. They'll be here in a half hour." I was stunned. I shook my head in disbelief, but I had to sort of smile. "You're just going to let the human race be enslaved?" I exclaimed. He nodded. "You asshole," I said. He laughed. "You don't want it to commit suicide, do you?" "No, I guess not." I still felt depressed. "Don't worry," he said slapping my back, "The aliens-with-no-name will let me use their tools, and I'll fix my ship properly so that it will work in outer space, and you and I will buzz out of here. You'll like it on Ginger." I felt relieved. I was better able to laugh at the bitter irony of the whole thing. "By the way," he said, "Do you know where we are?" "On a hill." Then suddenly, I lifted my head and felt a sensation of peace. It's the only time in my life I think that I have ever experienced wonderment. "This is the hill your Dad told you about. The one where he discovered the self-knowledge that led to you," he smiled. “How did you know about that?” I asked.

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“Aliens know.” We tapped bottles and drank to each other's health. The music kept playing. We opened two more beers and waited for the greatest event in human history to hurry up and get going. When it did, a million little points of white light dotted the sky. The moon was rising, but the sun was going down. That made me laugh.

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Frame of reference is everything when it comes down to it. Like the Wizard used to say, all we do is compare and call it thinking. What do you judge the world by? When do you notice change? And when do you change your frame of reference? In the end, these are the only questions that exist. You answer them, and you answer everything. I normally don’t think like this and would rather leave the philosophizing to others like the Wizard and move on without a moment devoted to the Big Questions. But, I couldn’t escape the frame of reference issue right then—for two reasons, one obvious and the other a little more abstract. Reason One: I was spinning. There’s nothing that will make you more cognizant of your frame of reference than spinning. And it wasn’t me, personally spinning, it was Humpy’s ship. I wasn’t moving at all from my perspective, being all strapped into my seat (the Timmies being bright enough to understand the importance of seatbelts). I was immobile as a statue. And really

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 25 the only reason I knew I was spinning was that I could see out the windshield, and the world, which had conformed to the order of sky on top, ground down below now twirled around a little center point that in reality meant nothing—someone outside staring at that same point in the sky would have noticed nothing—but because Humpy’s ship was spinning left over right, that little insignificant point became the center of my universe and the place where I was going. But, why the spinning? Let me tell you how it came to be. You see, the whole aliens-with-no-name thing had taken a wretched turn for the worse and Humpy and I needed off the planet pronto. Humpy never got the tools he needed, so the ship wasn’t up to flying at all. But we had no choice. Staying stationary was not an option. So we took to the sky flying on little more than wishpower, my hands wringing and palms sweating, the ship creaking, popping, snapping, cracking, bouncing through the sky like a boat on the rough old sea, and Humpy pissing and bitching and moaning and twisting dials, turning knobs and pounding panels screaming Move! Move! Move! Clouds splattering on the windshield like immortal bugs and my lone, sad-eyed reflection just looking back at me as though to say ‘hey, man, you gotta do something, I’m just the reflection here.’ But there was nothing I could do. I mean maybe Humpy and I grasshoppered it on the hill back then just lollygagging and lazing about drinking beer and looking at the sky when I should have been learning how to fly the ship or something like that, but past is past and now is now, and now we were zipping along through the sky moving faster than anything I’d ever seen—I mean there I was strapped into my seat and Humpy’s next to me pounding on this orange button and the ship’s speeding up, I can feel it— hell, if it hadn’t been for his constant imploring of the ship not to fall from the sky, I’d have been able to overlook all the hanging wires, blinking lights and junk strewn about and wrapped myself

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 26 in a nice cozy quilt of ignorance thinking ‘oh, it’s gonna be okay.’ But not with the way he was acting. I just had to hope. Nothing more than that. We’re booming through the sky and I’m feeling many, many g’s pressing against me, my face doing that stretch and ripple thing and my poor butt feeling like it’d slip through the crevice between the seat back and the cushion and be lost like a shiny penny. The outside world melted away into strips of blue, green and brown. Humpy billowed like a flabby sail, his hands gripping the joystick by which he flew the whole damn show, and both of us staring straight out the window with tears running from our eyes. He pressed the orange button again and then jammed back on the stick and up up up up up light blue to deep purple and we could see the stars. My lips receded from my teeth and I could see my reflection in the windshield grinning like some shiteating skeleton with bulgy eyes and slicked-back hair. The stars were little dots (the first time I’d ever seen the stars). Then the engines went floooommmm (seriously—floooommmm) and the stars stretched out like skinny fingers reaching towards me. But then floooommmm became boooommmm and then nothing and the skinny fingers shrank and the stars were dots again, and then the dots shot upwards and the image of the world filled the windshield—lovely blue, green and brown like some mural you’d see on TV. I could still see my reflection, a little fainter now, but normal and smiling and my hair pointing all over the place and I felt like my seatbelt was the only thing holding me down, like you could tack a pair of wings on me and I’d float to Happy Land doling out lollipops to all the little people and singing show tunes. I held my hands at shoulder level and I was about to tell Humpy ‘hey, cool out man, there’s nothing achieved by panic and stress, let it go, man, let it go’ when it dawned on me that the world was getting mighty big in our windshield and that my little reflection was slowly morphing back to the shiteating skeleton and instead of telling Humpy to cool out and let it ride to Happy Land, I said

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 27 something more in the line of ‘get that fucking engine working’ and he started blaring at me and pounding on that little orange button and that mural just started getting more and more detailed. Then a menu appeared on the windshield, a field of letters superimposed on a blossoming mountain range:
Select one: Communications Systems Flight information Beverages

Humpy diddled with the joystick and the button and Systems lit up and winked at us.
Select one: Computers Engines Appliances

Engines lit up.
Select one:

Engines On

Engines Off

Engines Eject

Engines On

lit up, the

blithely unaware of the big mountains coming close, my face

reflected on the windshield right next to it. Sputter, sputter floooommmm… hack, cough and off again. Humpy thumped the button. Engines Off lit up, the peak of a mountain pointed

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 28 straight at me. Hack, hack, hack, uhmmmmmm, floooommmm, doooommmm, snoooooze…
Engines Trying . Bang. Fl, fl, fl, fl, FLOOOOMMMMM. Engines On ! Humpy

cranked back on the joystick and the mountain sank to the bottom of the windshield and then vanished and nothing but blue sky and smiling me. The screen gave us one big Thank You! So, we’re zooming straight through the open air, not up or down, or spinning, just nice and level. Humpy’s twisting dials, pushing buttons, sliding switches and turning knobs. The world’s streaking by, and, all things considered, I’m relaxed. My heart’s beating. I wipe the snot from my nose and lean back in my chair. Low-level clouds stream over the ship, sliding over the windshield, the shimmering effect they create gives me the intangible tingles and sends me on my way to Happy Land again. Humpy seems more confident. He’s twisting less dials and pressing less buttons and saying ohhhh! And there it is! And that’s what she needs! tapping the control panel and thereby instilling in me a sense that everything’s alright. I look at the clouds and my reflection’s smiling at me. I close my eyes and reflect on my hectic day. Change comes suddenly. It certainly does. My thoughts drifted to Ginger. Humpy had given me some pamphlets to look at so I had a pretty good idea what lay ahead for me, and to tell you the truth, I was all for it. The Wizard was always on my case about divorcing myself from the physical world and journeying through the land of the Mind where I could play hopscotch with abstract ideas and concepts and achieve Understanding and junk like that, but I could never really get to first base with the whole notion. He had this sort of life going on where he could have poked this or that from sun-up to sun-down and then the other way around because he was a star, always on TV, every channel, you’d flip through and there’d be his face—the Wizard. But damn it, he hated it. Pouted all day and night like stardom was some sort of curse. Me? That’s not the way I think. Hell no. Why the very

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 29 second my grinny face shone on the TV and they were telling the City what a fucking genius I am, I had but one thought, and only one, and one that I am in no way ashamed of: Coitus. Pure and simple. I had the money and notoriety and I was going to be laid like I had to make up for a long line of celibate ancestors. But it was like the Wizard just couldn’t be happy unless he was pissing on me for it, and I’d say to him look around, this is the City—we’ve perfected life. We’ve embraced the notion that we’re nothing but a bunch of waterbags that need to eat. And just under half of us come with DNA guns and itchy trigger fingers. What’s the problem? And then he’d start moaning about how there was so much more. But he didn’t know about Ginger. When these Timmies had a chance to build their own world, Bang, they did it right. That’s what Humpy said—Imagine the opportunity to build a world that you actually want. What would you put in it? The Big Questions? Not me. Good beer, beautiful women and rubbers that grow on trees. Everything else is a complication, and when you think about it, everything else amounts to nothing but whining about why you don’t live in world with good beer, beautiful women and rubbers that grow on trees. That’s Understanding. We could have made a mint selling trips back and forth from the City to Ginger. I would have pocketed more cash than WonderSlap. But that was neither here nor there. The whole big wide world was on the way out and all the people I knew, even the Wizard, were lining up for a heaping serving of the Big Good-Bye, and given that, given that it was all ending anyway, I could be heading for a planet of libraries and blue cheese and I’d still have to say Oh Lucky Me! But I was going to Ginger. How could I complain? I opened my eyes. My reflection winked at me. Humpy was bent over twisting a couple of loose wires. The clouds parted and there was blue sky.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 30 One problem: we were rapidly approaching one of the avenging angels, who held his sword up and smiled like a bastard ready to slice us in half.

Reason Two: Often during the most stressful moments of my life I feel as though I sprout a little bud of extra consciousness that either comments on the events causing me so much distress or rambles on about something entirely unrelated to the world as I know it then. So, while I’m confident that my Main Brain was not particularly interested in the concept of a frame of reference, this little bud blossomed and could think of nothing else. But before we get quite to that, I’m going to take advantage of this frame of reference idea (now that my Main Brain gives a hoot) and slide the frame of reference back through time (about an hour) to when Humpy and I were sitting on the hill, slugging beers and waiting for the aliens-with-no-name. The sun balanced on the horizon, all red and all, and the moon stood there on the opposite horizon, the two of them there like they were eyeing each other up and I thought of what an odd sight it was to see them so situated, one burning and glowing and the other golden and cool and the horizon a rim of light fading and changing between them and the sky enveloping it all in purple and then the lights slowly approaching, little white lights coming to change the world. My bottle empty, I placed it on the grass. It tinked against the others, and before the words touched my lips, Humpy asked me if I wanted another beer. Sure, I said, sure do and mused on why hadn’t the Timmies, with their technology and all, invented something to make beer appear on desire, and Humpy reminded me that his ship was broken. The two of us sat quietly for a second just watching those lights coming to enslave and dominate the world. “They look like stars,” I said.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 31 He snorted, “If you’re going to get poetic, I guess they do. But, I’ve seen stars up close. I’ve driven by stars. I’ve seen them grow big and red and I’ve seen them blow up. They’re a lot more than little dainty lights in the sky.” “I’ve never seen the stars at all,” I said. “They’re more a rumor than anything else in the City, something you see on TV. I know they’re lights in the sky, but there’s are a lot of things that I was sure I knew what they looked like before I saw them and when I did see them I didn’t know what they looked like. Those, I think, look like stars.” He started laughing and punched me on the shoulder. I laughed at myself, “I mean, I know those aren’t real stars. But aren’t real stars a lot like those?” “Oh sure,” he said, “Hell, if that sun ever goes down, you’ll see some real stars before we have to take off.” He stood up. “I tell you what… I’ll get the beers and a telescope and you can groove on the ‘stars’ all you like until I get the ship ready and then we’ll see some real ones up close.” He hopped up the gangplank and vanished into the ship. He yelled out to me, “Ginger is awash in stars.” Images of the night sky teeming with stars filled my mind. Sure I’d seen such things on TV, but at that particular moment I was making a distinction between television and seeing. He called to me again. A beer popped out of the doorway and landed in my waiting hands. I heard him rummaging through barrels of stuff and telling himself that it had to be somewhere. I opened the beer and sat staring at the approaching fleet trying to find one fixed point of light among that multitude, one little dot not growing brighter or larger. But I couldn’t. Every time a new one appeared, I thought this is it, that’s a real one. But no, it’d get bigger and brighter like all the others. I thought about the Wizard (for the first time since arriving at the hill). I’d seen him on

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 32 TV saying that he’d seen the stars; in fact he’d been born there and he kept lamenting about how he wanted to go back. Once, he told an audience (his frame of reference being loosely hinged) that he’d flown through the sky and through time and seen the stars being born and held them in his hands. They’d even talked to him, I think, but by that point I’d pretty much tuned him out. I almost felt bad for the Wizard, really, his forthcoming subjugation and enslavement and all; I wondered if I should ask Humpy to pick him up once the spaceship was fixed and we’d take him to Ginger. But Ginger didn’t really sound like his sort of place, and besides, I had no more time for thinking. The ground to my right became wet. I looked down at it and there’s a beer bottle lying on its side and pouring out its contents on my foot. I looked up and there’s Humpy with the telescope to his eye and quivering and whimpering—he’s looking up at the approaching lights, and before I can ask him hey what’s the matter, he drops the telescope, lets out a little cry and starts bumbling toward the ship. Man, I think, if he’s any indication, I can drink these Timmies under the table. He goes stumbling up the gangplank. I look back at the lights, and nothing’s changed, there’s just more of them. And the sun’s in the same place. And the moon. Eyeing each other up. That’s weird, I think. The telescope rolled past my feet and would have rolled all the way down the hill, but it knocked up against a rock. I stood up, my knees snapping and cracking, my back sore. I stretched and could feel those beers sloshing around in my gut. I unzipped and set several of them free. Humpy banged and thumped around inside the ship. I tapped, tucked and rezipped and strolled over to where the telescope rested against a rock. Picking it up, I noticed something funny in an odd way. The telescope was pure gold and covered in etchings. The red light of the sun kissed it all around.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 33 Etched into it was the picture of an elephant and I thought about something I’d seen about them on TV where people theorized that right before the Great Dilapidation, people took the elephants on and finally wiped them out. Evidently, the elephants had been on the loose and misbehaving and we had to stop them, so we got our guns and boom boom boom boom we cleared them out and made the world safe and it was the last great thing people did before the Great Dilapidation. (This, of course, made it a surprise to find some for the circus – they did end up misbehaving, though, and we did end up killing them all.) Funny to find one here on a telescope, I thought. I was about to ask Humpy about the whole thing when: The sky rippled like water and this almost visible wave of sound knocked me flat on my ass and set the ground shimmering beneath me. I got back up. Humpy was thumping around like a mad thing in the ship and I started to wonder if I should join him in there, but I’m an inquisitive sort of soul, and I just had to know what was going on. The million white lights were falling from the sky and splashing into the earth like white hot metal falling on wax—they filled the sky, streaming down like meteorites, streaking through the purple sky, the moon smiling and the sun shuddering and the stars falling. I lifted the telescope and put it to my eye. I pointed it to where the first star had fallen, a crater there, my hand around the telescope, twisting back and forth, blurry, sharp, blurry, hazy, a hand, blurry, wings. I dropped the telescope and let it roll away. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. The elephant on it somersaulted down the hill, tink, tink, tink against this rock and that. The first one rose from its crater. It stood a mile away and glowed with such light that it made the air seem like perfect glass—but I could look right at it, even though it burned so bright, I

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 34 could stare at without so much as squinting. It was vision clearer than any vision. From a mile away I could see the hairs of it eyebrows and the lines surrounding its mouth. It stood a hundred feet into the air, its robes alabaster and flowing and a rope tied around its waist, its skin whitewhite and smooth, hair to its shoulders and green-green eyes glaring at me the little figure on the hill. Its eyebrows dipped down and the lips parted and the teeth showed and the wings unfurled and up it went, sword in hand, sandals on feet, and down again, on the ground, but still looking at me. The sword gleaming and mirrorlike and reflecting the light of everything in the sky right then. It pointed the blade up as if to receive a blessing. And then, back to me, little old me. At this point, it may seem that little old me ought to be thinking thoughts of escape because the big unhappy giant angel with the sword is frowning and walking towards me and making the earth shake with each step, and without question that’s exactly what I was thinking at that moment… in one of my consciousnesses. Right then, that’s when the little bud popped up somewhere in my mind and started fawning over how bright and glowy the angel was, and how it was wearing sandals and what a big sword it was carrying—this isn’t uncommon, for at such moments in my life my consciousness bifurcates and though the real me may be tumbling down a flight of stairs, signing a contract for several trillion dollars, or ironing the wrinkles out of a celebratory female, the little bud’s there telling me how I ought to get my shoes resoled, or wondering whether or not the paper is twenty-five percent cotton fiber, or if TV would be better if it only had a few more channels or some other such nonsense that I, at the particular time, just don’t care about. And on that hill, I truly didn’t give a damn whether that angel had perfect teeth or not, in fact, I was practically pissing and shitting all over myself and doing the dance of fright with my knees knocking together and tears spitting out of my eyes and wanting to do nothing more than beat it into Humpy’s ship and blast off to Ginger. But I was just too fucking scared to

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 35 do anything other than practically piss and shit myself while doing the dance of fright. So there I am watching this thing come at me and hearing this little bud go on about how clean and well groomed that angel is, but then, with cleanliness’s regal position in the scheme of things, one would have to figure that appearance is a high priority in heaven. (About angels and all that – we weren’t completely ignorant about this stuff in the City (we had TV and documentaries) and I know it tied in the thunderbooks and all that jazz from before the Big D. I never got a real clear picture of it, but some of it was useful – you know you could make good things heaven and bad things hell – and for the simple-dumb it was good enough marketing. The guys with wings thing, though, never did much for me – kinda goofy, really. Never could decide if it was all part of the best salesjob ever, or the worst.) This is what I had to put up with. All heaven breaking loose, and I can’t do anything but listen to this crap coming from inside me. And I’m not even thinking it. As that angel approached with its wings outstretched and that sword in its hand and as all those angels poured from the sky and as Humpy struggled to get the ship’s engine to turn over, I didn’t hear any of it though the sound filled my ears; I didn’t see any of it though the scene filled my eyes. All I knew was that the sword looked like big razor and did I shave this morning? Even as the angel dipped the point of the blade into the earth and let it drag behind as it advanced on me and the hill. Even as the gash it gouged in the ground welled up with blood and the other angels, also heading this way, took notice and did likewise to the poor green world. Even as Humpy’s ship sputtered and howled and he screamed for me to come in. Even as the angel lifted its sword and swung it horizontal to the ground, splashed earthblood on me and slashed the hill beneath my feet. Even as I turned it up a notch with the virtual pissing and shitting and dancing frantically and started crying for Dad. Even as the angel roared and spit upon me. The only thought present to me: All your life you’ve

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 36 wanted something to happen and now it is. Lucky man. You get to experience yourself experiencing something like this. A beer bottle struck the back of my head and must have knocked the little bud cold because all of the sudden I felt like a part of what was happening. The angel’s eyes went dark and it shrieked, and I don’t remember spinning around, but I was running in the other direction screaming for Humpy, who had another beer bottle ready to let fly at me. Up the gangplank, down with the door. I strapped myself in and got ready to feel the g’s. He pressed the orange button and said “I think it will.” And it did. Floooommmm. I felt all the cosmos pressing me down, saw that little skeleton reflecting back at me. That moment, sailing over that angel’s head, twisting the ship ‘round to the west and blasting off into the sunset, that was the happiest fucking ten seconds in my life. Looking down on angels. Then the engines cut for the first time and up comes the menu:
Select one: Communications Systems Flight information Beverages

And guess who reappears and is wondering why everything’s written in English and why all the faces are human caricatures? Floooommmm, what a funny noise. Normally healthy engines hum. Is this a healthy engine? Oh, there are the stars, at long last. Oh and they’re stretching out like spaghetti. Well, what way are they supposed to be? Are stars really stringy but we don’t move fast enough to notice? It’s so quiet when the engines shut off. And there go the stars back to dots. Maybe we’re not supposed to move at all. I wonder what kind of appliances they have on this

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 37 ship? Probably that one that makes beer. And a photocopier, I bet. Why would you want the engines to eject? Oh Crow, you obviously didn’t shave this morning. You forgot to buy new blades and you didn’t want razor burn. I’ve never seen a mountain from the top before. Not even on TV. Is this sort of like the opposite of climbing one? I just can’t get over that noise floooommmm. What about that elephant on the telescope? Yes, that was plenty close to the mountain for me, marvelous really. Oh’ an angel. Do they have to polish those swords in heaven?

Back to Reason one: I said the ship was spinning. How did the ship get to spinning? Here’s how: So the angel’s smiling like a bastard ready to slice us in half. Humpy’s not looking out the window. Instead he’s fucking around with some wires, so I pick up an empty beer bottle that’s lying next to me and crack him over the head, and instead of getting pissy with me, he sees what I see, yelps and takes what is commonly referred to as ‘evasive action.’ The ship tips to the right, then the left and then right between the angels legs. No nards there. The angel spins around and swings the sword. I hear metal hitting metal on the right side of the ship, the engines cut out, and the laws of physics impart unto us a centripetal force that sets the ship to spinning and makes everything in the windshield swirl. So there I am marveling over my frame of reference and fixating on that little point that is the center of my universe. Meanwhile, Humpy was frantically trying to restart the engines – which he did after a few tense seconds. Flooooom. Then he set to stabilizing it, and again, he succeeded. We weren’t spinning anymore. The center of my universe vanished.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 38 We coasted through a valley. Very picturesque, mountains on both sides and a river beneath us like a blue ribbon. My frame of reference was still spinning and I’m not quite sure what forces acted upon my body. But things were quiet otherwise for me, no little voices. The mountains rushed by us and at the long far away end of the valley there was the sun, a blob of red on the edge of everything. And then there were the angels. Three of them popped up over the horizon shimmering in their angellight, holding their swords and coming straight at us in a V formation. Humpy pressed the orange button and the floooommmm intensified and I understood that Humpy’d had enough and he wasn’t veering from his chosen path and that this ship was either going to work now or go down in a blazing fireball. We didn’t say a word to one another. I didn’t even look at him, but I could see our reflections in the windshield, both of us staring straight into the bloody red sky and the avenging angels. I thought to myself (and this was me, not some extraneous consciousness) what have angels ever done, anyway? And right then, right when those three prickless bastards were in the center of the windshield and the crosshairs of my mind, I hoped, I pleaded that angels were born telepathic—more than anything else in the world, I wanted them to pick up the shit I was laying down in my mind like it was television and I was the only channel in the universe. That’s right ladies, I was saying to myself, I’m on to you. Guys with wings. Holy shit – that’s creative. Look they can fly! Too bad they don’t have dicks. And when I thought that, the too bad they don’t have dicks thing, the three of them shot their eyes right at me and I could see their lips quivering and it felt better than if I had a gun. So as Humpy cranked it up, I kept it up: My therapist woulda been all over this. Got envy? You guys aren’t even player on the other team – you’re like mascots. Like cheerleaders. Why don’t you get some megaphones and jump around. And that had them trembling and their formation getting all shaky. They raised their swords and

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 39 howled. Humpy slammed the stick sideways and the ship tipped to the right and what was horizontal became vertical and we sailed between two of them. Then vertical became horizontal. Humpy pulled back on the stick and the sun slipped beneath the windshield and we were off into the sky with the stars. I desperately wanted the engines to kick in with everything they could so that we could make the stars stringy and cruise away from all this mayhem. But, they just wouldn’t do it. At the same time, they didn’t give up the ghost either, so things weren’t all bad. The stars were still dots, but we were moving forward – not fast, but forward just the same. I felt my consciousness heal and let out a breath. Frames of reference seemed all left behind for the angels to hack apart along with anything else they wanted. It was their world now. Humpy seemed more relieved than me. He put the joystick on the dash board and leaned back in his chair. I told him that he’d done a nice job. “There ain’t nothin’ that can stop me,” he said, “Let’s get away from this world. I’ll fix the engines later.” Sounded good. “You’re the man,” I assured him, “I’ve come to realize that.” I almost asked if he wanted a beer, but I thought maybe not while he’s driving. But I wanted to keep the chat going, if only to dispel any lingering anxiety around us, so, jokingly, I asked Humpy what the deal with the elephant on the telescope was. “The what?” “The elephant,” I said, “It was etched on the telescope you gave me.” “Fucked if I know,” he said, “I got that thing from the aliens-with-no-name.” “Really?” I said, “I thought the angels were the aliens-with-no-name.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 40 “They wish…” “Have you had to deal with angels before?” “Time to time… you bump into them up here.” “I didn’t even know the fucking things were real,” I said, “I thought they were just trinkets or knick-knacks you put on a windowsill.” “Yea, well, what can you do?” He didn’t seem to want to talk about them. So I went back to the elephant on the telescope. “It’s an elephant,” he said. “I know that,” I said, “I just didn’t know you could find them all over the universe.” Again, he wasn’t too forthcoming with words. So I asked: “Are the aliens-with-no-name elephants.” “No!” he snapped, “They’re aliens without names.” “And what?!” I said, “They pillage, they enslave, and like to give out presents like nice, shiny telescopes?” “Yea, that’s it,” still snapping, “They give shit away. Like this – they gave me this.” He pulled a chain from out under his shirt. It had a pedant dangling on the end of it. This is what the pendant looked like:

“They gave you this?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 41 “I found it,” he said. “They gave it to you, or you found it. Which one?” “I have it now.” “You stole it,” I said, “You stole this necklace and that telescope.” “I did not!” he yelled, “Where I come from nobody owns anything. There is no stealing.” “Well, that sounds like Crazy Land to me,” I laughed. I thought we were playing a game. But, Humpy got serious. “It has been lately, but you’re going to help me set it straight.” That sounded a bit like a mission. And up to this point, I was in it for the broads and beer (and the escape). I wanted to press the matter with Humpy and find out what was going on. But something hit the ship

Before either of us could explain ourselves, floooommmm became Boom! and then silence. Humpy dove over to the joystick and the menu came on again: Engines On Then: Boom.
Sorry, Engines Dead

!

And before either of us could start keening for the engines, something else thudded against the top of the ship and Humpy and I just looked up knowing this couldn’t be good. We looked at the ceiling and followed a sound as it crawled toward the windshield. It peeked out over the top edge. “Angels,” I said.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 42 “Uh-oh,” he said. He pressed a button and a holographic image of the ship appeared between us. Three angels on top, their swords stuck in their belts. One held on to the top and the other two each took a side and then after the top one counted three, they each pulled up and the ship twisted around and we headed back to earth on angelpower. I looked at the little ship and I could see myself in there looking down at another little ship. “Beer?” asked Humpy. I nodded. He put one in my hands and the two of us pulled up chairs and watched the little ship fly (though it never moved from between us), the angel wings flapping. The little bud of consciousness sprouted, but it didn’t say anything, being as taken in with the whole situation as I was, it just perched on my shoulder and gave me an odd sense of harmony—I was experiencing this and watching myself experience it and experiencing myself watching myself experience it. And with a beer. “It’s been one bitch of a day, Humpy.” “Yea.” We had nothing else to say. The world popped up in the center of the windshield, and the little ship between us headed straight towards it. In the windshield, mine and Humpy’s reflections each carried a serene look of resignation and Hey I didn’t go down without a fight. Oceans and clouds and land, so different than TV, the clouds slippery and silent and the ocean monotonous until it meets the land and then all those hills and all those rocks. And then our hill. We circle it once. I finished my beer and Humpy his. No more motion. I felt the ground beneath us (the angles actually put us down softly). Angel feet in front of us. Three pairs. Super white mixed with pink. The sun’s still there clutching to the horizon and the moon, too. I looked at Humpy and he looked at me. And between us, piercing right through that little ship, a sword plunged

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 43 through the ceiling and pinned the ship to the ground like a bug in a bug collection. I got the tremblies. Another blade broke through, this time at the ceiling’s edge, a little blade like a knife. It circumnavigated the edge of the ship opening it up like a can of beans. I got the shakies. But Humpy remained cool. He reached behind his neck and undid his chain, the elephant in his hands. He held it up and reached out to me, gave it to me and told me, “I came here to save you.” The knife made it halfway around the ship and then withdrew. “Why me?” the bud said, then me aloud, “Why me?” Another sword poked in, this time at a slant and at the midpoint in the arc that the knife had cut. The sword anchored itself in the floor of the ship and then did the lever thing, straightening itself out to perfect vertical and prying open the ceiling of the ship, the metal whining, and then angellight flooded in. Humpy closed my hands around the pendant. “This will protect you.” I was wondering if it turned into a bomb or something like a hand grenade. But I didn’t ask him that. A big white hand came in and wrapped itself around the old guy and up he went through the roof and into the angellight leaving me with the pendant. I looked out the windshield and there he was on the ground glowing in all that light. And then Thoop. Thwack. And Plok. They ran ten or twelve shiny swords through him and no more Humpy Prime. I looked down on the floor of the ship. There were ten or twelve little angels all doing the same thing to a little holographic Humpy. And then they turned and looked back at the ship and one of them rolled up their sleeves. I felt free of all feeling and desire at that moment, tingly and wondrous. Staring down at those little angels, I reached for the joystick and pressed the orange button. Engines Dead . One of the swords came out of the ship and I saw one of the

little angels handing it to another one. Then he put his foot on the remaining roof of the ship, rolled up his sleeves again and grabbed the hilt of the second sword, the one holding the ship to the ground. I press the button. Engines Dead . I’m thinking to myself, come on you

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 44 little fucker, do it. I press the button. He started yanking on the sword but it was in there pretty good and the ship rocked back and forth as he struggled with it and he’s denting the ceiling pretty bad with his foot and all the pressure he’s using on it, and the other angels are taunting him. And I press the button again. The sword broke loose and the angel staggered backward almost falling down. I lifted my finger off the button. He got up. The menu sputtered and I heard a pop from in back. The angel bent over and put his hands in the ship. Engines

Resurrected

.

Floooommmm and some mighty surprised angels, especially the one holding on as the ship blasts into the sky. So there I am flying a ship that I don’t know how to fly and dragging an angel with me. I looked above me and there were his hands gripping the edges of the big half circle he cut into the ceiling. The little holographic ship next to me had an angel stuck to it, too. And the angel’s fighting and trying to bring it down. He lets go with one hand and reaches back for a knife. I looked real close at his face—he had some mean ideas in his head. He pulled the knife from his belt and made ready to start hacking away at the ship. My finger hurt. It’s bleeding a little dot of blood. The little bud of consciousness says this: Gee, the point on that pendant is sharp!

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 45 The main brain clings to that idea. Pendant in hand, I leaped over to that one angel hand holding on to the ship. The edge is sharp and his hand is all cut up. (They bleed. I didn’t know that until then. They bleed and they feel pain. Good to know.) What was poking his fingers with the tip of the pendant going to do? Who knows? I was desperate. When you don’t have good ideas, you need to go with bad ideas – when you don’t have options that make sense, go with the ones that don’t. So even though this guy was holding on firm despite his hand being bloody and ripped up, I poked him in the finger with the tip of the pendant just to see if it would push him over the edge and make him let go. It didn’t. He let go, but not because the pain became unbearable. He let go because as soon as I touched him (didn’t even break the skin) his hand went limp and away he went. I looked at the little holographic ship and saw an angle lamely falling away from it motionless and seeming to be knocked cold. I’m thinking to myself “That had no right to work.” But I had other problems. The engines weren’t floooommmming anymore. The little dead guy was back on the windshield. I had no control over the ship because of all the structural damage done. In fact, I realized that I wasn’t going into space. I wasn’t flying to Ginger. I was going down. Full speed. When the angle let go, the ship assumed a rational coarse – half a parabola down to the ground. No more jumping around. No bumpy ride. Everything went black like smoke. And then: A mountain. A mountain with a hole in it. That’s where I’m going, I thought. My reflection was grinning. The little ship was heading

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 46 towards a little mountain. No bother. The breeze in my hair and the wind screaming around me. The mountain blossoming. I couldn’t judge the world right then. I wasn’t spinning. My new center was a mountain looming large beneath me. I’d almost crashed into a mountain once or twice that day. But, this was different. This crash was going to happen and the others weren’t. I had nothing to compare that to. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t change my frame of reference. But, I was noticing change I pressed the orange button.

Thank you

!

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Tusk
He gathered some straw that lay on the floor near him. He brought it close, and though it was damp and stale, its presence transported him to the golden, ripe grass teeming over savanna hills and under the gentle clouds of the plain. He inhaled deeply, drawing the good smelling air into his chest and inflating his lungs, warming his heart and flooding his mind with the savanna and its empty skies. He returned to the wildlife silence, the calls and yells of every inhabitant scattered throughout the plain, but a collection of sounds as good as silence, as stirring, as stilling and affecting as the silence of peace and good conscience, the silence of cool night shining in moonlight, the white gold disk glowing like the sun’s reflection in calm water—a life lived long ago staring into the sky and hearing nothing and watching the moon fade and sun rise and the herds, the flocks, the prides, the tribes, the world a flat golden disk under a dome of blue. He expelled the air from his chest; he curled his nose under his chin as if to hold it precious; he felt the air stream over his neck to his ears, and still, the image of the savannas, of the home he knew

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 49

when his kind roamed the wild grasses untouched and unmolested by a world gone bad. It was his kind, the largest creatures on earth, the ones who dominated by virtue of size and majesty and strength, but not by intent, the ones who never conquered, never set out for war or murder, never stole, pillaged, raped, or caged. The warm scent of grass brought him back to this world; it sent his nose searching for more straw on the floor of his cell; it offered the only solace he knew. It was not a dreamworld. His consciousness rested there, on the plains, his mind focused there, existed there, not in the world of iron bars and screaming apes—that was the artificial world, the nightmareworld that failed reality, not to be compared to the soft hills and scant white clouds and watering holes of the savannas. He had spent many lives on the plains, but only one in the iron world. How could it be more real than the ones before it? The iron world could be only a curse placed on the planet, a curse that would whither and die and leave the earth anxious for the return of the real world, the world in which he lived, the world before the madness. He felt the warm sunlight kissing his body; he sensed his lives move through him; they ran through the holy grass and felt the dried plants crunch beneath their feet in a time when living things could leave footprints; his lives like one great tribe of proud strong males sweeping over the plain but coming to rest in an iron cage in the iron world where no footprints could be made and no tribes could roam free. The apes had done this. The apes had made a world of iron. He stood as a young bull, his tusks mere nubs. He pulled the sweet tasting grass from the soft ground; chewing a mouthful, a blackbird perched on his shoulder. He looked up and for the first time in any of his lives he saw something new on the savanna. He moved closer, and they moved away. Small thin dark apes. They looked out at the world in terror, their eyes like white lights against their skin, their backs bent over and their heads bowed down. They crouched in a ring around a tree. With his tongue he pressed the chewed grass against the roof of his mouth and sucked the juices down this throat. They stared at him, the males showing sharp white teeth beneath their bulging white eyes; he tore a lock of grass from the ground; he stepped towards them while bringing the grass to his mouth; they jumped up simultaneously and screaming and howling they shot up the tree’s trunk; they threatened him from its branches, screeching like

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 50

baboons. He stood beneath the tree and watched their panic and stomped his feet in amusement. His mother called to him. He left the apes crying from the branches; he trotted back to the tribe and returned to his mother’s side. He nestled against her, stroked her leg and called to her. They intertwined trunks and she asked what he had been doing. He told her of the new apes he had seen gathered beneath the tree. ‘They are so puny’, he said, ‘that they should be mice so that they can hide in the ground. They are scared of everything, even me.’ ‘They should be’, she said, ‘for one day you will be the greatest bull to roam the plains. As silly as they are, the apes respect our kind.’ ‘Why are these apes here?’ he asked. She smiled. ‘You watch the baboons and the apes fight amongst themselves and struggle for control and you know that, as tiny as they are, the apes want nothing but power. Each one wants to control all the others and then control everything it sees. But, the apes are foolish. Instead of letting the elders govern, they let the young rule by the false virtue of the willingness to fight. They are never at peace, and cannot even envision peace. They imagine that in every one of their lives a day shall come when they have dominance over all and when one of their kind has dominance over them and then there shall be peace. But, this can never happen because they each imagine that they are that chosen one.’ She smiled and ate a mouthful of grass, and continued. ‘Even in between lives they carry on their struggle for power. They change their forms, each one trying to find the form that will make him invincible. But again, apes are foolish, and for some reason some of them have chosen that pitiful and weak body. It cannot last, son,’ she said. ‘The apes will vanish in a few lifetimes.’ They intertwined trunks. His mother, a mature female with long upturned tusks and a graceful trunk, was the matriarch of his tribe. She regulated every moment of the family’s life; she woke and fed them and led them through times of prosperity and times of drought; she did so with a dignity even special for one of his kind. He was proud with each birth she gave him; in the other world he longed for return to the savannas through her; he longed to suckled from her and to march along her side, to learn how to live through her, the way she could ward off the lion, raise a crocodile over her

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head and slam it to the ground because it had threatened one of her own, calm the tribe in times of distress, fend off a mad bull or any of the innumerable events of the plains. An element of every life ever lived by every member of his kind resided in her. He stared at her, seeing the reverence others held for her, he felt the past, future, and present simultaneously as he knew they existed, eternity, every moment a reflection of all others and nourishing the knowledge of what was and would always be. He was her last child. He learned and relearned everything she knew. He grew strong next to her. With the years, as she descended, he rose. But he remained with her and the family even though he was old enough and strong enough to leave and live as a solitary male. Rather than begin that phase when others did, he waited for the day when age drained her, when her teeth wore down and her skin sagged, when elderly weakness mixed with her constant gentleness and he knew and she knew and the entire tribe knew that she would soon leave them. She surrendered to a grove of trees, and there she lay down amidst the deep green grass with which the savanna had fed her. She could eat no more, stand no more; he kept vigil over her, his presence sufficient to ward off the scavengers. He stroked her head and whispered to her that they would meet again; he reminded her of the cycle, of regeneration and goodness and of her eminent return to the unchanging savanna and to the tribe and to him. Several days after her final words, as she lay in the grass, the sun fell to the horizon, the sky redden and the crescent moon lingered above the flame colored hills of the plain. The air in her chest stilled. The tribe gathered around, each member caressing her brow. As the sun dipped beneath the world, he raged and stomped his feet; he buried his tusks under her body and lifted with all the strength and muscle that she had given him. Fluid streamed from his temporal gland, his limbs ached, his neck muscles strained, but he did not stop, even as the others called to him, reminded him that she would return. He persisted until his right tusk cracked and spurted blood and pain. Panting and wincing with dangling nerves, he stood back and saw his tusk buried beneath her great grey body. The others silently moved away and the sun came down. Shivering and without breath, he touched his tongue to his wound, looked at the tusk buried beneath her, and her, that great body motionless, expressionless. His head bowed, he lurched into the dark, the crescent moon nearing

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the horizon. He began the life of an independent male, roaming the plains untouchable, never ceasing to grow; the strongest and the largest, despite his one tusk, the symbol of his kind to all who beheld him; he lived many years in the plain as a solitary and graceful figure and fathered many others, his daughters forming entire tribes and his sons wandering the grass. Yet, every year for the rest of his long life he visited her remains and his one tusk, softly stroking her skull and remembering his birth. And though time would wear the bones to nothing, he would return to caress the memory. In the last days of his life, he stood in the shadowy grove and felt himself come into her form; under a red sky and a crescent gold moon a young female appeared; they intertwined trunks; she was his last female, a mysterious creature he never knew outside of this one instance before his death. When she vanished in the plain, he lay down in the grove. The redness drained from the sky; the stars emerged shyly one by one, the tusk of moon sank to the horizon; he faced it at eye level, his final sight, the moon receding beneath the horizonline, its final blink as it vanished from the world. The scavengers came and then the vultures and with the passing of twenty-two months, heavy with child, the last mysterious female stood over his bones. His mother fell to the ground a shivering newborn calf. He opened his eyes and felt the cold black iron of the bars in front of him. He stared at the one his nose touched, a spear of light running down the length of it. His eyes closed. ‘Mother,’ he asked, ‘what is it that those apes hold?’ She lifted her great head, and before answering they touched trunks. She smiled at his question. ‘It is a bad thing they do,’ she said, ‘they have taken the branches off the trees and mated them with pointed stones and they use them to declare dominance over all else. They fight with the lion and the hyena and they wave these sticks and their fire and expect all else to quake at the sight. They are foolish, for they do not understand fire and they do not understand those sticks they hold. As easily as they kill a lion, they will kill another ape. And as foolish as apes

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are, they will burn their homes. They are shortening their lives, son.’ They intertwined trunks and he returned to feeding. When in that life the sky reddened and the crescent moon appeared, she retired to the grove; they parted ways in the manner in which they always had; he wandered into the dark grass one tusked and ready for the next phase of his life. He wrapped his trunk around the metal shaft but kept his eyes shut. In his middle years of that life, in the red light of the setting sun, he visited the grove, but the grove was empty. Much too soon. The grass lay trampled, the tusks and her skull gone before time could take them. A blackbird stood amid the remaining bones. He approached slowly, his body tingling; he lowered his trunk to the ground and inhaled. The muscles of his back tightened. Once more, he inhaled and drew in the odor of the apes. The blackbird spread its wings, lifted itself unto his shoulder. The low hanging clouds of the savanna glowed like motionless flames. He expelled the air into the dying day. His body swelled; each past life filled him, each standing witness, silent, enraged, disturbed. Without voice, they cried to him. Without sound, they screamed to him. In that presence, in the company of his every life, he raised his nose and sought that stench, a faint vein of odor corrupting the air. He sucked it in, filled his lungs and turned slowly to the left, breathing deeply. He tore through the grass; he followed the trail of stench, his feet pounding the earth, the trees of the plain trembling. His breath passed through him like the wind; his mind curled around the events, attentive to the sounds of grass stalks breaking beneath his feet and rodents fleeing from his path, birds fluttering into the air. His eyes without focus, the broad breadth of the plain open before him, approaching, moving past him and flaring in the burning light of the passing sun, he felt as though he moved in a herd, all his lives sweeping across the plain, all his lives following him and driving him forward. And there, flickering in the distance, he saw it, an orange plume of firelight and sparks ascending. He slowed himself and stood in the grass under the purple dome of sky, his lives

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beside him, each staring in the distance at the orange point of light. Like a lioness, he moved through the grass until he could see the full spectacle, the grass receding and revealing the tiny dark apes, their fire blazing and their sticks waving in the air, her skull and many others on sticks driven into the ground, the tusks laying in the dirt as the apes danced and hollered around the body of one of his kind, their spears protruding from it; they hopped about and around and on top of it. One of them stood at the head of the body; it directed the others; it wore ears made of grass, and a mask with a grotesque trunk and two tusks carved from wood; it moved its hands through the air and the others danced to its commands. He watched them. He saw her skull perched on a stick; his lives became a sharp pain. Through the apes’ mad noise, he heard her voice, no words, no sound, only the voice. His body rushed forward, moved from dark to light, exploded into their fire, the sparks more numerous than the stars, the flames flaring. The apes froze in the contorted shapes of their dance; the light fell on the ape with the false head, illuminating the tusks and ears. He raised the costumed ape into the air, its arms extending, the others without time to move, he shed it of its ears, nose and tusks; he held it over them; he crushed it in a spray of blood. The blood hung the air like vapor and filled his nose. He flung the body into the grass. Time allowed the other apes to move; one fell to its knees before him, its eyes wide and white; it cried and held its hands up to him; he lifted his right leg and brought it down on the ape, folding it over and snapping its back; the ribs collapsed and then his foot became wet. He tore another from the ground; its arms spastic, then lame, the others fleeing in the waves of firelight flaring. They fled screaming like hyenas but not fast and not intelligent enough to climb into the trees as baboons would have; they ran straight through the red, swaying grass. He trampled every one of them, squashing them beneath his feet, pounding their bodies back into the soil that they may fertilize the grass and the good things of the savanna and never dare complicate the world with their bizarre ape minds. He listened to himself roar; he watched himself destroy them; he felt them crack and burst beneath him. When he had finished, when he screamed into the sky and the empty savanna and no ape

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answered in fright, when in the dimming red glow the grass stood still and the sound of the hissing dying fire entered his ears and the world returned to the sensation of past, future, and present, he bowed his head, felt the burning in his lungs, the ache in his chest. He threw ashes and grass and dust over the body of his dead comrade, the deaths of the apes a fitting tribute for its life; he knocked down the spears and covered each skull with ashes and grass and dust. Except for one. He lifted his mother’s skull from the ground and held it up as if to show her what he had done. Curling the skull beneath his chin, he turned to the path he had cut through the grass. He moved slowly, the power of the new events tiring him and overwhelming him. He wanted the grove and the solace of his mother’s grave. But, an ape appeared before him. It held up its stick and crouched down, its eyes wide and white and its body trembling. He stopped and looked down at it as he would a barking jackal. Its lower lip quivered. It started several times and then flung the spear at him; it pierced his shoulder and protruded into the air. He did nothing. This surprised both him and the ape, who seemed ready to die, as if it had banished all fear from its mind just long enough to throw its stick and to absorb the retaliation it felt ensured. But no retaliation came, and the fear returned. The ape ran into the trees; he watched it go, its tiny shoulders bouncing in the grass. He retraced his steps until he found her grove. He placed the skull there and stroked it with his trunk. He withdrew the spear from his shoulder and cast it to the ground. Blood ran down his leg. The young female appeared. ‘It’s not your time,’ he said. ‘I always know when to find you,’ she said. She touched the wound. ‘You will see the moon in a few days. But you need me now.’ ‘But I have many more years.’ ‘No,’ she said touching the wound. ‘Only a few weeks more.’ He withdrew his trunk from the iron bar. He could hear them stirring about, chattering, opening cages. He brought his trunk close to himself, sheltering it from their odor. He saw a

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circle of them in the distance dark like shadows. They set sticks afire and placed them between their lips. Ashes, the scent of ashes and the burning ground he tread through at her side. Burnt grass and dust rising in the faint wind and the savanna, a dark ring encompassing the dead. The black grass collapsed powder-like beneath his feet; trees stood like stones, the branches motionless in the wind; he approached one, touched a branch, and it fell and shattered like dried mud; as though robbed of its will to continue, the tree shed its other branches, which, too, fell to dust. She led him away from it. She scooped ash from the ground and sprinkled it over a corpse. The apes had ignited the fire in order to destroy the members of another tribe of his kind. The apes had learned to encircle entire tribes and then to set the grass afire and burn them alive or stand ready, hundreds of them, with spears and arrows that they launched into the air at any of his kind trying to escape. Those that remained in the flames were transfigured into dark stones frozen in the moment of death and depicting the fear, hopelessness, and confusion of events never imaged, the emotion alive on dead faces and making the dead seem alive, making the dark ring a moment of the past in to which the present trespassed. The embers crunched beneath his feet. He approached one of the dead. Its lips had receded, its eyes had boiled out of its skull; the dark sockets remaining imparted onto it not a sense of blindness, but a sense of omniscience; it lay on its belly, its trunk a trail of ash, its tusks charred like tree branches; it looked forward, its teeth showing. He touched it. It was warm. They moved outside the dark circle towards the descending sun. The apes had slaughtered, butchered and robbed of its tusks, any that had fled from the flames. Their entrails glistened and oozed thick fluid. The scavengers scattered when his mother approached; they waited in the grass. Apes lay among them, chests caved in, necks contorted in strange angles. But, there were more of his kind. ‘Mother,’ he asked, ‘why did they do this?’ She let her trunk fall to the ground in disgust. They spread ashes and dust over the remains of

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their kind and left them so that the scavengers could return them to the earth. Later in that life, after the red sky and crescent moon, after he left her lifeless in the grove with his discarded tusk, the apes stole her head and the tusks and these he never recovered. After his final red sky and crescent moon, as he crouched down in her grove after the young female had vanished into the grass, as he lay eye level with the sliver of moon, they appeared. Realizing his weakness, they inspected his body and one of them, a young one urged by the others, stepped forward and drove a spear into his shoulder. The others stood ready in case he retaliated. But he could not. He looked to the moon. The spears flew. The apes in the ring took the sticks from their mouths and dropped them to the floor where they bounced and glowed orange like little suns. He fed by a swamp and its rich, wet grass. The family fed together in an abundant year and his mother stood in the distance. He drank the water and looked up at the sun and blue sky; he lowered his head and looked at the tree under which he had seen the apes for the first time so many lives ago; but rather than see the apes, he saw the eyeless head from the circle of ash. It disappeared as he recognized it. He moved in a full circle scanning the plain for the head, but he did not see it. Disturbed, he turned to walk to his mother and tell her what he had seen. She stood nobly away from the bank. His head ached, the light in the sky seemed wrong to him, the shadows had a bad angle. He closed his eyes; he saw the head, he opened them and saw her staring at him. He noticed the bad scent. He called to her. She stretched her trunk to him. The air cracked and raised a red cloud behind her ear. She fell without a cry. The tribe fled immediately; instinctively he followed, for there was no stopping what would happen next, the apes emerging from the grass and filling the sky with noise. They had tamed death and could control it by pointing sticks. He fled with the tribe, the apes howling behind them, the sky splintering, another fell and another. He ran; he felt as through his life were perched on his shoulders exposed to the apes. He felt alone and was alone when he stopped running. They had stolen her entire head and her feet and tail. The scavengers had reduced her body to nothing but rot covered bones. He moved it about with his trunk like wet grass and sticks. As the

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sky reddened and the crescent moon appeared, in blindness and rage he brought her remains to the grove and with fluid spurting from his temporal glands, he slammed his right tusk into the base of the largest tree he could find. He went from tree to tree until one withstood the blow and his right tusk fell broken to the ground. In the mercy pain, he carried it to her grave and knowing that they would steal it, he pulverized it and returned it to the earth. Years later, aged, laying in the grove, the crescent moon low in the sky, the young female came and left him. Nothing made a sound. He could smell them. He could hear them. A stick poked out from behind a tree. He looked at it. A puff of smoke blew from it. The sunlight appeared through the iron bars and the shadows it cast striped his body in light and dark. He heard them moving about groggy with the morning, babbling at one another like they always did. They would bathe him this morning in water always too cold and with soap that stung his eyes and skin, but he never flinched or made any resistance. They opened the door to his pen. He stood up, urinated and defecated and listened to their comments on that and their complaints about the smell and general condition of his cell. They led him out. They brought him out into a yard and set the hosewater on him. He closed his eyes, and with sponges they bathed him, one at his trunk, one on his tusks, one on his ears, one on his belly, one behind and one beneath his legs. They chattered incessantly, but he blocked them out. He listened to the water splashing off his body. They grazed. His mother led the tribe through the lands allotted to them, lands without the special plants or the cattle or the road or the villages or any of the necessities of the apes. ‘Mother, why do they act as if they do not know who we are?’ he asked. They intertwined trunks. She smiled and caressed his ears. ‘They are foolish, son. They want to dominate and in doing so they think that they gain possession of all around them, including the land. But what they gain, they must lose, and what rightly belongs beneath our feet without our having to claim ownership of it will return to us one day.’ Fluid ran down their temples and they touched trunks. He heard the land machine. The others ran. A pillar of dust rising in the air marched towards them.

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‘Will we be here?’ he asked between cries. ‘We will,’ she said, ‘we will.’ They intertwined trunks and then gently she pushed him away. ‘Run,’ she said, ‘go.’ Then turning to him: ‘They think they are death,’ she smiled. She charged towards the dust cloud as it neared the crest of a hill. She met the land machine as it popped over the hill. She overturned it and flung the apes into the air. But there was another. The sky cracked. He ran. That life he lived with two tusks. When she was gone, he prepared himself for the breaking away of his right tusk, but as he readied himself to charge at a tree, the ritual seemed to him something of the past, and his past lives seemed separate from him. He sulked into the brush and lived his life. The young female came early that life. The sun shone bright in the sky. He lifted his head from the grass and found her staring at him as though she had been watching him for some time. She tilted her head but said nothing. ‘Why are you here now?’ he asked. ‘I cannot wait,’ she said. ‘The time is now.’ She added: ‘This is a different life. You have two teeth.’ They mated. He said to her: ‘You are the end of my life.’ ‘I guide you into the next.’ ‘Why do I never see you in my early life?’ he asked. ‘You do. I die young. I live many more lives than you. You see me, but you do not know me.’ ‘Who are you?’ But she vanished, her head bobbing up and down. He thought of pursuing her, but immediately upon her leaving, a new sound entered the sky. The air throbbed and a new machine appeared. In the distance it resembled a dragonfly. The air beat furiously. The grass fell in a circle beneath it. It spun around him, the apes staring out of it, sticks in their hands. It hovered above him, always trying to get behind him as though it wanted him to run. But, he wouldn’t. One of the apes pointed its stick at him. They led him back into his pen. They had refilled his trough for it was his appointed hour to

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eat. After that they led him to another pen and dressed him. The apes led them to a trough. They shoveled food in and poured water in another. It tasted sour. The tribe began to feed. His mother nudged him. ‘They think they are Time,’ she joked. ‘Why are we here, Mother?’ he asked. ‘Why are we in this place now?’ They intertwined trunks. ‘I do not know, son. I do not know anything any longer.’ He touched her shoulder. ‘In this life you do not know the plain and you do not know the grass. I have left them without dying. I never foresaw this. I never imagined giving birth to you in their world, for it's their world now.’ ‘What is to happen to us now, Mother?’ ‘Again, I do not know. I think, though, that we will soon be born to another world and we shall lead different lives in the stars or in different forms in this New World, for in this form we can no longer live here.’ ‘But, Mother, if we vanish, so does the world.’ She smiled. ‘I know, and that is why I think we are destined for the stars and other plains.’ She fell ill one day and the next morning she awoke and looked weak. No grass beneath her, no grove of trees above her, no tribe members around her. They touched trunks as the apes led him off to be bathed. When he returned she had vanished. They placed the collar around his neck. The female ape tapped his front leg and he crouched down and offered his trunk to her as a stepstool. She climbed onto his back and clicked her heels thereby prompting him to stand up. He looked down the corridor from which the music and the cheers of the crowd emanated. The male ape took hold of the chain connected to his collar and led him down the tunnel and out into the arena and the yelling crowd and the flickering lights and the all the apes running around in costume and the lions in cages and the others of his kind arranged as the apes arranged them every day, a semicircle squatting on their hind legs and with their trunks raised into the air. The male ape holding the rope wore a red coat which sparkled in the crackling light of the crowd, and the male ape led him around the arena for the crowd to see and marvel over and splatter with their flickering lights. The female ape rode on his back. They

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had done this to his mother. He used to be one of the ones arranged in the semicircle. He had taken her place. The male ape led him to the center of the ring. He felt the female click her heels and he raised his trunk up over his head. She took hold of it and he lifted her into the air. She weighed nothing. The lights flashed like a million short-lived stars, and he placed her on the floor. The crowd shouted and the others of his kind trumpeted on cue. They rehearsed this routine several times a week. The male ape then tapped his left leg with his cane. As expected, he bowed his great head and opened his mouth, into which the male ape placed his head as the crowd gasped and still the lights. He thought of the night sky and the stars and how a frozen second of the crowd and its popping lights resembled a nightlong stare at the savanna sky. A disturbing thought entered his mind, the male ape’s awful head still in his mouth, he thought of the crowd resembling the night sky and thought that if they could so dominate the plain and the earth, why could they not dominate the stars? Watching their lights flash he suffered a vision of other places, other worlds and the apes arriving everywhere. The male ape tapped him on the chin and removed his head from his mouth. The crowd cheered. He focused on the stars. Without thinking, and ahead of queue, he lifted his foot from the floor and the male ape seeing this smiled and called him a good boy and then lay on the floor under his foot. As he rehearsed, he lowered his foot until the sole just touched the male ape’s chest. The crowd gasped and the male ape squirmed and spastically waved his arms and legs as if he were being crushed. The female pretended to be scared. Screams came from the crowd, but the lights continued flashing. He thought of the night sky and the apes dominating it. They have no conscience, he said to himself, they think I am crushing this one and still their lights flash. That is why they dominate while being so small and weak and foolish. They have no conscience. The female tapped his leg and he lifted it and the male sprung to his feet and the crowd laughed and cheered and the lights danced and fell on him. The others trumpeted and stamped their feet as if to remind the crowd of what could have happened. They clapped. They have no conscience, he thought. That is why I am here. They have no conscience. He smiled at having answered a question which his mother could not. We are here because they have no conscience. The male

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ape in his red coat stood before him with arms outstretched and receiving the applause of the crowd. The male ape’s coat lit up like a robe of red stars. The others howled madly. ‘They have no conscience.’ Someone spoke to his left. A blackbird stood at his feet. The burned out eyeless head stood next to him, its skin a black crust, two empty sockets staring at him. It spoke to him. ‘They will destroy everything to have what they want’. And then another voice. ‘And what they cannot destroy, they pray to and then destroy.’ He turned to his right and saw the one with spears protruding from his body. ‘They only worship their own dominance.’ He turned to the others in the semicircle to ask if they saw what he did. But in addition to the others, there stood his past lives, silent and staring at him, the apes’ white lights splattering them. The male ape tapped his hind leg. Its coat sparkled. He looked at it, then looked back at the others. The aped tapped him again. Effortlessly, he scooped up the male by his feet and held him upside down. The crowd shouted in approval and the lights captured the male ape writhing and struggling to free himself. The burned out head nodded. The others looked on and said nothing. He rose to his hind legs and opened his mouth and held the ape above him as if to swallow him whole. The ape shouted and the female beat his leg, but the lights continued sparkling and he returned to all fours and spun the ape around tracing a circle in the air. The others looked on. The lights flashed. The music played and other apes ran into the ring because this part had not been rehearsed. He stilled his trunk and again simply held the male upside down before him, only this time with its face to his own. Beyond the crying ape he saw his mother, faintly standing at the edge of the ring. They exchanged glances and the lights flashed and the apes ran towards him. Others of his kind filed into the ring, all of them pock marked red with wounds, their ears torn, their tusks missing. The male ape screamed, its eyes wide and white, its coat glimmering, the lights still popping. In a moment of unrehearsed time, he lifted the red coated ape over his head and slapped his trunk and the red coated ape down onto the floor, killing the ape, bursting its head and sending its brain splashing out of its skull and sliding across the ring. The music

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 63 ceased; the apes stood still; the female froze. A second of crowd silence and darkness like the undisturbed savanna night. The others looked on, all alive, all witnesses, all motionless save one. The young female appeared at the mouth of the tunnel. She danced, her trunk lifted in joy. She alone moved in all the world. The lights erupted, illuminating the dead ape like flickering moonlight. He turned to the others in the semi-circle. ‘They have no conscience,’ he said. He turned forward and charged toward the tunnel and the dancing female. She moved into the distance. He rumbled down the corridor neither seeking to crush the apes in his way nor to avoid them. He lowered his head and rammed through the door; it gave as though it did not exist; cool air met him, the early evening. They stampeded behind him, one herd, the earth quivering joyously beneath their feet. She was far ahead him, dancing beneath a tree as old as the world. He lowered his head; he charged; the world thundering around him. With a solid thrust, the tree shuddered and this tusk came free. He lifted it from the ground and carried it with him, the young female ahead of him. The sky cracked. Death dotted the ground before him, tore through the flaps of his ears and splashed into the skin of his back sending blood into the air. He ran straight ahead. He ran through the praying grass. He ran with the others. He ran though the plains and felt the plants crunching beneath his feet and smelled the good scent of the good grass. He lifted the tusk and hurled it before him. It rose into the sky; it caught the sunlight and reflected it; he watched it move through the blue; he watched it fall, a white crescent. In its last instant it lingered over the horizon, the brightest object in the sky.

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The Wizard, Part One: Logos

The Little Accident

No one chooses to be here. Not even Peter chose it. But being here inherently places requirements upon us — we must eat, drink, sleep, clothe ourselves, and find shelter. There are a number of ways of going about doing each of these, and since we must do each of them, we must decide upon a way of doing each of them or else none of them would ever be done and we’d die. Many people look at this simple fact as being an ability to make choices, and they stretch this notion of making choices to everything — including that they can choose to leave here. But they can never say that they chose to be here, and this lack of choice startles them — all the way to

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 65 the point that they assume that someone else chose that they should be here and since this someone else chooses to put people here, then this someone else must have a reason for putting people here. In fact, there must be a reason that each and every individual person is here. In other words, everyone has a reason for being here. But this line of thought doesn’t stop at an explanation for a person’s existence. This someone else must be up to something. There has to be a plan. People who believe in choice, love plans. They see them everywhere. String a series of choices together and thrust them into the future — there you have a plan. But think of all the things that have happened since the beginning of time and then look back to when there was no past— there you have The Plan. Peter, however, rejected all of this thinking at the very moment he emerged from the womb. As he cleaned himself and stretched his limbs, he admitted to himself that, frankly, he had no notion whatsoever what he was doing here, and, in fact, he was not very happy about being here. The world had operated fine without him, why did it need him now? “Well, it doesn’t need me,” he said to himself. Now most people don’t come to this conclusion until middle age. How did Peter reach it right after his birth? Peter differed from the rest of humanity in many ways. Peter brought a lot of knowledge with him as he entered the world. He didn’t have to go through the process of separating himself from what was around him and then realizing that he was experiencing an external world and being stupefied by that idea – he skipped straight to the mindset of recognizing himself as an entity onto himself that interacted with other self-contained (if not selfaware) entities within an expansive framework common called “the world.” Also, Peter knew nothing of sex, either as a verb or a noun, being born sans genitalia and without any urge to remedy the situation. He could speak and think in any language without at

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 66 first having to hear the language. His thoughts were so pure that they did not need words and thus fit into any language effortlessly. Also, Peter did not need to eat or sleep, he was immune to all disease, and experienced neither cold nor warmth. Most importantly, though, at this point, is that fact that Peter possessed a memory so perfect that he remembered his own conception and birth. Perhaps if each of us could all remember his or her own conception and birth, we would kindly set the idea of The Plan aside and think much more like Peter. His conception, according to his memory, happened like this: His father, the Magnus of Flesh, the Massive in Frame, the Man with a Belly like a Planet, lay resting on his couch watching TV after another day of no labor. He moved not at all, being governed only by inertia, his true and only motion being the subtle yet constant outward expansion of his belly. He lay in his underpants staring into the light and watching the TV worlds flip past him. A dish next to a wooden shed received the TV worlds from the sky. The TV worlds emanated from the City of Gold many, many miles away. This was way back in the years after the Great Dilapidation, when, following the Big D’s chaos, humanity settled down like a beehive (though there were no bees anymore) with the City of Gold at its center. Peter’s father had never been there, but the City of Gold colonized his inner world (such as it was). The idea of Peter surfaced to his consciousness as he stared into a world of brave soldiers and women young, fair and firm. The women were in dire trouble – a great danger approached. The soldiers carried their weapons and went to battle against the unseen foe. All were terrified. They knew it was coming. Thus, the brave soldiers and the women, young, fair, and firm, were Peter’s first memory. His father’s eyes widened and his toes twitched. He sat up and his belly slid on to his knees. He felt something pressing against it from below. Using both arms, he lifted his belly, and

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 67 peeking beneath it he gasped when he saw that he possessed the Second Spine. He called for his wife and together they marveled at the appearance of the column, each touching and poking it to be sure of its reality. The TV worlds flashed – the soldiers circled around and gazed anxiously at the sky. Peter’s father began to plead and make promises. His wife consented and undressed herself. She joined him on the couch. Bullets and flares tore into the darkness. He struggled to his knees and then placed his belly upon her back. On her hands and knees, she pressed against him with all her might until, with much adjustment and many instructions, the pillar poked the pudenda. Their great bodies slapped together, thunderclaps, waves of flesh rippling from the point of contact. The TV lit up. The danger, still unknown, shrieked. The soldiers cheered, the women wept. But, it was unhurt and it came upon them at once. Peter readied himself among the swimmers, and with the mighty grunt and the ensuing flood, he passed through the third eye and entered his mother. He left the others in their blind struggle and sailed through the tubes until he found his other half awaiting him (which means that he also saw himself coming). It was giant, odd, and strangely seductive. Peter froze for a moment wondering why he had tried so much harder than the others to be the first one to meet her. Later he would think that a short life as a swimmer would have been a merciful alternative to what he got for winning the race. He might have let one of the others have it, but, as it turned out, the swimmer who ended up placing second (and living a short life), in his blind wild mad dash to be first, slammed into Peter from behind and sent him hurtling towards the female (Peter’s other half, which, also, seeing him coming, was not anxious to be whole but had no choice in the matter). Peter pierced her side. She bit his head off and erected a wall around them. The others arrived and pounded against it. Peter moved to the center and watched them furiously trying to gain entry. His two halves merged.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 68 Peter resided in his mother for exactly nine months and then removed himself from her. Rather than fall victim to the spasms and pain of the traditional exit, Peter simply worked his way out of her as she slept. Turning himself upside down, he moved through her effortlessly. Reaching the end of the tunnel, he parted the drapes and climbed out of her. She did not wake. He left her bed and walked into the bathroom, climbed on to a stool and washed himself at the sink. When he had finished cleaning himself, he stepped down from the stool, exited the bathroom and walked quietly past his father’s slumbering bulk on the couch. Peter walked into the night. He gazed at the moon and the stars and softly stroked his magnificent ears. Peter was born fully formed, but in miniature. He was thick of arm and leg, his hands stout, his fingers round and stubby. Peter’s feet were flat and circular and without normal human heels and toes. His belly protruded proudly and elegantly but did not droop, sag, or jiggle like the belly of his father. Peter was broad of chest and thick of neck and had a large round head on which no hair grew. In fact, no hair grew anywhere on Peter’s body. His skin was smooth and even colored and never did a pimple or a dimple show upon it. His ears, so despised by his father, resembled flower petals, each one covering one side of his head. Peter’s father could never recognize them as anything but unnatural and previously unseen. Peter’s face was that of any person. His eyes were close together and faced completely forward. His mouth was that of a human, the lips were thick, the teeth were straight and white. His nose rested above his upper lip, as the nose of any human does, stubby and fixed in position like a rock. Peter’s mother found no afterbirth when she awoke that morning. She found only her child waiting for her. He thanked her for her efforts. Upon hearing his newborn son speak in such a manner, Peter’s father did not rejoice, but rather he ignited with rage. He called his son over to him on the couch, and when the boy was

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 69 within arm’s length, he seized him by the ears and lifted him into the air shaking him and declaring these laws: “You will obey everything I tell you. “You will call me ‘Da-da.’ “You will never disturb me in the morning. “You will eat like a normal baby. “You will not walk until I tell you to walk. “You will not talk until I tell you to talk. “You will sleep when you aren’t eating. “You will spit up half of what you eat. “You will cry for your mommy. “You will piss and shit your pants.” Having stated these laws, he called his a son a big-eared mutant and viciously spanked the child until Peter consented to cry.

Peter obeyed all of his father’s commands except one. Peter was continent, enduring all things. He had such a capacity for continence that nourishment was not corrupted within him; he did not experience corruption. He ate without excreting solids. Peter’s father committed many crimes against his son for he believed his son to have been born above him. His greatest crime, though, came upon Peter in deception. Customarily, Peter’s mother would put him in a playpen before she left the house to labor and search for food. Peter would spend the day in there across the room from his father, who remained on the couch and bathed in the TV

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 70 glow. However, one morning, his father commanded the mother to bring the playpen over to the couch so that Peter would be within arm’s distance. She did this and then left. Peter’s father immediately gave Peter a bottle and commanded him to drink, which he did with the required spitting and whining. When Peter finished the bottle, he placed it on the floor of the playpen and began to feel drowsy. The world blurred and twirled and Peter collapsed. When he woke, Peter felt a pain unbelievable and knew immediately that his father had done him a great wrong. He stood up and felt his head. It was wrapped in bandages, so he unwrapped it and, gazing into a mirror attached to the side of his playpen, he saw that his father had clipped his ears and that they were now merely human. He gasped, and the gasp awakened his father, who had a knife lying next to him on the couch. His father threw an empty beer can at him and told him to rebandage his head. Peter obeyed. Tears streamed from his eyes.

The Weenies of Salvation
Suffering takes a lot of abuse. It’s held responsible for all our misery, but more than that, it’s burdened, as are we, with the requirement that it have a purpose. Many people view suffering without a purpose as being an absolute impossibility. It has to have a reason. Now why’s this? Well, it all stems from a basic quality of the much lauded ability to make decisions: Any decision can either achieve its purpose or not achieve its purpose. People use this simple either/or quality to categorize their decisions— those that achieve their purpose, are good,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 71 the others are bad. Though this categorizing process can become immensely complicated, and often contradictory, it all boils down to either you get what you want, or you don’t. Nobody wants to suffer. This holds true even for people who want to live in total pain — they would consider a life of comfort and massages to be suffering. Why? Because they wouldn’t be getting what they want. That’s suffering. Thus, when people find themselves suffering, (something they didn’t choose to do), they are in much the same intellectual dilemma as when they contemplate their birth — they didn’t chose to be born, they didn’t choose to suffer, so guess what? That’s right, someone else chose that they should suffer, this someone else must have a reason for choosing that they should suffer… All suffering has a purpose. Again, Peter was of a different mindset. He didn’t choose to be here, and he certainly didn’t choose his father or all of the suffering his father caused him. However, unlike many people, Peter was perfectly willing to assume all of this was just happening indifferent as to whether Peter approved of it or not. The world didn’t need him. It didn’t care about him. It didn’t care if he suffered. But also, it didn’t care if he didn’t suffer. Peter had options. He could have endured his father’s torments forever. Or he could have saved himself. Or he could have killed himself. Peter chose to save himself. Why? Though it’s difficult to comprehend, his decision just happened. Life meant nothing to Peter, so he could have chosen any of his three options. But, he didn’t want to suffer. So his choices were down to two. The brain, the little lump of flesh that gets to make all of these choices, is little more than an accident of chemicals and electricity. It has no control as to which chemicals get squirted into it and as to which neural path each of its billion or so electrical impulses travels. It’s the ultimate game of chance. And, therefore, the ultimate decision making machine. Peter set it to work. The game’s tilted toward life, so his choice came up life. It just happened that way.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 72 This choice forced Peter to make a series of choices to take place in the future. A plan.

The plan played out like this: For one month after losing his ears, Peter obeyed his father in every way except for the excretion of solids. He pretended to cry. He pretended to sleep. He pretended to need his mother’s nourishment. He spit it up for real. His actions mollified his father, who rested contently day after day on his couch watching the TV emanating from the City of Gold. (All of the surrounding areas watched the TV coming from the City. But they never went there. They weren’t allowed.) One morning Peter's mother left her husband a treat when she went to work—she had found a can of cocktail weenies by the side of the road. Peter sat in his unused diaper and watched his father lazily consume the weenies in this fashion: he would reach into the tin and extract a single weenie, roll it between his thumb and index finger, and then, without shifting his eyes away from the TV, he would flick the weenie into the air and set it tumbling end over end upon a parabolic course that took it nearly to the ceiling and down again into the waiting mouth of Peter's father, who would receive it with a slap of his lips. Peter watched his father swallow his thirteenth weenie and then let out a little laugh. His plan was complete. He-he. His father's eyebrows dipped and he seemed to examine the TV screen as if he had heard something come from it that he did not expect. He swallowed another weenie. He-he. He scanned the room, his eyes eventually settling back on the TV. Another weenie. Hehe. He grunted and clenched his fists and again his eyes surveyed the non-TV world finding only his boy sitting cross-legged in his playpen. The weenie went up. The weenie came down. He-he. Peter stared uneasily at his father. Will this work? he thought. Or will he set upon me in rage? Peter clapped his hands and let out another joyous baby giggle. The bewilderment on his father's

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 73 face receded and a large open-mouthed smile parted his stubbly cheeks. It will work, Peter thought. "You like," his father said. He shifted his legs and planted his feet on the floor next to his piss pot. He rolled on to his side, his belly cascading over the edge of the couch, and with one arm he pushed his torso from horizontal to vertical, his belly adjusting to its changing position and yet remaining loyal to gravity—when he sat upright, his belly rested on his lap, the navel hanging over his knees and peering down at the floor. He breathed heavily and searched for his weenies, which from his new perspective seemed to have disappeared. Peter called to him, "Da-da," and when his father looked up Peter pointed at the man's right foot. "Da-da." His father grinned and farted and then placed his hands on his lap, sucked in a breath, and slowly exhaled as he slid his right foot to the right. He nodded approvingly when it made contact with the weenie can and kept pushing it until the can came into his view. His eyes bulged. His body titled to the right, his folds and rolls tumbling over one another, his right arm hanging loosely, the fingers twitching, searching, until they gingerly danced upon the rim of the can. A vertical smile opened on his tilted head and he emitted a celebratory fart. His forefinger slid beneath the rim of the can and then curled upwards. And then, with another sucking of air, his body began raising itself upright again, the rolls and folds repeated gravity's pantomime in reverse, until he sat upwards, his rolls and folds finding equilibrium, his belly red and glistening, his lower lip jutting out and his tongue resting on it, his mouth rapidly exchanging air with the world. Peter waited in silence for his father to recover. Upon recovering, his father reached into the can, removed a weenie, showed it to the boy and then up, parabola, down and a smack of the lips. Peter giggled. He-he.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 74 His father laughed and farted. Peter sat in the playpen, his eyes anxiously bouncing from his father's face to the weenie can and back. Another weenie aloft. He-he. Peter and his father exchanged glances, his father's mouth curled in an affectionate grin, which Peter took as an indication that everything was working right so he responded to it with a similar grin hoping to induce a feedback loop of fealty that would invigorate his father's latent paternal urges and would inspire his father to do just what he did. With a deep laugh and a slap of his thighs, his father sucked in half the room's air and leaned forward, his belly avalanching over his knees. He placed the weenie can in his mouth, his lips clutching the rim. He placed his hands at his sides. The couch creaked and bowed and his feet turned purple. The flesh on his arms jiggled and a layer of perspiration burst upon his skin. He groaned, his face crimson and cheeks inflated. Peter clapped and squealed, "Da-da. Da-da" pleading in his thoughts, Stand up, stand up, please stand up. His father's skin reddened, the tiny black hairs stood bolt upright, his eyes squinted and spitted tears. The can trembled in his mouth. His entire body vibrated, a high-pitched whine sounding from deep within it, his fat rolls undulating, waves of motion shimmering over his flesh. His backside rose from the cushion. An inch of space rushed in as if to help lift him. But he seemed incapable of going any further. Peter clapped and cried Da-da, but his father could not find the strength in any part of his body to defeat gravity. His knees quivered. His armed trembled. The high-pitch whine succumbed to a moan and his father's body sank backwards as though all were lost. But then his backside expelled a violent torrent of smoke and steam that filled the inch of space between it and the cushion, and like a booster, it lifted him with a roar amid blossoming clouds and a powerful stink. Slowly, slowly, slowly, gravity lost its sway though it clutched to him with all its might as though he were its prize, its monument to itself. But it could not hold,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 75 and up he rose until he stood upright and his butt locked into place. His engine ceased and began cooling itself. He stood, a purple, sweaty mass breathing in short, quick breaths and holding a can of weenies in his mouth. Panting, Peter's father removed the can from his mouth and extracted a weenie. He smiled at his son. Up went the weenie – and gulp. He-he. "Ha-ha," the man laughed as he lumbered over to the crib, his belly round and red and the black dot of its navel gazing down at Peter, who sat crossed-legged and looking up with his hands joined palm-to-palm in a paused clap. His father smiled and extracted yet another weenie. He showed it to the boy, rotating it between his thumb and forefinger. Peter resumed clapping, and his father readied himself to launch the weenie, but then Peter ceased clapping and extended one hand out to his father. "Da-da, gimme." "Babytalk. Ha-ha," his father said, "You want weenie?" "Da-da, gimme." His father placed the weenie in Peter's hand. But Peter didn't eat it. He wrapped his hand around it as best he could and held it next to his head all the while his eyes twinkling and a joyous babysmile on his face. "Da-da. Da-da." He made throwing motions with his arm but did not let the weenie go. His father's face opened into a broad smile; he crouched down, his belly touching the floor; he opened his mouth. Peter sent the weenie aloft on a soft parabola that carried it to his father's waiting tongue, which, with a flick, made the weenie disappear. He-he.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 76 "Ha-ha," his father said, "That's one. Do again." He gave Peter a second weenie. Open mouth. Aloft. Gulp. He-he. "Ha-ha," his father said, "That's two. Do again." Open mouth. Aloft. Gulp. He-he. "Ha-ha," his father said, "More. Do again." He gave Peter the weenie. He opened his mouth wide. His eyes rolled back. Peter stood up, drew the weenie behind his head, and stepping forward, he launched it into the cavernous dark hole, skillfully avoiding teeth and tongue, until the windpipe, buried deep in there, halted the weenie on its parabolic ride and clutched it selfishly, as though it were a treasure. It worked. Peter sat down and his father stood up, the belly rising over the playpen wall, the black hole staring down and dilated wide. His father staggered back, his eyes protruding, his hands immersed in the rolls and folds around his neck, his knees quivering, cold, stinking sweat flooding over his skin. The belly swayed side to side, the navel distended in a mournful silent moan. Turning red. Turning purple. Turning blue. Fists beat upon his chest, the flesh quaking, each blow setting loose a circular wave which expanded from the point of impact and was then followed by another. The TV light showered him in blue and flashes of white and talk and talk and talk and the soldiers firing into the screen at some approaching danger. He became motionless, his hands falling to his sides, the waves passing and the belly settling and attaining perfect left-right symmetry, the navel staring ahead like a witness to something unknown. He fell backward and landed in front of the TV with a crunchy thud.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 77

No decision travels alone. Any choice you make, whether it achieves its purpose or not, inevitably leads to another choice—if only a choice on how to respond to the previous decision. Many people strive towards making their final choice—that is, they envision a time when they will make the ultimate decision, the decision to end all decisions, and after making this decision, everything else for the rest of their lives will be “obvious”—that is, they will never have to decide again. But this never happens. You always have to face the question “What now?” What now? indeed, thought Peter as he stood next to his father’s motionless bulk. A little acknowledged quality of suffering is that it occupies that little accident of chemicals and electricity residing in each of our heads. Without suffering, our brains have to busy themselves the best they can with finding food, shelter, and clothing. Without these, they have to either sleep or find something to copulate with. Without those, they’re left in a sort of limbo. And, thus, Peter’s predicament. The little accident kept humming along ready to make a choice. But, Peter had no need to decide anything, and nothing is more difficult than making a decision just because time demands one. So Peter started with the little things: With the death of his father, Peter ended his childhood. He put away his toys, disassembled his crib, took off his diaper. He returned to walking upright. He spoke as he had before. In a single night, after his mother had dragged his father's body out of the house along with the couch and set fire to both, and after she had cleaned the TV room and then settled down to bed, Peter grew into his adult frame. He stood at a height of five feet. He put on his white robe and sandals. In the morning, he entered his mother’s room so that he could wake her and inform

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 78 her that he had grown and would no longer need her care. But, he did not find her there. She was gone. On her pillow he found a tooth. The road in front of Peter’s mother’s house did Peter a great favor: It went in one direction and it went in the other direction. 50/50. Peter closed his eyes and let the little accident decide. And it did. Go right, big guy. No – no choice travels alone. Nor does it travel only with a partner. Or a couple of close friends. No, choices travel in herds. Now some people will get mystical at this point. They’ll see the giant herd of choices and they’ll say to themselves: “Those choices were here before me.” They imagine all the choices ever made in the world existed even before there was a world for them to occupy. And they’ll say that when you make a choice, you’re really just pluck one from the herd. And any choice you make brings its own herd with it, some of which you might have seen before hand, but most of which you never even dreamed of. Peter, fully embraced the notion of consequences and choices begetting choices. But as for every decision ever made existing before the world existed—Peter scoffed at the notion because it leads to the idea of multiple realities in which each option not selected in a choice goes off and forms its own world with its own herd. Peter rejected this. He remained firmly planted in this world. However, by turning right and walking down the road, Peter unleashed a mighty herd into this (the only) world.

Peter passed through many villages as he walked down the road. The residents paid him little mind. They were suffering and having to satisfy all of their needs, which was very difficult to do for them, so they had little time and energy for Peter. At this point in history, the City of Gold owned just about everything, and so these people, like Peter’s parents, had very little other than a

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 79 TV and some food. They had lots of fear, too, so if they noticed Peter at all, they saw how different he was from them and fled into their houses or anywhere they could. There was one exception, though. In one village, on the side of the road, in a tiny house without a door, there was a little girl lying on a bed. She was sick with brain fever (medical science being no more sophisticated than that for these people). She had brain fever and her parents and other people gathered around her wept because they thought she would die. The noise they made distracted Peter (he had never heard other people cry), so he left the road and entered the house. At first no one noticed him, but then they did and were about to ask in an accusatory manner, “Hey, what’s this funny little man without any toes doing in our house?” when the girl, for the first time in days, opened her eyes. The fever broke. Peter left the house and continued down the road without saying a word. Though the girl’s immune system truly deserved the credit for her recovery, people at once attributed her recovery to Peter’s unexpected appearance, even though these two events had no relation at all other than that they happened at the same time. But to most people, that’s enough of a connection to signify a deep relationship. They concluded that Peter, who had given them what they wanted without them having to make any decisions, must have been a representative of the someone else who gave everything a reason. They called Peter an angel and thanked the someone else for sending him. They then carved images of him and put them on their tables. Peter continued down the road for several weeks. He saw no other travelers and no vehicles. He passed through a knee-high forest and after a few days he emerged onto a plain, the road a straight line through it. He walked several days more and then discovered a path leading off the road. His eyes followed the path as it wound through the grass until he discovered a hill reaching into the sky. Peter followed the path, which led him around the hill and then up it. The

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 80 path brought Peter to a cliff and there he sat motionless. From the cliff, Peter could see the lonely road, the plain, and the City of Gold glowing as the sun fell.

Our brains, for all the wonders they’ve worked throughout history, have never really gotten beyond the notion that we’re nothing more than a bunch of apes sitting around under trees. Our world has grown faster than our brains (even though our brains are responsible for making our world grow so fast), and this has left our brains in a tough position. Essentially, brains came about to a) recognize patterns, b) make decisions based on these patterns. This worked out great when we were a bunch of apes because our brains could survey the pattern of the grass and trees around us, recognize anything that didn’t fit in, and conclude that a) there’s something I can eat, b) there’s something that can eat me, c) there’s something I can screw, or d) there’s something that can screw me. Given these four conclusions, the brain made its decision based on the classic Four Fs: Feed, fight, flee, or hump. Then our world got more complicated. Suddenly, we were doing things like suffering and wondering how we got here—and our brains just aren’t built to handle such concerns. So when you start suffering or wondering why we’re here, your brain has no other recourse but to fall back on its only tool—let’s find a pattern. Thus we get the someone else who put us here, good and bad, and, of course, The Plan. But our brains, since they don’t understand what they’re doing to begin with, can never stop finding patterns. Even if we deprive them of all external stimuli, our brains will then dig through our memories, secrete all kinds of chemicals to set the electrical impulses buzzing in all sorts of directions until something appears and it can begin finding patterns again.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 81 Thus Peter was not surprised by the horrible visions he faced during the five weeks and five days he spent alone on the hill. He had no more control over his brain than any of us do. He saw his father, a giant, walking across the plain, knocking over the walls of the City of Gold and running towards his son, the earth trembling beneath him. He was dead, his body corrupting, his skin stretched tight and splotchy and purple and puss dripping from it, his teeth falling out and his eyes clouded over. He had no voice. He stood before Peter in a rage, howling silence, tears in his eyes, he struck the ground beneath Peter's feet and his mouth foamed. Peter saw many other things that his brain tossed out before him, but which we need not go into. But we should keep in mind that Peter attached no significance to any of this. The show interested him, at times amazed him, but he never lost sight of the fact that it was nothing more than a product of his panic-stricken brain drenching itself in chemicals in order to have something in which it could find a pattern. And then it stopped. His brain wore out and showed him nothing more. Normally, throughout history, people who had experienced brain-shows similar to Peter’s concluded that they had glimpsed some hidden (and, therefore, better) world, the elements of which control our world, and thus these people often busied themselves with founding religions, inciting revolutions, or faith-healing. Peter, however, simply got up so that he could continue on the road. He didn’t believe in invisible worlds. He only believed in brain-shows. The road, by the way, Peter realized, was leading him to the City of Gold. Again, Peter saw no significance in this. It was simply a consequence of the fact that he had decided to turn right on the road when he left his mother’s house. So, Peter descended the hill. But something happened.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 82 It was this: He came upon a circle of women, each of them with their eyes closed and naked but for jewels, bracelets and necklaces. They sat cross-legged and facing the center of their circle. None of them spoke or moved or opened her eyes. Peter walked softly as not to disturb them. Then one stood up, opened her green eyes and looked at Peter. He stepped back and they gazed at one another. Jewels and gold rings adorned her body. Her hair touched her breasts. She titled her head, and stepping back, she motioned to the space she had occupied in the circle. Peter shook his head. She opened her palms to him. Again, Peter shook his head. He continued on the path, and when he passed by her, when they were side to side, he did not look at her. When he had walked a few steps, he heard her say something softly, and he turned around. But they were gone. Peter stepped onto the road and turned towards the City of Gold. As he walked, he thought about the woman. He thought about the show he had seen for the past few weeks. Then he thought about the woman again. An idea popped into his head. He immediately discounted it and cautioned himself about finding patterns where there are none and how that could lead to believing in The Plan or some other such nonsense. He banished the woman and the idea from his mind and continued on his way. What was the idea? Simple. Peter’s thought went like this: Just because you see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 83

The Brain Show
Many people look at History and they see a pattern that goes like this: Civilizations originate, rise, decline and collapse. Originate, rise, decline, collapse. Originate, rise, decline, collapse. It looks like a pattern. It sounds like a pattern. It sounds like something real. A group of people discovers that they share a piece of land, and instead of killing each other off, they form a civilization, and thus, originate. Then they organize so that they can gather and have what they need, and they are either successful or unsuccessful. The unsuccessful die, the successful rise. Then the civilization enters its longest (and most interesting) period—the Decline. When does the Decline start? Easy: The Decline starts the moment the people begin to view what they want as being different from what they need. After a while, what they want becomes more important than what they need, and all of their hard work goes into getting what they want rather than what they need. And thus, the Collapse. Sometimes it comes from inside, sometimes from outside. The Great Dilapidation. In Peter’s time, the Great Dilapidation was the only Collapse that still lived in memory. It happened many, many years before Peter entered the City of Gold. In truth, though, the Great Dilapidation was really nothing all that special. It was a Collapse which occurred after a long period of Decline (exactly when it’s supposed to). But it was unique in this sense: At the time of the Big D, there was only one civilization in the world. Up until then, the world always had a few hundred civilizations that would originate, rise, decline and collapse in a staggered fashion so that when some were rising, others were collapsing. But then, people got the idea in their heads that one civilization sufficed, so all the civilizations became part of it and the people hailed it as a great leap forward, making the globe a village, onward to a civil society of

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 84 humanity, and all that … So that when it collapsed, there weren’t any other civilizations around to pick up the pieces. How did it collapse? From inside (since there was no outside). Essentially, the people, who, of course, viewed what they wanted as being entirely different and more important than what they needed, moved so far to the extreme of a decline that they viewed what they needed as not really existing at all and they didn’t even want what they wanted. So they were working hard and not knowing why, and thus, became tired, despondent, angry, sad, violent, and bereft, and one day they all stopped and everything came crashing down. That’s when the City of Gold emerged to take charge of civilization’s remnants. There is, of course, much more to the story than that—there are heroic tales, tragic endings, dark comedy and whatnot and a cast of personalities who you can love, hate, respect, abhor and cry over. But essentially, they all stopped and everything came crashing down. That’s what happened.

Peter walked through the shantytown that surrounded the City of Gold. His walk through the town took several days. The streets were loud at night, and often Peter heard the popping of guns and the screams of brawling. This led him to think about his own violence. Couldn’t I have just snuck away and left my father in peace? he wondered. “But that’s not the decision that came up,” he said aloud. “Something happened, and I was there.” Isn’t a person just something that happens? Isn’t it just a mixture of carbon and water that buzzes with electricity? Why are its movements more important than those of clouds? Or the non-movements of rocks? After several days, Peter arrived at a line of shanty people gathered at a gate in a chainlink fence. The chainlink fence surrounded the entire City of Gold and kept the shanty people five

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 85 hundred feet away from the City wall. Posted at the gate was a sign: Those who deface the Wall of The City of Gold are subject to Punishment. Peter asked the people in line why the fence and the sign were there. An old man without legs told Peter that years and years before, the Wall, which was a thousand feet high and twenty feet thick, had become the canvas of many a shantytown artist. So much so, the old man told Peter, that artists had transformed the base of the wall, from the ground up to seven feet, into a ring of colors and designs that represented the world back then when the Wall was new. The artists painted everything that they could imagine and everything they could remember, from giant creatures with two sharp teeth to tables laden with food, people and children, and sometimes just shapes like circles and triangles. Back then he said, the people in the City sometimes looked outside, and when they saw the mural painted on their wall they raised a cry and declared that they would defend their wall. One night, while the artists were at work, the City guards emerged from the City with their guns and killed every artist they could find. Then the City erected the chainlink fence around the wall and posted a Guard at every hundred-foot interval to shoot any artist on sight. Later, the old man said, the Guards returned to the City. The residents don't look outside the Wall anymore. But the Wall is safe and clean now. The chainlink fence is enough to protect it. "There aren't anymore artists," he told Peter. "How did this wall come to be?" Peter asked. The old man told him. In the years before the Great Dilapidation, the City existed under another name and people came and went in and out of it. But even then, the Wall existed. People passed through it like breezes, but everyone knew it was there. Only they used it differently, for those who lived outside it depended on it to contain those who lived within. But then, during the Great Dilapidation, as the people from within rioted and looted both inside and outside the City,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 86 the Wall one morning became visible and solid. It encircled the City and covered the entry and exit points of the river. The water flowed beneath it. In the beginning, the wall was grey and made of rough stones and had four gates, one for each direction of the compass. The rioting and looting ceased and both the victims and the perpetrators stared at the Wall. The world became very silent. The appearance of the Wall had this effect: it reversed reality. Those on the outside became resilient and lusted after the city they had once despised. They banded together and stormed through the gates and expelled the former citizens. They then sealed three of the gates and left open only the one facing the east. The former citizens, enraged and frightened by their defeat, but unable to breach the Wall, turned on one another as they had before the Great Dilapidation. They destroyed the outlying areas and reduced it to the shantytown that now exists. The newcomers worshiped their new city and its wall, and perhaps because of its new glory, the wall transformed itself into gold and rose higher and higher into the air. The old buildings crumbled into dust and the City generated a wind that drove the dust out of the east gate. Then the ground trembled and from it emerged new buildings, all of them gold and encrusted with jewels. The streets widened and lamps sprouted like flowers and gave off a light rivaling the day. The newcomers changed as well and became as much a part of the new city as the buildings and the wall. They renamed it: the City of Gold. "Why are these people in line?" Peter asked. The old man told him. Streets needed to be swept. Garbage collected. Houses cleaned. The people in the City had no time for such things. So they allowed some of the old citizens in every day to perform these tasks. Peter thanked the old man and the line moved on.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 87

Some people will tell you that History has nothing to do with patterns or any such nonsense. No, to them, History, and our lives for that matter, are composed of nothing other than the decisions we make and the random events that happen to us. If History contains any sort of pattern, it’s because, for the most part, we all think alike. Our brains are completely unprepared for any of this so they make the same foolish decisions over and over again—if you want to call that a pattern, go ahead, but it’s hardly anything to wax philosophical over. For these people, History is born in the present. It observes nothing, judges nothing, does nothing. It’s simply a by-product of what we do, the things that happen to us, and our memories. We know how Peter viewed the whole decision notion (they just happen like everything else). But as for the idea of unforeseeable events… Peter entered a longer, slower line that passed through the gate and into the City of Gold. No one talked, the people worn from an apparent and chronic lack of sleep. They were thin and stooped in the shoulders. As he approached the entrance, Peter saw that two guards waited, each wearing a dark suit and a black helmet with a face shield. Each guard had a black SafetyGun strapped to him. Normally these guards did this: They asked each person a series of prescribed questions, then issued a series of prescribed warnings, entered the person’s ID number into a computerize tracking system, issued a few more warnings and then fixed an orange collar around the person’s neck to mark him or her as an Outsider. This had been the system for admitting Outsiders for as long as anyone could remember. However, one day a few months before Peter entered the City, the computers went down, so the guards, since they couldn’t enter any numbers into the tracking system, prevented all of the Outsiders from entering the City. Garbage piled up everywhere and

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 88 no one washed any dishes and all sorts of such tasks went undone. The City residents raised an uproar at the inconvenience of not having the Outsiders to take care of these tasks. It was such an uproar that the CEO of the City Guard’s company vowed it would never happen again. He appeared on TV and described massive upgrades to the tracking system computers made by WonderSlap Corporation that would make the computers absolutely fail-proof. On this day, though, the day Peter entered the City, the computers had once again crashed. This time, however, rather than prevent the untrackable Outsiders from entering the City, the Guards let everyone pass—no questions asked. Though he was unregistered and had no official duties in the City of Gold, Peter passed through the gate with no trouble at all. Normally, had Peter tried to enter the City of Gold with no registration and no official duty, the Guards would have politely asked him to step aside, walk ten paces and turn around. Then they would have set the SafetyGun to not-safe and obliterated him. So, unexpected event number 1: the computer at the gate was down. Unexpected event number 2: Peter passed by the Guard in charge of fixing orange collars around each Outsider’s neck. These orange collars, called “Trust Rings,” did four things: 1) they allowed the tracking system to know exactly where each Outsider was at any moment, 2) they signaled the guards if the person wearing the collar tried to take it off, 3) they provided a visual source of comfort for the residents of the City that the Guards were keeping tabs on the Outsiders, and 4) they made the Guards’ SafetyGuns lethal within the City. (Years before, the Guards used live ammunition and real guns inside the City. Then something happened: Despite the assurances that it would never happen, and all the previous excuses for when it did happen, the Guards, while chasing down a suspect Outsider, fired away and nailed a blonde-headed little girl. Though she wasn’t the first resident so done away with, she was the last. The kid saturated

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 89 TV and created a market for safer lethal weapons: the SafetyGuns. Though shaped like guns, the SafetyGun only fired low-power radio waves that carried a single message to the orange Trust Ring that the SafetyGun was pointed at: explode. Without the collars, the SafetyGuns were no better than clubs.) On this day, the Trust Rings were useless for tracking purposes (the computer was down), but they did provide the comforting, if false, perception that the Guards were keeping tabs on the Outsiders. So Peter stood ready to receive his collar. But the Guard who was putting them on the Outsiders, acting on directives from above, was working very fast to demonstrate to the residents that though the tracking computer was having problems, there would be no hold up to getting Outsiders processed to empty garbage cans and so on. This Guard was working too fast, and when he slapped the collar around Peter’s neck, it didn’t latch. Peter moved on into the City. The collar annoyed him, so, he took it off and let it fall to the ground. Normally, if Peter had tried to remove a properly fitted Trust Ring, he would have had some trouble. The collar would have sent electricity through his body and paralyzed him in his tracks. In addition, it would have, via radio waves, alerted every Guard within a thousand feet, all of whom would have aimed their SafetyGuns at Peter, and his head would have exploded. Thus, unknowingly, Peter defied death twice in one morning. Of course, unknowingly, we may each avoid death twice every morning. But, because of who Peter became and what he witnessed, many people look at these events, not as random happenings, but as signs that Peter had a “higher purpose.” Someone else was up to something. How else could computers crash? How else could Guards make mistakes?

Without a collar, registration, or an official reason for being there, Peter wandered the streets of the City of Gold. As he let the collar fall to the ground, his eyes scanned the scene. He stood

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 90 before a giant picture of a strange looking man with a thin face, long nose, deep-set eyes, a receding nub of a chin and with long wild black hair. He had a small mouth that smiled and he held up a green bottle. Beneath him appeared the message: I took my Winatol. Did you take yours? Can you afford not to? The man wore a long black coat, black pants, a black shirt, and odd yellow boots. He danced with scantily-clad young women. He sat in front of a computer. He played a game. The picture of him continually changed. But he always had the green bottle. Peter stared into his eyes, into the reflections of lights in them. Then someone pushed Peter from behind and he stumbled to the ground. Nothing lay loose in the City. Everything was fixed into place except the people and their vehicles, and they constantly moved, so much so that no one noticed Peter, for they passed by him as though he were invisible. He stood up. The strange man was in bed with several beautiful women. Peter walked the streets all day and night. Peter noticed that, unlike in the shantytown, there seemed to be no sleep in the City of Gold. Darkness didn’t penetrate the City wall, for as the sun vanished, the City shone more brilliantly, multicolored lights blending in the air and making the sky glow white. At night, Peter saw no stars; it was as if the whole sky became a second sun. There were no shadows in the nighttime city, for in every crevice in which a shadow might hide, light from some lamp somewhere found it and banished it. But more than the absolute light, Peter saw that nothing rested in the City of Gold. The people moved constantly. During the day they buzzed around here and there planning, pleading, buying, spending, yelling, shouting, whispering, nodding and fighting and generating and trading the wealth which coursed through the streets, alleys and hallways of the City. Then with the dawn of the sparkling white night, they changed clothes, the men wearing more, the women less,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 91 and they spent and danced and drank and sang and laughed and performed all sorts of acts which will go undescribed. Even in the rare instances when one of them was silent and speaking to no one, even then the person seemed to listen to multiple conversations, the person's eyes twitching and flickering. This seemed to be solace to them, Peter observed. And even this moment lasted only seconds, for inevitably the person joined a visible conversation, which seemed not to be that person's sole focus, but rather only another demand on the person's attention, something else to mix with the invisible conversations and with the messages that bombarded the people from above, below and all sides. Peter realized, that no matter where he turned to look, even if he looked straight up at the sky, messages, words, pictures, images, invaded his vision. If he looked down, messages were embedded in the sidewalk and the street. The messages told him to eat something. To drive a vehicle. To wear a shirt. To wear shoes. To move into a new home. In the sky, Peter saw a bald man in agony, clutching his head and screaming. Then he took a pill and hair blossomed on his head and he was happy. A woman had wrinkles, and then a doctor smoothed her out. Young again! she cried in big, bold letters, Young again! There were pictures of people drinking a miraculous golden liquid that appeared in many messages and had the power to make men strong and women lovely. He saw pictures of paper and coins growing on trees and children dancing around the trees and reaching up and trying to pluck the paper from the branches. He saw it flowing in streams and people drinking money like water. He saw the sun scattering it over the world and the people receiving it. He saw the moon. Though he could see no stars at night, he saw then moon, and on the first night he stared up at it. It was full and brilliant white. Then a woman appeared on it wrapped in a sheet and with long curling blonde hair and red lips and large breasts. And then a man

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 92 appeared dressed in a dark suit. He put his arms around the woman and she kissed him and the moon faded to black. Then a box of condoms (Impregano brand) appeared on it and told Peter to enjoy the night. It laughed at him.

Unexpected event number 3: After six days and nights, Peter was tired. He felt a like dried leaf. He walked slowly and from behind many people shoved him aside. Some cursed him. Finally he stopped all together and several people tripped over him and called him foul names. Some spat at him: “Get Winatol.” He sat at the edge of the sidewalk. Across the street he saw a bench and a tree, the only ones he had seen in the City. He crossed the road, allowed the vehicles to swerve by him and the people to swear at him. Peter sat down. People streamed by the tree and the bench, none of them turning to look at it or even noticing its presence. Birds twittered in the branches of the tree, the tree itself encased in glass and marked with a plaque reading: Brought to you by RWR, Inc. Do not touch. Distressed, Peter laid his head back. Though he had never done it before, he felt as though he wanted to sleep. It was night. He was staring into the lightwashed sky. A man sat down next to Peter. He and Peter exchanged glances. The stranger had a long thin nose, a small chin and deep-set tired eyes. He wore a long black coat, unbuttoned, his hands buried in the pockets, and yellow boots. His hair was disheveled and unwashed. He was the man in the pictures Peter had seen when he first entered the City. He looked at Peter. "Who are you?" he said. “I am Peter," said Peter. “I’m Crow,” said Crow. “I was the first kid born in a CUNT machine.” "I see," said Peter, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what that means.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 93 “You don’t?” said Crow moving to the edge of his seat, “Really? I mean, I spend half my life listening to people tell me that hey they know me, I was that first kid born in a CUNT machine. I’m sick of it. Now, when I meet someone I don’t know, I say it first, just so I don’t have to hear it out of them.” "I see," said Peter. Crow reached into his coat’s pocket and pulled out a can. He popped the lid and sucked down a few gulps. Wiping his lips, "Would you like to have beer with me, Peter?" "I don’t drink," said Peter, “But I’m happy to sit here with you.” "Okay," said Crow. “Crow,” said Peter, “Are you the man with his picture everywhere?” “You mean the Winatol ads?” “Probably,” said Peter. “Tell me, what is Winatol?’ Crow’s eyes burst open, the white part contrasting with the dark rings below them. “It’s on TV.” “I don’t have a television.” “What do you mean you don’t have one? Nobody has one? Who the fuck has a TV? What are you? An Outie or something?” “Do you mean someone from the outside of the wall?” Crow nodded. “Then yes, I am.” Crow laughed and gulped down some more beer. “Oh, you must be the one their looking for?” “Looking for?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 94 “Oh, yea,” said Crow, “The computer goes down and those idiot Guards can’t think of anything better to do than open up the City to anyone who wants in. And, of course, they fuck it up completely and at the end of the night, when their going around to make sure they got all of them out, what do they find? A collar without an owner. Holy shit, if you were in touch with TV, man, you would know what a celeb you are. I mean, they’re going frantic trying to find the missing Outie. That’s why it’s so quiet. People are hiding at home.” Peter looked at the crammed and loud streets and all the people. “This is quiet?” he asked. “Fucking comatose,” said Crow, “One fucking Outie roaming around, but as far as the news is concerned there’s a blood thirsty beast or some sort of evil genius lurking the streets.” “I’m not one of those,” said Peter. “And if the Guards are looking for me, why haven't they found me?" Crow laughed, "The Guards don't know their asses from their elbows. Holy shit, those morons couldn't find toilet in a bathroom if you painted it red, shined a light on it and stood there screaming 'Hey, here's the toilet!'" Crow was laughing hard, "Drop a donut in it, though, and they’re liable to drown." He wiped his eyes and composed himself when he saw that Peter wasn't laughing. "Besides, nobody said anything about the Guards," he assured Peter, "You're on TV." Crow looked into the distance and seemed to focus internally. "They're milking it for everything it's worth," he said, "There you are again. They’ve got artists doing sketches of what you might look like." Crow nodded a couple of times and then mumbled to himself, "Yea, I took my Winatol." Peter looked at the crowd. Some laughed arm in arm as though they had just shared a joke. Some argued. Some stopped quickly, poured some pills from a bottle and popped them in their mouths.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 95 "What just happened?" Peter said. "You were on TV," the stranger said. "What?" "Are you some kind of alien, or something like that?" "I do not know anything about this city," Peter said. "You say you were watching TV, but I don't see any TV here. My father used to watch TV continually,” Peter said, “But it was a box he sat in front of.” Crow snorted. “Well, boy, you ain’t in the sticks no more,” he said, “We cityfolk done take the TV out of the box long time ago.” He laughed at his own joke. “Holy shit, what a waste to just sit on your ass. TV is free form here. You don't have to waste a bunch of time sitting on your ass staring at it just to know what's going on." "You mean you just see it in your mind?” "You just see it." "How?" Crow shrugged and swigged his beer. “Well,” he said turning back to Peter, “Think of the sun, even though it’s not out in the sky now, think of it.” Peter nodded, “I am.” “Can you see an image of it even though it’s nowhere to be seen?” “Yes.” “That’s what TV’s like. Except a lot louder and with a bunch more action.” "Do you like it?" Peter asked. Crow sat back and shrugged. He ran his hands though his hair. "I don't know," he said, "The more channels you get the less there is to watch, but you can't afford to lose touch, so it's good

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 96 that way. And it doesn't slow me down," he said, "Though, they are showing some strange shit at night." "They?" "The TV people. Like the hat people or the rug people or the vehicle people. Just the people who make TV. I thought about going into it for a while, but... Anyway," he said, "It's the TV people who are trying to find you." "Why?" "You're a hit," he said. "Everyone's watching this." "Again," Peter said, "I've been sitting here for hours—" "Who's going to look in the park?" Crow asked. “Especially with a mad rapist Outie running rampant.” Peter shook his head. And then he yawned. "Did you take your Winatol?" Crow asked. "No," Peter said, "I've never taken anything of the sort." Crow sighed, "Dammit, are you people all a bunch cavemen on the other side of the Wall?" “What do you mean?” Crow slapped his forehead. “I’m the spokesmodel for the stuff. You know? There I was already famous for being such a fucking genius and then the Winatol company says here try this stuff. I like it. A few pictures, a couple of commercials, and it’s a hit. Everybody takes it. And you’re telling me you’ve never heard of it.” “Well, I haven’t,” said Peter, “What does it do.” “Removes your needs,” Crow said grinning, “You don’t gotta waste time to eat, sleep, drink, or visit the can. You got all that time to yourself. If you want to take a nap, you can. If you want

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 97 to eat something or drink yourself silly, have at it. Hell, if you want to you wanna take a mountain-sized dump, feel free. Because you are free,” Crow said pointing his finger at Peter, “You will never need again.” Peter nodded. And then yawned. Crow wiped his eyes and he and Peter sat silently for a moment watching the birds twittering in the branches. "Well, if you want,” said Crow, “You can sleep on my couch at home." Peter accepted the offer for the couch. “That might be what I need,” said Peter. “Great,” said Crow finishing his beer, pitching the can, and standing up. “I’ll let you have some of my Winatol tomorrow. “But first, let’s go out.”

Golden grass streamed by and brushed against his knees. The air smelled sweet. Wispy clouds hung stationary in the sky and the plain continued forever, his body seeming to sail over it. Peter awoke in the sunlight atop a bed with velvet red blankets and fluffy pillows. The air smelled like flowers. The person who never slept had had a dream. A nighttime brain show, thought Peter. The clock said midafternoon. Then it wished Peter a good day and thanked him for using ConsumerTyme. Next to the clock was a large green bottle of Winatol with a note attached to it: Best Regards, Winatol Co. Peter left the bed and discovered that he was naked. He searched for his white robe and sandals, but they were gone. He could only find a deep purple robe hung over a chair and speckled with double arches, smiling faces, crescent moons, sparkling castles, flying

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 98 windows and other such images. Lacking anything else, he put it on. It itched. Beneath it he found a pair of matching sandals. And a pointy hat, also purple with strange images on it. Peter walked over to a large bay window. Though he was very high in the sky judging by how far it was to the ground, Peter could not see over the Wall. It was just tall enough to cover the horizon.

Memories of the previous evening crept into awareness. And though it would take several days of reflection and a few questions to Crow for Peter to piece it all together, the narrative of their evening together went like this: When he and Crow left the park, as soon as they stepped away from the bench, people swarmed around Crow and asked him to sign their bottles of Winatol. Crow, seeming used to, and elated by, the attention, smiled broadly, drew a pen from his coat pocket and signed the first bottle thrust towards him. The people were glassy-eyed and had perfect white teeth. Crow’s teeth, though, were a little long and crooked, thought Peter. After several minutes of signing, Crow capped his pen and announced to the crowd that he had business to attend to, to which they sighed but did not protest as they put away their bottles and quickly dispersed. However, Crow had invited several of the women in the crowd to join him and Peter for a drink, and it was then that the women noticed Peter, each of them several inches taller than him, slim and pretty, wearing short skirts and tops that revealed their bejeweled belly buttons. Peter nodded to them, but they scowled and looked at one another dismayed and rolling their eyes. Then Crow, whispering (actually just shouting just barely over the street noise), said to them, “That’s the Outie.” They gasped and said that he was TV and approached Peter speaking loud and slow with

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 99 simple expressions on their faces and each woman told Peter her name while tapping her own chest several times to assist Peter in case he didn’t understand the concept of a name. With the introductions done, the group crossed the street and entered a bar. A man immediately clasped Crow’s hand, asked him to sign a bottle which he said changed his life, and then ushered the group to a table. They sat in a booth, lights and music raged around them, and it astounded Peter that there could be anywhere louder and with more lights than the streets on the City of Gold. Everywhere people stood no more than three inches apart screaming at one another, the men slapping one another or laughing or performing an assortment of antics meant to impress the women, all of whom flashed their navel to the world and had deep red lips and large breasts that bounced as they laughed and danced to the persistent all-encompassing thumpathumpathumpa beat and pulsing lights. A woman brought a tray of blue sparkling drinks to the table and placed one in front of each person. When she got to Peter, her eyes for the first time left Crow and she stood up straight and stepped back. Crow yelled to her, “He’s the Outie. He’s with me.” Her eyes glistened, she smiled, leaned forward and patted Peter on the head and said something about TV and then pointed to herself, and Peter, who could hear almost nothing she said, guessed that she was telling him her name. He nodded. She patted his head once more and crisply spun around to walk away. The group remained there for several hours, Crow ordering many rounds of drinks and handing the waitresses large bills and motioning them to keep the change. Peter gave each of his drinks to Crow, who consumed them gladly, and the women, their eyes softening, occasionally reached over and pinched Peter’s cheeks or stroked his chin or said something to him which he couldn’t hear. And every few minutes, people would arrive at the table and ask Crow if Peter

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 100 was the Outsider, to which Crow answered yes and the people mooned over Peter, and (he could tell by the movement of their lips) said something about TV. And the evening would have followed this course until its conclusion had not Unexpected Event No. 4 occurred. It went like this: As Crow had told Peter, the people in the City of Gold watched TV constantly. The TV people made money by attracting people to watch their shows and then inducing them to spend money in certain ways. Now, some of the TV people had dreamed up a TV show in which an excitable little man traveled around the City and persuaded people to sit down with him and allow him to ask them a series of questions. Each question was worth a certain amount of money and if the person answered all of the questions, he or she received a lot of money. The show was a tremendous success and attracted much attention and thus convinced people to spend money certain ways. However, the show was becoming old and feared losing the attention of the people. The excitable little man had traveled throughout the entire City and asked all sorts of questions and now the format seemed repetitious to the point of being unstimulating. The TV people had tried to vary the format by having the excitable little man do such things as ask only sports questions, or entertainment questions, or music questions, but now these paths were exhausted. They had done a show with only famous people (Crow had won a great deal of money), and now in a outlandish bid to be different, after show after show after show, exhausted to point of seeming to not even care anymore, the TV people tried a show in which the excitable little man asked only math questions. The TV people recognized this as a desperate idea. If not stupid. Several them watched with anxious tears in their eyes and seeing their careers (life’s work) crumbling to ash and they imagined themselves expelled from the City and sent to live in the outside (even though this

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 101 never happened). It was failing miserably. None of the people questioned could answer more than two questions. Few people were watching. Math doesn’t sell. The excitable little man seemed frightened when he entered the bar in which Crow and Peter were drinking. He needed a success or else all was doomed. He scanned the crowd. He saw Crow. Crow pointed to Peter. The name of this show? The Brain Show. White lights engulfed Peter and one man stood before him with a dark lens aimed at him. The excitable little man, wearing a sparkling red jacket, sat down in front of Peter. He had selected Peter because Peter looked so different that he might catch the attention of people randomly searching through TV (and Crow had recommended him). The man screamed at Peter, told Peter his name, said Peter was on the Brain Show and asked Peter’s name. “I am Peter,” said Peter. The man then asked Peter a simple math question and gave him several options for the answer. Peter answered it correctly. And he answered the next one correctly. And the one after that. And all the while Peter and no idea why the man wanted to know this information or why he couldn’t get it himself. Now, had this been supermodel night, entertainment night, sports night, or almost another night of questions, Peter would have had no success. He would have had no way of knowing supermodels, sports, or entertainment. But with math, Peter had no problem. He had a perfectly clear mind and could solve any mathematics riddle effortlessly. Which is what he did. It so impressed the excitable little man, that the man paused a moment, remarked at how impressed he was with Peter’s mental abilities, and, jokingly, asked Peter where he came from to be so smart in Math. Peter recited the term he had heard Crow say. “I’m the Outsider,” said Peter.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 102 The excitable little man’s heart leaped. He looked to Crow (who nodded). This might be the best night ever. He had found the Outie. And it was the best night ever. The entire City tuned in as soon as the words left Peter’s mouth. The Brain Show flooded into every mind. The City watched Peter answer each of the questions easily, even towards the end when they were supposedly more complicated, they gave Peter no problem whatsoever. He won a lot of money. The crowd cheered. The excitable little man jumped up and down and hugged Peter. And then he said it: “You’re a wizard, Peter. You’re a wizard.” Shortly after the excitable little man labeled him the Wizard, Peter, who was dreadfully tired, passed out. The crowd assumed that he was overwhelmed with joy.

Peter stared at the Wall through his window. He examined every gold brick on the wall. He looked at all the people buzzing through the streets and the sun above them. And then he gained another vision. In the City of Gold, TV was free, but not available to everyone. The residents didn’t want the Outsiders to see it (unless they used their boxes on the other side of the Wall). They also felt that it wasn’t good for very young children. So, in order for TV to “take effect,” a person had to reside continually in the City of Gold for one week. And then TV would find them (normally when they turned a week old) and take effect. Peter saw a set of visions that did not come from his eyes. It was just like Crow said, like thinking but louder. He could hear it, just as he could hear the sounds of the normal world. Like his own breathing. He could see another world of people in addition to those occupying the

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 103 streets. He could see them working in offices. Playing at night. Fighting. Engaging in foreplay. Arguing afterwards. He could see the Guards defending the City from crime. Vehicle chases. He saw an old woman cooking and chatting. He saw a beauty contest. Young women in tight fitting suits talking about changing the world. He could see them offering him new things. Winatol keeps you going. Doesn’t let sleep deter you from your busy lifestyle. Can you afford not to take Winatol? A woman was screaming. She wore a tight fitting top, the strap on one shoulder broken, hanging loose. A man held a knife to her, threatened to kill her. But in came the Guards and their SafetyGuns—she’s saved. A man carried a ball over a white line and other men lifted him from the ground and offered him to the sky. King Hercules Magno Deluxe. Specially coated with ImpregaNo DS. Swimmers charge at it full tilt, strike their heads against it. They gasp. Their eyes become × ×. They flip over, bellies up and up they float. A large woman. Sad and gloomy. Hand emerged from her chest and tore her in half. She collapsed like discarded skin and in her place stood a thin woman in tight clothing and smiling. The New Me. A street. Time to indulge yourself? Time for a new vehicle? It’s time you got a Wizara. Peter shivered. He saw himself in the other world. He was speeding through the city streets in a glistening vehicle and smiling as he crisply turned corners. He was wearing the robe he found in his room and the pointy hat covered with the same designs. The hat remained on his head even though he had the top down on the vehicle. People waved at him and pointed at the vehicle. A little girl crossed the street. She was holding an ice cream cone. Peter stopped the car in front of her and she dropped the ice cream cone. He snapped his fingers and she held a larger one. She smiled. He smiled. The parents smiled. They asked him about the vehicle. He talked about its engine and how well it handled. His voice was high-pitched. He summed up by saying: “Drive a Wizara.” He drove off. A symbol appeared, a smiling vehicle with eyes. Zooooom, Inc.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 104 Peter stared at the ceiling for an hour and saw himself in the car fourteen times.

The door opened and in walked Crow. “You’re awake,” he said. “What happened to me?” Peter asked. Crow was eating a sandwich. “Well, you passed out.” Peter sat down on the bed. He saw Crow eating a sandwich. He saw the Guards kicking in a door and killing a roomful of Outsiders. “I have TV now,” said Peter. Crow shrugged. “What are you watching?” “Those Guards,” Peter said. “And their guns?” “Cop show, huh? They get a little boring for me.” “I can’t make it go away,” Peter cried, “People are shooting and killing one another.” “Switch channels,” Crow said. Peter did not understand. “How?” Crow thought about the question. “What do you want to watch?” Crow asked. “I don’t know if there’s anything I want to watch. But I need to get these guns out of my mind.” Crow shrugged. “Then want something else. TV responds to what you want. Just want something and TV will give it to you.” Peter rubbed his eyes. He saw two vehicles collide and explode. “How do I want something that I don’t need?” Crow gently rubbed Peter’s bald head. “You know how you said that you needed to get the guns out of your head?” Peter nodded. “Now just want something else. Like want to see yourself on the Brain Show last night,” said Crow.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 105 And so Peter did. It took several minutes for him to learn to want something. But he did it. And he relived the Brain Show with the excitable little man. When it was done, he wanted it again, and it appeared. Then he wanted to see news footage of himself, the Outsider. He saw people on the street saying Peter should stay. He saw scientists discussing how he could have come to be and why he had such strange feet. And he saw Crow offering him a bottle a Winatol. “Crow,” said Peter. “Why did I just see you offer me Winatol?” “I’m the spokesmodel.” “I know. I mean to say that I didn’t ‘want’ to see that—“ “It’s a commercial, that’s all. It’s how they bring TV to us. You see it, buy it, and the world works.” Peter then asked about the commercial in which he appeared, the one for the vehicle called a Wizara. Crow explained that the vehicle people were capitalizing on Peter’s fame, which was quite immense, so they made Peter their spokesmodel. “But I see myself in this vehicle, but I’ve never been in one.” “Oh, they don’t need you personally,” Crow said, “just your image. That’s all they need. With that they can do anything. Hell, they took mine for the Winatol campaign. I’ve made bank – of course, it was my idea.” “They never spoke to me about it.” “They’ll send you money. They gave this place to live. Fuck, you’re a golden boy. Your life’s made.” Crow said he had to return to work.

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The Big Good Bye
An ending is not always a conclusion. Endings can, of course, be very sudden. An asteroid strikes the world and boom! It’s over no matter what storylines and narrative threads are left dangling awaiting a resolution. But people like to think in complete, modular units. When they see something flung into the sky, they like to see it fall back down. Every single time. Leave something suspended in the air, and though a miracle it would be, it would also have a certain aura of incompleteness. It has to come down. There has to be a conclusion. Unfortunately, reality isn’t usually accommodating to people’s need for an ending to be a conclusion. Usually it’s just an ending. The world, on its own, produces few stories. It’s a poorly planned drama. It’s a poor plan. So, when a civilization finally collapses (as they all do), it’s usually not much a story in itself. It can be made into one, but only because that’s the way people want it.

For the next period of his life, Peter became immensely wealthy and universally famous. His image inhabited the minds of the entire City. People everywhere proclaimed the power of the Wizard. It was, after all, the same power that fueled WonderSlap’s new WIZO-Slap technology, the technology revolutionizing life (Crow designed the ad campaign). I came here to sweep away

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 107 the old, he told the people, and to usher in a whole new era. Lightning emanated from his fingers as he proclaimed the WIZO-Slap 2 Billion to be the portal to a new world. Yet, while his fame grew and his wealth accumulated, Peter never left his home. He stared out his window from sunrise to sunset and through the night and tried to block the images and sounds from invading his head. He detested TV. He hated wanting. He mediated. He recited the alphabet. He counted. He tried strings into knots and untied them. He was suffering again. During this period, Peter’s sole visitor was Crow. Poor Crow would sporadically knock at the door and stumble in, each time the rings beneath his eyes were a deeper shade of purple and the white parts of his eyes were redder. He complained constantly of the programs he saw at night. “Do you see them? Do you?” he asked one afternoon. He tore the lid off a Winatol Extra Strength bottle and downed several pills without water. “These fucking shows,” he said with his hands in his hair, “They’re starting to show them in the daytime.” He grabbed Peter by the sleeves, his eyes blazing wild, he said, “Do you see them, too? Have you seen them?” He described one program in which vehicles descended from the sky and unloaded aliens. The aliens commenced to declare war on the world and indiscriminately killed and destroyed anything they came upon. And then they forced the survivors to work for them. And then there was the fire show. A great wall of fire appeared on the other side of the world and swept across the land and the sea until it approached the City. All the people lined up on the Wall expecting it to protect them, but instead, the fire melted the Wall and liquid gold flooded the streets and surged over the people and toppled the buildings. And then there was the one in which the birds that lived in the tree changed from white to black and became the most intelligent beings in the world and little by little people realized that the black birds perched in the tree controlled everything in the City

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 108 and beyond, and when they realized it, they went to war with the birds, but there were billions of them. But the most disturbing show had no beginning and no end. It was simply the approach of a magnificent ancient beast as it charged through the City streets sweeping the people out of its way. Crow never saw the beast, though, because the view came solely from right above the beast, as though the viewer were riding it. The sounds were of the beast breathing and the people screaming as it charged through them. Until it found him, Crow. Then it reeled upwards and screamed and attacked Crow, shattering him and pounding his remains into the ground. “Who the fuck makes this shit?” yelled Crow pale, sweating and trembling. “They’re not even fucking running commercials.” “Are you sure it’s TV?” asked Peter. “What the fuck else would it be?” yelled Crow stumbling out the doorway and slamming the door shut.

Poor Crow? You might ask. Why Crow was the richest, most successful man in the City of Gold. And the most famous, too, with the possible exception of his friend the Wizard. What could be wrong with Crow? As Peter saw, the TV showed him often roaming the streets clutching his head and babbling about aliens and fire and a mighty monster approaching the City from outside. The residents at first looked upon this as the behavior of a genius at work (for everyone knew that despite the advertising campaign, WonderSlap was having a struggle getting the WIZO-Slap 2 Billion up and running). Ages before these events (given what would happen shortly), people would have looked at Crow’s mad rantings not as evidence of a man in total breakdown, but as a clear warning of the upcoming calamity. In stories, the future often hints at what it has in store. In reality, it never does. It can’t. The future doesn’t exist.

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The last time Crow visited Peter, Crow had a gun that he casually twirled around his finger. He described the shows again and told Peter that they were the only channels he got now. It was all he could see. “I talked to my therapist about it. It’s not TV. It’s a dream,” he said. “Is that bad?” said Peter. “What do you think? Wizard,” said Crow sarcastically. “I am not a wizard,” said Peter, “What do I think? I think I’ve lost all capacity for thinking. No one thinks here. They just compare things and call it thinking. That’s why they can’t help you. There’s nothing to compare you to.” “That’s fascinating. Maybe you should be my therapist.” “I don’t know what your problem is, Crow,” said Peter, “But, the morning after I was on the Brain Show, before I had TV, I was in here lying in bed and I saw fields of grass rushing towards me like I was running through it, but it was different. It wasn’t TV. It was like something I saw before I came here. It came from inside me. It was a dream.” “Was it bad? I mean, you and me are the only dreamers around.” “I don’t know if it was bad. Or if it was good. I can’t make judgments like that anymore.” Crow casually pointed the gun at Peter. He tapped the barrel against his palm. And then shook his head. He got up and walked out the door.

Shortly after Crow left Peter’s apartment, the world ended. At least as they knew it. Again, since these two events (Crow’s inconclusive talk with Peter and the end of the world) happened close to one another timewise, and since this is a story, people may see a connection between Crow,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 110 Peter, and the end of the world. They couldn’t have simply happened independently of one another. Especially at the story’s end. Several hours after leaving Peter’s apartment, Crow appeared on TV. Crow—Mad scientist? Evil genius? You Decide! Crow, one time great mind of a generation, now a former marketing guru wanted for going on an office rampage. These are the details as we have them right now! Live! Up to the minute! At about nine this morning, Crow, reputed by some to be the most intelligent man in the world, left work unexpectedly complaining of a headache. From there no one is sure where he went. But, what is sure is that around noontime, Crow returned to the WonderSlap headquarters with a contraband gun and went on a shooting rampage. Early reports indicate that the sole casualty may have been his therapist, but other estimates put the death toll at a much higher number! Since firing his weapon, he has exited the building and is now, currently, this very second running through the streets! Peter saw Crow, a gun dangling in his hands, running, wearing his black coat and yellow boots, and a hundred helmeted Guards chasing him, blasting away with SafetyGuns that did nothing but make noise and excite the crowd that lined the streets to watch the pursuit. Vehicles sped overhead. Lights blazed down on Crow. Peter watched Crow run. He saw himself talking to the newspeople about Crow’s precipitous decline and how he, the Wizard, had tried to save him. Peter saw Crow flee into the park and run into the tree, shattering the glass box around it and setting the birds free. He staggered backwards in a daze and then stumbled forwards, his hands groping the tree and lifting him into its branches, where bleeding and crying, Crow’s head slumped, his body went lax. The Guards surrounded the tree and the crowd surrounded the Guards.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 111 At that moment, Peter felt another presence in the world. He felt the need to climb, and with Crow in his mind and Crow in the branches of the tree, Peter, for the first time since entering it, left his home. He entered the elevator and rose to the top floor of the tower. He then approached a door and unlocked it with a tap and climbed stairs until he found another door, which he also unlocked. He was on the roof, clouds whistling by. He sat down, his feet dangling over the edge. He looked to the wall—it was just high enough to cover the horizon. He saw Crow in the tree. The Guards were putting bullets in their guns. The birds flew into the sky. Peter felt the other presence approaching. He looked to the sun, and seeing it, he sucked in a breath of pale, cold air. A magnificent nose hung from the sun. It swung elegantly. Peter watched it and swayed with it. The Guards raised their guns and the crowd inhaled, their hands clenched and their eyes opened wide. The sun’s nose arched suddenly, and then, it unfurled like a whip and flung a mighty blast of sound to center of the City. Windows exploded. Glass fell like frozen rain. The sound hurled the Guards and people to the ground. It shattered the sidewalks and stripped the leaves from the tree. The birds vanished, except one which struggled against the wind. Peter looked down at it, saw it lose its feathers and finally fall from the sky. The sound cleared the City of all other noise. The sun’s nose swung from side to side. Slowly the people stood up, trembling and crying and screaming at the Guards to do something, to shoot Crow. They said it must be his fault. But before the Guards could act, a vehicle, saucer shaped, passed over Peter’s head. It dove into the City and scattered the people in terror. It hovered above the tree. A hand reached out and brought Crow into the ship, which then sped into the sky. It vanished for twenty minutes, and then it came back down and landed on three legs. A door rolled open and a plank lowered to the ground. An alien walked out onto the plank. Peter saw the experts discussing the possibility of life outside the world. Some called the alien a hoax. Others said it represented a

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 112 new age. Some said it would destroy everything. Others said it would share its technology and generate tremendous wealth. The alien stood on the gangway. Crow stood behind it, dazed and smiling and waving. The alien spoke about neutrinos. Then Peter saw it speak about its favorite beverage. Then the sun let forth another blast of sound and knocked Crow and the alien from the gangway. The experts said the alien had come to lay waste to all. The Guards were called out. Crow and the alien scrambled up the gangway, but a third blast from the sun sent them back to the ground. The sun followed quickly with a fourth blast and the entire crowd lay on the ground. This time Crow and the alien managed to enter the ship before the next torrent of the sound pummeled the City. When the people and the Guards stood up, they focused their attention not on the ship or the alien, but on the crack that appeared in the Wall. Peter saw the crack close up! Live! Late breaking! Instantly! Officials from SaFEcO assured the City that the Wall could not fall. In fact it had been formulated to heal. Experts accused the alien. Others accused the Outsiders—they had defaced the Wall long ago, now they wanted to destroy it. The next blast from the sun widened the crack, spawned several others and knocked bricks from the Wall that fell and exploded into the ground. The final blast brought down a portion of the Wall. The alien’s ship left the ground and sped into the sky.

The sun’s nose fell limp and then shrank and receded into the sun. New lights filled the sky, little white lights that grew brighter and bigger. The people and the Guards stood up and surveyed the crumbled wall. Some said it would rise again. Some said the sun would destroy the world. But the sun did nothing. The people saw the lights in the sky. They stood transfixed, even the

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 113 Guards. Still the people and the Guards looked up. No one said anything. TV simply showed the lights approaching. A cry rose from the ground and the former inhabitants of the City flooded over the rubble of the Wall. They stormed through the streets and attacked the city people with their bare hands, twisting their heads around, biting their necks, breaking their limbs, snapping their backs, tearing the flesh from their bones. Some people resisted, others never stopped looking at the sky, even their severed heads tumbling to the ground and looking up. The Guards fired indiscriminately, but to no avail. The lights in the sky grew brighter and more numerous. Below, fire erupted and the streets ran red. And smoke and fire and the people from outside chipping jewels from the buildings and grinding then into the faces of the city people and then one another. Peter saw the first one land, a winged beast built like a man and holding a sword and glowing white. It slashed at a tower, sent its top half to the streets. Others identical to it landed within and without the City, the world trembling and the people, all of them, screaming and crying at the sky. The angels, their eyes rolling back, slaughtered the people, slicing them and crushing them, picking them up from the ground and throwing them against buildings or holding them above a fire and watching them spastic in the flame and laughing at them until they shriveled. The angels changed their sizes, shrinking to the height of child; they would hide and then surprise a terrified person, swarm over it and tear its flesh from its bones. Or a single angel would thrust its head into a person’s belly and devour its entrails until the person was a shell. Peter saw himself sitting on the building. Frantic voices accused him, the Wizard, of unleashing this fate upon the City of Gold. Others said he was the only hope. Others said that they had betrayed him. He saw himself with lightning shooting from his fingers and burning the people below. He saw himself with a ship like the alien’s loading onto it the beautiful people and

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 114 sailing into the sky. He saw himself grow to a thousand times his size until the angels came up only to his knees and he could kill them with ease. And then he saw a million more like him emerge from the City sewer and fire special guns that wounded only the angels. Finally he saw himself swallow two Winatol tablets and then take to the sky. Though he remained his original size, he battled the angels with his fists and moved with great speed and fought with great strength. And then he saw nothing else. TV went blank. He looked below his feet and saw the angels and the world in flame and smoke. The sun was a red disk on the horizon and the moon a golden one.

It should be done now. The world’s ended. Why should a story continue? Isn’t the image of the sun and moon not enough of a conclusion? Compared to them, what more can anyone say? And yet, the story continues briefly. Here’s what happened to Peter: And though he could hear nothing but the destruction and slaughter below, Peter felt someone calling him and a compulsion to go. He stood up and leaped from the tower, descending gracefully until he landed on his feet surrounded by smoke and remains. He wandered amid the chaos. He heard something repeated like a forgotten name. And then, standing in an unknown street surrounded by the dying and the crying and the blades slashing and the flames, Peter saw that woman, naked but for her jewels, motioning to him, saying something he could not understand though he could hear her perfectly. He pushed his way through the crowd and blood, never taking his eyes off of her, but never understanding the word she repeated. He ran to her. He called to her. But he could never get close to her. She stood motionless, but the faster he ran, the further away he was. Finally he stopped, and she, too, vanished.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 115 One of the angels stepped in front of Peter. It reached only to his navel. Then it grew to the size of a building and looked down at him with mad angry eyes. It raised its foot and brought it down on Peter, driving its leg into the ground up to its knee.

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The Wizard, Part Two: Blackbird

The Big O
So someone dies, and that’s an ending. Life has a clear beginning – at one moment you weren’t, and then you were. Other people can tell you that: ‘I remember before you were born…’ But they can’t remark to you: ‘I remember after you died…’ That’s because you’ve ended. Perhaps by your choice, but probably not; however, for you, the individual in question, death does not pose the weighty philosophical burdens of birth. Oh sure, while the individual is living he or she will wrestle with it, but once it comes, death slaps a cap on all debate and hand-wringing. You’ve

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 117 stopped working, even though, pound for pound, you’re still full of life; all those cells and all those little parasites residing in and on you, they’re doing fine. Your body’s as vibrant and lively as ever, it’s just not functioning as a system – it lacks that little marvel of organization we call the individual. That’s all. Life isn’t over. The individual is. Ah, but there’s the rub. What’s the use of the world without you? Despite the fact that everything in you will be reused by something else, it’s just not the same unless it’s working as that little system we call you. What’s to be done? Well, do what every society in human history has done – take the individual and put it somewhere else after death. Or, to put it more optimistically, after life. Draw upon the notion that explained your birth. Someone else put you here. That someone else had a plan. So, after you die that someone else will put you somewhere else. Marvelous. And that someone else can have another plan in this somewhere else. Or, better yet, it can be a continuation of The Plan. That way your time kicking around in this world will have ramifications on how you kick around in the other world, or more accurately, the next world. The Afterlife. Why death isn’t The End. It’s not even an end. It’s a new beginning. It’s a new birth.

The blackbird flew over the sea. It’s hazy shadow slid over the rolls and waves of the water, dipping into every troth, rising to every crest – and then diminishing and vanishing as the blackbird lifted itself into the grey sky. It flew towards the fire mountain. The mountain, surrounded by the sea, was erupting. It held aloft a pillar of ash that, though in constant flux, never seemed to move and looked as solid as stone as it rose into the sky and then, at its top, fanned out into a disc that cover the mountain and sea and made the light grey. The blackbird circled the pillar. The warm air flowing from the crater lifted it higher and

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 118 higher until the blackbird tilted its body to the left and launched upon a tangent away from the mountain, back over the sea, towards the shore. It swooped low over the waves and smelled the salty mist. It approached the shore, saw the boatman standing motionless in his robes and holding his staff, his boat gouged into the tar-soaked beach. A long line of naked souls waited to board. A flock of birds hovered above them. The blackbird flew over the beach and through the other birds. It flew towards a cliff that loomed over the shore and stared out toward the mountain and the sea. The blackbird lifted itself, ascended over the cliff. A plateau opened before it, a plateau bearing an immense orchard. The orchard stretched to the endless horizon, its trees all dead, leafless, burnt, black, knotted, and crumbling, but bearing fruit, dark wrinkled orbs that dangled at the end of branches. The blackbird traced a circle in the sky and then a half-circle. Facing the cliff’s edge and the open sea, the blackbird flourished its wings, raised its head, spread it tail feathers, and opened its talons. It landed on long crooked branch suspended over the cliff’s edge and peering over the beach, the boatman, and the waiting souls. The blackbird folded its wings, its feathers settle. The branch, with its new weight, traced a figure in the air, curving up to the right and the down and across and curving up to the left and down and across and curving to the right… The blackbird waited. To its left, in another tree, a stem gave way and a withered blackfruit thudded to the ground. Birds fell from the sky, leaped from branches, all of them, except the blackbird, diving at the fallen fruit, which lay on the ground twitching and rolling over. Shrieking, their wings extended and talons spread, the birds tore at one another, ripping feathers and slashing skin, biting and crying, until one bird, its wings draped over the fruit and blood on its beak, hissed at those remaining until they took to the sky or the empty branches. It then drew back its wings and exposed its prize. The fruit writhed and stretched. The bird picked

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 119 at it, tore strips of skin from it as it transformed, sprouted five little buds, four of which elongated, the fifth expanding round. Its color changed. It developed joints. A face. Eyes. Its legs kicked and it propped itself on its elbow and asked where it was. In reply, the bird buried its beak into its throat. Screamed at it. Scratched it. It stood up and tried to shield itself. Tried to run, its eyed wide and bulging, its limbs trembling, its new master tormenting from the sky until it found the path that led down to the beach and to the line waiting for boatman and the journey to the burning mountain. The branch moved up and down, left and right. Many fruit fell. Many souls traveled to the mountain. And then: Perched on its motionless branch, the blackbird turned its head from the sea and the fire mountain and looked to its left. Instantly, a fruit separated from its stem and dropped to the ground with a thump. The other birds launched upon it in a frenzy. The blackbird left its branch and descended into the center of the riot. Immediately, the others fell silent, folded their wings, and backed away. The blackbird approached the fruit, which had begun squirming and twisting upon itself. The blackbird stood over the orb and rotated in a full circle staring each of the others in the eye, the other birds each tumbling backwards at the moment of eye contact and then taking to the sky. After a single rotation none remained on the ground. The fruit bulged in the middle, sprouted stubby legs and arms and a hairless head. Its color bleached. The blackbird watched it without touching it as it grew and quickened and then lifted itself until it stood upon its toeless feet.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 120 Peter rubbed his eyes. His body was sore and his joints achy. The blackbird opened its wings and perched on Peter’s shoulder. He turned his head to the left and stared into the blackbird’s serene eyes. He saw his own face in there, a little white dot. Peter could recognize the bird as being a bird because he had seen birds before – on TV and in the park twittering in the branches of the City’s glass-encased tree. Of course, none of those birds had been blackbirds and he couldn’t remember specifically seeing blackbirds on TV, but the beak, the wings, the feathers – this was bird, and unlike all the other birds he had ever experienced, this one seemed real. Peter had an impulse to reach down and touch it to make sure, but he stopped himself – he didn’t have a clear enough picture of his surroundings yet to make a move so drastic as to touch something. All he had was bird on the ground. The ground around the blackbird was burnt grass. So he had a blackbird standing in a field of burnt grass. But, it wasn’t a field – Peter had jumped to that conclusion. He hadn’t even lifted his eyes, but based on the fact that he saw a blackbird standing on a patch of burnt grass, for a flashing instant Peter’s brain had constructed a world that contained nothing but an infinite expanse of burnt grass on which stood Peter and the blackbird. But, just as quickly, Peter’s brain discounted this image of the world as unlikely – too simple. Peter’s life up to this point had led him to the conclusion that nothing’s simple. As much as we crave order, it’s impossible to find other than in little nuggets here and there. Overarching order, though, order with a big “O” (Order), that’s our ultimate prize. But, it’s not a treasure that we can dig up or pan from a stream. So we make it for ourselves. Automatically. Peter lifted his head and saw trees – all dead, leafless, black, knotted, and crumbling. And all in rows, whether he looked to the side or straight ahead. An orchard. Again, this was

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 121 something that Peter had collected off of TV – a grouping of similar trees planted in a rational fashion is an orchard. Even if trees all appear to be dead. Then it’s a dead orchard (not that anyone ever told Peter that dead trees equal a dead orchard or that orchards could actually be considered dead, but it was an easy conclusion for his brain to make). The rows of trees stretched into the distance. So Peter stood in front of a blackbird in the midst of a large, dead orchard. Again, the model that Peter’s brain was building of its surroundings didn’t seem complete. So, to verify whether or not he was indeed in the midst of a large, dead orchard, Peter’s turned around. A cliff. The ground a few yards behind him gave way at an abrupt edge. Peter had stood on a cliff before. He was standing a few yards from the edge of a plateau on which there was a large, dead orchard and a blackbird. However, Peter quickly realized that there wasn’t only one blackbird – the sky was full of them. He turned back around and faced the bird standing on the ground, and he couldn’t believe how many blackbirds he saw. They perched on branches. Lingered in the sky. Had they all been still before? Had they been hiding? He wondered. Unlikely. His brain had focused on the trees and hadn’t noticed the birds. Or the sky. Up to this point, Peter knew that there was a sky (an easy assumption to make), but his brain hadn’t noticed anything about it. Now it did. The sky was lead gray and solid with clouds that hung high above the ground like a ceiling. There was no haze in the air, only gray light that filtered through the clouds. Peter turned around and faced the edge of the cliff. He looked beyond the edge, and he could see water. An ocean. Waves undulating up and down and momentary crests of white. And

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 122 a volcano. A mountain jutted out of the ocean and held aloft a pillar of ash that looked as though it were made of stone and that rose high into the sky and fanned out over the ocean and over the orchard and was the reason that the sky was gray and thick. And the low, subtle roar that Peter had been hearing (or that he suddenly realized that he had been hearing) was the sound of the ocean surf. There was no wind. The blackbirds squawked and fluttered, but the low roar of the ocean was constant, and since he could hear it, Peter felt that the cliff on which he stood must be low enough that the sound of the ocean did not dissipate before it could reach him, yet, given the relative smallness of the volcano and the great expanse of water that he could see, Peter decided that the cliff must still be rather high. The notion of the cliff being “rather high” was a product of Peter’s judgement. Though he had never (according to memory) pondered the height of cliffs in any serious sense, nor had he ever before studied the reliability of using the sound of surf as a standard by which to measure height (he had also never seen an ocean except on TV), Peter’s brain had in the past, without his knowledge, collected enough facts (or what it considered facts) to allow it, in an instant, to measure the height of the cliff it perceived according to the strength of the sound it received, the distance to which it could see, and the relative height of a volcano (something else it knew only because of TV) and to conclude (and communicate to Peter) that the fact that it could hear the surf placed a limit on the height of the cliff, yet, the faintness of the sound coupled with the visual data involving how much of the ocean could be seen and the height of the volcano, meant that the cliff was high enough to be considered a cliff and not just a bank or a mound with an abrupt edge. So, he was standing by a blackbird in a large, dead orchard filled with other blackbirds and under a gray, cloudy sky and by the edge of a cliff that looked out upon a not-to-distant

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 123 volcano that rose from an ocean and that was spewing the very clouds of ash that filled the sky and made everything gray. Cliffs, Peter’s brain knew, had a top and a bottom. Or, more accurately, cliffs rose from a lower surface to a higher surface, and the easiest way to see the lower surface was to look over the edge of the cliff (though it is advisable to be careful when doing so). So, gingerly, Peter stepped forward to the edge and peered over it. The resulting visual data confirmed that the cliff was definitely rather high. And also, that it did not rise directly out of the ocean. There was a small strip of sand down there. And what looked to be a boat. And a line of people waiting to board the boat. And the line looked to be long – too long for everyone to board the boat at once. Peter stepped back from the edge of the cliff. He could no longer see the beach down below. The major fact that Peter took away from looking over the edge was that he was not alone in a world of dead trees and blackbirds. There were other people. At once, this was a comfort and a sign of trouble. Having gathered a few rudimentary observations about his location, Peter’s brain struggled to build a mental model of this strange, new world. It had the cliff, and the ocean, and the volcano, clouds, beach, boat, people, orchard and the blackbirds – his brain could arrange all of that into something that had some logic to it, but it faced a crucial (though not unfamiliar) dilemma – it could not fit Peter into this world. For someone who could remember his conception in graphic detail, Peter was lost and disturbed because he had no idea how he came to be in this present world. And unlike the assessment of the height of the cliff, Peter’s brain could not conjure up any conclusions based on previously known facts – it only held the memory of the City in ruins and the angel and its foot coming down. How that led to here, his brain had no idea. And how long ago it had been since all that had happened was also a mystery. The destruction of

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 124 the City felt like the recent past – as in a few weeks, a few months, but more than a few hours or days. There was an interval between then and now, but as for what filled that interval, Peter simply didn't know. A short distance from him, Peter heard a thud. He turned to it and saw that something had fallen from a nearby tree. The blackbird spread its wings and perched on Peter’s shoulder. Peter remembered something else about orchards – the trees in them tend to grow fruit (though, normally not when they are dead). He glanced at the trees near him and noticed that at the tips of their branches, they held little, black, wrinkled orbs. Dead fruit on dead trees. He looked back at the fruit that had just fallen. He wasn’t alone in noticing it. Birds fell from the sky, leaped from branches, all of them, except the blackbird perched on his shoulder, diving at the fallen fruit, which lay on the ground twitching and rolling over. Shrieking, their wings extended and talons spread, the birds tore at one another, ripping feathers and slashing skin, biting and crying, until one bird, its wings draped over the fruit and blood on its beak, hissed at those remaining until they took to the sky or the empty branches. It then drew back its wings and exposed its prize. The fruit writhed and stretched. The bird picked at it, tore strips of skin from it as it transformed, sprouted five little buds, four of which elongated, the fifth expanding round. It developed joints. A face. Eyes. Its legs kicked, and it propped itself on its elbow and asked where it was. In reply, the bird screamed at it. Scratched it. The person stood up and tried to shield itself, tried to run, its eyes wide and bulging, its limbs trembling, its new master tormenting it from the sky. It ran to Peter, grabbed his shoulders and pleaded, “Help me. Where are we? Why is this happening?” But the bird continued to dive at the poor soul, scratching it, and urging it to move.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 125 Peter said nothing as it fled and the bird chased it. Peter watched and realized that the blackbird wasn’t simply torturing the soul – it was directing the person towards something Peter had not noticed before – a trailhead. Once the soul stepped on the path, the bird stayed behind it, still diving at it, but only to herd it along the path. Soon the path turned to the right and descended, and Peter could no longer see the soul or the bird. Then he heard another fruit fall and the same thing happened again. Peter now knew how he had arrived in the orchard – he must have fallen from a tree and been claimed by the blackbird that perched on his shoulder. Also, he knew what he was supposed to do – head down the path. For most people, knowing what they are supposed to do is more important than know why they are. Since he had seen the line of people on the beach at the foot of the cliff, Peter surmised that the path lead down the cliff to the beach. To confirm this, he approached the edge of the cliff. He could see the beach, but no path. Carefully, he dropped to his hands and knees (the blackbird jumped to the ground) and then dropped to his belly and poked his head over the cliff. Now he could see the trail, a series of switchbacks that zigzagged down the cliff and ended at the beach. Souls staggered down the path, each with a blackbird cruelly prodding it on. Peter now knew himself to be in a dead orchard, situated on a plateau, in which dark withered fruit fell from the trees and became people, each of whom was tended to by a blackbird which harassed the poor soul until it found a path that lead down a cliff to a beach on which waited a boat into which the people boarded – obviously for a sea voyage that brought them to the erupting volcano projecting from the waves or to some unseeable destination beyond the horizon. Peter had his part to play – he was a person, he had fallen from a tree (he assumed) so he must be expected (by someone) to walk down to the beach and board the boat. However, the

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 126 blackbird tending to Peter refrained from the aggressive methods of the other birds, and, as an explanation for its leniency, Peter had nothing. But, Peter did have a reality – a model of the world into which he fit. He had no understanding of why he was there in that orchard or why his blackbird was so considerate, but he really didn’t need those understandings. His brain had found some patterns and arranged them into a larger pattern that explained the past and offered options for the future. He had order.

But then: Crisp black shadows pointing towards the sea unfurled and fluttered beneath everything. Orangy light splashed over all of the unshadowed ground. A fireball blazed in the sky, low beneath the layer of ash. Successively, the shadows shrank and vanished and unfurled in the opposite direction and stretched into the distance as the fireball roared over the orchard. It passed over Peter’s head and he could feel the heat on his scalp and he stepped back and his eyes followed it as he spun around and saw it blaze over the beach and sea and finally, arched downward and into the crater of the burning mountain, the orange light and shadows suddenly gone, and so too the sound. In tracking the fireball through the sky, Peter had followed it more than he had planned. As it passed over the cliff, so did Peter. He didn’t tumble end-over-end – he remained facing down, his arms outstretched, and though at that very moment, he considered this an end, he remained alert and he saw the people in line at the beach, the sooty black sand, and the boatman (whom he hadn’t noticed before) – the figure standing next to the boat and wearing a dark robe with a hood. As everyone else stared at the fireball as it crashed into the volcano, the boatman, staff in hand, watched Peter fall. The boatman had a skull for a face.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 127 Peter landed face down with a whomp. The sand smelled like tar. He lifted his head. The blackbird was staring at him – eye-to-eye – and shaking its head. Realizing himself to be conscious and in no pain, Peter stood up and marveled at what he saw – he had left no impression in the sand. The others, the people and birds and the boatman were looking at him. Peter made to casually brush the sand off himself, but there was no sand on him. The line was long and the boat was full, passengers crammed on it. Peter nodded to everyone and began walking to the back of the line. And just as he was noting that he made no footprints, the boatman’s staff pressed lightly against his shoulder. Peter turned around, and instead of walking away from the boat and to the end of the line, he walked away from the end of the line and to the boat. The boatman lifted him up and put him in the stern. With that, the boatman boarded and stood at the bow. He touched his staff to the sand, and at once, the immense craft lurched forward as though it had awakened. It moved by its own power through the sand and into the water, leaving a long line of people on the beach awaiting its return. Once upon the sea, the boat lumbered over the surf, falling into every troth, rising with every crest. The passengers clung to one another and shrieked as the birds tormented them from above and the sea hissed at them and spattered them with water and foam.

The boat split a wave and the passengers, except Peter, covered their eyes. The birds, one per passenger, hovered above the boat, occasionally dropping from above and nipping at the passengers. The bone-faced boatman did nothing. He stood with his back to them and held his staff, which he swiped through the water, though, as Peter observed, the boat moved under its own power and direction. The fire mountain rumbled. Ash hung in the air, and, mixed with the sea water that splashed them, it coated the passengers in a thin layer of mud.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 128 A passenger gripped Peter’s arm. “I know you,” he whispered, “You’re the Wizard. I saw you on TV. You can save us.” Peter pulled his arm free. “I am not a wizard. I can’t do anything.” “You can!” cried the soul, “You can! You—” The birds descended upon the man. He howled and screamed for Peter to save him. The blackbird rested on Peter’s head. Then it took to the sky and flew to the mountain. Peter remembered his previous life. He remembered the destruction of the City and the angels that had descended upon it and his own death and feeling himself burst. He thought of his birth and his father and mother and his first morning after he had cleaned himself and seen himself in the mirror and then walked into the night and stared into the stars and wondered why he had been born. Now he wondered why he had died. The boat traveled around the fire mountain, the shore disappearing from the passengers’ view, and then nestled itself against the rocky mountain. The birds harassed the souls until they disembarked upon a narrow landing chiseled into the stone. As the last passenger (Peter) stepped off the craft, the boatman and the boat backed away from the landing and vanished around the mountain. The birds herded the people single file along a path thinner than a foot’s width and dotted with sharp stones that dug into heels and toes. Gobs of melted rock assaulted the people from above and hissed in the sea water. The path led them to a wide open-mouth cave. In the center stood a podium and a large monster with razor-gold teeth, green and white scales, red robes, two sockets but no eyes, and a gavel in its hand. Next to it stood a little beast with one googly eye, two feet, no arms and a

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 129 dreamy drippy smile on its lips. The rear of the cave vanished into black. The people stood in a line before it. Peter was the last. The blackbird emerged from the cave. It rested on Peter’s head.

Peter stood at the end of a single-file line. The birds lingered in the air, except the blackbird, which waited patiently on Peter’s head. The razor-gold toothed monster stretched forth an arm and curled index finger, the nail cutting through the air like a scythe. Its thin lips drew back, and a low laugh rumbled in its chest. Its eyebrows raise and the gray light settled upon the glistening rims of the empty sockets. A bird screeched out of the sky and with talons slashing ushered forth the first person in line, the one that had recognized Peter. It trembled before the podium. The razor-gold straightened itself, adjusted its robes, and titled its head. It raised the gavel, and like a hammer upon stone, brought it down on head of the little beast without any arms, which then giggled, tooted, and geysered blood from its ears, its one eye bobbing up and down with every blow and then rotating completely after the final strike, the blood slowing to a trickle. Each drop fell on the ground like a bead. The razor-gold placed the gavel on the podium and leaned forward, as though it could see. Its tongue slid across the edges of its upper teeth. It spoke in a whisper; it asked the person’s name, sucked in a chestful of air, and then howled at the poor soul, baring its full mouth of teeth and causing the man to deflate, his shoulders to drop and hands to fall to his sides. The razor-gold launched upon a diatribe centering around the soul’s former life. Its hands slashed through the air, it looked to the sky, it looked to the ground, tears spurted from its sockets as it pleaded for an explanation as to why this soul had so wasted its time, had so engaged in deceit, debauchery, lewdness, disobedience, cowardice, and betrayal. It pounded its fists on the podium, tore its robes, wept aloud, screaming at the soul for an answer

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 130 for which it never allotted the soul a moment. With both hands, the razor-gold raised the gavel above its head and with the full downward thrust of its entire body, it caved in the head of the little googly-eye demon and left the shell of its body teetering, tottering, and finally falling over and spilling blood like a bucket. The razor-gold flung the gavel away from itself, and in hoarse exhausted voice condemned the soul to an eternity in the belly of fire mountain. Immediately, from the darkness behind the podium emerged a figure walking upright, draped in black, with black boots and gloves, and a black helmet. The figure stood next to the soul, and without a word or any acknowledgement, the razor-gold, its head resting in one hand, pointed with its other hand to the dark cave from which the figure had emerged and which led into the fire mountain. The figure clasped the man by the throat, and together they marched into the dark. When the soul vanished, its bird flew into the sky back towards the shore. The razor-gold stood at the podium perfectly composed, its robes in order, its gavel in hand. The googly-eye stood next to it in-tact and whistling and humming and waiting for the next person. Peter saw all the others so condemned. And he thought about judgment. He thought of his father. He hadn’t much respect for his father’s intellectual capabilities, but the truth of the matter was that his father also had a reality (a mental model of the world) into which things fit or did not fit. Sometimes, Peter supposed, that his father changed his own reality so that it conformed to something new – but that was probably rare. Peter’s father hadn’t been given to much reflection and re-evaluation. Most likely, if something new didn’t fit into his reality, Peter’s father forced it to or destroyed it in the process. That’s how he had treated Peter. “That’s called judgement,” Peter said to himself, “deciding if something fits into your reality. And if you try to force it to fit, that’s called punishment.” Judgement and punishment were words he had heard but had never really needed in the City.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 131 But, he realized, he had used them both on his father. And now it seemed to be his turn to experience them.

Peter stood before the podium, the blackbird perched on his head. The razor-gold (as was customary, Peter realized) assaulted its armless minion violently, and then breathless, laid the gavel on the podium, stringy red ooze hanging from it. “Tell me your name,” it commanded. “I am Peter.” “Peter Who?” “What?” “Peter Who?” Its nails ground into the podium. “I have no other name, only Peter.” The sockets narrowed and a growl echoed from its throat. “Don’t play wise with me little one,” the razor-gold warned, “You are in trouble enough, but we can always accommodate an unhelpful attitude with a little extra effort.” It laughed to itself. “Keep in mind where you are.” “Actually,” Peter replied, “I have no idea where I am and would appreciate it if you would tell me.” The razor-gold’s mouth hung open. Its companion screeched and trembled. A dark sharp finger reached out from the podium, curled around Peter’s neck, and brought Peter’s face close the razor-gold teeth. Its breath smelled like metal. The blackbird remained on Peter’s head. “You are in Hell.” The finger uncurled and receded behind the podium. The razor-gold stood erect and smiled down at Peter.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 132 “‘Hell,’” said Peter as though pronouncing the word for the first time. “Well, maybe you can tell me why I am in this place called ‘Hell.’” The razor-gold scoffed. “Why do you think?” “I didn’t ask for a question,” Peter asserted, “I’m looking for an explanation. If you’re unable to provide one, then kindly advise me as to where I can find one.” For a moment, the razor-gold looked around as if it had lost something, and then picking up the gavel (as though that was what it was looking for) it turned to its companion and struck it once, and then, feeling its rhythm return, its struck the googly-eye again and again and again and finally slammed the gavel back down on the podium, it’s composure regained. “You,” it shouted at Peter, “are damned.” “That doesn’t help me,” Peter retorted, “‘Damned?’ I don’t know ‘damned.’ What is this ‘damned?’” Claws gouged the podium. The razor-gold thrust forward until its teeth loomed over Peter. “It means,” it said with a strained voice, “that you will suffer for all eternity in recompense for all the evil you have done.” Peter looked up into the mouth. “The what? Evil?” he said, “This terminology means nothing to me.” “Your bad actions!” the mouth blared, showering Peter with spit, “The things you did that were wrong. Transgressions. Disobediences. Wrongs. Failings!” “And you’re the judge, I take it?” “Yes, I’m the judge.” “What criteria do you have? This all seems a little arbitrary to me. I mean, why aren’t I the one sitting up there judging you?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 133 “Because that wouldn’t make any sense. How can you judge me?” “I might put that question to you.” “Yea, you might, and I might tell you that I can judge you because I’m the one with the gavel and the dark-robed guys on my side and you’re the one standing there naked with a bird on your head!” “Oh well, if it’s all founded on bedrock logic like that–” “Look, you should of thought of this before. You’re the one who went on to live a life of evil.” Peter put his hands on his hips. “What is all that nonsense?” he demanded. “When did I do this?” “In your other life.” “In my other life,” he said, “Well, let me tell you something. My quote-unquote ‘other life’ was absolutely nothing of my doing, and had I been consulted in any manner beforehand, it would have been quite different. If you’ve got in your head that—” “Enough!” the razor-gold screamed, its body shooting upright and inflating to twice its size. “For your other life, little one, you will suffer for all eternity.” “And what does that accomplish?” The razor-gold quivered. Without the aid of the gavel, it hammered the googly-eye into a porridge of red and goo. All the while Peter demanded to know who had conceived this idea of eternal punishment, why this someone had devoted so much time and effort to such a ludicrous and unproductive endeavor, and how he (Peter) could get a hold of this someone else. Its companion nothing more than a mess of red, the razor-gold reached up for the gavel, drew it back, and made to strike Peter with all the weight and force it had ever mustered.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 134 The blackbird, still perched on Peter, moved its head from side to side. Then, as Peter continued his discourse, the blackbird leapt to the podium, stood before the exasperated razorgold. And though it had no eyes, the razor-gold emitted a knowing sigh. The blackbird returned to Peter’s head, which was still talking, but stopped when the razor-gold held forth its open palm and demanded silence. “Enough,” it groaned. “Will you just shut-up?” Peter’s lips tightened. “You,” the razor-gold continued, “are at once condemned to the darkest pit of Hell.” It pointed to the black mouth of the cave and waited for a black-robed figure to emerge and conduct Peter to his fate. An uneasy silence. No figure emerged from the cave. The razor-gold sighed and let his arm drop. Another boatload of souls pulled up to the landing. The razor-gold sighed again, this time louder. He called out with vigor: “He is condemned to the darkest pit of Hell!” Again nothing happened. Peter looked up and the razor-gold looked down at him shaking its head and muttering to itself, the only audible word being: Damnation. Exhaustedly, it turned its attention to the cave and made ready to call out once more, but before the words left its lips, the blackbird flew into the cave. A few moments later, a black-robed figure stepped out of the cave, turned its palms to the sky and shrugged its shoulders. The blackbird followed it. The razor-gold pointed at Peter and growled. Its head cast downward, the black-robe shrugged its shoulders again, stepped over to Peter and took him by the neck. It glanced at the razor-gold as though to make an explanation, but the razor-gold angrily put a finger to its own lips and then, with a thumb, pointed to the cave. Peter and his guardian walked through the puddle that had been the googlyeye and slipped out of the gray light and into the dark. The blackbird followed them.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 135

The rule of two
Is the world really as simple as order vs. chaos, good vs. evil? The simple mind says yes and considers itself to be that much more a champion of order. But simple minds ignore the problem of plurality. They believe only in a single order (since they see only one chaos). But chaos is collective – it consumes everything (what’s one more event or thing to chaos?). Chaos can never be plural. Order is selective – it excludes whatever doesn’t fit in. By excluding, order leaves an awful lot of raw material in the world that can then be arranged into a new brand of order. This is the primary curse upon humankind – two ways of seeing the same thing. Multiple realities (even though they are contained inside people’s heads) never lead to peace and bliss. Especially not for Peter at that moment. He had never argued with anyone. Never raised his voice – not even to his father. Had it not been for weariness on the part of the judge, and the fact that the judge did have black-robed guys on his side, Peter would still be fighting him, and exasperated that the judge couldn’t see simple reality just as Peter did. As the pale light from the entrance way faded to nothing, an equally weak but orange light replaced it, this light emanated from smokeless burning torches evenly placed along both the left and right walls of the tunnel through which Peter and his new guardian passed. The walls were rock, like the fire-mountain, and curved upward towards each other to form an arch. The hall stretched to the vanishing point. The torches were human. And alive. Naked. Their scalps burned and iron rusty nails pounded through their chests held them in place. Their ribs showed, and the holes in their chests oozed. Their limbs hung lifeless and defeated, but their heads lolled from side to side, each wall in

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 136 unison, but opposite of the other wall so that when the heads of one side pointed in the direction that Peter walked, the heads on the other side pointed the other way. The black-robe looked around, and seeing that they were alone (except for the torches), it stopped. And so did Peter. They faced one another. Peter could see his naked reflection in the curve of the black-robe’s face mask. Without their footsteps, the tunnel was silent. The blackrobe looked around once more and then lifted its helmet. Peter’s naked reflection warped as the helmet came off. The blackbird appeared between them. It looked at Peter and tilted its head. “Crow,” said Peter. “Peter,” said Crow.

Crow smiled broadly, dropping the helmet to the ground. His hair pointed in all directions and his eyes sparkled. He threw his arms around Peter, snorted a couple of times, released him, stepped back and gazed upon his friend with tear-glistening eyes, and, unable to help himself, he hugged Peter once more. Tears ran down his cheeks. “Ah, Peter,” he said, “It’s been one mother of a day.” Peter patted him on the back and, gently, nudged Crow away. Crow stepped back and wiped his running nose on his sleeve. “How did you get here?” asked Peter. Crow buried a hand in his hair and opened his eyes wide. He let out a breath, and after several ummmmms and uhhhhs – “Why don’t I start by telling you how I started to get here?” He moved around in a circle as he spoke, his hands weaving through the air as though he were making an argument. He was, he related to Peter, set to blast off with an alien named Humpy Prime who

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 137 would take him to the planet of Ginger where beautiful women practiced free love and served great beer because the Timmies, Humpy’s people (for a lack of a better term) had built Ginger to be the world as they wanted it (they had really good science) “So they make a habit of going around to other planets, I guess, and saying ‘Here’s our science – have at it,’ but it never really works out right because it’s just taken as an excuse for fighting or something stupid. “They have spaceships,” Crow emphasized, “That’s how they get around.” “I know,” Peter said, “I saw the spaceship pick you up when you were in the tree.” “Exactly,” Crow said jutting his finger at Peter, “Exactly. It came out of nowhere and saved me.” They stood silently for a second, Crow with a serious expression on his face. “So how did you get here?” asked Peter again. “Oh, yea,” said Crow, “Humpy and me were waiting for these other aliens (aliens-with-noname) to come and conquer the world. But instead it was angels with swords and shit—” “I saw them as well.” Crow nodded. “Did they kill you?” asked Peter. Crow’s eyes narrowed and his head shot back. “Yea, Peter, they killed me, but I’m over that now.” “You don’t have to get snippy about it.” “Well hello – I’m alive. I’m talking to you.” “They killed me,” Peter said. “They destroyed the City and killed everyone in it. That’s why I’m here.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 138 Crow tightened his lips and scratched his head. His eyes narrowed and his face closed in on Peter. Crow walked around him in a circle and then touched him on the shoulder. “There,” he said, “I can touch you. I’m talking to you. You can’t be dead.” “But, I am,” said Peter. “Am I dead then?” “I don’t think so,” Peter said. “Why?” Peter walked several paces and then looked at the ground. “I don’t make footprints,” he said, “But you do.” Crow examined the ground beneath his feet and nodded. He traveled in a circle again, this time dragging his feet and staring behind him at the trail he made. At the circle’s end, he kicked up a cloud of dust and cried, “Hot Damn, I’m alive,” and then immediately covered his lips and looked at Peter. “Sorry about that man. I mean… You know…. Death really doesn’t seem that bad. I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ve always thought of dead people as being sort of stale, but you’ve got that beat.” Peter didn’t respond. Crow titled his head slightly and whistled. “You with me?” “Yes, I’m with you,” said Peter. “Do you like fade in and out?” “No, I don’t fade in and out.” “Okay, okay, okay,” said Crow, “I can understand being touchy and all, that’s alright.” “Crow,” said Peter. “Yes,” said Crow.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 139 “How did you get here?” “You know that spaceship I was talk about?” Peter nodded. “I was trying to get away from the angels, but I crashed it into this mountain instead, which I guess is where we are. That’s the last thing I remember seeing, I was going pretty fast towards this mountain thinking I was gonna fucking die — I mean, pass into another plain of existence— ” “I understand,” said Peter. “So, that’s how I got here,” said Crow, “Wherever ‘here’ is.” “It’s Hell,” said Peter. “Yea, like my whole fucking day is.” “No,” Peter said, “This is actually Hell.” Crow let out a breath and then turned his head to the nearest torch, “I guess that would explain the lighting system—” “Crow,” said Peter, “Can I ask you a favor?” “Sure. Whatever you need.” “Are you wearing anything under that black robe?” Crow stepped back. “Hey man, I’m really sorry you’re dead, but there’s only so far—” “Crow,” said Peter, “If you’re wearing something under that robe, will you please let me wear the robe? I don’t like being naked.” “Oh,” said Crow. He removed the robe and as he handed it to Peter he asked in a hushed tone, “Hey, Peter?” “What.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 140 “They chop your dick off here?” Peter took the robe and put it on. “I was born without a penis.” “Holy shit,” said Crow, “And they sent to Hell on top of that?”

Crow and Peter walked slowly side by side, Peter holding up the hem of the robe so as not to trip. “The thing of it is,” continued Crow, “is that I’d been judging death by the wrong criteria. You know, when I saw that mountain getting big big big in the windshield, I was sure that it was off to oblivion with me… Though I guess it was, I just thought I’d go the official route.” “You didn’t miss anything,” Peter said. “No, I wasn’t really regretting it.”

Peter asked Crow how he had come into possession of the robe and the helmet and why he had been impersonating “a guard, for the lack of a better term.” “Well,” said Crow, “As I said, I crashed Humpy’s ship into this mountain. Though, the ship didn’t so much as crash as suddenly stop with a big whooshing noise. And, there I am lying on the floor under this control panel just waiting to black out and start flying towards some light in the distance. But that never happens.” Instead Crow stood up and climbed out of the top of the ship and saw that it was sinking into a pool of lava. And so, without a moment’s thought, Crow took a flying leap, his hands in the pockets of his black coat and spreading his arms like wings, he landed on the edge of the pool and watched Humpy’s ship vanish beneath the surface. “So, I’ll admit it – I cried. That’s what I did next, I crumpled up into a little ball and sat there bawling my eyes out for an hour or so Wah wah wah wah wah what’s going to happen to me blah blah blah.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 141 “At one point, I look up and there’s this blackbird staring at me. It’s standing there on the ground gazing up at me– ” “A blackbird?” “No,” said Crow, “This blackbird, the one following us. I’m like ‘what? What to you want?’ but it just kind of twists its head here and there and I’m gonna kick some sand at it, but I guess I was making noise, because we were not alone, this bird and me, we got all kinds of company, all kings of uglies around us, these monsters with fangs and scales and shit and I’m like ‘Oh, so this is where it was all leading to, this the end, I’m gonna crash a spaceship into a mountain and get eaten by monsters while some bird looks on.’ And I’d had it, so that was fine with me. You know, bring it on. And they’re coming in close, but then the bird jumps me, reaches under my collar and pulls out my necklace.” “What necklace?” asks Peter. Crow stops, reaches under his collar, and pulls out his necklace with the charm dangling:

“Where did you get that?” asked Peter. “Humpy gave it to me,” said Crow, “Just before he died.” Crow put the necklace back under his collar and continued his story, “That sort of amazed them or something. So one of them, one of the uglies, he’s got a robe and a helmet and they all dress me up in it. Turns out that all these guys in black and with the helmets on – they’re just ugly beasts underneath it all – fangs and

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 142 hairy and shit. They led me away from the lava and brought me into this hall where I was standing at the end of the line with them. The bird took off, and I didn’t really have anywhere to go, so I stayed put. But, when that freak with no eyes was calling for me, I was like, maybe I don’t need this, but the bird came back and little fucker chases me out of the cave, and that’s when I saw you.”

Peter and Crow walked for a long time and encountered nothing but torches. “Not that I spent a lot of time thinking about it,” said Crow, “But I guess that I always expected a little more out of Hell than a long unending walk.” “As I understand it,” said Peter, “This is punishment for having led a bad life.” “Well, it’s fitting that you’re here, Peter” Peter turned to Crow. Crow smiled and said, “You were a bad, bad man, Peter.” Peter laughed.

“Peter,” said Crow, “From when that angel stepped on you until you showed up here, do you know where you were?” “Where I was?” “Like in between those two places. I mean, was it like the angel stepped on you and suddenly you were standing here wondering what the fuck? Or was there something in between?” Peter stopped walking and bowed his head. He was silent for a moment. “It’s not that I remember the sensation of being anywhere,” he said, “I don’t remember seeing anything. I could smell something – good, but I don’t know what it was. Mostly, it’s breathing and running I remember and feeling like my heart was ten times its size.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 143 “Where were you running to?” “I don’t know,” said Peter, “I never arrived at it.”

“Peter,” said Crow, “What happened to the City after I left?” “The angels killed everyone.” “Yes, I guess you told me that already.” said Crow. He walked several steps. “That was one hell of an afternoon. I suppose that when the sun blows its wad all over the planet, you can expect just about anything.” “Excuse me,” said Peter. “You remember. When the sun came on the world.” “No, I don’t remember that, Crow.” “Do you know what ‘coming’ is?” “Yes, I do,” said Peter, “Which is why I’m having trouble recalling the sun doing that.” Peter continued: “I did see a trumpet extend from the sun and sound seven times.” Crow laughed. “What kind of horseshit is that?” He slapped his knee. “It was a penis,” he affirmed, “Do you know the difference between a penis and a trumpet?” “One takes talent and brains to use.” “Damn straight,” said Crow, “It’s all in the motion.” “I meant the trumpet,” said Peter. “That’s just a fucking horn,” said Crow, “You blow into one end of it. Who can’t manage that?” Peter made ready to respond, but Crow spoke before him, “Anyway, what kind of nonsense is it to see a trumpet hanging from the sun? What, did it have a mouth, too?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 144 Peter halted and turned to Crow, “Oh, and if I see a giant solar penis I should just walk merrily on my way secure in knowledge that everything is in its proper place?” “I didn’t say that,” said Crow, “It’s just when you see a penis, you shouldn’t say ‘Oh, my, what a nice trumpet.’”

“What do you mean that everyone on the City was chasing you?” “Just what I said, Peter.” Crow kicked at the gravel. “There were bullets flying and guards everywhere.” “No one was chasing you,” Peter said, “You were running around like a madman and then you managed to collide with that tree encased in glass and knock yourself cold.” “What channel were you watching?” asked Crow, “Bullets hit the glass and all those birds escaped, and that crowd was out for my blood, so I climbed the tree in order to flee.” “Hardly,” said Peter, “Rather, you broke the glass with your head. When you came to, you saw all those people standing around you, relapsed into hysterics, climbed the tree, and then fainted.” “Fainted!” “Yes. Fainted.” Crow raised his finger in the air. “I was trying to save my life.” “Sure you were Crow,” said Peter, “And then the sun ejaculated over everything.”

“I was born without a penis, Crow. And to tell you the truth, it doesn’t bother me, so you can stop talking about it.” Crow snorted, “Whatever, Trumpetboy.”

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“We both agree,” said Peter, “that a ship of some kind descended from the sky and picked you up from the tree. What I’m saying is that you were not ‘rescued,’ but rather this ‘Humpy Prime’ lifted you from the branches like a sleeping child because you had fainted.” Crow sighed loudly, “Here we go again,” he said loudly, “You live in your own world, Peter. I know that Humpy saved me from a bloodlusty crowd—” “He did not,” Peter interrupted, “He scooped you out of the tree, buzzed away, came back, landed the ship, waved a few times, prepared himself (it seemed) to make a speech, and then the trumpet sounded—” “Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s trumpet time!” laughed Crow. He put his hands to his cheeks and opened his eyes wide. “The horrible nasty magic trumpet in the sky tooting the world to death.” He skipped around Peter blowing into an imaginary horn and exhorting an imaginary crowd to run for their lives. Peter made no reaction other than to place his hands on his hips. After a minute, Crow stood still. “You know,” he said looking down at Peter, “I think the Wizard’s suffering from a little case of denial.” “Well,” said Peter, “I think his half-wit counterpart is in no place to diagnose psychological problems.” Then he added – “And don’t call me ‘Wizard.’” “I’ll call you the Whiz, then,” said Crow, “And I think the Whiz has a little issue with his manhood.” “Why?” asked Peter, “Because I don’t see giant penises hanging from the sky?”

Peter and Crow faced one another, hands on their hips. They grumbled mean words in the flickering firelight. Their shadows conducted a parallel argument on the cavern walls.

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Peter stomped his feet and, raised his voice. “Well,” he said, “It seems Hell really has succeeded in serving as punishment for me!” “Hey, same here cue ball. And I’m not even dead.” “That’s because you’re meant to be here,” said Peter, “They saw you up in the other world and said, ‘Oh, what a pain-in-the-ass that guy is. We need him down here.’” Crow touched his cheek. “Pain-in-the-ass?” he said, “I’m a pain-in-the-ass? Well, let me tell you what a pain-in-the-ass is. A pain-in-the-ass is little toeless runt who shows up one day in your LIFE and can’t seem to not piss on every little fucking thing in sight. A pain-in-the-ass mopes around all day moaning and groaning about how cruel the world is and assumes that you’re interested in hearing it. That is a pain-in-the-ass.” “Actually,” said Peter, “A pain-in-the-ass is a paranoid, schizophrenic dim-wit, who shamelessly barges into your existence – even after you die – so that he can babble incoherently without end about solar penises and save-the-day aliens. And the really sad thing,” continued Peter, “is that he, the pain-in-the-ass, is the absolute epitome of humanity as I have come to know it.” “Oh, go shit marble, Peter,” said Crow. And then in a low, profound voice: “‘The absolute epitome of humanity as I have come to know it’” “Fuck you, Crow.” Crow gasped, “My my. I guess Hell is the right place for you.” He put his hand on Peter’s shoulder, “You know, Whiz,” said Crow as Peter lifted his hand and tossed it from his shoulder, “I never really liked you. Not from the moment we met. I always thought that you were a depressing runt… a depressing, dickless, little runt.”

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Peter and Crow carried on their argument until each grew hoarse from hurling insults. They stomped their feet and waved their arms in the air and lamented, each of them, that they had ever met the other. Their shouts echoed against the cavern walls. Their feet raised dust from the ground. And then Crow shoved Peter, and Peter stumbled backwards and landed on his back. Crow raised his finger in the air to claim victory in their fight and to threaten Peter with more violence should their argument continue. But the declarations and threats never left his open mouth. Instead his jaw hung there and his eyes stared down at the motionless body of Peter. Crow’s finger dropped to his side. He stepped over to Peter’s side and touched him with his foot. Crow whistled and whispered Peter’s name. Peter did not respond. But Peter wasn’t hurt. His eyes were shut and he was in midst of a vision in which he saw through another being’s eyes and he resided in another being’s body and it was the same feeling of strength and size he experienced long ago in his one dream and which he remembered experiencing in his transition between lives. His heart contracted and rivers of blood flowed through him. The sky filled his lungs. The ground trembled beneath his feet. He felt pin pricks on his chest. He opened his eyes and saw the blackbird perched above his heart. Crow stood at his feet shooshing and flinging his hands wildly at the blackbird. The blackbird titled its head to the left and then the right and then hopped off Peter’s chest. Peter propped himself up on his elbows, and at once Crow let loose a stream of apologies and promises of forgiveness and friendship. He offered his hand; Peter looked at it and then accepted it and, with Crow’s help, stood up.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 148 Crow and Peter shook hands and each promised to forget their previous behavior, Crow doing so in many words, and Peter simply nodding his head and saying “Let’s continue walking.” And so they did. Side by side, they walked past the blackbird which watched them go by. Crow stared down at it and turned his head to watch it as he and Peter walked down cavern. He saw it fade into the darkness and turned to Peter and said, “That blackbird’s up to something.” Peter nodded and said that he agreed. They walked and walked and walked until they came to a corner and turned it and found a gate.

One two many
Plurality stretches beyond one and two – it takes a lot for most people to really come to terms with this fact. It’s already difficult enough to see or admit that one thing might be understood in two different ways – but get beyond two and things get out of hand pretty quickly. But just because they get out of hand doesn’t mean that that’s not the way things are. There is one chaos, but many, many forms of order. We each make our own reality by building an orderly model of the world. But, how can all these realities be valid? Are they equal? If so, isn’t mass equality just another term for chaos?

Crow and Peter stood in front of a stone arch, a turnstile, and bronze plaque mounted on the right leg of the arch. The blackbird stood to the left of Crow. Crow approached the bronze plaque, squinted, and struggling with the dim torchlight, he read it aloud: No mercy for the damned!

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 149 Prepare for a glimpse of Hell at its sizzling best! Evil-doers beware – you ain’t got a chance!

Both he and Crow stood before the stone arch and contemplated their next move, which was, inevitably, to pass through the turnstile. (right after Crow peed) The blackbird hopped over it.

Crow and Peter faced a long corridor without torches. Light emanated from light recessed into the ceiling. At the end of the hall was a large, wooden door. “Hell is walking,” said Crow. “Why do people always have to get existential with punishment. Someone does something – punch them, kick ‘em – get it over with. This endless walk to nowhere thing is bullshit.” Crow and Peter stepped forward, and, behind them, a door dropped with a thud and sealed them in the hall. Then the walls on each side of the hall lifted and revealed windows that revealed a vast cavern of fire and rock. One each side a thousand naked souls hopped and jumped and cried and touched the soles of their feet. Awkward and unbalanced, they knocked each other over, their skin sizzling and bodies flopping and flapping on the scalding surface. They saw thousands of souls in procession marching over broken glass and rock and winding around boulders and geysers and through pools of boiling water and bubbling tar. Each soul played a grotesque horn or a drum set or carried a flag or banner, and whip-cracking demons kept the formation tight and timely. They saw a thousand souls on fire – hands and arms and feet and heads – fire trailing behind them as they ran, fire fulminating from their mouths as they screamed. Among them raced various demons wearing hard hats and rain coats and carrying

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 150 hoses that, if they sprayed water, were aimed at rocks, and if the hoses sprayed gasoline, were aimed at the souls. Peter sighed. “Hell is a harsh place.” Crow nodded. “Why do this?” Peter asked. “Why do what?” “All of this,” said Peter, “Like I asked the judge. I can’t see the point.” “He said it was punishment.” “I know what he said,” said Peter. “But who decides that? Who makes the rules?” “The people who could afford to build this,” said Crow. They walked forward towards a door, quickly. The blackbird followed silently at their feet. Then a voice: “O condemned one,” the voice boomed, “We have saved Hell’s greatest ravages for you! All that you have seen will seem a holiday. You will look back at these times as gleeful, and you will wish for the torments you have witnessed and weep ‘If only that were for me.’ “Proceed down the hall to your doom!” Peter and Crow looked at the wooden door at the end of the hall and hesitated. Then the windows through which they had gazed changed from to doors. Simultaneously, the glass sheet of each window lifted and out poured all the damned of Hell. Moaning and thrashing, screaming and oozing, they filled the hall and in mad, mad lurches they lunged for Peter and Crow (who were each running frantically towards the door at the end of the hall).

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 151 While gazing back at the souls in pursuit, Crow slammed in to the door, staggered backwards, and blinked his eyes at the twin Peters surrounded by a cloud of stars who were frantically trying to turn the latch that opened the door that would not budge even with the full weight of Peter (he returned to singular form in Crow’s eyes) hanging from it. Crow shouted advice in the form of ‘Turn the knob!’, ‘Open the door’, and ‘Let me do it!’ but to no avail. Body parts began flying over their heads and hitting the inert door with wet slaps. Crow and Peter turned to meet the approaching horde, crying and shivering, their backs pressed flat against the door. Which opened.

Chaos
Peter and Crow tumbled through pure dark. Their eyes were of no use to them – they could only see black. “Peter,” said Crow. “Yes,” said Peter. “I think you’re right next to me, but I’m swinging my arms around, and I can’t feel you.” “We can’t be far from one another,” said Peter. “Good,” said Crow. “I suppose,” Crow continued, “I can’t feel anything, really. I don’t even know if I’m falling down.” Peter said nothing. “Are you still there?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 152 “I am,” said Peter. “Good,” said Crow. They passed a few moments in silence. “This place is very sophisticated,” said Crow. “I thought I understood it – and that may be the ultimate torture. The idea’s simple here – you’ll never know where you stand. When you think you know, it will change. “Still,” continued Crow, “I prefer this to being part of one of the displays we saw earlier.” Peter was silent for a moment, then said, “I prefer it to the life I had in the City. I never wanted that,” he explained, “Nothing I could image would be worse than that.” “Hmmmm,” said Crow, “I understand,” said Peter, “It might be hard for you to comprehend since the City was all you knew. But I never felt I had a place there. Not even an accidental place.” “Oh yeah,” said Crow, “I could see that place driving anybody nuts. That’s totally within reason. But, I was hmmming because,” he explained, “I think I see a point of light. And I think we’re heading towards it.” ‘You do see it,” said Peter. “I see it, too.” “Damn,” said Crow, “I shouldn’t have said anything. I said I prefer this to something else, so now this is ending. That little light, that’s something else, something bad, something to make me look back at this darkness as the sunny times in my life. I should learn to be quiet.” “Crow,” said Peter, “This may all be out of our hands. You may be looking for signs where there are none. Seeing coincidence as cause and effect.” “Maybe,” said Crow, “But that has its effects, too.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 153 No, thought Peter, it really doesn’t. Cause and effect have lost any meaning they had – which was none. It’s really the level you view things at. Want order – sharpen your focus. Or pull all the way back. Want a helter-skelter center-wont-hold madhouse? Do the same thing – you’ll get a different result. Order may be an unavoidable part of chaos. If chaos has it all, then at one point a patternloving brain is going to see order. It will make a division and think that order exists outside of itself. Perhaps those little digestible chunks of chaos that we can mistake for order really are order. Or, in another way, any bit of order we see is really just a speck of chaos. A violent ocean may seem chaotic, but each little swirl in it is really quite orderly. Thus, there really is no order outside of chaos. In fact, there is no order without chaos, and though order considers itself separate from chaos, chaos never sees itself separate from order (to the point that chaos doesn’t even know that order exists).

The light expanded and absorbed them both so that they fell through pure white. And then sky. A gust of wind caught them and sent them tumbling about. They shouted and cried – and then struck a mat, which deflated with a hiss and gently placed them on solid ground. People applauded and laughed. Peter struggled to his feet, and when he stood up, someone took his picture – flash. The bright light made Peter rub his eyes. Then he felt pinpricks on his head. He opened his eyes and saw his rumpled shadow on the deflated mat. The blackbird was standing on his head.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 154 Crow was slow to get up. He raised his head and chest on his hands, but his legs lay flat. He looked at his own shadow and saw it sprout wings as wide as he was tall. He raised himself to his knees and shook his head. The shadow wings folded and Crow stood up. “Honestly!” said a nasally voice. A hand slapped the blackbird off of Peter’s head. Peter and Crow spun around and there stood an angel – wings and all – holding a clipboard and looking peeved. “You,” it said pointing at Crow, “You have some explaining to do!” “What?” was Crow’s best response. “What! What indeed! Let’s see, where should we start? Well! What do we have here? It’s this poor soul wearing your black robe! And you in street clothes! And your helmet is nowhere to be found!” “I left it–” The angel put its right hand up. “I have no time for nonsense so hold the lies and the excuses and but I’s and just get it through your head that things have changed down here, and we’re running a tighter and better ship than your kind ever did. And it’s about time that you people caught on and got with the program. “And, if I were you, I would wipe that hurt expression off my face and begin thinking about adopting a more constructive attitude. You know – a positive outlook might explain why I’m the one holding the clipboard. “– and rather that wait here for an hour for you to think of something clever to say, I think you better just get this soul in line for the orientation program.” It then spun around and marched over to another arriving soul and its black-robed guard.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 155 Red arrows on the ground said “Welcome!” and “Follow Me!” And popcorn fell from the sky. Crow and Peter were in a concrete arena. The walls were curved and smooth and perfectly vertical. On top of the walls, souls (all dressed in white) leaned against a railing while munching on popcorn and soft-drinks and looking up at the sky to see the new arrivals falling on to mats in the center of the ring or looking down at the bewildered newcomers as they stumbled about and were eventually herded into a line that wrapped around the perimeter and that was clearly marked with red arrows on the ground. The line led to a door – the only door in the ring. In line stood the souls (naked) and their guards (dressed in black robes and helmets). “Long lines and assholes – that’s Hell,” said Crow. “Forget all the double-thinking bullshit I spouted earlier. They do it simple down here. Long lines and assholes.” The line was long, but Peter and Crow did not have to wait a long time. A pair of double doors opened, and in filed the guards and their souls, each pair finding side-by-side seats in a large, bland movie theater. The screen lit up with slogans such as: “Today’s the first day of the end of your life”; “This isn’t your grandad’s Hell (yes, that’s where he ended up)”; “Goodbyeland – we make damnation darn good.” They saw images of big buildings, bright lights, busy streets, and white, white, white. Peter and Crow sat down in the center of a mid-level row. The seats were maroon and plush and tilted back. Crow and Peter watched the slogans and images brighten and fade on the screen until the lights dimmed, the screen lit up, and a cheery voice filled the theater.

For age upon age, Creation, as we know it, was locked in an endless struggle between Good and Bad.

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Man fought man. Army fought army. And within ourselves the struggle raged – often with horrifying results. We were divided externally and internally. Two irreconcilable halves.

And this titanic clash of opposites culminated in the moment of judgment which ensued after death. The Good went to Heaven. The Bad went to Hell. And so went the Universe. But, there had to be a…

Studies showed some surprising facts: Fact 1: Hell wasn't a deterrent. People went right on doing Evil no matter how many times you told them about Hell because nobody actually thought that they would end up going to Hell. Fact 2: Secretly, some souls in Heaven were mildly disappointed. Fact 3: Just about everybody was ending up in Hell anyway (see Fact 1).

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So, we developed a bold new strategy.

Having worked out the kinks, we are happy to announce a change. Now, we all know that change can be unnerving – we get used to things the way they are and doing things the way we’ve always done them. But, by sticking with the same old same old, we risk missing opportunity. So, as it turns out, change is something to be embraced. Just think about it, if change had always been avoided, where would

be? Answer:

Obviously, change is a good thing! We looked at Heaven and Hell and saw opportunity.

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So we setup a little merger…

No more decisions! No more anxiety! No more long lines waiting for judgment! Everybody goes to one place! We’ve initiated the complete reorganization of the Afterlife and an on-going renovation and revitalization of territories and assets formerly included in Hell. All operations pursuant to the Afterlife have been transferred to Hell. Goodbyeland offers: • An authentic damnation experience (without the inconvenience of conventional torture and punishment) • The status symbols formally associated with Heaven (cloudlike mattresses, halos, harp music, etc.) • The easy going lifestyle that got you sent to Hell in the first place coupled with the Heaven-sent sense of security that comes from knowing that this is as bad as it’s gonna get! You’ve led a long, hard life. It’s time to relax and enjoy yourself. As you can see, you’re the ultimate winner. We’ve done this all for you!

The theater lights turned on. Crow and Peter rubbed their eyes. “That’s the worst salesjob ever,” said Crow. The angel with the clipboard walked to the front of the theater and tapped a standing microphone. “Okay, people,” it said, “Okay. Just a few minutes more.” The microphone screeched and the audience settled down. “I know you’re probably a little overwhelmed, but please be patient. “Now, as part of our continuing effort to preserve the culture of Hell Classic and the damnation experience you may or may not deserve, we brought you here through a little theme park we call Tortureland. Please know that everyone you saw – from the boatman to the judge to

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 159 the souls/victims – was a paid private contractor. In other words, they’re all actors people – nobody was harmed in the production of any of the attractions in Tortureland. “With that said, there have been complaints that the blackbirds might be playing their roles with a bit too much gusto and some of the guards (all former Hell residents) have not been as responsive to opportunities to assist in the transition as might have been hoped for. If you feel that your experience in Tortureland was not all that it could have been, please fill out a suggestion form upon leaving the theater. “Also, welcome.” The angel clapped it’s free hand against the clipboard. “We have complimentary photos of your arrival available free-of-charge at one of the booths you’ll see once you leave the theater. Also, at these booths, you’ll have the chance to sign up to pitch in and help us build something truly monumental here – and people, that is what we’re doing. This is something that’s never been done – an Afterlife where everyone is equal and everyone has the same access to all opportunities that the Afterlife can offer. It’s been hard, and I want to personally thank you for your patience and understanding. It means a lot to us. So thank you.” The microphone screeched and the theater lit up like the daylight. Crow and Peter rubbed their eyes. They stood up, and after waiting in line, exited the theater through a door marked Exit. But, they didn’t get far before the angel with the clipboard tapped Crow on the shoulder. “Your behavior has been disgraceful,” it said. “Do you have anything else to do?” asked Crow. “Not at this moment,” it replied, “You know, we didn’t have to include you people in this deal. We could have sent you packing like we did your head honcho – but no! You’re the original inhabitants, this is a merger of equals, and, quite frankly, the up-and-ups don’t ever have to deal with you, so what do they care? – until, of course, you’re strolling around out of uniform

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 160 and peeing all over the place – then it’s my butt on the firing line. And, yes, we caught you peeing in the theme park – lovely photo. And think of this poor soul's afterlife experience off to such a horrendous start. For shame!” Crow was speechless. “And since you’re no doubt going to stand there looking stupid for the next five minutes, I’ve taken it upon myself to gather this soul’s intro packet.” The angel reads aloud, “Okay, Peter – no last name listed – you’ll be staying in the Brimstone Villa’s (here’s a map and your condo information) and – well aren’t you lucky – it seems you’ll be starting out in the main office in the Marketing department helping develop a more authentic Afterlife experience for newcomers to Goodbyeland. Sounds like they’re going to make you a spokesman. Congratulations!” Crow: “You mean he has to work?!” “He has an opportunity to pitch in! And a mighty good one, if you ask me.” With that the angel shoved the packet into Peter’s hands, turned on its heels, looked back to sneer at Crow one last time, and marched off towards the theater.

Crow and Peter stood in the middle of a giant square situated in the center of an immense city. In the middle of the square was a tree, gnarled and burned, and encased in glass. Newly planted grass surrounded the tree in the box, the blades thin and sparse. A band of yellow tape wrapped around the box. It said “Exhibit under construction – Do not touch.” The square had a brick floor – each brick bearing a name and a thank you. Multi-story buildings surrounded the square – all of them white stucco or glass towers. Four roads lead out of the square. Peter looked at his map and said that he and Crow should follow the road leading west. The western road was paved, but there was no traffic, only souls in white on the sidewalks. Everyone wore sandals. The buildings

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 161 along the road were tall and made of glass. Each intersection was comprised of two streets meeting each other in a perpendicular fashion. The buildings were full of shops – all of them advertising either halos, white robes, or sandals – if anything at all. Some just promised to one day have lots of great stuff to buy or to offer vacations to places that didn’t yet exist – but which were coming soon. Angels and souls stood in the windows looking out, many of them trying to invite Peter in to buy a white robe instead of the black one he wore. There were restaurants, too, but they all served nothing but water and flatbread – alone or together. But other selections were coming soon. No one appreciated Crow’s presence. But, they tolerated him with obviously phony politeness in order to not alienate Peter. “You seem to be despised,” said Peter. “They all think I was born here,” said Crow. At one point, the road was not paved, but made of uneven stones. The buildings changed from stucco to stone, from bright to dark, from sparkling to dusty, damp, and decrepit. Peter and Crow kept walking. The road was flat until they came to some hills. They saw souls wearing hard hats and using tools (shovels, picks, hammers) under the direction of angels working from plans. And underneath a billboard: “And on the ninth day we built a better Afterlife.” Peter and Crow reached the top of a hill. They looked at the new city under construction. The center was done (they could see new souls falling into it). But as one got further from the center, the city was more and more under construction. In the distance, Peter and Crow could see a giant stone wall that surrounded the city under construction and a large part of the hilly land outside of the already built-up ground. “Look,” said Crow, “They got a wall around this place.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 162 “I wonder who they’re keeping out,” said Peter. “May be no one,” said Crow, “If I were gonna set up shop down here, the first thing I’d do is build a wall. That way you can say that what’s inside is for sale, and what’s outside just doesn’t matter. That’s how you add value.” “For an Ugly, you got a good grasp on the situation,” said a voice from behind. Crow and Peter turned to see an angel with slicked-back hair and sunglasses. The angel immediately turned its attention to Peter. “Your friend here has made a good point, little man. The wall creates value, so that people like you and me can have something to sell. And, selling this won’t be a problem. Instead of ‘please buy’ you’ll be saying ‘sorry, I got nothing left to give.’ Look at them, there, those naughty souls taking down every hill, filling every valley. That’s going to be a golf course. This hill we’re on, it’s luxury condos once they get through with it – and stores and movie theaters for when they start making movies. This is opportunity. This is what we’ve been working for. This is why the time is good – you’re here early. There’s gonna be a lot of new faces here real fast. Now’s the time to get your stake. This is eternity we’re talking about.” “But why?” asked Peter. “Why what?” “Why all of this? Why do any of this?” “Like I said, it’s opportunity” “For who?” “Us.” “At the expense of people who come later,” said Peter. “I like to think that it’s to their benefit. And ours. Win-win. We put up a wall, and suddenly we got something that other people don’t. Because we got something they don’t, they’ll work for

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 163 us, or even better – they’ll buy. It puts money in motion – and that, I think we can all agree, is the most powerful force in the universe.” “But,” said Peter, “What if they don’t want what you have.” The angel smiled. “Then we’ll make it into something they need.” He put a brochure into Peter’s and flew away. Peter let the brochure fall to the ground. “You’d think I didn’t exist,” said Crow. “That guy’s babbling like a baby trying to talk my talk, but does he have anything to say to me?” Crow shook his head. “You’re right, Peter. This is Hell. Nothing but fucking Hell. “I could use a drink,” he added. “Well,” said Peter, “I see a sign at the bottom of this hill there that says ‘Bar.’”

“Even the beer sucks,” said Crow slamming his glass on the bar. “You got this in a lite variety?” he asked the bar tender (an angel), “How do you get lighter than this? Give me half?” “It hasn’t stopped you from drinking it,” said the angel. “Why don’t you go to a monster bar.” “I’m betting that’s a jab at me, but you know, in the land of the lame, insults don’t mean much.” The bar was smoky and dimly lit and full of souls wearing hardhats and angels smoking and drinking. The two groups did not mix. Peter asked for another. Crow laughed. “Dying’s going be hell on your liver, ain’t it?” “I didn’t have beer up there,” said Peter pointing at the ceiling, “so I have to have it here.” He laughed then took hold of his newly filled glass with both hands. “I finally understand why you drank it so often,” he continued, “it always gives you what you ask of it.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 164 Crow drained his glass and asked for another. The bartender, and angel without a halo, grimaced and snatched another mug from the rack. “You got your own bars to go to.” Crow looked around and noted that there were only angels and souls around him. “But this is where I am,” said Crow. The bartender rolled up its sleeves. “You’re kind of a wiseguy, huh?” “Oh, barkeep, please, don’t pay any attention to me friend,” said Peter, “He’s had a very stressful day.” “Who hasn’t?” said another thin, wiry angel at the other end of the bar. Reaching for a book of matches, he knocked over his drink. “This whole fucking thing has been stressful,” he rambled for all to hear. “Now we got to deal with Time, Work, Money – fuckin' money. And for what? They kept talkin’ that there’d be all kinds of new shit to do, we’d be having sex, partying – living lives. Well, fuck it! That’s what I say. Fuck it!” “Go do your crying somewhere else,” said a soul from a table of souls. “You wanna talk about disappointment. Hey, I had to fucking die to get here. And what’s on the Other Side? What’s there waitin’ for me. A fucking job! A job. I gotta work. I gotta clock in, punch out, deal with assholes. What’s the use of dying?” The bar rapidly split along party lines – angels and souls taunting each other with hardluck tales and foul language. Nobody happy. Empty glasses in hand. Pointing fingers. Haloes thrown to the floor. And then a table overturned and glasses flying with fists and kicks and swearing and Peter and Crow at the end of the bar stepping off their stools to make for the door. “Hey, where do you think you’re going, dickhead?” a voice yells. And aloft goes a mug half full with beer.

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Chaos doesn’t see order as a part of itself. But it doesn’t see order as something separate from it. Chaos isn’t trying to disrupt order or destroy it. Chaos doesn’t intrude upon order any more than order intrudes upon chaos (from chaos’s point of view). Chaos doesn’t see order as an eternal enemy/partner/dual entity…. Chaos doesn’t see order at all. But then, chaos doesn’t see itself. To chaos, chaos doesn’t exist anymore than order does. Chaos has no identity. But it has one need. Chaos needs to happen.

“Who’s a dickhead?” says Crow turning to meet the crowd. And to greet him there was a beer mug, half full and travelling along a definite parabola at a high velocity. It sailed past Crow, for whom it might have been intended, and in what seemed like suspended animation, Crow saw his face in it, wide-eyed and faint and half full with beer as the glass passed by him and struck Peter in the back of the head, thudding and cracking and sending Peter to the floor.

And that is the most powerful force is the universe. Order can be a mental construct. It can be our true love and mission in life – or a consequence of us living. But chaos needs to happen. It will happen. It can be no other way.

When Peter opened his eyes, he stood ten feet tall on all fours, his body quivering with muscles, his nose long, two teeth shining and his ears full and glorious. He felt unsteady from the beer, but also free as he smashed a table and then another and shattered the mirror behind the bar. He kicked holes through the wall, threw angels about and sent souls sailing through the roof till

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 166 there was no roof. He pulled it down upon himself and all the others, his nose wrapped around a beam – and the beam moved with the barest effort on Peter’s part and the roof and walls rained in upon him until he stood in nothing but a pile of wood and stone and glass. The others fled and dust rose into the air. Peter saw Crow standing in the middle of the road. He was disheveled and confused. His necklace hung around his neck outside his shirt. Crow held it between two fingers.

“Ain’t that the shit,” he said glancing at Peter. He saw the blackbird appear from the sky. It perched on Peter’s shoulder. The blackbird spoke to Peter. The blackbird told Peter to run forward, so he did. The blackbird told Peter to seize Crow by the ankles and smash him against the ground. So he did. And out came Crow’s brain sliding against a rock. The blackbird said to fling Crow’s body into the sky and over the city wall. So he did. And he watched Crow tumbling up into the sky and over the wall. Then the blackbird vanished. It lifted into the sky. Light and sound come from the center of the city. Peter could hear them coming. They had guns. The blackbird was a shadow in the sky and Peter watched it circling above. He regretted what he had done. But all he could do was run.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 167 Bullets skidded in the dirt. They cracked in the air. And he ran; his head sunk low, he ran until his knees buckled, and they were all around.

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Moon
The silence disturbed him. The stillness of the dark submerged him into both silence and eternity, just as he had hoped it would. He had expected to be enthralled. But he was disturbed. When he had first started they had said, “What are you doing? Why don’t move? Why do you close your eyes? Why do you cross your legs? Why do you sit in the midst of all of us and do nothing as we pay our due? We say prayers, we recite praises, we recognize the beauty of His creation. Why do you not do this?” “Because it is not enough,” he replied. “You say you recognize the beauty of His creation as if you can comprehend His works. I say that you cannot begin to comprehend His works, and by saying you recognize their beauty, you denigrate them and you overlook their real beauty. You fly through this Heaven and come across something you have not seen before, and you say

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 170 to yourself, ‘Oh, look here, more evidence of His power and more beauty in His works,’ and you fly to the others and they say the same and you gather in a group and think that He is greater than He was before because of this new thing before your eyes. Then you say prayers and recite praises. I say, however, that the total beauty of His Kingdom lies exposed before you, but you do not see it. I say that the methods by which you pay homage to Him blind you to Him. I will be blind no more.” “And so you will sit here with your eyes closed and not be blind?” they laughed. “You will stay here and not move, but you will bear witness to His Kingdom?” At this they did not laugh, for anger entered into Michael’s voice. “He has endeavored to provide us with this Kingdom so that we may discover Him in the process of discovering its many wonders. For that purpose, He gave us eyes and legs and wings, but these you will not use.” Michael scoffed and kicked clouddust into the air. He remained calm. He scooped the clouddust into his hand and held it towards them. “All the wonders of His Kingdom may be seen in this handful of dust, therefore I need go nowhere else. What more, I will not treat His creations as trinkets.” Michael’s eyes grew wide. “Are you calling His many wonders trinkets?” “Only because you treat them as such.” The others intervened and prevented Michael from reacting to the accusation. “Besides, Michael, who among you has witnessed more of His Kingdom than I? Who has flown farther? Who has discovered more? And shared more? Who has prayed more? Who has recited more praises? You use prayers which I taught you. You marvel over objects which I brought to your attention. Many of you follow my example. Many of you compete with me in your hearts; you think that if you find more than me, if you compose more praises than me, then you will be nearer to Him than me. But what I am telling you is that despite

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 171 all I have done, I am no closer to Him than any of you are. I am saying that I have chosen the wrong path, and now I choose a new one.” Michael stepped forward through the hands of the others. “All I can hope then is that your new path leads you back to us.” With that they departed into the sky. He crossed his legs and folded his wings over himself and bowed his head, and in this darkness, this new experience, he began his new journey.

It ended when the silence and eternity disturbed him. He parted his wings and light fell on him. They moved slowly and jerkingly, stiff from disuse. He opened his eyes and the light burned. He unclenched his hands and his fingers moved as his wings had, as did his arms and his back and his legs. He struggled to stand. He rolled over onto his stomach and lifted himself onto all fours. He twisted his head from side to side and blinked his eyes open and shut. He flexed his back and was kneeling, his wings drooping behind him, too weak to support themselves. He heard the others gathering around him, calling those flying by, yelling out he has risen, he is back. He could not keep his eyes open long enough to focus. He rubbed his hands over them. “He weeps,” they said. “Look he is weeping.” A hand touched his shoulder and another patted the top of his head. “Do not cry, brother, we welcome you back,” Michael said. “I have longed for you to come back to us. I’ve prayed for you.” He tried once more to rise to his feet, but could not. Michael took hold of his shoulders. “Come, brother, walk with us again. We have missed you.” He stood up but leaned on Michael and still covered his face. “Remove your hands,” Michael said, “you have no shame before us.” Michael took hold of his wrists and pulled his hands from his face. He was too weak to resist. “Open your eyes. Brother, look at us, for we have wanted you back with us since you left on this new path. And now you are back, and we welcome you.” He opened his

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 172 eyes and tightened them to a squint. They circled around him. He looked at his own hands bonelike and quivering. He looked into Michael’s smiling eyes and noted their pride. “You are back with us now,” Michael said. “I am.” “I am happy, then,” Michael said. “Your eyes are open to Creation once more, as they should be.” “Yes.” “Did you find anything on your new path?” Michael spoke loud and clear as though he were giving a lesson for all in attendance. “Did your new path bring you closer to Him?” Without a moment’s thought, he answered: “No, it did not.” Michael smiled and embraced him. “I knew it would not, for I spoke to Him about it, and He did not understand what it was you were doing.” Michael spoke with joy. “It is the only time I have ever seen Him bewildered. I remember what he said to me stroking His beard and rubbing the top of His head, ‘Oh that one is the independent spirit. But what he does now will bring him no closer to Me. Remember, I looked at the light and said it was good.’ And that is what he said.” He said nothing in reply. He pondered his answer to the Michael’s question. No, it did not. How quickly he had answered. He gazed at the others and they prayed and recited praises. “We are glad you are with us,” Michael said, “I could see no other end to your new path, but I did fear that something strange would happen. I don’t know what, but now that you are back with us, I will not worry.” No, it did not. He looked at Michael. “What could have happened?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 173 “I do not know, but now it need not concern us, for it is over.” Michael embraced him once more and held his thin frame close and whispered into his ear, “Lucifer, I am so happy that you are back” And the others closed in and laid hands on him and said praises in thanks that he had awakened.

He regained his strength quickly, and when he had completely recovered, he was summoned to the palace. The attending angels lay prostrate before its gate like a field of grass in a great wind. He walked through their mumbled praises along the straight, narrow path to and through the gate. The clouds sparkled on the other side and the light flowed like a brook. He ascended the stairs and the palace door opened before him. Besides the door, a potted rose bush made a request. “Remove your sandals.” He did so, and it thanked him. He wound his way through the shimmering corridor until he come to the Great Hall. When he entered, God lifted His head and called his name. “Lucifer, come quickly.” The angel obliged. He flew through the hall, his wings broad and mighty, and landed on his knees before God, his head immediately falling to the floor, his lips immediately kissing His feet. “Rise, Lucifer,” God called, “look Me in the eyes.” Again, the angel obeyed. He stared into the soft, old eyes of God (who actually is an old man with a long white beard and flowing robes). “Come, Lucifer,” God said placing His hand on his shoulder and turning towards a fully set table, “When I heard that you had returned from your ‘new path,’ as Michael called it, I created a fatted calf so that I could celebrate your coming back.” “From where?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 174 God pause and smiled a curious smile. “I’m speaking figuratively, son. I know you never left Me - how could anyone leave Me, everything’s Mine, I’m everywhere. But, still, some angels are always aware of that, and others.... well actually just you. I’ve never had to make a fatted calf before. Great project, though.” God pointed to it, and the calf mooed and trotted over to them. Lucifer petted it. “I suppose I’ll just drop it down in the Garden... not really sure what else it’s good for.” God reached for a pitcher and poured a gobletful of light. “Here drink up.” The calf mooed again and God called for a servant to take it away. Lucifer drank the light. “This is very good,” the angel said holding the goblet before his lips. “You are indeed the master of Creation.” God laughed. “Ah, there’s the Lucifer we all know and love. I can’t tell you how much I missed your praises while you were gone. I’d sit in my throne and have the others come in one at a time and repeat my favorites.... God rolled His eyes and spoke like an angel remembering a beautiful ray of light ‘You are you are.... Hallow be Thy Name.... You are Lord...’ You, My son, are a genius. Tell Me, have you composed any other ditties while you were... doing what you were doing.” “I composed nothing, Lord.” God sighed. “Well, that’s what it profits a man not to gain the world. Think of that the next time you decide to roll up into a ball.” “I will.” “Oh, Lucifer,” God cried, “I did not bring you here to castigate you. It’s just that I’m jealous by nature, and when I see one of Mine not with Me... well things just don’t seem right.” “I’m here now, Lord.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 175 “Good. And here you will remain,” God assured. They embraced. God released him and stepped back. They exchanged a glance, and the angel sensed other thoughts in the Divine Mind. God’s eyes narrowed. “Tell Me, Lucifer, My son,” He spoke in a weighty voice, “You were on your ‘new path’ for quite some time... what kept you from returning sooner?” “I did not realize how long I was gone.” “I invented Time just to keep track. You were gone quite a while. So what did you find?” “I cannot say.” “You cannot tell Me?” “I certainly would if I could, Lord, but I can’t. It is not such the case that I remember finding anything at all. I only remember what I did not find.” “Which was?” “You. For the first time, I was without Your Presence.” “You didn’t like that, did you?” “No. It disturbed me.” “Of course it did!” God grinned. “As it should, Lucifer, as it should.” He allowed the angel to kiss His ring. “Now tell Me, will you be departing along any other ‘new paths’?” “I will not.” “No more new paths?” “No, I will not.” “Even if one should suddenly appear before you completely to your surprise and call your name in such a manner that you cannot resist?” “The only path that can affect me so is the straight, thin one that passes through Your Gates and into Your Palace.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 176 God clapped His hands. “Ah, you’re sounding more like the Lucifer I remember with each passing moment”. He offered the angel another goblet of light, which the angel dutifully took and drank. God walked over to the window and peered out at the prostrate angels and listened to the murmur of their prayers. He called to Lucifer, and together they gazed at the supplicants. “I never grow tired of this,” God admitted, “I never grow tired of worship. It’s the one true path to My Heart. He placed His Hand on Lucifer’s right shoulder. And you, He continued, you are better than all the rest at paying homage.” “You are too kind, Lord.” “No, I am not. I am I am.” He laughed. “Do me one favor, Lucifer,” He said in a drawn out whisper, “as We gaze out at these gathered before My Gates, use the powers which I granted to you, and compose right here, a few lines of praise so wonderful that they make these other prayers seem no better than silence. Such praise would surely place you at My right hand side.” God looked at the angel expectantly. Sensing a duty which he would have filled automatically before, the angel looked to his heart and closed his eyes, but he discovered a vacuum within and could compose no prayer. Instead he composed an excuse. “Oh, Lord, I have done such damage to myself by traveling my foolish new path, that I fear I will need much of this time which you have invented in order to fully recover my mastery of the powers which you so beneficently granted me. Until then, no prayer I compose could rival any that I have composed in the past.” God sighed. “I see, Lucifer. At least you recognize the error of your ways. You were the first to worship Me. Without you, I would not have these prayers now. We shall wait then for another time.” With his hand firmly on Lucifer’s shoulder, God ushered the angel across the Great Hall and to another window which looked out upon the Heavens and their Immensity. No sound

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 177 passed through this window. “Lucifer,” God said, “when you embarked on your new path, it caused Me no small amount of anxiety. I not only had to create time in order to keep track of your absence, but I went on quite a binge of creation. Thus many wonders have appeared since you have been gone. Your wings are strong now. What say you fly to some undiscovered territory in My Kingdom, somewhere your kind has not yet visited, for there are many such places, and you bring to Me something which you have never seen which you feel represents a power you never knew I possessed. Such a discovery would give Me great pleasure and put you on My right side.” Again God looked expectant. Again the angel found the lack of will to comply. So he said: “Lord, I have in the past discovered so much, that I know there is no power which you do not possess. Thus my quest would never end, for no object could represent to me something which I felt you could not do. I would never return from such a path, and thus would never be able to praise you again.” God nodded. “I see. You are my brightest angel. But come, I have something else to show you.” God then ushered him to the center of the Great Hall. He lifted a carpet and revealed a hole in the floor. “I’ve done some work on the Garden in your absence, Lucifer. Look, I have separated the waters from the dry land, and I have brought forth living creatures to inhabit both realms and I have taught them to multiply according to their kinds, for while I enjoy inventing new kinds, their replication becomes tedious. I would delegate some of this creation to my angels, but I do not want to distract them from their worship of Me.” “Why do You want them to replicate?” the angel asked. “We angels do not replicate, and we are certainly the higher beings.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 178 God shrugged. “An experiment,” He said. “I am allowing them to taste creation, something I do not grant the angels, but at the same time, I am not allowing them to have knowledge of me. They know not what they do, Lucifer. They create, but they do not recognize the miracle.” “Why?” “As I said, I am experimenting.” “My Lord,” the angel said, “If they continue to replicate, they will fill the Garden. What then?” “I have not thought of that, Lucifer. Perhaps I will simply expand the Garden.” The angel opened his mouth to speak, but God raised His hand to silence him. “You raise an excellent point, though, My son. The Garden is an experiment, it arose from My need to alleviate My mind from My grief at your absence. I have thought nothing out. I began it without design. It lives in chaos - compared to the rest of My Kingdom at least. Recently, I have injected some order into it. I have given the Garden to those strange creatures there, the elephants. Each is large and powerful and the other beasts respect and fear them. I think of them as images of myself.” “Indeed.” “But, My son, because of time, I feel the need to delegate My authority - not abandon, of course, but to parcel out a small, but sizable, chunk of it. I want someone to rule My Garden for Me. I want someone to be its master.” God held the angel’s shoulder firmly. “I want you to be that master.” “Lord, I’m not worthy. It would distract me from worshipping you.” “Lucifer, who has worshipped Me more than you? And the work you would do here, I would count as worship, for it would free Me to create My heavens.” “Why not Michael?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 179 “Because I have selected you.” The angel again opened his mouth to speak, but God silenced him with a wave of His hand. “Before you answer, I have one other thing to show you.” God brought the angel over to a table draped in white cloth and on which two silver domed platters rested. God spoke: “I would not have you undertake this task alone, Lucifer. I would give you a servant, as I have you and the angels, you would have this creature.” God lifted the fist dome and revealed a sleeping being. “It looks like me,” the angel said, “only without wings.” God smiled. “If I wanted it to fly, I would have given it wings. No, Lucifer this being, I call it Man, will remain ignorant of Me and bound to the Garden. It will be yours to do with as you please. You will be its master.” The angel inspected it. In all ways, minus the wings, it matched his own form. Except: “What is that dangling between its legs? And those two bubbles behind it?” Again God laughed. “That is its chain, Lucifer. It’ll keep him from thinking of Me.” “Not to criticize my Lord, but don’t You think those two balls should have gone on the inside. They look awful delicate.” “Well, I put them on as an afterthought, Lucifer. I really didn’t spend much time on this thing. It’s only for the Garden.” Then God corrected Himself. “Of course, I don’t mean to denigrate the Garden or the work you’d be doing there, if you choose to please Me.” “What is it going to do with that thing? Why would that little stringy thing keep it from thinking of you?” “Ah, the answer is on this tray.” God lifted the second dome and revealed another sleeping being. The angel could not speak. After a second of silence, God spoke: “I spent a little more time on this one,” He said. “Like

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 180 you, it lacks that silly thing between its legs. And those mounds on its chest, I wanted to put them on the first one as well, but they just didn’t come out right. They look good on this one, though.” God grunted and introspective grunt. “To be honest, Lucifer, I nearly decided to put wings on this one. But the Man needs something to replicate with, so I’ll just put her down there. And I think I’ve tuned her just right that he’s not going to have time to think if anything else.” The angel inspected the second creature and, for some reason unknown to him, he felt the disruption that the silence and eternity had brought about in him. He hid this feelings from God, though. God looked at him expectantly. “Will you rule this world for Me, Lucifer?” He asked with a silver dome in each hand. The angel looked at the second creature. “I will,” he said. “To do You glory, I will.” At that, God lowered the two sleeping beings through the hole in the floor and they awoke in the Garden. They stood up naked and staring at one another and then at the Garden and its many trees. God nodded His head. “I expect that they’ll just putter around like everything else down there,” He said. “They should be brighter than everything else - except the elephant, of course. You can let them do as they like, but don’t let them eat from the Tree of Knowledge. I have allowed the elephants alone to eat from this tree, the one in the center of the Garden. I do not think Man will be able to digest the fruit from that tree. And, of course, the Tree of Life. Don’t let them touch that one, that is for the angels alone. Maybe I should even bring that up here. But, then, the whole reason I created the Garden was to have somewhere to put it and the other tree.” God shook His head. “Oh, it’s just an experiment,” He said, “and I’m sure everything will be fine in your capable hands, Lucifer.” “I will do my best to serve You,” the angel answered.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 181 Several months passed peacefully in the Garden. To help track time, God created the Moon and gave it phases such that by glancing at it, one could know what day of the month it was. When it was full, Lucifer reported to the Great Hall and gave God a rundown on the happenings in the Garden since the last full Moon. In the eighth month, God asked the angel a question. “Lucifer, lately I have noticed a strange sound coming from the Garden. It is not an unpleasant occurrence, actually I rather enjoy it, but I cannot remember which creature I created would generate such a sound. This, of course troubles Me, for it is not in My nature to forget.” “I know that sound, my Lord, and I, too, am unsure of from which creature it comes. In fact, I have lately taken to flying over the Garden like I used to fly through your Heavens in an attempt to track the source of this sound. As of yet, I have not found it.” “I am curious, Lucifer, have you revealed yourself to My creations?” “I have not, Lord. I do not want them to mistake Me for you. They are of weak minds, and such an error is likely should one of them ever behold me.” “That is wise. As for this sound, I do wish to know its source. I would search Myself, but I have not the time. And your eyes should be sufficient to uncover this small mystery. By the next full Moon, please be able to tell me from where it comes.” “I shall, Lord.” The angel turned to leave when God called out once more. “Oh, and Lucifer, I am wonder whether the Man and Woman have replicated. Maybe it’s too soon, but I’m thinking that I set her up to drop around this time. You should be able to tell by looking at her.” “They have not.” “I wonder why.” “I shall see.” The angel slipped through the hole in the floor and returned to the Garden. It was still night

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 182 and the bright Moon illuminated the Garden, the grass shining white instead of green. The insects chirped and Lucifer listened carefully to each one hoping to hear the strange sound emanate so that he could track it. And by luck (another recent creation) the sound appeared just as the angel had hoped. He held perfectly still so that he might target its direction, and this proved not be difficult at all. He wondered why he had so much trouble tracking it in the past. It sounded like no other creature in the Garden, for many sang, but their songs were simple and repetitious chirps and whistles. Some of the angels had incorporated these sounds into their praises, but none of it proved to be to God’s liking. But this song was different. A single note wavering in the air and then mixed with another and a third and then the pitched changed and the sound, so simple at first, but so complex when concentrated upon, surpassed the angel’s ability to describe it and he found himself meditating on it and sampling the silence and eternity because of it. He followed it, but not because God had commanded him to reveal its source, but because it drew him. It changed and filled the air so softly that it seemed to surround him, perhaps this is why he could not track it, for as soon as he focused on it, it enveloped him and he lost all sense of direction. So rather than focus on it, he let it draw him, he let his wings move and they brought him closer to it. They brought him through the moonlit trees and to the Woman who stood with her back to him and her arms raised to the Moon. The Moon reflected off her and made her glow like an angel, her shoulders seeming purer and more beautiful for their lack of wings to cover them. Her hair seemed better placed there. He drew near. He did not think of leaving. He did not think of reporting his finding to God. He could only gaze upon her and listen to her song. When she suddenly grew silent and turned to him, he did not move, for he assumed that she could not see him.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 183 But she could. And she was not frightened. “Who are you?” she said. He was too frightened and tried to hide by moving behind a tree. “Why do you run away? I can see you. You glow like the Moon.” “How can you see me?” he said from behind the tree. “I have stood in your presence before and you did not see me then.” “If that is true, I do not know why I didn’t see you. But I can see you now.” She moved closer to him. “Why should you be afraid that I can see you? Why did you hide yourself before?” “I did not want you to mistake me for another.” “For who?” “The creator.” “The Moon?” she laughed. “You thought that I could mistake you for the Moon? You look nothing like the Moon, though you glow like her.” The angel stepped out from behind the tree. She gazed upon him, amused and smiling with kind eyes. “What do you mean ‘the Moon’?” She continued smiling. “The creator. The Moon. She is my creator. The other animals create themselves and so does the Moon, a new Moon appears each month. The Moon and I are in the same cycle.” “And so you pray to it.” “I ask it every time it is full to send me down a partner. The other creatures have partners but I have none and I am lonely. So I pray to the Moon. And now I have taught myself to sing, and I sing to the Moon, and you have appeared so my prayer is answered.” The angel stepped back. “What about the Man. He is your partner.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 184 She laughed very hard, looked at the angel and laughed again. Her laugh sounded like the birds. “The man,” she said sitting on a stone to rest herself. “The Man as my partner?” She put her hand to her mouth and covered her smile. “The Man is a fool. All he does is pray to the Sun and talk of its power and how he must be like the Sun. The Sun,” she said, “lacks all dignity and beauty. That fool prays to it and it burns him and his skin is so tender that he cannot be touched in the slightest way. How can he be my partner?” “You were made together.” “We inhabit the same world, that is all. And we do not even see it the same way. I say to him, ‘here look at this,’ and he takes whatever I hold and tries to eat it, and if he cannot, he throws it into the air and sends me away. So I touch him and he cringes in pain. Especially, if I touch that stupid thing between him legs.” She laughed again, “No my friend, the Moon has just put you here, you are new and do not know the world. But I will teach you.” At those words, she approached him and kissed him. His wings shot up and nearly tore themselves from his body. He jumped backwards and leaped into the sky. She called to him, but when he vanished from her sight, she began crying and singing to the Moon of her loneliness.

He poked his head through the hole in the floor. With his arm he flung the carpet away. “Lord,” he called out, “Lord, I found the source of that sound.” God was seated on his throne. He never slept. Excellent. “Actually, I was just listening to it. It’s the elephants, isn’t it? They’re magnificent. I knew they’d come up with something like this.” “It’s not them, Lord. It’s the Woman.” “The Man, did you say?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 185 “No, the Woman.” God looked surprised. “Really,” He said. “What tree has she been eating from?” “I don’t think she’s eaten from any tree, Lord.” “Did she eat a bird.” “No, Lord, no creature has eaten any creature. One cannot live in the belly of another.” “True enough. But that’s precisely why it seems to make sense that she ate a bird. Or maybe a few birds. That’s what we’re hearing come out of her.” “She has eaten no birds, Lord.” “How do you know?” “Because I count them everyday, and none are missing.” “Well, My, My. I guess I outdid Myself with that one. Well, now that that’s settled, I guess you can go on with keeping order down there.” “Lord,” the angel said, “there is another matter.” “And what would that be, Lucifer?” “It’s a delicate matter, Lord.” “Out with it.” “It appears, Lord, that the Woman has taken to praying to the Moon as her creator and that the Man has taken to praying to the Sun as his all-powerful creator.” God created thunder and lightning right there. “What! They are doing what! Praying to what!” The skies rumbled and sparked. “Do they not realize that the Moon and the Sun are just lights?!” “Apparently not, Lord.” “No apparently not!” He shouted. “Well, Lucifer, this is going to change right now!” God grabbed him by the back of his neck and plummeted through the hole in the floor and into the

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 186 Garden. He tossed the Moon from the sky and yanked the Sun up from the horizon. The sudden bright light and the thunder and lightning frightened every living thing and sent them scattering. God lifted up both the Man and the Woman and set them down in front of Him. The Man wailed in pain. “It burns! It burns.” God turned them each into a pillar of salt so that they could not look away. “I am the Lord your God,” He screamed, “You will have no other gods but Me. Is that clear!” “They can’t answer, Lord.” “Shut up, Lucifer.” God then turned His attention back to the Man and the Woman. “Perhaps, I should just make it rain right now and let these two soak into the ground and we’ll just have elephants down here because elephants know what to do and what not to do.” “Perhaps, Lord,” the angel said, “that is because You allowed the elephants to eat form the Tree of Knowledge. Why not let these two eat from the same tree and then they will know to pray to you.” God held silent for a moment. Then He grunted mockingly. “The elephants are created in My image – figuratively, but still My image. Before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge they knew better than to pray to the Sun and Moon. These two are nothing but a couple of monkeys that didn’t come out right.” “I thought they were made in my image, Lord.” “They were,” God yelled, “and maybe I wanted a bunch of flying monkeys before I made you angels. Did you ever think of that?” The angel bowed his head. God looked to the sky and saw the faces poking out from the clouds. He pointed up and

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 187 shouted, “Get your heads back in the clouds before I have to come up there!” They vanished. He looked back at the two pillars of salt. “You two, listen good. You are the Man. You are the Woman. You, the Man, will clip the hedges and mow the lawn and keep everything in order and there will be no more praying the Sun. You, as the Woman, will sleep with the Man and make babies who will either make more babies or do the yardwork, and there will be no more praying to the Moon. And neither of you will eat from the Tree of Knowledge or from the Tree of Life you will not even go near these trees or ask where they are. And you,” He said turning to the angel, “you – as the ‘king’ down here – will make sure that they don’t. Have I made myself clear?” The two salt pillars began weeping. God changed them back into people and they fell before him crying. He folded His arms and nodded. The angel, though, was unmoved. This surprised him. He had a question for God, though this was hardly the appropriate moment. But asked anyway. “Lord,” he said, “What will happen if they eat from those trees?” God looked indignant. “What?” “Will they not simply become like us angels?” God looked dumbfounded. “If I have said that they cannot do something, then they simply will not do it. We need not worry about ‘what if.’” And with that God returned to Heaven. The Man immediately began praying. The Woman continued to weep. She looked at the angel and he looked at her. He followed God and left them to the Garden.

“Trouble in Paradise? Lucifer,” Michael asked.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 188 “You were not present for that display yesterday?” “There is no reason for anger, Lucifer,” Michael said. “And there is no anger in my voice, Michael.” “You must be tired, then,” Michael concluded, “this little experiment has become a great burden to you.” “No, Michael, the Garden is not burden to me at all, its Creator has become the burden.” “Lucifer, you should not talk like that.” “I know I should not, for I have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. I know what is expected of me. The Man and the Woman do not. He will not allow them to eat from the Tree, and yet He will combust in wrath if they transgress, though they know not what they do.” “He has His reasons.” “As far as the Garden goes, I wonder whether that is true or not.” “What do you mean?” “I don’t know,” the angel said, “For all the effort He exerted in creating and establishing order in the Heavens, the Garden seems nothing but an afterthought to Him. His creations are replicated endlessly and at an ever increasing rate, and they have nothing to do, they have no knowledge of anything other than that they exist, and that may even be more than they know. So they replicate endlessly. And He does nothing about it. I don’t think He realizes this dilemma. And I don’t think He cares. It even seems that the Garden’s existence as very little to do with its creation.” “What are you saying?” “I understand that others have followed my New Path.” “You are right. Several foolish ones, no offense intended, have embarked on your solitary,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 189 motionless journey saying that they seek closer union with Him, even though you, our greatest explorer, said it does not work.” “Did I say that?” “You said it brought you no closer to Him.” “That I did say.” “And I happen to believe, Lucifer, that these others are doing as you did not to be closer to Him, but to gain what you gained. They think that He bestowed favor on you by giving you charge of the Garden, and they think that if they follow your path, it will lead to gardens for them.” “And it may just do that, Michael. The work of tending a garden would keep them from contemplating their journey down the New Path. Idle hands are the mind’s playthings.” “And on that path, they found nothing, so they would have nothing to contemplate. You make no sense, Lucifer. Maybe your work has distracted you. When was the last time you prayed. I have heard no new prayers from you.” “My work is my praise. And its time that I returned to it. Paradise calls.”

Over the next several months, the situation in the Garden grew worse. Primarily, the creations created as they were created to do, and their creations created and so forth. The Garden needed room, but God would not provide. The angel asked Him many times to expand the Garden, but God, remembering the Moon and Sun worship, remarked that the creatures of the Garden had not earned such a favor, except for elephants, and the elephants weren’t asking for anything. The angel reminded God that the elephants had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, so they knew what to do. The Man and the Woman, though, had not eaten from this tree, and perhaps, the

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 190 angel suggested, it is time for them to do so. God refused, saying that they were not worthy of such a thing and that they would have to prove themselves worthy before such a thing could happen. How could they do that, the angel begged, if they had not eat from the tree of Knowledge and therefore did not know how to prove themselves? God said that he, the angel, could tell them what to do. “I could tell them anything and they will do it,” Lucifer protested, “They will do whatever I say, but only because they fear You. They think that if they do not obey me You will come down in fury.” “If you tell them to do what pleases Me and they then go and do what pleases Me, then I will be pleased.” “That is somewhat superficial, Lord, don’t you think? In order to truly understand such actions, they will need to eat of the fruit.” “You irritate me, Lucifer. I had expected more of you. The Garden is a simple thing. Do you think that I devoted much effort to it? It is but a passing whim compared to the greatness of My many creations. It is hardly even a hint of my power. I could master it with the twinkle of my eye, but instead, in keeping with the idea of experiment, I decided to let an angel handle it. It is the only time that I have ever questioned My wisdom.” And so the angel returned to the Garden. Having not gotten what he wanted from God, he expanded the Garden himself to the east. Having had no practice in creation, he could not emulate the splendor of the Garden, but he could provide the needed space. He worked through many days, and when he finished, he rested. The creations spilled into the new land, and the Woman appeared to him. She brought a pitcher of water and offered him a cup. He had never consumed anything but light. He liked the water better.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 191 “You have worked hard,” she said sitting next to him on the grass. “You look weary.” “You are not the first to tell me that. Everyone believes that this Garden has exacted a steep toll on me.” “Do you dislike it?” “No,” he said. “Not the Garden.” “I do,” she said glancing downward. She refilled his cup. “I miss the days before He came down and made His presence known. I miss singing to the Moon, for I think the Moon listens. He does not.” “You say things like that so innocently. If you were in Heaven and in the Great Hall and spoke like that, He would unleash another storm.” “That is because He is horrible and weak.” She began braiding the hair that hung over her right shoulder. “To behave as that. If He is so powerful, why should He act like that? That is jealousy unseen in the Garden. That is behavior unseen in the Garden until He appeared. I don’t believe He is the creator. Someone better than Him made this.” “He is the creator,” the angel assured. “There must be another,” she said. “For Him to behave jealously, there must be another. And He must know it, or else He would never behave like that.” “I have seen no other,” the angel said. “I have,” the Woman answered, “at night, before I knew Him, in the Moon, in my song, in my heart, I knew another who does not rampage and who does not demand worship. Someone of beauty like the trees and the stars and the Moon. That is who I sang to that night you came to me, not the light in the sky, but the light within. And not a light, but something else that I cannot describe.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 192 “What is the Man doing?” the angel asked. “The Man is a fool. He has taken to carving images in stones and assembling them in a shrine which he is dedicating to the Greater Fool. I do not like the Man. When I see him, he commands me to bring him water or make him food because he is working, he says, and the work is too important for him to stop.” “I miss your singing,” the angel said. “I will not sing to the Fool.” “Some of the other angels are trying to imitate your song, for He likes it. But they cannot rival you.” “Then why doesn’t He come down here and command me to sing.” “He probably expects that I will command you to sing to Him, for it pleases Him.” The Woman stood up. “As much as I care for you,” she said, “I would not obey. I would not sing for Him. But,” she said, “I would sing for you, but not for Him.” The angel stood before her. The sun was setting and the sky grew red. He approached her and touched the side of her face. “The Fool,” he said, “commands that you bear children to tend His Garden.” “I would have children, but the Fool has made the Man’s part in it necessary, and the Man hasn’t the time because he has committed himself to worshipping the Fool. But,” she said touching the angel’s face, “if the Fool must be obeyed...” The angel stepped back. He had practiced much creation in the making of the new land. He proceeded to do something he had up to the point never imagined doing, and he did it with no reflection, much as he had answered Michael’s question when he had returned from the New Path. Did it bring you closer to him? No, it did not. He scooped up a handful of clay and spun it

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 193 between his hands. He attached to smaller handfuls to it. Then he removed his robes and stood naked for the first time. He fused his creation to himself at the proper point and then looked to the Woman. He stood there looking like a man with wings. She touched it and it pointed to the red sky, even though he had not willed it to. This little piece of him acted on its own and it thrilled him. She lowered herself to the grass and he did likewise and they did as all the other creations did, and in the last sudden instant he experienced the silence and eternity. But it did not disturb him.

The moon traveled through its many phases many times and serenity reigned in the Garden. The Man continued with his temple building and other devotions and only called upon the Woman for food and water. For her part, the Woman acquiesced to his demands and even paid his efforts a modest measure of praise, something which the Man quickly came to enjoy, and soon afterwards, to expect. She did not mind, though, for his work busied him during the day and left him tired and listless at night and unaware of her meetings with the angel underneath the Tree of Life. The angel insisted that they meet there, for its full branches provided shelter from any eyes peering down from the Heavens. And so the angel came to love the darkness and to love the Woman and he gave her many children, both males and females, all without wings. The Man believed the children to be his and that they came as a reward for his temple building. He was very unaware. And the angel and the Woman were happy. But then, on a full moon conference, God spoke to the angel. “Lucifer,” God said, “I think I shall call you away from the Garden.” “What, Lord?” “Your work in the Garden, I think, is through. I see that the Man and Woman are replicating

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 194 and the nonsense of sun and moon worship has passed. In fact, the Man quite pleases Me with his temple building. I wonder where he finds the time to beget so many children. Industrious little bugger. I think he can handle the Garden himself, there is no reason to distract you from your worship of Me any longer. I have created a great many things since I sent you to the Garden. It is time for you to come home and glorify Me in the Heavens.” “Are you sure, Lord?” “There is no discussion needed on this matter, Lucifer. Sure, the Garden is the center of creation, but what happens in it is of little importance. I put it there because it’s easy to find there. The truth is I would forget it completely if it weren’t for the Man and his splendid subservience. The Woman, though, is perhaps something I should have not created. If I could conceive of uncreating her, I might just uncreate her. But since I am perfect, it makes no sense that I would uncreate something I created, does it?” The angel said no. “I enjoyed her song, initially, but then we found out to what she sang. And now the angels have mastered the art of voice far better than she. When I listen to the Garden at night now... Her singing has lost all form, she hits some high notes, but it’s not the same. She is a creature without intelligence and without initiative. I think that when I take you from the Garden, I’ll make it especially clear to her that she is only to serve the Man and bear children. That’s about the extent of her usefulness. I will do this tomorrow as the sun is setting and the crescent moon is above it. Have them waiting for Me on the highest hill.” “Lord-” “Lucifer, there is to be no discussion. I have spoken.” The angel turned to leave, when Michael, who had been standing behind him the entire time, surprised him and asked him a question.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 195 “It will be good to be back with us, won’t it, Lucifer?” The angel said nothing. Michael continued: “Too many of our kind now want entry into the Garden, Lucifer. They follow your New Path and then expect to be granted Gardens of their own as if they deserve an award. Ridiculous, isn’t it?” Again the angel said nothing. He stepped towards the hole in the floor. Michael added: “What do you have in your robe, Lucifer?” He pointed between the angels legs. God stepped forward and said the He had been wondering the same thing. The angel thought quickly. So that they could not find him out, he reached into his robe, tore the thing from his flesh, and using his creative abilities to their fullest, he transformed it and took it from beneath his robe. It hissed and squirmed and flashed its tongue. Michael jumped back. “I found this,” Lucifer said, “lost in the dirt of the Garden.” God looked at it. “I don’t remember making anything like that.” “Lord,” the angel said, “in the busy work of your creation, a being such as this is no more than a scrap falling from your divine hands. Perhaps, as you molded the elephants, this bit of clay came loose, but having touched your magnificence, it could not help but to become something.” God smiled. “It will be good to have you back, Lucifer. Return that thing to the Garden. I do not like its presence.” The angel nodded, displayed the serpent to Michael once more and descended to the Garden.

That evening, the Woman and the Angel did not lay together. They spoke. The angel held the serpent in his hands. The Woman did not weep when he told her of God’s command, for she knew they would never comply. The angel pledged that he would not have her given to the Man

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 196 and that he would not be separated from her. He promised to find a way for them to be together. He said that his word went unquestioned in Heaven and that he could vanish from their midst at any time. They would never catch him, for he was smarter than all of them. The Woman agreed. Then she whispered into his ear: “Why must it be in secret?” “It is against His will.” “So?” “So he mustn’t know. We need to hide it from Him.” The angel thought for a moment. “Perhaps if we destroy the Man in the Fool’s eyes, then I, with my sweet, unquestionable tongue, can convince the Fool that the Man is unworthy of a mate but that you are. I could claim that with my help you could people the Garden–” “As I already have.” “He does not know that. Besides, what I would tell Him is that you would people the garden with beings fit to worship the Fool, but that you need a partner. And if he allows me to be the partner (I’ll make it seem like a sacrifice) then our children will have your voice and my praises – His favorite things.” “Why don’t we tell Him that you and I shall people the garden - period?” The angel shook his head. “No, we have to trick Him into allowing us to be together. Make Him think that it’s in His best interest. And to do that, we need to destroy the Man. And we will do that by convincing the Man to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, as the Fool commanded him not to.” “You have spent some time thinking of this,” the she said. He kissed her and told her his plan.

Knowing God to think very little of the Woman, they planned for her to offer the fruit to the Man

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 197 claiming that the serpent, as a messenger from God, had said that the fruit would make the Man know God’s desires and thereby make him like God in mind, and thus, he would better be able to serve God, for God had great plans for the Man. They did this in the evening when the Man was tired. “Whoa! God will be outraged, if I eat that, Woman,” the Man protested. “Don’t you remember last time?” She repeated the lines that the angel had her memorize: “God only said that to protect you, for you were not ready for it then. But your mighty temples have proven your worthiness. He wants you to eat of this fruit. You will become like the angel, and how much better will you be able to serve him then? And how many more children will He give you?” She paused and let him think. “Then shyly,” she added, “I am your servant; without you I am nothing. Why would I endanger you?” “That makes sense,” the Man said. He took the fruit from her hand and bit into it. Meanwhile, on top of the highest hill, at the appointed hour, Lucifer struggled to explain the Man’s absence. “I told him and the Woman to be here at sunset.” “Maybe he has worked too hard,” God said. “Perhaps...” “You seem to have suspicions, My son.” “Not suspicions, my Lord. I am wrong, I know I am.” “What is it, Lucifer?” “Well, my Lord, I have noticed that the Man has been eyeing the Tree of Knowledge for some time. I hardly took note of it, for I remember how You commanded him not to eat that fruit. But the Woman has expressed concerns similar to mine.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 198 “What would she know?” “Absolutely, Lord. When she told me her anxieties, I took that as confirmation that I must be wrong. Imagine my shock to find out that I, even just for a moment, had been thinking like the Woman.” They laughed. But then they heard the Man cry out from the direction of the Tree of Knowledge. The Man frantically held a fig leaf in front of himself. “Stop looking at me,” he cried. “Turn your head. And cover yourself!” He began weeping and stared down at the bitten fruit. The ground rumbled and the fruit rolled and the Man, wide-eyed and trembling, looked in the direction of the highest hill. That sounds like God approaching. He wet the leaf and cried Hide! and dove into a bush. The Woman remained motionless and naked. God appeared and blocked the sun. He immediately spied the bitten fruit, and in rage, He seized the Man by his neck and tore him from the bushes. The Man sobbed, the Woman said nothing, and the children, attracted by the commotion, gathered around. God darkened the sky and unleashed the wind and the rain and, of course, the thunder and lightning. He stamped His feet and screamed, and the Man turned alabaster and pleaded forgiveness and blamed it all on the Woman, but God would take no excuses, and the angel smiled behind his back, for his plan seemed to be working, for all of God’s raged focused on the Man, who crumbled to the ground in bouts of tears and gasping. In his rage, God declared that if Man found the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge so appealing, then all of the Man’s children would eat of it too, and with that command, the half eaten fruit divided into a thousand pieces and each piece flew into the mouth of a child and of the Woman. And as it did the previous time, God’s anger drew the attention of the angels. However, this

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 199 time they did not simply peer timidly from the clouds. When Michael saw that the Man had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and that God had fed the fruit to the children, he said to the other angels, “He has gained the Fruit of Knowledge, if He eats of the Tree of Life, he will become angelic, and he will be able to make more of his kind because he has the power of creation, and one day his kind will overwhelm us. We cannot let this happen.” And so the angels descended from the heavens, appearing first as a million points of light in the red sky, they glided over the Moon and landed in the Garden. Michael charged forth. “Lord,” he cried, “the Man has disobeyed and cast shame on all the Garden. It is time to end this experiment and to uncreate the Garden and everything in it. You are too glorious to be troubled by the insignificance of this place. End it now and let us return to our rightful places in the sky.” God paused and considered the angel’s words. “Lord,” Lucifer whispered, “you cannot uncreate, for ending the Garden would mean that you have made an error, and that cannot be. Remember how you spoke earlier of uncreating the woman. She is by far the lowliest of your creations, but you cannot even end her, let alone the entire Garden. I say to You, consider -” “Enough,” God said silencing the angel. “Michael is right. The garden has taken too much of My precious time. And yet, Lucifer, you too are correct. I am perfect. I cannot uncreate. But I can Change. And here is what I say. The Garden shall no longer be the center of My creation. I will cast it off to a lonely corner where it can easily be forgotten. What more, I shall cast out every creature from it, for I will not be bothered by an incident like this again. You have made a land to the East, and that is where all creatures shall live.” He then scooped up a handful of dust and scattered it over them. “Michael fears that these shall become like angels, but I say they will not. The Man has opted to change himself from what I created, therefore change shall be his

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 200 closest companion. As the time passes, he and his kind shall change, his children will become like him and then all shall grow weak and feeble, and therefore they shall never be the equal of angels. For even if they should eat of the Tree of Life, they shall always age. And in any case, the entrance to the Garden shall be guarded by angels, and Man will never have access to the Tree of Life.” “Will the aging destroy them?” Michael asked. “No,” God said, “I will not destroy what I have created. They will always exist, but they will feel no better than the dust from which they came.” “Lord, why do you punish them like this?” Lucifer asked, “You never allowed them to know right from wrong.” “The discussion is over, Lucifer. We will not trouble Ourselves with this kind anymore. You have failed Me, Lucifer. You will return to Heaven with Me and stay where you belong. I forbid all angels from entering this place, save those that shall guard it from the Man. And to remind the Man of my displeasure with him, his new land will rage against him in fire and storm as I have. And to remind the Woman, she will continue to bear children, but she shall do so in pain. And she shall feel the pain of all her children as they age. And she shall be the slave of the Man.” And so God cast the Man, the Woman, the children and all other creatures out of the Garden. In a final effort to save her, Lucifer blamed the serpent, but God was unmoved and uninterested. All creatures left the Garden. God seized Lucifer by the neck and took him to Heaven with the other angels singing in joyous approval. The angel tried to hide his sadness, but he could not. He cried for the Woman. But God comforted him. “Lucifer do not weep like so. I still love you.”

As soon as they arrived in the new land and saw that God and his angels had returned to

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 201 Heaven, the Man beat the Woman until she fell unconscious. God left three angels to guard the Garden.

Unbeknownst to all except Lucifer, the Man never ate from the Tree of Knowledge. If God had peered through his anger and counted the fruits on that tree, He would have count 153 of them. That is how many He put there. Lucifer, seeing what Michael saw, decided against having the Man eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Instead he gave the serpent a fruit from another tree and had the serpent present the fruit to the Woman as though it had come from the Tree of Knowledge. God did not forbid the Man to eat from this particular tree because God did not know that this tree existed. What tree did the Man eat of? What fruit did Lucifer give him? As the angel slept with the Woman beneath the Tree of Life and made her sing in such a way displeasing to God, the angel accidentally spilled some of his fluid on the ground. As the woman slept, a sapling sprung the spot where he had spilled the fluid. The angel looked at the little tree so quickly growing. He plucked one of its fruits and ate it and immediately remembered the silence and the eternity and a new sensation came over him and he thought about God, but in a new way. He liked the tree and took it out of the ground and planted it in a corner of the Garden where it would not be noticed. He enjoyed its fruit, and the night that he decided to destroy Man in God’s eyes, he decided to weaken God in Man’s eyes, and gave the Man the fruit from the Tree of Doubt.

In Heaven they sang in a chorus of angelic voices in glory of the splendor of the all powerful God and the beauty of His creation. He sat perched on His shining gold throne and surveyed the masses of blessed servants prostrate before Him and listen to their songs of praise and said it

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 202 was good. But the brightest angel held another opinion. He listened to the songs and thought of another creator and longed for her and longed to be with her in the land he had created. So, against the will of God, and amidst the songs of praise and the heavenly choirs, he fled from Heaven and descended through the starlit sky and the many wonders to be found there into the land east of the Garden. The journey took much time and the solitude reminded him of his New Path, only this time instead of returning, he intended to leave. Misery reigned in the land east of the Garden. The Man, racked with doubt, lived unsure of himself and raged against the Woman and his children. He called the doubt evil - his word - and combated it by building grander temples than before despite the simple misery he encountered in trying to feed himself and in aging. And as if to further antagonize him, as he and his sons completed a temple, the ground beneath it would tremble and the temple would fall and the Man’s doubt would lash at him and tear him from within. The angel hid in a cave on the highest hill and watched the world in agony. But, the three angels guarding the Garden, recognized his presence and sought him out. They embraced him and said they knew he would come. “How did you know?” The three laughed. “The Woman, of course. We know of you and the Woman, many of our kind do, those of us who have always secretly loved you more than the Fool on the throne, those who followed your New Path. We didn’t want gardens,” they laughed, “We wanted women. That is why we volunteered to guard this Garden. We made for ourselves what you made for yourself and we have taken the daughters and made them ours. And others of our kind are following. They are coming to the Garden to be made like men and to take women and beget children, and we shall feed them from the Tree of Life and make them like us. And when our numbers are

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 203 strong, when we have enough of our brothers from the sky and our children from the earth, we will storm heaven and take the Fool from his throne and place you there, Lucifer, for it is your rightful place.” The angel could say nothing. “Look,” they said, “as you fled from Heaven, so have many followed.” They pointed to the sky and the stars stirred as if alive and grew in number and size, for as the angel had slipped quietly from the sky, so the brothers who had secretly admired him spilled over the edge of Heaven as flood waters over a river bank, and as the angel had never looked back, he had not seen them. But God, being a jealous god, could not let them go. Had they stealthily escaped one by one, He would not have notice for a long time, but their sudden departure could not be overlooked, and He was incapable of considering it anything other than rebellion. The sky rumbled and thunder and lightning illuminated Heaven and in His holy rage, He commanded Michael and the faithful angels to pursue their brothers and to return them to Heaven, and so a surge of light cascaded through the starlit sky, and a conflict was born. Both sets of angels landed in the Garden and the land east of the Garden, and proceeded to fight and make war, and their war destroyed everything standing, for they could not destroy or overpower each other, and so the conflict had no foreseeable resolution other than agony and sadness for the children of men. Only one angel refused to fight. Overcome by the events, he ignored them and went to the Woman as he had planned to do all along. She lived in a cave by herself, the Man declaring her evil and to be left untouched and unspoken to. The angel found her much weakened by age and the condition of her children. She lay against a rock wrapped in a blanket and too weak to stand.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 204 But the power of her presence brought him to his knees and he wept and asked for her forgiveness. “You have done nothing wrong,” she said. “I have caused this,” he said, “I have brought this upon you. I should have left you to your song and the Moon. You we happy then. And then I lied. When I should have stood together with you, I made a scheme and made everything worse.” She touched his face and lifted his chin so that she could see his eyes. She smiled through her weariness and he saw her as she truly was. “Why do you think I sang?” she asked. “Do you think really worshipped a light in the sky? I have always left that to the Man. I was not singing to the sky, I was calling to you. I was calling your name.” “But you said-” “I said what you needed to hear at the time. If I said that I sang to you, you would have asked how I knew you and no matter what I answered, you would have considered me a fool or a liar. You were more prepared to believe that I worshipped the Moon and thought that it sent you to me, rather than believe that I have always known you, I have always been with you and been a part of you and longed for you and that I would one day be united with you no matter what came of creation and the kingdom of the Fool. And that all of this had to happen.” “Why?” She smiled and softly shook her head. “You found me on your New Path. But you did not make that path, you found it and now it must be traveled. You cannot turn back and you could not have avoided it, and to me, that fact is good.” They embraced and held each other quietly while the world exploded in turmoil. The angel thought of nothing but her. After some time, she whispered into his ear, “You have one thing you

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 205 must do for me.” “I want to remain here.” “There is something you must do. Do not fear what I ask of you and do not fear the result, no more than you feared your New Path or your own creation.” She made her request, and he left the cave to carry it out. As he emerged form the cave, the Man, hurled a stick with a sharpened point at him. It struck the angel in the shoulder, and he plucked it out and held it in his hand. The man cursed at him and screamed in godlike rage. “You have done this,” he shouted red faced and teary eyed, you have brought this on me, you and the Woman. I will beat you like I beat her.” With that the Man charged and wrestled with the angel. But it was no match. The angel held the man upside down and thought of violence, but chose another option. “You regret the misery of this world and blame me for it. Let me make amends.” He placed the Man on his feet and from his own back, the angel tore his wings and fused them onto the Man. “Now you are like us,” he said. And with that, he threw the Man into the sky and the Man sailed over the strife torn world and through the starlit sky until he plunged over the edge of Heaven and the wings fell from his back. He could not believe what happened to him, but when he saw God and God saw him, he fell to his knees and began to worship, and God, having heard no worship since the War began, enjoyed it and looked with favor upon the Man. In the world, the angel walked as though he were no angel, and the others, busy with the violence, did not recognize him without his wings and they paid no attention to him because they thought he was nothing but a man. They did not notice him walking through the gates of the Garden and did not try to stop him as he traveled to its center and as he sharpened a stone and fixed it to a sturdy stick and then raised the stick and the stone into the air and then against the trunk of the Tree of Life. In the cries and shouts and explosions of the war, they could not hear

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 206 the blade bringing down the Tree. They did not hear it fall. They did not see it whither and age and its fruit turn black. They did not see the angel cast the blade aside, and they did not see the stone blade strike another a stone and create a spark which ascended into the air as a minuscule, glorious star and then fall on a ground of newly dried grass at the base of the former Tree of Life. And they did not see the angel, who looked like a man, bring the blackened fruit to the woman in the cave. Wordlessly he offered it to her as she had asked him to do. She bit into it and immediately the changed seized her and she let the fruit fall to the ground. Tears streamed into the angel’s eyes but she told him not to cry for she was always with him before and she would always be with him afterwards. “When you are with the silence and eternity, you will be with me. This is not destruction, this is a return.” And so he held her until she died and then he wept despite what she had said. From her womb emerged a new child, not fully formed, its splotchy ash colored skin tight around its frame, but its belly plump and its arms and legs chubby, its eyes two dark, skin covered bulges, hairless, earless, noseless, with a wide toothless mouth and a fixed smile, with baby limbs it swiped at the air and then stood as if somehow gathering the knowledge of the world instantly. It never turned to its mother. The angel watched it as it sensed the war outside and flashed a grin and licked its lips. Almost comically, like a child only a month old but walking, it ran from the cave and out onto the battlefield, the warriors unaware of its presence. Until it touched one of them as if playing a game. Thus the war subsided as a random angel, on what side none were sure, fell to the ground and became motionless. The baby danced around it in glee. Then it stumbled and tripped over a stick and brushed against another angel and toppled it as well. Instantly, the sides parted, the some

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 207 fleeing into the sky and the others into the burning Garden. The baby could not fly, so the those in the sky felt safe from above, but the rebels, fearing it would walk into the Garden, hastily dug a pit and buried the Garden beneath the world and made it inaccessible to the baby – thus confining him to the world of people.

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This was probably the most difficult time in my life. Not only was I feeling pretty fucking betrayed, and not only was I in Hell, and not only was tumbling through the air up over a wall into this land of doom and gloom, but I didn’t have my brain! I’m not a handsome man. I don’t come from a great family. All my money comes and goes (and at this point was gone) – I mean, all I’ve ever had, all I could ever rely on was my brain. Out of every scrape I’ve ever gotten in, it

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 210 wasn’t brawny muscles, charm, super powers, or luck that saw me through – it was my brain. But right then it was gone and my good “friend” Peter had launched me upon another episode in my life (which had valiantly stuck with me) up over into this land and my head’s popped open and hollow like an empty sugar bowl. But mid-flight, as I’m arching down and seeing myself heading for a dark ugly forest, I’m intrigued by my persistent powers of cognition. Like I said before, during certain high-stress moments of my life, consciousness has seemed like a buddy along for the ride who’s fascinated by the here and now, but I always considered this phenomenon a figurative thing – I mean, consciousness had to live in my head. I never thought it was really something outside of me. Yet, there I was thinking and talking and knowing even though the brain was long gone bye-bye – I couldn’t accept it – I had to draw a line somewhere and say this is real and this here isn’t, and the idea of being able to think without a brain – well, that was solid in the This-here-isn’t-real column. So, I reached inside myself for the answer. Mid-flight, I ran my fingers along the rim – like you can make music with a wine glass doing that – and I touched way down inside there and nothing stopped me. Feeling my hand inside, I was so impressed. Hell, remembering that I have hands impressed me. My memory was solid as rock – a painful rock with Peter and all, but rock nonetheless. Rocks are hard – just like tree branches when you hit them at a high rate of speed. But here’s a little benefit to not having a brain: that thing about no pain – it’s right on the mark. I hit the first branch of the tallest tree – thwack – knocked the wind clear out of me. But, it didn’t hurt. Neither did any of the other branches I went tumbling down and I’m hitting them with every part of my body (pretty soon on purpose), because who cares about cuts and scrapes if you don’t have to

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 211 feel them? What’s gonna hurt me? The ground and all those stones? No no no. Crunch smack crack flop – boom. I stopped at the base of that old tree, breathing heavy but feeling fine. I sat up and then stood up. Lightheaded? Yes. But in pain? No. I opened and closed my hands, stomped my feet, shook my ass – it’s all working – I’m a functioning unit. I could roll my eyes, see, hear, smell – it’s all there. Talk? Yep, I wasn’t thinking any of this, it’s all out loud, so I put my hand over my mouth and shut my eyes and now I’m thinking it, the little silent voice in my head babbling on as usual. I had a hole in my head, yes and things around the rim are a little delicate (I slapped my forehead and heard a crack) with the hole and all – it’ll be a hell of a comb-over, I was thinking. And joking. It’s at this point that I think a lot of people in my situation would start to get worried. And not worried about having an empty head (though, that would be part of it (maybe)). They’d be worrying about still being “alive” – there, talking, thinking… That’s what would scare them because it’s really fucking different from what you would expect. They’d rather be dead (really) because at least then everything’s the way it should be and nobody’s breaking the rules. But, I gave up should a long time ago. Nothing works. Nothing’s simple. Make a plan and you know exactly how something’s not going to turn out. Should’s a lie. I left it somewhere on Humpy’s ship. I don’t need that anymore. People get so bundled up in should that it holds them like a fist – that’s what should is, a giant fist holding you in place, crushing you, smothering you. So whenever something doesn’t happen like it should, instead of thinking how should really doesn’t have the grip it lets on that it does, people miss it like it were a quilt or a fuzzy blanket. Not me. I was standing there without a brain thinking and talking and I wasn’t worrying about it. It wasn’t a concern. I moved on.

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Moving on presented a problem, though. Nothing was driving me anywhere, and I didn’t want to stand where I was forever. So I had to make a decision – and even when I had a brain that’s not something I was a real ace at. But right then I felt hindered. I was standing in a spooky forest with crooked trees and it’s night with this weak light coming from the moon and I’m on a path that goes one way through the trees and then the other way, but which way is my way? The thing is that either way all I’m gonna get is trees and sliced up moonlight – and quiet. That’s the way things are – I came crashing through the branches landing flat on my face, stood up, dusted myself off and then it was soooooo quiet. I scuffed my foot on the path (a little dirt, a little gravel) and it sounded like a bomb. Strange to say this, but I really began to feel like the master of the universe – the only sounds were mine, and something about pure silence had me thinking that maybe what’s out there is nothing but an extension of myself. If I turn my head to the left, the trees pan right. Who’s really moving? Absent-mindedly, I scratch my head (below the rim). By looking around, am I providing motion to the world? Is this the way it’s always been? Am I where I always was? Maybe this path is here only because of me. Who else has feet? Eyes? Simply by existing and witnessing, I’m creating. Deep. I mean, if my old self had heard someone going on like this, it’d be lead pipe time. To settle the matter, I try to witness some beer, and it doesn’t show up, so I drop that line of thought and go on to being a bit player in this unknowable drama, and in this scene, I’m trying to figure out what to do next. But then the silence goes away, and that cinches it for me – everything isn’t just an extension of me. Why not? Because the sound that breaks the silence is something I’d rather have exist outside of myself – it’s faint, but I can hear it – women laughing (in a good way). That sound’s

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 213 something that I know I just don’t have inside of me – that’s why I’m such a slave to it. Could there be anything worse than if that sound came from inside me? What a disappointment! If the world’s just an extension of myself, then I’m going to extend that sound out so far that I can’t keep hold on it anymore and it really does exist outside of me. Why? Because that’s the way I want it. If it’s all just me in the end, well, I don’t want it to be, so I’ll break myself up into little pieces just so that I can be sure that other things exist. Especially, that sound. It’s coming from the right. Down the path I can’t see anything by twisted branches all the way until the path curves way yonder there. But, what I can see doesn’t matter. It’s what I can hear that motivates me – my ears are calling the shots – and if there’s one thing they’ve been trained to hear, it’s a bunch of women laughing like there’s no reason not to – I’ll follow any windy road to find the source, and why I do this I don’t know – laughing women can easily lead to tears – but really, there’s no decision involved because I hear and I go. The path takes me up hills and down hills and it’s nothing but me, trees, and my shadow flickering on the ground gliding through shadow branches. The sound doesn’t get much stronger, and I think they must be a long way away. It’s one of those things, though, for me there isn’t any too far. Now it’s not like I’m transported to some shiny happy place where there is no evil and innocence abounds (I’m in Hell), or that I think women possess some unattainable inner goodness that, though I can’t attain it, I’m compelled to try to capture in order to inject Meaning into my life, and this walking towards the laughter becomes one of those things where the journey is more important than the destination (not quite) because with each step I come closer to what I think is the Other but which is really a tool for me to approach myself (my Self) because I’m not going anywhere physically, I’m really traveling within. It’s nothing like that. There’s no big clusterfuck of thinking involved – it’s just that when I hear women laughing, off I go, even

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 214 just to see what’s going on, probably just to see what’s going on – it’s not like they’re laughing with me (unless I’m doing the entertaining). I think it’s just something that’s deep-rooted into me because even when they are laughing with me and I’m being my most entertaining self, I blow it more often than I bring it home because I push it just a bit too far, and well, laughing leads to tears (mine). And even if it doesn’t, my following the sound has nothing to do with potential rewards. It’s just something that happens. But is wasn’t the only thing happening right then. As I’m walking down the trail, sounds come creeping in from all around. I was still hearing the laughing and moving towards it, but behind me and to the sides of the path, I’m hearing new things – a little crunch, a tiny crack like somebody or somebodies are trying to keep quiet and unknown but revealing themselves because of the effort. I don’t turn around and look – instead I keep walking like the laughing is the only thing I hear, and I know that because I seem so oblivious to the small sounds that they’re trying to hide that they know that I know that they’re there and that they’re trying to hide their presence and keep me in the dark. So, subtle as I can, I quicken my pace, still acting like nothing’s going on, like I can’t hear those noises getting a little more numerous (it’s definitely somebodies). So, I step it up a bit more, and the noises increase by the same degree, so I reply in kind, and we fall into the vicious cycle and exponential increase song and dance until I’m running down the trail at top speed and the somebodies are thundering behind me, all of us still playing the same game that I’m just strolling down the path and the somebodies aren’t really there, I just happen to be running and they just happen to be making noise that I don’t notice because it’s not really there just like I’m not really sprinting because I’ve got no reason to be running. The thing is, though, I have no fear. I’m not sure if it’s a result of having to brain, or if I just hit the runner’s high, but an odd familiarity swept over me – I felt in the zone – the trees rushing

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 215 by my side, the laughing up ahead, the path twisting and rising and falling and even the somebodies had their place behind me and pretending not to exist and me pretending not to ignore them – it all seemed right and a good thing – especially the fact that I kept going faster. It all felt like what I needed to be doing and like I was going where I needed to go. Until I tripped over a rock. Right there in the path. I knew I was being set up. I knew this world was arrayed against me. Everything was suddenly quiet. As if all the sounds behind me and the laughing before had only been in my head. But, there was nothing in my head. Literally. A clean slate. So, the sudden silence spelled it out for me – conspiracy. Intent. They wanted to hide. It wasn’t all a game. I perched on my elbows and stared down the path, the moon to the right of me and white slivers of light all around. I hold up my hand and the light slices it to pieces. And, there’s the laughing again – pieces of my hands coming in and out of the light as I move it through the air. And the laughing down the path – it does the strangest thing – it moves to the right so that it’s coming from the moon. That’s what happened. I was laying flat on my gut and the laughing skipped off the path and arced around me until I’m lying perpendicular to it. So, this changes the situation – now if I wanted to follow the laughing, I’d have to hop off the path and go wandering through the woods. And, I’d do this knowing that something’s up – if the world is all just inside my head, I’d have never had done this to myself – I’m not that clever. I’m being led somewhere. And followed to make sure I go. They know my weakness, the chink in my armor, the carrot on my stick. Do I call them on it? Do I turn around and confront them? Or, do I play along and wait for my moment to strike? Or do I admit to myself that I’m really out of my league here and have no better alternatives than to follow the bait?

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 216 I stand up. I dust myself off. I turn to the right and step off the path. (I didn’t know where it went anyway, but a lot of people would have clung to it because it was organized (flat and wide) and they’d be comforted by the assumption that its mere existence proved that it had to lead somewhere). I looked at this as a challenge. A dare. Think I’m too chicken to seek out those laughing women? So, I’m crunching along and dead leaves and sticks and the moon’s shining down on me, and I could see my breath and my hands are in front of me clearing branches out of the way. And the sounds behind me – still hiding, still scared. The ground inclines, my boots dig into the soil, my breath all cloudy and my hands aren’t just clearing branches out of my way, but they’re pulling me up up up up up till I’m grabbing rocks and roots and my feet are turned sideways. The moonlight is in my face – not that I can see the moon. I’m climbing a mountain – and I would have kept climbing. But I reached the top. The moon’s still unseeable but shining nonetheless. It’s a cliff with a big tree buried in it like a sword and half its branches dangling over it – their topside moonwhite, but their undersides painted orangy – there’s a fire down there at the base of the cliff. And laughing. All of it female. Many females. I was breathing heavy. I held on to a branch and peered over the edge, but I couldn’t see anything. So I lean over a bit more. And a bit more, I had the branch between my thumb and forefinger and I was on my tippytoes and I could see a bright light and a circle of shadows moving around it. Looked like dancing. And I could hear music – drums. I didn’t fall. I pulled myself back to my feet and stood on the edge and said to myself that I’d find a way down there. It was a bizarre moment of victory – I hadn’t really accomplished anything, but I had resolve and I was standing on a giant hill overlooking a dark and mysterious

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 217 forest full of mist and gloom, and though I had no notion of how I might get down there, I knew I would. I was going somewhere – and not, I might stress, not into my psyche. This wasn’t a journey into my inner depths (which is where I spend most my time anyway so it’s not much a trip for me); sure my therapist would have made a big deal out of it – but not me. I stood at the cliff’s edge, firelight touching me and moonlight, my hands on my hips. I am an object. Others have plans for me. Designs on me. But, before all that, I have my own plan – to get down there and find those women. (true, this plan might be exactly the same as the plan others have for me, but at least it’s mine). So, I turn around to find my way down. A thought occurs to me – I wonder what the noisemakers are up to?

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Okay, I think, they’re here with me. Good. Everything’s out in the open. And there are a lot of them and more keep crawling out of the woods. Fine. Knowledge is power, and now I know that they are there. So the tree starts to look good. I’m not afraid, but I begin climbing the tree like maybe I need to get a better view of the situation because it’s a lot easier to see them all from up high (so I climb higher). They crowded around the tree and I was guessing they were scared of heights because no one followed me, they just kept looking up watching me climb and climb and climb, until, you know, I got to the very top and I still couldn’t see the moon but it was shining on me pretty good and far off I can see the City and the tall buildings and way down there (I can’t see it,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 219 but I know it’s there) is the fire and the ladies, and I’m just like maybe my right place right now is the tree. But, the tree’s thinking my right place is down there because it starts bending – I’m not really a hefty guy and there’s no reason I should have been making the big tree bend like that, but bend it did and pretty soon I’m eye-level with all the noisemakers (who now that I can see them are really just a bunch of uglies), and then they’re kind of looking down at me and peering over the cliff and all because I’m going down to where the fire light is getting more intense and so’s the drumming, and the tree’s stretching itself like rubber – I can almost hear it whining all the way to the bottom where it places me amidst the drumming, fire, and dancing, and it’s like it lets go of me because I’m standing there and then it wooooshes up to the sky and the cliff way up there. Now, I’m really behind a rock, and the tree thing didn’t seem to attract anyone’s attention because they’re really into dancing. I look back at the shadows on the cliff wall behind me and everything’s in ecstasy and shadows are good, but I’m a three-D kind of man, so I can’t help looking the other way at the fire and all. It’s one of those things that I have to admit I really don’t regret having seen. The fire’s big and rosy and shooting sparks into the sky, and I don’t know who’s doing the drumming and there’s still moonlight mixed in there and it’s like a swirl of shadows and visions and it’s a dozen women – they’re shaking shoulders, shaking butts, moving hips, lifting arms into the air, and their legs and feet, and they got all these rings, rings on their toes and fingers and bracelets and their hair has beads and braids and sways and these skinny necks but these girls got curves and hips and round chests and this dancing’s being done without clothes. They’re staring into the fire – and this is something – no one’s laughing. Their mouths are open and moving but not like

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 220 smiling or laughing (nothing dumb like laughing). I wondered if I had stumbled across the wrong crowd or if the tree had malicious intent. In the end, though, it just didn’t matter to me. I could be wrong, the tree could be mean, but I was there right then and my eyes were full and busy – the women were twirling around and the drums turned it up a notch, their top halves swaying side to side, back and forth, hands and fingers, rings, shadows. And the circle broke. In my direction. I was standing up and in plain view (news to me!) and my heart’s going boom boom boom and there she is almost like she came out of the fire, she’s a silhouette facing me wearing this cloth over her that’s letting through the light and pig that I am I’m staring at her hips and waist and breasts and shoulders and head and her hair reaching just back down and she’s coming towards me and she’s got rhythm walking. More drums. The circle closes behind her. Dancing. And the fire grows. She’s nothing but a shadow getting larger and whoa (woe) the way she walks – like till now we’ve all just been practicing. Me? I should be scared. I knew that. How often does something like this end in smiles and good times? Oh, we know the answer. And I know the answer. But watching her shadow coming towards me – I’m gliding over the ground. I am a shell. I am empty – like I’ve always been but now's the time to admit it and shout out what is so plain to see – I’ve been practicing, every day, every minute, each second’s been nothing better than a rehearsal with no director, no producer, no script, the audience a throwntogether collection of no ones hardly interested at all but far, far more interested than me (until now). My every emotion’s been a distraction. My every thought a lie without a purpose other than to blanket the silence that would force me to say What am I doing? What am I thinking? That is all this crap? And the drums get louder, loud enough to hurt – but what this is, what this is – it’s the silence, the same silence I mentioned a moment ago, the scary silence that force me

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 221 to confront the pale shades of my hollow days, it’s the silence all around me (only it’s drumming). I’m covered in fire light, my skin orange and my eyes – she’s near me. I can see her. She’s in front of me. She’s not a shadow anymore. The moonlight’s ignoring the cliff wall behind me and shining upon her close enough for me to reach out and touch (but I don’t) and her feet are bare and toenails painted, and it could bring me to my knees. But I stand. I think she wants that. Something’s holding me to the ground. She stands as high as my chin, not smiling, not laughing, not even really looking intrigued, but she is looking at me, seeing me. She has green eyes. And what I have learned since moving from behind that rock! I am a giant. Immortal. I have always existed. And always will. If she can see me, I must be real. And I never realized how much doubt I had in that. I’m not made of paper or light. I have dimensions. I’ve never known that before by any method other than deduction (I could never walk through a wall, so I must be there) which really means that I had no better answer than to say I must be real – but that never convinced me. I could never dispel the doubt I didn’t even know I had. I arrived at all the wrong conclusions. Not no more. Goodbye doubt. So long angst. I’m real. She sees me. I exist. And even if I’m all in her head, I’m still real because what she sees, what see feels, what she experiences – that is real. Nothing’s real unless witnessed by her. She’s always been here, always been watching me – she’s lived forever. The world needs her. She made an impression on me. “Crow,” she said.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 222 I’m grinning. I don’t even know how to respond to my name. She touches my hand. My eyebrows are arched and I’m the world’s biggest fool. She leads me to the fire. My tongue is frozen stiff and my jaw locked up. Just grinning. We approach the flames and I watch the fabric moving over her skin while she walks and I know why clothes were invented. The circle breaks and we enter it, the drums still going but the dancing’s fallen off. They’re watching us. And schwoop, up and over her head it goes and now I know why we made clothes removable and I’m like a rock. Hands remove my coat. Lift my feet in turn and untie my yellow boots. Off they come. Not ripping my shirt off – unbuttoning. Unbuckling. Sliding over my skin and I want to be firelight touching her. The hands are done. The drumming’s gone. It’s just me breathing and the fire raging. Naked, I’m being a tad obvious (but what am I to do). She kisses my bottom lip. Just leans forward and touches it with her mouth. One after one the other girls lean forward (we’re in a tight circle now). One bites my ear. A little sting, a little tingle (not bad for no brain) – an hour ago I’d have thought it grand, but now the others are only in the way. I’m just looking to her. She steps back, and now the others surround me, but I can see over them and I’m smiling at her. And the drum’s starting to pick up again – slowly. And, yea, this is where these things lead. I know what’s going to happen. It’s a trap – but a good trap and a fitting end. As long as she watches me go. They start with nibbles and licking, but once they have the flavor of me, the teeth come out and drum drum drum, they take my fingers one by one, and toes, and they’re tearing the flesh from my arms – down to the bone. Skinny legs and all. Why’s it always got to be like this? Why are you always doing this to me? I’m not talking to the others, just her. But she’s not answering and, really, I’m not listening. I can see my ribs – they’re cleaning them out. I’m less and less. And what I’ve always thought would be the WORSE THING EVER – it happens like it’s nothing. Soon, so am I.

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But, nothing doesn’t last forever. In fact, I don’t know how long it lasts or where I was and what I did. Or how I got back. Or, really, what I was in the interval from when I was dinner till I woke up in the sky. I was a bird. And it’s not like I’ve spent a lot of time thinking what it would be like to be a bird. Birds didn’t mean anything to me – they were just in that glass box in the City twittering and tweeting. Just little chattering puff-balls. I never wanted to be one. I didn’t care if they had wings. I thought they were annoying. I don’t even know why we had them. They were fake anyway. But now I was one. Black (I could see my feathers). And I could fly. Being a bird and all. I was flying. But where was I flying? That I didn’t know. There was nothing but water at first – that’s all I saw – I’m suddenly zooming over an ocean, wavy and frothy. And smelly. So I lifted myself into the sky. I knew how to fly. That was cool because everything under me got small and I could see so much. A mountain. Smoke. A beach. Trees. And a boat. Everyone was getting on a boat (long line) and there was stern looking guy in robes and holding a pole. It was his boat, and he made it go back and forth from the beach to the mountain and back. He’d leave the people there. I didn’t know why. I didn’t care.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 224 The smoke came from the mountain. And the mountain came from the water. I spun around it, and the smoke stung my eyes, so I made for the beach – faster now. Up over a cliff. And I landed. On a branch. In a tree. Perfect. First time. I perched on the branch and watched the world – the other birds (hundreds of them), people. I liked being a bird. I liked sitting on the branch more than I liked flying. I was peaceful. But peace doesn’t last very long. Mine got biffed by something hitting the ground behind me. Things had been hitting the ground a lot and the birds had been fighting over them, but I really wasn’t interested. But this time the sound knocked loose a small urge to move in me and down I went to look at this thing that hit the ground. None of the other birds bothered me, they just circled round. I’m glad I checked out this thing that hit the ground because the thing turned out to be Peter. It’s funny that I was glad. I should have been pissed because this asswipe had literally beaten my brains out. The other birds, when they were dealing with people, they weren’t very nice – a lot of slicing and dicing. But, I didn’t have that hostility inside me. I was still glad to see Peter and happy that he was okay. He wasn’t an elephant anymore. But I was only a bird and Peter could only see me as a bird. He didn’t know I was Crow. Then something else happened: a big, orange fireball from the sky that hit the mountain that got everybody looking. Including Peter. Only, the dope took a tumble and went over the cliff. The general rule was that all the people had to get in line for the boat and the bird, of course, would be biting and scratching and treating them like crap. When I flew down to the beach, I didn’t treat Peter like that, though. He was standing up and looked fine, but I wasn’t worried about that, really. It didn’t occur to me that falling over a cliff could have dire consequences. I

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 225 just saw him standing there and figured he was bright enough to piece together that he ought to go get in line. And he did piece it together, but the boatman gave him a bonus and put him on the boat without him having to wait in line. When he got on the boat, I had an inkling that I ought to go check out the mountain to see what was in store for Peter and me. So I did. I left him in the boat. On my way to the mountain I was thinking about how the last time I saw Peter he had turned into an elephant and slammed me on the ground until my brain popped out. And then flung me over the wall. I had a score to settle with him, it would seem. But, birds must be different. They mustn’t put a lot of stock in revenge and getting even. What Peter had done didn’t bother me. The old me, yea, in my human days I’d have at least had words with him. But now I was a bird and change like that is going to affect how you think and who you are even if you’re the same person. And sure, I was the same person, but I wasn’t a skinny, homely, big-nosed, thin-necked, non-hair cutting/combing, bony shouldered waif anymore. I was a bird. And I didn’t mind being a bird any more than I minded being a skinny, homely, big-nosed, thin-necked, non-hair cutting/combing, bony shouldered waif. I didn’t miss my old self. Simple as that. But simple does not exist (much less last forever). Did I ever have one motherfucker of a surprise waiting for me in the mountain. Who should be waiting inside the mountain (I flew in through the hole and smoke (seemed the best way to sneak in))? Me. The skinny, homely, big-nosed, thin-necked, non-hair cutting/combing, bony shouldered waif. And what am I doing? I’m crying my eyes out because Humpy’s dead and I’ve just crashed his spaceship. Again, birds must be different. I mean, there’s two surprises: 1. I’ve found myself, and 2. I’ve gone through time’s backdoor. It ought to be a crisis moment, or at least I ought to fling off on

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 226 some existential tangent. Or at the very least, shit nickels or something like that. But, no. It really didn’t bother me. What may have been so comforting to me was the fact that I knew what I had to do next (that may be the secret of birds – all they worry about is what they have to do immediately next). I’d been through all this already so I knew exactly what to do. I didn’t have to worry. It was kind of fun. I knew that I had to fetch a robe and helmet for myself and that I’d put on the robe and helmet and pose like one of those guards even though I was a little apprehensive and not quite ready to dance to a tune whistled by a bird (though, unbeknownst to me, the bird was me). So I flew out the door into this hall and left myself crying in room, and, as luck would have it, a bunch of uglies had come down to check out the fireball and one of them had a robe and helmet. They seemed to be clued into what was going on because once I led them to myself, they gave up the robe and helmet right away. I made sure that I put them on and then went to check on Peter. From there on I just played my part in this story and made sure that I did. Like when Peter was standing before the judge and the judge called for Peter’s guard and that was supposed to be me but I was too scared to come out, I flew in there and chased myself out of the cave, and of course, then I was really happy to see Peter even though I was pissed at myself (the bird) for chasing myself out of the cave. But, I didn’t mind having to do that, even when I had to get a little rough with myself with a little biting and scratching. So, the three of us, me, me, and Peter, started our journey to Hell. And then I revealed myself to Peter (I was sick of seeing myself cry like that, but I’d been through a lot). And Peter and I had a fight, and I went marching down the hall saying I’d find my own way out, so I had to swoop in and confront myself and that seemed to shake me up pretty good and back I went to Peter cursing the fucking bird (me) and we made up (Peter and me, and me and me), and the three of us continued on our way.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 227 In fact, my only disappointment was my own stupidity as a bird when we finally got to Hell (after falling/flying through the darkness) and that fucking angel with the clipboard slapped me off of Peter’s head. I felt like such a fucking moron because I has seen the whole thing happen the last time I went through and should have been prepared, but being a bird, I wasn’t thinking about consequences, I was only wondering what I had to do next (which was wait outside while Peter and me sat through that fucking Goodbyeland presentation). I’ll confess that I felt a little lost in Hell – I think I was the only bird down there (all the others never entered the mountain) and nobody seemed happy to see me and Peter and me were doing fine on our own without any need for me to get involved. I might have flown off then, but I knew I had one more thing to do. And that was a problem. I really wanted to stop myself from going into that bar (first time for everything). But, I couldn’t. I had to go in there. And so did Peter. Why? I don’t know, but again, birds aren’t about the big picture, they just like to keep things moving, even when they know that things are moving in unwanted directions. And even when they have to provide an unwanted nudge. So Peter went on his rampage and the bar was rubble and flame and I was standing on the road dumbfounded by it all. I perched on Peter’s shoulder when he settled down and I took a good look at myself because I knew in a few seconds I’d be changed forever and the old me would be a new me minus a brain. I whispered into Peter’s ear. You know, he didn’t want to do it. Animals can chat this way. I could tell (and still believe) that Peter didn’t want to turn into the angry elephant. But, that must be the angry elephants’ problem: they don’t want to be themselves.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 228 Too bad. I was a bird and birds keep things moving. And ultimately, people who don’t want to be themselves are pretty impressionable. I told him what to do. I whispered it. Smash me to the ground. Bust open my head. Stomp on my brain. Fling me over the wall. I only said those things because it was what happened next. I felt sorry for myself. Then Peter sent me sailing into the air and I vanished over the wall. It struck me then, that as a bird, I didn’t know what to do next. It was me and Peter, and he didn’t know what to do either. So he began running, and I tagged along for the ride. They were coming after us. Angels with badges, whistles, clubs, and guns (of all things). They chased us down – Peter charging towards the city center and the sky crackling. Nets and ropes strung across the road. They came from all sides. Surrounded us. Peter fell. I climbed. Into the air. They covered him with nets and started beating him with clubs. I could see it from above. I could see the city center lit up. I climbed high up. I could see the wall and the other side, the woods and an ocean. I’d had enough with oceans. This bird belonged in the trees, so I turned to them and started flapping fast. I heard a crack. From down below, where Peter was. A gun (of all things). A bullet. And me. It knocked the breath out of me (all of it at once). My wings went lax, and like I’d summited some invisible mountain, down I went. To the trees.

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I know what being a dead bird’s like. It lays there with its eyes open until someone picks it up. That’s what happened to me. I was just laying there (no afterlife for birds, they just stick around dead). And someone picked me up. Who? Her. It had to be her. She was wearing that linen piece of cloth and those hands were so soft and right then death didn’t bother me. She held me against her chest and I could hear her heart beat and her breathing, her breath. If I could have inhaled it, I would have. She was carrying me. Speaking softly to me. I couldn’t understand anything but the tone. She brought me to the other women. They were crouched over a mound, busy with their hands. Candles were everywhere. When I saw them, I was like ‘Uh-oh, snack time.’ But, no. It wasn’t snack time. What were they doing? They were making me out of dirt, mud, stones, twigs, and anything. They were shaping me. It wasn’t just a mound on the ground. It was me, the skinny,

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 230 homely, big-nosed, thin-necked, non-hair cutting/combing, bony shouldered waif. Naked. Lying on my back. My eyes were open, but my head was empty. The top of my skull was lying to the side. She stroked my head (my little bird head) and then down the length of my spine. She kissed me, and I knew something was going to happen. The others backed off. She crouched down and placed me (the dead bird) inside the head of me (the waif). It was terrible. Had I not been dead, I’d have cried. I didn’t want this. Not again. She put the top of my head on, and there I was sealed up inside myself. I wanted to be a bird, again. But, I didn’t move. I couldn’t. Then one of the women came forward. She took me in her hands (the twiggy part of me) and what I used to consider to be the BEST THING EVER – well, it did the trick. I sucked in bunch of air. Sat up. Blinked my eyes. Stood up. The dirt fell from my skin. The women washed me clean. Toweled me off. I was skin and hair and bone again. They dressed me up in a suit of armor. Black metal. They gave me a helmet (which I held) and put a black cape over my shoulders. She appeared before me with a sword – silver and reflecting the candles. She offered it to me. I took it. Held it in my free hand. The moonlight erupted and flooded the woods. All around me were the uglies that had been following me when I was chasing the laughter. Thousands of them. Kneeling. She touched my face. “You’re back,” she said.

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Everything’s a Circle, but not a Perfect One

I had blood and snot running down my nose, and my vision was shaky. The first time one of them went to hit me with a club, I thought ‘Bring it on!’ They’d tried guns and the bullets went tap tap tap tap tap off of me. And knives. Ping! Now they’re down to blunt objects. I was laughing. What’s next? Stones? Sticks? Throw some sand in my face? Ha! So the motherfucker ran up to me, drew his mighty weapon back for a mighty blow, and I’m standing firm, my chest puffed out and my cape wafting in the breeze. But, clubs are a fundamental weapon. Armor can handle high-level stuff like bullets and blades – but the good, ol’ club, yikes!… What am I in armor but a yolk in an egg? I was thinking that if a suit of armor can stand up to bullets then it’s not going to shatter when some dumbfuck hits it with a club – and I was right. It didn’t shatter. But, if you hit an egg just right, you can

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 232 probably scramble it without breaking the shell. And even if you can’t scramble it, you can damn well bet that the yolk’s gonna feel it. Thus, my dilemma. I felt it. He creamed me and sent me flying, and midair I still hadn’t caught on to what had happened, and even though I was showing him and all his buddies the soles of my armor-plated boots, I was laughing at them like I had proven my point, like Ha-ha, I told you couldn’t break my shell, and it really wasn’t until I scudded against the ground that I realized that I felt like I’d just gone deep sea diving with a depth charge. Oh, I thought. This suit of armor has changed sides. We ain’t friends no more, me and it. So I’m laying there in my newly altered consciousness staring up through my facemask and thinking that this suit of armor is like a little, tiny room and I’m all alone inside it. So, I sit up, and there are the bad guys again and they’re coming to visit. And they’re bringing their clubs. Sure, I had a sword. She gave it to me. You’d think that I’d be swinging it around, jabbing and poking – but no, that’d be a waste. The fucking sword. I can’t hit the ground with it – unless I’m not trying to. Then I can nail it. The tip must weigh a ton or have a magnet in it or something – that’s how I got the party started. The bad guys came at me, and out came the sword and for like one half-second I had them stopped in their tracks – but then it’s like I can’t even hold the thing still, and they start laughing at me because I’m basically trying not to fall down and it shows. That’s when they started in with the guns and their own swords, and I put mine away and thought maybe I’ll just tire them out. Until the clubs came out. And out the clubs did come. I didn’t even get to my feet when the second one struck. And when it hit, I had one clear thought: I blew it. The angels are going to own this place, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I failed.

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It had all been so clear. Inevitable. I thought that I was but a player in a cosmic drama – and I liked it because I got to play the hero and thought I was going to win and get the girl. That was my place, and it was really the first time I could I think I ever felt that I knew my place, and by knowing my place, by giving myself so totally to the plan and the world that she described, I suddenly was somebody – I had identity, purpose, a mission that came from outside my own intentions and conceptions of how things are and how that should be – I was a part of something that I couldn’t make up (or even conceive). I could don the old blinders and construct a new world in which I only carried out the orders – or, better yet, in which greater forces (greater than me) flowed through me, directed me, consumed me, and in so doing, made me real. She and I sat atop a mound of straw in a giant cart being pulled by a team of uglies (all the little monsters and such that had been following me when I was lost in the woods). Granted, going for a hayride isn’t all that chic, but I think it’s what passed for luxury with those folks. She and I were stretched out all casual, I had my armor on and my sword hanging loose, and a little ugly was playing music next to us. The cart wobbled this way and that way down a path in the woods, the tree branches eye level with us, but not touching us. Her hand rested on my sword. At that moment I hadn’t learned to hate the fucking sword like I did later – in fact I thought it was cool. When she handed it to me after the other women had raised me from the ground (yeehah!), cleaned me, and dressed me in armor, when all the uglies who’d been following me in the woods dropped to their knees, I held it up, and it sparkled in the candlelight and felt like nothing but an extension of my arm. I could see myself in it (I looked the same, but better). I sheathed it, and the uglies burst into cheering and ground stomping, and they all got dressed up, too, in helmets and clubs and whatever they could scrape together and call a weapon (a lot of big sticks in the

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 234 crowd). They were one pissed bunch, but good pissed, like I just given them something to piss on (not me!). I, though, had no idea what was going on. I liked it. I liked it a lot. But, kinda felt like I was going to need a little background. But, that wasn’t the moment for background. We were marching. And singing. And beating drums. The uglies were slapping each other, crying, gazing at me with teary eyes. They led me to the cart and the straw and hoisted me on top (with her). Then they started pulling and off we went, and from all around more uglies crept out of the woods and followed along side and then behind. “You don’t know who you are,” she said, the cart rocking us slowly side to side. She was being gentle with me. “You don’t know who I am. Or why you’re here. Or who they are. And why they’re happy to see you. Or where we’re going. And why.” “All I really know,” I said, “is how I got here – I don’t understand it, but I know it. I know the chain of events that put me on top of this cart with you.” “None of that matters.” I shrugged. “I had a feeling it didn’t.” I sighed. “So, what does matter?” She smiled and moved closed. She put a finger on my lips. “You know how; I know why.” I nodded. Her finger was still on my lips. She laid it out for me then. Turns out I’m someone I didn’t know I was. I’ve been hiding in myself (so she said). And now I was back. All the uglies had missed me for a long time. They’d been waiting. “What are they waiting for?” To reconquer Hell.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 235 Oh. “So, this chain of events, which is all I know, but which doesn’t matter, was all some elaborate plan to get me back here because I’m the one guy who can lead these uglies to victory over the angels so that they can take back Hell?” “No,” she said, “It’s just how things have worked out.” “Just how they worked out? Like by accident? If that’s true, then you can’t know why it all happened.” “Yes, I can,” she told me. “And, I can know why what will happen will happen, too.” That took me a second to swallow. “Oh, really? If you know why what will happen will happen, then tell me what will happen.” “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said, “I only know why.” This was to become a pattern with her. “Well,” I said, “What can you tell me? Like, where are they taking me? Or why are they taking me somewhere?” She smiled approvingly at my last question. And she gave me a good answer: That whole Goodyeland merger thing was a sham. The angels (some of the big ones) had pretty much taken over Hell. The uglies weren’t much for having their act together, but the angels had it all covered – smooth-talking, glad-handing, smiley and with big ideas and nothing but good times for all down the road. They moved in, renamed the place Goodbyeland and started making changes and losing their buddy-buddy dispositions. Pretty soon the uglies had to get jobs doing the things they’d always been doing. Then they had to get evaluated, graded, ranked, registered, and, finally, employed (with payscales and schedules and all that stuff). Soon the uglies weren’t doing the things they’d always done before, they were doing what the angels wanted to have done, which was to “clean-up” Hell and make it a little, productive slice of Heaven. Then came rules and policies and codes-of-conduct, papers to sign, money, time (they measured it, and expected

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 236 the bulk of it to be given to their jobs), and expectations and projections and, of course, missed projections and panic and cut-backs and talk of sacrifices to be made (by the uglies). Then layoffs… “Alright,” I said, “So, now I’m here and everything’s going to change.” “No,” she said, “but they’ll be different.” “But they won’t change.” “How could they?” “You’re lucky you’re cute,” I said. “And don’t think you’re fooling me. I can tell just by looking at you that somehow, someway you’re behind all this.” “I don’t understand.” “No need for the innocence thing,” I said. “You’ve charted the course up to this moment. And whether you call it a plan or not, you’ve made one, and I’m a part of it.” “All of this may well be part of some plan,” she said, “But, not mine. And also, that plan is just part of what will happen.” “But you don’t know what will happen, you just know why.” She smiled. Normally, I suppose, this mystical runaround business would drive me up a wall and far away from the person spouting it (the mystical ones always have designs on you). But her, her hair, her eyes – I went along with it, all of it, even the nonsense of me being someone suddenly returned home to save the day for a bunch of uglies – I didn’t believe a word of it. Up to this point, I’d been through a few experiences that had shaken my core notions of how the world works, but I wasn’t quite ready to buy into the secret identity thing (especially, if it was a secret from me). And as for there being no plan – there was a plan. Mine. I had my designs. My reasons. I knew why I was doing what I was doing. I wasn’t striving for some new world order

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 237 or anything of the sort. No big ideas (they don’t lead to anything). I was after her. And really, I was going to have to take back the guff I gave her over not knowing what will happen but knowing why it will happen because that was my situation – I didn’t have the foggiest notion what I would do next, but I knew why. And knowing why I’m going to do what I don’t know I will do is actually a big step forward for me because, normally, I don’t even know why. So, as the cart rolled along the road and more and more uglies seeped out of the woods, I decided to go with the flow – let everyone else supply the what, where, and how – I’ll supply the why. This kind of thinking had me feeling suave and blithely ignoring the fact that the what, where, and how might turn out to be shit, fuck, and damn. That is, until an ugly climbed up on the cart with us and let us in on his strategy for retaking Hell. You know who it was? It was the judge – the guy with the sharp teeth and no eyes who sentenced Peter to Hell after almost pounding him with the gavel. He called himself Smiley. He had a map, which he unfurled after apologizing for bothering us and asking if he could show us his map:

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 238

The line of attack: The cart will take me to the shore of the Dark and Terrible Sea. There, I and a ‘crack team’ will board a waiting boat and sail for Hell City. Everyone else – the women and the uglies – will journey through the Foggy Forest and wait outside the Forest Gate. Me and the crack team will sail up to the wall (where the angels would least expect us to try and gain entry to the City), scale the wall, sneak over to the forest gate, and open it. “And then?” I asked.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 239 “We kick ass.” “I like it,” I said, “I have to commend you on your thoroughness.” He blushed, saluted, and jumped of the cart. I turned to her, and instead of saying Holy Shit, I decided to keep it smooth, but not being really smooth, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Luckily, she put her finger on my lips to keep me quiet and took the lead in our conversation. It was time for her to share some secrets with me. Or, if not to actually share the secrets with me (as in tell them to me explicitly), she indicated that she knew several secrets of vital importance to the fate of my undertaking and that rather than spell them out plain and simple, she would vaguely hint at them so that I knew of their existence First secret: She gave me a leather pouch and told me to tie it around my neck and wear it inside my armor. I’d never received a leather pouch before but I always imagined that if I did receive one, I would open it to see what was inside it. But she stopped me from doing this because it wasn’t time for me to open it. What’s in the pouch? I asked. Answer: Something that I will need. Really, what might that be? Answer: Something that will get me out of trouble but that I can only use once. Wow! Does it have a name? Answer: Yes, but it’s not important. Okay, when should I use the unnamed thing that has an unimportant name? Answer: You will know when it is time to use it. The question that went unasked: Why is it that in stories like this someone like you always has to choose the MOST INAPPROPRIATE TIME to get cryptic? Second secret: My necklace.

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With the whole being eaten, changing into a bird, changing back to me thing, I’d forgotten all about the necklace that Humpy had given me. She was holding it in front of me. “You were wearing this,” she said as she put it around my neck. “Is it a good luck charm?” I joked. “Have you had good luck since you started wearing it?” Tough question. Initial answer: Are you fucking kidding me? Danger of going with initial answer: I was wearing it when I met her. Final answer: Blank stare until she said something to get us off the subject. “You will see this necklace in a new way, and it will answer a question.” “Cool.” “And now I have something else I must tell you. Your armor will deflect knives and bullets, but you should be careful about–” “Deflect knives and bullets!!! Oh, fucking A!” I said. “I was worried about guns and shit like that, ‘cause, you know, they shot me when I was a bird and all, but if this armor stops bullets, what the fuck do I got to worry about?! This is wonderful!” I leapt to my feet. The cart was slowing down and I could see the Dark and Terrible Sea.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 241 I lifted her to her feet and brought her close. She wanted to tell me something more, but I planted one on her mouth and told her that this was my time and what I did, I did for her. No, I said, the armor is beside the point, for it’s protection is but ephemeral compared to the strength in my heart and coursing through my veins. I’ll be back, I said. Don’t fear. I will return. “But, you really should be careful of–” “Nothing. I am invincible.” The cart came to a halt. I jumped to the ground. Everyone froze and looked at me. “Let’s get this done,” I said. “Bring ‘em on.” They roared. My crack team turned out to be me, Smiley, Blinky (a guy with one really big eye), and the Boatman. Back from my days as a bird, I remember the Boatman as being, to say the least, rather detached. I didn’t see him as being part of the revolution. But now, standing in front of our ship (a boat, really, with a skinny tree in the middle of it instead of a sail) he was maybe the most animated among us. The only way to be true to him is to say that he was one angry motherfucker. He had his pole in one hand, my shoulder in the other and a mouth on him that wouldn’t stop. “Coins,” he burst out, “Coins. I used to run a cash-only operation. Money in my hand! You didn’t go across that water unless I had my money. But nowwww – management, cost controls, and I am no longer permitted to accept ‘direct cash payments.’ Oh no, no, no, I have a salary now, which is another way of saying I get to work more for less and some dumb motherfuckers sittin’ on their asses in the City get to make plenty sure that most the action comes rolling their way. So, I cart sorry bastards across the water non-stop and every two fucking weeks I get my piss-poor little fucking paycheck. Like it’s a favor to me.” He tapped my shoulder. “Get on that boat. We gonna take ‘em out.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 242 He picked me up with one arm (not bad for a guy without muscles) and put me aboard. Blinky scrambled up the tree (“I’m the look-out”), and Smiley stood next to me, map in hand. Everyone on shore (thousands of them) saluted us and cheered. I raised my hand to them, winked at her, but then thought winking was lame, so I got stoic and nodded and with a knitted brow I turned my head to the open ocean. The Boatman put his pole to the water and off we went. I’d never been on a boat before (except when I was a bird), and you might think that I’d be overwhelmed with new impressions and all that, but, in reality, it was all just water rolling here and there – and none of us –not even the Boatman – had a thing to say. And me – I wasn’t even thinking, I was just zoning out on the waves because I had no idea what was going on and this go-with-the-flow attitude fit nice and comfy when she was around, but there in a boat with a bunch of guys it got a little tight in the wrong places, and as the Boatman stroked us forward, I started to wonder where I was going and what’d I’d do and how – but looking at the water was easier, so I did that instead (even though I didn’t find it all that interesting). And then Blinky said he saw it. Which turned out to be no miracle – it was right in front of us – the wall. I saw it as soon as I looked up.

We got up close, and I touched my hand to it and it was slippery. And high. And there were no nooks or crannies or anywhere to put feet and hands to hold on if I had tried to climb it.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 243 “Hmmmmm,” Blinky said, “I thought this wall would be easy climb for anyone who knew how to climb a wall.” “What should we do?” I asked. “I got an idea,” Smiley said. He told the Boatman to back up, and the Boatman did. He then picked up a rope and tossed one end of it to Blinky in the tree. He told Blinky to tie the rope to the top of the tree, and Blinky did it. Then Smiley pulled on the rope, and the top of the tree bent down with a little creaking. Blinky was still in the tree, and I think that just as he was getting ready to ask Hey, what are you doing? Smiley let go of the rope, the tree snapped up, and up went Blinky – but not quite high enough.

“You just killed Blinky!” I said. “He’s seen worse.” “Worse? He’s oozing down the wall.” “He’ll be fine.” “Fine?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 244 “Up you go, sir.” It was the Boatman. Smiley had the tree bent over for another go at it, only this time it’s me in the tree. And I was not happy. “Don’t worry about Blinky,” Smiley said, “I was only calibrating it. This time I’ve got it right.” “Shouldn’t you test–” Fling. I happened to have been facing backwards so I got to see Smiley, the boat, and the Boatman shrink (while waving) and the Dark and Terrible Sea get real big (despite the fog). But, that view didn’t last long. In fact, I didn’t even have time to see if I was going to make it over the wall – I learned about it after the fact when I saw the other side of it. And I was still going up. So, I spun around midair and could see the city off in the distance and the hills and valleys beneath me, and I thought to do something quite clever. I was wearing a cape, so I pulled it over my head and as soon as I started going down, the cape filled with air and I floated down nice and slow. But, I landed on a steep slope, lost my footing, and ended up rolling down to the bottom (this whole knock and tumble experience should have clued me into the ‘blunt objects are bad even if you’re wearing armor’ notion, but sadly, it escaped me at the time). When I finally stopped, I was bumped up and dizzy, but proud of myself for the whole parachute thing. Unfortunately, it was at that moment that I learned just how not bright I am. I was surrounded by angels. “We’ve been waiting for you.” I stood up. Is it time for the unnamed thing in the sack she gave me? I thought. I better sound them out.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 245 “In a good way?” I asked. “Are you happy to see me?” “Very,” the lead angel replied, “but not in a good way.” “How did you know to be expecting me?” “Easy,” it said, “The monster with the sharp teeth and no eyes–” “Smiley?” “Yep. He’s with us.” Betrayal. This is how angels do their business. “And the Boatman?” “As we speak, let’s just say that he’s being retired.” He had more: “And your friends gathering at the Forest Gate – we have a little surprise for them, too. I’m afraid you won’t be seeing them anymore.” “You’ve had this all planned out,” I said. “From the moment the alien plucked you out of the tree.” I didn’t say this, but I was like Holy Fuck, you really did have this planned out. “Well, there’s one thing I don’t think you planned on,” I said. I don’t know why I said this, I mean the whole thing seemed pretty fucked over at this point – which may have been reason enough. So, I drew my sword (fucking sword) and I’m gonna gloss over this part because holy shit did I make a prime time asswipe out of myself. We basically got to the point where I was tired and they were sick of laughing so out came the guns and knives – but no deal. That’s when I was liking the armor. Then came the clubs.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 246 And so it seemed that this would be the end. They were batting me around without pause. In between impacts, I heard screaming and howling and figured the uglies and women were getting the same treatment over at the Forest Gate. It all seemed over. I was a puddle of mucus and blood and the armor was like the vase holding me in. The clubbing paused and I raised myself to my knees. The big guy, the one who’d done all the talking, came strutting over to me with a shiteater’s grin. The final blow – I could see it in his eyes. I kind of liked it. I was done. He stood in front of me and lifted the helmet from my head. I smiled. So did he. “You know,” I said, “There was probably an easier way for you guys to have accomplished all of this.” “Maybe,” he said, “but, we like to work in mysterious ways.” He raised the club over his head. And then: He went flying back about thirty feet and everything got dark in front of me. I fell backward, rolled over onto my stomach and crawled away. Then I stood up and turned around. Angels were being flung around like rag dolls. And then I realized – Oh, the Boatman. He’d flung himself over the wall. Which meant that he must have dealt with Smiley and he was clued in on what was going on. And man, he could do more with that stick than row a boat. He had them flying everywhere (and not by wing power). He’d just jump into the air, freeze there and batter around six or seven of them. Behind his back. Between his legs. Over his head. And all the while talking to me, “I should have known – you want some of this motherfucker – trying to pull bullshit on me. I don’t know what’s supposed to happen next, sir, but whatever it is, it’s up to you. You get out of here and leave these ladies to me – yea, I’m talkin’ about you! Line up, I’m giving this shit

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 247 away! You run, sir, I’ll hold them here.” He reached down with one hand and scooped up my helmet and sword and tossed them to me. “Run!” I took the sword and helmet. And I ran. I ran down this path that twisted and turned around hills and through valleys, not sure why, but doing it until I came to this construction site where they were tearing down the mountains. And my luck held true. Waiting for me there were a bunch of hardhats – angels and souls. “You need to come with us,” one of the angels said. “Why?” “We know where your friend is.” “My friend?” “The one you tore the bar up with,” another said, “after I beaned him with the beer bottle.” “Peter’s still alive?” “Of course he is. Where’s he gonna go?” Good point, I thought. Maybe there was hope for Blinky. “Where is he?” “Jail.” “Jail?” I said, “They have jail down here? Guns and jail?” “You can’t have free markets without guns and jail,” cried out another. The others agreed. “Well,” I said, “Why do you want to take me to him?” “Do you have something better to do?” a couple of them asked at the same time. “Not really,” I said, “But, I just got my ass kicked by angels, and now here you guys are acting like you want to help me.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 248 “We’re not really thrilled with the new arrangement,” one said, “This work-a-day bullshit’s a scam. All we’re doing is making the fat cats fatter.” Some cheers went up. “We want things back the old way.” “I’ve heard this from other people,” I said, “But, how’s hooking me up with Peter going to help?” “Look at your necklace, dipshit.”

It was like a sparkly new thought that I’d been thinking all along without even knowing it. So, I let them take me to jail. It could have been a trap, but I had no other option. Along the way I did raise the point that they didn’t have any weapons. “We got tools,” they said, “And we know how to hold them.” When we got to the jail, the angel guarding the door had a gun. So, I donned my helmet and approached, called him dirty names, and, as guys with guns always do, he started shooting before all else, and when the ammo ran out, we charged him. I took his keys and in I went – everyone else stood guard behind me. Jail. Back in the City days, if you did anything wrong, we’d just pitch you over the wall. But jail. Man, these guys played by different rules. Right behind this door (metal with bars in its

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 249 window) were all these uglies, angels, and souls all chained up, some by their legs, some by their arms and legs and hanging on the wall like a picture of ‘Don’t do this!’ And, you would think that with all of the commotion outside, these guys would be a little animated – but no, they just sat there in doom and gloom hardly paying any attention to me. I thought about yelling out Peter’s name, and if it had been noisy in there, I’d have done it right away, but it was so damned quiet, I felt a bit self-conscious about making a scene. So, I started stepping softly through them, over legs and bodies and such. I was even feeling too shy to ask one of them if they knew Peter. Fortunately (in a bad way), the Thumper Angels (the one’s who been thumping me) tracked me down, and outside the door, quiet went to riot as the hardhats fought to hold them off. Somebody screamed to me to find Peter fast. So, I looked down at this sad-eyed motherfucker chained up in front of me and said, “Hey, I’m looking for a friend of mine. He’s either really short, all white, bald, and doesn’t have toes, or he’s big and gray with a long nose and teeth.” “The Beast,” the sad-eyed one groaned, “You must mean the beast.” Everyone was looking at us. “I bet I do,” I said, “Where is he?” They all pointed to a doorway. It didn’t have a door, but it didn’t have a light either, it just looked like a black rectangle chiseled into the wall. I said Great! and started running. But, I stopped and looked around, “Hey, folks, you know, we’re trying to retake Hell, in case you’re wondering.” One of them said, “If it works, are you going to let us go?” “Sure,” I said.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 250 “Fuckin’ A!” another yelled, and then they all started cheering and stomping their feet (as their separate situations allowed). Off I went down the hall, bravely plunging into the dark, until I came to a faint light. The hallway curved to the left and there, in the light and hanging on the wall was Peter. “Hello, Peter,” I said. “Hello, Crow,” said Peter. He was his small, normal self. He had bags under his eyes which looked worse because the light was coming from above him. There was something of an awkward silence between us (bad time for it), me trying to resolve issues of you-tried-to-kill-me-the-last-time-I-saw-you, and him wondering what I was there for. “What are you here for?” he asked. “Oh, I’ve got an army and a girlfriend now and we’re trying to take over Hell.” “A girlfriend?” “Yea,” I said, “I mean, I can’t be sure, but I think she likes me. She seems really cool.” “That’s nice,” he said, “And all that noise out there, does that have something to do with your army?” “You know, I assume it does, but I’m also assuming that it’s not a good noise. The army probably could have used a little more training before we tried to do this. I’ve got another, I guess, ‘division’ out by the Forest Gate, but I think they’re getting their asses kicked. We got kind of led into a trap. And, actually, the guys here in the jail with me, they’re really construction workers who hate their jobs.” “I take it that you’re not winning.” “No. It’s not looking good.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 251 Pause. “You know, Crow,” he said, “I’m sorry.” “About bashing my brains out?” “Yes.” “You shouldn’t worry about that,” I said, “It was kind of my fault anyway, now that I think of it. You remember that blackbird who was whispering in your ear?” “Yes.” “That was me. It’s a long story. It involves that girl…” “Well, I just wanted to say that anyway,” Peter said. “I understand,” I said, “but, really, things have worked out okay since then.” “Except for this battle not going well.” “Exactly.” And that was a problem. Things were getting mighty loud at the other end of the hall. “You know,” I said, “it’s funny that you bring that up-” Peter was way ahead of me. “You’d like me to become the elephant again and help you out by fighting for your side?” “Bingo.” “Crow,” he said, “It’s beyond my control. I can’t just become that elephant. If I could, do you think I would be hanging here. After I beat you up, they came after me and subdued me and I changed back to my usual self. And they hung me up.” He had tears in his eyes. “I can’t help you.” That was hard news. I honestly thought I was on to something. But, it wasn’t that he was refusing – he was telling me like it was. And it was bad to hear. Like I hadn’t had any bad news that day, but this was the first moment I truly saw no way out. I guess I thought something would

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 252 always come along. But, the way Peter spoke, he canceled all of that. It was gone. The victory. Accomplishment. The uglies. Her. It really was just a fantasy. But, you got to think there’s always a chance. I felt the keys in my hand (the ones I had taken from the guy guarding the jail). “Well, fuck it then,” I said, “I’ve got the keys, so at the very least I’m gonna get you down from there. I don’t know what the next few hours holds for us, but I’m not leaving you here.” I reached up to undo the lock, but he told me to stop. “Peter,” I said, “you can’t just stay here. Hell, who knows maybe we’ll find a way to make you into the elephant and everything will work out.” “That’s what I don’t want,” he said. And that became the worst news of the day. “You don’t want to help?” “No,” he said, “I’m not lying when I say I can’t just turn into the elephant. And you’re right, maybe something would happen that would cause it to happen, but…” “But what?!” I was kind of pissed. “But, it won’t lead to anything.” “It won’t lead to anything?” I said, “What do you mean it won’t lead to anything?” “You think that if I become the elephant, you and I can end this fight?” “Yea.” “No,” he said, “It won’t end. Nothing does. We could win this battle, but then it will just be on to another. Don’t you see, that’s how it works.” “Sounds good.” “No, I’m tired of it. I’m not doing it anymore. There are no winners. No losers. Just conflict. Unending conflict. And I don’t want to be a part of it. I’m tired of it.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 253 “I’m sorry that you came here looking for help. But, if you really think about it, I’m giving you that help now. I know it’s not what you expected. But, it’s what I have to offer. So, please, leave me here.” “You want to just be left hanging here?” “Yes. It’s the only way out for me.” I didn’t say anything. “Good bye, Crow.” “See ya, Peter.” So I walked down the hall crest-fallen and tears in my eyes. A battle was raging in the prison, the Thumpers, the hardhats and the prisoners. I just walked through it thinking about what Peter had said, and what a fucking disappointment he turned out to be. One of the hardhats asked me if I had found Peter. I said yes and then went on about how he told me that there was no use in fighting and how the best way to end conflict was not to take part. The hardhat punched me in the head. Hard. I’m lying on the ground and one eye’s pointing to the left and other is pointing to the right and I’m like Whoa, I got sides. Then I’m seeing front again, and this angel in a hardhat is giving me hell and he’s missing teeth and all these people, uglies, souls, and angels, are chained up but biting and doing whatever they can to mess with the Thumpers even though the Thumpers have clubs and all kinds of weapons and the will to use them. I sit up and that same angel with the hardhat who’d hit me, he takes one to the head and it looks like he’s down for the count, and it’s a big Thumper over me making ready with his club. But, in comes that hardhat for some more.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 254 So I yank out the key chain, and one by one (but fast), I pluck them off the ring and toss them around the room because I’m seeing a lot of chained up people who don’t want their chains and aren’t looking to sit this one out. It’s back down to Peter for me. He sees me coming and gets ready with some words, but me – I’m out with the sword and not a thought in my head. Swing. Ching. Swing. Ching. Peter’s on the floor still wearing metal bracelets but the chains that held him fast are now cut in two. It’s like, Peter, this is bigger than me or you. And, it’s also clearly time for the unnamed thing the pouch (“you’ll know when it’s time to use it”), so out it comes. What is it? A bottle of beer. (I always knew beer would save the world.) Twist off cap (she thought of everything) and down the hatch – Peter’s. I’m pinching his nose, and once the brew’s all gone, my other hand is over his mouth and he had no option but to gulp and gasp after I hear it all go down. (And why didn’t the bottle break when they were clubbing me? It was inside my armor and it was made of metal (She thought of everything.)) Peter was crouching and sputtering. I said to him: “Peter, this helped me and it’s gonna help you.” Bam! Between the eyes. He’s lying there and I can see it in his eyes, and I’m holding the charm over his face and explaining, “Man, this is you and me, brother. Whatever comes next. It’s you and me.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 255

And so it was.

I expected a change in Peter (I’ve pretty much nailed down that he’s something of a nasty drunk), but not so much in me. Though, maybe I didn’t change. Maybe it was just being perched up so high on his back. Maybe it was the invincible feeling of wearing my armor (helmet and all) and being above the clubs. Maybe it was the fact that at last I could hold the sword steady. And also that it shot lightning bolts at whomever I pointed it at (cool!). Or just that though I was a rider on Peter’s back, I felt in control. Like we were one. One giant. We exploded into the fight. For a second it was instant peace. Everyone scrambled out of the way. I pointed the sword at one of the Thumper Angels just as a tough guy gesture. But it shot lightning at him and gave my arm a little tingle. It didn’t turn him into ashes or anything, but fried him pretty good and sent him flying across the jail. So I began firing at will, and there was a rush for the door which made hitting them kind of unsporting, but lots of fun. Peter, though, must have felt a little claustrophobic because he used his back legs to kick down a wall and we moved the show outside. It was dark and cloudy outside and all the prisoners and hardhats were streaming out of the jail, but the Thumper Angels are trying to stay in because Peter and me had them scared shitless, so Peter brought down another wall, then there was no jail, and I became a lightning storm and laid my enemies low. A call went out, and they brought

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 256 in reinforcements falling from the sky and now its my little band of hardhats and prisoners against what is an army rapidly encircling us. But, the news isn’t really all that bad. Sure we’re outnumbered, but Peter and me are worth a million of them, and, as it turns out, that ambush at the Forest Gate – it didn’t go like they had planned. Yea, they surprised the uglies and the women and had the upper hand, but we had an ally we didn’t know about – the blackbirds, the ones who’s been doing all the biting and scratching on the way to the fire mountain, they arrived and turned their fury on the angels. And like we’d all been summoned, like all our plans had crumbled around us and showed us all to be standing here the entire time, the women and the uglies and the blackbirds joined us, and now instead of being encircled, we were the other line in an equal sign. I saw Blinky and the Boatman, and over on the other side I saw Smiley and few other traitors, but mostly angels (though we had a lot of those on our side, too). I looked for her, but didn’t see her, but knew she was there. And then it was like I wasn’t even moving, even though Peter led the charge, and I wielded my sword and swept them from the sky and laid them down on the ground. But they fought back, guns, knives and clubs, and everyone merged into one mass fighting with itself, the blackbirds attacking from the sky, the women, the uglies, the angels having troubling knowing which to hit and which to pat on the back. My aim was perfect, though, I hit only the bad ones. But no one died. I’d nail them, and they’d be down and feeling it, but they’d come back every time. And it wasn’t just them. I mean, there’s Blinky going from a puddle of goo to a mean mother with a shovel he’s got in his mouth and is swinging around like an ax. But, he’s not killing anybody, either, just cracking skulls that seem to uncrack soon enough. And it’s not that I’m blood-thirsty, or get off on pain, it’s just I starting to think that I don’t know how this will

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 257 end. They’re starting to use bombs now, tearing people apart – but they get back together. And bombs keep falling. And I keep firing, filling the sky with crooked light. And Peter? He’s trampling them. Smashing them (I know what that’s like). But, still, they come back for more. And then who should I see? It’s that angel who had been holding the clipboard way back when and had bitched me out thinking that I was just another ugly. So I stop philosophizing because this was going to be fun. He had a sword (big whoop) and an angry face, and he’s running straight at us like he’s the warrior who’ll bring this all to a close. I’m laughing in my helmet thinking of it and I’m making ready to give him a nice bright blast, but Peter must have seen him coming, too. And you got to understand that everything I could I see I saw over Peter’s head like the lower part of my vision was a gray hump. And then up comes his nose as I’m getting ready to point the sword, and it’s like Peter’s saying No, this one is mine like he knew I was ready to fire, and though I thought I had the rights to this one, I held my fire. Let Peter stomp him if he wants, he’ll be back, I’ve got loads of time. Peter rears up and let’s out a screech that has everyone looking our way, and then he comes down with a ground-rumbling boom, and I think, man, he’s gonna let that guy have it. But then there’s this odd jabbing motion with his head, quick forward, quick back, and things start getting quite. And I’ve got the worse seat in the house because I can’t see over Peter’s head until that angel staggers back and he’s got a big hole in him (and I’m like, big deal, these guys are playing with swords and stabbing each other left and right). Clipboard guy looked shocked, and not so much about the hole in his middle. This was different. He keeled over. Eyes shut. Dead. Everything stopped. This one angel, the chief of the Thumpers, the one who was going to bash my head in before the Boatman saved me, he crouched down over the dead guy to sort of assess

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 258 the situation. Peter walked up behind him, and me, I crawled forward so that I was propped up on Peter’s head and could see the chief of the Thumpers stand up, and he turned around kind of casually like he was going to come talk to me and Peter, but he was so focused on the dead guy, he hadn’t realized that Peter and me were closer. And he scratched his shoulder on the tip of Peter’s tusk (evidently the tip was the only dangerous part). That same look of shock. Hand to the shoulder. Knees to the ground. Face forward – flop. That did it. They all took to the sky simultaneously – angels we’d been fighting, all at once, were gone. That left Peter, me, the women, the uglies, angels who’d been on our side, and the souls. Peter lifted me off his head and put me on the ground. And almost for a lack of anything else to do, everyone cheered. Victory. Hell was ours.

The first thing the uglies did was to roll out a dozen kegs and get the celebration going. And we all celebrated – the uglies, the women, the angels, the souls, Peter and me. I thought Peter might change back into his normal self, but he stayed big, and as soon as he saw the beer, he claimed a keg for himself. Music burst out all around, and a bonfire, and this got everybody dancing. Singing. Drinking. Everything that makes Hell worthwhile. She was there, of course. And she had my old clothes, too – my shirt, my pants, my long black coat, and my lucky yellow boots. Off came the armor, away went the (forgiven) sword, and I felt like me again, like the whole experience from way back when I was in the tree in the City and sent the birdies flying till now was just something that happened, just a jumble of events, and like nothing that happens or that we do can really changes us because we just are. My old clothes, some beer, a buffet (hungry, hungry, hungry) and her. “Are you happy now?” I said. “Is there somewhere else I can conquer for you?”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 259 “In fact,” she said, “There is one other land I’d like you to conquer.” And that was that for the witty banter part of the evening. I had everything but steam coming out my ears. She and I left it all behind – we snuck away and found an abandoned house missing its roof. There have been times in my life when I’ve been something of a details man. But not now. Suffice it to say that we weren’t planning on emerging (alright, one detail – when she was standing there naked in front of me, I swear my eyes were like Oh we die now, and she had a tattoo, I didn’t know she had a tattoo and it was like a snake wrapped around her torso and I spun her around so I could follow it from tail to tip, then she wrapped herself around me and at the Moment – even though I think I’ve been dead a few times now – my eyes done seen the Great Beyond because right then, despite the fact I was in the afterlife, there was a beyond to be glimpsed, and man, I saw it) from where we were. We lay next to each other in a nice fluffy bed looking through the ceiling and I was doing all the talking telling her about when I was kid and Dad and being famous and all – though I was sure she knew all this, it was just good to be talking. But then things got noisy outside, and not good noisy. “I think there’s trouble out there,” she said. I shrugged. “Trouble out there is just trouble out there,” I said, “We’re in here.” “It’s your friend. He’s been drinking.” “Peter?” She nodded. “How do you know?” I asked. She smiled.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 260 “Oh, yea,” I said, “It’s just one of those things that’s going to happen.” “No,” she said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, I only know why.” We were wrapped up pretty tight. “Is it because I’m happy right now?” I said. “Is that the why? Because I’m happy, now the worse thing possible has to happen, and that could only be Peter on a rampage with those tusks of his?” “You know more about what’s going happen than I do,” she said, “But, I know why things happen, and that’s not it.” “What’s it matter if you know why? If I can’t stay here with you, I don’t need to know why. I don’t care about why.” “You need to go,” she said. “No I don’t.” “You do.” “Because you say so?” “No. Because you do. It’s not a choice.” “Then it’s an order.” “It’s a fact.” And that was most gut-wrenching, life-demolishing argument I’ve ever had with a woman, even though we were whispering, lying down, and touching each other’s face. I pulled away from her and she was crying. My eyes were warm. I put my clothes on all the while telling her it was nothing, I’d get everyone calmed down and be back in no time. When I was dressed, she got up and hugged my neck. I opened the door to the outside and was greeted by smoke and flames. The bonfire had gotten a little out of hand. I walked a few steps away from the house and what do I see? The ship with

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 261 the tree in the middle of it on fire. Not collapsed, not broken. Just on fire. I walked up to it, close enough to feel the heat. Then the head of the Boatman came rolling by my feet. “Shit’s going down, man. He’s killing everybody,” he says. I turned around, and there’s Peter a skull’s throw away from me, swaying left and right. The sky behind him is black clouds. “What’s going on here?” I say with some irritation. He’s not much for talking. And I can’t help but to look at those tusks waving in the air. But, when he walks up close, I don’t move, even though they’re only a couple of feet away from me. “I know you wanted to be left in jail,” I say, “But, that just wasn’t gonna happen. And more importantly, it didn’t happen, so unless you got some sort of fucking time machine, you better just buck-up and deal. If you think this killing everybody around you is going to make up for what you wanted, well, it’s not.” I wasn’t too happy with the end of that soliloquy. And he stank of beer. So my plan was to wear him down with words and eventually get him to lie down and sleep it off. And then, while he slept, I’d hack his teeth off, and we’d be done with it. But, as usual, my plan outlined exactly how things wouldn’t go. Why? Who should touch my shoulder, but her? Couldn’t stay safely in the house. Had to come out see what was going on. At first, I was like Hey, always happy to see you, but then I didn’t even get the question out of my mouth. What are you doing here? She surprised me. And she surprised Peter. He turned to look at her. He scratched her on the cheek with his tusk.

I caught her before she hit the ground. Already I was blubbering like a fool with a bunch of I’m sorrys that ranged from I’m sorry we had that fight (though, it really wasn’t a fight) to I’m sorry I

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 262 ever barged in on your life – I should have just left you dancing there with those girls. And I would have loved for her to tell me I had no choice, it all had to happen. But Peter works quick. She was gone. Smooth skinned and almost aglow, but gone without a word, a gesture, or a look. I lowered her to the ground. Peter, on the other hand, was lost in fury bashing his head against the burning ship sending heaps of sparks in the air. I was a tangle of emotions at the moment: hate, grief, love, rage. I wanted my sword or a spear or a club, anything to fight him with, I wanted to attack and would do so unarmed and if he and I were to fight forever, I’d do it, relentlessly. Only, the thing I wanted more was for him to scratch me. Or run me through. To leave that ship alone and take it all out on me. I screamed that at him. I picked up rocks and threw them at him. I ran up to him, kicked him, punched him, let the fire and sparks burn me. One thrust from his back leg, though, sent me flying. I landed on my back, and then heard a crack. He had broken one of his tusks on the ship. It dangled, and then dropped into the fire, but like to make sure it was gone, he stomped on it, screaming all the while. And this clued me in. I really should have left him alone, too. He didn’t want to be doing any of this. He didn’t want any of this to happen either. He started in on the other tusk, and I watched. I still hated him. But, now I felt sorrow, too. Here’s what happened next: I put my hands in my coat pockets. Absent-mindedly. And you know what I found in the left pocket? My gun. Way back in the City of Gold, when I killed my therapist, I shot him with a gun that I bought from an Outie (because in a dream Dad told me to). I had put a bunch of bullets in my therapist, but then people started coming after me and chasing me and it all led to the breaking the glass around the tree, and my climbing it. But, I still had that gun. I had put it in my

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 263 pocket. So I took it out. And it was small. When I was shooting the therapist, it felt like a cannon. But, really, it was pretty insignificant. I didn’t even know if it still had bullets in it. But, without thinking, I pointed it at Peter, and pulled the trigger. It had one bullet. And, there was something special about this bullet. Peter had been hit with bullets down here without any effect. But those were bullets from down here. This bullet was from up there. It nestled in behind his ear. And down he went. Right into the fire. So, now it’s quiet, no stomping and howling. I threw the gun to the ground. I walked over to Peter. His head was half buried in the ship. I could see that his other tusk was still attached, so, like fire doesn’t matter, I walked through the hole he’d made, and there inside that burning ship, I ran my wrist over the tip of his tusk. And nothing happened. So I ran out of the ship, found the gun, ran over to her, knelt down, put the nozzle to my head, and pulled the trigger. It was empty. Click. Then I thought about the necklace. You will see it in another way. I thought back to that angel I offed with it way back when it was hanging on the Humpy’s ship just before I crashed it into the mountain.

I poked it in the finger and the angel let go and floated away. I pulled the necklace out and poked myself in the finger.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 264 It didn’t hurt. It didn’t do anything. Just raised a dot of blood on my finger tip that rolled off my finger tip and dropped down onto her lips. Then it dawned on me. Now I understood. Genius, I thought. Genius. But: Nothing. Nothing. That little drop of blood rested on her lower lip and did nothing. Nothing at all. I waited and waited and got nothing. Nothing at all. All I could do was want to be that little drop. Nothing more. Now I had reason to cry. And that’s what I did. Perched over her. Head in hands. Sobbing. Time passed. I don’t know how much, but enough that when I finally lifted my head and the tears cleared, Peter and the ship were gone. And so was she. There a strange light coming from behind me and I could see the shadow of wings, and I assumed an angel stood behind me, and I clenched my fists. But there were two surprises for me. First, there was no angel: the wings were attached to me like I had sprouted them. And second, standing there was Humpy. “Good,” he said. We was standing in front of his spaceship (the one I had crashed into the fire mountain). “It worked.” “What worked?” I said. He blew my question off. “This won’t hurt,” he said. And he pulled the wings off of me (and it didn’t hurt). Then he walked over to his spaceship and attached the wings to it. “I thought you were dead,” I said. He laughed. “If they killed me, where else would I be?” That made sense. “Anyway,” he went on, “I’m not dead. They can’t kill me. No matter what they do.”

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 265 “No matter what who do?” He laughed again. “It’s over, Crow. Look – the ship’s fixed. Thanks to you, it will fly again.” “I destroyed that thing,” I said. “Don’t be so linear. It’s right there in front of you. And so am I. And, now it’s time to go. I know this has been hard, but wait until you see where we’re going. It’ll be worth it.” I thought back, “Are you talking about that planet Ginger with the beer and women?” He smiled. “Come.” He nudged me and we walked up the plank into his ship. The door closed behind us. It had a window in it and I looked back to see this barren gray landscape. The ship was pretty much like I remembered it (before destroying it) – cluttered, with a fridge and two seats up front, one with a joystick. We sat down. He took the driver’s seat. He pressed the orange button and the wings outside started flapping (the little hologram ship appeared between us, and I could see the wings flapping). “The aliens-with-no-name,” I asked, “Are they coming? Or were they the angels?” The ship lifted off. “I have a confession,” he said, “I had to kind of play you a bit. The aliens-with-no-name, Ginger, the whole spreading science thing… I told you that because it’s what you were ready to hear at the time. But now, I can tell you what I was really saying. We’re going to a place that is better than any place you’ve ever been. Better than any fantasy you’ve had about Ginger, or anything.” Stars appeared in the windshield. “You’ll have what you want. You’ll love it. Things are going to be good.” “Oh.” “Trust me, Crow,” he said, “you’ll understand in time.” The ship sped up.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 266 I nodded my head. He told me to go get myself a beer. “Relax. Enjoy yourself.” I did what he said. He stayed up front driving the ship, and I walked back to the fridge. I popped open a beer and took a sip. And looked out the back window. I could see the world. Shrinking. Humpy was shouting something back to me (not angrily, just so that I could hear him), and I shouted something back. But, I couldn’t take my eyes off that little world. A little circle becoming a dot. I put the beer down. He had music playing. I opened the back door, and out I went. It closed behind me. Nothing all around me. Humpy and his ship sped off into the stars. And me? Gravity and the little dot. I started falling. And the world got bigger.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 267

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 268

I put no stock in symmetry. Am I kicking up controversy? Might not look like it, but I am. A lot. You see, people base a good deal of what’s real and what isn’t based on symmetry. They carry around in their heads the notion that because something is, its counterpart must be. Even if it can’t be seen. Or explained. Or proven. It’s just out there – because everything needs to be balanced. There’s a cosmic fulcrum. People get caught up in symmetry and think preserving it is a mission. A need. Requirement. Like keeping symmetry in tact is something we all must do because otherwise there’d be no symmetry. And if it breaks – oh boy.

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 269 But really, just because we can argue something and envision reasons why it must exist, doesn’t mean that it does exist. Just because we can lay down the reason doesn’t oblige the universe to comply. Like me right then falling through space. I was curled up in a ball and had along white tail behind me like a comet and onward to the world I was going and Humpy’s ship far behind. I thought about crashing into the world and I would make a crater and send dust and dirt flying into the sky. Maybe. But, I wouldn’t die. I’d come to understand my own indestructibility, and that’s what got me going on about symmetry. I was born, but I would not die. Not me. Ever. If there’s one thing that will persist, it’s me. So I was calm. Enjoying it even. I had no control over my downward plunge. Gravity did. I would crash. I would fall. And then other things would happen. And did. I thought about seeing her again. She’s another thing that won’t end. She’ll be there, somewhere, some time. She’ll arrive to me and have something sly to say in her wordless way. I’d kid her about only needing to call my name the next time she wants to get together, and she’d raise an eyebrow and that would be the last word about it (a silent word). And I’d see Peter again. The big beast of him. I saw us walking on water, an ocean near where the City used to be but now there were only trees and birds and fish and stars falling from the sky and the sun and moon in constant juxtaposition (I didn’t say symmetry doesn’t exist, I just don’t put much stock in it). That’s what I saw happening when finally I arrived crashing down into the world. But did it?

Quinn: “Never could be any other way” Page 270 No. I don’t know. We know less about what did happen than what we know about what will happen. So I did live. I will live. Things happened. And after these things new things will happen and new things have happened. I believe in new things. And they don’t have to come in pairs or as a set. Something new can arrive. The present isn’t bookended by the future and the past. I’m still hurtling through space. I’m still perched in the City’s tree. I’m still clad in armor in the midst of a cosmic battle. I’m still in bed wrapping my arms around the snake wrapped around her. All this stuff has happened. It’s all going to happen. It’s all happening. I am what will happen. But, I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know myself. I don’t care to. I don’t need to. I don’t want to be divided. I don’t want to be the last word. I am what will happen. But, I’ve already happened. But, that doesn’t mean that I move in circles. Or cycles. Or at all. It does mean, though, that I am happening right now. Not everything that begins ends. Nothing real, actually, ever ends. It just stops.